How 2 Half Mary

Yes, I know the title looks like the name of a Prince song. Yes, it was intentional. No, there is absolutely no reason for that. It’s just been a crazy week, I’m nowhere near getting caught up (which is why it’s taken me so long to get this out), and I’m feeling a little silly. Forgive me.

“Life is the only art that we are required to practice without preparation, and without being allowed the preliminary trials, the failures and botches, that are essential for training.” –Lewis Mumford

Other than the occasional high school coaches asking the 6’4”, 225 lb new kid if he plays ball, no one has ever confused me for an athlete. And those coaches were never all that impressed to find out that I was more inclined to sit quietly in the corner of my art or math classes than I was to put on uncomfortable clothes and stay at school one second longer than I had to in order to try out for whatever team(s) they were trying to fill. I sometimes said “no” before I even heard what ball they were talking about. I got really good at saying “no” to things without trying them first. And that ability to so quickly refuse new experiences is certainly the strongest part of the foundation on which I would eventually build a mountain of regrets.

I’ve NEVER been terribly athletic. And until recently, I had in no way trained for any kind of physical activity before. I’d never really trained for anything at all. I’ve never challenged myself enough to require that kind of effort. I’m a natural born underachiever. Six months ago, I would’ve said that as though it was some comically charming facet of my character. It wasn’t. It isn’t.

Anybody can do nothing. It’s fucking easy. Ask me how I know.

“Training gives us an outlet for suppressed energies created by stress and thus tones the spirit just as exercise conditions the body.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Around Thanksgiving of last year, two months into my new running life and having not yet run a single race, I registered to run a half marathon in the spring. I had no clue what to expect. But I knew that I needed to challenge myself. I knew that I needed to prove to myself that I was capable of setting a goal and actually working to accomplish it. I researched and studied as many resources as possible trying to find half marathon training plans designed for beginning runners. I finally settled on one that I liked and that I was confident I could achieve. One with only three running days a week seemed a good idea. I adjusted that plan to better fit my other work/life responsibilities. And on December 17, 2013, a few weeks and two 5Ks after signing up, I officially began my training for the Shamrock Half Marathon…with a two mile run. I was still a novice runner. But I was already hooked and determined to finish the race as respectably as I possibly could. Putting any less than 100% effort towards my goal was no longer an option.

Last Sunday, I ran my very first half marathon. And it was amazing.

“It is because the body is a machine that education is possible. Education is the formation of habits, a super-inducing of an artificial organization upon the natural organization of the body.” — Thomas Huxley

I am a creature of habit. Not for any deep philosophical reason or genius theory about more efficient time management. My memory just sucks, so if I don’t develop a pattern of activity around the important things in my life, I’ll forget shit. I park my car in roughly the same place every day at work because when I don’t, I end up walking to that area anyway before realizing my car is somewhere else. I empty my pockets into the same bowl every day as soon as I walk into my apartment. And if my keys aren’t in that bowl in the morning, I’m going to be late for work. Why? Because I will have no clue where to start looking. They’re supposed to be in that bowl. If they’re not there, they could be on the moon for all I know. Maybe I’ll start looking there. This could take a minute.

Peanut butter, banana, raisins, and honey on whole grain.  Delicious.

Peanut butter, banana, raisins, and honey on whole grain. Delicious.

Because I’m aware of this ridiculous part of my personality and because I have not yet run enough races to have developed a solid ritual, on the nights before races I have to make long lists of things to do, or pack, or wear. I lay out the clothes I’m going to wear stacked in the order that I’m going to put them on. I pin my bib to my shirt on the night before the race because doing that still seems to take me an embarrassingly long time (my OCD about it being straight doesn’t help). I make a “things to bring” list so detailed that it includes my running shoes. Am I really worried that I’m going to head out the door without the most crucial piece of equipment? Yep. That’s why it’s on the list. Running shoes, HR monitor, Garmin, flipbelt, hat, gloves, protein drink, peanut butter & banana sandwich, coconut water, water bottle, regular water, towels, hoodie, sunglasses, compression wraps for my ankles, jelly beans, a power bar, iPod, and headphones. Yeah, that should just about do it. I hope I didn’t forget anything.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve packed less stuff for two day trips out of town. I’m nuts.

“Success is blocked by concentrating on it and planning for it… Success is shy – it won’t come out while you’re watching.” — Tennessee Williams

I spent the entire three months leading up to my first half marathon under the delusion that the race started at 9:00 a.m., and didn’t realize until the Friday before the race that it was actually at seven. That meant I’d have to get up around 4:30 in order to eat some kind of breakfast, get dressed, and get to the Virginia Beach ocean front early enough to find a parking spot remotely close to the race. Parking in Va Beach can be a pain in the ass on a random Thursday. It was certainly going to suck on a weekend where tens of thousands of runners and their families would be in town.

I woke up late, fumbled around in my kitchen trying to toast a bagel, make my vitamin smoothie, get dressed, and finish packing my dry bag all at the same time. And my amazing multi-tasking paid off. I only left the house 45 minutes later than the time I wrote on my hand-scribbled race day itinerary.

If I had not gone to the beach the previous day to watch my mom kick ass in her first 8K (still super proud of her), I would have had no clue at all what to expect. But thankfully, I had just enough familiarity with the situation to avoid any real anxiety. I got there just before 6:30 but didn’t even mess with the traffic bogs angling for close parking spots. I headed south away from the start until I saw a good spot, parked my car, and started hoofing it towards the race. I was hoping to get there early enough to throw a good luck high-five to Kathryn of Run Eat Play RVA and find a few other people that I knew were running that morning. But after schlepping my freezing bones 18 blocks into a welcoming head-wind, stopping to use the bathroom twice, dropping off the world’s heaviest dry bag, and knocking out a solid 90 seconds of quality pre-race stretching, I entered my corral a massive five minutes before the scheduled start of the race.

I was nailing my first half marathon already. All I could do was laugh at myself. Well, laugh at myself and shiver. Because of an unspecified obstruction on the course, the start of the race was delayed roughly ten minutes, so there was plenty of time for shivering. And I did. We all did.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

Finally it was time to start the race. As is the custom around these parts, Team Hoyt starts first. If you don’t know who they are, click their name. I love seeing them out there and always make sure to let them know it when I see them along the road. A few seconds after Team Hoyt took off; they started releasing the corrals one at a time. My training had officially ended two days prior. Now my waiting was over too. It was finally time to run.

I originally signed up with a completely uninformed guesstimated finishing time of 2:30 and been placed in corral number eight. While picking up my packet at the expo however, I asked the organizers if there was any way to be reassigned considering I’d finished my 20K a few weeks earlier in 1:56:41. They very kindly moved me into corral number three instead. I cannot explain how much that helped. I essentially passed thousands of people before I ever put on my shoes. And starting in corral three allowed me to settle into my pace within the first mile of the race instead of having to bob and weave my way through thousands of people in order to get free and on pace. That was a HUGE bonus.

I knew the Shamrock was going to be the largest race I’d participated in by a huge margin, and I really didn’t know what to expect along the course. But I just settled into my pace, kept my back straight, my head up, shoulders relaxed, arms swinging, and my feet under me. Basically, I just ran.

My ankles were not 100%, and my left one was already a little sore before the race even started. But once I was moving, it was very ignorable. I settled into my pace early, even if “my pace” was 20 seconds faster than I really intended. I checked my watch pretty often during the first two or three miles and I was always running “too fast,” but I felt great and could not justify slowing down. While adjusting my watch at 0.45 miles, I accidently pushed the “lap” button and offset all of my lap markings and alarms after that, but I still got pace updated every mile and it was always right around nine minutes per mile. And because I felt so comfortable, I just decided to keep that up. Why not, right? Just keep running.

There were spectators scattered all along the course, including some friends that had set up their own water (cough…and maybe beer) station along the route. I threw a low-five as I passed a very loud and animated gentleman cheering us on our way early. I hollered out at a friend standing atop a small wall not seeing me as I passed. I said “thank you” to every group of volunteers and spectators that I passed close enough to speak to without shouting. I gave props to every funny sign. Oh, and I ran.

Four, five, and six miles just flew by. When the road was banked more than I liked, I ran on the more level bike path or off in the grass beside the course. When I needed to take advantage of one of the aid stations, I grabbed a cup, said thank you, and pulled off to the side to walk for the two seconds it takes to swallow a Dixie cup of water. Then I took off again. I ate half a bag of Extreme Sports Beans just before the race started and then ate them in half bag portions every 20 minutes along the way. And I kept running.

“When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.” — Isak Dinesen

As I passed the half-way point, my watch said 58 minutes. I was on pace to break two hours, and even with a sore left ankle, I felt very rested and strong. All I had to do was keep running and avoid doing something stupid, like speeding up. I felt great, but definitely didn’t want to become overconfident. My pace was working, and I wasn’t going to try and fix something that wasn’t broken.

My right ankle started to ache a little bit at eight miles, but nothing too distracting. I was doing a good job of keeping a pretty high cadence of shorter strides and landing on my mid-foot. I just kept running. It was almost time to exit the Fort Story part of the course and head back into the spectators we passed in the beginning. Maybe I’d have one of those beers this time. (I didn’t)
100_6497Literally before I knew it, I was passing the 10 mile marker. All I had left was a 5K. I couldn’t believe it. I was going to finish the damn thing. And I was going to do it running strong. I felt great. As I passed my friends’ “aid station” and waved on the way by, they noticed something that I was unaware of. I was now less than two miles from the finish line, and I was in front of the two hour pacing group. Who knew?

I entered Atlantic Avenue and was greeted with a brutally cold wind in my face, but was way too amped to care. And as we all crossed onto the Virginia Beach boardwalk and could see the finish, it was time to start kicking. I could not believe that I had any energy in reserve. But I did. Was I sprinting? Nope. But in the Hollywood version of my life story, I’ll make sure the younger better looking actor does. I was picking up my pace a little bit though. I knew I was going to be under two hours by this point, but saw no reason not to use up that excess energy that I’ve never had at the end of a race before. I was damn near confused. What was going on? I wasn’t exhausted.

I crossed the finish line stronger than in any long race I’ve ever run before, and finished my first half marathon with an official time of 1:58:20 and an average pace of 9:02 min/miles. It was the easiest long run I’ve ever run. It was the fastest paced long run I’ve ever run. And I had an absolute blast doing it.

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” – Muhammad Ali

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention any mental or physical battles to overcome during the run. That’s because there weren’t any. I don’t think I had to consciously focus on my breathing, my stride, my striking, or anything else more than maybe 10 times during the whole race, and never for more than a few seconds. All of that struggling to finish 10 mile training runs in the rain, or that 20K race in the rain, or that 11.11 mile confidence-run the week before the race had all paid off. My training worked. I couldn’t believe how well it worked. I felt incredible.

I did what I had never done before. I set a goal, developed a plan, followed that plan, and achieved the goal with relative comfort and ease. I was beyond stoked.

Unfortunately being stoked has zero warming qualities because the after party was Fur-ree-zing. There was plenty of beer and good cheer inside that giant tent next to the ocean, not so much warmth though. I was able to track down a few of the people that I wanted to congratulate and of course I managed to drink my four free beers, but there was only so much my frozen bones and chattering teeth could take so I decided it was time to head home for some chili and the warmth of some good friends.

“In general, any form of exercise, if pursued continuously, will help train us in perseverance. Long-distance running is particularly good training in perseverance.” — Mao Zedong

I haven’t run since the race, and intend to stay off of the road until Monday. I was back in the gym the next morning trying to work out the pain in my left knee. I suspect that my sore ankle resulted in my unconsciously tranferring more of the impact to my knee. And it wasn’t happy with me. I’ve been to the gym every day since, and both my ankles and knees feel great. I actually mentioned to a friend Tuesday morning that I thought I could run, but I didn’t. I’m really looking forward to getting back out there next week though, and hopefully with a fully healed and healthy body. I’m trying to be one of those mythical “smart runners” I’ve heard so much about.

Not sure about my long term race plans, but the running will definitely continue. I think it gets even more meditative for me with every passing mile. I love it. I’m registered for a 10K in May and I’m sure there will be many more after that…and maybe before. Happy Shamrock to me. It was a blast. I will do it again.

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Wish Magic

“There can be no failure to a man who has not lost his courage, his character, his self respect, or his self-confidence. He is still a King.” – Orison Swett Marden

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I had to break from my training plan over the weekend. I’ve done really well at sticking to the prescribed miles so far. Granted, I did go through and revise those numbers both up and down as I gleaned new information about good training practices and developed a little better understanding of my conditioning and abilities. For example, when I registered for the Tidewater Striders Distance Series (10, 15, and 20K races), I mapped those distances into my training calendar and adjusted all the lengths of my runs in the surrounding weeks to better follow the ten percent rule. Yes, I used a calculator. Yes, I rounded up. Yes, I can be a nerd about numbers sometimes. But I believe doing those races and adjusting those miles helped me structure a solid training plan for a beginning runner heading into a half marathon. Following it was relatively easy and markedly beneficial to my progress. That is why I studied, researched, and adjusted my plan so much in the beginning; so that I could follow it and do well. It makes no sense to lay out a plan and then not follow it.

BUT (isn’t there always a but?),

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” ― Mike Tyson

When I hurt my ankle two weeks ago, my mind was poisoned. What if it’s broken? What if I can’t run? What if I have to miss the Shamrock? I’ve been training for this race since before Christmas.

“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” – Khalil Gibran

I’ve long believed that worrying is essentially the result of a lack of faith, whether it be faith in your plan, or faith in yourself. If you’re confident in your abilities and your preparation, then you’ve got nothing to worry about. If you’re worrying, you doubt something. And doubt seems a pretty useless component in any formula.

I didn’t want to doubt my ankle for three weeks, wondering if I could, should, or would run my next training run or if putting in those miles would aggravate the problem even more. I didn’t want to assume it was normal soreness and “battle through it” either. We already know what they say about assuming things. So I went to the hospital and got my ankle x-rayed. It wasn’t broken. Good. But I did have to rest it and stop running until it was better. Hmmph. Doctors. What do they know?

“I have great faith in fools; self-confidence my friends call it.” – Edgar Allan Poe

I might not be the smartest guy in the world, but I’m no fool either. I took a week off. No running for seven days. That was the longest I had gone without running since my very first “run” back in early September. And it was a very long week. But that week also made me realize just how much I truly love running.

I was never really tempted to push my luck and force a run. But I would catch myself practicing my upper body movements while standing over the stove or getting ready to brush my teeth. I don’t want to forget how to swing my arms, you know. I’d focus on maintaining an upright posture while walking around, riding a bike at the gym, or even just sitting at my desk. If I couldn’t run, I could at least try to instill some good habits into my fledgling core muscles. And while at work or the gym or even out with friends, I’d find my mind wandering off about when I could run again, what distance should I do, where should I pick up in my training schedule, would I be ready for the Shamro–

Oh, look! There’s someone running in that TV commercial!

“There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.” – Buddha

After a week of transferring my pent up running energy into some really great gym workouts, it was time to stop daydreaming and wondering and doubting. I decided I was ready to run. My training plan had four miles scheduled for Monday; a good modest ankle-test back into my routine. Surely I can run four miles. And if I can’t, then I’m certainly not going to be ready to run 13 of them two weeks later.

That might not be true. I’m new. I don’t know shit. And my confidence was probably sprained worse than my ankle.

I ran those four miles at the speed of comfort and felt really good afterwards. It felt good just to be out there again. I missed it and was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed back by a beautiful sunny day. It’s the small things. My next run was even shorter. And because the weather was crap, I was in a time-crunch that day, and I wanted to be super-cautious, I ran it on a treadmill. That short, mentally suffocating treadmill jog did little to help my confidence heading into a 13 mile run. “What am I supposed to do for my final long run?” I’m supposed to be tapering. I can’t go run 13 “test” miles, right? Would that be smart? Is all of this self-doubt just the mind games I’ve read about plaguing runners during the taper?

My mind was poisoned with doubt. Damn ankle! (shakes fist in the air)

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” – Arthur Ashe

On Saturday morning after staying up too late on Friday and not exactly “fueling” properly for a long morning run, I decided to take it slow and see what happens. My training plan was tapering and had eight miles scheduled as my long run for the last week before the race. I was pretty sure that I could run eight miles without any major issues. But losing that previous week’s training so close to the race meant that I missed my last opportunity to experiment with in-race food and drink.

My diet during this entire journey has been the hardest thing for me figure out. My metabolism still seems to be adjusting to my higher activity levels and I am not always very good at keeping up with it. And fueling during a race is something that I just did not practice enough during my training. Properly refueling afterwards isn’t something I’m terribly good at either. I’m just not a big eater. I needed an actual long run to practice these things one last time. And without some actual test of my endurance, my confidence would never be ready for race day.

“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.” – Norman Vincent Peale

While making breakfast and getting dressed, I decided that I’d run at least eight and no more than 11 miles. And that I’d ultimately base that decision on how I felt during the run. I’ve become pretty fond of the Dismal Swamp Trail and chose to head that way for my last run.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like the out-and-back format because it makes you commit to double the distance of where you are at any point. If you’ve run four miles down that road, you’re going to have to run a total of eight just to get back to the car. That requirement also means that you have to pay attention to your body. If you push past warning signs and find out at five miles that you literally cannot run anymore, you’re still going to have to hobble your broken ass the five miles back. I like how that simple course makes me think of these things. It helps me focus.

“So, let’s do the numbers.” – Kai Ryssdal

It was a beautiful 44 degree sunny morning with a 14 mph north wind. I was four miles in before I knew it and thinking I’d do ten. At five, I decided to do eleven. At five and a half, I decided to do 11.11 just so I could make a wish. I told you I’m weird about numbers sometimes. 5.57 miles away from my car, I turned around. I finished in one hour, 43 minutes, and 42 seconds with an average pace of nine minutes and 20 seconds per mile. And I burned 1912 calories.

Thirty minutes into my run I started eating Jelly Belly Extreme Beans with 50 mg of caffeine per 100 calorie serving (and you could totally tell from my heart rate monitor). I ate them again about every 20 minutes after that. They’re not the ideal food for me, as the package was kind of a bitch to deal with (might be better without gloves), and chewing anything kind of messes with my breathing. But I got the hang of it after the second try. And with only eight days until the race, there was no time to experiment with something new. I will have to put that lesson off until next time.

Both ankles were sore by the end and I was getting pretty tired. I was drinking coconut water throughout the run, but probably need to hydrate a little better on Sunday. I stretched and put compression wraps on both ankles immediately after my run. I went home, and hit the foam roller even though my legs weren’t sore. Then I iced both ankles as preventative maintenance. I even took an Epson salt bath (not an easy task for someone my height). I will be ready on Sunday. I will.

“With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.” – Dalai Lama

I ran a short three mile run this afternoon, and have a whopping three miles left to run on Thursday to complete my training for the Shamrock. I feel good. I’m going to be fine. On Sunday, March 17th 2013, just six months after discovering the joy of running, I will join thousands of other runners when I cross the starting line into my first half marathon. And I’m going to have fun doing it too.

“I believe in wishes and in a person’s ability to make a wish come true, I really do. And a wish is more than a wish… it’s a goal that your conscious and subconscious can help make reality” – Michael Jackson

I’m wishing for healthy ankles, calm winds, and dry skies. But I’m ready for whatever.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

ONE MORE THING. I know a lot of people will be running in Virginia Beach this weekend. But in Cary, North Carolina on Saturday March 16, there is a 5K and accompanying virtual 5K to support Buddy Up Against Bullying. It is a joint effort between a school assistant principle and a police officer to raise awareness against bullying. All you have to do is click the link, print out your bib, and wear it when you run on Saturday…or any other day really. Will it ever end bullying? No. But if it gets one person (teacher, parent, bus driver, YOU) to take notice of what may be happening right in front of them and to realize that is not just a normal, harmless part of growing up, then it’s worth it. The world has already got enough assholes in it. We don’t need to keep ignoring the next generation of jerk-offs. It’s not funny. It’s not harmless. And it’s not okay. I will be wearing two bibs on Sunday.

It’s The Small Things (J.O.G.T. 2)

“As the heart finds the good thing, the feeling is multiplied.
Add the will to the strength and it equals conviction.”
– Talking Heads “The Good Thing”

every-day-may-not-be-goodWow! February was kind of a crazy hectic month in my world, but I finally got around to looking through the old Jar Of Good Things. According to the “jar,” and how many times I claimed “a good workout” or something similarly simple as my daily “good thing,” I was clearly forced to settle for a lot of small victories. But that is definitely better than no victories, right?

Anyway, here’s a few of the good things that happened in February. My life may not be the most exciting roller coaster in the park, but I’m truly grateful to be able to find pleasure in simple things; simple things like…

Feb 2. Ran the Polar Plunge 5K as part of a benefit for Special Olympic Charities. I didn’t raise a huge amount of money, but I did get to run a nice race with some friends on a really sunny but chilly winter morning. New PR for the 5K (24:11, 7:48). Good day.

I started off the month by running my first 5K of the year with a friend from work. Or at least in the same race, since we didn’t actually run the race side by side “with” each other. She and some friends had a team registered to raise money for the Special Olympics and kindly asked me if I’d like to run it too. I did.

It was a very simple out-and-back along the Virginia Beach boardwalk on a chilly but beautiful sunny morning at the beach. I was aiming for an eight minute pace, but came out a little faster and felt pretty good so I just stayed with it. I’d love to say that I finished it with remarkable ease, but that 7:48 was definitely a challenging pace for me, even for that shorter distance. I clearly wasn’t feeling like a newbie that day…but I still was…and still am. Reality: checked.

It was a great race with friends, benefitted a good cause, and was a new PR. A good thing indeed.

Feb 3. I had a really great time watching the super bowl with some of my oldest and best friends. And I learned that I can “shoot” a balloon at a toddler with surprising accuracy. They apparently LOVE that.

I am fortunate to have so many really great friends, but they do not all travel in the same circles nor do they all have the same level of responsibilities, commitments, and/or availabilities. So I don’t always get to see many of my friends as much as I would like.

One of my oldest and best friends invited me and a few others over for a last minute Super Bowl gathering with him and his family. I happily accepted. I don’t think any of us really cared who won the game, or even catching all of the commercials. And I know none of the seven kids in the house was concerned with either. I didn’t really have a preference in the outcome so I barely watched the game at all to be honest.

But I did enjoy visiting with everyone and seeing all of their fast growing kids run around and play together. And as I said, I discovered that I can pop a balloon from between my fingers and at a child with some incredible accuracy. And my god-daughter’s little brother (The only little boy in that house full of lil’ ladies) couldn’t get enough of it. And really, I wasn’t tiring of it very much myself.

What can I say? Kids like me. And they all seem to giggle the same. Very good thing.

Feb 17. Dad gave me an old coin that he found in an envelope with my name written on it. Having my grandmother’s handwriting on the envelope is probably cooler to me than the coin.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I have dinner with a small group of my extended family every Sunday evening. We each take turns cooking and it’s been a pretty steady tradition for several years now. It’s always a friendly and casual visit around the dinner table, which I more often than not follow with a nap on the couch. It’s nice to see everybody for even that little bit of time each week and I like being able to cook for more than one person every now and then too.

On the 17th, my dad brought with him an old folded up envelope with my name written on the front in blue ballpoint.

He currently lives in the house where my grandparents lived before each of them passed away. I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with my grandparents growing up, and as an adult. As a kid I remember seeing that they had a small informal coin collection, but hadn’t thought about it in years. It was nothing fancier than a cardboard box or two with a modest assortment of U.S. monetary history inside. And I was not surprised at all to see that allocating any parts of that collection to a specific person was done by simply placing a coin into an envelope and writing that person’s name on it.

My grandparents were wonderful rural people, but by no means were they naive rubes with no understanding of the importance of a legal will. At the same time, they trusted family enough to be able to follow some simple instructions. And writing my name on an envelope pretty much made whatever was in it mine.

My dad came across it while cleaning out some part of the house and brought it with him to Sunday dinner. I immediately recognized my grandmother’s handwriting. And looking inside, I found an 1890 Morgan Silver Dollar. I just smiled and closed the envelope again to see my name swirled on the front. The coin is well worn and the sentiment is clear. But the handwriting is that small human touch that reminds me of one of the two strong women that I was lucky to have looking out for me when I grew up.

100_6452My grandmother was always incredibly generous and supportive of her friends and family. And she would do anything for her “darling” grandchildren, of which I am proud to have been the first. Her loving heart was undeniable to anyone that ever met her. I miss her. And now I have a fine sample of my name in her script. It’s the small things.

Feb 22. Long week FINALLY ended. And I had a great pre-race dinner with my mom who apparently has been living a hectic week in parallel with me. I’m glad it’s over.

Back in December, as I was starting to figure out this running thing and getting ready to run my first race (Surfin Santa 5K), work schedules and general holiday rushing around had led to a significant length of time without seeing my mother. When we lived on opposite coasts, that was easily understandable. But now that we live 20 minutes away from each other, it’s kind of silly. So when I realized that picking up my race packet would put me near her place on a Friday evening, I asked if she’d be interested in grabbing dinner. She was. We did. It was lovely.

I don’t recall if we ever stated a plan, but since that night we have had dinner together on the night before every one of my races (including the one that got cancelled). And it has become a really nice new tradition. We take turns paying, when she lets me. And it’s generally just a good time to catch up and talk about running, training, life, work, food, or anything else that crosses our often similar-working minds while I wait for that dirty Kettle One Martini to arrive. On this night in question, I think we both had Spicey Pork Korean Rice Bowls for dinner.

My mom has experienced more than her fair share of hardships in life but still managed to come out with more wins than losses and somehow maintaining a positive attitude towards new challenges. She rises to adversity incredibly well and doesn’t let disappointment, failure, or heartache derail her for very long. She’s a fighter for sure. And I couldn’t feel luckier to have had such a woman lay the foundation for the man that I am today.

(And yes, I totally blame her for all of my shortcomings too. She can’t just take credit for the good stuff, right? What’s the rule on that? I’d hate to have to start taking responsibility for myself or anything like that.)

“Alright let’s get some miles in.” -My mom’s facebook status earlier today. I love her.

She has been running/walking and exercising for the last few months as part of her training to run her first 8K on Shamrock weekend. So next Friday, we’ll likely be having dinner on the night before HER race for a change. I’m very proud of her for so many things. And I’m sure she’ll kick ass at this too.

Maybe she’ll even let me pay for dinner this time.

Feb 28. Went to bed a decent hour for a change. That IS a good thing.

It may sound simple. And it is. But I don’t sleep; not enough anyway. I typically get less than six hours of sleep a night, and almost never get more than seven. I’m lucky in that I don’t require a lot of sleep to function, but the last week of February was a little more extreme and I was getting closer to four hours of sleep a night during that week.

I know that I should get to bed earlier. But even after waking up at 5:30 every morning, I somehow manage to keep my schedule so full that I’m often not home and finished with my day until seven o’clock or later. And then there is usually any number of little errands, chores, or projects that I want/need to work on (like cooking dinner for example). Plus my creativity has always peaked at night, so it’s not unusual for me to start writing or playing guitar late in the evening and before I know it, it’s after midnight again. “Dammit!”

I believe lack of quality sleep was at least partially responsible for my excess fatigue at the end of my 20K a couple of weeks ago, and therefore may have contributed to my ankle scare. I am well aware of the importance of good rest and the mental and physical recovery gained from sound sleep. But I’m just not always as disciplined as I should be about getting the rest that I need. It is yet another thing I will have to improve upon as I go forward. But at least I nailed it on the 28th. You’ve got to start somewhere.

Well, that was February: Some running, great friends, strong women past and present, and some much needed sleep. What good things happened for you in February? Surely something good happened.

February J.O.G.T. Honorable Mentions:

Feb 7. Answered the door tonight wearing only a towel and a sweat shirt. The guy at the door was looking for someone that doesn’t live here and seemed more than a little confused. That made me smile.

Feb 8. Followed my least enjoyable run to date with a road trip to Charlottesville with Mike and Matt to see Murder By Death. Opener Samantha Crain was really good, and Murder By Death absolutely killed. A good time was had by all.

Feb 13. Had a great Wednesday with good friends in Olde Towne. Got a little unexpected blog-love from Derek and Kristen. Very cool night.

Feb 24. I got my new HR monitor. Probably too late for any substantial benefit in Shamrock training, but I do miss having that data. Woot!

Feb 26. Three hours in the E.R. later, I’ve got a slight sprain, and a deep bruise but NOTHING’S BROKEN. Ice, elevate, rest, and RUN!! I feel good.

I Will Not Stop

“To me, a running-healthy program is more important than a training plan geared toward improving performance. That’s because I’m more interested in increasing my years of running than in decreasing my race times.” Amby Burfoot.

I was talking with some people after the race last Saturday about how I was actually looking forward to the taper. The “taper” is the scheduled reduction in mileage at the end of most distance running training plans. The idea is that in the last two to three weeks of training, you benefit more from running less and letting your body fully recover than you do from continuing to pound out long runs and piling on more miles. It makes sense to me. I’ve experienced minor soreness after long runs and the consistency of training is definitely wearing on the body. Not to mention the benefits of being able to mentally prepare and get your game face on.

If you look up any number of articles/blogs/forums on tapering though, you’ll see how so many runners don’t enjoy it, don’t follow it, or both. I’ve read and heard about the mental struggles tapering runners experience as they worry that running fewer miles will allow their endurance and strength to wane leading up to their race day, or just anxiety caused by all of the free time making them feel like they’re overall fitness will suffer. Training can be a hard habit to break I guess.

From what I’ve read, many of those concerns can actually present themselves. Statistically, runners get sick more often during the taper, experience muscle aches and pains, have trouble sleeping, and often generally just don’t feel good. Now I’m not a very experienced runner or a psychologist, so I can’t speak to how much of those effects are actually physical or mental manifestations. But I do believe the mind can play some funny tricks on the body, which is also why there are no shortage or stories about runners refusing to taper their training and ending up injured or underperforming on the big day.

I’m look forward to tapering for two reasons.

1) It does make sense to me. I’ve done the majority of my training runs in the evenings after work and usually after being awake for nearly 12 hours. It’s hard for me to properly fuel for a long run in the evening. I like running in the a.m. when I’m rested and energetic. And after months of training, I like the idea of a taking it down a notch for a couple of weeks so my body can be fully recovered, strong, and 100% healthy for race day. It makes sense to me.

2) I have so many things that I have put off and neglected over the last several weeks, that I’m looking forward to trying to catch up during those last couple of weeks before my race. Shit, my apartment is almost embarrassingly messy right now. My “to do” list is currently being printed as a six volume serial for ease of transport. I’ve got lots of books that I want to read or finish reading. I’d like to continue working on some recording projects with my songwriter friends. And I’ve got some artwork to get done (read as: artwork to start) for a disc golf tournament I’m supposed to be helping to organize. I’ve got plenty to do.

But first, I’ve got a Half Marathon to train for and run.

I was excited to run the final Tidewater Striders Distance Series race on Saturday because I knew it was going to be the last and most representative test I needed in order to judge my readiness for the Shamrock Half Marathon. And it was every bit of the test that I anticipated. I just didn’t score as highly as I wanted to. I gave myself a B-minus.

I felt pretty good before the race. I was fairly well rested for a guy that never sleeps enough, and my body felt good. It was yet another rainy day run, but I’ve almost gotten to point where I don’t even care about rain anymore. And I finished the race in a good time.

I started the race a few seconds slower than my pace just like I wanted to, and settled into something close to it by the end of the second mile. I was running right behind a small group of more experienced runners who were all pacing better than I sometimes do. And I was running at a comfortable enough pace that I was able to speak with relative ease when I felt the urge. But I don’t generally talk very much when I’m running.

In the previous weeks’ long runs, I was starting to really take note of how much energy I was spending and how weak I was after those runs. I had trained up to nine mile distances without carrying any water or food with me, but after noting just how gritty my skin was with salt following eight and nine mile runs I started taking some water with me on all runs longer than that. Actually I carry coconut water, because I want the electrolytes, but I don’t really care for Gatorade’s taste. And after running eleven miles a couple of weeks ago and being so tapped afterwards that simply turning the key in my apartment door was difficult, I thought it was definitely time to start figuring out how I was going to take in some kind of carbohydrates and food calories during my long runs. It is something that I had researched well in advance, but let the last couple of weeks’ crazy ass schedule push it from my mind. Staying busy is not always a good thing.

I grabbed some little gummy candies at the running store when I picked up my bib on Friday and put them in a resealable bag for the race. They tasted alright and I could tell that they did help, but because I wasn’t sure at all how I would stomach them, I didn’t eat enough of them and I’m pretty sure I hesitated too long before starting to take in calories during my run as well. There’s a reason why they tell you not to try anything for the first time on race day. But these races are very much designed as training runs and I was running out of time.

That hesitation to eat combined with less diligence in drinking the fluids I had strapped to my left hand led to me being almost completely wiped out a mile and a half before the end of the race. And even though I finished with a respectable time and pace (1:56:41 with a 9:23 pace) for a newbie, I hated feeling that spent. And I wasn’t totally sure that I could’ve eeked out the 0.7 mile extra I would’ve needed to complete a half marathon.

I felt good. But I didn’t feel ready. I wanted to feel ready.

Later that night and the following day, I experienced the usual tightness and soreness that I always do after pushing myself through each week’s long run. My hips and calves were a bit tight, and my ankles were both a little sore…partially from having to run with rain soaked, heavy feet and partially from what I’m sure was a pretty shitty degrading running form as my body ran out of nutrients towards the finish.

On Monday afternoon, I went for a simple 4 mile “speed of comfort” run. It was so well intentioned. Work is a little crazy right now, I’m not getting nearly as much done as I’d like, and I wanted a relaxing therapy run. And I thought running a low intensity fun-run would be a perfect chance to test my slightly iffy ankle. It was a good run. And as always, I felt better afterwards.

Then BOOM! My worst nightmare. As the night went on my right ankle got tighter and more painful until eventually I was gimping around my apartment like a person with an (gasp!) injury. I iced my ankle, smoked a cigarette, and went to bed scared and annoyed. The following day, it wasn’t any better and after limping around on it at work all day with the pain and swelling getting worse, I was starting to convince myself that I might have a small stress fracture in my ankle.

I’ve mentioned probably too many times that avoiding an injury is my number one goal, and the idea that I had somehow fucked that up had me way more than a little anxious, scared, and angry. Not only because being hurt sucks, or because I sometimes need the therapy of running in my life, but because I hated the idea that after living a life of spectacularly unmotivated underachievement I was going to get this close to a goal that I’ve worked hard to achieve in an activity that I truly love, and then let it slip away because I pushed too hard and/or didn’t properly prepare. I was pissed…at myself.

I revised my earlier grade for Saturday’s race. The time and the pace are fine, but my weakness and the resulting poor form towards the finish had likely resulted in excessive foot pounding that led to my sore ankle. And if you get so banged up that days later you can’t run a leisurely four mile run without getting injured, then there is a lot room for improvement. C-minus. Or maybe even a D-plus?

hospital signI cannot recall a single instance in my life when worrying about something did anything at all to improve the situation, so after going to the gym and eating dinner I finally relented and took my ankle in for an x-ray. Knowing has to be better than wondering, right?

The Runner’s World Big Book of Marathon and Half Marathon Training is one of the books I’ve been reading recently and sitting in the hospital reading about injury prevention seemed kind of funny to me. Maybe I should’ve been reading this book a little more regularly since just three pages from where I last put it down was the section on stress fractures. I found that somewhat amusing as I sat listening to people hacking and coughing over whatever crime drama was blaring out of the TV behind me.

Researching stress fractures earlier in the day had revealed horrible things like the potential of a 6-8 week recovery period depending on severity. And the idea of missing my race and not being able to run for such a long time were the largest sources of my anger and anxiety. But sitting there in the waiting room with so many people in much worse shape than I was, I started to calm down, recalculate, and devise a contingency plan.

At that point, the foot was out of my control. But how I reacted to the foot was totally up to me. I decided that if I couldn’t run, I’d see if the Shamrock organizers would just roll my registration fee into next year’s race. I’d wait for the doctor’s diagnosis, and choose the next available half marathon to run depending on how long I’d be out of commission. And I decided that until I could run again, maybe I’d volunteer at other races while I waited. Having no way of controlling the diagnosis, I fell into the “hope for the best, plan for the worst” mentality, and I immediately started to feel better.

The doctor poked and prodded my foot and ankle. Took a look at the x-ray and informed me that…drum roll please…No break. She said it was just a slight sprain with a deep bruise chaser, but there were no broken bones. I was told to ice it, elevate it, rest it, and don’t run until it’s better. I swear it felt better almost immediately. The mind has weird power over the body, and simply lifting the uncertainty was a pretty effective pain reliever.

I wrapped it all day at work today, removed the wrap before going to gym, and it feels a lot better. I might be able to go for a light run on Friday…but I might not. I will not run again until it’s ready. I will channel that effort into the gym and cross training. But I will not stop running. If I have to, I’ll pause for injury. But I will not stop. I am more than excited to report that I should still be able to run the Shamrock, but it looks like I’ll be starting my taper a little bit early. I’m okay with that.

I’ve got plenty to do.

I’m a Winner!

Well, it’s official. This is now an award winning blog. A fellow runner and blogger has awarded me the Liebster Award. What? You’ve never heard of it. Neither had I. And even doing a quick Google search didn’t produce too much of a clear history or explanation on the “award.” So I’m going to trust the information provided by the kind writer that honored me with it.

The Leibster was awarded to me by Kathryn who writes the blog Run Eat Play RVA. It is a fun blog about Kathryn’s experiences…you guessed it…running, and eating, and playing in her relatively new home of Richmond VA. She, like me, is currently training for the Shamrock Half Marathon and I’ve enjoyed reading about her training, coming back from a past injury, rediscovering her running strength, and continually growing love of the run and life in general. It’s a good read. Check it out.

According to Kathryn, the Leibster Award is given to newer or at least smaller bloggers that have fewer than 200 followers. I just realized that I have 18 and was pleasantly surprised to see that I don’t actually know all of them. The award is then supposed to be passed along to other bloggers in that same boat in order to help spread each others’ readers around a little bit and maybe get some new eyes on each others’ blogs. It’s kind of like a chain-award I guess. Or as Kathryn put it in her Leibster post, “Basically it’s a nice way to say, ‘Hey I like your blog! Let me help you promote it!’” And I really appreciate that. Thank you Kathryn.

The receiver of the award is allegedly supposed to follow these few rules.

-Each blogger nominated must post 11 random things about themselves.

-Then answer the 11 questions the tagger has asked.

-The blogger must then create 11 questions of their own to ask the bloggers they decide to nominate.

-Bloggers must be notified of their award. No tag backs.

Okay, this admittedly feels a little bit too much like one of those old myspace surveys than I’d normally be comfort with. But I guess reaching out of my comfort zone is part of what my blog has become about. And I do genuinely appreciate Kathryn’s gesture, so I’m at least going to follow the first two rules the best I can. We’ll see about the other two a little bit later.

So first, here’s 11 random things about me:

1. The Conan the Barbarian movie soundtrack/score might be my favorite record of all time. I’m a huge music nerd so it’s really impossible to pick a single record as my favorite, but Conan is definitely up there.

I used to work in an independent record store that sold used CDs and tapes. That’s right, cassette tapes. I’m that old. One day somebody brought in a huge box of old cassettes they didn’t want any more and the Conan soundtrack was in there. I took it as something silly to listen to in the car the way home. That damn thing was in my tape deck for at least four days.

I, like nearly everyone else on the planet, have seen the movie. But it was when I was still pretty young and I don’t remember much of it. Now I refuse to ever watch it again, because I like to create my own imagery to go along with the score each time I listen to it. And I’ve recently discovered that it’s also a pretty nice record to listen to while I run.

2. You remember that saying “Act your age, not your shoe size?” My shoe size and my age were the same number from somewhere around nine years old to 15.

Is that an interesting fact about me? Maybe not.

Is it a random fact about me? Damn right.

100_64323. I make a pretty mean sandwich. I like to cook and feel pretty comfortable in the kitchen, but on rare occasions, I just want a sandwich. My favorite sandwich is probably a BEATL (pronounced “beetle”). It’s my version of a BLT with a fried Egg and sliced Avocado on it. It can get a little messy, but it is soooooo good.

I actually made a sandwich as part of my dinner last night. It was sliced avocado, sautéed onions, fried egg, Swiss cheese, tomato, lettuce, and mayo on 100% whole grain toast. It was DELICIOUS and tasted great with leftover beet soup I’ve been enjoying.

4. I don’t watch television. I have one, and I’m pretty sure that it still works. But I have no television service (cable, satellite, antenna, etc.) in my home. Every couple of weeks, I’ll go to HULU and watch any Modern Family episodes that I haven’t seen, but that’s about it. I haven’t had television in years and I don’t miss it.

If it wasn’t for the line of muted televisions at the gym, I wouldn’t even know how awful and ashamed I should feel about the type of entertainment my country supports. It hurts my head to see so much “reality” TV out there. And Jerry Springer is still on TV! Ugh. Who is watching this stupid shit? And why?

5. I don’t really watch movies either. On average, I go to the movies less than twice a year, and probably watch less than six movies total in any format (DVD, theater, Online) throughout the year. No grandiose reasons. I just don’t see a lot of advertisements for them. And when I do, they don’t appeal to me.

As you might’ve guessed by now, I don’t always pick up on it when people make current pop culture references. But I still seem to be doing fine.

6. I am a proud supporting member of my local NPR radio station. I made my donation last night in fact. I am by no stretch of the definition financially wealthy, but I do listen to NPR every day. And since one of the many things that I don’t miss about television is the commercials, I try to pay for that service so they don’t have to beg for money from Pepsi or McDonalds.

Nothing’s free.

7. I have a beard because A) I don’t like to shave B) I have sensitive skin that breaks out (and bleeds) if I try to shave on consecutive days, or even within 2-3 days C) Why not have a beard? In fact, I generally don’t trust clean shaven men. Men without facial hair remind me of politicians and used car salesmen. And they’re not to be trusted. (only half kidding)

8. My blog is only called “thatguywiththebeard” because “ThatGuy@wordpress(dot)com” was already taken.

In 2009, I participated in a month-long online celebration of the moustache called “Moustache May.” Basically, all participants agreed to wear a kick ass moustache for the month of May and post a picture of their top lip greatness on the website every day. I know it sounds silly, but it was actually more of a club of creative people often using that photo as a daily art project. Having a moustache was just the buy-in to join the club, and those photos were often only loosely connected to the facial hair that brought them together. The community that developed from sharing and commenting on those pictures is really hard to explain to anyone that didn’t experience it. Your loss.

When I registered, for a reason still completely oblivious to me, I chose “ThatGuy” as my moniker.

In November of that same year, the organizers of Moustache May launched their fourth and final Whiskerino. Whiskerino could be called the beard version of Moustache May, but that wouldn’t be totally fair to its greatness.

Whiskerino required all participants to shave on November 1, and then let their beards grow untouched and free until February 28. The daily posting of pictures and commenting on those pictures was very similar to the shorter moustache party held in May. But the longer time frame and the challenges that not shaving became to so many people (A lot of beards did not make it through. SHAME!) helped lead to such a more robust community of bearded brothers than you can imagine possible from an online facial hair challenge. I met some amazing people through that website and eventually in person, that I’m happy and proud to still call my friends today.

I used the same moniker, and after four months of trying to comment on every single picture posted by the hundreds of initial participants, the name stuck. And after a total of three Moustache Mays and one Whiskerino, I am ThatGuy. I’m ThatGuy when I have a beard. I’m ThatGuy when I don’t.

And between you and me, on Shamrock weekend when I run my first half marathon, I will likely look a lot more like Thatguywithsideburns. I do what I want.

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9. I’ve been taking the exact same water bottle to the gym with me five days a week since September. Why? Because it can take over 400 years for a plastic water bottle to biodegrade, my kitchen tap emits water at my will, and recycling is expensive. I recycle it every day for free when I refill it and put it back into the bottom of my refrigerator to chill until tomorrow’s trip back to the gym. Recycling is easier than ever. Woohoo!

10. Biographies are probably my favorite type of book to read. I’ve read bios about Johnny Cash, Angela Davis, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, Graham Parsons, Larry McMurtry, Doc Holiday, Phil Ochs, Waylon, Willie and others. People’s real lives just seem more interesting to me sometimes. But then again, I’ve also enjoyed reading the fantastical ramblings of Richard Brautigan too.

This little guy can't get enough of the gym.

This little guy can’t get enough of the gym.

11. There is a small but consistent concern in the back of my head that I might succumb to some temporary temptation and fuck up the progress that I’ve made over the last few months. I haven’t skipped a planned workout or a run without immediately making it up the next day. But exercising is absolutely the easiest habit in the world to break. It’s like the opposite of heroin. All you have to do is skip a couple of workouts and it will get easier and easier to do it again until you find yourself at happy hour, drinking with your friends in the afternoon talking about how you “used to go to the gym” and saying things like “I should really start running again. Excuse me ma’am, can we get another round? And I think I’ll have a double order of hot wings…”

“…with ranch AND blue cheese please.”

I don’t walk around racked with worry, but I stay aware of those risks and how important it is that I stay focused on my goals.

Okay. That was way harder than it should’ve been. Now to answer the questions that Kathryn asked me.

1. Admit it: What is your biggest guilty pleasure?

Cigarettes. I know. I know. But yes, I still smoke. On most days it’s only one or two late at night with a cup of tea while I read or work on something I’m writing. I don’t even take them to work with me. But as a lot of smokers can attest, when I’m out with friends or having a drink, it can increase. I smoke just under two packs a week and really if I could cut out the binges when I’m out with friends and stick to the two a night “pleasure” smokes, I’d probably have no “guilt” at all. But they ARE awful for you and not at all a performance enhancing substance for runners, so I suspect that they will be exiting the program sooner or later. I’ll keep you posted.

2. Tell me all about the best meal that you ever had.

Hmmmm. My best meals are probably not as focused on the food as much as the company, but every now and then both of those things come together.

Two of the best meals I’ve ever had were on my friend Anne’s front porch. Anne is a local chef and a friend. A few years ago, my then girlfriend and I were invited to Anne’s house to have dinner with a few other friends. I unfortunately don’t remember everything on the menu (and I may be mixing some of both nights into one memory). But I remember being introduced to the incredibly simple but oh so tasty hors d’oeuvre of cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto, and a delicious baked sea bass, with roasted asparagus or brussels sprouts. I can’t remember which, maybe both. But between the amazing food, some really good wine, and the six or so really great people talking, laughing, and listening around that table on her front porch, it really felt like we were in a wine commercial. It was a really amazing time, and a great meal with good people.

I have eaten at two different restaurants where Anne has worked since, and will gladly patron anywhere she works in the future. If you should find yourself in Virginia Beach, check out Pacifica. I’m not normally a tapas fan, but I have loved every meal I’ve had there and the bar tender’s no slouch either. As crazy as it sounds, the daily flavored butter is worth stopping in. Trust me.

3. If you won a $100 million jackpot, what would you do with it?

Pay my debts. Buy a modest home somewhere pretty; maybe in Colorado or New England. Buy a new car (mine is 12 years old). Travel to all the places I’ve never been and try to run races in every state in the union. Read more. Play more music. Maybe try to write a book.

4. What is your favorite childhood memory?

Laying on my back on the floor of my grandparents den with the lights off and my head under their ridiculously over-lighted Christmas tree and staring up through all of those multi-colored, mirrored, and twinkling lights while listening to their old Christmas records. Those records are still the only Christmas songs that I can really get into.

5. What is your every day super power? (mine, for instance, is being a super planny plannerston.)

I really don’t know. I’m a decent multi-tasker, but not because I want to be. It’s usually because I haven’t planned well enough and find myself having to do too many things at once just to get caught up again. Procrastination is a very hard habit to break.

6. What is the most rebellious/crazy/reckless thing you have ever done?

I’ve honestly never been terribly rebellious, crazy, or reckless. Most of the more reckless things I’ve done have been cliché mistakes resulting from excessive drinking and youthful stupidity (even if I wasn’t as young as I was acting).

But this MIGHT have happened. And we were all 100% sober, believe it or not.

About 10 years ago, my friend, his girlfriend, and I bought a car for 50 dollars from a guy about to leave the area. No title, no license plate. We gave him 50 dollars. He gave us the keys. We spray painted the whole car (including most of the windows) with paint found in the trunk. Then we drove it out into the country to tear around in a field and see if we could maybe get it up on two wheels (I said we were sober, not smart). At some point while switching drivers, I noted that the car was smoking a little bit and decided that we should probably leave the field before it died there and left us no way to get it out.

About a half hour or so after getting it back to my house, my cousin drove up and told me that the smoke I’d seen was not from the car but instead from the field. We had MAYBE accidentally set the field on fire with the catalytic converter and the fire department MIGHT HAVE had to come out to extinguish the then sizable open fire…not an easy task in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere.

Did I mention that the car had a Charlie Daniels Band tape stuck in the tape player when we bought it? What a perfect soundtrack for that total ridiculousness.

7. If you had it to do over, what is one thing that you would have done differently?

Oh, geez. I’ve unfortunately spent too much of my life stacking a pile of regrets so large that it’s probably visible from space. But in an effort to keep this a bit lighter in nature, I’ll stick with something simple. I wish I had taken piano lessons as a child.

I’m not totally sure, but I think I remember my mom asking me if I wanted to when I was around seven or eight years old and I said no. Apparently I’ve always defaulted to the negative. I love a lot of piano music, but really I just believe that had I built a music foundation on the piano and developed the ability to read music, that knowledge would have transferred well into other instruments and possibly made me a better guitar player. Not a huge issue now, but I would have done that differently if I could.

8. Your favorite adult beverage:

Dirty Kettle One Martini. Yes please. I VERY rarely drink shots, but I love these simple drinks so much that it is sometimes hard not to just take the first one right to the face and immediately order another. And so far I think I’ve had one the night before every race that I’ve run. I’m running a 20K tomorrow (in the effing rain of course), so I had one just about an hour ago. It was a little dirtier than I like, but still very tasty.

9. A movie that you can watch over and over again and never get sick of:

Wow. Tough one. Big Lebowski and True Romance immediately come to my mind. But I’m going to go with Almost Famous. I love the soundtrack and the story and the actors. It’s just a really great movie that I know I could just sit and chill through no matter when it came on.

I may have to blow the dust off of my TV this weekend and watch it again.

10. What is your favorite thing about yourself?

Probably my sense of humor. I’m usually pretty quiet when I meet new people or if I’m in any kind of crowd. And I happily and comfortably spend a lot of time alone. But being able to make people laugh has been a pretty decent ice breaker when I can finally open up a bit (beer helps). And I’m sure that the ability to be silly and not take myself so seriously all of the time has helped me through some rough days in the past.

11. Your house is on fire and you have time to rescue one thing. Assuming your family members and pets are already safe, what do you save?

100_6437100% honest: Probably nothing. It’s only stuff. I’d just leave.

But let’s see…my garmin? No. My running shoes? Yeah right. I guess I’d try to grab my Fender Old Growth Redwood Telecaster. There were only a limited number of them made as part of Fender Guitar’s celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Telecaster. It is made from reclaimed centuries-old redwood and sounds as amazing as it looks. I honestly don’t feel like I play well enough to deserve this guitar, but my dad gave it to me for my birthday a couple of years ago and I just couldn’t refuse it once I heard it. It’s awesome.

Well, that’s that. I spouted off random facts about myself. And I’ve answered 11 questions about myself. That’s a lot of “me” time. I might actually be a bit tired of myself right now. So I guess I should pick someone else to talk about.

I am going to pass the Leibster Award onto another Hampton Roads blogger. Justin is a husband, father, musician, bass instructor, and martial artist who writes a blog at lowquality.net. His blog ranges from shorter humorous anecdotes to fuller posts about self discoveries he experiences as he adjusts to fatherhood and continues his training in Filipino martial arts.

Justin and I met about four years ago (while I was taking a picture for moustache may), live in the same town, and have still probably only been in the same room together about four times. But we are kindred spirits in a lot of ways (we both possess a pretty solid aptitude for snark) and it’s been quite interesting and entertaining to read about his personal triumphs and self discoveries as I am experiencing similar things on an only slightly different path. I suspect that Justin probably writes his blog more for himself than for others, but I believe that his insights are often much more universal and relatable than he may realize. Check it out.

Because I don’t think Justin will be excited at all to come up with eleven random things about himself, and even less so to have to answer eleven questions that I pose, I’m only going to ask for five. He can rattle off as many as eleven if he wants. But I’m only asking for five random facts about Norfolk’s favorite ginger. And I’ll ask as many questions as I can come up with before I give up. And he can answer as many as he wants. I’ll live.

Congratulations Justin. You just won a Leibster Award. Now tell the world (or the tens of people that might see it) at least five random things about yourself. Keep it clean.

And when you’re done, I’d like to know the following:

1. What was the first band that you saw live? Where?

2. Why Kali?

3. If you could have a beer with anyone living or dead, who would it be?

4. Besides the obvious wedding day and child birth answers, what would you say is the proudest moment of your life so far?

5. Who was/is your favorite teacher or instructor in any capacity (school, music, etc.)?

6. I doubt you have a true bucket list, but what is, or would be, the farthest fetched thing on it?

And lucky number seven. If you died today what would you want on you tomb stone?

I’ll stop there. My apologies to Kathryn for soft balling my passing along the award. But I hope that keeping it shorter will make it easier for a busy guy to actually find the will to keep it going. Good luck and thanks.

And because I already know that he’s one of Justin’s favorite bass players (if not his definite favorite), here a clip of James Jamerson killing the bass. Happy Friday.

You Can Do Anything

“Practice is the hardest part of learning, and training is the essence of transformation.” ― Ann Voskamp

Everyone should have a standing weekly taco date. On the way home from mine Wednesday night, a friend and I stopped by our favorite neighborhood pub where we happily ran into some familiar faces enjoying some quality local music talent.

During a break, an old friend of my buddy, and a new friend of mine, kindly told me that she had recently started reading my blog and how much she really liked it. That was pretty nice of her, right? She also mentioned that she had always wanted to run, but after a few unpleasant past experiences had accepted that some people love to run, and some people just don’t. And even though she wished that it wasn’t true, she was in the “some people just don’t” category.

I believe that is entirely possible. I really do. Just because I love something does not mean that it is intrinsically and undeniably lovable. All that it really means is that I love it. Me. I do. Luckily for us all, opinions vary.

She explained that she had tried running on a few different occasions and that she and a friend had even decided to run the Rock and Roll Half Marathon a few years ago. But after doing some training runs (I believe she mentioned getting up to at least a six mile run), it just wasn’t enjoyable. “I’ll stick to swimming,” she said.

Again, I can totally see that being the case. I love running. But I love Brussels sprouts and can’t stand marshmallows, so my opinions are probably pretty suspect.

(Unfortunately, one of the things that kept running from being enjoyable was the breast discomfort of running. That is something that I cannot speak to as I am currently boobless. Any well intentioned sports bra or other remedy suggestions anyone might have would be gladly accepted and passed along. Thanks)

Now, I’m not always the best conversationalist, or I would probably know simple things like how long had she actively been training before that six mile run, or if she ever ended up running that half marathon at all. But I’m a little lacking in my people skills sometimes and I rarely ask what, to most people, would be obvious questions. So for the sake of my eventual point, I’m going to allude to small errors that I suspect others have made whether my friend actually made them or not.

What is my point? You CAN do anything you want to do. But you may have to start small, maybe even very small.

Many people will say that they “can’t” run, or can’t do any number of other things for that matter. And I believe that is because they either set unattainably high early goals and/or they start so aggressively that they exceed their physical limitations and get discouraged by pain, discomfort, or even injury. But in most cases, a slower and smaller initiation into a new challenge can make all the difference between enjoying success in that venture and suffering discouraging results that eventually lead to cessation. And why wouldn’t you quit doing something that makes you feel shitty? I would. I have.

“Forget perfect on the first try. In the face of frustration, your best tool is a few deep breaths, and remembering that you can do anything once you’ve practiced two hundred times.” ― Miriam Peskowitz

I’ve tried to learn new things on the guitar several hundred times in my life, but I’m impatient. When I’m trying to learn or write a song, I’ll mess with it for a little while, maybe get a rough version of it down, and then immediately move on without ever fully realizing the song. Or I’ll never even get close to getting it right…and move on. At times, I’ve displayed a pretty incredible will to quit when faced with a goal that isn’t easily achievable.

Instead of trying to learn whole songs, I’ve recently started making myself practice guitar scales for a whopping five minutes a day. Five minutes! That’s it. I’ve got that time, whether I always want to admit it or not. Shit, I make a cup of tea at some point almost every night. Just waiting for the water to boil is enough time to fit this fledgling habit into my schedule. So I do.

old pic, but I'm too tired to pose for another one right now.

old pic, but I’m too tired to pose for another one right now.

It’s an easy goal to achieve, and it benefits me in at least two ways.

1) I’m practicing scales. I’ve played guitar for almost 18 years, and on my really good days, I’m decent. I’m not going to change the world with the instrument, but I’ve enjoyed countless hours with it, so I’ve already bettered my world. But after so many years of playing, I still don’t know a single scale. And ignorance is always limiting, whether it’s pertaining to something important like my required job skills or more recreational things in my life like playing guitar. Now I can honestly say I’m working on that…for five minutes a day anyway.

2) I’m playing guitar more. Just starting is often the hardest part of any endeavor. I love playing, but between years of poorly prioritizing my life and a current schedule that I keep pretty well full, I’ve let it slip a little bit from my routine. Making myself practice scales for those few minutes means that I have to pick it up. And because I enjoy playing it, I very rarely find myself looking at the clock and waiting for those five minutes to run out so I can throw it from my hands and get back to all of that really important facebooking I have to do. Starting to practice leads to playing, maybe for 10 minutes, maybe for 30. But it’s all more than I might have played if I hadn’t committed myself to five minutes of practicing that C major scale that I didn’t even know two weeks ago.

Five minutes a day and I get to claim victory, because I set a goal that is so easily achievable that it’s hard to justify to myself why I wouldn’t do it. Baby steps.

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible” –Francis of Assisi

When I decided on a whim, four months ago, that I needed to go for a run, I took a few minutes on google maps and laid out a quick 0.7 mile route in my neighborhood. Then I laced up some old neglected running shoes, put on some headphones, stepped out my front door, and started running away from my apartment. I probably made it about 0.1 miles before I was completely winded, and maybe 0.10001 miles before I was walking. But when I caught my breath, I started running again…until I had to walk again. And I did that stopping and starting, walking and running, over and over again for two laps, 1.4 miles, or as I was saying at the time “about a mile and half.” It felt more respectable to say it that way. I think it took me over 20 minutes.

And after that very first “run,” I felt AMAZING!!

I cannot emphasize that enough. I never try to sell anyone on the joys of running. If I had not felt that immediate buzz after my very first outing, there is absolutely no guaranty that I would have ever done it again. And so when someone tells me that they don’t like running, I just assume that they did not get that feeling. And without that rush, I wouldn’t like it either. It makes total sense to me.

It was probably a month and a half before I could run a mile continuously and I know it was almost 11 weeks before I could run two. Everything takes time. I ran my very first 5K on December 8 and finished it in less time than that first run in September. I’ve run three more races since. And after work this afternoon, I ran 11 miles in an hour and 45 minutes. In a month, I’m going to run my first half marathon.

Anything is possible. But it may take a little bit of time.

I also didn’t get to my heaviest lifetime weight last summer by swallowing one giant deep fried cheeseburger wrapped in a stuffed crust pizza. I did it by taking several trillion bites of extra tacos, sausage biscuits, and hot wings on top of what healthier foods I was also eating to support the denial of my poor food habits. And the only regular exercise I was getting was a steady regiment of diminishing 12 and 16 ounce right arm curls as I washed so much of my diet down with too many beers.

I didn’t lose that weight with one lap around the block either. I cleaned up my diet. I used better portion control to eliminate excess empty calories. Then I started running and exercising regularly. The weight fell off. I don’t miss it.

I’m NEVER giving up my tacos though. Tacos are delicious…just can’t eat six of those wonderful treats anymore. I can live with that.

Very few things, good or bad, positive or negative, happen overnight. And you can baby-step your way into just about anything. You might as well try and make those baby steps towards a positive direction. If you don’t make it all the way, you tried. Even in coming up short, you’re that much closer to something greater than where you started. And the learning experienced even in what may be considered “failed” attempts can’t be taken away. All learning improves the chances of success the next time you try. And you will try again.

“Mere philosophy will not satisfy us. We cannot reach the goal by mere words alone. Without practice, nothing can be achieved.” ― Swami Satchidananda

During our conversation, the friend I mentioned earlier expressed a love of the trails at a park near her home. She even suggested that I might enjoy running there; telling me how beautiful and peaceful it is and how it’s roughly four miles long, but laid out in such a manner that with different crisscrosses could be stretched to any distance I desired.

She mentioned how much she loves walking that trail with her dog a couple of times a week. It later occurred to me that if she is already there two or three times a week, and she’s walking the trail, then she’s already crossed two of the biggest hurdles to becoming the runner that she’s wanted to be. Hell, if she’s hitting the trail a couple of times a week, running or walking, she’s already a runner in my book. She just doesn’t know it yet.

All she has to do now is find more comfortable workout attire (again, I’m counting on some help from any ladies out there), and start running. But start running knowing that she can stop any time she wants for as long as she wants, and start again whenever she wants for as long as she wants. And no matter how long those distances are, she’s a runner.

Anyone can do it. If running is intimidating, walk. Try walking faster than you normally do. How fast do you think you can walk? There are walking divisions in some races, and the pace that people are WALKING those distances is insane.

Go to your favorite park or even the street in front of your house and start walking. Walk fast. Then when you’re feeling sassy, just run to that tree up there. Not that one. The other one. Yeah, that one. And when you get to that tree, start walking again for as long as you want to; whether it be a few hundred feet or a few days. You already accomplished your goal. You ran to that tree. Congratulations. When you’re comfortable again, run to that other tree; that one just a few feet further away. And then start walking again. Do that for as long as you want, as many days as you want (providing you allow for recovery days when you know you know you’ve exerted yourself). And when you don’t want to walk/run anymore, don’t. You’re your only coach. Tell yourself to hit the showers. You’ve earned it.

If you want to run, stark walking. If you want to play guitar, practice. If you want to change your diet, start by changing the smallest part imaginable (e.g. eat the ice cream, but skip the chocolate syrup). If you want to swallow swords,…uh…start with knives? I don’t know about that last one. But you can baby step your way towards any goal. Everything takes time and trying to do too much all at once can seriously sabotage your success.

Do whatever you want. Do it at the speed of comfort. And if you don’t like it, stop. But don’t say that you can’t. You can do anything.

Bright side-note of running: Once you’ve burned 1500 calories in less than two hours, you will experience zero guilt in eating a mound of food like this for dinner. Baked sweet potato, quinoa, smothered in veggie chili, and a little avocado on the side. It was delicious. Happy Friday.

post run pile

The Excitement Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I do believe in goals.

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

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

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

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

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

Or maybe it started then?

Am I time traveling?

What’s going on?

You know what I mean.

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see what happens.

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

It’s time to shine.