I’m a Marathoner: Anybody Can Do That

“Hey, has anyone seen Thatguywiththebeard? I swear I thought he was training for a marathon and checking in almost every week until about a month ago. Then he just disappeared. I’m starting to worry.” – No one ever.

I know. I know. It’s been forever since I checked in. And I wish I had some really exciting reason why I haven’t been around. But honestly, I’ve just been hella-busy. (Lame excuse, I know)

I started writing at least four of these things over the last several weeks, but each time I could never find the time to sit down and finish one. Trust me, it was frustrating the hell out of me. But, try as I might, I couldn’t create more time. And despite what the Beatles seemed to believe, there are still only seven days in the week. Stupid Beatles.

“I hate clutter. It really bothers me because I can’t think properly. If you’ve got distractions in front of you, your mind goes nuts.” – Simon Cowell

I posted my last entry way back in October, right before the highest mileage weeks on my training schedule. I started a new job during that same time period. I set a new half-marathon PR at my last practice race; also my first travel race. My brother came to town for a visit. Then just two days after my last long run (22 miles) before that glorious taper I’d been looking forward to for so long, I got sick. Yep. Sick. My training went so well that I was starting to feel invincible. It turns out that I’m not.

I spent most of my taper battling a persistent throat infection, swimming in night sweats, downing antibiotics, and suffering from near constant exhaustion. If it hadn’t been for new job responsibilities, I probably wouldn’t have gone to work. And if I wasn’t such a hard-headed asshole, I might not have run a single step. I was physically and mentally drained for two weeks. It sucked.

After a couple weeks got by me without a new post, I found myself so out of rhythm with the blog that I couldn’t figure out how to jump back in. I had things I wanted to share. But with each week missed, they’d seem too distant from their inspiration, less relevant to the current week’s trials, and eventually I was completely lost as to what I was doing, how I could catch up, or whether I should even try. Do I attempt to pick up where I left off? Or should I just skip to right now?

Did I mention that I was exhausted?

One thing this unplanned hiatus did was to remind me how important it is for me to post these silly things. It’s kind of selfish really, but there is a measurable physical response every time I publish a new blog; a feeling of release like I just moved another heavy box out of the crowded attic of my skull. And over the last several weeks, the building weight on that attic floor was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. So I’ve been trying to make this a priority. I didn’t need to run this afternoon. I skipped the gym. Today I’m going to move some boxes out to the curb.

“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” – Nido Qubein

So where was I? What’s been going on? Hmmmmm?

Oh yeah. I ran a fucking marathon last Sunday!

Wait. No.

I ran my first fucking marathon last Sunday! And it was incredible.

I stalked this out the night before the race.  I had to see it.

I stalked this out the night before the race. I had to see it.

The more races I run, the more I reinforce what I’ve always kind of known: I’m way more of a runner than a racer. I like races. I want to do well in them. But I really just like to run, and sometimes races can be distracting. I view races in the same way that I imagine martial artists might view their tests for a new belt classification. It’s a necessary act to measure one’s progress. It can be fun. And it’s certainly challenging. But the belt is not the true point of the training. I believe running makes me a better person. I train to push myself closer to the best me I can be. Races are just a tool to help measure and motivate those steps along the way.

All that said; being able to call myself a marathoner does feel pretty damn good…and somewhat surreal too. It’s been a crazy year.

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Henry David Thoreau

My first marathon had its ups and downs. I battled some setbacks out of my control, made some mistakes, learned a few lessons, and had a total blast. The 2013 Philadelphia Marathon was and will always be one the greatest experiences of my life. And for the sake of the non-running readers out there that don’t give two shits about the details of the race, I’ll try to keep this short (yeah, right). Please bear with me.

Setback Out Of My Control:

1) Maybe not totally out of my control (my “Mouth Kiss The Homeless” policy might’ve been a bad idea), but I spent most of my taper under the weather and exhausted. And because of it, I never felt as rested and ready as I’d have liked. And I knew something was up when I was yawning before the race even started. Ugh.

2) I had to run on unfamiliar fuel. I was fortunate enough to train all summer with a gel that disappeared from the face of the planet just weeks before the race. I looked EVERYWHERE for it, but eventually accepted that I was going to have to break one of the biggest rules of running: don’t do anything new on race day. Hahahaha. Nothing new? I was going to run my first marathon with an unfamiliar fuel. Hooray for my continued good luck.

3) It was damn near hot outside. I was hoping for race day temperatures no higher than 50 degrees, and 45 wouldn’t have hurt my feelings. Instead it was over 50 degrees at 7 a.m., with midday highs expected in the upper 60s. Oh, and the humidity was only at 87%. Now, I trained in the heat of a Virginia summer, so I won’t pretend that I’d never seen warm conditions. But the unexpected heat and humidity very likely contributed to my eventual running out of gas.

Mistakes Made/Lessons Learned:

1) I didn’t fully prepare for the race conditions. The course was a bit hillier than I expected. I looked at the elevation chart when I registered. But I didn’t look very closely. It wasn’t a total deal breaker or anything. I did a few training runs in hillier areas, and I did hill-repeats as some of my speed work. But the more consistent hills on the course made it difficult for me to settle into my pace and zone out. And whoever thought that laying out a marathon course with a solid climb from the 18.5 mile mark through mile 20 should be punched in the ear.

2) I under fueled. Because I wasn’t sure how I’d stomach a different gel on race day and I didn’t want to risk a midrace digestive issue, I ended up cutting my normal race day caloric intake by about 25%. That was energy I probably could’ve used in the last few miles. Ooops.

3) I didn’t hydrate well either. I carry an electrolyte drink with me when I run. But because I wanted to conserve as much of it as possible to wash down gels, I was using aid stations as my main source of hydration. And because I don’t like the taste of Gatorade, I took water at every stop until I crashed at mile 23. And boy, did I crash. I wasn’t feeling any significant physical pain. I simply ran out of gas.

I later noticed that I’d burned over 3600 calories in those four hours on the road. I didn’t take in nearly enough electrolytes or carbs for that, and my body was pissed about it after the race. In hindsight, in addition to eating more, I probably should’ve taken Gatorade from at least half of the water stops to help prevent that previously mentioned crash. I’m learning.

Had A Blast:

Philly Medal1) I finished my first marathon. Isn’t that the most important thing? It’s still crazy to me, but I’ve got the medal to prove it, so it must have happened. Not only did I finish, but I finished with a time that I am proud of (4:11:11). I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want to finish in less than four hours. But finishing was truly my main goal. And between my sketchy taper, fueling issues, and hydration errors, I’m more than pleased with my performance. Hell, I was killing it for 23 miles. Get my fueling/hydration straight and I should have no trouble knocking those 11 minutes off next time.

2) Philly rocked. A person vaguely resembling the man I am today had been to Philadelphia a few times in the past and displayed absolutely zero reservations in shitting all over it. It’s easy to find fault the littered streets and chaotic traffic of such a large urban area. But once I got checked into my hotel, I found the city oddly peaceful while I wandered its streets the night before the race. And the course itself was a really nice run as well. It ran right through the middle of the city, China town, the university district, then out along the river. And the parts along that river might’ve even been called relaxing if I hadn’t been constantly waiting for the door to slam on me.

Seeing so much of Philly on foot made me even more excited to do more travel races. I can’t wait to experience more new places at street level through the eyes of a slow moving runner. It’s going to be fun.

3) My post race dinner was amazing. Unlike a lot of runners, I do not run to offset an insatiable love of food. On the contrary, I feel like I make myself eat more than I really want in order to fuel my love of running. But I have never been as depleted in my life as I was after finishing my marathon. Holy shit! I felt awful. I could barely move or even speak. And when I did talk, it was in such a hushed tone that I barely recognized my own voice. It was ridiculous.

After about three hours of slowly rehydrating and replenishing myself the best I could with my pre-staged post race foods (coconut water, protein shakes, bananas, vegetables, rice, and beans), I finally felt good enough to go out and meet some friends for a proper celebratory meal. And goddamn was it delicious.

The plan was to meet at a nearby Mexican-American themed restaurant (El Vez) for a drink before walking to another nearby spot assumed to be more suited to my plant-based diet. I am so glad that didn’t happen. Instead, the chef (also a friend) decided he would adjust some of the existing menu items and create a few special items in order to present the most delicious vegan tasting menu I could ever ask for. One surprise dish after another kept showing up at the table. I wish I’d thought to take pictures of the spice crusted fried cauliflower, wheat berry and asparagus salad, veggie tacos, spicy beat enchiladas, amazing guacamole, and other delights. It was truly the best treat I could’ve imagined. And between laughing with friends and enjoying such delicious new foods, I couldn’t have asked for more. That meal experience (both friends and food) really made my whole day. I am so incredibly grateful.

“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life” – Isabelle Eberhardt

Well, that about sums up my race. You should’ve known that I wouldn’t be able to keep it short.

I had a total blast at my first marathon. And maybe because of the beating I took from it, I kind of feel like I’ve now got some unfinished business with the Philadelphia Marathon. So, though I’m not sure when, I will return to win the battle of those hills. Be ready Philly. I will be back.

“…You can do something extraordinary, and something that a lot of people can’t do. And if you have the opportunity to work on your gifts, it seems like a crime not to. I mean, it’s just weakness to quit because something becomes too hard…” – Morgan Matson

I’ve received an incredible amount of love and support over the last year, especially in the last several months of training; whether it was supportive words, kind messages, or simple tolerance of my selfishness. I couldn’t be more appreciative. I can’t believe how far I’ve come in the last year, both as a runner and a person. I really can’t. But going through some of my earliest running notes from last year, I saw something interesting. And it made me think of some of my friends and loved ones who have recently started their own journeys towards a healthier existence, whether through running or some other activity that brings them joy.

I was reminded most of those few people that just started running over the hot sweaty months of summer. Some have run a few races. Some are still training for their first one. And some have even gone all in and decided that they’re going to tackle their first half marathon in the spring. I love that shit. But I’ve noticed some of those same people expressing subtle hesitations about whether they’re really ready or doubts that they’re biting off more than they can chew. Cautiousness is not to be undervalued when starting something new, but I can assure anyone who is interested that you are in fact ready. And if you train hard and dedicate yourselves, you can certainly chew up and swallow any goal you sink your teeth into.

When I was looking at my run journal from last year, I saw the early entry where I had finally run two miles without walking. I’d been going out for “runs” about three to four miles long, but in those first couple of months I always had to walk some portions of them. I don’t remember the first time I managed to run one mile continuously, but I totally I remember the first time I managed to run two. Two whole miles without walking. I was fucking stoked. Honestly, I was probably more emotionally moved to run those two miles continuously than I was to finish my marathon. It was all brand new to me. Every single run was an expansion of a boundary I still couldn’t understand. I felt amazing.

It was November 23, 2012. One day shy of a year ago.

On November 17, 2012, I was not yet able to run two miles without walking. On November 17, 2013, I ran 23 of them before reluctantly slowing to a walk on my way to finishing my first marathon. I’m not special. Shit, I’m not even terribly coordinated. If I can do it, you can do it. And it really doesn’t matter what your personal “it” happens to be. Mine is running, yours is whatever makes you feel like a better you. Whatever your “it” is, you can totally do it. You just have to want it really bad, and work really hard. Anybody can do that.

Good luck. Have fun. Happy Friday.

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Reset Recap; I’m Back

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

Go ahead.  Push it.

Go ahead. Push it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

plot twist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Step More (J.O.G.T. 9)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Try to do it with your knees first.”

“My knees, huh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Friday

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

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

Half Way to Philly

“Once you’re halfway home, you know that you can probably get the rest of the way there.” – Janis Ian

As usual, I was a little behind on updating my training log after the weekend. But while catching up I realized that I am now half way to Philadelphia. That’s right. My first marathon is less than 12 weeks away. That seems like a really long time. But when I think about how far I am from being ready to run 26.2 miles, it appears wildly close too.

Eh, I’ll get there when I get there. (When I get there=11.5 weeks from now.)

I’m following a 24 week plan that I frankensteined together from a couple of different online resources. I designed it to coordinate with my schedule better. And I built a longer than normal training plan to allow for a slower mileage build-up on my newbie body and to hopefully avoid any overtraining injuries that could sabotage me along the way.

I did way better than I’d expected to in my first half marathon in March. But I still started that race with one sore ankle, ran the whole thing aware of it getting worse, and had to take a full week off after the race to recover from all of the abuse I inflicted on my knees and the other ankle as I subconsciously adjusted my stride to compensate. I don’t want to do that again. I want to be 100% healthy when I step into my corral in Pennsylvania this November.

“Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.” – Thomas Jefferson

I only run three days a week, but I have to say that I don’t know how long after this training cycle that I will stick to that. I love having a schedule to follow. I think I work better with that structure. But my diligence to the plan prevents me from enjoying those days when it’s beautiful outside or I’m just stressed out, and I just want to get out on the roads for a few “me” miles. I truly want to run more. And as my overall health and conditioning continue to improve, I think I will be able to relax a bit and safely add a day here and there. But for now, I’m trying to err on the side of caution.

My three day program originally had speed training on Tuesdays, tempo runs on Thursdays, and my long run on Saturdays. I’ve pretty much kept to that, except for those tempo runs. I’ll get them next time, I promise.

For the first several weeks, my plan’s speed workouts were 400 meter intervals (running 400 fast, walking 400 to recover). This has been my first experience with any kind of established speed work, but I really like it. It’s been pretty easy to motivate myself through most anything when I can see the next break coming just around the corner. And you can always see the end of a 400 meter interval.

Now, I’m alternating each week’s speed training between Yasso 800 intervals and Hill Repeat workouts. I’m still enjoying them, but I’m also trying to pace them better and run more during the already shorter recovery periods. We’ll see if it’s working as fall approaches.

The original plan had Thursdays slotted as moderate effort, middle distance runs and was supposed to switch over to Tempo runs towards the second half of the schedule. But because of bad math on my part and a long term desire to improve my overall aerobic threshold, I had to adjust that a bit.

I didn’t do a very good job with the numbers when I pieced plans with four and five weekly runs together and edited them into my three run blueprint. Due to my oversight, those tempo runs were going to cause weird deficiencies in the total weekly mileage along the way. I want to do them, but I decided that tempo runs were too close to doing another speed workout for me and I couldn’t afford to sacrifice the total miles I feel I’ll need in order to be ready for Philly. So I’m slowly recalculating the second half of my schedule to make Thursday runs into slightly longer Zone 2 efforts and to keep my weekly mileage totals somewhere close to the 10% rule. I’ll get those tempo runs in next time though. I’m still learning.

Saturdays are long runs. They’ve gotten progressively longer and will obviously continue to do so. But I added weeks to my program so that I could progress a bit slower and to allow for “relief” weeks where my long run may be a bit shorter than previous weeks and I’ll make up the total mileage during those weeks’ other runs. I ended up with something of a “two steps up, one step back” approach. My longest run so far has only been 14 miles, but the distances ramp up pretty nice in the next three months. I’m running the Rock N Roll Half Marathon this Sunday as a practice race, and then it’s back to the climb with some 16, 18, 20, and even an unconventional 22 miler ahead. It’s going to be fun…or insane. Not sure which.

“But wait. There’s more” – Billy Mays

In addition to my weekly running, I cross train on a stationary bike at least twice a week, never more than three. And I do weight/resistance training five days a week.

On my non-running week days, I ride a bike that doesn’t move. I don’t know why it doesn’t bother me as much as running on a treadmill, but it doesn’t. Maybe it’s because pedaling doesn’t take nearly as much concentration. I really don’t know. But I can just zone out and ride that stupid thing forever. I alternate between hill routines and flat out endurance slogs. I ride to time, not “distance,” and my focus is on maintaining a steady, moderately high rpm at a reasonably high resistance setting. I’ve been doing this almost as long as I’ve been running, so it’s hard for me to quantify how much it helps, but I believe it is a big part of my improved cardiovascular performance. It’s low impact. It’s definitely helped me strengthen my formally problematic knees. It’s accessible. And I can listen to podcasts while I do it. It’s a no-brainer cross training decision right now. I’m going to keep doing it.

I also go to the gym after work Monday through Friday and sometimes Saturday depending on what is going on or if I feel like I need to work on something specific (riding out some knee discomfort for example). I mix up my workout from time to time. But basically I split my whole body up into three different workouts and do one of them every day, cycling through those workouts continuously, week in and week out, with an added focus on my core strength. Rotating three workouts through a five day routine means that each week is slightly different and gives different muscle groupings different amounts of recovery time before it comes up again. I adjust the intensity and approach of each day’s workout depending on that week’s layout and the allotted recovery time.

I am by no stretch of the imagination a weight training expert. But like everything else, I do research it. There is no shortage of conflicting resources available. And they’re probably all right, depending on the goal. Losing weight, body building, and functional strength training all require different approaches. And no matter the overall goal, there are many ways to get that cat skinned. My focus is on getting stronger and running better. I am doing both, so…

“It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.” – Winston Churchill

Here’s where I’m at after the first 12 weeks.

Total miles running: 235.44

Total time on bike: 1270 minutes (approx 425 miles)

Total number of days at the gym: 57

Total Tootsie Rolls eaten: 57 (They have them on the counter at my gym. I pick one up on my way out the door every day. Hey, they’ve got 4 grams of carbs each.)

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

Because my training plan officially started on June 1, the first half has obviously taken place during the hotter months of the year. And as I shared a few weeks ago, I’ve learned a lot while enjoying my first summer as a runner. As I look ahead anxiously into fall and into the second half of my training cycle, my goals are to keep working and keep learning.

In Summer School for Slow Learners, I mentioned the big lessons I’ve learned so far: drink more water, slow down, and have fun. I’ve continued to be conscious of those lessons and even picked up a few helpful aids along the way.

I’ve found some electrolyte tablets that I don’t hate. I’ve been using Nuun electrolyte tablets for about six weeks now and they’ve kept me properly hydrated well enough that, for now, I’ve stopped looking. Cons: I’m not a fan of how Gatorade tastes and they taste a bit too much like it. Pros: They’ve got more electrolytes than Gatorade and they’re cheap. I really prefer coconut water when I run, but due to the sheer volume of fluids I lose during hot weather running, it is not financially feasible to buy that much. And it also has less of the valuable electrolytes than the Nuun tablets. So until fall settles in, I’ll stick with the chalky tablets.

I’m also pretty stoked to have finally found an in-run fuel source that I actually like. I was eating caffeinated jelly beans on my runs for a while, but chewing while I ran would mess up my breathing and I felt it was only a matter of time before I choked trying to pour them in my mouth mid-run. I wasn’t excited about the caffeine either. Realizing that I was going to have to find some kind of gel, I experimented with Honey Stinger gels but they were way too sweet and tasted like donut filling to me. Not surprisingly they also gave me a very noticeable sugar spike…and crash.

Finally I saw some Vega brand endurance gels and gave them a try. They’re vegan plant based gels that don’t taste awful, don’t give my body a blood sugar spike, and therefore do not result in a crash either. What they do is provide me with a subtle energy bump that feels very natural, seems to sustain evenly, and doesn’t upset my stomach. I’ve only tried two flavors so far, but unless something crazy happens or until I decide that I want to make my own completely whole food based gels, I think I’m going to stick with them. Now all I have to do is figure out a way to stop cutting the corners of my mouth on the package before I end up looking like the joker.

The-Joker-Heath-Ledger-Batman-The-Dark-Knight

“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” – Abraham Lincoln

My overall analysis so far: I feel pretty good. Maybe too good. I may not be pushing myself enough. One of the potential downsides of always running alone is that I don’t have someone there to push me. I don’t want to injure myself, but I do want to push myself to get better. That’s a balance I might be approaching slightly too conservatively. And I may have used my difficult adjustment to the heat as an excuse to accept lesser performance. I’m not sure. But I don’t regret my decision to keep my running a solitary gig. It is still very personal to me in more ways than my desire to be physically fit. However, I do think that, much like the ability to add an extra run day after this race, I may also feel more comfortable mixing up my routines and accepting some of the invites to run with a group every now and then. I know that I would benefit from that, but I’m maybe foolishly determined to do this alone right now. I reserve the right to change my mind at any time.

My most recent observation during training is that my appetite has finally started to increase. Over the last two weeks, I’ve noticed that I’m hungry a lot more often and with unusual frequency between meals. I’ve been making adjustments to my diet all summer as I’ve leaned closer to a completely whole foods, plant based, and dairy free diet. And I will continue in that direction. I will not use marathon training as an excuse to eat whatever garbage food is available under the guise that all of my running will make up for poor food choices. I feel my current diet is the best choice for my training and vastly improves my recovery times.

To adjust to this new hunger phenomenon, I’ve simply packed more food into my lunches and started keeping healthier raw fruit and vegetable snacks around. My goal is to satisfy my body’s dietary needs with my current schedule and to hopefully avoid slipping into some kind of all day grazing habit. I still want to eat meals. I want those meals to be as nutrient dense as possible. And I want snacks to be spaced as evenly throughout my day as possible. I’m just trying to make each of those meals and snacks slightly larger and more evenly balanced nutritionally. We’ll see how it goes.

AND FINALLY,

CRAZY IDEA ALERT: Earlier, I noted that I’d run over 235 miles since June 1. According to Google maps, it’s only a 278 mile drive from my house to Philadelphia. Noting that fact made me think about how cool it would be to someday take five or six months to actually run my training schedule from where I live to a destination race somewhere far away; maybe finding some cool education/adventure/volunteering opportunities for my rest days along the way. I’ll keep working on that idea and let you know what I come up with. Should probably start with lottery tickets though.

Happy Wednesday.

And sorry about this one. I couldn’t help myself

Showing the Way: Running into Fall

“God, it was hot! Forget about frying an egg on the sidewalk; this kind of heat would fry an egg inside the chicken.” – Rachel Caine

Just past the 11 mile mark of my 12 miler last Saturday, I turned a corner and saw a gentleman standing in his front yard hosing down a truck parked in the street ahead of me. As I got closer, he took a step back. And as I directly passed by, he stopped spraying the side of his truck and pointed the nozzle at the ground so not to inadvertently splash me as I ran by. I gave a quick wave as I said “thank you.”

He hollered out “I wasn’t sure if you wanted it or not.” I was already completely soaked with sweat.

“I’m not sure if I made the right call either.” I replied back over my shoulder. He laughed.

You won’t have to look very hard to find out that many of even the most avid runners hate running during the summer. What’s not to hate? It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s heavy. It’s exhausting. And worst of all, especially to less experienced runners like me, you have to take the ego-punch of slowing down just when you start to think you’re making some real spring-time progress. It kind of sucks, but I know it’s all coming back soon. Autumn is just around the corner.

“It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.” – Yogi Berra

Because of the weight of summer heat, a lot of runners are chased off the roads and onto treadmills. I’ve seen them crowding the gym all season long. I don’t know why I have no trouble peddling my ass off on an exercise bike for the better part of an hour and at the same time cannot run on a treadmill for more than 20 minutes without wanting to kill myself. But that is clearly not an ailment suffered by all runners.

Monday, I saw a woman who was running strong on the dreadmill as I was starting my stationary cross training “ride.” 45 minutes later, when I finished, she was still running just as strong and apparently just as contented. It was like a magic trick. How in the world is she not going crazy running in place like that for so long? I hope to someday figure out the treadmill. But so far, I’ve been unable to find the same release running indoors as I do outdoors, even in the heat, the cold, the rain, or the snow. Weather be damned. I like being outside.

I see a lot of travel in my future. I’ve got a lot to find. I’m ready to go. And I can’t imagine a better way to explore a new place than by running its streets, trails, or railroad tracks; seeing, hearing, and feeling all it has to offer. Running outside allows certain experiences that both driving outside and running inside cannot.

Tuesday afternoon, I was running my last 400 meter speed interval session before I start alternating Yassos and hill repeats in the coming weeks. The weather was a perfect glimpse into autumn’s hopefully speedy return: temperatures in the 70s, slightly overcast skies, and a light breeze. If I hadn’t been outside I might not have smelled those two freshly cut lawns, that one guy grilling some burgers, or that house venting the smell of fabric softener out onto the street as the clothes dryer did its thing. Had I been driving by at 35-40 miles per hour, I probably wouldn’t have heard that muttering sound ducks make as they waddle out of the street, or those kids laughing at each other during their basketball game. And I certainly wouldn’t have felt that cool breeze on my chest and legs if I’d been strapped into my four wheeled bubble or running on an endless band of vinyl.

But I guess if I could stomach the dreadmill better, I could probably keep better tabs on afternoon television. And we all know that’s pretty valuable stuff too.

I changed my mind. I don’t like being outside. I love being outside. Even during the summer.

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou

There’s little doubt that facebook is a time-suck website. I’m continually reducing the minutes I spend wading through its newsfeed. And if it didn’t prove so useful in sharing my blog, I might have deleted it months ago. But in fairness, as easy as it is to poo-poo the damn thing, it is not totally without its value too. Even in my more limited exposure of late, I have been able to witness many people taking awe-inspiring steps towards feeling better and being healthier; and during the sweatiest months of the year no less. Those things are a big part of what keeps me from completely losing faith in humanity as I sift through all of the other stupid shit on the internet. I need those reminders. Thank you.

Back in the spring, an old friend of mine that I haven’t seen in years shared that he’d been doing a “Couch to 5k” (C25K)program. He’d made a new year’s resolution to lose some weight and get healthier. He suffered some early set-backs and injuries, but persevered by riding a bike and cross training more. He cleaned up his diet significantly, shed more than 50 pounds and about a month ago finished his first 5K. More important than any of the numbers, is he feels better. That’s the point after all. It’s an awesome thing.

A coworker from several years ago, that I also haven’t seen in a long time has been blowing up the book-of-faces with her crazy-ass jalking updates. “Jalking” is her hybrid word for…you guessed it, jogging and walking. I’m not sure, but it would seem that she does it every day, sometimes twice a day. Judging by some of the comedic facebook posts, she appears to be enjoying her adventures out on the road and getting excited about fitting into whatever “cute” outfit she’s using as her target goal. She hasn’t been miserable stalking some running guy she’s discovered out there either. Hey, find your motivation wherever you can, right?

Of course my other running friends know that if my jalking buddy continues to run more and further reduce the walking from the equation, she’s going to have to do two other things: 1) Stop say “jogging.” 2) Start taking rest days. Runners don’t jog, they run. And runners need recovery days, or they end up injured. But she can cross that bridge when she jogs up to it. Until then, she’s making progress towards her goal and…you guessed it again. She’s having fun.

Another distant and dear friend recently started to quietly share her weekly progress as she is progressing through her own C25K program. She’ll be running her first 5K in a month. And like the others, the miles are irrelevant to me. I don’t even know how those programs work. It doesn’t matter. I got stoked when I saw her commenting about how she’s “actually enjoying” the running part. I know exactly what that unexpected discovery feels like, and it’s impossible not to be excited for her. If it’s not fun, why do it? I’m confident that she’s going to kill it. And I can’t wait to read about it…on fucking facebook of all places.

Hooray for the interwebs! Woot!

“People say, ‘I inherited my family’s genetics.’ No, you inherited their lifestyle.” “If you won’t do it for yourself, you are the living example for your house.” – Gabrielle Reese

These three unrelated people are not only examples of why some online wormhole site isn’t as worthless as I’d like to claim sometimes. But more importantly, each is a real life example within their home. They’re all central figures of the family. Between them, they have eight children. That’s eight people with a healthier, more active role model in their everyday lives. Their strides towards greater wellness will be directly communicable to those around them; the people they love most.

I hope that each of them is taking these steps for personal and selfish reasons. I hope they are setting goals that will continue to make them better and happier people. Much like the emergency breathing air masks on airplanes, you can’t help the person next to you until you first put your own mask on. You have to take care of yourself first. But I believe that their personal goals of self-improvement are also gifts to the people in their lives. It may sound grandiose, but it could be argued that it’s a gift to us all. If three people can make small changes that will directly and positively affect at least eight other people, and those eight people can carry even a fraction of that healthier lifestyle forward into their own lives affecting the people that they come in contact with and build relationships with, then where is the limit? When does it end? Does it have to end?

I’ve mentioned before how grateful I am that my mom didn’t keep a lot of crappy food around the house when I was growing up. That very little thing is a huge part of why I never developed a sweet tooth or any serious food issues. Sure I made a million stupid dietary and lifestyle decisions as I’ve clumsily stumbled through the world. But that hard-wiring from childhood was always in there, making it easier for me to adjust when I finally shut up and started listening to my body. I will always appreciate that.

Each of the friends I’ve mentioned, and a few more that I didn’t, is an example in their household. And in taking better care of themselves, and developing a healthier everyday environment, are setting an example for their families and in effect setting every single person in their lives up for a greater likelihood of a successful and healthy existence. There kids won’t think runners are “crazy” or that eating more vegetables and less meat is “weird.” Instead they will witness the benefits of exercise in the higher energy level and lighter heart of a parent. That’s a big deal. And that’s why I’m so stoked to see those posts. That’s why I’m grateful for them. The real world needs more positive role models.

And if they can find the motivation to make these changes, and discover a love of running or cycling or even jalking during the hottest season of the year, it’s hard not to feel some level of optimism for them as we look ahead into the wonderful fall season when being outside is so much more comfortable and therefore more enjoyable.

I’m still cutting down on the time I waste online, but when I do check in on the rest of the world, it makes me feel good to see people I know doing good things for themselves…and for everybody else too.

Happy Thursday. We’ll be running into fall soon. Can’t wait.

This is one of my favorite recording of all time. The guitar player is incredible. Enjoy.

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.

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.