Friday, November 25, 2016

When You Can't Be Thankful

Sure, I'm thankful for the usual things. Being healthy enough to exercise every day. Living in a place that's not a snowbank. Gorging myself on too much food. Having people I love who mysteriously tolerate me.

What I'm not thankful for is watching friends suffer. Watching them die.

I've written about my friend Brian before. I ran Wineglass and Baltimore Marathon with him. He has COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and it will kill him. He can no longer do any of the things that matter to him. He can't work. He can't play music.

He can't run.

With some difficulty, we got Brian up here to spend Thanksgiving with us. He was looking forward to it for weeks. It was the only thing he had to look forward to. Thanksgiving was yesterday. I drove him back to his car in Corning this morning. I have no clue what, if anything, he has to look forward to now. Even worse, he thinks I don't like him anymore; that I resent him.

The worst though is that he's not 100% wrong.

I'm not a good person. I'm selfish. It's why I lost all my girlfriends. I care too much about myself. I'm not good at dealing with someone else's pain and suffering every day. Every. Single. Day. I tried with Pixie. I tried really hard. I loved her (I still love her) and wanted to do whatever I could for her. Right until I didn't.

Here's a distraction.

Geoffrey, Meghan, and I are pretty much the only people Brian has. His own family didn't even invite him for Thanksgiving. He wants me to say "Good Night" to him every single night. He often messages during the night. And first thing in the morning, while I'm doing my deadlifts. While I'm driving. While I'm at work. I come back to messages after my run or bike ride or whatever I do after work.

And I know why. It's because he's scared. Rightfully so. Every message may be his last. Every night he goes to bed may be his last (not that he gets any sleep whatsoever). This Thanksgiving may have been the last time he got to see any of us. And as much as I want to ignore how I feel and just always been there for him - no matter what - until the bitter end, I can't. Because, turns out, being the only solace for a dying man is brutally f@#king hard.

When I first started writing this, I was going to maybe spin it slightly in an optimistic direction. Maybe throw in some inspirational $hit. Then I decided I didn't feel like writing a bunch of lies.

Another distraction... This one's a "thinker"

Brian tells us not to pity him. But when we invited him to Thanksgiving, that's exactly what it was: pity. We feel bad. When I hang out with friends, we have adventures. We play board games. We go to a show. We run through snowy woods and across frozen creeks to our favorite brewery (or used to). I don't want to help a friend up a flight of stairs while pretending to empathize about how hard it is to breath. I don't do that because it's fun. It's because I have to.

I'm a shitty friend. Just a no good awful friend. And I know exactly what Brian will say. That I'm not. That I've been an amazing friend and that I've always been there for him and that I ran marathons and came to his house and listened to him every day when he struggled and that I'm one of the few people who care.

What it really comes down to is that I internalize pain and anger. I redirect it at myself. I can't actually do anything for Brian. Talking to him is nice, but it does zero to ease his pain. Sure, it makes the time he has left more tolerable, but that's small comfort to me. And because I'm not a magical wizard and I can't magically make him healthy, I f@^king hate myself for it.

It's the problem I've always had with myself. Impossible expectations of myself that I can't ever possibly reach, followed by self-loathing when I inevitably fail. Painted over with fake smiles in photos. Good times, that.

Distraction time!

I was wrong, I am thankful for something. I'm thankful for Brian, for putting me into a place that's far outside of my comfort zone. That's the only way I grow and learn. It's the only way I become a better person. All the trash above is catharsis. I'm not going to jump back into a whisky bottle or gallon of ice cream. You don't have to worry about me.

A lot of people say Brian is an inspiration. Because he is. But I'm just as crazy as he is. It doesn't matter how broken I am, I still run. But what Brian has done for me exceeds mere inspiration. He has laid bare my demons for me. A lot of people abandon him, and I understand why now. It's not being put face-to-face with one's own mortality. Or being inconvenienced. It's because it's freaking terrifying.

Yup... crazy

Having your own insecurities and weaknesses smashed into your face is hard. But I don't want to run away from them. It's why I write all the stuff above that portrays me as a selfish and awful person. Because I have to smash myself into pieces first before I can put those pieces back together again into something better. Like breaking apart a lego castle with, just, way too many buttresses because it's too top-heavy.

Of course, it's just like my selfishness to write a post that's all about me. Me me me. Brian's dying and all I can do is whine about my feels. And it wasn't all bad. We had an amazing game of Cards Against Humanity yesterday. We all laughed uproariously. It was a great evening among friends.

For a brief period during that game, we escaped pain, we escaped fear, we escaped despair. We escaped ourselves.

And we ate an absurd amount of pie, ice cream, and chocolates. Geoffrey, Meghan, Brian, Aria... they made me feel like a part of a family. They made me feel loved. I'm eternally grateful to them.

Life isn't ALL bad...

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


I read this interesting article recently about competitiveness. Take a look if you like reading things:

If you don't like reading things - except for my things of course - here's the gist: Competition makes you work harder. The folks in the study mentioned in the article trained way more when they were competing against others. Even more fascinating, the folks who were in a friendly and supportive classroom environment worked out less.

I'll talk about the first thing first. I've always been competitive. I pretend not to be. I try not to be. But I am. I'm a terrible person to play board games against. Which sucks because I'm a nerd and I like board games. One of my ex-girlfriends actually smacked me once because I was winning too much. Like, not playfully.

I'm definitely competitive when it comes to exercise as well. I'm inspired and impressed by my friends and their amazing achievements. But I also challenge myself to push myself even harder. Competitiveness isn't a bad thing inherently. It could be. But that's where experience comes in.

When it comes to board games, I can be competitive without being a douchebag. I'm still working on that. When it comes to exercise, I can be competitive without breaking myself. I'm, um, still working on that too.

But I'm getting better at both things!

Just... maybe don't talk to me if I've just lost Settlers of Catan
Photo cr. Marc Ryan

Some folks aren't competitive, and that's fine. But having a goal to conquer will definitely motivate you to push yourself more. And if you don't have any races scheduled, then being part of an athletic community can help motivate you. As long as you choose to be motivated and not discouraged by the performance of others. Maybe you don't run as fast as others, but maybe you can run farther! Or maybe with more elevation! Or maybe even with just brighter socks. Whatever it takes!

I've mentioned in other posts the importance of friends and community. This is one such reason. Friendly competition can help everyone achieve better results. It's not about being "better" than others, or about "winning". It's about pushing yourself. And boasting about your own accomplishments makes you feel good and encourages others to push themselves as well. And in this way you and your friends all get stronger. Just be careful not to burn yourself out!

The second part of the study was really interesting too. If you're in a classroom, or a community, that's too supportive, it's actually a detriment. In the same way that a group of people can bring one another up, they can also bring one another down. This isn't done maliciously. But we can all relate to losing motivation and will forgive one another for doing so. But too much of this can make giving up "OK".

While it's important to not overtrain or cause yourself injury, having pals who are too "nice" to you can hamper your progress. This means when you're looking for people to workout with, or just to connect with, look for the ones who are crazy. Even if they scare you a little, or you don't think you can measure up (at first!). These are the folks who will make you want to work harder. Don't intentionally hamper yourself by only spending time with folks who say, "it's ok you missed your workout, let's go get cupcakes."

"I ate all the food and did nothing today. Please tell me that's OK."

I mean, cupcakes are delicious. But they're a reward, not a consolation prize.

I've mentioned a few times not to burn yourself out. Only you know what your limits are. It takes experience to learn when to push yourself, and when to ease up. And even though some competitiveness will inspire you to work harder, too much can cause you to hurt yourself. Don't quit if this happens. Take a break and then come back stronger than ever. Let your friends know you will be back kicking a$$ in no time!

Be conscientious of yourself and the people around you. Sometimes we look to punish ourselves by taking on too much. Other times we deliberately hamstring ourselves by hanging out with friends who encourage our laziness. Be aware of both. Find a balance and find a community that lets you progress consistently.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Dealing With the Election

I had a post written up for today, but I'll save it for next week. I'm going to write something else now.

I lift every day, and have the calluses to prove it. I batter my body running, swimming, and biking. I've been training martial arts for most of my life. I don't fear pain; I embrace it. I rode a motorcycle for many years. I own several guns. I think lumberjacks are awesome. A kilt is part of my regular wardrobe.

I've hurt people. For a long time I was selfish, judgmental, and self-centered. I drank, I took advantage of women, and I constantly sought pleasure. I didn't have many values and mostly cared for myself. I was an asshole.

Given that background, here is the most important thing I've discovered about life. It is this.


A lot of my friends are suffering today. They are sad, scared, and angry. Fear and anger is a big reason why Trump was elected. But those same friends are what help me get through today, and every other day. The people I love is what brings joy to my life. I know many of them are in pain and I'm sorry for that. But I want them - I want you - to know that you are the ones who make this world amazing.

I didn't delete any friends today. I don't care how anybody voted. Because unless someone purposefully injures me, I'm not going to kick them out of my life for their opinions, or difference thereof. I've done that before, and the only person it hurt was me.

I'm not a woman. I'm not African American, or Hispanic, or Muslim. I'm not gay or bisexual (although sometimes people think I am!). It would be unfair of me to pretend to understand what these folks are going through today. And I don't mean to trivialize their feelings. Some of them have very legitimate fears. The suffering they go through comes from a lack of understanding and a lack of compassion from others.

I don't want to contribute to that pool of anger or close-mindedness. Judging someone for how they voted isn't much different from judging them for the color of their skin, their religion, or their sexual orientation. Maybe you don't agree and that's OK. Maybe you feel their vote was a direct statement against who you are. We're all human. We're not inherently evil. We don't do things out of deliberate hatred or spite. Confusion, fear, anger, misguidedness, yes. But I choose to believe that we're inherently loving.

I get scared too. I don't know what my future holds, and that's frightening. I push myself every day to the brink of injury, and that's frightening. I often feel alone, and that's frightening. But I remind myself every day that what rescues me from that fear is love. The love I feel for others and the love they generously give to me.

Love may not fix all of the world's ills. But many of the problems out there come from a lack of compassion. A lack of sympathy. A lack of appreciation. It's easier to dismiss someone who's different than to try to understand them. It's easier to think of someone as "bad" than to say, "how am I similar to this person." Because when I see rage, pain, and bitterness, I see a reflection of how I feel sometimes. I'm done lying to myself. I'm not going to pretend that I'm better. I'm not.

But I want to love. I want love in my life. And I hope that, by some small measure, I can help others feel better by giving them my love.

Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Don't Fear Pain

My body is totally nuked. My legs are devastated. I ran a 10K Sunday with a bunch of friends and it had a massive steep hill in the middle. I can't understate how smash-tastic this hill was. It started out steep, and then it hit a graveled seasonal road that was even steeper. And then you think you're done but then it keeps going. And then you think you're done. But then you're still not.

It hurt a lot.

I'm in the middle of my deadlift challenge, which hammers my legs. And I'm still swimming, biking, and running. Geoffrey tells me that I'm exercising way too much and I don't rest enough. He's a coach so he should know (check out his new page!). But I don't know what I can take out. The lifting challenge is important to me. But I can't cut the cardio because I'm doing an Ironman next year.

So.... Pain it is.

A lot of pain.

I don't advocate training to the point of injury. Or past it. I've done that before. It's not a good idea. I don't even recommend folks exercise as much as I do. I know I'm not being "smart". I'm terrible at following my own advice.

But I'm a big fan of pain.
And I have this in case I forget.
Even before I became a lunatic endurance athlete and lifter, I trained karate (and still do). I started karate 20 years ago. I've suffered bumps, bruises, pulled muscles and tendons, minor fractures, and probably a concussion in there somewhere. I've always been comfortable with pain, and exercise was a natural progression from that.

Pain makes me feel powerful.

That may sound weird, but hear me out. A lot of folks don't like pain. They go through life avoiding it. And by doing so they never really find out what their limits are. I push myself to my limit almost every day. And that limit increases a little every time. I discover how much I can handle, and I watch what I can handle keep growing.

One more thing handled...

I'm a big fan of superhero shows on Netflix. Right now I'm watching Arrow, and it's actually pretty great. He takes a beating in that show. Regularly. I like Daredevil a lot too, and he takes a huge beating all the time too. One may wonder, how can someone take so much punishment and keep on going?

I know how.

And the two examples above are "normal" guys (at least in the sense that they can't fly or shoot lasers out their butts). I can't do a backflip (last time I tried I landed on my face). And just my luck I'd go up against the one guy who didn't go to the Stormtrooper Academy of Shooting. But I can take a heap of punishment, and then do it all over again the next day.

And that's what their strength is: Perseverance. Never stopping in the face of adversity. And a big dose of loving pain.

I can't do what I do without enjoying pain to some extent. But it's not a natural thing, not for most people. It's something you have to learn. I've reprogrammed my brain to equate pain with power. And of course my brain loves the rewards (typically ice cream). I've taught my mushy lazy mind that pain equals good.

Pain = Good

Life is hard. And it never stops being hard. If it's not hard, then you're not pushing yourself enough. But when I look at a challenge, I can say to myself, "this isn't as tough as a 20 mile run, or a set of deadlifts at 350 pounds." Pain makes a lot of things seem a lot easier in comparison.

I don't take things personally. Well, OK, I do. What I mean is that I don't act out of anger. I have hurt people, and they have hurt me back. I don't want to hurt people anymore, and I make a big effort not to. But I don't react negatively if they hurt me. Because that's a thing that happens. And it's a thing I can handle. I can have a difficult conversation with a loved one, and not be scared.

I stare into the face of fear every day. Nobody else is going to push me into the abyss. Push me to make that leap and face that fear head on. Only I can do that to myself. It's easy not to. Really easy. A lot of folks make that choice. They just sort of float. Work their job every day, live in comfort, get fat. A lot of those same folks end up wondering if they could've done more with their lives. By then it's often too late.

I don't want to be that person. I consider myself blessed that I've learned to push myself this hard - and to enjoy pain - at a relatively young age. I still have a lot of time to find joy and success. And that's exciting! I've got the skill down of not surrendering. At this point it's just a matter of fine-tuning how I direct my energy.

There's all sorts of ways to direct one's energy...

That's not easy either. The navigating part. Life is crazy. Waaaay crazy. I don't know if you've checked, but yeah. It's bonkers. But I'm not afraid of that part. I've built my boat. It's just a matter of sailing now. There's plenty of folks still on the shore, staring out over the sea and wondering. But I'm out there on the tempestuous waves, braving the storms.

It's scary. And it's painful. But it's exciting. I don't know where I'll end up, but the trip itself is an adventure.

Life is pain. Love it.