Work Smarter AND Harder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I. Wish. I. Knew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…the holidays. Ugh, the holidays.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Work smarter, not harder” – Alan Lakein

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

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

One Step More (J.O.G.T. 9)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Try to do it with your knees first.”

“My knees, huh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Friday

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

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

Next Right Move (J.O.G.T.8)

“Meditation is painful in the beginning but it bestows immortal Bliss and supreme joy in the end.” – Swami Sivananda

I took a quick look into the Jar Of Good Things for August and had to accept that I didn’t have a helluva lot to say this month. It was full of a lot of simple pleasure one-liners with a couple of elaborate bits that I’ve either already shared or should remain private.

Running came up a lot as my marathon training is starting to ramp up and move me into new territory, which is kind of exciting I guess. I got lost on my first trail run. And I ran my longest distance ever. But those individual stories are relatively uneventful, and I don’t know how interesting it would be if I were to share just how many times my good thing was “felt good after gym today” or “nice (insert number) miler today.” I might be wrong about that. But I’ve been wrong a few trillion times before. Another one won’t kill me.

I also managed to catch up with a few old friends throughout the month. But those were mostly just a quick drink here or a dinner there; and in one case, through a wonderful online message. Again, I enjoyed those all-too-rare moments. But while I haven’t always hesitated to discuss the business of others; unless you want to know that Josh still makes a really solid dirty martini, Ronnie started eating chicken again, or that Crissy is still kicking ass in Africa to make the world a better place, I’m not sure what to share of those exchanges, other than the truth that I value them.

Well, Josh did also hook me up with some new music too; which is always cool and so appreciated. Check this out.

Aug 14. Took the day off to get some work done on my car. Feel like I got a little work done on me too. Allowing a lot more quiet time. Sat in silence for 30 minutes before going out for early bridge club.

I touched on it a few weeks ago, but I think the most significant and oft mentioned topic that I saw in The Jar was my recent embrace of quiet. Since first finding that calm in an auto repair shop’s parking lot on the 14th, I’ve adopted what has become a daily practice of something resembling meditation. I still feel way too inexperienced and sloppy to comfortably use that word. But I am working on it, and it is definitely helping me better deal with my clutter, both materially and spiritually. And that clutter management seems to be manifesting itself in every other area of my life.

Aug 17. Ran 14 miles this morning. Longest run ever. Felt good to break new ground again. Sat down and really meditated for about 30 minutes. I’m going to keep doing that.

I’ve whined too many times about how busy I keep my schedule. I get up at 5:30 a.m. every day so that I can cook and eat a nutritious breakfast before going to work. I’m fortunate enough to have a regular full time job. I run after work two days a week. I go to the gym after work five days a week. I cook myself a dinner of unprocessed whole foods every night. And to do those things in any kind of an efficient manner, I have to work in a couple of grocery store trips each week, a night or two of bulk cooking, and god isn’t even sure how much laundry…but rest assured there is always a load going through the process, and a pile waiting to be folded.

Oh, and I’m always trying to find the time to write my blog amid that chaos. Can’t forget the blog.

It is very unusual for me to be finished with my day and settled before 7:30 or 8:00. It can get insane. And because I have not always understood the importance of being balanced, the smallest disruption would put me on tilt. It drives me crazy for example, when I’ve worked all day, run a long evening run, gone to the gym, stopped by the grocery store on the way home, and then find out that I forgot something and will have to go to the store again the next day. I know. That’s fucking ridiculous. But because I like to tell myself that there aren’t enough hours in the day, that “only because I’m an idiot” extra trip to the store is time stolen from myself. Time I will not get back. Time I cannot afford. Or that’s how I often saw it anyway. As I said, I’m not as centered as I need to be. But I’m working on it.

“You wanna build your IQ higher in the next two years? Be uncomfortable. That means, learn something where you have a beginner’s mind.” – Nolan Bushnell

In that earlier post, I expressed my belief that me trying to explain meditation would be like a wobbly legged new born giraffe trying to explain the mechanics of walking. I still feel that way.
I have almost no clue what I am doing when I decide to shut down my computer, turn off my phone, sit myself down, and close my eyes. I only know that it makes me feel better.

Over the last few months, as I observed the negative effects of my poor stress management, I also noticed that the topic of meditation kept presenting itself to me. And not by the stereotypical patchouli hippies that are so often associated with such practices. I was reading books and magazines about running; nutrition and health food blogs; and listening to podcast interviews with endurance athletes and personal trainers. And over and over again, these different people from diverse backgrounds and lifestyles kept bringing up some appreciation of meditation. Each person’s connection varied in intensity and/or methodology. But every one of them expressed a belief that, when they dedicated the time to a regular practice, they felt better in their skin and life generally seemed to flow more smoothly. And conversely, when they slipped from that practice, tension would again enter the frame of their lives. I know it sounds silly. But shit, who was I to judge? I was getting pissed off because I forgot to buy beets.

Aug 19. After listening to Charlie Knoles interview on Rich Roll podcasts, had a really relaxing meditation session. It almost felt like bricks settling as my body would adjust and release more tension with each inhalation.

A few days after my first attempt at whatever I was going to call it, I listened to an interview with Charlie Knoles. He’s the son of a famous meditation instructor and is now a celebrated instructor himself. It was a podcast that seemed to present itself at just the right time. When I saw the show description, I was leery about how much I would enjoy the interview. I’m obviously open to the idea of meditation but I still don’t always connect well with some of the more “new agey” personalities out there. Some come across as so pretentious that it is nearly intolerable.

Charlie was not like that at all. Instead he was a pretty down-to-earth sounding Australian discussing his unusual childhood, life experiences, beliefs, and methods. And overall it was just a really nice introduction to the enormous world of meditative practice. I can’t remember everything he covered in the two hour interview, but in the course of the discussion he shared a few very simple breathing techniques, what they were intended to achieve, and the biological science behind how they work.

Learning that my breathing was very likely the cause of my ankle issues back in March, and adopting a rhythmic breathing pattern to correct and prevent those same issues has made me very aware of the many unusual sounding connections within the body. If how I was breathing could cause and then prevent so much physical pain, it wasn’t that much of a stretch for me to believe that it could also help me to unwind and clear my head. I’m not sure why anyone would find that difficult to believe.

Aug 21. Even after only a few days of daily meditation I can feel the difference in my mood and alertness at work. I think I might be onto something.

I don’t think you have to worry about me routinely ending my blogs with “Namaste” any time soon. First, I don’t even know what that word means. But I believe my embrace of quiet is going to help me be a better runner and ultimately assist in my search for my authentic self.

My fledgling meditation practice is already noticeably helping me find some kind of balance. It’s only been a couple of weeks. I haven’t experienced any kind of transcendent moments or anything miraculous like that. But I do feel a difference. I feel it when I catch myself running in circles to get my shit done and suddenly notice that I’m not stressing out over the bumps in the road. Whether it be at work or during the Monday night kitchen dance, I’m often running in the same crazy circle I was the prior week, and the week before that. But I’m running that circle smoother and getting things done just that tiny bit more proficiently because I’m calmer and more aware of what I’m doing; or what I’m not doing.

Taking that additional time out of my busy day to unplug, disconnect, and be still in silence has helped me to get more done with the time that I’m not still. And I find it much easier to say “fuck it” when I see that I’m getting overwhelmed. I can only do what I can do, and I do it better when I’m not stressed out. I’ll get the blog out when I get it done. I’ll get those beets tomorrow. I’m driving by the store every day anyway. No biggie. Sure, I know that we’re never guaranteed tomorrow and no one is more aware of my weakness towards procrastination. But that doesn’t mean I should ruin today stressing about what I didn’t get done. Take a minute, settle down, recover from mistakes, and then make the next right move. I’m finding that if I do that, everything does get done. And I feel better too. Maybe this is the next right move in my ongoing “me” experiment.

I’m a newbie at this, so if anyone out there with more experience, knowledge, or understanding than me (that means EVERYONE) has any suggestions about different methods or practices, I’m more than open to suggestions. Leave them in the comments or email me at thatguywithbeard@gmail.com. Thanks. Happy Saturday.

This was the record that I wanted to listen to after my sit this morning. I don’t know why…or care.

Honorable Mentions:

Aug 10. After getting lost and running out of water of my first trail running experience, had a very quiet and super relaxed evening with the Hills. Just sitting on the balcony and talking with both of them for hours. Very cool night.

Aug 13. Ran hill repeats for the first time, and tested my new (and 4th) heart rate monitor. High Street Bridge “hill” isn’t very tall, but it’s long. Couldn’t get my HR up as high as I expected. We’ll see how it goes until I can find a real hill.

Aug 24. Awesome 12 mile run this morning, then got a really great message from Crissy about all of the exciting stuff happening in her life. It was really great to hear she and Steve are doing so well in Africa. Made me feel good. Had dinner with Van, Amanda, Wesley, and Josh. Fun to just chill and chat about food and music.

Aug 31. Wrote my blog sitting out in the sun on my front porch. Beautiful day for some rambling.

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.

Doubting ThatGuy: A Run I Needed

“There are those of us who are always about to live. We are waiting until things change, until there is more time, until we are less tired, until we get a promotion, until we settle down / until, until, until. It always seems as if there is some major event that must occur in our lives before we begin living.” – George Sheehan

This week I experienced true doubt in my path for the very first time. I considered the possibility that I may not be moving in the right direction, or that I might be letting my imagination get away from me. I don’t think I’ve ever been called a “dreamer.” But for a brief moment this week, I felt like one. I felt like maybe I should resign myself to certain perceived realities whether I believe them correct or concrete; that maybe I should accept simple comforts instead of seeking true satisfaction; maybe I should settle for less. I briefly wondered if I even deserve many of the things I believe to be possible.

Then I went for a run; a very peaceful run at Norfolk Botanical Gardens; a run I needed.

“Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be.” – George Sheehan

I’ve said it so many times. And I do understand how tiresome it must be to read it over and over again. But running is the greatest thing I have ever done for myself. It is also the most selfish thing I do. I’ve mentioned to the point of nausea the therapeutic and meditative qualities I experience when I run. But I don’t only seek the mental healing of it. I’m not always a fucking mess looking for a cure. I don’t only enjoy it because I’m such a flawed and scattered creature that I can’t live without my “medicine.”

I do genuinely love doing it. And from the very first day, running also provided a new clarity of perspective; a glance into areas of myself that I had never seen before and that I sometimes still can’t see unless I’m pounding it out on the road. Without getting out there and peeking through those cracks, I might forget all of the potential I see in myself. I don’t want to forget. I can’t afford to.

The best me I can possibly be is still sometimes a very distant vision. I don’t mean that I live under a constant weight of self doubt. I really don’t. I simply see a better me that is well within the realm of possibility and I want to be that person so fucking bad that it drives me mad when I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and wasting my limited time not pursuing that existence.

Sometimes I’m seriously tempted to just lace up my shoes and run that way until I get tired, and then maybe that way over there for a while and maybe way over there the next day. At work, I’ll catch myself walking to go speak to a coworker and on the way to their office have to stop myself from running. Not because I don’t want to, but because I’m not sure I’d be able to stop. I’m so ready to fly. I’m just looking for my wings.

“There’s a point in every learning process where we are so sure we see everything we can, we make fallible assumptions about our situations”Justin Dohrmann (If you’re not reading his blog, you should. Click his name. Seriously)

Being more conscious of oneself is being aware of both the positive and the negative. I am continually adjusting to the unfamiliar feeling of true confidence and the belief that I can conquer any challenge. And I am also more affected by the depth of those holes in my life where something is clearly missing. These things can often conflict with each other. And I also have to realize that being in better sync with myself does not automatically mean that finding total peace will be easy. I still live in a world full of doubt and doubters. Every day is new and focusing on my own experience of each one is crucial.

It is almost a testament to (and maybe the pitfalls of) a more positive general attitude that I am able to forget that sometimes the things that should happen don’t and things that seem totally wrong often still do. I guess in a weird way, that’s progress…right? I feel so much more in tune with the natural way that I forget that much of the world actively rebels against it.

In recent weeks I’ve rebelled against it myself and often felt overwhelmed as I’ve stretched myself thin trying to focus on too many things at one time, and totally distracting myself from the current moment. I’d stopped concentrating on each step of my journey and instead started lazily staring too long into the horizon, leaving myself much more susceptible to the potential lure and distraction of mirages. Allowing myself to get too excited running towards imaginary oases only caused me to forget my form, run sloppy, and become exhausted. And ultimately I forgot that all of the confidence and determination in the world will never be enough to get me to something that doesn’t exist.

I need to stay focused on the path more. Sure, a quick glance up at a particular goal won’t kill me and can often provide motivation. But the next step is the only one I can reach from here, and much more worthy of my attention right now.

“When you’re staring at something you can’t really see it. But you have to look away to look back.” – Chris Jaeb

Because of the above mentioned overwhelming feeling, I took a much needed break this week. I called it my “Mid-Week Mental Health Weekend.” I’d already scheduled two days off from work. I really needed that time off and was excited about it. So when my original plans fell through, I took those days off anyway. And I dedicated myself to being totally relaxed and unencumbered my distractions on the horizon. I essentially closed my eyes for two days.

I still ran of course, and went to the gym because they are maybe the only things that consistently relieve stress instead of adding to it. But other than that, I held myself to no schedule. I sat at the beach with a friend for five hours Wednesday afternoon relaxing in the water, watching sand crabs do what they do, and achieving a pretty solid sunburn. Thursday, I went for a relaxing morning run and a long afternoon workout before going to bed early. It felt good.

I had ideas for my blog; observations I thought I could share; anecdotes about whatever, but I couldn’t make myself sit down to write. And I refused force it. I considered letting the blog go until next week’s J.O.G.T. entry. And honestly, there have been a few different times over the last couple of weeks when I debated suspending my blog altogether.

And then I went for a run this morning; a really great run; a run I needed.

“If this is what you want to do, as ludicrous or as crazy or as farfetched as it may sound. Set that goal. Nurture it and be protective of it. But you have to be careful about who you tell it to.” – Rich Roll

This week, I allowed myself a moment of pause in which to reflect on the things I want to do, whether or not I’m being honest with myself about my ambitions, and whether or not I deserve my shot at some of the things I want.

And after that pause, I decided that “deserve” has got nothing to do with it. I owe it to myself to give everything my very best shot. I don’t expect to succeed at all the things I want in the world. But I should certainly continue striving toward them. There is absolutely no consolation prize in lazily accepting unsatisfying aspects of life just because change might be difficult.

Just between you and me, the idea of going back to school even crossed my mind this week for the first time in forever. It crossed quickly and ran off into the woods before I could get a good look at it. But a year ago, just that thought would’ve been as fantastically absurd as running a marathon. I’ll be running my first 26.2 in 16 weeks.

And this blog isn’t going anywhere anytime soon either. The release it provides is way too important to me. I said I was selfish, right?

Happy Saturday

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.

Looking Forward (J.O.G.T. 4)

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

BUT (isn’t there always a “but?”)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable mentions:

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

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

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

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

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

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