Reset Recap; I’m Back

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Go ahead.  Push it.

Go ahead. Push it.

“This is only my second week doing it, but I’m starting to like my two-run Tuesdays. Five miles before sunrise this morning, and just finished 8.75 miles of yassos. 13.75 miles closer to Philly. Happy Tuesday.” facebook status, Tuesday, Oct. 01.

“My run today was so crappy, I’m not even sure if I’m going to admit it really happened”facebook comment, Thursday, Oct. 03.

“I had another HORRIBLE fucking run this morning and was so angry at myself that I was fully prepared to write a scathingly angry self-deprecating vent-blog all about the stupid shit I’ve done in the last two days to set myself up for failure.” facebook status, Saturday, Oct. 05.

Two weeks ago, after confidently expressing how much I loved my new “two-run Tuesdays” and feeling pretty strong for completing both runs and my workout for that day; I quickly lost my damn mind, threw my hands high up over my head, and roared onto a three day roller coaster of misplaced priorities. It was awesome. There were loops, barrel rolls, laughing, maybe some screaming. Life is short. You can’t have too much fun, right? Not exactly. Not me anyway.

Now I didn’t do anything too crazy. I wasn’t snorting cocaine off of a hooker’s belly or drinking bottles of whiskey with the Rolling Stones’ grandchildren. Nor was I mindlessly pounding buckets of fried chicken and chasing them down with ice cream sundaes and chili cheese fries. I just got way too lax with my routine and didn’t make adjustments to self-correct as soon as I should’ve.

I’m still a newbie, but I’ve been conducting this healthier experiment on myself for roughly a year now. It started with running, branched out into regular gym workouts, slowly evolved into a plant-based diet overhaul, and only recently crossed its legs into a daily meditation practice. And with each new step towards a cleaner, more in-tuned existence, the more I notice the negative effects of unhealthy variables like going too long without proper rest or nutrient dense food.

When I veered off track two weeks ago, instead of acknowledging the risks early and correcting course, I muscled through workouts despite a near total lack of sleep. Then I tried to “get back” some of the time I lost during my detour by making food choices based on convenience more than nutrition. Less sleep slowed the speed of recovery after my workouts. Poorer nutrition further reduced my energy level going into the next workout. And the cycle continued to spiral downward right into the weekend, including two horrible confidence-crushing “runs” to finish the training week. It was ridiculous.

I’m in the last leg of training for my first marathon. The miles are ramping up. The race is getting closer. This is absolutely not the time to get stupid. I’m asking more from my body than I ever have before. I’ve got less time to recover from a major mishap. And I especially don’t want to force myself to accept failure due to an error caused by a careless lack of focus. Getting lazy now is completely unacceptable.

“Excuses are a time thief. Have a goal, accept responsibility, and take action!” ― Steve Maraboli

About a month ago, while out on my Saturday morning run, a car turned onto the road towards me. As we approached each other, the driver honked and reached across his passenger to noticeably point at me as they passed by. I was well out of the way and didn’t recognize the car or the driver, so I just waved and carried on along my way.

A few days later, a coworker mentioned that he’d seen me and that it was him that honked that morning on his way to his son’s baseball game. Then he said that when he answered his wife’s question about who he’d just pointed at, she commented that I looked like a “totally different person” and how great it was that I was taking such good care of myself. To which he allegedly responded, “That’s what happens when you don’t have a wife and kids and still have time to go to the gym.”

Now I’ve only met his wife twice, several years ago, and couldn’t pick her out of a line-up if I had to. So maybe she said that, maybe she didn’t. But no matter the facts of the tale, I found his supposed response to be a fantastic transfer of blame and responsibility for whatever dissatisfaction he may have with his own fitness. I couldn’t imagine blaming my family for my perceived short-comings. And I certainly couldn’t imagine doing it while sitting in the same car with them. I hope it didn’t happen.

Whether it did or didn’t, I don’t live under the delusion that anyone but me is responsible for my actions, both failures and successes. Yes, it’s true that being a single non-parent may allow a certain amount of schedule flexibility not enjoyed by everyone. But I go to the gym every day. And I see many of the same people there every day. I see thousands of people at races. I see them with their spouses. I see them with their children. There is no way to make the inference that being single and/or without children is a marked benefit in the desire to be healthier. It could be argued that it really means not having that in-house support system assisting with time-consuming errands like grocery shopping, meal preparation, mountains of laundry, or whatever other tasks people share with their families. I really don’t know. But I’d wager that my coworker and a lot of other people inclined to similar excuses would enjoy much more support than they think for healthier changes, if only they’d make those decisions known, dedicate themselves to them, and then actually take action instead of making excuses based on silly assumptions about the color of the grass in someone else’s yard.

Life is complicated for everybody. It’s just complicated in different ways. If something is truly important to you, you’ll find a way to do it. If it’s not, you’ll find a good excuse. There are piles of both all around us. We are each responsible for our own condition. I wanted to change mine, so I did. Did I have help? Sure. I’ve enjoyed overwhelming support from my friends and family. But I started this journey alone and without counsel. And I was going to do it with or without that support. It’s my journey. I’ll make no excuses if I fail because I know that’s a waste of time, and it’s my responsibility alone to get the fuck up, make the next right move, and work harder until I get it right. There’s always tomorrow…

…until there’s not. If you quit before then, the blame lies in your bathroom mirror.

plot twist

After getting my ass kicked on my long run two Saturdays ago (a run that was two miles shorter than the previous week’s), I was so disgusted and angry with myself that I really was close to releasing that rage-pressure through a “self-deprecating vent-blog” about how stupid I am and how sickened I was that I’d just wasted my incredibly limited time even bothering with those runs. The weeks when my long run decreases in length are weeks when I expect to perform a little better at a previously accomplished distance and hopefully bolster my confidence going into the next week’s new and longer goal. Getting crushed on my 16 miler fucked all of that up, and I was beyond pissed…and at least temporarily tempted to dwell in that bog.

I sincerely contemplated repeating that week’s training, but I eventually calmed down and let my anger subside a bit. I’ve enjoyed pushing myself out of my comfort zone and striving to reach a higher standard throughout this experiment. But I sometimes forget that stumbling is part of traveling, and pushing myself is going to require a balanced understanding of those inevitable slip-ups.

I’ve read enough forums addressing runners returning to training after a lapse of some kind, whether due to injury or illness (or utter foolishness). Most seem to agree that a week missed isn’t anything to freak out about. And I didn’t really “miss” my week of training so much as I “messed” it up. I still got in my speed training. I still managed to collect over 38 total miles. I just executed a huge chunk of them so poorly that I felt guilty claiming them in my training log.

Besides, I had my last practice race coming up, and didn’t have time to reschedule my last few and longest runs just because I had one bad week. So instead of hastily repeating my training, I decided to declare last week as my “Reset Week” where I would rededicate myself to the cause. I’d gone off the rails. It was time to get back on track.

“What do I mean by concentration? I mean focusing totally on the business at hand and commanding your body to do exactly what you want it to do.” – Arnold Palmer

My sole focus last week was simple; get my shit together so that I could get through my first 20 mile training run with some semblance of self-respect. So, other than going to work, I put no real emphasis on anything else. I didn’t worry about trying to write my blog (obviously). I didn’t commit to any social outings. I put off any non-running related items on my to-do list. If it wasn’t going to get me through my first 20 miler, then it wasn’t important.

What did I believe was going to get me through that run? Executing all of my training runs like I knew what I was doing, giving 100% on all of my cross training and weight training workouts, getting some fucking sleep, and eating only the food that I knew would benefit me in those other ventures. It’s not that hard. All I had to do was the same things I’d been doing for the last four months. And I’ll go ahead and tell you that it worked.

My two-for-Tuesday runs were a fast five miler in the early morning with an almost nine mile run that afternoon; which happily included the last speed workout (9 hill-repeats) of my training plan. On Thursday, I ran my longest and most consistently paced zone 2 aerobic run ever. And last Saturday morning, I set out into the rain for my first 20 miler. Luckily it only rained for the first 16 miles of it. And just over three hours and two socks/shoes changes later, I was done. I finished it with only minor tightness in my legs and zero aches or pains. It was a very good feeling to see how quickly simple corrections could positively affect outcome.

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

I know no one is going to run my marathon for me. And that’s where the satisfaction in it comes from. It’s my goal. Only I can make it happen. I appreciate all of the moral support. But all the heavy lifting is on me. And I like that. No one else can run my training miles for me. Nobody is going to do my boring cross-training rides for me. God knows, no one is going to help with all of the laundry. And If I’m going to keep fueling my body with fresh whole foods, I’m also going to continue ending long training days standing in my kitchen cooking all of my meals. I’m cool with all of that.

There is no one else I will be able to blame if I fail. And I don’t wish that there were. In my experience, almost nothing good just happens. Everything worthwhile requires effort. And that is why I was so annoyed with myself for what many would see as a fairly minor hiccup a couple of weeks ago. I know I can do this. I know it. But only if I’m smart.

My reset week was a success. The current week is already proving to be a challenge too, but I feel strong again going forward. I’ve only got two more weeks of training before my taper. They’re going to be my longest, most hectic weeks, but I can see the light at the end of this tunnel. I liked doing it, but I’m glad that my speed work is done. These last weeks of training will be dedicated to killing my last practice race (not coincidently in my home state of North Carolina), logging one more long run, finding my race pace, and getting my body settled into it.

Taper starts in less than two weeks. My marathon is one month from tomorrow. I’m stoked about both of those things. Happy Wednesday.

“We didn’t come this far just to turn around
We didn’t come this far just to run away
Just ahead, we will hear the sound
The sound that gives us a brand new day”
– Fucking Mastodon \m/

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.