Success by Association

Pip, pap, pip, pap, pip, pap, pip, pap, pip, pap, pip, pap, pip

There was less than two miles left when I first heard it; the metronome-like foot strikes of another runner ticking along somewhere behind me.

Despite some patchy drizzle and persistent cloud cover, I thought it was a subtly beautiful morning in the riverside town of New Bern, North Carolina. And I’d been running alone in it for most of the last hour and a half. I started the race too fast but was still feeling pretty good as I approached the home stretch. And barring any major catastrophe, I was confident that I’d set a new personal best for the half marathon distance.

As I passed the 12 mile marker, those pips and paps were just over my right shoulder and getting louder. “Am I slowing down?” A quick Garmin check showed the opposite. “Do I have enough left in the tank to finish at this pace?” I thought so. “Is now the time to find out?” Hmmmm?

A minute later, I drifted slightly left, and a woman with bright orange compression socks and waterlogged pigtail braids slowly made her way by. When she got 10 or 12 feet ahead of me, I finally decided that it was, in fact, time.

No minute like the last minute, right?

I’m a runner way more than a racer so I had no real intention of trying to pass her. Her pace was steadily increasing. And just keeping up would be more than enough to feel accomplished in my finish and get the PR I’d pretended not to care about.

For the next several minutes, I matched her step for step as she continued to gradually push the pace faster and faster. Approximately half a mile from the finish, we approached an intersection leading back into the center of town; an intersection being manned by the second most energetic volunteer of the whole race.

“Nice stride guys.” She yelled as she wildly waved her arms to direct us around the corner. “You’re almost there. You guys look great!”

“I’m just chasing her” I answered.

“I’m dying” my pigtailed friend shouted as we made the turn.

When the end finally appeared, those orange socks kicked into a full sprint, arms swinging, and braids bouncing. I tried to keep up but didn’t have it. As she crossed the finish line, she immediately doubled over resting her hands on her knees and gasping hard for air. I ran in a few seconds later, pulled up, put my hands on my hips, and started by own panting search for oxygen.

“Thank you” I wheezed towards her still bent form.

“No. Thank you.” She replied, lifting her left hand just long enough to give a shaky thumbs-up.

And with that, the terms of our unspoken agreement had been met. I went about my abbreviated post-race routine: water, stretch, banana, beer. And since I never saw her again, I have to assume she did the same.

“If you surround yourself with a bunch of people who are trying to achieve similar goals, you can support each other and help each other” – Joe Rogan

A lifetime ago (back in October), before my ankle turned against me, I used to be a runner. I was logging 30+ miles a week, training for my first marathon, and generally enjoying all of the benefits of actively progressing towards a goal. Two goals in fact: My immediate goal to prepare the very best that I could for my marathon, and my long term goal of running a race in every state in the country.

The Neuse River Bridge Half Marathon was my first travel race and it was no coincidence that I chose to start my “Race All 50” goal in my home state of North Carolina. In addition to being my first travel race, it was also my last rehearsal race before the Philadelphia Marathon a month later. It was my last shot at solidifying race day routines and to get more practice with simple things like pacing in a crowd and efficiently navigating aid stations. I’d only run nine races before that. And only three were longer than 10K. I needed the practice.

After 11 miles of running almost 20 seconds per mile faster than I’d planned, I was starting to wonder how long I could keep it up. I still felt good, but I could also tell that I’d been pushing harder than usual. And after seeing so many runners gassed out and walking, I was wondering if I might fall victim to the same fate.

That is until my friend in pigtails picked me up on the way by.

I’d never seen her before. And obviously neither of us had a clue what the other’s motivations were. But in a moment of spontaneous cohesion, we pushed each other to finish our individual races and accomplish our independent goals stronger than either of us might have if we’d not crossed paths at mile 12.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn

I’m continually reminded to be mindful of the people I make space for in my life, both in general and especially in relation to my goals. Everyone we encounter will influence us in one way or another, whether it’s family, friends, coworkers, or some stranger at the end of a race. We should probably pat attention to that.

I’ve expressed before how important I believe it is to limit everyday exposure to negativity and instead try to surround ourselves with more positive leaning people. If we surround ourselves with those determined to seek out and wallow in the darkness of every situation, we increase our chances of sinking into that bog of destructive thinking. If we populate our lives with people that prefer to see life’s challenges as part of an ongoing process of self-discovery, then we better our chances of seeing through our struggles to discover the lessons and opportunities for personal growth that often lie within them. That’s my theory anyway.

But beyond the simple reasoning that both positive and negative thinking are equally contagious, I’m starting to better appreciate the value in connecting with people who might also have something to teach us as we plod along our paths. Simply having positive souls in our lives is invaluable. But once new directions have been decided upon, it may become equally important to seek out people that not only understand the importance of those aspirations but who are also smarter than us, with personal insights and information specific to those objectives and how to achieve them…or at least know how and when to stay out of the way.

I’ve heard people express how frustrating it can be to try and make positive changes in their lives when their friends and/or family aren’t as committed as they are. Trying to make such adjustments on your own is incredibly difficult and requires an exponentially higher level of determination. Such a daunting situation makes it even more vital to find people of like minds and philosophies with the understanding to help when we get lost, discouraged, or just plain tired of having to push the load alone.

Hearing about such struggles makes me incredibly appreciative of the support I’ve received from friends and family. But it also reminds me of the value in staying actively aware of who I spend my time with, how my productivity is affected, where I find encouragement, and where I find distraction. As I continue this “me” experiment, I’m also realizing the eventual need to find mentors and teachers to help me continue along my path.

After all, if each person really is the average of the five people he/she spends the most time with, don’t I owe it to anyone silly enough to count me in their personal quintet to continue improving myself as much as I can? I think so.

Happy Saturday. Now, let’s work together, shall we…

Can’t Run? Volun-Cheer

“He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought… doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps… means a little bit more!” – Narrator, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Well the holiday season is once again upon us. And as usual, I’m ashamedly not nearly as full of good cheer as I feel like I should be. Believe it or not, I don’t like being a grumpy Grinch-like asshole every Christmas. But the holiday season is almost always way more stressful to me than its worth. I say it every single year, but Christmas is just Thanksgiving with the additional unnecessary stress of excessive consumerism.

And this year’s season of spending seems even more frustrating because instead of focusing my attention on twinkling lights and shiny paper, I’m exhausting myself battling the most persistent bout of strep throat I’ve ever had, which means I’ve spent the last six weeks doping my entire body with antibiotics just to (so far) unsuccessfully kill an infection that’s only in my throat.

I swear the streptococcal infection loves me more than any woman ever has. And, like any self-respecting stalker, it refuses to go away quietly. As a result of this long term dysfunctional relationship, I was sick through most of my marathon tapering, I’ve been consistently more fatigued both prior to and since that race, due to that weariness I’ve been unable to maintain my run/workout routines as I’d like, I’m obviously not enjoying the therapeutic release that those workouts would normally provide, and because of the antibiotics’ negative effects on my digestive system, I’m also not absorbing food nutrients as efficiently and therefore not recovering from workouts as well as I normally would. Basically, I just cannot wait to get these drugs out of my system so that I can stop medicating and start healing.

Oh yeah. And now I can’t run.

Yep.

I can’t run. And it’s seriously driving me crazy.

When I was prescribed my third, much stronger antibiotic my doctor said that it may cause some tightness in my joints and tendons. He was right. I ran a few times after starting the new scrip and I felt good. Then after last Saturday’s 12 miles, my left achilles tendon started to feel a little tight. No worries. It wasn’t to the point of being painful or anything. I thought it was fairly normal soreness associated with being so sick and not running very much that week. But when I tried to run on Tuesday, it hurt. It hurt enough that I stopped after a whopping one mile. I rested it, stretched it, and on Thursday tried again. It still hurt. So I stopped again, only sooner. I didn’t even try to run today. It sucks.

Not sure what I’m going to do next week. Other than my ankle, my body feels good. And I want to run so bad that it’s killing me. But I’m still on meds and I really don’t want to injure myself just because I’m too stupid to listen to by drugged up body. Ugh, I hate to have to say it, but I’m slowly accepting that I may not be able to run again until I can get this poison out of my system and let my body get back to its normal functioning capacity for healing and recovery. Have I mentioned how much this sucks? Well it does. A LOT!

It’s borderline depressing in fact.

“Push yourself again and again. Don’t give an inch until the final buzzer sounds.” – Larry Bird

Throughout the last month and a half of dealing with my old friend, Strep, and griping about my inability to maintain my normal exercise routines, I’ve received similar advice from many of my friends.

“Give yourself a break Man.”

“Don’t push yourself right now.”

“Just take it easy.”

While I am 100% sure that every one of those sentiments was shared out of genuine concern and with the best intentions, I don’t think everyone fully appreciates how conflicting those things can be for me.

I’ve spent my entire life never pushing myself, taking the easiest way out of every single situation, and ultimately ended up unsatisfied with the results. Deciding to push myself and to expand the boundaries of what I incorrectly thought possible has been the key to moving beyond a past existence that I don’t miss. And I believe continuing to do so is the only way of ever becoming my most authentic self and to get where I’m supposed to be.

Now, I know that my friends aren’t asking me to stop running or to give up any of my healthier lifestyle choices. They just want me to feel better. But I have such an addict’s view of my past sedentary lifestyle that I have trouble balancing the risks of battling through hardship with the opposite risks of sliding back into a way of life where mediocrity was good enough. It isn’t.

I see thoughts like “Go ahead, skipping one workout won’t kill you” in much the same way that I imagine recovering addicts might view “C’mon, one drink won’t hurt.” I know that might sound ridiculous, but I’ve got first hand experience with how easy it is to break healthy habits. And even while I fully recognize that I’m a much different person now, I still cannot stomach the idea of letting myself give up a single inch to that lazy fuck that I know is still inside me somewhere. I won’t do it. I’ve got way too much I still want to do and time is constantly running out.

“We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal and then leap in the dark to our success.” – Henry David Thoreau

The day after I got back from running the Philadelphia marathon, I immediately sat down at my computer, opened up my Philly training schedule, deleted all of the time/pace recordings, and renamed the file “Shamrock Training.”

I haven’t registered for the Shamrock Marathon yet. But I technically started that new training cycle the week after Philly. Unfortunately, my body is not cooperating. If it was just my ankle, I’d be okay. I know I have time to recover from that. But because I’m having such a hard time clearing this infection and my tonsil is still swollen, my doctor has not yet ruled out the possibility of taking my tonsils out; a surgery that could have me out of commission from several weeks up to a month AND of course taking even more antibiotics with additional drugs for the supposedly excruciating pain. I hate even the idea of putting all of these foreign chemicals in my body. Shit, I won’t even take Tylenol.

I was, and am, happy with my time from my first marathon, but I’m certain that I can do better and I still have every intention of doing so in March.

BUT (isn’t there always a but?), I’m still sick.

And now I can’t fucking run.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi

I was completely pissed and somewhat lost without my favorite crutch this week. What am I supposed to do with myself if I can’t run? The answer came in an email a few days ago.

One of the other things I did not long after getting back from Philly was to sign up to volunteer at a 50K race being held next weekend. I’d actually considered running it, but after running my first marathon I decided that I had pushed myself enough for this year and that if I couldn’t run it, I would volunteer to work it instead. And a few days ago, as I was becoming increasingly aggravated with my foot, my throat, and my inability to get my body back on track, I got the email with my volunteer assignment. I was actually pretty stoked. I’ll be working one of the aid stations.

I’ve never volunteered at a race before so I’ve obviously never worked an aid station either. But I’m excited to see a race from the other side of the equation. And I’m really happy to be able to help execute a race that some of my friends are running. I’m expecting to have a good time. And without sounding like a total shithead, I suspect that cheering for and supporting my fellow runners as I hand them cups of water or just pick up the crumpled empties that they leave behind will feel significantly more rewarding to me this holiday season than anything I could possibly do at a shopping mall.

I might not be able to run. But I can still volun-cheer. And I think that might be as close to Christmas cheer as I’m capable of this year. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, or whatever else makes your lights twinkle. Have fun. Happy Saturday.

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!

Altitude Training

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” – Maya Angelou

I’ve decided that I deserve some downtime up in the great Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Yep. I’m skipping town for a little while to go visit one of my heroes (aka, my brother). Should be excited right? Well, I am. But, as my flawed mind works, I did try to sully my trip by worrying about stupid shit. I tried. I failed.

I’ve done really well over the last year and I’m proud of the strides I’ve made. I’ve gone to the gym at least four times a week, every week for the last 51 weeks. I haven’t even been tempted to skip a run, though I did have to miss a few against my will due to an ankle issue in March. In fact, I haven’t really wavered at all on my diet or exercise routines at all since deciding I needed to find the best, most authentic me possible. For an admitted creature of habit, you’d think that I’d find comfort in finally building such strong, healthy habits for a change. And I do. But I also know that healthy habits are the easiest to break. And that awareness has been a huge motivator and reminder of how important it is to remain diligent and dedicated to the path.

I know from experience that it only takes a few slip-ups and skipped workouts to completely sabotage what was a reliable exercise regiment. You skip a session for some seemingly legit reason. You notice that the world didn’t end. Then you skip another one the next time it’s not as convenient as you’d like it to be. Hell, it’s never super-convenient work all day, rush home to change clothes, and then go sweat through them in a concrete room full of strangers; in most cases strangers that I’d prefer stayed as such.

First step: “Oh I don’t feel good today; I’m going to skip the gym.”

One week later: “It’s Friday, I deserve a break. I’ll kill it next week.”

Two weeks after that: “Three days a week is still more than most people, and I’m crazy busy right now.”

Sitting at happy hour a month later: “Yeah, I need to get my ass back in the gym.”

I have performed this play before. And the complete lack of interest in ever doing so again is a huge part of why I always make myself go workout. Even if I don’t want to. Even if I feel like shit. I go. I might not go as hard as I wanted. I might not stay as long as I planned. But I always go. If nothing else, I go to continue reinforcing the habit itself. It’s a habit I actually want to keep.

So as I’ve been getting ready for my trip, I’ve had three minor concerns to tackle so that I can go and fully enjoy myself without letting the poison of paranoia fuck it up. How will I maintain my plant based eating habits? How will I keep up my workout/cross training routines? Where will I run?

“It’s hard because it’s supposed to be hard. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worthwhile. Am I going to be fighting this fight for the rest of my life? Yeah. Am I up for it? Hell yeah. It’s worth doing man.” – Mishka Shubaly

These three issues are by no stretch of the definition difficult challenges for a normal person. But I often compare my past tendency towards laziness to a recovering addict’s penchant to that substance of choice. That happy-to-do-nothing excuse maker is still in me somewhere just waiting for me to give in and pay for cable television, stop wasting so much time out on the roads, and to eat a fucking hamburger already. He’s in there. And I know it. But he’s getting weaker from neglect and I intend to starve him over time.

With only a little planning and research, I’ve settled my mind on my hang-ups and cannot wait to get out west again. Of course that doesn’t mean I still don’t have a shit load of packing to do before my ride to the airport gets here. Still working on that procrastination problem. Slow work in progress I tell ya.

How will I maintain my plant based eating habits? Quick answer: The same way I do at home.

I’m not going to sub-Saharan Africa. There will be grocery stores. I’m staying with my brother. He and his wife are not cave people. They have crazy shit like a stove and a skillet. I may not be able to pack my blender for my daily vitamin smoothie, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to survive this wild adventure into…total civilization and convenience.

The initial concern was more based in how much I don’t want to be “that guy” while being a guest in their home. But he called yesterday to ask if I needed anything in particular and to see if I was “eating anything crazy” that he should pick up for me. I did what I suspect everyone with a pickier diet does, I downplayed it. “I eat an almost vegan diet, but I’m sure I’ll be fine. Really, I just eat a shit-ton of sautéed veggies and salad most days.” Upon hearing that, guess who’s been growing a garden all summer. That’s right. My little brother’s got fresh vegetables leaping out of the ground and crowding kitchen counter tops just waiting for me to come take care of business. And I will.

Non-existent problem solved. I’ll stop by the store when I get there, buy the staples I live on at home, and carry on like I always do. It was stupid to be concerned about it in the first place. But I do a lot of stupid stuff.

“…there’s no such thing as overtraining, only under-recovering.” – Brenden Brazier

How will I keep up my workout/cross training routines? Quick answer: I won’t.

This one was a little harder for me to rationalize. I like my weight training and cross training routines. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you might have seen me refer to gym sessions as “sweatitation.” Sure, I initially started going simply to help improve my running, but it has hollowed out a small little spot of it’s own in my long term wellness plan. It’s important to me in its own right. It makes me feel good. But I’m leaving it at home on this trip.

I’ve been burning the candle pretty hot lately and probably not giving myself the proper amount of rest. And by “probably not,” I mean “absolutely haven’t” been getting enough rest. I aggravated an elbow tendon in the spring that would’ve healing twice as fast had I stopped re-stressing it every time it got even a little better. And I’ve had some right shoulder issues for way too long. I don’t think I’m overtraining. I think I’m under-recovering. So in that spirit, I will be guiltlessly taking it easy while out of town.

Will I still do some resistance and body-weight exercises? Maybe. But I don’t think I’ll be able to do my cycling sessions, and I’m okay with that. After all it’s not the time in the gym actually breaking our bodies down that builds muscle and increases performance. It’s the time afterwards when the damage from those stresses gets to heal and mend stronger than they were before. The recovery is just as important as the workout itself. Bring on the recovery time…and maybe a beer to wash it down.

I do have to admit that I’m kind of playing mind-games with myself on this one in order to accept it. Because of my traveling schedule I’m only going to miss two cross training days. Shit, I got up early so that I could get today’s session done before I go to the airport. Eventually I just had to realize that unlike my previous efforts to keep an exercise regime, I have two better and more reliable motivators: 1) I genuinely enjoy the release of the workout. I actually want to do it. 2) I love running and that love is worth all of the baggage that comes with it. And while I know that If I’m going to get my ass to the Boston Marathon’s start line some day, I can’t afford to routinely skip workouts. I also know that missing these two certainly won’t kill me. I’ll be fine.

Where will I run? Notice I didn’t say “How” or “If I will” run. I knew I was going to run. I just didn’t know where.

I intentionally aimed for a visit post-summer and pre-snow so that I would be able to run during my favorite season in one of my favorite places. I was no kind of athlete at all when I lived in Steamboat Springs over 12 years ago, and I definitely wasn’t a runner. Hell, I was probably still telling that “I only run if I’m being chased” joke that runners never hear. What a fool I was, because according to the little bit of research I’ve managed to do, there are running trails everywhere. I should’ve known that. It’s such an active environment. When I lived there, I think there was a law that all new construction in the town had to be connected to the bike path. The whole community is just more fit and engaged in so many varying physical pursuits. Of course there are places to run.

I won’t make up my mind until I get there and talk with my brother. But if all else fails, there is an eight-point-something mile trail around a lake near his house. That sounds perfect for the 16 miler I have on my training plan for this Saturday. Am I concerned to be going for a new distance PR while running an unfamiliar trail 6000ish feet above the sea-level I’m accustomed to? A little. But I’m more excited to be able to run in what I know is going to be such a beautiful place. I’m grateful that I even get the opportunity. I’m calling it “altitude training” and I’m stoked about it. I may even try to take some pictures for you guys. It’s going to be a blast.

“I think of myself as something of a connoisseur of procrastination, creative and dogged in my approach to not getting things done.” – Susan Orlean

Well, as usual I have a lot to do before I head out the door. Plane leaves in a few hours and I haven’t packed a single thing so please excuse any glaring grammatical and spelling errors. I’m running late.

Fall is coming. Get out there and enjoy it. I know I will. See you soon.

Showing the Way: Running into Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hooray for the interwebs! Woot!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fun of the Run (J.O.G.T. 7)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was 20 seconds early. Dammit! So close.

I did not take this picture.

I did not take this picture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runners are good people.

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horns and Hooves, You Define You.

“The past is not simply the past, but a prism through which the subject filters his own changing self-image.” – Doris Kearns Goodwin

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how cool it’s been to see some of the people in my life adopting healthier lifestyle choices, and how much I enjoy it when they share their pleasure or surprise in accomplishing new things and discovering a strength or ability they didn’t think they had. It’s really fun to directly witness the changes in them as they get smaller, stronger, faster, or whatever personal metric they’re using; as well as seeing how much happier and more lighthearted they seem overall. I like that shit. It makes me feel good to have positive people in my life making moves to improve themselves and displaying an excitement about living. Feeling good is contagious. Spread it.

I obviously prefer the company of happy, positive people over those seeking to wallow in the darkness of the cloud, refusing even the possibility of a silver lining. But I also don’t mean to deny the reality that life is still a roller coaster. You can’t have the mountains without the valleys; the ups without the downs. And everybody has their fair share of shitty days. Or at least I hope I’m not the only one.

I was recently talking with a friend who was having more of a “valley” day than she was ready for. And while venting a little bit she shared that, in a past relationship, an ex had so persistently remarked about her unicorn horn and cloven hooves that those things are sometimes all she could see when looking in the mirror. My first thought was “Well that’s fucking ridiculous.” I would’ve never noticed the hooves had she not first pointed them out. And I still can’t see that horn because it’s invisible to everyone but her.

My second thought: How much it sucks when someone else’s negativity can affect a person’s life so deeply that it redefines what they see in the mirror.

Negativity is just as contagious as positivity and I try to limit my exposure to it as much as possible. It’s poisonous.

Yes, I’m using absurd metaphors. 1) To try to protect the anonymity of a friend who didn’t ask to be blog fodder. 2) Because her insecurities are nearly as fantastical as my examples. They are exaggerations at best, and much closer to sheer fancy. They are not real.

Except that they are…to her. And in the end, that’s the only person that matters.

I’m sure I was little comfort. I don’t have any answers. And I’m not sure she was really looking for any, or even comfort for that matter. Sometimes a person just needs to let the voices out of their head simply to relieve the pressure and hear what they sound like on the outside. That is something I totally understand. I write this blog for similar reasons.

All I could do was listen, nod, and try to be funny when I thought it appropriate. That’s what I do I guess. I’m just as flawed as the next unicorn. And maybe that’s why her brief comments have continued to rattle around in my skull for this long, and ultimately remind me of just how powerful our perceptions of self can be in our interpretation of the world around us, and how we function in it.

“That’s why you find a lot of entertainers are insecure, because it’s the perfect camouflage for insecurity.” – Gloria Gaynor

In my life, I’ve gone through phases where I’ve let one personal insecurity or another take the lead in what turned out to be a decades-long mission of building walls. Maybe it was being a gangly gapped tooth kid in elementary school, not having the nicest clothes or some other trivial shit during adolescence, or the joys of losing my hair in my fucking twenties (**angrily shakes fist in the air**). Basically, I’ve spent most of my life feeling somewhat awkward and too often out of place. I don’t know why and I hid it well. But I always managed to find something to disguise my insecurities while steadily stacking bricks higher and higher into those walls.

They were well built structures too, protecting me from any number of things both real and imagined: judgment, ridicule, embarrassment, heartache, life. But the shitty part about walls is that they always work both ways. Sure, they kept a lot of big scary stuff out of my life and at a safe distance from vulnerable little me. But they also did a really great job of keeping me locked inside this fortress I’ve created, devoid many new experiences and relationships.

And I was damn-near gifted at hiding those walls; often behind a defensive quick wit and snarky sense of humor. I’ll make all kinds of wisecracks about the dim-witted shit I’ve done. But I’m far from stupid. And because of that, I was always able to mask my insecurities with well constructed excuses and eloquent rationalization of my bullshit reasoning.

Sometimes being a little smarter than the average bear is just enough rope to hang yourself and still blame it on the rope.

“The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.” – Thomas Paine

I remember exactly where I was when I first found my smile. It was dark. I was sitting alone on the deck of a friend’s house in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I was almost 26 years old and working two jobs seven days a week just to pay my bills late and stay broke. I’d moved there a several weeks prior; after spending the entire previous year at varying levels of intoxication as I poorly chose to self medicate a festering heartache. I was smoking the harshest nastiest hand rolled cigarette that I’d ever touched a match to. And as I sat there under the stars, looking down on the lights of my new home on a hill and exhaling slow gray suicide – a weight lifted. I felt light. I felt relieved. I found my smile…or it found me. I’m not sure which.

Now I am not at all trying to imply that prior to that moment I had endured some tragic and joyless life, and not until my 25th year was I able to curl the outside edges of my mouth upward and open my eyes wide with delight. That truly would be tragic. Sure, as a child, I might have had to sport a front-porch haircut from time to time or wear a tattered pair of shoes a little longer than most. And I carried a childish teenage angst way too far into adulthood. But I don’t recall a single day in my life where I didn’t feel my mother’s love for me. I’ve always had an incredible family, especially the two most supportive grandparents ever to walk this rock in space. And by the time I plopped my ass down to smoke that cigarette, I’d already started to collect some of the best friends imaginable and had shared countless joyful times with them. I had definitely had some fun.

But sitting there that night, I felt deeply and genuinely light of heart for the first time as an adult. Even at that young age, I had already logged many years building walls and convincing myself that it was normal. I was one of those “I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist” assholes we all love so much; as though the only way to have a positive attitude is to deny reality. Maybe it was the clean air. Maybe it was the mountains. But at that moment I could see over the walls and I felt good. I couldn’t explain it. I didn’t know where it came from. But I felt it, and I’ve never forgotten it.

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

While recounting that story recently and expressing how annoyed I am to have ever let my smile get away from me again, a friend helped me connect the dots a little bit.

In the course of our conversation and talking about how important my time in Steamboat was to me, she asked “didn’t you say that you rode your bike everywhere when you lived out there?”

That’s true. I did. I lived in Colorado for about six months and I probably didn’t drive a car six times. I rode a bike every single day; up the hill to my day job, further up the hill to my night gig, and luckily downhill every evening back to my house. And if I wanted to go downtown for a burger and a beer, I rode my bike there too. It was fucking great.

“Do you think that you being more active in Colorado was part of why you felt so good there? Just like how much better you feel now with your running?”

Exactly! This wasn’t so much of an amazing revelation to me as it was a timely verbalization and affirmation of something I’ve been banging around in my head lately.

When I was out west, I claimed that I “found” my smile. And when I moved back east, people could see it. It was obvious, and that made me feel even better. But I hadn’t paid any attention to how or where I “found” it. I thought I had it. And because of that, I convinced myself that the work was done. I had it. It’s mine. No worries. Over 10 years later I was again in a rut of making excuses for complacency and unsure of what my smile looked like. And thanks to my innate skills at excuse making and rationalization, I wasn’t even aware that it had gotten away from me again.

I found it those many years ago because I was living a more active lifestyle in a healthier place surrounded by the energy of positive driven people. And as I mentioned before, feeling good is contagious.

But instead of taking note of why I felt so much better there, I made up a cute euphemism about “finding my smile,” like it just happened on its own. I’m so damn lazy that I paid no attention to any changes I made in myself to “release” it. I had always held the keys to my own happiness. We all do. I didn’t really “find” anything. I freed it. I freed it by letting go of the mental bullshit weighing me down and taking better care of myself physically…kind of.

I still drank way too much and my dietary habits were controlled by my lack of money more than any understanding of proper nutrition.

“Life doesn’t just get better by itself. It isn’t like flying in a plane through turbulence. Life doesn’t just improve if you fasten your seat belt and wait.” – Angel Chernoff

The mind and body are intertwined. They are. I just didn’t understand that at the time. I’m only now starting to fully grasp how deep that union really is. If I spend all of my time trying to take care of one while neglecting the other, then neither will ever be as strong as it can be. There has to be some kind of balance.

At a particularly vulnerable time in my life, I went for a run. Because it made me feel good, I did it again. It cleared my head A LOT. I saw myself and my life in a very different light within that moment of clarity. And I didn’t like what I saw at all.

As I continued to run and to consistently feel those same moments of clarity, I decided I really needed to be better at it, not necessarily to be faster, but so that I could safely do it for a very long time. I needed the therapy of it. So I joined a gym. Then I actually went to that gym. I cleaned up my diet. I made being physically healthy a top priority. At a dark emotional time, that seemed something I could most definitely control and I felt the spiritual benefits of it very early on as well. I decided that I wanted to be as healthy as I could possibly be.

As I continued to cleanse my body of toxins and rebuild it with the most nutritious and beneficial ingredients I could find, my mind continued to clear as well. I began to feel lighter of heart, calmer of mind, and more confident. With each new milestone on the road or in the gym, I discovered a new mental strength as well. And unbeknownst to me, I was also starting to experience a certain meditative quality in those physical activities.

The more I take care of myself and the healthier I become, the better I feel spiritually. The better I feel spiritually, the more confident I feel in the face of new challenges. In accomplishing each new goal, broader ones appear that much more achievable. I feel cleaner, lighter, freer. And that feeling transfers over into everything else I do. I encounter negativity less and find it easier to cast it from my life. I handle stress better. When I feel overwhelmed, I go run. If I can’t run, I go to the gym. If I can’t go to the gym, I just go outside. It’s always better outside.

I don’t seek distraction. I don’t self medicate. I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work.

I’m no expert, but so far, being healthy makes everything easier. Eat better. Exercise more. Sleep better. You’ll feel better. I promise.

“Our beliefs about what we are and what we can be precisely determine what we can be” – Anthony Robbins

Our minds have an amazing ability to skew our view of the world and convince us of all sorts of things, both positive and negative. We can convince ourselves of obstructive things like we’re too old, too fat, too weird looking, or too devilishly handsome (what? Just me?) to achieve the things we want in our pursuit of happiness. Or our mental perspective can provide us with the confidence to see that age is just a number; weight is a variable we control, not the other way around; and despite each of our individual horns and hooves, we’re only as ugly as we feel. And feeling good doesn’t have to be such a fucking chore.

I feel like I’ve only recently started to find cracks in the walls I’ve built in my life, and I’ve enjoyed my adventures running free of them. At moments of weakness, I’ll let old habits chase me back into my fortress. But those moments are getting fewer, the cracks bigger, walls weaker, and each escapade is getting longer, more exhilarating, and revealing more and more exciting new things. I’m making progress.

I won’t claim to be free of my barriers, like I won’t say I’ve quit smoking, like I won’t say I’ve got anything figured out. Declaring victories too soon can lead me to complacency. And as confident as I am about the path I’m on and my abilities to traverse that path, I know I’ve still got a long way to go. And now is no time to get lazy.

I still have a gapped tooth grin. I’m most certainly still bald. But I feel more comfortable in my skin now than maybe ever before. I do still spend the vast majority of my time looking around only to feel awkwardly out of place. And some may notice that with exception of the sidebar photo, I have no pictures of myself in my posts. Maybe that’s because my blog is not about the aesthetic benefits of being healthier. Maybe it’s because I’ve still got work to do on my own self-image. I don’t know. But I’m in a better spot overall with what I believe to be a much better understanding of what it means to be wholly healthy in mind and body. I feel confident in my abilities to do anything I want in my life and I’ll continue to work on whatever issues present themselves.

In September, I’ll be visiting Steamboat Springs again for the first time since I left 12 years ago. But this time I’ll be taking my smile with me from the start. And I’m going to have a fucking blast.

We’ll call it altitude training for my marathon. I’m stoked.

“Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.” – Walt Whitman

Sorry so long-winded this time. Happy Thursday. Enjoy this rock’n jam from the new Mavis Staples record. I’ve loved her voice since I first heard it years ago. And pairing her with Jeff Tweedy’s production help is just perfect in my world. This song kills. Dance it out!