Sitting: The Next Step?

“We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we’ll also have a lot more joy in living.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Whew! Looks like I got lost last week. Honestly, it felt pretty good. I wasn’t totally sure if I was going to make it back this week either. Not because I have nothing to share. I do. But it became apparent that I needed a reboot.

Looking back at the last couple of months, I saw that I spent most of the summer swinging back and forth from cautious enthusiasm to utter dejection. And unfortunately, I was sometimes more than willing to whine about it at length. Sorry ‘bout that. Here’s a flower.

Are we cool?

Are we cool?

I’ve always said that I write this thing as a release mechanism for myself. But I never intended that as an excuse to melodramatically rehash the dark side of my diary onto the web. I’d rather share stuff that might actually be useful to someone, or maybe some of the things that inspire me; something at least more interesting than my mood updates. Hell, I might even want to chat about running every now and then. I am still doing that believe it or not. Still learning. And still enjoying the hell out of it too.

So, I needed a break; a “time out” of sorts. I even made myself sit in the corner, seriously.

“The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.” – Ellen Glasgow

If there was any consistency to my summer posts at all, it was that no matter which end of the spectrum my mental pendulum swung closest, I was always stressed to near exhaustion. Whether it was anxiety from excitedly running too fast into the sun, or from being burned by hastily getting so close, I just couldn’t calm myself down. I knew it. I know it. And I know it’s completely unhealthy. Stress kills people. And more importantly, it’ll fuck up your running. I’m training for my first marathon dammit. I don’t have time for that shit.

A couple of weeks ago while texting my mom (who can—surprise!—almost always tell when my fuse is fried), I mentioned my awful mood and how I thought I could actually feel the elevated cortisol level in my blood. And I could. I felt like shit. For weeks I’d been sleeping poorly, cognitively sluggish, running bad, recovering slow, and underperforming at the gym. Oh, and did I mention that I felt like shit?

Cortisol is referred to as a “stress hormone.” It’s involved in maintaining blood sugar, regulating blood pressure, controlling the inflammatory response, and affects proper immune function. It’s kind of a big deal. Cortisol has come up a lot in my reading and the effects can vary depending on the situation and duration of the higher levels.

Short spikes aid in the body’s flight-or-fight response. It enhances alertness, helps provide quick bursts of energy, and reduces sensitivity to pain. If I was trying to fight off a bear, those benefits would be great.

But I.
am not.
a bear fighter.

On the other hand, prolonged increases of cortisol levels in the bloodstream hinders quality sleep, disrupts blood sugar levels, reduces bone density, increases blood pressure, and on and on. Decreased bone density, reduced muscle tissue, and shoddy blood glucose levels don’t exactly spell running success. In fact, if unchecked, prolonged increases can develop into a wonderful downward spiral of overall health. Sounds awesome doesn’t it?

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” – William James

Well, I knew what was wrong. I’m an idiot. Now, how do I keep my favorite stress hormone in check? The most consistent answers I found can all be summarized in: eat a healthy diet (check), exercise regularly (doin’ that), get quality sleep (workin’ on it), and well…just relax (um…uh…). After diet and exercise, I’d see mention of more specific things like playing with animals, laughing, “mindful breathing,” practicing your art, sex, kick a hobo (maybe not that one). But they all just add up to “relax,” or at least “release.”

Take care of yourself and calm down. Find balance. Sounds easy enough…for someone who doesn’t insist on doing everything the hard way.

I’ve noticed that when I let myself run too far down the rabbit hole of self doubt or distraction or overwhelming frustration, the world will move to balance itself, whether I’m ready or not. Something will happen to remind my dumb ass to look around and note that there are people looking down the barrel of a gun much scarier than a scattered mind and general discontent. Sometimes that wake-up call is a subtle whisper. Sometimes it’s loud like a bomb. The difference probably lies in how much or little I’m actually paying attention.

So last week, when I received that message and realized I could no longer tolerate my mind heckling me along the path and ruining my focus, I sat it down, got on my knees, and quietly sang this little ditty right into its meddlesome little face.

“Music is forever; music should grow and mature with you, following you right on up until you die.” – Paul Simon

Because I didn’t make a conscious connection to music or start actively seeking to deepen that relationship until I was well into high school, I’ve often said that there wasn’t a lot of music in my life growing up. But looking back on it, that’s not true.

My mom has a wonderful singing voice. I was seven years old when my parents divorced, but I still have vague memories of them singing folkier church songs together in the living room while my dad played guitar. Both sang in choirs. And I remember more than a few days at the beach with my mom listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 countdown on the radio. Who doesn’t love some Billy Ocean? Phil Collins? No? Okay.

Like a lot of music nerds, I have an older cousin that found his connection to music very early and exposed me to all kinds of music ranging from early 80’s “metal” bands when I was young to the more underground “alternative” bands as a teenager. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a bare foot nine year old running around singing Twisted Sister songs or Quiet Riot’s “Cum on Feel the Noise.”

On weekends hanging out with my brother and another cousin, we’d listen to just about anything on the radio; rock stations, pop stations, whatever. It was something to listen to while we never-quite-learned to skateboard. Sometimes we’d just search the dial. “What station do you want to listen to?” I didn’t care. The radio was king until that magic time when I started working and finally had the money to venture into the greatest places the world has ever produced: record stores.

With the help of friends and magazines, I discovered that there was so much more out there. And that was essentially my undoing. Pop music is fine, but who cares? We’re all going to hear it. It’s inescapable. I wanted to hear the rest. I’d hunt down shit I’d read about. I’d order stuff from local stores. Then read all of the bands mentioned in the “thank you” section of a CD’s artwork and find those artists too. I wanted it ALL.

I started listening to music pretty much constantly; in the car, at home, at the beach, at parties, at work, everywhere. And by the time I got a job in an independent record store, I’d essentially eliminated all quiet from my life. Silence was a waste of time that could be occupied rocking out to that new Modest Mouse record. Or Son Volt. Or Mastodon. Hurry up, push play.

“The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes — ah, that is where the art resides.” – Artur Schnabel

A really long time ago in a land too far away.

A really long time ago in a land too far away.

The last two decades of collecting, discussing, sometimes playing, and eventually recording music started to characterize me a bit. And whether accurate or not, I was cool with that. I love all types of music. I listen to all types of music. If it’s good, I’ll listen to it. And luckily I enjoy a life where I’m able to listen to it throughout most of my day: at work, in the car, at the gym, on a run…all day, every day. It’s become a given that whether it be CD, podcast, or the radio, something will be playing.

For the vast majority (read: “all”) of my adult life, I have even maintained the silly habit of leaving my home stereo playing all day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. If I’m at home, the radio is on. If I’m not at home, it’s still on; playing quietly to no one and ensuring no chance that I’ll be greeted by that chilly handshake of silence upon my return from wherever. I don’t know if I’ve ever bothered to think about why. It just is; or was.

I may have subconsciously been telling myself that the constant flow of sound into my life was like having a window open to the breeze of the world, whether it was the news and current events or human interest shows and new music discoveries. All the time missing the strong likelihood that it could’ve been more like a hole in the roof flooding my life with suffocating amounts of noise and drowning my own thoughts.

Last Wednesday, I turned my radio off.

It’s off right now.

“Nature’s music is never over; her silences are pauses, not conclusions.” – Mary Webb

Last Wednesday, I had some unexpected car issues to take care of. I would love to live a life where I don’t need a car. But until then, I need to keep mine in working order and last week it made me take a minute to show it some love. Eh, it happens.

I dropped it off at the garage by my gym so that I could workout while they fixed my car. When they weren’t finished when I was done exercising, I decided to go buy a magazine to read while I waited. Of all of the rags in the grocery store, I end up sitting outside in the sun in sweaty workout clothes reading Health & Spirituality magazine, dedicated to different people’s meditative practice. I don’t know why. Yes I do.

I’d meditated a few times in the past, but as I got increasingly frustrated with my body’s escalating stress response, my inability to control it, and how it was affecting everything else in my life, I considered experimenting with a more regular practice. And once I’d planted that seed in my mind, I couldn’t get away from it. It seemed to be constantly in my face. My favorite health websites were posting articles, my favorite podcasts had been sparking my interests for weeks with one endurance athlete or nutritionist after another all commenting on the benefits of taking time out to just sit and breathe, or hum, or chant. Each person would swear by the practice. I couldn’t help but be intrigued. And sitting in that parking lot in the middle of an asphalt wonderland, reading about all of the different ways that people were finding quiet in their lives, and how that quiet directly benefitted them spiritually, I couldn’t help but want to try it. I wasn’t totally sure what “it” was, but I knew I could do anything.

So when I got home, I turned my radio off. And I just sat there. For a really long time. The next day, I did it again with my eyes shut, listening to my breath, for a shorter amount of time. I’ve done it every day since. Not the same way each time. I’m experimenting with different breathing patterns. But every day, I turn off my phone, cut out the lights, and just sit in total silence. It’s fucking awesome.

“Remember, you get to decide what fills your head and shapes your thoughts. Only you can clear the distractions and focus instead on what matters most to you, so stop letting clutter interfere with your meaningful path.” – Erin Rooney Doland

Probably because of the epiphany experienced on my first time out, I’ve always considered myself a “meditative” runner. It’s relaxing. It always makes me feel good. But prior to last week, I’d only run without music about four times. I ran my longest run ever (14 miles) last Saturday with nothing to listen to but my breathing, my thoughts, and the pats of my feet on the ground. Yesterday, I had to take my ear-buds out in the middle of my run because I was struggling and couldn’t concentrate. Maybe it was a poor music choice (it was), maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to podcasts lately, but that music had to go. It was fucking me up. I needed to think…or not think. It’s hard to tell. But I settled immediately after taking them out, and that run ended way better in the quiet.

Did I stop listening to music? Of course not. But now when it’s on, it’s because I turned it on and I’m actually engaged in the experience. I’m listening instead of just hearing. Do I wake up every day now feeling some special “connection” to my earth mother, or my spirit animal, or some other hippie bullshit? No. I have not “transcended” anything…yet. But when I open my eyes after a session, I feel incredibly peaceful. In only nine days worth of paying attention, I’ve noted a difference. It’s subtle, but it’s there. I’ve had instances where I felt a surprising ease in a previously perceived stressful situation. I haven’t been as easily upset or distracted. I’m more alert to my surroundings. I feel more connected to myself. Basically I just feel better.

I’m not going to try and explain exactly what I’m doing or give any kind of instruction about what I think is or isn’t working. I feel like at this point that would be like that wobbly legged newborn giraffe trying to explain the mechanics of walking. I aint there yet. But I do think as I’ve been battling to live in the present and keep myself focused on the next step of the journey instead of the goal on the horizon, that this may very well be the next step…or at least how I get to it.

I rebirthed this blog last fall when I realized that “I gotta run.” What I’m now coming to recognize is that if I want to continue to discover and eventually release the best me that I have to offer, then there is a really good possibility that “I gotta sit” too. We’ll see what happens.

Happy Friday, you should’ve seen this one coming. Enjoy.

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I’m a Winner!

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

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

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

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

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

-Then answer the 11 questions the tagger has asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that an interesting fact about me? Maybe not.

Is it a random fact about me? Damn right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing’s free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…with ranch AND blue cheese please.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. What is your favorite childhood memory?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Your favorite adult beverage:

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

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

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

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

10. What is your favorite thing about yourself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Why Kali?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurdles Into a Wall

Last Friday, just two weeks after experiencing my most enjoyable run to date, I managed to suffer through my least pleasurable run thus far. I did it to myself. I knew it had that potential. And I did it anyway. I’m really smart.

You don’t have to search very hard to find running blogs and/or forums that address the mental hurdles that some people have to traverse just to stick to their training or exercise routines and some of the tools that they use to get over those obstacles. I feel fortunate that so far I have not had a lot of trouble staying motivated to run.

As for finding that motivation in other important areas of my life? Still a work in progress.

Recently, my favorite running blog posted a piece partially about running “mantras,” referring to those sayings that runners say to themselves to help stay resolute and running strong when some other inner voice or outside stressor may be working against them and suggesting that they quit, or even worse…skip their work out altogether. The list included all sorts of phrases, ranging from simple affirmations like “I can do this” to statements of unwavering acceptance of circumstance like “Embrace the suck.”

When the author ended the post with an open query about what other phrases her readers have found useful, I realized that I didn’t have a run mantra. And that was somewhat comforting in the fact that I didn’t have one because I had not yet run up against a mental or physical “wall” so great that it required me to forcefully psyche myself up and over it…or through it.

On Friday morning, I managed to successfully hurl myself right into that wall one hurdle at a time. Woohoo! I’m awesome!

Hurdle #1: Just getting out there at all. This is not a problem that I’ve had a problem with in my short time running. I enjoy getting out there. I usually only run three days a week so I’m rarely suffering any discouraging physical issues from my previous run. And I still get an incredible therapeutic release from running outside alone with my thoughts, or maybe no thoughts at all depending on the day. Hell, I “write” rough drafts of a lot of my blogs while running around by myself. I love being out there.

But last week’s weather forecast predicted a 100% chance of rain for Friday morning and because my weather fortunes throughout my training have sucked, that seemed totally believable. I was going to have to do another rainy day run. Ugh. Honestly, I don’t mind a soft rain. I’m going to sweat through my clothes anyway. What difference does it make? But Friday morning’s weather was 40 degrees with steady showers and gusting winds in the neighborhood of 20 mph. It sucked outside. SUCKED!

I woke early that morning with hopes that I’d find the storm front had passed through the area faster than predicted. It hadn’t. I still started my routine: drank my vitamin and fruit smoothie, toasted a bagel, and started getting my running clothes together, all while continually checking the radar for any sign that the weather might at least lighten up a bit.

No dice! It was going to rain ALL morning. And because I was heading out of town at noon and not returning until the following day, pushing back my run wasn’t an option.

Obviously, I could’ve given in and headed for the treadmill. I wanted to go to the gym after my run anyway. And if my scheduled run had only been a few miles, I might have considered it more seriously. I’m not a treadmill fan, but I did look up the conversion I would need to correctly set my pace on the machine, just in case I came to my senses and decided to run inside like a sane person. But because this was going to be my first double digit distance (10 miles), I just couldn’t see crossing that milestone while staring blankly at a muted morning “news” show or worse…some talk show (TV = brain poison). And because of the one hour time limit on gym treadmills and the sad fact that I can’t run a 10 consecutive six minute miles, I would’ve had to stop and start again too. Fuck that. I wanted my first double-D distance to be outside and continuous like it’s supposed to be.

Hurdle #2: Committing to that planned distance. Once I had made the bone-headed decision that I was going to run my scheduled run in the rain, it was time to make sure that I would actually commit to the whole 10 miles required in my training plan. It would make no sense to use the 10 mile distance as excuse for avoiding the treadmill, and then turn around and quit after six miles.

To ensure that commitment, I decided that I’d better get away from the comfort of my home. I’ve run distances as long as nine miles without ever leaving my greater neighborhood. But after battling about whether to get outside in the first place, and realizing that the probability of “enjoying” a soggy 10 mile run was very small, I couldn’t be sure that I wouldn’t give in to the temptation to cut my run short if I stayed too close to my warm and dry apartment. So I didn’t.

I basically try to treat my laziness the way alcoholics treat their drinking. Just because I’ve made it a few months working harder, living cleaner, staying busier, and enjoying the benefits of those changes does not mean that I can pretend that the root causes of my past shortcomings are not still laying in wait for the opportunity to make me fail. That couch crushing waste of flesh is still in here somewhere just looking for a moment of weakness that will allow his resurgence. I don’t want to forget that.

I opted for the nearby Dismal Swamp Canal Trail. It’s a simple out-and-back paved course that was repurposed from the old US Highway 17 when Virginia and North Carolina put in a newer four lane bypass several years ago. A lot of people consider out-and-backs pretty boring and I guess they can be. But I like the Dismal because it’s flat and straight and actually kind of a pretty tree-lined path running along side of a small creek. I also liked the idea of running a turnaround route for Friday’s run, because I would really only have to commit to half of my goal at a time. Once I ran the first five miles, I’d be five miles away from my car and have to run back. So I’d essentially be forced to get my 10. It’s silly thinking, but it helped me mentally chew up what I was biting off.

The Wall: Not quitting/walking when the going gets tough. After getting to the trail, it was easy to get out of the car and get moving. Just getting there was the challenge. Now all I had to do was run. Piece of cake, right?

There was absolutely no one around. I stretched quickly and took off into the grey soggy goodness of my first ten miler. After the first mile, I peeled off my rain coat and hung it on the “1.25” mile-marker post as I passed by. I was running fine and at a decent pace. At just under four miles, my feet were starting to get wet and a little heavier, but I wasn’t having a terrible time. I was wet, but I’d normally be pretty damp after four miles anyway.

As my watch vibrated the five mile reminder, I turned around just in time to see a couple of wild turkeys enjoying the weather as they pranced across an empty field and into the woods. They were the only other signs of animal life I’d seen. So if even a dog is said to have the common sense to come in out of the rain, I must have been closer to the intelligence level of a large non-flying bird. I’m not sure if that is a good thing.

In less than two miles I’d be able to see that wall I was hoping I’d never find.

My clothes had been pretty well soaked since mile two, but my feet and shoes put up a slow weakening fight until just under six miles. And before I got to seven, each foot was completed saturated and weighed approximately one hundred pounds each (give or take a pound). And my legs were really getting tired of dragging them back up off of the ground over and over again. My ankles weren’t in love with the degradation of my form, and my knees weren’t going to let them suffer alone. The suck was getting strong and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to embrace it.

It was hard not to start thinking about that mantra blog that I had just read. I commented on that blog that I had not yet needed a running mantra, but because the phrase had showed up in facebook statuses, my run journal, and my blog in recent weeks, that maybe “I. Can. Do. Anything.” could end up serving that purpose should I find the need. I found the need.

As the temptation to stop and walk began to really raise its voice, I found myself thinking “I can do anything,” and eventually even ridiculously saying it aloud to myself to drown out the voices telling me to stop and walk. “I. Can. Do. Anything. “ I felt a little foolish but I’ve felt that way many times before for far lesser reasons. I just didn’t want to stop.

Stopping didn’t make any sense. It was raining. I was miserable. And walking would just get me back to the car and out of the rain even slower and probably much colder. If anything, I should’ve been trying to run faster, not start walking. I was ready to be out of the damn rain more than I was ready to be free of the pain.

I managed to maintain a semi-consistent pace through those last three miles, except for fumbling the pickup of my rain coat. I almost pulled myself off of my feet when it got hung on the post as I tried to grab it running by. And as I finally saw the head of the trail coming into view and the glorious image of my beat up old car, I couldn’t have felt better. Even in those shitty conditions I still got that rush that I get when I approach a finish. And I did finish.

When I was done, I walked back to by car opened the rear hatch and just sat there, curled up, holding my sore knees to my chest and quietly watching the rain fall. It was so quiet and peaceful both outside and in my head. The voices had been defeated. Did I feel a sense of accomplishment? Certainly. Was it worth it? Damn right. Do I want to do it again? Nope.

But tomorrow is another run day. Forecast: Rain. Luckily, I know I can do anything.

If I were granted one wish for the Shamrock Half Marathon, it would be that if I find myself struggling against an inner voice telling me to quit, that I will at least be able to look up at a beautifully clear blue sky and honestly be able to say to myself “Hey, at least it’s not raining.”

I. Can. Do. Anything.

I love Jeremy's style of painting and the record is good too.

I love Jeremy’s style of painting and the record is good too.

After getting home, rolling around with Citrus a little bit, and getting cleaned up and fed, I piled my sore bones into the backseat of a friend’s car and headed out to Charlottesville to see talented Oklahoma singer/songwriter Samantha Crain (who I was delighted to see had her album art done by a whiskerino brother, Jeremy Okai) open up for Bloomington, Indiana’s Murder By Death.

I know that their name sounds metal, but Murder By Death is an indie rock band that I was just recently introduced to, despite their six studio albums. Their sound ranges from a textural western desert sound to an almost punk rock quality in their faster songs. They played an awesome show and seeing them with good friends in a nice small venue was a really great way to end a day that started with a suck-embracing rain-run.

And I’m a sucker for a band with a cello player.