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.

The Excitement Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I do believe in goals.

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

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

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

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

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

Or maybe it started then?

Am I time traveling?

What’s going on?

You know what I mean.

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see what happens.

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

It’s time to shine.

Hopes or Goals

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

Whatever. 100_6418

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you believe they cancelled this run?  pshh.

Can you believe they cancelled this run? pshh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

100_6415

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

I Changed My Mind

I started drafting this blog at around mile 3.5 of a six mile run this morning. It was a simple out-and-back 10K, and I had just made the turn and started back towards the finish. I felt strong. I was maintaining my target pace pretty well. And I KNEW I was going to be able to finish, and finish it running.

At mile four, I started playing. My confidence was high (hell, it might have been “stoned”), but I was sober and at least a little cautious. I started trying to pick off the runners ahead of me. But only if I could do it without breaking a 9:15 pace (really 9:00-9:15 pace because, as I said, my confidence was getting a little silly). I had set out to keep a 9:30 pace throughout and I was doing a decent job of that, so I started moving up. It was fun.

At mile five, I could tell I had been pushing myself. Five miles was the longest I had ever run before starting the race, so I was in unfamiliar territory physically, but I felt good. I had passed a half dozen or so runners and was coming up on a few more.

At about 5.5ish miles, I was gaining on a couple running together that seemed to have been keeping a pretty solid 9:30ish pace and running very steady. But they were also starting to pick up their pace towards the last stretch. Instead of trying to pass them, I settled in right behind them and decided that following their push would be a strong enough finish for me as well.

Just before six miles, the gentleman ahead of me looked back at his friend/wife/girlfriend/running partner and asked “You got a sprint in you?” After a few seconds of silence from his companion, I answered “No.”

He smiled. 100_6401

She exhaled a “not yet.”

With so little distance left and the finish line in sight, I stepped up my pace and my knees and my stride and finished strong a few second before both of them. (crossing the finish line at an 8:36 pace for that very short duration)

Was I “racing” them? Nope. I was racing me. But it was fun to have a game to play during those last couple of miles. And we ALL “won” that game that no one else knew was being played. If it’s not fun, why do it?

I ran my longest distance ever today. EVER. I finished with an unofficial GPS time of 58:32 and an average overall pace of 9:24 minutes/mile. My pacing was a little sporadic starting off but I was able to find another runner that I could pace myself behind for a couple of miles and even after I lost her in the turn I was able to maintain it. I had a less than fantastic run on Wednesday that left me sore and with a slight pull in my groin, but a couple of days rest had relieved that and I felt fine today. It was a good run.

Five months ago, if you had asked me to run a 5K (or to the mailbox for that matter), I probably would’ve laughed the “no fucking way” out of my mouth. And there is a better than decent chance that I would have done it with a small amount of arrogant snark in my tone. “I only run if I’m being chased. And whatever it is had better be bigger than me.”

I was so enlightened. I was so wrong.

About a week ago, I met some friends to see a movie. It doesn’t happen very often, but I needed to get out of the house and a movie sounded like a great idea. I was running late (as always) and got to the theater at 6:30 for the 6:30 showing. I walking into the lobby and immediately got into the first line I saw for the concession stand.

It was a near three hour movie. I was going to need a drink. My friends and I stood there chatting for a minute at about fifth in the slow moving line before my buddy said “I think that register is open” nodding to an adjacent register with no one being served.

I seldom go to the movies, but I can never really tell how the concession line works. The employees always seem to be moving around slowly and haphazardly enough that I can’t tell who is doing what or whether they even know where the line is.

I was in no real hurry. I didn’t move.

After more than a few seconds, we saw someone approach the register and place their order. Then another, and another. Sure enough, that register was open. I didn’t care. I’m patient. We wasted more than a few minutes standing there waiting to pay five dollars for a bottle of water and missed at least some of the MANY previews. But then, the umpteen previews that we did have to endure were maybe the worst things that I had ever seen.

WOW! Another Scary Movie? Are you serious? How many times can you drop a bucket into a dry well?

Life is not a race. Time is without question the most valuable commodity any of us will ever have. And I don’t want to waste a minute of it. But if you rush around looking for the “shortest line” all of the time, you risk missing some pretty wonderful things along the way. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

I didn’t move.

fat and sugar

Did my concession line decision make any sense at all? Nope. I should’ve gone to the other register once I realized it was open. But you have to admit. I sold it pretty well.

All decisions are permanent. But they’re only permanent in the context of the singular time-line of life that we all get. So we can always make another one. Sometimes that means catching the first of eight movie previews that will further destroy your already waning faith in the movie industry. Sometimes that means finding something in yourself that might possibly change you forever, help you discover parts of yourself that you didn’t know existed, and maybe move you one step closer to becoming the best you that you can be.

Sometimes you’re right. Sometimes you’re wrong. Sometimes it matters. Sometimes it doesn’t. But don’t forget that changing your mind can sometimes change your life. It changed mine.

I’m glad that I started running.

Oh! And I’m still totally loving this band. Happy Saturday.

No Resolutions

“It’s good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway

Well, 2012 is finally over. And I’d like to offer it the most sincere “Good riddance and fuck off!”

I have to admit that I had a pretty solid streak of wins coming into the year, but there was no way to keep 2012 out of the “L” column. It’s not that there were no bright moments or that I’m totally discouraged with the prospects of the coming year. During this past year, I witnessed maybe the most beautiful single moment I’ve ever seen in my life, and in the context of a funeral of all places. And I enter the coming year with that bittersweet liberty that comes with having very little left to lose. I just lost way too much of what was right in my life to salvage the win with a little bit of running success so late in the year. And the permanence of those losses still literally makes my skin prickly and warm when I allow myself to think about it.

Overall, I feel alright heading into the new year. Yeah. “Alright” is probably the best I can muster for now. I’m physically healthier than I’ve ever been, but I don’t think anyone that knows me can deny that the fire inside has dimmed. I can feel it. I know people can see it, even through my incredible skills in the charade. And I honestly don’t know if it’s coming back. Some shit just can’t be helped. It wouldn’t be called change if everything came out the same. So we’ll all just have to adjust to a little bit softer light going forward.

I do have candles if anyone needs them.

One streak that I am able to maintain this year is my 37 consecutive years with the same New Year’s resolution: Not to make a New Year’s resolution.

Nailed it again this year. YES!

It’s not that I’m really against the tradition of starting the New Year off with a promise to oneself to make improvements or grow in some way. Whatever different people want to do to initiate or motivate positive change in their lives, I support it. I’m just a snarky asshole sometimes and I don’t make them.

“One less promise to break” I often figured. Some years I’m sure I decided that I was so content with myself that there was no reason to change a thing (the perfect lazy man’s excuse for inaction). But most of those years, it was simple indifference. I just didn’t make one. No philosophical reasoning for or against a resolution at all. It didn’t even occur to me.

“You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream” C.S. Lewis.

Not making a resolution does not mean that I do not have any goals for this year. I want to keep running. I want to keep working out. I need to keep eating better. I hope I can stay positive. I intend to keep improving myself in any way I discover that I’m able. I intend to grow a full head of hair…

SCRREEEECHH!

That last one is not very likely to happen. But hey, you probably aren’t going to keep all of your resolutions either.

If I had to declare my number one goal right now, it would be to run the Shamrock Half Marathon in March. I know. I know. I’ve only been running a few months. But it has been a true life-saver and I want (or need) to keep doing it. And I thought that if I kept registering for running events during the holidays, it would help me curb any temptations to over-indulge in all unhealthy celebration trappings.

I signed up for it back in November when I was worried that it would fill up, but I didn’t really tell anyone in case I hated the organized races I had scheduled in December and decided to cut my losses and skip it. I didn’t hate those races. And I’m not skipping it.

Since signing up, I found a 12 week half marathon training schedule that I extended to 13 weeks and adjusted it to fit my work/life schedule a little better. I started that training schedule two weeks ago, and so far I feel really good about my progress. I’ve also registered for four other races between now and then. Three of them are step-up races (10K, 15K, & 20K) specifically designed and scheduled to lead right into the Shamrock. And I threw in the Polar Plunge 5K in February because a friend asked me if I’d be interested in running it with her and some friends, and it sounded fun.

What else was I going to do, make valentines? Click here if you’re rich.

I know that I am rushing myself a little into a half marathon. If you’re familiar with my blog you know that I’ll research the life out of just about anything that interests me. And running has been no different. Many of the resources I found indicated that I would probably want to have a solid year of running experience before trying to complete a half. But anyone that really knows me at all knows that I’m hardheaded and half stupid, so I’m doing it anyway.

“Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.” Flannery O’Connor.

I’ve been working out regularly for the last four months, running with a much better training focus for the last three (initially in an effort to prevent injury from overdoing it), and upping my cross training exercises too in an effort to improve my cardio levels a little faster. I’ve also been continually adjusting my diet to better fuel my body. It’s by far the hardest thing for me to figure out. But if I’m going to achieve this goal, I’m going to have to find a way to eat more carbohydrates and better balance my diet overall. I believe that if I continue to train smart and figure out my diet, I’ll be fine. And by fine, I mean that I will finish the race under my own power. I have not set any kind of time goal for it, and probably won’t until after I see how I do in a few of the training runs.

So for the next two and half months, I will not be “running” or “exercising” or “working out.” I’ll be training.

Wish me luck (because I’m totally known for my good luck. psshh)

That’s pretty much all I’ve got heading into the New Year. I’m cautiously optimistic for what 2013 holds for me, and a little apprehensive to find out at the same time. But it’s coming whether I’m ready or not, so I might as well get some rest and run head long right into it.

I’m curious about what resolutions you guys have made. Feel free to share them.

I doing this.  I don't totally know why, but it can't hurt to remind myself that good things happen.

I doing this. I don’t totally know why, but it can’t hurt to remind myself that good things happen.

As 2012 finally enters into my review mirror, I would like to throw some quick shout-outs to a few people. I started this blog as a place to voice my political opinions about whatever was bothering me, and I was immediately supported by my friends. It has changed focus drastically as my life radically changed, but the support has not waned at all. In fact, the support seems to have grown. I appreciate that more than I can say.

I would like to specifically thank my friends Spencer A., Kendra L. M. T., and Justin D. for consistently commenting and sharing my blog throughout the year. I really appreciate the support of something that has become more of a needed mental release for me than any kind of valued product for others.

I also want to thank those immediate friends who have directly supported me in the personal changes that I’ve made in these last few months. My friends have all been amazingly encouraging and respectful of my choices during a time of transition. And it has been particularly enjoyable to see a few of them making healthier choices of their own and joyously celebrating the benefits of those choices. I’m talking to you Mellisa.

And finally, I must give thanks to that special lady that taught me so much and introduced me to so many new things during our years together, that I’ve ended up using in my efforts to cope with her leaving. To deny her influence in these positive changes that I’ve made over the last few months would be dishonest with myself and disrespectful to her. So I send a special thank you to J.E.M. She’ll never fully know.

And with that, I fully release the black cloud of 2012 to the wind, and hope to never be forced to endure such a year of loss like it again. I’m really not sure I could handle another one.

Happy New Year to EVERYBODY. Do something great with it. You’re not guaranteed another one.

“A year from now you may wish you had started today.” Karen Lamb.

Holiday Favorites

Happy Holidays. In an effort to seem more into the spirit, I quickly compiled a short list of some of my favorite things about Christmas time. I hope you’re all enjoying the season with loved ones and cherishing your friends and families as the true gifts that they are. Merry Christmas.

Favorite Christmas Story: Only the scroogiest of jerk-offs could find a way to dislike Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” It’s one of those classics that will never go out of style for a reason. “’Twas The Night Before Christmas” is also a great little story that I remember having read to me as a small child. But my favorite Christmas story for the last several years is David Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries.” I listen to so much NPR that this is one of the few holiday productions that I do actually catch each year. And it makes me smile each and every time.

Favorite Christmas joke: “A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer” Mitch Hedburg. Another dead genius.

Favorite Christmas movie: I don’t know. I don’t watch a lot of movies anymore and without television service at my house, I don’t catch a lot of them at all anymore. But A Christmas Story stays near the top of my list. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation still makes me laugh. And I’m pretty sure I’d watch Die Hard or Lethal Weapon right now if either one was on (both set at Christmas time). But my favorite thing to watch is probably still the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. It’s short which is perfect for me, it’s got a great soundtrack, and it’s just pretty awesome all the way around.

I haven’t seen it in a few years. Maybe I’ll have to do something about that later.

Favorite Christmas Song:
I don’t really have a single favorite Christmas song. There are so many good ones (that I still don’t want to hear a single note of before Thanksgiving), Sprinsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Nat King Coles “The Christmas Song,” Robert Earl Keen’s “Merry Christmas from the Family,” or the entire Kenny and Dolly holiday catalogue.

But when I was a little boy I would spend a lot of time around the holidays at my grandparent’s house where they would keep a pretty steady rotation of 1940’s era Christmas records spinning on the house stereo. My brother and I would lie on the floor of their den with our heads under a tree that had been decorated with no less than three trees worth of lights and antique glass ornaments each multiplying those lights’ affect. We would lie under there with all the other lights off and just listen to those records while staring up through all of those tiny twinkling colored spots. It’s still one of my favorite Christmas memories, and that era of Christmas recordings is forever dear to me.

Bing was my grandmother’s favorite. And now, he’s one of mine as well.

Merry Christmas. I’ll see everyone in the New Year.

I’m sure I left out a whole bunch of stuff (like all references to food). Favorite cookie? Favorite Christmas beer? What are some of your holiday favorites?

Living Healthier Sucks

You can't go wrong with X to the Z.  Yes, I'm ridiculous.

You can’t go wrong with X to the Z. Yes, I’m ridiculous.

As I continue to try and live healthier and smarter, I’ve started to notice just how much living healthier sucks. It does. It sucks time from your day every day. It’s really no wonder that so many people struggle to adopt healthier cleaner changes in their life, or to maintain those changes over the long haul. It’s hard work. It’s totally worth it, but it’s not easy.

I’m grateful that so many of my friends and family appreciate what I am trying to do for myself and how important it is to me that I succeed, because it would be easy for them to be less tolerant of my “pickier” eating habits or my extremely limited free time.

I’m still awful at being honest with myself about how long it will take me to get done with my run and/or workout. And because of that, I’m late for damn near everything. If I tell you I’ll be anywhere before 7 p.m. on a weekday, just laugh in my face. I’m dreaming. So far, seven o’clock is the absolute earliest I can manage to get my run/workout completed and then get myself cleaned up and ready to go anywhere. Sorry, but if it’s happening before seven, I’m probably not gonna make it.

Healthy living is a time-suck. But I think I’m slowly getting better at organizing and sequencing my life to stay ahead of it.

How is it a time-suck? Eating real food and exercising regularly takes way more time than just the 30 minutes on the treadmill or that hour it takes to bake a sweet potato. And it’s important to know that from the start, and figure out ways to streamline as much of those diet and exercise routines as possible, or they won’t be “routine” for very long.

Eating real food takes way longer than eating trash. I am somewhat darkly amused by how many businesses have drive-thrus. You can cash your paycheck at the bank; drive across the street to McDonalds for a quick and delicious fat laden, high calorie, and chemically flavored “milk” shake; and then run down to the corner Walgreens to pick up your diabetes medication and high blood pressure pills, all without getting out of the car. Hooray modern civilization. We’re nailing it!

Simply dedicating yourself to a diet of whole, raw, unprocessed foods means going to the market more often (unprocessed and raw foods don’t shelve well for very long), cooking more often, and more cleaning up after all of that cooking. It is little wonder why so many people opt for faster processed food. Life is busy and time is limited. I get it. Heat, eat, and throw a box in the trash. What’s on TV tonight? Is it bed time already?

I live alone and cook for one, and I still end up at the grocery store at least twice a week. Using almost half a gallon of almond milk every three days doesn’t help. But I’m lucky. The grocery store is across the street from the gym, so I’m going to drive by it every day anyway. That’s a huge bonus.

To help me keep that process as smooth as possible, I keep a grocery list in my pocket at all times. It’s the flip-side of my “To Do” list. When I run out of something at home, whether it is shampoo, envelopes, or eggs, it goes on the list immediately. If I’m at work and think of something I want for dinner, it goes on the list. And I shop to the list. If I don’t, I forget stuff. Then I have to go to the store again tomorrow. That’s more time sucked from my life because I was too stupid to use the list.

I’m also starting to look into pickling and canning vegetables. That could maybe provide some quicker food options in the future. We’ll see about that later.

Just finding the time to exercise can crush even the best intentions. We’ll all see evidence of this in the coming months as the resolution-rush of new members comes and then goes at our local gyms. Time constraints, perceived or genuine, are probably the biggest reason why so many people never start or don’t continue to exercise regularly.

I’m guessing that most gyms count on that low overall attendance too. If every paying member at any given gym actually went regularly, the place probably couldn’t function. They need the money from all of those absentee members in order to pay the bills. But they definitely don’t want EVERYBODY to show up. They don’t have the space. And the wear and tear on equipment would be insane. Thank you to all of the people that aren’t actually going to my gym. I truly appreciate it.

(And you’re welcome to all of the Bally members I supported for years without bothering to go.)

The time commitments of exercising that most easily get overlooked are the time traveling to and from the gym, the time spent making sure you’ve got everything you need (shoes, iPod, gym clothes, headphones, towel, iPod, water, iPod), the time spent actually changing clothes or showering, and the time spent washing those extra clothes being used every day.

If I’m actually at home, I’m probably doing laundry.

It might not sound like a hell of a lot. But I bet if you tallied everything up, it probably takes closer to an hour to fit in that 30 minute elliptical workout than people really realize. Especially if the gym isn’t just 10 minutes down the street.

An extra hour on top of all of our other work and family obligations can be hard to find.

Even the simple act of running can take way more time than it may seem at first glance. And you can essentially do that anywhere. Finding the time in everyday business to run at all is time-hurdle number one. Then you’ve got all of the above mentioned clothing/accessory issues, maybe even more sense dressing for unpredictable, non-climate-controlled, outdoor weather could require a higher and more cumbersome level of layering. So yeah, the time required to change clothes, stretch properly, warm up, complete whatever run you’re aiming for, cool down, stretch again, take a shower and dress again can end up making that quick 20 minute “run to a beach body” you were reading about in that fitness magazine suck about an hour out of your life. Not a problem as long as you know that going in.

time flies

It takes a while to get accustomed to all of these seemingly invisible time expenses and how they will affect your overall living budget. But like any budget, it only works if you stick to it. Life is busy. Time is limited. I get it. But if you can find a budget that works for you, and you can stick with it, you will be rewarded by feeling better and having more energy in the hours that you have remaining each day. And in theory, you may just end up with a little extra time tacked on to the end of the long game we all cling to so tightly.

I’m consistently busier than I have ever been in my life with way less “free time” than I’ve probably ever had in my life. But that makes total sense. I work five or six days a week, I run three days a week, I go to the gym at least five times a week, and I cook almost every single meal I eat each week. I am consistently doing more than I have ever done. Does it get hectic sometimes? Sure. Have I considered slowing down? Not yet. And I hope that I don’t. I’ve wasted too much time already; much of it claiming with foolish pride to be a NBU: Natural Born Underachiever.

I’m done with that noise. I’m charging into the rest of my life. And it better be ready.

Here are a couple of small things that I do to help me stay on track with my diet and exercise routines. Maybe you can adjust them to their own needs. And I would love any suggestions that might help me streamline even better.

1. I prep daily food needs in bulk. There are certain things that are ALWAYS in my refrigerator: A large garden salad, some kind of cooked beans (lima, black, garbanzo, kidney), a container of cooked chopped spinach, and frozen bananas and berries in the freezer.

Coworkers have wondered in the past if I get up and assemble my lunch salad every morning. Nope. Every four or five days I make one large salad and then just portion a lunch-sized salad from that every morning. Then I add a few spoonfuls of some beans, and a cut up slice of tomato. It takes me less than a minute to “make” my lunch every morning.

I make a multivitamin shake every morning. I’m not always up as early as I’d like or maybe with the pep that I’d like. So I make that shake as easy to execute as possible by peeling, halfing, and freezing several bananas at a time. Each morning, I mix almond milk with vitamin powder, and then blend it with half of a frozen banana and some frozen berries (blue, black, straw, and/or rasp). Takes less than two minutes, and I swear it’s better than coffee…for me anyway. I don’t like coffee.

I have cooked myself breakfast at home every day since Labor Day, and I like my spinach omelet, so I make sure that I always have spinach in the fridge.

When I run out of any of these things, I take the time that evening to make a bunch more of whatever I’m lacking, so that I get that time back each and every morning before work when my time is even more limited.

2. I keep things I use every day conveniently located for use.
I mentioned my morning shakes. But I also drink protein shakes after longer runs and all workouts. So to keep it convenient, I never take my blender off of the counter. Why? Because it’s ugly? So what. I’m always going to use it again in a matter of hours. It stays on the counter so that I never make excuses to skip a shake. It stays on the counter so that I don’t waste valuable time digging it out of a cabinet every morning, or piling it back in there every evening. Life is short. Time is limited.

A place for everything...

A place for everything…

I have kept my running shoes in the same place since the day I bought them back in September—right in the middle of my bedroom floor. Not against the wall with all of my other shoes. Right in the middle. I have not yet been tempted to skip a run, but I won’t move those shoes. I want them there to remind me that I need to run. The back of a closet is like a lazy man’s attic. It’s where you put things that you have no intention of using again.

If you don’t see my running shoes in the middle of my bedroom floor, it’s because I’m out running. So get out of my room. Or at least clean up in there or something. That bed isn’t going to make itself.

Happy living. Good luck.