Tag Archives: running

2016 in Review


*peeks out of his apocalypse-proof bunker*

*looks both ways for passing trains, heart attacks, or plagues*

So, uh, 2016, huh? Been a bit of a treacherous road, hannit? I mean, we say that at the end of every year, and certainly every year has its share of ups and downs, celebrity deaths, breakthroughs and disappointments. But it’s hard to deny that 2016 feels different, especially owing to the recent spate of deaths.

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Not least among them of course is Carrie Fisher, whose passing hit me harder than any this year. Probably because I’ve been a Star Wars kid for the entirety of my functional memory (all I can really remember before I was 14 or so is locking myself in a locker at the high school while my dad — a teacher at the time — was playing basketball, shooting the light bulb in my bedroom with a squirt gun until the bulb exploded [it didn’t take long at all], and watching Star Wars and Back to the Future about a hundred times).

Then there’s Trump getting elected, which fills me with more despair than I care to even think about, so I’m just going to bury my head in the sand and forget I even mentioned it today, lest I fall down another diatribe rabbit hole around here, and NONE OF US WANTS THAT.

Point is, the last few months especially have been rough, so it only makes sense for the rest of us to keep our heads down until 2016 has run its course.

Of course, the end of the year isn’t just for turtling up inside our shells, it’s a time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished, and I’m happy to say that 2016 was a decent year for me personally. I overcame my nerves and self-doubt and finally got my first novel submitted and out in the world. (No leads yet, but that’s okay.) I lost my mind and ran my first obstacle course race, which was awesome and I’m already registered to repeat in April (thanks to my wife, who is ever-indulgent of such dalliances). I started my new job, which, while a little more taxing than my old job — and more demanding of my time outside standard working hours — is also a lot more creatively fulfilling.

Running-wise, I haven’t looked at my metrics in a while, but the nice part about running with gadgetry is that I don’t have to think all that much about how much I’m running — the technology tracks it all for me. Apparently, I’ve run 596 miles this year, up from 460 last year. I’m pleased with that — the number could be higher, but I was lucky enough to spend most of this year not dealing with injuries. Most of those miles have been comfortable and pain-free, so to get almost 600 there is encouraging.

Writing-wise, I finished up the first draft of novel #2, completed a third edit on novel #1 (and finally started submitting it) and have completed about 60,000 words of novel #3. That’s somewhere in the range of 8,000-10,000 words a month, minus a month’s worth for those edits; call it 90,000 words. For a guy like me with a full-time job and two full-time kids … well, I was going to say that’s respectable, but seeing as that’s a sliding scale, I’ll content myself with saying it makes me happy, at least.

Then there’s the blarg, here. I’ve not been quite as prolific as in years past, but I still get about three posts a week, for anywhere from 500-1100 words on average, with the odd outlier (*COUGH* Force Awakens Review) pushing 2000. Wordpress tells me I have 172 posts this year, and if the average is, let’s be conservative and say, 600? That gives … damn. 103,200 words. On the one hand I feel bad about that; it seems to recommend that I’m more productive here than in my capital “W” Writing, and I can’t say I’m pleased about that. Then again, a thing I read over and over is that all writing is good writing — it all sharpens the iron, as it were — so in that case, any productivity is good productivity.

All that is to say that I’ve produced something like 200,000 written words this year, run about six hundred miles, and taken some real, concrete steps to actually getting my writing out there in the world. None of which is a small thing; altogether, it’s pretty damn encouraging. Furthermore, if a guy like me can do it, then literally anybody can do it, and given that resolution season is upon us, what more motivation do you need?

Next up: a review of some of the year’s top posts.


Discomfort Lasts About Thirty Seconds


Is Georgia officially in a drought?

It seems impossible that we wouldn’t be, given that we’ve basically been in a drought for every year I can remember, though I can’t specifically remember hearing about it this year. Given that this is a stream-of-consciousness post, I won’t be stopping to do research on that, but it seems fair to assume, especially since, prior to this week, it had been about six weeks since we glimpsed a raindrop.

Yup. Most of October and basically all of November slipped by without even a sprinkle here in the Greater Atlanta area, so the rains of the last two weeks have been welcome.

But as you know (maybe), I’m a runner, and one that won’t be confined to the indoors for a run even in the worst of conditions. (We do own a treadmill, but feh. That’s for if you’re 1000 steps short of your daily goal and you still have an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine to watch. And yeah, there’s gym memberships, but paying money to go to a sweaty room and run indoors is sort of the antithesis of why I run to begin with, so, nope, no gyms for me.)

So of course it happened: the first rain in over a month, and to boot, some of the nastiest to come our way came about on a run day, in the wee hours of the morning last week.

And while running in the rain can be delightful in the summer, in the winter (inasmuch as winter actually exists in the Southeastern United States), it’s not so much. Damp shoes mean blisters. Sodden clothes mean chafing. To say nothing of the sheer demoralizing cold that can seep into your bones in the throes of a windy, whipping rain on a thirty-five degree morning.

It’s more than a runner should be asked to bear, in other words, and it inspired in me that rare notion: that I could, I really could, just take the day off. Nobody would know but me. I’ve been diligent of late, and at this point, I know that missing a day doesn’t mean I fall off the train for good — a fear I had in my early days as a runner and that I still occasionally have as a writer. And, apologies to any readers north of the Mason-Dixon line, being an Atlanta native for basically my entire life, thirty-five degrees is cold. Add rain and wind and it’s prohibitively cold. In other words, this was an excellent candidate for a sleep-in morning (although sleeping in, in my house, means you’re up at 5:40 instead of 4:40. God, my college-aged self is spinning in his sheltered little womb just thinking about it.)

And, come to think of it, that’s how a lot of my writing days have felt of late. It’s rainy out there, and dark, and cold. It feels like harder work than I want it to be. The blank page doesn’t offer you much in return, and man, it sure would feel good just to take the time that I would have spent writing and use it on something else. An extra thirty minutes in bed. Getting some lesson planning done (how am I always so far behind? Oh yeah, because in my free time, I run and write instead of planning lessons). Reading. Squeezing in a nap.

But, y’know, I’ve gotten to the point that it’s not so much about convincing myself to do the thing that looks uncomfortable from the outside. Nine mornings out of ten, I’m just going to go for the run. I don’t have to berate myself, call myself a fat slob, chide myself about how lazy I’m going to feel … those days are gone. I know now, intrinsically, that the day is always better if I run. So I run. And, likewise, I don’t have to talk myself into facing down the blank page anymore, either. I just do it, as naturally and automatically as kicking my shoes off when I get in from work. It just feels wrong if I don’t. Getting the daily word count in is just the thing I do now.

All of which is to say that, despite the fact that it was a great morning for not getting the run in, I got the run in. It was as miserable as advertised. Within two minutes I was soaked through two layers. Half-blind from rain in the eyes. Feet squishing in my shoes. Huffing and coughing and slogging it through the cold, grinning wanly and shaking my head at the lonely cars driving by in the dark, laughing at what they must have been thinking seeing me out there.

I finished with nasty blisters on both feet (I almost never get blisters — not even from my six-mile mud run), which are still ailing me a week later. I had sore, stinging nips that itched uncomfortably under my shirt for the rest of the day, despite the band-aids I covered them with (nobody ever said running was glamorous). My chest-rattling cough resurged … the one I’ve been tangling with since October.

But it reminded me of a thing I already know: no matter how daunting the run looks, or how intimidating the blank page may be? Once you get over the fear of the thing and get into the guts of the thing, all of a sudden, it becomes a lot easier. In fact, once I got over the initial shock of the cold and the rain (which took about thirty seconds), it became just another run like virtually any other. The discomfort doesn’t last. After it passes, you just put your head down and go to work.

In short? The first step, the first word, the first day, the first anything? That’s the hardest. But once you’re in the thing — the run, the writing, the new job, whatever the challenge is — it becomes easier. Shockingly quickly, in fact, it becomes bearable when just moments before it was unthinkable.

It’s always better to take that first step despite the fear. (Well, I guess, unless that first step happens to be out your front door during the zombie apocalypse. In that case, maybe do sleep in.)

 

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Nobody Would Blame You For Sitting This One Out


The first “official” day of summer just passed, and it feels like it. This morning I had one of those runs that lets you know summer is here to stay.

The sweltering heat, like a dragon peeking over your shoulder while checking your Facebook feed.

The oppressive humidity, like stepping out your front door into a Jello mold past its prime.

The stale, hot breeze, like walking through the exhaust cloud of a semi hauling boiled cabbage.

And all this at 5 o’clock in the morning, before the sun is up!

Firefighters, Training, Live, Fire, Heat, Waves

Actual footage from my run this morning. Not pictured: me, the charred husk just out of frame.

It was one of those runs that teaches you the value of a nice, long, cool drink of water. You get back to the house after five miles in heat like that, and you want nothing more than to jump in an ice bath and guzzle a few gallons straight from the kitchen sink.

And nobody would blame you for not running when the weather is like this. God invented air conditioning for a reason, right? Maybe it’ll cool off next week.

Still, the runner needs these runs. The weather is not always sixty-two degrees with patchy cloud cover and a cadre of angels following you around to blow cooling breezes up your butt. If that’s what you need in order to get outside, you’re dooming yourself to the couch with the rest of the schlubs who “take up running” for a few weeks in April. I see them twice every year — wheezing and puffing around the mall because they haven’t put in the work, they just sat around waiting for the perfect conditions so they could put in work.

Which is the same as a would-be author sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike while he binge-watches another season of The Bachelor, or the would-be dieter buying another week’s worth of chips and cookies and sodas because, well, with family coming in to visit this week, and that company bowling night on Thursday, this just isn’t the week to start dieting.

Make no mistake — weather like this is not fit to run in!

But we get out there and run anyway. Not because it feels awesome (though it still kinda can, once you’re crazy enough), but because it keeps us in shape so that when the weather is good, we can run free like a flock of gazelles bounding across the savannah, and not like a bunch of tubby, hibernation-starved polar bears trying to run down an elk. (Can a polar bear run down an elk? Sharknado.)

And we write anyway, even when the words flow more like syrup than like water, so that when the rare buffalo of inspiration trots by, we have the agility and the insanity to leap on that buffalo and ride it until we fall off from exhaustion. Without the practice, without the bloody-headed tenacity that writing every day teaches, we’d get bucked within seconds.

Point is, we have to put in the work even when the work sucks.

There’s always a drink of water at the end of the run.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results. This week’s post was very little about process, but it made me laugh anyway — deal with it!


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Childish Energy


Child, Cool, Dress, Fun, Hero, Red, Feeling, Kid, Boy

Tap, tap, tap.

It’s six AM on a Saturday, and my 4-year old is tapping on my forehead.

“Daddy, it’s Friday o’clock. It’s time to wake up.”

I grumble and open one eye at him. “Friday isn’t a number, Sprout. Time has to be a number.”

He thinks about this and says, “Dad, it’s Saturday o’clock.” Which is closer to correct.

I pull the sheet over my head. He climbs up on the bed and jumps on me. Why? Because he’s awake, the sun is coming up, and he’s ready to start his day of watching cartoons, eating fruit, drinking chocolate milk, running around in the yard, tormenting his little sister, chasing the cats, coloring on the walls, and all the other things he has to do. His schedule is a giant blank slate, but he runs from one thing to the next like he’s trying to stretch out time by moving close to the speed of light.

Seriously. He runs everywhere. To the kitchen. To the bathroom. Up the stairs to his room. To the car. After the dog. In circles around the coffee table. Everywhere. And, to shamelessly reminisce upon my post from a couple weeks ago, he does nothing halfway. With every task, every diversion, he throws himself into it like … well, like a 4-year-old hurling himself into a bouncy house.

He’s that kid that adults see and think, I wish I had that kind of energy. Imagine what we could get done! But the fact is, we do have that kind of energy, we’ve just forgotten how to channel it. We work at jobs that wear us out physically or mentally or emotionally or all of the above. We come home from those jobs tired, wanting nothing more than to collapse on the couch and watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or whatever Netflix show is binge-worthy this week. And it’s all we can do to haul ourselves into bed a few hours later to steal a few hours of blessed sleep before it’s time to do it all again. We don’t have energy because our momentum sucks.

We watch TV because it’s that time of day. We heave ourselves out of bed after hitting the snooze button three times because we can’t put it off any longer.

Meanwhile, my son has seemingly endless reserves of energy because he’s always moving. He doesn’t rest because he just got done coloring or because he just wants to sit down for a minute after a hard day. He rests because he has to. He’ll run fifteen laps around the playground, then come to me and say, “daddy, I’m tired, I need to take a break.” And he does. For about two minutes. Then he’s up and running for the slides again. In fact, I can hardly ever capture a decent picture of him because he is always in motion.

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He doesn’t even touch the *ground*.

 

He has an urgency to everything he does that I wish I could recreate. He does everything in his life like he knows it won’t last forever.

And we can too, if we let ourselves.

Momentum matters.

We come home and watch TV for hours because our momentum sucks. We drag ass and sleep in and laze around on the weekend because we feel like we need the rest to muster ourselves for another week at work. But that’s only true if we view the movement, the activity, the doing of things as an obstacle in our day.

But these things are not the obstacles in our day. They are the stuff of the day itself. They are the stuff of life. Your job. Playing with the kids. Going to the store. Cleaning the house. This is life. And if it wears us out, well, okay, maybe that’s what happens. But energy is transformative. The more you spend, the more you seem to have.

It’s why I feel like I can get more done on a day when I run than on a day when I don’t. It’s why I feel like I need to write for an hour after I push through grading a whole stack of papers. The days I feel like I can’t get anything done are the days where I just never got started and can’t break out of the funk of the negative momentum.

So, back to my son tapping on my forehead.

Six AM on a Saturday. I’d rather be sleeping. But I’m coming downstairs. Making him breakfast. Taking time out to write a little bit while he chases the cats around.

And now, I think I’m going to go chase him around the yard a little bit.

You know, fill up the tank a little.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Terrible Reviews: Born to Run


I know, I know. I just wrote about Natural Born Heroes, and here I go, writing about another Christopher McDougall, granola-crunching, you-are-your-own-gym dissertation.

Sorry about that. But Natural Born Heroes didn’t float my boat the way I hoped it would, and in reflecting on why, it made me wonder if I was just remembering Born to Run the way you remember the girl who broke up with you in high school, who you still stalk on Facebook every now and then to see if she’s still married or not. So I went and read it again. (Born to Run, not my ex’s Facebook.)

Born to Run starts with the writer’s own hangups about running, detours into the Copper Canyons of Mexico to meet a tribe of hermetic but seemingly superhuman distance runners, and crisscrosses running history while dipping its toes into evolutionary theory and an analysis of the modern running shoe.

If that sounds like a lot, well, it is. The book is lengthy, but I think its length and its hype are well-earned. Let’s dive in.

The Good:

McDougall covers a heck of a lot of ground, and the book would seem scattershot if not for the throughline of McDougall’s fascination and interaction with Caballo Blanco (White Horse), the near-mythical figure at the heart of the story. Caballo is alternately venerated and vilified in the book; on the one hand, he’s a gringo on a quest for self-discovery like so many runners, on the other, he’s a grouchy, flaky, off-putting sort. He’s weird, but he works, because he feels like fiction, even though he isn’t. Too strange to make up sums him up nicely.

What also works for the book is its grounding in a couple of places: specifically the Leadville 100 Race and the underground race that takes place in the Copper Canyons. Multiple chapters are given over to these two races, which gives the reader a sense of the sprawling nature of distance running and the time and introspection that such an endeavor invites.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the two chapters that keep me coming back to the book the most (and which have nothing to do with its narrative … more on that later): the chapters on the history — and indictment, really — of running shoes and on biomechanical evolution (chapters 25 and 28, respectively). These two chapters have done more to change the way I think about running as a whole and the way I run than a couple of years’ subscription to Runner’s World magazine and endless hours trawling running and exercise forums. In short: the human body evolved as a paragon of distance-running, and it didn’t evolve that way with $200 motion-controlled shoes on its feet.

The Bad:

McDougall describes talking with Caballo Blanco as a dizzying experience: he introduces a story, then detours into another, then goes back to recall details on the first while starting up a third, then has to stop and correct a mistake he made on the second … exhausting to listen to.

Well, the book is a little like that, sometimes. You’ll be cruising along, neck-deep in McDougall’s first-person narrative as he explores the Copper Canyons, then — whap! — you’re in the Leadville 100 race following rags-to-riches distance runner Ann Trason. Or, at the drop of a hat, you trade charting the bizarre course of Emil Zatopek for a rundown of the finer points of the Tarahumara diet (basically corn). I’ll go ahead and say that all of the book is well-written and fascinating to read, but following all the threads in the novel feels like McDougall took a big plate of spaghetti and flung it at the wall. The individual strands are great, but as a whole, it’s kind of a mess.

Then there are the characters. I get what McDougall is doing: trying to show the reader the breadth of distance running’s soul by showing us all sorts of runners from all walks of life and all parts of the world. But my goodness. If you simply compiled all the names he lists in the book, you’d have the beginnings of a phone book for a decent-sized suburb. There are coaches, biologists, anthropologists, psychologists, nutritionists, writers, mathematicians, gurus, weirdos, mariachis (really), and business executives. Then there are the runners: small-time recreationals, olympic hopefuls, collegiate athletes, nature-bound escapists, and then, of course, the tribe of unknowns in the depths of Mexico who can outperform the best the distance-running world has to offer. Trying to keep up with all the characters is like putting your head in a blender and trying to chomp that one grape that’s going around and around. The only characters that really matter outside of the chapter that focuses on them are Caballo and Arnulfo. The rest is all window dressing (but fascinating window dressing, at that).

The WTF:

This book, much like McDougall’s recent Natural Born Heroes, feels like it’s trying to be all things to all people: part human interest, part scientific treatise, part evolutionary textbook. Like I noted above, it works, but only just. I wonder if the story of Caballo Blanco couldn’t be its own autobiography, but then I wonder if McDougall could have gotten throngs of people to read his scientific spiel otherwise.

Also:

If I had a fiery pen, I’d emblazon it all over every copy of this book: PSEUDOSCIENCE.

I love this book. I really do. And I want to believe every word of it. But McDougall goes way beyond what’s hard and fast and ventures into the wispy realm of the whimsical. Running can cure obesity, diabetes, cancer? All anybody has to do to become an excellent runner is take off their shoes? Adopt a diet of 90% corn, live in the mountains, run from dusk til dawn, and solve all of life’s mysteries?

Mmmyeah… maybe. These are certainly things that a lot of runners and practitioners believe, but it’s a hard thing to call them truths. Humans are biomechanically optimized to run long distances? Sure. But that doesn’t mean that any and everybody can train up for a marathon in the space of a year. Shoes get in the way of our naturally-evolved gait? Yes. But that doesn’t mean we should chuck out our Chucks and never run a shod step in our lives, either. It’s thinking like that that gets us to the Vibram Fivefingers lawsuit of a couple of years ago, or that causes ridiculous and avoidable stress-related running injuries.

On the other hand, qualified statements don’t sell a lot of books, either. I can’t imagine the book would have had the impact it has had with a title like Born to Run — most of us, anyway, but be sure to consult with your doctor before beginning any new diet or exercise program.

Make no mistake; there’s good science being documented in this book. But McDougall presents running as this magic bullet solution for all the world’s ills, and, well. It might be true, but it moves from the scientific into the philosophical realm.

The Verdict:

By and large, “running” books are crap. I mean, what can you really say about a sport the heart of which is putting one foot in front of the other until you can’t anymore? You either detour into a long and sprawling narrative that only occasionally features running (a la Once a Runner), or you fall into tedious blow-by-blow accounts of training and races and eating and the myriad ways that your coworkers treat you like an insane person (a la Ultramarathon Man). The competition, therefore, is not particularly stout when it comes to running books.

Warts notwithstanding, Born to Run, I think, takes the flying leap from being a good book about running to being a good book. If you’re going to read a book about running, this is the one to read.

4/5 sharp rocks in your bare feet.


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