Doubting ThatGuy: A Run I Needed

“There are those of us who are always about to live. We are waiting until things change, until there is more time, until we are less tired, until we get a promotion, until we settle down / until, until, until. It always seems as if there is some major event that must occur in our lives before we begin living.” – George Sheehan

This week I experienced true doubt in my path for the very first time. I considered the possibility that I may not be moving in the right direction, or that I might be letting my imagination get away from me. I don’t think I’ve ever been called a “dreamer.” But for a brief moment this week, I felt like one. I felt like maybe I should resign myself to certain perceived realities whether I believe them correct or concrete; that maybe I should accept simple comforts instead of seeking true satisfaction; maybe I should settle for less. I briefly wondered if I even deserve many of the things I believe to be possible.

Then I went for a run; a very peaceful run at Norfolk Botanical Gardens; a run I needed.

“Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be.” – George Sheehan

I’ve said it so many times. And I do understand how tiresome it must be to read it over and over again. But running is the greatest thing I have ever done for myself. It is also the most selfish thing I do. I’ve mentioned to the point of nausea the therapeutic and meditative qualities I experience when I run. But I don’t only seek the mental healing of it. I’m not always a fucking mess looking for a cure. I don’t only enjoy it because I’m such a flawed and scattered creature that I can’t live without my “medicine.”

I do genuinely love doing it. And from the very first day, running also provided a new clarity of perspective; a glance into areas of myself that I had never seen before and that I sometimes still can’t see unless I’m pounding it out on the road. Without getting out there and peeking through those cracks, I might forget all of the potential I see in myself. I don’t want to forget. I can’t afford to.

The best me I can possibly be is still sometimes a very distant vision. I don’t mean that I live under a constant weight of self doubt. I really don’t. I simply see a better me that is well within the realm of possibility and I want to be that person so fucking bad that it drives me mad when I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and wasting my limited time not pursuing that existence.

Sometimes I’m seriously tempted to just lace up my shoes and run that way until I get tired, and then maybe that way over there for a while and maybe way over there the next day. At work, I’ll catch myself walking to go speak to a coworker and on the way to their office have to stop myself from running. Not because I don’t want to, but because I’m not sure I’d be able to stop. I’m so ready to fly. I’m just looking for my wings.

“There’s a point in every learning process where we are so sure we see everything we can, we make fallible assumptions about our situations”Justin Dohrmann (If you’re not reading his blog, you should. Click his name. Seriously)

Being more conscious of oneself is being aware of both the positive and the negative. I am continually adjusting to the unfamiliar feeling of true confidence and the belief that I can conquer any challenge. And I am also more affected by the depth of those holes in my life where something is clearly missing. These things can often conflict with each other. And I also have to realize that being in better sync with myself does not automatically mean that finding total peace will be easy. I still live in a world full of doubt and doubters. Every day is new and focusing on my own experience of each one is crucial.

It is almost a testament to (and maybe the pitfalls of) a more positive general attitude that I am able to forget that sometimes the things that should happen don’t and things that seem totally wrong often still do. I guess in a weird way, that’s progress…right? I feel so much more in tune with the natural way that I forget that much of the world actively rebels against it.

In recent weeks I’ve rebelled against it myself and often felt overwhelmed as I’ve stretched myself thin trying to focus on too many things at one time, and totally distracting myself from the current moment. I’d stopped concentrating on each step of my journey and instead started lazily staring too long into the horizon, leaving myself much more susceptible to the potential lure and distraction of mirages. Allowing myself to get too excited running towards imaginary oases only caused me to forget my form, run sloppy, and become exhausted. And ultimately I forgot that all of the confidence and determination in the world will never be enough to get me to something that doesn’t exist.

I need to stay focused on the path more. Sure, a quick glance up at a particular goal won’t kill me and can often provide motivation. But the next step is the only one I can reach from here, and much more worthy of my attention right now.

“When you’re staring at something you can’t really see it. But you have to look away to look back.” – Chris Jaeb

Because of the above mentioned overwhelming feeling, I took a much needed break this week. I called it my “Mid-Week Mental Health Weekend.” I’d already scheduled two days off from work. I really needed that time off and was excited about it. So when my original plans fell through, I took those days off anyway. And I dedicated myself to being totally relaxed and unencumbered my distractions on the horizon. I essentially closed my eyes for two days.

I still ran of course, and went to the gym because they are maybe the only things that consistently relieve stress instead of adding to it. But other than that, I held myself to no schedule. I sat at the beach with a friend for five hours Wednesday afternoon relaxing in the water, watching sand crabs do what they do, and achieving a pretty solid sunburn. Thursday, I went for a relaxing morning run and a long afternoon workout before going to bed early. It felt good.

I had ideas for my blog; observations I thought I could share; anecdotes about whatever, but I couldn’t make myself sit down to write. And I refused force it. I considered letting the blog go until next week’s J.O.G.T. entry. And honestly, there have been a few different times over the last couple of weeks when I debated suspending my blog altogether.

And then I went for a run this morning; a really great run; a run I needed.

“If this is what you want to do, as ludicrous or as crazy or as farfetched as it may sound. Set that goal. Nurture it and be protective of it. But you have to be careful about who you tell it to.” – Rich Roll

This week, I allowed myself a moment of pause in which to reflect on the things I want to do, whether or not I’m being honest with myself about my ambitions, and whether or not I deserve my shot at some of the things I want.

And after that pause, I decided that “deserve” has got nothing to do with it. I owe it to myself to give everything my very best shot. I don’t expect to succeed at all the things I want in the world. But I should certainly continue striving toward them. There is absolutely no consolation prize in lazily accepting unsatisfying aspects of life just because change might be difficult.

Just between you and me, the idea of going back to school even crossed my mind this week for the first time in forever. It crossed quickly and ran off into the woods before I could get a good look at it. But a year ago, just that thought would’ve been as fantastically absurd as running a marathon. I’ll be running my first 26.2 in 16 weeks.

And this blog isn’t going anywhere anytime soon either. The release it provides is way too important to me. I said I was selfish, right?

Happy Saturday

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Summer School for a Slow Learner

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – A. A. Milne

Wow! This week totally got away from me. And honestly, I’m on the fence about whether I should concern myself with how, or just be grateful it’s over. What I am totally sure about is that it was annoying. I’ve spent the whole week ranging between exhaustion and frustration. And both have a high potential of souring my attitude. Combine the two for any amount of time and I just start of feel overwhelmed. When I get overwhelmed, I go run. Thankfully, I did run this week. I really needed to.

But shit! What am I griping about a single week for? Where has this year gone? I swear I think I can already hear the Easter Bunny clucking out chocolate eggs for next year. Geezus!

Last weekend I realized that the Rock N Roll Half Marathon was only seven weeks away (six now obviously). I had kind of let it slip from my mind. And because I’m now registered for my first full marathon in November, the Rock N Roll has essentially become just another long run on my schedule and more of a “practice race” for me to get accustomed to crowds, navigating aid stations, fueling while running, and the overall atmosphere of a huge event. It’s a training run. I can’t afford to taper for it. And trying to go out and crush a PR would be stupid because I will have another long run the following week and can’t afford to risk injury on my path to Philly. I hope I don’t forget that.

I’ll have to run it smart, not hard. So I guess I had better do a better job of getting smarter.

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates

I originally registered for the Rock N Roll in the spring as a goal to keep me motivated through the heat of my first summer as a runner. This week has reminded me of just how important my therapy miles and sweat-itation sessions still are to me. And I’m not about to let a little hell-spike in temperatures get in the way of that.

Luckily, I’ve experienced no temptation to skip runs or even hesitation in getting out there. I have made a bunch of mistakes adjusting to the heat. But mistakes are probably the main ingredient of learning, and I’m slowly figuring out what I need to know to safely and effectively run during a delightfully humid Virginia summer.

First lesson so far: Drink more water. I “observed” this obvious-to-smart-people fact a few weeks ago when I conducted a sweat/weight test to estimate how much I sweat. I “learned” this lesson a week later when I made zero changes, ran out of water, and bonked for the second time in three weeks. Idiot!

Salt is salty

Salt is salty

Even during the winter months, a run of more than an hour would leave me with a crusty layer of salt on my skin. Because of that, as my summer miles started to ramp up I decided to measure just how much fluid I lose during my runs. A few weeks ago, I weighed myself without clothes before my run, and again afterwards (No pics. You’re welcome).

One pint of water weighs approximately one pound, so the number of pounds lost is roughly equal to the number of pints of sweat leaked during the run. I lost eight pounds during a nine mile run. I drank one pint of coconut water while out there. So calculating for the pound of liquid consumed, I sweat out about one pint per mile. That’s a lot. If I was smart I would’ve applied that observation during the 10 miler on the following weekend.

I am not smart, so instead I took the exact same insufficient amount of water with me, ran a completely new and less familiar route, and ended up running out of water seven miles in and still two miles away from my house. And my body completely tanked very soon after.

Sure, I could’ve planned to loop back by the house during the run to get more water. And I only passed three convenience stores and one grocery store out there, so I could’ve stopped and bought more water too. I even took a crinkled Lincoln with me (like I never ever do) just in case I needed it. But I don’t think straight when I’m dehydrated. And I barely think at all when I’m pissed. That day, I was both.

Last weekend I bought a hydration belt that holds two water bottles. I also picked up some electrolyte tablets to make sure I’m replenishing some of the salt that I leak so profusely. I test drove it Thursday. I’m sure I looked completely ridiculous. But I’m also pretty certain that I look better running with silly green bottles stuck to my hips than I would laying in the street mumbling profanities as I puke and die of heat stroke.

I wore that belt on my 11 miler this morning…and I even stopped to refill it. I’m still working on effectively fueling during my runs. I again had to battle sloppily through the last few hot ass miles. But I am learning. And learning is still progress.

Second Lesson: Slow down. This one should’ve taken no time. But I’m still a newbie, especially to summer running. After doing so much better than I expected in my first half marathon in March, my pace increased pretty dramatically for the next few weeks. And according to the consistent heart rate (HR) numbers in my run journal, it was not because I was exerting myself more. I was just getting more efficient and…gasp…faster. It felt pretty good.

But as the heat and humidity rose, the air got thicker, and breathing got more difficult I found myself running out of gas much sooner even on shorter weekday runs. This is totally normal. And I’d been told to expect it. But as I’ve emphasized before, if there is a hard way to learn a lesson, I will too often choose that way.

Following a few shitty performances at embarrassingly short distances, I started to pay attention. And after reading some more about HR specific training, I decided that I could slow down and still feel like I was directly benefitting my training.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” – Lou Holtz

Unfortunately I cannot even remember the last time I got to let myself sit down and read for more than a measly ten minutes. It’s driving me crazy because I’ve got books stacked all over the place that I really want to read. I can’t even describe how bad I’d love to just sit down and read for a couple of hours.

Eh, maybe tomorrow. But until I discover a 32 hour day or find a full time assistant that will work for free, podcasts have become my closest substitute.

Since discovering it a few weeks ago, I have been listening to Rich Roll’s podcasts during pretty much all of my gym workouts and most of my runs. I’m a fan for sure. Among being a huge advocate of a whole food plant based diet and an ultra endurance athlete, Mr. Roll also promotes the personal athletic benefits he experienced while conducting much of his training maintaining his physical effort in the relatively low intensity “zone 2” heart rate range.

I’m not going to try to fully explain zone 2 training right now because I’m not an expert, it would take too long, and most of you probably aren’t interested. But basically, zone 2 is the aerobic level of exertion between efforts so low that the physical benefit is nominal and higher intensities where the body starts burning glucose for energy instead of fat. This quote from Rich Roll’s web page is a mini nugget of the idea and if you’re more interested, you can click here.

“By staying in Zone 2, I facilitate the proper mitochondrial and blood pathway development, which teaches my body to work in a highly efficient manner to use oxygen to burn fat rather than glucogen, which is a much more efficient and longer lasting source of energy — the preferred “food” of the endurance and ultra-endurance athlete.”

As someone who continues to seek out better ways to fuel during runs and who already has a fairly low heart rate, it seems a no-brainer for me to focus on this level of fitness and to try to condition my body to run more efficiently on something as abundant as fat while I also seek out better carb/sugar food sources for my runs.

I’ll continue to do speed work on Tuesdays because the slower segments between speed intervals keep it very bearable even in the heat. But on many of my other training runs, I’m focusing on my HR instead of pace and that makes it much easier to slow down during a hot day without feeling like I’m not benefiting as much as I could. And the lower intensity should reduce the risks of injury as well. I’ve only messed with it twice and only once since counting my resting heart rate and getting a better measure of my zones. But I removed “pace” from my watch display and I like not having it as a distraction.

We’ll see what happens in the fall when temperatures fall, everyone’s pace can pick back up, and my FIRST MARATHON approaches. What?! That still sounds weird in my head.

Third lesson: Have fun. This one is key. And during this past week of tossed schedules, poor decision making, spotty sleep, and the resulting sense of frustration, I almost forgot about the importance of keeping a positive attitude and making life fun. If something isn’t fun, then why do it?

“I had a lady gallon of water yesterday. Today I have a man gallon. Looks real manly, eh? Day 3 fitness challenge.” – S.B.

“I had a lady gallon of water yesterday. Today I have a man gallon. Looks real manly, eh? Day 3 fitness challenge.” – S.B.

I was unexpectedly reminded of this fact by a friend’s facebook pictures of smiley faced water bottles. She has just started a 30 day fitness challenge. I haven’t talked to her and don’t know any of the details. But apparently, part of the “challenge” is to drink more water; judging from the pictures, a lot more.

Anyone that read part one of the “thatguywithabeard’s kitchen” posts knows that I don’t understand why so many people don’t like to drink water. But whether I understand it or not, the fact is it’s not the most popular daytime beverage for a lot of people. And though I’m assuming she did it just to be silly, she decided to draw funny happy faces on these gallon water bottles she was lugging to work and then post pics of them on facebook each day.

That might not sound like a big deal. And I don’t know if she was thinking about it at much more than the comedy level of the pictures. But that comedy level is important. If drinking a gallon of water every day is not a normal thing, or maybe even a daunting idea, then making it more fun in any way possible helps. Maybe I’m reading into it too much, but I liked it.

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” – Dale Carnegie

I hear and have heard so many people say “I hate running,” “walking on the treadmill is boring,” “I don’t like water,” “salad is rabbit food,” or any number of other things concerning why they can’t stick to some diet or fitness challenge they’ve half-heartedly set for themselves. And I totally understand.

If walking on a treadmill seems torturous, listen to music or a podcast, bring a book, or go completely crazy and walk outside. If you hate running, ride a bike. If you think you don’t like salads, trick it into your system with a small piece of chicken or fish on top. The chicken will sneak the veggies into your stomach under its wing.

If you don’t like water…well, um…uh…You know your body absolutely needs it right? Whatever.

The trick is to find a physical activity that you genuinely enjoy doing; something that IS fun; something that makes you feel good. Then you will have no trouble motivating yourself to do it. You’ll actually look forward to it. And as you continue doing it and your desire to become better increases, I believe a healthier diet will follow. Your pallet will evolve. As you head out for that tennis match after a nutrient deficient fast food lunch and play like crap because you feel like crap, and after you try it following a healthy nutritious meal, you’ll find a new appreciation for all sorts of “rabbit foods” and good old fashioned water.

Whether anyone really wants to admit it or not, fried chicken and french fries might taste good, but it’s shitty fuel for physical activities. It’s shitty fuel for anything.

Anyway, I like running. It’s therapeutic. It’s meditative. It continues to catalyze so many healthy changes in my life. And it’s not because I’m fighting some battle of will against an activity that I hate. It’s because I genuinely enjoy it. I’m grateful to have found it. And because it is fun to me and I enjoy it so much, I keep doing it.

Go find your fun. And don’t be afraid to paint a smiley face on something new if that’s what it takes to give it an honest chance. Happy Saturday.

Horns and Hooves, You Define You.

“The past is not simply the past, but a prism through which the subject filters his own changing self-image.” – Doris Kearns Goodwin

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how cool it’s been to see some of the people in my life adopting healthier lifestyle choices, and how much I enjoy it when they share their pleasure or surprise in accomplishing new things and discovering a strength or ability they didn’t think they had. It’s really fun to directly witness the changes in them as they get smaller, stronger, faster, or whatever personal metric they’re using; as well as seeing how much happier and more lighthearted they seem overall. I like that shit. It makes me feel good to have positive people in my life making moves to improve themselves and displaying an excitement about living. Feeling good is contagious. Spread it.

I obviously prefer the company of happy, positive people over those seeking to wallow in the darkness of the cloud, refusing even the possibility of a silver lining. But I also don’t mean to deny the reality that life is still a roller coaster. You can’t have the mountains without the valleys; the ups without the downs. And everybody has their fair share of shitty days. Or at least I hope I’m not the only one.

I was recently talking with a friend who was having more of a “valley” day than she was ready for. And while venting a little bit she shared that, in a past relationship, an ex had so persistently remarked about her unicorn horn and cloven hooves that those things are sometimes all she could see when looking in the mirror. My first thought was “Well that’s fucking ridiculous.” I would’ve never noticed the hooves had she not first pointed them out. And I still can’t see that horn because it’s invisible to everyone but her.

My second thought: How much it sucks when someone else’s negativity can affect a person’s life so deeply that it redefines what they see in the mirror.

Negativity is just as contagious as positivity and I try to limit my exposure to it as much as possible. It’s poisonous.

Yes, I’m using absurd metaphors. 1) To try to protect the anonymity of a friend who didn’t ask to be blog fodder. 2) Because her insecurities are nearly as fantastical as my examples. They are exaggerations at best, and much closer to sheer fancy. They are not real.

Except that they are…to her. And in the end, that’s the only person that matters.

I’m sure I was little comfort. I don’t have any answers. And I’m not sure she was really looking for any, or even comfort for that matter. Sometimes a person just needs to let the voices out of their head simply to relieve the pressure and hear what they sound like on the outside. That is something I totally understand. I write this blog for similar reasons.

All I could do was listen, nod, and try to be funny when I thought it appropriate. That’s what I do I guess. I’m just as flawed as the next unicorn. And maybe that’s why her brief comments have continued to rattle around in my skull for this long, and ultimately remind me of just how powerful our perceptions of self can be in our interpretation of the world around us, and how we function in it.

“That’s why you find a lot of entertainers are insecure, because it’s the perfect camouflage for insecurity.” – Gloria Gaynor

In my life, I’ve gone through phases where I’ve let one personal insecurity or another take the lead in what turned out to be a decades-long mission of building walls. Maybe it was being a gangly gapped tooth kid in elementary school, not having the nicest clothes or some other trivial shit during adolescence, or the joys of losing my hair in my fucking twenties (**angrily shakes fist in the air**). Basically, I’ve spent most of my life feeling somewhat awkward and too often out of place. I don’t know why and I hid it well. But I always managed to find something to disguise my insecurities while steadily stacking bricks higher and higher into those walls.

They were well built structures too, protecting me from any number of things both real and imagined: judgment, ridicule, embarrassment, heartache, life. But the shitty part about walls is that they always work both ways. Sure, they kept a lot of big scary stuff out of my life and at a safe distance from vulnerable little me. But they also did a really great job of keeping me locked inside this fortress I’ve created, devoid many new experiences and relationships.

And I was damn-near gifted at hiding those walls; often behind a defensive quick wit and snarky sense of humor. I’ll make all kinds of wisecracks about the dim-witted shit I’ve done. But I’m far from stupid. And because of that, I was always able to mask my insecurities with well constructed excuses and eloquent rationalization of my bullshit reasoning.

Sometimes being a little smarter than the average bear is just enough rope to hang yourself and still blame it on the rope.

“The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.” – Thomas Paine

I remember exactly where I was when I first found my smile. It was dark. I was sitting alone on the deck of a friend’s house in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I was almost 26 years old and working two jobs seven days a week just to pay my bills late and stay broke. I’d moved there a several weeks prior; after spending the entire previous year at varying levels of intoxication as I poorly chose to self medicate a festering heartache. I was smoking the harshest nastiest hand rolled cigarette that I’d ever touched a match to. And as I sat there under the stars, looking down on the lights of my new home on a hill and exhaling slow gray suicide – a weight lifted. I felt light. I felt relieved. I found my smile…or it found me. I’m not sure which.

Now I am not at all trying to imply that prior to that moment I had endured some tragic and joyless life, and not until my 25th year was I able to curl the outside edges of my mouth upward and open my eyes wide with delight. That truly would be tragic. Sure, as a child, I might have had to sport a front-porch haircut from time to time or wear a tattered pair of shoes a little longer than most. And I carried a childish teenage angst way too far into adulthood. But I don’t recall a single day in my life where I didn’t feel my mother’s love for me. I’ve always had an incredible family, especially the two most supportive grandparents ever to walk this rock in space. And by the time I plopped my ass down to smoke that cigarette, I’d already started to collect some of the best friends imaginable and had shared countless joyful times with them. I had definitely had some fun.

But sitting there that night, I felt deeply and genuinely light of heart for the first time as an adult. Even at that young age, I had already logged many years building walls and convincing myself that it was normal. I was one of those “I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist” assholes we all love so much; as though the only way to have a positive attitude is to deny reality. Maybe it was the clean air. Maybe it was the mountains. But at that moment I could see over the walls and I felt good. I couldn’t explain it. I didn’t know where it came from. But I felt it, and I’ve never forgotten it.

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

While recounting that story recently and expressing how annoyed I am to have ever let my smile get away from me again, a friend helped me connect the dots a little bit.

In the course of our conversation and talking about how important my time in Steamboat was to me, she asked “didn’t you say that you rode your bike everywhere when you lived out there?”

That’s true. I did. I lived in Colorado for about six months and I probably didn’t drive a car six times. I rode a bike every single day; up the hill to my day job, further up the hill to my night gig, and luckily downhill every evening back to my house. And if I wanted to go downtown for a burger and a beer, I rode my bike there too. It was fucking great.

“Do you think that you being more active in Colorado was part of why you felt so good there? Just like how much better you feel now with your running?”

Exactly! This wasn’t so much of an amazing revelation to me as it was a timely verbalization and affirmation of something I’ve been banging around in my head lately.

When I was out west, I claimed that I “found” my smile. And when I moved back east, people could see it. It was obvious, and that made me feel even better. But I hadn’t paid any attention to how or where I “found” it. I thought I had it. And because of that, I convinced myself that the work was done. I had it. It’s mine. No worries. Over 10 years later I was again in a rut of making excuses for complacency and unsure of what my smile looked like. And thanks to my innate skills at excuse making and rationalization, I wasn’t even aware that it had gotten away from me again.

I found it those many years ago because I was living a more active lifestyle in a healthier place surrounded by the energy of positive driven people. And as I mentioned before, feeling good is contagious.

But instead of taking note of why I felt so much better there, I made up a cute euphemism about “finding my smile,” like it just happened on its own. I’m so damn lazy that I paid no attention to any changes I made in myself to “release” it. I had always held the keys to my own happiness. We all do. I didn’t really “find” anything. I freed it. I freed it by letting go of the mental bullshit weighing me down and taking better care of myself physically…kind of.

I still drank way too much and my dietary habits were controlled by my lack of money more than any understanding of proper nutrition.

“Life doesn’t just get better by itself. It isn’t like flying in a plane through turbulence. Life doesn’t just improve if you fasten your seat belt and wait.” – Angel Chernoff

The mind and body are intertwined. They are. I just didn’t understand that at the time. I’m only now starting to fully grasp how deep that union really is. If I spend all of my time trying to take care of one while neglecting the other, then neither will ever be as strong as it can be. There has to be some kind of balance.

At a particularly vulnerable time in my life, I went for a run. Because it made me feel good, I did it again. It cleared my head A LOT. I saw myself and my life in a very different light within that moment of clarity. And I didn’t like what I saw at all.

As I continued to run and to consistently feel those same moments of clarity, I decided I really needed to be better at it, not necessarily to be faster, but so that I could safely do it for a very long time. I needed the therapy of it. So I joined a gym. Then I actually went to that gym. I cleaned up my diet. I made being physically healthy a top priority. At a dark emotional time, that seemed something I could most definitely control and I felt the spiritual benefits of it very early on as well. I decided that I wanted to be as healthy as I could possibly be.

As I continued to cleanse my body of toxins and rebuild it with the most nutritious and beneficial ingredients I could find, my mind continued to clear as well. I began to feel lighter of heart, calmer of mind, and more confident. With each new milestone on the road or in the gym, I discovered a new mental strength as well. And unbeknownst to me, I was also starting to experience a certain meditative quality in those physical activities.

The more I take care of myself and the healthier I become, the better I feel spiritually. The better I feel spiritually, the more confident I feel in the face of new challenges. In accomplishing each new goal, broader ones appear that much more achievable. I feel cleaner, lighter, freer. And that feeling transfers over into everything else I do. I encounter negativity less and find it easier to cast it from my life. I handle stress better. When I feel overwhelmed, I go run. If I can’t run, I go to the gym. If I can’t go to the gym, I just go outside. It’s always better outside.

I don’t seek distraction. I don’t self medicate. I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work.

I’m no expert, but so far, being healthy makes everything easier. Eat better. Exercise more. Sleep better. You’ll feel better. I promise.

“Our beliefs about what we are and what we can be precisely determine what we can be” – Anthony Robbins

Our minds have an amazing ability to skew our view of the world and convince us of all sorts of things, both positive and negative. We can convince ourselves of obstructive things like we’re too old, too fat, too weird looking, or too devilishly handsome (what? Just me?) to achieve the things we want in our pursuit of happiness. Or our mental perspective can provide us with the confidence to see that age is just a number; weight is a variable we control, not the other way around; and despite each of our individual horns and hooves, we’re only as ugly as we feel. And feeling good doesn’t have to be such a fucking chore.

I feel like I’ve only recently started to find cracks in the walls I’ve built in my life, and I’ve enjoyed my adventures running free of them. At moments of weakness, I’ll let old habits chase me back into my fortress. But those moments are getting fewer, the cracks bigger, walls weaker, and each escapade is getting longer, more exhilarating, and revealing more and more exciting new things. I’m making progress.

I won’t claim to be free of my barriers, like I won’t say I’ve quit smoking, like I won’t say I’ve got anything figured out. Declaring victories too soon can lead me to complacency. And as confident as I am about the path I’m on and my abilities to traverse that path, I know I’ve still got a long way to go. And now is no time to get lazy.

I still have a gapped tooth grin. I’m most certainly still bald. But I feel more comfortable in my skin now than maybe ever before. I do still spend the vast majority of my time looking around only to feel awkwardly out of place. And some may notice that with exception of the sidebar photo, I have no pictures of myself in my posts. Maybe that’s because my blog is not about the aesthetic benefits of being healthier. Maybe it’s because I’ve still got work to do on my own self-image. I don’t know. But I’m in a better spot overall with what I believe to be a much better understanding of what it means to be wholly healthy in mind and body. I feel confident in my abilities to do anything I want in my life and I’ll continue to work on whatever issues present themselves.

In September, I’ll be visiting Steamboat Springs again for the first time since I left 12 years ago. But this time I’ll be taking my smile with me from the start. And I’m going to have a fucking blast.

We’ll call it altitude training for my marathon. I’m stoked.

“Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.” – Walt Whitman

Sorry so long-winded this time. Happy Thursday. Enjoy this rock’n jam from the new Mavis Staples record. I’ve loved her voice since I first heard it years ago. And pairing her with Jeff Tweedy’s production help is just perfect in my world. This song kills. Dance it out!

W.R.E., Baby’s First Bonk

If my very first run had been anything like the experience I created for myself this morning, I would still be the fat angry snark-slinger I was last summer because I probably wouldn’t have done it again. Other than PR (Personal Record), PB (Personal Best), and DNF (Did Not Finish), I really don’t know any other running acronyms. But if W.R.E. (Worst Run Ever) isn’t already in the lexicon, then it is now. Today’s run sucked. Because I’m an idiot.

“Yes, it made sense, and was so absurdly simple that it would take a genius to think of it. And, perhaps, someone who did not expect to do it himself.” – Arthur C. Clarke

My plan was so simple. Get up at 7 o’clock, run 8 miles at 9 o’clock, have brunch with my mom who was also running this morning, finally write the blog that’s been clawing at my skull for the last four days, and then maybe track down a beer or two later.

It didn’t exactly go down that way.

First I woke up at 6 o’clock for no reason at all. And because I don’t have enough hardship in my life, I immediately started making poor decisions; a trend that would continue for hours.

I normally don’t eat a real breakfast before I run because I don’t want to run on a full stomach. But three hours is plenty of time to have done so. Instead I stuck with my habit of having a bagel with honey about 90 minutes before a run. So I had my vitamin shake when I woke up, tried to find an angle on my blog for a little while, and ate a bagel a little after seven. No problem. I should’ve been fine on my 9 o’clock run. Nice lazy morning so far, right?

I was supposed to meet my mom at nine. She was going to be running for about an hour. My run was supposed to take about 1:15, so I decided to get there a little early so that we’d finish at the same time and then go get some food. I’m such a dreamer. As I was leaving at 8:20, I got a text that she was already there and going to take off because she thought it might take longer than expected. I was confused because I thought she was running for time instead of distance, but no biggie. I’d be there soon enough.

I got to the trail at quarter ‘til nine and she was nowhere to be seen. I got out, filled my water bottle, put in my ear buds, tucked my ipod into my flipbelt, and stashed my keys in the little pocket on my water bottle. It was sunny and warm and I was ready to run. Well, ready except for some quick warm up stretches.

I closed my door so that I wouldn’t hit it with my legs while swinging them back and forth to loosen up my hips and start to wake my heart up a little bit. As I settled into my stretches, I saw it; my water bottle sitting in the passenger seat of my locked car. My water bottle with my keys safely tucked into the pocket in the handle.

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” – Albert Einstein

There is a huge mental aspect to running and if you were anywhere near southern Chesapeake, VA at about 9:00 a.m, and you were really really quiet, you might have been able to hear my mind shit its pants. I was done right there. It was a wrap. Only because I’m wicked smart, I didn’t actually stop.

I was calm for a second. “Maybe I’ll just go do the run and worry about this after,” I thought. “Nah, I don’t have any water. That’ll suck.” Nope. I was going to wait. My mom’s car was right next to mine. She started early. I’ll just wait until she gets back and then get a ride back to my apartment and get my spare key.

No I fucking won’t; because my house key is on the same ring as my car keys. And in case you’ve forgotten, this genius locked those inside his car.

At that point, I clinched my fist white-knuckle tight and made a low growling sound that would probably be spelled something like arghghghfuckkghghgoddamnmotherfuckergrgrgrgrfuck! It wasn’t pretty, but at least it wasn’t loud either.

Let me make sure I’m painting this picture accurately. I’m standing in a parking lot on an otherwise beautiful morning, wearing running shoes, shorts, a tank top, sunglasses, and headphones. That’s all I’ve got. I’m standing next to a beat up old 4runner with not only my keys, but also my wallet and phone locked inside.

And I was pissed. But it was still no time to stop doing dumb shit.

“The mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother’s side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent.” – Erich Fromm

Here’s a quick wrap-up of the next hour of my day:

I remembered that I leave my windows cracked under the rain deflectors on my car doors, so I decided to tear the one off of the driver side door where the opening was largest. As I tried to remove it, it of course cracked and broke into pieces, leaving a lovely razor edge that I quickly tested by slicing my thumb open. Suh-weet! Next was a quick little cut to the wrist. At this rate, maybe I could bleed out next to my car while looking at my phone locked inside. I was loving life.

After I finally got that plastic death trap off of my door, I broke a stick off of a tree and learned that pushing the door lock button doesn’t work when you and/or your keys are not in the car or ignition. Not sure which, but it didn’t work. And my frustration level was starting to red-line. All I wanted to do was run, eat, and let that damn blog out of my skull before it started taking hostages.

It was about this time that my mom got back from her run. She had some old windshield sunscreens with metal wire frames that she let me destroy in order to make a hook. I attempted without success to hook my water bottle and drag it to my window where I could get my keys, open my door, and try to rescue the rest of my day. I was 100% able to hook the steering wheel, the parking break handle, and every other plastic bag and piece of clutter in my car. Next time I’ll stash my keys in the trash bag. That thing loved the hook. Have I mentioned that I was slowly losing my mind?

After several failed attempts, more than a few well executed profanities, and my already limited patience fast exhausting itself, my mom did what she does. She fixed things. While I angrily stared at my car window, trying to decide if I would rather break it with my face or my elbow, she went over to some nearby contractors and found an eight-fingered man that was able to do what I could not.

Within 20ish minutes, he’d fashioned a small hook from some heavier gauge steel wire and managed to pull the lock up and open my door. I thanked him as he quickly disappeared refusing to take any money, probably just eager to get the hell away from me. My mind was still completely shot.

“What time is it Mom?”

“Ten o’clock.”

“Awesome, just about the time I would’ve been done.”

“Don’t confuse poor decision-making with destiny. Own your mistakes. It’s ok; we all make them. Learn from them so they can empower you!” – Steve Maraboli

There’s a reason why NASA will abort a routine rocket launch at the mere chance of a storm. It’s because it is way more important that the rocket actually make it into space than it is that it simply leave earth on time. It’s not the schedule. It’s the goal. Missing the target on schedule is not as good as hitting it a day late.

I
am not
a rocket scientist.

I debated skipping the run and just going to get some food. But in an effort to continue making bad decisions, I decided to run anyway. I just didn’t want to let one hour of dip-shitery (that’s a word now) throw off my entire day. I knew I wasn’t going to skip the run. And if I pushed it into the afternoon, I knew that I wouldn’t have time to get that blog together. I don’t know why I act like these things are so important. I don’t get paid for them. I don’t have any deadlines. I just like to get the ideas out while they’re fresh. For sanity sake, maybe I should let them ripen a little more from time to time.

Without stretching again, I took off. One mile in, I knew that I was screwed. This was not going to be any kind of relaxing therapy run. This was going to be a run that I was going to have to really pay attention to and concentrate on or I was going to do something sloppy and potentially hurt myself.

Two miles in, I finally stopped and stretched. I decided that after the shitty start to my day and the high probability that my bagel three hours ago wasn’t going to be enough to get through, I should abandon all pace goals and just focus on getting through the run without tripping and falling. Baby steps.

I was definitely going to need the tiny amount of carbs and caffeine from the jelly beans I had, but I was fairly certain that if I didn’t slow down to a walk while eating them that my form would get stupid-sloppy and potentially bang up my ankles. I haven’t had any issues lately, but by then I was running on an injury-prevention mental scheme. Just finish the run without dying and I win.

Three miles in, I knew I should turn around. I felt like shit. And I was running like shit. But I’m hard headed and half stupid, so I kept going. I told myself that it would be one of those mental tests of perseverance that we all have to endure from time to time; maybe even a learning experience.

All I learned is that I’m not a rocket scientist. By the end I wasn’t even sure if I was a runner.

“Before, you are wise; after, you are wise. In between you are otherwise” – David Zindell

I completely bonked at mile six. I was done. I was walking, dripping with sweat, completely exhausted, and again so frustrated that I almost threw my water bottle into the woods (I had taken my keys out of it by then). Luckily I was still two miles from the car so I had plenty of time to ponder all of the mistakes I made in creating such a mess.

I’ve written a few different times about baby stepping into new ventures and the risks of discouragement that can come from biting off more than you can chew. I’ve written and read about the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity and pain and struggle, both in running and life. But goddamn it. That stuff is all true, but you shouldn’t baby step into a bad idea and decide once you realize how stupid it is that perseverance is the answer. Sure I was smart enough to run easy, stay focused on my running, and walk when I need to take fuel. But I also refused to turn back when I knew I should’ve.

What should I have done? I should’ve aborted the mission as soon as my mind took a dump. I could’ve gotten some food with my mom, settled down a bit, and then run a much better and enjoyable run in the early afternoon. I would’ve had to rearrange my plan a little, but I probably would’ve still been able to get that blog written. Instead I ended up having to share this tale of my very first bonk because it makes me feel better to have others laugh at me when I do something stupid.

“You cannot afford to wait for perfect conditions. Goal setting is often a matter of balancing timing against available resources. Opportunities are easily lost while waiting for perfect conditions.” – Gary Ryan Blair

The worst part, the absolute WOOOORST part of today’s train wreck is that while my training schedule technically started two weeks ago, today was my first run since officially registering for my first marathon. Yep. That’s right. I finally pulled the trigger last night, and today I couldn’t run a measly eight miles. Get ready for it Philadelphia. I’ll be trying not to puke in your streets this November. And if the guy that ran today shows up in the fall, you will be able to reach me by calling directly to the medical tent.

Happy Saturday. Now where are those beers?

Thatguywiththebeard’s Kitchen (Part 1): The Q&A

“So, what are you a vegetarian now or something?”

“How do you eat a salad for lunch EVERY day?”

“How often do you actually just eat whatever you want?”

“Are you sure you’re eating enough?”

Don’t worry. I’m not going to start writing a food blog…yet. One, because I’m not at all qualified to do so. Two, because the internet doesn’t need another one any more than it needed another blogging runner and I only want to be unnecessary on one level at a time. But these are questions that I’ve been asked more than a few times. And even as my weight seems to have finally stabilized, because I’ve continued to become noticeably leaner I still find myself being asked similar questions and in turn discussing my food choices more and more often. So a day after this week’s Monday Night Kitchen Dance, I thought I’d try and address these questions here where almost none of the people that ask them will ever see the answers. I’m really smart that way.

“…there’s no such thing as overtraining, only under-recovering.” – Brenden Brazier

Last October when I upgraded this running thing from a sanity saving activity to a truly enjoyable pastime, I read as much as I could to learn how to run better. As it rose in the ranks again and was eventually promoted from hobby to lifestyle, I started researching even more, reading about everything from running form to breathing techniques to injury prevention to proper diet. And it was always the diet part that seemed the most elusive. I just couldn’t figure out what to eat and when to eat it in order to best fuel my runs and aid in my recoveries. There are a million opinions on every aspect of diet and exercise. It was annoying that I couldn’t find one that worked for me…or rather one that I would work correctly. After discussing this struggle back in March, a friend stumbled across a book that she thought might help and kindly sent it to me. I’m really glad she did.

I was already eating healthier meals primarily of unprocessed whole foods. I had eliminated the last few garbage foods from my diet. Good riddance to those greasy breakfast sandwiches. But I wasn’t very good about eating the right foods at the right times or even making myself eat as much as I should’ve in general to fuel my new exercise regimen or recover after workouts. It is true that losing weight can be a simple “calorie in” vs. “calorie burned” equation, but not all calories are created equal. And because I dropped weight so quickly, that wasn’t my issue. I needed to keep weight on and repair muscle better.

Then I received a package in the mail, “Thrive Foods: 200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Health” by Brendan Brazier, with a note that read in part “You might find some of this nutrition advice helpful as you train….”

Are library cards still free?

Are library cards still free?

I did.

I do.

Over simplified, Brendan is a former professional triathlete who actively promotes the athletic and physical benefits of a raw vegan diet through his books and his Vega line of nutrition products. A more accurate description would be that Brazier has taken his advocacy of a vegan diet to the next level. He’s extensively researched not only the physical benefits of a plant-based diet, but also the economic and environmental costs of food production to help create both a measure of foods’ nutrient density (nutrients per calorie) and the production impact on the planet (nutrients provided compared to natural resources spent and pollution created). He also discusses the potential dangers of politically supporting a food industry more focused on producing calories than nutrients. Those two things are not synonymous. That’s a hard thing to deny in a country with so many people that are both obese and malnourished at the same time. Clearly there isn’t a calorie shortage. It’s just that too many of them are nutritionally empty calories. To a numbers nerd like me, all of these things were very interesting and enlightening.

Basically, this planet’s raw nutrients are made digestible through plants. Seeds grow from the ground and process the nutrients in the soil into an edible and often tasty plant of some kind. And those plants are almost always more efficient sources of the earth’s nutrients to humans when consumed directly than they are after being wastefully and expensively fed into another animal first. If you’re interested in the math behind that, I recommend reading the book. If you believe that subsidizing the soy, corn, and meat industries is the best management of the earth’s resources, I don’t think you’d like it very much. Oh, and the so-called “free market” advocates out there probably don’t want to know how prohibitively expensive their favorite steak would likely be if not for big government subsidies in these areas either. It’s not for everybody but no matter your food preferences, if you read this book and it doesn’t change the way you think about your diet in some way, then you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about your diet in the first place. And it’s easily worth the cost of your local library card.

I probably think about my diet way too much. And I very much appreciated the gift of that book; both for the information within it and for the introduction to Brendan Brazier. I recently gave my mom his book, “The Thrive Diet,” and look forward to reading that when she’s finished with it. There is so much still to learn. And while I’m unlikely to adopt a strictly vegan diet, I love his often scientific approach to food choice, training, and especially recovery.

Anyway, enough of this book report silliness. Let’s get to those wildly interesting questions I get asked.

“One should eat to live, not live to eat” -Benjamin Franklin

“So, what are you a vegetarian now or something?” At least 50% of the time, this question is posed in a tone you’d expect when being asked if that rash on your face is contagious. The short answer is “no.” I’m not a vegetarian. And I have no intention of ever declaring that I am. But my diet does continue to veer in that direction with every passing week. I almost never have any meat products in my home (do eggs count?), I haven’t cooked it in a long time, and I will often go for a week or more without consuming any. But I don’t want another rule in my life, and I’m not going to eliminate the option to enjoy a slice of bacon or some pulled pork barbeque without the guilt of violating a self affixed label. So until those items are reclassified as vegetables, I will remain an omnivore; and omnivore that eats a very plant based diet.

“How do you eat a salad for lunch EVERY day?” Answer: with a fork. I get this one a lot. Every time I find myself working with a new person for any amount of time, it comes up.

I’ve never been a guy that just “loves” to eat. I thoroughly enjoy well made and delicious food, but I don’t simply love the act of eating. Because of this, I find it very easy to settle into food routines in my daily life. I eat the same thing for breakfast almost seven days a week; a greens, onion, jalapeno, & cheese omelet w/ grits and toast. And I eat the exact same thing for lunch five days a week; half of an apple and a garden salad topped with beans, quinoa, dried cranberries, and sunflower seeds. If I’m having dinner at home (which I do 9 out of 10 days), I don’t get much more adventurous there either. With very few exceptions, I eat a baked sweet potato with some sort of lightly sautéed veggies piled high on top of it. I know, I know. It sounds boring as hell to most people. But I genuinely enjoy these foods. And since I’m dining alone most of the time, mine is the only opinion that matters. **puts thumbs in ears, wiggles fingers, and sticks out tongue**

While I do enjoy these meals, when I sit down to eat my goal is very rarely to experience a mind blowing taste sensation. My goal is usually one of two things, to fuel my day or recover after exercise. I eat my chosen breakfast and lunch in an effort to consume a nutritious meal that will fuel my body as efficiently as possible and provide me with the energy I need evenly throughout my day without the need for stimulants like caffeine and processed sugar. And it works. I used to drink a 5 hour energy drink almost every single day. Now, I can’t even remember when I last bought one of those little red bottles.

My dinner choices are similarly motivated. I eat dinner after I’m done with whatever run and/or workout I have scheduled each day. And my main food goal is to eat a nutritious meal with plenty of carbs and protein within 30-60 minutes of those workouts when my body is so readily trying to repair and rebuild muscle. This has been my struggle, and eating a giant pile of veggies seems to work better for me than trying to cook and eat a chicken breast (of unknown origin these days). And the nutrient density of most vegetables is insanely higher than animal flesh. I don’t care what other people eat and I am not saying that meat is intrinsically unhealthy. It’s not. But if I want the most nutritional bang for my calorie buck, I’m going to have to eat more veggies and less meat. So I do. And I feel better and have more energy than I ever have before.

I’ll do what works for me. You do what works for you, if it’s actually working.

“How often do you actually just eat whatever you want?” I just got this one for the first time last week. We’ve got a couple of new-hires at work, and the guy that ended up sitting next to me has been running a little bit, working out some, and generally trying to lose a little weight. It was a new question for me, but just as easy to answer as the rest: Every day.

I eat whatever I want Every Day.

I’m not on a diet. I have a diet. And it’s made up of everything that I eat or drink. And despite the misconception that eating a healthy diet is some kind of chore or stunt that you perform for a measured amount of time and then claim victory, I’m happy to say that I have very little trouble maintaining it. I thank my mom for that.

I wasn’t raised on sugary processed foods, so I never developed a deep seated bond to those things. And I cannot express how grateful I am to not have that poisonous connection in my brain. I’m not a machine. I acknowledge that fatty meats can taste good or that a shake or two of salt can liven up certain foods. I put a little bit of salt in my grits every morning. And the human animal is instinctively attracted to sweets. It’s the first taste we develop as babies in order to encourage nursing. And it’s the last flavor sensation to go as we age. Sweet just tastes good. I know that. I just like to enjoy these flavor variables in natural and unprocessed whole foods as much as possible.

100_6643I eat whatever I want every day. I wanted to eat my omelet with fresh onions, collard greens, and jalapeños this morning. It was delicious. I loved my salad at lunch today. The peppercini, spicy quinoa, limas, and cranberries made for a very tasty and satisfying meal that I’m sure people still saw as “rabbit food.” And I love sweet potatoes and sautéed vegetables too. You can do anything with that simple formula. A few different herbs and spices make it easy to mix things up from day to day. Last night, it was red onion, yellow squash, zucchini, mushrooms, and fresh beet greens. Tonight, leftovers plus some of the beets.

These ARE the foods I want to eat. And because they are such good fuels for my workouts and because I do exercise regularly, on the days when I want some cheep beef tacos or an order of hot wings, I can do that too. I just really don’t want that stuff very often. I like feeling good. And eating what I want to every day helps me do that.

“Are you sure you’re eating enough?” This one is usually from a family member or other long time relation that I haven’t seen in a while. When someone has gotten used to seeing me at some varying degree of overweight for a long time, seeing me significantly smaller and leaner may seem “unhealthy” looking. The answer is: I think so. And with my current trend of better running, stronger workouts, and overall higher energy levels, I believe that I am in fact eating enough…finally.

An egg, a salad, and a sweet pototo every day? Is that really enough? Yes and no. My routine meals as overly detailed above are a very satisfying base for my diet, and so far have fueled my workouts and recoveries very well; but of course not entirely on their own. I eat slightly differently in the days before a race or longer run in order to fuel more specifically. I still drink a vitamin shake with breakfast and a protein shake after workouts. And like everyone else, I take a little snack break here and there, usually consisting of a handful of almonds or the other half of that apple I had with lunch. And on the rare occasion that I get a weird sugar craving that won’t go away, I’ll find a piece of candy. Problem solved.

“Water is the driving force in nature.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Maybe the most important part of my diet is that I drink a lot of water. I’m drinking it now.

I am of the opinion that more often than not, the hunger pangs that people experience, either in the afternoon or at night, is really thirst. I can’t prove that. But I have for a long time tried to limit my late night noshing and instead drink water when I get an urge to eat something after 8ish p.m. It really did cut way back on late night cravings even before I was running. And now with a more balanced diet, I rarely get those craving at all anymore.

I drink well over a gallon of water most days. I don’t force it down, but I always have some, and when I’m thirsty that’s what I drink. I know some people have convinced themselves that they don’t like water. And honestly, I think that’s kind of funny. When I meet people that say that they don’t like water, I feel like that is on par with a human being claiming that they don’t care for the taste of air.

“I know I should breathe more air. But I just don’t like it. It doesn’t taste like anything.”

For a mammal to have somehow decided that it doesn’t “like” one of the absolute key necessities of the body is more than a little silly. Your body loves water. You need water. Many people have just conditioned their bodies to think that the water they need is supposed to be combined with some added flavoring; often the result of added chemicals, sugars, and/or stimulants (caffeine). There is a whole industry now creating squeeze bottles and individual packets of flavored powders designed to be added to bottled water. It’s water. It’s not supposed to be purple. But if that’s the only way you can convince your mouth to accept something the body is ultimately going to demand, do what you have to do. I’m not judging anybody. Drinking florescent green water is still better than having a soda.

Vodka is clear. Does that count as water?

Sorry I got long winded on this one. I promise not to do it too often, but I have been asked these a lot lately. Whenever I get around to Part 2, I’ll explain what the Monday Night Kitchen Dance is. Hint: It involves bloody mary mix. And since my blog was so long this time, here’s a short song for your food enjoyment. Happy Tuesday.

F the C Word Too (J.O.G.T. 5)

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

grateful

May seemed a fairly uneventful month for this guy with a beard. Other than pulling my head out of a small mental funk in the first week or so and setting a new 10K PR in the end of the month, almost all of my Jar Of Good Things entries could be summarized in one of these simple statements:

“Great run today.”

“Nice workout today.”

“The weather was awesome today.”

When looking through the entries for any interesting things that I hadn’t already shared, only one entry really stood out. And because of recent events in the lives of dear friends of mine, I’m dedicating J.O.G.T #5 to that single entry.

May 05. Went to Funny Bone Comedy Club for Chris’s Humor Heals CHKD benefit show and saw Brett Leake again. He was as funny and inspirational as I expected and I’m really glad I went. “Love life”

As I’ve already shared, I was in a bit of a funk for a couple of weeks around the turn of the month so when my friend, and local comedian, Chris Dimbitz told me that he was again organizing a comedy show to raise money for Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters (CHKD), it was kind of a no-brainer that I’d be going. I of course wanted to support my friend’s venture. CHKD is an institution easily worth my time and money. Last year’s benefit show was funny as hell. And at the time, I knew I could really use a good laugh. So I went.

And I’m glad that I did.

I was seated down front, right up against the stage where a 6’4” introvert like myself always dreams of sitting when going to a public event alone. I shared the matchbook sized table with another solo patron who responded to his favorite quips of the night by repeating them aloud, and a younger couple that appeared to be friends with one of the other comics performing that night. We all exchanged simple pleasantries (mainly about how cold it was in there), ordered a couple of drinks and/or appetizers, and settled in for the show.

Bring on the funny goddamn it!

Chris emceed the event and was supported by several local comedian friends. And I don’t mind saying that I had modest expectations of them. I’m no comedy expert, but it is easy to fall into a comedy hole with me. A few poorly strung together “On the way over here tonight…” jokes or some more of the exhausted “black people are different than white people” observations and I’ll be gone for the rest of the set.

But the group Chris gathered did a really great job. All had different styles of humor. None aimed for the low hanging comedy-fruit of simply being shocking or offensive. Sometimes a genuinely funny joke will make the occasional person squirm in mild discomfort or awe of an unexpected zinger. But just making people cringe doesn’t automatically make something funny. Does that make sense? I obviously have no problems with the use of curse words, but it was nice to see some quality good natured and clean comedy. I liked it.

“Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.” – Anthony J. D’Angelo

The headliner of that show was the comedian Brett Leake. You’ve probably seen him before. I remember seeing him on The Tonight Show a few different times before I abandoned television. I saw him at the old Thoroughgood Inn Comedy Club in Virginia Beach almost 15 years ago. And he’s seemed to pop up on my radar just enough that I was already familiar with his work and his story.

(Odd sidenote: I also saw Chris at that club back then, but didn’t know him at the time. The world works in funny ways.)

Brett has muscular dystrophy. Back in the day, you may have remembered him as that comedian with the crutches. Today, because he’s had to adapt to a wheelchair, his website refers to him as “one of our nation’s top sitdown standup comics.” His performances have also evolved to be a mix of standup comedy and motivational speaking that I can’t describe any better than his own website:

“His inspiring presentations leverage his success at overcoming adversity to focus on creativity, managing change, life balance, and personal growth. He weaves into the entertainment recent findings in emotional intelligence research; why humor is essential in our lives, how one can develop a humor lens, and the notion that if we attend to a few core needs we and our colleagues can communicate more effectively, feel less of a divide between work and home, and find what suffices.”

OneChildrenWithBlocksI sat stage-side about eight feet from Brett’s left elbow and enjoyed an hour of much needed and very humorous perspective adjustment. I already knew I had no reason to feel shitty. I already knew that my life wasn’t that bad. And I already knew that I was in control of how I process and adjust to any parts of it that I’m unhappy with. I just needed a little reminder. Brett was funny. He was positive. And on May 5th, those were things that I could use. He delivered.

I left that show in a much better head-space than I arrived. I was happy to support my friend’s event and it felt good to give my money to an institution that does so much good work for suffering children and their families. But I went to the show for fairly selfish reasons. I just wanted to laugh. Today I’m even happier to have gone and supported the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.

“When someone has cancer, the whole family and everyone who loves them does, too.” – Terri Clark

I obviously can’t be 100% sure, but I’m fairly certain that each and every person reading this has had their life touched by cancer in some way. Chris started organizing the fund raiser to help show his family’s appreciation for the hospital and its services when his youngest daughter was born with a rare cancer (I’m happy to report she’s doing great now). My grandmother died of lung cancer after never smoking cigarettes. One of my close friends lost his father to cancer a few years ago. My ex-girlfriend’s father lost his battle with pancreatic cancer only last fall. A few months ago, my sister-in-law’s childhood friend died of colon cancer just months after giving birth to her second child. She was younger than I am right now. And last week, one of my oldest friends on this planet was told that his not yet one year old daughter had a cancerous brain tumor.

Just typing those words seems unreal to me.

I fucking hate cancer.

HATE!

I don’t believe everything happens for a reason. There is no justice to be found in the illness of a child. There just isn’t. Any lessons to be learned, or growth to be experienced from those types of challenges are not worth the suffering. It is not fair. It’s not! But fair or not, it is happening. And the whole family is in my thoughts way more than they know (which is obviously my fault). If you’re the praying type, please do. If you’re not, keep them in your thoughts and keep your thoughts optimistic. I believe positivity helps, and I don’t particularly care where your positivity is grounded as long as it’s focused and directed to the places it is needed.

So far, the closest thing to a silver lining that I can find in this grayest of clouds is the close proximity of CHKD. Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters is one of the nation’s top pediatric hospitals, and surely the best in the state of Virginia. The fact that it’s located in our hometown, where my friends can so conveniently access it, is maybe the only good thing I can find in this situation. But it is a very good thing, and I’m grateful that they are able to have such a great medical resource available to them during this incredible fight.

“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

There was a time when I might have wanted to take this time to discuss just how flawed our healthcare system and insurance industry really are despite America’s politicians’ repeated claims that we’re the greatest at everything. At this point, America claiming to have the world’s best healthcare system is probably on par with that strip mall restaurant next to where you get your car inspected claiming to have the world’s best hamburger. It sounds good. It looks good on the paper hat. But it’s probably not true.

What is definitely true is that the suffering of an innocent child is already traumatic enough and alone worthy of every bit of a family’s energy, without the distraction of having to also worry about the immense financial burdens lurking in the shadows, completely indifferent of the medical outcome. These are my friends. They’re hard working people who pay their taxes and their mortgage; and have health insurance. But it doesn’t take a lot of research to see how inadequate health insurance can be in these most extreme cases.

Since reinventing this blog last November, I have enjoyed a truly amazing amount of support from old friends, new ones, and strangers alike. I am so grateful for every person that has shared these posts, sometimes too resembling of diary entries than I intend. I genuinely appreciate every comment on this site and/or my facebook page. I absolutely love it when I get to talk to someone who says that this blog has inspired them to run, workout, get healthier, or to simply try anything that they might have thought impossible. I could’ve never imagined having that affect on anyone. I am truly grateful for it all. I really am. And after all of that unbelievable support and against my nature of never asking for anything, I humbly ask for more.

Not a single one of you owes me, or my friends that you may have never met, another second of your time. But if you do have a minute, a friend of the family has set up a website where anyone that is interested in helping these good people during this difficult time can read their story and/or contribute to a fund that will go towards their quickly growing medical and life expenses. If you have those few moments, I do kindly ask you to check out that site HERE.

Give if you can. Share the link if you will. And if nothing else, please keep these good people in your thoughts; and keep those thoughts positive. I really appreciate it. And I know they do as well.

“Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” – Voltaire

Be grateful for what you have. Express the love you feel. Nothing is guaranteed. Love Life, even if it doesn’t always seem to love you back.

“It’s about focusing on the fight and not the fright.” – Robin Roberts

Just for some sake of normalcy, here are the Honorable Mentions:

May 02. Signed up for the Rock n’ Roll half marathon on Sept 1. I’m taking that day back.

May 09. Beautiful day for a run by the river. Mild temps, low humidity, and slow winds. Perfect.

May 16. Started new workout routine, met the Hills, Spring, and Marco for a drink, and just might have smoked my last cigarette.

May 24. Another great pre-race dinner with Mom. I’m starting to think Indian food is my favorite pre-race meal.

May 31. After getting in my run and workout, took a nice drive to NJ where I was welcomed by a little league game and the ritual post game water ice.

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.