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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Memorial Day Miles

“I enjoyed growing up part of my life in Virginia Beach. We had the ocean and the beach and a beautiful landscape. We were outdoors all the time and we played outside.” – Mark Ruffalo

Wow. Time flies when you’re running around all weekend. This year’s Memorial Day weekend was a really great weekend to get outside, so that’s what I did. All. Weekend. Long. And after catching up on some of my favorite running blogs this morning, it appears that everyone with a pair of running shoes got out and enjoyed the sunny weather as well. A few logged some race miles, some kept up their training, and everybody seemed to make time for some fun-running. Which is the best kind of running, in case you didn’t know.

I spent almost the whole weekend outside somewhere and enjoying a relative break from the internet. I never miss it. There’s just not enough natural light online. I attended a small cookout with friends Saturday evening, enjoyed some quality time with my family on Sunday afternoon, squeezed five rounds of disc golf in there somewhere, and ran my first Yasso 800s on Monday morning. And of course over those three days, I ate way too much shit that I generally don’t eat; which I’m still feeling the effects of today. Ugh. But at least I started the weekend strong by running my first race since March. It felt good to pin a bib to my shirt again after such a long break. I did miss that.

“You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” – Steve Prefontaine

100_6619Saturday morning was the Elizabeth River Run; a waterfront 10K in Portsmouth, VA where I live. It was nice to have a race that was so close to my house that I could’ve probably run to and from the thing if I had to. Of course the after party beers would’ve made the run back home a lot harder to enjoy, so I drove (that might be the dumbest “logic” ever expressed in a single sentence).

Goal expectations for the race were a bit unclear for me. I’d only run one 10K race prior to it, and because that race was so early in my running life, I have naturally gotten faster since then. In fact, I reread the blog I wrote about my first 10K and enjoyed remembering how happy I was to maintain a 9:24 pace and reliving the joy of discovering that I was going to be able to run all six miles without walking. They don’t call them baby steps for no reason. But calling them baby steps doesn’t make them any less important.

Running each race (or each and every run for that matter) singularly and in the moment is a lesson that I feel very fortunate to have stumbled onto early, even if I didn’t exactly know it at the time or if I still forget on occasion. Sometimes it’s nice to look back at how far I’ve come instead of always staring into the sun on the horizon and blinding myself with the uncertainty of the road ahead. Just keep running for fun and before I know it, I’ll be wherever I’m going.

I try not to take anything for granted, but knowing that my only other 10K was so long ago, I was fairly confident that if I could avoid falling into the river, I’d be able to PR on Saturday. But I’ve also been mixing up my training runs more in recent weeks while at the same time trying to solidify my form again after adopting a new rhythmic breathing technique. Both of those things have undoubtedly contributed to my better speed and comfort when I run. But the focus on my breathing did temporarily distract me from my basic form. And giving up one of my three weekly runs to speed intervals gives me one less opportunity to focus on my less than fantastic natural pacing ability. So I really didn’t have a solid goal for the E.R.R. or a terribly well informed expectation either. I was just going to run it…for the fun of it.

“Success rests in having the courage and endurance, and above all, the will to become the person you are.” – Dr. George Sheehan

Because it was close to my house, I actually managed to wake up, get ready, and make it to the race a whole thirty minutes before the scheduled start time. I was almost confused as to what to do with so much free time. Stretching seemed like a good idea, so I tried that. Then I went for a quick warm up jog around some nearby office buildings. It was windy as hell, but the sun was shining, and the temperature was mild. It was a great day for a run. About 10 minutes before race time, I wandered back into the general staging area and started to make my way towards the line.

On my way in, I gave quick hellos to my friends Beth and Sarah. Beth is a long-time runner who is starting to ramp up the miles again as she comes back from an injury. Sarah is also an experienced runner who signed up last minute because she wanted to motivate herself to “get back in the game” after taking a short break from running. And while waiting at the start, I chatted briefly with Justin, a man who works at the same place as me and Beth’s husband. Small world, right? It was good to see them out there. Races seem just as much social events as they do athletic ones. I think that’s why there’s always beer at the finish line.

“Running gives freedom. When you run you can determine your own tempo. You can choose your own course and think whatever you want. Nobody tells you what to do.” – Nina Kuscik

Once the horn sounded, I took off and managed to clear the early bottlenecks relatively quickly. I was half-assed aiming for an 8:00 minute/mile pace. And about ¾ of a mile into the run, I realized that I’d been approximately 25 ft behind the same women for pretty much the entire time. I’d checked my watch a few different times. If I started to catch up with her, I’d see that I was running faster than 8:00. If she started to pull further ahead, I’d check and find that I was lagging. Sweet. I found an 8:00 pacer already. This was going to be easy. I could just stay the same distance behind her, ignore my watch, and enjoy the run. Despite the wind in my face, it was a really nice day for a run. I might as well take it all in.

The sun was shining from a bright blue sky as we ran along the waterfront looking out at all of the local shipyards stocked with different sized grey boats in various states of disrepair and maintenance. There were a few ducks in some of the well treed and green park areas we passed, and even the occasional smattering of cheering supporters. The coarse wove through Historic OldeTowne Portsmouth for the first two-ish miles before heading out along the river and into the Portsmouth Naval Station, doing a big loop around their soft ball field, and back out across Olde Towne into the waiting Finish Line where we started.

About three miles in, I passed my pacer. I had been steadily gaining on her for a half mile and after checking several times had to accept that I wasn’t speeding up; she was slowing down. Dammit! Now I’m going to have to pace myself.

I tried to simply run at the speed of comfort. I don’t generally pay any attention at all to whether I’m passing anyone or if someone is passing me unless it’s in some tight part of the course where I can’t help but notice the close proximity of another runner. But being less familiar with my natural pacing, I did start to notice those things and each one would elicit a speed check. I wasn’t racing anyone, but I definitely didn’t want to run so fast that I ended up falling apart at the end of a six mile race.

Not long after losing my pacer, I came upon a fellow Tidewater Striders member (who coincidently shares my first name). He was running with his teenage son, and during our quick exchange of pleasantries and hellos, he asked how I was doing. I said I was great except “I think I’m running too fast.” “That’s okay, it’s a race, you’re supposed to run fast” He replied. Shit! I couldn’t argue with logic like that, so for the remaining two miles and change, I just ran. I checked my pace way more than I thought, but for no good reason at all. I didn’t consciously change anything based on the information gained during those wrist checks. And with each vibrating mile reminder, the pace was getting quicker.

“Ask yourself: ‘Can I give more?’. The answer is usually: ‘Yes’.” – Paul Tergat

The beauty of starting a race with the wind in your face is that if there is any fairness in the world you’ll get to finish that race being pushed by that very same wind. As I was approaching the finish line, I could hear the race announcer yelling encouragement to anyone within earshot of the speakers. “Thirty seconds left to finish under 49 minutes.” I have no idea if that is some universally recognized 10K benchmark, but Kathryn of Run Eat Play RVA had recently PR’d her 10K while aiming to break 49 minutes. And if I was only 30 seconds away, I saw no reason not to at least try and get there. So I kicked it up. I lengthened my stride, picked up my pace, ignored my newly untied right shoe, and charged across the finish line where I overheard what I thought to be a familiar voice holler out “nice stride” as I passed. As I immediately circled back to see who had yelled, I saw Beth come across seconds behind me. Even bouncing back from injury, she’s fast. Bitch! (Yes I’m kidding.)

I never found a familiar face to go with that voice. I have no clue if that comment was even directed at me. But I know I finished in 48:56. And I know that I felt great.

I had beaten my previous 10K PR by more than nine minutes. I was confident that I would beat it. I had no clue that I would run at an average pace of 7:51 min/mile; over 90 seconds faster than I was 4.5 months ago. And I had no clue that I would feel so strong after doing so. I’ve been making a very conscious effort to refuel better after runs and workouts and I have noticed a very clear reduction in soreness, aches, and pains. And I have also been experiencing so much more energy that I’m not sure I’m going to be able to keep my weekly running limited to only three days for very much longer. It feels good to feel so good, in case you didn’t know.

“For every runner who tours the world running marathons, there are thousands who run to hear the leaves and listen to the rain, and look to the day when it is suddenly as easy as a bird in flight.” – Dr. George Sheehan

While catching up with a few people I had not seen since the Shamrock and discussing my sporadic pacing and how bummed I was to have lost my pacer so early, I said something like “It’s way too nice out here to spend so much time looking at my left arm.” I believe that to be true. But just a few minutes later, as I was checking in with Beth and seeing if her husband had come in yet, she informed me that she was behind me as we rounded the soft ball fields near the 4 mile mark and was amused with how often I was checking my watch.

Dammit!

I really need to pace better. I know I’ve gone out on training runs and ignored my watch. I’ve seen the erratic splits that result from it. But it sounds like once I lost my pacer on Saturday morning, I unknowingly built an intense and overly committed relationship with my left wrist for the next four miles. Is that a huge deal? Not really. But I really don’t want to be that guy that misses simple things like squirrels fighting, or ladies in pretty running clothes just because I’m distracted by my second-to-second pace adjustments. It’s nit-picky, but I’m a dick, and always have to find the grey cloud around my silver linings. I PR’d my 10K. But I’m almost certain that I might have seen a mermaid out there had I not be so pre-occupied with my watch. And is there really any good excuse for not seeing a mermaid? I didn’t think so.

“If I’m free, it’s because I’m always running.” – Jimi Hendrix

After the race, I spent the next couple of hours enjoying the morning sun and chatting with a bunch of people that I don’t see very often. I don’t usually consider running to be to be the best topic to build a lengthy conversation around, but I was nice to chat briefly with other runners about how they did, what races they’re planning to run, and getting some details about some fun runs I’m already planning to participate in later this summer. And any time you can drink beer at 9 a.m. and not be looked at like a freak is a good time to me. I had a blast.

Oh, and while I may have had two slices of pizza, one hamburger, a hot dog, and twenty-some-odd beers over the three day weekend; I also ran 11 miles and had zero cigarettes. I haven’t had a cigarette in 12 days, and more impressively…two Sundays. I will admit that I do miss them; but not as much as I did 11 days ago. We’ll see what happens.

Half Naked Idiot

“My life has been one great big joke, a dance that’s walked, a song that’s spoke, I laugh so hard I almost choke when I think about myself.” – Maya Angelou

A couple of months ago while writing about running the Shamrock Half Marathon, I made a little fun of myself for how crucial it is for me to have a well laid out plan and often overly detailed lists in order to execute even the simplest of tasks. I demonstrated that fact last week when I forgot to take a dry shirt and change of socks to the park where I was running and ended up being that guy that wanders around shirtless at places where most people don’t.

It was only a few minutes while I ate my sandwich, drank a protein drink, and took a half dozen photographs for my blog. But I’m not generally the kind of guy that feels the need to take his shirt off every time the mercury climbs above 55 degrees, and I didn’t intend to be that day either. I felt more than a little silly. Sorry to all of the innocent victims out that day. But you don’t get to see a farmer tan that nice every day either, so you’re welcome as well.

“I wasn’t losing my focus but I was getting tired of focusing. What I was focusing on was becoming too routine, too ritual, not something that was interesting, new and exciting.” – Picabo Street

This morning I got up just before sunrise and started casually getting my things together to go run. I of course had no real plan and made no lists. I mean, why? It’s not a race or anything. I’ve done this before. I don’t have a schedule to keep. Who cares?

I started toasting a bagel, made my vitamin shake, put athletic tape on my nipples; you know, the usual Saturday morning shit. While drinking my shake and unknowingly putting a really dark brown on that bagel I dug compression undies out of the pile of unfolded laundry on my bed, found a pair of shorts, and pulled a dry-fit shirt out of the closet. You wouldn’t want to go run in the rain without wearing a nice moisture-wicking material.

Did I mention it was raining?

It was.

Because I had no list, I was basically just getting ready as if I was going to run directly out of my front door; like I do a few times a week, every week. Once I was ready to do that, I figured all I’d have to do is throw a change of clothes in a bag, drive to the trail, and knock out the last longish run before I try to PR my 10K race next Saturday.

Nothing is ever that simple for my scattered ass though.

“If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan but never the goal.” – Ritu Ghatourey

I was taking forever to accomplish the simple tasks of getting dressed and packing a dry bag. And as I was finally throwing towels, my garmin, some dry socks, and a shirt into a bag and starting to pile stuff by the front door, I realized that I hadn’t made my post-run sandwich yet. Shit! I thought I was almost ready to go. Now I have toast bread, cut up a banana, spread peanut butter…oh the tragedy, right? I’m such an impatient dick sometimes.

I’d intended to be running at 7:30 or 8 at the latest. At 7:30, I was standing in my kitchen sprinkling raisins on one half of a sandwich and just shaking my head at how slow I manage to do things that I’ve done so many times before. For a professed creature of habit, I sure do take a long time to develop good ones, like organization.

Oh well. It’s Saturday. It’s raining. I might as well have fun with it.

“As long as you’re having fun, that’s the key. The moment it becomes a grind, it’s over.” – Barry Gibb

I finally got there a little after eight o’clock, and once I’m out there, I’m pretty good about forgetting about the rest of the world. I briefly said hello to a couple of guys who had just finished their morning rain run, did some quick stretches, tried to take a picture of a small beaver clumping across a field, pushed play on my ipod, and took off.

There was a drizzling rain for the first four miles, but it was never really that bad. I had the entire trail to myself and after I turned back to the car, the sun even tried to poke through a couple of times. It was actually pretty nice out. My pacing was comically sporadic, but I felt good the whole time. My right knee has been bothering me a little all week, but rarely during my runs. I was just enjoying my Saturday morning. Who cares if I was running late? At least I was running.

I managed to conserve enough energy to pick up the pace and really charge the last half mile which coincided nicely with the sun finally fighting its way through the clouds. And by the time my watch chirped the eight mile alarm, the sun was reflecting off of the glass-like water and mirroring the bright green of the rain soaked tree limbs hanging out over it. It was a really beautiful way to finish my run. Woohoo!

I actually had every intention of snapping a few photographs before I left. But I was soon distracted again by my own poor planning.

“Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.” – William James

As I finished my run, a man and his dog arrived to enjoy a walk together. And just as I was about to change out of my soaking wet clothes, a group of boy scouts showed up for a morning walk among the trees. I decided that parking lot nudity probably wasn’t appropriate at that particular moment. So it seemed a good time to eat my sandwich and enjoy a chocolaty shake instead.

In the few minutes it took for me to enjoy my pre-made treats and start thinking about the other things I had to do later, I was also beginning to discover tiny reminders of things I’d forgotten when getting ready earlier.

First, I had not remembered just how much running in the rain seems to enhance the wonderful art of chafing. But as I stood there, I was being oh so pleasantly reminded that I should have applied some anti chafe balm to at least one more sensitive area. “That’s going to be fun in the shower later,” I thought. (it wasn’t)

Second, while I totally nailed it with dry socks and not one, but two dry shirts, I didn’t bring a change of shorts. Sweet! The pair I ran in were only soaking wet. I wasn’t going to get in the car wearing those. Last week I felt foolish walking around a park shirtless. This week, I was going to have to drive home sans pants. Laughing at myself was my only option.

Fuck it. It’s only a twenty-five minute drive. And if anything is going to make sure someone follows every single traffic law, it’s the desire to avoid explaining to a cop why they’re wearing nothing but a towel. I’ve done way dumber things.

“Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty.
I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.”
– George Carlin

It’s amazing how quickly perspective can change. While running, I thought my pacing was so all-over-the-place that it would surely be the easiest thing for me to note as a weak spot in my run journal. But in hindsight, it paled in comparison to being reminded how much a few seconds of simple planning can affect my day…and how funny those effects can be.

About five minutes after leaving the park as I was coming to a stop sign, I noticed my second favorite dashboard light had come on; the one shaped like a gas pump. “Awesome! Now I get to stop for gas too.”

Planning is for smart people, not for half naked idiots like me.

Happy Saturday.

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.”

Hurdles Into a Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I. Can. Do. Anything.

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

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

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

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

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