F the C Word Too (J.O.G.T. 5)

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

grateful

May seemed a fairly uneventful month for this guy with a beard. Other than pulling my head out of a small mental funk in the first week or so and setting a new 10K PR in the end of the month, almost all of my Jar Of Good Things entries could be summarized in one of these simple statements:

“Great run today.”

“Nice workout today.”

“The weather was awesome today.”

When looking through the entries for any interesting things that I hadn’t already shared, only one entry really stood out. And because of recent events in the lives of dear friends of mine, I’m dedicating J.O.G.T #5 to that single entry.

May 05. Went to Funny Bone Comedy Club for Chris’s Humor Heals CHKD benefit show and saw Brett Leake again. He was as funny and inspirational as I expected and I’m really glad I went. “Love life”

As I’ve already shared, I was in a bit of a funk for a couple of weeks around the turn of the month so when my friend, and local comedian, Chris Dimbitz told me that he was again organizing a comedy show to raise money for Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters (CHKD), it was kind of a no-brainer that I’d be going. I of course wanted to support my friend’s venture. CHKD is an institution easily worth my time and money. Last year’s benefit show was funny as hell. And at the time, I knew I could really use a good laugh. So I went.

And I’m glad that I did.

I was seated down front, right up against the stage where a 6’4” introvert like myself always dreams of sitting when going to a public event alone. I shared the matchbook sized table with another solo patron who responded to his favorite quips of the night by repeating them aloud, and a younger couple that appeared to be friends with one of the other comics performing that night. We all exchanged simple pleasantries (mainly about how cold it was in there), ordered a couple of drinks and/or appetizers, and settled in for the show.

Bring on the funny goddamn it!

Chris emceed the event and was supported by several local comedian friends. And I don’t mind saying that I had modest expectations of them. I’m no comedy expert, but it is easy to fall into a comedy hole with me. A few poorly strung together “On the way over here tonight…” jokes or some more of the exhausted “black people are different than white people” observations and I’ll be gone for the rest of the set.

But the group Chris gathered did a really great job. All had different styles of humor. None aimed for the low hanging comedy-fruit of simply being shocking or offensive. Sometimes a genuinely funny joke will make the occasional person squirm in mild discomfort or awe of an unexpected zinger. But just making people cringe doesn’t automatically make something funny. Does that make sense? I obviously have no problems with the use of curse words, but it was nice to see some quality good natured and clean comedy. I liked it.

“Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.” – Anthony J. D’Angelo

The headliner of that show was the comedian Brett Leake. You’ve probably seen him before. I remember seeing him on The Tonight Show a few different times before I abandoned television. I saw him at the old Thoroughgood Inn Comedy Club in Virginia Beach almost 15 years ago. And he’s seemed to pop up on my radar just enough that I was already familiar with his work and his story.

(Odd sidenote: I also saw Chris at that club back then, but didn’t know him at the time. The world works in funny ways.)

Brett has muscular dystrophy. Back in the day, you may have remembered him as that comedian with the crutches. Today, because he’s had to adapt to a wheelchair, his website refers to him as “one of our nation’s top sitdown standup comics.” His performances have also evolved to be a mix of standup comedy and motivational speaking that I can’t describe any better than his own website:

“His inspiring presentations leverage his success at overcoming adversity to focus on creativity, managing change, life balance, and personal growth. He weaves into the entertainment recent findings in emotional intelligence research; why humor is essential in our lives, how one can develop a humor lens, and the notion that if we attend to a few core needs we and our colleagues can communicate more effectively, feel less of a divide between work and home, and find what suffices.”

OneChildrenWithBlocksI sat stage-side about eight feet from Brett’s left elbow and enjoyed an hour of much needed and very humorous perspective adjustment. I already knew I had no reason to feel shitty. I already knew that my life wasn’t that bad. And I already knew that I was in control of how I process and adjust to any parts of it that I’m unhappy with. I just needed a little reminder. Brett was funny. He was positive. And on May 5th, those were things that I could use. He delivered.

I left that show in a much better head-space than I arrived. I was happy to support my friend’s event and it felt good to give my money to an institution that does so much good work for suffering children and their families. But I went to the show for fairly selfish reasons. I just wanted to laugh. Today I’m even happier to have gone and supported the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.

“When someone has cancer, the whole family and everyone who loves them does, too.” – Terri Clark

I obviously can’t be 100% sure, but I’m fairly certain that each and every person reading this has had their life touched by cancer in some way. Chris started organizing the fund raiser to help show his family’s appreciation for the hospital and its services when his youngest daughter was born with a rare cancer (I’m happy to report she’s doing great now). My grandmother died of lung cancer after never smoking cigarettes. One of my close friends lost his father to cancer a few years ago. My ex-girlfriend’s father lost his battle with pancreatic cancer only last fall. A few months ago, my sister-in-law’s childhood friend died of colon cancer just months after giving birth to her second child. She was younger than I am right now. And last week, one of my oldest friends on this planet was told that his not yet one year old daughter had a cancerous brain tumor.

Just typing those words seems unreal to me.

I fucking hate cancer.

HATE!

I don’t believe everything happens for a reason. There is no justice to be found in the illness of a child. There just isn’t. Any lessons to be learned, or growth to be experienced from those types of challenges are not worth the suffering. It is not fair. It’s not! But fair or not, it is happening. And the whole family is in my thoughts way more than they know (which is obviously my fault). If you’re the praying type, please do. If you’re not, keep them in your thoughts and keep your thoughts optimistic. I believe positivity helps, and I don’t particularly care where your positivity is grounded as long as it’s focused and directed to the places it is needed.

So far, the closest thing to a silver lining that I can find in this grayest of clouds is the close proximity of CHKD. Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters is one of the nation’s top pediatric hospitals, and surely the best in the state of Virginia. The fact that it’s located in our hometown, where my friends can so conveniently access it, is maybe the only good thing I can find in this situation. But it is a very good thing, and I’m grateful that they are able to have such a great medical resource available to them during this incredible fight.

“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

There was a time when I might have wanted to take this time to discuss just how flawed our healthcare system and insurance industry really are despite America’s politicians’ repeated claims that we’re the greatest at everything. At this point, America claiming to have the world’s best healthcare system is probably on par with that strip mall restaurant next to where you get your car inspected claiming to have the world’s best hamburger. It sounds good. It looks good on the paper hat. But it’s probably not true.

What is definitely true is that the suffering of an innocent child is already traumatic enough and alone worthy of every bit of a family’s energy, without the distraction of having to also worry about the immense financial burdens lurking in the shadows, completely indifferent of the medical outcome. These are my friends. They’re hard working people who pay their taxes and their mortgage; and have health insurance. But it doesn’t take a lot of research to see how inadequate health insurance can be in these most extreme cases.

Since reinventing this blog last November, I have enjoyed a truly amazing amount of support from old friends, new ones, and strangers alike. I am so grateful for every person that has shared these posts, sometimes too resembling of diary entries than I intend. I genuinely appreciate every comment on this site and/or my facebook page. I absolutely love it when I get to talk to someone who says that this blog has inspired them to run, workout, get healthier, or to simply try anything that they might have thought impossible. I could’ve never imagined having that affect on anyone. I am truly grateful for it all. I really am. And after all of that unbelievable support and against my nature of never asking for anything, I humbly ask for more.

Not a single one of you owes me, or my friends that you may have never met, another second of your time. But if you do have a minute, a friend of the family has set up a website where anyone that is interested in helping these good people during this difficult time can read their story and/or contribute to a fund that will go towards their quickly growing medical and life expenses. If you have those few moments, I do kindly ask you to check out that site HERE.

Give if you can. Share the link if you will. And if nothing else, please keep these good people in your thoughts; and keep those thoughts positive. I really appreciate it. And I know they do as well.

“Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” – Voltaire

Be grateful for what you have. Express the love you feel. Nothing is guaranteed. Love Life, even if it doesn’t always seem to love you back.

“It’s about focusing on the fight and not the fright.” – Robin Roberts

Just for some sake of normalcy, here are the Honorable Mentions:

May 02. Signed up for the Rock n’ Roll half marathon on Sept 1. I’m taking that day back.

May 09. Beautiful day for a run by the river. Mild temps, low humidity, and slow winds. Perfect.

May 16. Started new workout routine, met the Hills, Spring, and Marco for a drink, and just might have smoked my last cigarette.

May 24. Another great pre-race dinner with Mom. I’m starting to think Indian food is my favorite pre-race meal.

May 31. After getting in my run and workout, took a nice drive to NJ where I was welcomed by a little league game and the ritual post game water ice.

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The Excitement Plan

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

The other day while entering data into my run-journal and training record, I started reviewing some of the past weeks’ numbers and looking at the short number of weeks left before my first half marathon. And without any warning at all I experienced a weird sensation that I wasn’t terribly familiar with. I’m not sure, but I think it was excitement. It was very subtle and only lasted a second. But I think that’s what I felt.

Of course with all of the raw fruits and vegetables I’ve been eating lately, it could’ve just been gas.

On several occasions in the past, different people have commented, either in curious observation or good-natured mocking, that I’m generally not very excitable. And it’s true. I’m not sure why exactly, but I rarely get markedly excited about much of anything. I don’t mean that I’m some morose sod who lacks the ability to have fun or enjoy life. That’s certainly not true. I’m the ambassador of fun dammit. I just don’t find myself acting “giddy” very often.

“You excited to start your new job Greg?” “Yeah. It’ll be good.”

“Hey Greg, you stoked about the concert tonight?” “Sure. Sounds fun.”

“Hey man. Are you excited about your trip to the moon?” “Yep. Should be cool.”

What can I say? I’m not a very boisterous person (most of the time). But I’m starting to get excited about running my first half marathon. And it feels pretty good.

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” — William Shakespeare

In the past, I believe that I may have occasionally fallen victim to a bit of a fatalist philosophy. We’ve all heard some version of the sayings, “Plan for the worst and hope for the best” or “Hope for the best, but expect the worst.” These are not awful attitudes to adopt temporarily in order to help control the anxiety of facing truly uncertain situations of which we have limited or no control. But I’m not sure there is any benefit to adopting that type of philosophy in the long term.

Sure, in the most literal and basest of senses, anything could happen at any time and technically we can never be 100% certain about what may or may not happen in the future. But that doesn’t mean that we have no control over anything at all, especially how we react to and experience the present; or more importantly, how we directly affect that present. To pretend that the existence of inherent uncertainty on the universal level should somehow excuse us from affecting our individual worlds in the most positive way possible seems silly, and kind of lazy.

I am really good at being lazy. And at times, I’m sure I’ve allowed an inadvertent fatalistic attitude to hinder my full engagement in some of life’s important moments; moments that I’ll never get back and never be allowed to experience again. That’s my loss. But it’s not my destiny. I don’t even know if I believe in destiny.

I do believe in goals.

“Destiny is a name often given in retrospect to choices that had dramatic consequences.” — J.K. Rowling

I set a goal back in November to run a half marathon. At the time that I registered and paid for that event, I had not yet run a single race. I had very little knowledge of what I was getting into. All I knew was that I really liked running, it made me feel good, I wanted to keep doing it, and I felt a desire to challenge myself more. I needed to challenge myself more, both physically and mentally. On the whole, I simply felt that I needed to become a stronger person.

Why? Because I deserved to be a stronger person. I needed to set a goal that would allow me reach outside of my comfort zone and discover that better person trapped within.

My Lethargy Plan had proven itself utterly unfulfilling and wildly expensive emotionally. So I decided that I wasn’t going to do it anymore. I owed it to myself to be the strongest healthiest person I could be. I still do. I deserve to see what my full potential looks like. We all do.

So it was time for a new plan. And since no one was going to do it for me no matter how much I hoped or wished or wanted. I made my own. Waiting will get me nowhere. The future starts now.

Or maybe it started then?

Am I time traveling?

What’s going on?

You know what I mean.

“Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.” — William Jennings Bryan

So, like I said, in November I set a goal to run a half marathon. I started reading everything that I could on healthier eating, exercise tips, running technique, and training plans. I’ve adopted a much cleaner diet and absolutely love how much better I feel as a result. I joined a gym and go at least five times a week. I focused my energy on learning how to run more efficiently and without injury (a task that may be never-ending) and I practice three or four times a week. I built a training plan to get me to my goal; my goal of reaching the starting line of my first half marathon physically healthy and mentally ready to run 13.1 miles.

I’ve followed that plan rigorously, and I’m very happy with the results thus far. I’m healthier. I feel good. My running continues to improve. I’m getting stronger. And to my pleasant surprise, I’m excited. I’m excited to do something that just six months ago I would have scoffed at and pretended wasn’t possible.

But (isn’t there always a “but”?) I can’t let this new feeling of excitement allow me to get overconfident and do something stupid. The race may only be five and half weeks away. But it is also still a whole FIVE AND A HALF WEEKS away. That’s roughly 38 days, 26 workouts, 14 training runs, and 86 scheduled running miles away. That is more than enough opportunities to fuck up if I lose focus of my goal and veer from the plan I have to achieve it. I can’t let that happen just because I’m excited.

If being excited about something was all it took to accomplish a goal, this would be a fantastically different world. Instead I’m learning that it takes focus and determination and occasionally a little sacrifice. I think the excitement just means that I’m seeing real progress towards my goal, it’s starting to come into focus, and that I might already be feeling greater personal rewards that I didn’t necessarily expect. So far, I think I like this Excitement Plan.

We’ll see what happens.

“We are all of us born with a letter inside us, and that only if we are true to ourselves, may we be allowed to read it before we die.” — Douglas Coupland

It’s time to shine.

Hopes or Goals

The other day while listening to some talking head “analyze” the president’s inauguration speech, I heard a sentence that rang true, at least until I started thinking about it. The analysis seemed to be more of a word count than any actual discussion of the topical content. And apparently the president used the word “hope” X number of times as compared to Y number of times in 2009. I guess there was some significance to that.

Whatever. 100_6418

During the discussion, the gentleman said something along the lines of “Hope is not merely wishful thinking. It comes with all kinds of requirements.” I liked the way that sounded at the time and it made me start to think about what it really meant.

People hope for all kinds of things. Some hope they’ll get that dream job, or that their band will become famous, or that the man/woman of their dreams will reciprocate that feeling. But none of that shit will ever happen if the hoper just sits around waiting. Waiting is a surefire way to accomplish nothing. Trust me. I’ve tried waiting and hoping for all sorts of things. It doesn’t work…EVER.

If you want that dream job, you’ll have to take it off of your “Hope” list and add it to your “Goals” list. Then lay out some kind of plan to achieve that goal.

Hope is just wishful thinking until you turn that hope into an actual goal. Then you can begin to build a plan to achieve that goal. Then it is not wishful thinking anymore. It’s a target and all you have to do is work your ass off until you hit it.

As I watch the resolution rush of new members at my gym slowly start to wane, it makes me wonder how many of those people are “hoping” to get healthier/thinner/faster/stronger, and how many of them have instead decided that they ARE GOING to get healthier/thinner/faster/stronger and have laid out a plan of attack on how to achieve that goal.

I’m guessing that the people “hoping” for change are the ones that think that if they hit the treadmill a few times a week and do some crunches, then they will eventually be able to continue eating a horrible diet while living an otherwise sedentary lifestyle. And the ones that have a goal have already rid their homes of negative diet temptations and found an exercise activity that they actually enjoy. And more importantly, realized that long term success means long term adjustment. There is no end. There isn’t a point where you get to go back to doing everything that you were before without also getting the same unwanted results that motivated all of those healthier New Year’s resolution in the first place.

100_6409While chatting with some friends recently (about nothing at all related to running or exercising), it occurred to me that because I was maybe too expressive about the dark origins of my healthier changes, that some people may view those changes as simply part of a “recovery” plan; a plan with an eventual end point when the person from a year ago will reappear ready to get back to where he was before being interrupted.

It would be understandable. During the last several months, I probably explained in too much detail that avoiding self destructive behavior during a personal hardship was my initial motivation to make adjustments to the way I live.

But there is no light at the end of this tunnel. There isn’t even a tunnel at all. Choosing to live a healthier, more active life is not a path out of a dark place back to the well lighted place that I thought I was before. If I had to call it anything, it was a much appreciated bridge over a dark place. And it has already helped deliver me to a new and brighter place within myself; a place that I don’t want to let go of.

And the endorphins rush of my very first run was all I needed to know that it was going to be a welcomed new part of my life going forward.

In short: I’m not going back to who I was. I don’t want to. I don’t know how I may change as I continue to evolve as a person, but this is who I am. And that guy from a year ago is gone forever. I don’t miss him. I don’t even like what I see when I look back at that person.

These statements are not intended as some snarky rectification toward anyone in particular, as I have received nothing but support in my decisions. These statements are instead a clear and public declaration to myself that positive changes only get to reveal their full benefits if they are allowed to continue indefinitely and I intend to keep moving forward, not backwards. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Today, I was supposed to run the second scheduled step-up race towards my goal of running the Shamrock Half Marathon in March. It was to be my first 15K and my scheduled “long run” for this week on my training schedule. But instead, it snowed yesterday (like it almost never does) and the event organizers were forced to cancel the race.

Can you believe they cancelled this run?  pshh.

Can you believe they cancelled this run? pshh.

But I still needed to run those miles to fulfill my training requirements. I’ve got a plan damn it.

I put some chili in the slow cooker and decided to go see what the conditions were like. If they were too sketchy, I’d just bite the bullet and hit the treadmill. I’m so glad that I went.

I got to the trail just a little after the cancelled race was scheduled to start, and everything was nice and white: the trees, the road, the fields, the few other cars there. As I got out of the car, I saw another person there clearly dressed to run and asked her what the conditions looked like. She said they were good and I began to get ready. I love running outside, even when its 28 degrees.

As I was getting ready, another gentleman, the woman I spoke to earlier, and another runner approached and asked if I would be interested in running with them. They were also signed up to run the cancelled race and, like me, decided to run it anyway. I said “sure.” It was the first time that I’ve ever run with anyone.

100_6420It was a really beautiful day for a run. And except for leaving my gloves at home, I was so ready to get out there. They were all experienced and faster runners but because of the snow they kept a modest pace (for them) which happened to be just a bit faster than my normal pace. But I felt good and was still able to maintain conversation so I just forgot about the garmin and ran along.

The one thing that I like about snow (yes, there is only one thing) is that it makes everything seem so much quieter. The whole world is just silent.

After five miles, I turned around to head back. They were going to the end to get in a 16 mile run. But as I said, I had a 15K on my training schedule and I try to stick to that plan pretty strictly. I felt good, but I knew I was running a little faster than normal and to then add miles that I know I’m not quite ready for seemed like a poor decision. Stick to the plan Greg.

I ended up finishing my unofficial first 15K in 1:27:27 with an average pace of 9:23 min/mile. I felt really good afterwards. And with only a bagel for breakfast, I was really glad that the organizers did not cancel the already paid for post-race lunch. Warm soup and a cold beer seemed a perfect chaser to my snow run. And It was fun chatting with some of the other runners who had all still gone out somewhere today and put in some miles before heading over for the “free” food. I met some good people today, had some laughs, and a really great run. I might be getting the hang of this.

The organizers can cancel a race, but it’s ultimately up to me whether or not the run is cancelled. Today it wasn’t.

100_6415

Oh, and I was listening to my favorite album of all time while running today. The Conan the Barbarian soundtrack on a snowy day outside was perfect. Tell me I’m wrong.