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Thursday, April 14, 2016

50/50

Saturday was the 100th day of the year.

And this is a year in which I've set more goals for myself than ever before. Lofty goals. Goals that include thousands of miles and tens of thousands of pages read. So, how am I doing?

Depends on which half of that 100 you examine.

The first half was pretty good. I'd run 187 miles by day 50 (February 19) and I'd read 2800 pages. The latter was spot-on pace, and the former was on the schedule that I'd set. Already, though, I'd started slipping on some other things, in particular that yoga that I kept raving about. As I dove into full-on rehearsals for one show and and performances for another, I was sleeping less and drinking more.

And the trend continued. In the next fifty days, I ran 103 miles and read 575 pages. The running still wasn't terrible, until you consider that only 15 of those miles were run after March 10. I was heading in the wrong direction, with no immediate relief in sight. I'm still in rehearsals (tech rehearsals at that) for one show, about to be in performance, after which I'll go directly back into performance for another.

So, a couple days ago, realizing we'd passed the 100-day mark for this year, I decided to take a look at buckling down just a little bit more. Spending less. Exercising more. Doing all those myriad things that I enjoy telling folks I do (and that have the added benefit of making me feel great).

Truth be told, I wasn't off to a great start.

Every day this week, I've overslept to varying degrees, but each enough to prohibit a run in the morning. This is likely due to the fact that each night but one, I've stayed up too late. Perhaps I'm not in a place right now to make a lifestyle change.

I can, however, make one good choice at a time. And today's good choice came after a fruitless trip to fix a computer in one of our offices. It hasn't been a great week in a lot of ways for me, and a last-minute schedule alteration always riles me up, so receiving that on my drive back to the office didn't help. Now I had a weird gap in my schedule with nowhere near enough time to accomplish anything.

Fortunately, I made a good choice this morning. I packed a running bag to throw in my trunk, just in case. I didn't wake up in time for a run, but maybe if I found some time, I could get a few miles in later.

And hey, I found some time.

I started out for 6.5 and quickly realized that I was going to max out at 5. That decision made, I examined how I was feeling, and the answer was, great. I felt strong and I knew I was making the smarter choice to run fewer miles. I smiled. And then a van turned into the parking lot a little ways ahead of me, driven by my friend Nathan, a former Sunday morning running partner. Not only did I get to feel this way, but I had a witness to the feeling. A fellow runner, no less.

And I wasn't done. Around the corner, just about the time that the sun was starting to bother me, I passed Beau, also in his car, another runner with whom I'd trained, this time on Wednesday nights at Luke's Locker, and this guy does ultras. Two former running partners on one 5-mile run in a month of inadequate training. I'm sure that's a sign of something, and they were both smiling, so I think it's a sign of something good.

Does this mean I'll definitely wake up on time tomorrow and go for a run? Of course not. I hope I do, but you never know. With too much going on, sometimes you can't make all the right choices.

But at this point, I'll settle for 50/50.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Trouble With "Yes"

The first and most important rule of improv is that you should always say "yes."

Especially when working with someone else, you must always acknowledge the choice they made and go along with their world. If they say that you're playing fetch with a tyrannosaurus, you don't get to suddenly be riding a motorcycle on the moon. The integrity of the world depends on everyone going along with the suggestion and exploring what that means.

Truth be told, I don't really care for pure improv, particularly the "give us a suggestion and we'll make a scene" kind. I'm not challenging its validity or insulting its place among the theatrical arts, mind you, it's just not the kind of work I like to do. One of the shows I'm currently working on allows for a great deal of improv, but within a very defined structure and script, and that's about as far down that road that I want to travel. Even this, though, requires that magic word, yes.

And I love saying yes. To scenes, to moments, to invitations and requests, to promotions and opportunities... I almost always try to find a way to say yes.

As I've mentioned in the past, this hasn't always worked out for me, and especially in recent weeks, the weight of my various yeses has been pulling me down. Over the last five days, I've been sleeping through my run times, waking up later than usual. Somehow, I've still found myself exhausted, almost to the point of being unable to keep my eyes open, which, let me tell you, makes it rather difficult to take promotional photos.

There's always somewhere I need to be, and if not, then there's something I should be working on for the next place that I have to be. I've got seven different To Do lists, and none of them seems to be getting shorter. I haven't been reading. I haven't been running. Most of the progress I made in January seems to have fallen by the way, and a new reassessment seems to be in order.

So, I've begun the process or determining what is most important to me on a daily basis, and what can be removed from my plate. Most importantly, though, I'm learning (or at least making a valiant attempt) to say no.

The immediate changes have to be the things that only affect me. Things like deciding not to go to the late-night concert of one of my favorite bands this evening, since I know I have to be up early tomorrow. I really want to go, but I know that I'll be cursing the world at sunrise if I do, and I just don't have that energy to spare.

Next will come the organizations that I want to be a part of, but have not thus far found the energy or time to become an effective member.

Finally will come the things I truly love doing, but have now done to death. If I do something because it makes me happy, why would I keep doing it to the point of unhappiness? As in all things, moderation becomes the key, and some of the wholesale devotion I've lined up for myself needs to fall away.

All of these changes will take time. In some cases, I've already made promises as far out as next February. Fortunately, I'm now able to look more clearly into the future and see that I cannot do everything I want to do. I can say no, and it will get easier with practice, right?

Yes, it will.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Old Habits

I think I know why old habits die hard.

It's because habits, real habits, are made of stronger stuff than we imagine. They come from years of practice, whether intentional or not, and they represent the baseline of our actions. The only thing harder than breaking old habits, I think, is creating new ones.

There have been many habits in my life that I've tried to break, with varying degrees of success. Popular thought says that it takes 21 days to form or break a habit, but this is based in a misinterpretation of an old study regarding plastic surgery and prosthetics. In reality, subsequent studies of this specific topic have shown a wide range of time required, from 2 to 8 months.

A longer timeline certainly makes sense to me, given that I spent 30 days doing yoga in January and almost immediately dropped it when the month changed.

The problem with a longer timeline is that it doesn't inspire the same kind of optimism as a three week challenge. I can reasonably expect to make myself get out of bed at 5 a.m. for the next three weeks, but to say that it will take six months before it feels comfortable is far more daunting.

We want to establish a "habit" so that these things become second nature. In essence, so that they become easy.

But the great things are not supposed to be easy. Yes, it'd be nice if they were, but this is the real world, where the things we want most have to be earned. I'm at two days in a row of waking up on time, and last night in particular, I was exhausted. After one day.

And yet, I still managed to get up today. I did some yoga, my second time since the end of January. It wasn't habit, certainly not automatic. It was a very specific, very determined choice.

And honestly, I'm happier with that.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Buy 20, Get 6 Free

The first few miles of a marathon are free, so make sure you don't pay for them.

I was fairly proud of this concept at mile 11 yesterday, but it may have just been the heat getting to my brain.

In the wake of my foot pain, my Sunday long run was set to be the first real test of whether I had a problem to deal with. I had no issues on Thursday or Saturday (Friday is a planned rest day for me), but it's a different situation when you're sustaining effort for over 60 minutes. Fortunately, I was scheduled for a step-back week, so this run was 13 miles instead of 17.

Of course, deciding to have some at-home brunch and watch a Kurosawa film made for a later start than normal, so it was well into the 70s by the time I got started. Coupled with the increased foot traffic of the Austin Kite Festival, this made for a higher degree of difficulty than I had anticipated. Perhaps it was the heat, or not drinking enough water on Saturday, or the four days off, but with two miles to go, I was fighting pretty hard. I definitely had thoughts of bailing, but I kept putting one foot in front of another, all the way home.

I was reminded of the last couple miles of pretty much every marathon I've ever done. In my eight attempts, I have never completed a marathon without walking due to exhaustion (or pain). Most devastating was Seattle, when I was on pace to qualify for Boston with four miles to go and simply ran out of energy, but all have been somewhat discouraging, and spoke to a problem with my training.

There's a widely-held (though often disputed) belief that training runs for marathons need not exceed 20 miles. For the average marathoner, this is the "wall" point - the 2000 calorie threshold where the body has to work a whole lot harder to find energy. Those who advocate a 20-mile ceiling sometimes argue that going beyond this point too many times can hurt more than help your endurance. For the most part, I've accepted this theory, and if I've gone over 20 in training, it's not by much.

My thinking became, if I've trained for 20 miles, my sheer determination will carry me the last 6. But now I think I was wrong. I shouldn't be training for the first 20 miles. I should be training for the last 20, because the first 6 are the free miles.

Now, if you're new to running, that last statement is probably aggravating. Please know, it takes a long time to build up to this kind of distance. This is not overnight progress, and it takes months to get your body into shape for that kind of work. Running is never easy, and anyone who does it deserves the respect and admiration that goes with completion of every mile.

Still, when that gun/horn/guy-yelling-in-a-megaphone goes off, adrenaline kicks in. I have almost always gone out too fast, and in that moment, it is incredibly difficult to convince yourself that you're not "just feeling good" today, but rather you're running outside your ability. I somehow tell myself that I'm "banking time" for later, so that I've got a little cushion against my goals, but it's this banking that makes me have to slow down later, whereas if I'd just stayed on plan the whole way, I'd be in much better shape at the end.

The truth is, I don't need to push for the first 10K. My adrenaline will do that for me. But when I hit that point, that's when I have to start checking in to every step around me. I need to run a 20 mile race that starts at 6.2, because that's what my body has trained for. So, every long run I do is done with a mindset of how many miles are left. If I'm doing a 16-mile run, I consider myself as starting out at mile 10. Yesterday, with 2 miles to go (telling myself I'd run 24), I felt fairly similar to how I've felt at that point in marathons. But I didn't give up. I didn't walk. I'm training my mind and legs to keep going to 26 every time. It won't just happen.

Nothing comes for free.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Too Much

As I've stated many times, I'm a sucker for extremes.

This year has actually been a surprisingly moderate one for me. The dozens (yes, literally) of daily metrics that I take on my life have kept me on a careful watch for excess. With a few slips here and there, for the most part, I've been keeping an even keel, and getting done the things I need to.

Of course, this knowledge only points out my latest excess - extreme monitoring. I can't just tell myself, hey, self, chill out a little. No, I've got to have spreadsheets upon spreadsheets to hold myself accountable. I have to track progress toward year-long goals with the fervor and attention of a last-second countdown. Even in my attempts to moderate my life, I put myself into a state of constant contention.

And what's more, my attempt to moderate things has (in my brain) meant that I can bring in more things to moderate. There are at least a dozen aspects of my life that demand regular attention right now, in addition to having a family and a job. I join committees in networking groups, I participate in strategic planning groups, and I'm in active preparation for theatre work with four different companies (some with multiple shows). And if schedules didn't change and the work were consistent, maybe (and only maybe) I'd be totally keeping up.

But they don't, and it's not, so I'm not. Things change, it's a part of life. I need to be able to roll with it, but there is nothing that will throw me off my balance like a plan thwarted.

It happened on Sunday, of my own accord. I've been running a whole lot recently, and I just ran my right foot into the ground a bit. I woke up with a pretty sharp pain in the top of the foot, and decided that it probably wasn't a great plan to test it with a 17 mile run. Of course, there was also the fact that I did get to bed until after midnight the night before (and the night before that) which helped keep me in the house that morning. The next morning was the same story, and the morning after that. My foot hurt, and my body wasn't cooperating.

Not enough sleep, and too much everything else.

So Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, I set my alarm for the correct time. I had a rehearsal, but not too much else that evening, and I even took a little time to relax before. When the alarm went off, I knew I wasn't rested yet. I needed one more day to recover, so I took it. And this morning, right at the buzzer, I headed out on the roads following a four-day break, the longest of the year so far.

See, what I recognized through my hazy eyes Wednesday morning was that getting back to the grind wasn't going to suddenly make the grind work. I needed to feel good, not good enough, and I could only do that by giving myself permission to step back.

I've begun the gradual process of relieving myself of some of the responsibilities I've garnered. I like to be the person everyone relies on, but stepping up too often will only make me unreliable. I need to take my rest when it's offered.

But not too much.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Future Perfect

I’ve become somewhat of a snob, grammatically.

It stems from my time teaching SAT preparation courses. Little things like “then” versus “than” and misuse of homophones can push me over the edge. Let’s not even get into the incorrect usage of apostrophes.

It’s = it is.They’re = they are. Every time. Not possessive. Sigh.

Knowing my quickness to judge others in this respect, I try to hold myself to the same standard. I feel downright humiliated when I find a typo in a blog post, and I’ve deleted whole Facebook threads when I discovered an early misspelling. In conversation, I’ve been known to swear audibly upon realization that I said “further” when I meant “farther.”

The one place this has not really extended, however, has been verb tenses. Sure, I try to use the correct tense most of the time, but outside of the big three (past, present and future), I don’t know any of their names or any of their specific definitions. I know what “sounds right,” and I tend to go with that.

Such looseness with the rules has led me to statements like the one that got me out the door yesterday morning:

I don’t want to run, but when I’m done, I will have wanted to.

If the preposition at the end of that sentence wasn’t enough to hurt my brain, the general construction does the job. Still, it’s the most accurate representation I can determine for how I feel while running. I don’t always love running, but I always love finishing a run.

Many people have challenged me over the years, telling me that it’s impossible to like running. In general, I disagree with the sentiment, but I can understand its origin. If someone has never run before, it takes a while for the body to acclimate. Muscles will be sore and minds will be tired, and that state can last a very long time. Eventually, you begin to see changes, whether physical or just based on your performance. Consistent behavior leads to definitive progress. Yes, the reward can be long time coming, but I believe the time it takes only increases its value.

Years removed from this personal revelation, it can be very difficult for me to remember what that accomplishment feels like. My goal of fifty marathons is a large, distant abstract at this point. I need to make incremental progress to have any chance of achieving that goal, but the increments don’t necessarily provide enough satisfaction to drive me on. Short version: some days I don’t want to run.

Particularly on long run days, it is very easy to forget the distant goal and think only of the instant reward. Yesterday, it was the thought of how nice it would be to curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee and spend the whole morning in pajamas.

Yet I knew deep down, and my wife reminded me, that curling up was not really what I wanted, and out the door I went. As I neared the end of my two hour run, I broke into a huge, stupid smile. This feeling was what I really wanted. I needed the miles, the sweat, the pain of building something stronger. It’s hard to reconcile when I’m comfortable on the couch and (as was the case this morning) hard to remember when I’m staring at an alarm I barely remember turning off. But it’s what I really want.


Or will have wanted after.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Running Lines

I wish I were a multi-tasker.

Particularly for the last month, I've tried to fill my days with pastimes that I'm proud to talk about. Reading, writing and running are the chief goals, but there are plenty of others, such as music and theatre. In short, I have a lot of commitments, and there are times when it would serve me best to be able to accomplish multiple things at once.

So I try to multi-task A and B. The problem is, it's not that I can do thing A and thing B at the same time. It's that thing B is shiny and distracting, and thing A goes undone.

In general, I'm better served by buckling down on A and telling myself that B will wait until I'm done. Certainly, I'm not always good at doing that. The most common example is when I'm sitting at my desk, working on a project, with another eye on my email inbox. I pride myself at getting back to folks quickly, but when the email comes in, I cut off whatever I'm working on and change over my attention. Sometimes it's hours before I see the open window on my screen and think, "What was I doing in that program?"

I don't think I'm the only person who works like this. Every day, I hear from someone who "doesn't have time" to do this or that, wishing that there could be more hours in every day to get things done. Often, one of the first things to get sacrificed will be a workout.

Recently, I've realized that running is the one place where I can truly multi-task. Sure, I can't return emails or read a book (I have no idea how those people at the gym can read on treadmills), but there are a lot of parts of my life that can happen while I'm pounding the pavement, because a lot of my life happens quietly in my brain.

This morning, for example, after another battle with my sleep-fogged brain, I managed to make it out the door for my run. As usual, my mind started wandering pretty quickly, and I explored all the dark places of my doubt before finding a way to be proud of the fact that I'd actually made it out the door. At some point, I turned to my schedule for the day, remembering that there is a performance of the play I'm in tonight. My train of thought took it from there:

I'm kind of glad I'm not onstage tonight, after a bit of a break, it'll be nice to see it again - wait, when am I on next - right, Saturday, we don't have a show tomorrow - I should spend tomorrow going over my lines - hang on a minute... I've got time right now!

I began to run the play, beginning to end, in my mind on the road. It's surprisingly difficult to keep focused, especially as my mind wanders off into the comedic bits and improv that will happen throughout Saturday evening, but I ended up getting through about 90% of the lines I'll have to speak on the night. I'd accomplished two things at once, and perhaps even better, I hadn't even noticed the last two miles of the run.

Whether I'm working on a new song, prewriting one of these blog posts, or trying to remember whether it's "your" or "thy" in a particular scene, a lot of the effort of my day is cerebral. Tying that to my physical workout is proving to find me a little extra time throughout the rest of the day.

And then I can single-task to my heart's content.