Dreadmill , The Progress in Going Nowhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Murtaugh: Guess what?

Martin Riggs: What?

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

Martin Riggs: Hey, don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

It was brutal out there.

It was brutal out there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Checking In From the Long Cut

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

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

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

That’s right! None!

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

Obviously, I’m still a ridiculous person.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work Smarter AND Harder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I. Wish. I. Knew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…the holidays. Ugh, the holidays.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Work smarter, not harder” – Alan Lakein

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

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

One Step More (J.O.G.T. 9)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Try to do it with your knees first.”

“My knees, huh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Friday

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

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

Colorado Trip Report…Finally!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stu's backyard has such a shitty view

Stu’s backyard has such a shitty view

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

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

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

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

…Okay, just the beer then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It didn't rain every day.

It didn’t rain every day.

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

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

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

Altitude Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lemonade Stand: Baby’s First Runbirthday

“You can spend days, weeks, months, or even years sitting alone in the darkness, over-analyzing a situation from the past, trying to put the pieces together, justifying what could have or should have happened. Or you can just leave the pieces on the floor behind you and walk outside into the sunlight to get some fresh air.” – Marc Chernoff

On September 5, 2012, I walked out of my apartment a very lost and damaged human being, and took off running down the street towards Who-Gives-A-Fuck; having no clue what the hell I was doing. Roughly 0.2 miles later, I was walking. I was sweating, breathing heavily, and walking slow. When I caught my breath, I started running again. I didn’t know why. I wasn’t a runner. All I knew was that I really wanted to get to Who-Gives-A-Fuck in a hurry. I wanted to get anywhere else as fast as I possibly could. So, if I could run, I did. When I couldn’t run, I walked. But for twenty-something sunny afternoon minutes and almost 1.5 miles, I did not stop.

When I got back to my apartment, sadly having not found the door to that wonderful world of Who-Gives-A-Fuck, something was different. I knew it immediately. I didn’t know what had changed, or what it meant. But I knew I was transformed. And that feeling was indescribable. I was reborn; a new man; right then.

Like any newborn, I didn’t know shit. I was moving on instinct; alone in a world I didn’t recognize and with so much to learn in order to survive in it. I had to grow up. But what did growing up even mean? At the time, it meant trying to find a light in the dark, warmth in the cold, or at least comfort in the absence of both.

I’m still working on that.

Hey, gimme a break. I’m only one.

On September 4, 2012, there was only one thing I knew for sure: I felt like total shit. I had never felt so physically and spiritually suffocated by pain in my life, or more incapable of dealing with that hurt. I was dead. I don’t mean that I was sad and wanted to die. I didn’t. I mean I was already dead; cold; lifeless. The fire: out. The fact that I was even making it through my work day still amazes me. I don’t think I said more than two words to anyone for days, and can’t remember if anyone had spoken to me at all. Dead.

In the days after my rebirth on the road, my new still blurry vision and simple newborn mind was now sure of a staggering two things. 1) When I wasn’t running, I felt like total shit – as described above. 2) When I was running, I didn’t feel like total shit. And with that simple and lone understanding of my new world, I began to run as much as I could.

“Sometimes you have to kind of die inside in order to rise from your own ashes and believe in yourself and love yourself to become a new person.” – Gerard Way

It’s interesting to me looking back at those days because I started tracking my running from day one. I do not know why. I was living entirely on raw impulse. I ate only when my hunger got strong enough to cut through my thick mind-fog. I was drinking water less aware of my need for it, and more because it was the only thing conveniently piped into my home. I slept whenever I was remotely still because why not be asleep. I wasn’t living. But even in my undead zombie-like state I was still marking each run on a calendar on the wall. Eat, drink, sleep, run. The answer is in there somewhere.

100_6694I started putting little check marks on that calendar for every day that I’d run. When I joined a gym two weeks later, I started adding a “G” to the square for each day that I would workout. Seven weeks after my first sloppy trek outside, I started recording the length of each run, and eventually adding the time as well. Without a whole lot of foresight, my numbers-nerd personality was starting to track my pace. Why? No clue.

I didn’t know it at the time, but what I was viewing as a simple activity to ward off a mental breakdown was becoming the first part of a personal experiment in wellness. The foundation of my “Me” experiment was unfolding without my full understanding. I knew running made me feel less shitty. I liked feeling less shitty. So I needed to run more.

“What do I have to do to be able to run more?”

“I have given up many things in this becoming process. None was a sacrifice. When something clearly became nonessential, there was no problem in doing without. And when something clearly became essential, there was no problem accepting it and whatever went with it.” – Dr George Sheehan.

Seeking the answer to that simple question has cascaded into areas I could have never predicted.

For several weeks after my first run, I went out almost every day. And after noting no perceivable improvement in performance, it was time to read. I started with online resources, and within days had purchased my first Runner’s World magazine. Of course, I subscribed immediately after reading it. I researched everything from running form, to proper dietary fueling, to cross training, to strength training. What do I have to do to run more? I wasn’t sure, but I was damn sure going to find out.

I learned that new runners should not run every day; that without rest days, the newbie body cannot recover. And running on sore, overworked muscles leads to injury. Injury means no running. And the idea of not running at the time left me paralyzed with fear. It still does. So, after almost four weeks, I finally started taking regular rest days. Surprise! My running improved.

Those rest days became dedicated cross training days at the gym. I originally joined the gym in case it was raining and I really needed to run. Little did I know that I would rather run outside in the rain or snow than inside on a treadmill. But cycling and weight training at the gym gave me another way to get my blood moving every day. It’s definitely wasn’t running, but in a pinch, a solid workout would even help with that “feeling shitty” thing I deal with. Both running and gym workouts were becoming sweat-meditation; “sweatitation” that I valued greatly. I still do.

As my activity levels continued to increase, my diet became a serious bastard to figure out. I needed to eat more, but I rarely felt hungry and only wanted to eat what I really needed. I had already cut out processed food. If I didn’t know what was in something, I didn’t eat it. I felt better instantly, and had noticeably more energy. In fact, as I’ve kept cutting out this food (meat, pasta, dairy) and adding that one (a lot more whole raw fruits and vegetables), I’ve ended up with an almost vegan diet. And I feel great. I’m running better. I’m getting stronger. And I am recovering faster. Food is supposed to give us energy. It is supposed to make us feel good, not make us want to take a nap.

“Learning about what you’re made of is always time well spent.” – Henry Rollins

Because I was consciously using running and exercise as therapy during that difficult time, I’d obviously become somewhat aware of the connection between physical and mental health. That connection is something that I probably would’ve accepted long before I actually explored the reality of it. It just makes sense to me. And with every step made towards a healthier body I also noted increased occasion of spiritual clarity.

It should be noted that “clarity” is not always a pleasant experience. There is a reason some people seek to numb their perception of themselves. Clearness of vision is sometimes just that break in the clouds we need to see all of the mistakes we’ve made, all of the negative habits we’ve collected, all of the toxic people and practices we’ve allowed to settle into our lives. Seeing these things just created new obstacles to traverse if I’m ever going to become my most authentic and whole self. But I can’t clean up messes I can’t see, so clarity is a positive thing, even if uncomfortable.

As I enjoyed strides towards better physical fitness and continued to research, discover, and experiment with different ways to improve those gains, it became increasingly clear to me that keeping a strong body was not the be-all, end-all solution to mental wellness. I’d experienced the direct connection between the two. But I was only actively working to improve one side of the equation, foolishly assuming that being physically fit would magically drag my spiritual self into a healthier well lighted place as well. It doesn’t work that way. If a strong, well-tuned body was the secret to mental health, then professional athletes would be the most balanced and spiritually centered people on the planet. You won’t have to search the web very long to debunk that idea. Cough, cough…Aaron Hernandez.

The spiritual self needs to be cared for and exercised as much as the physical self. This is an area that I have only recently started to explore. And as I approach this new thing with a beginner’s mind, I’m again researching and finding my way anew. Different people find balance in varying ways. I’ve adopted a daily meditation practice, and so far noticing small but appreciable benefits. I’m a newbie with a ton to learn, but I already feel less stress, calmer of mind, and generally more present. Life seems to move a little smoother and I seem to handle the bumps better. It’s new, and we’ll see how it goes, but I’m going to keep doing it. I think it is going to help me find some kind of balance. It’s the least I can do.

“When I crashed and found the wherewithal to get back on the bike and finish; that was what I learned about myself. If that hadn’t happened and everything had gone perfectly, I certainly wouldn’t have learned as much about myself as I did having to struggle with misfortunate and setbacks.” – Rich Roll

While catching up with a friend way back in February; discussing how my training was going and chatting about some of the other positive changes I was starting to observe, she noted that I may not have made any of those adjustments, or even started running at all, if I hadn’t experienced such a painful loss last year. I quickly replied “It’s lemonade.”

“Huh?”

“It’s the lemonade” I repeated. “My running and working out is lemonade. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. All of this is just lemonade.”

She was not trying to make light of my feelings or to rationalize the true tragedy of my loss, but instead was simply recognizing it as a catalyst to this new phase in my life.

I don’t care for lemons. I don’t want them in my water at restaurants. And I don’t particularly like lemonade either. But no matter how shitty the realities may be, I refused to continue approaching so many things in my life with the internal negativity I’d ignored (or even embraced) in the past. I would love an occasional cantaloupe or some fresh blueberries, but if those sweet luxuries are not in the cards for me, then I will continue to seek out and develop the world’s greatest lemonade recipe. I might not be able to control a lot of the things that happen around me or even how I feel about those things. But I can certainly control how I respond to the hand I’m dealt.

“The human capacity for burden is like bamboo- far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.” – Jodi Picoult

The human animal is incredibly resilient. No matter how far gone we might think we are, or how low we feel, very few things are unrecoverable. We can lose the weight, learn the new skill, move more weight, prevent and cure diseases, and just fucking feel better if we dedicate our energy to our own wellbeing and focus on our goals. We can do anything.

In the last 12 months, I’ve become healthier than I have ever been. I eat better and exercise more than I ever have. I stopped smoking cigarettes after almost 15 years. Along the way, I’ve gone through three pairs of running shoes. I’ve logged 730 miles on the road, run nine races, including two half-marathons (each under two hours), and I’m in week 14 of my training plan to run my first full marathon later this fall; with bigger plans beyond that. And while I believe that weight is a sometimes distracting and over-celebrated metric in the pursuit of true health, I’ve lost 70 pounds too.

And my run journal is still growing strong as well.

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I’ve made a lot of lifestyle adjustments this year and discovered a confidence in myself that makes my hunger for change even stronger, the slow pace of it even more frustrating, and that frustration can be incredibly distracting. I’m finally learning to make the effort to live in the present, aim at the next step instead of the goal, and accept that stumbling is part of traveling.

Am I still lost? I don’t know. Technically, I know where I am. But the vast majority of the time, I do feel completely out of place in the world. That’s an odd sensation to walk around with every day. But I’ve made my decision in the “yellow wood” of that Robert Frost poem, and I have faith that I’ve chosen wisely. I’m confident that if I continue to run along this healthier path up the mountain, that I’ll eventually find the place where I belong and fill the void that still stings inside of me. The answer is up there somewhere.

Am I still damaged? Eh, I can’t tell anymore. Unfortunately I pick scabs, heal slowly, and wear thick scars. I think I’ve just acclimated to whatever this new grayer feeling is and don’t know how to describe it. I’m not damaged. I guess I more “haunted.” I probably always will be to some extent. It is what it is.

After only one year, I’m not even a toddler in this new healthier lifestyle, but I’m up on my wobbly legs, moving slow, and looking to get into all sorts of shit. Look out world! I’m only going to get faster.

This is one of my favorite songs by my friend Derek Smith. He’s one of those guys that drive negative people nuts with his positivity and general good nature. I like knowing him. And I appreciate that he plays this song for me almost every time I get out to see him live. “I took a gamble on this thing called love. I got just what I paid for, but not what I dreamed of.” I hope to someday look back on this time from wherever my “Best Years” are found and just laugh at my silly ass. Happy Thursday, it’s my rebirthday.

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Sitting: The Next Step?

“We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we’ll also have a lot more joy in living.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Whew! Looks like I got lost last week. Honestly, it felt pretty good. I wasn’t totally sure if I was going to make it back this week either. Not because I have nothing to share. I do. But it became apparent that I needed a reboot.

Looking back at the last couple of months, I saw that I spent most of the summer swinging back and forth from cautious enthusiasm to utter dejection. And unfortunately, I was sometimes more than willing to whine about it at length. Sorry ‘bout that. Here’s a flower.

Are we cool?

Are we cool?

I’ve always said that I write this thing as a release mechanism for myself. But I never intended that as an excuse to melodramatically rehash the dark side of my diary onto the web. I’d rather share stuff that might actually be useful to someone, or maybe some of the things that inspire me; something at least more interesting than my mood updates. Hell, I might even want to chat about running every now and then. I am still doing that believe it or not. Still learning. And still enjoying the hell out of it too.

So, I needed a break; a “time out” of sorts. I even made myself sit in the corner, seriously.

“The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.” – Ellen Glasgow

If there was any consistency to my summer posts at all, it was that no matter which end of the spectrum my mental pendulum swung closest, I was always stressed to near exhaustion. Whether it was anxiety from excitedly running too fast into the sun, or from being burned by hastily getting so close, I just couldn’t calm myself down. I knew it. I know it. And I know it’s completely unhealthy. Stress kills people. And more importantly, it’ll fuck up your running. I’m training for my first marathon dammit. I don’t have time for that shit.

A couple of weeks ago while texting my mom (who can—surprise!—almost always tell when my fuse is fried), I mentioned my awful mood and how I thought I could actually feel the elevated cortisol level in my blood. And I could. I felt like shit. For weeks I’d been sleeping poorly, cognitively sluggish, running bad, recovering slow, and underperforming at the gym. Oh, and did I mention that I felt like shit?

Cortisol is referred to as a “stress hormone.” It’s involved in maintaining blood sugar, regulating blood pressure, controlling the inflammatory response, and affects proper immune function. It’s kind of a big deal. Cortisol has come up a lot in my reading and the effects can vary depending on the situation and duration of the higher levels.

Short spikes aid in the body’s flight-or-fight response. It enhances alertness, helps provide quick bursts of energy, and reduces sensitivity to pain. If I was trying to fight off a bear, those benefits would be great.

But I.
am not.
a bear fighter.

On the other hand, prolonged increases of cortisol levels in the bloodstream hinders quality sleep, disrupts blood sugar levels, reduces bone density, increases blood pressure, and on and on. Decreased bone density, reduced muscle tissue, and shoddy blood glucose levels don’t exactly spell running success. In fact, if unchecked, prolonged increases can develop into a wonderful downward spiral of overall health. Sounds awesome doesn’t it?

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” – William James

Well, I knew what was wrong. I’m an idiot. Now, how do I keep my favorite stress hormone in check? The most consistent answers I found can all be summarized in: eat a healthy diet (check), exercise regularly (doin’ that), get quality sleep (workin’ on it), and well…just relax (um…uh…). After diet and exercise, I’d see mention of more specific things like playing with animals, laughing, “mindful breathing,” practicing your art, sex, kick a hobo (maybe not that one). But they all just add up to “relax,” or at least “release.”

Take care of yourself and calm down. Find balance. Sounds easy enough…for someone who doesn’t insist on doing everything the hard way.

I’ve noticed that when I let myself run too far down the rabbit hole of self doubt or distraction or overwhelming frustration, the world will move to balance itself, whether I’m ready or not. Something will happen to remind my dumb ass to look around and note that there are people looking down the barrel of a gun much scarier than a scattered mind and general discontent. Sometimes that wake-up call is a subtle whisper. Sometimes it’s loud like a bomb. The difference probably lies in how much or little I’m actually paying attention.

So last week, when I received that message and realized I could no longer tolerate my mind heckling me along the path and ruining my focus, I sat it down, got on my knees, and quietly sang this little ditty right into its meddlesome little face.

“Music is forever; music should grow and mature with you, following you right on up until you die.” – Paul Simon

Because I didn’t make a conscious connection to music or start actively seeking to deepen that relationship until I was well into high school, I’ve often said that there wasn’t a lot of music in my life growing up. But looking back on it, that’s not true.

My mom has a wonderful singing voice. I was seven years old when my parents divorced, but I still have vague memories of them singing folkier church songs together in the living room while my dad played guitar. Both sang in choirs. And I remember more than a few days at the beach with my mom listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 countdown on the radio. Who doesn’t love some Billy Ocean? Phil Collins? No? Okay.

Like a lot of music nerds, I have an older cousin that found his connection to music very early and exposed me to all kinds of music ranging from early 80’s “metal” bands when I was young to the more underground “alternative” bands as a teenager. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a bare foot nine year old running around singing Twisted Sister songs or Quiet Riot’s “Cum on Feel the Noise.”

On weekends hanging out with my brother and another cousin, we’d listen to just about anything on the radio; rock stations, pop stations, whatever. It was something to listen to while we never-quite-learned to skateboard. Sometimes we’d just search the dial. “What station do you want to listen to?” I didn’t care. The radio was king until that magic time when I started working and finally had the money to venture into the greatest places the world has ever produced: record stores.

With the help of friends and magazines, I discovered that there was so much more out there. And that was essentially my undoing. Pop music is fine, but who cares? We’re all going to hear it. It’s inescapable. I wanted to hear the rest. I’d hunt down shit I’d read about. I’d order stuff from local stores. Then read all of the bands mentioned in the “thank you” section of a CD’s artwork and find those artists too. I wanted it ALL.

I started listening to music pretty much constantly; in the car, at home, at the beach, at parties, at work, everywhere. And by the time I got a job in an independent record store, I’d essentially eliminated all quiet from my life. Silence was a waste of time that could be occupied rocking out to that new Modest Mouse record. Or Son Volt. Or Mastodon. Hurry up, push play.

“The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes — ah, that is where the art resides.” – Artur Schnabel

A really long time ago in a land too far away.

A really long time ago in a land too far away.

The last two decades of collecting, discussing, sometimes playing, and eventually recording music started to characterize me a bit. And whether accurate or not, I was cool with that. I love all types of music. I listen to all types of music. If it’s good, I’ll listen to it. And luckily I enjoy a life where I’m able to listen to it throughout most of my day: at work, in the car, at the gym, on a run…all day, every day. It’s become a given that whether it be CD, podcast, or the radio, something will be playing.

For the vast majority (read: “all”) of my adult life, I have even maintained the silly habit of leaving my home stereo playing all day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. If I’m at home, the radio is on. If I’m not at home, it’s still on; playing quietly to no one and ensuring no chance that I’ll be greeted by that chilly handshake of silence upon my return from wherever. I don’t know if I’ve ever bothered to think about why. It just is; or was.

I may have subconsciously been telling myself that the constant flow of sound into my life was like having a window open to the breeze of the world, whether it was the news and current events or human interest shows and new music discoveries. All the time missing the strong likelihood that it could’ve been more like a hole in the roof flooding my life with suffocating amounts of noise and drowning my own thoughts.

Last Wednesday, I turned my radio off.

It’s off right now.

“Nature’s music is never over; her silences are pauses, not conclusions.” – Mary Webb

Last Wednesday, I had some unexpected car issues to take care of. I would love to live a life where I don’t need a car. But until then, I need to keep mine in working order and last week it made me take a minute to show it some love. Eh, it happens.

I dropped it off at the garage by my gym so that I could workout while they fixed my car. When they weren’t finished when I was done exercising, I decided to go buy a magazine to read while I waited. Of all of the rags in the grocery store, I end up sitting outside in the sun in sweaty workout clothes reading Health & Spirituality magazine, dedicated to different people’s meditative practice. I don’t know why. Yes I do.

I’d meditated a few times in the past, but as I got increasingly frustrated with my body’s escalating stress response, my inability to control it, and how it was affecting everything else in my life, I considered experimenting with a more regular practice. And once I’d planted that seed in my mind, I couldn’t get away from it. It seemed to be constantly in my face. My favorite health websites were posting articles, my favorite podcasts had been sparking my interests for weeks with one endurance athlete or nutritionist after another all commenting on the benefits of taking time out to just sit and breathe, or hum, or chant. Each person would swear by the practice. I couldn’t help but be intrigued. And sitting in that parking lot in the middle of an asphalt wonderland, reading about all of the different ways that people were finding quiet in their lives, and how that quiet directly benefitted them spiritually, I couldn’t help but want to try it. I wasn’t totally sure what “it” was, but I knew I could do anything.

So when I got home, I turned my radio off. And I just sat there. For a really long time. The next day, I did it again with my eyes shut, listening to my breath, for a shorter amount of time. I’ve done it every day since. Not the same way each time. I’m experimenting with different breathing patterns. But every day, I turn off my phone, cut out the lights, and just sit in total silence. It’s fucking awesome.

“Remember, you get to decide what fills your head and shapes your thoughts. Only you can clear the distractions and focus instead on what matters most to you, so stop letting clutter interfere with your meaningful path.” – Erin Rooney Doland

Probably because of the epiphany experienced on my first time out, I’ve always considered myself a “meditative” runner. It’s relaxing. It always makes me feel good. But prior to last week, I’d only run without music about four times. I ran my longest run ever (14 miles) last Saturday with nothing to listen to but my breathing, my thoughts, and the pats of my feet on the ground. Yesterday, I had to take my ear-buds out in the middle of my run because I was struggling and couldn’t concentrate. Maybe it was a poor music choice (it was), maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to podcasts lately, but that music had to go. It was fucking me up. I needed to think…or not think. It’s hard to tell. But I settled immediately after taking them out, and that run ended way better in the quiet.

Did I stop listening to music? Of course not. But now when it’s on, it’s because I turned it on and I’m actually engaged in the experience. I’m listening instead of just hearing. Do I wake up every day now feeling some special “connection” to my earth mother, or my spirit animal, or some other hippie bullshit? No. I have not “transcended” anything…yet. But when I open my eyes after a session, I feel incredibly peaceful. In only nine days worth of paying attention, I’ve noted a difference. It’s subtle, but it’s there. I’ve had instances where I felt a surprising ease in a previously perceived stressful situation. I haven’t been as easily upset or distracted. I’m more alert to my surroundings. I feel more connected to myself. Basically I just feel better.

I’m not going to try and explain exactly what I’m doing or give any kind of instruction about what I think is or isn’t working. I feel like at this point that would be like that wobbly legged newborn giraffe trying to explain the mechanics of walking. I aint there yet. But I do think as I’ve been battling to live in the present and keep myself focused on the next step of the journey instead of the goal on the horizon, that this may very well be the next step…or at least how I get to it.

I rebirthed this blog last fall when I realized that “I gotta run.” What I’m now coming to recognize is that if I want to continue to discover and eventually release the best me that I have to offer, then there is a really good possibility that “I gotta sit” too. We’ll see what happens.

Happy Friday, you should’ve seen this one coming. Enjoy.

Showing the Way: Running into Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hooray for the interwebs! Woot!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fun of the Run (J.O.G.T. 7)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was 20 seconds early. Dammit! So close.

I did not take this picture.

I did not take this picture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runners are good people.

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions:

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

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

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

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

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

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