Traveling, Can’t, Motivation, and Action

“You know, I’m sick of following my dreams, man. I’m just going to ask where they’re going and hook up with ’em later.”

Eight years ago today, one of my favorite comedians was found dead in his hotel room of a drug overdose. I had seen Mitch Hedberg in concert before and had all of his albums (still do). His comedy style was definitely a little odd with somewhat uneasily delivered one liner style jokes and the occasional self deprecating comment when he messed up a line or just bombed a joke altogether; those quips sometimes getting a bigger laugh than the fumbled joke he originally delivered. I loved his silly observations and askew way of seeing the world. I thought he was hilarious. And when they announced his death on April 1, 2005 it was easy to think that it was a joke, especially since I had tickets to see him again just a few days later.

February 24, 1968 – March 29, 2005

February 24, 1968 – March 29, 2005

In a 2001 Penthouse Magazine interview, he was asked how he would end his life if he could choose (What a stupid question). He replied “First, I’d want to get famous, and then I’d overdose. If I overdosed at this stage in my career, I would be lucky if it made the back pages.” I’m sure he was joking, but jokes are only funny when there is truth in them. As a person who has seen the affects of drug abuse a little closer than some, it sucks that anyone would think that overdosing is a good way to go or even a funny way to imagine it. But hey, I said he was funny, not smart.

Today, in memory of one of my favorite funny men, I will force my blog through a sieve of some of my favorite Mitch Hedberg quotes.

“I want to hang a map of the world in my house, and then I’m gonna put pins into all the locations that I’ve traveled to. But first I’m gonna have to travel to the top two corners of the map, so it won’t fall down.”

In a previous blog in which I was responding to questions posed by a fellow runner and blogger, I was asked the “What would you do if you won the lottery” question. Part of my answer was that I would run a race in every state in the United States. You can tell I don’t have the disposition for wealth. Why not just buy a helicopter and five houses? Or at least develop a huge gambling problem or something.

Well it occurred to me recently, that I don’t need a million dollars to do that. So I want to start trying to knock that out while I wait for my million dollar lottery ticket. It could be a while as I don’t play the lottery.

I don’t have a plan yet, but I will naturally start with the states closest to home. I’m lucky to have friends and family in many places across the country though, and I think it could be fun to try and combine visits with races. Now, I am by no stretch of the imagination rich, so it could take me a little while. But luckily there is no time limit on this either, so I will just get to it as I can. Really, it just sounds like a good excuse to visit friends to me. And as summer comes into view, my more northern located friends might want to start clearing off the couch. I’ll be looking to you guys first. Florida, maybe I’ll see you in late fall.

“I saw a lady on T.V. She was born without arms. Literally, she was born with her hands attached to her shoulders… and that was sad, but then they said, “Lola does not know the meaning of the word ‘can’t.'” And that to me was kinda worse… in a way… ya know? Not only does she not have arms, but she doesn’t understand simple contractions.”

I’m not so sure Lola isn’t better off not understanding that simple contraction. I’ve mentioned before my lifelong tendency to enter into new experiences with a strong “I can’t” attitude. It has always been a disservice to me even if I didn’t know it. I try; TRY not to use that word much anymore. Not because I don’t understand contractions, but because I’ve overused it so much in the past that I don’t really care for how it feels in my mouth anymore. The list of things that I’ve said I can’t do is hauntingly similar to the list of things I’ve never even tried to do. That’s obnoxious to me.

A few weeks ago I called a friend to see what he was doing that night. He said that he was jamming with some friends, that they didn’t have a guitar player set up, and that I should come jam with them. Of course, I immediately thought, I can’t do that. I may have even said it. But in the course of a few minutes, I realized that I wanted to do it. I used to jam with a couple of friends a really long time ago. My friend wasn’t trying to do anything big. He just wanted to rock out a little bit on a Friday night. Why the fuck wouldn’t I go? What’s the worst that could happen? I end up hanging out with people I like and not playing guitar? So I went.

I was every bit as rusty as I expected to be (maybe even worse). And because of that I wasn’t totally comfortable at first. But after a few sloppy attempts at whatever, we gelled on some simpler riffs and moved around through different things that each of us had been messing with or wanted to play around with. And I had a really good time.

When I spoke to my buddy earlier that day, I was probably only one solid “can’t” away from denying myself the simple joy of playing music with new people. Lola might be better served to never learn that four letter word.

“I bought a seven dollar pen because I always lose pens and I got sick of not caring.”

This immediately made me think of all of those articles that tell newer runners and those just starting at any new exercise routine that they should have a running partner or a workout buddy. Or even more directly related to the advice you’ll see for runners trying to avoid holiday season weight gain or just unmotivated in general to sign up for a race. The idea in each scenario is that investing more will motivate higher dedication and improve your results.

I’m on the fence on some of these issues.

I’ve heard the arguments for them. Agreeing to meet another person will keep you from skipping workouts or runs. And doing these things with others is supposed to help you progress, whether it’s because of friendly competition or the benefit of having moral support at hand while exercising. I get it. And knowing that you have to run a race on New Years day should help keep you away from the dessert table at Christmas, or at least reduce the number of trips to it anyway.

But I really like going to the gym alone. I love the anonymity of it. I like to put in my headphones and just zone out for some sweat therapy. A friend and I have suggested going together on a Saturday a few times and that sounds like a great idea. I’m sure we eventually will. But for my regular daily workouts, I don’t need anyone else to motivate me. I don’t slight those that might. But it’s a private time with my thoughts for me, and I don’t know if I would enjoy it as much if I was trying to keep conversation with another person or if I couldn’t burrow away into my own head while I was in there. It’s just a really good time to be alone.

Running with others makes way more sense to me. I’ve only done it a few times and each time has been pretty relaxing and beneficial to my running as well. I still predominantly run alone and love it for all of the same reasons I mentioned above. But even with how much I sometimes count on my therapy-runs, I can still see clear benefits to running with others. I’ve been invited to run with a few different people of a few different occasions but haven’t made it happen yet. But as the days continue to get longer, it may make scheduling things like that easier in the coming months. We’ll see what happens, but I know I’m going to run either way.

As for the “sign up for a race” theory of motivation, I think it totally works. Back in the fall when I had just started running and working out, I signed up for something like five races spaced out between early December and mid March. I was already more dedicated to becoming healthier than I even realized at the time. And I have luckily experienced very little temptation to veer from my course. But having those races always on the horizon did make it much easier to stay focused on my diet and exercise routines. It’s part of the reason that I still try to always keep a race on the horizon.

My next registered race is at the end of May, but I’m almost certain to squeeze one into April too. I’m just waiting to see how my ankle is going to cooperate before pulling the trigger on one.

“I got a jump rope. That thing’s just a rope, man. You gotta make the jump happen.”

Jump rope, yoga pants, running shoes, whatever: They’re all just a rope, some seriously tight pants, and comfortable shoes until you take action to make them more.

I had a pair of running shoes for years before last September when I started running. I don’t even remember when I bought them, or why. They looked almost brand new when I laced them up on a whim and took off into what turned out to be a new phase in my life. And to my surprise, neglect is very detrimental to shoes because they literally fell apart the next day when I decided that I wanted to go run again. I actually panicked a little.

Even after only two runs, I knew that I needed to do it. I knew that it was going to help me find answers to so many questions I was battling at the time. And I was completely worried that if I took a break from it, I might not start again. So what’s the problem ThatGuy? Go buy another pair of running shoes. The problem is I wear a size 15 shoe and simply driving to the store to buy shoes is a fantasy on par with unicorns when you have a shoe size larger than 13.

I drove to five different stores in three different cities before I found a single pair of running shoes in my size. And to my great delight and relief, they were both comfortable and affordable. I scooped them up and continued my running journey the next day without interruption.

I admit that I do have a rope that I don’t make jump very often. And I plan to incorporate yoga into my workout routine soon. But luckily for the entire sighted community, I will not be wearing yoga pants. Right now, I am really just grateful that I turned “shoes” into “running shoes” when I did. I love where they’ve taken me so far, and I’m cautiously enthusiastic to see where we’re headed next.

A few more for good measure:

“The depressing thing about tennis is that no matter how good I get, I’ll never be as good as a wall.”

“My friend asked me if I wanted a frozen banana, I said “No, but I want a regular banana later, so … yeah”.

“I saw this wino, he was eating grapes. I was like, “Dude, you have to wait.”

“Sometimes in the middle of the night, I think of something that’s funny, then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen’s too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain’t funny.”

“An escalator can never break–it can only become stairs. You would never see an “Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order” sign, just “Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.”

“I’m sick of Soup of the Day, it’s time we made a decision. I wanna know what the fuck ‘Soup From Now On’ is.”

“If I was on death row and given one last meal I would ask for a fortune cookie. “Come on ‘long prosperous life!'”

“I went to a record store, they said they specialized in hard-to-find records. Nothing was alphabetized.”

And finally one of my all time favorites:

“A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer.”

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How 2 Half Mary

Yes, I know the title looks like the name of a Prince song. Yes, it was intentional. No, there is absolutely no reason for that. It’s just been a crazy week, I’m nowhere near getting caught up (which is why it’s taken me so long to get this out), and I’m feeling a little silly. Forgive me.

“Life is the only art that we are required to practice without preparation, and without being allowed the preliminary trials, the failures and botches, that are essential for training.” –Lewis Mumford

Other than the occasional high school coaches asking the 6’4”, 225 lb new kid if he plays ball, no one has ever confused me for an athlete. And those coaches were never all that impressed to find out that I was more inclined to sit quietly in the corner of my art or math classes than I was to put on uncomfortable clothes and stay at school one second longer than I had to in order to try out for whatever team(s) they were trying to fill. I sometimes said “no” before I even heard what ball they were talking about. I got really good at saying “no” to things without trying them first. And that ability to so quickly refuse new experiences is certainly the strongest part of the foundation on which I would eventually build a mountain of regrets.

I’ve NEVER been terribly athletic. And until recently, I had in no way trained for any kind of physical activity before. I’d never really trained for anything at all. I’ve never challenged myself enough to require that kind of effort. I’m a natural born underachiever. Six months ago, I would’ve said that as though it was some comically charming facet of my character. It wasn’t. It isn’t.

Anybody can do nothing. It’s fucking easy. Ask me how I know.

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

Around Thanksgiving of last year, two months into my new running life and having not yet run a single race, I registered to run a half marathon in the spring. I had no clue what to expect. But I knew that I needed to challenge myself. I knew that I needed to prove to myself that I was capable of setting a goal and actually working to accomplish it. I researched and studied as many resources as possible trying to find half marathon training plans designed for beginning runners. I finally settled on one that I liked and that I was confident I could achieve. One with only three running days a week seemed a good idea. I adjusted that plan to better fit my other work/life responsibilities. And on December 17, 2013, a few weeks and two 5Ks after signing up, I officially began my training for the Shamrock Half Marathon…with a two mile run. I was still a novice runner. But I was already hooked and determined to finish the race as respectably as I possibly could. Putting any less than 100% effort towards my goal was no longer an option.

Last Sunday, I ran my very first half marathon. And it was amazing.

“It is because the body is a machine that education is possible. Education is the formation of habits, a super-inducing of an artificial organization upon the natural organization of the body.” — Thomas Huxley

I am a creature of habit. Not for any deep philosophical reason or genius theory about more efficient time management. My memory just sucks, so if I don’t develop a pattern of activity around the important things in my life, I’ll forget shit. I park my car in roughly the same place every day at work because when I don’t, I end up walking to that area anyway before realizing my car is somewhere else. I empty my pockets into the same bowl every day as soon as I walk into my apartment. And if my keys aren’t in that bowl in the morning, I’m going to be late for work. Why? Because I will have no clue where to start looking. They’re supposed to be in that bowl. If they’re not there, they could be on the moon for all I know. Maybe I’ll start looking there. This could take a minute.

Peanut butter, banana, raisins, and honey on whole grain.  Delicious.

Peanut butter, banana, raisins, and honey on whole grain. Delicious.

Because I’m aware of this ridiculous part of my personality and because I have not yet run enough races to have developed a solid ritual, on the nights before races I have to make long lists of things to do, or pack, or wear. I lay out the clothes I’m going to wear stacked in the order that I’m going to put them on. I pin my bib to my shirt on the night before the race because doing that still seems to take me an embarrassingly long time (my OCD about it being straight doesn’t help). I make a “things to bring” list so detailed that it includes my running shoes. Am I really worried that I’m going to head out the door without the most crucial piece of equipment? Yep. That’s why it’s on the list. Running shoes, HR monitor, Garmin, flipbelt, hat, gloves, protein drink, peanut butter & banana sandwich, coconut water, water bottle, regular water, towels, hoodie, sunglasses, compression wraps for my ankles, jelly beans, a power bar, iPod, and headphones. Yeah, that should just about do it. I hope I didn’t forget anything.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve packed less stuff for two day trips out of town. I’m nuts.

“Success is blocked by concentrating on it and planning for it… Success is shy – it won’t come out while you’re watching.” — Tennessee Williams

I spent the entire three months leading up to my first half marathon under the delusion that the race started at 9:00 a.m., and didn’t realize until the Friday before the race that it was actually at seven. That meant I’d have to get up around 4:30 in order to eat some kind of breakfast, get dressed, and get to the Virginia Beach ocean front early enough to find a parking spot remotely close to the race. Parking in Va Beach can be a pain in the ass on a random Thursday. It was certainly going to suck on a weekend where tens of thousands of runners and their families would be in town.

I woke up late, fumbled around in my kitchen trying to toast a bagel, make my vitamin smoothie, get dressed, and finish packing my dry bag all at the same time. And my amazing multi-tasking paid off. I only left the house 45 minutes later than the time I wrote on my hand-scribbled race day itinerary.

If I had not gone to the beach the previous day to watch my mom kick ass in her first 8K (still super proud of her), I would have had no clue at all what to expect. But thankfully, I had just enough familiarity with the situation to avoid any real anxiety. I got there just before 6:30 but didn’t even mess with the traffic bogs angling for close parking spots. I headed south away from the start until I saw a good spot, parked my car, and started hoofing it towards the race. I was hoping to get there early enough to throw a good luck high-five to Kathryn of Run Eat Play RVA and find a few other people that I knew were running that morning. But after schlepping my freezing bones 18 blocks into a welcoming head-wind, stopping to use the bathroom twice, dropping off the world’s heaviest dry bag, and knocking out a solid 90 seconds of quality pre-race stretching, I entered my corral a massive five minutes before the scheduled start of the race.

I was nailing my first half marathon already. All I could do was laugh at myself. Well, laugh at myself and shiver. Because of an unspecified obstruction on the course, the start of the race was delayed roughly ten minutes, so there was plenty of time for shivering. And I did. We all did.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

Finally it was time to start the race. As is the custom around these parts, Team Hoyt starts first. If you don’t know who they are, click their name. I love seeing them out there and always make sure to let them know it when I see them along the road. A few seconds after Team Hoyt took off; they started releasing the corrals one at a time. My training had officially ended two days prior. Now my waiting was over too. It was finally time to run.

I originally signed up with a completely uninformed guesstimated finishing time of 2:30 and been placed in corral number eight. While picking up my packet at the expo however, I asked the organizers if there was any way to be reassigned considering I’d finished my 20K a few weeks earlier in 1:56:41. They very kindly moved me into corral number three instead. I cannot explain how much that helped. I essentially passed thousands of people before I ever put on my shoes. And starting in corral three allowed me to settle into my pace within the first mile of the race instead of having to bob and weave my way through thousands of people in order to get free and on pace. That was a HUGE bonus.

I knew the Shamrock was going to be the largest race I’d participated in by a huge margin, and I really didn’t know what to expect along the course. But I just settled into my pace, kept my back straight, my head up, shoulders relaxed, arms swinging, and my feet under me. Basically, I just ran.

My ankles were not 100%, and my left one was already a little sore before the race even started. But once I was moving, it was very ignorable. I settled into my pace early, even if “my pace” was 20 seconds faster than I really intended. I checked my watch pretty often during the first two or three miles and I was always running “too fast,” but I felt great and could not justify slowing down. While adjusting my watch at 0.45 miles, I accidently pushed the “lap” button and offset all of my lap markings and alarms after that, but I still got pace updated every mile and it was always right around nine minutes per mile. And because I felt so comfortable, I just decided to keep that up. Why not, right? Just keep running.

There were spectators scattered all along the course, including some friends that had set up their own water (cough…and maybe beer) station along the route. I threw a low-five as I passed a very loud and animated gentleman cheering us on our way early. I hollered out at a friend standing atop a small wall not seeing me as I passed. I said “thank you” to every group of volunteers and spectators that I passed close enough to speak to without shouting. I gave props to every funny sign. Oh, and I ran.

Four, five, and six miles just flew by. When the road was banked more than I liked, I ran on the more level bike path or off in the grass beside the course. When I needed to take advantage of one of the aid stations, I grabbed a cup, said thank you, and pulled off to the side to walk for the two seconds it takes to swallow a Dixie cup of water. Then I took off again. I ate half a bag of Extreme Sports Beans just before the race started and then ate them in half bag portions every 20 minutes along the way. And I kept running.

“When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.” — Isak Dinesen

As I passed the half-way point, my watch said 58 minutes. I was on pace to break two hours, and even with a sore left ankle, I felt very rested and strong. All I had to do was keep running and avoid doing something stupid, like speeding up. I felt great, but definitely didn’t want to become overconfident. My pace was working, and I wasn’t going to try and fix something that wasn’t broken.

My right ankle started to ache a little bit at eight miles, but nothing too distracting. I was doing a good job of keeping a pretty high cadence of shorter strides and landing on my mid-foot. I just kept running. It was almost time to exit the Fort Story part of the course and head back into the spectators we passed in the beginning. Maybe I’d have one of those beers this time. (I didn’t)
100_6497Literally before I knew it, I was passing the 10 mile marker. All I had left was a 5K. I couldn’t believe it. I was going to finish the damn thing. And I was going to do it running strong. I felt great. As I passed my friends’ “aid station” and waved on the way by, they noticed something that I was unaware of. I was now less than two miles from the finish line, and I was in front of the two hour pacing group. Who knew?

I entered Atlantic Avenue and was greeted with a brutally cold wind in my face, but was way too amped to care. And as we all crossed onto the Virginia Beach boardwalk and could see the finish, it was time to start kicking. I could not believe that I had any energy in reserve. But I did. Was I sprinting? Nope. But in the Hollywood version of my life story, I’ll make sure the younger better looking actor does. I was picking up my pace a little bit though. I knew I was going to be under two hours by this point, but saw no reason not to use up that excess energy that I’ve never had at the end of a race before. I was damn near confused. What was going on? I wasn’t exhausted.

I crossed the finish line stronger than in any long race I’ve ever run before, and finished my first half marathon with an official time of 1:58:20 and an average pace of 9:02 min/miles. It was the easiest long run I’ve ever run. It was the fastest paced long run I’ve ever run. And I had an absolute blast doing it.

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” – Muhammad Ali

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention any mental or physical battles to overcome during the run. That’s because there weren’t any. I don’t think I had to consciously focus on my breathing, my stride, my striking, or anything else more than maybe 10 times during the whole race, and never for more than a few seconds. All of that struggling to finish 10 mile training runs in the rain, or that 20K race in the rain, or that 11.11 mile confidence-run the week before the race had all paid off. My training worked. I couldn’t believe how well it worked. I felt incredible.

I did what I had never done before. I set a goal, developed a plan, followed that plan, and achieved the goal with relative comfort and ease. I was beyond stoked.

Unfortunately being stoked has zero warming qualities because the after party was Fur-ree-zing. There was plenty of beer and good cheer inside that giant tent next to the ocean, not so much warmth though. I was able to track down a few of the people that I wanted to congratulate and of course I managed to drink my four free beers, but there was only so much my frozen bones and chattering teeth could take so I decided it was time to head home for some chili and the warmth of some good friends.

“In general, any form of exercise, if pursued continuously, will help train us in perseverance. Long-distance running is particularly good training in perseverance.” — Mao Zedong

I haven’t run since the race, and intend to stay off of the road until Monday. I was back in the gym the next morning trying to work out the pain in my left knee. I suspect that my sore ankle resulted in my unconsciously tranferring more of the impact to my knee. And it wasn’t happy with me. I’ve been to the gym every day since, and both my ankles and knees feel great. I actually mentioned to a friend Tuesday morning that I thought I could run, but I didn’t. I’m really looking forward to getting back out there next week though, and hopefully with a fully healed and healthy body. I’m trying to be one of those mythical “smart runners” I’ve heard so much about.

Not sure about my long term race plans, but the running will definitely continue. I think it gets even more meditative for me with every passing mile. I love it. I’m registered for a 10K in May and I’m sure there will be many more after that…and maybe before. Happy Shamrock to me. It was a blast. I will do it again.

Wish Magic

“There can be no failure to a man who has not lost his courage, his character, his self respect, or his self-confidence. He is still a King.” – Orison Swett Marden

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I had to break from my training plan over the weekend. I’ve done really well at sticking to the prescribed miles so far. Granted, I did go through and revise those numbers both up and down as I gleaned new information about good training practices and developed a little better understanding of my conditioning and abilities. For example, when I registered for the Tidewater Striders Distance Series (10, 15, and 20K races), I mapped those distances into my training calendar and adjusted all the lengths of my runs in the surrounding weeks to better follow the ten percent rule. Yes, I used a calculator. Yes, I rounded up. Yes, I can be a nerd about numbers sometimes. But I believe doing those races and adjusting those miles helped me structure a solid training plan for a beginning runner heading into a half marathon. Following it was relatively easy and markedly beneficial to my progress. That is why I studied, researched, and adjusted my plan so much in the beginning; so that I could follow it and do well. It makes no sense to lay out a plan and then not follow it.

BUT (isn’t there always a but?),

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” ― Mike Tyson

When I hurt my ankle two weeks ago, my mind was poisoned. What if it’s broken? What if I can’t run? What if I have to miss the Shamrock? I’ve been training for this race since before Christmas.

“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” – Khalil Gibran

I’ve long believed that worrying is essentially the result of a lack of faith, whether it be faith in your plan, or faith in yourself. If you’re confident in your abilities and your preparation, then you’ve got nothing to worry about. If you’re worrying, you doubt something. And doubt seems a pretty useless component in any formula.

I didn’t want to doubt my ankle for three weeks, wondering if I could, should, or would run my next training run or if putting in those miles would aggravate the problem even more. I didn’t want to assume it was normal soreness and “battle through it” either. We already know what they say about assuming things. So I went to the hospital and got my ankle x-rayed. It wasn’t broken. Good. But I did have to rest it and stop running until it was better. Hmmph. Doctors. What do they know?

“I have great faith in fools; self-confidence my friends call it.” – Edgar Allan Poe

I might not be the smartest guy in the world, but I’m no fool either. I took a week off. No running for seven days. That was the longest I had gone without running since my very first “run” back in early September. And it was a very long week. But that week also made me realize just how much I truly love running.

I was never really tempted to push my luck and force a run. But I would catch myself practicing my upper body movements while standing over the stove or getting ready to brush my teeth. I don’t want to forget how to swing my arms, you know. I’d focus on maintaining an upright posture while walking around, riding a bike at the gym, or even just sitting at my desk. If I couldn’t run, I could at least try to instill some good habits into my fledgling core muscles. And while at work or the gym or even out with friends, I’d find my mind wandering off about when I could run again, what distance should I do, where should I pick up in my training schedule, would I be ready for the Shamro–

Oh, look! There’s someone running in that TV commercial!

“There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.” – Buddha

After a week of transferring my pent up running energy into some really great gym workouts, it was time to stop daydreaming and wondering and doubting. I decided I was ready to run. My training plan had four miles scheduled for Monday; a good modest ankle-test back into my routine. Surely I can run four miles. And if I can’t, then I’m certainly not going to be ready to run 13 of them two weeks later.

That might not be true. I’m new. I don’t know shit. And my confidence was probably sprained worse than my ankle.

I ran those four miles at the speed of comfort and felt really good afterwards. It felt good just to be out there again. I missed it and was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed back by a beautiful sunny day. It’s the small things. My next run was even shorter. And because the weather was crap, I was in a time-crunch that day, and I wanted to be super-cautious, I ran it on a treadmill. That short, mentally suffocating treadmill jog did little to help my confidence heading into a 13 mile run. “What am I supposed to do for my final long run?” I’m supposed to be tapering. I can’t go run 13 “test” miles, right? Would that be smart? Is all of this self-doubt just the mind games I’ve read about plaguing runners during the taper?

My mind was poisoned with doubt. Damn ankle! (shakes fist in the air)

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” – Arthur Ashe

On Saturday morning after staying up too late on Friday and not exactly “fueling” properly for a long morning run, I decided to take it slow and see what happens. My training plan was tapering and had eight miles scheduled as my long run for the last week before the race. I was pretty sure that I could run eight miles without any major issues. But losing that previous week’s training so close to the race meant that I missed my last opportunity to experiment with in-race food and drink.

My diet during this entire journey has been the hardest thing for me figure out. My metabolism still seems to be adjusting to my higher activity levels and I am not always very good at keeping up with it. And fueling during a race is something that I just did not practice enough during my training. Properly refueling afterwards isn’t something I’m terribly good at either. I’m just not a big eater. I needed an actual long run to practice these things one last time. And without some actual test of my endurance, my confidence would never be ready for race day.

“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.” – Norman Vincent Peale

While making breakfast and getting dressed, I decided that I’d run at least eight and no more than 11 miles. And that I’d ultimately base that decision on how I felt during the run. I’ve become pretty fond of the Dismal Swamp Trail and chose to head that way for my last run.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like the out-and-back format because it makes you commit to double the distance of where you are at any point. If you’ve run four miles down that road, you’re going to have to run a total of eight just to get back to the car. That requirement also means that you have to pay attention to your body. If you push past warning signs and find out at five miles that you literally cannot run anymore, you’re still going to have to hobble your broken ass the five miles back. I like how that simple course makes me think of these things. It helps me focus.

“So, let’s do the numbers.” – Kai Ryssdal

It was a beautiful 44 degree sunny morning with a 14 mph north wind. I was four miles in before I knew it and thinking I’d do ten. At five, I decided to do eleven. At five and a half, I decided to do 11.11 just so I could make a wish. I told you I’m weird about numbers sometimes. 5.57 miles away from my car, I turned around. I finished in one hour, 43 minutes, and 42 seconds with an average pace of nine minutes and 20 seconds per mile. And I burned 1912 calories.

Thirty minutes into my run I started eating Jelly Belly Extreme Beans with 50 mg of caffeine per 100 calorie serving (and you could totally tell from my heart rate monitor). I ate them again about every 20 minutes after that. They’re not the ideal food for me, as the package was kind of a bitch to deal with (might be better without gloves), and chewing anything kind of messes with my breathing. But I got the hang of it after the second try. And with only eight days until the race, there was no time to experiment with something new. I will have to put that lesson off until next time.

Both ankles were sore by the end and I was getting pretty tired. I was drinking coconut water throughout the run, but probably need to hydrate a little better on Sunday. I stretched and put compression wraps on both ankles immediately after my run. I went home, and hit the foam roller even though my legs weren’t sore. Then I iced both ankles as preventative maintenance. I even took an Epson salt bath (not an easy task for someone my height). I will be ready on Sunday. I will.

“With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.” – Dalai Lama

I ran a short three mile run this afternoon, and have a whopping three miles left to run on Thursday to complete my training for the Shamrock. I feel good. I’m going to be fine. On Sunday, March 17th 2013, just six months after discovering the joy of running, I will join thousands of other runners when I cross the starting line into my first half marathon. And I’m going to have fun doing it too.

“I believe in wishes and in a person’s ability to make a wish come true, I really do. And a wish is more than a wish… it’s a goal that your conscious and subconscious can help make reality” – Michael Jackson

I’m wishing for healthy ankles, calm winds, and dry skies. But I’m ready for whatever.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

ONE MORE THING. I know a lot of people will be running in Virginia Beach this weekend. But in Cary, North Carolina on Saturday March 16, there is a 5K and accompanying virtual 5K to support Buddy Up Against Bullying. It is a joint effort between a school assistant principle and a police officer to raise awareness against bullying. All you have to do is click the link, print out your bib, and wear it when you run on Saturday…or any other day really. Will it ever end bullying? No. But if it gets one person (teacher, parent, bus driver, YOU) to take notice of what may be happening right in front of them and to realize that is not just a normal, harmless part of growing up, then it’s worth it. The world has already got enough assholes in it. We don’t need to keep ignoring the next generation of jerk-offs. It’s not funny. It’s not harmless. And it’s not okay. I will be wearing two bibs on Sunday.

It’s The Small Things (J.O.G.T. 2)

“As the heart finds the good thing, the feeling is multiplied.
Add the will to the strength and it equals conviction.”
– Talking Heads “The Good Thing”

every-day-may-not-be-goodWow! February was kind of a crazy hectic month in my world, but I finally got around to looking through the old Jar Of Good Things. According to the “jar,” and how many times I claimed “a good workout” or something similarly simple as my daily “good thing,” I was clearly forced to settle for a lot of small victories. But that is definitely better than no victories, right?

Anyway, here’s a few of the good things that happened in February. My life may not be the most exciting roller coaster in the park, but I’m truly grateful to be able to find pleasure in simple things; simple things like…

Feb 2. Ran the Polar Plunge 5K as part of a benefit for Special Olympic Charities. I didn’t raise a huge amount of money, but I did get to run a nice race with some friends on a really sunny but chilly winter morning. New PR for the 5K (24:11, 7:48). Good day.

I started off the month by running my first 5K of the year with a friend from work. Or at least in the same race, since we didn’t actually run the race side by side “with” each other. She and some friends had a team registered to raise money for the Special Olympics and kindly asked me if I’d like to run it too. I did.

It was a very simple out-and-back along the Virginia Beach boardwalk on a chilly but beautiful sunny morning at the beach. I was aiming for an eight minute pace, but came out a little faster and felt pretty good so I just stayed with it. I’d love to say that I finished it with remarkable ease, but that 7:48 was definitely a challenging pace for me, even for that shorter distance. I clearly wasn’t feeling like a newbie that day…but I still was…and still am. Reality: checked.

It was a great race with friends, benefitted a good cause, and was a new PR. A good thing indeed.

Feb 3. I had a really great time watching the super bowl with some of my oldest and best friends. And I learned that I can “shoot” a balloon at a toddler with surprising accuracy. They apparently LOVE that.

I am fortunate to have so many really great friends, but they do not all travel in the same circles nor do they all have the same level of responsibilities, commitments, and/or availabilities. So I don’t always get to see many of my friends as much as I would like.

One of my oldest and best friends invited me and a few others over for a last minute Super Bowl gathering with him and his family. I happily accepted. I don’t think any of us really cared who won the game, or even catching all of the commercials. And I know none of the seven kids in the house was concerned with either. I didn’t really have a preference in the outcome so I barely watched the game at all to be honest.

But I did enjoy visiting with everyone and seeing all of their fast growing kids run around and play together. And as I said, I discovered that I can pop a balloon from between my fingers and at a child with some incredible accuracy. And my god-daughter’s little brother (The only little boy in that house full of lil’ ladies) couldn’t get enough of it. And really, I wasn’t tiring of it very much myself.

What can I say? Kids like me. And they all seem to giggle the same. Very good thing.

Feb 17. Dad gave me an old coin that he found in an envelope with my name written on it. Having my grandmother’s handwriting on the envelope is probably cooler to me than the coin.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I have dinner with a small group of my extended family every Sunday evening. We each take turns cooking and it’s been a pretty steady tradition for several years now. It’s always a friendly and casual visit around the dinner table, which I more often than not follow with a nap on the couch. It’s nice to see everybody for even that little bit of time each week and I like being able to cook for more than one person every now and then too.

On the 17th, my dad brought with him an old folded up envelope with my name written on the front in blue ballpoint.

He currently lives in the house where my grandparents lived before each of them passed away. I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with my grandparents growing up, and as an adult. As a kid I remember seeing that they had a small informal coin collection, but hadn’t thought about it in years. It was nothing fancier than a cardboard box or two with a modest assortment of U.S. monetary history inside. And I was not surprised at all to see that allocating any parts of that collection to a specific person was done by simply placing a coin into an envelope and writing that person’s name on it.

My grandparents were wonderful rural people, but by no means were they naive rubes with no understanding of the importance of a legal will. At the same time, they trusted family enough to be able to follow some simple instructions. And writing my name on an envelope pretty much made whatever was in it mine.

My dad came across it while cleaning out some part of the house and brought it with him to Sunday dinner. I immediately recognized my grandmother’s handwriting. And looking inside, I found an 1890 Morgan Silver Dollar. I just smiled and closed the envelope again to see my name swirled on the front. The coin is well worn and the sentiment is clear. But the handwriting is that small human touch that reminds me of one of the two strong women that I was lucky to have looking out for me when I grew up.

100_6452My grandmother was always incredibly generous and supportive of her friends and family. And she would do anything for her “darling” grandchildren, of which I am proud to have been the first. Her loving heart was undeniable to anyone that ever met her. I miss her. And now I have a fine sample of my name in her script. It’s the small things.

Feb 22. Long week FINALLY ended. And I had a great pre-race dinner with my mom who apparently has been living a hectic week in parallel with me. I’m glad it’s over.

Back in December, as I was starting to figure out this running thing and getting ready to run my first race (Surfin Santa 5K), work schedules and general holiday rushing around had led to a significant length of time without seeing my mother. When we lived on opposite coasts, that was easily understandable. But now that we live 20 minutes away from each other, it’s kind of silly. So when I realized that picking up my race packet would put me near her place on a Friday evening, I asked if she’d be interested in grabbing dinner. She was. We did. It was lovely.

I don’t recall if we ever stated a plan, but since that night we have had dinner together on the night before every one of my races (including the one that got cancelled). And it has become a really nice new tradition. We take turns paying, when she lets me. And it’s generally just a good time to catch up and talk about running, training, life, work, food, or anything else that crosses our often similar-working minds while I wait for that dirty Kettle One Martini to arrive. On this night in question, I think we both had Spicey Pork Korean Rice Bowls for dinner.

My mom has experienced more than her fair share of hardships in life but still managed to come out with more wins than losses and somehow maintaining a positive attitude towards new challenges. She rises to adversity incredibly well and doesn’t let disappointment, failure, or heartache derail her for very long. She’s a fighter for sure. And I couldn’t feel luckier to have had such a woman lay the foundation for the man that I am today.

(And yes, I totally blame her for all of my shortcomings too. She can’t just take credit for the good stuff, right? What’s the rule on that? I’d hate to have to start taking responsibility for myself or anything like that.)

“Alright let’s get some miles in.” -My mom’s facebook status earlier today. I love her.

She has been running/walking and exercising for the last few months as part of her training to run her first 8K on Shamrock weekend. So next Friday, we’ll likely be having dinner on the night before HER race for a change. I’m very proud of her for so many things. And I’m sure she’ll kick ass at this too.

Maybe she’ll even let me pay for dinner this time.

Feb 28. Went to bed a decent hour for a change. That IS a good thing.

It may sound simple. And it is. But I don’t sleep; not enough anyway. I typically get less than six hours of sleep a night, and almost never get more than seven. I’m lucky in that I don’t require a lot of sleep to function, but the last week of February was a little more extreme and I was getting closer to four hours of sleep a night during that week.

I know that I should get to bed earlier. But even after waking up at 5:30 every morning, I somehow manage to keep my schedule so full that I’m often not home and finished with my day until seven o’clock or later. And then there is usually any number of little errands, chores, or projects that I want/need to work on (like cooking dinner for example). Plus my creativity has always peaked at night, so it’s not unusual for me to start writing or playing guitar late in the evening and before I know it, it’s after midnight again. “Dammit!”

I believe lack of quality sleep was at least partially responsible for my excess fatigue at the end of my 20K a couple of weeks ago, and therefore may have contributed to my ankle scare. I am well aware of the importance of good rest and the mental and physical recovery gained from sound sleep. But I’m just not always as disciplined as I should be about getting the rest that I need. It is yet another thing I will have to improve upon as I go forward. But at least I nailed it on the 28th. You’ve got to start somewhere.

Well, that was February: Some running, great friends, strong women past and present, and some much needed sleep. What good things happened for you in February? Surely something good happened.

February J.O.G.T. Honorable Mentions:

Feb 7. Answered the door tonight wearing only a towel and a sweat shirt. The guy at the door was looking for someone that doesn’t live here and seemed more than a little confused. That made me smile.

Feb 8. Followed my least enjoyable run to date with a road trip to Charlottesville with Mike and Matt to see Murder By Death. Opener Samantha Crain was really good, and Murder By Death absolutely killed. A good time was had by all.

Feb 13. Had a great Wednesday with good friends in Olde Towne. Got a little unexpected blog-love from Derek and Kristen. Very cool night.

Feb 24. I got my new HR monitor. Probably too late for any substantial benefit in Shamrock training, but I do miss having that data. Woot!

Feb 26. Three hours in the E.R. later, I’ve got a slight sprain, and a deep bruise but NOTHING’S BROKEN. Ice, elevate, rest, and RUN!! I feel good.

I Will Not Stop

“To me, a running-healthy program is more important than a training plan geared toward improving performance. That’s because I’m more interested in increasing my years of running than in decreasing my race times.” Amby Burfoot.

I was talking with some people after the race last Saturday about how I was actually looking forward to the taper. The “taper” is the scheduled reduction in mileage at the end of most distance running training plans. The idea is that in the last two to three weeks of training, you benefit more from running less and letting your body fully recover than you do from continuing to pound out long runs and piling on more miles. It makes sense to me. I’ve experienced minor soreness after long runs and the consistency of training is definitely wearing on the body. Not to mention the benefits of being able to mentally prepare and get your game face on.

If you look up any number of articles/blogs/forums on tapering though, you’ll see how so many runners don’t enjoy it, don’t follow it, or both. I’ve read and heard about the mental struggles tapering runners experience as they worry that running fewer miles will allow their endurance and strength to wane leading up to their race day, or just anxiety caused by all of the free time making them feel like they’re overall fitness will suffer. Training can be a hard habit to break I guess.

From what I’ve read, many of those concerns can actually present themselves. Statistically, runners get sick more often during the taper, experience muscle aches and pains, have trouble sleeping, and often generally just don’t feel good. Now I’m not a very experienced runner or a psychologist, so I can’t speak to how much of those effects are actually physical or mental manifestations. But I do believe the mind can play some funny tricks on the body, which is also why there are no shortage or stories about runners refusing to taper their training and ending up injured or underperforming on the big day.

I’m look forward to tapering for two reasons.

1) It does make sense to me. I’ve done the majority of my training runs in the evenings after work and usually after being awake for nearly 12 hours. It’s hard for me to properly fuel for a long run in the evening. I like running in the a.m. when I’m rested and energetic. And after months of training, I like the idea of a taking it down a notch for a couple of weeks so my body can be fully recovered, strong, and 100% healthy for race day. It makes sense to me.

2) I have so many things that I have put off and neglected over the last several weeks, that I’m looking forward to trying to catch up during those last couple of weeks before my race. Shit, my apartment is almost embarrassingly messy right now. My “to do” list is currently being printed as a six volume serial for ease of transport. I’ve got lots of books that I want to read or finish reading. I’d like to continue working on some recording projects with my songwriter friends. And I’ve got some artwork to get done (read as: artwork to start) for a disc golf tournament I’m supposed to be helping to organize. I’ve got plenty to do.

But first, I’ve got a Half Marathon to train for and run.

I was excited to run the final Tidewater Striders Distance Series race on Saturday because I knew it was going to be the last and most representative test I needed in order to judge my readiness for the Shamrock Half Marathon. And it was every bit of the test that I anticipated. I just didn’t score as highly as I wanted to. I gave myself a B-minus.

I felt pretty good before the race. I was fairly well rested for a guy that never sleeps enough, and my body felt good. It was yet another rainy day run, but I’ve almost gotten to point where I don’t even care about rain anymore. And I finished the race in a good time.

I started the race a few seconds slower than my pace just like I wanted to, and settled into something close to it by the end of the second mile. I was running right behind a small group of more experienced runners who were all pacing better than I sometimes do. And I was running at a comfortable enough pace that I was able to speak with relative ease when I felt the urge. But I don’t generally talk very much when I’m running.

In the previous weeks’ long runs, I was starting to really take note of how much energy I was spending and how weak I was after those runs. I had trained up to nine mile distances without carrying any water or food with me, but after noting just how gritty my skin was with salt following eight and nine mile runs I started taking some water with me on all runs longer than that. Actually I carry coconut water, because I want the electrolytes, but I don’t really care for Gatorade’s taste. And after running eleven miles a couple of weeks ago and being so tapped afterwards that simply turning the key in my apartment door was difficult, I thought it was definitely time to start figuring out how I was going to take in some kind of carbohydrates and food calories during my long runs. It is something that I had researched well in advance, but let the last couple of weeks’ crazy ass schedule push it from my mind. Staying busy is not always a good thing.

I grabbed some little gummy candies at the running store when I picked up my bib on Friday and put them in a resealable bag for the race. They tasted alright and I could tell that they did help, but because I wasn’t sure at all how I would stomach them, I didn’t eat enough of them and I’m pretty sure I hesitated too long before starting to take in calories during my run as well. There’s a reason why they tell you not to try anything for the first time on race day. But these races are very much designed as training runs and I was running out of time.

That hesitation to eat combined with less diligence in drinking the fluids I had strapped to my left hand led to me being almost completely wiped out a mile and a half before the end of the race. And even though I finished with a respectable time and pace (1:56:41 with a 9:23 pace) for a newbie, I hated feeling that spent. And I wasn’t totally sure that I could’ve eeked out the 0.7 mile extra I would’ve needed to complete a half marathon.

I felt good. But I didn’t feel ready. I wanted to feel ready.

Later that night and the following day, I experienced the usual tightness and soreness that I always do after pushing myself through each week’s long run. My hips and calves were a bit tight, and my ankles were both a little sore…partially from having to run with rain soaked, heavy feet and partially from what I’m sure was a pretty shitty degrading running form as my body ran out of nutrients towards the finish.

On Monday afternoon, I went for a simple 4 mile “speed of comfort” run. It was so well intentioned. Work is a little crazy right now, I’m not getting nearly as much done as I’d like, and I wanted a relaxing therapy run. And I thought running a low intensity fun-run would be a perfect chance to test my slightly iffy ankle. It was a good run. And as always, I felt better afterwards.

Then BOOM! My worst nightmare. As the night went on my right ankle got tighter and more painful until eventually I was gimping around my apartment like a person with an (gasp!) injury. I iced my ankle, smoked a cigarette, and went to bed scared and annoyed. The following day, it wasn’t any better and after limping around on it at work all day with the pain and swelling getting worse, I was starting to convince myself that I might have a small stress fracture in my ankle.

I’ve mentioned probably too many times that avoiding an injury is my number one goal, and the idea that I had somehow fucked that up had me way more than a little anxious, scared, and angry. Not only because being hurt sucks, or because I sometimes need the therapy of running in my life, but because I hated the idea that after living a life of spectacularly unmotivated underachievement I was going to get this close to a goal that I’ve worked hard to achieve in an activity that I truly love, and then let it slip away because I pushed too hard and/or didn’t properly prepare. I was pissed…at myself.

I revised my earlier grade for Saturday’s race. The time and the pace are fine, but my weakness and the resulting poor form towards the finish had likely resulted in excessive foot pounding that led to my sore ankle. And if you get so banged up that days later you can’t run a leisurely four mile run without getting injured, then there is a lot room for improvement. C-minus. Or maybe even a D-plus?

hospital signI cannot recall a single instance in my life when worrying about something did anything at all to improve the situation, so after going to the gym and eating dinner I finally relented and took my ankle in for an x-ray. Knowing has to be better than wondering, right?

The Runner’s World Big Book of Marathon and Half Marathon Training is one of the books I’ve been reading recently and sitting in the hospital reading about injury prevention seemed kind of funny to me. Maybe I should’ve been reading this book a little more regularly since just three pages from where I last put it down was the section on stress fractures. I found that somewhat amusing as I sat listening to people hacking and coughing over whatever crime drama was blaring out of the TV behind me.

Researching stress fractures earlier in the day had revealed horrible things like the potential of a 6-8 week recovery period depending on severity. And the idea of missing my race and not being able to run for such a long time were the largest sources of my anger and anxiety. But sitting there in the waiting room with so many people in much worse shape than I was, I started to calm down, recalculate, and devise a contingency plan.

At that point, the foot was out of my control. But how I reacted to the foot was totally up to me. I decided that if I couldn’t run, I’d see if the Shamrock organizers would just roll my registration fee into next year’s race. I’d wait for the doctor’s diagnosis, and choose the next available half marathon to run depending on how long I’d be out of commission. And I decided that until I could run again, maybe I’d volunteer at other races while I waited. Having no way of controlling the diagnosis, I fell into the “hope for the best, plan for the worst” mentality, and I immediately started to feel better.

The doctor poked and prodded my foot and ankle. Took a look at the x-ray and informed me that…drum roll please…No break. She said it was just a slight sprain with a deep bruise chaser, but there were no broken bones. I was told to ice it, elevate it, rest it, and don’t run until it’s better. I swear it felt better almost immediately. The mind has weird power over the body, and simply lifting the uncertainty was a pretty effective pain reliever.

I wrapped it all day at work today, removed the wrap before going to gym, and it feels a lot better. I might be able to go for a light run on Friday…but I might not. I will not run again until it’s ready. I will channel that effort into the gym and cross training. But I will not stop running. If I have to, I’ll pause for injury. But I will not stop. I am more than excited to report that I should still be able to run the Shamrock, but it looks like I’ll be starting my taper a little bit early. I’m okay with that.

I’ve got plenty to do.

Hurdles Into a Wall

Last Friday, just two weeks after experiencing my most enjoyable run to date, I managed to suffer through my least pleasurable run thus far. I did it to myself. I knew it had that potential. And I did it anyway. I’m really smart.

You don’t have to search very hard to find running blogs and/or forums that address the mental hurdles that some people have to traverse just to stick to their training or exercise routines and some of the tools that they use to get over those obstacles. I feel fortunate that so far I have not had a lot of trouble staying motivated to run.

As for finding that motivation in other important areas of my life? Still a work in progress.

Recently, my favorite running blog posted a piece partially about running “mantras,” referring to those sayings that runners say to themselves to help stay resolute and running strong when some other inner voice or outside stressor may be working against them and suggesting that they quit, or even worse…skip their work out altogether. The list included all sorts of phrases, ranging from simple affirmations like “I can do this” to statements of unwavering acceptance of circumstance like “Embrace the suck.”

When the author ended the post with an open query about what other phrases her readers have found useful, I realized that I didn’t have a run mantra. And that was somewhat comforting in the fact that I didn’t have one because I had not yet run up against a mental or physical “wall” so great that it required me to forcefully psyche myself up and over it…or through it.

On Friday morning, I managed to successfully hurl myself right into that wall one hurdle at a time. Woohoo! I’m awesome!

Hurdle #1: Just getting out there at all. This is not a problem that I’ve had a problem with in my short time running. I enjoy getting out there. I usually only run three days a week so I’m rarely suffering any discouraging physical issues from my previous run. And I still get an incredible therapeutic release from running outside alone with my thoughts, or maybe no thoughts at all depending on the day. Hell, I “write” rough drafts of a lot of my blogs while running around by myself. I love being out there.

But last week’s weather forecast predicted a 100% chance of rain for Friday morning and because my weather fortunes throughout my training have sucked, that seemed totally believable. I was going to have to do another rainy day run. Ugh. Honestly, I don’t mind a soft rain. I’m going to sweat through my clothes anyway. What difference does it make? But Friday morning’s weather was 40 degrees with steady showers and gusting winds in the neighborhood of 20 mph. It sucked outside. SUCKED!

I woke early that morning with hopes that I’d find the storm front had passed through the area faster than predicted. It hadn’t. I still started my routine: drank my vitamin and fruit smoothie, toasted a bagel, and started getting my running clothes together, all while continually checking the radar for any sign that the weather might at least lighten up a bit.

No dice! It was going to rain ALL morning. And because I was heading out of town at noon and not returning until the following day, pushing back my run wasn’t an option.

Obviously, I could’ve given in and headed for the treadmill. I wanted to go to the gym after my run anyway. And if my scheduled run had only been a few miles, I might have considered it more seriously. I’m not a treadmill fan, but I did look up the conversion I would need to correctly set my pace on the machine, just in case I came to my senses and decided to run inside like a sane person. But because this was going to be my first double digit distance (10 miles), I just couldn’t see crossing that milestone while staring blankly at a muted morning “news” show or worse…some talk show (TV = brain poison). And because of the one hour time limit on gym treadmills and the sad fact that I can’t run a 10 consecutive six minute miles, I would’ve had to stop and start again too. Fuck that. I wanted my first double-D distance to be outside and continuous like it’s supposed to be.

Hurdle #2: Committing to that planned distance. Once I had made the bone-headed decision that I was going to run my scheduled run in the rain, it was time to make sure that I would actually commit to the whole 10 miles required in my training plan. It would make no sense to use the 10 mile distance as excuse for avoiding the treadmill, and then turn around and quit after six miles.

To ensure that commitment, I decided that I’d better get away from the comfort of my home. I’ve run distances as long as nine miles without ever leaving my greater neighborhood. But after battling about whether to get outside in the first place, and realizing that the probability of “enjoying” a soggy 10 mile run was very small, I couldn’t be sure that I wouldn’t give in to the temptation to cut my run short if I stayed too close to my warm and dry apartment. So I didn’t.

I basically try to treat my laziness the way alcoholics treat their drinking. Just because I’ve made it a few months working harder, living cleaner, staying busier, and enjoying the benefits of those changes does not mean that I can pretend that the root causes of my past shortcomings are not still laying in wait for the opportunity to make me fail. That couch crushing waste of flesh is still in here somewhere just looking for a moment of weakness that will allow his resurgence. I don’t want to forget that.

I opted for the nearby Dismal Swamp Canal Trail. It’s a simple out-and-back paved course that was repurposed from the old US Highway 17 when Virginia and North Carolina put in a newer four lane bypass several years ago. A lot of people consider out-and-backs pretty boring and I guess they can be. But I like the Dismal because it’s flat and straight and actually kind of a pretty tree-lined path running along side of a small creek. I also liked the idea of running a turnaround route for Friday’s run, because I would really only have to commit to half of my goal at a time. Once I ran the first five miles, I’d be five miles away from my car and have to run back. So I’d essentially be forced to get my 10. It’s silly thinking, but it helped me mentally chew up what I was biting off.

The Wall: Not quitting/walking when the going gets tough. After getting to the trail, it was easy to get out of the car and get moving. Just getting there was the challenge. Now all I had to do was run. Piece of cake, right?

There was absolutely no one around. I stretched quickly and took off into the grey soggy goodness of my first ten miler. After the first mile, I peeled off my rain coat and hung it on the “1.25” mile-marker post as I passed by. I was running fine and at a decent pace. At just under four miles, my feet were starting to get wet and a little heavier, but I wasn’t having a terrible time. I was wet, but I’d normally be pretty damp after four miles anyway.

As my watch vibrated the five mile reminder, I turned around just in time to see a couple of wild turkeys enjoying the weather as they pranced across an empty field and into the woods. They were the only other signs of animal life I’d seen. So if even a dog is said to have the common sense to come in out of the rain, I must have been closer to the intelligence level of a large non-flying bird. I’m not sure if that is a good thing.

In less than two miles I’d be able to see that wall I was hoping I’d never find.

My clothes had been pretty well soaked since mile two, but my feet and shoes put up a slow weakening fight until just under six miles. And before I got to seven, each foot was completed saturated and weighed approximately one hundred pounds each (give or take a pound). And my legs were really getting tired of dragging them back up off of the ground over and over again. My ankles weren’t in love with the degradation of my form, and my knees weren’t going to let them suffer alone. The suck was getting strong and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to embrace it.

It was hard not to start thinking about that mantra blog that I had just read. I commented on that blog that I had not yet needed a running mantra, but because the phrase had showed up in facebook statuses, my run journal, and my blog in recent weeks, that maybe “I. Can. Do. Anything.” could end up serving that purpose should I find the need. I found the need.

As the temptation to stop and walk began to really raise its voice, I found myself thinking “I can do anything,” and eventually even ridiculously saying it aloud to myself to drown out the voices telling me to stop and walk. “I. Can. Do. Anything. “ I felt a little foolish but I’ve felt that way many times before for far lesser reasons. I just didn’t want to stop.

Stopping didn’t make any sense. It was raining. I was miserable. And walking would just get me back to the car and out of the rain even slower and probably much colder. If anything, I should’ve been trying to run faster, not start walking. I was ready to be out of the damn rain more than I was ready to be free of the pain.

I managed to maintain a semi-consistent pace through those last three miles, except for fumbling the pickup of my rain coat. I almost pulled myself off of my feet when it got hung on the post as I tried to grab it running by. And as I finally saw the head of the trail coming into view and the glorious image of my beat up old car, I couldn’t have felt better. Even in those shitty conditions I still got that rush that I get when I approach a finish. And I did finish.

When I was done, I walked back to by car opened the rear hatch and just sat there, curled up, holding my sore knees to my chest and quietly watching the rain fall. It was so quiet and peaceful both outside and in my head. The voices had been defeated. Did I feel a sense of accomplishment? Certainly. Was it worth it? Damn right. Do I want to do it again? Nope.

But tomorrow is another run day. Forecast: Rain. Luckily, I know I can do anything.

If I were granted one wish for the Shamrock Half Marathon, it would be that if I find myself struggling against an inner voice telling me to quit, that I will at least be able to look up at a beautifully clear blue sky and honestly be able to say to myself “Hey, at least it’s not raining.”

I. Can. Do. Anything.

I love Jeremy's style of painting and the record is good too.

I love Jeremy’s style of painting and the record is good too.

After getting home, rolling around with Citrus a little bit, and getting cleaned up and fed, I piled my sore bones into the backseat of a friend’s car and headed out to Charlottesville to see talented Oklahoma singer/songwriter Samantha Crain (who I was delighted to see had her album art done by a whiskerino brother, Jeremy Okai) open up for Bloomington, Indiana’s Murder By Death.

I know that their name sounds metal, but Murder By Death is an indie rock band that I was just recently introduced to, despite their six studio albums. Their sound ranges from a textural western desert sound to an almost punk rock quality in their faster songs. They played an awesome show and seeing them with good friends in a nice small venue was a really great way to end a day that started with a suck-embracing rain-run.

And I’m a sucker for a band with a cello player.

Simple Pleasures & Small Victories (J.O.G.T. 1)

“The days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, those are really good days.” Ray Willey Hubbard.

In my first post of the year, I included an image that explained the “Jar of Good Things.” It is basically an idea that was circulating around the New Year where you start the year off with an empty jar. And then you fill it with notes of good things that happen through the year. The theory being that at the end of the year, you can go through those notes and remind yourself of all the good days that you experienced during the last 12 months. I’m not waiting that long.

It’s borderline hippy bullshit, but I thought it might not be a bad idea to try to find something positive in the world every day, so I do. I don’t actually have a jar, but I do record something into my “J.O.G.T” word-file every day. Some days it’s easier than others.

Now, I don’t buy lottery tickets or otherwise gamble, so I don’t expect to share any monumental financial announcements. I have absolutely no “game,” so I suspect exciting romantic news will be unlikely as well. But I do have a pretty good life and a modest lifestyle which allows me to enjoy small victories and simple pleasures that I’ll share around the end of each month as a semi-interesting reminder to myself that life really aint that shitty. Here are a few of the highlights from January.

(The only editing that was done was to change/omit the names of the innocent. Please forgive any syntax errors and the like.)

Jan 1. Today my first blog of the year, “No Resolutions,” prompted the highest ever number of views of my site for a single day.

It was the highest traffic day on my blog BY A LOT, and it felt like a really great start to the year. Thanks everybody.

Jan 9. I think I finally let my heart say “goodbye” to [her] today. It sucked to have to do it, but there was a feeling of release that I think is a positive thing.

Pretty self explanatory. Life’s a bitch. Those years were an indescribably amazing time that have given me some of the best memories anyone could ever ask for. But you can’t move on if you’re holding on. I’m ready to see what the day brings.

Jan 18. Recorded with Jenn and Ray again for the first time in a long time. We recorded two covers but Jenn sounded awesome and I loved being able to record it.

Over the last few years, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to regularly record two local singer/songwriter friends of mine. I’ve got a pretty simple recording set-up but it seems to suit us pretty well and we always have a good time working together. And occasionally the recordings are actually worthy of the talent I’m so lucky to be allowed to witness.

Life’s schedule has resulted in longer breaks between sessions in recent months. It was nice to just get together, enjoy each others’ company, and goof off with some covers. It was definitely a good thing.

Jan 28. Payroll got my pay straight and put the money back into my account today. I realized that my pace has been the same for my 6, 8, and 9 mile runs. And I smoked zero cigarettes today.

Looking at my training schedule (where I record times/paces as I complete each step), I realized that my pace was the same for all of my “long” runs as I was progressing through my plan. And after running my snowy 15K at a faster than intended pace and feeling so comfortable afterwards, it made me wonder if I was maybe not running at my full potential. Maybe I could run faster than I thought.

Oh, and I apparently didn’t smoke any cigarettes that day either. Good thing.

Jan 31. I left work early because the computers were down, and had a really nice 9 mile run around the entire neighborhood. Averaged a pace that could make a 2 hr Half Marathon possible. Felt really good.

After several hours dealing with recurring computer related hurdles and getting totally frustrated with wasting so much of my time getting so little accomplished, the system went down completely. I left, and spent the rest of my afternoon doing something productive and enjoyable; running in the sun.

I still don’t have a set time-goal for the Shamrock Half Marathon because I do not want to let a finish line goal get in the way of my starting line goal. But it would be awesome to finish my first half marathon in two hours. I will not let that idea sabotage my training though. Just because it would be awesome does not mean that I’m not going to party just as much after a three hour finish. Any finish is a good finish, and I can’t finish if I don’t start.

Starting line goal: To get to the starting line healthy. That is goal number one. I don’t have a goal number two.

That’s it. Not a bad start to the year. Like I said, it’s nothing crazy or exciting. Just simple happenings that seemed like “good things” on the days I wrote them down. Training is going well. Work is steady. Life is good.

How has your new year been so far? Any of those resolutions complete yet? Given up on any of them yet?

January’s J.O.G.T. Honorable mentions:

Jan 11. Got pulled over for running a stop-sign on the way to work and only got a warning. Had an awesome 7 mile run trying “chi running” techniques for the first time.

Jan 16. First attempt at speed intervals during 3.5 mile run. I may actually be able to run fast some day.

Jan 20. The New England Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs by the Baltimore Ravens. That’s a good thing.

Jan 23. Went for my 4 mile run, all but ignoring my pace or pacing. Just a good therapy run. Just as I made it to 4 miles and stopped running…I found a dollar. Good thing.

Jan 24. I got my first copy of Tape Op magazine today.

Jan 29. Went to the doctor and got my very first complete check-up as an adult. I waited way too long. We’ll see what happens.