Dreadmill , The Progress in Going Nowhere

“Butch Cassidy: Is that what you call giving cover?
Sundance Kid: Is that what you call running? If I knew you were going to stroll…”
– Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969)

I’ve been happily estranged from the film industry’s wares for a pretty long time. Nevertheless I’m still confident when I say that the greatest Hollywood creation of all time has to be the mismatched buddy movie. You know the ones. Two people with vastly different backgrounds or beliefs are unwittingly paired together where their obviously incompatible natures come into immediate conflict. They don’t understand each other. They can’t possible like each other. And there is absolutely no way in hell that they could ever work together.

Well, that is until some unforeseen circumstance persuades those polar opposites to set aside their differences and join forces to resolve the situation or accomplish the common goal. Comedy and/or drama ensue.

Hollywood is so creative. Can I get an extra squirt of artificially butter flavored oil on my popcorn please?

“It’s not about how fast you go. It’s not about how far you go. It’s the process. As we run, we become. Every workout reveals new truths and releases new dreams.” – Amby Burfoot

I ran ten races in 2013, ranging in length from 5K to my first full marathon. As a newbie runner, every one of those events was a milestone. And I experienced some level of self-discovery in accomplishing each of them. But the true joys and revelations were found in the hundreds and hundreds of miles I ran training for those relatively short-lived events; 966.28 miles to be exact approximate.

Do you know how many of those miles were logged on a treadmill? Neither do I, because I only stepped on the damn thing one time all year. And all I can remember is how hard it was just to stay on it for a measly half hour.

I forget what my initial goal was. But I remember that only 10 minutes after pushing the start button, I made a deal with myself that if I could battle through 30 minutes without losing my mind, then I could stop. I’d already adopted the practice of running outside no matter the weather, and logged many wonderful miles in the rain, snow, heat, and cold. I have no clue what I was doing on a treadmill that day. But I hated it.

It was boring. I clumsily struggled to keep from stepping off of one side or the other. The lack of air movement felt stifling. It was tedious. If I wasn’t about to trail off the back I was running into the console. I couldn’t feel the sun on my face, hear dogs barking, smell honeysuckle flowers, or see a single bird. And, oh yeah-Did I mention that it was mind-numbing?

Even without knowing what I wanted from it in the first place, because I hated it so much I’ve unapologetically referred to that gym clutter as a “dreadmill” ever since. Cliché runner joke or not, that’s how I saw it; an endless vinyl path to insanity.

“So I stay out in the streets, Hoping to find you anywhere
Now that I understand, The woman you need to be
I can feel you in the heat, I can taste you in the air
And I can’t help but find your face in Everything I see”
Dawes, Moon In The Water

I spent 2013 running through the surrounding neighborhoods, rarely seeing another runner. But after my ankle crapped out on me last December, I would see one every time I drove around a curve. I swear they were everywhere. Each twisting the knife in my back, reminding me that I couldn’t do the one thing I could rely on for relief…or all too often, escape from a winter season I’d made way too dark. (Note: A healthy crutch is still a crutch. And crutches suck!)

If seeing all of those able-bodied jerks out on the road wasn’t hard enough, there were always a dozen or so people wearing out the dreadmills at the gym. I’d never really paid much attention to them. But as soon as I wasn’t able to run, they became pretty much all I could see.

“Look at that lucky bastard. Goddamn I wish I could go run right now.” – Me, every single day of winter.

It’s amazing what you notice when you’re forced to slow down…or worse, to stop. I never stopped my cycling or strength training exercises. And between sets at the gym, I’d catch myself zoning out into a total stranger’s running style. I saw people screaming along with a heel strike so sharp, it made my legs hurt. I saw others with a stride so vertically bouncy that I thought they had to be joking. There were runners whose upper bodies were so rigidly immobile that I don’t know how the twisting didn’t strain their lower back. And of course there were the gazelle-like superstars with the smoothest, most gracefully fluid running form you’ve ever seen. They’re the worst.

Maybe the most important observation was something I’d accepted as truth without actually witnessing it. Treadmills bounce. Of course I don’t mean like a trampoline. But no matter how clumsy or smooth the runner’s technique, the belted pathway gives more than any outdoor surface I’m aware of. I’d often read that treadmills could reduce running’s impact on the body. But not until I was forced to just sit there and watch did I actually see its flexibility under the stress of all types of runners. And seeing that bounce forced me to accept what I’d long feared; if I really wanted to heal and get back out on the roads, I was going to have to make friends with that “gym clutter.”

“Martin Riggs: Hey, look friend, let’s just cut the shit. Now we both know why I was transferred. Everybody thinks I’m suicidal, in which case, I’m fucked and nobody wants to work with me; or they think I’m faking to draw a psycho pension, in which case, I’m fucked and nobody wants to work with me. Basically, I’m fucked.

Roger Murtaugh: Guess what?

Martin Riggs: What?

Roger Murtaugh: I don’t want to work with you!

Martin Riggs: Hey, don’t.

Roger Murtaugh: Ain’t got no choice! Looks like we both been fucked!” Lethal Weapon (1987)

I was reluctant in our relationship for sure, but I’d avoided it as long as I could. I took several weeks off with no running at all. Then I eased my way onto an elliptical machine; which I also don’t enjoy. After a couple of weeks substituting my three weekly runs with that arm swinging, cross-country-skiing-meets-stair-climbing silliness, I finally stepped back on the dreadmill. And I did dread it, except that I didn’t. After not being able to run for so long, I couldn’t help but see that whirling nightmare in a slightly different light. It still looked mind-numbingly boring. But it also looked like the only doorway back outside. And I desperately wanted to go outside.

In addition to the presumed lesser impact, I also thought the treadmill would keep me from running too fast. In my earlier efforts back from injury, I would hit the road for “easy runs” and end up going too fast for too long, always distracted by some modest, but ultimately insignificant, mileage goal. I wasn’t focusing enough on healing. I wasn’t listening to my body. And as a result, I aggravated my injury and hindered my recovery. I do stupid shit better than a lot of people do anything. If I wanted to run faster on a treadmill, I’d have to consciously change the speed setting. I thought that might rein me in a little.

My first treadmill sessions had no goals, only limits. I wasn’t worried about mileage or speed at all. I just wanted to get some time in. I would run until my ankle told me to stop. But if I made it to 20 minutes, I’d stop regardless and finish my 45-60 minute daily cardio goal on an elliptical or bike. I stuck to that routine for a thousand weeks (What? It felt like it), slowly adding a few minutes or a little more speed as my body allowed it. But if I ever felt even a tinge of pain in my Achilles, I’d stop. It was frustrating beyond words.

After several weeks of battling the boredom of those runs, I let myself out on the road for a short run, only with the understanding that my other two runs that week would be back inside. Eventually I started taking my Saturday “long” runs to a local trail where I could get a softer surface AND still be outside where I belong. But again, if I did my long run outside, my next run was on the mill. Patience is key. Slow is fast. Baby steps. Blah blah blah. It was excruciating. But I think it’s working.

It was brutal out there.

It was brutal out there.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally ran my first race of 2014. It was my slowest 10K to date and maybe my most satisfying race ever. I’d just taken another week off after some worrisome outings the previous weeks. And my prerace warm-up was not at all confidence building. I approached the start already conceding that the only goal for this race would be to enjoy the spring weather. Once it started, much to my surprise, I actually ran well. It was the first time I’d run “fast” in six months. After the cluttered crowd navigation of the first half mile, I zoned out. I’m not a speedster at all, nor am I very competitive. But for the next six miles, almost without realizing it, I slowly crept by one runner after another; steadily reeling in each next person without paying much attention to it. It was awesome. I finished the race with negative splits throughout, only a few seconds slower than the same race last year, and most importantly with zero ankle issues. I felt good, which felt great. And as much as I would’ve loved to buy into the “Greg’s back” sentiment expressed by my friends, three days later, I was back on the treadmill. Why? Because I want to run a marathon this fall. And I won’t be able to do that if I do something stupid this week.

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw

During those agonizing months of slow recovery running I was tweaking every aspect of my form; my foot fall, my posture, my stride, everything. Those adjustments brought with them the general aches and pains that come with all change. And those discomforts complicated my ability to measure my progress. “Was that pain Achilles-related? Or was that normal (and less worrisome) soreness of a flatter foot strike?” I swear I can complicate anything. But I always had my new friend waiting for me at the gym if I needed to slow down and evaluate something in a controlled environment. And that helped a lot, whether I always want to admit it or not.

Do I love treadmills now? Nope. But I’ve been reminded that a bad first impression is not always the fault of the impresser. As a child I hated beets and brussels sprouts. Now I love them eat both almost every single day. A year ago I said that until they classify bacon and pulled pork bbq as vegetables, that I could never be a vegetarian. I haven’t eaten either one in a year, and now thrive on an almost completely dairy free, plant based diet. Two years ago, I’d have told you that I hated running. Now I can say without hyperbole that I believe it saved my life.

My resistance to new things has stolen so much from me over the years. Some of those things I’ll be able to get later, some I won’t. But first I need to avoid falling victim to the “I just don’t like change” mentality. The only people that should ever comfortably say that are people 100% satisfied with every aspect of their existence. Otherwise, refusing change is to refuse the possibility of achieving something greater.

I ran like shit on a treadmill, so I blamed the treadmill and built a whole argument about how awful they are. Then I realized that like any tool, you have to learn how to use it before it can work for you. I bought into many of the bullshit arguments against a plant-based diet. Then I tried it and discovered that it works incredibly well for me. I perform better without meat and dairy products. I recover faster. I feel better. I run better. And running has without a doubt made me better.

I’ve been wrong more than I’ve been right in my life. And my default settings are still to misplace blame, exaggerate my displeasure, and too often embrace the negative. I don’t know why, but those things just come easy to me. But I’m working on it and slowly making progress. I feel good. I like changing the things that don’t work for me. I’m learning that all of that might be as simple knowing when to change my mind. Happy Wednesday. Go outside.

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.

I’m a Marathoner: Anybody Can Do That

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I mention that I was exhausted?

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

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

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

Oh yeah. I ran a fucking marathon last Sunday!

Wait. No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setback Out Of My Control:

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

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

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

Mistakes Made/Lessons Learned:

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

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

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

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

Had A Blast:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck. Have fun. Happy Friday.

Reset Recap; I’m Back

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

Go ahead.  Push it.

Go ahead. Push it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

plot twist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Step More (J.O.G.T. 9)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Try to do it with your knees first.”

“My knees, huh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Friday

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

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

Colorado Trip Report…Finally!

“Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts” – Oliver Wendall Holmes

Well after being back for almost a week now, I’m finally getting close to my normal level of chaos. I’m down from the mountain and have been busy as hell settling back into my rut groove the best I can and quickly realizing that these next couple of weeks of training are going to be insanely time consuming. Come on taper.

Despite some crazy travel woes on my way west and some unusually persistent Colorado precipitation, I enjoyed a very relaxing stay in the Rockies. It was great to really visit with my brother and sister-in-law and to catch up with them on their side of the world for a change. It had been far too long.

I didn’t do anything crazy while away. I managed to maintain my marathon training without any major issues. I meditated first thing every morning, which was awesome. I was introduced to some new food and drink. I enjoyed running in a new place, especially one so beautifully different. And it was great to just break from the grind of reality to take a deep breath and look around for a while. I’m putting my trip in the “win” column.

I actually like how you can see the rain coming from so far away

I actually like how you can see the rain coming from so far away

“People deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong. Why not try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?” – Nhat Hanh

It has always seemed odd to me when someone returns from a vacation and is most eager to share a two hour story about the pitfalls of air travel. I’ve flown before. Those stories are all the same. Yes, the drinks are expensive. Yep, it sure is hard to find a place to smoke. Wait, you’re telling me that you thought the seats were uncomfortable? And the food wasn’t great either? Hell yes, I would love to hear your political opinion about the ridiculous security checks. Just hold on a sec, while I make a cup of hot tea to wash down this handful of valium.

In the spirit of trying to listen to my own griping, I’m going to skip the travel details of my trip. I will say that east coast lightning storms lead to flight cancellations, long delays, missed connections, and separation from my luggage on the way west; where torrential rain caused flood and rock-slide related road closures that made my travel a bit…um…”slower” than normal. But I did eventually get there. And no matter the annoyance of those detours and delays, it was still much faster than walking across the country.

Looking back at the whole trip, I’m happy to say the realization that the three “different” restaurants I experienced during my stay in the D.C. airport all served the same vegetable-deficient menu of burgers and fried appetizers was not the only thing I learned. I discovered all kinds of stuff. Here’s half a dozen of them.

“Well, lucky for you, it’s only raining in two places in the entire country; where you are, and where you’re going.” – My brother (Stuart), during phone conversation deciding that he’d pick me up in Denver.

Car camping is the best way to catch up with family you haven’t seen in a while. As I mentioned, my west-bound travels weren’t exactly glitch-free. But after the initial hiccup, I was able to foresee some of the inevitable hurdles to come. And once it was obvious that I was never going to make my connection out of Denver, Stuart graciously agreed to make the three hour drive to pick me up instead of letting me wait 14 hours for the next day’s flight. He’s cool like that.

Unfortunately, the weather was not nearly as cool. I’d regrettably scheduled my trip during what would become the deadly Colorado flood of 2013. Along with washing away bridges, roads, and homes, the flooding rains also caused more than a few rock slides. And those rock slides caused road closures. And those road closures resulted in us sitting on the side of Highway 70 just one hour away from the Denver airport: ignition off, seats reclined, hats pulled down, and shooting the shit while we decide whether to accept sleep and wait it out or take one of two long-ass detours all the way around the state.

A few hours of good quality brother-time allowed us to catch up on all the basics. Mom’s this. Dad’s that. Work is work. What’ve you been up to? Blah blah blah. And after shooting the shit for a couple of hours on the side of the road, learning that Stuart’s learning guitar, discussing some of my lifestyle changes, taking a very short nap, and assessing the travel options; at 4:30 a.m. he decided to take the southern loop around the state of Colorado. That decision turned out to be very wise. The road we were waiting for didn’t open until after noon. And we later learned that the northern option was washed out and would’ve left us stranded again. Have I mentioned what a lucky traveler I am?

Because we got all of that cumbersome “talking” crap out of the way first thing, we were able to spend the rest of my trip on the important stuff like trading music, guitar noodling, and catching up on my reading while Stu continued to dominate the world of Candy Crush (ugh). Oh, and we might have enjoyed a couple of beers here and there as well.

Stu's backyard has such a shitty view

Stu’s backyard has such a shitty view

Gold? maybe. Coal? For sure. But there aint no oxygen in them there hills. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration. I thought heading out there that I was going to be running my longest distance to date while at an elevation roughly 6000 ft. higher than what I’m accustomed. Then I learned that Oak Creek, CO, where my brother lives, is actually closer to 7400 ft. above sea level. Woohoo! Who needs oxygen anyway?

Stu was confident that the altitude wouldn’t be that big of a deal, especially if my fitness level had improved as much as he’d been told. Technically, he was right. It was not at all debilitating. But it was noticeable, and because I could see the difference even during my warm-up, I was able to compensate for it early.

I’m not always good at it, but I try to run my long runs based on a fairly casual pace (approximately 20 seconds per mile slower than what I hope to be my race pace). But while warming up and stretching in the back yard, I noticed that my heart rate was already increasing faster than normal. That’s pretty much all it took for me to decide that if I was going to run 16 miles in an unfamiliar area at unfamiliar altitude, I’d probably be better off running to exertion instead of pace. There would be absolutely no backup plan if I got 8 miles out of town and bonked, or ran out of water, or both. Oxygen is one thing, but there definitely aint no water-stops in them hills.

That decision to run to heart rate instead of pace is probably what allowed me to complete and even enjoy my run. It was raining when I started, and I did have to turn around early to go back for gloves. But once I was sure my hands weren’t going to fall off, I had a satisfying run down (and up) the rolling hills of highway 131. I got some weird stares from the horses that I passed on my trek overlooking the valley of sprawling ranches and railroad tracks. And I had to stop a few times to dump rocks out of my shoe. But for the most part is was just a nice, slow, nearly three hour romp through the gray morning of a state still a little too resistant to the sunshine. Despite the previous days with such spotty travel food and very little sleep, I had a good run and was happy to have my biggest schedule obligation out of the way. Finally, we can party, bring on the beer and hookers…

…Okay, just the beer then.

(Side note: Later that night, two of the 12 people in a local bar recognized me as that guy they saw running “way out” on 131. Fame is easy to find in a small town.)

I ran a trail all the way around this lake, but you'll never see pics.

I ran a trail all the way around this lake, but you’ll never see pics.

It’s time for me to step up into five years ago. In a recent online exchange about peoples’ favorite places, I mentioned that Steamboat Springs, CO was a beautiful and active community that I thought the person would enjoy. And when he suggested that I post some pictures, I thought that would be easy considering I was planning on a visit. Then came the rain. And fog. And drizzle. And mud. All of which nearly hid any evidence of the “scenic, active” lifestyle I’d mentioned. Murphy’s law I guess.

But I still tried. On the first day with just the suggestion of sunny weather Stuart, his wife Rachel, and I even took the gondola to the top of the mountain to look around at some bike trails Stu was building, maybe go for an easy hike, and take some pictures.

Guess what? As soon as we got to the top, a gray fog settled, a storm rolled in, it started raining, and lightning strikes in the area shut down the gondola stranding us at the top. Oh well. There’s a bar. One bloody mary please.

That was just one instance where my desire to take a couple of pictures was derailed. All of the the others were while out on a run and because I didn’t have a camera. I had my phone, but no camera. What? Yep. I’m the last man on earth without a camera phone. Because of security restrictions, I can’t have one where I work. But it occurred to me while running on a lake trail last week, and wanting to take pictures of…the lake, the mountains, the random cow standing on the trail, whatever, that I have ridiculously decided to limit my ability to conveniently capture moments in my real life just so that I can put a cell phone that never rings on my desk during my work life. I’m going to fix that soon. I don’t need my cell phone at work. And soon, I won’t have it there. Hooray for technology! Say “cheese!”

Russia has great asses. After waiting for the shuttle to climb the mountain and carry us back to the bottom (at which point the sun conveniently came out again), food was definitely in order. So we rolled over to a local restaurant for a late lunch and I was introduced to one of the best drink surprises I’ve had in a long time: The Moscow Mule.

Except for my standard pre-race dinner’s dirty martini, I’m generally a beer drinker. But I do enjoy a good vodka drink. And the Moscow Mule is one helluva vodka drink; simple, strong, and refreshing. It’s just vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice served over ice in a copper mug. The place we went also muddled some mint leaves in it, but other bars did not. I like the mint, but the copper mug is definitely the larger part of the magic. We made some at the house. They were good, but definitely missing that…something. And those mugs were so “popular” that one restaurant even required an I.D. deposit when you ordered their mule as a guarantee that they’d get the mug back. Damn thieves ruin everything. If you get a chance, try a mule. They are tasty.

“If you’re going to keep to this vegetarian vegan path, then you have to try this before your body starts rejecting meat.” – Stuart again

I’ve had Rocky, but Bullwinkle tastes way better. When I was maybe 11 years old, I remember trying squirrel meat for the first and last time. I remember thinking it was good. But if memory serves, it was country fried. And at the time, I would pretty much eat anything that was breaded and fried in grease.

When Stuart suggested we cook moose tenderloin for dinner, I was skeptical for almost 30 seconds. He’d seen me skip every opportunity to eat meat for days and gave me zero grief about my preference for a plant-based diet. I don’t want it. No one needs it. And he didn’t give a shit what I ate any more than I did about his food choices. But he also knew I’d like moose. And I trusted him to actually be considering what I would genuinely enjoy instead of just assuming that if he liked it then everyone should. So in another attempt to try something new “before my body starts rejecting meat,” I happily accepted the offer. And I’m so glad that I did. It was absolutely delicious.

Moose is incredibly lean and dark. It looked almost purple when it was raw. He soaked it in a soy-sauce based marinade. And because moose is so lean, he wrapped it in bacon before oven roasting it to medium rare. Stu insisted that if he wanted bacon, he’d have just made bacon, so he removed it before serving. And though I like bacon, I’m glad he did that too. The moose itself was so incredibly tender that you barely had to chew it at all. I cannot fairly describe its flavor. I wasn’t “gamey” at all whatever that means, but it wasn’t like beef either. Honestly, it was the closest thing to sashimi tuna that I can imagine being found on land. If you ever get the chance to have wild killed Bullwinkle tenderloin and your diet preferences allow it, please treat yourself. It’s way better than Rocky.

It didn't rain every day.

It didn’t rain every day.

Home is a subjective word. I’ve said in the past that no matter how awesome any place I’m visiting is, after about five days I’m usually ready to go back home. I didn’t feel that way this time. I wasn’t miserable to have to leave Colorado. I love it there and I love Stuart and Rachel. But I felt like a visitor, and visits come to an end. I also wasn’t relieved to get back to Virginia though. I like where I live. It’s a chill spot where I have a good job and know so many good people. But for whatever reason, when I was contacting people on my way back, I found myself avoiding the word “home.” I’d say “I’m back in Portsmouth” or “I’m on my way east” or simply “I’m back.” I’m still doing it.

I’m not miserable where I live. I don’t feel trapped. In fact, whether it feels like home isn’t an issue to me at all right now. There’s a battle being fought here that I can’t support from afar, and I’m glad I’m close. I’m grateful for all that I have in this place. I truly am. It was just weird walking through my hometown’s airport and not feeling quite ready for baggage claim.

I was there. Now I’m here. Someday; here, there, or somewhere, I’ll feel at home. And it’s probably got little to do with location. Happy Wednesday!

Altitude Training

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” – Maya Angelou

I’ve decided that I deserve some downtime up in the great Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Yep. I’m skipping town for a little while to go visit one of my heroes (aka, my brother). Should be excited right? Well, I am. But, as my flawed mind works, I did try to sully my trip by worrying about stupid shit. I tried. I failed.

I’ve done really well over the last year and I’m proud of the strides I’ve made. I’ve gone to the gym at least four times a week, every week for the last 51 weeks. I haven’t even been tempted to skip a run, though I did have to miss a few against my will due to an ankle issue in March. In fact, I haven’t really wavered at all on my diet or exercise routines at all since deciding I needed to find the best, most authentic me possible. For an admitted creature of habit, you’d think that I’d find comfort in finally building such strong, healthy habits for a change. And I do. But I also know that healthy habits are the easiest to break. And that awareness has been a huge motivator and reminder of how important it is to remain diligent and dedicated to the path.

I know from experience that it only takes a few slip-ups and skipped workouts to completely sabotage what was a reliable exercise regiment. You skip a session for some seemingly legit reason. You notice that the world didn’t end. Then you skip another one the next time it’s not as convenient as you’d like it to be. Hell, it’s never super-convenient work all day, rush home to change clothes, and then go sweat through them in a concrete room full of strangers; in most cases strangers that I’d prefer stayed as such.

First step: “Oh I don’t feel good today; I’m going to skip the gym.”

One week later: “It’s Friday, I deserve a break. I’ll kill it next week.”

Two weeks after that: “Three days a week is still more than most people, and I’m crazy busy right now.”

Sitting at happy hour a month later: “Yeah, I need to get my ass back in the gym.”

I have performed this play before. And the complete lack of interest in ever doing so again is a huge part of why I always make myself go workout. Even if I don’t want to. Even if I feel like shit. I go. I might not go as hard as I wanted. I might not stay as long as I planned. But I always go. If nothing else, I go to continue reinforcing the habit itself. It’s a habit I actually want to keep.

So as I’ve been getting ready for my trip, I’ve had three minor concerns to tackle so that I can go and fully enjoy myself without letting the poison of paranoia fuck it up. How will I maintain my plant based eating habits? How will I keep up my workout/cross training routines? Where will I run?

“It’s hard because it’s supposed to be hard. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worthwhile. Am I going to be fighting this fight for the rest of my life? Yeah. Am I up for it? Hell yeah. It’s worth doing man.” – Mishka Shubaly

These three issues are by no stretch of the definition difficult challenges for a normal person. But I often compare my past tendency towards laziness to a recovering addict’s penchant to that substance of choice. That happy-to-do-nothing excuse maker is still in me somewhere just waiting for me to give in and pay for cable television, stop wasting so much time out on the roads, and to eat a fucking hamburger already. He’s in there. And I know it. But he’s getting weaker from neglect and I intend to starve him over time.

With only a little planning and research, I’ve settled my mind on my hang-ups and cannot wait to get out west again. Of course that doesn’t mean I still don’t have a shit load of packing to do before my ride to the airport gets here. Still working on that procrastination problem. Slow work in progress I tell ya.

How will I maintain my plant based eating habits? Quick answer: The same way I do at home.

I’m not going to sub-Saharan Africa. There will be grocery stores. I’m staying with my brother. He and his wife are not cave people. They have crazy shit like a stove and a skillet. I may not be able to pack my blender for my daily vitamin smoothie, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to survive this wild adventure into…total civilization and convenience.

The initial concern was more based in how much I don’t want to be “that guy” while being a guest in their home. But he called yesterday to ask if I needed anything in particular and to see if I was “eating anything crazy” that he should pick up for me. I did what I suspect everyone with a pickier diet does, I downplayed it. “I eat an almost vegan diet, but I’m sure I’ll be fine. Really, I just eat a shit-ton of sautéed veggies and salad most days.” Upon hearing that, guess who’s been growing a garden all summer. That’s right. My little brother’s got fresh vegetables leaping out of the ground and crowding kitchen counter tops just waiting for me to come take care of business. And I will.

Non-existent problem solved. I’ll stop by the store when I get there, buy the staples I live on at home, and carry on like I always do. It was stupid to be concerned about it in the first place. But I do a lot of stupid stuff.

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

How will I keep up my workout/cross training routines? Quick answer: I won’t.

This one was a little harder for me to rationalize. I like my weight training and cross training routines. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you might have seen me refer to gym sessions as “sweatitation.” Sure, I initially started going simply to help improve my running, but it has hollowed out a small little spot of it’s own in my long term wellness plan. It’s important to me in its own right. It makes me feel good. But I’m leaving it at home on this trip.

I’ve been burning the candle pretty hot lately and probably not giving myself the proper amount of rest. And by “probably not,” I mean “absolutely haven’t” been getting enough rest. I aggravated an elbow tendon in the spring that would’ve healing twice as fast had I stopped re-stressing it every time it got even a little better. And I’ve had some right shoulder issues for way too long. I don’t think I’m overtraining. I think I’m under-recovering. So in that spirit, I will be guiltlessly taking it easy while out of town.

Will I still do some resistance and body-weight exercises? Maybe. But I don’t think I’ll be able to do my cycling sessions, and I’m okay with that. After all it’s not the time in the gym actually breaking our bodies down that builds muscle and increases performance. It’s the time afterwards when the damage from those stresses gets to heal and mend stronger than they were before. The recovery is just as important as the workout itself. Bring on the recovery time…and maybe a beer to wash it down.

I do have to admit that I’m kind of playing mind-games with myself on this one in order to accept it. Because of my traveling schedule I’m only going to miss two cross training days. Shit, I got up early so that I could get today’s session done before I go to the airport. Eventually I just had to realize that unlike my previous efforts to keep an exercise regime, I have two better and more reliable motivators: 1) I genuinely enjoy the release of the workout. I actually want to do it. 2) I love running and that love is worth all of the baggage that comes with it. And while I know that If I’m going to get my ass to the Boston Marathon’s start line some day, I can’t afford to routinely skip workouts. I also know that missing these two certainly won’t kill me. I’ll be fine.

Where will I run? Notice I didn’t say “How” or “If I will” run. I knew I was going to run. I just didn’t know where.

I intentionally aimed for a visit post-summer and pre-snow so that I would be able to run during my favorite season in one of my favorite places. I was no kind of athlete at all when I lived in Steamboat Springs over 12 years ago, and I definitely wasn’t a runner. Hell, I was probably still telling that “I only run if I’m being chased” joke that runners never hear. What a fool I was, because according to the little bit of research I’ve managed to do, there are running trails everywhere. I should’ve known that. It’s such an active environment. When I lived there, I think there was a law that all new construction in the town had to be connected to the bike path. The whole community is just more fit and engaged in so many varying physical pursuits. Of course there are places to run.

I won’t make up my mind until I get there and talk with my brother. But if all else fails, there is an eight-point-something mile trail around a lake near his house. That sounds perfect for the 16 miler I have on my training plan for this Saturday. Am I concerned to be going for a new distance PR while running an unfamiliar trail 6000ish feet above the sea-level I’m accustomed to? A little. But I’m more excited to be able to run in what I know is going to be such a beautiful place. I’m grateful that I even get the opportunity. I’m calling it “altitude training” and I’m stoked about it. I may even try to take some pictures for you guys. It’s going to be a blast.

“I think of myself as something of a connoisseur of procrastination, creative and dogged in my approach to not getting things done.” – Susan Orlean

Well, as usual I have a lot to do before I head out the door. Plane leaves in a few hours and I haven’t packed a single thing so please excuse any glaring grammatical and spelling errors. I’m running late.

Fall is coming. Get out there and enjoy it. I know I will. See you soon.

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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Half Way to Philly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But wait. There’s more” – Billy Mays

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total miles running: 235.44

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

Total number of days at the gym: 57

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AND FINALLY,

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

Happy Wednesday.

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

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.