Showing posts with label Health and Food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Health and Food. Show all posts

Tales of Running: What's in My Tool bag?

It's time to go for a run and you're thinking that about going for a long one.  What do you pack?  What's a must for you to have on any run?  Not just the physical goods but what's in that toolbox (ok, probably a bag since who runs with a box, right?)?  Well, I was thinking about what I need to pack both physically and mentally and here's what I came up with for my tool bag:

Physical Tools for Running

Vibrams five-finger shoes
Vibram five-finger shoesThey're a must for any run as I've said many a times here.  I find it hard to run otherwise.  

Content Belt
For lack of a better phrase, it is essentially a fanny pack.  But short of a backpack, there's not any other ways to carry extra items without weighing down your shorts/pants.  The belt holds tight to the waist and largely doesn't bother your form.  I've found that the one I have and sometimes also provide some back support depending on where I position the pack part and how tight I have the belt clip.

iPad Nano
Music is the tool that has gotten me past many a literal and metaphorical finish lines.  I have to wonder if the increase in running can be directly correlated to the increasing individual music machines (mp3 players) that are light, long-lasting, and rechargeable.  I tend not to fixate on one particular band or even genre but just an amalgam of music that I've found motivating over the years.  

I've tried hats and will use them if it a particularly sunny day but they are slightly irritating to my bald head.  By contrast, bandannas are perfect for keeping my head protected and soaking up the sweat.  Also, if tied correctly, the back part of the bandanna can become the low point for the sweat to exit from so that it drips down your back and not on your face.

Honey Stinger Chews
People use different fuels for the runs when they need to load up on some more carbs while logging in longer distances.  I like Honey Stinger Chews because they are tasty as well as organic.  Ultimately, anything will do and if I don't have Honey Stingers, I'll opt for whatever else is around.

A few bucks
I generally don't like to carry a water bottle during my runs.  They are distracting to me and I'm never likely to be able to carry as much as I need for a long run without seriously weighing me down.  Therefore, I carry about $5 on my in order to grab drinks on the go as well as back up money if something happens and I need to make a call.

Unless it's an official race that I registered for, I will typically carry my license and health insurance card on me in case something happens to me.  I know there are Road ID bracelets but one more thing to put on my wrists (see below) might be too much.

Basis watch for health monitoringMy Basis is a great tool as it gives me heart-rate and steps taken.  I've talked about it before and though it may be a bit ridiculous in tandem with the GPS watch below, I'm still inclined to run with both.  I'm sure the next generation of gadgets I get 2-3 years down the line will have them both combined.

GPS Watch
The GPS watch I have isn't great.  It takes usually 7-10 minutes to sync and sometimes, I'm know sure about its accuracy.  But it does give me a good sense of my distance and can help me keep track of my progress.

Mental Tools for Running

Always one more step.
It's a mantra I have readily accessible, particularly when I know I'm having or going to have a rough run.  I simply tell myself repeatedly and almost exclusively to all other thoughts, "There is always one more step you CAN take."  And there usually is.

All this is profit.
I coined this phrase when ran the marathon back in October.  It \ means that once you've pasted a distance that you haven't done before (or past the distance that you had originally planned to do), that every step after that is purely beneficial and supremely rewarding.  As someone who used to hate running, this is a profound concept for me.  I never ran more than I had to and usually did my best to get around even that.  So finding myself in a place where I want to go further than before is profit of all sorts.

Projecting running when not running.
Particularly when I'm gearing up for a big race where I want to achieve a new distance or new time, I make sure to spend a lot of time in the weeks leading up to picture myself running and in doing so, feel the muscles throughout my body.  I have also talked about this in a previous post as well of trying to get my mind and body preparing before the actual run.  Training the mind can help to train and prepare the body for the challenge that awaits you in any run.  

Setting markers for walks.
This is something that many people do not always value or understand especially when running long distances; planning and taking time to walk.  Granted, this is not relevant if you are trying to win a race against others.  But I'm talking about us who are largely just racing ourselves.  Particularly when it comes to half-marathons or longer, I usually get out about 4-5 miles and then use the water stops as a time to hydrate and walk for 30 seconds to 1 minute.  While some people feel this might threaten a personal best, I find that time and again, it has helped me achieve a personal best.  First, it breaks up the running into smaller chunks that are easier for me and my body to handle.  It also alleviates inner stress of thinking about how many miles to go before I can comfortably stop, even if it's only for a minute. Finally, it keeps me from having to stop outright.  Many  people run until their body is so worn they can't keep going or they get progressively slower.  By planning your walks, you better care for your body which helps get you to the end quicker and healthier.  

A high and a low mark for success
I try to set a range for my finished time.  The low-goal which is something I think is feasible but still requires me to give it a solid effort.  The high-goal is something I aspire to and may not achieve in this run but having it in my sights gets me mentally ready to achieve it some day.

Thinking cup - Image Source:
Thoughts for Running
I often try to prepare a few things to think about on my run.  Though even when I don't have them, I usually find them.  It's a great opportunity to get lost in thoughts and problem solving or reflecting.  This also helps the time go by quicker as you try to figure out something in your head.

Tools that Don't Accompany Me on My Run

I see many people use their phones in versatile ways, but I'm not at a point where I enjoy taking my phone with me (unless I find it absolutely necessary).  The distraction to take photos of scenic landscape or check my email and messages is also a bit too strong and would take from the run itself.

So what's in your tool bag?

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Tales of Running: A Miss And an Epic Win

The running is going forward at full steam now with regular races and the forthcoming Bay State Marathon on Sunday, October 20.

This past Labor Day, I was supposed to run the 25K Around the Cape.  I ran this race last year and it took me just over 2 hours 50 minutes.  So how did this year's race go for me?  Spoiler alert:  I didn't do it.  On the morning of the race, it was raining fairly significantly.  It continues to rain up until about 20 minutes before the race and the weather forecast called for even more rain during the race.  Overall, I'm ok with running in the rain if it isn't too intense, but the rain just didn't sit right with me.  The challenge wasn't just the rain, but it was the rain coupled with the hills and my vibrams whose soles were wearing down and I was losing some grip on.  I had it fixed in my head that particularly during the second half of the hilly course, it would leave me vulnerable for injury.  In the end, I made the decision to skip the run, despite having showed up for it.  Of course, there was some regret when a half hour later the sun was poking its head out and I didn't run into any rain throughout the rest of the time that I would have been running.

After that dismal affair, I was hoping and rallying myself for an epic win and the following weekend at the AppleCrest Half-Marathon, I got just that!  The race results are here and you can see that I've had a personal best in comparison to many of my other races.  In total, it took me 2 hours 8 minutes, 21 seconds which turned into 9:48 miles and placed me at 245 out of 410 people (at the 60% mark).

Breaking 10 minute miles for a prolonged run was really important to me.  I definitely cried towards the end of the race as I came down the last .5 miles realizing that I was going to make it to the finish line in under 2 hours and 10 minutes.  Just prior to the race, I told my partner that my low goal was 2 hours and 20 minutes and my high goal was 2 hours and 10 minutes.  But I didn't think I would come in a full 1.5 minutes under that.

Yeah, I did it!
My pre-race thoughts were mixed.  I believed I could do it in under 2 hours 20 minutes, but I had my doubts. I felt it was within my grasp but only barely.  Meanwhile, I thought the 2 hours 10 minutes was just a pipe dream to some degree.

So what happened?  Again, if I look at the breakdown, I had a few things going for me regardless of what I did.  The weather was beautiful.  Partly cloudly and cool.  The route was reasonable.  Yes, a few yucky hills but most of it flat or rolling hills.  The route only had 2 rock paths both of which were short in total.

What did I do right?  I made sure I had plenty of fuel in the morning.

  • 1/2 cup of peanuts, 
  • 1 tablespoon of soaked & grinded chia seeds, 
  • 1 orange
  • 1 pear
  • 12oz of ice coffee
  • 8oz of peach & ginger ice tea

At every water stop, I stopped, walked for at least 20 seconds, and drank about 2-3 cups of liquids (either 2 cups of water, or 2 cups of water and 1 cup of gatorade).  I also packed my Honey Stinger gels that I had at the 6 mile mark.  This helped keep my hydrated and feeling fully aware.

Finished & feeling awesome!
In order to keep my pace steady throughout, I relied on several different things.  The first was just breathing in rhythm with my running and continually returning to it every time I hit a wall.  I also revised my music playlist; removed some older songs that didn't pack as much punch while adding some new ones. Finally, I ran the race in my head several times throughout the week before ever coming to the starting line.  I was recently reading a book (A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming: Mastering the Art of Oneironautics) that discussed an interesting study.  The study was examine how the brain distinguishes between thinking about an action and actually performing it.  The end result was that people could improve their physical results not just by the exercise itself but by spending time thinking about it.  This is not entirely surprising.  After all, we talk about visualizing our goals and achievements and this is just an extension of that.  So in the week leading up to the race, I regularly returned to visualizing running the race and the various elements therein.  I thought about how I would push through the tiredness and how I would rally up the hills as well as how I would finish the last mile.  But more than just visualize it, I pushed my mind to actually feel my body doing it, even through it wasn't actually doing it just yet.  In truth, I don't know how much of an impact this had but I had yet to do any run of 9 miles or more where I was under the 10 minute mile mark.

Finally, what was also really helpful on the run?  Everyone that I have been engaged with in my quest for running.  That especially includes my partner who has been supportive emotionally as well as physically with stretching and muscle care.  But also, my friends who asked about the training or who encourage the training as best they can through encouraging comments on Facebook or elsewhere (such as my DailyMile profile).  I carry the comments and encouragement on every run, but particularly on the races where I'm pushing to break new barriers.  So I'm always thankful for the support (and that includes my readers too!).

Back to the running.  I've got a marathon to prepare for!

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Letter to the Editor: Regulate, don't ban, bad 'food'

Here's another letter to the editor published in the Salem News:

"The Salem News is right that the New York City soda ban is unconstitutional and we should be leery of government control.

There’s no need to cite the ever-increasing statistics on obesity, along with its secondary and tertiary effects on the overall society.

It’s not an individual problem; it increasingly is a societal problem. Numerous sources show how companies purposely make food more addictive while simultaneously targeting children (just like the cigarette companies did). Weight control for many people is extremely hard to manage, even when not being blasted by thousands of ads per day telling us to eat more."

To read the rest, click on through to the full letter.

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Weird but Tasty Food Combinations?

I remember as a kid getting harassed for putting mustard on my tuna fish sandwich from the school lunch.  I can also remember my father getting me to drink milk by putting Coke in it.  I enjoyed both thoroughly as a kid but now wouldn't consume either.  This is not because I look down on them but as a vegetarian, the tuna fish is out (yes--it's meat) and that the combination of Coke and milk sounds way too sweet a drink for me to actually enjoy (but clearly explains my early established and still present sweet tooth).

But that has me thinking about food culture and the defaults that food culture directs us toward (tortialla chips and salsa; .  I grew up on peanut butter and jelly as well as fluffernutters.  I would even go so far as to do jelly and fluff.  But peanut butter and pickles never crossed my mind.  Pickles were to have with sandwiches that included meat or cheese or other stuff.  That is, we learn or are trained to pair and connect certain food groups but not others and that establishes our food choices.

So I'm looking for some new ideas and to break out of the mold of my traditional food pairings.  To that, I challenge readers to provide (in the comments below) unique and interesting food combinations. Food pairings that we don't culturally associate going together but in your experience, you find particularly tasty.  I'm looking for a curious array of food pairings that might inspire me to think about certain foods differently.  So give me your best!

The Rules:
1.  Vegetarian-based combinations (I don't eat meat; but I will do dairy & eggs).
2.  Be clear with the recipe/food pairing but the recipe/food pairing shouldn't be too complicated.  If you're beyond 5 steps, you'll probably lose me.
3.  They must be submitted to the comments box in this post.

The Return
Depending on how many recipes/food pairings I get, I'll either return with a poll for people to vote for the top 5-10.  Regardless, I will follow up with a post after having tried the different combinations, along with pictures and commentary.

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

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Defaults and Cues for Improving Life

Humans are creatures of habit; blame it on our need to feed (refuel) or need to sleep (recharge), but we regularly find ourselves set in our ways of how we go about things, how we see things, and how we resolve things.  This can be good when we establish habits that are good and beneficial to our health, relationships  and work.  However, it can also be detrimental when we form habits that negatively impact our health, relationships, and work.  A part of my life has been trying to improve upon the more problematic or unhealthy habits I've accumulated along the way through circumstance, accident, or overindulgence.

There are two great strategies that I've found to help me make reasonable changes that direct me towards more healthy habits without a lot of internal struggle or relapse into bad habits.  They work well with redirecting my energies and thoughts, enabling me to make the better choices more often than the bad choices (which is what it's all about, no?). 

Strategy #1:  Defaults

Dan Arielly has me thinking lots about default settings.  In the chart below, he examines the difference in organ donor rates among different European countries. As can be seen by the chart, countries are either extremely high or extremely low in their capacity to donate organs.  The reasoning for this is that the countries with low organ donor rates sets the default as "not a donor" whereas the countries with a high organ donor rate sets the default as "donor".  Because it is a default--not necessarily because people are more ethically dedicated to their fellow humans in those countries.

That's not entirely surprising for some.  After all, companies all the time create the a service the default (e.g. automatic renewal, monthly subscriptions, etc) and make opting out a required conscious (and often tedious) act.  However, it can be used to help one reorganize and refocus one's efforts.  Thus I have spent a good deal (and continue to do so) creating beneficial defaults for my life that produce healthier and more rewarding results.
No passivity while watching TV

In hindsight, creating and using a standing desk at both home and work was one such default.  I changed the default of sitting around to standing around.  In my life, this idea continued to grow until I fundamentally changed my living room into an activity room.  Between standing desk, treadmill, and spin bike, if I'm inclined to watch TV, I'm inclined to be active.  If I want to sit down and watch TV, then I have to consciously move a chair around to do so.   This has significantly changed my level of activity and screen time.  I still enjoy watching films or TV shows but rarely do I just sit in front of the TV And to be clear, I understand the reason for wanting to just do that (sit and watch TV), but many of us create that as the default and probably do way more of it than we want--many is the time that people share with me how much time they waste watching TV or ask me how I do so much.  Some of it is just that I don't let the time-suck that can be sitting in front of the TV consume my hours.  

Notice with both chairs, to use
them for TV, requires
a conscious act.
Similarly to this, I have purposely made my bedroom a TV-free room.  I have plenty of books in my bedroom and ample lighting, but no TV.  Electronics are for other rooms, my bedroom is for sleeping and reading.  In that way, it gives me a distraction-free zone to enjoy and get lost in a good book.

There are many other defaults that I set.  The book Mindless Eating pushed me to reset certain defaults in my kitchen, including getting smaller dishes for my meals.  They recommend smaller cups as well, but since all I ever have in refrigerator for drink is coffee, tea (home-brewed), and water, I'm less inclined to follow that recommendation.  However, if you are someone drinking other types of calorie-heavy beverages, it might also be a consideration.

I still want my treats;
but the giant back is too inviting
The "snack-size" version now popular in many grocery stores is a great idea for setting a size default, but I had trouble with the environmental side effect of wasting all that extra packaging so regularly.  My solution to this was to buy the large bin worth, open it up, and break it into small reusable plastic contains.  (and depending on the snack, rewashing after every use isn't always necessary.  This way I can have my sweets or less healthy snacks but not necessarily overindulge as a large contain would lend me to do.
Morning routines can sometimes be hard to get into and I find that if my default is to set my clothes out the night before along with my meal for work and my breakfast (by set out, I mean prepare enough so that the bare minimum is needed, e.g. add liquid, microwave, or just open), it makes getting up much smoother.  The major blockades have been dealt with and it's just about acclimating to the new day.  This can work particularly well if you want to try to go to gym or work out in the morning; pack the back the night before and there's less to argue against in the morning.

Strategy 2:  Cues

Cues are a great mechanism to get remind you to do something.  We use cues all the time.  Traffic signs are cues.  The classic string around the finger is a cue.  I've collected a handful of useful cues that help me better keep focus and organize my life.

The most promising cue that has worked for me is being vegetarian.  I became vegetarian for health, environmental, and ethical reasons, but at the end of the day, it's mostly about the health impact.  Being vegetarian means that I do have to make conscious decisions about what to eat.  Given that we are a meat-centric society (want proof--go into a restaurant--what's the ratio of meat to meatless meals?), by saying that I won't eat meat means I have to consciously think about what I am eating.  In doing so, this acts as a cue to pay attention to what I'm eating.  That in turn makes me do better (more often than not, at least) in making sure I eat a reasonable amount of food and not necessarily overeat or mindlessly eat when I'm not actually hungry.

Other cues that work well for me is where I place my work bag at night.  Different days determine different things to throw in the bag and sometimes some of those things are still linked/charging on my computer or may be what I'm reading before going to bed.  Regardless, at night, I place my bag either at my desk or by the door.  If I place it by the door, that cue tells me it is ready to go.  If the bag is by the desk, it tells me I still need to put stuff in it.  My water canteen cues me to regularly drink water.  I always try to carry it on me and when I do, I'm prone to drink and refill it twice a day or more (upwards of 80-120 oz).

Finally, I use (ok, abuse) my Google Calendar to help generate cues for different things to do around the apartment.  I can fill up my calendar with regular reminders about the different things that need regular doing (e.g. changing the litter box, washing the sheets, etc)--habitual things that I will forget at times (that is, forget exactly when I did them last) and can use some consistent cues to keep me on track.  These calendar events will be sent as reminders to me in my email or cellphone, making it much easier for me to stay on top of life and the regular needed chores.

Recommended Reading

The following books have proved helpful in getting me to come up with these ideas.
  • The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely
  • Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults & Swallow Citizens Whole by Benjamin R. Barber 
  • Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman
  • Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath
  • Mindfulness by Ellen Langer
  • Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer
  • Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina
  • Wait: The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy
  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
  • Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan
  • In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan
  • Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell
  • Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky
  • The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
  • Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink

What kind of defaults and cues do you use to help organize your life and keep sane (or partially sane)?

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

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Look What I Made: Apple Leather

So I can thank Hurricane Sandy for the opportunity to try this new recipe.  I'm a fan of my dehydrator as many of you know.  I've made potpourri and tea with it.  In September, I got into a conversation with someone who has been dehydrating for decades and he gave me some great tips that got me wondering what else I could do.  One idea was apple leather.  Fruit leather was what people made long before there was the classic (albeit unhealthy) child' snack, the Fruit Roll-Up.  It's a dehyrdated fruit mixture that is chewy and sweet (and much more healthy).

Thus with Sandy knocking out work for me for 2 days, one project I took to was making some apple leather and it came out pretty awesome.  I instantly bragged about it on Facebook and had a few people request the recipe.  So I figured I do one step better and capture it when I made it again.  So here it is.


  1. 1 Bag of Apples
  2. Rolled Oates (Optional)
  3. Pumpkin Spice (Optional)


  1. Large Pot
  2. Food precessor (or a really good masher)
  3. Dehydrator
  4. Parchment Paper


  1. Slice and decore the apples.
  2. Put sliced apples into large pot.
  3. Fill water to about 1 inch over the apples.
  4. Boil apples until mushy (10-15 or so minutes).
  5. Pour apple mush into food processor.
  6. Add 1 cup of rolled oates
  7. Add Pumpkin spice (or other relevant spices)
  8. Run processor until it's all mixed well (about 1 minute or so).
  9. Let cool for a few minutes (the sauce thickens while cooling).
  10. Line a dehydrator tray with parchment paper--1 layer preferably.
  11. Pour the apple sauce onto the parchment paper, try not to get it to more than 1 inch thickness.
  12. Add additional trays (usually 1-2 more depending on how thin you make it).
  13. Put on cover and start dehydrator. I generally do the highest temperature (about 155 F) but there's no set rule.
  14. When dried through, turn off dehydrator.
  15. Peel off parchment paper (should be relatively easy).
  16. Tear or cut into smaller pieces and store in dry air-tight container.


Picture of Ingredients and Tools

Slice up apples and throw them in the pot
Slice up apples and throw them in the pot

Fill water to 1" over the apples and boil away.
Fill water to 1" over the apples and boil away.

Place apples and other ingredients into food processor
Place apples and other ingredients into food processor

Run the processor.
Run the processor.

Cover the dehydrator tray with parchment paper.
Cover the dehydrator tray with parchment paper.

Pour the apple sauce onto the parchment paper. (Note: I went too thick with this example)
Pour the apple sauce onto the parchment paper.
(Note: I went too thick with this example)

Turn on dehydrator; check occasionally to make sure that it is dehydrating evenly
Turn on dehydrator; check occasionally to make
sure that it is dehydrating evenly

20+ hours later; it should look like reddish and utterly dry.
20+ hours later; it should look like reddish and utterly dry.

When dehydrated, tear into small bite-size pieces and store in an air-tight container.  ENJOY!
When dehydrated, tear into small bite-size pieces
and store in an air-tight container.  ENJOY!

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

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Tales of Running: Resilience & Mules

When I was young and had to run at sports, I always came in last.  I knew I would never be a winner at running, but I always told myself that compared to most people I was running with, I bet I could out run them.  That is, I told myself (though never ever came close to proving it) that I could have the stamina to keep running long after they had quit.  That's what I told myself, but I'm not sure I believed it.  I told myself that I was a mule--made for long treks while they were gazelles, gallivanting about.  It tended to be self-delusional at best and largely a means of trying to make myself feel superior when I felt anything but.  However, years later, as I enjoy the development and love for running coupled with the accomplishments of this fall of running a 25K, 30K and half-marathon, I feel now more the mule than ever.  I'm still not winning races and I'm coupled with hundreds of other mules as we trot along in these races (most others at faster paces), but I feel I am doing running that many others that I was comparing myself with may never do.  It's a slight feeling of vindication, accomplishment, and comfort to that child who hated running, himself, and the world around him so much.

Finding Inner Balance

In all my development as a runner, I've walked a very tight rope.  Inwardly, I've accomplished an impressive feat that has profoundly changed my understanding of myself and my abilities.  And because of that, it lends itself well to feeling like I "know" something about life and can extrapolate from my experience to make sense of others' life.  In laymen's terms, I could easily fall into the preachy world of believing that if I can do it, everyone can.  It's such an easy position to take up--one that feeds our egos and our national mythology of the self-made man (or woman).  This is such a strong sentiment within our culture:  "If I did it, you can.  If you can't, you're clearly not trying hard enough."  That is, we have a tendency to decide that something we can do and others cannot is a character flaw.  Many know this as the fundamental attribution error.  We know our own stories and recognize the myriad situational challenges that keep us from doing things we want to do, but when we look to others facing challenges (drugs, weight, relationship problems, etc), we decide their problems are a result of character flaws.  What I have to keep reminding myself is that just because I did it, doesn't mean others can.  And if they can't--it's not necessarily through a failure or lacking on their personal end.  It isn't a reflection of them but more often, a reflection of their context.  (Some will hear that and look to blame the individual for inhabiting their specific context--this feels like the same thing:  much of our context is predefined or inescapable or even unrealized because it entails trying to see and and make sense of our lives from beyond our viewpoint--more about that later).

Lance Eaton running the Nahant 30K race in his Vibrams
While I did manage to build up the stamina and strength despite different set backs, there were vastly more things that went right for me (beyond my control or influence) that allowed me to work as hard as I did and succeed.  There were innumerable situational contexts that helped me as an individual to succeed.  I can't claim victory without acknowledging how those contexts helped me and how the context of others' lives hinder their attempts.  And of course, I'm not just talking about running--this is true for all aspects of life.

What Does This Runner Have Going for Him?

Here is just a list of some of the situational contexts that allowed me to do what I have done--that vary drastically among people.  And these are the ones that I'm aware of--I would imagine for every one that I am aware of, there are several that I'm not:
  • I work in an environment that is intellectually stimulating (making me feel mentally rewarded and thus leaving me opportunity to seek physical stimulation after work hours).
  • I work in an environment that is not physically exhausting.
  • I am paid sufficiently so that I do not have to work 10-12+ hours a day nor do I have to work a second job (I do--but that's because we all know I'm hyperactive like that).
  • I have a good amount of peers who have picked up running prior to or in parallel with me and thus had a community I could depend on for support, advice, and encouragement.
  • I could afford the footwear that helped me find running tolerable (and eventually enjoyable).
  • I live in an area that I am safe to go running in at any time of day or night.
  • I'm a large white male--perceived as less vulnerable than others and thus, more confident to run by myself without fear or concern.
  • I can afford a music player to help keep me motivated and moving (technically numerous, since once accidentally found itself in the washing machine).
  • I could afford the various entry fees that I paid over the summer for the different races and to which helped me build up the stamina for the longer runs.
  • I had the leisure to write about the running (which helped perpetuate the running).
  • I had the internet access to regularly get a sense of how far I was running.
  • I knew that if I got injured while running, I could access my health insurance for care.
  • I knew that if I got injured while running, it would not likely impact my job or job performance in an irreparable way.
  • I do not suffer from previously untreated or poorly treated illness or injuries (often from lack of health insurance or poor quality insurance).
  • I do not suffer from any variety of visible or invisible disabilities.
  • I have the resources to regularly wash clothes.
  • I have the resources to afford healthier food to better fuel my body.
  • I do not have other dependents to care for (my cats don't count).
  • I was coming from a place of health where I have already achieved some success (sustained weight loss after becoming vegetarian) and that served as substantive motivation.
  • I had an occasional running partner whose schedule coincided with mine (and then I could go on ad nauseum of all the things that went right in order for him to be running with me).
And to be clear, I'm not making excuses for those that haven't achieved their goals (whatever they may be).  But I can better understand that while I could start training for running at mile zero, many others must start training at mile negative ten and beyond.  I have a great many advantages to work with that made achieving these goals more realistic.

Context Is Messy

The context we exist in is particularly tricky.  It can empower us, debilitate us, and usually does a range of both in differing ways.  The mental ability to stick with a project can be challenging.  Whether it's weight loss, physical training, or quitting cigarette, outsiders don't often realize that it's not a singular battle ("I've decided to eat healthy. Done!"), but innumerable battles taking place on many different battlefields.  Take eating healthier.  It means every time one engages with food, one has to determine a path to "healthy eating."  Nevermind, that food information lies, misinforms, or purposely confuses (see Michael Pollan's work for more on that), so choosing the right foods is problematic, but then there's the amount.  There's also the cultural around food.  I have at least one friend who swears she wants to be a vegetarian but she lives with a family whose cultural food traditions are very meat heavy.  I have other friends who feel they lose elements of social engagement because they have to reject offers to go out to eat because the places to eat are not inline with the decisions.  So as an individual, a person is dealing with type, amount, timing, social pressure, inner pressure, and other myriad facts.  And they're doing this constantly throughout a day.  That's a heavy cognitive load to work with.  And it's true that it wears on the psyche of the individual.  Research experiments regularly show that one's will power is limited and needs time to develop more strongly.  But with big-ticket items such as weight, healthy, addiction--that's extreme hard to do because in a given day, the willpower is being drained away constantly.

And of course, one is doing this while also deeply enmeshed in the craziness of their lives with the various personal, work, familial, and friend-related demands that complicated it extensively.  And this is important too.  People don't realize how much one has to do with the other, but yes, the myriad other demands of one's life also make achieving specific goals quite hard.  Want proof?  The military has about a 60% success rate in terms of people who sign up and are still there 4 years later.  Despite the tens of thousands of dollars (if not more) spent on the training of a single soldier, they still cannot get a higher retention rate--they cannot get people to achieve their goals.  And that's the US military!  I make this point, because the military are very conscious in their training and helping soldiers prepare.  They do something that virtually most of us cannot.  They purposely and clearly remove the cognitive demands of soldiers.  Basic training takes soldiers out of the demands of their daily lives--it lessens the amount of things they have to think about, so that they can focus on training.  Their food, sleep, clothing, daily events, transportation--nearly everything--is predetermined for some 6-12 weeks.  This means that they only have to focus on their goal.  It's almost entirely reprogramming; remove them from their context, and get them fixated on one purpose.  It's a very ingenious way of helping people accomplish a task and yet, isn't perfect.  It goes to show why making committed decisions in our lives are rather challenging and that it takes a serious amount of reprogramming that not quite easy to do when deeply intermixed with our context.  

In the end, I'm proud of my accomplishments.  I've earned them.  But I hold no perception that this proves anything about anyone beyond me.  I've benefit from the privileges afforded someone as a white middle-class (perceived as) heterosexual male.  In our culture, that does give me certain advantages and predispositions.  It does not detract from my accomplishment, but it provides a relevant context for understanding that the there is a multi-layered playing field and others have larger and more challenging obstacles to overcome beyond just building up to the running  (or whatever goal or expectation being discussed).

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Tales of Running: Of Half-Marathons and Mind Games

Timing on Lance Eaton's first half-marathon.So there it is.  My half-marathon.  Done.  Accomplished.  Just over a year from the first road race I've every completed.  And it's not that I was worried about doing it--after all, I had the 30K and the 25K behind me.  Getting it done wasn't a  fait accompli but I was definitely confident about my performance.  I told myself that I would definitely shave some minutes off my time.   I was setting a low time of 2:20 and a high time of 2:15.  Neither were hit.  I came in at just under 2:26 which was 11:08 miles.  In terms of timing, I did better with the 25K with 11:01 miles.  So clearly, I was wrong.

So why didn't I do better?  There could be lots of reasons to point to:

I didn't train as best I could over the last month.  There's truth in this.  Every week I could have fit in one more run, but told myself I was too busy to do so (despite knowing how much good it does me--even when I'm busy).

Lance Eaton et al after first half-marathon.I jumped out of the gate too soon.  Again, there's viability here.  This is the first race I ran with friends.  They were kind in slowing themselves down to stick with me, but regardless, it still pushed me a bit too hard when I might not have otherwise.  This has been great on the short runs.  One friend has been awesome at getting me to produce better times.  However, here, I let their presence distract me from what I knew I needed to do and how I needed to pace (And if they're reading this; I'm not blaming you in any way--you guys were great support--I just should have given myself better direction).

It's too much to expect.  After all, it was barely a month since the first run.  Definitely a realistic thing to consider.  A part of me says "yeah, but you still should have" and it battles with the other part of me that says, "Shut up, ya did it. You can work towards a better time in the future!"

With all of these courses, they have been completely new to me.  I've not run them before and have no idea what to expect.  The runs I do in my neighborhood, I know without thought.  I've walked, ran, biked, and driven them hundreds of times over the last 30 years.  These routes are entirely new to me as a runner (and often even a driver--I've never driven around Nahant, Hollis, or Gloucester--or at least the degree to which we ran around Gloucester).  That in itself presents challenges because I really don't know what's around any given corner nor can I accurately predict the "end".

Lance Eaton's racing numbers and medals.But all of that is speculative and not really why I didn't do better.  In hindsight, I failed the mind game.  My body is clearly capable for the running.  I've done and continue to do it.  But I didn't prepare myself well enough for the mind game of running.  The mind game (for me) seems to creep in somewhere around mile 8 (if it's a longer run; if I'm running 9-10 miles; it doesn't register).  It's the point at which I'm battling the impulse (and yes, it is an impulse) to stop with the desire to keep running.  It's true that by mile 10, I need to stop and stretch my legs and my feet need some rest to keep circulation going smoothly.  But with that stop comes the mental demands for more stops.  The rest of the race is a tug of war between wanting to finish and wanting to walk.

In part, I lost this battle in this run.  I stopped and stretched, but didn't let myself become re-absorbed with running.  Instead, I continued to stop every mile or so therein and rest, walk and stumble back into running.  I lacked strategy.  I understand my body needs rest, but I also know this was more of my mind deciding to stop.  This is the inner battle of (this) runner.  It's clear I was never able to slip back into the mindset as I was unable to smile or cry.

It's something I need to be more prepared for and ready to overcome.  After all, if I need evidence that I can in fact do these, I've now got 3 medals saying I can and did.
Lance Eaton's racing number and medal for his first half-marathon.

The question remains now:  when does Lance do a marathon?  I think that option's out for the fall and winter season.  However, as I've said if the winter is mild and I can keep my running up.  I may think about it next summer or fall. 

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