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.

Slow Is Fast: Importance of Baby Steps

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

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

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

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

Hooray! Back to the doctor.

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

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

I tried again on Thursday.

No dice!

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

Long

est

twelve

days

ev

ver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrong.

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

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

Merry Christmas to me. I felt worse than ever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work Smarter AND Harder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I. Wish. I. Knew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…the holidays. Ugh, the holidays.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Work smarter, not harder” – Alan Lakein

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

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

One Step More (J.O.G.T. 9)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Try to do it with your knees first.”

“My knees, huh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Friday

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

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

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!

The Lemonade Stand: Baby’s First Runbirthday

“You can spend days, weeks, months, or even years sitting alone in the darkness, over-analyzing a situation from the past, trying to put the pieces together, justifying what could have or should have happened. Or you can just leave the pieces on the floor behind you and walk outside into the sunlight to get some fresh air.” – Marc Chernoff

On September 5, 2012, I walked out of my apartment a very lost and damaged human being, and took off running down the street towards Who-Gives-A-Fuck; having no clue what the hell I was doing. Roughly 0.2 miles later, I was walking. I was sweating, breathing heavily, and walking slow. When I caught my breath, I started running again. I didn’t know why. I wasn’t a runner. All I knew was that I really wanted to get to Who-Gives-A-Fuck in a hurry. I wanted to get anywhere else as fast as I possibly could. So, if I could run, I did. When I couldn’t run, I walked. But for twenty-something sunny afternoon minutes and almost 1.5 miles, I did not stop.

When I got back to my apartment, sadly having not found the door to that wonderful world of Who-Gives-A-Fuck, something was different. I knew it immediately. I didn’t know what had changed, or what it meant. But I knew I was transformed. And that feeling was indescribable. I was reborn; a new man; right then.

Like any newborn, I didn’t know shit. I was moving on instinct; alone in a world I didn’t recognize and with so much to learn in order to survive in it. I had to grow up. But what did growing up even mean? At the time, it meant trying to find a light in the dark, warmth in the cold, or at least comfort in the absence of both.

I’m still working on that.

Hey, gimme a break. I’m only one.

On September 4, 2012, there was only one thing I knew for sure: I felt like total shit. I had never felt so physically and spiritually suffocated by pain in my life, or more incapable of dealing with that hurt. I was dead. I don’t mean that I was sad and wanted to die. I didn’t. I mean I was already dead; cold; lifeless. The fire: out. The fact that I was even making it through my work day still amazes me. I don’t think I said more than two words to anyone for days, and can’t remember if anyone had spoken to me at all. Dead.

In the days after my rebirth on the road, my new still blurry vision and simple newborn mind was now sure of a staggering two things. 1) When I wasn’t running, I felt like total shit – as described above. 2) When I was running, I didn’t feel like total shit. And with that simple and lone understanding of my new world, I began to run as much as I could.

“Sometimes you have to kind of die inside in order to rise from your own ashes and believe in yourself and love yourself to become a new person.” – Gerard Way

It’s interesting to me looking back at those days because I started tracking my running from day one. I do not know why. I was living entirely on raw impulse. I ate only when my hunger got strong enough to cut through my thick mind-fog. I was drinking water less aware of my need for it, and more because it was the only thing conveniently piped into my home. I slept whenever I was remotely still because why not be asleep. I wasn’t living. But even in my undead zombie-like state I was still marking each run on a calendar on the wall. Eat, drink, sleep, run. The answer is in there somewhere.

100_6694I started putting little check marks on that calendar for every day that I’d run. When I joined a gym two weeks later, I started adding a “G” to the square for each day that I would workout. Seven weeks after my first sloppy trek outside, I started recording the length of each run, and eventually adding the time as well. Without a whole lot of foresight, my numbers-nerd personality was starting to track my pace. Why? No clue.

I didn’t know it at the time, but what I was viewing as a simple activity to ward off a mental breakdown was becoming the first part of a personal experiment in wellness. The foundation of my “Me” experiment was unfolding without my full understanding. I knew running made me feel less shitty. I liked feeling less shitty. So I needed to run more.

“What do I have to do to be able to run more?”

“I have given up many things in this becoming process. None was a sacrifice. When something clearly became nonessential, there was no problem in doing without. And when something clearly became essential, there was no problem accepting it and whatever went with it.” – Dr George Sheehan.

Seeking the answer to that simple question has cascaded into areas I could have never predicted.

For several weeks after my first run, I went out almost every day. And after noting no perceivable improvement in performance, it was time to read. I started with online resources, and within days had purchased my first Runner’s World magazine. Of course, I subscribed immediately after reading it. I researched everything from running form, to proper dietary fueling, to cross training, to strength training. What do I have to do to run more? I wasn’t sure, but I was damn sure going to find out.

I learned that new runners should not run every day; that without rest days, the newbie body cannot recover. And running on sore, overworked muscles leads to injury. Injury means no running. And the idea of not running at the time left me paralyzed with fear. It still does. So, after almost four weeks, I finally started taking regular rest days. Surprise! My running improved.

Those rest days became dedicated cross training days at the gym. I originally joined the gym in case it was raining and I really needed to run. Little did I know that I would rather run outside in the rain or snow than inside on a treadmill. But cycling and weight training at the gym gave me another way to get my blood moving every day. It’s definitely wasn’t running, but in a pinch, a solid workout would even help with that “feeling shitty” thing I deal with. Both running and gym workouts were becoming sweat-meditation; “sweatitation” that I valued greatly. I still do.

As my activity levels continued to increase, my diet became a serious bastard to figure out. I needed to eat more, but I rarely felt hungry and only wanted to eat what I really needed. I had already cut out processed food. If I didn’t know what was in something, I didn’t eat it. I felt better instantly, and had noticeably more energy. In fact, as I’ve kept cutting out this food (meat, pasta, dairy) and adding that one (a lot more whole raw fruits and vegetables), I’ve ended up with an almost vegan diet. And I feel great. I’m running better. I’m getting stronger. And I am recovering faster. Food is supposed to give us energy. It is supposed to make us feel good, not make us want to take a nap.

“Learning about what you’re made of is always time well spent.” – Henry Rollins

Because I was consciously using running and exercise as therapy during that difficult time, I’d obviously become somewhat aware of the connection between physical and mental health. That connection is something that I probably would’ve accepted long before I actually explored the reality of it. It just makes sense to me. And with every step made towards a healthier body I also noted increased occasion of spiritual clarity.

It should be noted that “clarity” is not always a pleasant experience. There is a reason some people seek to numb their perception of themselves. Clearness of vision is sometimes just that break in the clouds we need to see all of the mistakes we’ve made, all of the negative habits we’ve collected, all of the toxic people and practices we’ve allowed to settle into our lives. Seeing these things just created new obstacles to traverse if I’m ever going to become my most authentic and whole self. But I can’t clean up messes I can’t see, so clarity is a positive thing, even if uncomfortable.

As I enjoyed strides towards better physical fitness and continued to research, discover, and experiment with different ways to improve those gains, it became increasingly clear to me that keeping a strong body was not the be-all, end-all solution to mental wellness. I’d experienced the direct connection between the two. But I was only actively working to improve one side of the equation, foolishly assuming that being physically fit would magically drag my spiritual self into a healthier well lighted place as well. It doesn’t work that way. If a strong, well-tuned body was the secret to mental health, then professional athletes would be the most balanced and spiritually centered people on the planet. You won’t have to search the web very long to debunk that idea. Cough, cough…Aaron Hernandez.

The spiritual self needs to be cared for and exercised as much as the physical self. This is an area that I have only recently started to explore. And as I approach this new thing with a beginner’s mind, I’m again researching and finding my way anew. Different people find balance in varying ways. I’ve adopted a daily meditation practice, and so far noticing small but appreciable benefits. I’m a newbie with a ton to learn, but I already feel less stress, calmer of mind, and generally more present. Life seems to move a little smoother and I seem to handle the bumps better. It’s new, and we’ll see how it goes, but I’m going to keep doing it. I think it is going to help me find some kind of balance. It’s the least I can do.

“When I crashed and found the wherewithal to get back on the bike and finish; that was what I learned about myself. If that hadn’t happened and everything had gone perfectly, I certainly wouldn’t have learned as much about myself as I did having to struggle with misfortunate and setbacks.” – Rich Roll

While catching up with a friend way back in February; discussing how my training was going and chatting about some of the other positive changes I was starting to observe, she noted that I may not have made any of those adjustments, or even started running at all, if I hadn’t experienced such a painful loss last year. I quickly replied “It’s lemonade.”

“Huh?”

“It’s the lemonade” I repeated. “My running and working out is lemonade. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. All of this is just lemonade.”

She was not trying to make light of my feelings or to rationalize the true tragedy of my loss, but instead was simply recognizing it as a catalyst to this new phase in my life.

I don’t care for lemons. I don’t want them in my water at restaurants. And I don’t particularly like lemonade either. But no matter how shitty the realities may be, I refused to continue approaching so many things in my life with the internal negativity I’d ignored (or even embraced) in the past. I would love an occasional cantaloupe or some fresh blueberries, but if those sweet luxuries are not in the cards for me, then I will continue to seek out and develop the world’s greatest lemonade recipe. I might not be able to control a lot of the things that happen around me or even how I feel about those things. But I can certainly control how I respond to the hand I’m dealt.

“The human capacity for burden is like bamboo- far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.” – Jodi Picoult

The human animal is incredibly resilient. No matter how far gone we might think we are, or how low we feel, very few things are unrecoverable. We can lose the weight, learn the new skill, move more weight, prevent and cure diseases, and just fucking feel better if we dedicate our energy to our own wellbeing and focus on our goals. We can do anything.

In the last 12 months, I’ve become healthier than I have ever been. I eat better and exercise more than I ever have. I stopped smoking cigarettes after almost 15 years. Along the way, I’ve gone through three pairs of running shoes. I’ve logged 730 miles on the road, run nine races, including two half-marathons (each under two hours), and I’m in week 14 of my training plan to run my first full marathon later this fall; with bigger plans beyond that. And while I believe that weight is a sometimes distracting and over-celebrated metric in the pursuit of true health, I’ve lost 70 pounds too.

And my run journal is still growing strong as well.

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I’ve made a lot of lifestyle adjustments this year and discovered a confidence in myself that makes my hunger for change even stronger, the slow pace of it even more frustrating, and that frustration can be incredibly distracting. I’m finally learning to make the effort to live in the present, aim at the next step instead of the goal, and accept that stumbling is part of traveling.

Am I still lost? I don’t know. Technically, I know where I am. But the vast majority of the time, I do feel completely out of place in the world. That’s an odd sensation to walk around with every day. But I’ve made my decision in the “yellow wood” of that Robert Frost poem, and I have faith that I’ve chosen wisely. I’m confident that if I continue to run along this healthier path up the mountain, that I’ll eventually find the place where I belong and fill the void that still stings inside of me. The answer is up there somewhere.

Am I still damaged? Eh, I can’t tell anymore. Unfortunately I pick scabs, heal slowly, and wear thick scars. I think I’ve just acclimated to whatever this new grayer feeling is and don’t know how to describe it. I’m not damaged. I guess I more “haunted.” I probably always will be to some extent. It is what it is.

After only one year, I’m not even a toddler in this new healthier lifestyle, but I’m up on my wobbly legs, moving slow, and looking to get into all sorts of shit. Look out world! I’m only going to get faster.

This is one of my favorite songs by my friend Derek Smith. He’s one of those guys that drive negative people nuts with his positivity and general good nature. I like knowing him. And I appreciate that he plays this song for me almost every time I get out to see him live. “I took a gamble on this thing called love. I got just what I paid for, but not what I dreamed of.” I hope to someday look back on this time from wherever my “Best Years” are found and just laugh at my silly ass. Happy Thursday, it’s my rebirthday.

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Declaration Day

“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.” – C. JoyBell C.

NOTICE: On my blog’s “About” page I state that while I may be documenting my personal experiences and discoveries as a new runner that “a lot of my motivation [for this blog] is to simply get some of these things out of my head to make room for new thoughts.” This is one of those times. You’ve been warned. Here’s the pitch.

“Hiding how you really feel and trying to make everyone happy doesn’t make you nice, it just makes you a liar.” – Jenny O’Connell

I’d like to start by saying that I’ve been in a pretty nasty funk for the last three or four days. But I can’t, because it’s probably been closer to two weeks. I reread my last couple of blogs today and it’s there. I was fighting it, or maybe just trying to hide it. But I can still see it in there.

It’s hard to explain how much more annoying it is to write a blog touting the importance of keeping a positive perspective and sharing the thrill of discovering a new self confidence in the belief I can truly accomplish anything if I’m willing to work hard AND at the exact same time being damn near miserable most days because of my own negative attitude towards life and its challenges. It’s a steep, dishonest stairway to the pinnacle of Mount Hypocrisy. And I seem to have built a small cottage up there recently. I apologize for being such a fucking liar…to myself first and in effect to everyone else.

I’ve spent months typing about all of the exciting changes I’ve undergone and how many more things I still want to change. Those things are true. I have. And I do. But I think I may have started to pridefully stumble into the arrogant pitfalls of believing that I had already completed some journey when I had not; and will not. I have merely discovered a path. And in that I found the direction I needed to start taking the earliest and smallest of many steps on a never-ending journey. After a seed sprouts and stretches into a tree, it’s not done. Barring catastrophe, the act of growing is never complete. I’m proud of what progress I’ve made, but there is so much more work to do. And now is not a time to get lazy, and certainly no time to be poisoned by a discouraging mindset.

“The most common and harmful addiction in the world is the draw of comfort.” – Angel Chernoff

I’ve mentioned before that I am a creature of habit; some good ones; more than a few bad ones. And some habits are incredibly hard to break. I’m a procrastinator and an excuse maker. I always have been. And in the same way that some recovering alcoholics will forever refer to themselves as alcoholics, I will always be a procrastinator and an excuse maker. They are the hardest habits for me to break. Ridding myself of those short-comings requires continuous awareness of them and living with the discomfort that comes with that kind of consciousness.

I’m not yet in the place I want to be. And the comfort I seek may not be easily achieved. There was a time when, upon identifying a goal out of reach (even if only by inches), I would promptly make an excuse for why I have to wait to reach out for that place. And with a solid excuse in hand, I could then create the illusion of comfort in the place where I stood idle.

It’s so easy to do. Maybe it’s really expensive to gain access to this utopian dream world, so I’ll have to accept that saving the money will take time. No biggie, I’m not starving where I am now. Or maybe the path to my nirvana is too steep and difficult to climb, so I’ll have to wait until I’m stronger. Hell, maybe there are just spiders and a rickety ladder between me and what I want. I hate spiders and I’m not a fan of heights either. I’ll just chill down here for a while. If it’s meant to be, it will be.

“Our destiny changes with our thought; we shall become what we wish to become, do what we wish to do, when our habitual thought corresponds with our desire.” – Orison Swett Marden

when a door shutsTo suggest that something is meant to be is to imply that it would simply occur on its own if we’d stay out of the way; even if we did nothing. I don’t believe that. Nothing is “meant” to be. And if I was to sit around waiting for my dreams to come true, “nothing” is exactly what would happen. I’ve proven this through multiple experiments. Our destinies are entirely up to us to create. Death is the only unavoidable truth in life. It doesn’t care about us at all and should be given equal consideration in return. And it certainly should not be feared.

I believe my future is mine to control. And I don’t want to create some illusion of a preordained path that I’m merely stumbling down unwittingly. If I want to do something, I can do it. If I want to go somewhere, I can go. If I want to become something new, I can do that too. My life is up to me. I’m not giving up any of that control to superstition or fantasy. The blame for failure lies with me, and I’ll be taking the credit for the successes too.

That is not to pretend that I’m some rock in the vacuum of space and above the influence of my surroundings, both positive and negative. I have enjoyed a lifetime of support and encouragement from family, friends, and the world around me. I’ve also encountered those that have slowed my progress and held me back by enabling my draw to “comfort” with negative attitudes and behaviors. I’m not angry about any of the latter; as I’m sure they were well intentioned and believed themselves to be in coalition with the former.

If I’m doing something that is counterproductive to my goals, I have to stop. If someone or something is standing in my way, I have to eliminate that obstacle. It is up to me alone to determine my destiny. There can be all kinds of influences. But ultimately, it has always been up to me to take the good, leave the bad, and move towards greater things. That will always be my responsibility.

“People tend to complicate their own lives, as if living weren’t already complicated enough.” – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Becoming a runner is what taught me that I can do anything. But I think I somehow missed the real lesson on how I can do anything. When I started running, I wasn’t thinking about running a half marathon, a 5K, or even to that next street light. I just wanted to get out of my house, out of my head, and into some fresh air and sunshine. I couldn’t run around the block. It took me almost two months before I could run a mile continuously. But I just kept lacing up and heading out. I didn’t have any long term goals at first. I did it because it made me feel good in the moment.

Once I decided that I did want to set a goal, I laid out a plan, executed that plan one tiny step at a time, and accomplished each running goal that I set for myself. But I never wandered out of the moment. I ran each run for each run’s sake. It didn’t happen overnight. I started running very short distances at very slow speeds. And as I managed to meet small goals I set new larger ones, until eventually I found myself (or someone vaguely resembling me) running 13 miles on a cold gray Sunday morning; and actually having fun doing it. Who the hell was ThatGuy? I’m still not sure sometimes.

There is no reason why that system cannot work for any goal that I set. I recently spent hours laying out my running schedule for the next seven months. I know how to do this. I just don’t always remember that I know how. Stay in the moment. Focus on the small battles and before I know it, my war will be won. I know how to do this. It’s still new to me though, where making excuses is a habit well rehearsed and almost subconscious. That fact aggravates the hell out of me. But if I stay focused on each day as it comes and do each thing as well as I can, before I know it, I will again be crossing a finish line surprised by how easy it seemed in hindsight. I know it.

“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” – John Burroughs

Hi, my name is Greg. And I’m a procrastinator and an excuse maker. I’m not proud of that. But if I let myself believe I’ve beaten it or to think that this tree is somehow finished growing, then I will let myself down and never get to where I want to be. There is so much fun to be had and exciting adventures to experience. I’ve just let myself be distracted and discouraged by things outside of the present, events that have already happened, or things that haven’t happened yet. Focusing on either is a total misuse of my time and energy.

So right now out of frustration, I wish to again declare to myself, this time from high atop Mt. Hipocrisy, that I will be burning that cottage to the ground later tonight, and using those flames to light my way back down the mountain. I don’t want to make myself comfortable in the wrong place. I want to battle through temporary discomfort to end up in the right place for my happiness and well being. I can’t do that from up here.

Thanks for letting me vent. I’m truly sorry to say it, but I really needed to.

Looking Forward (J.O.G.T. 4)

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

BUT (isn’t there always a “but?”)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable mentions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

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.