Run 1000 Miles

logo-mainGoal #2: Run 1000 Miles in 2016

You have to have more than one goal in the same activity to keep you going. Finishing a race is a one off sort of deal. Once you complete the race your training seems to come full stop. That’s partially by design. I learned this after my first half-marathon. The first two weeks, and especially the first two days after, I felt like I had concrete in my legs and thorns in my knees.

The other part of the stop is that there isn’t an immediate goal. It is a major letdown and I was getting a little depressed at the emotional dropoff. That’s why I set the goal of running a marathon in May. Instant recharge.

But there will not always be another race to run. So I needed another goal that would sit in the background in between events or whatever else I want to challenge myself to complete. So I set this goal of running 1000 miles in 2016. But like I said yesterday, a big goal like this is something you have to break down into smaller, more manageable parts to achieve. So to meet this goal I have to run about 19.2 miles per week. That’s like 4 5 mile runs a week. If I am planning on training for a marathon (or two) I should be able to meet that goal with no problem. But if I get injured, and I likely will, it gives me something to work harder for – especially if by next December I am behind the target.

Right now I am already a little behind. The holidays have a way of messing up life rhythms and patterns. See? I already have something to work for this week. That’s how motivation works. Big changes happen in smaller pieces every day and every week of our lives.

Running for ALS

als-55a4d357dc4252016 Goal #1: Run a Marathon (or Two)

I started running last year for my own health and this year I want to make it count. If I can run for my own sanity and well-being, I figure that I can also put part of that for the benefit of someone else.

I was never much of an athlete in high school. One year I went out for wrestling, but after a few weeks of feeling sore and beat up; and after a simply terrible outing at the first meet, I dropped it. People around me told me that I should stick it out, but I never had the motivation to push through. It was part of a litany of experiences where I felt that I did not fit for whatever reason. So I dropped the athlete idea. The team went 10-0 that year and won the state title.

Fast forward 25 years. After a couple of injury setbacks in July and October as a novice runner, I trained hard for three weeks in November and ran the Nittany Valley Half-Marathon. Despite the setbacks I ran 6 minutes faster than my target time. The old me would experience a minor setback and start the litany of self-pity and self-loathing. This would quickly convince me that eating potato chips and binge-watching hours of whatever-I-could-find-that-was-the-most-depressing was the best choice to make. Not this time.

What I have learned is that stopping a behavior is a choice and setting an achievable goal is motivation to push through setbacks. Moving my body changes my brain. This means a plan that includes numerous smaller goals in order to attain the big one.

Large goals that are decomposed this way work out better – which is probably why big New Year’s Resolutions like “lose 30 pounds” or “write a book” fail. Goals that are too lofty come with rewards that are too far delayed and motivation comes in short supply. You have to break the big goal up in order to experience the value of the changes in behavior that you will need to accomplish in order to get there. (By the way, if you haven’t made progress on your Resolutions, do something towards it right now, or you will wake up tomorrow that much closer to a Facebook meme declaring all the shit you planned to do last year but didn’t.)

I am training again, but this time for the PittsburghPitt2015Logo Marathon. And more than that I am running for the ALSA of Western Pennsylvania. I am doing it in memory of my grandmother who died from ALS in 1999.

My grandmother Rita was pistol. When I was a kid, I remember her fire-red Firebird parked in her Paoli, PA garage. The color matched her rosy cheeks after a few nips of scotch. She was a neat freak, loved lime green and yellow, and cooked amazing food.

After my grandfather died, she spent much of her time with her best friend. They were active and had fun in both Italy and on the Mississippi river. Like a blue-haired Thelma & Louise. But then Rita started to lose control of her body even though her mind was running full throttle. In just two years she stopped driving, then lost her house, then her independence, then her life in 1999. We watched as that same full-of-life mind and spirit became imprisoned in her body that just stopped communicating with her brain. Awful.

Her very last words to me are burned in my brain. “Whatever you do with your life, have fun.”

So I am doing that this year. I am Running for Rita. She is going to be with me in memory and spirit. Why not invite others to join us in the race and join others as the work to stop ALS continues.

Follow through to my fundraising page and donate if you can. My target is $500.00. I know I can reach it with your help. Run with me in spirit, even if all you are planning to do May 1, 2016 is binge watch Buffy again and eat Doublemeat Medleys!

The 365 Post Project

In 2015 I decided to make a few major changes in my life. I was feeling stagnant, unhealthy, unmotivated, and pretty low. Over about a 4 month period I started counting calories, changing my thinking patterns with physical action, and started running. I also weaned myself off of any medications I was on. It has been hard work, but the experiment has worked.

I lost 25 pounds, completed a half marathon, and rebooted how I view myself and the world I experience. After years of asking deep questions about who I am and my purpose in the world only to end up lost, depressed, and confused like John Locke on Lost, I stopped asking the questions and started living in the answers. Everything became simpler. It has been very hard work, but I found a solid set of solutions to the problems I once believed were insurmountable.

One of the truths I experienced is that by leaning into the things that make me uncomfortable, the problems in my life decrease. This is a sort of “eat your vegetables” first philosophy. When I don’t want to do a few things on my list at work or at home, that is exactly the time I when need to do them. When I don’t feel like running or writing those emails, that’s exactly when I do it.

One of the goals I have for this year is to write again. I once aspired to writing, but stopped because of thoughts that I wasn’t good at it or that no one was remotely interested in the things I find interesting enough to write about. That’s a cowardly, self-fulfilling prophecy. What I have heard successful writers say repeatedly is that the only people who are not going to be writers are those who don’t write. This means that you need to write even if, and perhaps especially if, you don’t feel like it. Moreover, write even if you think you are the only one who will read it. My problem isn’t really competence, it’s discipline.

So this year I am leaning into my fears surrounding writing through discipline. The discipline is to write every day, regardless of how I feel or what I think is interesting or not. It’s another experiment. So over this year I will see what I come up with. I expect it will be about the life hacks and solutions I am working on to be happy and healthy – including all of the things I have done that have worked and how things are still working.

Maybe if you are one of the 5 people who read, you will find something to help along your path. The next few posts are going to focus on each of the goals I have set for myself this year. The first is running my first marathon and the charity I am supporting to make that happen.

Running Into Change

I wasn’t feeling that well. During the unseasonably cool and wet month of June and then into July I managed to binge watch my way through Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, Season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and finally Sense8 (oh my God what a great show). I accomplished almost the entire Whedonverse right into Buffy Season 8 in the comics (I almost hit up Firefly, again). My consumption of old TV at the expense of using my mind for constructive things like reading and experiencing sunshine was not out of some healthy compulsion, but in order to fill time. Depression works that way. Depression is persistent giving up. It is a condition of gravity and feels inescapable.

In July I decided I needed to change some things. I needed to change my thinking. But the way the brain reacts to the environment can’t just be wished away. I accepted that wishful thinking was the easy path for people, like me, who didn’t really want to work all that hard. But being different and thinking and behaving differently is not easy. It is hard work. It takes a lot of force to push against instincts that pull you down in self-destructive ways.

I love you Buffy, but our relationship was more dysfunctional than you and Angel. Maybe not as bad as what happened between you and Spike. That was messed up. I knew I could do better than that.

When my brain started in on those depressive thoughts – “It’s pointless,” “You kind of suck,” “There you go failing again” – rather than dwell on the messed up world that my brain lived in, I decided to push back. I started to tell all those thoughts to “Shut the fuck up.” That was a liberating start. But there was this energy left over from the fight and I needed to put it somewhere.

Two different running routes

On July 20, 2015 I was eating horribly (I partially blame the deliciousness of the Chinese buffet across the street), gaining weight, in a deteriorating physical condition, tired all day, not sleeping well, and persistently bored. So I took the next step. I put on running shoes and went out to kill myself – metaphorically, of course.

Within a minute of “running” I was out of breath, my legs hurt, and I needed to walk. In that silence, those thoughts began to dig their way out of my brain again (“You idiot,” “What the hell is wrong with you,” “This is stupid,” “Give up already”). I told them where to go and picked up the pace – for another minute. Running for 90 seconds straight that night was an accomplishment and I made it through the entire route. It took me over 40 minutes to make it through just over 3.5 miles. It’s like a fast walk or thereabouts. It was my first victory. I liked the feeling.

Since that night I hurt my knees, I have been sore more often than not, blistered up my feet and came close to losing a toenail, fell pretty hard once, and found myself completely dehydrated one hot afternoon. But every time those voices came into my head, I finished the run and pummeled them into non-existence. With every run it is like a layer of that depressive self gets ripped off and a bit more of who I really am gets to emerge. And I like the running me.

Last Sunday I ran over 12 miles and signed up for a half marathon. I am 20 pounds lighter, sleep like a champ, and have learned that I don’t need to run from depression by bingeing on hours of TV and pounds of popcorn and burritos. I can run right into it and beat it down with each footstep. That’s better medicine than any pharmaceutical can manufacture.

The only way I can change is by sometimes forcing myself to do the things that seem difficult and that I don’t really want to do. I don’t love running. In fact, I hate running during that first mile or two. But that’s when running does its best work. It is during those hard miles that the voices start to speak and I get to attack them. They lose power because I take my power back. My pace always picks up at that point. I don’t think its just because I get warmed up. At that moment I decide who I want to be and the demons of depression lose their grip once again. Right then, I am free.