Can’t Run? Volun-Cheer

“He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought… doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps… means a little bit more!” – Narrator, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Well the holiday season is once again upon us. And as usual, I’m ashamedly not nearly as full of good cheer as I feel like I should be. Believe it or not, I don’t like being a grumpy Grinch-like asshole every Christmas. But the holiday season is almost always way more stressful to me than its worth. I say it every single year, but Christmas is just Thanksgiving with the additional unnecessary stress of excessive consumerism.

And this year’s season of spending seems even more frustrating because instead of focusing my attention on twinkling lights and shiny paper, I’m exhausting myself battling the most persistent bout of strep throat I’ve ever had, which means I’ve spent the last six weeks doping my entire body with antibiotics just to (so far) unsuccessfully kill an infection that’s only in my throat.

I swear the streptococcal infection loves me more than any woman ever has. And, like any self-respecting stalker, it refuses to go away quietly. As a result of this long term dysfunctional relationship, I was sick through most of my marathon tapering, I’ve been consistently more fatigued both prior to and since that race, due to that weariness I’ve been unable to maintain my run/workout routines as I’d like, I’m obviously not enjoying the therapeutic release that those workouts would normally provide, and because of the antibiotics’ negative effects on my digestive system, I’m also not absorbing food nutrients as efficiently and therefore not recovering from workouts as well as I normally would. Basically, I just cannot wait to get these drugs out of my system so that I can stop medicating and start healing.

Oh yeah. And now I can’t run.

Yep.

I can’t run. And it’s seriously driving me crazy.

When I was prescribed my third, much stronger antibiotic my doctor said that it may cause some tightness in my joints and tendons. He was right. I ran a few times after starting the new scrip and I felt good. Then after last Saturday’s 12 miles, my left achilles tendon started to feel a little tight. No worries. It wasn’t to the point of being painful or anything. I thought it was fairly normal soreness associated with being so sick and not running very much that week. But when I tried to run on Tuesday, it hurt. It hurt enough that I stopped after a whopping one mile. I rested it, stretched it, and on Thursday tried again. It still hurt. So I stopped again, only sooner. I didn’t even try to run today. It sucks.

Not sure what I’m going to do next week. Other than my ankle, my body feels good. And I want to run so bad that it’s killing me. But I’m still on meds and I really don’t want to injure myself just because I’m too stupid to listen to by drugged up body. Ugh, I hate to have to say it, but I’m slowly accepting that I may not be able to run again until I can get this poison out of my system and let my body get back to its normal functioning capacity for healing and recovery. Have I mentioned how much this sucks? Well it does. A LOT!

It’s borderline depressing in fact.

“Push yourself again and again. Don’t give an inch until the final buzzer sounds.” – Larry Bird

Throughout the last month and a half of dealing with my old friend, Strep, and griping about my inability to maintain my normal exercise routines, I’ve received similar advice from many of my friends.

“Give yourself a break Man.”

“Don’t push yourself right now.”

“Just take it easy.”

While I am 100% sure that every one of those sentiments was shared out of genuine concern and with the best intentions, I don’t think everyone fully appreciates how conflicting those things can be for me.

I’ve spent my entire life never pushing myself, taking the easiest way out of every single situation, and ultimately ended up unsatisfied with the results. Deciding to push myself and to expand the boundaries of what I incorrectly thought possible has been the key to moving beyond a past existence that I don’t miss. And I believe continuing to do so is the only way of ever becoming my most authentic self and to get where I’m supposed to be.

Now, I know that my friends aren’t asking me to stop running or to give up any of my healthier lifestyle choices. They just want me to feel better. But I have such an addict’s view of my past sedentary lifestyle that I have trouble balancing the risks of battling through hardship with the opposite risks of sliding back into a way of life where mediocrity was good enough. It isn’t.

I see thoughts like “Go ahead, skipping one workout won’t kill you” in much the same way that I imagine recovering addicts might view “C’mon, one drink won’t hurt.” I know that might sound ridiculous, but I’ve got first hand experience with how easy it is to break healthy habits. And even while I fully recognize that I’m a much different person now, I still cannot stomach the idea of letting myself give up a single inch to that lazy fuck that I know is still inside me somewhere. I won’t do it. I’ve got way too much I still want to do and time is constantly running out.

“We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal and then leap in the dark to our success.” – Henry David Thoreau

The day after I got back from running the Philadelphia marathon, I immediately sat down at my computer, opened up my Philly training schedule, deleted all of the time/pace recordings, and renamed the file “Shamrock Training.”

I haven’t registered for the Shamrock Marathon yet. But I technically started that new training cycle the week after Philly. Unfortunately, my body is not cooperating. If it was just my ankle, I’d be okay. I know I have time to recover from that. But because I’m having such a hard time clearing this infection and my tonsil is still swollen, my doctor has not yet ruled out the possibility of taking my tonsils out; a surgery that could have me out of commission from several weeks up to a month AND of course taking even more antibiotics with additional drugs for the supposedly excruciating pain. I hate even the idea of putting all of these foreign chemicals in my body. Shit, I won’t even take Tylenol.

I was, and am, happy with my time from my first marathon, but I’m certain that I can do better and I still have every intention of doing so in March.

BUT (isn’t there always a but?), I’m still sick.

And now I can’t fucking run.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi

I was completely pissed and somewhat lost without my favorite crutch this week. What am I supposed to do with myself if I can’t run? The answer came in an email a few days ago.

One of the other things I did not long after getting back from Philly was to sign up to volunteer at a 50K race being held next weekend. I’d actually considered running it, but after running my first marathon I decided that I had pushed myself enough for this year and that if I couldn’t run it, I would volunteer to work it instead. And a few days ago, as I was becoming increasingly aggravated with my foot, my throat, and my inability to get my body back on track, I got the email with my volunteer assignment. I was actually pretty stoked. I’ll be working one of the aid stations.

I’ve never volunteered at a race before so I’ve obviously never worked an aid station either. But I’m excited to see a race from the other side of the equation. And I’m really happy to be able to help execute a race that some of my friends are running. I’m expecting to have a good time. And without sounding like a total shithead, I suspect that cheering for and supporting my fellow runners as I hand them cups of water or just pick up the crumpled empties that they leave behind will feel significantly more rewarding to me this holiday season than anything I could possibly do at a shopping mall.

I might not be able to run. But I can still volun-cheer. And I think that might be as close to Christmas cheer as I’m capable of this year. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, or whatever else makes your lights twinkle. Have fun. Happy Saturday.

The Lemonade Stand: Baby’s First Runbirthday

“You can spend days, weeks, months, or even years sitting alone in the darkness, over-analyzing a situation from the past, trying to put the pieces together, justifying what could have or should have happened. Or you can just leave the pieces on the floor behind you and walk outside into the sunlight to get some fresh air.” – Marc Chernoff

On September 5, 2012, I walked out of my apartment a very lost and damaged human being, and took off running down the street towards Who-Gives-A-Fuck; having no clue what the hell I was doing. Roughly 0.2 miles later, I was walking. I was sweating, breathing heavily, and walking slow. When I caught my breath, I started running again. I didn’t know why. I wasn’t a runner. All I knew was that I really wanted to get to Who-Gives-A-Fuck in a hurry. I wanted to get anywhere else as fast as I possibly could. So, if I could run, I did. When I couldn’t run, I walked. But for twenty-something sunny afternoon minutes and almost 1.5 miles, I did not stop.

When I got back to my apartment, sadly having not found the door to that wonderful world of Who-Gives-A-Fuck, something was different. I knew it immediately. I didn’t know what had changed, or what it meant. But I knew I was transformed. And that feeling was indescribable. I was reborn; a new man; right then.

Like any newborn, I didn’t know shit. I was moving on instinct; alone in a world I didn’t recognize and with so much to learn in order to survive in it. I had to grow up. But what did growing up even mean? At the time, it meant trying to find a light in the dark, warmth in the cold, or at least comfort in the absence of both.

I’m still working on that.

Hey, gimme a break. I’m only one.

On September 4, 2012, there was only one thing I knew for sure: I felt like total shit. I had never felt so physically and spiritually suffocated by pain in my life, or more incapable of dealing with that hurt. I was dead. I don’t mean that I was sad and wanted to die. I didn’t. I mean I was already dead; cold; lifeless. The fire: out. The fact that I was even making it through my work day still amazes me. I don’t think I said more than two words to anyone for days, and can’t remember if anyone had spoken to me at all. Dead.

In the days after my rebirth on the road, my new still blurry vision and simple newborn mind was now sure of a staggering two things. 1) When I wasn’t running, I felt like total shit – as described above. 2) When I was running, I didn’t feel like total shit. And with that simple and lone understanding of my new world, I began to run as much as I could.

“Sometimes you have to kind of die inside in order to rise from your own ashes and believe in yourself and love yourself to become a new person.” – Gerard Way

It’s interesting to me looking back at those days because I started tracking my running from day one. I do not know why. I was living entirely on raw impulse. I ate only when my hunger got strong enough to cut through my thick mind-fog. I was drinking water less aware of my need for it, and more because it was the only thing conveniently piped into my home. I slept whenever I was remotely still because why not be asleep. I wasn’t living. But even in my undead zombie-like state I was still marking each run on a calendar on the wall. Eat, drink, sleep, run. The answer is in there somewhere.

100_6694I started putting little check marks on that calendar for every day that I’d run. When I joined a gym two weeks later, I started adding a “G” to the square for each day that I would workout. Seven weeks after my first sloppy trek outside, I started recording the length of each run, and eventually adding the time as well. Without a whole lot of foresight, my numbers-nerd personality was starting to track my pace. Why? No clue.

I didn’t know it at the time, but what I was viewing as a simple activity to ward off a mental breakdown was becoming the first part of a personal experiment in wellness. The foundation of my “Me” experiment was unfolding without my full understanding. I knew running made me feel less shitty. I liked feeling less shitty. So I needed to run more.

“What do I have to do to be able to run more?”

“I have given up many things in this becoming process. None was a sacrifice. When something clearly became nonessential, there was no problem in doing without. And when something clearly became essential, there was no problem accepting it and whatever went with it.” – Dr George Sheehan.

Seeking the answer to that simple question has cascaded into areas I could have never predicted.

For several weeks after my first run, I went out almost every day. And after noting no perceivable improvement in performance, it was time to read. I started with online resources, and within days had purchased my first Runner’s World magazine. Of course, I subscribed immediately after reading it. I researched everything from running form, to proper dietary fueling, to cross training, to strength training. What do I have to do to run more? I wasn’t sure, but I was damn sure going to find out.

I learned that new runners should not run every day; that without rest days, the newbie body cannot recover. And running on sore, overworked muscles leads to injury. Injury means no running. And the idea of not running at the time left me paralyzed with fear. It still does. So, after almost four weeks, I finally started taking regular rest days. Surprise! My running improved.

Those rest days became dedicated cross training days at the gym. I originally joined the gym in case it was raining and I really needed to run. Little did I know that I would rather run outside in the rain or snow than inside on a treadmill. But cycling and weight training at the gym gave me another way to get my blood moving every day. It’s definitely wasn’t running, but in a pinch, a solid workout would even help with that “feeling shitty” thing I deal with. Both running and gym workouts were becoming sweat-meditation; “sweatitation” that I valued greatly. I still do.

As my activity levels continued to increase, my diet became a serious bastard to figure out. I needed to eat more, but I rarely felt hungry and only wanted to eat what I really needed. I had already cut out processed food. If I didn’t know what was in something, I didn’t eat it. I felt better instantly, and had noticeably more energy. In fact, as I’ve kept cutting out this food (meat, pasta, dairy) and adding that one (a lot more whole raw fruits and vegetables), I’ve ended up with an almost vegan diet. And I feel great. I’m running better. I’m getting stronger. And I am recovering faster. Food is supposed to give us energy. It is supposed to make us feel good, not make us want to take a nap.

“Learning about what you’re made of is always time well spent.” – Henry Rollins

Because I was consciously using running and exercise as therapy during that difficult time, I’d obviously become somewhat aware of the connection between physical and mental health. That connection is something that I probably would’ve accepted long before I actually explored the reality of it. It just makes sense to me. And with every step made towards a healthier body I also noted increased occasion of spiritual clarity.

It should be noted that “clarity” is not always a pleasant experience. There is a reason some people seek to numb their perception of themselves. Clearness of vision is sometimes just that break in the clouds we need to see all of the mistakes we’ve made, all of the negative habits we’ve collected, all of the toxic people and practices we’ve allowed to settle into our lives. Seeing these things just created new obstacles to traverse if I’m ever going to become my most authentic and whole self. But I can’t clean up messes I can’t see, so clarity is a positive thing, even if uncomfortable.

As I enjoyed strides towards better physical fitness and continued to research, discover, and experiment with different ways to improve those gains, it became increasingly clear to me that keeping a strong body was not the be-all, end-all solution to mental wellness. I’d experienced the direct connection between the two. But I was only actively working to improve one side of the equation, foolishly assuming that being physically fit would magically drag my spiritual self into a healthier well lighted place as well. It doesn’t work that way. If a strong, well-tuned body was the secret to mental health, then professional athletes would be the most balanced and spiritually centered people on the planet. You won’t have to search the web very long to debunk that idea. Cough, cough…Aaron Hernandez.

The spiritual self needs to be cared for and exercised as much as the physical self. This is an area that I have only recently started to explore. And as I approach this new thing with a beginner’s mind, I’m again researching and finding my way anew. Different people find balance in varying ways. I’ve adopted a daily meditation practice, and so far noticing small but appreciable benefits. I’m a newbie with a ton to learn, but I already feel less stress, calmer of mind, and generally more present. Life seems to move a little smoother and I seem to handle the bumps better. It’s new, and we’ll see how it goes, but I’m going to keep doing it. I think it is going to help me find some kind of balance. It’s the least I can do.

“When I crashed and found the wherewithal to get back on the bike and finish; that was what I learned about myself. If that hadn’t happened and everything had gone perfectly, I certainly wouldn’t have learned as much about myself as I did having to struggle with misfortunate and setbacks.” – Rich Roll

While catching up with a friend way back in February; discussing how my training was going and chatting about some of the other positive changes I was starting to observe, she noted that I may not have made any of those adjustments, or even started running at all, if I hadn’t experienced such a painful loss last year. I quickly replied “It’s lemonade.”

“Huh?”

“It’s the lemonade” I repeated. “My running and working out is lemonade. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. All of this is just lemonade.”

She was not trying to make light of my feelings or to rationalize the true tragedy of my loss, but instead was simply recognizing it as a catalyst to this new phase in my life.

I don’t care for lemons. I don’t want them in my water at restaurants. And I don’t particularly like lemonade either. But no matter how shitty the realities may be, I refused to continue approaching so many things in my life with the internal negativity I’d ignored (or even embraced) in the past. I would love an occasional cantaloupe or some fresh blueberries, but if those sweet luxuries are not in the cards for me, then I will continue to seek out and develop the world’s greatest lemonade recipe. I might not be able to control a lot of the things that happen around me or even how I feel about those things. But I can certainly control how I respond to the hand I’m dealt.

“The human capacity for burden is like bamboo- far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.” – Jodi Picoult

The human animal is incredibly resilient. No matter how far gone we might think we are, or how low we feel, very few things are unrecoverable. We can lose the weight, learn the new skill, move more weight, prevent and cure diseases, and just fucking feel better if we dedicate our energy to our own wellbeing and focus on our goals. We can do anything.

In the last 12 months, I’ve become healthier than I have ever been. I eat better and exercise more than I ever have. I stopped smoking cigarettes after almost 15 years. Along the way, I’ve gone through three pairs of running shoes. I’ve logged 730 miles on the road, run nine races, including two half-marathons (each under two hours), and I’m in week 14 of my training plan to run my first full marathon later this fall; with bigger plans beyond that. And while I believe that weight is a sometimes distracting and over-celebrated metric in the pursuit of true health, I’ve lost 70 pounds too.

And my run journal is still growing strong as well.

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I’ve made a lot of lifestyle adjustments this year and discovered a confidence in myself that makes my hunger for change even stronger, the slow pace of it even more frustrating, and that frustration can be incredibly distracting. I’m finally learning to make the effort to live in the present, aim at the next step instead of the goal, and accept that stumbling is part of traveling.

Am I still lost? I don’t know. Technically, I know where I am. But the vast majority of the time, I do feel completely out of place in the world. That’s an odd sensation to walk around with every day. But I’ve made my decision in the “yellow wood” of that Robert Frost poem, and I have faith that I’ve chosen wisely. I’m confident that if I continue to run along this healthier path up the mountain, that I’ll eventually find the place where I belong and fill the void that still stings inside of me. The answer is up there somewhere.

Am I still damaged? Eh, I can’t tell anymore. Unfortunately I pick scabs, heal slowly, and wear thick scars. I think I’ve just acclimated to whatever this new grayer feeling is and don’t know how to describe it. I’m not damaged. I guess I more “haunted.” I probably always will be to some extent. It is what it is.

After only one year, I’m not even a toddler in this new healthier lifestyle, but I’m up on my wobbly legs, moving slow, and looking to get into all sorts of shit. Look out world! I’m only going to get faster.

This is one of my favorite songs by my friend Derek Smith. He’s one of those guys that drive negative people nuts with his positivity and general good nature. I like knowing him. And I appreciate that he plays this song for me almost every time I get out to see him live. “I took a gamble on this thing called love. I got just what I paid for, but not what I dreamed of.” I hope to someday look back on this time from wherever my “Best Years” are found and just laugh at my silly ass. Happy Thursday, it’s my rebirthday.

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Fun of the Run (J.O.G.T. 7)

“When you are joyful, when you say yes to life and have fun and project positivity all around you, you become a sun in the center of every constellation, and people want to be near you.” – Shannon L. Alder

What? Another blog already? Trust me, I know. And don’t worry. I’m nowhere near able to make this a habit. But after Kathryn sparked my quick blurt-blog the other day about why I run, I realized not only do I know why I run, I’ve probably always been a runner. I just didn’t know it until last September. I spent 37 years blindly running away from life (which seemed considerably easier than running towards it by the way). Now I’m finding that so many of the answers to life’s questions have been waiting for me out there on the road all this time. And I almost never get out there without at least finding a hint about which way to go next.

Looking back through my Jar Of Good Things, I discovered that July was a month full of riddles. I had a bunch of days where I forgot to put anything in the Jar. I had some days of genuine excitement and enthusiasm about the path ahead. And like the pendulum that life can sometimes be, I unfortunately experienced some incredibly crestfallen moments as well.

But as the roller coaster rose high, fell hard again, and the challenges started to push me under, I never stopped running. And in the 80 miles I logged during the month, I found a small amount of comfort, some needed release, and maybe even some more clues to the mystery of me. Because of that, this month’s J.O.G.T. will be dedicated to the run; the “fun run” to be exact.

“It’s the game of life. Do I win or do I lose? One day they’re gonna shut the game down. I gotta have as much fun and go around the board as many times as I can before it’s my turn to leave.” – Tupac Shakur

Throughout the month, The Tidewater Striders hosted their annual Summer Series events. The Summer Series is a three week series of fun runs held on Tuesday evenings in July at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. Each week’s run is different, but all seem less focused on competition and more on the fun and camaraderie of running…Well that, or pizza and beer. Eh, to-may-to, to-mah-to.

I ran them all. At the beginning of the month as the coaster car climbed, I ran them for the sheer fun of it. As things crested and took the abrupt plunge back to earth, I ran them because I needed to do something different and running has never let me down. Its streak is still unbroken, and I finished the month by setting a new PR at the Memorial Scholarship 5K. A new PR is always good, right?

I would’ve much rather continued on the up-swing, but even in the distraction of chasing ghosts I was able to reevaluate a lot in myself, discover new things about what’s truly important to me, and started to make steps to clearing much of the clutter from my life. I’m going to continue to lighten my load and better streamline my existence. I think it will make me lighter, freer, and ultimately faster. And not only in my running shoes.

Enough of that shit, let’s get to some fun-runs.

Jul 09. Ran first Summer Series Race at Norfolk Botanical Gardens. Really cool place to run. Finished my 4 miles only 20 seconds faster than I predicted and got some nice blog love from Marie and Beth.

The first week’s event was a countdown run through the gardens. Each runner could choose a distance of 4, 2, or 1 mile. A clock was started counting down from 75 minutes. When a runner believed the time on the clock accurately matched the time it would take them to finish their chosen distance, they crossed the starting line and started running. The theory being that everyone would start at varying times, but if they predicted their paces accurately, everyone would finish together.

I don’t know the official count, but there were hundreds of runners out there, and the idea of having all of those people finish at the same time just seemed like perfect silliness to me. Some finished a bit early, some a bit late, but for the most part everyone came across the bridge and out of the gardens relatively close to each other and ready for some post run pizza and beer.

I was 20 seconds early. Dammit! So close.

I did not take this picture.

I did not take this picture.

This was my first experience running at the botanical gardens and I probably don’t have to explain why it’s such a nice place to run. For a guy that logs most of his miles in the asphalt trails of his neighborhood, jogging through the twisting often shaded paths of a well maintained park was a clear upgrade. And since I hadn’t run a Striders event since the Elizabeth River Run in May, I hadn’t seen any of my Strider buddies in a while either. It’s always nice to share a beer and maybe a few laughs with everybody after the run. I liked it. It was exactly what it was billed to be: a fun run. And I did have fun, even if I didn’t eat any of the pizza (I’m half a tub of whey protein and a stick of butter away from having a dairy-free home).

Jul 16. Summer Series II, quick mile with cool random team.

The second week’s run was a random relay. Another couple hundred people showed up, were split into randomly selected three person teams, and then each team ran a 3 mile “race,” one runner and one mile at a time. Every team’s first runner starts together. When a team’s first runner makes it back from their one mile loop through the gardens, then the next teammate takes off. The relay continues until all three runners have completed the mile. Technically it is a race. But because a team could be comprised of runners of widely varying abilities and speeds, it is most definitely more about the fun of summer running than it is about “beating” the other teams.

I admit that I underestimated the running community a little bit on this one. Because I am way more of a runner than a racer and not a very competitive person, I was worried that I’d end up paired with some hyper-competitive speed demon. It has always been my luck to end up paired with the most aggressive person(s) at any supposedly friendly sporting activity. It drives me crazy to hear some idiot yelling “wait for your pitch” during a casual slow-pitch softball game or screaming “set!” at a half-drunken beach volleyball game. It’s just a game Asshole. I’ll swing at every single pitch that comes anywhere near me and I’ll get on base too and I’d be having more fun if it weren’t for the agro-dick living out Olympic fantasies at a summer picnic. Fuck off! (end rant)

I happily saw no hint of this phenomenon at the relay. And I apologize for forgetting how cool runners are.

Because Tuesdays are a normal run day for me and running only one mile would not remotely satisfy my marathon training schedule, I ran my planned speed intervals before heading out. And my random team was perfect for my not at all fresh legs. It consisted of nine year old Ellie leading us off with a solid eight-something minute first mile, an energetic and happy Arlene for the second leg (I had already stopped looking at the clock), and myself running the last leg without remembering to turn on my Garmin until half way through the loop.

We finished with a time under 24 minutes. But it doesn’t matter. We all had fun. And guess what? More pizza (watermelon & banana for this guy) and beer and catching up with the familiar faces of the club. Having a good time can be brutal. But I somehow battled through.

Jul 23. Summer Series 3, “Guess Your Time” 4 miler. Almost didn’t go because my mind was a scattered fucking mess, but I’m so glad I did. I ran w/o GPS/HR monitor. Guessed 33:34. And then I just ran. It felt awesome and once again let me clear my head and come off the ledge for a little bit. Missed my guess by 5ish seconds. Great day.

Wow! That was definitely one of the wordiest entries in the Jar this month. And really doesn’t need much explanation. So, I’m sure I’ll go on for days.

The final event of the series was a “guess your time” 4 miler. Each runner had to estimate how long they believed it would take them to run the course, mark that time on their bib, and then run the course without the aid of heart rate monitors or GPS watches. Whoever got closest to their guesstimated time, wins.

As my rambling J.O.G.T. entry expressed, I wasn’t in the mood to be social that afternoon. The reasons aren’t important. But I was unhappy. And my old paradigm of hiding when I’m sad is something I’m trying to work on. Instead I want to remember that the mind-body connection works both ways, and to trust that relationship.

When I’m out on the road and my body’s telling me it’s tired and wants to quit, it’s up to my brain to evaluate the situation; am I hurting or am I just tired? I’m not hurt. I can do this. Shut up and run.

When my mind takes a shit and I’m tempted to crawl inside of that feeling and simmer in it alone, I remember that logging some miles out in the open has never let me down. It doesn’t necessarily right the wrongs. But it adjusts my perspective. It clears the streaks from my windshield and lets me see again.

Life is a motherfucker sometimes. Bad shit is going to happen. And there is only so much I can do about it. When I forget that, the world has a funny way of reminding me to keep my eyes on the road and pay attention to my own path. I knew I needed to run that day. And I couldn’t think of a reason to believe that running alone would be any better than going out and running in the botanical gardens again. And if I was wrong…at least there’d be beer, right?

I got there, guessed my time (33:34), and then wandered around waiting for the start. The weather was perfect running weather, for July anyway. It was sunny, temperature in the mid 80s, and even a little bit of a breeze. I chatted a little bit with some friends, and because I had no concern for winning and I was being very honest about my mental funk, I debated not even trying to pace myself and instead going in there and just “running my fucking legs off.” You know, maybe try to leave it all out there in the woods somewhere.

I didn’t do that. I ran lazy. I ran quiet. I just ran. And inside of the first mile, I found my rhythm. I paced my friend Beth for the first bit of the run and as my pace settled, I zoned out and fell into another head-space. I spent the whole 4 miles focused on my breathing, inhaling for three steps, exhaling for two. Occasionally I’d find myself passing someone I knew to be a faster runner than me. Sometimes they passed me back. But as long as my breathing felt right, I didn’t change a thing. I just ran. And approximately 33:30 seconds later, I was done. And I felt…okay.

I’d love to say that I felt great. But running can only do so much. I did feel better though, and better was good enough. I was really glad I made myself go. And as I milled around, had a beer, caught up with my friends, and waited to see how close some of the others came to their predictions, one of those faster runners I had briefly been in front of came up to me and quietly paid me a very kind and simple compliment. I met him and his wife after a cancelled race in February. I don’t know him super well. I’ve spoken with him only a few times and he didn’t dwell on it or anything. He simply shook my hand and said “you’re doing really good.” That’s it. I’m not sure, but he may have even said it twice. I don’t take compliments very well. So I simply thanked him, and then he went on about his business. It was unexpected and much appreciated, especially from someone sometimes referred to as “Dr Fast.”

Runners are good people.

“The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations are really good days.” – Ray Wiley Hubbard

The week after the Summer Series, I was back at the Botanical Gardens with many of the same people and much of the same experiences. It was the Memorial Scholarship 5K race. It was the first 5K I’ve run since February. I ran it in 22:47; a new PR. And I felt good about it. A few days ago, I did the math and realized that for me to qualify for Boston, I’m going to have to run 26.2 miles at a pace six seconds/mile faster than I’m currently able to run 3.1. That seemed really daunting at the time.

But as I saw a coworker all week contemplating having to pull out of the Rock N Roll half marathon because of a stressed Achilles tendon, and as I see my mom bummed out on the sidelines waiting for knee surgery to get her back on the road, I’m reminded how fortunate I am to be able to run at all. It is my favorite game when I’m healthy and my most reliable crutch when I’m hobbled. I can’t ask for more than that.

Happy Friday. Tomorrow, I’m gonna run 12 more mile on my way to Philly. I can do anything.

“Let it ride. Let it roll. Let it go.”

Honorable Mentions:

Jul 02. Afternoon rain literally stopped the moment I stepped out the door, and didn’t start again until I was finishing my stretches and climbing the stairs to come back inside. Mother Nature supports what I’m doing.

Jul 08. Saw that Kathy is doing a C25K program. I’m super stoked for her.

Jul 13. Hung out with Justin, Kim, Sean, Stacey, Laura, and Scott in Sandbridge for Tilly’s b-day. Saw a guy eat three jelly fish to win a 22 dollar bet. Well played.

Jul 18. After finding my resting HR and recalculating my zones, did a much better Zone 2 five miler. I think I’m going to really like this type of training.

Jul 25. Bought my ticket to Steamboat. I can’t wait.

Jul 31. I’m not sure how the internet works, but my blog picked up five new followers overnight. I guess that’s good.

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.

Traveling, Can’t, Motivation, and Action

“You know, I’m sick of following my dreams, man. I’m just going to ask where they’re going and hook up with ’em later.”

Eight years ago today, one of my favorite comedians was found dead in his hotel room of a drug overdose. I had seen Mitch Hedberg in concert before and had all of his albums (still do). His comedy style was definitely a little odd with somewhat uneasily delivered one liner style jokes and the occasional self deprecating comment when he messed up a line or just bombed a joke altogether; those quips sometimes getting a bigger laugh than the fumbled joke he originally delivered. I loved his silly observations and askew way of seeing the world. I thought he was hilarious. And when they announced his death on April 1, 2005 it was easy to think that it was a joke, especially since I had tickets to see him again just a few days later.

February 24, 1968 – March 29, 2005

February 24, 1968 – March 29, 2005

In a 2001 Penthouse Magazine interview, he was asked how he would end his life if he could choose (What a stupid question). He replied “First, I’d want to get famous, and then I’d overdose. If I overdosed at this stage in my career, I would be lucky if it made the back pages.” I’m sure he was joking, but jokes are only funny when there is truth in them. As a person who has seen the affects of drug abuse a little closer than some, it sucks that anyone would think that overdosing is a good way to go or even a funny way to imagine it. But hey, I said he was funny, not smart.

Today, in memory of one of my favorite funny men, I will force my blog through a sieve of some of my favorite Mitch Hedberg quotes.

“I want to hang a map of the world in my house, and then I’m gonna put pins into all the locations that I’ve traveled to. But first I’m gonna have to travel to the top two corners of the map, so it won’t fall down.”

In a previous blog in which I was responding to questions posed by a fellow runner and blogger, I was asked the “What would you do if you won the lottery” question. Part of my answer was that I would run a race in every state in the United States. You can tell I don’t have the disposition for wealth. Why not just buy a helicopter and five houses? Or at least develop a huge gambling problem or something.

Well it occurred to me recently, that I don’t need a million dollars to do that. So I want to start trying to knock that out while I wait for my million dollar lottery ticket. It could be a while as I don’t play the lottery.

I don’t have a plan yet, but I will naturally start with the states closest to home. I’m lucky to have friends and family in many places across the country though, and I think it could be fun to try and combine visits with races. Now, I am by no stretch of the imagination rich, so it could take me a little while. But luckily there is no time limit on this either, so I will just get to it as I can. Really, it just sounds like a good excuse to visit friends to me. And as summer comes into view, my more northern located friends might want to start clearing off the couch. I’ll be looking to you guys first. Florida, maybe I’ll see you in late fall.

“I saw a lady on T.V. She was born without arms. Literally, she was born with her hands attached to her shoulders… and that was sad, but then they said, “Lola does not know the meaning of the word ‘can’t.'” And that to me was kinda worse… in a way… ya know? Not only does she not have arms, but she doesn’t understand simple contractions.”

I’m not so sure Lola isn’t better off not understanding that simple contraction. I’ve mentioned before my lifelong tendency to enter into new experiences with a strong “I can’t” attitude. It has always been a disservice to me even if I didn’t know it. I try; TRY not to use that word much anymore. Not because I don’t understand contractions, but because I’ve overused it so much in the past that I don’t really care for how it feels in my mouth anymore. The list of things that I’ve said I can’t do is hauntingly similar to the list of things I’ve never even tried to do. That’s obnoxious to me.

A few weeks ago I called a friend to see what he was doing that night. He said that he was jamming with some friends, that they didn’t have a guitar player set up, and that I should come jam with them. Of course, I immediately thought, I can’t do that. I may have even said it. But in the course of a few minutes, I realized that I wanted to do it. I used to jam with a couple of friends a really long time ago. My friend wasn’t trying to do anything big. He just wanted to rock out a little bit on a Friday night. Why the fuck wouldn’t I go? What’s the worst that could happen? I end up hanging out with people I like and not playing guitar? So I went.

I was every bit as rusty as I expected to be (maybe even worse). And because of that I wasn’t totally comfortable at first. But after a few sloppy attempts at whatever, we gelled on some simpler riffs and moved around through different things that each of us had been messing with or wanted to play around with. And I had a really good time.

When I spoke to my buddy earlier that day, I was probably only one solid “can’t” away from denying myself the simple joy of playing music with new people. Lola might be better served to never learn that four letter word.

“I bought a seven dollar pen because I always lose pens and I got sick of not caring.”

This immediately made me think of all of those articles that tell newer runners and those just starting at any new exercise routine that they should have a running partner or a workout buddy. Or even more directly related to the advice you’ll see for runners trying to avoid holiday season weight gain or just unmotivated in general to sign up for a race. The idea in each scenario is that investing more will motivate higher dedication and improve your results.

I’m on the fence on some of these issues.

I’ve heard the arguments for them. Agreeing to meet another person will keep you from skipping workouts or runs. And doing these things with others is supposed to help you progress, whether it’s because of friendly competition or the benefit of having moral support at hand while exercising. I get it. And knowing that you have to run a race on New Years day should help keep you away from the dessert table at Christmas, or at least reduce the number of trips to it anyway.

But I really like going to the gym alone. I love the anonymity of it. I like to put in my headphones and just zone out for some sweat therapy. A friend and I have suggested going together on a Saturday a few times and that sounds like a great idea. I’m sure we eventually will. But for my regular daily workouts, I don’t need anyone else to motivate me. I don’t slight those that might. But it’s a private time with my thoughts for me, and I don’t know if I would enjoy it as much if I was trying to keep conversation with another person or if I couldn’t burrow away into my own head while I was in there. It’s just a really good time to be alone.

Running with others makes way more sense to me. I’ve only done it a few times and each time has been pretty relaxing and beneficial to my running as well. I still predominantly run alone and love it for all of the same reasons I mentioned above. But even with how much I sometimes count on my therapy-runs, I can still see clear benefits to running with others. I’ve been invited to run with a few different people of a few different occasions but haven’t made it happen yet. But as the days continue to get longer, it may make scheduling things like that easier in the coming months. We’ll see what happens, but I know I’m going to run either way.

As for the “sign up for a race” theory of motivation, I think it totally works. Back in the fall when I had just started running and working out, I signed up for something like five races spaced out between early December and mid March. I was already more dedicated to becoming healthier than I even realized at the time. And I have luckily experienced very little temptation to veer from my course. But having those races always on the horizon did make it much easier to stay focused on my diet and exercise routines. It’s part of the reason that I still try to always keep a race on the horizon.

My next registered race is at the end of May, but I’m almost certain to squeeze one into April too. I’m just waiting to see how my ankle is going to cooperate before pulling the trigger on one.

“I got a jump rope. That thing’s just a rope, man. You gotta make the jump happen.”

Jump rope, yoga pants, running shoes, whatever: They’re all just a rope, some seriously tight pants, and comfortable shoes until you take action to make them more.

I had a pair of running shoes for years before last September when I started running. I don’t even remember when I bought them, or why. They looked almost brand new when I laced them up on a whim and took off into what turned out to be a new phase in my life. And to my surprise, neglect is very detrimental to shoes because they literally fell apart the next day when I decided that I wanted to go run again. I actually panicked a little.

Even after only two runs, I knew that I needed to do it. I knew that it was going to help me find answers to so many questions I was battling at the time. And I was completely worried that if I took a break from it, I might not start again. So what’s the problem ThatGuy? Go buy another pair of running shoes. The problem is I wear a size 15 shoe and simply driving to the store to buy shoes is a fantasy on par with unicorns when you have a shoe size larger than 13.

I drove to five different stores in three different cities before I found a single pair of running shoes in my size. And to my great delight and relief, they were both comfortable and affordable. I scooped them up and continued my running journey the next day without interruption.

I admit that I do have a rope that I don’t make jump very often. And I plan to incorporate yoga into my workout routine soon. But luckily for the entire sighted community, I will not be wearing yoga pants. Right now, I am really just grateful that I turned “shoes” into “running shoes” when I did. I love where they’ve taken me so far, and I’m cautiously enthusiastic to see where we’re headed next.

A few more for good measure:

“The depressing thing about tennis is that no matter how good I get, I’ll never be as good as a wall.”

“My friend asked me if I wanted a frozen banana, I said “No, but I want a regular banana later, so … yeah”.

“I saw this wino, he was eating grapes. I was like, “Dude, you have to wait.”

“Sometimes in the middle of the night, I think of something that’s funny, then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen’s too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain’t funny.”

“An escalator can never break–it can only become stairs. You would never see an “Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order” sign, just “Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.”

“I’m sick of Soup of the Day, it’s time we made a decision. I wanna know what the fuck ‘Soup From Now On’ is.”

“If I was on death row and given one last meal I would ask for a fortune cookie. “Come on ‘long prosperous life!'”

“I went to a record store, they said they specialized in hard-to-find records. Nothing was alphabetized.”

And finally one of my all time favorites:

“A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer.”

How 2 Half Mary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wish Magic

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

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

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

BUT (isn’t there always a but?),

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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