Showing the Way: Running into Fall

“God, it was hot! Forget about frying an egg on the sidewalk; this kind of heat would fry an egg inside the chicken.” – Rachel Caine

Just past the 11 mile mark of my 12 miler last Saturday, I turned a corner and saw a gentleman standing in his front yard hosing down a truck parked in the street ahead of me. As I got closer, he took a step back. And as I directly passed by, he stopped spraying the side of his truck and pointed the nozzle at the ground so not to inadvertently splash me as I ran by. I gave a quick wave as I said “thank you.”

He hollered out “I wasn’t sure if you wanted it or not.” I was already completely soaked with sweat.

“I’m not sure if I made the right call either.” I replied back over my shoulder. He laughed.

You won’t have to look very hard to find out that many of even the most avid runners hate running during the summer. What’s not to hate? It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s heavy. It’s exhausting. And worst of all, especially to less experienced runners like me, you have to take the ego-punch of slowing down just when you start to think you’re making some real spring-time progress. It kind of sucks, but I know it’s all coming back soon. Autumn is just around the corner.

“It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.” – Yogi Berra

Because of the weight of summer heat, a lot of runners are chased off the roads and onto treadmills. I’ve seen them crowding the gym all season long. I don’t know why I have no trouble peddling my ass off on an exercise bike for the better part of an hour and at the same time cannot run on a treadmill for more than 20 minutes without wanting to kill myself. But that is clearly not an ailment suffered by all runners.

Monday, I saw a woman who was running strong on the dreadmill as I was starting my stationary cross training “ride.” 45 minutes later, when I finished, she was still running just as strong and apparently just as contented. It was like a magic trick. How in the world is she not going crazy running in place like that for so long? I hope to someday figure out the treadmill. But so far, I’ve been unable to find the same release running indoors as I do outdoors, even in the heat, the cold, the rain, or the snow. Weather be damned. I like being outside.

I see a lot of travel in my future. I’ve got a lot to find. I’m ready to go. And I can’t imagine a better way to explore a new place than by running its streets, trails, or railroad tracks; seeing, hearing, and feeling all it has to offer. Running outside allows certain experiences that both driving outside and running inside cannot.

Tuesday afternoon, I was running my last 400 meter speed interval session before I start alternating Yassos and hill repeats in the coming weeks. The weather was a perfect glimpse into autumn’s hopefully speedy return: temperatures in the 70s, slightly overcast skies, and a light breeze. If I hadn’t been outside I might not have smelled those two freshly cut lawns, that one guy grilling some burgers, or that house venting the smell of fabric softener out onto the street as the clothes dryer did its thing. Had I been driving by at 35-40 miles per hour, I probably wouldn’t have heard that muttering sound ducks make as they waddle out of the street, or those kids laughing at each other during their basketball game. And I certainly wouldn’t have felt that cool breeze on my chest and legs if I’d been strapped into my four wheeled bubble or running on an endless band of vinyl.

But I guess if I could stomach the dreadmill better, I could probably keep better tabs on afternoon television. And we all know that’s pretty valuable stuff too.

I changed my mind. I don’t like being outside. I love being outside. Even during the summer.

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou

There’s little doubt that facebook is a time-suck website. I’m continually reducing the minutes I spend wading through its newsfeed. And if it didn’t prove so useful in sharing my blog, I might have deleted it months ago. But in fairness, as easy as it is to poo-poo the damn thing, it is not totally without its value too. Even in my more limited exposure of late, I have been able to witness many people taking awe-inspiring steps towards feeling better and being healthier; and during the sweatiest months of the year no less. Those things are a big part of what keeps me from completely losing faith in humanity as I sift through all of the other stupid shit on the internet. I need those reminders. Thank you.

Back in the spring, an old friend of mine that I haven’t seen in years shared that he’d been doing a “Couch to 5k” (C25K)program. He’d made a new year’s resolution to lose some weight and get healthier. He suffered some early set-backs and injuries, but persevered by riding a bike and cross training more. He cleaned up his diet significantly, shed more than 50 pounds and about a month ago finished his first 5K. More important than any of the numbers, is he feels better. That’s the point after all. It’s an awesome thing.

A coworker from several years ago, that I also haven’t seen in a long time has been blowing up the book-of-faces with her crazy-ass jalking updates. “Jalking” is her hybrid word for…you guessed it, jogging and walking. I’m not sure, but it would seem that she does it every day, sometimes twice a day. Judging by some of the comedic facebook posts, she appears to be enjoying her adventures out on the road and getting excited about fitting into whatever “cute” outfit she’s using as her target goal. She hasn’t been miserable stalking some running guy she’s discovered out there either. Hey, find your motivation wherever you can, right?

Of course my other running friends know that if my jalking buddy continues to run more and further reduce the walking from the equation, she’s going to have to do two other things: 1) Stop say “jogging.” 2) Start taking rest days. Runners don’t jog, they run. And runners need recovery days, or they end up injured. But she can cross that bridge when she jogs up to it. Until then, she’s making progress towards her goal and…you guessed it again. She’s having fun.

Another distant and dear friend recently started to quietly share her weekly progress as she is progressing through her own C25K program. She’ll be running her first 5K in a month. And like the others, the miles are irrelevant to me. I don’t even know how those programs work. It doesn’t matter. I got stoked when I saw her commenting about how she’s “actually enjoying” the running part. I know exactly what that unexpected discovery feels like, and it’s impossible not to be excited for her. If it’s not fun, why do it? I’m confident that she’s going to kill it. And I can’t wait to read about it…on fucking facebook of all places.

Hooray for the interwebs! Woot!

“People say, ‘I inherited my family’s genetics.’ No, you inherited their lifestyle.” “If you won’t do it for yourself, you are the living example for your house.” – Gabrielle Reese

These three unrelated people are not only examples of why some online wormhole site isn’t as worthless as I’d like to claim sometimes. But more importantly, each is a real life example within their home. They’re all central figures of the family. Between them, they have eight children. That’s eight people with a healthier, more active role model in their everyday lives. Their strides towards greater wellness will be directly communicable to those around them; the people they love most.

I hope that each of them is taking these steps for personal and selfish reasons. I hope they are setting goals that will continue to make them better and happier people. Much like the emergency breathing air masks on airplanes, you can’t help the person next to you until you first put your own mask on. You have to take care of yourself first. But I believe that their personal goals of self-improvement are also gifts to the people in their lives. It may sound grandiose, but it could be argued that it’s a gift to us all. If three people can make small changes that will directly and positively affect at least eight other people, and those eight people can carry even a fraction of that healthier lifestyle forward into their own lives affecting the people that they come in contact with and build relationships with, then where is the limit? When does it end? Does it have to end?

I’ve mentioned before how grateful I am that my mom didn’t keep a lot of crappy food around the house when I was growing up. That very little thing is a huge part of why I never developed a sweet tooth or any serious food issues. Sure I made a million stupid dietary and lifestyle decisions as I’ve clumsily stumbled through the world. But that hard-wiring from childhood was always in there, making it easier for me to adjust when I finally shut up and started listening to my body. I will always appreciate that.

Each of the friends I’ve mentioned, and a few more that I didn’t, is an example in their household. And in taking better care of themselves, and developing a healthier everyday environment, are setting an example for their families and in effect setting every single person in their lives up for a greater likelihood of a successful and healthy existence. There kids won’t think runners are “crazy” or that eating more vegetables and less meat is “weird.” Instead they will witness the benefits of exercise in the higher energy level and lighter heart of a parent. That’s a big deal. And that’s why I’m so stoked to see those posts. That’s why I’m grateful for them. The real world needs more positive role models.

And if they can find the motivation to make these changes, and discover a love of running or cycling or even jalking during the hottest season of the year, it’s hard not to feel some level of optimism for them as we look ahead into the wonderful fall season when being outside is so much more comfortable and therefore more enjoyable.

I’m still cutting down on the time I waste online, but when I do check in on the rest of the world, it makes me feel good to see people I know doing good things for themselves…and for everybody else too.

Happy Thursday. We’ll be running into fall soon. Can’t wait.

This is one of my favorite recording of all time. The guitar player is incredible. Enjoy.

Fun of the Run (J.O.G.T. 7)

“When you are joyful, when you say yes to life and have fun and project positivity all around you, you become a sun in the center of every constellation, and people want to be near you.” – Shannon L. Alder

What? Another blog already? Trust me, I know. And don’t worry. I’m nowhere near able to make this a habit. But after Kathryn sparked my quick blurt-blog the other day about why I run, I realized not only do I know why I run, I’ve probably always been a runner. I just didn’t know it until last September. I spent 37 years blindly running away from life (which seemed considerably easier than running towards it by the way). Now I’m finding that so many of the answers to life’s questions have been waiting for me out there on the road all this time. And I almost never get out there without at least finding a hint about which way to go next.

Looking back through my Jar Of Good Things, I discovered that July was a month full of riddles. I had a bunch of days where I forgot to put anything in the Jar. I had some days of genuine excitement and enthusiasm about the path ahead. And like the pendulum that life can sometimes be, I unfortunately experienced some incredibly crestfallen moments as well.

But as the roller coaster rose high, fell hard again, and the challenges started to push me under, I never stopped running. And in the 80 miles I logged during the month, I found a small amount of comfort, some needed release, and maybe even some more clues to the mystery of me. Because of that, this month’s J.O.G.T. will be dedicated to the run; the “fun run” to be exact.

“It’s the game of life. Do I win or do I lose? One day they’re gonna shut the game down. I gotta have as much fun and go around the board as many times as I can before it’s my turn to leave.” – Tupac Shakur

Throughout the month, The Tidewater Striders hosted their annual Summer Series events. The Summer Series is a three week series of fun runs held on Tuesday evenings in July at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. Each week’s run is different, but all seem less focused on competition and more on the fun and camaraderie of running…Well that, or pizza and beer. Eh, to-may-to, to-mah-to.

I ran them all. At the beginning of the month as the coaster car climbed, I ran them for the sheer fun of it. As things crested and took the abrupt plunge back to earth, I ran them because I needed to do something different and running has never let me down. Its streak is still unbroken, and I finished the month by setting a new PR at the Memorial Scholarship 5K. A new PR is always good, right?

I would’ve much rather continued on the up-swing, but even in the distraction of chasing ghosts I was able to reevaluate a lot in myself, discover new things about what’s truly important to me, and started to make steps to clearing much of the clutter from my life. I’m going to continue to lighten my load and better streamline my existence. I think it will make me lighter, freer, and ultimately faster. And not only in my running shoes.

Enough of that shit, let’s get to some fun-runs.

Jul 09. Ran first Summer Series Race at Norfolk Botanical Gardens. Really cool place to run. Finished my 4 miles only 20 seconds faster than I predicted and got some nice blog love from Marie and Beth.

The first week’s event was a countdown run through the gardens. Each runner could choose a distance of 4, 2, or 1 mile. A clock was started counting down from 75 minutes. When a runner believed the time on the clock accurately matched the time it would take them to finish their chosen distance, they crossed the starting line and started running. The theory being that everyone would start at varying times, but if they predicted their paces accurately, everyone would finish together.

I don’t know the official count, but there were hundreds of runners out there, and the idea of having all of those people finish at the same time just seemed like perfect silliness to me. Some finished a bit early, some a bit late, but for the most part everyone came across the bridge and out of the gardens relatively close to each other and ready for some post run pizza and beer.

I was 20 seconds early. Dammit! So close.

I did not take this picture.

I did not take this picture.

This was my first experience running at the botanical gardens and I probably don’t have to explain why it’s such a nice place to run. For a guy that logs most of his miles in the asphalt trails of his neighborhood, jogging through the twisting often shaded paths of a well maintained park was a clear upgrade. And since I hadn’t run a Striders event since the Elizabeth River Run in May, I hadn’t seen any of my Strider buddies in a while either. It’s always nice to share a beer and maybe a few laughs with everybody after the run. I liked it. It was exactly what it was billed to be: a fun run. And I did have fun, even if I didn’t eat any of the pizza (I’m half a tub of whey protein and a stick of butter away from having a dairy-free home).

Jul 16. Summer Series II, quick mile with cool random team.

The second week’s run was a random relay. Another couple hundred people showed up, were split into randomly selected three person teams, and then each team ran a 3 mile “race,” one runner and one mile at a time. Every team’s first runner starts together. When a team’s first runner makes it back from their one mile loop through the gardens, then the next teammate takes off. The relay continues until all three runners have completed the mile. Technically it is a race. But because a team could be comprised of runners of widely varying abilities and speeds, it is most definitely more about the fun of summer running than it is about “beating” the other teams.

I admit that I underestimated the running community a little bit on this one. Because I am way more of a runner than a racer and not a very competitive person, I was worried that I’d end up paired with some hyper-competitive speed demon. It has always been my luck to end up paired with the most aggressive person(s) at any supposedly friendly sporting activity. It drives me crazy to hear some idiot yelling “wait for your pitch” during a casual slow-pitch softball game or screaming “set!” at a half-drunken beach volleyball game. It’s just a game Asshole. I’ll swing at every single pitch that comes anywhere near me and I’ll get on base too and I’d be having more fun if it weren’t for the agro-dick living out Olympic fantasies at a summer picnic. Fuck off! (end rant)

I happily saw no hint of this phenomenon at the relay. And I apologize for forgetting how cool runners are.

Because Tuesdays are a normal run day for me and running only one mile would not remotely satisfy my marathon training schedule, I ran my planned speed intervals before heading out. And my random team was perfect for my not at all fresh legs. It consisted of nine year old Ellie leading us off with a solid eight-something minute first mile, an energetic and happy Arlene for the second leg (I had already stopped looking at the clock), and myself running the last leg without remembering to turn on my Garmin until half way through the loop.

We finished with a time under 24 minutes. But it doesn’t matter. We all had fun. And guess what? More pizza (watermelon & banana for this guy) and beer and catching up with the familiar faces of the club. Having a good time can be brutal. But I somehow battled through.

Jul 23. Summer Series 3, “Guess Your Time” 4 miler. Almost didn’t go because my mind was a scattered fucking mess, but I’m so glad I did. I ran w/o GPS/HR monitor. Guessed 33:34. And then I just ran. It felt awesome and once again let me clear my head and come off the ledge for a little bit. Missed my guess by 5ish seconds. Great day.

Wow! That was definitely one of the wordiest entries in the Jar this month. And really doesn’t need much explanation. So, I’m sure I’ll go on for days.

The final event of the series was a “guess your time” 4 miler. Each runner had to estimate how long they believed it would take them to run the course, mark that time on their bib, and then run the course without the aid of heart rate monitors or GPS watches. Whoever got closest to their guesstimated time, wins.

As my rambling J.O.G.T. entry expressed, I wasn’t in the mood to be social that afternoon. The reasons aren’t important. But I was unhappy. And my old paradigm of hiding when I’m sad is something I’m trying to work on. Instead I want to remember that the mind-body connection works both ways, and to trust that relationship.

When I’m out on the road and my body’s telling me it’s tired and wants to quit, it’s up to my brain to evaluate the situation; am I hurting or am I just tired? I’m not hurt. I can do this. Shut up and run.

When my mind takes a shit and I’m tempted to crawl inside of that feeling and simmer in it alone, I remember that logging some miles out in the open has never let me down. It doesn’t necessarily right the wrongs. But it adjusts my perspective. It clears the streaks from my windshield and lets me see again.

Life is a motherfucker sometimes. Bad shit is going to happen. And there is only so much I can do about it. When I forget that, the world has a funny way of reminding me to keep my eyes on the road and pay attention to my own path. I knew I needed to run that day. And I couldn’t think of a reason to believe that running alone would be any better than going out and running in the botanical gardens again. And if I was wrong…at least there’d be beer, right?

I got there, guessed my time (33:34), and then wandered around waiting for the start. The weather was perfect running weather, for July anyway. It was sunny, temperature in the mid 80s, and even a little bit of a breeze. I chatted a little bit with some friends, and because I had no concern for winning and I was being very honest about my mental funk, I debated not even trying to pace myself and instead going in there and just “running my fucking legs off.” You know, maybe try to leave it all out there in the woods somewhere.

I didn’t do that. I ran lazy. I ran quiet. I just ran. And inside of the first mile, I found my rhythm. I paced my friend Beth for the first bit of the run and as my pace settled, I zoned out and fell into another head-space. I spent the whole 4 miles focused on my breathing, inhaling for three steps, exhaling for two. Occasionally I’d find myself passing someone I knew to be a faster runner than me. Sometimes they passed me back. But as long as my breathing felt right, I didn’t change a thing. I just ran. And approximately 33:30 seconds later, I was done. And I felt…okay.

I’d love to say that I felt great. But running can only do so much. I did feel better though, and better was good enough. I was really glad I made myself go. And as I milled around, had a beer, caught up with my friends, and waited to see how close some of the others came to their predictions, one of those faster runners I had briefly been in front of came up to me and quietly paid me a very kind and simple compliment. I met him and his wife after a cancelled race in February. I don’t know him super well. I’ve spoken with him only a few times and he didn’t dwell on it or anything. He simply shook my hand and said “you’re doing really good.” That’s it. I’m not sure, but he may have even said it twice. I don’t take compliments very well. So I simply thanked him, and then he went on about his business. It was unexpected and much appreciated, especially from someone sometimes referred to as “Dr Fast.”

Runners are good people.

“The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations are really good days.” – Ray Wiley Hubbard

The week after the Summer Series, I was back at the Botanical Gardens with many of the same people and much of the same experiences. It was the Memorial Scholarship 5K race. It was the first 5K I’ve run since February. I ran it in 22:47; a new PR. And I felt good about it. A few days ago, I did the math and realized that for me to qualify for Boston, I’m going to have to run 26.2 miles at a pace six seconds/mile faster than I’m currently able to run 3.1. That seemed really daunting at the time.

But as I saw a coworker all week contemplating having to pull out of the Rock N Roll half marathon because of a stressed Achilles tendon, and as I see my mom bummed out on the sidelines waiting for knee surgery to get her back on the road, I’m reminded how fortunate I am to be able to run at all. It is my favorite game when I’m healthy and my most reliable crutch when I’m hobbled. I can’t ask for more than that.

Happy Friday. Tomorrow, I’m gonna run 12 more mile on my way to Philly. I can do anything.

“Let it ride. Let it roll. Let it go.”

Honorable Mentions:

Jul 02. Afternoon rain literally stopped the moment I stepped out the door, and didn’t start again until I was finishing my stretches and climbing the stairs to come back inside. Mother Nature supports what I’m doing.

Jul 08. Saw that Kathy is doing a C25K program. I’m super stoked for her.

Jul 13. Hung out with Justin, Kim, Sean, Stacey, Laura, and Scott in Sandbridge for Tilly’s b-day. Saw a guy eat three jelly fish to win a 22 dollar bet. Well played.

Jul 18. After finding my resting HR and recalculating my zones, did a much better Zone 2 five miler. I think I’m going to really like this type of training.

Jul 25. Bought my ticket to Steamboat. I can’t wait.

Jul 31. I’m not sure how the internet works, but my blog picked up five new followers overnight. I guess that’s good.

Declaration Day

“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.” – C. JoyBell C.

NOTICE: On my blog’s “About” page I state that while I may be documenting my personal experiences and discoveries as a new runner that “a lot of my motivation [for this blog] is to simply get some of these things out of my head to make room for new thoughts.” This is one of those times. You’ve been warned. Here’s the pitch.

“Hiding how you really feel and trying to make everyone happy doesn’t make you nice, it just makes you a liar.” – Jenny O’Connell

I’d like to start by saying that I’ve been in a pretty nasty funk for the last three or four days. But I can’t, because it’s probably been closer to two weeks. I reread my last couple of blogs today and it’s there. I was fighting it, or maybe just trying to hide it. But I can still see it in there.

It’s hard to explain how much more annoying it is to write a blog touting the importance of keeping a positive perspective and sharing the thrill of discovering a new self confidence in the belief I can truly accomplish anything if I’m willing to work hard AND at the exact same time being damn near miserable most days because of my own negative attitude towards life and its challenges. It’s a steep, dishonest stairway to the pinnacle of Mount Hypocrisy. And I seem to have built a small cottage up there recently. I apologize for being such a fucking liar…to myself first and in effect to everyone else.

I’ve spent months typing about all of the exciting changes I’ve undergone and how many more things I still want to change. Those things are true. I have. And I do. But I think I may have started to pridefully stumble into the arrogant pitfalls of believing that I had already completed some journey when I had not; and will not. I have merely discovered a path. And in that I found the direction I needed to start taking the earliest and smallest of many steps on a never-ending journey. After a seed sprouts and stretches into a tree, it’s not done. Barring catastrophe, the act of growing is never complete. I’m proud of what progress I’ve made, but there is so much more work to do. And now is not a time to get lazy, and certainly no time to be poisoned by a discouraging mindset.

“The most common and harmful addiction in the world is the draw of comfort.” – Angel Chernoff

I’ve mentioned before that I am a creature of habit; some good ones; more than a few bad ones. And some habits are incredibly hard to break. I’m a procrastinator and an excuse maker. I always have been. And in the same way that some recovering alcoholics will forever refer to themselves as alcoholics, I will always be a procrastinator and an excuse maker. They are the hardest habits for me to break. Ridding myself of those short-comings requires continuous awareness of them and living with the discomfort that comes with that kind of consciousness.

I’m not yet in the place I want to be. And the comfort I seek may not be easily achieved. There was a time when, upon identifying a goal out of reach (even if only by inches), I would promptly make an excuse for why I have to wait to reach out for that place. And with a solid excuse in hand, I could then create the illusion of comfort in the place where I stood idle.

It’s so easy to do. Maybe it’s really expensive to gain access to this utopian dream world, so I’ll have to accept that saving the money will take time. No biggie, I’m not starving where I am now. Or maybe the path to my nirvana is too steep and difficult to climb, so I’ll have to wait until I’m stronger. Hell, maybe there are just spiders and a rickety ladder between me and what I want. I hate spiders and I’m not a fan of heights either. I’ll just chill down here for a while. If it’s meant to be, it will be.

“Our destiny changes with our thought; we shall become what we wish to become, do what we wish to do, when our habitual thought corresponds with our desire.” – Orison Swett Marden

when a door shutsTo suggest that something is meant to be is to imply that it would simply occur on its own if we’d stay out of the way; even if we did nothing. I don’t believe that. Nothing is “meant” to be. And if I was to sit around waiting for my dreams to come true, “nothing” is exactly what would happen. I’ve proven this through multiple experiments. Our destinies are entirely up to us to create. Death is the only unavoidable truth in life. It doesn’t care about us at all and should be given equal consideration in return. And it certainly should not be feared.

I believe my future is mine to control. And I don’t want to create some illusion of a preordained path that I’m merely stumbling down unwittingly. If I want to do something, I can do it. If I want to go somewhere, I can go. If I want to become something new, I can do that too. My life is up to me. I’m not giving up any of that control to superstition or fantasy. The blame for failure lies with me, and I’ll be taking the credit for the successes too.

That is not to pretend that I’m some rock in the vacuum of space and above the influence of my surroundings, both positive and negative. I have enjoyed a lifetime of support and encouragement from family, friends, and the world around me. I’ve also encountered those that have slowed my progress and held me back by enabling my draw to “comfort” with negative attitudes and behaviors. I’m not angry about any of the latter; as I’m sure they were well intentioned and believed themselves to be in coalition with the former.

If I’m doing something that is counterproductive to my goals, I have to stop. If someone or something is standing in my way, I have to eliminate that obstacle. It is up to me alone to determine my destiny. There can be all kinds of influences. But ultimately, it has always been up to me to take the good, leave the bad, and move towards greater things. That will always be my responsibility.

“People tend to complicate their own lives, as if living weren’t already complicated enough.” – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Becoming a runner is what taught me that I can do anything. But I think I somehow missed the real lesson on how I can do anything. When I started running, I wasn’t thinking about running a half marathon, a 5K, or even to that next street light. I just wanted to get out of my house, out of my head, and into some fresh air and sunshine. I couldn’t run around the block. It took me almost two months before I could run a mile continuously. But I just kept lacing up and heading out. I didn’t have any long term goals at first. I did it because it made me feel good in the moment.

Once I decided that I did want to set a goal, I laid out a plan, executed that plan one tiny step at a time, and accomplished each running goal that I set for myself. But I never wandered out of the moment. I ran each run for each run’s sake. It didn’t happen overnight. I started running very short distances at very slow speeds. And as I managed to meet small goals I set new larger ones, until eventually I found myself (or someone vaguely resembling me) running 13 miles on a cold gray Sunday morning; and actually having fun doing it. Who the hell was ThatGuy? I’m still not sure sometimes.

There is no reason why that system cannot work for any goal that I set. I recently spent hours laying out my running schedule for the next seven months. I know how to do this. I just don’t always remember that I know how. Stay in the moment. Focus on the small battles and before I know it, my war will be won. I know how to do this. It’s still new to me though, where making excuses is a habit well rehearsed and almost subconscious. That fact aggravates the hell out of me. But if I stay focused on each day as it comes and do each thing as well as I can, before I know it, I will again be crossing a finish line surprised by how easy it seemed in hindsight. I know it.

“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” – John Burroughs

Hi, my name is Greg. And I’m a procrastinator and an excuse maker. I’m not proud of that. But if I let myself believe I’ve beaten it or to think that this tree is somehow finished growing, then I will let myself down and never get to where I want to be. There is so much fun to be had and exciting adventures to experience. I’ve just let myself be distracted and discouraged by things outside of the present, events that have already happened, or things that haven’t happened yet. Focusing on either is a total misuse of my time and energy.

So right now out of frustration, I wish to again declare to myself, this time from high atop Mt. Hipocrisy, that I will be burning that cottage to the ground later tonight, and using those flames to light my way back down the mountain. I don’t want to make myself comfortable in the wrong place. I want to battle through temporary discomfort to end up in the right place for my happiness and well being. I can’t do that from up here.

Thanks for letting me vent. I’m truly sorry to say it, but I really needed to.

Blinding Effect of Disgust (Boston)

“I lost some time once. It’s always in the last place you look for it.” – Neil Gaiman

A month ago, almost to the day, I finished my first half marathon. I trained hard for it, and because of that, it was the easiest long run I had ever run at the time. But after training so much on so little experience, I was still a little beat up afterwards. Because I had been battling ankle issues during the last few weeks of training and experienced minor discomfort all during the race, I decided that I should definitely RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) my ankles for as long as it takes to get back to 100%.

After giving that “R” a full week of no running, I started small with a three-ish mile run. But before I got to the second mile, my left ankle was already a little sore. Are you kidding me? I wasn’t sure if I could make myself go without any running for much longer, but I definitely didn’t want to keep running through pain and eventually end up with a real injury.

I RICE’d my ankles for two more days and then ran another short distance. That time I really focused on how my right foot was landing, and trying to pay attention to what I was obviously doing differently with my left. After a week of total rest with so little marked improvement, I felt like it had to be something I was doing wrong. And I was so determined to figure it out.

That run was a little better. I made it past two miles before my ankle started bothering me. It was minor discomfort, but c’mon. It’s only two miles. If I can’t run two miles without discomfort, I’d never be able to run another half marathon.

Towards the very end of that run, during a slight downhill section I realized that I was running with the toes of my left foot partially balled up and essentially limping on it in an effort to lighten the load on that ankle. That realization helped immediately. During my next run, I made sure to relax my foot and splay my toes out to avoid balling up my foot. I noted some improvement, but it was still not enough. Within only a few miles, I was again experiencing that same annoying sensation in my ankle. Dammit!

Then I read an article about rhythmic breathing , and how the foot that is landing as you release your breath takes a larger impact due to your diaphragm and core muscles relaxing during exhalation. When your core relaxes, it puts more of the impact of your body’s weight on your lower body. The math behind rhythmic breathing is that if you inhale for three steps and exhale for two, each exhalations will occur on the opposite foot-strike as the one prior. Could breathing really be the source of ankle pain?

I’d read about the breathing technique before but never with that explanation. I immediately started training myself to breathe that way. I started figuring it out while sitting at my desk at work, just tapping my feet while learning the rhythm. Then I’d practice it while taking walks during my lunch break. Then I finally got to put it to use on the road. Total game changer. I was immediately able to run longer distances before even noticing that I had ankles. And when I would experience a little soreness, I would take note that I had let my breathing slip out of rhythm and was in fact landing on my left foot on every exhalation. Immediate corrections would produce immediate relief.

Eureka! I had my answer. As funny as it may sound, I was actually hurting my ankle by breathing incorrectly. I love how the body works.

I kept utilizing that technique through my next few runs and continued to feel better, faster, and stronger. Like anything else, as I focused more intently on my breathing, I’d experience temporary lags in my cadence or slight deterioration in my form. But after a few runs, I can already feel everything coming back into sync and I can’t wait to start building up some miles again.

boston start

“There are worlds of experience beyond the world of the aggressive man, beyond history, and beyond science. The moods and qualities of nature and the revelations of great art are equally difficult to define; we can grasp them only in the depths of our perceptive spirit.” – Ansel Adams

Yesterday I was all prepared to write a whole blog about this breathing/pain discovery and to somehow expound on the importance of keeping a wide view of the world in order to prevent tunnel vision during troubled times, or some over-reaching essay on self discovery and how the answers to our problems are often found in the most unexpected places. Yadda, yadda, whatever, whatever.

But as I was leaving work, I got a text message from my mom:

“Did you hear the news? Explosions at Boston Marathon.”

“Wow. I don’t even want to know” I responded.

That is generally my initial response to any violent news, whether it be a bombing or a bar fight. I never want to know. I’m always disappointed by the details. The more I learn in each scenario, the more bothered I become. Did that guy accidently bumping into your drunken girlfriend really require a violent response? Is there any reasoning that would make mowing down a bunch of elementary school students seem any less insane? Will finding out the motive behind blowing up the finish line at one of the world’s largest running events make it any easier to comprehend? I don’t see how.

I stopped watching television news over 10 years ago after watching coverage of the “Shock and Awe” beginnings of yet another mid-east war. During that coverage, the news channel I was watching presented a huge digital color graphic comparing the number of bombs that had been dropped so far to the number of bombs that had been dropped in the same amount of time during the previous gulf war. That graphic is a huge part of why I don’t watch the news anymore.

They were comparing the number of bombs dropped in the same way you compare opposing NFL quarterbacks’ completion percentages. They were doing it over live video coverage of a city being destroyed, and under the wonderfully patriotic red, white, and blue “Shock and Awe” header. It was disgusting. Those bombs were killing people; very likely innocent people. And I was sitting on a friend’s couch watching it on live television with a fucking beer in my hand. The entertainment nature of the news media had gone too far for me. I was done. And I still am.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ― Fred Rogers

I managed to avoid the Boston story on my short drive home from work, but got another text message expressing concern for the victims and saying that hearing about it had just reminded my friend of me and my new found love of running. By that point I had thought about it a bit more and together with all of the other senseless violence we’ve experienced in the last several months and years, I was just overwhelmed with total disgust for my species. How do we continue to deny the similarities in all mankind? Why do we instead insist to seeking out our differences and try to segregate ourselves based on such insignificant things as different sexual orientations, religious beliefs, and/or ethnicities? Why can’t we accept those differences? Why do we seem to feel the need to persecute and discriminate against others based on them? Why is violence such an accepted expression of and response to anger? Why are we such fucking assholes all the time? I just don’t understand. Life is so short, and people want to spend so much of it hating others. It’s just so goddamn STUPID!

I had to get away from the news. I didn’t want to hear anymore about it. I was too disgusted with yet another violent act. And anticipation of the soon to follow political bullshit about guarantees of justice or some dream of American solidarity in the face of “terror” was already making my stomach hurt. I turned off my computer and my phone. And I left.

I went to the gym to escape the immediate coverage, as the race to be first by our news media usually leads to rampant guessing, superhero caliber leaps of logic, and a whole lot of stupid graphics and redundant video loops. But I failed to realize what should’ve been obvious; the coverage would likely be on every television in the gym. And it nearly was.

I tried to ignore it at first, but I wasn’t going to stare at the floor the whole time I was on the stair climber or the exercise bike. That would only make my neck hurt on top of my stomach cramping frustration with mankind. So I watched as blankly and as uninvolved as possible. I’m glad that I did, because in the few segments that they were looping, I managed to see what I needed to see. I didn’t plug my headphones in to hear any of the coverage, but they were showing what seemed to be the same eight-ish minutes of combined video footage over and over again.

I saw a man just feet away from finishing get blown down by shrapnel as a coward’s bomb exploded in the stands adjacent to the finish line. I saw spectators and runners turn in shock to see what had to be unfathomable chaos. How do you process that scene? You can see the finish line; that finish line you’ve dreamt about. Your heart is pounding. You’re going to do it. You’re going to finish the Boston Marathon. You’re feet away from achieving a longtime goal, about to leave the pain and torture of training behind and pass into the relief of after-party bliss, about to notch a huge accomplishment off of your bucket list, about to feel unprecedented pride in yourself…and BOOM! Some unidentified asshole’s gutless expression of who-cares-what destroys that moment. How do you process that?

I don’t know how I would’ve, but I know that my heart goes out to every single person affected. It’s just unbelievably senseless.

As I watched the footage for the second, third, and forth time, I finally saw what I needed to see. It was right there the whole time, but my disgust wouldn’t let me see it. I finally noticed how many people immediately went from runners and spectators to first-responders and good samaritans. Bystanders were immediately running to lift debris off of victims. I saw people of all walks of life (military personnel, city police, bystanders, runners, etc.), shedding their coats and shirts to be used as blankets, bandages, and tourniquets. I saw people not only being human, but humane.

boston herosIt took me a few loops of the carnage to clear my sight of the blinding effects of disgust, but eventually I saw the helpers. And it made me feel better. There are still more good people than bad in the world. We just seem to pay so much more attention to the worst among us. I do not understand why. But I’m glad I watched the news yesterday, at least for the half hour or so I was on that bike riding nowhere.

Sometimes you find the answers you need in the most unlikely of places.

“Think of success as a game of chance in which you have control over the odds. As you begin to master concepts in personal achievement, you are increasing your odds of achieving success.” – Bo Bennett

In the coming days and weeks as coverage of the investigation wanes and personal interest stories make the cover of a dozen different magazines, I’m sure at least a few of them will try to make the Boston Marathon more universally relatable to the masses by calling it the runners’ Super Bowl or the World Series. But it is neither of those things.

I have never run a marathon, so I certainly cannot speak with experience about what Boston means to people. But the Super Bowl and the World Series are both events where tens of thousands of people gather to watch a few dozen athletes work together to achieve a collective goal. The Boston Marathon is where tens of thousands of athletes gather to achieve a personal and individual goal on their own…together.

The Boston Marathon is not some community 5K where anyone with an entry fee can just sign up, lace up, and run it. Each of those more than 23,000 runners had sacrificed months and years of their lives to qualify to be there. They had dedicated themselves at some point to do what so few can do; to run a marathon. And after accomplishing that monumental goal, they decided that they not only wanted to do it again. They wanted to do it faster. They wanted to do it fast enough; fast enough to qualify for Boston.

And I won’t even get into the registration hurdles they had to conquer once they finally qualified.

Those 23,000 runners had forgone time with friends and family to put in the many training miles needed to prepare their minds and bodies for the challenge of finishing one of the biggest races in the sport. They watched what they ate. They stayed in on Friday nights so they would be fresh for that no frills, no finishers’ medal 20 mile training run on Saturday morning. They put their sore bones in bathtubs full of ice to relieve the pain afterwards. They persevered through painful IT bands, planter fasciitis, swollen knees and ankles, stomach cramps, and shin splints. They did what they had to do to prepare to achieve a personal goal that no one else could do for them. And some shithead tainted or destroyed that dream with the most cowardly of weapons.

It’s hard now, not to again feel disgusted. But I remind myself of those helpers. I remind myself that this was the act of a few. And I remind myself of the perseverance of runners.

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.” – Walter Elliot.

I don’t believe that the Boston Marathon is in any danger as an institution. I haven’t even heard anyone hint at it. But then again, I’ve been avoiding the news for almost 28 hours now. Runners, in my limited experience, are the most dedicated and headstrong people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of associating myself. They battle through so much personal pain and suffering week in and week out during their training, and for what? None of the runners I know were in any position to “win” any of the races I’ve participated in. They do it because they love running. They love challenging themselves. And maybe above all else, they love rising to that challenge and experiencing the feeling of accomplishment that comes with success in those goals.

These kinds of personalities will never let the dishonorable and spineless act of a few take their event away from them. Sure, there will be some runners who cannot stomach being on that ground again, and I don’t blame them at all. But there will be others that refuse to let fear invade their passion. There will be new runners who refuse to take Boston off of their bucket list. The Boston Marathon will likely experience a boon in registrations next year. Not in some back-patting brewhaha “look at how brave I am” pageantry, but as a result of the rallied support of arguably the most dedicated community of amateur athletes in the world. Runners will never give up their “Super Bowl.” Because unlike fans of the NFL Super Bowl, they’re actually going to play. And every one of them that crosses that finish line wins.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi

In my short time running, I have learned many things about myself. I’ve learned that I can do anything that I set my heart and mind towards. I’ve discovered inner strength that makes me want to do so many things that I’m constantly battling against that daily 24 hour time limit. I’ve learned that I’ve got a shitload more to learn too. And if I don’t leave myself open to new experiences and possibilities, I may never figure it all out.

Yesterday I was reminded that we are not guaranteed tomorrow, and that just makes those 24 hours every day seem that much more limiting. Statistically, I’m over half way through with my short time on the planet. I’ve wasted a lot of it. Monday’s chaos did not make me want to run a marathon. Yesterday made me want to run Boston. Not because I think that it needs me to, or because of any silly “If I don’t run Boston, then the terrorist win” bullshit. I want to run it for the same reason 23,000 people wanted to yesterday. Because it’s the Boston. Fucking. Marathon. And not just anybody in a pair of Asics gets to say they’ve done it.

I was in a sour mood this morning (still am) and I was very tempted to call out of work and then justify that irresponsible act to myself by putting in some epic long therapy-run in tribute to those effected by the events in Boston yesterday. But in the end that seemed kind of self-righteous and silly to me. If someone else did that, I get it. But for this newbie who’s never been to Boston, never run a marathon, and thankfully did not lose anyone in yesterday’s tragedy to do that seemed a bit out of place.

But I did run today. I ran four short miles just as I already planned to. And I’ll run again on Thursday, and again on Saturday, and so on and so on. I will because I’m a runner. I will because if I ever want to run the Boston Marathon, I’m going to have to start somewhere. And it might was well be here. And it might as well be today. We’re all running out of time. Let your loved ones know how you feel. Do the things you want to do. Tomorrow might be too late.

boston finish

I’m not disgusted by the events in Boston yesterday because I’m a runner. I’m disgusted by what happened because I’m a human being who expects more from society. And I’m tired of having to seek out inspiration in the face of overwhelming disappointment. Treat people better. It’s not that hard.

Do It Yourself

“I’m really anti-option, so computers have been my nightmare with recording. I don’t want endless tracks; I want less tracks. I want decisions to be made.” – Ian MacKaye

Last Friday night I crossed the river into Norfolk to see my friend Jenn play what could very well be her last show before she jumps the big pond to start her new life based out of the U.K. Jenn Lawyer is an incredibly talented singer/songwriter/guitarist, from Virginia Beach, that I have had the pleasure of calling my friend for the last several years. On top of having her as a friend, I feel very fortunate to have been able record some of her demos with her and even luckier to have just been able to see and hear her grow so much as an musician, a songwriter, and a person. I. Am. A. Fan.

100_5875Jenn, together with another songwriter friend, Ray McDaniel, and I have been working together under the “Seven Deuce Records” moniker for a few years now, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being part of our small but productive circle. Our recording setup is very simple, but almost all of our recordings are single takes of just voice and guitar. So it works. They write, play, and sing the songs. I push the buttons and occasionally turn a knob or two. But I enjoy the simplicity of what we get and the lack of technological tricks enhancing (read: masking) the organic nature of the songs. I absolutely love it when they nail a take. But I also prefer an occasional muted note or a subtle tempo lag over hearing a recording that I know has been tweaked, overdubbed, and digitally adjusted to achieve “perfection.” Those types of recordings lack a certain sense of personality and veer away from being a true capture of a performance. We don’t do that.

But Jenn has gone and selfishly fallen in love and married to a member of the British Air Force. So she’s skipping town for greener pastures and better accents. Seven Deuce is certainly going to miss her contribution to the process both musically and spiritually, and I’m going to miss my angel voiced pseudo sister. But I couldn’t be happier for the charming couple or more excited to see where their new adventure takes them. I’m sure they’ll kick ass. And I can’t imagine how there couldn’t be even more new songs to discover just over the horizon. It’s going to be awesome. I hope she never doubts that she has the talent and personal strength to do whatever she wants.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – Marcel Proust

There has been a mini-rush of people at the gym in the last two weeks and I couldn’t figure out where all of these people were coming from, or why. I mean, the resolution rush had just started to fade out to manageable numbers. But then I noticed an online thread where someone was lamenting bathing suit season and asking if anyone knew of a diet or workout system that “worked.” That’s why there are more people standing around the gym (or more often just sitting idle on the machine I want to use). It’s time to get that beach body that the checkout isle magazines swear is just a few weeks of crunches away from revealing itself. Now it all makes sense…kind of.

“There isn’t much I have to say, that I wouldn’t rather just shut up and do.”
– Ani DiFranco

The interesting part of the question to me was how the wording seemed to expect the diet or workout to “do” something. I know I’m reading too literally into the wording, but no diet or exercise DVD system “works.” Or maybe all of them do, but only if you do. Low carb diets, Insanity workout systems, fat free diets, P90X, juice diets, veggie cleanses, the lucky strikes diet, whatever; They are all guidelines. They’re just plans. Some of them are healthier than others. Some are probably completely stupid (seriously, check out these gems). I have researched zero of them. But I know none of them work. They only allow you some guidance and/or motivation to DO IT YOURSELF. Like everything in life, from getting that job you’ve always wanted to mastering the pan flute to running your first 5K, YOU have to do it. You have to do the work. The diet or workout DVD isn’t going to do shit! Except maybe cost you a lot of money. The “work” part is up to you, and there’s more than one way to get it done.

I know people who have had huge success with the famous Insanity and P90X workout systems. Those two products don’t remain such popular and highly recommended systems because their customers are unhappy with the results. They’re popular because if you do the work, you will lose weight, gain flexibility, and build muscle. You just have to dedicate yourself to following those systems, adjusting your diet, and putting in the sweat-time. Sounds easy right?

But you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars for some oily guy to scream at you over loud dance music. You can if you want. I’m not in any way trying to discredit those products or disparage the many people that have had so much success with them. But there are undoubtedly hoards of people that bought them, tried them, realized it’s actually hard work, and now have them on a shelf collecting dust next to their Lord of the Rings DVDs. Do whatever you want to do, but don’t forget that there’s more than one way to succeed at just about anything, and some are more affordable or convenient than others. In this case, it might actually be the destination that matters more than the path.

“The only person who can pull me down is myself, and I’m not going to let myself pull me down anymore.” – C. JoyBell C. (yes, her grammar sucks, but you get the idea)

My friend Justin has found a path to become healthier through his study of martial arts. He wanted to become better at something that he enjoys doing and that he benefits from spiritually. So he’s adjusting his diet, exercising more, and even doing a little bit of running. And he’s seeing the benefits of those changes in increased cardio-endurance, better flexibility, and a little extra room in his clothes. He did that.

My buddy Matt cannot stand the idea of going into a gym because of admitted anxiety issues, but he wanted to lose some weight and get in better shape. He simply wanted to feel better. He bought a very affordable exercise bike, a yoga mat, and a medicine ball. He probably spent less than $300 dollars total. It might sound expensive, but we all know someone spending more than that every year on a gym membership that they are not using. Matt watches what he eats, drinks less, rides that bike 10+ miles four or five days a week, and does medicine ball workouts that he found online. As he challenges himself to ride that bike faster and achieves those successes, he continues to adjust his diet to benefit those goals. Now after only a couple of months, he’s almost 30 pounds lighter, stronger, more flexible, and feels a whole lot better in his clothes that don’t really fit anymore. And he recently mentioned buying a road bike so he can get outside with his workouts. Hell, he might end up beating that anxiety issue eventually and be blowing up the gym. Who knows? But what I do know is Matt did that work.

Anyone that’s read my blog already knows I’m a runner. I run three days a week aiming for between 15 and 20 total weekly miles. I do it because I love it. It becomes more meditative with every mile that I log. It’s therapeutic. I go to the gym five or six days a week for roughly 60-90 minutes depending on whether I’ve run that day or not; originally because I wanted to run better. But now I enjoy the sweat-meditation of the gym in and of itself on top of how it benefits my running. I eat a diet heavy in vegetables, almost no processed foods, and very little meat. Last September, I weighed 265 pounds and couldn’t run around my block. This morning I weighed just under 200 lbs, and a few weeks ago I ran my first half marathon. I did all of that.

Don’t have time for all of that, you say? My friend Mellisa is a devoted wife and mother, caring for two children, and running a small business out of her home. But she has adopted a healthier diet and started exercising more. Sometimes that means going for 30 minute run/walks near her home or taking a bite out of her limited free-time to go to the gym. And she’s lost weight, gotten stronger, and clearly feels fantastic. And she should. She looks great and It’s really fun to see her hard work paying off. She is doing it.

“And my dad drilled it in my head, you know, ‘If you want it bad enough, and you’re willing to make the sacrifices, you can do it. But first you have to believe in yourself.” – Jennie Finch

See any similarities? Each person wanted to change something bad enough that they found a way to do it for themselves. It doesn’t have to be difficult. Training for the olympics can get scientific and complex. Just feeling better doesn’t have to be. Eat better, move more.

If somebody wants a diet or workout that “works,” there’s a few right there. They’re all different. But they’re all the same too. Eat a healthier diet. We all know what is and isn’t good for us. We can debate specifics about how many carbs we should eat or whether artificial sweeteners are actually any better than sugar. But we all know that deep fried twinkees are garbage we shouldn’t eat, and that we should eat more raw fruits and vegetables. Eat better. You already know how. And then find some physical activity that you enjoy and that benefits you somehow, whether it’s running, cycling, martial arts, skateboarding, or whack-a-mole. Then do that as much as you can make the time to do it. It will “work,” but only if you do. And you can do anything.

“Just as there is a trend toward high tech today, there is another trend toward high touch – homemade and wholesome.” – Meryl Gardner

100_6517Because I’m an idiot and never seem to remember that parking in downtown Norfolk on a Friday night takes longer than driving there, I walked into the venue just as Jenn was taking the stage. I snuck up to the back of the small crowd gathered up front where, thanks to my height, I could still see perfectly. The stage microphone was apparently set up for the headlining band (also friends of mine), who have a much greater appreciation for vocal reverb, but her voice still sounded great-ate-ate-te-e. Her guitar was a little boomy (probably also due to a soundman unwilling to tweak a knob from the headliner’s soundcheck set-up), but she adjusted well and did what she always does. She delivered her wonderfully written and often introspective original songs with the proper placement of exuberance and pause. And she let her naturally fun personality shine between those beautiful songs setting a nice light vibe to start off an evening of local talent. It was really fun to hear her perform so strongly and to be received equally well by the crowd. Standing in the back, I was able to hear the under-the-breath complements being shared among my fellow wall-flowers.

After collecting my hug as she left the stage, she escaped long enough to catch a breath and wrangle a drink out of a lackluster bar staff. When she returned, she handed me a small package. She, together with her mom and long-time cohort Mary had packaged several CDs of her demos to sell after the show. They were awesome D.I.Y. packages, all similar but each unique in its slight differences. They looked really great and as I opened it to see what kind of magic that more-than-capable group of ladies had pieced together, I was honored to see that I had been credited in her record as “Mister Mixer.” Sure I probably didn’t technically mix very much in our voice and guitar recordings, but I know what she’s saying. And I appreciate it. Besides, “button pusher” could’ve been misconstrued. I will treasure that CD as the singular piece of art that it is. And my favorite part of the whole package was this small tag just inside of the jacket that made me smile on a night that I wasn’t really in the mood to smile much. The tag read “Handmade with love.” Yeah. I smiled big.

That’s how we should all view the work that we do for ourselves. We deserve it.

100_6520

“Basically we just created our own label, but again we just did it to document our own music and create our own thing, so the major labels were just always out of our picture, we’re not interested.” – Ian MacKaye

Ani Difranco, Gillian Welch, and many many other musical groups across genres have started their own labels when no one else was interested in their art and rightly told the big money labels “No Thanks” when they finally came to cash in on the art that they had no part in creating. But when I think of D.I.Y., I can’t help but go to Fugazi. They’ve done it all themselves since the 80’s and have no interest in giving up even a hair of control just for a little bit of money. And they’re a really great band. Enjoy.

“I’m gonna fight for what I want to be”

Traveling, Can’t, Motivation, and Action

“You know, I’m sick of following my dreams, man. I’m just going to ask where they’re going and hook up with ’em later.”

Eight years ago today, one of my favorite comedians was found dead in his hotel room of a drug overdose. I had seen Mitch Hedberg in concert before and had all of his albums (still do). His comedy style was definitely a little odd with somewhat uneasily delivered one liner style jokes and the occasional self deprecating comment when he messed up a line or just bombed a joke altogether; those quips sometimes getting a bigger laugh than the fumbled joke he originally delivered. I loved his silly observations and askew way of seeing the world. I thought he was hilarious. And when they announced his death on April 1, 2005 it was easy to think that it was a joke, especially since I had tickets to see him again just a few days later.

February 24, 1968 – March 29, 2005

February 24, 1968 – March 29, 2005

In a 2001 Penthouse Magazine interview, he was asked how he would end his life if he could choose (What a stupid question). He replied “First, I’d want to get famous, and then I’d overdose. If I overdosed at this stage in my career, I would be lucky if it made the back pages.” I’m sure he was joking, but jokes are only funny when there is truth in them. As a person who has seen the affects of drug abuse a little closer than some, it sucks that anyone would think that overdosing is a good way to go or even a funny way to imagine it. But hey, I said he was funny, not smart.

Today, in memory of one of my favorite funny men, I will force my blog through a sieve of some of my favorite Mitch Hedberg quotes.

“I want to hang a map of the world in my house, and then I’m gonna put pins into all the locations that I’ve traveled to. But first I’m gonna have to travel to the top two corners of the map, so it won’t fall down.”

In a previous blog in which I was responding to questions posed by a fellow runner and blogger, I was asked the “What would you do if you won the lottery” question. Part of my answer was that I would run a race in every state in the United States. You can tell I don’t have the disposition for wealth. Why not just buy a helicopter and five houses? Or at least develop a huge gambling problem or something.

Well it occurred to me recently, that I don’t need a million dollars to do that. So I want to start trying to knock that out while I wait for my million dollar lottery ticket. It could be a while as I don’t play the lottery.

I don’t have a plan yet, but I will naturally start with the states closest to home. I’m lucky to have friends and family in many places across the country though, and I think it could be fun to try and combine visits with races. Now, I am by no stretch of the imagination rich, so it could take me a little while. But luckily there is no time limit on this either, so I will just get to it as I can. Really, it just sounds like a good excuse to visit friends to me. And as summer comes into view, my more northern located friends might want to start clearing off the couch. I’ll be looking to you guys first. Florida, maybe I’ll see you in late fall.

“I saw a lady on T.V. She was born without arms. Literally, she was born with her hands attached to her shoulders… and that was sad, but then they said, “Lola does not know the meaning of the word ‘can’t.'” And that to me was kinda worse… in a way… ya know? Not only does she not have arms, but she doesn’t understand simple contractions.”

I’m not so sure Lola isn’t better off not understanding that simple contraction. I’ve mentioned before my lifelong tendency to enter into new experiences with a strong “I can’t” attitude. It has always been a disservice to me even if I didn’t know it. I try; TRY not to use that word much anymore. Not because I don’t understand contractions, but because I’ve overused it so much in the past that I don’t really care for how it feels in my mouth anymore. The list of things that I’ve said I can’t do is hauntingly similar to the list of things I’ve never even tried to do. That’s obnoxious to me.

A few weeks ago I called a friend to see what he was doing that night. He said that he was jamming with some friends, that they didn’t have a guitar player set up, and that I should come jam with them. Of course, I immediately thought, I can’t do that. I may have even said it. But in the course of a few minutes, I realized that I wanted to do it. I used to jam with a couple of friends a really long time ago. My friend wasn’t trying to do anything big. He just wanted to rock out a little bit on a Friday night. Why the fuck wouldn’t I go? What’s the worst that could happen? I end up hanging out with people I like and not playing guitar? So I went.

I was every bit as rusty as I expected to be (maybe even worse). And because of that I wasn’t totally comfortable at first. But after a few sloppy attempts at whatever, we gelled on some simpler riffs and moved around through different things that each of us had been messing with or wanted to play around with. And I had a really good time.

When I spoke to my buddy earlier that day, I was probably only one solid “can’t” away from denying myself the simple joy of playing music with new people. Lola might be better served to never learn that four letter word.

“I bought a seven dollar pen because I always lose pens and I got sick of not caring.”

This immediately made me think of all of those articles that tell newer runners and those just starting at any new exercise routine that they should have a running partner or a workout buddy. Or even more directly related to the advice you’ll see for runners trying to avoid holiday season weight gain or just unmotivated in general to sign up for a race. The idea in each scenario is that investing more will motivate higher dedication and improve your results.

I’m on the fence on some of these issues.

I’ve heard the arguments for them. Agreeing to meet another person will keep you from skipping workouts or runs. And doing these things with others is supposed to help you progress, whether it’s because of friendly competition or the benefit of having moral support at hand while exercising. I get it. And knowing that you have to run a race on New Years day should help keep you away from the dessert table at Christmas, or at least reduce the number of trips to it anyway.

But I really like going to the gym alone. I love the anonymity of it. I like to put in my headphones and just zone out for some sweat therapy. A friend and I have suggested going together on a Saturday a few times and that sounds like a great idea. I’m sure we eventually will. But for my regular daily workouts, I don’t need anyone else to motivate me. I don’t slight those that might. But it’s a private time with my thoughts for me, and I don’t know if I would enjoy it as much if I was trying to keep conversation with another person or if I couldn’t burrow away into my own head while I was in there. It’s just a really good time to be alone.

Running with others makes way more sense to me. I’ve only done it a few times and each time has been pretty relaxing and beneficial to my running as well. I still predominantly run alone and love it for all of the same reasons I mentioned above. But even with how much I sometimes count on my therapy-runs, I can still see clear benefits to running with others. I’ve been invited to run with a few different people of a few different occasions but haven’t made it happen yet. But as the days continue to get longer, it may make scheduling things like that easier in the coming months. We’ll see what happens, but I know I’m going to run either way.

As for the “sign up for a race” theory of motivation, I think it totally works. Back in the fall when I had just started running and working out, I signed up for something like five races spaced out between early December and mid March. I was already more dedicated to becoming healthier than I even realized at the time. And I have luckily experienced very little temptation to veer from my course. But having those races always on the horizon did make it much easier to stay focused on my diet and exercise routines. It’s part of the reason that I still try to always keep a race on the horizon.

My next registered race is at the end of May, but I’m almost certain to squeeze one into April too. I’m just waiting to see how my ankle is going to cooperate before pulling the trigger on one.

“I got a jump rope. That thing’s just a rope, man. You gotta make the jump happen.”

Jump rope, yoga pants, running shoes, whatever: They’re all just a rope, some seriously tight pants, and comfortable shoes until you take action to make them more.

I had a pair of running shoes for years before last September when I started running. I don’t even remember when I bought them, or why. They looked almost brand new when I laced them up on a whim and took off into what turned out to be a new phase in my life. And to my surprise, neglect is very detrimental to shoes because they literally fell apart the next day when I decided that I wanted to go run again. I actually panicked a little.

Even after only two runs, I knew that I needed to do it. I knew that it was going to help me find answers to so many questions I was battling at the time. And I was completely worried that if I took a break from it, I might not start again. So what’s the problem ThatGuy? Go buy another pair of running shoes. The problem is I wear a size 15 shoe and simply driving to the store to buy shoes is a fantasy on par with unicorns when you have a shoe size larger than 13.

I drove to five different stores in three different cities before I found a single pair of running shoes in my size. And to my great delight and relief, they were both comfortable and affordable. I scooped them up and continued my running journey the next day without interruption.

I admit that I do have a rope that I don’t make jump very often. And I plan to incorporate yoga into my workout routine soon. But luckily for the entire sighted community, I will not be wearing yoga pants. Right now, I am really just grateful that I turned “shoes” into “running shoes” when I did. I love where they’ve taken me so far, and I’m cautiously enthusiastic to see where we’re headed next.

A few more for good measure:

“The depressing thing about tennis is that no matter how good I get, I’ll never be as good as a wall.”

“My friend asked me if I wanted a frozen banana, I said “No, but I want a regular banana later, so … yeah”.

“I saw this wino, he was eating grapes. I was like, “Dude, you have to wait.”

“Sometimes in the middle of the night, I think of something that’s funny, then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen’s too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain’t funny.”

“An escalator can never break–it can only become stairs. You would never see an “Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order” sign, just “Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.”

“I’m sick of Soup of the Day, it’s time we made a decision. I wanna know what the fuck ‘Soup From Now On’ is.”

“If I was on death row and given one last meal I would ask for a fortune cookie. “Come on ‘long prosperous life!'”

“I went to a record store, they said they specialized in hard-to-find records. Nothing was alphabetized.”

And finally one of my all time favorites:

“A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer.”

How 2 Half Mary

Yes, I know the title looks like the name of a Prince song. Yes, it was intentional. No, there is absolutely no reason for that. It’s just been a crazy week, I’m nowhere near getting caught up (which is why it’s taken me so long to get this out), and I’m feeling a little silly. Forgive me.

“Life is the only art that we are required to practice without preparation, and without being allowed the preliminary trials, the failures and botches, that are essential for training.” –Lewis Mumford

Other than the occasional high school coaches asking the 6’4”, 225 lb new kid if he plays ball, no one has ever confused me for an athlete. And those coaches were never all that impressed to find out that I was more inclined to sit quietly in the corner of my art or math classes than I was to put on uncomfortable clothes and stay at school one second longer than I had to in order to try out for whatever team(s) they were trying to fill. I sometimes said “no” before I even heard what ball they were talking about. I got really good at saying “no” to things without trying them first. And that ability to so quickly refuse new experiences is certainly the strongest part of the foundation on which I would eventually build a mountain of regrets.

I’ve NEVER been terribly athletic. And until recently, I had in no way trained for any kind of physical activity before. I’d never really trained for anything at all. I’ve never challenged myself enough to require that kind of effort. I’m a natural born underachiever. Six months ago, I would’ve said that as though it was some comically charming facet of my character. It wasn’t. It isn’t.

Anybody can do nothing. It’s fucking easy. Ask me how I know.

“Training gives us an outlet for suppressed energies created by stress and thus tones the spirit just as exercise conditions the body.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Around Thanksgiving of last year, two months into my new running life and having not yet run a single race, I registered to run a half marathon in the spring. I had no clue what to expect. But I knew that I needed to challenge myself. I knew that I needed to prove to myself that I was capable of setting a goal and actually working to accomplish it. I researched and studied as many resources as possible trying to find half marathon training plans designed for beginning runners. I finally settled on one that I liked and that I was confident I could achieve. One with only three running days a week seemed a good idea. I adjusted that plan to better fit my other work/life responsibilities. And on December 17, 2013, a few weeks and two 5Ks after signing up, I officially began my training for the Shamrock Half Marathon…with a two mile run. I was still a novice runner. But I was already hooked and determined to finish the race as respectably as I possibly could. Putting any less than 100% effort towards my goal was no longer an option.

Last Sunday, I ran my very first half marathon. And it was amazing.

“It is because the body is a machine that education is possible. Education is the formation of habits, a super-inducing of an artificial organization upon the natural organization of the body.” — Thomas Huxley

I am a creature of habit. Not for any deep philosophical reason or genius theory about more efficient time management. My memory just sucks, so if I don’t develop a pattern of activity around the important things in my life, I’ll forget shit. I park my car in roughly the same place every day at work because when I don’t, I end up walking to that area anyway before realizing my car is somewhere else. I empty my pockets into the same bowl every day as soon as I walk into my apartment. And if my keys aren’t in that bowl in the morning, I’m going to be late for work. Why? Because I will have no clue where to start looking. They’re supposed to be in that bowl. If they’re not there, they could be on the moon for all I know. Maybe I’ll start looking there. This could take a minute.

Peanut butter, banana, raisins, and honey on whole grain.  Delicious.

Peanut butter, banana, raisins, and honey on whole grain. Delicious.

Because I’m aware of this ridiculous part of my personality and because I have not yet run enough races to have developed a solid ritual, on the nights before races I have to make long lists of things to do, or pack, or wear. I lay out the clothes I’m going to wear stacked in the order that I’m going to put them on. I pin my bib to my shirt on the night before the race because doing that still seems to take me an embarrassingly long time (my OCD about it being straight doesn’t help). I make a “things to bring” list so detailed that it includes my running shoes. Am I really worried that I’m going to head out the door without the most crucial piece of equipment? Yep. That’s why it’s on the list. Running shoes, HR monitor, Garmin, flipbelt, hat, gloves, protein drink, peanut butter & banana sandwich, coconut water, water bottle, regular water, towels, hoodie, sunglasses, compression wraps for my ankles, jelly beans, a power bar, iPod, and headphones. Yeah, that should just about do it. I hope I didn’t forget anything.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve packed less stuff for two day trips out of town. I’m nuts.

“Success is blocked by concentrating on it and planning for it… Success is shy – it won’t come out while you’re watching.” — Tennessee Williams

I spent the entire three months leading up to my first half marathon under the delusion that the race started at 9:00 a.m., and didn’t realize until the Friday before the race that it was actually at seven. That meant I’d have to get up around 4:30 in order to eat some kind of breakfast, get dressed, and get to the Virginia Beach ocean front early enough to find a parking spot remotely close to the race. Parking in Va Beach can be a pain in the ass on a random Thursday. It was certainly going to suck on a weekend where tens of thousands of runners and their families would be in town.

I woke up late, fumbled around in my kitchen trying to toast a bagel, make my vitamin smoothie, get dressed, and finish packing my dry bag all at the same time. And my amazing multi-tasking paid off. I only left the house 45 minutes later than the time I wrote on my hand-scribbled race day itinerary.

If I had not gone to the beach the previous day to watch my mom kick ass in her first 8K (still super proud of her), I would have had no clue at all what to expect. But thankfully, I had just enough familiarity with the situation to avoid any real anxiety. I got there just before 6:30 but didn’t even mess with the traffic bogs angling for close parking spots. I headed south away from the start until I saw a good spot, parked my car, and started hoofing it towards the race. I was hoping to get there early enough to throw a good luck high-five to Kathryn of Run Eat Play RVA and find a few other people that I knew were running that morning. But after schlepping my freezing bones 18 blocks into a welcoming head-wind, stopping to use the bathroom twice, dropping off the world’s heaviest dry bag, and knocking out a solid 90 seconds of quality pre-race stretching, I entered my corral a massive five minutes before the scheduled start of the race.

I was nailing my first half marathon already. All I could do was laugh at myself. Well, laugh at myself and shiver. Because of an unspecified obstruction on the course, the start of the race was delayed roughly ten minutes, so there was plenty of time for shivering. And I did. We all did.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

Finally it was time to start the race. As is the custom around these parts, Team Hoyt starts first. If you don’t know who they are, click their name. I love seeing them out there and always make sure to let them know it when I see them along the road. A few seconds after Team Hoyt took off; they started releasing the corrals one at a time. My training had officially ended two days prior. Now my waiting was over too. It was finally time to run.

I originally signed up with a completely uninformed guesstimated finishing time of 2:30 and been placed in corral number eight. While picking up my packet at the expo however, I asked the organizers if there was any way to be reassigned considering I’d finished my 20K a few weeks earlier in 1:56:41. They very kindly moved me into corral number three instead. I cannot explain how much that helped. I essentially passed thousands of people before I ever put on my shoes. And starting in corral three allowed me to settle into my pace within the first mile of the race instead of having to bob and weave my way through thousands of people in order to get free and on pace. That was a HUGE bonus.

I knew the Shamrock was going to be the largest race I’d participated in by a huge margin, and I really didn’t know what to expect along the course. But I just settled into my pace, kept my back straight, my head up, shoulders relaxed, arms swinging, and my feet under me. Basically, I just ran.

My ankles were not 100%, and my left one was already a little sore before the race even started. But once I was moving, it was very ignorable. I settled into my pace early, even if “my pace” was 20 seconds faster than I really intended. I checked my watch pretty often during the first two or three miles and I was always running “too fast,” but I felt great and could not justify slowing down. While adjusting my watch at 0.45 miles, I accidently pushed the “lap” button and offset all of my lap markings and alarms after that, but I still got pace updated every mile and it was always right around nine minutes per mile. And because I felt so comfortable, I just decided to keep that up. Why not, right? Just keep running.

There were spectators scattered all along the course, including some friends that had set up their own water (cough…and maybe beer) station along the route. I threw a low-five as I passed a very loud and animated gentleman cheering us on our way early. I hollered out at a friend standing atop a small wall not seeing me as I passed. I said “thank you” to every group of volunteers and spectators that I passed close enough to speak to without shouting. I gave props to every funny sign. Oh, and I ran.

Four, five, and six miles just flew by. When the road was banked more than I liked, I ran on the more level bike path or off in the grass beside the course. When I needed to take advantage of one of the aid stations, I grabbed a cup, said thank you, and pulled off to the side to walk for the two seconds it takes to swallow a Dixie cup of water. Then I took off again. I ate half a bag of Extreme Sports Beans just before the race started and then ate them in half bag portions every 20 minutes along the way. And I kept running.

“When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.” — Isak Dinesen

As I passed the half-way point, my watch said 58 minutes. I was on pace to break two hours, and even with a sore left ankle, I felt very rested and strong. All I had to do was keep running and avoid doing something stupid, like speeding up. I felt great, but definitely didn’t want to become overconfident. My pace was working, and I wasn’t going to try and fix something that wasn’t broken.

My right ankle started to ache a little bit at eight miles, but nothing too distracting. I was doing a good job of keeping a pretty high cadence of shorter strides and landing on my mid-foot. I just kept running. It was almost time to exit the Fort Story part of the course and head back into the spectators we passed in the beginning. Maybe I’d have one of those beers this time. (I didn’t)
100_6497Literally before I knew it, I was passing the 10 mile marker. All I had left was a 5K. I couldn’t believe it. I was going to finish the damn thing. And I was going to do it running strong. I felt great. As I passed my friends’ “aid station” and waved on the way by, they noticed something that I was unaware of. I was now less than two miles from the finish line, and I was in front of the two hour pacing group. Who knew?

I entered Atlantic Avenue and was greeted with a brutally cold wind in my face, but was way too amped to care. And as we all crossed onto the Virginia Beach boardwalk and could see the finish, it was time to start kicking. I could not believe that I had any energy in reserve. But I did. Was I sprinting? Nope. But in the Hollywood version of my life story, I’ll make sure the younger better looking actor does. I was picking up my pace a little bit though. I knew I was going to be under two hours by this point, but saw no reason not to use up that excess energy that I’ve never had at the end of a race before. I was damn near confused. What was going on? I wasn’t exhausted.

I crossed the finish line stronger than in any long race I’ve ever run before, and finished my first half marathon with an official time of 1:58:20 and an average pace of 9:02 min/miles. It was the easiest long run I’ve ever run. It was the fastest paced long run I’ve ever run. And I had an absolute blast doing it.

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” – Muhammad Ali

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention any mental or physical battles to overcome during the run. That’s because there weren’t any. I don’t think I had to consciously focus on my breathing, my stride, my striking, or anything else more than maybe 10 times during the whole race, and never for more than a few seconds. All of that struggling to finish 10 mile training runs in the rain, or that 20K race in the rain, or that 11.11 mile confidence-run the week before the race had all paid off. My training worked. I couldn’t believe how well it worked. I felt incredible.

I did what I had never done before. I set a goal, developed a plan, followed that plan, and achieved the goal with relative comfort and ease. I was beyond stoked.

Unfortunately being stoked has zero warming qualities because the after party was Fur-ree-zing. There was plenty of beer and good cheer inside that giant tent next to the ocean, not so much warmth though. I was able to track down a few of the people that I wanted to congratulate and of course I managed to drink my four free beers, but there was only so much my frozen bones and chattering teeth could take so I decided it was time to head home for some chili and the warmth of some good friends.

“In general, any form of exercise, if pursued continuously, will help train us in perseverance. Long-distance running is particularly good training in perseverance.” — Mao Zedong

I haven’t run since the race, and intend to stay off of the road until Monday. I was back in the gym the next morning trying to work out the pain in my left knee. I suspect that my sore ankle resulted in my unconsciously tranferring more of the impact to my knee. And it wasn’t happy with me. I’ve been to the gym every day since, and both my ankles and knees feel great. I actually mentioned to a friend Tuesday morning that I thought I could run, but I didn’t. I’m really looking forward to getting back out there next week though, and hopefully with a fully healed and healthy body. I’m trying to be one of those mythical “smart runners” I’ve heard so much about.

Not sure about my long term race plans, but the running will definitely continue. I think it gets even more meditative for me with every passing mile. I love it. I’m registered for a 10K in May and I’m sure there will be many more after that…and maybe before. Happy Shamrock to me. It was a blast. I will do it again.