Getting Through New Year’s Resolution Running Pain

postcards2cardsnewyearsresolution1915New Year’s resolutions have a horrible success rate. While gym memberships spike with all sorts of well-meaning goal seekers, 60% of new members give up.  One estimate shows that about 9% of people who make resolutions feel they achieve them with over 42% feeling that they fail every year. Whether these are scientific results might not matter all that much. I think it’s safe to say that most of us experience or know many people who experience that sense of failure within just a few weeks of making a New Year’s resolution. It all sounds great when we are partying with our friends after those holiday vacation days, but when it comes to doing the actual work in the cold, dark days of January, that initial enthusiasm tanks and it all fades. Hell, last year I “resolved” to read 24 books. I got a good start, then started marathon training, then that goal disappeared. I finally deleted my habit tracker app in October because it was just annoying me. I did finish that marathon though. I also crushed my goal of running 1000 miles by about 300. Reading and writing – not so much.

In response to holiday torpor, many people make fitness goals. They have a ton of energy and enthusiasm usually motivated by shaking off the winter blues or a strong desire to eliminate the sluggishness of holiday gluttony and avarice. All those cookies, pies, pigs-in-blankets, and ham seemed like great ideas at the time. But eventually, everyone gets sick of casseroles and endless college bowl games. People who have never exercised that much, don’t particularly like exercise, or haven’t exercised in a long time suddenly shake their bodies awake for that first week of January. It rarely comes off that well. The soreness overtakes them, the weather outside sucks, and it’s dark until at least 7:30 in the morning which is torture for non-morning people. So what gives?

If you want to keep going past the first week, here’s what you need to be aware of.  I promise that if you keep at it through three weeks, you will feel better even as the days get longer. But you gotta keep going.

This is Uncomfortable: Embrace the Discomfort

I have heard people say “Pain is fear leaving the body.” When I started running after having never run a mile in my life, I wanted to stop because it hurt and I was tired, not because I was afraid of anything. My legs were sore all the time, I felt worn out, I was hungry, and just warming up my aching body was rough. I started in July when days were long and it was warm outside. Starting this in January must be miserable. Part of my problem is that I started out too fast and did not heed to advice of professionals to start slow. I went from couch to 10K in 11 days. I was exhilarated, but hurt myself and had to take 18 days off. It took a while for me to learn my tipping point where running through soreness is helpful and where it becomes unhealthy. A good pace to start is where you can speak an entire sentence of about 6 – 10 words. You will be slow. That’s ok. Your “conversational” pace will get faster over time. If you are in your 40’s like me, that will take a bout 3 weeks of consistent work. Your body has been in hibernation for maybe years. What you will need to learn is how to adapt to feeling a little sore and a little hungry most of the time. This is normal. Your relationship to soreness will determine how long you persist in that Resolution. Stretch out after your workout and a few hours later. Take a warm bath. Apply ice to sore joints for 20 minutes. Lean into your discomfort, don’t avoid it. This is your body waking up and adapting to new stress. Embrace it.

Don’t Spend a Ton of Money

In two running groups I am in on Facebook, new runners are eager to know what shoes, jackets, tights, underwear, watches, water bottles, and everything else that “more experienced” runners use. I love a good product. But this stuff is way expensive. Clothing designed and sold with shoe company branding is mostly a rip off. It looks cool and might be comfortable, but after running for a while, as soon as I hit about mile 5, what I am wearing is the last of my thoughts. Right now in the Northern Hemisphere, you do need a few things if you are gong to run outside. You need good shoes that can handle some slush, socks that dry quickly, a few layers of moisture wicking material, maybe a vest and a hat, and something to repel rain. It sounds like a lot, but all of this stuff is available at Wal-Mart or Target. All of my clothing came from the clearance rack and for my most recent 15 miler in the cold wet winter, the price tag was about 60 bucks that I spent last year. I ran in a 38 F degree rainfall this week for 10 miles. The rain jacket I wore was on clearance for $9! Fancy brand name products that do the same thing can run you up to $180.

rain beads on a cheap starter jacket

With that said, if you run for a couple of weeks and find out that running is something you want to do, get good shoes, just get last year’s model. I pay full price for a shoe very rarely. These things run from about $110 to $160 bucks which is nuts! I use Shoekicker which is a great site to get the cheapest shoes, often in a color scheme you might not prefer and in last year’s model. I also like Running Shoes Guru for reviews. That’s how I got my Asics Gel Kayano 21’s last year for $75. They have about 400 miles on them right now and I think I can squeak out another 50 or so (those are dog poop bags I used for waterproofing). One last tip on shoes: It ultimately does not matter what another person’s review is. I read reviews to exclude shoes the models with really bad reviews. Regardless, you still need to find the shoe that works for you. This takes some time. If you can get fitted at a store that specializes in running, do it. You’ll save a ton of time and guessing and those folks will give you all kinds of useful advice.

Asics Gel Kayano 21

Pick a Time That Works for You

I really do like a good morning run. Just not this time of year. It’s dark, cold, and I am nervous about icy patches from snow melt during the day. This time of year in Central, PA the roads are rarely dry and even then they are covered in gravel and undissolved salt among other things. I also like to get sunshine when I can so I run during my lunch break at work. The point here is that here is no better time to run than any other. If you despise a 5 am wakeup call, don’t feel obligated to change your wakeup habit just to start running. You are already making a big change and adding that to it will create only more stress and exhaustion. This is neither helpful nor healthy. If you have to run in the evening when it is dark, find a well lit area if you don’t have a headlamp, and run in that spot back and forth 20 times if you need to. I am fortunate I can get out for lunch. Many people cannot. Time is no excuse to quit. Be flexible and willing to adjust.

Get Rest, Take Your Vitamins, Get Protein

I learned this the hard way. The more stress I put on my body, the more I am actually damaging it. Sore muscles are healing muscles. What helps with healing? Protein intake and rest. You might read about something called “overtraining” or “overreaching.” It’s when we ignore our body’s signals that we need to rest or take it easier in order for it to heal. When I started running, I ran though everything. I ignored pain and would pop a few ibuprofen tablets to help me ignore it more effectively. The result: I got injured frequently and got sick a few times including an episode of pneumonia. I started with the advice to carb load which isn’t exactly false, but it’s also a half-truth. Your body will burn sugars first and fats second. Carbs efficiently convert into the sugars your muscles need so they help you perform. This is especially true for new runners whose bodies are not used to burning fat efficiently. But those sugars are not what your body needs after a run.

You need protein. As soon as I began to add a protein supplement to my diet after a workout, my recovery time shortened and my stamina to run longer and faster improved. I stopped getting hurt and I stopped getting sick. The one I use is cheap from Wal Mart. I get it because it has a 30 grams of protein per 41 grams in a serving. That’s a solid ratio. How much do you need? It will vary based on your age, weight, and how strenuous your workouts are. I run between 40 and 50 miles a week and on running days I will get my protein up to about 130 grams. On rest days it will be between 30 and 60. I use MyFitnessPal to help me keep track.

I also don’t go cheap on the vitamins I take. I looked into it and after reviewing the information on Labdoor, I settled on Now Adam for men. It’s got everything the male adult needs and more. I don’t need any other vitamin or mineral supplements when I take this.

Finally, healing needs sleep. Good, deep sleep. Yesterday I was primed to get a 10 miler in, but I did not. I was too damn tired and sore from the previous too workouts. It’s ok to skip a workout if you are too tired and don’t feel healthy enough. When I started running I was under the false belief that skipping a workout would end my days as a runner. Nonsense. A healthy runner performs better than a sick and injured runner, always.

Take It Easy, Have Fun

If you are running slower than a sloth, don’t worry about it. If you fear you look bad, show me a runner that looks good when they are in the middle of a serious workout. We got snot, spit, and sweat happening and look kind of rough a lot of the time. Get your body used to it and let it adapt at its own time. You’ll get there. You will adapt and your progress will shock you. Even to this day, I hate the first mile or so. I feel stiff and my body takes a good 20 minutes to warm up. Hills are always hard and I run up plenty of them. But I always feel great after a run and never regret a workout. I only regret not getting outside to get it done.

The only outcome that you should not accept is regret for not sticking to your goals. Put in the work. This is worth it.


From Couch to Marathon

Pittsburgh Marathon RouteWhen I started my running journey last year, there was absolutely no way that anyone could have convinced me that I was going to run a marathon within the next 10 months. I was barely able to put together 3 miles last May and that was with walking. But I kept running. On May 1 not only did I finish my first marathon, but I did it on a challenging course and comfortably under 4 hours. I did this with no athletic experience other than 25% of a wrestling season before I quit. Nor was I ever a runner before July of 2015. I gave it a shot back in 1997 for a maybe three runs and stopped. I did the same pattern in April of last year. But something clicked in July and I stuck with it. Now I am in it for the long haul.

So what did I learn while training for a race I did not think I had any business running just a few months ago? What did I do right and what mistakes did I make? I look at life like a big science experiment. One of the most difficult problems in educational research is that there are so many variables that condition what happens in the teaching and learning process. Gender, socio-economic background, race, family systems, mental illness, personality, and many others are all somewhere in the background affecting things we think are simple to measure. Running is no different. There are dozens of general guidelines, but until you get out there, make some mistakes, identify the causes of problems spots, and then change the variables, you will never make progress. So you want to run your first marathon this year? Here are a few things you might want to think about.

Check Your Shoes When I started, I ran in old-ass shoes because that’s what I had and they were decent enough. When I started to realize I would be doing this as a weekly habit, I switched up to shiny new pair of Asics Gel Cumulus. I thought I had arrived. Until the blisters and shin pain settled in. It took me a few months to accept that I might have the wrong shoes on my feet. Just because a shoe gets rave reviews and costs in excess of 120 bucks does not mean it’s a good shoe for you. One afternoon I stopped in my local running store to get fitted. He watched my gait and told me right off that the shoe I was wearing was not right for my overpronating ways. He put me in a different shoe and I have been golden ever since. It’s not the brand or the prettiness of the shoe, it’s the kind of shoe that fits not just my feet, but my natural cadence. Now I alternate between Asics GT-2000 and Asics Gel Kayano. So get fitted, or get injured.

Find Your Own Groove No matter how many articles, videos, and conversations you consume about proper form, the best roller to use on your sore legs, stretching, strength exercises, mileage, interval training, hills, and nutrition, you have to go out and try on everything until you find what works for you. I tried as much as I could and only after finishing that grandaddy race, do I think I know what works for me. Give yourself freedom and time to make mistakes, but always get back up and run it out as soon as you can. That perseverance is what got me to the finish line.

Form Matters When I did not pay attention to form, I got tibialis anterior tendinosis (like shin splints, but so so much worse), back pain, ITB syndrome, and runner’s knee. Once I shortened my stride by increasing cadence, and paid close attention to my posture while running, all of those problems went away. But they were replaced by others. My hips got really tight and then my back stated to spasm. Everything is related. If you have a sore spot in one place, your body will adapt to it by using other muscle groups and will do so often in ways that those other muscle groups aren’t used to functioning leading to other injuries. If you feel pain, stop, figure out what you’re doing wrong, solve that issue, and then get back out there. Ignoring it will eventually put you on the couch for a few weeks and that will totally mess you up. The solution for me was stretching and using a good foam roller after my runs. But I can do better. If I add more cross training to strengthen my hips and core, I will do myself a world of service. Even though I was doing a lot of pushups every week, I can still do a bit more.

Build Mileage and Be Patient As a new runner, I wanted to get fast and far almost as a way to “get caught up” for lost time. That, more than anything, is probably why I kept hurting myself. Starting to run at age 41 means my body was clueless as to the stresses I was about to put it through. So it rebelled. At mile 22 as I was starting down the hill from East Liberty to the Central Business District of Pittsburgh, I started to cramp hard. It was awful. My quads and hamstrings spasmed and the pain was almost unbearable. Walking and stopping only made it worse. The good news is that I ran through it and crossed the finish line running. That was the goal. The bad news is that it happened. I was hydrated, had eaten three Clif Shot gels with water, and had had a solid taper and carb loading the week before. I cramped because I did not run enough during my training. Because of flu (twice), that back pain, and tight hips, I had to take some 20 days off from the training plan. This meant I had to do a little catch up which every trainer will tell you is a bad idea. However, had I not pushed through some longer runs shortly before the race, I would not have made it. The lesson is that I need to have a more solid foundation of running consistently and that takes time. The general wisdom is to increase no more than about 10-15% each week and for the longest run of the week to be no more than 35% of the total. I did not follow that rule, and I cramped up! This takes time and patience. It means that by the time you hit your first 20 miler during a training sequence, you should have worked yourself up to and adapted to a 50-60 mile week. That’s a lot of miles and a lot of time. A 12 week plan was not enough for my first marathon. I needed at least 16. More ideal would have been an 18 week plan. Beyond that, I am out of range for most of the published plans like Higdon’s or Galloway’s.

Watch Your Protein and Carb Intake I was a good boy with my carb to fat ratio, got my vegetables, and was mostly plant powered for my entire training sequence. I never bonked, rarely cramped, and had the longest stretch of injury-free health in my fledgling life as a runner. And for energy drinks while on the run, Tailwind is the shit. But I also overtrained, ran through a lot of soreness and fatigue, and got sick right after my 20 mile long run. OK…fatigue, soreness and sickness may have come anyway, but was there something I could have done better to help prevent all of those things? Yes! I was good with my vitamins, but missed the part where as my mileage increased, by immunity system would get compromised. That’s when I started taking an extra vitamin C  supplement which I will keep doing. The other part is that because I did not have a gradual enough mileage increase and my training was anything but consistent, even though I was technically under-trained, I put too much stress on my body all at once when I hit the peak weeks and my body basically shut down in viral hell for 12 weeks. Maybe I would have gotten sick anyway, but maybe it would not have been as awful as it was. Then I looked at recommended protein intake and what I was actually getting. Many articles recommend 0.6 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. I was only getting about 55 a day and should have been getting closer to 100. My muscles were getting damaged with every run and I was not feeding them what they needed to heal other than loads of rice. So I started protein supplements because I still don’t want to go back to pounds of meat, but I can only take so many beans, lentils, and nuts each day. We’ll see how it pays off in the future, but it can’t hurt.

Even after all of the pain that the last 5 miles of the Pittsburgh Marathon put me through and even after exhaustion as I have ever known, I am driven to get better and follow some of these rules to be a more efficient and less injury prone runner. I want to cross a marathon finish line in good health some day. What it means is better planning for the long haul. Rather than wait for another training sequence to start, why not plan it now while I am still basically resting myself in a post-marathon “holy shit I actually did that” frame of mind. There’s a race in Philadelphia in November. Remember time and patience? It starts now.

I looked all over for plans to help me sort of start over and put into practice everything I have learned, but none of them get me the time and steady increase I am looking for. So I made my own. It lasts 35 weeks and assumes that you are already able to run a solid 25-30 mile week without pain or exhaustion. What I have done is take the best advice from several training programs and plopped it all into one sheet. This sucker will build mileage, let you rest, and will also give you some tempo time and hills to get that heart pounding and muscles toned. The typical pace should be right around conversational for you or a tad faster. This is about building a base and building fitness over a long time. I am also going to be doing pushups on MWF and will also figure out when to work in other exercises like squats a little bit later on. I use a Polar m400 with a heart monitor to see how hard I am working. Their redesigned Flow app includes some killer exercises to supplement a running program. Great for rest days! So here is the new plan. Feel free to download and share. Just cite where you got it if you can. If you want to start it with me, let me know how it is going.

2016 Run Program

You can also download the 2016 Run Program in a PDF.

Happy Running!

Protesting Trump’s Back Door to White Power


Racist Matthew Heimbach shoves a black woman.

A recent video shows what we now know are members of a white supremacist “white nationalist” group called the Traditionalist Workers Party physically shoving a young African American protester. They are not simply shoving her out of the arena, they are seen giving her extra shots even as others in the mob audience join in. That should evoke our collective ire and disgust. When any man lays his hands on a woman, we should take notice and interrogate what is happening. When it is white men laying hands on a black woman, we need to look closer and demand answers. When it is white supremacists shoving a young black woman, we should demand justice without question. There is no space in a civil society to accept this kind of behavior or to offer any platform in which such beliefs are legitimate.

But this is not how all of the many incidents of people being escorted out of Trump rallies have worked. While some cases looked like this, it is not actually what was happening. The moment Donald Trump got a Secret Service detail as a candidate, his role within our population changed. Where he goes becomes federally restricted ground and that means different rules apply.

Some of the footage of protestors being escorted out is not about about race, but about what happens on “federal restricted buildings or grounds.” According to the H.R. 347, disrupting an event like this can carry fines and/or jail time of up to 10 years. This was a rewrite of a 1971 trespass law in order to give Secret Service a little more freedom to determine what constitutes a trespass. There are a few criteria for those who can be penalized under the law. For example, it is one who:

knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to, any restricted building or grounds when, or so that, such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions;

Certainly, we can argue how effective this law is and how well these trespass laws are applied. This includes people who were allowed to protest Barack Obama, the President of the United States, while brandishing weapons. Nonetheless, it means that what we see in a 15 second clip of someone being escorted out of a Trump event by an official, especially the Secret Service, should be measured by what authorities are doing when they are escorting people out of the room. People have been arrested for protesting in these very conditions for decades. Not everyone has an unfettered right to any protected speech at a Trump event, or a Clinton event, or a Sanders event. This is the same when the President is in a designated area or other officials who are federally protected.

I am far less concerned about what Trump has to say on the stage. He is a showman telling people what he believes they want to hear. He says these things to get media coverage, to stay fresh in the news cycle he has mastered over the years, and to convert that spin into votes. His business acumen is up for debate, but his marketing talent is second to none. He is a master of that craft.

My concern is that he does not care who he is fueling with his rhetoric. At this point his failure to immediately disavow any legitimacy towards the support of KKK or David Duke and the significant presence and support he has gathered from the underbelly of American society in its white supremacist and neo-fascist organizations is disturbing. He knows that those votes matter to his campaign. He speaks to angry white men who fear that the minorities and the people of color will steal their property and their power for which there is a significant overlap with white supremacist organizations. Their sole purpose is to reclaim absolute power for the white race and reestablish white power to rule the USA as it did effectively up until 1964. Trump’s protectionism and isolationism support those goals like no other candidate does and as no other candidate has for a long time. When Trump declares “Make America Great Again” they are hearing “Make America White Again.” To give him power gives them power and that is the most dangerous open door to terrorism that might face us if he is in the Oval Office.

Relapse is Not Recovery


Is it a groove or a rut? Glacial grooves take time to form, so do our habits, addictions, and recovery efforts.

You have been biting your nails for years and are tired of it. Your nails are bloody stumps and they hurt all the time. So you decide to make a change. You start with a spray to make your fingers nasty enough that you won’t want to put them in your mouth. Lexapro becomes a regular morning companion at the advice of a doctor. And you start meditating 20 minutes every morning to relax because the main problem is anxiety and nail biting is a symptom. You feel great. Your fingers are feeling wonderful, you are more relaxed, and you look down and thing, “I could be a hand model.”

Then one day it’s raining and cold outside and you have a major deadline at work that day for something you are not sure will get finished. Tired after weeks of hard work you refuse the Lexapro, the spray, and the meditation. When you get home that night, you need bandages because your fingers are bloody stumps because you chewed them to a pulp that afternoon. You take a Lexapro and go to bed, back at Day 1.

Was going back to biting nails part of the recovery process? I have heard some ideas supported that say relapse into the very behaviors that a program of recovery is trying to prevent is part of the process of recovery itself. But that is like saying sitting down is a necessary part of running or that getting into a car accident is a necessary part of driving. Sitting down is highly probably and a car crash is probable but less so, but both are symptoms or consequences of both running and driving. Neither must happen for running or driving to be possible.

It’s a fact that relapse happens. Depending on the strength of one’s addictive patterns of behavior, it might happen more than once. But even if relapse is highly probable or if it is even inevitable in some cases, it does not make it a part of recovery. Highly probable does not mean necessary. Facts are not necessities. So what is relapse?

Relapse is a symptom of addiction, not recovery.

This is important. Nail biting probably won’t kill you. But alcohol, cutting, drugs, and even compulsive eating can. Stopping medication or other important behavioral modifications in illnesses like depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia stir the pot for a suicide soup. Relapse in any of these cases is not part of recovery, it is part of the illness from which you are trying to recover. And it can kill you.

When we have habits that are powerful shapers of our lives and around which our relationships and behaviors seem grounded like some gravitational or magnetic force, escape velocity is really hard to achieve. Like a ball tossed in the air, the tendency of our bodies and minds is to fall back down to the place where “normal” has existed as long as we can remember. But that’s the delusion. That “normal” feeling of being stuck to the addiction is anything but natural. It’s not a natural part of the brain to do things that put our very survival as human beings in danger. The brain is there to keep us alive, not kill us. Yet with many of these strong addictions, the brain turns on us like a bad scene from M. Night Shayamalan’s terrible film The Happening.

Relapse happens because addiction is powerful and change is difficult. Change in order to stop addictive behaviors seems insurmountable because addictive behaviors have formed absurdly deep grooves that our lives seem to automatically follow whether we want them to or not. Getting out of these patterns requires a radical program of behavioral change to fill in those old grooves and make some newer, healthier grooves for our lives to follow. This takes time, patience, and a hell of a lot of hard work and consistent, repeated effort. Relapse shoots us back into those old grooves and when we fall into them, they feel deeper and more impossible than before. For many they are inescapable.

Relapse is not a part of recovery, it is a symptom very addiction that people are trying to recover from. That distinction is important enough to make because it will save lives.

Know When to Offend


White people freak out over Beyonce’s blackness.

Where two or more people are gathered, social rules are there in the midst of them. Those rules are both expressed and communicated by what our bodies and mouths say to one another. As adults we float in and out of social situations that require us to perform different social rules and rituals if we are going to be active participants in the group. When those rules are breached, we risk our good standing with the rest of the people in the group. Offending people is a great way to put our social standing in jeopardy.

Most of the functions of the brain have to do with survival. Language is a tool the brain uses in order to exert desires and will in the world. There are reasons for every word that comes out of our mouths even if we are unsure what those reasons are. In short, language is power. It is one of the engines that makes a society work or crumble. Seen through this lens language that offends can either be viewed as something to take back power someone else has or to exert the power that we already possess.

Some offensive words are reused and repackage in order to reclaim them. Let’s look at the very complex uses of the word “bitch.” “Bitch” is perfectly acceptable when used at the Westminster Kennel Club to refer to a female dog that is ready to breed. It’s also tongue-in-cheek among many gay men to talk about other men almost as a term of endearment or if someone is being cheeky or sarcastic. Even this context has its controversy. But “bitch” is also an offensive term to denigrate women as “whining” or “mean” as in the term “resting bitch face.” Women are supposed to smile and be nice to everyone or they are on par with an angry or needy female dog being prepped for breeding. Not very nice is it?

We have to do better to look at the reasons for the words we use that are unambiguously offensive in certain contexts. When we use these words we are following a set of social rules whether we are aware of them or not. We are also manipulating our power in the world. Getting someone to laugh is an exchange of power. If I use “bitch” in a way that is funny, I am manipulating someone’s emotional responses inside of a social framework by breaking conventions and rules. After people criticized Beyonce’s Superbowl 50 routine as “anti-white” because it broke a set of social rules, Saturday Night Live produced a brilliant parody of those complaints like a court jester mocking the king on behalf of the lower classes of society. Comedy is often used to take back the power that people use in order to protect their standing at the top of a society. Kendrick Lamar’s performance at the Grammy Awards is an example of doing this not to be funny, but specifically to get people talking about race in a way that visually displayed how a once powerful people were enslaved and then imprisoned.


Whether or not we should be offensive is based on social context, social role, and the reasons behind the use of these words. Most of us aren’t in the place to speak negatively or criticize anyone else. What they are doing is none of our business. If we insist on our right to use words like “retarded,” “bitch,” “lame,” “tranny,” or even “fat” we must first address the reasons for why these words are so important to retain in our vocabularies. To what end are we achieving if we call a gay person a “fag?” The truth is that we are either observing or breaking the rules of the social groups we have chosen to be part of in order to maintain our status within the group itself. We use these words to influence the power in the group and this is a function of our own survival mechanisms. When words that are offensive to others are part of the social fabric of our group, they are used to exert power in a group survival effort. But is it really worth it?

In a free society, we are legally protected to offend people up to the point where the liberty of their conscience is at risk. But just because it is legal does not mean it’s useful or morally upstanding. Socrates is famous for saying “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Before we defend our use of language that knowingly offends someone else or an entire group of people, we would do well to examine the life we are living. To what end is the language we are using influencing the world in which we are choosing to live? And is that the world we really want?

Living Lent Free

ash_nocrossThis is my first year without Lent. For years it was a time for reflection and focus on my spiritual self and to seek out a better union with God. I have fasted, prayed, and read the Bible. I have attended liturgies and fully invested myself in both the Western and Eastern calendars and cycles within the broader Christian community. But not this year.

Lent is not happening not because I have resentments toward religion, God, or Christianity or the people who worship there. It isn’t happening because I have chosen a way to find health and happiness apart from God and it is working. In short, I can’t sit in a pew this year and pretend as if God matters, because God does not. I am approaching a significant marker in my life. In March I will have lived one year without God. As I approach that marker, I will say more. But for now suffice it to say that engaging in a Lent practice where God is not at all part of the picture feels strange to me and lacks integrity. I can’t be authentic and do Lent which is the exact opposite of what Lent is supposed to do.

Other than confiding in a few people about my shift in beliefs, or lack thereof, I had this consistent feeling of guilt and even shame that I was “giving up on God.” That’s not what happened. I did not “give up on God.” What happened is that I decided to stop pretending. There is nothing “wrong with me.” To the contrary. The truth is that I lost faith a very long time ago, but I refused to let go. That refusal is the problem.

I held on for two reasons, both of which are not very healthy. 1) To let go of God means I am letting someone down. I need to have faith because other people expect me to. So therefore I have to believe. 2) Letting go of God means that all of my very hard work to understand my faith is a complete waste and a disappointment. The root of both of these problems has nothing to do with God, but has everything to do with my imagined status before others and a fear of losing them. Doing anything as a response of fear of rejection is a bad way to have a healthy relationship with anyone or anything. I decided a few years ago to move past fear-based thinking and find a better way to live. As I have become less afraid, God has become less important. That is something significant. I decided in March of 2015 to stop ignoring it and accept it for what it was. I needed to let go of the God idea even on a trial basis just to see what would happen. So I did.

What I miss about Lent is the experience of a community seeking the same or at least a similar thing. The rhythms and experiences of a religious community that were so central to my life for many years feel strange not being there. This is punctuated by the various practices friends from my previous religious communities are sharing all over social media this season. Synchronizing yourself in time and space with other people especially in the visceral experience of seeking a higher order and purpose for living is incredibly powerful and rewarding. I love the honesty that Lent is supposed to engender. It is a foundation of practices that one should engage in every day of the year. In many ways Lent is a great reset button for the year. In Orthodoxy, the first Monday of Lent is called Clean Monday for that purpose. The Greeks will clean the house and fly kites to celebrate the journey to personal purity and reconciliation. It’s a beautiful practice.

But this year there is no special calendar marker for this year. Today is Tuesday, it’s freeing rain, my dog refused to poop as we got soaked and cold, and I came to work this morning. I will run on a treadmill later to get in my workout, see a few friends later if the weather permits, and then go home. I will catch up on Scandal with a bowl of popcorn, read, and go to sleep. Then Wednesday will arrive. I am finding my own rhythm now. While part of this journey into authenticity has been a sense of loss, I have gained so much more. Today, I am happier and healthier than I think I ever was when God was such an important focus in my life. I am more in tune with the world and with what is going on inside of me in relation to it. I am more honest and less afraid. If living without God was something of an experiment, it is working for me.

10 Albums That Influenced Me


Rob Gordon’s autobiographical record collection

A friend on Facebook posted a challenge to list in no particular order 10 influential albums. Now I want to dig a little bit deeper to make that list not so random. There have been albums that influenced me for a short period of time like Michael Jackson’s Thriller (who wasn’t influenced by that in 1983) or even Dokken’s Tooth and Nail (“Straight to the tahhhhppp…”). But they were gone from my life in a few years and never had a lasting impression. Other records have stuck with me for whatever reason.

I don’t think there needs to be a good reason why these albums stuck around. Most did so because of drumming. The records that influenced my playing are ones I listed to over and over again to learn how to do all that crazy shit and stayed there. But for others it was more about the aggression or serenity I thought needed in my life. Most I will pop in and give a play still today while others set me off on a path. In organizing this little list, I am thinking about Rob Gordon (John Cusack) who in the film High Fidelity organizes his immense vinyl collection not alphabetically, nor chronologically, but autobiographically. Brilliant. So here they are with the song that hooked me on each.

Metallica – Ride the Lightning

My musical taste started with metal. The pounding intro to “Fight Fire with Fire” followed by that killer double bass groove is the real origin of my musical legacy. This was trash metal and I got hooked. With the exception of “Fade to Black” which everyone seemed to love, but I thought was full of melodramatic ennui, this is still a kick-ass album. Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth finished out the early phase of my junior high life.

Bad Brains – Bad Brains

If I found my deep-seated need for an aggressive outlet in my youth in metal, the political core of who I am started in hardcore. DC Hardcore was always loaded with aggression and an intelligent fed-up attitude with bourgeois, Reaganized, yuppie culture from Minor Threat and Government Issue and many others who would stick around only for a few months. I was a quiet and pretty sheltered kid so music was my one means to escape a sort of rage I had inside of me. I had a fire and Bad Brains spoke to it. This album still does. I play it regularly as the greatest achievement in hardcore music by the greatest hardcore band.

Rush – Signals

That double bass groove by Lars made me curious about drumming. But that drum intro to “Digital Man” and the wicked 7/8 business of “Subdivisions” baptized my hands and feet forever. Yes, most drummers will look at Moving Pictures as that album that made them drummers. But I must have played “Digital Man” 1000 times just to learn what a drumkit was. I played it horribly to start with nothing but a pair of wooden spoons from the kitchen and some boxes I set up like a New York busker in the Jay St. station. But I got better with practice. Through the blisters, this album made a drummer and prog-rock fan out of me for life.

Primus – Frizzle Fry

It starts with that 5/4 intro to Rush’s “YYZ” on the bell of the ride. Then the groove morphs into something utterly awesome. Tim “Herb” Alexander became a new kind of drumming model for me and “Defy the Laws of Tradition” became my warm up groove for all occasions. It’s to tight, intricate, and feels so good to lay down it hurts. That changed my approach to drumming which would follow its way into Sailing the Seas of Cheese and…

Fishbone – The Reality of My Surroundings

This shit got me the real funk. Fish’s grooves kill so much on this album they stank. I got blisters playing through “So Many Millions” and “Fight the Youth.” Every song cracks with a political lightning bolt that spoke to the problems in L.A., police brutality, and the awful living conditions of black folks living in ghettos constructed with the hands of white racist policies and the movement of segregation from the enforceable laws of the state to the shady practices of property developers, real estate agents, and a fucked-up welfare system designed to keep people poor, violent, and ruled by drug lords. I saw my whiteness through this album for the first time.

Pearl Jam – 10

I became a college student and this marks when I got drunk, I mean really drunk, for the first time. “I’m Still Alive” was something I screamed before I passed out a few times. I put that on a wash/rinse/repeat cycle for a while. I can almost feel hungover when I listen to “Black” even today. Shiver. Through the trajectory of my drinking career took a sharp nosedive when I found Jesus in the form of speaking in tongues and all other manner of strange, mind-bending, pseudo-cultic activities, a few years later, I returned to my home that I found in liquid courage. But this album is like a hanging chad in my existence.

Radiohead – OK Computer

In grad school I finally left the awful prison of Christian contemporary music when I first hear the line, “In the last world war…” What is this?! If there is a perfect album to be heard in existence this is it. I was deep into questioning every damn thing about reality and the technological structures with which we have surrounded ourselves and mediate our senses of self and purpose. In comes this album that transformed and fed my internal dialogue and research mission at the time. “Pull me out of the aircrash…” Who doesn’t resonate with that feeling of being crushed like a bug by forces we cannot control. This is an album about feeling the anxiety of those forces and feeling virtually powerless to do any damn thing about it. It is precisely how I felt at a time when I was comparing my finite existence to the infinite reality of the cosmos. I felt small but burdened with purpose to figure out a means for liberation. Damn, I really was a graduate student of theology in Princeton, wasn’t I. When I heard Fear Factory’s Obsolete, I resonated on the same intellectual frequency, but there was enough anger there to solve the philosophical conundrum. Now OK Computer is just a great album.

Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile

I owed taxes and had no money. I was just rejected from the PhD. program I was “called” to. I was angry. Before that rejection I had decided that I could not be a pastor of a church, the vocation for which I was in an M.Div. program, and I was now totally confused. All that existential muck rose to the top and then this album came out. When Reznor wrote it, he was not in a happy place either. It captured both my existential misery of not knowing what to do with my life and the aggression I wanted to get out of my system. It was something I could scream to in the privacy of my own car. Through Reznor’s “void” I felt a strange comfort as he spoke about it in his lyrics. On a strange level I indeed was “Too fucked up to care anymore…” But I was still young and overthinking everything. I eventually got a scholarship and a fellowship to continue with my studies. But at the same time I felt the first kick in the gut that God was not real and that my entire education in theology was a waste of time and money. I continued with it for another year and another degree getting a job in education shortly after. But this feeling of missed opportunities, misread tea leaves, and a miseducation haunted me.

Helmet – Meantime

This was an album I had for a long time, but never appreciated it until the same year The Fragile was released. I was finding my roots in metal again. But it was Stanier’s tight grooves, high-pitched snare, and that signature stop/start pattern of Page Hamilton’s that reinvigorated my taste and returned me to my musical home for good. I find peace in the heaviness. I bought Betty in 1999 after I returned to Helmet on the old tape I had all but forgotten about. Helmet captures the best of the hardcore growl and rage with the clean and aggressive structures of metal. It’s a controlled kind of crazy. I think that’s how I saw myself emerging at this point in my life. Controlled, but inside there was something crazy. It was a little too prescient perhaps. But since I put this in again at the twilight of the 20th century, I have never really looked back and continue to find my home in the heavy.

Slowdive – Souvlaki

At some point you have kids and things are so chaotic on a normal flow, some semblance of peace is necessary. This was an album and a genre of “shoegaze” I never paid attention to until kids entered the picture. None of their stuff had been in print for a while and I had to illegally download crappy copies of it from Napster for a while. Then legal digital music happened and I got my first iPod. I bought everything of Slowdive’s starting with this album and I have been a total shoegazer for the past 11 years. While the instrumental “Missing You” kind of mesmerized me, the epic sounding swell of “When the Sun Hits” nailed me. Now I want to go back to 1992 at Reading just to be at one of their shows. That wall of sound is something wash over me in all forms of music – including the REIGHNBEAU album I am listening to right now.