Dreadmill , The Progress in Going Nowhere

“Butch Cassidy: Is that what you call giving cover?
Sundance Kid: Is that what you call running? If I knew you were going to stroll…”
– Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969)

I’ve been happily estranged from the film industry’s wares for a pretty long time. Nevertheless I’m still confident when I say that the greatest Hollywood creation of all time has to be the mismatched buddy movie. You know the ones. Two people with vastly different backgrounds or beliefs are unwittingly paired together where their obviously incompatible natures come into immediate conflict. They don’t understand each other. They can’t possible like each other. And there is absolutely no way in hell that they could ever work together.

Well, that is until some unforeseen circumstance persuades those polar opposites to set aside their differences and join forces to resolve the situation or accomplish the common goal. Comedy and/or drama ensue.

Hollywood is so creative. Can I get an extra squirt of artificially butter flavored oil on my popcorn please?

“It’s not about how fast you go. It’s not about how far you go. It’s the process. As we run, we become. Every workout reveals new truths and releases new dreams.” – Amby Burfoot

I ran ten races in 2013, ranging in length from 5K to my first full marathon. As a newbie runner, every one of those events was a milestone. And I experienced some level of self-discovery in accomplishing each of them. But the true joys and revelations were found in the hundreds and hundreds of miles I ran training for those relatively short-lived events; 966.28 miles to be exact approximate.

Do you know how many of those miles were logged on a treadmill? Neither do I, because I only stepped on the damn thing one time all year. And all I can remember is how hard it was just to stay on it for a measly half hour.

I forget what my initial goal was. But I remember that only 10 minutes after pushing the start button, I made a deal with myself that if I could battle through 30 minutes without losing my mind, then I could stop. I’d already adopted the practice of running outside no matter the weather, and logged many wonderful miles in the rain, snow, heat, and cold. I have no clue what I was doing on a treadmill that day. But I hated it.

It was boring. I clumsily struggled to keep from stepping off of one side or the other. The lack of air movement felt stifling. It was tedious. If I wasn’t about to trail off the back I was running into the console. I couldn’t feel the sun on my face, hear dogs barking, smell honeysuckle flowers, or see a single bird. And, oh yeah-Did I mention that it was mind-numbing?

Even without knowing what I wanted from it in the first place, because I hated it so much I’ve unapologetically referred to that gym clutter as a “dreadmill” ever since. Cliché runner joke or not, that’s how I saw it; an endless vinyl path to insanity.

“So I stay out in the streets, Hoping to find you anywhere
Now that I understand, The woman you need to be
I can feel you in the heat, I can taste you in the air
And I can’t help but find your face in Everything I see”
Dawes, Moon In The Water

I spent 2013 running through the surrounding neighborhoods, rarely seeing another runner. But after my ankle crapped out on me last December, I would see one every time I drove around a curve. I swear they were everywhere. Each twisting the knife in my back, reminding me that I couldn’t do the one thing I could rely on for relief…or all too often, escape from a winter season I’d made way too dark. (Note: A healthy crutch is still a crutch. And crutches suck!)

If seeing all of those able-bodied jerks out on the road wasn’t hard enough, there were always a dozen or so people wearing out the dreadmills at the gym. I’d never really paid much attention to them. But as soon as I wasn’t able to run, they became pretty much all I could see.

“Look at that lucky bastard. Goddamn I wish I could go run right now.” – Me, every single day of winter.

It’s amazing what you notice when you’re forced to slow down…or worse, to stop. I never stopped my cycling or strength training exercises. And between sets at the gym, I’d catch myself zoning out into a total stranger’s running style. I saw people screaming along with a heel strike so sharp, it made my legs hurt. I saw others with a stride so vertically bouncy that I thought they had to be joking. There were runners whose upper bodies were so rigidly immobile that I don’t know how the twisting didn’t strain their lower back. And of course there were the gazelle-like superstars with the smoothest, most gracefully fluid running form you’ve ever seen. They’re the worst.

Maybe the most important observation was something I’d accepted as truth without actually witnessing it. Treadmills bounce. Of course I don’t mean like a trampoline. But no matter how clumsy or smooth the runner’s technique, the belted pathway gives more than any outdoor surface I’m aware of. I’d often read that treadmills could reduce running’s impact on the body. But not until I was forced to just sit there and watch did I actually see its flexibility under the stress of all types of runners. And seeing that bounce forced me to accept what I’d long feared; if I really wanted to heal and get back out on the roads, I was going to have to make friends with that “gym clutter.”

“Martin Riggs: Hey, look friend, let’s just cut the shit. Now we both know why I was transferred. Everybody thinks I’m suicidal, in which case, I’m fucked and nobody wants to work with me; or they think I’m faking to draw a psycho pension, in which case, I’m fucked and nobody wants to work with me. Basically, I’m fucked.

Roger Murtaugh: Guess what?

Martin Riggs: What?

Roger Murtaugh: I don’t want to work with you!

Martin Riggs: Hey, don’t.

Roger Murtaugh: Ain’t got no choice! Looks like we both been fucked!” Lethal Weapon (1987)

I was reluctant in our relationship for sure, but I’d avoided it as long as I could. I took several weeks off with no running at all. Then I eased my way onto an elliptical machine; which I also don’t enjoy. After a couple of weeks substituting my three weekly runs with that arm swinging, cross-country-skiing-meets-stair-climbing silliness, I finally stepped back on the dreadmill. And I did dread it, except that I didn’t. After not being able to run for so long, I couldn’t help but see that whirling nightmare in a slightly different light. It still looked mind-numbingly boring. But it also looked like the only doorway back outside. And I desperately wanted to go outside.

In addition to the presumed lesser impact, I also thought the treadmill would keep me from running too fast. In my earlier efforts back from injury, I would hit the road for “easy runs” and end up going too fast for too long, always distracted by some modest, but ultimately insignificant, mileage goal. I wasn’t focusing enough on healing. I wasn’t listening to my body. And as a result, I aggravated my injury and hindered my recovery. I do stupid shit better than a lot of people do anything. If I wanted to run faster on a treadmill, I’d have to consciously change the speed setting. I thought that might rein me in a little.

My first treadmill sessions had no goals, only limits. I wasn’t worried about mileage or speed at all. I just wanted to get some time in. I would run until my ankle told me to stop. But if I made it to 20 minutes, I’d stop regardless and finish my 45-60 minute daily cardio goal on an elliptical or bike. I stuck to that routine for a thousand weeks (What? It felt like it), slowly adding a few minutes or a little more speed as my body allowed it. But if I ever felt even a tinge of pain in my Achilles, I’d stop. It was frustrating beyond words.

After several weeks of battling the boredom of those runs, I let myself out on the road for a short run, only with the understanding that my other two runs that week would be back inside. Eventually I started taking my Saturday “long” runs to a local trail where I could get a softer surface AND still be outside where I belong. But again, if I did my long run outside, my next run was on the mill. Patience is key. Slow is fast. Baby steps. Blah blah blah. It was excruciating. But I think it’s working.

It was brutal out there.

It was brutal out there.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally ran my first race of 2014. It was my slowest 10K to date and maybe my most satisfying race ever. I’d just taken another week off after some worrisome outings the previous weeks. And my prerace warm-up was not at all confidence building. I approached the start already conceding that the only goal for this race would be to enjoy the spring weather. Once it started, much to my surprise, I actually ran well. It was the first time I’d run “fast” in six months. After the cluttered crowd navigation of the first half mile, I zoned out. I’m not a speedster at all, nor am I very competitive. But for the next six miles, almost without realizing it, I slowly crept by one runner after another; steadily reeling in each next person without paying much attention to it. It was awesome. I finished the race with negative splits throughout, only a few seconds slower than the same race last year, and most importantly with zero ankle issues. I felt good, which felt great. And as much as I would’ve loved to buy into the “Greg’s back” sentiment expressed by my friends, three days later, I was back on the treadmill. Why? Because I want to run a marathon this fall. And I won’t be able to do that if I do something stupid this week.

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw

During those agonizing months of slow recovery running I was tweaking every aspect of my form; my foot fall, my posture, my stride, everything. Those adjustments brought with them the general aches and pains that come with all change. And those discomforts complicated my ability to measure my progress. “Was that pain Achilles-related? Or was that normal (and less worrisome) soreness of a flatter foot strike?” I swear I can complicate anything. But I always had my new friend waiting for me at the gym if I needed to slow down and evaluate something in a controlled environment. And that helped a lot, whether I always want to admit it or not.

Do I love treadmills now? Nope. But I’ve been reminded that a bad first impression is not always the fault of the impresser. As a child I hated beets and brussels sprouts. Now I love them eat both almost every single day. A year ago I said that until they classify bacon and pulled pork bbq as vegetables, that I could never be a vegetarian. I haven’t eaten either one in a year, and now thrive on an almost completely dairy free, plant based diet. Two years ago, I’d have told you that I hated running. Now I can say without hyperbole that I believe it saved my life.

My resistance to new things has stolen so much from me over the years. Some of those things I’ll be able to get later, some I won’t. But first I need to avoid falling victim to the “I just don’t like change” mentality. The only people that should ever comfortably say that are people 100% satisfied with every aspect of their existence. Otherwise, refusing change is to refuse the possibility of achieving something greater.

I ran like shit on a treadmill, so I blamed the treadmill and built a whole argument about how awful they are. Then I realized that like any tool, you have to learn how to use it before it can work for you. I bought into many of the bullshit arguments against a plant-based diet. Then I tried it and discovered that it works incredibly well for me. I perform better without meat and dairy products. I recover faster. I feel better. I run better. And running has without a doubt made me better.

I’ve been wrong more than I’ve been right in my life. And my default settings are still to misplace blame, exaggerate my displeasure, and too often embrace the negative. I don’t know why, but those things just come easy to me. But I’m working on it and slowly making progress. I feel good. I like changing the things that don’t work for me. I’m learning that all of that might be as simple knowing when to change my mind. Happy Wednesday. Go outside.

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Checking In From the Long Cut

“When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.” – Corrie Ten Boom

Wow! It’s been a while. I wish I had some exciting reason why I haven’t posted in so long; maybe some wild tale about my adventures battling dragons on the open seas or traveling with a ninja circus through outer space.

Because seriously, what lie story isn’t made better by adding a dragon or a couple of ninjas?

That’s right! None!

The mythical-reptile-free truth is that I’ve just been a little busier, largely uninspired, and I couldn’t justify making time in an already frenzied schedule just to force something crappy onto the web. If I post something crappy, I want it to be genuinely inspired crap.

Obviously, I’m still a ridiculous person.

“It is the merit of a general to impart good news, and to conceal the truth.” – Sophocles

I’m inclined to say that so little has happened in the last two months that writing about it would’ve wasted more of my time than reading it would’ve stolen from you. It’s basically been weeks upon weeks of the same ol’ shit: Go to work, go to the gym, cook dinner late, meditate, not enough sleep, repeat. Nobody parties like I party.

I continue to refine my diet: still plant based, no meat, no dairy, very little sugar, and currently reducing both oils and gluten (not all fats, just oils) while increasing consumption of unprocessed whole foods and those rich in probiotics. I’ve even started making my own kombucha and salad dressing; tasty practices that I can already tell might spin out of control.

I hear it's not bad w/ a little vodka or bourbon either.  Just sayin'.

I hear it’s not bad w/ a little vodka or bourbon either. Just sayin’.

I still try to meditate every day. My success is mixed but improving. And I definitely feel better when I make the time to just sit, focus on my breath, and slow the rattling in my skull. I don’t have any magical stories of transcendence. All I know is that when I don’t do it my mind knots up quickly and the tension is palpable.

I am running (thankfully), but nowhere near as much as I would like and way too much of it on a spinning rubber band surrounded by walls and televisions and loud shitty music; all things that suppress my spirit far more than encourage it.

(SIDE NOTE: Why is it, that in a place where literally 95% of people wear headphones, the gym feels compelled to play the music so loud? Seriously, no one is listening to that noise. Turn it down…or off.)

Managed to steal a trail ride before the soaking month of rain and snow.

Managed to steal a trail ride before the soaking month of rain and snow.

The closest things to actual “news” around here are: I’m lining up my first yoga session in the coming weeks. A buddy’s martial arts experience continues to tempt me in a jujitsu direction. And because my nagging running limitations have reduced the time I get to spend with my friends sunshine, rainfall, birdsongs, and barking dogs, I’ve started riding my bike more.

It’s not the same as running. But it does help with the withdrawal symptoms of not being able to run as much as I’d like. So until I can safely get my long runs back, I’ll ride. If you can’t be with the one love, love the one you’re with, right?

We’ll see.

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” – Beverly Sills

I still haven’t put any races on my 2014 calendar. I don’t mind that so much except that it means that I don’t have a training schedule either. And I miss the training more than the races.

Honestly, I miss my long runs more than anything; two plus hours running alone on a Saturday morning with nothing but my haunted thoughts. That might not sound like a good time to everyone, but I miss it like crazy…and might seriously be going crazy trying not to force myself back to that place too quickly.

Typical of my nature, impatience has complicated my recovery. I got hurt. The second I felt “better,” I charged out and re-aggravated it. Lesson learned. Don’t rush it. We’re not going for better. We’re going for healed. Baby steps are the answer. I can do anything. Blah blah blah.

I truly believe all of that, but I was still missing one important point. Having the answer wasn’t going to help if I kept asking the wrong question; aiming at the wrong target.

“Just as nailing a PR isn’t easy, recovering from an injury isn’t easy-it takes dedication and hard work. And… you can’t expect to get better if you give it less than your best.” – Kate McDonald Neitz

Through this whole debacle, I’ve been striving to get back to where I was before; always looking way beyond the next step and thinking instead about the marathon on the horizon. Have you ever tried to reach out and touch the horizon? Chasing it won’t get you any closer.

As my hopes for a spring 26.2 slipped away, I thought maybe I could salvage a half before the higher heat and humidity forces long races into summer hibernation. No? Well, how about if I can get back to running (insert any number) miles a week. Sure, that’ll make me happy.

I wasn’t focusing on simply letting my ankle heal, and heal fully. I thought I was. But I’m often full of shit. I’d take a couple of weeks off. Then maybe a short, slow treadmill run, staying aware of my form, and making sure to stretch properly. You know, doing everything “right.” But as soon as I saw even the slightest flicker of light at the end of the tunnel, I’d immediately kick the engineer off the train and push the throttle.

“Today felt pretty good. Finally. I’m back! Time to start building my mileage back up. Maybe I can squeeze in a half marathon before summer.” Nope. I’d just go too hard for too long and bang myself up again. Two steps forward, one step back. Story of my life. No road like the hard road. Arghhhhhh!

A full recovery is the only “race” I should be training for. And I’m trying to be as dedicated to that goal as I was while training for any of last year’s races. But last year, “dedication” meant pushing through newbie discomforts in order to break new ground. This year, it means, trusting the engineer will get me through this tunnel if I’ll only stay out of the way.

It feels like it’s taking forever, but I have to remember that I don’t have a lifetime of athleticism to fall back on. A year and a half ago, I had a combined total of zero years of athletic conditioning. I think that might be important. Those with a more substantial foundation of physical activity might be able to endure a short time on the sidelines and have their bodies rebound quickly.

When I got hurt and essentially took 8 weeks “off,” that equated to almost 10 percent of my total life as a runner. And because I’ve got over 38 years of experience being a hardheaded dullard, I completely forgot all of the things I learned while training last year. I’m going to have to start small again. Not from scratch. But smaller.

“It is the neglect of timely repair that makes rebuilding necessary.” – Richard Whately

8 miles at sunrise last Saturday = longest run in months. Felt so good.

8 miles at sunrise last Saturday = longest run in months. Felt so good.

I’m grateful to be running again, even if much of it is on the dreadmill. But my runs are a little bit more like work right now; work that I love. I’m concentrating on and adjusting every aspect of my form: my foot strike, my breathing, which muscles I’m using, my posture, keeping my core engaged, everything. I think about all of those things constantly in fact. Whether I’m walking across a parking lot or sitting at my desk, I’m always paying attention to my body’s overall alignment and posture.

I’m trying to learn more about how my body works and then incorporate those lessons into my gym routine each day. I’ve increased and expanded my cross training during these weeks and I can tell that my endurance is as good as or better than it’s ever been. I’m determined to come out of this tunnel stronger than I went in.

“We’ve been in a deep rut
And it’s been killing me
If you wanna take the long cut
We’ll get there eventually”
– Uncle Tupelo

Anyway, I just wanted to check in to say that I’m still here. I’m trying to avoid misleading short cuts, focus on the next step instead of the horizon, and be steadfast on the more reliable long cut back to a full recovery…and eventually back into a race bib.

I know I said at New Years that I wanted to increase the frequency of these posts, but I’m at a loss. I didn’t realize how long my recovery was going take and maybe didn’t fully appreciate how many of my blogs over the last 18 months were sparked and/or drafted while I was out pounding the pavement. I don’t know if those runs were my muse or my workshop. But without my time in whatever that place is, I’m stuck simultaneously experiencing a feeling of both emptiness and suffocating clutter. And I don’t really feel like writing about either of those things right now. So I’ll just keep moving forward at whatever pace I can. And I’ll write ‘em as they come, whether that’s next week or next month. Hell, if I’m going to take the long way around, I better at least see something interesting along the way.

Wish me luck. I can feel it and do appreciate it. Happy Wednesday.

Slow Is Fast: Importance of Baby Steps

I haven’t laced up my running shoes and hit the road since Christmas Day. Why? Because on that supposed jolliest of days, when I got dressed up in silly looking red clothes (my least favorite color) and headed out into the cold to celebrate my first run in weeks, I overdid it and re-aggravated an injury that had already been driving me crazy…maybe literally.

My triumphant return to the roads instead turned out to be a rebirth of pain.

“Life is short and if you’re looking for extension, you had best do well. ‘Cause there’s good deeds and then there’s good intentions. They are as far apart as Heaven and Hell.” – Ben Harper

I had been battling the world’s most persistent throat infection since Halloween. I ran my first marathon in mid-November, while reluctantly accepting my second consecutive prescription of antibiotics. Just after Thanksgiving, my old buddy Strep Throat flexed its muscles even stronger than before, and left me completely exhausted and unable to sleep, think, or breathe without excruciating pain.

Hooray! Back to the doctor.

A few days after being issued my THIRD script for even more horrible meds, I pushed through a lackluster but much appreciated six miles. That weekend, I knocked out a decent 12. I knew I wasn’t 100%, but I did feel better. And it was so good to be out there. I needed those miles. I needed those minutes alone on the road.

Then BOOM! I laced up for my regular Tuesday run. And for no reason I can conjure, my heel hurt from the very first step. In less than a mile, I knew I was finished. It wasn’t going to work itself out. My left Achilles tendon was killing me. “Confused” doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. I still don’t remember injuring it.

I tried again on Thursday.

No dice!

It hurt just as bad, so I stopped running even sooner. “I’ll be smart” I told myself. “Don’t make it worse” I said. “You need this.” I may have uttered a few profanities (a lot of them actually; the bad ones). I don’t know what happened, but I had to let it heal. So I promised myself that I wouldn’t run again until my ankle was completely pain-free.

Long

est

twelve

days

ev

ver.

I did my best to take it easy: no running at all, easier efforts on the bike, even tried to figure out that elliptical monster I’d seen people wrestling with at the gym. I also let myself skip a few workouts all together; something I am never comfortable doing. Never.

By Christmas Eve, I felt like shit mentally, but my ankle felt better. And I was determined to run the next day. As I shared a couple of weeks ago, I’ve suffered through recent holiday seasons more than I celebrated them, and last year’s bout of Santa-time sadness was getting particularly worrisome. I desperately needed my asphalt therapist back. So while the rest of the world sat in piles of paper around indoor trees, I hit the road.

I thought I was being modestly optimistic. If I could get just three short miles in, I’d be happy. But if I could get all the way to five, I’d be stoked. I was supposed to be training for a spring marathon. Five miles meant that I might be able to adjust my goals and salvage my training plan. If I couldn’t get to three, I might have to reevaluate my entire running plan for the coming year.

“With all these forks in the roads of our path, why do so many choose to take the knife?” – Anthony Liccione

It felt so good to run again: atypical sub-freezing temperatures, a bone numbing north wind. You know, Perfection. I was running well, maintaining a decent pace, feeling a hint of happiness, and of course constantly monitoring how my left foot was landing and how the ankle was holding up.

One mile in, I can only imagine how blissful I looked rounding those corners through my familiar neighborhood course. At two miles when I had to make the decision to turn left towards my apartment or right along my usual route, I felt the slightest tingle in my ankle. I turned right.

Wrong.

At three miles, I knew I’d fucked up. I was never going to make it to five. I should’ve stopped at two. And I was doing more harm than good. So I angrily turned to track the most direct route back, and conceded to a slow walk soon after that.

I was so aggravated. Why didn’t I just turn left? Why didn’t I run slower? Why is this happening to me? I just wanted to run. I just wanted to feel better.

Merry Christmas to me. I felt worse than ever.

“You can make bad choices and find yourself in a downward spiral or you can find something that gets you out of it.” – Ray LaMontagne

I’ve heard many people claim frustration with the inability to reach a certain goal as quickly as they’d like, or annoyance with the unexpected difficulty of achieving it at all. It’s that time of year I guess; a time for change. Some people want to eat better. Others might want to exercise more. Maybe someone just wants to read more comic books. Basically, everybody is trying find a way to feel better, be better, or both. And all of it’s totally possible as long as we’re willing to work hard and keep a realistic perspective.

It doesn’t really matter what the ambition is. Almost every time I hear someone feeling discouraged and beating themselves up over some small setback, I want to remind them that even small progress counts. Nothing happens overnight. Biting off more than we should can be discouraging and maybe even lead to disheartening aches and pains (or injury). Not turning obstacles into a reason to give up is the trick.

You want to eat better? Do it. You don’t have to throw out all of the food that’s already in your pantry. You can. If it’s all total junk food, you probably should. But you don’t have to. Just change the smallest, easiest part. Leave the chocolate syrup off of your ice cream at night. Switch to low fat milk in that morning cereal. Pack your lunch on workdays to prevent fast food slip-ups. Eat a salad with dinner. The more good stuff you eat, the less room you’ll leave for the bad stuff. And you will feel better. If you mess up and eat something that you know is horrible for you, don’t give up. You didn’t lose the war. You can’t lose as long as you’re still fighting it.

If you want to exercise more, do it. You don’t have join an expensive gym or dedicate two thirds of your garage to some ridiculously complicated torture device (that often ends up covered in laundry). Just go for a walk. Run around the block. Ride your bike to the store. Move your body. Accelerate your heart rate. You will feel better. I promise. If you planned to go to the gym (or for that walk) three days this week, and then only went twice, congratulations. That’s two more than zero. That’s progress. You nailed it. Next week you’ll get all three. If you didn’t do anything at all this week, next week seems like a great week to try again. Shit, what are you doing tomorrow? Tomorrow’s a good day to have a good day.

There is no benefit in the idea that just because you missed a step today, that the entire effort is no longer worthwhile. That’s bullshit thinking. If you messed up, acknowledge that you did yourself a disservice, try to figure out why, and then make the next right move. You’ve got the rest of your life to get it right. And every small victory can put a few extra seconds on that timeline.

Within our larger ambitions, it’s important to establish smaller, more achievable goals. Accomplishing them will build confidence into the next slightly larger objective. And we should celebrate every victory. Each is a step in the right direction. Baby steps are still steps. Steps are movement. Movement is progress.

It seems so obvious when I’m looking at someone else.

“The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.”
– Oscar Wilde

That stupid mistake I made last month has forced me to rediscover my appreciation for small victories. I’ve harped about the value of baby steps a hundred times. But I’m a hypocrite. I want to make long strides. I’m impatient. I want to move. I wouldn’t want the fact that I don’t know where I’m going to keep me from charging into the darkness at full speed. I want to go now!

My Christmas debacle was my last run of 2013. The next day, my ankle felt worse than ever. I was so mad at myself. I wanted to run my first sub-four-hour marathon this March. I’ve had to accept that that will not happen. I missed my first race of the year a few weeks ago. I’m going to miss my second race this Saturday. I’m relatively clueless about how this year’s race plans are going to look. But I can’t distract myself with that stuff. I need my foot back first. I need to focus on this moment.

Christmas was also my last day of antibiotics. And whether it is coincidence or not, I did feel like my body was healing and recovering faster within days of swallowing that last stupid pill. I’ve upped my intake of probiotics, both in supplements and food sources. And I think I’m on the mend.

Unlike the first time, my ankle felt better within days. But instead of immediately trying to run, I restricted myself to a short, low intensity stint on an elliptical. If I felt anything in my ankle, I’d stop. But I didn’t feel anything. I’ve spent more time stretching my ankle. I wear compression sleeves on my ankle and lower leg A LOT just to help stabilize the whole area.

After almost two weeks without running a step, I allowed a very short and excruciatingly slow treadmill run. It sucked. But it didn’t hurt. And that was awesome. Baby steps.

I’m still restricting myself to the dreadmill. But I have been able to run a few times a week over the last two weeks. My speed and endurance is slowly coming back. It is a constant battle not to push myself. And I cannot explain how much I want/need a two or three hour run in the sun…or rain…or snow. I don’t care. I just want to be back outside. But I’m sticking to this cautious path.

My run journal has become a total exercise and wellness journal. And in addition to workout and meditation notes, it’s also littered with reminders like: “DO NOT PUSH IT!” “I WILL NOT PUSH IT THIS TIME!” “STAY CAUTIOUS.”

(Of course, not so cautious that I didn’t strap my feet to a board and repeatedly throw my clumsy ass down a snow covered hill yesterday. But hey, it doesn’t snow in southeast VA very often.)

I’ve so often commented on the importance of viewing baby steps as simple tools to stay motivated or as consolation prizes within a larger game. And I believe they can be both. But in this case, I’m learning that those small cautious strides might be the only way that I will ever get back out on the roads where I belong. I hope I actually listen to myself this time. Wish me luck. Happy Wednesday.

Work Smarter AND Harder

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Well, it looks like I’ve managed to let another year get away from me. And oh what a year it was: Lots of ups, a few downs, some of the best days of my life, and a couple more for the memory dungeon as well. But overall, despite a lot of stumbling and my still inherent ability to get in my own way, I have to admit that 2013 felt like a baby step in the right direction. And I’ve got nothing against baby steps.

I started the year off still shaking out my newbie runners legs and excitedly breaking new distance-ground every single weekend leading into my very first half marathon in March. As my love of running and the desire to get better continued to grow exponentially, my diet evolved from one simply based on whole foods (no processed foods), to one predominantly free of red meat and chicken, to what is now an almost completely plant-based, dairy free diet designed to fuel my body, its performance, and its recovery as efficiently as possible.

Over the summer, realizing that physical strength alone would not be enough to get me where I’m supposed to be in this world and wanting to truly realize my fullest potential, I adopted an almost daily meditative practice that I’ve come to depend on and continue to discover new mental and spiritual benefits therein.

I decided after my first half that I should try to tackle a full marathon with only a year’s running experience, and somehow pulled that off too when I finished the Philadelphia Marathon less than two months ago. While training for Philly, I twice PR’d my half marathon time and totally fell in love with the best most therapeutic long runs I could’ve ever imagined. And then partly because I didn’t respect my body’s need for rest both after my marathon and during a relentlessly persistent illness, I pushed myself too hard and managed to injure my left achilles tendon. I don’t know how or when I did it, but I’ve already tried to “muscle through it” once and that just made it worse. Now I am letting it heal…which means I ended my best (and first) running year unable to actually run. And in three days I will accomplish a new, less rewarding running milestone: I’m going to miss my first race of the new year. What a strong start of 2014. Woohoo! I’m an idiot!

It’s funny to me (not really), looking back, how much my performance at the Philadelphia Marathon ended up being allegorically representative of my entire year. I came out strong and probably pushing a little too hard, I didn’t always realize or fully respect the risks of that overconfidence or how it might cost me later, and I ended up running out of gas early and finishing slower and weaker than I should have. But I did finish my first full marathon this year. And I did survive all of 2013. So I am putting both in the “win” column while fully acknowledging the vast room for improvement.

So what’s next? How do I intend to keep growing and advancing along this path towards what I hope is my most authentic self?

I. Wish. I. Knew.

“Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.” – Joseph Campbell

Some may have noticed that I didn’t publish any “Jar Of Good Things” posts for the last three months. It’s not that there was nothing “good” happening in my world. It was simply that I didn’t have the time and/or energy to get those posts together. Shit, I haven’t published much of anything in the last three months. And not being able to get those thoughts together was incredibly frustrating.

I initially lost my blogging rhythm as a result of being super busy finishing up my marathon training, taking on new job responsibilities, and some other real life bullshit. But then, I decided to make everything just a tad more complicated by getting sick…and staying sick…for two fucking months.

However, during that unwanted quieter blogging period, I found myself having multiple, and very often similar, conversations with different people, both in person and online, who’d inquired about starting to run, training in general, and a lot of questions about food.

A few people had questions about how I started running: How fast? How often? How far? Some newly born runners had simple questions about preferred music choices or whether or not I stretch before a run. Some were curious about my gym routine; “Do you do any weight training exercises?” “What about cross training?” And if so, which ones and how often? But most of the people I spoke/typed to had questions or concerns about their diet. And most of those questions came from people with little or no interest in running, but merely wanted to lose weight or be healthier.

I had more than one person pull me aside or send me a message to tell me just how difficult it is to break old food habits and how frustrating it is to know they’re fucking up and still not be able to stop. I got messages inquiring about how I was getting all of the nutrients that my body needs through a plant based diet (quick hint: all of those protein-rich animals “they” claim we NEED to eat – they get that protein from plants, and so can you). One friend even asked to come by my apartment for a closer look at the Monday Night Kitchen Dance, and then a few days later shared some pictures of her own healthier food-prep recital. Baby steps.

I ultimately felt (and feel) unqualified to answer many of the questions that were asked. I’m neither a trainer nor a nutritionist. I’m just a fat guy whose life shit the bed unexpectedly so I decided to remake it better than it was before. I’m still learning every day, often from my own mistakes. But I have done a lot or research, so I tried to lend an ear to anyone with a concern and then cautiously share what I thought would benefit each specific person the most. And as I found myself doing this more often, and also personally benefitting from the exchanges, I thought “Shit! I should just find a way to put this stuff in my blog.” I was typing and saying very similar things over and over again, it only made sense, right?

“Don’t put the cart before the horse.” – Unknown (to me)

Because of the perceived interest in my thoughts on training and nutrition, one of the things I considered trying in 2014 was to rebrand my blog a little; maybe focus its message a little bit. I thought I might be able to loosen its direct connection to the author’s fluctuating moods and perceptions and see if it could become more useful to people trying to make better health choices. I’m silly like that sometimes.

Up until mid October my blog was building a certain amount of momentum; modest momentum, but momentum just the same. Readership was small, but slowly growing. I was getting out a new post roughly once a week, and was proud of most of them. But I was also starting to feel like I was becoming a bit redundant in my efforts to keep that totally arbitrary deadline.

So when life got hectic, I ditched the deadline and told myself that I would only post when I felt like I actually had something of true value to share. And wouldn’t you know it; I had all kinds of things I wanted to share. Some observations made during my last training races, maybe a few personal insights, and of course all of the above mentioned food and exercise stuff was leading me in that direction. I started putting together so many blog entries over the past few months. I just could not find the time to get them fleshed out. It was driving me crazy. And then…

…the holidays. Ugh, the holidays.

The holiday season has always been a stressful time for me. And in recent years, it has also come with some level of depression as well. And this year’s dose was a total bastard. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed either. The holidays can be a dark time for a lot of people and I openly count myself among them. And the only thing more emotionally exhausting than feeling shitty when the whole world is joyfully singing around me is pretending that I don’t. Ugh, if only I could’ve gone for a good long run…to the moon.

I know it’s supposed to be the greatest time of the year and I’m truly jealous of those who allow it to be so. I don’t know if it’s the spiritually draining materialism or the higher frequency and duration of social interactions. But for some reason, I too often disrupt my Christmas season pondering hard the things I lack in my life and not enough time in mindful appreciation for all that I have. I’m ashamed to admit that I did the same thing last year too. I promise I’m working on it, but regardless of 2013’s baby steps, I’m still a very flawed vessel.

And alas, this year’s bout of holiday sadness aligned itself perfectly with an illness-weakened body, antibiotic suppressed immune function, and that mysterious injury that kept me from pursuing the most reliable method of therapy that I have ever known. I couldn’t run. I tried. I failed. I forced it. I worsened it. I cannot describe how bad I wanted to just go out for a three hour run or how miserable it felt that I couldn’t.

So as I go into 2014, before I worry too much about external things like redefining what my blog is or should be, I will continue to focus my energies simply on bettering myself, getting healthy again, and getting my ass back out on the roads where I belong. And as much as I genuinely love running purely for what it is, I’ve also been painfully reminded that I cannot continue to put all of my mental health eggs in that single basket. Remedying that situation will be of utmost importance if I want to continue down this path to what I hope is eventual wellness and balance.

“Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

I’m sorry that this might sound like a “downer” start to the New Year, but I do have a lot of faith and optimism heading into this next chapter. I’m just acknowledging the state that I currently find myself. I have no plans to sit still, and I’m certainly not quitting. On the contrary, though I still don’t make new years resolutions, I do have many things I’d like to accomplish as I continue this journey…whether I get them done in 2014 or not.

I believe that I’ve gotten about as far down this new path to wellness as I possibly can on dumb muscle and bullheadedness alone. I really need to better define for myself exactly what I want from this “ME” experiment I’ve been conducting over the last year. That may sound simple or even stupid, but I don’t know exactly where I’m going. All I know is that I’m unsatisfied with where I am and pretending that I’m not is a shitty plan.

I need to determine which direction I need to follow in order the build a legacy I can be proud of. And when I do, I’ll need to develop a plan, build the best and strongest support system I can to help me, and surround myself with the people and resources that will make that goal achievable. It’s always fun to say that we can do something “on our own,” but it’s never true.

“Work smarter, not harder” – Alan Lakein

I almost think it’s funny that at a time when I was thinking about making my blog less of a public sharing of my diary that I slipped into a depression that has essentially forced me back to a “blogging as release” mindset. I hope you’ll all continue to bear with me.

I’m hoping to be back on the roads in the coming weeks. I will most definitely still be sharing my running story in this blog. I will more than likely also share more training and nutrition tid-bits along the way. I also want to try and get my blog lengths down and frequency up. I have a lot of hopes for 2014. But basically I want to spend the coming year working smarter AND harder. After all you can’t do better until you start doing something. Wish me luck. Happy New Year.

I’m a Marathoner: Anybody Can Do That

“Hey, has anyone seen Thatguywiththebeard? I swear I thought he was training for a marathon and checking in almost every week until about a month ago. Then he just disappeared. I’m starting to worry.” – No one ever.

I know. I know. It’s been forever since I checked in. And I wish I had some really exciting reason why I haven’t been around. But honestly, I’ve just been hella-busy. (Lame excuse, I know)

I started writing at least four of these things over the last several weeks, but each time I could never find the time to sit down and finish one. Trust me, it was frustrating the hell out of me. But, try as I might, I couldn’t create more time. And despite what the Beatles seemed to believe, there are still only seven days in the week. Stupid Beatles.

“I hate clutter. It really bothers me because I can’t think properly. If you’ve got distractions in front of you, your mind goes nuts.” – Simon Cowell

I posted my last entry way back in October, right before the highest mileage weeks on my training schedule. I started a new job during that same time period. I set a new half-marathon PR at my last practice race; also my first travel race. My brother came to town for a visit. Then just two days after my last long run (22 miles) before that glorious taper I’d been looking forward to for so long, I got sick. Yep. Sick. My training went so well that I was starting to feel invincible. It turns out that I’m not.

I spent most of my taper battling a persistent throat infection, swimming in night sweats, downing antibiotics, and suffering from near constant exhaustion. If it hadn’t been for new job responsibilities, I probably wouldn’t have gone to work. And if I wasn’t such a hard-headed asshole, I might not have run a single step. I was physically and mentally drained for two weeks. It sucked.

After a couple weeks got by me without a new post, I found myself so out of rhythm with the blog that I couldn’t figure out how to jump back in. I had things I wanted to share. But with each week missed, they’d seem too distant from their inspiration, less relevant to the current week’s trials, and eventually I was completely lost as to what I was doing, how I could catch up, or whether I should even try. Do I attempt to pick up where I left off? Or should I just skip to right now?

Did I mention that I was exhausted?

One thing this unplanned hiatus did was to remind me how important it is for me to post these silly things. It’s kind of selfish really, but there is a measurable physical response every time I publish a new blog; a feeling of release like I just moved another heavy box out of the crowded attic of my skull. And over the last several weeks, the building weight on that attic floor was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. So I’ve been trying to make this a priority. I didn’t need to run this afternoon. I skipped the gym. Today I’m going to move some boxes out to the curb.

“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” – Nido Qubein

So where was I? What’s been going on? Hmmmmm?

Oh yeah. I ran a fucking marathon last Sunday!

Wait. No.

I ran my first fucking marathon last Sunday! And it was incredible.

I stalked this out the night before the race.  I had to see it.

I stalked this out the night before the race. I had to see it.

The more races I run, the more I reinforce what I’ve always kind of known: I’m way more of a runner than a racer. I like races. I want to do well in them. But I really just like to run, and sometimes races can be distracting. I view races in the same way that I imagine martial artists might view their tests for a new belt classification. It’s a necessary act to measure one’s progress. It can be fun. And it’s certainly challenging. But the belt is not the true point of the training. I believe running makes me a better person. I train to push myself closer to the best me I can be. Races are just a tool to help measure and motivate those steps along the way.

All that said; being able to call myself a marathoner does feel pretty damn good…and somewhat surreal too. It’s been a crazy year.

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Henry David Thoreau

My first marathon had its ups and downs. I battled some setbacks out of my control, made some mistakes, learned a few lessons, and had a total blast. The 2013 Philadelphia Marathon was and will always be one the greatest experiences of my life. And for the sake of the non-running readers out there that don’t give two shits about the details of the race, I’ll try to keep this short (yeah, right). Please bear with me.

Setback Out Of My Control:

1) Maybe not totally out of my control (my “Mouth Kiss The Homeless” policy might’ve been a bad idea), but I spent most of my taper under the weather and exhausted. And because of it, I never felt as rested and ready as I’d have liked. And I knew something was up when I was yawning before the race even started. Ugh.

2) I had to run on unfamiliar fuel. I was fortunate enough to train all summer with a gel that disappeared from the face of the planet just weeks before the race. I looked EVERYWHERE for it, but eventually accepted that I was going to have to break one of the biggest rules of running: don’t do anything new on race day. Hahahaha. Nothing new? I was going to run my first marathon with an unfamiliar fuel. Hooray for my continued good luck.

3) It was damn near hot outside. I was hoping for race day temperatures no higher than 50 degrees, and 45 wouldn’t have hurt my feelings. Instead it was over 50 degrees at 7 a.m., with midday highs expected in the upper 60s. Oh, and the humidity was only at 87%. Now, I trained in the heat of a Virginia summer, so I won’t pretend that I’d never seen warm conditions. But the unexpected heat and humidity very likely contributed to my eventual running out of gas.

Mistakes Made/Lessons Learned:

1) I didn’t fully prepare for the race conditions. The course was a bit hillier than I expected. I looked at the elevation chart when I registered. But I didn’t look very closely. It wasn’t a total deal breaker or anything. I did a few training runs in hillier areas, and I did hill-repeats as some of my speed work. But the more consistent hills on the course made it difficult for me to settle into my pace and zone out. And whoever thought that laying out a marathon course with a solid climb from the 18.5 mile mark through mile 20 should be punched in the ear.

2) I under fueled. Because I wasn’t sure how I’d stomach a different gel on race day and I didn’t want to risk a midrace digestive issue, I ended up cutting my normal race day caloric intake by about 25%. That was energy I probably could’ve used in the last few miles. Ooops.

3) I didn’t hydrate well either. I carry an electrolyte drink with me when I run. But because I wanted to conserve as much of it as possible to wash down gels, I was using aid stations as my main source of hydration. And because I don’t like the taste of Gatorade, I took water at every stop until I crashed at mile 23. And boy, did I crash. I wasn’t feeling any significant physical pain. I simply ran out of gas.

I later noticed that I’d burned over 3600 calories in those four hours on the road. I didn’t take in nearly enough electrolytes or carbs for that, and my body was pissed about it after the race. In hindsight, in addition to eating more, I probably should’ve taken Gatorade from at least half of the water stops to help prevent that previously mentioned crash. I’m learning.

Had A Blast:

Philly Medal1) I finished my first marathon. Isn’t that the most important thing? It’s still crazy to me, but I’ve got the medal to prove it, so it must have happened. Not only did I finish, but I finished with a time that I am proud of (4:11:11). I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want to finish in less than four hours. But finishing was truly my main goal. And between my sketchy taper, fueling issues, and hydration errors, I’m more than pleased with my performance. Hell, I was killing it for 23 miles. Get my fueling/hydration straight and I should have no trouble knocking those 11 minutes off next time.

2) Philly rocked. A person vaguely resembling the man I am today had been to Philadelphia a few times in the past and displayed absolutely zero reservations in shitting all over it. It’s easy to find fault the littered streets and chaotic traffic of such a large urban area. But once I got checked into my hotel, I found the city oddly peaceful while I wandered its streets the night before the race. And the course itself was a really nice run as well. It ran right through the middle of the city, China town, the university district, then out along the river. And the parts along that river might’ve even been called relaxing if I hadn’t been constantly waiting for the door to slam on me.

Seeing so much of Philly on foot made me even more excited to do more travel races. I can’t wait to experience more new places at street level through the eyes of a slow moving runner. It’s going to be fun.

3) My post race dinner was amazing. Unlike a lot of runners, I do not run to offset an insatiable love of food. On the contrary, I feel like I make myself eat more than I really want in order to fuel my love of running. But I have never been as depleted in my life as I was after finishing my marathon. Holy shit! I felt awful. I could barely move or even speak. And when I did talk, it was in such a hushed tone that I barely recognized my own voice. It was ridiculous.

After about three hours of slowly rehydrating and replenishing myself the best I could with my pre-staged post race foods (coconut water, protein shakes, bananas, vegetables, rice, and beans), I finally felt good enough to go out and meet some friends for a proper celebratory meal. And goddamn was it delicious.

The plan was to meet at a nearby Mexican-American themed restaurant (El Vez) for a drink before walking to another nearby spot assumed to be more suited to my plant-based diet. I am so glad that didn’t happen. Instead, the chef (also a friend) decided he would adjust some of the existing menu items and create a few special items in order to present the most delicious vegan tasting menu I could ever ask for. One surprise dish after another kept showing up at the table. I wish I’d thought to take pictures of the spice crusted fried cauliflower, wheat berry and asparagus salad, veggie tacos, spicy beat enchiladas, amazing guacamole, and other delights. It was truly the best treat I could’ve imagined. And between laughing with friends and enjoying such delicious new foods, I couldn’t have asked for more. That meal experience (both friends and food) really made my whole day. I am so incredibly grateful.

“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life” – Isabelle Eberhardt

Well, that about sums up my race. You should’ve known that I wouldn’t be able to keep it short.

I had a total blast at my first marathon. And maybe because of the beating I took from it, I kind of feel like I’ve now got some unfinished business with the Philadelphia Marathon. So, though I’m not sure when, I will return to win the battle of those hills. Be ready Philly. I will be back.

“…You can do something extraordinary, and something that a lot of people can’t do. And if you have the opportunity to work on your gifts, it seems like a crime not to. I mean, it’s just weakness to quit because something becomes too hard…” – Morgan Matson

I’ve received an incredible amount of love and support over the last year, especially in the last several months of training; whether it was supportive words, kind messages, or simple tolerance of my selfishness. I couldn’t be more appreciative. I can’t believe how far I’ve come in the last year, both as a runner and a person. I really can’t. But going through some of my earliest running notes from last year, I saw something interesting. And it made me think of some of my friends and loved ones who have recently started their own journeys towards a healthier existence, whether through running or some other activity that brings them joy.

I was reminded most of those few people that just started running over the hot sweaty months of summer. Some have run a few races. Some are still training for their first one. And some have even gone all in and decided that they’re going to tackle their first half marathon in the spring. I love that shit. But I’ve noticed some of those same people expressing subtle hesitations about whether they’re really ready or doubts that they’re biting off more than they can chew. Cautiousness is not to be undervalued when starting something new, but I can assure anyone who is interested that you are in fact ready. And if you train hard and dedicate yourselves, you can certainly chew up and swallow any goal you sink your teeth into.

When I was looking at my run journal from last year, I saw the early entry where I had finally run two miles without walking. I’d been going out for “runs” about three to four miles long, but in those first couple of months I always had to walk some portions of them. I don’t remember the first time I managed to run one mile continuously, but I totally I remember the first time I managed to run two. Two whole miles without walking. I was fucking stoked. Honestly, I was probably more emotionally moved to run those two miles continuously than I was to finish my marathon. It was all brand new to me. Every single run was an expansion of a boundary I still couldn’t understand. I felt amazing.

It was November 23, 2012. One day shy of a year ago.

On November 17, 2012, I was not yet able to run two miles without walking. On November 17, 2013, I ran 23 of them before reluctantly slowing to a walk on my way to finishing my first marathon. I’m not special. Shit, I’m not even terribly coordinated. If I can do it, you can do it. And it really doesn’t matter what your personal “it” happens to be. Mine is running, yours is whatever makes you feel like a better you. Whatever your “it” is, you can totally do it. You just have to want it really bad, and work really hard. Anybody can do that.

Good luck. Have fun. Happy Friday.

Reset Recap; I’m Back

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Go ahead.  Push it.

Go ahead. Push it.

“This is only my second week doing it, but I’m starting to like my two-run Tuesdays. Five miles before sunrise this morning, and just finished 8.75 miles of yassos. 13.75 miles closer to Philly. Happy Tuesday.” facebook status, Tuesday, Oct. 01.

“My run today was so crappy, I’m not even sure if I’m going to admit it really happened”facebook comment, Thursday, Oct. 03.

“I had another HORRIBLE fucking run this morning and was so angry at myself that I was fully prepared to write a scathingly angry self-deprecating vent-blog all about the stupid shit I’ve done in the last two days to set myself up for failure.” facebook status, Saturday, Oct. 05.

Two weeks ago, after confidently expressing how much I loved my new “two-run Tuesdays” and feeling pretty strong for completing both runs and my workout for that day; I quickly lost my damn mind, threw my hands high up over my head, and roared onto a three day roller coaster of misplaced priorities. It was awesome. There were loops, barrel rolls, laughing, maybe some screaming. Life is short. You can’t have too much fun, right? Not exactly. Not me anyway.

Now I didn’t do anything too crazy. I wasn’t snorting cocaine off of a hooker’s belly or drinking bottles of whiskey with the Rolling Stones’ grandchildren. Nor was I mindlessly pounding buckets of fried chicken and chasing them down with ice cream sundaes and chili cheese fries. I just got way too lax with my routine and didn’t make adjustments to self-correct as soon as I should’ve.

I’m still a newbie, but I’ve been conducting this healthier experiment on myself for roughly a year now. It started with running, branched out into regular gym workouts, slowly evolved into a plant-based diet overhaul, and only recently crossed its legs into a daily meditation practice. And with each new step towards a cleaner, more in-tuned existence, the more I notice the negative effects of unhealthy variables like going too long without proper rest or nutrient dense food.

When I veered off track two weeks ago, instead of acknowledging the risks early and correcting course, I muscled through workouts despite a near total lack of sleep. Then I tried to “get back” some of the time I lost during my detour by making food choices based on convenience more than nutrition. Less sleep slowed the speed of recovery after my workouts. Poorer nutrition further reduced my energy level going into the next workout. And the cycle continued to spiral downward right into the weekend, including two horrible confidence-crushing “runs” to finish the training week. It was ridiculous.

I’m in the last leg of training for my first marathon. The miles are ramping up. The race is getting closer. This is absolutely not the time to get stupid. I’m asking more from my body than I ever have before. I’ve got less time to recover from a major mishap. And I especially don’t want to force myself to accept failure due to an error caused by a careless lack of focus. Getting lazy now is completely unacceptable.

“Excuses are a time thief. Have a goal, accept responsibility, and take action!” ― Steve Maraboli

About a month ago, while out on my Saturday morning run, a car turned onto the road towards me. As we approached each other, the driver honked and reached across his passenger to noticeably point at me as they passed by. I was well out of the way and didn’t recognize the car or the driver, so I just waved and carried on along my way.

A few days later, a coworker mentioned that he’d seen me and that it was him that honked that morning on his way to his son’s baseball game. Then he said that when he answered his wife’s question about who he’d just pointed at, she commented that I looked like a “totally different person” and how great it was that I was taking such good care of myself. To which he allegedly responded, “That’s what happens when you don’t have a wife and kids and still have time to go to the gym.”

Now I’ve only met his wife twice, several years ago, and couldn’t pick her out of a line-up if I had to. So maybe she said that, maybe she didn’t. But no matter the facts of the tale, I found his supposed response to be a fantastic transfer of blame and responsibility for whatever dissatisfaction he may have with his own fitness. I couldn’t imagine blaming my family for my perceived short-comings. And I certainly couldn’t imagine doing it while sitting in the same car with them. I hope it didn’t happen.

Whether it did or didn’t, I don’t live under the delusion that anyone but me is responsible for my actions, both failures and successes. Yes, it’s true that being a single non-parent may allow a certain amount of schedule flexibility not enjoyed by everyone. But I go to the gym every day. And I see many of the same people there every day. I see thousands of people at races. I see them with their spouses. I see them with their children. There is no way to make the inference that being single and/or without children is a marked benefit in the desire to be healthier. It could be argued that it really means not having that in-house support system assisting with time-consuming errands like grocery shopping, meal preparation, mountains of laundry, or whatever other tasks people share with their families. I really don’t know. But I’d wager that my coworker and a lot of other people inclined to similar excuses would enjoy much more support than they think for healthier changes, if only they’d make those decisions known, dedicate themselves to them, and then actually take action instead of making excuses based on silly assumptions about the color of the grass in someone else’s yard.

Life is complicated for everybody. It’s just complicated in different ways. If something is truly important to you, you’ll find a way to do it. If it’s not, you’ll find a good excuse. There are piles of both all around us. We are each responsible for our own condition. I wanted to change mine, so I did. Did I have help? Sure. I’ve enjoyed overwhelming support from my friends and family. But I started this journey alone and without counsel. And I was going to do it with or without that support. It’s my journey. I’ll make no excuses if I fail because I know that’s a waste of time, and it’s my responsibility alone to get the fuck up, make the next right move, and work harder until I get it right. There’s always tomorrow…

…until there’s not. If you quit before then, the blame lies in your bathroom mirror.

plot twist

After getting my ass kicked on my long run two Saturdays ago (a run that was two miles shorter than the previous week’s), I was so disgusted and angry with myself that I really was close to releasing that rage-pressure through a “self-deprecating vent-blog” about how stupid I am and how sickened I was that I’d just wasted my incredibly limited time even bothering with those runs. The weeks when my long run decreases in length are weeks when I expect to perform a little better at a previously accomplished distance and hopefully bolster my confidence going into the next week’s new and longer goal. Getting crushed on my 16 miler fucked all of that up, and I was beyond pissed…and at least temporarily tempted to dwell in that bog.

I sincerely contemplated repeating that week’s training, but I eventually calmed down and let my anger subside a bit. I’ve enjoyed pushing myself out of my comfort zone and striving to reach a higher standard throughout this experiment. But I sometimes forget that stumbling is part of traveling, and pushing myself is going to require a balanced understanding of those inevitable slip-ups.

I’ve read enough forums addressing runners returning to training after a lapse of some kind, whether due to injury or illness (or utter foolishness). Most seem to agree that a week missed isn’t anything to freak out about. And I didn’t really “miss” my week of training so much as I “messed” it up. I still got in my speed training. I still managed to collect over 38 total miles. I just executed a huge chunk of them so poorly that I felt guilty claiming them in my training log.

Besides, I had my last practice race coming up, and didn’t have time to reschedule my last few and longest runs just because I had one bad week. So instead of hastily repeating my training, I decided to declare last week as my “Reset Week” where I would rededicate myself to the cause. I’d gone off the rails. It was time to get back on track.

“What do I mean by concentration? I mean focusing totally on the business at hand and commanding your body to do exactly what you want it to do.” – Arnold Palmer

My sole focus last week was simple; get my shit together so that I could get through my first 20 mile training run with some semblance of self-respect. So, other than going to work, I put no real emphasis on anything else. I didn’t worry about trying to write my blog (obviously). I didn’t commit to any social outings. I put off any non-running related items on my to-do list. If it wasn’t going to get me through my first 20 miler, then it wasn’t important.

What did I believe was going to get me through that run? Executing all of my training runs like I knew what I was doing, giving 100% on all of my cross training and weight training workouts, getting some fucking sleep, and eating only the food that I knew would benefit me in those other ventures. It’s not that hard. All I had to do was the same things I’d been doing for the last four months. And I’ll go ahead and tell you that it worked.

My two-for-Tuesday runs were a fast five miler in the early morning with an almost nine mile run that afternoon; which happily included the last speed workout (9 hill-repeats) of my training plan. On Thursday, I ran my longest and most consistently paced zone 2 aerobic run ever. And last Saturday morning, I set out into the rain for my first 20 miler. Luckily it only rained for the first 16 miles of it. And just over three hours and two socks/shoes changes later, I was done. I finished it with only minor tightness in my legs and zero aches or pains. It was a very good feeling to see how quickly simple corrections could positively affect outcome.

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

I know no one is going to run my marathon for me. And that’s where the satisfaction in it comes from. It’s my goal. Only I can make it happen. I appreciate all of the moral support. But all the heavy lifting is on me. And I like that. No one else can run my training miles for me. Nobody is going to do my boring cross-training rides for me. God knows, no one is going to help with all of the laundry. And If I’m going to keep fueling my body with fresh whole foods, I’m also going to continue ending long training days standing in my kitchen cooking all of my meals. I’m cool with all of that.

There is no one else I will be able to blame if I fail. And I don’t wish that there were. In my experience, almost nothing good just happens. Everything worthwhile requires effort. And that is why I was so annoyed with myself for what many would see as a fairly minor hiccup a couple of weeks ago. I know I can do this. I know it. But only if I’m smart.

My reset week was a success. The current week is already proving to be a challenge too, but I feel strong again going forward. I’ve only got two more weeks of training before my taper. They’re going to be my longest, most hectic weeks, but I can see the light at the end of this tunnel. I liked doing it, but I’m glad that my speed work is done. These last weeks of training will be dedicated to killing my last practice race (not coincidently in my home state of North Carolina), logging one more long run, finding my race pace, and getting my body settled into it.

Taper starts in less than two weeks. My marathon is one month from tomorrow. I’m stoked about both of those things. Happy Wednesday.

“We didn’t come this far just to turn around
We didn’t come this far just to run away
Just ahead, we will hear the sound
The sound that gives us a brand new day”
– Fucking Mastodon \m/

One Step More (J.O.G.T. 9)

“If you can do something, you can do one step more too.”– Me.

Well, I’m late as usual with my Jar of Good Things update. And really, most of the best things in the jar were from my Colorado trip which I shared last week. But I was still a little surprised to find a few unexpected gems hiding in the bottom. Here they are:

Sep 01. PR’d the Rock n Roll half marathon, then made it out to Munden for a round of disc golf, then spent afternoon/evening playing games with family. All to come home and find out that my blog picked up the most new followers in a single day. Cool day.

I feel like I came out of the gate pretty strong in September. September 01, 2012 was maybe the worst day of my life, so I was pretty determined to make 2013’s better and hopefully avoid celebrating the darkness of that anniversary. Luckily my good friend, Running, swooped in and served up another win on all accounts.

I’ve shared before that I originally signed up for the Rock n Roll half marathon as a goal race to motivate me to keep running through any summer distractions or discomforts. I’d read about how miserable summer running can be, and I really didn’t want to give the excuse maker still lurking inside of me any room to breathe. Eventually I will suffocate him altogether. **shakes fist in the air while laughing maniacally**

As it turned out, I didn’t hate summer running at all and made it through the season without even the slightest temptation to skip a run or workout. I mean, yeah, it’s hot and muggy and harder and slower. But even in the heat and humidity, running brought more peace and quiet (and laundry) to my life than anything else I can imagine doing for myself.

Not long after I registered for the Rock n Roll, I pulled the trigger on my first full marathon coming up this November. That decision, and resulting training schedule, essentially reclassified the Labor Day race as a training race instead of a goal race. The basic difference being that I would not be tapering for the Rock n Roll. And the lack of a taper, together with my inexperience running in the heat, led to modest expectations.

During the newly branded “training race” I learned valuable lessons and still exceeded my expectations, making the whole event a win-win in my book; the only book that matters.

“The expectations of life depend upon diligence; the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.” – Confucius

I haven’t run very many races, so my main goals were basically to run hard without recklessly overdoing it, and get some more experience at the simple execution of a race: getting pre-race routines ironed out, testing in-race fueling, negotiating water stations, etc. The Philadelphia Marathon is a big race with over 11,000 finishers last year, and just under 11,000 more half marathon participants. I thought if nothing else, running a race like the Rock n Roll would give me some practice dealing with crowds that large. And it did.

It also showed me the importance of sticking to my plan. What good is a plan if you don’t follow it?

The Rock n Roll was the smoothest overall race routine I’ve pulled off. I set myself up for success the best I could. I ate a familiar pre-race dinner, went to bed early, had everything I needed staged to go in the morning, ate before I left my house, got to the race on time, and even knocked out a solid warm-up before entering my corral. All I had to do then was run. I know how to run…I think.

I started the race a little fast, but nothing crazy. And after four or five miles of unsuccessfully trying to slow to nine minutes, I settled into my 8:50 pace and just zoned out. Inhale for three steps, exhale for two. High five the cheerleaders along the way. Say “thank you” to the volunteers. Piece of cake.

I clearly don’t like cake. (actually, I really don’t like cake)

I was running pretty strong and felt great through the first 10 miles. I’d eaten one half of a Vega endurance gel before the start and proceeded to eat them, one half at a time, every 15 minutes along the way. They’re my favorite in-race fuel so far and they were working just fine. When my watch read 1hr45min, I was around mile 12 and still feeling good. So for no logical reason at all, I consciously decided to skip what would’ve been my last half of a gel. “I’ll be done in less than 10 minutes. Just finish this thing.” In that last mile, I completely tanked and fell apart.

I knew I had enough seconds in the bank to literally stumble to a PR, but I felt like ass. After running over 12 miles without even the temptation to walk, I was now crumbling fast. My legs were heavy and my will was shot. I stopped to walk in front of the last water station and may not have gotten back out nearly as fast if a darling elevenish year old volunteer (read: young punk) hadn’t thrown a cup of water on me and woke me back up. After that, I finally managed through the ugliest 3/4 of mile I’d run in forever.

Even after that brutal last stretch, I ended up running an unofficial 8:49 min/mile pace for 13.26 miles (Official 8:55 for 13.1, for PR of 1:56:50). I had been questioning myself in the previous weeks, wondering if I let my inexperience with summer heat make me too conservative and not push myself enough during my training. After the Rock n Roll, I think I probably did. And with summer now gone, I know I need to push a little more. Boston isn’t going to invite me to run its marathon just because I’m pretty. I’ve got to run faster. Or at least get a whole lot prettier in case I’m wrong about that first part.

Running faster seems a better plan. And I definitely won’t be skipping any more gels. My new running motto: “Stick to the plan Dipshit.”

Sep 24. First double run day. I think this is going to be the best way for me to get the miles I need without running more than three days a week. Seriously considering adding a run day to next training cycle. I love this shit.

I realized about a month ago that the training schedule I pieced together back in May had some serious mileage deficiencies if I was going to maintain a slow manageable increase in mileage each week and eventually achieve my goal of running 26.2 miles without dying. I had frankensteined a couple of plans together and then tweaked them to fit my desire to only run three days a week.

While visiting my brother in Colorado, I finally sat down and recalculated the mileage totals for the remainder of my schedule so that each week’s mileage would increase between five and ten percent of the previous week’s totals. And when I did that I realized that doing that was going to be very difficult in the coming weeks without essentially running three long runs a week. That seemed stupid, and didn’t allow for my speed training on Tuesday. I was going to have to add another run day. Or was I?

Now, I’m actually all geared up to allow a fourth run day after this training cycle. But for this race and my newbie body, I’m also pretty dedicated to my four non-run days to allow my legs to rest. So what am I to do? I decided that I could run twice on Tuesdays. My intervals on Tuesday are usually not very high mileage workouts. And if I add the extra run in the morning, keeping the intervals in the afternoon, I don’t have to worry about trying to pile those extra miles onto sore speed-stressed legs. Tuesdays are now mid-distance runs pre-dawn, and intervals in the afternoon. It gives me four runs per week AND four non run days. Win:win.

I don’t know exactly why I couldn’t just pick a preset training schedule and follow it, but I know that I like building my own. And maybe by the time I’m really ready to make my charge at a Boston qualifier, I’ll have the kinks ironed out. But for this numbers nerd, building a plan and then achieving success following that plan provides just a touch more punk-rock, do-it-yourself pride in crossing the finish line.

Sep 16. “If you can do something, you can do one step more too.”- Me. Stu & I fucked off all day (disc golf, town stroll, beers, and MOOSE) and ended the day trading yoga poses and chatting up the joy in challenging ourselves. Who am I? Me, that’s who.

Oh, I caught hell for it when I share my brief yoga experience with my loving and supportive buddies. But this was a pretty solid day even before I learned that I can do a plow pose.

Stu and I spent the whole day doing nothing in a hurry. And after playing some disc golf on the first consistently sunny day of my trip, having a few beers with a semi-flirty bartender from Iowa, and then unashamedly veering from my plant-based diet to enjoy a delicious moose tenderloin, we somehow (I really don’t remember how) ended up goofing off in the floor of his living room like a couple of little kids. He did some pose he learned from a yoga book he had. I thought I could maybe do it. I tried. I failed. I tried again slower. I failed again slower. I tried again even slower, breathing slower, moving slower, with more control. I failed again. Then I did it all again and pulled it off without breaking my neck or any furniture. I’m 6’4”. Once I get my body standing upside down, it’s going to destroy something if it falls uncontrolled. But it didn’t. I slowly and with full control lowered my legs into a plow pose. Hooray me.

As I was flailing around working on that, my show-off little asshole brother was repeatedly throwing himself into perfect headstands all the while voicing support for my clumsy attempts. I’m pretty sure he was just being nice to prove he could still talk casually while doing his pose (yes, I’m kidding).

But as is his nature, he quickly bored of the simple headstand and, for reasons unexpressed, decided to try and pick up a 10 lb medicine ball with between his ankles while inverted in that position. He tried with no success a few different times, getting it off the ground, but always tumbling over trying to get that weight up over his head whole upside down body. That’s where a wise big brother comes in.

With all of my vast 15 minutes of yoga experience, it was only fair that I offer my expertise. Here is the sum total of my help.

“Try to do it with your knees first.”

“My knees, huh?”

“Yeah. Instead of trying to pull the weight all the way up with your legs, try to grab it with your knees first.”

Yep. I’m pretty sure that makes me a certified yogi.

Within a few minutes and only a couple of tries (dick!), he’d pulled off another headstand with the medicine ball held firmly between his knees. And once he’d figured out that middle ground of balance and found the muscles he’d need to focus on in order to pull off the pose, it wasn’t long before he was able, with significant focus on balance, strength, and breath, to position himself into a fully erect headstand with a 10 lb medicine ball between his ankles.

I’ve always envied his physical coordination and ability to pick up new things so quickly. But I’ll never tell him.

“I like the challenge of trying different things and wondering whether it’s going to work or whether I’m going to fall flat on my face.” – Johnny Depp

Is Stu’s headstand feat going to save the world? Probably not. Is my running a marathon next month going to cure cancer? Nope. But pushing yourself to do something you’ve never done before or something that you might not even think you can do is important. It can show you that you’re stronger than you think. It can show you that things thought impossible might be much closer to reality than you think. It shows you that you can be wrong about something without being broken. Even in the unsuccessful attempts, the effort changes you. It makes you feel better. And feeling good is contagious. So maybe in the long run, it can save the world. But I suggest challenging yourself just because it feels good. Be selfish. Give it a shot.

Happy Friday

Here’s a photo montage that a friend of some friends put together after the Rock n Roll Half Marathon. It was a good time. And if you don’t blink around 2:45 and if you keep and eye out for a huge monkey’s paw of a hand, you’ll see what my face looks like as I’m about to run out of gas. Sheesh!

Rock And Roll Half Marathon Virginia Beach 2013 from MCMCQ on Vimeo.