Category Archives: Life of BetheBoy

A Challenging Thing I’ll Probably Do Again: Will Runs The LA Marathon Take Two

In late 2010 I was in the worst physical condition of my life thanks to steady diet of whiskey and cake coupled with a lack of physical activity. That September I went to see my doctor; after a physical and some blood work she called me with the bad news I expected. In addition to being overweight my blood work indicated several early warning signs for future health problems. Since my father had passed away from heart failure at age 54 the previous year I decided that I was going to try to turn things around while there was still time.

My doctor had a few recommendations but the one that seemed most reasonable to me was getting regular exercise.  I decided to try running even though I had not so much as jogged since childhood. I bought a pair of running shoes and track pants and then I headed out before dawn one morning and ran. I ran as fast and as long as I could and 23 seconds later I was out of breath on the sidewalk. Somehow, years of eating poorly and smoking had not prepared me for athletics.

Despite my lack of early success I stuck with it, eventually completing the Couch to 5K program (which I highly recommend). In early 2011 I ran my first official 5K and over the next year I continued to train ran several more races including 2 half marathons. I continued to train and run longer distances, then in March 2012 I took it even further and ran the LA Marathon.

My first marathon was tough, I had pulled a muscle late in my training that bothered me the entire race making it difficult and painful to run. After mile 19 I was unable to run at all but I kept going. Slowly and with my wife and friends walking beside me for the last 4 miles I finished. Sure it took me nearly 6 and a half hours but I finished a marathon. I was proud of what I had accomplished but for months afterward I wondered how the race would have gone had I not been hurt.

In late 2012 I started training for the 2013 LA Marathon with two goals in mind: Get in race shape and more importantly get to the starting line injury free. After training for several months I didn’t quite feel in race shape. Thanks to getting sick twice in the last month of training I missed several key training runs leaving me feeling less than confident but I was not hurt so I was already ahead of the previous year.

Yesterday I woke up at 3 AM, got dressed for running, parked my car at the finish line and then took a bus to the start of the race 26.2 Miles away. The LA Marathon starts at Dodger Stadium and ends at the Santa Monica Pier so imagine that you’re going to a Dodger game and you have the worst imaginable parking spot but you absolutely have to make it back to your car and you understand what the marathon is like.

If you’ve never run a big marathon the scene at the start is hard to imagine but picture 24,000 crazy people all looking for a bathroom at once before dawn and you’ll get the idea. Once all of those people get lined up it’s time to run but getting 24,000 people across the starting line takes time. The race began, then six minutes later I cross the start line and started to run at an easy pace out of the stadium complex, into the streets of LA and followed the crowd downtown. For the first five miles I took in easy, stopping to walk the steep hills and picking up the pace on the downhill and flat sections. Five miles in and no signs of pain or difficulty.

Many races allow runners to personalize race bibs so I chose to put the words “Likes Cake” on mine which let to spectators yelling “I like cake too!” as I went past.

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I continued to keep a steady pace through mile 12 when I spotted my wife and some of our friends waiting to cheer me on.

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At mile 13 another friend slowed me  down long enough to take this picture.

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After 13 miles I was getting tired; my right knee and both hips were tightening up but I kept moving as fast as I could taking only brief walk breaks for hydration and a quick protein bar until mile 16 when I stopped to stretch my legs to loosen up the tightness.

By mile 17 I had been running for more than three hours and my best running was behind me, I walked and jogged the 17th mile and this was the point where for me, the race became more of a mental challenge than a physical one. I knew that I could continue to move my body towards the finish line the only question was would I and at what speed. Up until this point in the race I had been listening to podcasts but at mile 18 I switched to a music playlist and adopted a walk one song, run one song strategy which kept me going through miles 19, 20 and 21. On the walk breaks I was checking in with my wife via text messages as she dealt with public transportation problems cause by road closures on her journey to meet me at the finish line. I also discovered that the updates that should have been going out as I crossed select mile markers weren’t happening. On a walk break I quickly tweeted: “Mile 22, beat but still moving.” and kept going.

On the next walk break I checked my phone and saw people encouraging me via Twitter and text message, this was a big help. I also saw messages from people who had been on the course to cheer me on. At mile 24 I got another boost of encouragement from a friend and her baby who were there to see me pass by.

At mile 25 I turned off the music, reached into whatever physical and mental reserve I had left and started to run; slowly at first but then a little faster. At about 25.5 miles I went around the last turn into the final stretch. I ran faster and soon I could see the finish line. The crowds along the sidelines got bigger and much louder as every runner pushed themselves towards the finish line. Someone on the sideline yelled “three minutes until cake” to me and I kept on running. I was going to make it.

Just before the finish line I heard my wife yell my name and saw her running down the sidewalk along with me. Then I lost her in the crowd. At 50 yards to go I looked up at the finish line and and ran as fast I was still able to until I finally crossed it, a little more than five hours after I started. I collected my finisher medal and went to find my wife.

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So how do I feel today? Well I’m sore but not injured. I will never be the fastest runner but I am proud of the fact that I’ve gone from being unhealthy to being a two time marathon finisher in 2 and a half years. Cutting more than an hour off of my previous time also feels pretty good and my official time of 5:12 gives me a new goal of a sub five hour finish next time because there will be a next time. Only 365 more days until the 2014 marathon.

Thank you to everyone who supported and cheered me on yesterday. I could not have made it to the finish without you.

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Talking About Practice

This is the first photo ever taken of my wife Nina and I together. It was taken six years ago last night prior to what was at the time referred to as a practice date.

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Most people have never been on a practice date, I never had before this one and I’ve never been on one since, but it was our attempt to minimize the risk of going from being friends to dating. We agreed that we would go on a casual risk free date and if it didn’t work we could abort the whole idea and continue being friends.

In retrospect, the fact that I was in her home prior to the date and we were posing for photos should have clued me in on the fact that she might have been leaning towards things working out between us.

Last night my wife was working and I wasn’t feeling well so I went to bed without realizing that on that same evening in the past, seemingly a lifetime ago, we posed for this photo and then left the house with no idea what we were starting.

Note: That thing behind us is Daisy J. Dog’s crate.

Secondary Note: She paid for the practice date, I paid for the first real date.

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Spilling It

A few months ago I decided that I wanted to resume posting on this blog, which had been dormant for about a year after being active since 2003. Before I started what has become a very sporadic posting schedule I went through the archive and realized that I didn’t like a lot of what I was reading. There is a reason for this; for the first few years that this thing was a going concern I was dealing with depression and not dealing with it well at all.

I did a lot of things wrong during that time but one of the primary mistakes I made was making my world small. I withdrew from people and pushed other people away until I found myself alone and more miserable than I have ever been in my life. Even today it is hard to describe how I felt back then but the best way I can describe it is that I felt a heaviness on my life, like a sad weight that I carried around with me everywhere for years until I was unable to do the things the right way anymore.

The heaviness I used to carry with me feels like ancient history, so much so that after reading through the past I found it hard to recognize myself. Because of this I decided to archive the first few years worth of posts. The are not erased, they are just hidden where they can’t make me angry at myself.

I was thinking of those hidden posts tonight as I stood over spilled hot chocolate in a restaurant. I had gone out to get food and hot chocolate because for the last few days I’ve been feeling the heaviness again. When I feel bad I like to eat take out food and drink hot chocolate, actually I like to do these things all the time but even more so when I feel down. Today I really needed these small comforts and one of them ended up on the floor. This was not the end of the world though thanks to having learned a little bit from my past. Earlier in the day I had done something that old me would never have done: I told people that I was feeling down. So as I stood there holding my dinner in a puddle of spilled hot chocolate I didn’t feel alone.

The heaviness will not bring me down again. I will out-think this thing faster and easier than I did before. The fact that I am telling you about it without having to dismantle my life first is a positive sign. The fact that I laughed over seeing my favorite beverage on the floor is another good sign.

I’m going to be fine. Thanks for listening.

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Thinking Out Loud Mile After Mile

Over the last month I’ve begun training to run The 2013 LA Marathon. This will be my second marathon, I ran it for the first time in March with a strained muscle that forced me to walk the last seven miles. I didn’t strain the muscle during the race, I started the race with it and just kept going. I was unable to run after mile 19 but I had gone too far to give up; I wrote about it at the time here.  This year I want to run the whole thing and hopefully finish in under 5 hours.

The actual race details don’t really matter. The main thing that I learned from running it the first time is that for me a marathon isn’t about the race, it’s about building up to run the race. It’s about going out 4 days a week and running until I can run farther than I ever thought possible when I was a kid in physical therapy learning to simply walk. I have come so far from being a kid in physical therapy, and a kid who needed surgery to help me walk properly that I forget that kid ever existed.

A few days ago I found myself ready to quit halfway through a Spartan Race. I finished (so did my wife who wrote about it) but I was disappointed that I didn’t finish stronger. I know I should be happy that I finished but I wanted to do better. This morning I got back on the road for the first time since the Spartan Race and slowly made my way across several miles until I felt better. It’s not that I want to run away from my younger self, I just want to know that I’m still going forward.

As long as I’m going forward I feel as if I am building towards something that once felt impossible.

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The Other Important Thing About Election Day

As you already know it is Election Day here in the US.; if you can vote, I hope that you have. I’m not here to say anything about politics. I’ve already had my say and cast my ballot. Like the rest of America I am now awaiting the results. Instead of adding to the political noise I’d like to share something that is important to me.

You may not know this, but my wife Nina and I met for the very first time on Election Day in 2006. I was a different person then but thankfully she was the same wonderful person than that she is today. I was in the process of rebuilding a broken life when we met but I must have done something right because we obviously saw each other again.

Here are four facts about that first meeting:

1. It was a planned meeting and I gave myself an hour to drive 6 miles to meet her. I did not want to get caught in any Election Day traffic jams.

2. Because Election Day traffic is not a thing I was very early, a fact that made me very self conscious, so…in a moment of questionable thinking I decided to hide in the bathroom until after scheduled meeting time. This means I made a fashionably late dramatic appearance…from the bathroom. Nothing says this guys a keeper quite like “I was just hanging out in the bathroom for 20 minutes.”

3. We had fun but she made it 100% clear that we were not on a date. I knew this and was fine with this fact.

4. We got engaged 53 days later.

This morning we celebrated our first meeting by going on a voting date.

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Me, Doing Stuff On The Radio

So remember a few weeks ago when i said i was going to be blogging regularly again? I meant that but out in the world events conspired against me, in a positive way. Basically my side project A Year of Billy Joel blew up, in a good way, and it’s been taking up all of my spare time.

Last night I was on WGN Radio discussing that project and you can listen to what I had to say here.

Thanks to host Bill Leff, his producer Dan and WGN for having me on. More to come here soon.

P.S. – My wife has something to say about what happened after the show.

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5 Days

For the last five days I’ve been on my own. Nina has been in Chicago leaving Daisy and I home alone to fend for ourselves.

Since late last week, without any help, I’ve managed to eat like a grown up, follow my normal workout schedule and more importantly not fall into terrible depression when left alone. Basically I’ve been getting work done and spending quality time with my dog.

For those of you who have known me for a while this is a nice change of pace compared to the way I used to fall apart when left alone. This feels like a nice, like I’ve accidentally stumbled into not feeling or acting like a dope.  I’m not sure exactly how this happened but I’ve been trying to enjoy it.

 

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Dogs and Cats and Doing Good Things

Yesterday I was reading something that Julie Klausner wrote about pets and the things we learn about ourselves through caring for them and what we learn from saying goodbye to them. You should read it, because Julie is great and so are her pets.

Reading that article reminded me of two things: The fact that my pit bull Daisy is my best friend in the world and that I would gladly give up years off of my life if I could give that time to my her. This may sound crazy but you have to understand that my life was a pile of garbage until Nina and Daisy showed up. Statistically speaking, Nina will outlive me so she doesn’t need my years but my dog is unlikely to outlive me.

I realize that I am unable to transfer my time to another living thing, no matter how much I want to. Someday I will have to say goodbye to my dog, who is already 12 years old and has already battled cancer (and won). For me, the best way to deal my dog’s mortality is to think of every day I have with her as a gift and to act accordingly.  I also take a lot of pictures. Like these:

My wife is the more practical (less crazy) person in our marriage. Caring for pit bulls and changing perceptions about them is her passion. My wife loves Daisy as much as I do but she is better prepared to handle the things I have trouble with; she says that saying goodbye is the price we pay for the unconditional love we get from our pets. I know she is right but I’d rather we all just live together for another 50 years. Until this is possible we will just try to take care of our dog and help as many other dogs as we can. One of the ways my wife is working to help other dogs is by dedicating her upcoming 40th birthday to raising money for homeless dogs; you can read more about it here.  We think this is a really great cause and if you can help, even by just spreading the word, it would be greatly appreciated.  Here’s that link again.

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What Happens Now

My motto these days is: “Great, what’s next?”

While I didn’t realize it at the time, I spent a good portion of my late 20’s and the early part of my 30’s not moving my life forward. At the time I was mainly concerned with survival and getting my act together; these are very important things but they took up all of my energy. I’m making up for lost time now by working on getting back to school, getting in shape, running races and most of all being the kind of person I want to be.

This is great, but what’s next?

There are a lot of things I want to try, many of which frighten me. I’ve talked to my wife about skydiving but that is a short-term adrenaline rush, not a sustainable habit. I may do that but I’m more interested in finding more challenging races like The Tough Mudder we ran a few weeks ago because the training helps to develops positive habits and I’ve rebuilt my life over the past 6 years by developing repeatable positive habits. Over the next several months my wife and I will be running a number of races, some are regular road races and some involve running through fire. Then in March 2013 I am going to once again take on the LA Marathon. I finished it last year and I can do it again.

These races are great but what’s next?

I’ve been working on other positive habits? Even before I restarted this blog I was writing almost every day through a project called A Year of Billy Joel where I tackle to complete works of my least favorite artist and tell a few stories along the way. How is it going? You may be surprised.

The Billy Joel thing is fun but it can’t last forever so I’m laying the groundwork of things I can do when it’s done. I think it’s important for me to continue writing regularly and telling stories. I began a story project last year that unfortunately has gotten slowed down but I’d like to revive that soon. Ideally that project will be the place where I talk about what things used to be like and this blog will be where I talk about what things are like now. Then I’d like to take that further and challenge myself to share the stories I have to tell outside of blogging. That might involve podcasting, getting up in front of people and telling stories or some unforeseen method. I’m not sure how that is going to work but I’m saying it publicly in order to leave a trail of accountability; hold me to this stuff. If you seem me getting stuck you have my permission to do whatever it takes to get me moving again.

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Going Forward

As you may know already, blogging and I are getting back together. So, now what?

Well if it’s anything like the times I’ve gotten back together with people I’ve been with and broken up with, it’s going to be GREAT…at first. They we’ll hit a bump that will remind us of why we ended things in the first place. From there we can either work it out or burn the whole thing to the ground. While I cannot predict the future I can tell you that the scorched earth option is pretty remote; I just don’t trash my own life the way I used to.

Learning to not hit the self destruct button on my life has been a gradual process. Like most important things I’ve learned, it took me much longer to learn this lesson than it should have.  When I feel charitable towards myself I say that my life has a prolonged learning curve built into it but more accurately, I had a history of being afraid to make big changes because they seemed overwhelming. Over the years I have worked on this problem and I feel like I have learned to look for solutions to problems rather than easy ways to escape them.

Thanks to having a willingness to change a lot has gotten better in my life since you last saw me here regularly. These positive changes required work that initially seemed daunting but what else was I doing besides getting older?  For example, take the change in my overall health. Two years ago I was overweight and out of shape. I wanted to get healthier but the suggestions my doctor had given me all involved eating better, not drinking and physical activity. No thanks doctor, I’ll just do nothing and drop dead. I figured it had worked for me long enough, except it hadn’t.

One morning I woke up before dawn, put on sneakers and ran until I couldn’t run any further…a whole 27 seconds. It was a start and I kept at it, going just a little further each time.

18 months later I completed a marathon.

I’m not saying this to brag, I’m just giving you an example of how I  did something I believed was impossible because I’m going to try it again, this time with something I have been putting off for the last decade. I’m going back to school to complete a degree I should have finished a long time ago. This is something that seemed like an insurmountable obstacle just a few days ago but thanks to meeting with an admissions counselor I now have a plan to get the process started. There is still a lot to do before I can begin classes but things are moving forward a little bit at a time. This will be like training for the marathon all over again but with a different medal at the finish line.

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