It’s The Small Things (J.O.G.T. 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I Will Not Stop

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

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

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

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

I’m look forward to tapering for two reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve got plenty to do.

I’m a Winner!

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

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

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

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

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

-Then answer the 11 questions the tagger has asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that an interesting fact about me? Maybe not.

Is it a random fact about me? Damn right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing’s free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…with ranch AND blue cheese please.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. What is your favorite childhood memory?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Your favorite adult beverage:

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

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

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

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

10. What is your favorite thing about yourself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Why Kali?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopes or Goals

The other day while listening to some talking head “analyze” the president’s inauguration speech, I heard a sentence that rang true, at least until I started thinking about it. The analysis seemed to be more of a word count than any actual discussion of the topical content. And apparently the president used the word “hope” X number of times as compared to Y number of times in 2009. I guess there was some significance to that.

Whatever. 100_6418

During the discussion, the gentleman said something along the lines of “Hope is not merely wishful thinking. It comes with all kinds of requirements.” I liked the way that sounded at the time and it made me start to think about what it really meant.

People hope for all kinds of things. Some hope they’ll get that dream job, or that their band will become famous, or that the man/woman of their dreams will reciprocate that feeling. But none of that shit will ever happen if the hoper just sits around waiting. Waiting is a surefire way to accomplish nothing. Trust me. I’ve tried waiting and hoping for all sorts of things. It doesn’t work…EVER.

If you want that dream job, you’ll have to take it off of your “Hope” list and add it to your “Goals” list. Then lay out some kind of plan to achieve that goal.

Hope is just wishful thinking until you turn that hope into an actual goal. Then you can begin to build a plan to achieve that goal. Then it is not wishful thinking anymore. It’s a target and all you have to do is work your ass off until you hit it.

As I watch the resolution rush of new members at my gym slowly start to wane, it makes me wonder how many of those people are “hoping” to get healthier/thinner/faster/stronger, and how many of them have instead decided that they ARE GOING to get healthier/thinner/faster/stronger and have laid out a plan of attack on how to achieve that goal.

I’m guessing that the people “hoping” for change are the ones that think that if they hit the treadmill a few times a week and do some crunches, then they will eventually be able to continue eating a horrible diet while living an otherwise sedentary lifestyle. And the ones that have a goal have already rid their homes of negative diet temptations and found an exercise activity that they actually enjoy. And more importantly, realized that long term success means long term adjustment. There is no end. There isn’t a point where you get to go back to doing everything that you were before without also getting the same unwanted results that motivated all of those healthier New Year’s resolution in the first place.

100_6409While chatting with some friends recently (about nothing at all related to running or exercising), it occurred to me that because I was maybe too expressive about the dark origins of my healthier changes, that some people may view those changes as simply part of a “recovery” plan; a plan with an eventual end point when the person from a year ago will reappear ready to get back to where he was before being interrupted.

It would be understandable. During the last several months, I probably explained in too much detail that avoiding self destructive behavior during a personal hardship was my initial motivation to make adjustments to the way I live.

But there is no light at the end of this tunnel. There isn’t even a tunnel at all. Choosing to live a healthier, more active life is not a path out of a dark place back to the well lighted place that I thought I was before. If I had to call it anything, it was a much appreciated bridge over a dark place. And it has already helped deliver me to a new and brighter place within myself; a place that I don’t want to let go of.

And the endorphins rush of my very first run was all I needed to know that it was going to be a welcomed new part of my life going forward.

In short: I’m not going back to who I was. I don’t want to. I don’t know how I may change as I continue to evolve as a person, but this is who I am. And that guy from a year ago is gone forever. I don’t miss him. I don’t even like what I see when I look back at that person.

These statements are not intended as some snarky rectification toward anyone in particular, as I have received nothing but support in my decisions. These statements are instead a clear and public declaration to myself that positive changes only get to reveal their full benefits if they are allowed to continue indefinitely and I intend to keep moving forward, not backwards. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Today, I was supposed to run the second scheduled step-up race towards my goal of running the Shamrock Half Marathon in March. It was to be my first 15K and my scheduled “long run” for this week on my training schedule. But instead, it snowed yesterday (like it almost never does) and the event organizers were forced to cancel the race.

Can you believe they cancelled this run?  pshh.

Can you believe they cancelled this run? pshh.

But I still needed to run those miles to fulfill my training requirements. I’ve got a plan damn it.

I put some chili in the slow cooker and decided to go see what the conditions were like. If they were too sketchy, I’d just bite the bullet and hit the treadmill. I’m so glad that I went.

I got to the trail just a little after the cancelled race was scheduled to start, and everything was nice and white: the trees, the road, the fields, the few other cars there. As I got out of the car, I saw another person there clearly dressed to run and asked her what the conditions looked like. She said they were good and I began to get ready. I love running outside, even when its 28 degrees.

As I was getting ready, another gentleman, the woman I spoke to earlier, and another runner approached and asked if I would be interested in running with them. They were also signed up to run the cancelled race and, like me, decided to run it anyway. I said “sure.” It was the first time that I’ve ever run with anyone.

100_6420It was a really beautiful day for a run. And except for leaving my gloves at home, I was so ready to get out there. They were all experienced and faster runners but because of the snow they kept a modest pace (for them) which happened to be just a bit faster than my normal pace. But I felt good and was still able to maintain conversation so I just forgot about the garmin and ran along.

The one thing that I like about snow (yes, there is only one thing) is that it makes everything seem so much quieter. The whole world is just silent.

After five miles, I turned around to head back. They were going to the end to get in a 16 mile run. But as I said, I had a 15K on my training schedule and I try to stick to that plan pretty strictly. I felt good, but I knew I was running a little faster than normal and to then add miles that I know I’m not quite ready for seemed like a poor decision. Stick to the plan Greg.

I ended up finishing my unofficial first 15K in 1:27:27 with an average pace of 9:23 min/mile. I felt really good afterwards. And with only a bagel for breakfast, I was really glad that the organizers did not cancel the already paid for post-race lunch. Warm soup and a cold beer seemed a perfect chaser to my snow run. And It was fun chatting with some of the other runners who had all still gone out somewhere today and put in some miles before heading over for the “free” food. I met some good people today, had some laughs, and a really great run. I might be getting the hang of this.

The organizers can cancel a race, but it’s ultimately up to me whether or not the run is cancelled. Today it wasn’t.

100_6415

Oh, and I was listening to my favorite album of all time while running today. The Conan the Barbarian soundtrack on a snowy day outside was perfect. Tell me I’m wrong.

I Changed My Mind

I started drafting this blog at around mile 3.5 of a six mile run this morning. It was a simple out-and-back 10K, and I had just made the turn and started back towards the finish. I felt strong. I was maintaining my target pace pretty well. And I KNEW I was going to be able to finish, and finish it running.

At mile four, I started playing. My confidence was high (hell, it might have been “stoned”), but I was sober and at least a little cautious. I started trying to pick off the runners ahead of me. But only if I could do it without breaking a 9:15 pace (really 9:00-9:15 pace because, as I said, my confidence was getting a little silly). I had set out to keep a 9:30 pace throughout and I was doing a decent job of that, so I started moving up. It was fun.

At mile five, I could tell I had been pushing myself. Five miles was the longest I had ever run before starting the race, so I was in unfamiliar territory physically, but I felt good. I had passed a half dozen or so runners and was coming up on a few more.

At about 5.5ish miles, I was gaining on a couple running together that seemed to have been keeping a pretty solid 9:30ish pace and running very steady. But they were also starting to pick up their pace towards the last stretch. Instead of trying to pass them, I settled in right behind them and decided that following their push would be a strong enough finish for me as well.

Just before six miles, the gentleman ahead of me looked back at his friend/wife/girlfriend/running partner and asked “You got a sprint in you?” After a few seconds of silence from his companion, I answered “No.”

He smiled. 100_6401

She exhaled a “not yet.”

With so little distance left and the finish line in sight, I stepped up my pace and my knees and my stride and finished strong a few second before both of them. (crossing the finish line at an 8:36 pace for that very short duration)

Was I “racing” them? Nope. I was racing me. But it was fun to have a game to play during those last couple of miles. And we ALL “won” that game that no one else knew was being played. If it’s not fun, why do it?

I ran my longest distance ever today. EVER. I finished with an unofficial GPS time of 58:32 and an average overall pace of 9:24 minutes/mile. My pacing was a little sporadic starting off but I was able to find another runner that I could pace myself behind for a couple of miles and even after I lost her in the turn I was able to maintain it. I had a less than fantastic run on Wednesday that left me sore and with a slight pull in my groin, but a couple of days rest had relieved that and I felt fine today. It was a good run.

Five months ago, if you had asked me to run a 5K (or to the mailbox for that matter), I probably would’ve laughed the “no fucking way” out of my mouth. And there is a better than decent chance that I would have done it with a small amount of arrogant snark in my tone. “I only run if I’m being chased. And whatever it is had better be bigger than me.”

I was so enlightened. I was so wrong.

About a week ago, I met some friends to see a movie. It doesn’t happen very often, but I needed to get out of the house and a movie sounded like a great idea. I was running late (as always) and got to the theater at 6:30 for the 6:30 showing. I walking into the lobby and immediately got into the first line I saw for the concession stand.

It was a near three hour movie. I was going to need a drink. My friends and I stood there chatting for a minute at about fifth in the slow moving line before my buddy said “I think that register is open” nodding to an adjacent register with no one being served.

I seldom go to the movies, but I can never really tell how the concession line works. The employees always seem to be moving around slowly and haphazardly enough that I can’t tell who is doing what or whether they even know where the line is.

I was in no real hurry. I didn’t move.

After more than a few seconds, we saw someone approach the register and place their order. Then another, and another. Sure enough, that register was open. I didn’t care. I’m patient. We wasted more than a few minutes standing there waiting to pay five dollars for a bottle of water and missed at least some of the MANY previews. But then, the umpteen previews that we did have to endure were maybe the worst things that I had ever seen.

WOW! Another Scary Movie? Are you serious? How many times can you drop a bucket into a dry well?

Life is not a race. Time is without question the most valuable commodity any of us will ever have. And I don’t want to waste a minute of it. But if you rush around looking for the “shortest line” all of the time, you risk missing some pretty wonderful things along the way. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

I didn’t move.

fat and sugar

Did my concession line decision make any sense at all? Nope. I should’ve gone to the other register once I realized it was open. But you have to admit. I sold it pretty well.

All decisions are permanent. But they’re only permanent in the context of the singular time-line of life that we all get. So we can always make another one. Sometimes that means catching the first of eight movie previews that will further destroy your already waning faith in the movie industry. Sometimes that means finding something in yourself that might possibly change you forever, help you discover parts of yourself that you didn’t know existed, and maybe move you one step closer to becoming the best you that you can be.

Sometimes you’re right. Sometimes you’re wrong. Sometimes it matters. Sometimes it doesn’t. But don’t forget that changing your mind can sometimes change your life. It changed mine.

I’m glad that I started running.

Oh! And I’m still totally loving this band. Happy Saturday.