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. 

Flexibility, Running, & the Sun

I’m grateful for the flexibility and the mobility that my job affords me which means I don’t have to stress about how to manage my son’s time off school over the holidays.

I plan to go for a run this afternoon and I’m grateful for the ability to run. Running helps me calm my monkey mind.

We’ve had a lot of overcast days lately, but the sun has graced us with its warm rays today. I’m grateful for the sun which is the source of all energy in our portion of the universe.

Healing, Running, & Sleeping In

Yesterday, I talked with my dear friend who had open heart surgery last week. It was wonderful to hear his voice and even better to hear that he would likely be discharged to day. I’m grateful for the success and healing and grateful to have him in my life.

It was unseasonably warm yesterday, and will be today as well. I got out for a long run (6.88 miles) and enjoyed making my way through the neighborhoods. I am grateful to be able to run. Running has changed my life in so many ways. Even though I run solo, it has made me feel more connected to my community because there is something about being in the community rather than viewing the community from behind the car windshield and doors.

I slept in today. In the past I’ve often felt guilty about my propensity to sleep late. There is a mythos around the early riser in this modern world and I don’t buy into it, but sometimes it’s hard not to feel guilty because there are so many messages that we receive about being the early bird. However, I know that my body needed the sleep and I’m grateful for it. I’m also grateful that because I slept in, I can sit my Adirondack chair in the sunlight as I type this out on my phone before posting it.

Have a great Sunday.

Strengthening Our Hearts

Of all the muscles in the body, the heart is probably the most essential. In conjunction with the diaphragm, the heart works to delivering oxygen and nutrients to every other system in the body by pumping blood 24 hours a day.

One of the many signals the universe sent telling me it was time to make a change in my life, time to quit drinking, was on a weekend that should have been enjoyable but was pure misery. In 2015, I’d been riding in an organized metric century bike ride benefiting the MS Society since 2010 for five years. The first ride in 2010 was a two day ride in July. I was new to cycling and out of shape and it was ridiculously hot and humid. We were staying in the dorms at a local university and several people spent the night heaving in the bathroom after the first day of riding. I vowed to get better and started training.

Over the next few year’s my riding improved despite heavier and heavier drinking, but when I look at my annual miles I can see that things started to go south in 2013. I dropped from well over 1500 miles a year to a few hundred. When we stared the 60 mile ride in August of 2015, I may have had 100 miles under my belt for the season. We planned to ride the metric century in the first day and ride another 40 on Sunday.

On Saturday, I suffered. I a struggled mightily and barely finished the first ride. Wiped out I went to bed early and woke the next day knowing I would never be able to ride another 5 miles let alone 40. I drive home defeated and dejected.

I hadn’t trained because I was no longer in the game. My game was drinking and I was a professional at it. I was no longer a cyclist. It took me another month to gain the courage to address my alcoholism.

When I first quit drinking I tried to address everything at once. I figured that if I was making one life change, making several at once was a good idea. I tried to address my drinking, eating, and exercise habits all at once and quickly became overwhelmed. Luckily, I had the sense to let go and focus on the problem that was most urgent, my drinking.

In the spring of 2018, I went on a trip back to Penn State for the first time and was inspired by a fraternity brother who had lost over 50 pounds who ran a 5K that I walked. It was time to start addressing my exercise habits.

At the age of 45, I decided that I was going to become a runner. The only problem was that I hated running and I was convinced that my knees couldn’t take it. I started out slow, using the C25K app, and icing my knees after every run. The first run/walk had me do 8 reps of 60 seconds of running, followed by 90 seconds of walking. Those 60 seconds were awful. But gradually, I got better and I was able to run for longer periods of time. Gradually, I was strengthening my heart.

Two years on, and I’m still running. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. Never before in my entire life have I had this kind of aerobic base. And I’m seeing results. I’m down 4 inches in my waist and my face is visibly thinner. But what’s really been impressive to me is how much better I am at cycling. I’m setting PRs again on my rides, for the first time since 2013.

The other day, as I was running I was thinking about how I’ve strengthened my heart through running and it occurred to me that I’ve strengthened my emotional heart in my recovery. We all have two hearts, the physical one that pumps our blood as well as our emotional heart. The heart is the life force of our existence, physically and emotionally.

Over the past four years and nine months, I’ve learned a lot about my emotional heart. I’ve learned that it was suppressed by my addiction. I’ve learned that addiction numbs not just the negative feelings, but all our feelings. In the early days of sobriety, when I was beginning to feel my feelings again, it was often painful. It felt like walking through the world without my skin. The highs were high, the lows were low, and everything felt overwhelming.

Just as with running, over time I strengthened my emotional heart by working with the 12 steps and in therapy. And my emotions became less difficult and more manageable. Just as with running, it’s been a slow and at times painful process, but I’m also seeing results.

I’ve become more tolerant and more mindful of my reactions to situations. I notice how my body responds to things that once spurred an immediate negative reaction from me. Often there is a bodily sensation that precedes the emotion. And when I recognize that sensation, I know what is about to happen and can (sometimes) short circuit the reaction and respond rather than react. It is definitely a work in progress.

By getting honest and sharing my struggles in my recovery, I learned the miracle of vulnerability. I’ve learned how to have my feelings again, how to respond rather than to react, how to sit with pain and how to forgive. In these ways, I have strengthened my emotional heart, and built a more resilient emotional base.

Permission to Grieve

Before I begin, I want to say, categorically, that I’m not going to pick up a drink. When I think about the escape that alcohol provides, I can’t help but remember the emotional prison where it held me hostage for so long.

But I’ve been thinking.

Thinking about drinking.

Mostly it’s grieving. Grieving for things I can’t have right now.

I’m remembering the times when booze was fun. When I didn’t really have a problem with it. My 20’s. That sweet time after college when I had few responsibilities and just enough money for a little fun, when a spring day meant a mountain bike ride around Loch Raven culminating in a spontaneous barbecue in the alley in the Charles Village.

I’ve been thinking about these things, because COVID-19 makes them impossible. I can’t have friends over. I can’t go on a mountain bike ride with friends and have a barbecue afterwards. I can’t even see my family.

And while booze is something I’ve decided I can’t have (and I am quite certain about that) I have found myself going back to memories of easier times — fond memories of spring days like the ones we’ve been having here in Maryland and those memories involve beer and friends.

But the grief really isn’t about the beer. It is about the lack of connection with friends. It’s about how absolutely awful things are right now. The days blend together making every day feels the same. Every day has a background buzz, a continuous stream of bad news. Every day is more news about death, the spread of the disease, and our federal government’s abject failure to respond to the crisis appropriately.

Thank God for our governors. Real leadership is taking place at the state level and filling the vacuum created by the current federal administration’s complete and utter failure to lead. One shining star in this crisis has been my state’s governor, Larry Hogan. Today he announced that he’d brokered a deal with a South Korean firm to get 500 thousand test kits for Maryland.

In all of this, my mental state has been deteriorating. I’ve found myself sleeping later and longer than usual. I’ve found that I’m not motivated to do the things that bring me joy. I haven’t written a post here in over a month. I’m not playing the guitar. I’m less motivated to cook. I haven’t been running or cycling.

I recognize these as classic signs of depression setting in.

So today I made a bit of a change. I got to the end of the day, things felt incredibly heavy. My wife had picked out a dish for dinner that was in the latest Bon Appetite. I was feeling kind of grumpy about making it to be honest. So, at 5:30, I did the one thing that I know will make things better pretty much every time.

I went for a run.

I went out for a run with no specific training regimens in mind. Not intervals. Not a specific distance. No fucks given about my heart rate. I just ran.

And it did make things better.

When I got back, I talked with my neighbor for a few minutes, and that made things better too. Then I went inside and cooked these amazing shrimp tacos. We had a great dinner and I hit the shower and then a Zoom meeting.

I’m making a commitment to myself to do more runs. To make some phone calls. To cook more adventurous meals rather than subsistence cooking just to get calories in the body. I’m going to work to make life as close to normal as it can be while things are decidedly not normal.

And at the same time, I’m going to work to go easy on myself and my family. To wear life as if it were a loose garment.

We have to recognized that things are not normal. We have to recognize that we need to be gentle with ourselves. We have to give ourselves permission to not be firing on all cylinders every moment of every day.

And we have to be able to grieve. Even if that grief is for things that we no longer really want — because this is a fucked up time that we’re all living through.

Semi-Viral

“People need to hear your story.”

“What do you mean, bud?”

“People need to hear your story. I think it’s inspirational. I mean you used to be a guy who didn’t do much besides go to bars and get drunk. Now, you do cool things. You love your wife, spend time with your son. You run. You hike. You bike. People need to hear your story.”

“Well, bud, some do. They hear it on my blog. They hear it at meetings. It’s why I have so many followers on Twitter.”

“Dad, you’re semi-viral on Twitter. Anyone with more than 1000 followers is semi-viral.”

“Well, that’s why people follow me on Twitter, bud. Because they get to hear my experience, strength, and hope there. And that’s why they follow me.”


I had this conversation with my son on Saturday as we finished a run that I’d made him go on. Not a long run. Not a fast run. An easy walk/run exercise to try to get him interested in running.

He fought me when I suggested it. He’s 12. He doesn’t want to run with his father. He doesn’t want to run at all. But I know it will be good to help him develop a habit of exercise. No one ever taught me this important life skill. I’m trying to break that cycle in the family.

He’s right. People do need to hear my story. People need to hear all our stories. And telling our stories is important. It’s cathartic. It helps us process the pain that caused us to drink or drug in the first place.

Sharing our stories helps others who may be struggling with similar challenges. As I’ve learned to get vulnerable and share from the heart in meetings, I’ve had many people tell me that my story gives them hope. Hope that they too can get sober. Hope that they can stay sober when the going gets tough.

I have heard enough stories in my recovery community that are like mine to know that I’m not unique. There are thousands, no millions, even hundreds of millions like me, who have given up the drink or the drug and are living extraordinary lives. We are the lucky ones.

But, in the eyes of my son I am extraordinary. That’s all I can ask for. Small recognitions from my son that I’m living up to my Higher Purpose, being a good husband and father. Doing the next right thing.


In the eyes of a 12 year old having thousands of followers is important.

Semi-viral.

Here’s to being semi-viral.

Running, Tears, and EMDR Therapy

It’s been a rough 2019. We’ve been through a lot as a family this year My wife and I had to appear in court on behalf of our son this week. We both gave statements in a case that resulted from the traumatic events we experienced in March. It was a hard day. Emotions ranged from anger to rage, to frustration, to compassion, to forgiveness. I suffered a migraine on the day of the court hearing.

Even though I’d started the day with a meeting, I still needed the support of friends in the program that night. I was glad to have a phone full of numbers and happy to talk to my sponsor that night. He reminded me that sometimes injustice cannot be reconciled, that the ledger will never balance for these transactions and suggested that in these cases the best thing we can do is to balance the greater ledger by doing something to make the world a better place. That kind of thinking and that kind of advice is why he’s my sponsor.

Today, I’d spent the entire day working on my computer and not getting very far with a particular project. At 4:30 I was pretty frustrated and so I decided to go for a run. I was listening to a Podcast called “Athletes Unfiltered” about Mirna Vilariowho is the author of the blog “Fat Girl Running”. Her story is impressive and challenges us to rethink what we call athletic. She is a hero. She is a woman who overcomes adversity and inspires me to be a better runner.

I knew that I wasn’t going for a long run today before I left the house and so my route was confined to the neighborhood. As I was listening to Mirna’s inspiring story I came up in a dad helping his little girl learn to ride her bike without training wheels and I was reminded of teaching my son to ride. I found myself welling up with emotion. I had a huge smile and gave her a thumbs up and a “Good Job!” As I passed her. She hadn’t realized that her dad had let go of the seat. And then I felt the tears.

Maybe it was a mix of listening to that podcast and my own emotional memories of my son as a younger boy but I was suddenly full of emotion. So raw from all of this year. The tears just came out. And with each step there were more emotions.

It felt good, if somewhat odd, to be having a cry as I ran around the neighborhood. No one could have known anyway, what with all the sweat that was pouring down my face, but even if someone had noticed I wouldn’t have cared. I needed to let out those emotions.

I’ve been wondering about where this emotional release came from tonight and I think I have an answer. When the trauma first hit our family this year a friend suggested I look into EMDR therapy. I discussed it with my wife and she told me that she knew if it and that walking, hiking, and running can have the same effect on the brain as EMDR. I wasn’t sure I believed this, but several times we’ve been in hikes and our son has suddenly had an emotional release. And now I’ve experienced this myself.

I’ve always know that walking, hiking, and running were good for my soul, now I think I know a little better why this is so.

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.