Showing posts with label choices. Show all posts
Showing posts with label choices. Show all posts

2014 - HOT DAMN What a Year!

2014 was a pretty spectacular year both professionally and personally.  There was a lot going on and it all went pretty well everything considered.  So let's take a look at what 2014 included:


Professional Accomplishments

I finished and received my diploma for my third Master's Degree.  This was a Masters Degree of Education with a focus on Instructional Design.  This finished what I considered to be the hat-trick of education before moving onto a doctorates.  The final project of the program was a focus on hybrid flexible design, which I actually got to try out this past year and will be running it again this year.  Also, I have started applying for to doctoral programs, which I consider a different type of professional accomplishment in that I'm finally heading that path.  I've only been circling it for nearly a decade.  

I secured another position as a social media strategist.  This time, for NEPCA.  I have also taken over as instructor for a social media course at North Shore Community College's Community Education program.   

I attended and presented at a handful of conferences this past year including several for NERCOMP, Suffolk University Technology Symposium, and Massachusetts Colleges Online.  The topics focused on hybrid flexible design, accessibility and universal design, refreshing online courses, and open educational resources.  
2014 North Shore Community College Excellence in Teaching Award for Adjunct Faculty - Lance Eaton

I also joined the Salem State Alumni Board of Directors, which has been a rewarding and enjoyable experience.  It's been good to reconnect with Salem State University and to be involved in ongoing projects that brings together alumni and students.  

I was involved with a team that has helped to launch an open textbook initiative at North Shore Community College.  It's felt great being part of such a great team of colleagues working to make a significant difference in access for college students.  

Finally, I also received an award for teaching.  I was quite pleasantly surprised by this as it wasn't even on my radar.  But after eight years and over 100 courses, it was powerful to be recognized for my various efforts that I have put in over the years.  


Personal Accomplishments

The monthly breakdown.
I ran over 1250 miles this year (1252 to be exact!).  That's about 500 more than last year and probably (with the subtraction of last year), more than I have cumulatively run in my whole life.  This goal was quite important to me (I think I aimed for 1000 originally) as it helped me keep focus when it was clear that my other running goals were not going to happen.  I also learned to find running on a treadmill agreeable (so long as Netflix is on hand--hahaha). 

Despite getting injured with a herniated disc and pinched nerve in the neck, I was still able to run two marathons this year and even achieve a personal best on a half-marathon with just over 2:03.  I didn't do as well as I would have liked on the marathons but know that I'll do better next year.  Of course, I plan to break the 2 hour mark with the half-marathon and we'll see what my marathon time will be next year.  

I completed my 365 project.  This got a little hairy towards the end and I definitely had trouble keeping up with everything else going on.  However, I logged in 365 short story reflections, which I'm quite proud of.  It has been a learning experience in many ways--not the least of which is having to fully read all of Ambrose Bierce's work, which is pretty cool.  
Lance - Christine - Floral Showhouse Niagara Falls 2014

Of course, the big personal accomplishment of 2014 is that I got married to an amazing and wonderful partner.  I proposed to her in April in Niagara Falls (no, not that Niagara Falls!).  We decided to return there for our wedding in October and it was a fantastic adventure with family and friends.  Planning and executing the wedding itself as it was a different approach than most offered its share of challenges but we made a great pair and everyone had a fantastic time (especially us!).  

Indeed, 2014 has been a fantastic year and I look forward to what 2015 will bring.  Keep an eye out for my forthcoming post about my goals and hopes for 2015.  


How was your 2014?  What kind of goals and accomplishments did you achieve or find challenge with?  What are you thinking about for 2015?




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Another Round of Changing Lives Through Literature

Sign of a person reading.  Image source: http://pixabay.com/p-99244/?no_redirect

Choking back tears of joy tempered by endured pain, the participant relates how the Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) has profoundly affected her in ten short weeks. Meeting on Thursday evenings in Salem throughout October was challenging, but the participants are all smiles and eloquent as they discuss how the program has touched them.  It’s powerful to witness and as facilitator, there is no greater joy. 

CLTL is a program for people on probation where there are probation officers and court officials to support the program.  Participants meet weekly and discuss an assigned reading by a volunteer facilitator.  The power of communing around literature creates rich and diverse conversations.   The program allows participants to reflect and share; ultimately, an opportunity to consider their own lives.  There’s growing research that the program has a positive influence on recidivism rates.  Another body of research connects reading literature with increased empathy, which could explain the reduction in recidivism. 

Image of a heart with books inside.  Image Source: http://pixabay.com/p-112117/?no_redirect
Artistic endeavors are central to human existence.  Many have experienced a life-altering encounter with the arts.  CLTL helps participants find deeper and more positive meaning in their life, enough to change their lives.  With the end of another session of CLTL, I would like to profoundly thank Salem Access Television for volunteering a meeting space.  I also thank the Salem Probation Department including Dolores Gormley, Richard Ferrino, Jeff Dowd, & Julie Abreu, along with Judge Robert Brennan for their support, and of course, the participants.

Visit the Changing Lives Through Literature website for more information about CLTL.



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How To Be a Good Friend on Social Media Part 2 (or 2)

So if the first part of this series was about things you can do, these recommendations can best be understood as caveats and considerations about how you use social media with friends.


Assume Everything You Say Is or Can Be Public

Public Domain Image - Source: https://openclipart.org/image/300px/svg_to_png/191202/public-domain-logo-slightly-nicer.png
There are a variety of safety settings on many social media platforms.  But just assume that it can all somehow, planned or unplanned, become made public.  Assume what you post to your wall, to other people's walls, and even in "private messages" is as likely to remain private as it is to end up on the cover of Time.  Just plan for that and post accordingly.  That means you probably don't want to bash your work, your friends, your enemies, your in-laws or any other person or persons that you're at odds with unless you're prepared for potential exposure and confrontation.  


Think Before Posting

This is of course connected with the previous post but it's worth repeating.  The average person that is one social media has between 100 and 200 connections on their network.  That's a lot of individuals to keep in mind when you are posting.  However, that means you should take a moment to think before posting.  It's easy to take a shot at a particular group of people, business, political viewpoint, etc.  We do it all the time, but it's worth taking a moment and asking yourself if there is a better way of presenting it or expressing your frustrations without targeting, generalizing, or misrepresenting a group of people.  


You May Know Your Friend, But You Don't Know Your Friend's Friends

People Network - Image Source: http://pixabay.com/p-63769/?no_redirect
This follows along the lines of the previous two but it's worth more directly thinking about.  You have a sense of who you are connected with but not necessarily who your friends are connected with.  When interacting with your friends via social media, remember that there is a chance their friends are likely to see the conversation (particularly if it occurs on your friend's wall instead of yours).  Recognize that they have a variety of different views that are as likely to be similar as they are different.  Be respectful as you engage with them as you don't fully know where they are coming from.  Have dialogue but avoid getting nasty with them no matter what happens.  Be civil and don't assume that whatever happens between the two of you will be considered "OK" by your mutual friend.  


Write Longer Posts in Outside of the Post Box

I can often get into debates with people online.  I rather enjoy this in terms of the different ideas and thoughts that are presented.  However, if I'm typing longer posts--ones that are more than 1-2 sentences, then I'm likely to move to a different platform than the textbox provided.  This helps with a few things.  It helps me see everything that I am writing, rather than having to scroll up and down the tiny box.  It also helps me spell and grammar check--after all, if I'm trying to make an important point and my spelling and grammar are all over the place, my thoughts will be taken less seriously by some.  Also, depending on the textbox's protocols, I don't want to hit "Enter" (which i'm trained to do automatically) to start a new paragraph and all of a sudden, find that it has been submitted.  Last, but not least, is that by writing it in another environment gives me pause.  There's one extra step I have to do before posting it and this is important.  It helps me think about if I really want to post it.  This has led me on a number of occasions to delete it instead and choose not to engage in the debate.  Altogether, it allows me to better and more respectfully engage in discussion with people on my social networks.  


Strategically Correct/Critique

So this one is one of the trickiest in the lot.  I'm going to recommend what is probably the most civil thing to do, but then I'm also going to talk about what I do and why.  The most civil thing to when you find something that someone has posted is wrong, has mistakes in it, or is personally offensive for some reason is to contact that person privately and respectfully explain your concerns.  You will need to recognize and accept that sharing your opinion won't necessarily change the post but you will have clearly acknowledged your concerns.  The goal is to inform and explain your position if you find it offensive or to clarify how or why the post might be inaccurate if there is misinformation on it.  

However, that's where I deviate from my advice.  My approach (and I have lost Facebook connections because of this mind you and am ok with that) is that I'm likely to speak up on a person's wall when I find something offensive or factually inaccurate.  I do this because I'm personally a firm believer of dialogue.  When I find something that is offensive or disagreeable, I move into the conversation, not by attacking the other person (usually) but by critically considering what has been posted and commenting as such.  It's something I do regularly.  


If You Have to Block, Then You Should Boot

Muting image - Source http://pixabay.com/p-98510/?no_redirect
This more firmly applies to connection-based (where both people agree to be connected) than follow-based social media (where agreement to follow is singularly made and not mutual).  I'm a firm believer that if you have to block someone's posts, then you should not be connected to them on social media.  My reasoning for this is that if you are connected to someone on a social network, you're making a public endorsement and that is a mutually beneficial statement.  Each person says, "I publicly recognize this person as friend-worthy."  In such instances, if you are choosing to block the person's posts while still being connected them, then you are still benefiting from the connection while silencing the person.  That feels problematic to me and disingenuous.  If you cannot tolerate what someone is saying or doing on their social media, then maybe, you shouldn't be connected to them.  At this point, someone will usually say, "yeah but I see this person regularly and it would be awkward if I de-friended the person."  Absolutely.  But that means it's time to have adult conversations about your friendship or their questionable social media posts.  


What is some advice you would offer for better social media exchanges with friends, families, and colleagues?




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How To Be a Good Friend on Social Media Part 1 (or 2)

Social media has changed some of the ways we interact with friends and family for good or for bad.  This new space of engagement changes much of how we interact and to what degree we see our friends' larger picture.  We no longer see friends in as limited lens as we might have before but have a larger context of other friends, acquaintances, and family.  Because of the nature of these environments, it's as likely for one person to having meaningful dialogue with their friend on social media as it is one of their friends' friend whom the person has never met.  It means many of us are trying to navigate unclear waters and I thought post might help people better understand how to renegotiate friendship online.  

They are a mixture of Do's and Don'ts to help navigate this tricky new space that many of us find ourselves in.  We're often good at figuring out what to do in the face-to-face environment, but online isn't always as clear as it would seem.  


Identify What Your Social Media Approach Is

This sounds weird, but it's a useful personal exercise and one that can help you decide what it is that you are using these platforms for.  I have my take on social media and place it here on my blog.  It identifies why I use social media and what I want to get out of it.  I hear a lot of people who get frustrated or unclear about the purpose of social media or don't really think about using social media.  Giving yourself some time to clearly identify what it is that you want to get out of social media can help you better decide how you want to interact on social media.  Are you using it solely for finding different information via your social networks or are you looking to use it as a way of interacting with friends when unable to meet face-to-face?  Do you want to engage in debate or just relax in this space?  Determining what you want to do helps you determine where to focus your attention.    

Congratulate in Public

Paper Note with "Good Job" on It:  Image Source: https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4038/4294686346_fa10e0e9c7_z.jpg?zz=1
Give friends credit!  Thank them for doing things for you or with you, on their achievements, and just for being awesome people.  You'd be surprised how a simple comment can light up a person's day and doing so on social media means it's public.  That can be a great way to provide a bit of cheer and excitement for someone since by thanking them, you're also bringing attention to them in both of your social networks.  Remember that this also extends to businesses, organizations, public figures, etc.  


Promote and Share Statuses and Links (Give Credit)

As you come across great content that you find through your networks be sure to give credit.  You may find a link on Twitter but repost it on Facebook.  If that is the case, be sure to tag or acknowledge who helped you find the source. Being acknowledged for contributions to our friends and connections experiences is in part a major piece of what drives social media--knowing that what we share, has an impact.  


Help Promote Social Media Efforts and Campaigns by Friends

"Always pay it forward and never forget to pay it back.  It's how you got here and it defines where you're going... @briansolis" Image Source: https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7178/6904613521_cec81f5a96_z.jpg
I think this is an important and underused element of being a good friend on social media.  Many of us want to support and help people in our networks.  If we are taking the time to post some cause that a friend is pushing for, the hope is that our friends will if not directly contribute to it, then help out by sharing it onward.  When we advocate or promote on their behalf, we help them in ways that are still useful.  Many of us have hundreds (if not more) of people in our social network.  When we share someone else's post for support, aid, etc, we're leveraging our network to help spread their message and potentially expanding the reach exponentially..  That's valuable and powerful for helping out friends.  


Tag With Relevance

Whether tagging in these environments be sure to tag people that are relevant to content of the post.  To follow up on the previous recommendation (Congratulate in Public), when talking about companies, organizations, etc., be sure to tag them as well.  I do my best to include tags when trying to say something good or even critical (more about that below) of a public entity.  Regardless, don't tag unless there's clear reason for it.  Also, be aware as best as possible of your friends and family members' preferences for tagging.  Don't tag people who don't want to be tagged.


Like Statuses That Are Meant to Be Liked 


Dislike Button - Image Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/21/Not_facebook_dislike_thumbs_down.png
Or as I like to put it, "Don't like RIP statuses."  It's clear that some statuses are meant to indicate positive messages.  "I got a great new job!!!".  Perfect--like that a bajillion times.  But more vague messages, you'll want to stay clear from liking.  "I lost my job, today."  Use your words for these types of status.  "I'm sorry to here."  "Can I help?".  Liking such statuses can be confusing for the person who posted and it's even unclear to the people doing the liking.  Because usually the words used for positive credit are words or icons representing liking, hearting, or favoriting, to like questionable updates sends a mix message even though you are sometimes just trying to show support.  


This is the first half.  The second half will be posted next week.  What is some of the advice you offer for better social media exchanges with friends?




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10 Ways Running Reminds Me of Learning

Let's set the scene.

Here's me on Sunday, September 16, 2012.  I'm in the midst of running my first 30K Race.  That's right, I decided that what better way to spend the weekend just after my 33rd birthday, chugging over 18 miles on a warm Sunday afternoon.


Keep in mind:

  • There were no zombies chasing me.
  • There was no grand prize for coming in among the last 1/3 of the herd.
  • I had plenty of other things to do that Sunday.
  • I paid to be here.
Now, let's go back 15 months to June, 2011.  There are no pictures of me running.  Because up to that point, that is, the first 31 years and 9 months of my life, I did not run.  Let me rephrase that I ran only when ultimately forced to.  You know, like at gun point.  The fact is for 31 years, 9 months I had a HATE-HATE MORE relationship with running.  It didn't like me and I sure as hell didn't like it.  Like the student in class I repeated to myself and everyone that would listen, "I'm just not meant to be run.  I'll stick with other things."

But that clearly changed.  Indeed, last year, I ran a marathon and this year, I'll run several more.  Along the many miles I've run over the last few years, I learned to love running a whole lot to the point that I've spent thousands of hours running and thousands of words writing about running.  


In this evolution from non-runner to enthusiastic (almost obsessive, I'll admit) runner, I realized that there is a lot that I've drawn from running that helps me think about learning because somewhere along the line, I learned to run in a way that worked for me.  Here are the 10 ways that running reminds me of the challenges of learning.  

1.  I started slow and I am still slow and that's ok.

I have to run at a pace that works for me.  I can't worry about how fast other people are running.  Sure, I can sometimes look at it as motivation to speed up a little but the focus must be on me and what my body and mind are telling me.  This rings true for learning.  We are often disenchanted with our progress because someone else gets a subject matter much better than we do because it's not our forte or we don't have the right background to approach it as skillfully as others.  

2.  I had to figure out what worked for me.

There's lots of different methods to approach running out there.  Prior to my experience, people told me all sorts of ways to do it.  But I had to figure out what worked and what didn't work for me.  This meant a lot of trial and error.  In fact, this is where many people will abandon running because they can't seem to find the right way to approach it that works for them personally.  In this vein, I think learning is quite similar particularly around certain subject matter.  How some people learn a subject matter is going to be dependent on trying and finding different ways to approach the subject.  

3.  I set a range of goals to indicate levels of success.

Run!  Or even "run a marathon" are way to big for me to tackle.  I had to chunk them it all into manageable pieces.  When I started out and just wanted to get to be able to run, I found a place I could run at (Lake Quannapowitt) and set markers for running such as
  • Run for 10 minutes.
  • Run until you make it to this marker.
  • Run as far around the lake as you did yesterday and 100 feet further.
As I made progress, I set new goals and made sure to have a range.  That might include having a range within a race (my low goal is 30 minutes, my high goal is 25 minutes) or a range over a particular season (run at least 6 half-marathons or longer and 1 full marathon).  The goal was to make sure I had different ways to measure success.  This was helpful because it connected with #2 in that, I needed to see what goals were more motivating for me.  Similarly with learning, if you set to task, "I'm going to learn math."  You're setting up a massive goal.  So why do that or at least consider it a large goal with a long-term plan composed of smaller goals and objectives.  What are the smaller goals that can be stacked to get you to the larger goal?

4.  I set time aside to both think about (write) and do it (run).  

It goes without saying that you need to set time aside to achieve the goal.  That was obvious--though not without its challenges.  Eventually, I went the route of buying a treadmill so that in the harder weather I didn't have to rely on going to the gym and such.  It saved time to have easy and unlimited access to it.  Besides setting aside time to do it, I also made sure to think a lot about the running.  Visualizing myself running the race at top speed in perfect form has contributed to some great breakthroughs in my performance.  For learning, this means you have to set time aside and that time can't be the very last minute.  You have to incorporate it in some clear ways into your life's routine and you also need to think about it.  You shouldn't be thinking about "I need to do it" but you should be engaging with the content in your head--even when you don't have to.  This is where learning can take place through reinforcement.  

5.  I kept track of my progress because nobody else would.

I initially kept track of my runs on my Fitbit monitor but then moved into DailyMile, which has been fun and adds a nice social element to it as well.  I also continued to keep track of progress on this blog of course.  Keeping track is important because so often, we are looking forward and seeing the end goal still rather far away, but we need to look back and appreciate how far we have made it.  It's also important because if I'm trying to get somewhere, I have to know where I am within the big picture, right?  With learning, looking back is also important because it can provide you with a means of reflecting and appreciating where you are within the subject matter and how much progress on the subject that you've made.  

6.  I hit walls; I asked for help.

I most definitely hit some walls and places where I needed help.  I asked for help.  I had no shame in asking for help and encouragement from my friends and social-networks.  My friends and family want me to succeed and want to help me if they can.  The same holds for learning.  When you hit walls (and you will hit walls), reach out for help from friends, family, or people more versed in the subject matter.  Largely, people like helping others--especially if it is something they are vested in.  

7.  I was overwhelmed at times by it all; I wrote about it.

There will always be times when I think about running and am overwhelmed by it.  Overwhelmed by what I've done, overwhelmed by what I'm trying to do, overwhelmed by the mere idea that I am doing it.  Hell, I could even brim with tears at times.  That's all good!  That's a reflection of investment.  If you're so vested in learning something that you're emotionally moved; that's not a bad thing.  It shows how important it is to you.  For me, writing about it helped a lot because it allowed me to sort things out and to stay on focus.  Writing may not work for you (especially, if you're trying to learn writing), but find an outlet to channel the emotions and ideas about the subject matter.

8.  I talked about my running (sometimes, quite excessively).

If running was important to me, then I should be talking about it just like other things that are important to me.  This served two purposes.  
  • It had me talking about running--which is something runners do.  Talking about running reinforced the fact that I ran and was continuing to run.  I had never thought of myself as a "runner" but sure enough, I found that I was.
  • By sharing with other people in my life, it became a point of conversation.  We would talk about running or friends would ask me about my most recent race.  The most amazing moment of talking about running came when people started asking me for advice or told me that my actions were inspiring them to run.
When it comes to learning, the more you talk about and engage in the topic, the more likely you are to think about the subject matter and even gain mastery over it.

9.  I owned my accomplishments and gave room for others to acknowledge them too.

I took pride in what I was able to do.  I won no races, but I had victories at all of my races.  Every time I had a personal best or was just damn happy I showed up, I made note of it.  I blogged about it, I posted in FB and Twitter about it.  I celebrated my progress.  In sharing my victories, many others also provided congratulations which added to the positive feelings I had about running.  I also made sure to give thanks to those who helped.  You need to celebrate the victories that you make--regardless of where others are in their learning.

10.  I valued the experience for the internal value; not just the external benefits (though they were nice).  

I came to recognize that running provided me with many internal benefits that were useful.  The mental health benefits of running are many to count.  The better health reports I get from my doctor are also important.  The respect and admiration I get from friends, family, and colleagues--that's nice too.  I run for me--but that respect and admiration has proven a powerful tool to get me to that point.  For learning, this is the big challenge: the crossover.  That is, the moment when learning the subject is internally valued (you want to learn because it helps you understand your life more) more than extrinsically valued (you want to learn because you want an A on the examine).  

Those are my top 10 ways that running reminds me of learning.  What about you?  How else does running remind you of learning?



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Tales of Running: The 2014 Line-Up, or OMG, Are You Insane?

I started signing up for my 2014 races.  This list only goes up to July as many of the later summer and fall races are as yet not available for sign up or haven't confirmed a date.  As I mentioned elsewhere, I want to run 4-6 marathons this year and get myself ready for doing a double-marathon next year.  I'm also looking to get under the 2 hour mark for my half-marathon and the 4 hour mark for the marathon (though that one I think is a bit of a reach).  That's a lot to ask for in a single year but I'm up for the challenge given how well last year went.  


This is the time to beat!
I need to shave 35 minutes off.
Gulp
If you're a runner, feel free to join up with me for any of these races--I always appreciate the company!

Old Fashioned 10 Miler and Fast 5K (OFTM)

11:00AM on February 16, 2014 (Sunday)
Distance: 10 MILES
35 Neponset Ave Foxboro, MA 
http://www.wampanoagroadrunners.org/oftm.html


The 4th Annual Black Cat 10 & 20 Miler

9:00AM on March 1, 2014 (Saturday)
Distance: 20 MILES
Bentley School, 25 Memorial Drive, Salem, MA
http://www.blackcatroadrace.com/


The Eastern States 20 Mile and Run for the Border Half Marathon

Mar 30, 2014
Distance: 20 MILES
Portsmouth, NH
http://www.easternstates20mile.com

Fools Dual Half Marathon (5K and Half-Marathon)

April 6, 2014 (Sunday)
Distance: HALF-MARATHON
OMaley Middle School, 32 Cherry Street , Gloucester, MA
http://www.yukanrun.com/Fools-Dual.html

Earth Rock Run

April 27, 2014 (Sunday)
Distance: MARATHON
North Andover, Massachusetts
http://earthrockrun.com/

Wallis Sands Half Marathon

May 04, 2014
Distnace: HALF-MARATHON
Wallis Sands State Park, Rye, NH
http://www.wallissandshalfmarathon.com/index

Granite State Marathon

May 13, 2014
Distance: MARATHON
Mine Falls Park, Nashua, NH
http://www.newenglandchallenge.org/granite.html

2014 Twin Lobster Half Marathon Challenge 

Jun 01, 2014
Distance: HALF-MARATHON
Gloucester High School, Gloucester, MA 01930
http://www.yukanrun.com/Twin-Lobster.html

Mad Marathon

July 6, 2014
Distance: Marathon
Mad River Valley, Vermont
http://www.madmarathon.com/MMarathon.html






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: The Two Demons I Run With

Whenever I take up a run, be it a 3 mile trot down the street or a marathon, I always have to face down a demon.  I call it, the Doubt Demon.  Even though I have now run over 550 miles this year and seen great improvement over the last two years as well as found an absolute love of running, I still have to face down the Doubt Demon every time I get ready to run.

Cthulhu - Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/62/Cthulhu_and_R'lyeh.jpg
This is probably what my
Doubt Demon looks like
So who is the Doubt Demon?  The Doubt Demon has been with me for decades.  I couldn't say exactly when the Doubt Demon first appeared but it was likely born around my later elementary and middle school years.  It was here that the physical differences between my peers and me became most evident.  Besides being overweight, I was also a "late-bloomer".  Historically, I had a record of coming in dead last with every run at practice I've ever attended (or close thereto).  Thus, when it came to athletics, there was little self-confidence and a whole lot of doubt and it was here that the Doubt Demon was born.  (The demon has shown its head in other walks of life, but there are different origin stories for those areas).

The Doubt Demon is a sneaky bastard.  It finds ways to disrupt and distort my view and at times, even convinces me that I shouldn't run.  The Doubt Demon has regularly interfered with my running.  It tells me that I don't have enough time to do the run I want to do (and thus shouldn't run at all) or that I'm not running as fast as others so why bother or that going to the race today is just a waste of time.  It tells me that I'm too slow or that because I didn't run the speed that I did last time that I should just give up, because clearly, I suck.  It tells me that it's too cold or too hot or too perfect weather to go for a run.

What sucks about the Doubt Demon is that it stays perched on your shoulder throughout a run.  It's often the Doubt Demon I'm battling with throughout the longer runs to keep a steady pace or just to finish.  It taunts and mocks me as others past me or I see my time is not where it is supposed to be.  It ignores that I've just run 10 miles and ridicules me for not running mile 11 at my best.  It's a pernicious bastard that feeds on insecurities and does everything it can do to convince me to stop.  When I turn the corner and see that hill that I wasn't expecting, it says that I'm too tired, too out of breath, or just too damn lazy to make it up there.  It finds those little aches within my body and exploits them in histrionic fashion to convince me that I should not go one step further.

So what do I do with this demon?  How do I fight off the barrage of negativity emanating from the Doubt Demon?  How do I keep going despite its preying on my weakness?   I invite in the Other Demon.

Who is the Other Demon?  I hesitate to call it the Rage Demon or the Anger Demon.  Maybe I should try the Tempered Demon?  The Other Demon is the focused and channeled energy that I feel coursing throughout my body.  It's fueled by both the good and the bad in my life.  It's a balanced energy, taking all that has been and is within me and channeling it into my running.  I know the power of fueling my runs with happy thoughts.  I also know that anger can be a great focus for channeling energy to.  Combined, these two make a powerful force to push myself to further heights and conquer the Doubt Demon.  The best way I can describe this is as I approached the finish line for the marathon, it was the Other Demon that drove me.  During this final push, my emotions ran the gamut from grunting and growling to weeping and laughing.  It blazed within me and despite the exhaustion, it drove me through the finish line.  

The Other Demon seems to be a bit of everything but its most valuable resource is the strength and power it feeds into me. Sometimes, it comes of its own volition and sometimes, I must summon it. However, it doesn't show up without a reason.  The Other Demon needs to confront or focus on something.  That something is usually the Doubt Demon.  

I know when the Other Demon is present.  I feel energy coursing through me, even if I'm far into the race and should be exhausted.  When it arrives, it often feels like a weight being lifted from my shoulders or the blinders have been removed.  On occasion, when it's through a rough patch, the Other Demon's presence is so palpable that I find myself grunting (almost growling) to make my way through it.  When the Other Demon is present, the Doubt Demon has no chance.  It shrivels up like a raisin and all but disappears.

But the nature of the Doubt Demon is never to entirely disappear and it is likely to veer its ugly head again (and again).  However, knowing that I have the Other Demon within me helps me defeat the Doubt Demons more times than not.  It won't always be there when I need it, but it continues to show up to squelch the Doubt Demon's attempts.    

To be clear, none of this is to suggest that I've got mounds of rage and anger within me to fuel my runs.  I'm not running on rage by any means and I think this is the part that not many people can get.   There is much in this world that we can find upsetting, frustrating, trying, etc.   Coupled with this is a culture that doesn't allow for easy express or outlets for such emotion.  So yes, I can see how people might read it as such.  But the Other Demon is a mixture of positive and negative elements of life.  And rather than let those negative things eat away at me as it does so many other people (and take away from my general sunny-disposition), I channel them into something positive.  I use them to squelch other negative things (That makes a certain sense, right?  A negative neutralizes another negative mathematically).

I imagine that many other people have their Doubt Demons.  How do you keep them at bay?  What tactics do you have in slaying the Demon?

Note:  This is metaphor.  Please spare me any communication questioning my grasp on reality.



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Going the Distance with Vibrams

I started running about two years and four months ago.  As I've mentioned elsewhere, I was in a hate-hate relationship with running for the 30+ years prior to that.  But after seeing Vibrams around and brought up in several conversations in the months prior, I decided to get a pair, just to see how they fit and what benefits could be had from them, even just for walking around.

The Challenges
There are three challenges that come when you acquire your first pair of Vibrams.
  1. Getting the damn things on!  The first month or so, it could easily take me 2-3 minutes to get them on.  Nowadays, I can get both pairs on in less than 30 seconds.  But my toes weren't as used to the feel and the need to spread out as they are now, so trying to get each toe into each slot proved a bit challenging.  
  2. Dealing with the looks, because you will get looks.  In fact, I think the social challenge for many is the biggest hurtle.  It feels quite challenging to walk around in Vibrams because they don't look "normal".  This is amazingly ironic since most foot apparel does not look "normal" by any means (in relation to what the foot looks like).  I wonder sometimes how it is that Uggs, Crocs, and stilettos are somehow more "normal" than a pair of shoes that replicates the foot.  
  3. Oh, Hi there muscles that I never knew I had!  Realizing that changing to a shoe that reinforces the traditional ways in which our feet actually operate can be painful in that there will be muscles that have been vastly underworked now trying to catch up with muscles that may be overdeveloped because of the ways traditional shoes work.  
The Questions
Coupled with these challenges, I also get these questions:

Question:  Doesn't it hurt your feet?
Answer:  To start running in them, yes.  I got tired and sore feet as well as my share of blisters.  But the foot was meant for walking and running, barefoot.  It's designed to move barefoot.

Question:  But what about rocks and glass?
Answer:  Running in Vibrams or barefoot does mean you need to pay more attention to the ground.  But that's a good thing because it often takes your mind off the distance.  But rocks and glass are not as traumatic for Vibrams as they may appear.  Glass or metal, unless it's stick up at a crazy angle is not likely to do harm with the Vibrams on.  Rocks can be trickly.  But something that happens when you start running with the Vibrams is that though your foot toughens up with some callouses, it remains extremely sensitive.  I cannot count the number of times that I came down on a rock and was quickly able to switch balance because I sensed and reacted quickly.   Your feet are amazing sensors when given the opportunity to response.

Question: Doesn't that do harm to your knees and back?
Answer:  I've actually found my knees and back doing much better since I've started using them.  Knees and back hurt because as runners or general walkers we land harder than we should on our feet.  We don't realize this because our shoe cushions our feet.  It doesn't cushion our knees or back which still feel the impact of hard steps.  However, with Vibrams or while barefoot, we can't slam down, we have to purposefully plant and absorb the step and it relieves the stress on the rest of the body.  What's actually has happened is that my foot and lower leg muscles have seriously developed so that they receive each step, lessening the pressure on the rest of my body.  The only place this is challenged is when I run down hill where the pull of gravity delivers a bit more pounce with each step (which is why I actually enjoy running up hill way more than I do down hill).

Question: Doesn't it feel weird to run in them?
Answer:  Initially, it certainly did.  But now, it feels natural and right.  I love that I feel the impact of each step and that I can feel such balance, grip, and centeredness because of my Vibrams.

Keeping Stock
Clearly, I made it through these obstacles and am now an ardent fan of the shoes to the degree that I (when possible) buy them in bulk when they are on sale.  (Let's not talk about the fact that I've turned into that running person who buys such things in bulk--another post for another time, I suppose).


Newest to oldest; left to right
I just started on my third pair of Vibrams in September.  My second pair of Vibrams probably still have decent mileage on them, but I wanted to start with a new pair and break them in fully before I did the marathon in October.  However, what's great with the Vibrams is that you literally can wear them down until there are holes in the soles.  In fact, I still have my first two pairs of Vibrams and will use them substantially this winter for runs on the treadmill.  In this way, I can maximize the life of the three pairs and hopefully have the third pair carry me well into the next year.


My first pair.  I'm still able to use them on the treadmill.


Starting to show some wear,
but still has a few hundred miles left in them.


The new pair, ready to go.

Going the Distance
A lot of runners I know who are interested in Vibrams tend to be reluctant for a few reasons.
1.  Knees and back.  Many are concerned about how it will hurt their knees and back.  As mentioned, my experience is that it has improved these or at least taken some of the stress off of them.
2.  Retraining.   Switching to Vibrams will mean a loss of progress for some.  It will take a while to build up to the mileage that one is used to if they have already been running.
3.  Loss of Speed.  You trade in speed for stability and strength when you switch to Vibrams.  You are much more limited in your speed because of the impact factor.  For people who race for speed, this is a major detriment but for the rest of us, it just means adjusting your goals and recognizing that though you might be slower, you're getting more punch out of each step.

However, if you are flirting with running, I highly recommend the Vibrams.  The biggest benefit that it gave to me while building up to my marathon and beyond is that it kept me from running ahead of myself.  With shoes, it's very easy for us to outrun our bodies and thus mess up our breathing and rhythm.  Because I needed to start very slow with the Vibrams to get used to the new running style and the impact of each step, it means I was able to slow down significantly so that my body and breathing could work together to get me to the distances that I wanted.

In the end, I will never be a fast runner.  Of course, I never expected to be any kind of runner besides a non-runner.  But with Vibrams, I will always be a runner.

So what are your experiences with Vibrams, barefoot running, and other types of minimalist running shoes?



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Tales of Running: The *Gross* Body Edition

So I've talked about the many great and amazing things that running affords me:  achieving new goals, making new friends, feeling the power of my body to propel me into the future.  All of that's great!  Despite my bright-eyed and bushy-tailed approach to running, there are some more ugly aspects of running that people don't always talk about.  I'm the first to notice the positive physical impact of running on my body but like many, there is a hesitancy to discuss the less appealing elements of running.  But here we go!

Callouses 
I imagine many runners face this but particularly because I run in Vibrams that I see a lot of callouses on my feet.  This is actually really good for several reasons (internal foot cushion being better than external when it comes to running, at least for me).  But I will definitely never be a foot model.  In and of themselves, they're not particularly caustic, but one becomes mildly aware of them.

Blisters
Again, it's something all runners must deal with but one that has the possibility to be exacerbated by Vibrams.  This is where callouses actually prove useful.  I find that the callouses actually reduce the amount of blisters I get (which makes sense) but also, reduces the pain or annoyance that are caused by the blisters.  But especially if you're new to running and trying long distances, you can anticipate your fair share of blisters.

Chaffing
Chaffing, or what I like to call it, "the motion that burns, but in an annoying non-STI way" is a challenge for many people but particularly for us that are of a larger nature.  Typically, it's the thighs and groin area chaffing away.  Chaffing doesn't always happen--some circumstances can improve it or make it worse.  Cooler weather can increase chaffing since there is less sweat to easy the friction.  There are ways to work around this by using spandex or other types of tight clothing to ease the friction, but they don't always work well and you can still end up with some tender skin.  Sometimes, you don't actually notice the chaffing until that supremely disappointing moment when you peal off your clothes and get into a hot shower and find various stinging throughout your body.

Interlude
I would imagine at this point, you're not particularly grossed out.  After all, these top three topics are fairly common challenges had by most.  However, the next three might have you feeling a bit squeamish, so I'll understand if you feel the need to depart at this point.

Snots
I blow my nose like an elephant.  It's loud and abrasive and some people go looking for the pachyderm when they hear me clear the nasal passage.  I can't help it; I need an unobtrusive nostril for maximum breathing.  But I find in running, particularly in colder weather, I'm regularly snorting back snot because I don't have anything to blow my nose on.  There are many different ways that people deal with this.  I'm still trying to find my preferred method.  Some of the methods I've seen used include:

Some will carry tissue or napkins with them to pull out and use.  Others will grab the bottom of their shirt and pull it up to blow their nose.  In colder weather, I've seen people wearing cotton gloves blow their noses into them.  By far, my favorite (at least for drama, not necessarily to try) is the Snotrocket:  The runner moves to the side of the road.  The runner blocks one nostril and blows with all of his or her might to send snot projectile out the open nostril and then repeats with the other nostril.

Hot Air
There's also gas to contend with.  All that shuffling about and sure enough, we have the potential for some serious gas.  That can vary depending on what foods you loaded up on prior to the run, but it's likely to be there.  Now, depending on how you run and where you are in the race, it may not be an issue.  After all, later in the race when things are spread out a bit more, you may never need to pause to let loose.  However, some races don't necessarily allow for much spreading out (depending on distance, pace, and number of participants), which then makes releasing a bit challenging.  If you're in with a good group, they are going to understand and probably be relieved if you relieve yourself first as it gives them carte blanche to release their own (like something out of a Mel Brooks film).

That's not a food stain up
on the right there.
Bleeding Nipples
I remember watching the movie "Run Fatboy Run" with Simon Pegg and learning about bloody nipples.  I had never been at the point of such an experience until last year, shortly after I completed my first 30K.  I've experienced it several more times this year.  In fact, I became so aware of bloody nipples (which in fact is just a more extreme version of chaffing) that when I ran the marathon I prepared for it.  First, by making sure I had a loose shirt.  Tight shirts will exacerbate friction against the nipple which is likely to be erect for much of the running.  I also took to putting petroleum jelly on my nipples before and during the race.  They were still sore and tender by the race's end, but they were not bleeding, which was the important piece.


Waste Removal
Ok, this is a challenge I know that plagues a lot of people because new runners and old have these conversations with me regularly (and I swear, I don't seek out this line of questioning).  But when it comes to the long runs, balancing the body's needs is challenging.  3-4 hours of running means you're not only taxing your body a lot, but you're processing a whole lot too and your body is going to need to an exit strategy for said processing.  Urination is fairly easy for men; they often find a tree and have at it.  Women typically need to rely on the toilet stops along the route, though I've known many to take to the side of the road (slightly removed) to take care of business.  But the big process is just hard to balance, especially if the route is more public than you might otherwise like.  Sometimes, that works to your advantage and you can pop into a gas station rest stop, but sometimes, it's just miles of residential and no toilet in sight.

So what other body issues do you confront when out on your longer runs?




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