Learn Anything. Go Anywhere. Help Others.

3 month goals, wheelchairs and marathons

August 6, 2017

I had that feeling this morning, the one you associate with tying your shoes as the sun comes up and getting out the door before everyone else is awake, the dedication to something that sort of pulls you out of sleep and gets you warmed up until you’re running past the quiet meadows and birds and squirrels of the early morning before Brooklyn becomes bustling. It was my first run in a while, and in exactly three months, this morning’s run will have culminated in a full marathon.
Yesterday I sat on a step ladder inside of a room still wet with paint and talked to Alex about being a physical trainer at his new facility. His first location in Harlem was a huge success and has been a community installation for years now. He tells me I’ll learn everything I’ll need to know about working with the disabled population from the main trainer, Anthony, who has been there from the beginning. Anthony was the one that trained Alex after his accident – a deer-related car crash resulting in an injury to the spine at the C6 vertebrae.
Alex is a go-getter. After his accident he became a lawyer and eventually started “Wheeling Forward” with a man he right after his injury who also had a paralyzing spinal cord injury. This project was developed for an underserved community of disabled people. Here’s what it looked like to me – I watched the video Alex sent me when he got in touch with me and I saw people in wheelchairs doing arm-treadmills, boxing, yoga, lifiting weights. They looked the exact same, their determination and pride as other people do in the gym. Actually, they didn’t, they looked way happier because this was a rare opportunity for them. It had never occurred to me how difficult of a place a gym would be for a person in a chair.
“Most gyms are ADA accessible, but the whole time everyone around you is worried you’re gonna hurt yourself and is just waiting for you to finish. It’s not a very comfortable environment for a disabled person. Except for Yannick, whose arms are bigger than anyone else at the gym, he doesn’t mind it.” Yannick is Alex’s partner.
I’ll be starting here in a couple weeks as a trainer. I expect to be inspired, I expect to be grateful. The Grand Opening is in two weeks. During Alex and I’s interview he mentioned as an aside, “Do you do marathons?”
“I have.”
“Wanna do the New York City marathon?”
“Really? I mean, yeah.”
“Because we have a partnership with them, it would just require a little fundraising but if you wanted to do it, you could. It’s November 5th, I think.”
“Oh I don’t know. I am way out of shape that’s just three months away.”
He laughed and said, “yeah, kind of short notice.”
We moved on and talked work details. But when I left I kept thinking about it.
Yes, it’s possible, even though I’m hardly even in shape enough for a 10k right now. And then I thought of all the people I’ll be working with. I’ll be working with them on their goals. They’ll be working their asses off, some of them to do a marathon in a wheelchair and some of them just to be able to reach for something in front of them. How could I shy away from that. Realistically it’s just about 4-5 runs a weeks, in the morning, before my day starts. It is very do-able. I almost felt that I owed it to the people that I will be working with to take on challenges like this.
Good for me 3 months away is just enough time before the idea goes from bold to stupid. 1 month away would be injury and misery and frankly, 6 months away wouldn’t really excite me. 3 months away is perfect.
This morning I popped out of bed a minute before my alarm and went right to it. The first run in this 3 month challenge. I am so grateful for this opportunity.

Healthy Snack Idea to Impress Anybody

January 1, 2016

I used to go to the farmers’ market, gather ingredients from the farmers, set up a table and put these little snacks together as a food demo. They are still my go-to snack when I really want to treat myself. Enjoy!

Ingredients: Nori wraps, minnced carrots, avocado, cucumber, mango (optional), squash flower, sprouts, anything! Soy sauce, or any sauce.

Tools: Bamboo roller, sharp knife, cutting board, and food processor (optional)

Directions: 1. Layout nori wrap onto bamboo roller. 2. Spread a shallow bed of minnced carrots along the bottom 2/3 of the nori wrap.  Make sure it is not too deep or the sushi will be too fat and split open.

3. In the middle of the carrot bed, lay a line of sliced avocado, cucumber, and other improvised ingredients.

4. Fold the open veggie sushi into a roll, like you’re rolling up a yoga mat.

5. Before you close the roll, rub a piece of wet mango on the edge to seal the nori wrap. (Water will work too) 6. Cut into 6-8 sections with a very sharp knife. Moist nori will cut easier. 7. Dip in sauce. Enjoy.


Hitchhikers Guide to a Texas Marathon

January 26, 2015

The Odd Story of My First 26.2 Mile Run
Sometimes I confuse willingness for preparation.
Though the sky declared dusk and calendar claimed December, it felt warm enough for a naked picnic. I returned home from another 11 hour day at the feed store after a skimpy night’s rest wearing jeans and the red polo shirt adorning my job’s logo. I plopped on the carpet and liberated my hair from its folded pony tail. I propped my feet on the broken futon I called “bed” and fell immediately into a shallow slumber.
As I napped, I ignored the fact that I had committed myself to running my first marathon the following morning in College Station, TX. I ignored that my legs were still sore from some ill-timed squats a couple days prior, and that I hadn’t run in a couple weeks, and that I didn’t even have a ride to College Station, a hundred miles away and not on any bus route.
About two weeks earlier, I suffered some bruising and tightness in my left achilles after a little run around town. The nagging ailment caused a limp for a couple days, and due to the crucial nature of that storied tendon, I decided it was best to not run my first marathon after all. My uncle once suffered a full tear of his achilles, keeping him from walking for almost a year. “I probably won’t do it, but if it feels a lot better by then, we’ll see,” I told a friend, leaving the door open to still attend the race if I got a wild hair.
Doing the marathon would have been a great check on the small list of things that I had actually followed through with, and not doing it may support a deep fear and insecurity that I hold: I never finish anything. I could not count on fear or pride alone to make choices about a new experience that might ultimately leave me walk-less for a period of time, and worse yet, what if I didn’t get to cross the finish line because of a gruesome “pop!” in the most foundational of tendons. The “right” answer eluded me, so I asked the spirit of the universe, the cosmos, the reflection of self in the world, God, for guidance.
Over the next couple weeks, I went about my life as normal, working, writing, eating, light working out, meditation and talking to strangers. My achilles began to heal and feel normal again, though I didn’t push it with any running. I even scheduled myself to work the day of the marathon, thinking it wise, but as the day approached, I received more and more signs that pointed to “go for it.” I kept meeting people that had run marathons before. It seemed everyone was wearing a shirt from a marathon they had run. Beyond the chatter of my mind, in silent and dark moments, was a “green light.” It was revealed that not running the marathon would have been going against the grain of the flow of the universe. I got my work shift covered, and only two days prior, I decided to go.
I woke up from my nap on the floor of my apartment and found that nobody had responded to my craigslist rideshare ad I posted a couple days prior. I would have to hitch hike to College Station. I made myself some salmon, eggs, and spinach, ate some protein bars and hummus, and packed my backpack with vitamins, nuts, a 5 hour energy, my Vibram Five Finger shoes, short running shorts, and a shirt. I walked out of my apartment complex and into the city. With a whole night to work with, I thought it probable, though challenging, that I’d arrive to College Station on time; making it there with any sleep was the real stretch.
I traipsed down Westheimer Rd. in my hemp sandals, long hair down, and worn backpack looking like some California vagabond on a self-imposed minimalist adventure. My groin was still tight and I felt generally unprepared, but rationalized that the extra walking would loosen me up. Before I hit the highway to stick my thumb out, I stopped at a coffee shop for a last minute tea and to check my email one last time to see if anybody had responded to my rideshare request.
In the time between I sat down, opened my internet browser, became disappointed at the sight of no-news, and went to get my tea, I had received a new message: “Did you still need a ride?”
I exchanged hopeful messages with the faceless samaritan, discussing specifics. For the cost of gas he’d take me up to College Station that very night ensuring I’d be at the Marathon by the pistol shot at 10 a.m.
He pulled up to the coffee shop at about 11 o’clock and rolled down the passenger window of his well-kept Altima. He appeared mild mannered, short dark hair, with glasses, professional attire, and a small frame.
“Howdy, I’m Boz, what’s your name again?” I said, reaching my hand into the window.
“I’m Craig,” he left somewhat of an awkward limbo after his answer, apparently he was not one to fill conversational space without a prompt; I, however, am. “Okay, so I’ll just throw the bag in the back,”
I got in the car, and commenced.
“Thank you so much for doing this on short notice, it’s a huge help, this was kind of a last minute decision,” I said somewhat apologetically.
“It’s no problem, I’m pretty new here, and don’t really know anybody, so…” he didn’t continue the thought.
“Oh, cool, I am new here, too, about 4 months and change, how long have you been here?”
“Only a couple weeks, and it was pretty unexpected.” His tone was flat so I had little else to judge Craig’s past and present world other than his well kept new car, clean and pressed attire, and terse conversational style. I knew a few things from what he had mentioned in our brief text correspondence: that he had run a marathon in Canada, and in New York, and that his girlfriend worked near where he would be picking me up.
I pried further, “Where we’re you before here?”
“Toronto,” he said, failing enlighten the foreshadowing he had applied by saying his move here was unexpected.
“And what do you do here?” I relented and asked one of the questions that I reserve for situations when I do not have a more interesting and custom question for the situation.
“I am a network engineer.” I attributed his flat personality to his engineering mind. We hadn’t even gotten out of downtown Houston as I prepared myself for the persistence I’d need to milk this conversational cow. I learned later that his laconic speech was likely indicative of his Buddhist practice. He is a rare find in the western world: a white man raised by buddhist parents, and thus he does not say “I study Buddhism,” as I do, but says “I am Buddhist.” His Buddhism would be the epidermis on a surprising skeletal system of a practical mental methodology I had the pleasure of learning on that drive to College Station, TX.
For the first 40 miles we listened to British Techno Pop turned low on the stereo as we walked about his gallery of experiences. I learned of his life that:
-“It was a typical love-at-first-sight kind of deal; she’s why I’m still here. That, and the Houston job market is incredible.”
-“She’s Cambodian. Her dad is a monk.”
-“I used to be a sky-diving instructor”
-“2,300 jumps”
-“I broke my neck, still healing.”
-“Yeah I came here from Brownsville, too.”
-“I was airlifted to Houston after riding my bike through Mexico and getting heat exhaustion, my kidneys were shutting down.”
-“I saw 23 bodies hanging from a bridge last time I was on the border.”
-“I worked in China for a while.”
-“Fascinating culture, but not as much fun, in my opinion.”
-“I wrote a book about the scientific perspective of the introverted personality.”
-“My Buddhist practice is more of a lifestyle – a code of ethics and behavior; though I will go on a retreat periodically.”
The 32 year old man’s experience was extensive. Especially after he revealed his Buddhism, I embraced the opportunity to learn as much as possible, since he had been practicing since childhood.
I inquired, “I’ve meditated before, but never that long, only 10-30 minutes, mainly just a little relaxation. What do you do when you meditate for several hours at a time? Is it Zen meditation? Transcendental?”
“I’ve done a little transcendental meditation, but that’s not my practice,” he began, “and Zen meditation is more about finding a joy in a very simple, repetitive task.” He paused to think a moment. “Once I am in my head as an observer I can see and manipulate my thoughts, rather than be manipulated by them. I’ll start organizing and categorizing.”
“I’ve never heard of that. Can you describe the process?”
“Well, you know how your thoughts are supposed to be viewed as a river, flowing by? I try to find the smoothest flow, the current with least resistance. I organize my thoughts so as to best keep that river flowing smooth and broad. I will see my thoughts as clouds, or sets of clouds in front of me. Each cloud representing a type of thought, and then I will move certain new and discursive thoughts to a cloud where they will be less in the way.”
I was fascinated at this use of meditation. I had never considered such conscious reorganization of thoughts before, but I still didn’t fully understand. He gave an example:
“So, let’s say you have a thought that has been occupying your mind, or restricting a smooth flow, such as: ‘Should I move in with my girlfriend?’ or ‘How can I expand my business?’ or ‘My butt hurts from sitting so long,’ any thought that bobs around and continues to resurface in meditation and thought.”
He looked upon the windshield as if moving items in front of his face and continued, “If it is acceptance of a particular matter that you seek, or if you want to put something into a place where it does not resurface like a new exciting thought should, than you put it with an old thought that does not occupy your mind.” He used his free hand to move a thought from a cloud on the right, to a cloud on the left. “You take the thought, such as ‘my mother-in-law does not accept me’ and you put it with a category of thoughts that you are more comfortable with, such as, ‘January is after December’ because that thought does not require any mental energy to hold in your head. I frequently use ‘the grass is green, and the sky is blue,’ these are thoughts that you have accepted for a long time, and thus they do not distract you. So you take ‘my butt hurts from sitting so long,’ and you put it with ‘the grass is green,’ to help yourself to not be distracted by that thought any longer and help a smooth flow occur in your mind.”
I looked at Craig and smiled, something had occurred to me. “You’re a network engineer, and you do the same thing with your thoughts as you do with information architecture for a new client.” Craig chuckled proudly, a rare expression for the mild mannered programmer of computers and mental processes. “Yeah, I do kind of have to get in ‘the zone’ to do the work I do.”
We arrived in College Station, and I chose not to inform Craig that I wasn’t sure where I was staying that night nor did I even know where the starting line would be, not wanting to give him a new thought cloud to categorize. We got gas, and I requested he drop me off at Denny’s.
Rarely would I have been able to enjoy a platter so artificial, starchy, sugary, and dispassionate as the items on the Denny’s menu; but being in a college town, having a homeless night, and preparing for a marathon, allowed me a great gratitude for having enough money and opportunity to enjoy a rich and savory feast from one of America’s popular restaurant chains. Plus, I had to use their wifi to figure out where to go.
I ate every last morsel of my pancakes, sausage, eggs, double serving of hashbrowns, and frosted poppy seed cake. That final item, the poppy seed cake, was what turned a normal “Grand Slam Breakfast” into a “Hobbit Grand Slam Breakfast” in celebration of the new Lord of the Rings movie that was soon to hit theaters. Ah, America.
Having filled my belly sufficiently with 7 or 8 hours until the marathon, all there was to do was rest and digest. I hit the streets of College Station in search of a place to sleep. I walked by a couple hotels thinking I may be able to nap on a lobby couch, but never actually got the gumption to make such an attempt. I found a Hilton Hotel, where earlier that day was the pre-race pasta dinner and tabling event that I obviously missed. I only saw a few signs and swag items laying about as evidence that this ever occurred, for it was now 2 am and I was likely the only of thousands of marathoners still awake. The lobby was huge and had many corridors, and I thought that this where the race might actually begin, though not entirely sure because I couldn’t find the race map in my email history nor on their website. If the race was, in fact, to begin at the hotel, it would be reasonable for me to sleep on a puffy chair or couch, as it would seem I had just shown up very early for the race, rather than just being a non-customer without a room.
An attractive young lady came to the counter after I rang the bell, her demeanor was sweet and slightly awkward with all of the mannerisms and speech appropriate for quality customer service, though probably not the type for independent decisions such as “Oh honey, just go rest in the Pelican Hall, nobody will bother you,” as an older counterpart may have offered.
“Oh, I don’t even know where the race begins, let me go get the map.” She said.
When she returned with the map she informed me that the race was to begin at Wolf Pen Park next to Post Oak Mall.
“This is such a small town, everywhere is so close, it’s not more than 10 minutes away.”
Though I thought it was obvious that I was walking, I don’t think it occurred to her that it wasn’t ten minutes away by foot.
“Thank you ma’am, stay safe.”
“Have a good race!” she smiled and returned to her chambers.
I made it to Wolf Pen Park a little after 3 o’clock and saw the dormant festival frame of the 2nd annual BCS Marathon under the orange glow of suburban nights. The hosting park was a relatively new and well-landscaped area of College Station adjacent to a lake. Across the lake, I could hear college kids partying, probably celebrating College Station’s own, Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M’s quarterback, and his reception of the Heisman trophy. The town had a little extra electricity because of this bit of news, which had came out just that. A football field’s worth of parade barricades led to a large metal structure framing the start and finish line. There was a stage for the host and the all the other hype, all adorned with banners from local sports stores, running teams, radio stations and school clubs. A medical tent was set up, enclosed, next to an old, sprawling, hospitable oak tree. The medical tent provided a blockade from the wind, which was all I needed to sleep; for the evening was mild, probably about 60 degrees.
Strewn about were dozens of stretched nylon cots already set up for passed out and pained runners. This was a fortuitous discovery for me. I was getting just plain exhausted in addition the obvious need for pre-marathon sleep. I pulled a cot to the edge of the medical tent, under the oak tree, pulled out my favorite shawl from my backpack, kicked off my sandals, and before I laid to rest, I heard footsteps approach.
A young man, with dread locks and piercings walked up. He held a flashlight, which was kindly turned off.
“Hey what’s up man?” I began.
He appeared to be tired himself, he replied “Hey, we’re you uh,” he was a little out of his element as a security guard.
“Going to sleep here? Yes, I’m signed up for the run tomorrow,” I said. He nodded his head, slightly comforted as light was shed on the strange visitor of the strange hour.
“Oh cool, I’m just, uh, security for the night. I know the guy who started all this. His name is Scott.”
“Oh neat, are you doing the run?”
“No, I just know Scott from my church group and he asked me to do security.”
“Cool, well I need to get some rest, and I arrived here so late, so will this spot be okay?”
“Yeah I guess so, there’s not really anywhere else.”
“Thanks man, I’m Boz, just tell them in the morning that I’m here so they don’t startle when they’re setting everything up.”
“Cool cool, I will. I’m Dell.”
“Nice to meet you.”
Dell walked back to his car as I laid down, using my backpack as pillow and the shawl as my sleeping bag. Right before I passed into the subconscious realm, Dell walked up once again, holding a large bed sheet.
“Hey dude, I found this in my car, it’s not much, but…”
“Oh that’s great man, thanks,” I interjected.
Dell laid the sheet upon me in an effort to help with my rest. The warmth of his gesture, and of the old sheet, helped my find a deep solace atop the cot under the tree.
After one or two tosses and turns and an undisturbing dream, I awoke to a gentle poke on my shoulder. It was still dark outside, although the sky had gained a deep glowing opal, indicating the imminent sunrise. A thin man with a shaved head and polo shirt with the marathon’s logo leaned over me, lowly saying, “Hey.”
“G’morning,” I forced a wakened awareness upon myself.
“Hey, it’s about 6:15. I just wanted to let you know so you didn’t sleep in past the race.”
“Are you Scott?” I inquired.
“Oh thanks for having this, it looks nice, what time is the race?” I asked, confused why he would wake me over 3 hours early, unless I was unwelcome to sleep in that spot.
“At seven. Gotta be at the starting line in about 20 minutes, people are already getting ready.”
I lifted my head further to see that the parking lot was abound with hundreds of springy silhouettes of runner bodies all making there way to the marathon festivities.
“Oh, thanks man,” I said, shocked that the marathon actually started at 7. “Good thing I slept on site,” I said to myself.
I sprang to my feet, grabbed by backpack and ate a couple Brazil nuts and the first of two carbohydrate gels a distance athlete from my apartment complex gave me. As I walked around, slowly waking up, lean and exuberant and women of all ages poured into the street where the race was to begin. Everybody looked so well slept; but I quickly dropped the judgment of others, and thus the judgment of myself, and changed into my running shorts and 5 finger shoes. The sun continued to rise and I began opening myself to the eager energies of the thousand strangers surrounding me. I ate some ibuprofen and took my last sip of water, being assured that water was only 1.5 miles down into the race where I could hydrate further. I think they don’t have water at the starting line to reduce the odds of early race vomiting. I did a little warm up jog and some yoga stretches, nothing too intense, just comfortable and open.
I began to feel the camaraderie of strangers though I hadn’t the energy to talk to any of them. I began to feel a part of a herd of humans. And I began to feel the most unexpected feeling; despite my soreness, my tight achilles, my two hours of sleep, and the last minute unkempt fog, I felt “ready.”
Race time.
The stretching, hydrating, and carb-loading individuals coalesced into a dense, city-street-wide and football-field-long mass alongside the row of barricades and port-o-potties. The anxious deluge of happy humans pressed toward the start-line like a loaded spring. I felt like a confused child among a sea of big kids, but once the crowd got moving, I was sure I’d figure it out. The gun went off, and that’s exactly what happened. All I had to do was run.
My awareness hosted a jubilee of new sensations. There were so many smiling faces, chattering mouths, different strides and different shoes and various methods and signs and noises all around me that I knew not what to focus on. Who should I be following? Whose pace may be most similar to mine? Is it beneficial to stare at the back end of one the many great posteriors? This was my first race of any kind, really, I hadn’t ran in a group since football practice back in high school, and never was the group hundreds large, as this one was. My muscles warmed and my thoughts calmed. I settled into my body, stopped judging my surroundings, and allowed myself to be a part of the herd.
The initial excitement carried me the first 1.5 miles where I was rewarded with water and gatorade; and then a few more miles where we received more hydration and celebration. Early risers throughout the town were outside to cheer us on; and the marathon volunteers seemed to be excited to see each and every one of us. Two ladies dressed in robes and hair curlers bounced in jest in their front yard. A long goateed fellow with tattoos and spiked leather cuffs blared metal from his truck as he pumped his fist in support. A child jammed for the passing runners on his new drum set in his driveway. All of these celebrations and distractions were welcome, and as long as the smile was on my face, the miles passed by without much friction.
And then came the big flashing traffic sign, “HALF MARATHON LEFT,” and several volunteers waved signs indicating that this was the big split. A snarky runner stated “Yeah, like we couldn’t tell from the big flashing sign,” I watched the interaction as I ran forward towards the 26.2 miler. There was no turning back. I soon realized that the marathon group was much more sparse than the initial pack. The high of the herd left with the half marathoners, and I was left alone to look forward to the next water station.
I spoke with a group of runners in the 9th mile as my waking feeling of alienation had worn off by mile 2.
“This is your first, too?”
“Yup, I’ve done some halves before, and trained at 18 lately,” a fellow runner explained.
“Cool, I’ve only done 13 a couple times on my own,” I shared, “so all this is uncharted territory for me.”
The other runner, an older man who had ran 6 marathons already, corrected me, “Then you’ve still got about 4 more miles until you’re in uncharted territory.” His tone, though friendly, was a tad ominous.
Signs decorated by local artists continued to pass by in a gracious rhythm – mile 10, 11, and 12 passed and I had never felt so great after a dozen miles of running. We jogged through residential streets, and a little on city highways. Some people passed me, and I passed some people. I was not conscious of my stride. I was just enjoying the sites and my fellow runners.
After I passed the water station at 12, I determined I would not slow my pace until I reached the half way mark. I followed a man slightly ahead of me, until he came to a walk. I figured this was my opportunity to return the motivation that I had received from the cheerleaders along the way.
“Hey man,” I grabbed the stranger’s attention as I approached, “Whaddya say we keep it up through the half way mark.”
“I’m cramping up bad,” he replied, though he regained a jogging pace as he said it.
I figured I could distract him through the half way mark at least.
I asked if it was his first, and he told me that it was a bucket list item, like myself, and that he used to be in better shape when he was in the service; but now, he said, he could barely make it through his attempts at training for this marathon.
“We’ll just make it through this little bit, and then it’s all downhill from there.” Both he and I knew that my estimation was far from true, my tightening achilles and swelling feet knew that the real challenge had just begun. This cheerful little thought would only get us through the half way marker, no more. As we passed the mark, he immediately took to his walking again. I continued on, my own pain beginning to take a deep hold, and wished the man good luck with a strained geniality.
In the outskirts of the town sleepy country pastures and long, straight roads were the view. The winter air was cool and felt good on my perspiring skin; but I knew that without the momentum of the fellow runners in front and behind, there would be little drive in me to keep running.
I reached into my bag of thoughts to distract myself from the pain.
“My legs are tight and fatigued, my achilles is in pain, just as the grass is green,” I told myself. I looked at the softly undulating fields of grass around me and put the aches alongside the granted truth of the color of leaves, trying to create a new default state of natural being that included pain.
I would relish the mile markers, the water stations, the intersections with crossing guards, and the occasional animal at roadside – anything to distract me and gain me some feet forward.
“My legs are tired, my achilles in pain, my knee hurts, just as the grass is green.”
I would slow to a more comfortable pace closer to walking, if only for half a minute, and as soon as one neuron in my brain fired “run,” I would pick up my stride once again. There would be appreciation today, but there would be no indulgence.
My tendons were so rigid and muscles so apathetic that I imagined if a predator were to chase me, I’d no longer have “flight,” as an option; but I was never that fast anyways.
“My legs are tired, my achilles in pain, my knee hurts, I have to poop, just as the grass is green.”
I said this mantra to myself a couple times, then I would look my tattoo (a wrist watch that reads “NOW”) and let my being soak into a timeless purgatory of perpetual jogging.
Soon enough I would return to my chattering mind, and need to cycle this mantra over again.
Mantra, Mantra, Water, Mile Marker, Intersection, gotta speed up for the intersections, cars are stopped for you.
As the mile markers passed the late teens and early twenties, my body had little capability to do much more than I was already making it do. I remembered when people had said “it’s all in your mind.” I felt this was the exact occasion for such a sentiment. I rode my weary, aching, cramping vehicle of frayed muscles and creaky joints forward, step by step, never letting the invisible opponent of surrender return to his feet.
I thought of my friends who had overcome feats in their life. I was proud of them. I imagined myself harnessing their power. I was reminded of when my friend David broke himself from his chains of depression and sloth during his dark college years with a primal exercise of carrying logs in the forest. I remembered Daniel, summiting the highest peak in Georgia, Blood Mountain, as a chubby little summer camper who never thought he could do half as much. I remembered when Colin’s tenure in the Navy kept extending by entire seasons and years as he remained on that ocean faring prison of military service. I pictured the resilient smiles of my friends past and present as I summoned strength in their love.
“David and the log,”
“D-Rob and Blood Mountain,”
“Colin in the Navy,” I’d say in rhythm.
Every man’s feat is relative, and few, if any of us will ever reach our limit as we push past all that we ever thought ourselves capable of being. We are boundless souls, strong, with hearts like roaring furnaces.
I looked to the sky, and pondered that within any limitation is infinite freedom for the sentient being, and beyond limitation, that which was limited exists no longer, it is dead and gone, no longer defined by such edges.
Fences are just fences. Cliffs are just Cliffs. Walls are just walls.
Pain is just pain.
I took a side trip to the port-o-potty late in the race and narrowly avoided a very embarrassing “shart.” I needed all my mental faculties without having to carry stinky shame in my shorts and thus diminishing any grace or pride that I had left in my arduous and slow journey. My heart goes out to anyone who does shart, or entirely shit themselves during a marathon, for I can’t imagine the mental devices needed to deal with that brown badge of dedication, much less the itch would probably occur. They should have a $500 gift certificate waiting at the finish line for the worst shitter in a marathon, just to soften the blow. I think it probably happens in every race.
After I cleared my rumbling bowels, I had the last 4 miles ahead of me. Most of the people in my pace and after me were either older, injured, or brand new to the sport. But, we were all finishing.
I hobbled along in a slow and agonizing jog as the mental devices I used previously had lost their luster. My ankle had almost no power left and was in near static atrophy. I finally wrapped the ankle with an Ace bandage I had stowed in my underwear, which I had been saving for the entire race, and thus gave myself just enough of a spring in my foot to keep up a jog.
At this point, I looked to the heavens for support.
I was in too much pain to think about 3 more miles, the distance had become so stretched out at my new pace. My only hope was to remain in the present.
I almost never use my NOW watch as a reminder to stay in the moment. It’s more of a conversation catalyst to others these days since I am so used to it. In this marathon, however, I would stare at the watch, let my weary eyes focus, and say to myself, “God lives in the NOW, I am healed in the NOW, I am safe in the NOW, everything is infinite in the NOW.” I’d stray, I’d hurt, I’d begin to give up, and then I’d return to the watch and say the mantra once again.
The mantra gave me a new insight on mantras all together. As I heard Cheerleaders and volunteers yell the same thing to everyone that passed, “You’re doing great, keep it up. You’re doing an awesome job!” I never thought, “Pfft, they said that to the front runners and now they say it to me, and then they’ll say it to people in last place.” That was not the point, a mantra is a mantra, words have power. I allowed myself to feel the praise from others when it came and I allowed myself to give it as I passed people along the end of the journey.
1 mile remained. I imagined that if I was attacked by something wild at this point, my best bet would be to bite and scratch; there would be no kicking and my punches would be have little power behind them. It was a funny thought and made me grateful for the comforts of that marathon support team. My body kept moving up the final hills, my only device left was to remain in the moment, and keep that furnace burning a little longer.
I passed the sign that read “26,” meaning that the finish line was only a quarter mile away. I ignored the pain, and the tightness, and lengthened my stride, and ran as fast as possible to the end, for it was the first time in hours that I did not feel a thing and I had a wide and sincere smile upon my face as the noise and bustle of the finish line grew in my view. The crowd was cheering and I jumped into the throws of people at the terminus. As my foot hit the ground after my final joyous leap, it felt like entire sheet of foot skin became removed from my foot, it burned, but I was too high on my completion of the epic distance, that I tended to it none, and forgot about it in seconds.
The endorphins they tell you about are real, I was on cloud 9.
I got some ice and more ace bandages from the medical tent, gathered a stack of chocolate chip cookies and egg burritos, and sat down and bandaged my foot. Fellow runners and I sat along the side of the final tract and cheered on more and more finishers that came hobbling, running, walking, and jogging to deliverance.
I remembered that I almost did not accept this challenge, I remembered the unlikely circumstances that led to my being there, and in pain, barely able to walk, I said a deep and liberating “Thank you.”

Don’t Be a Sitting Duck: How to Nutritionally Arm Yourself

January 26, 2015

Can the tactics of the food industry be considered predatory with regards to their relationship with today’s consumers? I’ve never physically coerced in my adult life to purchase any food product against my will, nor have I seen such thuggery at the grocery store. Nonetheless, if a food salesman was to take advantage of an individual’s nutritional weakness, if they were to exploit a stressful situation, and if they had full knowledge that their product would do harm to their customer, then their relationship would have a predator and prey nature. The observation that predation exists in the marketplace is not meant to vilify said salesman nor is it meant to victimize the customer. It is, however, meant to illustrate reality in a way that elucidates the options available to both parties of this interaction. For if a predator does exist, it is in the prey’s best interest to prepare their defense or ultimately free themselves from the predatory dynamic altogether. With knowledge, practice, and preparation you may never again fall victim to exploition. Exploitive practices may still be there, but the weaknesses they relied upon may not.

In Michael Moss’s book,  “Salt, Sugar, Fat. How the Food Giants Hooked Us” he gives evidence of a food market where the consumer is living within a ubiquitous fog of government sanctioned misinformation and million dollar marketing strategies. The lures that shine to the hungry consumer amongst the fog of ignorance are food products that are designed to create return customers by virtue of their addictive qualities and their ability to satisfy the surface level cravings we all experience. The products sacrifice healthier causes of flavor like freshness, herbs, spices, and diverse ingredients for cheap illusions of quality in order to decrease costs yet increase sales.

In Moss’s interview with the Democracy Now he discusses the weaponization of the enticing treats from the analysis of their “bliss point”(the most satisfactory levels of sugar, for example) all the way to their prominent placement in food aisles and ease of consumption that appeal to busy moms or sugar loving kids. This is a great opportunity for sellers of empty calories and trash seeing as plastic, meat industry by-products, and corn derivatives are incredibly cheap right now due to a history of government favor. The results of the modern industrial food system and its proliferation have created a fat and unhealthy populace that are ripe for the picking by the pharmaceutical industry and any other industries that sell to the groggy, lazy and distracted demographic.

The overall situation points towards a future of lumbering, brain-dead citizens clocking in hours to get their little fixes while every institution from government to banking to ag to entertainment links their limitless desire for power to the ever consuming and working cash cow that is the nutrionally and educationally deprived consumer of today.

The individual and local situation on the other hand, is quite hopeful. It is a common reaction to a movie like FOOD Inc. or a book like “Salt, Sugar, Fat”  to feel fearful and overwhelmed, but thus is the burden of new knowledge. Once the anger or initial anxiety subsides only the awareness is left. And that is the first step. Upon such a realization of what certain foods do to you and where they come from, the consumer can no longer blame misinformation or lack of information for their sub-par health and diets of instant gratification and delayed consequences. Once the pandora’s box of nutrition awareness is opened it can not be closed and the consumer now has the understanding that they can take time to discern what is healthy and what is unhealthy, what is deeply fulfilling and what is a momentary rush.

I have purchased some meat products that I am fully aware come from abused animals. I have purchased sugary and starchy snacks that I am fully aware will give me a loose stool and low energy. I have purchased food products from companies that I am fully aware have no love for food and have only designed this product from food-like substances. At times I have consumed these things with reckless abandon, and at other times with shameful guilt. Awareness is only the first step, and though it will help make better eating choices, it will not liberate someone from their role as prey to the industrial food system.

In addition to knowledge, the consumer will need to arm themselves with practice on how to prepare a healthy meal. The consumer will need to discover new sources of nutrition and food whether it’s the produce section of the grocery store, the farmers’ market, or the garden. New habits are not created in a day, and therein lies to need to make diligent steps towards new ways of living. The best part is, all of these steps have their own instantly gratifying qualities. If cooking and shopping for healthy food turns out to be a horribly arduous process than the individual is free to give up knowing that they gave it a try.

Even with the excitement of a new lifestyle there will be a moment of weakness. On holidays, vacations, road trips, and empty bank accounts we become susceptible to a loss of momentum for our new habits. When those old habits are given in to the cravings of the weaponized food system once again take effect. Few have embarked on a healthy food journey without a few steps backward here and there. Learn, and move on.

This brings me to my third point: after you have attained the knowledge and the new practices – you will have to remain directly armed at all times. This is the most practical and direct advice of nutritional self-defense. Being prepared utilizes your first two new skills, knowledge and cooking, to make sure you are well fed, to make sure your belly is full of things that make you feel good, to make sure you are well equipped to experience the joys of good food as the ebbs and flows of life demand. Hunger is a weakness that is in your control, respect it as you walk the food marketplace.

Let us start with the joy of water. One of the best things to do for your diet is not drink calories. Hydration is the core of all of our health and drinking water arms you against cokes and gatorade and whatever else attracts you. Chug a glass of water at a restaurant and watch your coke craving diminish. Carry a bottle of water at all times.

And what about extended holidays, check out lanes, lunch at work, or other alleys waiting for the hungry consumer to hand out their dollars? Be well armed with a bag of nuts, carrots, hard boiled eggs, or kale chips. Be prepared and if you do decide to indulge, it will be a true celebration, not a moment of weakness.

The last point, indulgence, if you are going to go, go all out. Do not eat some shit candy bar, get the best dark chocolate out there. Bake a cake instead of buying a box of dead pastries. Enjoy the shit out of it! Who wants to spoil themselves anyways, instead learn to enjoy. To be spoiled is to be rotten, slow, degraded, to be passionate in your indulgence is to be choosy, learned, and aware.

Love Food and Stay Free.

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