Don’t Call It a Comeback

I feel like I lost time this summer. The entire month of July feels like it was lost. Most of August as well. It was hot, and humid, as it always is in Maryland over the summer. I stayed mostly indoors. 

Back in June, I made a decision that I needed to stop running because I’d overworked my legs to the point that my shin splits hurt with every step regardless of whether I was running or walking. I broke down and saw an actual doctor about it. 

We confirmed that I did not have stress fractures with an X-ray and he recommended that I add metatarsal pads to my insoles, cut my mileage in half and do half of that as walking rather than running. I heard that solid and thoughtful advice but I took it to an extreme (because black and white thinking is my specialty) and stopped all activity. 

At the same time, I let my diet go to shit. I ate copious amounts of ice cream, lots of fries and burgers, and more ice cream. I didn’t track my calories. I didn’t run. I didn’t ride the bike. My waist grew two inches and I put on ten pounds. 

After six weeks the doctor gave me the clearance to start running again, but he cautioned me to go slow, do short runs, and walk as well as run — basically start training as if I was new at this. And I didn’t want to hear that. 

My first run was a scant mile with a five minute walking warmup and a ten minute cool down, also walking. But I ran at a 9.54 minute pace, which isn’t fast by most measures but it was about where I’d been when it was at peak fitness. Getting below a 10 minute mile was a goal that took me two years to achieve, because I’m in my late forties. 

My shin flavored up, predictably, and I don’t run again for 19 days. Then I went out for a longer  run and ran 8.52 miles. And my shin hurt again. My next run was smarter, I went for a longer slower run and clocked in at 10.47.  And my shin hurt again. 

I decided last week that I needed to do something to address my declining fitness and my growing mass. I rejoined Noom, committing to a full year’s membership at a nice discount (by the way, they practically give away the program if you sign up and then quit) and committed to starting an exercise regimen again. 

I have failed miserably to keep my good intake at the right levels, far exceeding my calories and eating more of the foods that I should be eating less of and less of the foods that I should be piling on, but I know that bill get back in the swing of things with some effort. Planning, consistency, accountability, and effort are the name of this game. I can be good at them, when I’m motivated. 

Yesterday, I went for a road ride. As I left the door I told my wife, I may be gone got a while, maybe an hour and a half or more. But as I got into the ride I realized that going on a 20-25 mile ride the first time out in months was probably a horribly bad idea. So, I did my usual 13 mile ride and came home. And I felt good physically and psychologically. 

This morning, I programmed my Garmin for four sets of 5 minutes of running between 10.30 and 11.30/mile and 3 minutes of recovery (walking). I immediately found myself running at 8.52 and had to dial it way back. It felt like I was crawling. My Garmin helpfully alerted me that my performance level was -5 and I ignored that little bitch and stayed the course. A few times on the run, I felt my shin and I adjusted my stride and landing to compensate and it felt better. I’m currently icing down. 

We’ll see if I did the right thing later today, but I think I did. It’s going to be slow going for a while and I am going to turn off training status on my Garmin devices so that it doesn’t tell me that I’m losing fitness when I’m actually gaining fitness as I recover from the injury. 

False Narratives: Overcoming the Internal Voice that says, “You Can’t”

“I only run if someone is chasing me, like you know, the cops.”

I’ve said that thousands of times, perhaps hundreds of thousands of times. Usually, I said it either when someone suggested that I go for a run with them, or when they were bragging about their latest extraordinary run. Fitting that I’d move to a running town, made famous by some fool who runs in all sorts of weather wearing nothing but a Speedo. One of the few successful shops on Main Street in Annapolis is a running store. It’s been there as long as I can remember. You can’t take a drive for more than 30 minutes without seeing at least 25 of those obnoxious 26.2 euro style stickers on cars. I’ve always enjoyed seeing the occasional 0.0 sticker, thinking to myself “I’m not the only one who doesn’t run.”

Except now I do.

Perhaps it’s peer pressure. Perhaps, I’ve just finally succumbed to the influences of the area. Perhaps it’s another case of ego getting the best of me. Or perhaps, it’s just that I’ve learned a few things about myself over the past two years and eight months without a drink. While it’s quite conceivable that I have indeed let my ego take over and given into peer pressure, I prefer to believe that I’ve learned to believe in myself.

For years, I told myself that I couldn’t do things. Running was only one of them. I told myself that I couldn’t lose weight, couldn’t eat the right foods, couldn’t leave jobs, couldn’t get the girl, couldn’t stop drinking, couldn’t be an alcoholic. My faith in the fact that I wasn’t capable of doing things or of being things was perhaps the strongest faith I’ve ever known. I was sure that I couldn’t run.

But I secretly wanted to. Just as I secretly wanted to stop drinking, and secretly wanted my wife to tell me I was an alcoholic. As if I needed someone to tell me that I could be.

External affirmation and confirmation is something that I’ve sought my entire life. When I was a kid, I needed desperately for other kids to like me. Perhaps that started because I moved around so much after my birth father committed suicide. By the time I was in fourth grade, I’d lived in six different apartments or houses and been to five different schools. I was already different from all the other kids because my dad had died. I was different in other ways too, ways that I didn’t know at the time, and am grateful for today. But it was not easy being the new kid all the time.

In addition to that, by the time I settled into a private school in fourth grade, I was living in a neighborhood in the country which had two other kids my age. And all my friends from school lived 5, 10, 15 miles away from me. During the summers, we would go to the pool, and I would know who the other kids at the pool were by their reputations as bad kids. They were easy to spot. They were the bullies who would dunk younger kids in the pool. But I didn’t know many of the other local kids, because I didn’t go to school with them.

Today I know that my near constant need for external affirmation was driven by the deep rooted feelings of abandonment that arose from my father’s suicide. I still struggle with wanting things that I can’t have or don’t need to this day. It’s as if I’m trying to fill a void with material things. Only those things don’t fill the void, they just collect dust in the house when they are no longer exciting and new.

I suspect that many people who suffer from addictions have similar stories. And by that I mean, I know they do, because I’ve heard them. Like many others in recovery, I suffer from a deep sense of not being worthy. And for me that deep sense of unworthiness has manifest as a voice that tells me that I can’t do things.

But I’ve learned that I can do things that I once thought were impossible. I’ve learned that I am worthy. And I’ve made it through the day today without taking a drink — one day at a time, 978 times in a row and counting.

So I got to thinking about this running thing a few months ago. Maybe, just maybe, the idea that I can’t run was another lie that I’d told myself. Maybe it was another story I’d made up to cover up a sense of shame I felt for not being athletic, for not being fit, for being overweight. And maybe, like so many other narratives, it was false.

I started reading a few sites about running. I started thinking about it more and more. I did the walking version of the Beaver Stadium 5K run event over Blue White Weekend. And I saw most of my friends doing the run. Dudes in their forties just like me, running a 5K. Some of them, still heavier than they should be, and some recently slimmed down smaller than I’d ever known them to be. And I wanted to be like them.

I thought to myself, what’s stopping you?

And I answered: “My ankles are fucked. I did a lot of damage to them as a young skate rat. Same with my knees. You don’t have it in you to run, your body just isn’t built for it.”

Except I suspected that maybe I didn’t know these things to be true as much as I suspected them to be excuses. I have been an avid cyclist. I walk a lot and I love to hike. Sure, I’ve had some problems with the left knee, but maybe I was letting that get the best of me.

It was about 5 weeks ago that I had a conversation with a long time friend who happens to be a runner over a bowl of pho where I confided that I’d been thinking of giving it a try. Dave told me that many people start out by trying to run for a given period of time or a given distance and find that it’s painful and end up hurting themselves. This sounded familiar, in fact I sounded like what I expected to happen. But he went on to say that the best way to start would be to essentially sprinkle short distances of running into my walks. He suggested that I look into an app called Couch to 5K that would help me to time the intervals.

Suddenly this made sense. I could try this, even if it didn’t sound like running. Because, really, it didn’t sound like running. It sounded a lot like walking. And it also sounded very different than how I’d gotten back into cycling. See with cycling, you get on the bike and ride. Sure you go short distances, and maybe you ride intervals at different speeds, but you ride the bike. You don’t ride for a bit, and then push the bike, and then ride again. You get on the bike and you ride it. I’d always figured that starting running meant, well, running.

Dave also suggested that I look into some plans that Jeff Galloway had published. Now, I had no idea who the hell Galloway was, but I figured if Dave said I should look into him, then I should. And of course I found out that he’s a famous Olympian who advocates a walk/run program for people who are starting out. Suddenly, this running thing seemed less like something that I coulnd’t do, and more like something that I maybe I could do. And so I started on the C25K program.

The first run was horrible. And by that I mean the 8 minutes of running that were sprinkled in between 22 other minutes of walking were awful. My knee hurt. My calves hurt. I was winded. I wasn’t dressed appropriately so I was fucking hot. But I did it. And after I did it, I had sense of accomplishment. The next day, I went for a bike ride, and promptly had my hip flexors and hamstrings tighten up like a guitar string tuned an octave too high. I could barely walk was I got out of the car and headed to my customer appointments that day.

I learned that ice, and stretching were my friend. I got new shoes that were properly fitted at a running shop. And I followed the guidance of the app religiously. If it told me to walk, I walked — and if it said to run, I ran. I put a day between each run, and took two days off after three runs. In short, I followed a plan. And soon enough, I found that I could run pretty comfortably for five minutes at a time, and recover quickly as I was walking. And the knee pain disappeared.

Suddenly, I’d started to feel like I was actually running, because I was spending more time on a 30 minute session actually running than walking. And then, yesterday, I opened the app and it said, “your’e gonna run for 20 minutes straight today, but you’re ready for it.” I didn’t believe that. I was sure that I’d collapse. I was sure that my virtual trainer, Constance, was smoking some serious crack.

But then, I did it. I ran for 20 minutes straight, and I felt good doing it. And even better after it was done. I am amazed how far I’ve come in 5 weeks. And I know now that the narrative that I can’t run is a false narrative.

I also know that there are other false narratives that I have told myself that I need to address. But they will have to wait. Just as I learned when I first started my journey in recovery that I couldn’t stop drinking, start exercising, and eat right all at the same time, some things are conquered best one thing at a time.

Back in the Saddle, Again

Losing weight was not my goal when I decided to get sober, but I sure wasn’t opposed to the idea. Indeed, in the first month and a half of sobriety I was dropping weight like a bad habit. I dropped 17 pounds in about 6-8 weeks. But it was totally unsustainable.

See, like a good alcoholic, I figured that if I was going to get sober, I might as well go all in and count my calories and ramp up my working out. I figured, what the hell, right? And for a few short weeks, that sort-of was working, except it wasn’t. I was a complete mess and in danger of falling off the beam.

I quickly realized that I needed to focus on what mattered most and give myself a break in the exercise and eating department. And I did. And I ate a shit ton of sugary carbs. And I gained back ten of those 17 pounds. It was the absolute right decision at the time and I don’t regret it, even if my skinny jeans don’t fit and my new belts are a bit tight.

I’ve been thinking about when the right time to get back into the swing of things might since I was about six months into my sobriety, when I joined the local YMCA with all the good intentions in the world. At the time, I was going to a 6AM meeting every day of the week and I was getting burnt out on the meeting. I figured I’d mix it up and go to the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays instead of the meeting. And for about a week, I did. And after that I might have hit the gym 3 or 4 other times in the past ten months. Today, I finally canceled that stupid gym membership, and it felt damn good to do it. That’s $80 a month that I can put to better use.

But, that’s not to say that I’ve lost my interest in recommitting myself to fitness. Quite the contrary, today marks the beginning of clawing my way back to a level of fitness I’d attained when I rode 1700 miles in 2012 and 1400 miles in 2013 and had only one month in 24 with no rides.

I was never a fast cyclist. I was never a great cyclist, but I was without a doubt a cyclist and I loved it. Looking back now, I can see that it was at the end of 2013 when things started to fall to pieces with my drinking — that’s when I stopped riding regularly. Indeed, a defining event that catapulted me toward recovery was when I struggled for 65 grueling miles on an MS ride in 2015 and was unable to even start on the second day.

I may not be the first person to commit to a new fitness program by ditching a gym membership, but I’m sure it’s not the usual first step. You may be wondering just what the hell I plan to do. How does one become fit without going to the gym?

The answer is simply I will be doing more of the things that I love. The other day, I was talking with my mother about my post election mental malaise and she asked, “When was the last time you went outside?” Confessing that I’d been some time she said, “Well, you’re an outside boy, you always were. You need to get outside and get fresh air and sunlight.” I knew she was right, even if I didn’t want to admit it.

And that’s why I know that canceling a gym membership is the right thing to do. Why didn’t I go to the gym? Not because I don’t want to be fit and healthy, but because I cannot stand the idea of cardio work that results in me moving without actually covering any distance. I was never one to utilize the strength training equipment (though I could probably benefit from some core training) anyway.

So, I’ll be walking, hiking, and biking.  And I’ll be tracking my calories on MyFitnessPal.  And with a little effort that weight that I wanted to lose sixteen months ago will come off.

Today, I got out for a ride in beautiful 51F weather. I only got 9 miles in, but the sun was shining, my legs were burning and my heart was pounding. And I felt good. Really good. Like I might do it again sometime. Like later this week.

I’m at the point in my recovery where I’m ready to tackle some of the other things in my life that need tackling. It feels good to feel like I’ve got a solid base upon which to start building. Yes, it was only nine miles, but there was a time when I only had nine hours of sobriety too.