Fat Writer Running – Less Than Two Weeks to the Marathon!

Hi there folks! The Eugene Marathon is less than two weeks away on April 28th! I have not blogged about it nearly as much as I intended to but I’ve got a little bit more time to try to make up for it before race day! So, let me get through some updates!

First, I’m totally on track and ready to go! While my blogging has been slackerly my runs have not been. With the exception of a chest cold that hit me hard around week 4 causing me to truncate one middle length run and skip another, I’ve stayed on schedule and I’m feeling really confident.

I finished a 20 mile run this past weekend and it felt really good. Crazy exhausting but good. That was the end of the most intense week of training of the whole plan and the next couple weeks are mellow taper weeks where I reduce mileage and allow myself to fully recover so I am at full strength for the marathon. Based on my times for the 20 mile and other 16+ mile runs I’ve done, I expect to finish at pretty close to 4 and a half hours. I really wanted to get a sub 4 hour time but it’s my first attempt and I’m a 38 year old asthmatic with diabetes that was morbidly obese for 20 years until about 2 years ago so I think 4 and a half is pretty damn good.

Getting closer to race day brings up a lot of emotions for me. There’s a sense of empowerment and self-actualization I have in getting this far and knowing that I’m going to be successful because I’ve done all the hard work. I had a simple and clear epiphany in the middle of an 18 mile run a couple weeks back; all that I need to do to finish is to not quit. The trick is to understand that the definition of finishing isn’t a fixed point. Obviously if I pull a muscle or twist and sprain an ankle during the marathon, I might not be able run to the end. There are a hundred (not terribly likely) ways that fate could intervene and stop me but there will be other races and other finishes and I have a sense, a rigid certainty fostered by pushing my boundaries week after week, that I will do it, that I can do it. If I just don’t quit. That certainty is addictive. It’s why I push myself and why it’s so rewarding. That certainty is why I’m running this marathon. It permeates every part of my life. If I can do this, what else can I do? If my definition of self is updated to include the capacity to do this seemingly impossible thing, what else about my personal narrative is wrong? If I could catch that feeling, that electric crackle of possibility and faith, and translate it into words that were better suited for it than the ones I’ve got, I would. I wish I could share it with everyone. I wish I could I shout out “you are more than you think that you are!” and not have people look at me and roll their eyes and say “put it on a cross-stitch, Weirdy McOldGuy” or “why don’t you just blog about it?” …

If I’m being honest, I also feel a kind of impending grief for the race being over. I have very mixed feelings about whether I want to run another marathon after this. On the one hand, it’s empowering and challenging and (sometimes) really fun. On the other hand it’s hard and time consuming. It has felt like a part-time job managing not just the runs but the pre and post run prep. But still, I think about it being over and there’s this pang of melancholy that I don’t think would be solved by just running another marathon or a super marathon. I think it’s a necessary grief for the person I’m having to say goodbye to at the end of this and an acceptance of needing to transform into a new life. After this marathon, I know I’ll be ready for the Next Great Thing. It’s not a run, I’m not really even positive what it is but I know that I can’t avoid it any longer. It’s exciting, and terrifying, and just a little bit sad.

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Fat Writer Running – Marathon Training Weeks 1-2

Hi there folks! The Eugene Marathon is coming up fast on April 28th and I’m registered to run it! the plan was (is?) to blog about my training process week by week but I’m a little bit behind in the blogging so I’m trying to catch up!

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I want to make this disclaimer first. I’m going to be blogging about what I’m doing. Some of it is going to be definitely wrong– or at least not totally right– because this is my first marathon. I’m not an expert and you shouldn’t just do things I write about doing. Consult with professionals or people that know for sure what they’re doing before you decide to do silly things like run for 4+ hours.

Week -4

I knew I wanted to run a marathon as soon as I recovered from the half marathon last October but I ultimately registered on New Years Day and I was ready to get going right away. I found a 12 week training schedule that was pretty similar to the training I had done for the half marathon. Here’s the run schedule (there are also 2 cross training and 2 rest days not noted):

Week 1: run 3, 4, 9
Week 2: run 3, 6, 10
Week 3: run 3, 6, 12
Week 4: run 3, 6, 14
Week 5: run 4, 8, 16
Week 6: run 4, 8, 18
Week 7: run 4, 8, 8
Week 8: run 3, 10, 16
Week 9: run 3, 10, 18
Week 10: run 4, 10, 20
Week 11: run 3, 8, 10
Week 12: run 3, 6, race (6 on Wed, no cross-train)

I decided that I wanted to start more like 16 weeks out from the race and because I was already running regularly two 3s and a 10+ on the long run day, I felt confident enough in what I was doing to start the 12 week plan on week 3. I figured this would give me extra time in case I wanted to repeat weeks or skip a week or whatever. I also decided that for my cross training days I would do high intensity interval training or HIIT (I’ll come back to this in a minute). This all seemed smart but pretty quickly I learned my first hard lesson about marathon training:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

I did four weeks of this training, culminating with an 18 mile run that, for a few specific reasons that I’ll get to below, left me wrecked and nearly ready to throw in the towel. I started out pushing my body and my mind way too hard, too fast. I finished all of those runs, doubled down on the HIIT doing an hour of it twice a week, and decided that wasn’t enough so I started an upper body focused weight training program on top of it. In addition to all this marathon training, I took on more work at my day job, adding on a new project that increased my time by 50%. I also set some aggressive deadlines for myself on my writing projects with the intention of having a lot of new material ready around the time of Norwescon, the weekend before the marathon. I could do all of it and for about a month I did. But it was stupid and if I hadn’t course corrected, well I probably would have figured it out but it would have been real unpleasant.

I learned some key things during this “preview” training though. Here they are:

There is no hunger like marathon training hunger (and marathon training hunger will EAT YOUR SOUL)

Okay, so the soul-eating part is hyperbole but no joke, the combination of all the miles and the cross-training and just the all of it is so intensely draining that eating enough food has become a conscious effort. I track all my activity with my trusty Apple Watch. It tells me how many calories I’ve burned doing X, Y, and Z and I plunk in what I eat into MyFitnessPal and in theory that all tells me what my dietary budget is it’s pretty simple. It’s not quite so simple. Since I’ve been tracking my activity with MFP, I’ve maintained a calorie budget surplus of 500-1000 calories. That means I am consuming less than my body needs and that’s pretty much the trick I’ve used to lose 150 pounds in the last 20ish months. I’m weighing in now at a not unhealthy for my body type 195 now. My doctor says considering my higher than average muscle to fat ratio I’m within a couple dozen pounds of my ideal weight, which doesn’t seem like anything at all after losing 150. But I can’t both do marathon training and keep up that diet. To run that far and to do the HIIT and the weight training, I’m building muscle and the calorie math doesn’t really account for that. So, I had to adjust my targets. Now, I eat every calorie to maintain energy. No more surplus in the budget. Physically, it means I’m not dropping many pounds (only a few since January) but I am losing inches on my waist and my legs are god damn pistons. It’s a real psychological twist to go from constantly limiting food to eating ALL OF IT but I’ve been making these rice cakes with peanut butter that are pretty good, you guys.

It’s better to be underdressed than overdressed for the weather

I wrote about some of my gear on the last marathon blog. The lesson I’ve learned is when to not use it. When you first go outside for a run and it’s 40 degrees, your instinct is HOLY CRAP SOAK ME IN KEROSENE AND LIGHT THE FIRE I’M COLD but if you wear too many layers, life really starts to suck about 6 miles in. You’ll warm up from the run, I swear. But wear running gloves because there’s nothing worse than numb hands.

Dehydration really, really, really, really sucks

Toward the end of my half marathon training I started getting sick after long runs. The first time, it hit me hard. I couldn’t keep down food of fluids for a couple of hours and was bedridden with nausea. It was awful. I talked to other runners and read things online and talked to my doctor about it. I started paying close attention to water consumption and my recovery foods. I reduced my post-run nausea but didn’t completely eliminate it. It’s still something I’m tinkering with and I don’t think there’s a clear cut answer, which leads to the next lesson:

Listen to your body (because it knows better than your Facebook friends)

There’s a lot of advice for runner’s and some of it is super applicable. And some of it isn’t. My body doesn’t react the same way to the same things as other people’s. This goes for your diet and all of your habits. I eat a diet that’s about even thirds, protein/fat/carbs. It’s a little higher in fat and protein and lower in carbs than a lot of commonly recommended runner’s diets but for me– particularly with my history of diabetes– it works well. I adjust and tinker and pay attention to the results but it’s important to figure out what works because your body will adapt and you don’t want to throw curve balls at yourself. I normally eat 4 eggs, 2% cottage cheese, and an english muffin for breakfast. This is what I’ve been eating just about every day for 20 months. I switched it up and did a bowl of oatmeal and a couple hard boiled eggs before a run recently and felt great– until I almost lost all of it 3 miles in.

Week -1 (and the 18 mile run that challenged my faith)

So, let me talk about that 18 mile bastard. I had done the 16 mile run the Saturday before and I felt good. I felt cocky. I had plans out of town that coming Saturday and the weather was going to be beautiful on Thursday so I decided to swap my medium and long runs around. I would do 18 miles on Thursday and then do an 8 on Sunday. I’d been working myself hard and I don’t think I’d recovered from the 16 mile run. The truth is, I was already in trouble with my routine but I was in denial about it. I had only just realized I was not eating enough and it was effecting not only my energy levels but I was noticing that my mind was fuzzier. My moods were volatile and I was sleepwalking through a lot of the days. Then I went on that run. Running that 18 hurt. I had a blister on my foot from the 16 miler and covered it with moleskin. My knees ached just about right away. My right quad and left hamstring got tight and started burning a third of the way in. I was wearing too many layers. My time was slow and the whole run felt like a slog. I didn’t drink enough water. I limped to the conclusion of the run and knew I was dehydrated and in pain like I’d never been before. I got home and felt horrible. I was nauseous for hours. I was on my feet that evening and the muscle (and knee pain passed pretty quickly) but I was still wrecked when I ran 8 miles in two days and then all of the fatigue caught up with me. I haven’t missed a running day or even a cross-training day since but the original plan was to move on to week 7 in the schedule above but I just knew that I couldn’t. So, I started over at week 1, exactly where I would have been if I hadn’t decided to get a jump start on it all.

Week 1 and 2

All right, nerds. This is my training schedule for the first two weeks. I won’t break it down in this much detail every time but this gives you an idea of my routine and what the numbers are looking like:

Week 1:

Sunday – 8 mile run (this is technically the tail end of week -1 mentioned above). This was along my usual training path on the Trolly Trail. For a baseline, this is what a pretty slow run looks like for me with mile splits:

  • Mile 1 9’42”
  • Mile 2 10’27”
  • Mile 3 9’37”
  • Mile 4 9’43”
  • Mile 5 10’37”
  • Mile 6 11’52”
  • Mile 7 10’51”
  • Mile 8 11’22”

This path has an incline gain in the second mile, a drop in 3 and 4 and, as I do out and back it reverses for an incline in 5 and 6, drop at 7 and relatively flat for 8. As you can see from those splits. I started out alright. 9’30” is a pretty average mile time for me with fluctuations based on my physical condition and the duration of the run. The hills hit me hard on this run and I completely ran out of steam somewhere in that 5th mile, running slower and slower until I finished up.

Monday – Rest Day. I actually don’t do a complete rest day, something I may reconsider. I have my exercise calorie target set on my AppleWatch to 850 calories every day but I dial it down to 550 on rest days. I usually still do a 30-60 minute brisk walk on the treadmill on my rest day. I do this for three reasons. 1) I am still fanatical about exercising a little bit every day. It’s very habitual for me. I’m maybe a little addicted to keeping my exercise streak with my AppleWatch. 2) I find that walking after a long run helps my muscles recover. This isn’t scientific and maybe I would recover better if I didn’t. 3) I rely on my daily exercise to keep up my mood. It’s become a necessary antidepressant and anxiety antidote. Emotionally and mentally, I need it. For this rest day, I did a 70 minute walk at a pretty slow pace (~3.7 mph)

Tuesday – 3 mile run, treadmill @ 6.2 – 7 mph. I like using the treadmill for this short run because I can really dial-in the speed. I took this run easy because I was still recovering from the 18 miles and the 8. Splits for this mile:

  • Mile 1 9’26”
  • Mile 2 9’04”
  • Mile 3 10’01”

 

Wednesday – HIIT cross-training. For HIIT, I typically workouts from videos on YouTube. This is probably my favorite:

But I also like this one that the same duo lead. They just have great energy and make the workout accessible:

There are other videos from the same company (Self) and I’ll try them out as I rotate my cross-trainings. On this particular cross-training day, I did both routines for a total of an hour. I also took a brisk 15 minute walk.

Thursday- 4 mile run. I have a 3 mile loop around my house that’s the perfect length with a healthy amount of hills. This is the route I ran for my half-marathon training a lot and there’s a particular part I can repeat to do an extra mile. So, this is what I ran. This has 178ft of elevation gain pretty spread out.  Splits:

  • Mile 1 9’40”
  • Mile 2 10’19”
  • Mile 3 10’20”
  • Mile 4 10’41”

I think this run demonstrates I was still recovering. Those are pretty slow times for me on my home turf.

Friday – Rest Day. I did a 30 minute brisk walk. This was ~4.4 mph.

Saturday – Long run. 9 miles. This is the same path I did the 8 mile on Sunday but instead of running out 4 and then turning around, I ran out 4.5 and turned around. Here are the splits, which are a bit better but still not my “usual” or expected. It’s worth noting this was a very cold day- just above freezing – and I got rained on. Which is every lousy when it’s so cold. There are really three things that impact a runner – sun or lack of sun, rain/snow, and wind. This particular day had close to the worst of all three conditions

  • Mile 1 9’31”
  • Mile 2 9’54”
  • Mile 3 9’32”
  • Mile 4 10’14”
  • Mile 5 10’45”
  • Mile 6 10’27”
  • Mile 7 11’47”
  • Mile 8 11’13”
  • Mile 9 10’28”

Out of the gate a little faster- which is sometimes not better. Exerting too much upfront means it’s easier to run out of steam toward the end. In this case, I pushed for the first 3 miles and then I started to slow. I was completely wiped out before I hit the hills on the way back.

Week 2:

Sunday – Rest Day. I walked down and back up a steep hill by my house (244 ft elevation gain) in a half hour walk.

Monday – Cross-training. I did 1 and a half of my videos for 45 minutes of HIIT and walked for 15 minutes to hit my exercise targets.

Tuesday – Indoor short run. This is my speed training run and what I try to do every Tuesday. I warm up on the treadmill at 5.5mph for 5 minutes, then 6mph for another 5, and then increase the speed .1 mph for every subsequent minute up to 30. This ends up being more like 3.25 miles and it’s a challenge! Running over 7 mph is pretty taxing for me. The splits show the steady progression of speed:

  • Mile 1 10’00”
  • Mile 2 9’30”
  • Mile 3 8’38”
  • Mile 4 (partial mile) 8’38”

It was with this run that I finally started to feel like I had recovered from the 18 mile run from the a week and a half previous. In addition to the actual run, I tapered down with another 15 minutes of walking at a progressively slower pace to recover.

Wednesday – Cross-training! Both of the HIIT videos I posted above.

Thursday – 6 mile run. With this run, I did my 3 mile loop around my house twice. You can see from my splits that my times were on the slower side again. It was raining and my muscles hurt pretty bad. So, I was feeling great on Tuesday! Then I pushed too hard and crashed by Thursday. It was about here that I started to think I might be overdoing it with the cross-training.

  • Mile 1 9’31”
  • Mile 2 10’16”
  • Mile 3 10’46”
  • Mile 4 10’45”
  • Mile 5 11’22”
  • Mile 6 11’33”

Friday – Rest day. I did a 35 minute brisk treadmill walk at my default fast walk speed of 4.4mph.

Saturday – Long run. 10 miles. Here we go! This was a good run. It was very cold and especially windy. My left hand was numb and effectively didn’t function at all when I was done. It hurt like frostbite and I had to hold my hands in front of the heating vent of my truck for 10 minutes to get the feeling back. But hey, I ran much faster and felt much better than the 9 mile run the prior Saturday. For high level reference, I ran the 9 mile at about 10’25″/mile average this one was 50 seconds/mile faster down to 9’35”. That’s a big swing! …  Weird priorities, I guess. Splits:

  • Mile 1 9’15”
  • Mile 2 10’02”
  • Mile 3 8’51”
  • Mile 4 9’10”
  • Mile 5 10’09”
  • Mile 6 9’39”
  • Mile 7 10’36”
  • Mile 8 9’44”
  • Mile 9 8’53”
  • Mile 10 9’16”

The worst hill is the one on the way back and you can see that when my time went up between mile 6 and 7. This is a great way to end week 2! To do a marathon in under 4 hours you need to run about 9’15” miles and running a sub 4 would be killer for a first marathon. Honestly, if I ran this pace of close to it in April, I will be very pleased.

On Writing: Never Tell Me the Odds

Everything I do is doomed. Statistically speaking, I am addicted to lost causes and people are always ready to remind me. Only 8 writers will ever write professionally; the other 786 million of us will only know sorrow or work for hire clickbait erectile dysfunction pop up advertisements. 723% of all people that run recreationally or for sport will injure themselves. XYZ% of everyone that ever loses weight will just gain it back and more because of homeostasis and ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. 3 out of every 2 marriages ends in divorce, most companies are probably just going to lay you off anyway, Nancy. Addicts and alcoholics are all going to relapse sooner or later, and 100% of all lives will end in death. Well, at least one of those isn’t an exaggeration. It turns out that the odds, as they are often framed, are real bummers, and ultimately, if you were smart, you probably just wouldn’t do anything. The good news is, I’m not smart, you guys. I’m a dumb, dumb man.

Let me take a step back and approach this a different way. I am generally and constantly confused by slot machines and those bright blinky casino games. I remember the first time I decided, hey I’m legally allowed to do this so I’m gonna, and I gave the machine a dollar. It flashed a lot of nonsense and then my dollar was gone. I guess that’s exciting for some people? I don’t find gambling fun or stressful or addictive; I just find it perplexing. Gambling is predicated on the thrill of the outcome, the possibility of a big win or a big loss, of chance teetering on the brink. Intellectually that makes sense to me but ultimately I don’t do things because of the outcome; I do things because I like doing the things and there’s nothing inherently fun about flashing lights and my missing dollar.

And because all good points come from three totally unrelated directions, I was talking to an old friend recently about an idea that’s central to a lot of 12 step philosophies (this is one of the ones they put on coffee cops); let go and let God. Neither of us are especially theistic people and we talked about how challenging so many of these ideas are if you’re not a churchgoer, if maybe, you’re a cynic, or an agnostic, or even a full-throated atheist. I’ve known a lot of people that have found something in the 12 steps and even more that have found meaning in God and, in my way, I’ve found meaning in them also. Just maybe not the exact same meaning. What I suggested to my friend is that God, in that coffee cup summation of belief, is not the most important part of that sentence. People are always skipping over the first part. It’s more about the letting. So many religious beliefs advocate surrendering yourself to a higher power, and a lot of my fellow Sunday morning snoozers get so hung up on the higher power part that they miss the surrender bit. I suggest that if you can do the surrender bit, the higher power bit probably works itself out. If you can live your life, just doing your best when you can and learning when it’s okay to let go, still finding the courage to shrug and look at those statistics in my opening paragraph and surrender to the uncontrollability of the universe, to the beautiful, swirling entropy that maybe has a master conductor and maybe doesn’t– well, I think that’s most of the way.

So I don’t care about the chances and the likelihoods and I don’t do it for the blinky and the big cash-in. I care about doing what I do when I’m doing it and surrendering the rest of the time. Maybe I’ll write a billion words and they won’t mean a thing and I’ll never see my name on the spine of a book at a neighborhood rummage sale. Making anything– hell, trying anything that matters– it’ll break your heart. I had a literary agent and he was a good dude and I wrote three books and they were good books we put them out to publishers and they didn’t work out and now I don’t have an agent anymore and I’m back at beginning of the merry-go-round. I felt that so hard, you guys. It challenged my faith in my craft and it hurt and I had to decide to hold onto it or surrender it and I gotta tell you; surrendering is a process. I surrender and then I surrender and then I stop surrendering and grit my teeth and shake my fists and then I go for a run and then I surrender a little more and then I see something irritating on Twitter and I catch myself unsurrendering and that seems like how it’s going to go.

Most of my life falls into two broad categories; things I can control and things I can’t do a damn thing about. I can control the value and inherent enjoyment I get out of doing my work so I do. I can’t control if it will be successful. Seems like some people are so concerned with what the slot machine is going to do after you put in the dollar that they don’t notice that putting a dollar into a machine is, ultimately, pretty boring.

Fat Writer Running – Marathon Training Week 0

Hey everybody! The Eugene Marathon is just under 12 weeks away on April 28th and I’m registered to run it! Over the next 12 weeks I’m going to blog about the training process and all of you get to kind of run along with me to the finish line. Sound good? Let’s get to it!

First blog is for all the prep prior to the first week. I’ll post a blog for the first week later this week.

Week 0 (and before)

There are a lot of things I did and that I recommend before beginning a marathon training schedule. Here’s a bullet pointed list!

  • Run a lot! Personally, I don’t think it’s a great idea to start running with marathon. I did Couch25k a year and a bit ago and then, finding that I really liked running, trained up for a half-marathon and did that last fall. I have been running for fitness and leisure for about 15 months now. I feel comfortable with it and I like it. One of the challenges of running a marathon is finding physical and mental peace in running for literal hours. I’ve done more than a half-dozen 2+ hour runs and feel prepared for the 4+ hours it could take me to complete a marathon.
  • Pick a marathon to run! This might seem like a no-brainer but not all marathons are the same. Consider the time of year, the elevation gain, the size of the event, and things like convenience to get there when making this decision. Last October I did my first half-marathon in the Columbia Gorge and it was awesome! But that course has a lot of elevation gain and it was awfully challenging. When I decided to commit to my first marathon I opted to do one on flatter ground. I also wanted to do one in the springtime rather than fall and in a place where I knew some folks that could cheer me on. I picked Eugene but I also considered the Newport marathon and other events in Portland itself. You can’t properly train until you know what you’re training for and when it’s happening.
  • Talk to your healthcare team! I have asthma, type II diabetes, and a mostly benign heart condition. Before I committed to the grueling training schedule and put my money down for a marathon registration I consulted with my docs and got their advice. Based on those conversations, I’ve tweaked my asthma meds, and settled on strategies to manage my diet and blood sugar. I also got some clinical high fives for setting health goals that really boosted my confidence.
  • Pick a training plan and schedule! There are a whole lot of training schedules for marathons. I spent several hours pouring over them and considering the pros and cons. I ultimately picked this one because it’s pretty simple, mirrors the training I did for my half-marathon, and it’s a 12 week program– something especially helpful when considering a marathon so early in the year.
  • Get all that gear (to put on your body)! Running can be a remarkably frugal exercise. All you really need is your body and a place to run, right? Well, yes and no. You don’t need a whole lot of gear but gear can definitely be helpful. The most important thing in my opinion is a good pair of shoes. I’m on my third pair of running shoes since I started running seriously and got this newest pair about a month ago. They’re nicely broken in and ready to go now! I’ve tried different brands and I’m still learning and testing out my preferences with running shoes so I’m not going to recommend any one killer shoe but what I do suggest is buying them from a place that specializes in running shoes. I use Foot Traffic here in Portland. They know their stuff, have a great inventory, and can help analyze your gait and answer any of your questions. There are a lot of similar stores out there (I got some trailrunners I quite like from REI) and I’m of the opinion that they are well worth it for the customer service and expertise. The next most important type of gear is running apparel. You don’t want to run in cutoff jeans and cotton shirts. There are all kinds of moisture wicking synthetic fabrics that will keep your temperature and sweat and friction under control on long runs. I have several shirts, shorts, and some running pants. I don’t think any one brand is substantially better than any others for the basics but your mileage may vary. I do have a pair of Adidas running pants that have zippers on the pockets – that’s surprisingly useful. Another thing to remember; socks. Good running socks prevent blisters and blisters are the worst. For Christmas my wife got me a several pairs of Saucony runners socks and they are true MVPs. In addition to the basics, you want to think about the weather. I have several pairs of very light weight synthetic base layers for when it’s especially cold and I got a good rain running coat from Foot Traffic. I also very much recommend running gloves. You might not think about it but trust me- running in the winter or early spring without gloves is brutal. A final plug here- think about chafing and sensitive parts of your body. If you have nice lightweight synthetics, you’ll probably be fine but I absolutely must have NipStrips and I have learned this the very bloody, very unpleasant, way. Parts of your body (feet, nipples, thighs) are likely going to get rubbed raw. Do whatever you can to avoid this. Final final plug for moleskin for blisters on feet. Good stuff. Anyway.
  • Get even more gear!  You should also think about what you need/want to carry with you on your runs. I have an AppleWatch. I love it and recommend some kind of tracker to monitor your running lengths and give you analysis on splits and heart rate recovery – stuff like that. I also take headphones and my iPhone so I can listen to music. I need a place for my phone and keys so I got a runner’s belt. I’ve also found that I like to carry water with me rather than having to be reliant on water fountains on long runs so I have a super light hydration pack (1.5 liters) and a bigger hydration pack I have for hiking (with modular bladder, 2 or 3 liters) that I can use for extra long distances. I also always carry a handkerchief, sometimes tied around my wrist. It’s might look weird but having it there and accessible to wipe sweat from my eyes or deal with a runny nose is worth a few odd glances.
  • Get food gear! You also want to think about what you eat during and after a run. This is especially important when you’re running for more than 6 miles. On any run that I go for more than an hour I try to take Gu runner’s gels (packets of 100 calorie energy boost) so I ordered a box of my preferred flavor varieties from Amazon. Gels are a weird thing and some people tolerate them differently. Also, some flavors are great and some are awful. I prefer citrus flavors. They make my mouth feel fresher than the chocolate or caramel ones. I take 1 before my run and keep 1 gel for every 5 miles or so of my run in my runner’s belt. I also have a few tubes of Nuun hydration tablets for post-run rehydration, a stupid amount of protein bars, Muscle Milk, Vitamin Water, and other snacks to pick me up from the post-run crash. When you’re running for hours your body is consuming massive amounts of nutrients and calories and you want to try to be prepared for that. On my longest run to date (18 miles!) my AppleWatch estimated that I burned over 2300 calories- or more than I normally eat in an entire day. You’ll want to prepare for the munchies that follow that kind of output.
  • Plan your training routes! It’s a good idea to know where you’re going to run. I do three runs a week with one of them usually on a treadmill. I always do my long runs outside and I have a preferred path. I’m pretty committed to it as it’s close to home and I know it’s literal ups and downs but there are downsides to it- specifically a lack of reliable public bathrooms and water fountains (hence why I carry a hydration pack). When you run for hours and hours and you drink water along the way to keep from getting dehydrated there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to need to pee. Your running route should have some options (or you might learn to run with your legs crossed).
  • Set a goal (that isn’t insane)! My actual goal is just to complete my first marathon. I think 4 hours and 30 minutes or under would be a respectable time and that’s officially what I tell myself and others I’m shooting for. But I really want to do a sub four hour marathon. That’s kind of nuts for me physically but it’s my stretch goal. It’s a good idea I think to know what you plan to do so you can monitor how well you’re doing.
  • Playlist and fun stuff! If you’re a crazy running person like I am, running for hours is fun and relaxing. Part of that is the music I get to listen to along the way. Planning for a marathon run is like planning for a long plane ride. You don’t want to get bored.

Fat Writer Running – Just Say Thank You

Stop the presses! it’s another FWR blog post! This one will be short and  (mostly) sweet, I promise.

People ask me for advice sometimes. It’s crazy, right? I don’t think of myself as terribly advice worthy but it happens! Recently, I’ve been getting more questions about losing weight but I’ve also gotten questions about writing or resumes or having sweet, sweet heavy metal hair. Anyway, when I’m asked, I am always happy to offer feedback, encouragement, or guidance. It will be sincere and honest and based on my personal experience and it may be completely worthless. That’s okay! It doesn’t hurt my feelings if you don’t do what I suggest! There are three things though, dear readers, that I ask you to try to do when seeking advice not just from me but from anyone. These three things can be tough and I slip up on them all the time but I think it’s worth trying.

Don’t Argue With Me.

I was a jerky know-it-all when I was younger. Regardless of what anyone had to say I had the hubris and book learnin’ to refute it with passionate and often rude intensity. This most frequently came up when I asked people to read my writing or the topic of diet and exercise came up. Both were– and remain– deeply emotional and personal topics. I would argue with my friends and peers to the point where it could bruise the relationship. I offended some people I respected because I couldn’t listen to them without needing to be right. And I still struggle with it! I get notes back on a new piece of work and sometimes I want to scream and stomp around like a petulant teenage punk muttering how no one gets it like I get it. The thing is, with writing and weight loss and life, I’m always most sensitive about the things that I’m insecure about. I struggle to be as confident as I need to be sometimes and it’s in my own crippling personal doubt that the petulant teenage punk waits, ready to storm out and try to protect me with my most effective defense mechanism; the argument. I’m wise enough now to understand that rationally, though emotionally I’m sometimes still powerless to it.

So it’s with that preamble and with utmost understanding and empathy that I implore you not to argue with me or anyone else when they offer you the courtesy of their point of view or summation of experience. If you ask the best way to lose weight and I say “eating well and exercise works for me” it’s not useful for either of us for you to say “yeah, but these 728 articles say that’s not possible and 1600% of everyone that’s ever done that has gained 200 pounds and died and my aunt Sheila only ate clovers and drank 7 liters of olive oil a day HOW ABOUT THAT YOU FUCKING LIAR?!?!?!” Just get out of here with that nonsense. If you want to learn anything from anyone you need to listen and understand what they say even if you don’t agree with them and just because you don’t agree with someone doesn’t mean you need to argue about it. These are basic concepts I could swear we all learned from picture books or Disney movies right? I know we have the Internet now and that’s really upended things but c’mon. Try to argue less in 2019. It’s a huge time sink and it’s a distraction. Discuss and explore and follow-up and engage- but don’t argue. And obviously, punch Nazis and believe women but don’t argue about it on Facebook. Everyone’s got better things to do.

Don’t Waste My Time.

This second guideline is maybe more curmudgeonly and self-serving but it’s no less critical. Want me to read your short story? Will do! But you should probably read it first and make sure it’s not full of plot and spelling and other obvious and simple errors. Want to ask me about food recipes? Cool! But you should probably be comfortable with some basic terminology or know how to Google things. I could write a million examples from my day job but I think you get the point. I’m the tyrant that rejected short fiction and poems for literary journals because the writer ignored the submission guidelines. I’m the guy that tossed your resume in the trash because it was unprofessional and looked sloppy. I do these things because my time is valuable. So is yours! I make mistakes. We all make mistakes. That’s okay! In fact I’m confident some argumentative fellow who ignored this post up to now could spot some typos and “well, actually…” me about this very blog. It’s not about perfection. It’s about respect. If you ask me for feedback or advice, please do a reasonable amount of due diligence. Think things through a little bit. Acknowledge and appreciate the investment I’m making– that anyone is making– in you. If you’re terrified that I’m going to bark at you for wasting my time, first, I’m more of a wagger than a barker, and second, just put on your empathy hat. Count to 16 or something and ask yourself if you’re going forward with good faith and that’s probably good enough.

Just Say Thank You.

When I was 17 I had a mentor named Brian, a great but occasionally scatter-brained guy that was old enough to be my father. He was returning to college the same I was starting and had all these crazy stories about being a pastor and brokering truces with gangs. Sometimes Brian would offer me compliments about something and I would minimize or argue that I didn’t deserve them because I was a Very Serious Tim Burton Boy and Brian gave me the absolute greatest advice; “just say thank you.” I took this to heart for compliments but it took me a lot longer to embrace it for criticism. Now, if someone gives me unexpectedly bad notes on something the best way to get my petulant teenage punk in check is to start by thanking the note giver for their time. Maybe I’m old-fashioned but a little bit of a gratitude goes a very long way. If you ask for advice and I give it to you, the FWR guide to etiquette says you should probably reply with something like “hey, thanks buddy!” Just try it! It’s a magical life hack. Thanking someone helps you to recognize and value their time and investment and it can ease some conversational tension. I swear by it. Thank people more in 2019, you guys! It’s the magic currency that keeps polite society functioning!

Fat Writer Running – On New Years Resolutions and Ambition

Happy 2019, you guys! Fat Writer Running here with an all-new blog for the all-new year! In this post, as seems fitting on a day when many reflect and make resolutions, I want to talk about the blessing and challenge of ambition. But first, it’s been a while so let’s get a nice fire going and chat for a little bit about what’s been going down.

First things first, I’m not fat anymore, you guys. By the medical definition, I mean. I dropped beneath the cut off for obesity a while back but “About Average for an American Man over the Age of 20  Writer Running” is a pretty lousy title for a blog so I’m not changing it. All-in I’ve lost over 145 pounds in the last 18 months with my patented methodology of eating well and exercising regularly without doing drugs or getting surgeries or sacrificing small animals to demons or anything.

YEAHHHH

I also finished my first half-marathon in October and that was incredibly awesome. I ran in the Columbia Gorge and the weather and the scenery and the experience was beautiful and, as corny as this might sound, completely life-affirming. I was the kid in gym class that couldn’t make it around the track and I ran 13.1 miles with hundreds of other people. In training up for the half-marathon I’d done 13.1 mile runs several times already but the experience of doing it with that crowd and with my wife waiting for me at the finish line was something I’ll never forget. I was humbled and proud and sweaty and I immediately started thinking about when I was going to do it again.

About a week after I crushed that half-marathon, I also finished a draft of a new book that I’m pretty excited about. I’ll be editing it for a while but expect to be talking a lot about it sooner rather than later.

So, I haven’t been blogging but I’ve been running and I’ve been writing and rocking out with my crazy long hair out. Which, believe it or not, is a great way to segue into this blog post about ambition.

I remember a few years ago after a friend made a sideways comment I got self-conscious about having a reputation as someone that was always starting things but never finishing them. I would get excited about doing a new podcast or making a board game or something but with everything else I was already committed to I found that too often I was abandoning things I wanted to do but just couldn’t manage. When I have guests over I cook way too much, at work I volunteer to do more than my fair share, and when I set deadlines for myself they tend to be insanely aggressive. I feel most at ease in the crunch and if I hit a target, I don’t rest– I pick a more difficult target. Nothing makes me   more anxious than missing a deadline or failing to meet a goal even if those deadlines and goals are ridiculous. It’s been a personal journey for me to figure out how to temper this tendency, how to hold on to my verve and enthusiasm without burning myself out. Ultimately, I’ve come to appreciate that this internal wrestling match is a fundamental part of who I am and while I don’t want it to get out of control, my ambition is my greatest and most cherished asset.

Every great bold thing starts with ambition. It starts with looking at where you’re at and imagining where you want to be and telling yourself “yeah, I got this.” That’s the very first step on what’s sometimes a really long path. Writing, running, and living– there are no savants here, just ambitious people who read a book one time and said “I can do that too” or saw someone run by from the front room of the living house and believed “I can keep up with that.” And sometimes you can’t do it! Sometimes the ambition reaches way too far and you stumble and you miss the mark. Real ambition, the kind that gets you up over mountains and finishes the next novel and the next even when you’re not sure if it’s going to end up on a shelf anywhere other than your office, says “I learned for that- and this next time, I won’t make the same mistake.”

I was going to write a blog post announcing the end of the the Fat Writer Running series. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks. I felt like I hadn’t been keeping up on it and knowing it was out there not being updated even though I had all these grand ideas for it, made me feel lousy. When I started blogging on my website– almost exactly five years and 86 posts ago— I had this idea that I would be making weekly updates. Every once in a while I’m reminded I haven’t done that and I make a renewed effort to do it again. The big idea with the FWR series was that I was going to pre-write everything and just queue them up. I never managed to pre-write anything. I just got overextended. I still have these ideas and topics I want to dive into from the gender politics of weight loss to recipes to extended metaphors about running and writing and all kinds of other silly stuff. And I know as I write this that I might not be able to devote the time I want to devote to this. But I’m not going to end it and I’m not going to give up on it.

My resolution for 2019 isn’t to do more ambitious stuff. I don’t need New Years for that. That’s my life. I’m already registered for a full marathon in April and I’m going to run the Gorge half-marathon again in the fall. I’m working out training schedules to increase speed and endurance. I’m plotting sequels to books and juggling as many writing projects as ever with the confidence of a workaholic on a bender. My resolution for 2019 is to not give up on my big ideas and bigger dreams even if I can’t make them happen when I want them to happen. My resolution for 2019 is to shoot for the stars and if I get caught up in the ceiling of my house or if I fall back down to earth, just keep building new rockets until I get there.

Happy New Years, you guys. Do amazing things and never ever stop.

Fat Writer Running – The Myth of Discipline and White Knuckles

Hi all, Fat Writing Running checking in. I’ve been keeping pretty busy so it’s been tough for me to prioritize these blog update. But it’s been too long so here are some quick bullet points on where I’m at and what I’m thinking about. After that, there’s a bit more I want to dive into as it relates to this idea of changing diet and exercise as some result of Herculean indomitable will. (Spoilers: it’s not really if you’re doing it right).

  • I have my first official half-marathon run coming up in a few weeks and I’m really excited. I’ve done four 13+ mile runs solo since August and while they’ve been very challenging and I haven’t mastered the alchemy of what to eat/drink before/while/after running to avoid some pretty intense post run nausea quite yet, I’m confident and eager to get out there. Running is awesome!
  • I’m also deep into a new writing project. Not much I want to share on it yet but it’s occupying a lot of my time and attention. Writing is awesome!
  • I read this story when it was first posted and I have a ton of thoughts about it: Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong. I’ve tried to distill those thoughts into something readable for this blog but I haven’t figured out how to really approach it in a way that satisfies me. I strongly recommend you read the story. There’s a lot going on and it’s very thought-provoking. Thoughts are awesome!

Anyway, let’s talk about discipline. I shared that news story above on my social media and a friend reposted it. She added a comment that referenced me and my experience in a way that I thought was flattering but also inaccurate. She wrote (I’m paraphrasing) that I had lost > 100 lbs through “sheer hard work” and “discipline.”

Nah. That’s not how I did it.

I maybe haven’t been clear enough about this so I want to skewer this myth right now because I think it’s a big obstacle for people. They deeply believe that the only way to make changes to regular diet and exercise is through some kind of masochistic fortitude and that if they’ve ever tried before and had mixed results they must be weak-willed or incapable. That’s a deeply self-destructive and self-defeating idea and the very large (and lucrative) health “lifestyle” industries are counting on it. They reinforce this whole “willpower” narrative and then offer their solution as a magical life hack. It’s deceptive marketing, you guys, and it’s awful.

Here’s how I think about it. I’m going to use bullet points again here for clarity:

  • The things we eat and the activities we do (or do not do) are largely a result of learned behaviors and habits.
  • Learned behaviors and habits exist for a reason. We have found validation, satisfaction, or simply enjoyment from them in the past. We eat food that might not be the healthiest for us because it tastes good or makes us feel good. Doughnuts are fucking delicious, you guys, and it’s not discipline to argue otherwise; it’s denial.
  • We don’t change these learned behaviors and habits by shouting at them and hating ourselves for having them and we won’t have a lot of luck quitting them in exchange for doing things we hate and can only imagine doing for limited lengths of time. We change them by learning- or re-learning- other behaviors and habits that also give validation, satisfaction, and enjoyment. Ideally, we find these other behaviors and habits feel even better.

So, the secret of my “sheer hard work” is that I looked at the life I was leading and asked myself “how come I’m doing this?” and when I had those answers (“tacos are tasty AF!” “I don’t have time to go to the gym” etc.) I thought really hard about how I could get the same physical and emotional reward from doing something else that might also be healthier for me. Tacos remain tasty AF, but I now I make tacos a little bit differently so that they are still tasty AF but are a little leaner, a little more nutritious. Or I found ways to shift my approach to exercise. I listened to podcasts or music while walking at first, things that gave me genuine enjoyment so it didn’t seem like a chore. My wife and I recently got a treadmill and I can get some miles on it while I’m watching Netflix. Netflix is awesome!

There’s another layer to this that goes to a deeper place. I cannot and will not speak for everyone that’s had similar physical struggles. As a society- as individuals- we really need to have a lot more empathy and a lot less judgment when it comes to everyone else’s bodies. The notion that obesity (however defined) is a moral failing is one of the most profane and offensive puritanical notions that we’ve allowed to continue into the 21st century. There are a hundred passionate blogs in those last few sentences alone but I digress to talk about my personal experience: For me, food was and is a source of tremendous comfort during times of emotional distress. This is not the only reason why I was “fat” nor is it a character defect. It’s just a behavior I learned and found that it rewarded me.

The night I found out my grandmother passed away, I ate an entire Dominos pizza. I ate until my gut was full and my brain was bombarded with chemicals telling it “YES YES THIS FEELS GOOD.” Biologically our bodies are hardwired to reward us for simple calories because it wasn’t that long ago in biological terms since food was scarce and quick and easy access to caloric fuel was a decisive advantage against looming death. When I ate that Dominos Pizza my body was probably thinking FUCK YEAH SCORE NOW EAT IT ALL BEFORE WOLVES FIND YOU OR THE WINTER COMES AND YOU CAN ONLY FIND ROOTS AND MICE TO EAT but what my body didn’t know is that we don’t have wolves anymore and Dominos Pizza is totally down to bring you pizza in the winter. The net-result was the same- I ate too much because it made me feel better. And it still will. That hasn’t gone away and I don’t expect it to. If I get a gut-punch from life, eating an entire Dominos Pizza will make me feel good. So will a lot of drugs and alcohol. So will going for a run.

What I’ve endeavored to do is give myself an alternative habit to process grief, stress, and anxiety. This wasn’t- it isn’t- easy but it’s more about being vulnerable with my own feelings and candid with myself about them than gritting my teeth and spouting some American folklore about bootstraps. I need to feel better when I’m hurt or afraid or insecure. I deserve to feel better when I’m hurt or afraid or insecure.  I also need and deserve to eat delicious food and need and deserve to do awesome things that bring me joy. Willpower might allow me deny those needs for a little while but it won’t make them disappear. “Sheer hard work” and “discipline” are admirable traits and a little bit of that is always required when making changes in your life but they are woefully insufficient and too often they’re traps. If you see two options and one is not doing anything at all and the other is impossible hard work all the time that you do just because you’re a bad ass, well, I think that explains the really dispiriting statistics about the number of people that are able to successfully lose weight and keep it off.

I have a lot of advantages that have really helped me do what I’ve done. So many that I’m not sure I could list them all if I wanted to. One of them that’s especially useful is a rad support network including healthcare and mental healthcare professional. Another is a love of cooking and a diverse palate that makes it easy for me to make delicious AF food that’s also healthy AF. A stubborn work ethic is another very important advantage but I think it’s helpful to know where that came from. I experienced some lousy things as a kid and I made some lousy choices with my life. At fifteen years old I was a high school drop out living in a trailer park with my single mother, supported entirely by government assistance. I was grossly obese, cripplingly depressed, and was statistically and realistically likely to fall into a life of mental illness, addiction, and poverty. A handful of great people believed in me (my grandmother was one of them) and somehow instead of giving up and sinking into that mud, I found some final reserve of strength and trusted those great people and I got the fuck up. This was not willpower. This was survival and it was the kindness of people that didn’t need to be kind and maybe it was also some greater purpose beyond all of this skin and bone. In the wake of that experience and in the years that followed, my stubborn work ethic has always rewarded me with validation, satisfaction, and enjoyment (also a house, a wonderful wife, and a couple of spoiled Chihuahuas). I’m proud of my stubborn work ethic but it’s not a magic life hack. It’s something I came by honestly and selfishly and it’s something anyone can have. Mystifying discipline and turning it into some kind of super power gives hard work too much and too little credit for what it actually is.

Geez. I wrote a lot more than I planned to. Keep writing and keep running everybody. I have some of that to do myself. Until next time!

Fat Writer Running – the Pilgrim’s Eye of the Tiger

Fat Writer Running is back, you guys. This time it’s going to get a little philosophical up in here.

When I was younger I went through a heavy JD Salinger phase. I started, like most, with Catcher in the Rye but became especially fascinated with his stories and novellas about the Glass family. Central to these stories – especially Franny & Zooey – is something called the Jesus Prayer from a book called the Way of the PilgrimThe Jesus Prayer is a simple mantra – “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me” – that the pilgrim learns to teach him to pray without ceasing. The idea behind this prayer is that if one learns it properly prayer becomes unconscious, it becomes as integrated into daily life as breathing and in doing so brings a person closer to God and divine understanding. What I find so fascinating about this concept is that it posits that something very intentional and banal becomes revelatory through practice. What begins as a 7 word phrase evolves into an ecstatic state. This concept isn’t unique to the Jesus Prayer. There’s a tremendous number of spiritual, philosophical, and psychological teachings that cover similar territory some more elegantly or profoundly than others. Ultimately, they all say something similar about faith. God or mercy or meaning itself does not suddenly appear uninvited into the soul but is summoned after a million or a billion recitations.

For most of my adult life, my Jesus Prayer was the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket.

Because you are a disgusting fat body, Private Pyle.

Not to spoil a 30+ year old movie, but the drill sergeant’s weight loss motivation techniques didn’t work out well for anyone. Even now with all of my hard work and progress, sometimes my head still feels like a junkyard full of bad ideas overcrowded with paranoid schizophrenic hobos. The hobos sneer at me over their tire fires and bubbling can of beans or whatever and slur at me that they’re all going to laugh at me and dump pigs blood on my head when I go to the prom and I say what are you talking about I’m not going to the prom and they say oh that’s so sad no one wants to take you to the prom and I shake my head and say no, I’m a 38 year old man and they don’t have proms for 38 year old men and they cackle and spit half-chewed baked beans at me and say is that what they told you and I don’t really know how to respond to that but it still makes me feel bad.

A couple weeks ago I had this problem where for several nights in a row I would wake up in the middle of the night and I would suddenly have a song playing in my head and I couldn’t make it stop and I would lie there with an insomniac’s ear worm, miserable until the alarm went off. After a joke from my wife about her intentionally sticking a bad song into my subconscious I tried something. I woke up in the middle of the night with a song- something I had listened to on a run or while working that day, I think- and I started remembering the lyrics to that Big Red chewing gum jingle from the late 80s. Something something make it last a little long with BIG RED. It was ridiculous and I don’t know the words so I made up some extra silly ones and I smiled a minute and then, magically, the music all stopped and I fell back to sleep. For me the moral of that is that story is that if you’re to have a song stuck in your head at 3 in the morning, pick the song.

The most important thing I’ve found to being successful as a runner or a writer or a person living his best life is to believe that I can do it. Fake it until it make, mind over matter- whatever corny aphorism you can think of- there’s truth to them. The Jesus Prayer leads pilgrims closer to God and the Big Red jingle fixed my insomnia. Intention plus practice equals belief and belief-faith in oneself- is the missing ingredient to accomplishment. I think about all the years of my life with that drill instructor screaming in my face, with those weird brain junkyard hobos planting seeds of doubt, and I can’t just shout back at them. That won’t fix the problem any more than Private Pyle’s big crack up in Full Metal Jacket. I need to pick a different song.

So my new Jesus Prayer is “Eye of the Tiger.” My new Jesus Prayer is a hundred self-affirmation anthems and embroidered doily aphorisms. I don’t believe that I’m a champion (or even not a disgusting fat body) just because I listen to painfully sincere sports movie one hit wonders but belief is a practice. Prayers are just something you say over and over often enough that they transform you. I choose to pick better prayers.

This is what I want motherfucker, make it happen for me.