Colorado Trip Report…Finally!

“Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts” – Oliver Wendall Holmes

Well after being back for almost a week now, I’m finally getting close to my normal level of chaos. I’m down from the mountain and have been busy as hell settling back into my rut groove the best I can and quickly realizing that these next couple of weeks of training are going to be insanely time consuming. Come on taper.

Despite some crazy travel woes on my way west and some unusually persistent Colorado precipitation, I enjoyed a very relaxing stay in the Rockies. It was great to really visit with my brother and sister-in-law and to catch up with them on their side of the world for a change. It had been far too long.

I didn’t do anything crazy while away. I managed to maintain my marathon training without any major issues. I meditated first thing every morning, which was awesome. I was introduced to some new food and drink. I enjoyed running in a new place, especially one so beautifully different. And it was great to just break from the grind of reality to take a deep breath and look around for a while. I’m putting my trip in the “win” column.

I actually like how you can see the rain coming from so far away

I actually like how you can see the rain coming from so far away

“People deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong. Why not try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?” – Nhat Hanh

It has always seemed odd to me when someone returns from a vacation and is most eager to share a two hour story about the pitfalls of air travel. I’ve flown before. Those stories are all the same. Yes, the drinks are expensive. Yep, it sure is hard to find a place to smoke. Wait, you’re telling me that you thought the seats were uncomfortable? And the food wasn’t great either? Hell yes, I would love to hear your political opinion about the ridiculous security checks. Just hold on a sec, while I make a cup of hot tea to wash down this handful of valium.

In the spirit of trying to listen to my own griping, I’m going to skip the travel details of my trip. I will say that east coast lightning storms lead to flight cancellations, long delays, missed connections, and separation from my luggage on the way west; where torrential rain caused flood and rock-slide related road closures that made my travel a bit…um…”slower” than normal. But I did eventually get there. And no matter the annoyance of those detours and delays, it was still much faster than walking across the country.

Looking back at the whole trip, I’m happy to say the realization that the three “different” restaurants I experienced during my stay in the D.C. airport all served the same vegetable-deficient menu of burgers and fried appetizers was not the only thing I learned. I discovered all kinds of stuff. Here’s half a dozen of them.

“Well, lucky for you, it’s only raining in two places in the entire country; where you are, and where you’re going.” – My brother (Stuart), during phone conversation deciding that he’d pick me up in Denver.

Car camping is the best way to catch up with family you haven’t seen in a while. As I mentioned, my west-bound travels weren’t exactly glitch-free. But after the initial hiccup, I was able to foresee some of the inevitable hurdles to come. And once it was obvious that I was never going to make my connection out of Denver, Stuart graciously agreed to make the three hour drive to pick me up instead of letting me wait 14 hours for the next day’s flight. He’s cool like that.

Unfortunately, the weather was not nearly as cool. I’d regrettably scheduled my trip during what would become the deadly Colorado flood of 2013. Along with washing away bridges, roads, and homes, the flooding rains also caused more than a few rock slides. And those rock slides caused road closures. And those road closures resulted in us sitting on the side of Highway 70 just one hour away from the Denver airport: ignition off, seats reclined, hats pulled down, and shooting the shit while we decide whether to accept sleep and wait it out or take one of two long-ass detours all the way around the state.

A few hours of good quality brother-time allowed us to catch up on all the basics. Mom’s this. Dad’s that. Work is work. What’ve you been up to? Blah blah blah. And after shooting the shit for a couple of hours on the side of the road, learning that Stuart’s learning guitar, discussing some of my lifestyle changes, taking a very short nap, and assessing the travel options; at 4:30 a.m. he decided to take the southern loop around the state of Colorado. That decision turned out to be very wise. The road we were waiting for didn’t open until after noon. And we later learned that the northern option was washed out and would’ve left us stranded again. Have I mentioned what a lucky traveler I am?

Because we got all of that cumbersome “talking” crap out of the way first thing, we were able to spend the rest of my trip on the important stuff like trading music, guitar noodling, and catching up on my reading while Stu continued to dominate the world of Candy Crush (ugh). Oh, and we might have enjoyed a couple of beers here and there as well.

Stu's backyard has such a shitty view

Stu’s backyard has such a shitty view

Gold? maybe. Coal? For sure. But there aint no oxygen in them there hills. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration. I thought heading out there that I was going to be running my longest distance to date while at an elevation roughly 6000 ft. higher than what I’m accustomed. Then I learned that Oak Creek, CO, where my brother lives, is actually closer to 7400 ft. above sea level. Woohoo! Who needs oxygen anyway?

Stu was confident that the altitude wouldn’t be that big of a deal, especially if my fitness level had improved as much as he’d been told. Technically, he was right. It was not at all debilitating. But it was noticeable, and because I could see the difference even during my warm-up, I was able to compensate for it early.

I’m not always good at it, but I try to run my long runs based on a fairly casual pace (approximately 20 seconds per mile slower than what I hope to be my race pace). But while warming up and stretching in the back yard, I noticed that my heart rate was already increasing faster than normal. That’s pretty much all it took for me to decide that if I was going to run 16 miles in an unfamiliar area at unfamiliar altitude, I’d probably be better off running to exertion instead of pace. There would be absolutely no backup plan if I got 8 miles out of town and bonked, or ran out of water, or both. Oxygen is one thing, but there definitely aint no water-stops in them hills.

That decision to run to heart rate instead of pace is probably what allowed me to complete and even enjoy my run. It was raining when I started, and I did have to turn around early to go back for gloves. But once I was sure my hands weren’t going to fall off, I had a satisfying run down (and up) the rolling hills of highway 131. I got some weird stares from the horses that I passed on my trek overlooking the valley of sprawling ranches and railroad tracks. And I had to stop a few times to dump rocks out of my shoe. But for the most part is was just a nice, slow, nearly three hour romp through the gray morning of a state still a little too resistant to the sunshine. Despite the previous days with such spotty travel food and very little sleep, I had a good run and was happy to have my biggest schedule obligation out of the way. Finally, we can party, bring on the beer and hookers…

…Okay, just the beer then.

(Side note: Later that night, two of the 12 people in a local bar recognized me as that guy they saw running “way out” on 131. Fame is easy to find in a small town.)

I ran a trail all the way around this lake, but you'll never see pics.

I ran a trail all the way around this lake, but you’ll never see pics.

It’s time for me to step up into five years ago. In a recent online exchange about peoples’ favorite places, I mentioned that Steamboat Springs, CO was a beautiful and active community that I thought the person would enjoy. And when he suggested that I post some pictures, I thought that would be easy considering I was planning on a visit. Then came the rain. And fog. And drizzle. And mud. All of which nearly hid any evidence of the “scenic, active” lifestyle I’d mentioned. Murphy’s law I guess.

But I still tried. On the first day with just the suggestion of sunny weather Stuart, his wife Rachel, and I even took the gondola to the top of the mountain to look around at some bike trails Stu was building, maybe go for an easy hike, and take some pictures.

Guess what? As soon as we got to the top, a gray fog settled, a storm rolled in, it started raining, and lightning strikes in the area shut down the gondola stranding us at the top. Oh well. There’s a bar. One bloody mary please.

That was just one instance where my desire to take a couple of pictures was derailed. All of the the others were while out on a run and because I didn’t have a camera. I had my phone, but no camera. What? Yep. I’m the last man on earth without a camera phone. Because of security restrictions, I can’t have one where I work. But it occurred to me while running on a lake trail last week, and wanting to take pictures of…the lake, the mountains, the random cow standing on the trail, whatever, that I have ridiculously decided to limit my ability to conveniently capture moments in my real life just so that I can put a cell phone that never rings on my desk during my work life. I’m going to fix that soon. I don’t need my cell phone at work. And soon, I won’t have it there. Hooray for technology! Say “cheese!”

Russia has great asses. After waiting for the shuttle to climb the mountain and carry us back to the bottom (at which point the sun conveniently came out again), food was definitely in order. So we rolled over to a local restaurant for a late lunch and I was introduced to one of the best drink surprises I’ve had in a long time: The Moscow Mule.

Except for my standard pre-race dinner’s dirty martini, I’m generally a beer drinker. But I do enjoy a good vodka drink. And the Moscow Mule is one helluva vodka drink; simple, strong, and refreshing. It’s just vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice served over ice in a copper mug. The place we went also muddled some mint leaves in it, but other bars did not. I like the mint, but the copper mug is definitely the larger part of the magic. We made some at the house. They were good, but definitely missing that…something. And those mugs were so “popular” that one restaurant even required an I.D. deposit when you ordered their mule as a guarantee that they’d get the mug back. Damn thieves ruin everything. If you get a chance, try a mule. They are tasty.

“If you’re going to keep to this vegetarian vegan path, then you have to try this before your body starts rejecting meat.” – Stuart again

I’ve had Rocky, but Bullwinkle tastes way better. When I was maybe 11 years old, I remember trying squirrel meat for the first and last time. I remember thinking it was good. But if memory serves, it was country fried. And at the time, I would pretty much eat anything that was breaded and fried in grease.

When Stuart suggested we cook moose tenderloin for dinner, I was skeptical for almost 30 seconds. He’d seen me skip every opportunity to eat meat for days and gave me zero grief about my preference for a plant-based diet. I don’t want it. No one needs it. And he didn’t give a shit what I ate any more than I did about his food choices. But he also knew I’d like moose. And I trusted him to actually be considering what I would genuinely enjoy instead of just assuming that if he liked it then everyone should. So in another attempt to try something new “before my body starts rejecting meat,” I happily accepted the offer. And I’m so glad that I did. It was absolutely delicious.

Moose is incredibly lean and dark. It looked almost purple when it was raw. He soaked it in a soy-sauce based marinade. And because moose is so lean, he wrapped it in bacon before oven roasting it to medium rare. Stu insisted that if he wanted bacon, he’d have just made bacon, so he removed it before serving. And though I like bacon, I’m glad he did that too. The moose itself was so incredibly tender that you barely had to chew it at all. I cannot fairly describe its flavor. I wasn’t “gamey” at all whatever that means, but it wasn’t like beef either. Honestly, it was the closest thing to sashimi tuna that I can imagine being found on land. If you ever get the chance to have wild killed Bullwinkle tenderloin and your diet preferences allow it, please treat yourself. It’s way better than Rocky.

It didn't rain every day.

It didn’t rain every day.

Home is a subjective word. I’ve said in the past that no matter how awesome any place I’m visiting is, after about five days I’m usually ready to go back home. I didn’t feel that way this time. I wasn’t miserable to have to leave Colorado. I love it there and I love Stuart and Rachel. But I felt like a visitor, and visits come to an end. I also wasn’t relieved to get back to Virginia though. I like where I live. It’s a chill spot where I have a good job and know so many good people. But for whatever reason, when I was contacting people on my way back, I found myself avoiding the word “home.” I’d say “I’m back in Portsmouth” or “I’m on my way east” or simply “I’m back.” I’m still doing it.

I’m not miserable where I live. I don’t feel trapped. In fact, whether it feels like home isn’t an issue to me at all right now. There’s a battle being fought here that I can’t support from afar, and I’m glad I’m close. I’m grateful for all that I have in this place. I truly am. It was just weird walking through my hometown’s airport and not feeling quite ready for baggage claim.

I was there. Now I’m here. Someday; here, there, or somewhere, I’ll feel at home. And it’s probably got little to do with location. Happy Wednesday!

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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.

F the C Word Too (J.O.G.T. 5)

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

grateful

May seemed a fairly uneventful month for this guy with a beard. Other than pulling my head out of a small mental funk in the first week or so and setting a new 10K PR in the end of the month, almost all of my Jar Of Good Things entries could be summarized in one of these simple statements:

“Great run today.”

“Nice workout today.”

“The weather was awesome today.”

When looking through the entries for any interesting things that I hadn’t already shared, only one entry really stood out. And because of recent events in the lives of dear friends of mine, I’m dedicating J.O.G.T #5 to that single entry.

May 05. Went to Funny Bone Comedy Club for Chris’s Humor Heals CHKD benefit show and saw Brett Leake again. He was as funny and inspirational as I expected and I’m really glad I went. “Love life”

As I’ve already shared, I was in a bit of a funk for a couple of weeks around the turn of the month so when my friend, and local comedian, Chris Dimbitz told me that he was again organizing a comedy show to raise money for Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters (CHKD), it was kind of a no-brainer that I’d be going. I of course wanted to support my friend’s venture. CHKD is an institution easily worth my time and money. Last year’s benefit show was funny as hell. And at the time, I knew I could really use a good laugh. So I went.

And I’m glad that I did.

I was seated down front, right up against the stage where a 6’4” introvert like myself always dreams of sitting when going to a public event alone. I shared the matchbook sized table with another solo patron who responded to his favorite quips of the night by repeating them aloud, and a younger couple that appeared to be friends with one of the other comics performing that night. We all exchanged simple pleasantries (mainly about how cold it was in there), ordered a couple of drinks and/or appetizers, and settled in for the show.

Bring on the funny goddamn it!

Chris emceed the event and was supported by several local comedian friends. And I don’t mind saying that I had modest expectations of them. I’m no comedy expert, but it is easy to fall into a comedy hole with me. A few poorly strung together “On the way over here tonight…” jokes or some more of the exhausted “black people are different than white people” observations and I’ll be gone for the rest of the set.

But the group Chris gathered did a really great job. All had different styles of humor. None aimed for the low hanging comedy-fruit of simply being shocking or offensive. Sometimes a genuinely funny joke will make the occasional person squirm in mild discomfort or awe of an unexpected zinger. But just making people cringe doesn’t automatically make something funny. Does that make sense? I obviously have no problems with the use of curse words, but it was nice to see some quality good natured and clean comedy. I liked it.

“Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.” – Anthony J. D’Angelo

The headliner of that show was the comedian Brett Leake. You’ve probably seen him before. I remember seeing him on The Tonight Show a few different times before I abandoned television. I saw him at the old Thoroughgood Inn Comedy Club in Virginia Beach almost 15 years ago. And he’s seemed to pop up on my radar just enough that I was already familiar with his work and his story.

(Odd sidenote: I also saw Chris at that club back then, but didn’t know him at the time. The world works in funny ways.)

Brett has muscular dystrophy. Back in the day, you may have remembered him as that comedian with the crutches. Today, because he’s had to adapt to a wheelchair, his website refers to him as “one of our nation’s top sitdown standup comics.” His performances have also evolved to be a mix of standup comedy and motivational speaking that I can’t describe any better than his own website:

“His inspiring presentations leverage his success at overcoming adversity to focus on creativity, managing change, life balance, and personal growth. He weaves into the entertainment recent findings in emotional intelligence research; why humor is essential in our lives, how one can develop a humor lens, and the notion that if we attend to a few core needs we and our colleagues can communicate more effectively, feel less of a divide between work and home, and find what suffices.”

OneChildrenWithBlocksI sat stage-side about eight feet from Brett’s left elbow and enjoyed an hour of much needed and very humorous perspective adjustment. I already knew I had no reason to feel shitty. I already knew that my life wasn’t that bad. And I already knew that I was in control of how I process and adjust to any parts of it that I’m unhappy with. I just needed a little reminder. Brett was funny. He was positive. And on May 5th, those were things that I could use. He delivered.

I left that show in a much better head-space than I arrived. I was happy to support my friend’s event and it felt good to give my money to an institution that does so much good work for suffering children and their families. But I went to the show for fairly selfish reasons. I just wanted to laugh. Today I’m even happier to have gone and supported the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.

“When someone has cancer, the whole family and everyone who loves them does, too.” – Terri Clark

I obviously can’t be 100% sure, but I’m fairly certain that each and every person reading this has had their life touched by cancer in some way. Chris started organizing the fund raiser to help show his family’s appreciation for the hospital and its services when his youngest daughter was born with a rare cancer (I’m happy to report she’s doing great now). My grandmother died of lung cancer after never smoking cigarettes. One of my close friends lost his father to cancer a few years ago. My ex-girlfriend’s father lost his battle with pancreatic cancer only last fall. A few months ago, my sister-in-law’s childhood friend died of colon cancer just months after giving birth to her second child. She was younger than I am right now. And last week, one of my oldest friends on this planet was told that his not yet one year old daughter had a cancerous brain tumor.

Just typing those words seems unreal to me.

I fucking hate cancer.

HATE!

I don’t believe everything happens for a reason. There is no justice to be found in the illness of a child. There just isn’t. Any lessons to be learned, or growth to be experienced from those types of challenges are not worth the suffering. It is not fair. It’s not! But fair or not, it is happening. And the whole family is in my thoughts way more than they know (which is obviously my fault). If you’re the praying type, please do. If you’re not, keep them in your thoughts and keep your thoughts optimistic. I believe positivity helps, and I don’t particularly care where your positivity is grounded as long as it’s focused and directed to the places it is needed.

So far, the closest thing to a silver lining that I can find in this grayest of clouds is the close proximity of CHKD. Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters is one of the nation’s top pediatric hospitals, and surely the best in the state of Virginia. The fact that it’s located in our hometown, where my friends can so conveniently access it, is maybe the only good thing I can find in this situation. But it is a very good thing, and I’m grateful that they are able to have such a great medical resource available to them during this incredible fight.

“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

There was a time when I might have wanted to take this time to discuss just how flawed our healthcare system and insurance industry really are despite America’s politicians’ repeated claims that we’re the greatest at everything. At this point, America claiming to have the world’s best healthcare system is probably on par with that strip mall restaurant next to where you get your car inspected claiming to have the world’s best hamburger. It sounds good. It looks good on the paper hat. But it’s probably not true.

What is definitely true is that the suffering of an innocent child is already traumatic enough and alone worthy of every bit of a family’s energy, without the distraction of having to also worry about the immense financial burdens lurking in the shadows, completely indifferent of the medical outcome. These are my friends. They’re hard working people who pay their taxes and their mortgage; and have health insurance. But it doesn’t take a lot of research to see how inadequate health insurance can be in these most extreme cases.

Since reinventing this blog last November, I have enjoyed a truly amazing amount of support from old friends, new ones, and strangers alike. I am so grateful for every person that has shared these posts, sometimes too resembling of diary entries than I intend. I genuinely appreciate every comment on this site and/or my facebook page. I absolutely love it when I get to talk to someone who says that this blog has inspired them to run, workout, get healthier, or to simply try anything that they might have thought impossible. I could’ve never imagined having that affect on anyone. I am truly grateful for it all. I really am. And after all of that unbelievable support and against my nature of never asking for anything, I humbly ask for more.

Not a single one of you owes me, or my friends that you may have never met, another second of your time. But if you do have a minute, a friend of the family has set up a website where anyone that is interested in helping these good people during this difficult time can read their story and/or contribute to a fund that will go towards their quickly growing medical and life expenses. If you have those few moments, I do kindly ask you to check out that site HERE.

Give if you can. Share the link if you will. And if nothing else, please keep these good people in your thoughts; and keep those thoughts positive. I really appreciate it. And I know they do as well.

“Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” – Voltaire

Be grateful for what you have. Express the love you feel. Nothing is guaranteed. Love Life, even if it doesn’t always seem to love you back.

“It’s about focusing on the fight and not the fright.” – Robin Roberts

Just for some sake of normalcy, here are the Honorable Mentions:

May 02. Signed up for the Rock n’ Roll half marathon on Sept 1. I’m taking that day back.

May 09. Beautiful day for a run by the river. Mild temps, low humidity, and slow winds. Perfect.

May 16. Started new workout routine, met the Hills, Spring, and Marco for a drink, and just might have smoked my last cigarette.

May 24. Another great pre-race dinner with Mom. I’m starting to think Indian food is my favorite pre-race meal.

May 31. After getting in my run and workout, took a nice drive to NJ where I was welcomed by a little league game and the ritual post game water ice.

Looking Forward (J.O.G.T. 4)

Well it appears that April is ready for the rearview mirror. And before looking in the Jar Of Good Things, I would’ve assumed that it was not such a great month. It was the first month since last November that I ran zero races. I felt busier than any month prior while experiencing almost no sense of accomplishment in the things most important to me. I let the stress of that feeling overwhelm me at times. And because of my incredible willingness to focus on self-made distractions, I had more days in April than any previous month where I didn’t even put anything in “the jar” at all. FAIL!

BUT (isn’t there always a “but?”)

When I opened up the jar, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was not all bad and certainly not the total loss I sometimes wanted to pretend it to be. I spent some quality time with friends and family. I learned a lot about by body, my diet’s affect on it, my MIND’s affect on it, as well as what was causing my running discomfort and hindering my recovery. Figuring those things out let me start running regularly and enjoyably again. And though I ran no races, I managed to get in 65 highly valued therapy-miles at a time when I clearly needed them. Sometimes it’s about quality, not quantity.

I had more down days than I was ready for, but I think I smiled more than I may have remembered. Maybe I should work on the accuracy of my memory as I continue forward. I didn’t expect to say this, but I’m putting April in the “win” column. Here’s why:

Apr 4. As I was running by, an elderly man that was sitting in his car waiting for his wife to come out rolled the window down and yelled “pick ‘em up and put ‘em down” as I passed. It really made me smile.

When I was growing up, my brother and I spent roughly every other weekend with my grandparents in rural North Carolina. My grandparents were very active members of their church and on Sunday mornings they’d naturally take us with them. My granddad was a Sunday school teacher and the leftover Krispy Kreme donuts from his class were the highlight of those trips. Every Sunday morning that I remember played out pretty much the same way. My grandfather, my brother, and myself would all be ready to go and sitting in the car, listening quietly to morning radio, and waiting for my grandmother to collect her things and come out to join us.

In fact, Sunday school or not, that is how my grandparents always left the house. It didn’t matter where they were going. My granddad, whether because of his time in the Army or years working in the U.S. Post Office, was always dressed and ready to depart ahead of schedule. My grandmother was always running laps around the house getting everything together last minute and putting a last minute cloud of Aquanet in the air. The drive “into town” was not a short one, so she did have a lot of stuff to remember: Her bible, her knitting bag, some Kleenex, her ear-rings, a shawl for her shoulders (there church was always cold). Being married for decades had solidified this routine, and I rarely remember Granddaddy getting vocally annoyed with waiting. He’d simply wait as long as he could and when it was getting to the point that they were going to be late, he’d call out “Mama, I’m gonna go warm up the car.” “Alright, I’m comin’ right now” she’d often inaccurately reply from wherever she was in the back of the house. He’d then go out, open the garage door, back the car out, close the garage door, and pull the car up in front of the porch steps and wait patiently for her to come out and join him, my brother, me, and Paul Harvey all waiting patiently.

I run almost all of my weekday runs in the neighborhoods surrounding my house. I’ve got a good idea of where the shorter mile markers are. And when I need to log longer runs, there are enough cross streets and a few stretches along the river to make those distances possible and sometimes even interesting. On the 4th, as I turned a corner I’ve rounded many times before, I saw a gentleman sitting in his car alone in front of an almost beachy looking cottage a block away from the water. When I got closer, I noticed a woman coming down the stairs distracted with her arms full of stuff: a large bag, a coat, a hat, her sunglasses…stuff. She was approaching the car just as I passed and he rolled the window down, smiled big out the window, and hollered out “Pick ‘em up, and put ‘em down.” “Exactly” I responded as I waved on the way by smiling at them both. They smiled back.

It may not be fair to have used the word “elderly.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I feel like it may carry a heft of age that I didn’t see in that lovely couple. They were probably in their early sixties and appeared pretty lively as a couple. Because of the scenario, it was impossible not to be reminded of my grandparents. And thinking about my grandparents always makes me happy.

Apr 16. Got a huge reception for my Boston Marathon blog. Ran my first 4 mile training run towards eventually running Boston. Beautiful day.

I think every blogger with a pair of running shoes felt some desire or maybe obligation to address the bombings in Boston. For a brief second, I toyed with the idea of refusing to address it. Maybe I’d ignore it altogether as I do so many other parts of the “news.” But then I realized that I write a blog that started overtly political, has evolved into something more-than-a-little tied to my running experiences, and that I was completely tired of people being assholes. So, like everybody else, I wrote what I felt.

My blog was shared by many more people than usual and my blog site received the second highest number of views ever. I appreciate all of the support of my ranting that day despite my even more liberal use of profanities. Thanks to any and every one who read or shared that post.

To have pointed out that runners, as a group, are probably the most charitable and giving collective of human beings I can think of, and therefore not at all deserving of being targeted would’ve been to misunderstand the reality of the situation.

Sure, every single race I’ve ever seen or heard of is tied to some sort of charitable fund raising and/or awareness initiative. Sure, almost every single person making those events possible is volunteering their time and/or money to make it happen. And yes, we’ve all heard about the remarkable responses of runners in Boston immediately assisting with the wounded and flooding local hospitals to donate blood. That is all known. Runners kick ass.

But I, and no other runner I’m aware of, believe that runners were ever the targets of the attack. They were obviously victimized along with so many other people. But the “target” of attacks like these is rarely as specific as that. I doubt the two accused bombers had any feelings towards runners one way or the other. Runners and everyone else were all victims of convenience. The attackers wanted a large crowd; any large crowd. And the Boston Marathon provided one.

As I stated in my post on the 16th, I was not disgusted about the attacks because I am a runner. I was disgusted because I’m sick of reading, seeing, hearing about that type of shit. Seeing the response of the running community in the days and weeks to follow made me even more proud to be part of that world. And because I’m a runner, not because of two angry people with the weapons of cowards, I want to run the Boston Marathon.

I was obviously being a bit figurative when I mentioned running my first four mile training run towards Boston. I’m not going to run it in 2014. I’m not even sure if I could possibly qualify for it in time for 2015. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have at least the beginning of my plan to achieve my goal. I don’t talk about races I haven’t registered for yet. But trust me, there is a plan. And if it takes me until 2016 or later, then at least I’ll have a slightly more achievable time requirement, because I’ll be 40. That is if the boon in registration doesn’t require another tightening of the qualifying times. Either way, I’m fuckin’ going!

Apr 21. I got my Further, Faster, Forever shirt today and it’s awesome.

Sometime in March, a friend of mine posted a link on facebook about one of his childhood friends, Aaron Edge, who had moved out west and discovered a love for endurance sports; both running and cycling huge distances. I’m not Aaron’s biographer and will not pretend to know his whole story, but if I understand the info on the FurtherFasterForever website correctly, his friends and he started posting pictures online of themselves accomplishing and celebrating their challenging physical achievements. Those posts started to catch on and create a buzz within the other endurance athletes in the area and a small online community developed of people challenging and encouraging each other to continue to push themselves further, faster, forever.

The link that my friend posted was about Aaron recently being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and how he was dealing with such a traumatic discovery, its inevitable affect on the physical life that he loves, and the long term financial burden that living with such a disease is sure to become. Needless to say, I was moved by the article and impressed with his attitude. He was not pretending that it wasn’t hard or that he wasn’t discouraged or even depressed. But he also wasn’t giving up. The link was raising money for the above mentioned medical expenses by selling limited edition t-shirts. I bought one.

100_6549I wore it for the first time last Wednesday and I have to say that I really like the shirt. The image of Jesse Owens on the back looks good and it’s a quality shirt. But what I really love is the quote on the back: “When life deals you a bad hand, remember that you run on your feet. Further-Faster-Forever” Every time I’ve seen that shirt, whether dropping it while taking clothes out of the dryer or days later when I finally fold it and put in my closet, it reminds me that life is not so bad.

I, like a lot of people, will too often dwell on the negative around me, things I’ve lost, things I want but never had, and things I may never have. This shirt reminds me that though I may have been dealt a bad hand from time to time, there is always somebody out there who was dealt even worse cards, or not even allowed to sit down at the table at all. At least I’m fortunate enough to play. I might not win. I might not get what I want. But at least I get to try.

So far, I’ve been “dealt” a healthy body, strong mind, and with that, the ability to do whatever I want if I’m willing to work hard. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but I think about that every time I put that shirt on. I may never be the athlete that Aaron is, but that is not the point. The point is to never be scared to see where you end up when you keep pushing further, faster, forever. The answers to life’s questions might be waiting for me right over that hill or around the next corner. But I’ll never find out unless I keep moving.

Apr 23. Ran my first speed intervals today. Meditated for a few minutes for the first time in over six years. I am underestimating the affects of stress on my body. It felt really good.

Throughout my preparation for the Shamrock Half Marathon, I simply logged miles. I used a training plan designed for beginners and kept it as simple as possible so as not to confuse or distract myself trying to learn too much too soon. After finally getting past my recent ankle issues, I was ready (eager in fact) to start putting in some miles again. And I wanted to start stepping up my training a little more. After all, I’m never going to get to Boston by running slow, right? I’m half kidding still. But I did want to start mixing up my runs a little bit with some speed intervals and tempo runs.

Last week I attempted 400s for the first time. I’m still a little weird (read: private and/or shy) so I didn’t even consider actually going to a track and running official 400s. I know that a track would be best because it is flat and a little softer than the street, but I just told you that I was weird. We’ll continue to work on that too. 400 meters also happens to be very close to a quarter of a mile. So instead of warming up, running a lap at a faster than normal pace, jogging/walking a lap to recover, and repeating that cycle until I was satisfied, I followed my warm up by running 0.25 miles fast, walking 0.25 miles to recover, and repeating that until I was done. I did seven 400s. It felt good.

It did not however have nearly the therapeutic effect of a normal run where I get to settle into a rhythm and just run. Sometimes “just run” means sinking deeply into whatever might be on my mind and really letting myself get to the heart of it. Sometimes it means focusing on running so much that it occupies my mind enough to clear out all other thoughts and distractions.

I’m not always in control of which way my run is going to go. But so far, it seems that if I can stay out of the way, the run always knows. Doing 400s seemed too much of a mix between the two, so neither one really panned out and even after my gym workout, I was still way to wound up over dumb shit and feeling overwhelmed. So I took a few minutes and just sat still and focus on nothing but my breathing. Inhale deeply, exhale slowly, inhale deeply, exhale slowly, I need to work on th—NO!, exhale slowly, inhale deeply, exhale slowly, I wonder if—NO!, inhale deeply, exhale slowly. I did that until I finally stopped interrupting myself and let my mind settle down. I really need to do that more.

Sometimes I’ve got too much on my mind. And with my eyes on the horizon, I need to lighten that load or I’ll never get there. A slow work in progress. Happy Tuesday.

Honorable mentions:

Apr 1. Made it through the entire day without having to endure even one stupid April Fools joke. That is an indescribably good thing.

April 8. Had a really great workout before coming home and opening up the windows to let in some of that spring air before actually going to bed at a decent hour. Oh, and I smoked zero cigarettes today.

Apr 17. Almost bailed on Wednesday tacos again, but decided I should go. Had a really good time and saw Mike do the worm outside of Bier Garden. Good night.

Apr 20. Mapped out my training/running schedule from now until November. I’m excited.

Apr 26. Mom picked up my new blender for me today and we had a lazy dinner and long foodie conversation when I picked it up. She rocks. 2 days in a row with zero cigarettes.

Apr 27. While helping Todd and Luce move today, I sat for several minutes watching a man shoot a bb gun at something in the back of his truck while his kids ran around screaming. Eventually a huge rat jumped from the truck and ran under it. It was surreal and entertaining and I could not turn away. 3 days zero cigs.

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.

Wish Magic

“There can be no failure to a man who has not lost his courage, his character, his self respect, or his self-confidence. He is still a King.” – Orison Swett Marden

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I had to break from my training plan over the weekend. I’ve done really well at sticking to the prescribed miles so far. Granted, I did go through and revise those numbers both up and down as I gleaned new information about good training practices and developed a little better understanding of my conditioning and abilities. For example, when I registered for the Tidewater Striders Distance Series (10, 15, and 20K races), I mapped those distances into my training calendar and adjusted all the lengths of my runs in the surrounding weeks to better follow the ten percent rule. Yes, I used a calculator. Yes, I rounded up. Yes, I can be a nerd about numbers sometimes. But I believe doing those races and adjusting those miles helped me structure a solid training plan for a beginning runner heading into a half marathon. Following it was relatively easy and markedly beneficial to my progress. That is why I studied, researched, and adjusted my plan so much in the beginning; so that I could follow it and do well. It makes no sense to lay out a plan and then not follow it.

BUT (isn’t there always a but?),

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” ― Mike Tyson

When I hurt my ankle two weeks ago, my mind was poisoned. What if it’s broken? What if I can’t run? What if I have to miss the Shamrock? I’ve been training for this race since before Christmas.

“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” – Khalil Gibran

I’ve long believed that worrying is essentially the result of a lack of faith, whether it be faith in your plan, or faith in yourself. If you’re confident in your abilities and your preparation, then you’ve got nothing to worry about. If you’re worrying, you doubt something. And doubt seems a pretty useless component in any formula.

I didn’t want to doubt my ankle for three weeks, wondering if I could, should, or would run my next training run or if putting in those miles would aggravate the problem even more. I didn’t want to assume it was normal soreness and “battle through it” either. We already know what they say about assuming things. So I went to the hospital and got my ankle x-rayed. It wasn’t broken. Good. But I did have to rest it and stop running until it was better. Hmmph. Doctors. What do they know?

“I have great faith in fools; self-confidence my friends call it.” – Edgar Allan Poe

I might not be the smartest guy in the world, but I’m no fool either. I took a week off. No running for seven days. That was the longest I had gone without running since my very first “run” back in early September. And it was a very long week. But that week also made me realize just how much I truly love running.

I was never really tempted to push my luck and force a run. But I would catch myself practicing my upper body movements while standing over the stove or getting ready to brush my teeth. I don’t want to forget how to swing my arms, you know. I’d focus on maintaining an upright posture while walking around, riding a bike at the gym, or even just sitting at my desk. If I couldn’t run, I could at least try to instill some good habits into my fledgling core muscles. And while at work or the gym or even out with friends, I’d find my mind wandering off about when I could run again, what distance should I do, where should I pick up in my training schedule, would I be ready for the Shamro–

Oh, look! There’s someone running in that TV commercial!

“There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.” – Buddha

After a week of transferring my pent up running energy into some really great gym workouts, it was time to stop daydreaming and wondering and doubting. I decided I was ready to run. My training plan had four miles scheduled for Monday; a good modest ankle-test back into my routine. Surely I can run four miles. And if I can’t, then I’m certainly not going to be ready to run 13 of them two weeks later.

That might not be true. I’m new. I don’t know shit. And my confidence was probably sprained worse than my ankle.

I ran those four miles at the speed of comfort and felt really good afterwards. It felt good just to be out there again. I missed it and was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed back by a beautiful sunny day. It’s the small things. My next run was even shorter. And because the weather was crap, I was in a time-crunch that day, and I wanted to be super-cautious, I ran it on a treadmill. That short, mentally suffocating treadmill jog did little to help my confidence heading into a 13 mile run. “What am I supposed to do for my final long run?” I’m supposed to be tapering. I can’t go run 13 “test” miles, right? Would that be smart? Is all of this self-doubt just the mind games I’ve read about plaguing runners during the taper?

My mind was poisoned with doubt. Damn ankle! (shakes fist in the air)

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” – Arthur Ashe

On Saturday morning after staying up too late on Friday and not exactly “fueling” properly for a long morning run, I decided to take it slow and see what happens. My training plan was tapering and had eight miles scheduled as my long run for the last week before the race. I was pretty sure that I could run eight miles without any major issues. But losing that previous week’s training so close to the race meant that I missed my last opportunity to experiment with in-race food and drink.

My diet during this entire journey has been the hardest thing for me figure out. My metabolism still seems to be adjusting to my higher activity levels and I am not always very good at keeping up with it. And fueling during a race is something that I just did not practice enough during my training. Properly refueling afterwards isn’t something I’m terribly good at either. I’m just not a big eater. I needed an actual long run to practice these things one last time. And without some actual test of my endurance, my confidence would never be ready for race day.

“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.” – Norman Vincent Peale

While making breakfast and getting dressed, I decided that I’d run at least eight and no more than 11 miles. And that I’d ultimately base that decision on how I felt during the run. I’ve become pretty fond of the Dismal Swamp Trail and chose to head that way for my last run.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like the out-and-back format because it makes you commit to double the distance of where you are at any point. If you’ve run four miles down that road, you’re going to have to run a total of eight just to get back to the car. That requirement also means that you have to pay attention to your body. If you push past warning signs and find out at five miles that you literally cannot run anymore, you’re still going to have to hobble your broken ass the five miles back. I like how that simple course makes me think of these things. It helps me focus.

“So, let’s do the numbers.” – Kai Ryssdal

It was a beautiful 44 degree sunny morning with a 14 mph north wind. I was four miles in before I knew it and thinking I’d do ten. At five, I decided to do eleven. At five and a half, I decided to do 11.11 just so I could make a wish. I told you I’m weird about numbers sometimes. 5.57 miles away from my car, I turned around. I finished in one hour, 43 minutes, and 42 seconds with an average pace of nine minutes and 20 seconds per mile. And I burned 1912 calories.

Thirty minutes into my run I started eating Jelly Belly Extreme Beans with 50 mg of caffeine per 100 calorie serving (and you could totally tell from my heart rate monitor). I ate them again about every 20 minutes after that. They’re not the ideal food for me, as the package was kind of a bitch to deal with (might be better without gloves), and chewing anything kind of messes with my breathing. But I got the hang of it after the second try. And with only eight days until the race, there was no time to experiment with something new. I will have to put that lesson off until next time.

Both ankles were sore by the end and I was getting pretty tired. I was drinking coconut water throughout the run, but probably need to hydrate a little better on Sunday. I stretched and put compression wraps on both ankles immediately after my run. I went home, and hit the foam roller even though my legs weren’t sore. Then I iced both ankles as preventative maintenance. I even took an Epson salt bath (not an easy task for someone my height). I will be ready on Sunday. I will.

“With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.” – Dalai Lama

I ran a short three mile run this afternoon, and have a whopping three miles left to run on Thursday to complete my training for the Shamrock. I feel good. I’m going to be fine. On Sunday, March 17th 2013, just six months after discovering the joy of running, I will join thousands of other runners when I cross the starting line into my first half marathon. And I’m going to have fun doing it too.

“I believe in wishes and in a person’s ability to make a wish come true, I really do. And a wish is more than a wish… it’s a goal that your conscious and subconscious can help make reality” – Michael Jackson

I’m wishing for healthy ankles, calm winds, and dry skies. But I’m ready for whatever.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

ONE MORE THING. I know a lot of people will be running in Virginia Beach this weekend. But in Cary, North Carolina on Saturday March 16, there is a 5K and accompanying virtual 5K to support Buddy Up Against Bullying. It is a joint effort between a school assistant principle and a police officer to raise awareness against bullying. All you have to do is click the link, print out your bib, and wear it when you run on Saturday…or any other day really. Will it ever end bullying? No. But if it gets one person (teacher, parent, bus driver, YOU) to take notice of what may be happening right in front of them and to realize that is not just a normal, harmless part of growing up, then it’s worth it. The world has already got enough assholes in it. We don’t need to keep ignoring the next generation of jerk-offs. It’s not funny. It’s not harmless. And it’s not okay. I will be wearing two bibs on Sunday.

It’s The Small Things (J.O.G.T. 2)

“As the heart finds the good thing, the feeling is multiplied.
Add the will to the strength and it equals conviction.”
– Talking Heads “The Good Thing”

every-day-may-not-be-goodWow! February was kind of a crazy hectic month in my world, but I finally got around to looking through the old Jar Of Good Things. According to the “jar,” and how many times I claimed “a good workout” or something similarly simple as my daily “good thing,” I was clearly forced to settle for a lot of small victories. But that is definitely better than no victories, right?

Anyway, here’s a few of the good things that happened in February. My life may not be the most exciting roller coaster in the park, but I’m truly grateful to be able to find pleasure in simple things; simple things like…

Feb 2. Ran the Polar Plunge 5K as part of a benefit for Special Olympic Charities. I didn’t raise a huge amount of money, but I did get to run a nice race with some friends on a really sunny but chilly winter morning. New PR for the 5K (24:11, 7:48). Good day.

I started off the month by running my first 5K of the year with a friend from work. Or at least in the same race, since we didn’t actually run the race side by side “with” each other. She and some friends had a team registered to raise money for the Special Olympics and kindly asked me if I’d like to run it too. I did.

It was a very simple out-and-back along the Virginia Beach boardwalk on a chilly but beautiful sunny morning at the beach. I was aiming for an eight minute pace, but came out a little faster and felt pretty good so I just stayed with it. I’d love to say that I finished it with remarkable ease, but that 7:48 was definitely a challenging pace for me, even for that shorter distance. I clearly wasn’t feeling like a newbie that day…but I still was…and still am. Reality: checked.

It was a great race with friends, benefitted a good cause, and was a new PR. A good thing indeed.

Feb 3. I had a really great time watching the super bowl with some of my oldest and best friends. And I learned that I can “shoot” a balloon at a toddler with surprising accuracy. They apparently LOVE that.

I am fortunate to have so many really great friends, but they do not all travel in the same circles nor do they all have the same level of responsibilities, commitments, and/or availabilities. So I don’t always get to see many of my friends as much as I would like.

One of my oldest and best friends invited me and a few others over for a last minute Super Bowl gathering with him and his family. I happily accepted. I don’t think any of us really cared who won the game, or even catching all of the commercials. And I know none of the seven kids in the house was concerned with either. I didn’t really have a preference in the outcome so I barely watched the game at all to be honest.

But I did enjoy visiting with everyone and seeing all of their fast growing kids run around and play together. And as I said, I discovered that I can pop a balloon from between my fingers and at a child with some incredible accuracy. And my god-daughter’s little brother (The only little boy in that house full of lil’ ladies) couldn’t get enough of it. And really, I wasn’t tiring of it very much myself.

What can I say? Kids like me. And they all seem to giggle the same. Very good thing.

Feb 17. Dad gave me an old coin that he found in an envelope with my name written on it. Having my grandmother’s handwriting on the envelope is probably cooler to me than the coin.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I have dinner with a small group of my extended family every Sunday evening. We each take turns cooking and it’s been a pretty steady tradition for several years now. It’s always a friendly and casual visit around the dinner table, which I more often than not follow with a nap on the couch. It’s nice to see everybody for even that little bit of time each week and I like being able to cook for more than one person every now and then too.

On the 17th, my dad brought with him an old folded up envelope with my name written on the front in blue ballpoint.

He currently lives in the house where my grandparents lived before each of them passed away. I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with my grandparents growing up, and as an adult. As a kid I remember seeing that they had a small informal coin collection, but hadn’t thought about it in years. It was nothing fancier than a cardboard box or two with a modest assortment of U.S. monetary history inside. And I was not surprised at all to see that allocating any parts of that collection to a specific person was done by simply placing a coin into an envelope and writing that person’s name on it.

My grandparents were wonderful rural people, but by no means were they naive rubes with no understanding of the importance of a legal will. At the same time, they trusted family enough to be able to follow some simple instructions. And writing my name on an envelope pretty much made whatever was in it mine.

My dad came across it while cleaning out some part of the house and brought it with him to Sunday dinner. I immediately recognized my grandmother’s handwriting. And looking inside, I found an 1890 Morgan Silver Dollar. I just smiled and closed the envelope again to see my name swirled on the front. The coin is well worn and the sentiment is clear. But the handwriting is that small human touch that reminds me of one of the two strong women that I was lucky to have looking out for me when I grew up.

100_6452My grandmother was always incredibly generous and supportive of her friends and family. And she would do anything for her “darling” grandchildren, of which I am proud to have been the first. Her loving heart was undeniable to anyone that ever met her. I miss her. And now I have a fine sample of my name in her script. It’s the small things.

Feb 22. Long week FINALLY ended. And I had a great pre-race dinner with my mom who apparently has been living a hectic week in parallel with me. I’m glad it’s over.

Back in December, as I was starting to figure out this running thing and getting ready to run my first race (Surfin Santa 5K), work schedules and general holiday rushing around had led to a significant length of time without seeing my mother. When we lived on opposite coasts, that was easily understandable. But now that we live 20 minutes away from each other, it’s kind of silly. So when I realized that picking up my race packet would put me near her place on a Friday evening, I asked if she’d be interested in grabbing dinner. She was. We did. It was lovely.

I don’t recall if we ever stated a plan, but since that night we have had dinner together on the night before every one of my races (including the one that got cancelled). And it has become a really nice new tradition. We take turns paying, when she lets me. And it’s generally just a good time to catch up and talk about running, training, life, work, food, or anything else that crosses our often similar-working minds while I wait for that dirty Kettle One Martini to arrive. On this night in question, I think we both had Spicey Pork Korean Rice Bowls for dinner.

My mom has experienced more than her fair share of hardships in life but still managed to come out with more wins than losses and somehow maintaining a positive attitude towards new challenges. She rises to adversity incredibly well and doesn’t let disappointment, failure, or heartache derail her for very long. She’s a fighter for sure. And I couldn’t feel luckier to have had such a woman lay the foundation for the man that I am today.

(And yes, I totally blame her for all of my shortcomings too. She can’t just take credit for the good stuff, right? What’s the rule on that? I’d hate to have to start taking responsibility for myself or anything like that.)

“Alright let’s get some miles in.” -My mom’s facebook status earlier today. I love her.

She has been running/walking and exercising for the last few months as part of her training to run her first 8K on Shamrock weekend. So next Friday, we’ll likely be having dinner on the night before HER race for a change. I’m very proud of her for so many things. And I’m sure she’ll kick ass at this too.

Maybe she’ll even let me pay for dinner this time.

Feb 28. Went to bed a decent hour for a change. That IS a good thing.

It may sound simple. And it is. But I don’t sleep; not enough anyway. I typically get less than six hours of sleep a night, and almost never get more than seven. I’m lucky in that I don’t require a lot of sleep to function, but the last week of February was a little more extreme and I was getting closer to four hours of sleep a night during that week.

I know that I should get to bed earlier. But even after waking up at 5:30 every morning, I somehow manage to keep my schedule so full that I’m often not home and finished with my day until seven o’clock or later. And then there is usually any number of little errands, chores, or projects that I want/need to work on (like cooking dinner for example). Plus my creativity has always peaked at night, so it’s not unusual for me to start writing or playing guitar late in the evening and before I know it, it’s after midnight again. “Dammit!”

I believe lack of quality sleep was at least partially responsible for my excess fatigue at the end of my 20K a couple of weeks ago, and therefore may have contributed to my ankle scare. I am well aware of the importance of good rest and the mental and physical recovery gained from sound sleep. But I’m just not always as disciplined as I should be about getting the rest that I need. It is yet another thing I will have to improve upon as I go forward. But at least I nailed it on the 28th. You’ve got to start somewhere.

Well, that was February: Some running, great friends, strong women past and present, and some much needed sleep. What good things happened for you in February? Surely something good happened.

February J.O.G.T. Honorable Mentions:

Feb 7. Answered the door tonight wearing only a towel and a sweat shirt. The guy at the door was looking for someone that doesn’t live here and seemed more than a little confused. That made me smile.

Feb 8. Followed my least enjoyable run to date with a road trip to Charlottesville with Mike and Matt to see Murder By Death. Opener Samantha Crain was really good, and Murder By Death absolutely killed. A good time was had by all.

Feb 13. Had a great Wednesday with good friends in Olde Towne. Got a little unexpected blog-love from Derek and Kristen. Very cool night.

Feb 24. I got my new HR monitor. Probably too late for any substantial benefit in Shamrock training, but I do miss having that data. Woot!

Feb 26. Three hours in the E.R. later, I’ve got a slight sprain, and a deep bruise but NOTHING’S BROKEN. Ice, elevate, rest, and RUN!! I feel good.