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.

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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.

Summer School for a Slow Learner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salt is salty

Salt is salty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horns and Hooves, You Define You.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks For Sharing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cool. I don’t give a shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thatguywiththebeard’s Kitchen (Part 2): The Monday Night Kitchen Dance

“Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.” – Samuel Beckett

No one is more aware than me of how personal each person’s food decisions are. And because I am sometimes unable to completely turn off my snark, I might sound like I’ve got something figured out that you don’t, or that I know something that you should know. That is not the case or my intention.

I don't even remember what this picture was originally for

I don’t even remember what this picture was originally for

While staying with friends on a recent trip, my very gracious hosts, being aware of my attempts to eat as clean as possible, reminded me a few times that they had “healthy food” if I was hungry and that I was welcomed to anything I wanted. I so appreciated their hospitality and understood the emphasis being made since I share so much unnecessary detail on here sometimes. And because I often bring my own food to places others wouldn’t (like everywhere). But it also made me wonder if by excessively detailing that shallow line in the sand I’ve drawn for my own dietary benefit, if I haven’t created what looks to others more like a dangerous trench on the beach to be traversed with caution.

I want to make clear that I eat the things I do because they work for ME, not necessarily because I think it’s the way everyone should eat or because I refuse to eat anything outside of my regular daily diet. I don’t want to come across as that asshole that loudly harasses a steak house server about their lack of vegan options or the guy that complains about the lack of meat options on the salad bar. There are many ways to eat a healthy diet. I’m sharing this stuff (probably in excessive detail) because it’s come up in conversation a lot lately, and may be interesting to at least a few of you. I hope I don’t appear judgmental towards anyone else’s food choices. Do whatever you want. Life is short. Enjoy the hell out of it. If that means a steady diet of chicken nuggets dipped in nutella, then dip in deep. Hell, double dip if you want to, I’m not trying to get in there.

“Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education; dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and, need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen?” – Friedrich Nietzsche

In Part One of this I-promise-only-two-part series of self-righteous food blogging, I mentioned that I eat the same basic things almost every day and that my diet goals are more fuel based than in mere satiation of hunger. I eat to live way more than I live to eat. And because of ongoing trials in post run/workout refueling, I try to eat within 30-60 minutes of finishing those activities. The debate rages on whether or not that time frame is as critical as it has so often been expressed. So instead of worrying about the specifics of that dispute, I just do it and know that no matter the time frame, the most important part is that I eat a well balanced and nutritious diet all day every day in order to provide my body with the energy it needs and to recover as quickly as possible from the stress put on it during runs and workouts. I have to eat. So I do.

I’ve also shared how busy I keep my schedule and how limited any spare time can be. As I discussed in Living Healthier Sucks, working, running, going to the gym, grocery shopping, the constant laundry rotation, and cooking nearly every meal I eat every day takes a lot of time. I’m only one person. So in order to do all of those things, I have to plan ahead and stick to that plan. Some weeks I do better than others. Some weeks it looks like I don’t have a fucking clue. But my diet remains near the center of my mental focus. It is key, and I am continually trying to make it cleaner and more efficient.

Maybe the most critical part of my meal planning is the Monday Night Kitchen Dance. The silly term comes from my old apartment where the kitchen was so small that just cooking in it at all involved pouring most prep work out onto a table in the adjoining room and rotating back in and out of the kitchen to stir this, flip that, or pop something in or out of the oven. Add another person to the equation, and it really did become a coordinated dance in order to not burn the meal or one of the “dancers.” Now, even with a larger kitchen and one less person on the dance floor, I sometimes still find myself spinning around a bit to get my weekly meal essentials all cooked and prepped on Monday nights. What an exciting life I lead, right? Pop a cork, let’s party.

“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” – Jim Rohn

Brussel sprouts in some diluted bloody mary mix

Brussel sprouts in some diluted bloody mary mix

There are staples to my diet that I have to keep on hand in order to eat the things I want to eat without sucking up every free moment of every day standing at my stove. My refrigerator always contains some cooked greens for my breakfast omelets; quinoa and some sort of beans for my lunch salads; baked sweet potatoes for dinners; and any number of pre-cooked veggies such as brussel sprouts, beets, or anything else that catches my eye and takes more than a few minutes to cook. Fresh and fast-cooking veggies like squash, onions, zucchini, asparagus, and mushrooms (yes, I know they’re a fungus), I keep raw until I’m ready to cook and eat them, but they’re in there too.

On Mondays, I take inventory and make sure that those items with longer cooking times all get prepared and stored for the week to come. And I like to do it all on the same night so that I can 1) minimize required cooking time every other night of the week 2) reuse as much of the cooking liquids as possible throughout the dance routine. Because boiling veggies can cause certain nutrients to leach out into the water, I repurpose all used liquids except for those from starchier foods like beans or potatoes. Beet water is my current favorite. I could steam them or roast them, but I love using that deep red and tasty water in quinoa so much that I always simmer beets. And the beet greens are a nice addition to the Monday night stir fry as well. Have I mentioned how much I love my simple meals? Well I do.

“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.” – William James

Here’s the rough choreography of the dance. Maestro, can I get something in a funky ass 70’s groove please?

I scrub three or four sweet potatoes, fork-stab ‘em a few dozen times, rub on some olive oil, wrap each in foil, and pop them in the oven. They take the longest and once they’re in there, I can kind of forget about them. With them finally off the counter and out of the way, I start cleaning, pealing, and cutting up some beets because they also take a bit of time. I’ll cook beets in lightly salted water or if I have some leftover peppercini, olive, or jalapeno brine (I never throw that stuff out; too useful), I’ll mix that in with some water for some extra flavor instead adding plain salt. With that pot on the stove and heating up, it’s usually time for some brussel sprouts. I love me some brussel sprouts. I boil brussel sprouts in a 50/50 mix of water and bloody mary mix with some added crushed red pepper flake for good measure. I cook all kinds of stuff in bloody mary mix actually. It’s tasty.

Can't go wrong w/ brussels, shrooms, onion, serano, & garlic

Can’t go wrong w/ brussels, shrooms, onion, serano, & garlic

With the oven occupied and two pots going on the stove, the dance is on and it’s about time to start cutting onions, peppers, garlic, and whatever fresh veggies I’m planning to actually eat that night. Cooking Monday’s dinner while doing the dance gives me something to do while stirring watched pots and tasting beet pieces to check for doneness.

I only cook the brussel sprouts until they’re about half way done because I know I’m eventually going to be heating them in the skillet later in the week. When they start to get a little tender, I remove them with a slotted spoon and save the now sprout accented bloody mary mixture. In that same liquid and adding water or brine if necessary, I’ll cook the leafy green I use for my breakfast omelet. This week it was turnip greens. Next week, kale. Once they’re done, I remove those with a slotted spoon as well, again saving the greener and greener bloody mary liquid. Waste not, want not. Then I finally rinse out that pot so I can cook whatever bean I’ll be putting in my lunch salads; currently limas are my carb of choice. As the beets become slightly tender, I remove them just like the sprouts and greens, also saving the water. Recycle, recycle, recycle.

I’m ridiculous.

With the sprouts and beets cooling on the counter and limas simmering, it’s now time for the quinoa. I was very slow to fall in love with quinoa, but my love for it has only gotten stronger with time and each new discovery of flavors to add. It’s an excellent protein source for people eating a plant based diet and once I realized that I could cook it in almost any liquid I want, I was hooked (Note: sweeter liquids seem to burn faster and need to be diluted). I’ve cooked it in everything from plain water, diluted jalapeno brines, diluted bloody mary mix, spicy soup broth leftover from Thai take-out, or any mixture of these. My current favorite is anything mixed with the leftover beet water. And the beet water mixed with the bloody mary mixture from the sprouts actually makes a really great combination. I use that a lot right now. Any liquids I don’t use on Monday go in the fridge for later because I usually have to make quinoa more than once a week. I love that stuff.

“All that is important is this one moment in movement. Make the moment important, vital, and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.” – Martha Graham

simple and tasty

simple and tasty

That’s pretty much the dance. Once the potatoes are done, I let them cool on the counter as well. And when everything has cooled a bit, I put it all in the fridge to hang out until it’s needed. Throughout the following days, I’ll portion them out along with whatever fresh ingredients I want to cook each night. I do have to microwave the sweet potato, but that’s pretty much the only thing I can’t conveniently reheat in the oven or my trusty cast iron skillet. When the other ingredients are all cooked and seasoned, I just pile them on a plate with the potato and enjoy. And I DO enjoy them.

I can typically get home, drink my protein shake, cook dinner, and be eating within 45-60 minutes of when I walk out of the gym. And that is only possible because I do the Monday Night Kitchen Dance every week. No one’s life is without variable, so some weeks need a little tweaking, but I can dance on Tuesdays if I have to. Whatever I need to do in order to always have my basic diet requirements stacked in my refrigerator or on the counter waiting for me when I need them. If I want to eat something else, I do. But I love knowing that the meals I cook at home are made with quality whole foods with little or no mystery ingredients or unpronounceable preservatives. It feels good to eat good. I like it.

“I am completely attracted to the idea of simplicity, or at least removing things that seem unnecessary when trying to get an idea out there.” – Demetri Martin

I clearly have nothing in common with Demetri Martin. Thank you for indulging me in this long-winded two-part diatribe about my food habits. It started by trying to answer simple questions that I’ve been asked recently and it just flew off the rails before I could stop it.

I again don’t claim to know it all, but it’s a tasty adventure trying to figure it out. Any foodies out there with a good idea? Vegetarians? Vegans? Somebody got a favorite use of bacon? Anybody with a crazy ass schedule who can share a trick on cooking fresh meals without sacrificing your whole evening? I’d love any suggestions you have to offer.

Happy Friday. I’m gonna go get a corn dog with spicy mustard dipping sauce and a fried twinkee.

“Laughter is the sound of the soul dancing. My soul probably looks like Fred Astaire.” – Jarod Kintz

Get ready to get down. I did.