Half Way to Philly

“Once you’re halfway home, you know that you can probably get the rest of the way there.” – Janis Ian

As usual, I was a little behind on updating my training log after the weekend. But while catching up I realized that I am now half way to Philadelphia. That’s right. My first marathon is less than 12 weeks away. That seems like a really long time. But when I think about how far I am from being ready to run 26.2 miles, it appears wildly close too.

Eh, I’ll get there when I get there. (When I get there=11.5 weeks from now.)

I’m following a 24 week plan that I frankensteined together from a couple of different online resources. I designed it to coordinate with my schedule better. And I built a longer than normal training plan to allow for a slower mileage build-up on my newbie body and to hopefully avoid any overtraining injuries that could sabotage me along the way.

I did way better than I’d expected to in my first half marathon in March. But I still started that race with one sore ankle, ran the whole thing aware of it getting worse, and had to take a full week off after the race to recover from all of the abuse I inflicted on my knees and the other ankle as I subconsciously adjusted my stride to compensate. I don’t want to do that again. I want to be 100% healthy when I step into my corral in Pennsylvania this November.

“Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.” – Thomas Jefferson

I only run three days a week, but I have to say that I don’t know how long after this training cycle that I will stick to that. I love having a schedule to follow. I think I work better with that structure. But my diligence to the plan prevents me from enjoying those days when it’s beautiful outside or I’m just stressed out, and I just want to get out on the roads for a few “me” miles. I truly want to run more. And as my overall health and conditioning continue to improve, I think I will be able to relax a bit and safely add a day here and there. But for now, I’m trying to err on the side of caution.

My three day program originally had speed training on Tuesdays, tempo runs on Thursdays, and my long run on Saturdays. I’ve pretty much kept to that, except for those tempo runs. I’ll get them next time, I promise.

For the first several weeks, my plan’s speed workouts were 400 meter intervals (running 400 fast, walking 400 to recover). This has been my first experience with any kind of established speed work, but I really like it. It’s been pretty easy to motivate myself through most anything when I can see the next break coming just around the corner. And you can always see the end of a 400 meter interval.

Now, I’m alternating each week’s speed training between Yasso 800 intervals and Hill Repeat workouts. I’m still enjoying them, but I’m also trying to pace them better and run more during the already shorter recovery periods. We’ll see if it’s working as fall approaches.

The original plan had Thursdays slotted as moderate effort, middle distance runs and was supposed to switch over to Tempo runs towards the second half of the schedule. But because of bad math on my part and a long term desire to improve my overall aerobic threshold, I had to adjust that a bit.

I didn’t do a very good job with the numbers when I pieced plans with four and five weekly runs together and edited them into my three run blueprint. Due to my oversight, those tempo runs were going to cause weird deficiencies in the total weekly mileage along the way. I want to do them, but I decided that tempo runs were too close to doing another speed workout for me and I couldn’t afford to sacrifice the total miles I feel I’ll need in order to be ready for Philly. So I’m slowly recalculating the second half of my schedule to make Thursday runs into slightly longer Zone 2 efforts and to keep my weekly mileage totals somewhere close to the 10% rule. I’ll get those tempo runs in next time though. I’m still learning.

Saturdays are long runs. They’ve gotten progressively longer and will obviously continue to do so. But I added weeks to my program so that I could progress a bit slower and to allow for “relief” weeks where my long run may be a bit shorter than previous weeks and I’ll make up the total mileage during those weeks’ other runs. I ended up with something of a “two steps up, one step back” approach. My longest run so far has only been 14 miles, but the distances ramp up pretty nice in the next three months. I’m running the Rock N Roll Half Marathon this Sunday as a practice race, and then it’s back to the climb with some 16, 18, 20, and even an unconventional 22 miler ahead. It’s going to be fun…or insane. Not sure which.

“But wait. There’s more” – Billy Mays

In addition to my weekly running, I cross train on a stationary bike at least twice a week, never more than three. And I do weight/resistance training five days a week.

On my non-running week days, I ride a bike that doesn’t move. I don’t know why it doesn’t bother me as much as running on a treadmill, but it doesn’t. Maybe it’s because pedaling doesn’t take nearly as much concentration. I really don’t know. But I can just zone out and ride that stupid thing forever. I alternate between hill routines and flat out endurance slogs. I ride to time, not “distance,” and my focus is on maintaining a steady, moderately high rpm at a reasonably high resistance setting. I’ve been doing this almost as long as I’ve been running, so it’s hard for me to quantify how much it helps, but I believe it is a big part of my improved cardiovascular performance. It’s low impact. It’s definitely helped me strengthen my formally problematic knees. It’s accessible. And I can listen to podcasts while I do it. It’s a no-brainer cross training decision right now. I’m going to keep doing it.

I also go to the gym after work Monday through Friday and sometimes Saturday depending on what is going on or if I feel like I need to work on something specific (riding out some knee discomfort for example). I mix up my workout from time to time. But basically I split my whole body up into three different workouts and do one of them every day, cycling through those workouts continuously, week in and week out, with an added focus on my core strength. Rotating three workouts through a five day routine means that each week is slightly different and gives different muscle groupings different amounts of recovery time before it comes up again. I adjust the intensity and approach of each day’s workout depending on that week’s layout and the allotted recovery time.

I am by no stretch of the imagination a weight training expert. But like everything else, I do research it. There is no shortage of conflicting resources available. And they’re probably all right, depending on the goal. Losing weight, body building, and functional strength training all require different approaches. And no matter the overall goal, there are many ways to get that cat skinned. My focus is on getting stronger and running better. I am doing both, so…

“It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.” – Winston Churchill

Here’s where I’m at after the first 12 weeks.

Total miles running: 235.44

Total time on bike: 1270 minutes (approx 425 miles)

Total number of days at the gym: 57

Total Tootsie Rolls eaten: 57 (They have them on the counter at my gym. I pick one up on my way out the door every day. Hey, they’ve got 4 grams of carbs each.)

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

Because my training plan officially started on June 1, the first half has obviously taken place during the hotter months of the year. And as I shared a few weeks ago, I’ve learned a lot while enjoying my first summer as a runner. As I look ahead anxiously into fall and into the second half of my training cycle, my goals are to keep working and keep learning.

In Summer School for Slow Learners, I mentioned the big lessons I’ve learned so far: drink more water, slow down, and have fun. I’ve continued to be conscious of those lessons and even picked up a few helpful aids along the way.

I’ve found some electrolyte tablets that I don’t hate. I’ve been using Nuun electrolyte tablets for about six weeks now and they’ve kept me properly hydrated well enough that, for now, I’ve stopped looking. Cons: I’m not a fan of how Gatorade tastes and they taste a bit too much like it. Pros: They’ve got more electrolytes than Gatorade and they’re cheap. I really prefer coconut water when I run, but due to the sheer volume of fluids I lose during hot weather running, it is not financially feasible to buy that much. And it also has less of the valuable electrolytes than the Nuun tablets. So until fall settles in, I’ll stick with the chalky tablets.

I’m also pretty stoked to have finally found an in-run fuel source that I actually like. I was eating caffeinated jelly beans on my runs for a while, but chewing while I ran would mess up my breathing and I felt it was only a matter of time before I choked trying to pour them in my mouth mid-run. I wasn’t excited about the caffeine either. Realizing that I was going to have to find some kind of gel, I experimented with Honey Stinger gels but they were way too sweet and tasted like donut filling to me. Not surprisingly they also gave me a very noticeable sugar spike…and crash.

Finally I saw some Vega brand endurance gels and gave them a try. They’re vegan plant based gels that don’t taste awful, don’t give my body a blood sugar spike, and therefore do not result in a crash either. What they do is provide me with a subtle energy bump that feels very natural, seems to sustain evenly, and doesn’t upset my stomach. I’ve only tried two flavors so far, but unless something crazy happens or until I decide that I want to make my own completely whole food based gels, I think I’m going to stick with them. Now all I have to do is figure out a way to stop cutting the corners of my mouth on the package before I end up looking like the joker.

The-Joker-Heath-Ledger-Batman-The-Dark-Knight

“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” – Abraham Lincoln

My overall analysis so far: I feel pretty good. Maybe too good. I may not be pushing myself enough. One of the potential downsides of always running alone is that I don’t have someone there to push me. I don’t want to injure myself, but I do want to push myself to get better. That’s a balance I might be approaching slightly too conservatively. And I may have used my difficult adjustment to the heat as an excuse to accept lesser performance. I’m not sure. But I don’t regret my decision to keep my running a solitary gig. It is still very personal to me in more ways than my desire to be physically fit. However, I do think that, much like the ability to add an extra run day after this race, I may also feel more comfortable mixing up my routines and accepting some of the invites to run with a group every now and then. I know that I would benefit from that, but I’m maybe foolishly determined to do this alone right now. I reserve the right to change my mind at any time.

My most recent observation during training is that my appetite has finally started to increase. Over the last two weeks, I’ve noticed that I’m hungry a lot more often and with unusual frequency between meals. I’ve been making adjustments to my diet all summer as I’ve leaned closer to a completely whole foods, plant based, and dairy free diet. And I will continue in that direction. I will not use marathon training as an excuse to eat whatever garbage food is available under the guise that all of my running will make up for poor food choices. I feel my current diet is the best choice for my training and vastly improves my recovery times.

To adjust to this new hunger phenomenon, I’ve simply packed more food into my lunches and started keeping healthier raw fruit and vegetable snacks around. My goal is to satisfy my body’s dietary needs with my current schedule and to hopefully avoid slipping into some kind of all day grazing habit. I still want to eat meals. I want those meals to be as nutrient dense as possible. And I want snacks to be spaced as evenly throughout my day as possible. I’m just trying to make each of those meals and snacks slightly larger and more evenly balanced nutritionally. We’ll see how it goes.

AND FINALLY,

CRAZY IDEA ALERT: Earlier, I noted that I’d run over 235 miles since June 1. According to Google maps, it’s only a 278 mile drive from my house to Philadelphia. Noting that fact made me think about how cool it would be to someday take five or six months to actually run my training schedule from where I live to a destination race somewhere far away; maybe finding some cool education/adventure/volunteering opportunities for my rest days along the way. I’ll keep working on that idea and let you know what I come up with. Should probably start with lottery tickets though.

Happy Wednesday.

And sorry about this one. I couldn’t help myself

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Summer School for a Slow Learner

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – A. A. Milne

Wow! This week totally got away from me. And honestly, I’m on the fence about whether I should concern myself with how, or just be grateful it’s over. What I am totally sure about is that it was annoying. I’ve spent the whole week ranging between exhaustion and frustration. And both have a high potential of souring my attitude. Combine the two for any amount of time and I just start of feel overwhelmed. When I get overwhelmed, I go run. Thankfully, I did run this week. I really needed to.

But shit! What am I griping about a single week for? Where has this year gone? I swear I think I can already hear the Easter Bunny clucking out chocolate eggs for next year. Geezus!

Last weekend I realized that the Rock N Roll Half Marathon was only seven weeks away (six now obviously). I had kind of let it slip from my mind. And because I’m now registered for my first full marathon in November, the Rock N Roll has essentially become just another long run on my schedule and more of a “practice race” for me to get accustomed to crowds, navigating aid stations, fueling while running, and the overall atmosphere of a huge event. It’s a training run. I can’t afford to taper for it. And trying to go out and crush a PR would be stupid because I will have another long run the following week and can’t afford to risk injury on my path to Philly. I hope I don’t forget that.

I’ll have to run it smart, not hard. So I guess I had better do a better job of getting smarter.

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates

I originally registered for the Rock N Roll in the spring as a goal to keep me motivated through the heat of my first summer as a runner. This week has reminded me of just how important my therapy miles and sweat-itation sessions still are to me. And I’m not about to let a little hell-spike in temperatures get in the way of that.

Luckily, I’ve experienced no temptation to skip runs or even hesitation in getting out there. I have made a bunch of mistakes adjusting to the heat. But mistakes are probably the main ingredient of learning, and I’m slowly figuring out what I need to know to safely and effectively run during a delightfully humid Virginia summer.

First lesson so far: Drink more water. I “observed” this obvious-to-smart-people fact a few weeks ago when I conducted a sweat/weight test to estimate how much I sweat. I “learned” this lesson a week later when I made zero changes, ran out of water, and bonked for the second time in three weeks. Idiot!

Salt is salty

Salt is salty

Even during the winter months, a run of more than an hour would leave me with a crusty layer of salt on my skin. Because of that, as my summer miles started to ramp up I decided to measure just how much fluid I lose during my runs. A few weeks ago, I weighed myself without clothes before my run, and again afterwards (No pics. You’re welcome).

One pint of water weighs approximately one pound, so the number of pounds lost is roughly equal to the number of pints of sweat leaked during the run. I lost eight pounds during a nine mile run. I drank one pint of coconut water while out there. So calculating for the pound of liquid consumed, I sweat out about one pint per mile. That’s a lot. If I was smart I would’ve applied that observation during the 10 miler on the following weekend.

I am not smart, so instead I took the exact same insufficient amount of water with me, ran a completely new and less familiar route, and ended up running out of water seven miles in and still two miles away from my house. And my body completely tanked very soon after.

Sure, I could’ve planned to loop back by the house during the run to get more water. And I only passed three convenience stores and one grocery store out there, so I could’ve stopped and bought more water too. I even took a crinkled Lincoln with me (like I never ever do) just in case I needed it. But I don’t think straight when I’m dehydrated. And I barely think at all when I’m pissed. That day, I was both.

Last weekend I bought a hydration belt that holds two water bottles. I also picked up some electrolyte tablets to make sure I’m replenishing some of the salt that I leak so profusely. I test drove it Thursday. I’m sure I looked completely ridiculous. But I’m also pretty certain that I look better running with silly green bottles stuck to my hips than I would laying in the street mumbling profanities as I puke and die of heat stroke.

I wore that belt on my 11 miler this morning…and I even stopped to refill it. I’m still working on effectively fueling during my runs. I again had to battle sloppily through the last few hot ass miles. But I am learning. And learning is still progress.

Second Lesson: Slow down. This one should’ve taken no time. But I’m still a newbie, especially to summer running. After doing so much better than I expected in my first half marathon in March, my pace increased pretty dramatically for the next few weeks. And according to the consistent heart rate (HR) numbers in my run journal, it was not because I was exerting myself more. I was just getting more efficient and…gasp…faster. It felt pretty good.

But as the heat and humidity rose, the air got thicker, and breathing got more difficult I found myself running out of gas much sooner even on shorter weekday runs. This is totally normal. And I’d been told to expect it. But as I’ve emphasized before, if there is a hard way to learn a lesson, I will too often choose that way.

Following a few shitty performances at embarrassingly short distances, I started to pay attention. And after reading some more about HR specific training, I decided that I could slow down and still feel like I was directly benefitting my training.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” – Lou Holtz

Unfortunately I cannot even remember the last time I got to let myself sit down and read for more than a measly ten minutes. It’s driving me crazy because I’ve got books stacked all over the place that I really want to read. I can’t even describe how bad I’d love to just sit down and read for a couple of hours.

Eh, maybe tomorrow. But until I discover a 32 hour day or find a full time assistant that will work for free, podcasts have become my closest substitute.

Since discovering it a few weeks ago, I have been listening to Rich Roll’s podcasts during pretty much all of my gym workouts and most of my runs. I’m a fan for sure. Among being a huge advocate of a whole food plant based diet and an ultra endurance athlete, Mr. Roll also promotes the personal athletic benefits he experienced while conducting much of his training maintaining his physical effort in the relatively low intensity “zone 2” heart rate range.

I’m not going to try to fully explain zone 2 training right now because I’m not an expert, it would take too long, and most of you probably aren’t interested. But basically, zone 2 is the aerobic level of exertion between efforts so low that the physical benefit is nominal and higher intensities where the body starts burning glucose for energy instead of fat. This quote from Rich Roll’s web page is a mini nugget of the idea and if you’re more interested, you can click here.

“By staying in Zone 2, I facilitate the proper mitochondrial and blood pathway development, which teaches my body to work in a highly efficient manner to use oxygen to burn fat rather than glucogen, which is a much more efficient and longer lasting source of energy — the preferred “food” of the endurance and ultra-endurance athlete.”

As someone who continues to seek out better ways to fuel during runs and who already has a fairly low heart rate, it seems a no-brainer for me to focus on this level of fitness and to try to condition my body to run more efficiently on something as abundant as fat while I also seek out better carb/sugar food sources for my runs.

I’ll continue to do speed work on Tuesdays because the slower segments between speed intervals keep it very bearable even in the heat. But on many of my other training runs, I’m focusing on my HR instead of pace and that makes it much easier to slow down during a hot day without feeling like I’m not benefiting as much as I could. And the lower intensity should reduce the risks of injury as well. I’ve only messed with it twice and only once since counting my resting heart rate and getting a better measure of my zones. But I removed “pace” from my watch display and I like not having it as a distraction.

We’ll see what happens in the fall when temperatures fall, everyone’s pace can pick back up, and my FIRST MARATHON approaches. What?! That still sounds weird in my head.

Third lesson: Have fun. This one is key. And during this past week of tossed schedules, poor decision making, spotty sleep, and the resulting sense of frustration, I almost forgot about the importance of keeping a positive attitude and making life fun. If something isn’t fun, then why do it?

“I had a lady gallon of water yesterday. Today I have a man gallon. Looks real manly, eh? Day 3 fitness challenge.” – S.B.

“I had a lady gallon of water yesterday. Today I have a man gallon. Looks real manly, eh? Day 3 fitness challenge.” – S.B.

I was unexpectedly reminded of this fact by a friend’s facebook pictures of smiley faced water bottles. She has just started a 30 day fitness challenge. I haven’t talked to her and don’t know any of the details. But apparently, part of the “challenge” is to drink more water; judging from the pictures, a lot more.

Anyone that read part one of the “thatguywithabeard’s kitchen” posts knows that I don’t understand why so many people don’t like to drink water. But whether I understand it or not, the fact is it’s not the most popular daytime beverage for a lot of people. And though I’m assuming she did it just to be silly, she decided to draw funny happy faces on these gallon water bottles she was lugging to work and then post pics of them on facebook each day.

That might not sound like a big deal. And I don’t know if she was thinking about it at much more than the comedy level of the pictures. But that comedy level is important. If drinking a gallon of water every day is not a normal thing, or maybe even a daunting idea, then making it more fun in any way possible helps. Maybe I’m reading into it too much, but I liked it.

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” – Dale Carnegie

I hear and have heard so many people say “I hate running,” “walking on the treadmill is boring,” “I don’t like water,” “salad is rabbit food,” or any number of other things concerning why they can’t stick to some diet or fitness challenge they’ve half-heartedly set for themselves. And I totally understand.

If walking on a treadmill seems torturous, listen to music or a podcast, bring a book, or go completely crazy and walk outside. If you hate running, ride a bike. If you think you don’t like salads, trick it into your system with a small piece of chicken or fish on top. The chicken will sneak the veggies into your stomach under its wing.

If you don’t like water…well, um…uh…You know your body absolutely needs it right? Whatever.

The trick is to find a physical activity that you genuinely enjoy doing; something that IS fun; something that makes you feel good. Then you will have no trouble motivating yourself to do it. You’ll actually look forward to it. And as you continue doing it and your desire to become better increases, I believe a healthier diet will follow. Your pallet will evolve. As you head out for that tennis match after a nutrient deficient fast food lunch and play like crap because you feel like crap, and after you try it following a healthy nutritious meal, you’ll find a new appreciation for all sorts of “rabbit foods” and good old fashioned water.

Whether anyone really wants to admit it or not, fried chicken and french fries might taste good, but it’s shitty fuel for physical activities. It’s shitty fuel for anything.

Anyway, I like running. It’s therapeutic. It’s meditative. It continues to catalyze so many healthy changes in my life. And it’s not because I’m fighting some battle of will against an activity that I hate. It’s because I genuinely enjoy it. I’m grateful to have found it. And because it is fun to me and I enjoy it so much, I keep doing it.

Go find your fun. And don’t be afraid to paint a smiley face on something new if that’s what it takes to give it an honest chance. Happy Saturday.

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!

Thanks For Sharing

“In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.” – Khalil Gibran

“Hey man, I know this is going to sound fucking gay, but…”

When someone starts a sentence with anything similar to this, I already know I’m just going to love how it ends. And by “love,” I mean “feel uncomfortable with.” If I’m in a bar and that person has had a half-dozen beers and a couple of Jaeger shots, I’m less able to predict what level of discomfort, but I know to brace for it.

“…I just want to thank you…you know, for kind of showing me that I could get healthier. I know that wasn’t your point at all. And I’m doing it a totally different way. But you motivated me to find my own path to be healthier and feel better. And I appreciate that.”

These are the types of things most men can only say to another man after first consuming the above mentioned doses of truth serum. We’re emotionally weak creatures that way. And because it too resembled a complement, and I take compliments almost as well as a toddler takes a tetanus shot, I responded with the warmest “Yeah man. Um. I’m uh, I appreciate that, and uh…I’m glad you’re feeling better Man.” (**Stares up at muted television thinking this would be a great time to go outside for a cigarette…if I hadn’t stopped smoking weeks ago. Dammit, being healthy sucks!**)

Did I mention that men are emotionally weak creatures? Or I am anyway.

“When you are in deep conflict about something, sometimes the most trivial thing can tip the scales.” – Ethel Merman

The above transcription is a pretty accurate account of an exchange I had a couple of weeks ago after a friend of mine finally bought a new bathroom scale. He’d been working out regularly for a few months; riding his bike, doing some resistance band/medicine ball workouts at home, and eating better. He’d lost a bunch of weight and saying for weeks that he felt way better and would be happy to get down to about 205 or 210 lbs.

He didn’t own a scale during those months. But because he was a wrestler in high school and felt experienced in measuring his weight (dumb logic), he had been confidently guestimating it to be 220 lbs, and thought losing another 15 was a realistic goal without having to get “crazy.” He’d say things like, “I’m never going to be walking around at 195 or anything. I respect what you’re doing, but I’m not gonna start running. I like drinking beer. And even though I’m eating healthier, I like eating too much to eat a diet like yours.”

Cool. I don’t give a shit.

Then he saw a scale somewhere at a price so low that he couldn’t resist. He weighed 208. He’s lost almost 50 lbs. Now that 195 number doesn’t seem so unreasonable anymore. But make no mistake. It’s still just a number. Just feeling good is the point. And he does.

“Anyone’s life truly lived consists of work, sunshine, exercise, soap, plenty of fresh air, and a happy contented spirit.” – Lillie Langtry

Lesson #1:  Text me, and I'll publish that shit online.  Sorry.

Lesson #1: Text me, and I’ll publish that shit online. Sorry.

Luckily for my socially stunted ass, not all news of people surprising themselves comes to me in the form of awkward bar conversations. In fact, because I stay so busy, most of my communication with the world is via text messages. And it makes me smile when someone is having a happy moment and decides to casually share it with me for no other reason than they know I’ll appreciate it. I like that shit.

“Wow! For the first time since I hurt my knee, I can bend it and it doesn’t feel swollen. Woot woot! Maybe all of the other exercise is helping with strength and mobility. Longest run time today at 2:2 run walk intervals. Yeah 57 year old me. I can do this just like everybody else! Small steps slowly! It was a nice morning out. LY”

Maybe I’m a little biased, but my mom never ceases to impress me. She’s been running/walking longer than I have and had to work through some minor injuries and a few inconveniently scheduled illnesses. But she’s done a couple of 5Ks, finished her first 8K in march, and is currently training for her first 10K in the fall. And she’s killing it, whether she always acknowledges it or not.

I think my favorite part of this message was the mention of her age. One, she’s a pretty young 57. Two, she’s thankfully not one of those people that lives under the imaginary weight of that number. And three, regardless of her age, I’m more impressed with her ability to achieve the things she’s doing physically as an asthma sufferer with sinus allergies, a gluten sensitivity, and an intolerance to lactose. She’s pretty much allergic to air and food. No biggie.

I hear people make excuses for why they don’t exercise or complain about how difficult it is to eat healthy, and I just nod quietly. It’s none of my business. Do what works for you.

Breathing the humid pollen-thick summer air of this area is hard enough without asthma and allergies. But she still gets out there and logs her miles, because it makes her feel good. Going to gym can be a pain in the ass for anybody, but she’s recently been cross-training a couple of times a week because she wants to improve her running/walking times. And as the message indicated, it’s working.

As I’ve rambled on about far too often, eating the right foods for exercise and recovery can be a nutrient-balancing, mathematical nightmare even for people that don’t have to avoid half of the grocery store because of the prevalence of gluten and dairy products in almost everything. But she does her research, eats a mostly vegan whole foods diet, and finds ways to properly fuel the activities that are important to her. Why? Because being active makes her feel good. That’s what “Woot woot!” means…I think.

“I just went for an 8 mile bike ride and it wasn’t at all the awful experience that running is (to me). And I have to ride 8 miles back home too. Papa may have found a brand new bag.”

This one was a recent favorite. A friend had been looking for a way to be a little more active, maybe drop a few pounds, and I think really just wanted to feel better. She’d tried running a few different times and had some success. But as you may have picked up from her subtle wording, running didn’t exactly make her feel great (note: she was overdoing it to the point of near injury). Riding a bike on the other hand wasn’t at all awful. And luckily it appears easier to avoid injury as well. That’s awesome. No one is going to keep doing something that makes them feel shitty. The trick is figuring out what does and doesn’t work for you and sticking with whatever makes you feel good. Are you picking up on a theme here?

“Hey buddy. I worked out for an hour yesterday and again today. Feeling a little sore, but in a good way. Defenitely going to do it again tomorrow.”

This one I got from one of my closest friends. He’s carrying around some extra weight that he knows isn’t healthy and has some chronic ankle issues so running is pretty much off of the table for now. But he got motivated recently and started hitting the exercise bike, treadmill, and resistance machines in the fitness center where he lives. He’d obviously crushed a pretty solid couple of sessions and feeling the buzz of it. I like that.

“Exercise to stimulate, not to annihilate. The world wasn’t formed in a day, and neither were we. Set small goals and build upon them.” – Lee Haney

I’ve gotten similar reports from a bunch of people in the last year. Some friend or acquaintance will decide to start running or going to the gym, and many of those exchanges had similar statements about feeling sore or even pain (e.g. “my legs are killing me, but…” “I could barely lift my arms this morning, but…”). But they’re always “still going to do it again tomorrow.”

I always like the enthusiasm, but I almost always advice against the next day’s activities. So far no one has ever listened. And more than a few of those stories ended in activity-halting pains or even injury.

My general comment is something like “If you ‘hurt,’ stop. If you’re ‘sore,’ tread lightly.” I’m no expert at all. I’ll say that again; I am not an expert. And I’m not always very good at following my own advice either. But in talking to my pseudo-brother about his workouts, it occurred to me that an old drinking motto might still apply. I used to joke with friends that you should never drink so much in one day that you can’t drink again the next day. You can tell I was a positive force in their lives can’t you?

Well, as far as I can tell exercise really isn’t much different than alcohol. It makes you feel good in moderation. It doesn’t mix terribly well with an empty stomach. Too much of it can make you puke. And you don’t want to do so much on one day that you can’t do it again the next day. Moderation is key. Not moderate effort; drink the good stuff. But moderate doses; don’t drink the whole bottle. You want enough to feel that burn that tells you you’ve done something, but not so much that you can’t move for three days; which happens to be just enough time to forget about the buzz you experienced when you started.

“This life is for loving, sharing, learning, smiling, caring, forgiving, laughing, hugging, helping, dancing, wondering, healing, and even more loving. I choose to live life this way. I want to live my life in such a way that when I get out of bed in the morning, the devil says, ‘aw shit, he’s up!” – Steve Maraboli

sharing 1I suspect that in the coming months, as my marathon training starts to ramp up and whatever other plots I’m working on pile on, that my time will get even more limited and face to face interactions may become even rarer. I almost feel guilty for how unfazed I am with that likelihood. But in this digital world too often occupied with pointless whining and disrespectful “debate,” (Yes, I’m guilty of both) I hope I’ll still see the occasional reminder that people are finding their smiles. And I certainly hope that everyone remembers that it’s not our scales, our ages, or our chosen methods that matter. Do what you like, do it the best you can, and share your joy with the world around you. It just might be contagious.

For me, besides running my ass off, I’m just going to keep trying to identify those things in my life that make me the happiest, pull those things as close as possible, make them my highest priorities, and let go of the rest. It’s working so far. We’ll see what happens.

For some reason I can’t embed videos today, so I’ll try this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9mpu0n7BFY

Thatguywiththebeard’s Kitchen (Part 1): The Q&A

“So, what are you a vegetarian now or something?”

“How do you eat a salad for lunch EVERY day?”

“How often do you actually just eat whatever you want?”

“Are you sure you’re eating enough?”

Don’t worry. I’m not going to start writing a food blog…yet. One, because I’m not at all qualified to do so. Two, because the internet doesn’t need another one any more than it needed another blogging runner and I only want to be unnecessary on one level at a time. But these are questions that I’ve been asked more than a few times. And even as my weight seems to have finally stabilized, because I’ve continued to become noticeably leaner I still find myself being asked similar questions and in turn discussing my food choices more and more often. So a day after this week’s Monday Night Kitchen Dance, I thought I’d try and address these questions here where almost none of the people that ask them will ever see the answers. I’m really smart that way.

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

Last October when I upgraded this running thing from a sanity saving activity to a truly enjoyable pastime, I read as much as I could to learn how to run better. As it rose in the ranks again and was eventually promoted from hobby to lifestyle, I started researching even more, reading about everything from running form to breathing techniques to injury prevention to proper diet. And it was always the diet part that seemed the most elusive. I just couldn’t figure out what to eat and when to eat it in order to best fuel my runs and aid in my recoveries. There are a million opinions on every aspect of diet and exercise. It was annoying that I couldn’t find one that worked for me…or rather one that I would work correctly. After discussing this struggle back in March, a friend stumbled across a book that she thought might help and kindly sent it to me. I’m really glad she did.

I was already eating healthier meals primarily of unprocessed whole foods. I had eliminated the last few garbage foods from my diet. Good riddance to those greasy breakfast sandwiches. But I wasn’t very good about eating the right foods at the right times or even making myself eat as much as I should’ve in general to fuel my new exercise regimen or recover after workouts. It is true that losing weight can be a simple “calorie in” vs. “calorie burned” equation, but not all calories are created equal. And because I dropped weight so quickly, that wasn’t my issue. I needed to keep weight on and repair muscle better.

Then I received a package in the mail, “Thrive Foods: 200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Health” by Brendan Brazier, with a note that read in part “You might find some of this nutrition advice helpful as you train….”

Are library cards still free?

Are library cards still free?

I did.

I do.

Over simplified, Brendan is a former professional triathlete who actively promotes the athletic and physical benefits of a raw vegan diet through his books and his Vega line of nutrition products. A more accurate description would be that Brazier has taken his advocacy of a vegan diet to the next level. He’s extensively researched not only the physical benefits of a plant-based diet, but also the economic and environmental costs of food production to help create both a measure of foods’ nutrient density (nutrients per calorie) and the production impact on the planet (nutrients provided compared to natural resources spent and pollution created). He also discusses the potential dangers of politically supporting a food industry more focused on producing calories than nutrients. Those two things are not synonymous. That’s a hard thing to deny in a country with so many people that are both obese and malnourished at the same time. Clearly there isn’t a calorie shortage. It’s just that too many of them are nutritionally empty calories. To a numbers nerd like me, all of these things were very interesting and enlightening.

Basically, this planet’s raw nutrients are made digestible through plants. Seeds grow from the ground and process the nutrients in the soil into an edible and often tasty plant of some kind. And those plants are almost always more efficient sources of the earth’s nutrients to humans when consumed directly than they are after being wastefully and expensively fed into another animal first. If you’re interested in the math behind that, I recommend reading the book. If you believe that subsidizing the soy, corn, and meat industries is the best management of the earth’s resources, I don’t think you’d like it very much. Oh, and the so-called “free market” advocates out there probably don’t want to know how prohibitively expensive their favorite steak would likely be if not for big government subsidies in these areas either. It’s not for everybody but no matter your food preferences, if you read this book and it doesn’t change the way you think about your diet in some way, then you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about your diet in the first place. And it’s easily worth the cost of your local library card.

I probably think about my diet way too much. And I very much appreciated the gift of that book; both for the information within it and for the introduction to Brendan Brazier. I recently gave my mom his book, “The Thrive Diet,” and look forward to reading that when she’s finished with it. There is so much still to learn. And while I’m unlikely to adopt a strictly vegan diet, I love his often scientific approach to food choice, training, and especially recovery.

Anyway, enough of this book report silliness. Let’s get to those wildly interesting questions I get asked.

“One should eat to live, not live to eat” -Benjamin Franklin

“So, what are you a vegetarian now or something?” At least 50% of the time, this question is posed in a tone you’d expect when being asked if that rash on your face is contagious. The short answer is “no.” I’m not a vegetarian. And I have no intention of ever declaring that I am. But my diet does continue to veer in that direction with every passing week. I almost never have any meat products in my home (do eggs count?), I haven’t cooked it in a long time, and I will often go for a week or more without consuming any. But I don’t want another rule in my life, and I’m not going to eliminate the option to enjoy a slice of bacon or some pulled pork barbeque without the guilt of violating a self affixed label. So until those items are reclassified as vegetables, I will remain an omnivore; and omnivore that eats a very plant based diet.

“How do you eat a salad for lunch EVERY day?” Answer: with a fork. I get this one a lot. Every time I find myself working with a new person for any amount of time, it comes up.

I’ve never been a guy that just “loves” to eat. I thoroughly enjoy well made and delicious food, but I don’t simply love the act of eating. Because of this, I find it very easy to settle into food routines in my daily life. I eat the same thing for breakfast almost seven days a week; a greens, onion, jalapeno, & cheese omelet w/ grits and toast. And I eat the exact same thing for lunch five days a week; half of an apple and a garden salad topped with beans, quinoa, dried cranberries, and sunflower seeds. If I’m having dinner at home (which I do 9 out of 10 days), I don’t get much more adventurous there either. With very few exceptions, I eat a baked sweet potato with some sort of lightly sautéed veggies piled high on top of it. I know, I know. It sounds boring as hell to most people. But I genuinely enjoy these foods. And since I’m dining alone most of the time, mine is the only opinion that matters. **puts thumbs in ears, wiggles fingers, and sticks out tongue**

While I do enjoy these meals, when I sit down to eat my goal is very rarely to experience a mind blowing taste sensation. My goal is usually one of two things, to fuel my day or recover after exercise. I eat my chosen breakfast and lunch in an effort to consume a nutritious meal that will fuel my body as efficiently as possible and provide me with the energy I need evenly throughout my day without the need for stimulants like caffeine and processed sugar. And it works. I used to drink a 5 hour energy drink almost every single day. Now, I can’t even remember when I last bought one of those little red bottles.

My dinner choices are similarly motivated. I eat dinner after I’m done with whatever run and/or workout I have scheduled each day. And my main food goal is to eat a nutritious meal with plenty of carbs and protein within 30-60 minutes of those workouts when my body is so readily trying to repair and rebuild muscle. This has been my struggle, and eating a giant pile of veggies seems to work better for me than trying to cook and eat a chicken breast (of unknown origin these days). And the nutrient density of most vegetables is insanely higher than animal flesh. I don’t care what other people eat and I am not saying that meat is intrinsically unhealthy. It’s not. But if I want the most nutritional bang for my calorie buck, I’m going to have to eat more veggies and less meat. So I do. And I feel better and have more energy than I ever have before.

I’ll do what works for me. You do what works for you, if it’s actually working.

“How often do you actually just eat whatever you want?” I just got this one for the first time last week. We’ve got a couple of new-hires at work, and the guy that ended up sitting next to me has been running a little bit, working out some, and generally trying to lose a little weight. It was a new question for me, but just as easy to answer as the rest: Every day.

I eat whatever I want Every Day.

I’m not on a diet. I have a diet. And it’s made up of everything that I eat or drink. And despite the misconception that eating a healthy diet is some kind of chore or stunt that you perform for a measured amount of time and then claim victory, I’m happy to say that I have very little trouble maintaining it. I thank my mom for that.

I wasn’t raised on sugary processed foods, so I never developed a deep seated bond to those things. And I cannot express how grateful I am to not have that poisonous connection in my brain. I’m not a machine. I acknowledge that fatty meats can taste good or that a shake or two of salt can liven up certain foods. I put a little bit of salt in my grits every morning. And the human animal is instinctively attracted to sweets. It’s the first taste we develop as babies in order to encourage nursing. And it’s the last flavor sensation to go as we age. Sweet just tastes good. I know that. I just like to enjoy these flavor variables in natural and unprocessed whole foods as much as possible.

100_6643I eat whatever I want every day. I wanted to eat my omelet with fresh onions, collard greens, and jalapeños this morning. It was delicious. I loved my salad at lunch today. The peppercini, spicy quinoa, limas, and cranberries made for a very tasty and satisfying meal that I’m sure people still saw as “rabbit food.” And I love sweet potatoes and sautéed vegetables too. You can do anything with that simple formula. A few different herbs and spices make it easy to mix things up from day to day. Last night, it was red onion, yellow squash, zucchini, mushrooms, and fresh beet greens. Tonight, leftovers plus some of the beets.

These ARE the foods I want to eat. And because they are such good fuels for my workouts and because I do exercise regularly, on the days when I want some cheep beef tacos or an order of hot wings, I can do that too. I just really don’t want that stuff very often. I like feeling good. And eating what I want to every day helps me do that.

“Are you sure you’re eating enough?” This one is usually from a family member or other long time relation that I haven’t seen in a while. When someone has gotten used to seeing me at some varying degree of overweight for a long time, seeing me significantly smaller and leaner may seem “unhealthy” looking. The answer is: I think so. And with my current trend of better running, stronger workouts, and overall higher energy levels, I believe that I am in fact eating enough…finally.

An egg, a salad, and a sweet pototo every day? Is that really enough? Yes and no. My routine meals as overly detailed above are a very satisfying base for my diet, and so far have fueled my workouts and recoveries very well; but of course not entirely on their own. I eat slightly differently in the days before a race or longer run in order to fuel more specifically. I still drink a vitamin shake with breakfast and a protein shake after workouts. And like everyone else, I take a little snack break here and there, usually consisting of a handful of almonds or the other half of that apple I had with lunch. And on the rare occasion that I get a weird sugar craving that won’t go away, I’ll find a piece of candy. Problem solved.

“Water is the driving force in nature.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Maybe the most important part of my diet is that I drink a lot of water. I’m drinking it now.

I am of the opinion that more often than not, the hunger pangs that people experience, either in the afternoon or at night, is really thirst. I can’t prove that. But I have for a long time tried to limit my late night noshing and instead drink water when I get an urge to eat something after 8ish p.m. It really did cut way back on late night cravings even before I was running. And now with a more balanced diet, I rarely get those craving at all anymore.

I drink well over a gallon of water most days. I don’t force it down, but I always have some, and when I’m thirsty that’s what I drink. I know some people have convinced themselves that they don’t like water. And honestly, I think that’s kind of funny. When I meet people that say that they don’t like water, I feel like that is on par with a human being claiming that they don’t care for the taste of air.

“I know I should breathe more air. But I just don’t like it. It doesn’t taste like anything.”

For a mammal to have somehow decided that it doesn’t “like” one of the absolute key necessities of the body is more than a little silly. Your body loves water. You need water. Many people have just conditioned their bodies to think that the water they need is supposed to be combined with some added flavoring; often the result of added chemicals, sugars, and/or stimulants (caffeine). There is a whole industry now creating squeeze bottles and individual packets of flavored powders designed to be added to bottled water. It’s water. It’s not supposed to be purple. But if that’s the only way you can convince your mouth to accept something the body is ultimately going to demand, do what you have to do. I’m not judging anybody. Drinking florescent green water is still better than having a soda.

Vodka is clear. Does that count as water?

Sorry I got long winded on this one. I promise not to do it too often, but I have been asked these a lot lately. Whenever I get around to Part 2, I’ll explain what the Monday Night Kitchen Dance is. Hint: It involves bloody mary mix. And since my blog was so long this time, here’s a short song for your food enjoyment. Happy Tuesday.

F the Q Word

“Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.” – Charlotte Bronte

Let me start by saying that I feel good. I don’t say that enough. I seem to have very little reservation in sharing when I’m frustrated, annoyed, distracted, angry, or even a little sad. But I rarely find myself openly expressing when I’m in any kind of a good spot. I don’t think I’m alone in that either. Scanning through facebook is almost always like flipping through a phone-book-thick volume of personal gripes and dissatisfactions. And I’ve been as guilty of it as anyone else.

I’m not exactly sure what I could credit with this current sense of wellbeing since I have again changed a few too many variables at one time to accurately calculate a clear cause-and-effect relationship. I’ve continued to refine my diet habits; refueling better after runs and workouts, adding more nutrient-rich foods to meals and shakes, taking some additional vitamins, and making my food choices even more whole food vegetable based. I’ve also tweaked my gym workouts in the last week to better pair muscle groups and schedule more recovery days between those workouts. This should hopefully improve gains while reducing some recurring aches and pains. And I’ve managed to reduce the amount of stressors in my life.

I’m not sure which of these things is or is not more contributive to my current light-heartedness. But I don’t really care either. Today is a good day to have a good day. And I’m thankful to have noticed.

“We’ve been taught that quitting means failure. But we neglect to add the very important caveat to that statement, which is that there are two types of quitting: Quitting things that matter, and quitting things that don’t. “ – Ash Ambirge

A friend of mine recently shared the link to a blog that really hit home with me. The blog expressed the belief (or I would say: “understanding”) that in our efforts to never be seen as “quitters,” we often remain diligent in directions not beneficial to our goals, our interests, or even our personal welfare; and that when we find ourselves expending energy and valuable time in such unsatisfying pursuits, quitting is not a mark of weakness, but instead a sign of self-awareness…or maybe even wisdom. (Read blog here. Seriously. Read it.)

I’m more than satisfied with many of the changes I’ve adopted into my life in the last eight months and genuinely delighted with how natural those new facets have become. But I have been too reluctant and slow in removing and adjusting other stuff in order to better manage my health, my schedule and/or my stress levels. I felt that blog may have touched on some of the reasons why. I read it and several different things immediately came to mind; some unhealthy habits, poorly prioritized routines, previously made commitments. And I started to reassess each of them in an attempt to determine what the biggest obstacles in my life were and what I could do to reduce them or at least traverse them as quickly as possible in order to streamline my existence a little better. In short, I needed to be a better quitter.

“The only reason we should ever persevere is when it matters. And when does it matter? When it contributes to your big picture goals. Anything else is a waste of your time, and not quitting is extremely counterproductive.” – Ash Ambirge

Some friends and I hosted a disc golf tournament last summer to honor a friend of ours. It was moderately successful, we learned a lot, and we planned to do it again. No problem. But to anyone that’s read some of my posts from last fall already knows, I’m not the same person I was last summer. My interests and priorities are vastly different. So when it came time to organize this year’s tournament, I was admittedly much less enthusiastic. But I had already committed to it. Tournaments aren’t cheap so my financial support was definitely needed. And I didn’t want to let my friends down just because I was less personally invested in it. So I was going to do it. It’s not hard to do. It’s just expensive.

After repeated schedule conflicts pushing our date over two months past when we originally intended to hold the event and some unexpected financial set backs, we recently decided that we would have to cancel that tournament this year. It was becoming insanely difficult to coordinate and we just could not afford to do it. I almost felt guilty for how happy I was with our decision. I’d wanted to cancel it for weeks but wouldn’t say anything. And as he and I discussed it, the other financial backer was pretty much doing the same thing. We were both dealing with undue burdens trying to fulfill an obligation that had become way more of a stressor than any source of excitement. But we were both too “committed” to our previously laid plan to admit that our plan was unwise and that we should quit.

At some point you have to accept that the obstacles have piled so high, that the reward for completing a task can never justify the energy spent to accomplish it. It was supposed to be fun. Last year, it seemed a no-brainer that we’d do it again. And maybe we will. But as my interest waned and the obstacles grew, it became nothing more than a really expensive burden of my time and energy at a time when I have so many more important things I want to focus on. I had to quit. We had to quit. I’m not upset at all that we did. Sometimes quitting feels really good.

“As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge.” – Henry Van Dyke

I half jokingly mentioned in an earlier blog that everyone should have a standing weekly taco date. For those that don’t know, a “taco date” is exactly what it sounds like; a scheduled meeting with friends to enjoy delicious tacos and maybe a few cheap beers. But I was wrong. Maybe some people should have a weekly scheduled gathering like that. But I shouldn’t. I have too many life rituals already.

Not that long ago, I could reliably tell you where I was going to be every single Wednesday evening/night, Friday evening, Sunday morning, and Sunday night. That might not sound like that much of a time commitment. It’s only three days out of seven, right? But then you have to subtract the ten hours a day we all spend at work or traveling to and from work. And don’t forget all of that time we waste sleeping each night.

I’m fortunate enough to have a day job with regular hours, so from about four p.m. until 11ish every day, I’m technically free. That’s only 35 hours from Monday to Friday, and I had already committed two of those nights EVERY week, and half of EVERY weekend to standing routines. That didn’t leave a lot of extra time for healthy pursuits like regular exercise, smarter diet choices, or even full participation in my personal relationship.

Sure, they were routines revolving around activities that I enjoy, but my poorly prioritized dedication to the rituals themselves was too time consuming and inflexible and certainly not contributing to making me a better person or moving me towards my goals. In hindsight, I don’t even know if I had any real goals.

Working on reprioritizing my routines has benefitted me greatly. I still maintain many of the same regular customs but with a much higher level of flexibility. I love tacos, and I will not quit going to meet my friends on the occasional Wednesday night (though I’m missing it right now as I type this). I enjoy recording music with my friends on Friday. Playing disc golf with the same small group of friends every Sunday morning is as close to church as I will probably ever get. And my family dinners on Sunday night aren’t about to be cut from my schedule either. But the sheer routine of these things has been reprioritized. I’m not going to rush through a workout in order to eat a taco, or skip a race I want to run so that I don’t miss my Sunday rounds. I have to be a little better at making sure I’m spending my limited time in the most personally fulfilling way possible, even if it may not make any sense to those around me. My life is important enough to get my full attention.

“The time to quit is before you wish you had.” – Kimberly K. Jones

I had a doctor’s appointment today. Nothing dramatic. Just a follow up visit for a physical I recently had. Turns out I’m healthy; really healthy by the sound of it. As he reviewed my chart and read my cholesterol numbers, he seemed maybe even a bit too excited as he shared how rarely he gets to tell people that they’re doing great. I guess that’s good.

Then he went to his favorite topic since I met him. “How’s the smoking?” I told him the truth. I haven’t had a cigarette since last Thursday. “So you quit?” he asked, again a little too energetically. That should’ve been an easy question. I know that I should. And I’m pretty sure that I will. But I’m reluctant to use that word, very likely for the same reason he seemed so eager for me to say it. Saying I’ve quit smoking is outwardly committing to never smoking another cigarette. I’m not sure I’m ready to say that. So I didn’t.

But I will say that I’m happy to have gone even this long without one. I’ve mentioned before that my smoking habit has always been pretty lazy. I smoke one or two a day unless I’m out with friends and then the numbers climb slightly. And it’s not uncommon for me to smoke almost a whole pack while out at the park all day on Sundays. It turns out I’m kind of a binge smoker. And it’s never been the smoking that bothered me as much as the binging.

I like smoking. I like lighting them. I enjoy the physical act of smoking a cigarette. I like the slowness of it. But it’s definitely not a performance enhancing drug for runners. And according to my already improved blood pressure today, it’s apparently bad for you in other ways as well. Go figure.

After getting through last weekend without smoking any cigarettes at all (even on Sunday – what what), I have to admit that I felt pretty good. It was not nearly as easy as I thought it would be and that difficulty is what kind of woke me up to my need to take better control of it. I was using my low volumes as false evidence that my habit was some lower level addiction.

I’m still not going to say I’ve quit smoking. That word seems very permanent and maybe a little overconfident for me, having not gone a whole week without one yet. But I’m not smoking right now, and right now is the only moment I’m in control of. I guess it really doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, I still need to be a better quitter.

“Quitting is not giving up, it’s choosing to focus your attention on something more important. Quitting is not losing confidence, it’s realizing that there are more valuable ways you can spend your time. Quitting is not making excuses; it’s learning to be more productive, efficient and effective instead. Quitting is letting go of things (or people) that are sucking the life out of you so you can do more things that will bring you strength.” – Osayi Osar-Emokpae

I’m definitely not trying to imply that I’m going to adopt a simple “pro-quitting” life philosophy. I certainly would not endorse such a stupid idea. Adversity is not an automatic sign that something is not worth doing. Life is full of challenges that need to be conquered and bested. We learn lessons about the world and about who we are from those challenges. But in developing a strategy to overcome those unavoidable struggles as well as a host of genuinely rewarding ones, It seems invaluably important to know which battles are worth fighting to the end and when retreating is the best strategy for overall success.

I’m working on it. And so far, I feel pretty good…today anyway. Happy Wednesday.

Looking Forward (J.O.G.T. 4)

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

BUT (isn’t there always a “but?”)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable mentions:

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

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

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

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

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

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