Taking it easy to get faster

Slowing down to speed up seems like an oxymoron at first. How in the world am I going to speed up if I’m slowing down? The answer wasn’t immediately obvious to me until one day when I did it by accident. It was a rough day. I didn’t feel well, had no energy, was more than a little cranky. In short, it was the perfect day for taking it easy on the couch.

I’m still not sure what got me up and going. I wasn’t training for a race, and at the time it wasn’t uncommon for me to go more than a week without running. For some reason, this day I got off my butt, got dressed, and headed out the door. Since it was a dreary day and I wasn’t crazy excited about pounding the pavement I took it really easy. It would be just a quick run around the neighborhood to dust off the cobwebs before taking up residence on my couch once again.

The easy pace meant I was able to run up the killer hill that always did me in. Usually, before I could reach the top, I was gasping for breath and had to finish the last few feet sucking wind, bent over with my hands on my hips. Not this time. I was still sucking wind, but I was over the top and heading down the backside before it dawned on me that I was still running. This phenomenon happened a few more times during my easy run. Several points along my run are standard cues for me to walk, but I didn’t need to this time. I was still tired, still dragging, and still hadn’t taken a walk break.

Back at the house, I stopped the clock on my watch. I was shocked to see that I had shaved several minutes off my usual time. This was pure craziness. Instead of my usual all-out effort followed by multiple recovery walk breaks, I had run slowly – a pace that makes me feel like I’m never going to finish. Instead of taking longer to get back home, I was there faster. Slowing down really did speed things up. Definitely an oxymoron. It’s still baffling to me some days that taking it easy means I’m actually running faster. Whereas running faster adds a couple minutes to my time because I have to take walk breaks, catch my breath, and give my legs a minute to recover.

Maybe these slow runners are actually onto something with taking it easy.

Fifty Miles

It has been two years since I first thought of training for the half marathon. I was having the best running year of my life. Earlier in the year I scored a personal record in the Monument 10k. I was getting faster and healthier, and had learned how to work around issues that help me up before. In one month I had covered fifty miles! That was a huge accomplishment for me.

Richmond has a wonderful training team run by our local running club. I figured with the help of these people who know best, even I could cross the finish line. Unfortunately, training isn’t a once-size-fits-all kind of thing. Each team’s coaches can help tailor the program to the individual, or help with cross-training ideas. But they can’t help if you don’t ask. Or, more accurately, they can’t help if you don’t know you need help.

At week seven, about halfway through the training program, I developed this crazy pain in my right shin. I stretched it out like everyone said to do. For the next week I did the famous RICE treatment: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Except without the compression, that’s just weird and kinda time-consuming. Oh, and the elevation. Who has time for that? I mean, I propped up my legs at least once an evening during my TV shows, and put ice on my shin at least twice a day. When I remembered. The ‘R’ is RICE, rest? Yeah, I got that one.

The next week I ran the first mid-week run later in the week and skipped the Saturday morning training team run of 8 miles to give my legs some more time to recuperate. Saturday and Sunday was spent doing more of the required REST, and there wasn’t really enough time on the weekdays to do 8 miles, so I split up the long run. Monday I did four miles in the morning and hobbled off to work. Right after work I pounded out the other five miles in the neighborhoods around my house. My friend had surgery that day and I was headed over to her house for the evening to give her some company. That didn’t leave a lot of time for the forgiving treadmill at the gym, or seeking out some soft trails further from home. Did I forget to mention that most of my fifty miles were on pavement? Hunh…

Needless to say, when I got to my friend’s house I could barely walk up the starts from the pain in my shins. Yes, both by this time. She commented that I didn’t look so good and shouldn’t be hobbling like that after a run. Nah, I told her, it’s nothing. It will go away tomorrow. I didn’t have time to stretch after all.

A couple of days later I took off for the first mid-week run of three miles. My wife sat on the front porch steps with the dogs and waved me off. I made it to the next corner before stopping. Something was definitely wrong. The pain was definitely not shin splints. I hobbled back home after a miserable quarter mile shuffle.

It was time to go to the ortho doctor. The next day I was given crutches, a diagnosis of possible stress fractures (plural), and set up with bone scan appointment for the following week.

During the bone scan, I was injected with some radioactive dye into my blood stream so the machine could follow the course of blood through my body. Since white blood cells heal the body, they gravitate en masse toward any site of injury. I was able to watch these little black dots flow all through my body and arrive at two very specific spots on my lower legs right where the intense pain was. The longer I watched, the larger these clouds of black dots became, hovering around my shins trying to heal them. I didn’t need a doctor to tell me what I was seeing. I had stress fractures in both of my legs. There wouldn’t be any half marathon for me.

It has taken me a full two years to get even close to where I was in 2014. I’m easily two minutes per mile slower, but I’m also much more cautious. I don’t run when tired or ignore pain. I also use dynamic warm up before running, and stretch out completely after my runs. Every run, no matter how short, is followed up by some quality time with my foam roller no matter how good it hurts.

This year I’m determined to finish more than just my first fifty miles injury free. I plan on finishing the half marathon and wearing that beautiful medal with pride all weekend. In order to do that, I’ve got to get to the starting line.

It’s Global Running Day!

I was supposed to go for a run yesterday but decided to go straight home instead. Two seconds after sitting down on the back patio I knew there was no hope of lacing up my running shoes. Some days it just isn’t going to happen. This morning was a different story. It’s Global Running Day! I set my alarm so I could wake up in enough time to go for an easy, rush-free run. Turns out the alarm wasn’t needed. My eyes popped open right on time. My clothes were all laid out in the guest bedroom so I didn’t wake up my wife digging around for a headband or a missing sock. Five minutes after waking up I was lacing up and out the door.

I did a brisk walk uphill to get warmed up, with the full intention of heading back downhill toward the park to finish my run. There’s a perfect 1-mile out and back from my doorstep that is a great “warm-up” since the park has maybe two miles of trail. Maybe. Turning right on my usual route, I jogged past a young man on his way to the park. He carries what I assume to be a large camera bag. I’ve seen him some mornings heading out of the “secret” back entrance with the same bag slung over his shoulder. This morning, as usual, I waved to him. He wished me a good morning and we continued on our separate ways.

A little while later, I headed into the back entrance of the park. The street dead-ends at the woods where a narrow trail continues on past a small county substation before dipping down into the cool shade of the oaks and pines. The first step onto the lightly graveled trail puts a smile on my face every time. This is where people were meant to exercise. Outside, in nature, with the earth beneath their feet. It’s been too long since running has been a regular habit for me. Today, here, is the perfect way to kick-start my habit.

I duck onto another path, this one even narrower, my arms and legs brushing the leaves as they close in around me. Happiness spreads across my face. I can already tell this is going to be the best part of my day. A foreign sound reaches my ears, soft at first, in the distance. Then, louder, I can make out the sounds of a woodwind instrument as the earthy tones cut through the morning silence. The make-shift trail opens up onto the main path around one of the park’s lakes. Through an opening in the trees I can see the young camera man setting up his equipment at the tip of a tiny strip of land jutting out into the middle of the lake.

A few more steps and I realize he hasn’t been carrying a camera bag to the park every morning. The unmistakable song of a bagpipe floats across the misty water as I run around the first curve of the trail. Is this really happening? It’s Global Running Day, and I get to run on a magical dirt path around my lake while listening to bagpipes. A chill spreads through my body as the song continues. The water easily carries the haunting sound to me as I follow the path around the lake, around the bagpiper. This is the best, most bizarre morning ever. I pass by the trail leading back home and decide to make one more lap around the lake, my runner’s high kicking into full gear. One more lap around the lake and this bagpipers music.  This is definitely a feeling I will never forget.

Check out the stats for Global Running Day at globalrunningday.org.

No apologies

A guilty pleasure is defined as something you know you shouldn’t do, but you do it anyway. Everyone has at least one. I have several including day-long movie binges and eating out of the ice cream carton. These guilty pleasures are just for me. I would never do any of them in front of another person. Then, I would feel the need to explain myself, or justify my silly choices.

Today’s question: what is my one guilty pleasure that is so good that I make no apologies? I think mine would be staying up crazy late on a work night reading my Kindle in bed. Tricia has probably fallen asleep half an hour ago, and I can barely keep my eyes open, but I’m going to keep reading until the end of at least one more chapter. Maybe more.

It seems silly when I write it out like this. There are so many other things that I could choose as a guilty pleasures. Sneaking an extra piece of chocolate after my workout, having one too many drinks, or even sleeping in for an extra hour on the weekends. Those, to me, require an apology or a justification. I worked really hard, I deserve this chocolate. Or I had a really long week, I really needed to sleep in today. Staying up crazy late to read just one more chapter? It makes work painful the next day, but it is always worth it. I will never justify my late night binge reading.

The future

My fiance and I are getting married next month, and we are really excited about the future. We have been talking to my doctor about starting a family. He started me on a round of medication to see how I would respond. Today I went back for a follow-up appointment. The results were better than I could have hoped. Basically, no crazy hoops to jump through to start a family. We’ll be ready as soon as we come back from the honeymoon. It’s exciting and scary at the same time.

Thinking of the future reminded me of a conversation I had with a woman at a music festival the summer before last. I don’t even know how we started the conversation. We had been hanging out together, listening to music for a few hours when we began talking about our relationships. She was completely thrilled to find out that my girlfriend and I were planning to get married. Then she asked if we were planning to start a family. I told her we were crazy excited to have kids. Two please.

The next thing she said had a profound impact on me. She thanked me for being who I am, for choosing to exercise my right to marry my love. Then, she told me that my fiance and I are changing the world, by choosing to have children we are changing the way the world defines a traditional family. At the time I thought she was being a bit extravagant, but today I think I understand what she meant.

Not too long from now I will stand in my living room surrounded by my friends and adopted family, and not a single one of my relatives. I will marry the love of my life surrounded by love and peace because I choose happiness. Not because it’s easy, but because it’s what is right. Happiness isn’t always easy. Sometimes it means going against the grain, forging a new path. Sometimes it means saying goodbye to those who don’t understand and refuse to change. For me it means letting go of the past so I can follow my dreams. The future will be filled with amazing amounts of happiness, love, and family.

Basic Pistol Qualification

Today I took an eight hour course sponsored by the National Rifle Association. It was a basic pistol qualification course, teaching the fundamentals of handgun safety, shooting, and cleaning.

The instructor was in artillery for the Marines for several years. When his time was up he started teaching firearm safety. He was incredibly knowledgeable about firearms, and had an incredibly dry sense of humor. Even when he was demonstrating for the class using a rubber gun he would demonstrate proper safety by pointing the rubber barrel at the ground and “firing” to the side of the classroom. When he switched to guns using dummy bullets he carefully explained the mechanisms of the single-action revolver, double-action revolver, and the pistol. He would cock the hammer back, pull the trigger, and give an exaggerate “BOOOOOM”. IT was hilarious, but educational at the same time.

First he passed around the dummy guns so we could practice proper handling and sighting. Next came spent casings from various rounds and exploded bullets half-formed and broken into pieces. He passed around dummy bullets so we could load a magazine with .22, .40, and .45 caliber rounds. It gave us practice with safe equipment, and no fear of handling live rounds while we were still getting used to the safety portion of class. We learned what could go wrong when a gun misfires, and what only happens in Hollywood and cartoons.

By the time we got around to the range portion of class I wasn’t the least bit nervous. I stepped up to be one of the first to fire. Loading the magazine with live rounds for the first round worked just like it did with the dummy rounds. At each step he let us know exactly what we should be doing and the proper way to react when something goes wrong.

My first few shots weren’t on my 9″ target, but every shot after was dead on. He even congratulated me on my dead center shot. The first target was thirty rounds at fifteen feet. I did rather well after making a few corrections. My second target was another thirty rounds at thirty feet. I fired twenty from the same Smith & Wesson pistol, and the other ten with a double-action revolver. There was such a difference, and it was great to be able to try both side-by-side.

We took a written test at the end and were presented with our Basic Pistol certificate and patch. It’s enormous. I don’t know that I would ever put it on anything, but it is kind of a cool thing to have. I was told that I’m not allowed to hang up the diploma unless it’s in my closet. There is no gun in my near future, but I can always go back to the range to rent a lane and a handgun for an hour. I can’t wait to go back and fire an entire box of rounds. I already knew that I loved shooting. Today just confirmed that shooting is just as addictive as it was fifteen years ago.

The Book of You

by Claire Kendal

This book follows a short period of time in a woman’s life. It begins with several of her journal entries. You learn that she is actually writing in her stalker journal – something she was told to do by the abuse hotlines she has called for help. The police won’t do anything to help her because there is no evidence of harassment. She reads the pamphlets and makes meticulously notes on a daily basis of her encounters with the stalker.

Her journal sets a different tone than what you would expect from a victim. She feels the hotline would disagree with her perspective, but she writes each journal entry to her stalker, hence “The Book of You”. It is a fascinating and frightening look at unwanted attention. This book puts you directly in the woman’s head. When the creeper surprises her or begins walking beside her on the way to the train station there is an irresistible urge to shudder and go wash your hands.

This book is creepy without entering fully into Stephen King territory. It gave me a perspective that I hope to never have in real life. Being inside this victim’s head for just a few months of her ordeal is plenty for me.


I stayed home from work yesterday since I only slept for about two hours the before. My entire body felt like it was wired. Bizarre. Anyway, it kept me from sleeping and there was no way I could function at work on such little sleep. At some point in the afternoon, still deliriously tired and unable to sleep, I decided to take my Kindle outside to read in the gorgeous sunshine. Perhaps laying on a comfy couch outside would be enough to help me doze off.

I grabbed my book, a drink, and the dog. It had been raining a lot recently so the couch cushions were stacked up in the corner of the patio to keep dry. I put my stuff down on the table and headed over to get the first few cushions. Right before I grabbed one of the over-sized cushions a squirrel skittered out from behind a pillow and scrambled up to the top of it. He kind of looked at me while I was looking at him and we both panicked.

I backed up to give him room, and he ran over to the other corner of the patio on top of the deck box. By this time Toby had started paying attention. He sauntered in the direction of the patio to see what was going on, then took off when he caught sight of the squirrel. The squirrel dove back behind the cushions with Toby in pursuit, then scrambled up the glass door all the way to the handle before screeching his way back down to the patio. Toby was staring at the cushions waiting for his lunch to come out, and I was on the sidewalk about 10 feet away watching in fascination.

After a moment with no sound a tiny gray blur leapt up the brick side of the house and clawed his way up to the porch overhang where he couldn’t go any further. He scrambled to the left and then along the underside of the roof. I could only guess where he was because of the squeaking and claws scraping on metal. He was making such a fuss. Toby was patiently sitting among the couch cushions, staring at the squirrel in anticipation. Suddenly, a loud squeal and clawing, signaled the  reappearance of the flailing rodent as he fell straight down into Toby’s opened mouth.

The poor squirrel was held fast by his belly which left all four clawed legs and his razor-sharp teeth free to scratch and bite at Toby’s face. I’ve never seen my dog so calm. He just held on to the squirrel’s belly without moving or flinching. It was bizarre! The squirrel was spitting and screeching, making such a terrible noise, and looked completely capable of taking out Toby’s eyes or at least slicing up his snout.

I yelled my dog’s name sharply which was all he needed to drop the squirrel. Too late, I realized the only direction the squirrel had to run was straight towards me. I had a brief flash of the squirrel running straight to me, scrambling up my body and clawing at my head in its terror. I turned, jumped two stairs, and clambered up onto the metal patio chair, my knee bashing into the sharp arm on the way up, squealing like a little girl the whole way. The squirrel came straight towards where I had been standing and dodged to the right, ran up the fence and into a neighboring tree, chittering and fussing the entire way.

Toby was still unfazed, like it was a typical day for him, but my heart was hammering and my mind was going a million miles a minute. I jumped down out of my perch and ran over to see how many chunks Toby was missing from his face. Surprisingly, he only had a small speck of blood on his face, probably from the squirrel’s razor sharp teeth. My poor baby had just saved my life from a terrified squirrel had been unintentionally cornered.

I called the vet to make sure there was nothing I needed to do with my crazy dog. He was up to date on his rabies, and had been giving the “farm dog” shot to keep him from catching diseases from rodents. He started getting that shot when he was two years old because he was an incredible squirrel catcher. So gross. Yesterday I was so thankful that I keep his shots up and keep in touch with the vet. It kept this ten seconds of insanity from turning into a real nightmare. Now, to get rid of the squirrel smell – bath time!

Decaf blows

In the last 48 hours I’ve only slept about five of them and not by my choice. I am exhausted and can’t think straight, but I’m completely wired! Wheee!! I came home Sunday, wrote a blog post, added to my Nanowrimo book, and went to bed to read. It’s a new-ish habit to go to bed, turn off the lights and open up my Kindle. It helps me get ready for bed and calm my mind. It puts me to sleep in a good way that reading books on my phone can’t possibly do. Plus, if I have to stretch out of bed after putting down my paperback just to turn off the light, I’m suddenly awake again. It completely defeats the purpose of reading myself into a calm, peaceful state – like blinking my eyes every other word and having to reread sentences because the words were too blurry to make out, or I just wasn’t paying attention to the words.

Good times. A friend of mine once said about people who fall asleep reading – “They’re doing it wrong.” I tend to agree. My problem is usually that I want to keep reading forever, but I just can’t physically stay awake any longer. It’s a good problem to have. Anyway, that isn’t exactly what happened two nights ago. I read for about twenty minutes, put my Kindle down and snuggled down into the blankets. I’m pretty sure that I had just fallen asleep when Tricia asked me how she was supposed to do the thing with the stake. Yeah. Sleep-talking is a new favorite for her. I rolled over, rubbed her back, and told her to go back to sleep. She sat up even straighter and said, “No. How do I make the crosses?” And motioned two fingers making a cross. Well, I don’t know baby. She huffed at me, rolled over and went back to sleep. Come to find out she was trying to make a door frame and wanted to know where to put the cross pieces. You got me.

I never did get back to a good sleep. I woke up every hour on the hour from midnight until 6pm and some times in between.  It made for an absolutely miserable Monday morning, but quitting time would come soon enough. I had two cups of coffee to keep me going – that’s pretty standard for me. Same routine when I got home yesterday – wrote a blog post, added to my Nanowrimo (November is hard work!), ate dinner and went to bed. I read for a bit, put my book down and fell asleep. I woke up at midnight. Again. Wide awake. Are you freaking kidding me?! After rolling over and snuggling back into the covers I was able to fall back asleep. For about an hour. Finally, at 3 o’clock I decided enough was enough. I pulled out my phone, checked my email, Facebook, played a few games, then pulled out the Kindle to read.

For a brief moment I contemplated going for a run, but it was crazy early, and there was no way to get dressed without waking up Tricia who would have called crazypants on me. That, and the fact that I haven’t run at all in two months, but (just to be sure) I checked the weather which convinced me to stay inside. Brrr!

I emailed work, told them about my miserable night, said that I would be totally useless, and took a benadryl to knock myself out cold. An hour later Tricia got up and asked how long I’d been up. No, I won’t be going to work. The benadryl was definitely not doing its job of knocking me unconscious, so I took a dose of Zzz-quil, too. A bit later I was able to sleep for fifteen minutes.

I quit. I’m wired, delirious, and incapable of driving myself anywhere. I haven’t had caffeine all day because I’m scared. BTW, decaf blows. No sugar, no nothing that could possibly keep me from sleeping tonight. There’s a bottle of wine in the fridge to go with a hearty meal of grilled chicken and brussel sprouts. I plan to have a few glasses, stuff myself silly, and pass out. Please make this work.

Off my meds!

Oh, this is such a fitting topic for today. Earlier I talked about my struggle with Fibromyalgia. It is such a misunderstood disease, and only recently has been included in the list of chronic illnesses. I’m still in the camp of people who believe fibro is caused by something else – Lyme Disease, nerve damage, something. Anything other than I just woke up like this one day.

I’m luckier than some with this disease. My doctor was able to diagnose me within about 6 months. Several months after that I called him in tears because I was in so much pain. I wanted anything he could give me to make it stop. He called in a prescription immediately. The first meds he put me on were anti-depressants and a seizure medication. Talk about off-label use! Doctors still don’t know why, but anti-depressants have proven helpful for eliminating fibro pain. The seizure medication works on neurological pathways in the brain (they think) to dull the annoying neuro symptoms like facial twitching, muscle spasms, widespread joint and muscle pain, just to list a few.

The one thing these medications didn’t help was the fatigue. A large portion of fibro patients have problems falling or staying asleep. More than that, the body is constantly in pain, so it is nearly impossible to get a fully restorative night’s sleep. I remember I used to sleep ten hours each night during the week, and twelve or thirteen on the weekends. It didn’t help. I was still unable to hold me head up. I couldn’t think straight, form basic words, or even stay awake. It was a nightmare. I told my doctor, again, that I was ready for something new. There was a new drug on the market, Lyrica – the first to ever be labeled specifically for use with fibro. Of course, insurance fought me at every turn, but my doctor submitted every form they needed and then some. Before long I was shelling out exorbitant amounts of money every month for this amazing new super drug. It truly changed my life.

That was about two years ago. Maybe three. I was stuck on this medication that had so many restrictions. Plus, it was starting to cause me to be just as spaced out and foggy as I was without the meds. It was finally time to give Lyrica the boot. I’ve been slowly weaning myself off of it for about two months. Yeah, that long. Saturday marked the one week anniversary of being Lyrica-free. I’m officially off my meds! Well, I haven’t died yet. The pain is slowly returning. My face twitches like no one’s business, and the creepy-crawly-buzzing sensation is back in full force. So far no ice-pick stabbing sensations – always a bonus. But I’m still determined to do this. I’ve lived with this illness for long enough that I feel confident I can face it on my own (plus with the help of my friends and family, heh). I’ve changed my diet and am slowly getting back to exercise. Crossing my fingers that my body decides to cooperate.

Baby steps.