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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Car Three

If you've never experienced the joy of commuting, I salute you.

It really was not that bad when we lived in Chicago. I'd walk to the train, pick up the commuter paper, do the puzzles (maybe read the news) and suddenly, I'm there. On the ride home, maybe read a novel or baffle the kid across from me by pulling out my original Game Boy. (20 years, and still going strong.)

Driving, though, that's another beast entirely.You can't just tune the world out. You have to engage with it, and very often on Austin roads, engagement is not the most enjoyable activity. I've learned that listening to NPR takes the fight out of me and reduces the severity of my swearing by at least 60%. Plus, you know, I find out what's happening in the world, depressing as it may be. I get by.

Today's commute was almost more adventurous than normal. School is back in session, which means that traffic is back in full force. This means I have to be on the highway by time X or my time spent on the road begins an exponential climb. Yesterday, I was on the road at X-10 minutes. Smooth sailing.

Today, it was X+10, and disaster was narrowly avoided.

Not one mile down the highway, stopping and starting through the normal crush of that time of day, I was just starting to move again when I heard a rather nasty crunch to my right, followed by another crunch of lesser severity. Car three was clearly not paying attention and pummeled the back of truck two, which rolled into car one. I caught the most fleeting of glances before turning around the bend and heading down the road. If I'd been at X+15, my drive would have been 30 minutes longer, though likely not as long as that poor, distracted driver of car three.

I mean, sure, it was their fault, but I do understand, on some level, how it happens. And it didn't look like anyone was hurt, so I'm inclined to have a little sympathy. Not one of those three cars saw it coming, and their day was almost certainly a little rougher as a result.

A strained comparison, perhaps, but as the cars finally began to thin out, I thought about my morning, and how I don't remember hearing my alarm go off at all. Clearly it went off, because it was still set for the time that I needed, and clearly I shut it off because it was no longer making noise. But I have no recollection of this transaction, and as a result I was not able to get in a run this morning like I'd originally hoped. I didn't make the choice not to get up (that I recall), I just didn't. And my day was a little rougher as a result.

Somewhere deep down, we have our defaults. A friend of mine likes the saying that, "We don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training." (-Archilochus) I've managed to train myself to listen to NPR and (often, not always) let the insanity of Austin traffic fade away. I had to, for the sake of my sanity and blood pressure. My new default is calm. However, I have not yet figured out how to change my default when that alarm goes off. I've tried moving the alarm, and using different songs and tones. I experimented with those alarms that make you do math, but mostly, I figure it would just annoy my wife who is still trying to sleep. 

In some way, I have to make a conscious choice (in my semi-conscious state) to get out of bed. Train myself to be aware from the moment that alarm goes off. Remind myself how good I'll feel if I get that run in. Remember that the extra 20 minutes of sleep isn't going to help all that much. And if that doesn't do it, at least I should remember this:

Car three gets to the highway at X+10.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Go to Eleven

I'm at best a pseudo-believer in the old adage, "Fake it 'til you make it."

Personally, I'd rather figure it out, learn it, master it and do it with all sincerity to the best of my ability. Unfortunately, the world doesn't quite move slow enough for me to learn all the steps ahead of time. Sometimes, sure, you just pretend and figure out the rest as you go along.

I've always preferred my parents' way of saying it: "Act like you know." How do you wander into the Horseshoe at Ohio State after hours? Just walk in and don't ask any questions, apparently. Act like you belong somewhere and don't do anything obnoxious, and you'll probably be okay, provided you don't overstay your welcome. I've ended up in all sorts of odd places outside my normal boundaries simply as a result of acting like I know. 

The most recent was a Tesla.

I love this car. It's the longest-lasting, fastest, fanciest electric car out there. And for the low, low price of only $70,000, you can never pay for gas again. Until cars start flying. Then there will be jet fuel. Or Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactors. But for now, you can just plug in your car. Or, you know, buy half a house with the money you didn't spend on a Tesla.

Feasibility of this dream aside, I've been on the mailing list for a while, just to keep track. For the future. When I'm rich and all that.

I got an email a couple weeks ago that they were doing a Tesla test-driving event. For those who may not know, Texas has laws that prevent car manufacturers from selling directly to consumers. Instead, they must retail through dealerships. This is not part of the Tesla business model, so you cannot currently sell a Tesla in the state of Texas. You can, however, attend test drive events, order one online and have it shipped to one of their service centers. Makes total sense right?

Who cares? I signed up. We got in the fancy one, because if you're going to do it, do it right. The car I drove through rush-hour traffic runs about $125,000. We got to set it to "Insane" acceleration mode once. And it was. Like, plane-starting sensation in the stomach. Apparently they'll soon be coming out with a "ludicrous speed" setting as a nice little nod to Spaceballs. And their new Model X has De Lorean doors. It will also have knobs with settings that go to eleven, a nod to Spinal Tap (not Spaceballs, as our test-drive associate thought, silly man). In understatement-of-the-month news, it was a nice car. 

Now, of course, a Tesla is outside my means, I have no delusions about that. But every once in a while, it's fun to live outside what makes sense. To pretend that you can do anything and imagine what the world around you would be like if that were true. To go to eleven, as it were.

The trick is to know when to come back to reality. Maybe some day I'll find myself in the enviable position of owning a Tesla. And maybe some day (sooner than that) I'll be back in 3-hour marathon form. Or I'll be able to complete the P90X workouts. Or even just be able to do dozens of push-ups, sit-ups, squats and dips without worrying too much about it. But for now, I'll take my incremental steps. Yesterday I did ten of each.

Today I went to eleven.

Monday, August 24, 2015


An object in motion tends to remain in motion unless acted on by an outside force. An object at rest tends to remain at rest.

Guess which one I've been.

It turns out that I've written one whole blog post this entire year. One. In what has been one of the most formative, difficult, peak-and-valley type years of my life, I've only found the need to share part of my life in long form once. And the reason is as simple as you might imagine. I haven't been running. This blog started as a way for me to track and share my running, and I just haven't been doing any of that this year.

I mean, of course, outside of the city of Boston. Yes, that race recap is coming soon. That's part of why I'm back at the keyboard in the first place.

But the main reason I've returned is that I have become an object at rest, and I have always been a creature of inertia. When I was training for the St. George Marathon, I gave up a lot of the things I enjoyed for the betterment of my performance. I wanted Boston more than I wanted any of those things, and every day made the next day easier. After a while, it had been so long, I couldn't imagine going back to the way things were. I kept moving.

And then I stopped. I slowed down and I stopped. I gave up a lot of the momentum I'd built for the enjoyment of an easier life, and I never quite got it back. It happened long before my stint in the hospital, and I was just getting back to where I'd been when everything went haywire. I've barely run a step since April.

Yes, I've been injured. Yes, I've been busy. Yes, it's been a crazy tough year for an alarming number of people who are very close to me. But the fact remains that I feel better when I'm an object in motion. And there are 130 days left in this ridiculous year, so I'm going to use them.

Today, I did push-ups, sit-ups, squats and dips. Ten of each. I know, dream big.

But the point is to start small. I always start too big. I tell myself that I'm a creature of inertia, and it takes a great force to overcome inertia, so I always make myself go out hard, starting with 30-mile weeks and P90X day 1. I cannot pretend that my body will always be able to do this any more, and I'm finally taking my cue from the fact that this behavior has always left me injured.

So today, I did ten. And tomorrow eleven. Depending on whether I get up on time, maybe even a (very) light run.

Because Newton's "outside force" is just for objects. For someone like me, the only way to get started is from within. To make one choice, and let that choice dictate the others. Whether that first choice is good or bad, you're setting yourself up one way or another. Today I did ten.


Thursday, March 5, 2015


It happened with terrifying speed.

We'd finished a performance of our show and settled in for a low-key evening of wine and guitar sing-alongs. Then my stomach started hurting. That kind of cramping you get when you've eaten a lot of crap. I told everyone I had to go home and got into the car to drive home.

Halfway there, I pulled over. The pain had intensified so much that I threw up. I tried to continue on my way, but three miles from home, I couldn't work the clutch anymore. I called my wife, gave her my best approximation of my location, and waited for her to give me a ride to the emergency room. I had realized that it wasn't my stomach that was the problem.

If you know my history as a runner, you might remember that I had bilateral hernia surgery just before starting college. At the time, I was training for my first marathon (Columbus 2002), which I was going to do with my mother and brother. A physical for college showed the hernias (I didn't know what they were, and they didn't bother me), which meant that I needed surgery before I could go to college, which meant no marathon. I stopped training. Within a few days, I was moving into college, and a couple months later, I ran the marathon anyway. Who needs training, right?

(By the way, everyone needs training. My legs didn't work for two weeks after that race.)

My hernia was back. Only one this time, but it was different from anything I experienced the first time. It hurt. Something was severely wrong. My incredible wife came and picked me up (at 2 in the morning) and drove me into the emergency room. They confirmed everything I was thinking and immediately got me prepped for surgery. No problem, I thought. I've done this before. I'll recover.

Four hours later, I was in surgery, and a few hours after that, I was awake in the hospital room. Last time, I'd been sent home pretty much as soon as I woke up, but this time, they wanted to hold me for a bit. Some of my intestines had been gangrenous and needed to be removed, so they needed to keep me until it was clear that everything was working. My big concerns at the time were, in order, 1) they'd have to cancel industry night of our show, and we'd have to re-block the scenes where I jumped up on the table, 2) what pace would I have to do in order to complete the Austin Marathon in two weeks, and 3) I guess I'll have to watch the Super Bowl between my least favorite team in the NFL and the team coached by the Emperor from Star Wars.

The next day (or the day following, things get a little hazy for me here), I was feeling extremely bloated. They decided to do a CT scan (I think, they terminology escapes me), which meant drinking this contrast dye. I made it halfway through and everything went wrong. I'll spare you the details of what was happening to me, but when they got me down for the scan, they found out that the gangrene had been far more widespread than they realized, something had burst, and I was septic. Again, I think this is all accurate. I'm not a doctor and I was on painkillers.

The next five days or so are a blur. I went back into surgery and this time got a nice big scar right up the middle of my torso. I got a drain in my side. A line into my arm that fed me. A tube in my nose. I got moved to whatever the step below ICU is. And I spent night after night fighting bad dreams, pain and a complete inability to regulate my body temperature. All told, I was 9 hours short of spending two weeks in the hospital.

For the outside world, it meant that they had to recast my role in the show. It was too late for me to cancel my registration in the Austin Marathon, so my wife got my packet, but I missed the race. This also meant that I failed to complete the Austin Distance Challenge for which I had spent so much time and money over the previous four months. Boston is now at risk. Complete devastation.

So, what now?

I've been out of the hospital for about three weeks now, and things still don't work quite the way they're supposed to work. I get stronger every day, but I lost a lot of weight and muscle, and it doesn't seem to be in a hurry to return. I've got my (hopefully) final follow-up appointment with the surgeon this morning, and I hope to be released for everything. I have no idea if I'll be anywhere near physically ready to run Boston (but you can bet I'll be there).

The truth is, I have no idea what now. Some days I'm full of energy and positivity, and some days I don't want to get out of the bed. The immediate plan is to get stronger on days when I'm able and rest on days when I'm not. I've removed myself from most of my commitments to decrease stress, both physical and emotional. Any progress is good. Any setbacks are to be expected.

With everything that's happened, I feel like there's a lesson to be learned, and here's what I've come up with: I'm not a kid anymore, but I'm not anywhere near done yet. I've spent my life surrounding myself with incredible people, and they were there for me when I needed them most. I've married an incredible woman who has cared for me well above and beyond what could have been expected of her. All these years have added love and friendship to my life, but also wear and tear to my body. I need to move more carefully now, which gives me time to enjoy what's around me. I need to watch for warning signs and take them seriously, because I'm not invincible.

And most importantly, I cannot stop moving forward. If I wasn't as strong as I was, this could have been a lot worse. If my circle of family and friends weren't as incredible as they are, it could have been a lot worse. For all I've done wrong in life (I am human after all), there are innumerable great things in my life. I haven't been able to enjoy some of them for the last month.

So I think it's time to get strong again.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Short, Quick Steps Up the Long, Slow Hill

"I came ten miles just for this high five!"

It startled me, to say the least. Nine miles into the first long training run I've done in more months than I'd like to admit, my brain was starting to get hazy. Nothing new, really. I've only got enough brain power to keep myself from tripping and stay out of the way of folks heading in the opposite direction. When reasonable, of course.

And one such person was on his way, a bicyclist who had moved out of the road and on to the sidewalk. I dutifully moved to the right of the sidewalk and out of sheer determination kept my eyes up, trying to keep my focus ahead of me and keep my feet moving.

Then he shouted at me. I turned my attention his way to see a huge smile on his face and a waiting hand in the air. I raised mine instinctively, and we shared one of the loudest, most satisfying high fives of my life. It was exactly what I needed at that moment.

Sometimes luck is like that. You get exactly the thing you need at exactly the moment you need it. It doesn't happen often, of course, because then it wouldn't be amazing when it did, but every now and then, it turns out all right. I was thinking about how completely lucky this moment was for the following mile, but I realized I might be thinking about it in the entirely frame of mind. True, there was no way I could have known that person would be at that spot to give me an emotional boost, but I was hardly there by accident.

First, I had to get myself out the door, which has not been an easy task for me in recent months. Combined with runs I did on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I have completed more training miles than I have done in either of the last two months. Still, I've got a half marathon on the horizon - well, honestly, it's more like around the corner, with just four weeks to race day. I just did the Run for the Water 10 miler and realized fairly definitively that I can't just go out and do those anymore. So I needed the miles. I needed the distance and the endurance. So, despite the three of four efforts of my brain to the contrary, I made it out the door.

Then, there's the mileage. I need to do some double-digits, and get used to working for 90+ minutes at a time. In the first couple miles, I considered peeling off and doing 9 instead, still a decent workout, but not what I really needed. And then I decided I didn't care if it hurt. I didn't care how long it took. I was doing 12.

But let's be honest, of course I cared how long it took. I kept my pace reasonable, but not easy, a bigger challenge after my turnaround point where my course goes from downhill to uphill. Honestly, it started to suck, and I remembered what I've learned before. Shoulders down. Head up. Short, quick steps, maintaining effort, not speed. And speed followed. And for all the correct choices I made, I was rewarded with a killer high five at just the right moment.

I've got a long way to go before I'll be "back." The Austin Marathon is three months away, and Boston is only two months after that, with a couple half-marathons and one 18 miler in the lead-up. I'm not as fast as I can be. I'm not as strong as I will be. But if I can keep taking those short, quick steps, I'll be back before I know it.

And it won't hurt to get a few knock-out high fives along the way.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Three Out of Four Ain't Bad

I can't seem to keep anything going these days.

It's been a year of transitions so far, and not all of them have been good ones, to be entirely honest. I do my best not to make my personal struggles the fodder of the internet, as I'm sure there are any number of other social media outlets that you can check for that, but it's the usual things. Money, employment, personal control of the future, etcetera.

Friday night, I went to a lovely night of theatre with Present Company's production of Much Ado About Nothing on the rooftop of the Whole Foods flagship store downtown. We went to have drinks with the cast afterward, and when we got home late, I looked at the time for my work in the morning, and recognized that there was really no chance that I was going to run before work. After 9 1/2 hours on the floor, I drove home in 93 degree weather and knew it wasn't going to happen then either, so all of three days into May, I've already missed a day of running.

Oh well.

Considering how many times I went up and down two flights of stairs yesterday, I'm not overly concerned about the loss of fitness from one day, and it wasn't like I was sitting around the house eating potato chips.

Honestly, I'm okay with having a few "cheat"days here and there. My concern isn't with the overall product, but with my personal mindset. I tend to be an all-or-nothing personality. It's much easier for me to get out and go for a run first thing in the morning if I've gone thirty days in a row and I don't want to break my streak. It's easier for me not to have a beer if it's been a really long time since I had one. And often, when I break these streaks, I often hit the "nothing" side of things pretty quickly.

I ran today, though, which is something. It helps to have someone waiting for you when you need motivation to get out of bed, so my Sunday morning runs are extremely valuable for that reason. At least it gets me out the door.

And even though I won't have run every day in May, 30 out of 31 is still good. As is 29 or 28. The point is to do more, and I believe I'm well on my way.

If I can keep it up.

Friday, May 2, 2014

My Left Foot

My left foot is a jerk.

Despite what I seem to do for it, stretch or relax, rest or work, ignore or treat, it always hurts a little bit when I wake up in the morning, and about an hour after I've been using it, whether that's from a run or from a long day on the floor of a restaurant.

When it first started being a jerk, I just worked through it. Even in situations where I've just woken up and I hit the road for a few miles (like today), it would only hurt for a few minutes and then relax. So I tried stretching it beforehand, which seems to have done nothing more than slow down my morning routine. With that in mind, I took to the magazines and internets to find treatments. The best lead I had actually came from my mother, who sent me a boot for plantar fasciitis. Again, some help, but not enough to make me wear a plastic shoe to bed every night.

So I tried resting it. I haven't run much in the last six months. A few miles here and there, usually very easy. Nothing too strenuous. And as a result, my left foot always hurts a little bit when I wake up in the morning and about an hour after I've been using it.


I'm sure any number of doctors will disagree with me, but as I see it, this leaves only one course of treatment. The silent treatment. Shut up, foot. You're fine. Get running and you'll feel better in half a mile or so.

This was what I did this morning when, a little later than planned, I headed out the door for an almost seven-miler. I put on my new shoes (more to come on those soon), and started running, and for the first minute, thought I'd made a huge mistake. The second through fifth minutes were difficult, and by minute six, I realized I had to slow down or I'd never finish.

My foot is currently silent. I'm sure I'll hear from it in an hour or so.