Archive - Running RSS Feed

Running Narcissist

Most mornings it takes me longer to get ready than it probably should. I often find myself distracted, looking in the mirror and nit-picking all the details about myself that I don’t like. I know a lot of people are really down on the whole idea of allowing yourself to have a “negative body image,” but I can’t help feeling like mine is not only justified, but actually kind of earned. Because I enjoy cake, like, a lot more than is reasonable. And I don’t particularly care for exercise.

People often say to me, “Whatever, dude. There’s no way you don’t like running. You talk about it a lot. Why would you run so much if you don’t enjoy it?”

If  you’re close to me, you’ve probably heard me explain this before. But it’s the God’s-honest truth. About four years ago, when Will Smith was promoting his zombie movie, I Am Legend, I read an interview with him online. Will (and yes, Will and I are on a first-name basis, in case you were wondering) lost twenty pounds for that role. Here’s what he had to say about how he did it: “If you’re willing to run 30 miles a week, you can have whatever body you want.”

I’d never heard it put so simply before, but that made perfect sense to me. So I just started running, literally within a few days. It was slow going at first, maybe a mile and a half. Gradually I worked my way up to three miles at a time, then five, then even eight. But just so you know, what Will said was not entirely true. Even when I did finally make it up to 30 miles a week, I still didn’t have Halle Berry’s body. (In fact, she wouldn’t even return my calls. But that’s a whole other story.)

The background that led to me becoming a runner actually goes back even further. When I started working at an Air Force base several years ago, I had a Bowflex. I actually used it for more than just to hang clothes on, and let me tell you: those suckers do work. I was stronger than I had ever been, weighing about 175 lbs. My coworker friend Paul convinced me I should try the gyms on base, because we could use them for free, and they had everything you could want. He got me hooked on free weights, and I lifted regularly. At one point, I even sold my Bowflex. At the height of my regimen, I topped out at 196 lbs. (Now, that’s a lot—I am not a tall guy.) Certainly I was strong and had big muscles, but I hated any kind of cardio, so I never did any. So while yes, I was big and strong, I was also overweight. How I felt then reminds me of an old bit from Cheers. One time when Norm (the heavy-set guy) came in, Sam asked, “What are you up to, Norm?” Norm responded, “My ideal weight…for a man eleven feet tall.” I secretly worried that although I felt I looked pretty good—broad shoulders, big biceps—my heart was just going to explode one day.

After I left that job, for the next year or so I laid off the weights, went through several phases of eating healthier, even fasting regularly. By the time I heard Will make that statement, I was in the low- to mid-160’s range, and I guess I was just ready to hear it. His little insight was the catalyst that got me started. At my peak running condition a couple of summers ago, when I was routinely running 25–30 miles a week, I tipped the scales at a whopping 147 lbs. While I haven’t consistently maintained that wonderful-feeling weight, I remain convinced that running is my own personal magic weight pixie dust.

What have you done for your health that works for you? Do you stick with it? If not, why do you think that is? And if you do, HOW do you? Do you have a “positive body image”? If you could have anybody’s body, whose would you want? What excuses could you start eliminating today to move yourself in that direction?

My Day Off

I’d like to apologize today to anyone who has expressed that you look forward to reading my blog. I can’t write for you today. If you try to write anything regularly—and you have a life—then you know that sometimes it can feel like a grind.

You see, often when it’s time to sit down to write something creative, my well is dry, and I struggle to think of stories or ideas or concepts that I’d like to share with you. Sometimes I have plenty of ideas, but none of them are bloggable. Maybe they’re too disgusting, talking about things like garbage disposals in toilets. Or one story might inappropriately embarrass one of the characters featured, like say, if it’s about a 12-year-old boy dressing in drag to be funny for his brother-in-law, but making his mom angry in the process. Often, my ideas are simply just too naughty, and I’m not willing to go there (even if it’s truly funny). I like to keep within the PG range, although sometimes (I know) I teeter dangerously close to PG-13.

Since I’ve been writing for a living for going on twenty years now, of course I know a lot of handy tricks that can help me get unstuck. Other days, they don’t seem to work—even for me. :( I’m convinced that the human mind only has so much capacity for processing, based on a whole lot of factors: memories (of course), nutrition, opportunity for reflection, proper rest and sleep, bandwidth from dumping existing ideas, three tiny gnomes that I keep locked in a Darth Vader action figure case, consulting with the neighbor’s cat, and other things too numerous to mention.

One thing I do sometimes is mash up two disparate things. When my dear friend Natalie was stuck with nothing to write, I suggested what I thought was a simple solution, and it seemed to work for her. Sometimes I turn to my artist-friend’s blog and steal ideas or inspiration from her. Most of the time I just surf the Internet. Of course the Happy Friday Dance party is always nearby. (Blaine Hogan has several variations on this theme, so it’s hard to pick a favorite.) Also I run. If I have the time and happen to be in a slow season with work, I might take a nap. Or make a sandwich. And then another. And then another. Code Red loves me no matter what, and it never judges me. Sometimes it actually helps.

But what’s happened in the last couple of weeks is that I’ve just become overwhelmed. My sales cycle for the projects and freelance writing work I do is a long one. (TWSS) Usually I’ll meet with a client, we’ll go over everything, and then a month or two later they’ll get back to me with actual work. Two weeks ago, I had three meetings like that—which all resulted in immediate work, way more than I could do or keep up with. So for this season, I’m going to have to stay focused on that.

And that’s why I couldn’t entertain you today. Thank you for your understanding.

What do you do to get back in your groove? What keeps you from doing the things you know you should? What are some stories you know that I know, that you’d like to hear (read?) me tell? (Anything’s fair game, including embarrassing high school kind of stuff.)

Clears Me Out

Part of why I run is I’m convinced that it staves off illness.

(When’s the last time you saw “staves” used in a sentence? You don’t have to fake it; I know you’re impressed. You know, “staves” has a fascinating etymology and original meaning, but I digress…)

When I run, I typically listen to podcasts of Christian preachers. I find that raising my heart rate and body temperature not only helps clear my head, but it also makes me much more susceptible to programming and brainwashing. I think the term “brainwashing” has been labeled unfairly as a bad thing, with negative connotations attached that it also doesn’t deserve. I like to think of it as a positive, like that Bible verse that says we should be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” That renewal is brainwashing in the best sense. But that’s a whole other sidebar. All I want to say right now is that I think better after a good run.

But the number one reason I run is that it seems to pound out all of the phlegm and other nasty particles that are just hanging around in my body. A good friend of mine who was more of a weightlifter than a runner once said to me, “Yeah—it pounds all that sinus congestion right down into your chest. Hope you like pneumonia.” Of course I don’t. Certainly not as much as I know he likes steroids. (But don’t tell him I said that.)

When I’m running, I cough up all sorts of random bits and pieces. I’ve coughed up some string, most of a hot dog, a lost cell phone, and once even a live kitten. The trick when you’re dispensing detritus is to be certain you account for the wind. Six miles is a long way to go with a jellyfish trailing saliva sloshing inside your ear canal.

My weightlifting buddy’s not the only person I know who prefers muscle over cardio. A lot of guys would rather be buff than fast, I guess because they think it would be more useful in a fistfight. My pastor, for example, a super-nice guy with beguiling handsomeness, can do something like 400 push-ups. But before he’s even on number 7, I could be half a mile away from that fight.

As far as I’m concerned, running is a far more practical and therefore critical survival skill. I don’t think a Bengal tiger would be the least bit impressed with how big Craig’s biceps are, except that I’ve heard before that they’re tasty, like filet mignon. (I don’t mean his specifically, I just mean biceps in general.) But it’s like that old saying: “I don’t have to outrun the bear…I only have to outrun you.”

Once when Craig was staving off the flu (okay, I’m a big enough man to admit that I was overreaching on that one)—pounding down all kinds of anti-cold remedies, I tried to convince him how great running is to clear you out. He didn’t seem to take it as the helpful advice I intended. He seemed more—I don’t know—mad, I guess. Which is funny, because that’s probably one of maybe 10 times since I’ve known him that I’ve offered him unsolicited advice. He’s got no problem telling me what I should do, week after week after week. I guess I like the punishment. Maybe that’s the real reason I like running so much.

Do you like to run? Are you cardio or weights, or both? What is it you like about the kind of exercise you prefer? Have you ever tasted a bicep? If so, how was it?

Stretchypants Runner

When it’s time to run and it’s cold outside, I have a uniform I have to wear. It’s a navy blue short-sleeved t-shirt, either the one that says Nike and has what looks like a bullet hole right next to the navel, or the one that says “EWPOR,” which at one time said “NEWPORT.” Over that I wear a long-sleeved light gray Nike t-shirt with a royal blue ringer neck. I put on underwear too, of course. But most importantly, silver stretchy pants. Rather than trying to sell myself as a younger, chubbier Baryshnikov, I cover those up with black Nike shorts. Dark gray fuzzy gloves (that honestly, fit a little loosely), and then white Nike socks and Brooks running shoes round out the package.

I imagine if someone from Nike marketing saw me completely outrigged for a ten-miler, it would cost them an anyeurism. Or at least their job. No one’s going to invite me to be in a commercial anytime soon, unless it’s to extol the many benefits of delicious ham sandwiches.

There’s this passage in the Bible about “the full armor of God,” consisting of things like a breastplate of righteousness, a shield of faith, peaceful shoes (I’d guess that means Vans), and whatnot. In similar fashion, each element of my winter running warrior’s gear has specific purpose and significance. Most important of all are the stretchy pants. And those are critical, because they don’t inhibit my movement at all.

You see, I don’t see my running as “exercise,” as I imagine most people do. No, when I run, I’m using myself to create art, something beautiful. The outdoors, the sidewalks, are my canvas, and my body is my palette. Eric Liddell, the Scottish Christian who won the gold medal for the 400 meters in the 1924 Olympic games, said (at least in the Chariots of Fire movie version of the story), “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” I know exactly what he meant. I feel God’s pleasure, too.

Granted, it might appear to you that I’m gasping, wheezing, vomiting, urinating on myself and flailing about wildly like a desperate man drowning in oxygen. But I like to make God laugh. Stretchy pants merely underscore the comedic effect.

Do you have a uniform that’s special to you? Is it for creating art? Or just hanging out around the house? Do you know anyone who works for Nike who might be willing to put me in a commercial?