Resetting my running habit

Thanksgiving is not known for gift-giving, but I got all I wanted for Christmas on Thursday night. My brother-in-law Scott Craig gave me his Garmin Forerunner 205, because he upgraded to a new model. I had not expected to have something so useful.

And now, I may just run a marathon on March 21, 2010.

Since not running the Richmond marathon, I've not really been formally training for anything. I've not crossed 10 miles since time in late September and have gotten into a rut of doing the same 7 miles again and again. The training program got me in the habit of wanting to know my pace, and wanting to know how fast I ran each mile. I've been too scatter-brained to map out each course so I can manually keep track of my pace on my bumblebee Timex.

One of the first lessons I learned from Mark Lorenzoni of Ragged Mountain Running Shop is to buy a watch. Without a watch, there's no point in considering becoming a competitive runner. And, if you're running, you may as well try to improve yourself and the best way to do that is through knowing how fast you go.

With no real racing goal in mind, I've managed to shave about 6 minutes off of the 7 mile loop I run from my house to Belmont and back. On Tuesday night, I ran it in 58 minutes. I can't do the math to figure out what pace that translates into, but I know I ran the first two miles at just over 7:30 each before needing to slow down. Pacing. I still need to learn pacing.

Enter the Garmin.

To the non-runners who may read this, the Garmin uses GPS to track your position in real-time, measuring how far and how fast you are running. Every mile it beeps to give you an update and tells you your pace.

This has the effect of liberating me, because now I can run wherever I want without having to keep track of anything. I have so many mile-to-mile points marked in town, and the two I checked today were pretty much spot on. I ran the first of my 7-mile in 8:30, mostly because the watch kept telling me I was on that pace.

Just like a treadmill.

A year ago, I began this journey on a treadmill, gradually building up my miles and my speed. By March, I was hitting the road, a process which sped up dramatically as soon as I ran the Camp Holiday Trails 5k, my first race, at 25:08. A week later, I ran a second one on the same course and ran at about 23:30 or so. I didn't run again until July, when I ran a 6:23 mile in the Kiwanis Fourth of July 5K race. Of course, I had to stop for 30 seconds to throw up, but I'm confident I'll get the hang of pacing with time.

I had not learned that lesson in October, when I ran the Blue Ridge Burn 10K at Walnut Creek Park in Albemarle County. In that case, I had not looked at the map before hand, and mistook a road crossing where the course went past the the finish line to begin one last mile loop. But enough of that. I was okay with how I did.

Today, I ran the first two miles right where I wanted to and then sped up and gradually brought up my pace. I made some stops on the way (and hit stop on the watch) and worked my way up a trail leading up Observatory Hill, but at one point ran a 7:45 mile without really feeling too fatigued. I really enjoyed running and knowing exactly how far I had gone. It gave me confidence I could go as far as I wanted, much like knowing there was a white chalk mark every mile to help me keep track of the data.

So, today feels like the beginning in a new chapter in my running habit. I can imagine myself running more often, and becoming motivated to become better so I can set a real target for the Shamrock Marathon. I want to reach out to others who are training to run it, and met one woman last week who is thinking about it.

Today, I went running for pleasure. Sure, I was training, too, but I was just reminded of how much joy it brings me. I ran past the stadium as Virginia and Virginia Tech fans were slowly making their way to the game. Running past people in a crowd is a great way to people watch, because no one is paying any attention to you at all.

The last day of college football is like the end of fall for me. Winter is here, along with a need to get more gear to run in the cold. But, for now, I've got the most important piece of equipment I need for a while. I think training with the Garmin is going to really help me steer myself towards becoming a much better runner. And, to that I extend a very huge thank you to Scott.


Hurling messages of appreciation into the universe

Since last Thanksgiving, my life has completely and utterly transformed in some ways. Mostly for the better, though I am most definitely not entirely over the break-up of my marriage. It happens, you know?

I'd like to first be somewhat grateful I didn't use this blog to air all of my dirty laundry. I did, however, use it to reach out to people, and I'm thankful for all of the people who did help me out throughout the course of the year.

I am doing incredibly interesting work for Charlottesville Tomorrow. This has been our busiest year to date, with the Daily Progress partnership, the launch of cvillepedia, and so many other things we've done. I am thankful to work with Brian Wheeler, who has been a good mentor for me and has made me into a much better journalist.

I am back at Court Square Tavern, a place that grounds me in Charlottesville and serves as a nice counterpart to the other work I do. Working with Katie Fox has been a blessing, because I've had to learn how to work efficiently and to high standards. I also really like trying to build up a business, and think this is going to be a pretty good winter.

My recovery would not have been possible without the help of my friend Becca Feild, who gave me a place to stay and encouraged me to go on a trip to Pensacola in March. That trip gave me a glimpse into the future. A year ago, both of us began break-ups at the same time and now we're recovered.

I am thankful to the mother of my kids for being a great co-parent and working with me to raise them. We've got a long haul ahead of us together to make sure our children have a good life. I'm proud of her for all that she has achieved this year and am thankful that everything is going to turn out okay.

I am grateful for my parents for being incredibly understanding of me this year, and being patient with me while I worked through this transition year. They've been absolutely fantastic and generous with their support.

I am thankful I got to become friends with Harry Landers, who encouraged me to run and to join the marathon training program. I ended up not running a marathon this year, but that's okay. I've obtained a lifelong habit that's going to introduce me to a lot of people over the rest of my lifetime.

I really appreciate living in this magnificent town. I spent some time walking around on the downtown mall today, and just soaked in the humanity of it all. The musicians. The stranded foreign students who were touring around. The homeless men. The mall vendors. My favorite place to run is up the mall. I'm also thankful to have the University of Virginia here.

I'm thankful for Gold's Gym, which is the first place I've felt comfortable exercising around others. I am looking forward to really taking advantage of the gym in the coming year as I work on improving my fitness routine.

I'm glad I've reconnected with my friend in Minnesota, Tori Zengel. She's a fellow single parent who is even busier than I am. Her phone calls have been a real pick-me-up.

Many people have helped me keep the Charlottesville Podcasting Network going, including Coy Barefoot, Leon Oliver, Elizabeth McCullough, Sean McCord, Rick Moore, Jacob Canon, Brevy Cannon, Brad Savage, Dan Daniels, and many others that I am likely forgetting.

Special thanks are due to Nick Laiacona for lending me a guitar on which I have played hours and hours and hours now. Making music is what I do when I know I'm relaxed, and it's something that's just as important as exercise in terms of keeping a well well-being.

I've met so many great people this year, and become friends with people who have really helped me change my life and outlook.

How about you? What do you have to give thanks for on this day?


Before the day begins

My house is not in tip-top shape, but it's not in rotten bottom condition either. My ears are being assaulted by a recording of guitar and vocals I did back in October. I record about an hour of raw material a week. In some ways, creating music has taken over from running as the thing that fuels my expanding view of myself. Greater than running a marathon is the idea of becoming a very good musician. Both take practice, a willingness to train, patience and concentration.

Last night after I got off work at 1:00 AM, I went down to Miller's like I do every Friday that I can to catch the last set of the Rogan Brothers. Last night I met up with some friends, hung out with them until last call and then went home. At ten to three I started playing music, risking waking up my housemate. I played for 23 minutes, using the energy from the Rogan Brothers, as well as the experience of serving at least a hundred people last night at the tavern. New regulars, familiar faces as well as strangers I met for the first time.

I want to stand on a stage and sing and play guitar and entertain, but I'm not there yet. At the moment, I make music in order to create a soundtrack for my life. To capture the energy that I feel vibrating all around me when I'm around other people. Creating a pulse with instruments, shaping them with effects, crafting lyrics from a deep part of myself that I don't fully understand.

Yet, it seems so fragile. I've never been able to share any of it with anyone except for people who I play with, and develop some sort of bond. In my life I've mostly been playing with one person, my childhood friend Jeffry Cudlin. We've played off and on for so many years, but these days we're both so busy that it's proven impossible to find the time to get together.

None of it is smoothed out. For whatever reason, I've found it hard to write songs and instead choose to rely on improvisation to capture whatever it is I'm doing at the moment. I consider the material I create to be akin to a journal, where I open up my mind and sing. In the early days, Jeff used to try to write up whatever I had said, but for whatever reason that never caught on so our work together was always off the cuff.

And now for the first time in my life I've been taking it seriously enough to the point where I spend a lot of time trying to craft songs. I've been trying to write several, both the lyrics and the music. I'm not sure if any of it is accessible to anyone at all, but I figure I have time to train.

Right now it's all kind of sloppy and intertwined, but when I listen back, I'm listening back with the ear of someone who is trying to try to figure out just what a song is for. Why do we make them? Why do we love them so much? Why do so few of us make our own songs?

I'm not sure, but I know I'm enjoying this period of my life because I feel like this is my chance to devote to creating things. And now, the day is set to begin once more, and I'll be wishing for the end of the night to come so I can get right back to the guitar.


Stream of consciousness

I'm standing behind the bar at the tavern. Nirvana's "Lake of Fire" is playing. There are not many customers. I recognize everyone in here. A party of 9 is sprawled out at 10 having sampled at least eleven different kinds of beers by now. The bar is filled with a mix of people who work here and people who know we work here. I've got maybe 45 minutes or so until I can cash out the drawer and get on with my own evening.

Now the music switches to a song by the Kooks that I've never actually heard in its entirety. I've only heard in snippets from a podcast I used to listen to from Virgin Radio, now known as Absolute Radio. The song is called "She moves in her own way" the title of which couldn't be more appropriate, especially on a day when the process of my divorce has begun.

I know you're not supposed to talk about such things in polite company, but this little box is my chance to tell the world what's going in my life, and what I'm thinking about, who I am.

"Once when I was in Munich, I drank two and a half gallons of Paulaner, and I even walked all the way back to my hotel, an hour and a half away," says a drunk guy at the bar. I've just served him what will be his last beer. Now he's trying to impress me by telling me about some girl. Shuold I be impressed? Wait, he said he got ditched. How surprising? Of course, I've just high-fived him because he will likely tip me a buck or two.

Now he's telling me about Amsterdam, and his experiences getting absolutely blitzed there, and how cool if he is for being able to do such things.

"This thing fucking works, man!" says the guy, tapping his head as he walks out to smoke a cigarette.

"He's got that special crazy spark in his eye," says Garrett the Parrot. And yes, he does. Both of them go out for a cigarette as a tenth joins 10. There are enough people for me to stay open another half an hour. Then I will go out and have a good time.


Still here. Cleaning up the regulars. Then the Rogan Brothers. This is my life in my mid-30's, trying to balance work and work and work and family. It ain't so bad.


Scary situation on Old Lynchburg Road

Last night I drove down to a house on Old Lynchburg Road to pick up a stereo system through freecycle. It was pitch black at 6:00 PM, and as the road went from four lanes to two to barely two, I began to get really nervous driving.

I no longer like driving at night on rural roads. When I was younger and gasoline was free, I would roam Campbell County just to see how my hometown was put together. My friends and I explored every road, and I got to know the whole place.

As I got older, I found more things to do with my time, I stopped driving as much. When I was at Virginia Tech, I did a little of this but that was mostly in conjunction with time spent delivering pizza for Backstreets. When I lived in New Hampshire, I drove around a lot, too.

Then I got older, and my night vision decreased a bit. Gasoline got more expensive, and it didn't seem like a fun leisurely activity. And then my life became saturated with responsibility.

I don't really need a new stereo system, but I figured I should pick this up as a back-up just in case my current one died. So, it was worth taking a break from work. So, off I went. And, as soon as I got to the narrow stretch of road, someone who is more familiar with the road, and likely better eyesight, immediately came within tailgating range. I was not a fan of this mood, and began to panic. I didn't know where I was going, adding to the general sense of peril.

However, thankfully I made it to the place, picked up my stuff, and got back in the car to come back. I was calmer because there was no one behind me. However, the car in front of me began to slow down. Something was up.

A silver SUV was flipped over on its side. It had just happened. I couldn't tell if anyone was in it at all. Some sort of liquid had leaked from the car. Was it blood? Was someone dead, hurt? Was the car going to blow up? Was I the kind of person who could jump in and help? What to do?

The car in front of me just drove around. Another car coming towards me also passed by. Should I do the same? Would I have the guts to help out?

I took a deep breath, inched the car ahead, and got out of the car. As I did, I could see someone moving around inside. I shouted if he was okay, and he said he was fine, that everyone was alright. I didn't believe him so I asked again, also asking what had happened?

"Deer jumped out at us," he said.

Sudden intrusion into his life changed his night and week forever. He was looking through the car, looking for something. I asked if he needed me to call 911, but he said he'd already done it. I asked him if he needed anything, and he said he was fine.

So, I got back in my car, and slowly passed him. I saw his girlfriend standing next to it. It was very strange seeing the SUV upside down.

I drove very slowly on my way back into town, reflecting on what the experience might teach me. I've been going way too fast lately. I don't take the time to slow down, yet I have learned how to breathe. I don't want my life to suddenly turn upside-down because something happens.

Yet, in the days to come I'll forget what it felt like to be in a potentially dangerous moment. I may not learn the lesson that came from this unfortunate experience (for the drivers, not really for me).

One takeaway, though, is that I'm not driving in the dark on rural roads any more.


Update on the rant

I took the bus in, and it was fine. I love the bus, and wish I could ride it every day. As I've said many times before, doing so makes me feel like I live in a city.

Let's have a little rant, shall we?

Most of us do not use public transportation. I do not use it on a regular basis, even though the Route 4 comes past my house twice an hour during peak periods. I work downtown, so it should be a no-brainer, right?

Unfortunately, like most of us, I do not have a set schedule. I have something different to do pretty much every day, whether it be drive to a meeting, or pick up my kids at their daycare near Albemarle High School. I also can afford a car, and there's been no compelling reason for me to give it up, or to switch my choice.

But, this morning, I am steaming, absolutely steaming, about a bus driver's performance. I left my keys at a meeting in a government building, being somewhat distracted by a friend of mine that I was chatting to. I realized this seconds after walking out the door. So, I had another friend of mine come pick me up. No matter, I thought. I have the bus as a reliable means of transportation.

So, I woke up this morning, got ready, loaded up the Charlottesville Transit Service's bus stop search page, and walked out my door when it told me the #4 would be at the stop in 2 minutes. It's about a 2 minute walk to my bus. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeazy, right?

I'm half way to the stop, when suddenly, the bus comes roaring past, driving way over the 25 mile an hour speed limit on my residential street. I'm about three houses away from the stop. Surely, if I indicate I want to be picked up, the bus will stop, right? So, I start waving my hands wildly in the air.

He's not slowing down. He's continuing to hurtle down a very narrow road at full-speed like he's running a race. As he gets closer and closer to passing me, I start jumping up and down like a wild man, because I have an errand I really need to accomplish that requires the use of my car.

(ironically, I have to take my car to Edgecomb's Imported Auto for service!)

But, no, the driver fails to notice me, and if anything, he speeds up because he's just made a left-hand turn onto Forest Ridge Road and he's got a straightaway down to Rock Creek Road.

I'll admit, I shouted some things I couldn't say on the radio.

So, what's my takeaway here? I've written on this blog in the past about my dissatisfaction with service, but yet I keep trying the bus. I pay property taxes, and I feel it's partially my service. I want it to work, and I want it to be useful to more people so that more of us can get out of our cars. The system is wonderful when it works, but it requires drivers who are constantly paying attention to potential riders. It needs drivers who don't fancy themselves as being in the Grand Prix.

Sure, I could have walked out the door a little earlier, but the system told me I had two minutes left. It seems that maybe the driver's speed confused the system, or he was looking to pick up time to meet a quota, or something. I don't know.

I'll try again in a few minutes, and I'll make sure I get there in plenty of time. But, what's the point of having a GPS system if it's inaccurate?

Bah. As I said in the title, it's a rant, not a political statement.


Towards equilibrium

One of my new life goals shall be equilibrium, where I try to balance my work life with my need to be alive and human. This is a tricky objective, akin to a very complicated move in billiards. If I stop and think about the juggling required to keep everything in order, balls tend to fall to the ground. Unfortunately, some of them roll away.

But, it's a new month, a new day and the sun is shining in the sky. The construction of the new Smith Pool has now shot steel pillars into the ground. We're entering the final days of autumn, and the brilliance of chlorophyll depletion is fading. Cold days ahead, with dark nights, and I'm looking forward to making it through.

I will do by seeking this balance, seeking a little pepper to go along with the salt I produce from my time in the mines.


Simple moments to keep up the pace

Sometimes my electric kettle won't turn off, and the steam pours out, coating my kitchen in layers of moisture. Sometimes the valve on my toilet warps and the water keeps feeling up until I come and fix it. Things break, but they can always be fixed if you stay attentive.

Other times, there is so much information pouring into my brain and I can't stop it. I'm pulled in so many different directions and seem to always need to be somewhere other than in my own space. Thankfully, my friends keep reminding me to breathe.

There are also the mornings when a good cup of tea sorts the mind to the point where some of it begins to make sense. One good deep breath and the slight push of a handle, and life begins anew, as it does every moment. We're a string of frames being put through the projector one shot after another.

On this rainy November morning, my mind is awash with thoughts of this whirlwind Halloween week, and with thoughts of how to prepare for the end of the year. I keep adding new things to my plate, new obstacles to spin on the ends of broomsticks, and so far I've not crashed with a cacophonic tinkle. I'm now longer going to worry about that moment coming. Instead, I'm going to run down this hill as fast as I can, remembering to breathe. If I stumble, I shall roll until I can bounce back up to continue this marathon we're all running in.

Sam's mother taught him a very useful trick that seems to work out pretty well. Sometimes he gets so frustrated that he can't have whatever he wants, and he doesn't have the language to express himself. So, when he gets into that state of total panic, all you have to say to him is:

"Sam, say help."

And, he does. He immediately stops crying, calms down, and says in his precious little voice, "Help!" and then we're calm, we cuddle, and we get on with our day.