Slow Is Fast: Importance of Baby Steps

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

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

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

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

Hooray! Back to the doctor.

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

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

I tried again on Thursday.

No dice!

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







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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Merry Christmas to me. I felt worse than ever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work Smarter AND Harder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I. Wish. I. Knew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…the holidays. Ugh, the holidays.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Work smarter, not harder” – Alan Lakein

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

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

Cleaner Fuel

In an earlier blog I briefly mentioned that I wasn’t eating enough back in September when I started running and exercising again. I seem to remember an elementary school science teacher telling us that changing two variables in an experiment at the same time could lead to unreliable results, and that’s exactly what I did. I dramatically increased my activity level while at the same time reducing my caloric intake. Sure, I shed weight like a crack whore, but it was impossible not to notice that even as I was running more and more, I was getting slower, weaker, and more winded.

Some of that was undoubtedly due to overdoing it and not letting my body recover between runs. My early runs were very short, but for a fat guy coming off a long streak of inactivity, they were more than enough to require recovery days in between. And I wasn’t taking any rest days. Of course, I wasn’t really thinking about being a “runner” at the time. I was just doing the only thing that made me feel less shitty.

After a couple of weeks of running almost every day and not getting any faster, stronger, or even improving my breathing at all, I was getting pretty frustrated. I kind of knew what was up, but without beating a dead horse, I wasn’t in the best mental state early on, and it took a couple of weeks to settle down and decide that if I wanted to keep doing this (and I did), I was going to have to pay better attention to my body and what it’s telling me.

I decided that I should take a count of the calories I was consuming on an average day.

I was lucky to be raised in a house not overloaded with sweets and by a mom that appreciated the economic value of taking her two growing boys to all-you-can-eat salad bars instead of a lot of fast food restaurants. Thanks to those things, I’ve never been a big fan of sugary foods and I love almost every vegetable that comes out of the ground. Radishes don’t do much for me. But hey, you can’t win ‘em all.

Yes, please.

Yes, please.

I was hard-wired for dietary success, but I could probably fuck up a steel ball if you gave me a little time with it. I have been taking a garden salad to work for lunch every day for over seven years and that is probably the only healthy diet habit that I haven’t waivered on. I did really well making my own breakfast (grits and scrambled eggs) for a very long time. I avoided unhealthy snacks throughout the day. And those things meant that I didn’t generally have to be too concerned with my dinner choices. I usually cooked those at home too, so I was doing okay even for a lazy ass.

My problems came with waning portion control, career advancements that required less and less movement (desk job), and eventually a housing change that provided no reason to stay home and higher social opportunities (read: I drank more). Going out more meant sleeping less, getting up later, and buying unhealthy breakfasts. Sitting at my desk all day made my regular snack foods almost unnecessary. I’m not burning any calories sitting there; I probably don’t really need the extra sustenance between meals as much I just really like handfuls of almonds and banana chips. And if I wasn’t going out in the evenings, someone would stop by my apartment to hang out. Either way, I was drinking four or more beers, four or more days a week. That is a lot of empty calories being fed into a fairly sedentary being. And the effects were impossible to ignore, but not impossible to excuse. I believe I’ve mentioned my incredible excuse-making abilities before.

After my Labor Day weekend, a lot changed. I all but quit drinking for a few weeks and started eating all of my meals at home again because I had no desire to go anywhere. But once I discovered the healing and therapeutic powers of running and decided that I really wanted to get better at it; Once I decided that I really wanted to be healthier overall and get better at just being me, I was faced with the realization that I wasn’t fueling my body properly to accomplish those goals.

While I’m sure it’s not uncommon at all for someone to routinely pay high prices to put premium gasoline in their automobile just to then drive it into a fast food drive-thru and put cheap horrible fuel in their body, bad fuel is bad fuel and it makes things run like crap. I wanted to run better.

After I cut down on the alcohol, eliminated the poor food choices that sometimes resulted from its consumption, and better portioned the foods that I did eat, I found that I was running a pretty significant calorie deficit. When I calculated my meal totals, I found out that for those few weeks, I was only eating about 1200-1400 calories a day. That’s not enough. But I wasn’t starving myself. I wasn’t hungry. How was I going to force so many more calories into my body?

It was clearly time for some research. I started reading anything I could find about nutrition and healthy dieting (note: I use the word “diet” not as a temporary weight loss plan, but as EVERYTHING a person consumes to fuel their body). I genuinely enjoy so many healthy foods. There had to be a way to make sure that I could cover my basic nutritional needs and fuel my running without force feeding myself more food than I really wanted to eat. I’ve seen and/or met people that struggle with their weight because they claim to “love to eat.” I love and appreciate well prepared and flavorful cuisine. And I really enjoy cooking good food as well. But I’ve never simply loved to eat. That’s probably why I’ve always eaten too fast. “There has to be something better to do, let’s get this ‘eating’ thing out of the way and get on with it.”

My current diet is still a work in progress (like the rest of me). My scrambled eggs for breakfast have turned into a spinach omelet. I added nutrient and carb rich lima beans to that lunch salad, and sometimes a few sunflower seeds too (with an apple chaser most days). My dinners are all over the place, but I eat a lot of fresh organic vegetables and very little meat at all. I almost never eat red meat, and the chicken industry is so sketchy that I find it easy to skip that as well. Just to make sure that I’m not going to wake up to loose teeth and yellow skin, I started drinking a vitamin and mineral shake every morning that I now swear it is the best wakeup treat I’ve ever had. I love it. And I drink a protein shake after runs and workouts.

I have not recalculated my calorie intake, but I’m getting stronger instead of weaker and my running has noticeably improved over the last couple of weeks. So even though I am still slowly losing weight, it’s not at an alarming rate any more, and I feel good. Cleaner fuel seems to agree with this machine.

BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME, It’s the holiday season and while doing all of the above mentioned reading, I learned something new that might come in handy for some of you during this time of office-parties and New Years excesses. Apparently asparagus helps the body break down alcohol faster. That’s right! Not only does it make your pee smell, it can help prevent and relieve hangovers. Now that is some information that needs to be shared. Click here for more on that gem of a revelation.

After discovering that, I figured that there has to be a convenient way to work more asparagus into the holiday menu. Asparagus is not a difficult food to find or cook, but it doesn’t exactly scream “party food.” However, I was able to find these two recipes that you could probably sneak into your family dinner and/or New Year’s party: Asparagus Guacamole and Roasted Asparagus Soup.

Asparagus Guac

The asparagus “guacamole” is closer to a fine diced salsa really, but I thought it was pretty tasty. I made mine with twice as much jalapeno and no yogurt (I didn’t have any) and with the garlic, onions, cilantro, and lime it made a pretty nice snack with some pita chips. I’d definitely eat it at a party. If I made it again, I’d probably add a small amount of sweet peas to see if they’d help smooth out the texture a little and of course sweeten it just a tad.

Is it guacamole? Nope. But the goal isn’t to replace the delicious goodness of avocado guacamole; it’s to help fend off that hangover. It’s worth a shot.

Asparagus Soup

The soup was tasty too, but I’m sure it gets more than its fair share of baby food comparisons. I personally like thicker pureed type soups (split pea soup, sweet potato soup, etc). If I made this again, I’d add more garlic, probably some herbs, and definitely spice it up a bit.

Is it going to change your life? Nope. But it might be a good early dinner course before you drink those two bottles of wine at the Christmas party.

I have not personally tested the hang-over affects of these recipes because I haven’t been drinking as much, and I was never really plagued with hangovers when I did. But feel free to let me know if it works for you.

It Washes Right Out

I am truly ashamed to admit that just days after declaring to the world (or at least the 35ish people that might read my blog) that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, I wasted much of it totally preoccupied with thoughts of those I miss in my life instead being properly grateful for the loved ones still in it. I knew it was wrong. I knew it was spiritually damaging. And even worse, I knew it was completely fucking pointless. But I just could not pull my mind out of the hole it seemed so determined to crawl into. And I hated myself for it.

I had the best intentions. I was up and out early that morning to meet a friend for some pre-feast rounds of disc golf (Shut up. It’s fun and it’s free) and to enjoy my favorite holiday morning at my favorite local park. It was a gorgeous day with fantastic weather. The sun was out with temperatures in the low 50’s. The trees were so many shades of autumn. The water was calm as it slowly flowed out with the north wind pushing a slow parade of sailboats south for the season. Hell, there were even a few squirrels still scurrying around.

And I played like shit.

I knew why. My mind was a complete mess, and I couldn’t concentrate on a damn thing. But I figured playing like shit is still better than not playing. And anything is better than sitting around doing nothing on such a pretty day. Now, if I could only pull my head out of the ground and focus, maybe I could salvage the second round.

Nope. Couldn’t do it.

After two rounds, my friend left for his turkey-day festivities and I had a little time to kill before mine, so I wandered around the park to try and snap a new background photo for my ever more neglected facebook page.

I really just wanted to be alone, soak up more of the sun’s vitamin D, and see if I could get my head straight. It was Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. Why couldn’t I be grateful without lamenting things totally out of my control? Sometimes stuff just happens. Life doesn’t always have to make sense. And to try to make sense of it is sometimes a huge waste of time.

Jerry Springer has been on TV for over 20 years. That doesn’t make any sense at all, but I don’t waste a second of my life trying to figure that out (Even though I am extremely embarrassed as an American that my country produces such an ignorant product for the whole world to see. Ugh).

Sometimes I’m just a glutton for punishment. And on Thanksgiving morn, I apparently wanted to waste my day dwelling on what I didn’t have instead of all that I do have. I was really starting to irk the shit out of myself. And part of me wished that I had skipped the disc golf rounds and just gone for a really long morning run instead. But it was too late for that.

Playing with my camera was a good plan B though. It had been a really long time and it was nice to make myself look at such a beautiful park through that more focused eye and really appreciate just how lucky I am to be able to enjoy it as much as I do. And after taking a bunch of pictures from every corner of the place and feeling a little bit more holiday ready, it was time to go meet everyone for lunch.

Other obligations meant that many members of my extended family were not able to make the trip this year, so we were going to scale it back a bit. Basically we just didn’t make a ham in addition to the turkey, but there was no shortage of food AT ALL. And because no one should ever spend Thanksgiving Day alone, my cousin invited an elderly widow from down the street to join us, as she had no more family in the area.

I had never met the woman, but watching her struggle unsuccessfully to stand and walk up the front steps before reluctantly letting us carry her wheelchair (with her sitting in it) up onto the porch and into the house helped me begin to regain proper perspective, and realize just how fortunate I am. And while at the dinner table, listening to her describe her late husband and just how much she missed him during the holidays solidified it (albeit only temporarily). She had truly lost someone forever. She was literally alone. And the holidays were a stark reminder.

(I’ll forgive the fact that she also called my whole family crazy at least once. Just because it’s true doesn’t mean you just get to blurt it out at the table. She was a pistol for sure.)

I was being so incredibly selfish. I’m healthy. I have a wonderful family that loves me. I have an amazing family of friends that love me. I am only alone when I choose to be, which is admittedly often. And only have to feel alone when I allow myself to be distracted from these facts.

None of this is news to me. And that is why I was so completely frustrated with my inability to shake myself from the dark place I seemed so determined to go earlier in the day.

The holiday season is widely recognized for increased bouts of depression. It’s supposed to be a joyous time to be shared with loved ones. But it is difficult, if not impossible, not to miss those loved ones that we’re no longer able to share these times with. Whether someone has passed on or moved on, the result is the same. You’re left with only memories. You can either celebrate the good times and be grateful for the time you were able to share, or you can selfishly wonder why you have been forced to adjust to such unpleasant changes. Memories are a blessing and a curse in this way. If we couldn’t remember all of the great times shared in life, we would never have to miss anyone. But why would anyone want to forget happy times? They can be so hard to come by.

I spent my entire Thanksgiving Day battling back and forth with myself and really hadn’t settled the issue when I got up Friday morning and left for work. When my mind wants to be in a bad mood, it can be stubborn son of a bitch. But at least I had a plan to win this one.

After an incredibly frustrating day, I left work, raced home, changed clothes and stepped out into the unseasonably warm late afternoon sun for a much needed session of run-therapy. I hadn’t run since Tuesday and I could not have needed it more. I’m actually starting to worry a little about how important it seems to have become to my mental health. I’m half kidding. But only half. If I ever suffer some kind of injury that prevents me from being able to run, then I will truly start to worry. Cross your fingers.

It was fantastic. Five miles later, I felt totally renewed. Before I run, all of the stress and frustration I create for myself can build up inside of me and poison everything I see and every thought I have. After a run, all of that self inflicted stress has been pushed out through my pores and is now just weighing down my t-shirt instead. That weight stays with the shirt when I take it off, and gets rinsed away in the washing machine.

Yep. Those dark spots on my shirt aren’t sweat stains. They’re stress stains. And they wash right out. And today, the 24th day of November, just two days after trying to ruin my own favorite holiday, I’m very thankful for that truth…It washes right out.


Yesterday’s run was great. It was my longest single run to date and my body felt great afterwards. Calves were a little tight but everything else felt loose. And my energy was off the charts, which lead to a pretty nice post-run workout.

I felt like I regulated my pace much more evenly than I have been. I maintained a continuous run for over two miles, took very few and very short walking breaks, and averaged about a nine minute mile overall. That’s good for me. I’m a newbie.

I’ve got my first 5K in two weeks and I’m getting pretty comfortable with my initial goal of finishing in less than 30 minutes. That should be more than attainable now, but I don’t want to readjust my goal. I’ll just run it and use whatever time I finish as my benchmark for future races.

For the last two months, I’ve been recording very basic information about my runs on a calendar, but I’m starting a run journal this week to allow me to keep better records of my progress (time of day, weather, miles, times, aches, pains, etc.). I’ve also been considering buying a GPS watch to track my runs and times and I would LOVE any suggestions. I’ve been researching them for a week and it’s a pretty crazy market.

I’m still working on my music playlist for my upcoming runs, but I listened to This Will Destroy You’s “Young Mountain” EP on my run yesterday, and it was kind of perfect. The instrumental songs are kind of quiet and moody but all with a nice layering of sounds. And a few tracks build up nicely into pretty driving crescendo type endings. It was a great record to run to. I could push it to the back of my mind when I needed to concentrate on setting my pace and form, but once I was on rhythm I could just zone out and listen to it while I ran. I like that.

No matter how my playlists works out, I’m pretty sure that this will be the last song on it. If I can pace myself correctly, it should be rocking out just as I approach the finish. We’ll see. Enjoy.

Gobble Gobble

Contrary to what your favorite retailer would have you believe, Thanksgiving is not merely the starting pistol for the holiday shopping season. It’s a wonderful holiday that’s proven itself so difficult to commercialize into obnoxiousness that all non-grocery stores just skip it altogether and go strait into Christmas right after Labor Day.

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. When I was growing up, it was always spent at my grandparent’s house in rural North Carolina where I happily spent so much of my childhood. My brother, cousins, and I would spend most of the day throwing a football around in the yard or riding bikes or running around in the woods until supper was ready.

We all knew the meal was ready when my grandmother would holler out of the kitchen, “Alright, wash yer hands and get the snuff out chur mouth. It’s time to eat” I don’t know if anyone in the family had chewed snuff since her mother passed away or not, but she said it at every holiday meal strictly out of tradition. And I still miss it every year.

My grandmother and aunts would work together to put together what I guess is the classic southern thanksgiving fare: turkey, ham, stuffing, butter beans, corn, collard greens, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, yams (almost all of which had been harvested from their own gardens) and if you were willing to wait for it, my grandmother would invariably forget about the biscuits until that perfect smell of burning reminded us all that they were still in the oven.

I won’t even get into the massive amount of desserts weighing down that poor antique buffet in the dining room. But I will say that I still think “mincemeat pie” just sounds gross. And no amount of southern or country living will ever get me to like salt cured ham. Eck!

I’m guessing my family isn’t the only one where the kids ate too fast and the adults seemed to have no time to eat over the desire to visit together and share stories from the past, often the same stories they told last year, and a few they’ll tell again a month later when we do it all again at Christmas.

After everyone had eaten their fill plus one more piece of pecan pie, the men would slowly herd into the living room and one by one fall asleep in front of the football game on television. I think Dallas still plays every Thanksgiving day. They always gave my Redskins fan of a grandfather someone to root against.

While the men slept off lunch in order to find the energy they’d need to eat again later, my grandmother, her sisters, cousin, and occasionally her brother would all stay at the dining room table for hours catching up with each other while my great aunts filled the air with smoke and the ashtrays with smashed and bent cigarette butts. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen siblings closer to each other than they were. They spoke to each other either in person or on the phone all of the time, but never ran out of things to talk about. And if that threat ever presented itself, there were always the family stories to retell. I loved sitting in on those sessions. It’s a shame that I don’t remember more of the stories.

These days, we gather at my cousin’s house, still in rural North Carolina and enjoy much of the same delights. There are no more cigarettes at the table. Some of the stories are different as the story tellers have also changed. And for some reason football is too often replaced by an all day marathon of some tool or gadget show on television. But it doesn’t matter. I can sleep through anything. And the fun of family is the same.

Yep, Thanksgiving is it. A lot of people prefer Christmas. But Christmas is really just Thanksgiving with the added stress and hassle of shopping. It is most of the same people with much of the same food and a lot of the same stories, games, and laughing, but with more stuff to pack into the cars and less money left in the bank. No thank you.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not trying to hate on Christmas. The lights are nice and I enjoy seeing everyone, but Christmas can’t hold a peppermint stick to Thanksgiving.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people on social networking sites have been spending November sharing a daily expression of what they are thankful for. I’ve also noticed that after about 10 or 12 days, fewer and fewer people are keeping up with it. That is totally understandable. After family, friends, good health, maybe your faith, and a few select creature comforts, it’s hard not to slip into more trivial things just to maintain the daily posts. “I’m thankful I was able to sleep in this morning.” Awesome. Thanks for sharing.

What am I thankful for? I’m thankful for a lot of things; my family, my friends, my health, my home, my memories. I’m thankful that this diffilcult year is almost over and will soon be gone forever. But most of all, I’m thankful for the fact that even though betting on hope has almost never paid off, I still have some. And today, I hope all of you have a Happy Thanksgiving this week.

Do it for me. It’s MY favorite holiday.

Don’t eat too much though. You don’t want to be too sluggish to head out late-night and trample a stranger for a good deal on that gadget/toy/whatever that no one really needs. Happy Holidays.

OH SHIT! IT’S TIME TO EAT! (c’mon, it is almost the holiday season after all)

Today is the thanksgiving potluck lunch at work. It’s the usual. There is a sign-up sheet of what people are going to bring. Those less comfortable in the kitchen race to claim paper plates, utensils, sodas, cups, or anything else that can be quickly purchased and requires no cooking. Then there are the people with their favorite recipes for pasta salad, chili, green bean casserole, and other delights guarantying that there will be the proper over-abundance of food.

And like all holiday meals, there will be no shortage of sweets represented. We do love sugar around the office.

What Thanksgiving dish am I bringing? Quinoa and Black Beans. Hey, what were they expecting from the guy that’s been bringing a mixed green salad for lunch every day for the last seven years? Buffalo chicken dip?

I was admittedly not a fan of Quinoa the first time I tried it. I believe “textured air” was my initial response to what I thought was a very light and flavorless food. But I was converted as I was repeatedly shown just what a great vehicle it is for so many flavors ranging from citrusy vinaigrette dressings to simple herb combinations, or just sautéed vegetables. And it’s a high protein, high fiber super-food. I was slow to get it. But like everything else, even though I’m slow, I do eventually get there. This was my first time actually cooking it.

I started by doubling this recipe (click), but with the following changes: I added two diced red bell peppers to the onion/garlic sauté. I rinsed the quinoa before using it to reduce any bitterness. I used about half as much black beans and cayenne pepper (though if I was making this for myself, I probably would’ve added pureed chipotle pepper). And I added two cans of fire roasted tomatoes at the end with the beans and cilantro, but drained them at the beginning and used that juice together with broth to make up the liquid required to cook the quinoa. Oh, and I mixed in the juice of two limes at the very end as well.

I think it turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. And if it’s not a huge hit at work, I’ve got a ripe avocado and crushed red pepper flakes just waiting to be stirred into the leftovers.

Happy Thanksgiving.