My Love Hate Relationship with Running

40554446_1929070970472585_1579221588832681984_nWhen I first took up exercise and healthier eating and living five and half years ago, I started with walking. I tried to walk at least three miles per day but I got bored with it and lower leg injuries started to get me down. Four months in I turned to weight lifting as well.

A family friend who is an avid runner told me that I was going to catch the bug. I told her she was nuts. I enjoyed a nice bit of humble pie with a side of crow when I had to admit to her that she was right. I had caught the running bug. I started with my standard, pat distance of three miles. My dearest friend, who just happens to be a cross-country coach, and former cross-country teammate of mine, told me I better switch up distances and pace or else wasn’t going to get any better.

Over time, I gained an appreciation for running. It became therapy. It became an idea incubator for my fiction writing. It became a sanctuary. Me, my music and residence in my own head. I ran a few organized 5Ks and I was building up to bigger races.

When I hurt my back in 2015, one of the toughest parts of recovery after surgery was not being able to run. I busted my hump to be able to get back to it and even had a 5K to train for to keep me focused.

A 2014 run in England hatched an idea. Normally, I travel a lot for work, as I have chronicled in this space. So, my regular readers will recall that I set a goal to run in every city I visit. The first year, I missed a run in Detroit because of the flu, the second year, I missed a run in Denver because I had the flu, and last year I hit them all, including Mexico City for the second year in a row.

The last run of the year and of the travel schedule was in Los Angeles. After that I must have felt like I had accomplished something. I no longer had the fire or the energy to run. I washed my hands of it.

Now, I hadn’t become a marathoner, hell, I haven’t even tried a half yet. I never managed to run an organized 10K either. My longest run to date is eight miles in Baltimore. In five and a half years, I have logged nearly 1,400 miles walking and running using the Nike Running Club app. I know that mileage is some people’s one year total, but I’m pretty sure I have logged 1,398 more miles than a lot of people.

I tried to pick running back up in March. Back pain, fear of injury, cardio-vascular degradation because of lack of running, tight quads and a terrible pace kept me from getting back to it on a regular basis. My last run came along the beach in Carlsbad, Calif., during a vacation back in June. That was more “Jerry wants to run on the beach in Carlsbad” than “Jerry is running for exercise.”

But I suppose that has been the point all along, right? Enjoy it. Run in different places. Experience the world through a different lens. I had forgotten that.

After that run in Los Angeles, you could say I fell out of love with running. After today, I won’t say I have fallen for running again, but it was a good first date.

And oh by the way, in case you had forgotten …

…I still run this town.

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B-Boy Running Adventures Continue in 2017: Starting off with a Scorcher

It’s that time of year and I am traveling for work once again. In 2015, I started a tradition of running in every city I visit. Although there are some repeat cities each summer/fall (and winter), there are always new spots on the itinerary. I have only missed two cities, Detroit in 2015 and Denver in 2016, and only because of the flu. I’ll be able to add several new cities this year.

I am no stranger to running in weather, especially heat. I prefer temperatures between 55-65 degrees, but I have run in the mid-90s and the low teens. Running in the summer where I live in California usually means higher temperatures unless I get up very early. And that’s usually a non-starter.

This past weekend, my occupation took me to Phoenix, Arizona, where temperatures are consistently in the triple digits during the day this time of year. The forecast told me that mid-80s were the overnight lows and early morning norm. So, I figured I’d get up early and get three miles in before heat stroke conditions kicked in.

I got up a little later than I wanted to, but I still headed out early enough, 8:00 a.m. PT or so. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going. My hotel was near Camelback Mountain, which was visible on the other side of the Camelback Mall. I decided to head east on E. Camelback Road and see where it went. Just over a mile in to the run I decided to take a left and break toward the mountains. I headed north on N. 32nd until I edged past the 1.5-mile mark. I know better than try to run more than three miles or so in that kind of heat. I also know better than to try to set any new land speed records. My Nike Run Club app says it was 83 degrees during my run. Lies, all lies!

Cloud cover had shielded me from the harsh rays of the morning sun during the first mile or so. After running into the sunrise on my way out, the angry yellow nuclear reactor at the center of our solar system was at my back.

This happens to be the time of year in Phoenix when it gets a little humid. Thunderstorms are common as well. Although the temperatures in Phoenix are akin to June in my backyard, there’s something different about the heat there. Maybe it’s the proximity to the equator. But I basically ran through a blast furnace during the second half.

I like getting out for these runs so I can explore the local environs. Sometimes, though, I do them just to do them, just to say I did it. This run was a bit of both. My route wasn’t particularly exciting, it looks like an “L” on the map. But there was some scenery.

As I was trotting along, I had a good view of the mountains, there was a man-made pond of some variety, and I crossed a short bridge over a canal. Had I planned a bit better, running along the canal might have been the better option, but it also looked hot and dusty, kind of like my aqueduct runs here in California. On second thought, the canal probably would have been a bad idea.

This was my first run in Arizona. All things considered it wasn’t bad at all. I would have liked to have been a bit more adventurous. But I tend to be cautious when running in a new place unless I can find some established, well-worn running trails near my accommodations. The next travel run will be in Dallas and that will be a new one for me as well.

Funny, I was just looking at an old blog post about my goals for 2017. I wrote that I would blog more. Whups. I still have five months. Time to get cracking. I did finish my first novel, so accomplishing those goals wasn’t exactly a pipe dream.

Struggling with Fitness Motivation

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Yours truly after a 4-mile run last weekend.

Since January 2013, I have only truly struggled with the motivation to exercise and eat healthier a few times. Usually the onset of disillusionment has accompanied an injury or setback of some kind, never the lack of results. Conventional wisdom and everything I read says to keep at it and the results will come. I’m not so sure anymore.

I have been known to read too much when it comes to research. I have written of information overload in previous entries. Most of the time I can’t make heads or tails of the information I consume. I read Runner’s World and Men’s Fitness. I spend time on numerous web sites from Men’s Health to bodybuilding.com. You would think after four years of better nutrition and consistent exercise, I would be seeing better results. You would think after four years I would understand my body. You would be wrong.

I have been a proponent of what I believe to be a simple truth. The body doesn’t need as many calories to subsist as we think it does. That being said, my calorie ceiling, no matter how much I exercise, seems to be pretty low. I have a FitBit Charge HR. I know how much I sleep, I know my heart rate, I know approximately how many calories I burn each day. Either I am lying to myself about how many calories I take in each day (I am horribly inconsistent with MyFitnessPal and logging my food), or my metabolism is much slower than I care to admit.

Actually, what’s crazy is the calorie burn estimates from each app you use. The Nike Run Club app says yesterday’s run burned 572 cal., while Smashrun says 761 cal. FitBit says 690. According to FitBit, I burned 3,106 cal. yesterday. I know I didn’t eat that much, but I guarantee you if I got on the scale this morning, it would have showed an uptick in weight. If that was the case, and knowing that you have to burn more than you take in to lose weight, you’d think I’d have this licked.

To recap – I once weighed 236 pounds. I lost 60 to get to 176. I put four back on and stayed at 180 for several months. I was quite happy at 180 pounds. Then I hurt my back. Even after surgery to repair a herniated disc, I stayed at 180 for some time. This was summer 2015. By January 2017 I have put about 20 pounds back on. November and December 2016 were bad for me. I backed off my running, I exercised three to four days a week instead of five to six, and I ate more holiday comfort food than I should have. Over the summer, I ate more backyard cookout food and drank more beer than I should have. From July on I took on a new hobby – podcasting – to go with blogging and working on my first novel.

Since the first of the year, a bout with the flu not withstanding, I have been back on my game. I have been running more often, especially of late, and I am back to five to six workouts per week. Trusting the process has been my mantra from the beginning and I don’t know what that process is anymore. I have forgotten how to do this. I don’t even know what to do anymore. I don’t know what to eat, how much of it to eat. I don’t know what workouts to do. I don’t know what not to do either.

I belong to a Facebook group affiliated with Jim Stoppani, an exercise scientist who has his own line of supplements. The group, known as the JYM Army, consists of people of all ages, shapes, and sizes and walks off life. Many post transformation photos. Instead of being inspired to achieve, I am jealous. I’m envious. And worst of all, I’m disgusted with myself. I know what I want. I know what I want to look like; I know how I want to feel. And I just don’t know how to do it.

The past few weeks have been frustrating. I have seen a little movement on the scale in the right direction, which is undone quickly. I am in a constant battle with needing to manage my life and wanting to live it. I used to get frustrated when my weight loss efforts stalled. But I never really considered giving up. My eyes were always on the prize. As I drove toward it I always thought the definition would come, the body fat would slough off. I figured I would build the body I always wanted while I did this.

But I think the past two weeks have seen my first real cracks, my first real thoughts of wanting to quit. I see people who have lost weight and gained it back and never go back to diet and exercise. I guess either life got in the way or they just said, “screw it.” I don’t want to be that person. Yet, despite my best efforts, I gained 20 pounds. And I’m debating being that person.

I lift and I lift and nothing seems to change. My belly fat is back in abundance and my muscles never seem to grow or define. I get a little stronger and I’m probably stronger that I ever have been, but that’s not good enough. My battle with the poster on the wall seems to be unwinnable.

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Same route, two years apart, and I’ve lost six minutes total run time, and a minute and a half off my pace.

I’m 47 years old. The one thing I have figured out about this 1969 rambling wreck is that backing off is the kiss of death. If I don’t maintain the five to six days a week of weightlifting and 10-15 miles a week of running, my fitness level goes right down the drain. The worst part about that is getting back to where I was, which gets harder as I get older. It wasn’t that long ago when I was able to consistently run 10-minute miles on three- to five-mile runs. I never could maintain than on a six-miler. I’m trudging along at 11-minute miles now. Sure I can turn in a sub 10-minute mile, but I can’t maintain that pace. Carrying 20 extra pounds can’t be helping. Two years ago I was running four miles in 38 minutes. Now? 44 minutes. I am an ex-smoker but I quit damn near nine years ago. I know that it takes 15 years to undo it, but you’d think my cardio-vascular health would be better than it is. Granted, I have not been able to get my speed back since back surgery.

My new problem is mystery quad pain and tightness I’ve never had before. I used to suffer from shin splints. Quality running shoes with plenty of cushion solved that. Now I wonder if my new running shoes are causing the quad problem. My new weight bench has a built-in squat rack and I am squatting more weight that I ever have. Maybe that is causing my quad issues. Who the hell knows? We’ve established that I don’t understand my anatomy.

Maybe I’m not sticking to anything long enough to get any real results. Getting enough protein on a daily basis is a constant struggle. I’m good once in awhile. But I forget my discipline and I don’t stick to it. I forget to make a shake, or miss the window to drink one. I don’t eat enough animal protein during the day because I don’t want the calories. The JYM Army and Stoppani tell you screw the calories, it’s about losing inches and fat and building muscle. I would say, “yeah, that’s great if you’re 25,” but the are 50-somethings in the group that look like professional bodybuilders. And for me, and my body, eating to fuel muscle growth and workouts is not what works for me. I just put on fat. I never shred.

Maybe it’s low testosterone. I have been tested. It is a bit low. Not catastrophically low, but lower than it should be. Maybe that is what’s hurting me. I read an article in the March 2017 Men’s Fitness that said people with sleep apnea shouldn’t take testosterone replacement because it could worsen the symptoms. It’s bad enough I thought losing 60 pounds would cure the condition only to find out I am stuck with it for life, only to read that something that would help lose weight, build muscle and provide numerous other benefits could also hasten my demise.

It seems like I am constantly stuck between a rock and a hard place. I think the added weight has not only hurt my running ability, but has also exacerbated my symptoms. Evening fatigue would be the most glaring. I have trouble getting up in the morning. During my last visit with the sleep doc, my CPAP machine was adjusted to help with that.

This week, I’ll try something new. I’m hardheaded I guess. I don’t know when or how to quit. But I do feel like for the first time since I started four years ago that there’s no point to it. That no matter what I do I’ll continue to gain weight no matter what I eat or how much I exercise. And that simply won’t do.

Time to Reset the Mechanism

cbe9caa6_9ecc00fd_ed08_4397_856e_026310109756Weight is a sneaky thing. It creeps up on you when you least expect it. It appears in the strangest places. It makes your clothes tight and increases your appetite. It’s fed by apathy, inattention and distraction. If you’re not careful, you’ll wake up obese.

Just over four years ago I woke up obese. A victim of lethargy, opiate entertainment, stress and fatigue, I had put on a disturbing amount of weight. After reflection and contemplation, I hatched a plan and was determined to rectify the situation.

Opiate

Noun

3. Anything that causes dullness or inaction or that soothes the feelings.

I figured out how to incorporate exercise into my schedule and I resolved to eat better and less. For the most part I was successful. I lost 60 pounds, shrunk several inches and had to replace my wardrobe with smaller, better fitting clothes. Throughout the process many people remarked that they were amazed that I was able to keep the weight off. It took 11 months to reach my first major goal and another several to reach 180 pounds. My lightest weight was 176 and I was quite pleased at 180. I loved the way my clothes fit; I had swagger and confidence.

hungry05This journey has not been smooth sailing by any stretch of the imagination. Two surgeries, including back surgery, shin splints, strained muscles, and numerous aches and pains have dotted the map along the way. Back surgery took place in May 2015 and I was able to maintain 180 pounds throughout the recovery process. However, when I resumed exercise, I began to gain weight. Slowly. A half a pound here, a half a pound there. I’ve never really got too far off track with my exercise. Sure, an injury or a strain here or there, work or family commitments knocked me off the path temporarily but never for very long. It’s always been my diet that derailed me.

From the day I quit smoking in 2008, nutrition has either been my enemy or my friend. I’ve read this comment in numerous places with a few variations and I believe it wholeheartedly – you can’t outrun or out-exercise a bad diet. In a recent Good Morning America story on Oprah Winfrey’s latest victory in the battle of the bulge, statistics reveal that many people regain lost weight after two years. Well, I’m right at that point and unfortunately I have regained almost 20 pounds from my fighting weight. The scale read 198 today. To be fair to myself, I just went through a one-week creatine load-in phase, which results in water retention. But, that’s only a few pounds.

The GMA piece is eye opening. The “lower third” graphic does not specify how much weight is regained, and implies “all.” I’ll never cross 200 pounds again, I’ll never climb back to 236, ain’t gonna happen.

Although this weight gain has snuck up on me, it’s didn’t take five years for me to notice this time. It took a few months. And I think I caught it in time. I have written previously that I was back in weight loss mode after discovering that I had put on a few pounds. It may seem a bit hypocritical for me to proclaim that now. But that’s what I’m doing. It has to happen. There is no not doing it.

So, what happened? How self-aware am I? Well. What I can tell you is that, starting last summer, I got complacent with food and alcohol. I have never been one to drink a whole helluva lot but between pool parties and entertaining, I ate too much and drank too much. This carried into the fall and into the holidays. Eventually, I got off track with running. You can read all the bodybuilding web sites and magazine you want and they’ll all tell you to avoid steady-rate cardio. They’ll all tell you the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is better. They’ll all tell you strength training is the way to do. Some may tell you that some cardio is okay or necessary. Runner’s World magazine tells runners that they need strength training.

It’s all a racket. This one will tell you that you need 1.21 gigawatts of protein a day while they try to sell you protein powder. The other one tells you you need to run while they try to sell you Air Zoom Max Glide Trip-Its with mink uppers and gold soles to help you run faster.

I have covered information overload previously and it is real. I love the fact that information is available at my fingertips, but it can be a bit much to get through. What you have to understand is that we are all different. What works for me may not work for you. I am 47, I smoked for 18 years, I was obese, I have high cholesterol and triglycerides, and I have sleep apnea. My metabolism is my own. My body composition is my own.

My favorite comedian Lewis Black once ranted about health. His point was that we are all different. My point is that I need to go back and look at what I was doing when I was successful. And I need to adopt the philosophy that the nutrition I use to lose weight has to be my nutritional philosophy forever. That’s where this whole thing went sideways, that’s the rub, that’s where it fell down. The graphic on the GMA piece read “set-point” theory was the reason people regain weight. What does that mean exactly?

According to mirror-mirror.org:

“Set point is the weight range in which your body is programmed to function optimally. Set point theory holds that one’s body will fight to maintain that weight range.

Everyone has a set point and, just as you have no control over your height, eye color or hair color, you also have no control over what your set point will be. Your body is biologically and genetically determined to weigh within a certain weight range.”

Other sources indicate that it is possible to change that set point. And, I think, I changed mine for quite awhile. However, I had changed it for the negative. Fortunately I was able to change it again in the positive direction and that helped me keep the weight off for a year and a half. Now, my set point has changed again. My body wants me in the 195-200 range. I disagree. It is time to reset the mechanism and this time, I can’t forget one of my mantras. Your body doesn’t need as many calories as you think it does. Especially as you get older.

img_0471I have my own definition of “set-point.” I thought I was done. I thought I was at “set-point” in the game. One more and I win. You bust your ass to lose all the weight you want to lose, you get to your goal and you think you’re done. Or, you can back off. You think you can have that cookie, or that brownie, or a second piece of pie. I had to force myself to learn moderation. I lean toward the higher end and that has led to this weight gain.

I consume information on these topics and even though I don’t follow everything I read, I think some of this information has seeped into my consciousness and affects my eating habits. The exercise web sites and magazines will tell you about fueling your body, especially to work out. Then there’s the information about macronutrients and ratios of fat, carbohydrates and protein.

I think that if I lift weights and run enough that I’ll burn off what I consume. I must grossly overestimate how many calories I burn each day despite tracking this data with my Fitbit Charge HR. As I mentioned, I have not gotten too far off track with exercise in the last four years. Good nutrition and exercise are still an important part of my life. Yes, I indulge. Yes, I drink.

img_0464So, after trying to get back in the habit the last few months, I have had a great two weeks of weight lifting sessions. I haven’t missed a workout in two weeks. Twelve really good lifts in 13 days – Sunday is my rest day. I got a non-stop three-mile run in today. My last two runs were terrible. I can’t tell you the importance of good running shoes, and after almost 300 miles the spring in my Asics Kayano 21s finally sprung. After several days of shopping I finally settled on Asics Cumulus 17s. My first run in them was good from a shoe standpoint. They certainly solved my lower leg pain problem from my last two runs.

Now, today’s run was not good. I can’t lie. It was slow and painful. I guess that’s what I get for running the day after legs night. But it was non-stop and it was a good first step in getting back to my running regimen. The weight I’ve put obviously has an effect on my running. The weight also might be affecting my sleeping as well. Afternoon and evening fatigue have reared their ugly heads and I think the extra pounds are affecting sleep apnea events.

As proud of myself I am for getting the past two weeks done in my little gym, it is merely the beginning. All that swagger, all that confidence, and all that machismo I had? Gone. My competition with the poster on the wall? The poster has landed a few haymakers of late. I hit the canvass. But you know what?

I’ll get back up and I’ll keep coming.

Putting 2016 in the Rear View Mirror and Looking Toward 2017

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My new weight bench is already paying dividends.

For many, ringing in the New Year signifies hope and new beginnings. New Year’s resolutions will be made and broken, goals will be set, college football bowl games will be played and one night of revelry will herald the dawning of the first day of a new page on the calendar.

I rang in the New Year sick in bed in a hotel room in Denver. The flu bug kissed me long before midnight on New Year’s Eve. Fever, body aches and the chills dashed my grand plans for another Beatnik adventure in the Mile High City. That thing I do when I travel, you know, run? That went out the window too. The last thing I needed to do was go running on the 16th Street Mall in below freezing temperatures.

I wish I were in the mood to display piss and vinegar and let out a primal Howard Dean scream. I do not have the energy to proclaim that I’m attacking 2017 with resolve and fire. That’s not to say I won’t; it just means that fiery treatise on what I plan on making come to pass in the New Year isn’t happening today.

The New Year is also a time for reflection, both personal and worldly. It didn’t truly dawn on me until I watched CBS Sunday Morning’s Hail and Farewell how many entertainers who were important to me passed away in 2016. From my early childhood to my present state of being, these were the people who thrilled me on the big screen, made me laugh on the small screen, and provided part of the soundtrack of my life. Prince, David Bowie, George Michael, Gene Wilder, Carrie Fisher, Leonard Cohen, Garry Marshall, et al. I can’t recall a year in which we lost so many actors and musicians of note who meant something to me. Gene Wilder and Carrie Fisher hit particularly hard.

For me personally, 2016 was a year of ups and downs, a veritable roller coaster ride. It was one of the more challenging years of my professional life. The losses I suffered have opened a new door for me so I am not going to dwell on the negative. Although I am reflecting on the year that was I just want to put that part of the year behind me. I get to do something new and exciting. That’s the important take away.

So, what did I accomplish in 2016? I started a novel. I am more than halfway through writing my first book. I had hoped to have it done by now but as I am fond of saying, life got in the way. I managed to write over 40,000 words and I know how it ends, so, I just need to buckle down and finish it. I broke down and finally joined Twitter and Instagram. Yeah, yeah. Big accomplishments. I started a podcast and managed to figure out how to post it to iTunes. I dropped 41 blog posts – a few of them were teasers for the podcast. I got lazy toward the end of the year and recycled a few blogs from the year before.

I ran 303.87 miles in 2016. Not as many as I would have liked. I ran 319 miles in 2015. I am nothing if not consistent. I did manage my longest run ever – an eight-miler in Baltimore. I had a road trip run preempted by the flu just like 2015. I probably would have run more in 2016 but I got off track at the end of the year and didn’t run as much. I didn’t participate in any organized races in 2016. I normally just do two per year, but I decided to skip them this time around.

I went back and looked at my New Year’s blog post from Jan. 4, 2016. I’m actually a bit surprised at my optimism. I like to think of myself as a realist, but I’m sure most people who know me would call me a pessimist. I do know I am quite cynical.

Almost two weeks in to the New Year and all I can really come up with is fatigue. I’m tired. I don’t know why I’m tired. I’ve been putting my new weight bench to good use this week. I tried right after Christmas, but that damn flu bug derailed me. Running hasn’t been much of an option lately. I didn’t run in Denver because of the flu, and I didn’t run during a recent trip to Houston because a witch’s tit blew through southern Texas and I didn’t pack my cold weather gear. I had been over packing for my work trips and since I don’t employ a Sherpa, I was tied of hauling extra clothes and jackets all over the damn country. The forecast for Houston was also a bit understated. I didn’t expect Switzerland in the winter.

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My next pair of running shoes. I can’t wait to get back to running on fluffy kittens.

I am currently between running shoes. Almost 300 miles on my Asics Kayano 21s and the spring finally sprung. After some shopping around and trying Brooks and Nike, I have a pair of Asics Cumulus 17s in my future. I don’t dare run in the Kayano 21s again. My last two runs were horrible. Lower leg pain torpedoed those jaunts and I know damn well it had everything to do with the shoes.

Part of me is not too broken up about it. With the weather here in California I would just as soon become a submarine captain instead of a marathoner. We need the rain, but holy crap. If my 10-year-old starts building a boat in the backyard, you better hope you’re on the short list. I won’t have time to notify everyone.

I do not make New Year’s resolutions; I set goals. Want to know what they are? I thought you’d never ask.

  1. I have a major, important relationship to repair.
  2. I will finish my first novel. I am more than 40,000 words into a tale that I have spent roughly nine months crafting.
  3. This will be the year I find my abs. In 2013, I began eating better and exercising. I am still covered in fat. This will be the year I shed the fat and get defined. The goal is to exercise six days per week and run four. The former is more likely than the latter.
  4. I will read even more books. Two years ago I decided to read more books and I have accomplished that goal. I plan on reading even more. I have embarked on the 2017 Book Riot/Goodreads Read Harder Challenge. I have already accomplished one of the 24 tasks.
  5. I will participate in organized races. I took last year off and did not participate in the two 5Ks I normally run. I plan on trying 5Ks, 10Ks, and maybe even a half marathon. I do plan on running more in 2017. I’d like to get to 350 miles.
  6. I will blog more. I got lazy in 2016, especially toward the end of the year. Writing is therapy, writing is cathartic and I desperately need to get these thoughts and ideas out of my head. In addition to finishing my novel, I want to write some short stories this year too.
  7. I will expand my knowledge and consumption of Scotch. I do not pretend to know a damn thing about Scotch or how it’s made. I know that single malt is better than blended. I know that older Scotches are better. Funny, 15-year-old Scotch doesn’t do much for me. I like 12s and I like 18s. You do get what you pay for. That doesn’t mean you’ll be spared from my Tullamore DEW-fueled rants. I do like my Irish whisky.
  8. I’d like to grow my Twitter followers. I currently have approximately 245 Twitter followers.
  9. I also want to grow the podcast audience. The 17 of you who listen regularly are great, but…
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The first book down in the 2017 Book Riot/Goodreads Read Harder challenge – read a book you’ve read before. I finished this last week. I read it the first time in the early 1990s.

I’m sure I’ll come up with more. I have some professional challenges ahead of me this year and I am eager to tackle them. No, this will not be the year I get on Snapchat. It was a feat for me to add Twitter and Instagram to my communication repertoire last year. Snapchat is not a sandbox in which I wish to play. Maybe I’ll buy a domain name for the blog, maybe I’ll actually buy a WordPress template. Maybe I’ll continue to be a cheap ass and use as many free services I can.

I do pay for my Soundcloud account. Since I just love to hear myself talk, I ran out of storage space very quickly. I do have a new intro coming for the podcast. And a new podcast should drop this week. I hosted and posted 17 episodes in 2016 and I would like to stick to the once per week schedule. The first episode was the most played with 105 listens. The least was my Christmas podcast that got 14 plays. So, I’ll be looking for more ways to spread the word and get more people to walk around in my mind via this fun medium.

Listen on Soundcloud or iTunes. And if you don’t already, be sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Okay loyal readers. I am looking forward to accomplishing much in 2017, I just hope I can find the energy to do it. I’ll turn 48 in June and hopefully I will have found my abs by then. I look forward to unveiling this Speedo body.

I’ll leave you with that image.

B-Boy Running Adventures: Mexican Style

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A monument in Chapultepec Park in Mexico City.

I just experienced my first trip to Mexico. You’d think living in California would afford ample opportunities to venture south of the border and partake in adventures in the birthplace of the Aztecs, most of the American southwest and California, and the taco. But alas, this was my first trek and unfortunately it only lasted 36 hours. I accomplished a lot in a short amount of time and I enjoyed the experience thoroughly.

It was not lost on me that one of my literary heroes, Jack Kerouac, wrote of many Mexican adventures and I was hoping to have a similar Beatnik experience. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to explore even a fraction of what Mexico City has to offer. The New York Times’ Damien Cave actually went in search of Kerouac’s Mexico.

“I found Jack Kerouac’s Mexico on a strip of beach that separated the old hotels from the heaving Pacific, at a bar near where he sat on the sea wall and watched the sunset 61 years ago.” Damien Cave, New York Times

I landed at Toluca International Airport, (Licenciado Adolfo López Mateos International Airport), which was out in the weeds. The bus ride into Mexico City was long and winding. The sun went down shortly after landing so I didn’t get to see much. It gets dark quickly this time of year.

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The view from my room at the Hyatt Regency, Mexico City.

I stayed in a hotel near Chapultepec Park (Bosque de Chapultepec), which many liken to New York’s Central Park. A colleague mentioned that it takes an hour to walk around the perimeter of the park.

After getting checked in I met up with a pair of colleagues/friends, Ambrosio and Fernando, who are natives of Mexico. I must admit it was really cool to drink authentic Mexican beer (Modelo Negro) with a couple of authentic Mexicans.

Mexico City, and Mexico in general, has a reputation among many people I have known. Much of that reputation is undeserved as far I can tell. Home to more than 20 million people, it is much like any other mega-city with sprawling neighborhoods, mixed eras of architecture, upscale areas, down-trodden sections, and everything between. The traffic sucks and the place definitely qualifies as a sprawling metropolis.

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This taco chef at El Farolito became my new best friend.

After a few Modelo Negros, mis amigos and I set out to find some authentic tacos. We had a rough idea of where we were headed, but Fernando felt the need to ask directions every other block. We came across a Mariachi band serenading some tourists. The lead singer gave us the stink eye as Fernando began singing along as he was trying to put his mack down.

The three of us came across a couple of police officers walking the beat, and they pointed us in the right direction. Never mind the next set of cops we saw, who were apparently in the middle of a sting operation. I didn’t want to stick around for that.

We eventually found our destination – El Farolito – a neighborhood taqueria (18 locations). The first thing you notice when you walk in is the taco “chef” slicing pork off a giant rotisserie. The second thing you notice is the aroma. Your sense of smell is bombarded with the amazing aromas of several roasted, smoked and grilled meats. We enjoyed pork, chorizo and carne asada tacos. The first bite sent me into a tizzy. These were the best tacos I have ever had. And I’ve had authentic before.

Before you travel to Mexico, you hear all the stories and admonitions. Don’t drink the water, don’t eat this, don’t eat that. When you are with folks who grew up there, you trust them and my pals didn’t steer me wrong. Another Modelo Negro accompanied our meal.

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Best. Tacos. Ever.

We definitely needed the walk back to the hotel to burn off some calories. The evening ended with a couple of obligatory pours of tequila. When in Rome (do as the Romans do).

If you are a loyal reader, or know me at all, you know that I like to go running in the cities I visit. I went on 10 trips in 2015 and ran in nine cities. So far this year I have gone running in New Orleans, Nashville (twice), Baltimore, Jacksonville and Tampa. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to run in Bagshot, which is not too far from London, England. So, of course I was going to go running in Mexico City. I met up with two other colleagues, one a native of Mexico, and we set out for Chapultepec Park.

img_0217Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Mexico City sits at 7,382 feet above sea level. I have run in Denver, the Mile High City, which sits between 5,130–5,690 feet above sea level. The last time I went running in Denver, the altitude didn’t bother me. Maybe that was because I run regularly. The time before, I was miserable but that was at the beginning of my fitness journey. Last winter I rather enjoyed my cold three-mile run in Denver.

I haven’t run in three weeks for various reasons. My back has been bothering me, and I had a head cold, which graduated into electric yellow snot flowing sinus infection.

Let’s just say I wasn’t ready for the elevation in Mexico City. We lost one pal less than half a mile in. I could call him out, but I won’t be mean. My other friend, Sal, and I managed a mile non-stop before I needed a break. After that we took a break every half mile or so. My body felt pretty good but I just couldn’t catch my breath.

We ran around part of and through part of Chapultepec Park. The park was stunning. The natural beauty was interrupted with historical monuments. That’s not a bad thing. Visitors walked, ran and paddle-boated their way through the expanse.

My run time wasn’t horrible had it been non-stop. That’s what I get for taking three weeks off from running. I highly doubt it would have made a difference. At my age, with my body, taking any time off from exercise is almost catastrophic. It is so easy to get out of shape, and so hard to get back in shape. I only feel good when I am exercising – or eating amazing chorizo tacos.

As I mentioned, I was only in Mexico City for 36 hours or so, and I was there to work. I didn’t get a chance to visit the pyramids of Teotihuacan, or the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. But I did enjoy authentic tacos and I got to go running in another exotic locale.

Muy beuno.

Muchas gracias, Ciudad de México.

B-Boy Running Adventures 2016

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The view overlooking part of my running path at the Opryland Resort in Nashville.

“City to city, I’m-a runnin’ my rhyme,” Beastie Boys

You may recall that I travel for work and since late last summer, I try to get a run in wherever I go on these business trips. Last year I made 10 trips and managed nine runs. I missed Detroit. Not because I forgot to pack the Kevlar body armor, but because I got sick on the flight. I came down with the flu or somesuch.

It’s 2016, it’s travel season and I have been running on the road again. No pun intended. I think running in cities across the country is a great way to take in the scenery and peep out the local gentry. Thanks to the luck of the draw I have gone running in Nashville three times in the last 10 months – last November, April and just over a week ago. Instead of waiting for this cycle to end and detail my travel running then, I thought I would catch you up now – especially after my lunacy this past weekend in Baltimore.

img_0034So, the 2016 on the road running began in Nashville in April. After a night of way too much Scotch, I went running with three colleagues and I brought up the rear. Unfortunately, I don’t see a record of this run on the Nike Running Club App – formerly known as Nike+ Running. Sidebar, I don’t know why Nike had to go and mess with this app. It was perfectly fine the way it was. Odd I didn’t post it on Facebook either. Regardless, it was just over three miles and painfully slow. It was on the edge of downtown Nashville and once around Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans, and pretty close to the same route I took last November. I’ll get to this year’s Nashville run in a minute.

I don’t mind running in some weather. I don’t mind heat usually. I keep wondering how many times I am going to go running in 85-90-degree heat. I don’t seem to learn my lesson. However, humidity is a weather classification unto itself. I live a fairly dry, temperate climate. Heat + humidity and I do not get along.

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Part of the New Orleans Riverwalk path where I went running in September.

img_0035I went to New Orleans last month, one of my favorite places on Earth. After a late night on Bourbon Street (you don’t close Bourbon Street, Bourbon Street closes you), I ventured out for a run in the mist and light drizzle along the Riverwalk. Last August I ran in Minneapolis and crossed the Stone Arch Bridge, which spans the Mississippi River. This time, I ran along the mighty Mississip’ at the other end – kinda neat. I managed 3.05 miles in 32:42 in 85-degree heat, humidity and rain. Fog and the mist obscured the river, and some of the Riverwalk was blocked off because of renovations, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I earned my alligator sausage, gumbo, crawfish Étoufée at the Gumbo Store, and beignets and café au lait at Café Du Monde.

This fall’s trip to Nashville was interesting. I stayed at the Opryland Resort instead of downtown. I mapped a route, which I thought was the path of an Opryland 5K, but it was blocked off a half a mile in and I had to improvise on the fly. I barely left the hotel grounds but I still managed three miles in 31:13 in 86-degree heat, and yes, the dreaded humidity. Damn the southeast.

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The most stunning Barnes & Noble bookstore I have ever visited – Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Last weekend was a bit more eventful. Baltimore. I stayed at the Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards. I have always enjoyed Baltimore going back to my days writing for a rag newspaper covering the Canadian Football League’s Baltimore Stallions. I mapped a route out to Ft. McHenry, which would have been six miles round-trip. A bit ambitious and it would mark my longest road trip run. I usually stick to three-four miles. I am a bit skittish running unfamiliar routes.

img_0036I found Ft. McHenry just fine, although my route was exactly the one I had plotted. And, yes, it was raining. I asked Siri to plot a course back to my hotel and my iPhone just didn’t seem to want to find it or didn’t understand my voice commands. However, I was headed back in the right direction. I made sure to stay across the street from the biker bar/funeral parlor (funeral in progress) I almost blundered into on the way out to Ft. McHenry and got to a Marriott pretty much unmolested. I knew I was at the wrong one. I asked the concierge for some help and he pointed me in the right direction. By this point I had traveled six miles already. He said my hotel wasn’t far, only about a mile. I told him, “I have another mile in me.” Off I went. I got confused along the way and I stopped and divined the actual address for my hotel. I dropped into the maps app and finished my run strong, only stopping a few times for traffic. All told, I ran eight miles. Eight freaking miles. My previous long run was 6.6 miles not all that long ago.

I enjoyed running in Baltimore, I just hadn’t planned on such a distance. I ended up walking seven additional miles and I paid for it later. My stiff and sore body didn’t have trouble falling asleep. So, I accomplish the longest run of my life because I got lost. Figures.

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This was supposed to be the halfway point of a six mile run, but no.

I ran eight miles and walked seven in one of America’s inner cities and I didn’t get shot. Go figure.

So far I have had the opportunity to run in two cities I have never run in before, and in three locations new to me. I have seven or eight more trips left this year, including a few cities I have yet to run in (plus a few repeats). My eight-mile run has me thinking about finally trying for that half-marathon I’d like to accomplish.

I am enjoying this endeavor, it’s a lot of fun. Now I just need to run with a bit more confidence and speed when I am gallivanting around the country.

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I ran through the Federal Hill neighborhood in Baltimore, headed out Key Highway and ran to Ft. McHenry.

 

I Feel the Need for Speed

Not sure why I ripped my headline from a movie I absolutely detest, but the quote is appropriate for what I have going on with my running.

When I first started this fitness journey I did nothing but walk for exercise for about four months. I then added weight lifting. As I gradually got faster walking I often felt like breaking into a run. I’ve never been much of a runner. One year in high school on the cross-country team hardly qualifies. But, because I had fitness goals and thought organized 5K races would be fun I picked it up.

After dismissing folks who said it was addictive and that I would “catch the bug,” I caught the bug. I have been addicted to running for more than two years now. I think about running when I am not running. Injuries – major and minor – that keep me from running anger me. I am glad that I have strength training in my life because my body can’t handle more than three runs a week and it keeps from bagging off exercise when I can’t run.

I have had chronic back problems for more than 10 years and after herniating a disc last year and undergoing surgery, my per mile pace took a nosedive after a I resumed running. I worked very hard to get in shape for a 5K last September. I had six weeks after being cleared for full activity. I ran a 30:05 race. I haven’t been under 30 minutes for a three-mile run since Jan. 4. In March of 2015, I was routinely well under 30 minutes. My per mile pace was well under 10 minutes.

My pace was steadily improving during the early part of this year and then I strained my back in May. I wasn’t able to run for about two weeks. Then I suffered a rash of minor foot injuries that forced me to take a week here and a week there.

After my schedule got in the way, I took about a week and a half off and ran three miles this past Wednesday, and four and a half today. I have my Nike+ Running app set to give me ½-mile hacks and when I am under five minutes for my first half-mile, I know it’s going to be a good run. I guess any run is a good run, but you know what I mean.

I don’t know what it is – the time off or number of days between runs, keeping up with my strength training and not skipping legs days in particular, something has my pace coming down. On top of that, I feel pretty good, especially today.

13880280_1143320122381011_8604912016051867540_nI have been trying to exercise some demons this year. I ran a six-mile route a year after I hurt my back lifting weights the same week as running that route. I ran the same six-mile route on which I had been stung by a bee a few weeks earlier. And now, this four and a half mile route I first attempted a few weekends ago and could not run non-stop because of my fitness and 94-degree heat. I made it about three miles and then had to alternate walking and running the rest of the way. Well, I conquered that course non-stop today on a 77-degree morning. And, I was fast. Well, fast by my warped standards.

My first mile went by in 9:22, my second in 9:43, third in 10:03 and fourth in 10:45. My overall pace was 10:03 per mile and I ran 4.5 miles in 45:15. A few weeks ago, I was running at 11 minutes a mile and I would have been lucky to go four in 44 minutes. It started to get very warm during my last mile, mile and a half and I slowed my pace so I could make sure I finished on a dead run without walking.

They say you should change up your course and do something different. I must admit I usually run the same three routes – two here at the house and one at the office. Now, I have four courses I can run and this fourth is very much a challenge. I want to work my way back up to including that longer run in my weekly regimen. Maybe now I am on my way back to that.

I maintain that any run is better than no run, and that any workout is better than no workout. CBS Sunday Morning ran an inspiring story today about athletes in their 80s and 90s who are still exercising, still running and still competing. One gentleman is the only man to ever run a 10-minute mile past 80 years old. If he can do it, what’s my excuse?

 

Don’t Ever Grow Up or Get Older

Aging sucks donkey balls.

I just turned 47, rather celebrated the 17th anniversary of my 30th birthday. I don’t know what 47 is supposed to feel like. I didn’t know what 30 was supposed to feel like either but I do know I was 30 pounds lighter back then.

The first thing you notice when you get older is how much longer it takes to heal. Cuts, scratches, bruises, sprains – things that used to take days to heal now take weeks and months. It takes longer to get back on track after recovering from an injury too. I’ve had the thought to just wrap myself in bubble wrap and never leave the house again.

You would think that after three years of diet and exercise after making a commitment to a healthier lifestyle that I would have somewhat undone 16 years of relative inactivity and 18 years of smoking. But, unfortunately, every time I hurt myself and have to take a week or two off from running, it takes quite awhile to get my groove back. My cardiovascular can’t maintain my previously attained per mile pace when I am able to pick it back up again. Just when I think I’m driving that pace back down I hurt myself again and have to take a week off.

Graphic showing my running activity June - July
Gaps in my running activity due to stupid foot injuries don’t make me happy.

And these are not catastrophic injuries. These are stupid, living life injuries. I kicked a boulder jumping into my pool and bruised the living hell out of my foot. Boom – no running for nine days. I moved the coffee table so I could vacuum and destroyed the toenail on my left big toe, blood everywhere. Boom – no running for seven days.

Back in May I strained my disaster of a back, again, and was down for two weeks.

The good news about these other stupid little mishaps is that I don’t miss any time exercising. I just don’t run. With the exception of the back strain, I still have been able to lift weights several days a week. About the only thing I couldn’t do was walking lunges because I couldn’t flex the bruised foot.

Considering I couldn’t run at all last July after back surgery, I guess I should be lucky I am running at all. Before I herniated the disc at L4L5 and needed surgery to repair it, I was down to a pace of about 9:30 minutes per mile, some days faster, some days a twitch slower. Now, I’m lucky I can turn in a three-mile run with a pace under 10:30. I don’t know if it’s my back, my stride, my cardiovascular, my age or a combination of all these things.

My weight lifting doesn’t seem to be suffering. I blame my set up and my equipment, along with my schedule and commute, for lack of significant gains. But then again, I really don’t know what my goals are anymore.

I find trying to hit my macro nutrients every day to be an onerous activity. Trying to get 180g of protein, drink 56 ounces of water, commute, work, exercise and do everything else there is to do in my life is a full-time job. Once again, I am finding so much conflicting information. To whey protein or not to whey protein. To creatine or not creatine. I’m not a “bodybuilder” so do I need to do all of this? I just feel bloated when I protein and creatine myself silly.

What’s my point? The older I get it seems like it is less about living life and more about managing it. I take cholesterol medication and fish oil every day, I try to eat right and exercise. I just don’t know what I want to be physically anymore. I don’t like hurting myself but I can only imagine what I would be like if I had not lost all this weight and become an active person.

I should be happy that I can play basketball in the street or chuck the football around without getting winded after five minutes. But there is no guarantee I won’t dislocate a hip.