My Biggest Accomplishments
Running a Half Marathon and Getting Myself into Better Shape
I may arguably be in the best shape of my life right now thanks to deciding late in 2018 that I wanted to run a half-marathon in 2019. It was a goal that, at the time, seemed almost impossible and I’m really proud to say that I was able to push through and make it happen. I learned a lot about myself as I struggled through physical setbacks, early mornings, and freezing temperatures on my way from the couch to 13.1 miles in 2 hours flat. I’ve managed to keep running (albeit not nearly as far) for the remainder of the year and even won 1st place in my age group in a 5k this fall. I also lost 40 lbs during the process and have managed to keep almost all of it off. I learned 2 big lessons on this journey: running and exercise are really important to me, and I should always trust the process. Sticking to a plan was the only way I was ever going to achieve my goal and many days when I wanted nothing to do with running I did it anyway because that’s what the plan called for.
Making Reading a Priority
I did not set out to read X number of books or anything like that this year but I did make the conscious decision to focus more on books and less on other forms of media (including internet articles). In the end I read about 26 books this year which is a big jump from my usual number. I also chose to read more non-fiction and literature with a focus on stoic philosophy and mindfulness. See all the books I read this year here.
Being More Honest with Myself
2019 was a year that I tried to put my finger on why I was feeling so “blah” for so long. Feeling like each day was blending into the next, like I was living every day just to make it through to the next. I was feeling like I was living someone else’s life, or at the very least, not living true to myself. This introspection led me to the realization that maybe I didn’t really know who I even was. Had I made all my decisions leading up until now based on what I really wanted or was it all because it’s what I thought I was “supposed” to be doing? I realized that I hadn’t really been living intentionally. I hadn’t always listened to or trusted my own heart and that “blah” feeling was the result. I was living my life as a series of reactions to the events and people around me and was constantly just searching for protection from discomfort. Coming to this realization was very freeing in many ways. I realized that there were things that were within my control that I could work on in order to start moving in a direction that I could be happy and fulfilled. Although I wouldn’t say that my life has gotten easier as a result of this new outlook, I can say for sure that I have more frequently felt at peace, in control, sure of myself, and more present than I have in a very long time.
2020 and Beyond
My biggest goal for 2020 is to live much more intentionally as a whole. I want to find a balance where I can feel in control of the things that are within my power to control while letting go of those things outside of my control. I want to seek wholeness and fulfillment in my personal life, work life, and relationships. In order to achieve this I’ve been thinking a lot about routine and processes that I can build into my life that, when followed with discipline, would lead to more intentionality and happiness. The goal of these processes is multi-tiered:
- Limit non-essential decisions (a daily exercise routine, eating the same things for breakfast and lunch, etc.)
- Cultivate focus (When I sit down to do any type of work, I want to get more done in less time)
- Allow more time for leisure (creating focus should allow me to get more done which will lead to more time for relationships, hobbies, etc.)
- Cultivate retrospection and growth and allow for evolution as things in my life change.
- Get things out of my head so that I can slow down and be more present at all times.
- Find balance between mind, body, and spirit.
- Asking “Why?” more frequently
Permalink Aug 16, 2019
You screwed up? Someone screwed you? Now you find yourself in a situation you couldn’t have imagined just moments ago? Are you angry? Feeling bad for yourself? Beating yourself up or blaming someone else for your problems.
You know what? Maybe it’s not your fault. That happens sometimes. But here’s the thing. You’re still responsible. Response Able. Fault has nothing to do with it now. It’s on your plate. You are able to respond.
More likely you played some role in getting to this position. Own up to it. Look in the mirror and say: “I did/didn’t do X and now I’m in this position” Accept it. Learn from it. You now have a choice. Let this break you or let it propel you. The obstacle is the way.
What other choice to you have? To wallow in self-pity? To scream and yell and blame everyone else? Where does this get you? Are you any closer to solving your problem? Stop all that nonsense. Let it go.
Do you need a moment? Take it. That’s fine. Let the tears fall. Hug a friend. Go for a run or to the gym. Get your aggression out. Yell, curse. Do what you need to do. Are you finished? Did you get it out of your system? Good.
Take A Breath.
Now, are you ready to begin? Look at the problem. Walk around it. Inspect every detail. Not how you got here, not at who is at fault but the actual PROBLEM. Do you see it? In all its hideous glory…sitting there. Mocking you. Trying to take you down. Look at it right in the eyes and say: “You won’t take me down. I will take YOU down”
What can you do right now to start working towards the solution? Do it. Right fucking now. Make the plan and GET. TO. WORK.
Permalink Aug 11, 2019
I’ve noticed over the past year or so of my life that my days really blend together. As I’m approaching middle age time seems to be flying by and I feel as though I’m missing out on life a bit. I’ve been asleep at the wheel so to speak and I’ve been doing a lot of looking in the mirror lately and trying to understand how I got here and what I can do to slow my life down and make it more fulfilling.
We recently returned from a week of camping with the kids not too far from home in western Maryland. We were only there for 4 nights but during that time I was reminded of the power of small adventures and how invigorating they can be. On the third day we took a short road trip from the campground to visit the town of Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia. We really had no idea what to expect and I was a little worried that the kids would be bored out of their minds and that it could end up being a huge fail. I was pleasantly surprised, however when what we discovered was a very cool old town nestled in the valley at the point where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet.
The kids got a kick out of the fact that, as we made our approach, we managed to leave Maryland, cross the Potomac and cut through a corner of Virginia before finally landing in West Virginia. 3 states in about 10 minutes! We then had fun roaming around the old town and seeing the views of the rivers, crossing the old railroad bridge and meeting some hikers who were on their way up the Appalachian trail into Pennsylvania. My eldest son, who had never heard of the Appalachian trail, was fascinated by the idea of hiking from Maine all the way to Georgia. Even my toddler got a thrill out of riding “the bus” down from the Harper’s Ferry visitors center into the town. At one point after climbing the natural stairs up to “Jefferson Rock” we got stuck in a rain shower and had to wait it out on the porch of Harper’s Mansion which overlooked the town. It was a memorable experience for all of us.
This small adventure reminded me of an Art of Manliness podcast that I had listened to a while back about a guy who was promoting the idea of Micro Adventures. The guest was Alistair Humphreys and he understood that not everyone has the time or the money to go off on an expedition to climb Everest or to take 4 years to bike around the world. His idea of a micro adventure is something that is accessible to anyone while keeping the spirit of a large expedition: namely getting out of your comfort zone, trying something new and experiencing life for yourself rather than through a screen. In an interesting twist not long after I recalled this idea of micro adventures I stumbled upon a link to this video where memory champion Nelson Dellis talks about this very idea of having small, daily adventures. He talks about how not everything has to be a big, grand adventure like we see on Instagram or Facebook. Sometimes we get caught up in this idea but it really doesn’t have to be something huge to be memorable. This really resonated with me after our own little adventure that day.
Another example of a micro adventure that we had on our humble little trip: The map of our campground showed a nature trail but we could not seem to find it. We asked around and even the campground staff didn’t seem to know where it was. Finally, my son and I decided to look one last time and we finally discovered a small entrance off of one of the park roads. The sign had fallen over and the entrance was slightly overgrown. But once we got on the path it was a beautiful walk through the woods and we were the only ones there as the sun was setting. We were gone for no more than an hour but it was, again, a memorable little adventure.
After finding that Nelson Dellis video I took a closer look and found a post on his website all about how to make life memorable. And this is the stuff he talks about. Making small changes, doing different things frequently so that all our days don’t blend together. As I mentioned in the introduction to this post, this is precisely how I’ve been feeling of late. The same routine, day-in and day-out has caused time to fly by and I find myself at 38 wondering where my 30’s went. I think Nelson’s advice makes a ton of sense and there is even some neuroscience to back it up. The brain creates new memories when things are different or out of the norm. If your days are all the same then there are no new memories, nothing to look back on, and time seems to move faster. After experiencing some micro adventures on our vacation this past week and diving into the concept I think this idea has some legs as a means of making time seem like it’s passing more slowly. Time to go out and find some adventures…
- Making Life Memorable - a post by Nelson Dellis
- Art of Manliness 8 week microadventure challenge
- Introducing the idea of microadventures
Permalink Aug 2, 2019
Sometimes in life we’re stuck in auto-pilot and don’t even realize it. One day bleeds into the next which bleeds into the next week, then month, then year. We’re surviving, living each day just to make it to the next. Wake up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, prepare for the next day, get ready for bed. Rinse. Repeat. During this time, you may not even realize it. You may not realize that your miserable, that your wife is unhappy and feeling ignored. That your career is going nowhere and your kids are growing up in front of you but you’re missing it. No ambitions, no goals, no highs or lows just stuck in auto-pilot; and, the worst part is that you didn’t even set the destination.
Something shakes you out of it. Maybe it’s some sort of tragedy or loss. A sudden health scare, an ultimatum from your significant other. Perhaps, you just got a letter, or call from a bill collector, or a long-term relationship ended suddenly. Whatever it is, it’s like someone splashed water on your face while you were sleeping. You sit bolt-upright and look around: Where am I? How did I get here? Who is flying the plane? And…where are we even going?
So, you sit down behind the controls but they’re all a little foreign to you and what you do understand doesn’t look good. The weight gauge is way too high, the fitness one too low. The finance dials are in the red. Your co-pilot is ready to pull the eject button, and the kids are running amok in the cabin. You take a peek in the passenger section. There are few people back there that you recognize but they seem disinterested like they’d rather be on someone else’s flight. “Shit.” you exclaim. “This is worse than I expected. Now what?”
The auto-pilot light flashes at you..blinking hypnotically lulling you into a state of complacency. Things aren’t so bad, right? The flight has been relatively smooth, why not just let it take me where it wants to go? The problem is that what you don’t see is that mountain not too far in the distance hiding behind those clouds. That auto-pilot will guide you smoothly right into the side of it…
If you don’t want to go down in a firey crash, you’re going to have to turn it off… But there’s another problem. You’re not sure if you know how to fly this thing and you’re going to have to figure it out while you’re already in there air. There’s no getting a new plane, you’ve already got passengers on this one and you missed the flight lessons when you were younger or maybe you just forgot about them. Either way, there’s going to be a learning curve and it’s going to be a bumpy ride, there will be turbulence…
But here’s the thing: that’s OK. That’s life. That turbulence is what makes it worth while, it’s what makes you grow and what brings you closer to your passengers. You’re in control now; and, you’ve got this. Pull out the flight manual. Fasten your seat belt. Sit your ass up straight. Get a good grip on that wheel. Now, reach down and turn that shit off…
Permalink May 14, 2019
On Sunday April 28, 2019 I completed my first half-marathon. Before that day I had only run in a 5k “fun run” once before and other than that, I had not really run at all since middle school. Looking back at where I started 7 months earlier I’m sometimes amazed that I was able to achieve this goal. You see, when I first started I couldn’t even run 1.5 miles without feeling like a 300 lb. lineman who just ran back a fumble 80 yards.
Those early runs were really embarrassing. How was I THIS out of shape? Interestingly, I wasn’t even that upset with my fitness level until AFTER I started running and realized just how out-of-shape I was! So, I did some more running but it was still sporadic. I needed a goal, I needed a push. That push came one day at lunch out with some coworkers. Two of them were in the process of training for the Runner’s World half marathon and had joined a running group that was training together on the weekends. They were telling some funny stories about their adventures through the streets of Bethlehem, PA and I thought to myself: “that sounds like fun. If they can do that, why can’t I?” So, I decided that I wanted to get to the point where I could at least hang with them.
My first step was to push myself to the point where my usual run was up to 3 miles. It was around this time that I started thinking about running another 5k or maybe even a 10k. But, as I started putting the miles in and things started getting a bit easier something in me said that I needed to do something a little crazy. Running a 5k wasn’t going to be enough. I had to do something hard…something that seemed entirely out of reach. I needed to prove to myself that I could achieve something that I wasn’t sure was possible. I wanted to run a half marathon.
At this point running 3 miles was not necessarily easy, so the idea of running more than 4 times that far was daunting to say the least. But I knew I had to try. I was 38 years old and I couldn’t say that I had ever really pushed my limits in any meaninful way. I needed to do this for myself and I knew the only way to get there was going to be hard work, and trusting the process. Logging the miles, pushing little by little every day. So, that’s what I did. I ran at least 3 times a week and had a friend help me put together a training program that would increase my distance slowly over time until I hit my goal of 13.1 miles.
There were ups and downs of course. Around Christmas when I was pushing up towards 7 mile on my long runs I got such a bad case of shin splints that I had to stop entirely. This was REALLY hard and extremely discouraging. I had made such great progress and was feeling confident. Every day that I wasn’t running felt like a piece of that progress was eroding away. After about 2 weeks I went out and upgraded my shoes and began to ease my way back into things. The splints slowly vanished and things were looking up. I learned that you need to listen to your body and not push things too far too fast.
But at this point I had another problem. It was January…in Pennsylvania. My long runs were begining to stretch out to over 60 minutes in length and it was cold. I remember mornings when the thermometer was not even hitting 20 degrees and sometimes I’d return with a beard coated in ice or fingers so stiff that I couldn’t open my post run snack! As the miles picked up my joints rebelled, first my right knee would flare up with shooting pains that almost forced me to stop, then my hips were sore and stiff, then as my right knee cleared up my left knee started up as my IT band strained from the added miles.
But here’s the thing…I kept going. When my alarm went off at 5:30 AM every Sunday morning, I got up, put on my warmest clothes, put my headphones in and ran. I ran until my joints creaked like an old staircase and then I ran a little further. I ran during the week, sometimes on my lunch breaks, sometimes at the YMCA on the treadmills, whatever I needed to do to get my miles in. I started this philosophy that the days when I least wanted to go out and run were the days when I needed to do it the most. It was hard..and that’s the point.
I can say without question that this no-excuses approach to my running plan is what got me to my goal. You have to trust the process, you have to put the work in and not think about the long term. If you start thinking “No big deal if I miss one day” you’ll soon find yourself missing one, than 2, than 3… I focused on one run at a time. I listened to my body but I did not make excuses. Slowly, but surely my miles climbed. 9, 10, 11, 12..
It’s interesting to think back about what kept me going. When everything in me wanted to stop I would think about my kids and that I needed to show them what was possible if you pushed through adversity. I needed to show them that you don’t give up but work through the ups and downs towards your goals. I thought of my friends who were cheering me on. I would always share my runs with them and this really held me accountable. I was not going to tell them that I stopped halfway through my long run just because my legs hurt. And I thought of my wife. I was asking a lot from her as I logged these hours pounding out miles on the pavement. I couldn’t let the sacrifices she was making for my sake go to waste.
In the end I ran over 360 miles between October 2018 and April 2019. I finished my 1st half marathon in 2:00:21. I lost 40 pounds, my resting heart rate sits in the 50s and I’m in better physical shape than I have been since…well, probably ever. And these are just the improvements I made to my physical health. I find myself more patient, and relaxed. I’ve slowed down and find myself appreciating the moment more than I have in the past. Now, don’t get me wrong things are not perfect by any means. I’ve got my issues just like anyone else. But I can say with certainty that this process has made me stronger, and more resilient. I’ve seen what I’m capable of and learned the power of embracing the process. I now hope to apply what I’ve learned in other aspects of my life and see how far I can go…