Checking In From the Long Cut

“When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.” – Corrie Ten Boom

Wow! It’s been a while. I wish I had some exciting reason why I haven’t posted in so long; maybe some wild tale about my adventures battling dragons on the open seas or traveling with a ninja circus through outer space.

Because seriously, what lie story isn’t made better by adding a dragon or a couple of ninjas?

That’s right! None!

The mythical-reptile-free truth is that I’ve just been a little busier, largely uninspired, and I couldn’t justify making time in an already frenzied schedule just to force something crappy onto the web. If I post something crappy, I want it to be genuinely inspired crap.

Obviously, I’m still a ridiculous person.

“It is the merit of a general to impart good news, and to conceal the truth.” – Sophocles

I’m inclined to say that so little has happened in the last two months that writing about it would’ve wasted more of my time than reading it would’ve stolen from you. It’s basically been weeks upon weeks of the same ol’ shit: Go to work, go to the gym, cook dinner late, meditate, not enough sleep, repeat. Nobody parties like I party.

I continue to refine my diet: still plant based, no meat, no dairy, very little sugar, and currently reducing both oils and gluten (not all fats, just oils) while increasing consumption of unprocessed whole foods and those rich in probiotics. I’ve even started making my own kombucha and salad dressing; tasty practices that I can already tell might spin out of control.

I hear it's not bad w/ a little vodka or bourbon either.  Just sayin'.

I hear it’s not bad w/ a little vodka or bourbon either. Just sayin’.

I still try to meditate every day. My success is mixed but improving. And I definitely feel better when I make the time to just sit, focus on my breath, and slow the rattling in my skull. I don’t have any magical stories of transcendence. All I know is that when I don’t do it my mind knots up quickly and the tension is palpable.

I am running (thankfully), but nowhere near as much as I would like and way too much of it on a spinning rubber band surrounded by walls and televisions and loud shitty music; all things that suppress my spirit far more than encourage it.

(SIDE NOTE: Why is it, that in a place where literally 95% of people wear headphones, the gym feels compelled to play the music so loud? Seriously, no one is listening to that noise. Turn it down…or off.)

Managed to steal a trail ride before the soaking month of rain and snow.

Managed to steal a trail ride before the soaking month of rain and snow.

The closest things to actual “news” around here are: I’m lining up my first yoga session in the coming weeks. A buddy’s martial arts experience continues to tempt me in a jujitsu direction. And because my nagging running limitations have reduced the time I get to spend with my friends sunshine, rainfall, birdsongs, and barking dogs, I’ve started riding my bike more.

It’s not the same as running. But it does help with the withdrawal symptoms of not being able to run as much as I’d like. So until I can safely get my long runs back, I’ll ride. If you can’t be with the one love, love the one you’re with, right?

We’ll see.

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” – Beverly Sills

I still haven’t put any races on my 2014 calendar. I don’t mind that so much except that it means that I don’t have a training schedule either. And I miss the training more than the races.

Honestly, I miss my long runs more than anything; two plus hours running alone on a Saturday morning with nothing but my haunted thoughts. That might not sound like a good time to everyone, but I miss it like crazy…and might seriously be going crazy trying not to force myself back to that place too quickly.

Typical of my nature, impatience has complicated my recovery. I got hurt. The second I felt “better,” I charged out and re-aggravated it. Lesson learned. Don’t rush it. We’re not going for better. We’re going for healed. Baby steps are the answer. I can do anything. Blah blah blah.

I truly believe all of that, but I was still missing one important point. Having the answer wasn’t going to help if I kept asking the wrong question; aiming at the wrong target.

“Just as nailing a PR isn’t easy, recovering from an injury isn’t easy-it takes dedication and hard work. And… you can’t expect to get better if you give it less than your best.” – Kate McDonald Neitz

Through this whole debacle, I’ve been striving to get back to where I was before; always looking way beyond the next step and thinking instead about the marathon on the horizon. Have you ever tried to reach out and touch the horizon? Chasing it won’t get you any closer.

As my hopes for a spring 26.2 slipped away, I thought maybe I could salvage a half before the higher heat and humidity forces long races into summer hibernation. No? Well, how about if I can get back to running (insert any number) miles a week. Sure, that’ll make me happy.

I wasn’t focusing on simply letting my ankle heal, and heal fully. I thought I was. But I’m often full of shit. I’d take a couple of weeks off. Then maybe a short, slow treadmill run, staying aware of my form, and making sure to stretch properly. You know, doing everything “right.” But as soon as I saw even the slightest flicker of light at the end of the tunnel, I’d immediately kick the engineer off the train and push the throttle.

“Today felt pretty good. Finally. I’m back! Time to start building my mileage back up. Maybe I can squeeze in a half marathon before summer.” Nope. I’d just go too hard for too long and bang myself up again. Two steps forward, one step back. Story of my life. No road like the hard road. Arghhhhhh!

A full recovery is the only “race” I should be training for. And I’m trying to be as dedicated to that goal as I was while training for any of last year’s races. But last year, “dedication” meant pushing through newbie discomforts in order to break new ground. This year, it means, trusting the engineer will get me through this tunnel if I’ll only stay out of the way.

It feels like it’s taking forever, but I have to remember that I don’t have a lifetime of athleticism to fall back on. A year and a half ago, I had a combined total of zero years of athletic conditioning. I think that might be important. Those with a more substantial foundation of physical activity might be able to endure a short time on the sidelines and have their bodies rebound quickly.

When I got hurt and essentially took 8 weeks “off,” that equated to almost 10 percent of my total life as a runner. And because I’ve got over 38 years of experience being a hardheaded dullard, I completely forgot all of the things I learned while training last year. I’m going to have to start small again. Not from scratch. But smaller.

“It is the neglect of timely repair that makes rebuilding necessary.” – Richard Whately

8 miles at sunrise last Saturday = longest run in months. Felt so good.

8 miles at sunrise last Saturday = longest run in months. Felt so good.

I’m grateful to be running again, even if much of it is on the dreadmill. But my runs are a little bit more like work right now; work that I love. I’m concentrating on and adjusting every aspect of my form: my foot strike, my breathing, which muscles I’m using, my posture, keeping my core engaged, everything. I think about all of those things constantly in fact. Whether I’m walking across a parking lot or sitting at my desk, I’m always paying attention to my body’s overall alignment and posture.

I’m trying to learn more about how my body works and then incorporate those lessons into my gym routine each day. I’ve increased and expanded my cross training during these weeks and I can tell that my endurance is as good as or better than it’s ever been. I’m determined to come out of this tunnel stronger than I went in.

“We’ve been in a deep rut
And it’s been killing me
If you wanna take the long cut
We’ll get there eventually”
– Uncle Tupelo

Anyway, I just wanted to check in to say that I’m still here. I’m trying to avoid misleading short cuts, focus on the next step instead of the horizon, and be steadfast on the more reliable long cut back to a full recovery…and eventually back into a race bib.

I know I said at New Years that I wanted to increase the frequency of these posts, but I’m at a loss. I didn’t realize how long my recovery was going take and maybe didn’t fully appreciate how many of my blogs over the last 18 months were sparked and/or drafted while I was out pounding the pavement. I don’t know if those runs were my muse or my workshop. But without my time in whatever that place is, I’m stuck simultaneously experiencing a feeling of both emptiness and suffocating clutter. And I don’t really feel like writing about either of those things right now. So I’ll just keep moving forward at whatever pace I can. And I’ll write ‘em as they come, whether that’s next week or next month. Hell, if I’m going to take the long way around, I better at least see something interesting along the way.

Wish me luck. I can feel it and do appreciate it. Happy Wednesday.

Colorado Trip Report…Finally!

“Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts” – Oliver Wendall Holmes

Well after being back for almost a week now, I’m finally getting close to my normal level of chaos. I’m down from the mountain and have been busy as hell settling back into my rut groove the best I can and quickly realizing that these next couple of weeks of training are going to be insanely time consuming. Come on taper.

Despite some crazy travel woes on my way west and some unusually persistent Colorado precipitation, I enjoyed a very relaxing stay in the Rockies. It was great to really visit with my brother and sister-in-law and to catch up with them on their side of the world for a change. It had been far too long.

I didn’t do anything crazy while away. I managed to maintain my marathon training without any major issues. I meditated first thing every morning, which was awesome. I was introduced to some new food and drink. I enjoyed running in a new place, especially one so beautifully different. And it was great to just break from the grind of reality to take a deep breath and look around for a while. I’m putting my trip in the “win” column.

I actually like how you can see the rain coming from so far away

I actually like how you can see the rain coming from so far away

“People deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong. Why not try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?” – Nhat Hanh

It has always seemed odd to me when someone returns from a vacation and is most eager to share a two hour story about the pitfalls of air travel. I’ve flown before. Those stories are all the same. Yes, the drinks are expensive. Yep, it sure is hard to find a place to smoke. Wait, you’re telling me that you thought the seats were uncomfortable? And the food wasn’t great either? Hell yes, I would love to hear your political opinion about the ridiculous security checks. Just hold on a sec, while I make a cup of hot tea to wash down this handful of valium.

In the spirit of trying to listen to my own griping, I’m going to skip the travel details of my trip. I will say that east coast lightning storms lead to flight cancellations, long delays, missed connections, and separation from my luggage on the way west; where torrential rain caused flood and rock-slide related road closures that made my travel a bit…um…”slower” than normal. But I did eventually get there. And no matter the annoyance of those detours and delays, it was still much faster than walking across the country.

Looking back at the whole trip, I’m happy to say the realization that the three “different” restaurants I experienced during my stay in the D.C. airport all served the same vegetable-deficient menu of burgers and fried appetizers was not the only thing I learned. I discovered all kinds of stuff. Here’s half a dozen of them.

“Well, lucky for you, it’s only raining in two places in the entire country; where you are, and where you’re going.” – My brother (Stuart), during phone conversation deciding that he’d pick me up in Denver.

Car camping is the best way to catch up with family you haven’t seen in a while. As I mentioned, my west-bound travels weren’t exactly glitch-free. But after the initial hiccup, I was able to foresee some of the inevitable hurdles to come. And once it was obvious that I was never going to make my connection out of Denver, Stuart graciously agreed to make the three hour drive to pick me up instead of letting me wait 14 hours for the next day’s flight. He’s cool like that.

Unfortunately, the weather was not nearly as cool. I’d regrettably scheduled my trip during what would become the deadly Colorado flood of 2013. Along with washing away bridges, roads, and homes, the flooding rains also caused more than a few rock slides. And those rock slides caused road closures. And those road closures resulted in us sitting on the side of Highway 70 just one hour away from the Denver airport: ignition off, seats reclined, hats pulled down, and shooting the shit while we decide whether to accept sleep and wait it out or take one of two long-ass detours all the way around the state.

A few hours of good quality brother-time allowed us to catch up on all the basics. Mom’s this. Dad’s that. Work is work. What’ve you been up to? Blah blah blah. And after shooting the shit for a couple of hours on the side of the road, learning that Stuart’s learning guitar, discussing some of my lifestyle changes, taking a very short nap, and assessing the travel options; at 4:30 a.m. he decided to take the southern loop around the state of Colorado. That decision turned out to be very wise. The road we were waiting for didn’t open until after noon. And we later learned that the northern option was washed out and would’ve left us stranded again. Have I mentioned what a lucky traveler I am?

Because we got all of that cumbersome “talking” crap out of the way first thing, we were able to spend the rest of my trip on the important stuff like trading music, guitar noodling, and catching up on my reading while Stu continued to dominate the world of Candy Crush (ugh). Oh, and we might have enjoyed a couple of beers here and there as well.

Stu's backyard has such a shitty view

Stu’s backyard has such a shitty view

Gold? maybe. Coal? For sure. But there aint no oxygen in them there hills. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration. I thought heading out there that I was going to be running my longest distance to date while at an elevation roughly 6000 ft. higher than what I’m accustomed. Then I learned that Oak Creek, CO, where my brother lives, is actually closer to 7400 ft. above sea level. Woohoo! Who needs oxygen anyway?

Stu was confident that the altitude wouldn’t be that big of a deal, especially if my fitness level had improved as much as he’d been told. Technically, he was right. It was not at all debilitating. But it was noticeable, and because I could see the difference even during my warm-up, I was able to compensate for it early.

I’m not always good at it, but I try to run my long runs based on a fairly casual pace (approximately 20 seconds per mile slower than what I hope to be my race pace). But while warming up and stretching in the back yard, I noticed that my heart rate was already increasing faster than normal. That’s pretty much all it took for me to decide that if I was going to run 16 miles in an unfamiliar area at unfamiliar altitude, I’d probably be better off running to exertion instead of pace. There would be absolutely no backup plan if I got 8 miles out of town and bonked, or ran out of water, or both. Oxygen is one thing, but there definitely aint no water-stops in them hills.

That decision to run to heart rate instead of pace is probably what allowed me to complete and even enjoy my run. It was raining when I started, and I did have to turn around early to go back for gloves. But once I was sure my hands weren’t going to fall off, I had a satisfying run down (and up) the rolling hills of highway 131. I got some weird stares from the horses that I passed on my trek overlooking the valley of sprawling ranches and railroad tracks. And I had to stop a few times to dump rocks out of my shoe. But for the most part is was just a nice, slow, nearly three hour romp through the gray morning of a state still a little too resistant to the sunshine. Despite the previous days with such spotty travel food and very little sleep, I had a good run and was happy to have my biggest schedule obligation out of the way. Finally, we can party, bring on the beer and hookers…

…Okay, just the beer then.

(Side note: Later that night, two of the 12 people in a local bar recognized me as that guy they saw running “way out” on 131. Fame is easy to find in a small town.)

I ran a trail all the way around this lake, but you'll never see pics.

I ran a trail all the way around this lake, but you’ll never see pics.

It’s time for me to step up into five years ago. In a recent online exchange about peoples’ favorite places, I mentioned that Steamboat Springs, CO was a beautiful and active community that I thought the person would enjoy. And when he suggested that I post some pictures, I thought that would be easy considering I was planning on a visit. Then came the rain. And fog. And drizzle. And mud. All of which nearly hid any evidence of the “scenic, active” lifestyle I’d mentioned. Murphy’s law I guess.

But I still tried. On the first day with just the suggestion of sunny weather Stuart, his wife Rachel, and I even took the gondola to the top of the mountain to look around at some bike trails Stu was building, maybe go for an easy hike, and take some pictures.

Guess what? As soon as we got to the top, a gray fog settled, a storm rolled in, it started raining, and lightning strikes in the area shut down the gondola stranding us at the top. Oh well. There’s a bar. One bloody mary please.

That was just one instance where my desire to take a couple of pictures was derailed. All of the the others were while out on a run and because I didn’t have a camera. I had my phone, but no camera. What? Yep. I’m the last man on earth without a camera phone. Because of security restrictions, I can’t have one where I work. But it occurred to me while running on a lake trail last week, and wanting to take pictures of…the lake, the mountains, the random cow standing on the trail, whatever, that I have ridiculously decided to limit my ability to conveniently capture moments in my real life just so that I can put a cell phone that never rings on my desk during my work life. I’m going to fix that soon. I don’t need my cell phone at work. And soon, I won’t have it there. Hooray for technology! Say “cheese!”

Russia has great asses. After waiting for the shuttle to climb the mountain and carry us back to the bottom (at which point the sun conveniently came out again), food was definitely in order. So we rolled over to a local restaurant for a late lunch and I was introduced to one of the best drink surprises I’ve had in a long time: The Moscow Mule.

Except for my standard pre-race dinner’s dirty martini, I’m generally a beer drinker. But I do enjoy a good vodka drink. And the Moscow Mule is one helluva vodka drink; simple, strong, and refreshing. It’s just vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice served over ice in a copper mug. The place we went also muddled some mint leaves in it, but other bars did not. I like the mint, but the copper mug is definitely the larger part of the magic. We made some at the house. They were good, but definitely missing that…something. And those mugs were so “popular” that one restaurant even required an I.D. deposit when you ordered their mule as a guarantee that they’d get the mug back. Damn thieves ruin everything. If you get a chance, try a mule. They are tasty.

“If you’re going to keep to this vegetarian vegan path, then you have to try this before your body starts rejecting meat.” – Stuart again

I’ve had Rocky, but Bullwinkle tastes way better. When I was maybe 11 years old, I remember trying squirrel meat for the first and last time. I remember thinking it was good. But if memory serves, it was country fried. And at the time, I would pretty much eat anything that was breaded and fried in grease.

When Stuart suggested we cook moose tenderloin for dinner, I was skeptical for almost 30 seconds. He’d seen me skip every opportunity to eat meat for days and gave me zero grief about my preference for a plant-based diet. I don’t want it. No one needs it. And he didn’t give a shit what I ate any more than I did about his food choices. But he also knew I’d like moose. And I trusted him to actually be considering what I would genuinely enjoy instead of just assuming that if he liked it then everyone should. So in another attempt to try something new “before my body starts rejecting meat,” I happily accepted the offer. And I’m so glad that I did. It was absolutely delicious.

Moose is incredibly lean and dark. It looked almost purple when it was raw. He soaked it in a soy-sauce based marinade. And because moose is so lean, he wrapped it in bacon before oven roasting it to medium rare. Stu insisted that if he wanted bacon, he’d have just made bacon, so he removed it before serving. And though I like bacon, I’m glad he did that too. The moose itself was so incredibly tender that you barely had to chew it at all. I cannot fairly describe its flavor. I wasn’t “gamey” at all whatever that means, but it wasn’t like beef either. Honestly, it was the closest thing to sashimi tuna that I can imagine being found on land. If you ever get the chance to have wild killed Bullwinkle tenderloin and your diet preferences allow it, please treat yourself. It’s way better than Rocky.

It didn't rain every day.

It didn’t rain every day.

Home is a subjective word. I’ve said in the past that no matter how awesome any place I’m visiting is, after about five days I’m usually ready to go back home. I didn’t feel that way this time. I wasn’t miserable to have to leave Colorado. I love it there and I love Stuart and Rachel. But I felt like a visitor, and visits come to an end. I also wasn’t relieved to get back to Virginia though. I like where I live. It’s a chill spot where I have a good job and know so many good people. But for whatever reason, when I was contacting people on my way back, I found myself avoiding the word “home.” I’d say “I’m back in Portsmouth” or “I’m on my way east” or simply “I’m back.” I’m still doing it.

I’m not miserable where I live. I don’t feel trapped. In fact, whether it feels like home isn’t an issue to me at all right now. There’s a battle being fought here that I can’t support from afar, and I’m glad I’m close. I’m grateful for all that I have in this place. I truly am. It was just weird walking through my hometown’s airport and not feeling quite ready for baggage claim.

I was there. Now I’m here. Someday; here, there, or somewhere, I’ll feel at home. And it’s probably got little to do with location. Happy Wednesday!

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.

F the Q Word

“Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.” – Charlotte Bronte

Let me start by saying that I feel good. I don’t say that enough. I seem to have very little reservation in sharing when I’m frustrated, annoyed, distracted, angry, or even a little sad. But I rarely find myself openly expressing when I’m in any kind of a good spot. I don’t think I’m alone in that either. Scanning through facebook is almost always like flipping through a phone-book-thick volume of personal gripes and dissatisfactions. And I’ve been as guilty of it as anyone else.

I’m not exactly sure what I could credit with this current sense of wellbeing since I have again changed a few too many variables at one time to accurately calculate a clear cause-and-effect relationship. I’ve continued to refine my diet habits; refueling better after runs and workouts, adding more nutrient-rich foods to meals and shakes, taking some additional vitamins, and making my food choices even more whole food vegetable based. I’ve also tweaked my gym workouts in the last week to better pair muscle groups and schedule more recovery days between those workouts. This should hopefully improve gains while reducing some recurring aches and pains. And I’ve managed to reduce the amount of stressors in my life.

I’m not sure which of these things is or is not more contributive to my current light-heartedness. But I don’t really care either. Today is a good day to have a good day. And I’m thankful to have noticed.

“We’ve been taught that quitting means failure. But we neglect to add the very important caveat to that statement, which is that there are two types of quitting: Quitting things that matter, and quitting things that don’t. “ – Ash Ambirge

A friend of mine recently shared the link to a blog that really hit home with me. The blog expressed the belief (or I would say: “understanding”) that in our efforts to never be seen as “quitters,” we often remain diligent in directions not beneficial to our goals, our interests, or even our personal welfare; and that when we find ourselves expending energy and valuable time in such unsatisfying pursuits, quitting is not a mark of weakness, but instead a sign of self-awareness…or maybe even wisdom. (Read blog here. Seriously. Read it.)

I’m more than satisfied with many of the changes I’ve adopted into my life in the last eight months and genuinely delighted with how natural those new facets have become. But I have been too reluctant and slow in removing and adjusting other stuff in order to better manage my health, my schedule and/or my stress levels. I felt that blog may have touched on some of the reasons why. I read it and several different things immediately came to mind; some unhealthy habits, poorly prioritized routines, previously made commitments. And I started to reassess each of them in an attempt to determine what the biggest obstacles in my life were and what I could do to reduce them or at least traverse them as quickly as possible in order to streamline my existence a little better. In short, I needed to be a better quitter.

“The only reason we should ever persevere is when it matters. And when does it matter? When it contributes to your big picture goals. Anything else is a waste of your time, and not quitting is extremely counterproductive.” – Ash Ambirge

Some friends and I hosted a disc golf tournament last summer to honor a friend of ours. It was moderately successful, we learned a lot, and we planned to do it again. No problem. But to anyone that’s read some of my posts from last fall already knows, I’m not the same person I was last summer. My interests and priorities are vastly different. So when it came time to organize this year’s tournament, I was admittedly much less enthusiastic. But I had already committed to it. Tournaments aren’t cheap so my financial support was definitely needed. And I didn’t want to let my friends down just because I was less personally invested in it. So I was going to do it. It’s not hard to do. It’s just expensive.

After repeated schedule conflicts pushing our date over two months past when we originally intended to hold the event and some unexpected financial set backs, we recently decided that we would have to cancel that tournament this year. It was becoming insanely difficult to coordinate and we just could not afford to do it. I almost felt guilty for how happy I was with our decision. I’d wanted to cancel it for weeks but wouldn’t say anything. And as he and I discussed it, the other financial backer was pretty much doing the same thing. We were both dealing with undue burdens trying to fulfill an obligation that had become way more of a stressor than any source of excitement. But we were both too “committed” to our previously laid plan to admit that our plan was unwise and that we should quit.

At some point you have to accept that the obstacles have piled so high, that the reward for completing a task can never justify the energy spent to accomplish it. It was supposed to be fun. Last year, it seemed a no-brainer that we’d do it again. And maybe we will. But as my interest waned and the obstacles grew, it became nothing more than a really expensive burden of my time and energy at a time when I have so many more important things I want to focus on. I had to quit. We had to quit. I’m not upset at all that we did. Sometimes quitting feels really good.

“As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge.” – Henry Van Dyke

I half jokingly mentioned in an earlier blog that everyone should have a standing weekly taco date. For those that don’t know, a “taco date” is exactly what it sounds like; a scheduled meeting with friends to enjoy delicious tacos and maybe a few cheap beers. But I was wrong. Maybe some people should have a weekly scheduled gathering like that. But I shouldn’t. I have too many life rituals already.

Not that long ago, I could reliably tell you where I was going to be every single Wednesday evening/night, Friday evening, Sunday morning, and Sunday night. That might not sound like that much of a time commitment. It’s only three days out of seven, right? But then you have to subtract the ten hours a day we all spend at work or traveling to and from work. And don’t forget all of that time we waste sleeping each night.

I’m fortunate enough to have a day job with regular hours, so from about four p.m. until 11ish every day, I’m technically free. That’s only 35 hours from Monday to Friday, and I had already committed two of those nights EVERY week, and half of EVERY weekend to standing routines. That didn’t leave a lot of extra time for healthy pursuits like regular exercise, smarter diet choices, or even full participation in my personal relationship.

Sure, they were routines revolving around activities that I enjoy, but my poorly prioritized dedication to the rituals themselves was too time consuming and inflexible and certainly not contributing to making me a better person or moving me towards my goals. In hindsight, I don’t even know if I had any real goals.

Working on reprioritizing my routines has benefitted me greatly. I still maintain many of the same regular customs but with a much higher level of flexibility. I love tacos, and I will not quit going to meet my friends on the occasional Wednesday night (though I’m missing it right now as I type this). I enjoy recording music with my friends on Friday. Playing disc golf with the same small group of friends every Sunday morning is as close to church as I will probably ever get. And my family dinners on Sunday night aren’t about to be cut from my schedule either. But the sheer routine of these things has been reprioritized. I’m not going to rush through a workout in order to eat a taco, or skip a race I want to run so that I don’t miss my Sunday rounds. I have to be a little better at making sure I’m spending my limited time in the most personally fulfilling way possible, even if it may not make any sense to those around me. My life is important enough to get my full attention.

“The time to quit is before you wish you had.” – Kimberly K. Jones

I had a doctor’s appointment today. Nothing dramatic. Just a follow up visit for a physical I recently had. Turns out I’m healthy; really healthy by the sound of it. As he reviewed my chart and read my cholesterol numbers, he seemed maybe even a bit too excited as he shared how rarely he gets to tell people that they’re doing great. I guess that’s good.

Then he went to his favorite topic since I met him. “How’s the smoking?” I told him the truth. I haven’t had a cigarette since last Thursday. “So you quit?” he asked, again a little too energetically. That should’ve been an easy question. I know that I should. And I’m pretty sure that I will. But I’m reluctant to use that word, very likely for the same reason he seemed so eager for me to say it. Saying I’ve quit smoking is outwardly committing to never smoking another cigarette. I’m not sure I’m ready to say that. So I didn’t.

But I will say that I’m happy to have gone even this long without one. I’ve mentioned before that my smoking habit has always been pretty lazy. I smoke one or two a day unless I’m out with friends and then the numbers climb slightly. And it’s not uncommon for me to smoke almost a whole pack while out at the park all day on Sundays. It turns out I’m kind of a binge smoker. And it’s never been the smoking that bothered me as much as the binging.

I like smoking. I like lighting them. I enjoy the physical act of smoking a cigarette. I like the slowness of it. But it’s definitely not a performance enhancing drug for runners. And according to my already improved blood pressure today, it’s apparently bad for you in other ways as well. Go figure.

After getting through last weekend without smoking any cigarettes at all (even on Sunday – what what), I have to admit that I felt pretty good. It was not nearly as easy as I thought it would be and that difficulty is what kind of woke me up to my need to take better control of it. I was using my low volumes as false evidence that my habit was some lower level addiction.

I’m still not going to say I’ve quit smoking. That word seems very permanent and maybe a little overconfident for me, having not gone a whole week without one yet. But I’m not smoking right now, and right now is the only moment I’m in control of. I guess it really doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, I still need to be a better quitter.

“Quitting is not giving up, it’s choosing to focus your attention on something more important. Quitting is not losing confidence, it’s realizing that there are more valuable ways you can spend your time. Quitting is not making excuses; it’s learning to be more productive, efficient and effective instead. Quitting is letting go of things (or people) that are sucking the life out of you so you can do more things that will bring you strength.” – Osayi Osar-Emokpae

I’m definitely not trying to imply that I’m going to adopt a simple “pro-quitting” life philosophy. I certainly would not endorse such a stupid idea. Adversity is not an automatic sign that something is not worth doing. Life is full of challenges that need to be conquered and bested. We learn lessons about the world and about who we are from those challenges. But in developing a strategy to overcome those unavoidable struggles as well as a host of genuinely rewarding ones, It seems invaluably important to know which battles are worth fighting to the end and when retreating is the best strategy for overall success.

I’m working on it. And so far, I feel pretty good…today anyway. Happy Wednesday.

Blinding Effect of Disgust (Boston)

“I lost some time once. It’s always in the last place you look for it.” – Neil Gaiman

A month ago, almost to the day, I finished my first half marathon. I trained hard for it, and because of that, it was the easiest long run I had ever run at the time. But after training so much on so little experience, I was still a little beat up afterwards. Because I had been battling ankle issues during the last few weeks of training and experienced minor discomfort all during the race, I decided that I should definitely RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) my ankles for as long as it takes to get back to 100%.

After giving that “R” a full week of no running, I started small with a three-ish mile run. But before I got to the second mile, my left ankle was already a little sore. Are you kidding me? I wasn’t sure if I could make myself go without any running for much longer, but I definitely didn’t want to keep running through pain and eventually end up with a real injury.

I RICE’d my ankles for two more days and then ran another short distance. That time I really focused on how my right foot was landing, and trying to pay attention to what I was obviously doing differently with my left. After a week of total rest with so little marked improvement, I felt like it had to be something I was doing wrong. And I was so determined to figure it out.

That run was a little better. I made it past two miles before my ankle started bothering me. It was minor discomfort, but c’mon. It’s only two miles. If I can’t run two miles without discomfort, I’d never be able to run another half marathon.

Towards the very end of that run, during a slight downhill section I realized that I was running with the toes of my left foot partially balled up and essentially limping on it in an effort to lighten the load on that ankle. That realization helped immediately. During my next run, I made sure to relax my foot and splay my toes out to avoid balling up my foot. I noted some improvement, but it was still not enough. Within only a few miles, I was again experiencing that same annoying sensation in my ankle. Dammit!

Then I read an article about rhythmic breathing , and how the foot that is landing as you release your breath takes a larger impact due to your diaphragm and core muscles relaxing during exhalation. When your core relaxes, it puts more of the impact of your body’s weight on your lower body. The math behind rhythmic breathing is that if you inhale for three steps and exhale for two, each exhalations will occur on the opposite foot-strike as the one prior. Could breathing really be the source of ankle pain?

I’d read about the breathing technique before but never with that explanation. I immediately started training myself to breathe that way. I started figuring it out while sitting at my desk at work, just tapping my feet while learning the rhythm. Then I’d practice it while taking walks during my lunch break. Then I finally got to put it to use on the road. Total game changer. I was immediately able to run longer distances before even noticing that I had ankles. And when I would experience a little soreness, I would take note that I had let my breathing slip out of rhythm and was in fact landing on my left foot on every exhalation. Immediate corrections would produce immediate relief.

Eureka! I had my answer. As funny as it may sound, I was actually hurting my ankle by breathing incorrectly. I love how the body works.

I kept utilizing that technique through my next few runs and continued to feel better, faster, and stronger. Like anything else, as I focused more intently on my breathing, I’d experience temporary lags in my cadence or slight deterioration in my form. But after a few runs, I can already feel everything coming back into sync and I can’t wait to start building up some miles again.

boston start

“There are worlds of experience beyond the world of the aggressive man, beyond history, and beyond science. The moods and qualities of nature and the revelations of great art are equally difficult to define; we can grasp them only in the depths of our perceptive spirit.” – Ansel Adams

Yesterday I was all prepared to write a whole blog about this breathing/pain discovery and to somehow expound on the importance of keeping a wide view of the world in order to prevent tunnel vision during troubled times, or some over-reaching essay on self discovery and how the answers to our problems are often found in the most unexpected places. Yadda, yadda, whatever, whatever.

But as I was leaving work, I got a text message from my mom:

“Did you hear the news? Explosions at Boston Marathon.”

“Wow. I don’t even want to know” I responded.

That is generally my initial response to any violent news, whether it be a bombing or a bar fight. I never want to know. I’m always disappointed by the details. The more I learn in each scenario, the more bothered I become. Did that guy accidently bumping into your drunken girlfriend really require a violent response? Is there any reasoning that would make mowing down a bunch of elementary school students seem any less insane? Will finding out the motive behind blowing up the finish line at one of the world’s largest running events make it any easier to comprehend? I don’t see how.

I stopped watching television news over 10 years ago after watching coverage of the “Shock and Awe” beginnings of yet another mid-east war. During that coverage, the news channel I was watching presented a huge digital color graphic comparing the number of bombs that had been dropped so far to the number of bombs that had been dropped in the same amount of time during the previous gulf war. That graphic is a huge part of why I don’t watch the news anymore.

They were comparing the number of bombs dropped in the same way you compare opposing NFL quarterbacks’ completion percentages. They were doing it over live video coverage of a city being destroyed, and under the wonderfully patriotic red, white, and blue “Shock and Awe” header. It was disgusting. Those bombs were killing people; very likely innocent people. And I was sitting on a friend’s couch watching it on live television with a fucking beer in my hand. The entertainment nature of the news media had gone too far for me. I was done. And I still am.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ― Fred Rogers

I managed to avoid the Boston story on my short drive home from work, but got another text message expressing concern for the victims and saying that hearing about it had just reminded my friend of me and my new found love of running. By that point I had thought about it a bit more and together with all of the other senseless violence we’ve experienced in the last several months and years, I was just overwhelmed with total disgust for my species. How do we continue to deny the similarities in all mankind? Why do we instead insist to seeking out our differences and try to segregate ourselves based on such insignificant things as different sexual orientations, religious beliefs, and/or ethnicities? Why can’t we accept those differences? Why do we seem to feel the need to persecute and discriminate against others based on them? Why is violence such an accepted expression of and response to anger? Why are we such fucking assholes all the time? I just don’t understand. Life is so short, and people want to spend so much of it hating others. It’s just so goddamn STUPID!

I had to get away from the news. I didn’t want to hear anymore about it. I was too disgusted with yet another violent act. And anticipation of the soon to follow political bullshit about guarantees of justice or some dream of American solidarity in the face of “terror” was already making my stomach hurt. I turned off my computer and my phone. And I left.

I went to the gym to escape the immediate coverage, as the race to be first by our news media usually leads to rampant guessing, superhero caliber leaps of logic, and a whole lot of stupid graphics and redundant video loops. But I failed to realize what should’ve been obvious; the coverage would likely be on every television in the gym. And it nearly was.

I tried to ignore it at first, but I wasn’t going to stare at the floor the whole time I was on the stair climber or the exercise bike. That would only make my neck hurt on top of my stomach cramping frustration with mankind. So I watched as blankly and as uninvolved as possible. I’m glad that I did, because in the few segments that they were looping, I managed to see what I needed to see. I didn’t plug my headphones in to hear any of the coverage, but they were showing what seemed to be the same eight-ish minutes of combined video footage over and over again.

I saw a man just feet away from finishing get blown down by shrapnel as a coward’s bomb exploded in the stands adjacent to the finish line. I saw spectators and runners turn in shock to see what had to be unfathomable chaos. How do you process that scene? You can see the finish line; that finish line you’ve dreamt about. Your heart is pounding. You’re going to do it. You’re going to finish the Boston Marathon. You’re feet away from achieving a longtime goal, about to leave the pain and torture of training behind and pass into the relief of after-party bliss, about to notch a huge accomplishment off of your bucket list, about to feel unprecedented pride in yourself…and BOOM! Some unidentified asshole’s gutless expression of who-cares-what destroys that moment. How do you process that?

I don’t know how I would’ve, but I know that my heart goes out to every single person affected. It’s just unbelievably senseless.

As I watched the footage for the second, third, and forth time, I finally saw what I needed to see. It was right there the whole time, but my disgust wouldn’t let me see it. I finally noticed how many people immediately went from runners and spectators to first-responders and good samaritans. Bystanders were immediately running to lift debris off of victims. I saw people of all walks of life (military personnel, city police, bystanders, runners, etc.), shedding their coats and shirts to be used as blankets, bandages, and tourniquets. I saw people not only being human, but humane.

boston herosIt took me a few loops of the carnage to clear my sight of the blinding effects of disgust, but eventually I saw the helpers. And it made me feel better. There are still more good people than bad in the world. We just seem to pay so much more attention to the worst among us. I do not understand why. But I’m glad I watched the news yesterday, at least for the half hour or so I was on that bike riding nowhere.

Sometimes you find the answers you need in the most unlikely of places.

“Think of success as a game of chance in which you have control over the odds. As you begin to master concepts in personal achievement, you are increasing your odds of achieving success.” – Bo Bennett

In the coming days and weeks as coverage of the investigation wanes and personal interest stories make the cover of a dozen different magazines, I’m sure at least a few of them will try to make the Boston Marathon more universally relatable to the masses by calling it the runners’ Super Bowl or the World Series. But it is neither of those things.

I have never run a marathon, so I certainly cannot speak with experience about what Boston means to people. But the Super Bowl and the World Series are both events where tens of thousands of people gather to watch a few dozen athletes work together to achieve a collective goal. The Boston Marathon is where tens of thousands of athletes gather to achieve a personal and individual goal on their own…together.

The Boston Marathon is not some community 5K where anyone with an entry fee can just sign up, lace up, and run it. Each of those more than 23,000 runners had sacrificed months and years of their lives to qualify to be there. They had dedicated themselves at some point to do what so few can do; to run a marathon. And after accomplishing that monumental goal, they decided that they not only wanted to do it again. They wanted to do it faster. They wanted to do it fast enough; fast enough to qualify for Boston.

And I won’t even get into the registration hurdles they had to conquer once they finally qualified.

Those 23,000 runners had forgone time with friends and family to put in the many training miles needed to prepare their minds and bodies for the challenge of finishing one of the biggest races in the sport. They watched what they ate. They stayed in on Friday nights so they would be fresh for that no frills, no finishers’ medal 20 mile training run on Saturday morning. They put their sore bones in bathtubs full of ice to relieve the pain afterwards. They persevered through painful IT bands, planter fasciitis, swollen knees and ankles, stomach cramps, and shin splints. They did what they had to do to prepare to achieve a personal goal that no one else could do for them. And some shithead tainted or destroyed that dream with the most cowardly of weapons.

It’s hard now, not to again feel disgusted. But I remind myself of those helpers. I remind myself that this was the act of a few. And I remind myself of the perseverance of runners.

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.” – Walter Elliot.

I don’t believe that the Boston Marathon is in any danger as an institution. I haven’t even heard anyone hint at it. But then again, I’ve been avoiding the news for almost 28 hours now. Runners, in my limited experience, are the most dedicated and headstrong people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of associating myself. They battle through so much personal pain and suffering week in and week out during their training, and for what? None of the runners I know were in any position to “win” any of the races I’ve participated in. They do it because they love running. They love challenging themselves. And maybe above all else, they love rising to that challenge and experiencing the feeling of accomplishment that comes with success in those goals.

These kinds of personalities will never let the dishonorable and spineless act of a few take their event away from them. Sure, there will be some runners who cannot stomach being on that ground again, and I don’t blame them at all. But there will be others that refuse to let fear invade their passion. There will be new runners who refuse to take Boston off of their bucket list. The Boston Marathon will likely experience a boon in registrations next year. Not in some back-patting brewhaha “look at how brave I am” pageantry, but as a result of the rallied support of arguably the most dedicated community of amateur athletes in the world. Runners will never give up their “Super Bowl.” Because unlike fans of the NFL Super Bowl, they’re actually going to play. And every one of them that crosses that finish line wins.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi

In my short time running, I have learned many things about myself. I’ve learned that I can do anything that I set my heart and mind towards. I’ve discovered inner strength that makes me want to do so many things that I’m constantly battling against that daily 24 hour time limit. I’ve learned that I’ve got a shitload more to learn too. And if I don’t leave myself open to new experiences and possibilities, I may never figure it all out.

Yesterday I was reminded that we are not guaranteed tomorrow, and that just makes those 24 hours every day seem that much more limiting. Statistically, I’m over half way through with my short time on the planet. I’ve wasted a lot of it. Monday’s chaos did not make me want to run a marathon. Yesterday made me want to run Boston. Not because I think that it needs me to, or because of any silly “If I don’t run Boston, then the terrorist win” bullshit. I want to run it for the same reason 23,000 people wanted to yesterday. Because it’s the Boston. Fucking. Marathon. And not just anybody in a pair of Asics gets to say they’ve done it.

I was in a sour mood this morning (still am) and I was very tempted to call out of work and then justify that irresponsible act to myself by putting in some epic long therapy-run in tribute to those effected by the events in Boston yesterday. But in the end that seemed kind of self-righteous and silly to me. If someone else did that, I get it. But for this newbie who’s never been to Boston, never run a marathon, and thankfully did not lose anyone in yesterday’s tragedy to do that seemed a bit out of place.

But I did run today. I ran four short miles just as I already planned to. And I’ll run again on Thursday, and again on Saturday, and so on and so on. I will because I’m a runner. I will because if I ever want to run the Boston Marathon, I’m going to have to start somewhere. And it might was well be here. And it might as well be today. We’re all running out of time. Let your loved ones know how you feel. Do the things you want to do. Tomorrow might be too late.

boston finish

I’m not disgusted by the events in Boston yesterday because I’m a runner. I’m disgusted by what happened because I’m a human being who expects more from society. And I’m tired of having to seek out inspiration in the face of overwhelming disappointment. Treat people better. It’s not that hard.