Vacation Elixer AKA How to Become a Person Who Juices Good

Happy Independence Day!

Today’s holiday falls on a Tuesday, and that means, like some of us, I had the opportunity for an entire Monday’s worth of, ‘What to do?’ since my schedule permitted that day off.

I’d already physically exerted myself hiking in Yosemite over the course of a day, but that’s another entry.

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But during our stay, we kept company with the audiobook Eat & Run by ultra running legend Scott Jurek.

The “eat” part of that title? All the legumes, pilaf, raw avocado tacos, and heaping kale salads you might not know you really want.

And though he never mentioned juicing, he did get into the paragon of this whole healthy eating business: getting rid of toxins.

How do you do that? Well, blog science says, juicing.

I’ll be honest. I don’t really buy the whole certain things flush toxins business. I think your body is fairly capable of doing the work that a proposed pinch of turmeric is supposed to. (Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what I buy, since, not a nutritionist, here. But that’s just to say I keep a health dose of skepticism in my back pocket.) What I DO buy is that a positive mindset is transformative, and that being mindful of your intake and lifestyle can help you cultivate a happy you. (And I do think certain foods are more conducive to energizing you than others.)

That said, this past year has been a ‘journey’ (top word tainted by lifestyle influencers) back to a more healthful ‘this person’. I started with exercise, of which I now do about three miles per day in running and then other strength work. Now, it was time to give my diet some attention. Jurek’s inspiration pushed me to finally get to it. I’d start with this juicing thing, because basically, it seemed kinda fun.

I had been toying with diving back into juicing for a long while now. I’d lived with people who allowed me to use their juicers, and had juiced carrots until I developed a lovely beta carotene hue (another day). But, after knowing what it entailed, I never felt like it was worth the time or finances to finally strike out on my own. First, there’s the gear. Which one’s good for the money? Will I even use it daily? Will it just end up sitting there? Then, you have to spend on your vegetables knowing that most of the fiber goes to compost. Is juicing totally wasteful? This article thinks so.

And there’s the cleanup. You’ve finally made it to step three, and then you have to do more work, all, again, to just dump most of it in your garden.

I decided, the best way to do this was low maintenance. I’d ease into this potential juicing habit. I’d go lower grade. And, *gasp*. I wouldn’t dive into the billion-dollar organic industry. (If your goal is to avoid pesticides, you should probably just start a garden.)

So Monday, I woke up, and went out in the world to find my perfect juicer (AKA the cheapest thing that works good.) Follow along as I guide you through,

~My Juicing Journey~

Step one: Choose your juicer.

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The best way to choose your juicer is not the way I did it. I was running on the whimsy of idealism and audiobook brainwashing, and kind of just went out on my search. You’ll probably want to do some googling, and some redditing, and some Facebook-statusing, and finally come to the conclusion that you should get the Breville.

Why didn’t I get the Breville? Well, as I was perusing the $150 price tag at Bed Bath while clutching my 20% off coupon, I wondered if I could do better, since I wasn’t a Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead-person (those signs were all over every juicer aka. JUICING WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE AKA.). So I wandered over to the Target next door, and found their selection of budget goods, including their Hamilton Beach $60 juicer. (It’s on Amazon for $50.)

Since Target wants to monitor your digital footprint and blocks your data service, I connected to their WiFi and let them watch as I googled “Breville v. Hamilton Beach.”

I found this lady.

The kicker was when she had to re-juice the kale using the Breville. My conclusion or thing I found myself asking, was, so basically, kale is harder to juice in Centrifugal Juicers? (I also found out there are several types of juicers in my impromptu web-browsing.)

I went with the Hamilton Beach Big Mouth Juice Extracter, knowing it was more plastic-er, but knowing it was just as loud, and squeezed just as much of that green kale juice out.

Pro-er tip: Get plastic bags to put in the pulp disposal bucket to make cleanup easier.

Step two: Choose your storage containers.

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Storage containers, whaaat?

I decided, if I was going to go to the trouble of juicing and cleaning, I’d have to make more of the stuff at once. So I pulled out my trusty phone again, and found the above milk bottles at Michaels. I took a stroll over there, and also found out they had a 40% Fourth of July coupon online.

I walked out of there with a half-dozen bottles for $6.50.

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FYI they fit just about perfectly under the spout. You’ll have to tilt the bottle a bit to fit it under, but since the bottle also goes over the spout a bit, that helps to cover any juice that might spray, since it will hit the neck of the bottle instead.

I may upgrade to something like these, but then I would have to use a separate catch for the juice because they’re taller. The milk bottles I got also look easier to clean.

Step three: Profit.

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I’m sort of skipping the shopping for the fruits and veggies bit, since I didn’t really have a clear plan here. I’d juiced before and knew that you could combine certain things and they would taste good. So my last stop before I headed home to experiment was Trader Joe’s. Still on my whimsy kick, I picked up a bag of apples, a bag of oranges, mint, ginger, a few lemons, celery, kale, carrots, and some other things.

And then I got home and got to work. I opened my juicer, cleaned it, and cleaned my fruits and vegetables, and my six bottles.

I tested it on an orange, and it tasted pretty fine. Then I made something with apple, kale, lemon, and ginger, and that tasted good, too, if not a little sweet, so I’d go with that for my bottled fare. I only had four apples left, though, so I’d have to make an orange concoction out for the other two bottles.

Here are the two recipes I decided on.

1. Apple Ginger Lemon Kale

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Ingredients

  • One apple, quartered
  • Three handfuls of kale (that’s about how much I used)
  • One thin slice of ginger (one of those slices above)
  • One thin slice of lemon (same, one of those slices above)

Directions

  1. Put your bottle or container under the spout. (Duh, but, just a friendly reminder.)
  2. Put one slice of apple through the feed tube, and put a handful kale on top. Use your plastic pusher-thing (I cannot for the life of me think of its name right now) to push them down.
  3. Put an apple in with your lemon and ginger pieces. Juice.
  4. Continue with the other two slices of apple with kale on top of each.

Yield: about half a bottle of juice.

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As you can see, it’s pretty frothy at the top. You’ll have to shake before you drink.

You can double the recipe for a more potent serving, but since I had already tried it and the sweetness lingered pretty long, I decided to top my juice off with filtered water.

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You can see that it still looks pretty full and green. But like I said, if you prefer that potent shot, leave as is, or double your recipe.

2. Orange Carrot Ginger Lemon Kale

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As you can see, I’m a great peeler. The kale and carrots are missing from this photo, and the lemon slices were waning.

Ingredients

  • Two small navel oranges, peeled and halved
  • Several handfuls of kale (I’m not sure how much I used here)
  • Five baby carrots
  • One thin slice of ginger (one of those slices above)
  • One thin slice of lemon (same, one of those slices above)

Directions

  1. You know where that bottle or container goes.
  2. Put one orange slice through the feed tube, and put a handful kale on top. Push them down into juicy-ness.
  3. Juice three baby carrots.
  4. Put an orange slice through the feed tube with lemon and ginger on top. Juice them good.
  5. Continue with the other orange slices, two baby carrots, and kale handfuls.

Yield: a little over a half a bottle of juice.

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If you want to fill the whole bottle, you’ll probably add another orange, more carrots, more kale.

I decided to do the same thing as the apple concoction and top it off with filtered water.

Ultimately, as I mentioned, I made four bottles with the apple-based juice, and two bottles with the orange-based juice.

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And since they looked a little plain, I used all my crafting skills to add some poorly-written labels and a pretty dumb name. Handwriting is not my strong suit, k. But let’s pretend that adds an air of ‘handcrafted authenticity.’

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I also cleaned my juicer right away, which was super covered in fruit and vegetable clippings in and out. Cleaning right away is recommended so the pulp doesn’t dry, making it harder to scrape and clean. It probably took me about ten minutes to scrub everything down, mostly because of that little strainer inside. Luckily the juicer comes with a scrubbing brush, which was helpful.

And there you have it. That’s the story of juicing.

Now that you’ve joined me on my juicing journey~ you’re ready to strike out all on your own. Remember to wash your vegetables. And your hands. And peel the oranges.

Now, go. Juice. Be so glowy.

P.S. I put the pulp in tupperware and saved it in the fridge. There was a lot. I’ll either try to look up recipes, or throw it in my backyard, I guess. We shall see.

Ten Ways to Reduce Stress: AKA How To Keep from Having to Break into the Nyeh Nyeh Dance

We all reach our limits. Sometimes more than once throughout our day. And sometimes we end up just going in our rooms and doing the Nyeh Nyeh dance to clear it all away.

And sometimes, sometimes is more than sometimes (TM me 2004.)

I made this list about a week ago as a reminder of how I can keep my stress levels at a minimum and those happiness levels at a max.

This isn’t a scientific list, but as I’ve taken that bumpy ride to adulthood, these are things I’ve learned along the way that might sustain your everyday sanity.

1. Say no to pain points.

Does a proposition give you an unhealthy level of anxiety? Say no.

2. Say yes to positive reinforcements.

Did a friend invite you somewhere but it means getting out of your house? Do it.

3. Don’t let perceived obligation dictate your responses.

Often, our perceptions can cloud our better judgments. You might highly respect someone, or crave their validation. You might just be a people pleaser. People might ask you to fulfill a task that you’re not up to, or don’t have time for. Pause to make sure you’re responding to requests with the proper understanding of the value you’ll both give to AND receive from it. (That received value can be anything from the good feeling of helping someone to monetary compensation.) If you have no good reason to engage, don’t let your perceived obligation push you to do something that isn’t otherwise healthy for your well-being.

4. Plan ahead.

Leave flexibility for emergencies.

5. Manage expectations.

Does yelling out into an abyss guarantee positive reinforcement? Is a certain person obligated to your life and schedule? Learn to level expectations.

6. Value the valuable.

Give people close to you the investment they deserve.

7. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.

A simple, but easy way to maximize feeling good throughout the day. Think of how much unnecessary stress a pair of uncomfortable shoes or an itchy material against your skin can cause.

8. Surround yourself with good noise.

Does your music bring you up or down? Your programs? Your social media feed?

9. Make sure you have a pocket of “me” time each day to reflect.

Taking a break from the noise and giving yourself time to wind down and review your day can help you improve yourself and your future decisions.

10. Breathe evenly.

Being in tune with your body language can heighten consciousness and help you relax.

Now that you’ve hopefully gained some wisdom, or used this list to review your own stress-reducing solutions, hopefully you have a few better tools to manage your day-to-day dealings.

And if not, just remember that old phrase: keep on keepin’ on. And you’ll do just fine.

Nature is Death Metal – Two nature movies I’m into right now, and how I got there

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Still from Alone in the Wilderness, a movie I talk about near the end of this blog entry

I’ve been immersing myself in nature documentaries the past few weeks. These movies are a different beast for me because:

  1. I’ve never liked animals.
    • Blame my design. I’m allergic to everything and your mom’s purse, so animal fur and its loyal following of dust and dander hasn’t exactly helped that sad case.
  2. I like things like showers, clean clothes, and safe blanket forts.
    • Nature encourages sweat, crusty skin, itchy skin, high anxiety and fear for your life.

This dislike of the outdoors and its critters has pretty much, throughout my formative and young adult years, been contingent on my location. For most of my life I’ve lived in Maryland, where sneezing and itchy eyes were reluctant parts of my summer routine. I sought refuge indoors, where I was less likely to meet allergenic enemies, and even less likely to get bitten by bugs or reddened by sun rays.

By contrast, for the past seven years I’ve been living in California. And as all pop culture says, it’s making me soft. Snow doesn’t grow here, and there’s also very little of that Maryland ragweed. If I’m sneezing it’s because I forgot to dust my book-strewn habitat for a week. I have access to mountain trails year-round and along the way I see (what I thought were) benign animal friends. California transformed a penchant for activity into a penchant for outdoor activity, which progressed into a natural curiosity about my surroundings. So basically, I resisted as best as I could, but I was groomed and tricked by this evil awesome climate.

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A duck friend on one of my local trails

And so here I am. Nature is relevant, and even more so, approachable. So that is why my current curiosity, and change in, ahem, heart. And my deep dive into the dirty nests of ducks is not only paying off in education, but it’s been kind of an interesting gateway toward reflecting on life. The littler things have become trivial-er, and you begin to see how much of an adventure just existing can be. But I’m also getting why nature appeals to anyone who is competitive.

The more cultured in my network probably already know what I’ve learned over these past few weeks: nature is death metal. Why anyone is even vegan or nice to each other after getting indoctrinated into the cult of nature, I don’t know. If anything, those are psychological ways humans play the survival game. Because in nature, everything gets eaten.

Especially babies.

Rivals are severely injured or totally slaughtered. Animals building nests steal from their own kind to lessen their own workload. If a weaker kind has killed food, then that gets stolen by a bigger guy too.

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I mean. Yes.

But as much as life in nature seems awful, it’s clear-cut. Animals are content with their daily routines. They eat. They breed. They nourish another. Are animals bored? Are they ever ashamed? Malcontent? We don’t know. But they’re systematic and they keep on keepin’ on.

People are like animals in some ways. We posture to get the best prospects. Our bright colors and our identities are outstanding to attract the best mates. We want to rule the land. But we overthink and are easily dissatisfied. Those dissatisfactions can lead to innovations. But nature reminds us that as much as you innovate, existence thrives on basic needs and desires.

But, anyway! Let’s get back to the more funner part of this entry: the entertainment.

My favorite nature documentaries so far have been these two.

  1. Wild North, 2015, three episodes
  2. Alone in the Wilderness, 2004, 57 mins

Wild North is set along the ruptured coastlines of Norway and follows the creatures that hunt, feed, and breed on its often chilly land. Alone in the Wilderness, which I’ve mentioned before, is the story of nature-savvy craftsman Dick Proenneke who built his own cabin in the 1960s on a shore in Alaska.

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Dick Proenneke’s hand-crafted Alaskan cabin

Both films are amazing because they match that natural tone of our subjects. Neither bullshit you with confusing edits or presumptuous storytelling. There is no overly dramatic helper music – which can be worse than a laugh track – to sell you on the scenes. They’re more straightforward informative tales that invite you into a cruel, but kind of quiet world. For instance, in Wild North, there’s a scene where two birds are in conflict and then something dramatic happens. But it was shot on grainy, lo-fi footage, and our narrator lets us know that it was because an amateur filmed it. The story was still gripping, though. It was a reminder that you don’t need flashy imagery to get a great story. Sometimes it’s even better when it’s not rendered in 4K because the low quality can give you a faux intimacy, like you’re looking into a world you’re not allowed to be in.

By contrast, consider BBC Earth series’ like Frozen Planet and Life, which employ blockbuster-like cinematography. The visuals are stunning. But if you are discerning, you have to wonder how the hell some of these things were filmed in their actual natural settings. Sometimes, they weren’t. Sometimes, producers relied heavily on post-production. And, hey, that’s ok. That’s entertainment and it’s still a cool story.

But when a film that captures nature turns the drama up to twenty, I don’t always come out of the experience feeling totally informed. So that’s why these slower, lower-production quality movies are what I’ve been craving. I will say, I am currently in the middle of Life and enjoying it. But still, it’s flashy and cut-heavy, so as much as I enjoy the technological gift of these polished visuals, I keep the narrative at an arm’s length. I pull back a little to make sure the show of it all is not pulling me into the made-up world of reality like The Bachelor might do. I double-check my intake to ensure I’m not believing things that make nature into a Disney movie (granted, that Disney movie has a lot more carnage…) How do I know that this ape they’re following made friends in the way Sir David Attenborough and his writers proposed? How do I know that this footage of whales is from their actual setting in Hawaii, and not some set they created? I don’t.

Alone in the Wilderness and Wild North are productions, too. We’re not quite sure how Proenneke got those shots of himself paddling out on his homefront lake (selfies, or a trusted visitor?) Wild North employs cuts and music as well. But there’s something about the pacing that gives each film a more authentic feel.

I’m open to recommendations based on these two. And if you’re interested, you’ll have to get Alone in the Wilderness on DVD. (Although you might be able to find it on the YouTubes occasionally…) It’s totally worth it to have in your collection. I might even go for part two, which I haven’t yet seen. Wild North is currently on Netflix. (P.S. I keep calling Wild North a film, but it’s a series. But it’s only three episodes, so… it’s a film series, right? Right.)

Here’s a slightly cheesy and informative PBS-style short on Dick Proenneke.

 

Breathing right while you run can help increase your stamina

 

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Rain jogs are nice because you’re sweaty anyway. Having a few drops cool your face as you huff towards a checkpoint can be nice rather than annoying. The main pain is going against the wind.

Today it was rainy again, and I was almost persuaded to stay in. But I took a second look at the clouds, which didn’t seem too aggressive, and gave myself a safety: I was doing a neighborhood run, so if at any point the weather felt like too much to handle, I was close enough to easily head home.

With that net in mind, I set out on my slow jog.

My latest run is nothing to write home about in the scope of things. But sometimes when it comes to personal goals, scope is your worst enemy. So right now, I’m going to focus on the fact that I did it, and that my time is not too bad considering I’m just getting started again.

Plus, 45 minutes of moving time for 3.2 miles is a pretty good time for me. Especially since I’ve been trying a new breathing method. I’ve been running a local trail in my neighborhood, and for the past few runs, I’ve noticed that I was getting out of breath quicker than usual. I’m an asthmatic, and my lungs, rather than anything bodily (besides some past back problems) are what have generally held me back from excelling in physical exercise.

So, I did what I usually do when I want to try to improve. I scoured the internets far and wide. I decided to go with Youtube as my primary knowledge source, since I’ve been seeing many good running vloggers lately, and searched for something along the lines of “running with asthma.” That brought me to a few potato camera quality videos. But clicking further into the video void, I found a positive runner and fitness coach named Matt Cama who had made a few videos that demonstrated exactly the sort of technique I was looking for.

This video is about 8 minutes long and focuses on breathing techniques.

My main takeaways, which I had never thought of before, were

  • Breathing from my diaphragm
  • Breathing in rhythm, going in through my nose and out through my mouth

On Tuesday, the day I felt completely out of breath on my exercise route, I was practicing what Matt called shallow breathing. I was trying to expand the lungs from my upper body and rib cage by breathing in deep there, with the added help of putting my shoulders back. But breathing up there still really wasn’t working. I was getting out of breath faster than I liked, and so I had to stop and walk more frequently than I already was. It’s really such a bummer when your body can do more, but your lungs won’t comply.

After that is when I did the research, and found that video. On Thursday, and today, I put breathing from your diaphragm into practice. It seemed to help! My main problem now was that my body was tired. I think I’ve been working it out pretty hard this past week. I’ve gone a distance of at least 3 miles every day this week, and my body may need to rest. Maybe once I’ve had a bit of time to recuperate, I can try to practice the breathing technique more methodically.

Once I got such great tips from the video above, I checked out another of Matt’s videos hoping to get a bit more knowledge to improve my running efforts. I’ve never been coached, and I’ve always just sort of exercised like a renegade on my own terms, since my asthma has always dictated that I walk part of the way during runs.

So I watched this. It’s a long 15 minutes, but it’s worth it to get his insight (I swear I’m not being sponsored by him, ha ha. I’m just happy to find a helpful channel.)

My best take aways from this one were

  • Use gravity to propel you forward by leaning to get started
  • Positively reinforce that you’ll meet your goals using visualization

I did employ the leaning technique on my current run, and it did seem to help. Since I’ve only done it once, I’ll probably have to do a few more trials before I automatically take on this form. But it seems like a good start to improving my running experience. I also imagined myself on the route I would take, and imagined myself completing it. That did help today, since the rain was a possible hindrance to completing the run.

Overall, today was a dreary day, but I’m glad I still pushed past that and went for a run. I am super sore now and I think it will do me good to maybe give it a few days before my next endeavor. I know I said I didn’t want to push myself too hard, but I think that’s my way of easing back into exercise. Once I get comfortable with my routine, maybe it will do me good to set some goals. Since I have been running 3 miles a day, I think I should sign up for a 5k at some point. I mean, that potentially also might get me down, since I know I won’t be fast. So I’ll have to think about that. What I do eventually want to work up to is a 10-miler. I always leave my house and come back with still enough energy in tact. Granted, I’m still not able to run an entire way. But it’s something I’d like to work up to.

And that’s my update. I was also really inspired by how Matt ends his videos. I think he says something like, “Remember, love all living things, and most importantly, love yourself.” I don’t think I’m quite that positive, but I like receiving that positive energy, and I do want others to feel good about their efforts. So go watch his videos and get yourself a bit of a spirit boost.

Take care everyone. ‘Til next time – this person.

Exercising amidst a different animal: Uncanny Valley’s mall cops

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Robot mall cop. This is how our streets will look from now on.

I don’t have too much to complain about in life right now. I can always find something if I look hard enough. For instance, my biggest gripe right now is a pair of trail running shoes that are messing with my delivery expectations. They weren’t supposed to come until Wednesday, February 15. Cool. Delivery date expectations set. And then: good news! I got an update text saying they would arrive two days earlier, AKA today. Cool again. But then: the anticipation is eating me up. It’s 7 p.m. and the goods still have not arrived. Thanks, UPS. Thanks for messing with my expectations and being a salty tease.

That’s my out-of-touch thing I’ll whine about.

Given that, one of the things I definitely steer clear from complaining about is my region’s general weather patterns, even when the nebulas get a touch moody. While my good friends who put roots down in Minnesota are braving zero-minus-twenty degree air and hair that grows stalactites after they step outside and blink twice, the most I’m shaking my fist at is a bit of misty atmosphere.

Where I live, the weather is generally 70 degrees in December through February. All I’m clearing from my car in the morning is a thin layer of nature’s dew.

That’s why, even though we’ve seen some heavy rain and super sad skies for the past month, I’m not fussing over expectations. I know it won’t snow. Plus, now when I look out past the trails I’m visiting, instead of seeing dehydrated land, the rivers are flowing again. My region’s been going through a nasty drought, and this bout of rain has pretty much cleared it up. All signs point to: good job nature.

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This picture was in another post, but basically, before January, the earth beneath that river was pretty thirsty. Thanks to the rain that junior ravine is all kinds of replenished.

I’ve also been pretty motivated ever since the start of this blog, so despite weather that wasn’t conducive to being outdoors, I’ve been finding ways to keep my heart rate up and those muscles pumping. For instance, I tend to bike on sunnier days, so instead of limiting my expensive machine to its natural roads setting, we scored a trainer on sale last year at REI. Seventy bucks for this thing that lets me feel less lazy while I catch up on Rick and Morty. (Who, is the question, is the actual Mortiest Morty? Does Rick do random stuff to create alternate universes? We may never know…)

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If you look to the lower left in the photo you can see the bike is hooked up to the trainer. This thing lets me avoid the night time creeps and helps me keep a little warmer since California might have sun but that translates to some cool evenings

So when I looked out my window yesterday morning to see 35 mph winds and only a few hours left before certain rain hit, the only excuse I made about my day’s activity was one that let me have a roof over my head while I still got to be active. Initially I’d planned a bike ride, so when I sprang awake early, I settled on something spandex-y and butt-padded. I didn’t plan too well though since I wasn’t quite anticipating such dreary conditions.

I love my trainer, but sometimes, you’re able to exercise better when you’re out of the house. So, reluctantly, I shimmied out of my women’s Pearl Izumi bike riding butt pads, re-applied regular spandex, and headed for somewhere a little less drizzly:

The mall.

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Ominous sky on my way to the mall, where I decided to exercise, because… ominous sky

I was reluctant to put my body to work at the mall, because I was absolutely in love with all of the outdoor spots I’d been hitting recently. I’ve mentioned that I’ve never been an outdoorsy person. Leave me in my bedroom with a space heater, and I’ll totally and happily blog my life away for hours. But I’ve also been looking for a little bit more out of life recently, and my outdoor surroundings were offering me that breathing room. Getting outside, and overcoming physical obstacles like hills, as cheesy as it might sound, was giving me opportunity to tap into a part of myself that I didn’t yet know well. I could examine myself, and understand more about my limits as I pushed on in an environment that wasn’t trying to cull money from me. Putting myself to work in a natural setting was bringing out a confidence I’d been lacking for so long, and desperately wanted. The mall, by contrast, was a setting I’d already spent so much time in. But it had never, which is maybe cliche too, fulfilled me quite as much. Every time I’d buy something and bring it home, that momentary thrill of the purchase wasn’t ultimately empowering. I had a thing. That was nice. But it didn’t give me what I needed. It mostly preyed on my insecurities, and took. So it was a little scary heading back into an environment I was actively trying to disconnect from. I also wanted to stick to the “wild” (I mean, maintained parks aren’t reallly the wild. It’s like a baby step. I freely admit that silliness) because the protagonists of adventure films made me want to disconnect from the consumer lifestyle since most of them decried commercial settings for the purpose traversing in nature gave them. (See: Snowboarder Jeremy Jones in Higher citing his inability to stay in a city for more than 70 hours because the mountains are pretty much his natural habitat.) But sometimes you can’t always choose to do exactly what you want, so you make the best of what you’ve got.

Plus, when I finally allowed myself to accept that the indoor track of the mall was my best solution in rain-impending windy weather, I realized the mall had its own setting-specific characters, like the one in the opening photo of this blog. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Not only that, but, when we get down to the hard details, like I said, I don’t have too much to complain about in the way of weather here, and that includes scenery. When you look out the window of my local mall, you don’t just see the well-worn, gum-littered sidewalks of a city, or the never-ending  story of a parking lot. Some of that exists. But for the most part, you see what the picture below couldn’t quite capture: a big beautiful cluster of mountains.

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Check out my mall mountain view. Whoo

So basically, I was almost in the wilderness. I just had to invent my own obstacles on this makeshift trail. Escalators became both ascents and descents. The dizzy mall maze became the lap I was meant to beat. The people, hungry for their next purchase, became my unwitting trail companions. And then we ran into the most wildest animals of them all:

The robotic mall-cop. Let’s see it again.

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Robot mall cop take two

And yes, this freaking thing scared all of the expletives out of me more than once. It doesn’t quite look like a human at all, so the uncanny valley concept isn’t quite applicable, but still, the fact that it seemed to move autonomously, stop near you, and rear its “head” was super unsettling. On first sighting of the beast, I approached it to get a better look. When it moved toward me, I nearly screamed. And on the second sighting, I looked behind me, and there a red one was. I felt an eerie chill go through me, so I shook it off before I got sucked into a pattern of anxiety, and walked on.

That was one thing about exercising at the mall. You couldn’t really run. I mean, I’m sure you could like, low key jog (while pretending the mall bots weren’t creepily watching), but it would look out of place, and when you’re out of place, that causes  your general surroundings to panic. Especially something like a run. So, since I’m well past my punkier teenage days, I choose to keep the peace and stuck to speed walking and scouting for “hills.” And I tell you, going vertical and back down again was a pretty good workout, and I did work up enough sweat to write home about.

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One of the non-working escalators I went down several times. But not too many times, so I wouldn’t draw attention to myself from the bored sales associates manning the surrounding stores

All-in-all, I wouldn’t call it an ideal day. I didn’t get to follow through with my plans to take my bike to Coyote Hills and battle the verticals painfully on my bike wheels. But I would call it a good day. I didn’t call it quits, and I figured out a solid solution to my need (and desire!) to keep the activity in my life consistent. In it to win something, I am.

I also did the thing where I figured out you can discover something about yourself no matter where you are. Even if you’re in a setting that has previously not rendered the fruit. The fruit being ultimate fulfillment of some kind. As I was moving past the stores I used to go inside, I ultimately blocked out their commercial designs, and focused on the task at hand, which was staying active, and training my body’s muscles to be more acute, and more apt to withstand long spurts of activity. Eventually the stores and the products within turned to blurry pieces of material that I didn’t really need. I only needed to love myself (awe.)

Ultimately, I spent about an hour traversing the mall for a total distance of about three miles. Not too shabby! Especially considering I could’ve gotten spooked by the ominous robot cops and dashed out of there. Shows what you can do when you’re down to make something happen.

Next: I hope it gets sunnier here!

See you soon, folks. Good luck with your own daily goals!

Madness is what makes us AKA You shouldn’t escape this world without at least one battle scar

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Photo credit: Paul Nelson via Matt Maynard

“I was sleeping 18 hours a day,” confessed distance runner Nikki Kimball midway through the movie on her mega-run, Finding Traction.

And I was shocked. In one quick moment Nikki popped the vivid image of the happy athlete I’d held since middle school.

If we flashed back the that super awkward era, you’d see a young timid me hugging the awful beige hallways on my quiet walk to fifth period orchestra while the more boisterous kids – primped in cleats, jerseys, gelled hair and ponytails – palled around looking effortlessly social with their ruckus of quips and physical teasing. They were like sunny carefree bubbles of inexhaustible energy who fully reveled in the competitive spirit of an active life.

As much as I don’t understand anything about myself, I guess I understand much less of the world

If you’ve been following along, I’ve been feeding my need for motivation with all of the outdoorsy sports documentaries I can get my hands on. Today it was Motivation 2: The Chris Cole Story and Inspired to Ride. I’m getting second hand high off of all of these uplifting moves since I’m way too figuratively cheap to fully risk my own ass getting overly ripped.

But yesterday’s viewing, Finding Traction featuring the aforementioned Nikki, was a little bit of a different beast. As much as it was a film about triumph – Nikki runs an incredible 270-plus miles of a classic hiking trail in record time – it also took a hard, sometimes uncomfortable look at the struggles that drive us and make us who we are, for better or worse.

(Below is the documentary and then some (it starts over for some reason) and it’s also on Netflix)

From the beginning of the film, it’s easy to see something extreme in Nikki. I couldn’t put my finger on it, and I knew you had to be attracted to challenges to take on races that seem super wacky to most of the people watching the story from the warmth of their home. But she also had a heavy intensity that I hadn’t yet seen in the other athletes I’d gotten to know in these films. I’d so far seen ultrarunners reach major fatigue, get a little cranky from sleep deprivation, and feel overwhelmed to the point that they’re reasonably agitated. But not like this.

Before I go any deeper into the story, let’s lay it down that it takes a whole hell of a lot of human guts to sacrifice the secrets of your emotional demons to a camera. I regret it every single time I let it slip on social media that I, too, know a shady guy named anxiety. So though Nikki’s trials can be intense to watch, she is undeserving of judgement. Plus she actually is an untouchable badass, so I’m a nobody analyzing her. I’m going to try to give her the respect she deserves as I learn stuff here about how different human minds function, and appreciate the guts they have to continue on.

Show me the money without telling me how you got it so I delude myself into thinking it was super easy

Throughout Finding Traction, the filmmakers set up Nikki’s big reveal with solid clues.

She lets us in on her addictive personality, telling us that “running helps.” Her dad recounts seeing his young daughter exhibit an incredible determination to win. We’re even informed that she had to wear corrective leg braces as a kid, and in true champion fashion, pushed her way through that physical trial. Her will to succeed was awesome. Her drive was also intense, driven by strong moods.

“We have to try to keep her positive,” endurance runner Dennis Ball, Nikki’s pacer, tells us when Nikki finds out she’s behind schedule. “If she feels like she’s behind schedule, it’s going to put her in a bad mental state. And that’s not something we want to do. We want to keep her positive.”

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Nikki refreshed after food

It was kind of a scary, edgy thing to admit. Dennis seemed worried about rocking her mood. Gradually, we also begin to see that Nikki’s arduous run coupled with a lack of rest and possibly improper nutrition, digs itself deep into her. During one rest stop Nikki goes off screen to compose herself.

“The conditions were really upsetting her,” said Nikki’s best friend and other training partner Jenny Pierce. “She’d slip on something and you know, either burst into tears or just swear.”

On that same stretch Dennis gives us a bit more insight.

“Nikki’s mood is definitely fluctuating,” said Dennis. “And I can definitely notice that some of that is related to nutrition. When she hasn’t eaten for awhile, she will start to get a little more emotional.”

Nikki reaches an aid station towards the middle of the film where she allows the cameras to catch the breadth of the emotions she’s experiencing. This is someone reaching their breaking point.

A close up cut to Nikki captures her exhausted face twisting into an ugly sob. She’s feeling it. Hard. Dennis’s voice over informs us that she’s better once she’s refueled. Nikki takes a bite of her sandwich, and suddenly, jarringly, she’s laughing. In the next few moments we see her pivot in mere seconds between good-natured and indescribably sad.

“It was crazy to see,” said Dennis. “From this excited, sad crying, to happy and laughing, all in a span of like a minute and a half.”

Her aggressive, instantaneous mood swings hit the nail on the head. Suddenly, Nikki’s emotional fluctuations made sense. I knew what was up.

“She’s manic-depressive,” I said to my husband.

I honestly didn’t know what I was talking about in my knock-off armchair. I’d read a small amount about the subject. Her behavior was specific to the other things that I knew.

And then her confession.

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Marya Hornbacher, literary goddess and author of the tough but illuminating memoirs Wasted and Madness

We’re all wired in our very own awfully wonderful ways

My initial education on manic depression came from author Marya Hornbacher and her powerful memoirs Wasted and Madness. Where Wasted disavowed for a generation the romance of an eating disorder, Madness filled in the gaps of what compulsively moved our tortured heroine to starve herself down to under 60 pounds, not to mention imbibe an entire bottle of ipecac.

“It seems to happen overnight,” Marya writes in Madness about the onset of the disorder.

“One day I am calm, and the next I am raging. It’s simple. Happens like you’re flipping a switch. [My husband] and I are going along, having a perfectly lovely evening, and then it’s dark and I am screaming, standing in the middle of the room, turning over the glass-topped coffee table, ripping the bathroom sink out of the wall, picking up anything nearby and pitching it as hard as I can. The rages always come at night. They control my voice, my hands, I scream and throw myself against the walls. I feel like a Tasmanian devil. The room spins, I run up and down the stairs, I can’t stop. [My husband] tries to grab me, holding my arms until I scream myself out and collapse, exhausted in tears – but there are nights I manage to squirm free and run out the door. Sometimes I just run as far and as hard as I can, until I can’t breathe, until my heart is about to explode, or until, stumbling drunk, I fall and hit my head on a tree stump or the curb and lie still.”

That passage always stuck with me from the book as the quintessential description of manic depression. One moment you’re happy, laughing, satisfying your hunger. The very next moment you’re disturbed, uncontrollably angry, irrevocably sad, and altogether unable to totally control the internal goings-on. All in the face of a trusted someone, a beloved someone.

And at the moment, I’m hardly as brave as Nikki or Marya, both able to bear their battles to the narrow-eyes, critics, and anyone unable to relate. But I will say both are saints for being so vulnerable with us, and their experiences are to no end both educational and inspirational.

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Perfection is the most flawed philosophy we’ve got

Seconds after I pegged Nikki as my kind of lunatic, she graciously shared her emotional battle with us.

“I think that depression is my secret weapon,” she said.

It was a revelation. She wasn’t a happy jock. She was, to my relief, that magic word we bestow upon our greatest idols: relatable.

“For a time, I was sleeping 18 hours a day,” said Nikki. “And when I was awake I was very sad. There was nothing good about life. And that was a really tough part of my life, to live through not wanting to live.”

I was shocked at how frank she was, shocked that she would talk to us about what she’s been going through, and like I mentioned, shocked that she wasn’t your average carefree athlete.

“One of the things about depression, you know, it’s not just that you feel sad,” said Nikki. “You feel nothing. And I think one of the reasons I do ultras is because it gives me the highest highs and low lows. I can handle acute, strong lows. That, juxtaposed to feeling nothing, it’s just fantastic.”

“The entire journey really did give me a passion for life. I rediscovered a purpose.”

If you look a little harder, other incredible athletic achievers have used extreme sports to conquer what Nikki calls that feeling of nothingness.

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British-German ultra endurance cyclist Juliana Buhring

World-class cyclist Juliana Buhring, in Inspired to Ride, also credits exercise with getting her out of a dark rut. At one in point in her life, after losing her sister to depression and her partner to tragedy, she hit a wall of devastation.

“I fell into a really deep depression, and I lost many friends,” she said. “I just sunk into this really dark place. And so I decided to cycle the world to get out of that.”

Her endeavor was not only a physical success when she earned the women’s record time for cycling around the world, but she found a bit more.

“It was, I suppose, a drastic move on my part, because I wanted to escape from the world. But at the same time I wanted to discover it, and discover my place in it. So that’s why I set off in the first place, and honestly left thinking that it was ok if I didn’t come back. I was perfectly ok to just go out there and if I came back, alright. But I didn’t make a contingency plan.”

In a sense, she employed that famous ‘fake it ’til you make it’ cliche. But it worked.

“The entire journey really did give me a passion for life,” she said. “I rediscovered a purpose for existence and my place in the world.”

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Blame it on the rain, and then after getting a sense of it, invest in the proper gear

Watching extraordinary people do unreasonable things is illuminating, and that’s why I’m so addicted to learning about how these sports extremists function. What’s moving them? How are they different than what I thought? We can’t always know why they do what they do, or what motivates them. But by watching them, we can extract our own very important and valuable lessons. We can strive to appreciate, understand, and respect them. And in the end, hopefully we’re moved to yeah, just do it.

Especially since, as Marya (who is not only a prolific author, but a Pulitzer prize winner) writes in Madness, our personal hells aren’t exactly welcome guests, and they might happen upon us randomly, even if you’re born to achieve. They’re stealthy hellions who move in quickly, and revel in spilling coffee on the neat stack of papers we’ve made it our life’s goal to keep organized. It’s more than maddening when they happen.

“Here’s the hell of it,” Marya tells us. “Madness doesn’t announce itself. There isn’t time to prepare for its coming. It shows up without calling and sits in your kitchen ashing in your plant. You ask how long it plans to stay; it shrugs its shoulders, gets up, and starts digging through the fridge.”

In these cases, we can remember to take a page from Nikki, who, in addition to her long sleeping days, spent months in bed. But she somehow still found the will to be remarkable. Nikki has been fairly open about her depression in other podcasts and publications like Endurance Planet and Grind TV, and it might be because she truly, truly wants to be an enduring light for others. One of the most amazing things about her story is that she’s using her running efforts to not only improve herself and her mental health, but better the lives of others. She’s very adamant about being an example for other women, and especially the young women involved with Girls on the Run.

In Finding Traction, it is clear she understands the lows all too well, but tried her best to find an enduring and resonant remedy.

“I couldn’t have fought depression without activity,” she said. “Just that half a mile of walking at the worst of my depression, even though I’d be crying during part of it. I think it really helped keep me alive.”

That consciousness and reflection is what kept her going, and she wants others to know that too.

“I’ve been there,” she said, “and known that, yeah, if you can get through that point, happiness happens again. It’s one of the things you wish you could tell to everybody when they’re looking down the barrel of the gun.”

“You will find happiness again,” she says. “And you can.”

 

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This girl is running and she seems pretty happy

 

If you’re feeling depressed and googling for cute kittens and Buzzfeed listicles hasn’t really helped much, remember there’s a national suicide prevention lifeline (call 1-800-273-8255), and options for online counseling

Next on Maury: more attention to exercise! Join me when I speed walk alongside mall robots and dabble in the excruciation that is cycling uphill!

“The best journeys answer questions that, in the beginning, you didn’t even think to ask.” – 180º South

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Today I took another trek to Coyote Hills, only this time I took my husband and chose to go up a steeper hill. And by steeper I mean I notched it up .5 on the treadmill of life. Again, I want to stress that my documented adventures in this blog are very basic every person traverse-ings. I’m not incrementally winning better medals and no one’s calling me to be on their radio show as a subject matter expert on how to get stellar mileage on your very next marathon. My victories are sad, every day small steps that are less running tens of miles in record time and more ‘Hell yeah, I got out of bed and my Fitbit says I got about 6,000 steps in over the course of the day. You go girl.’

And that’s my current story.

I also might be lying a little to keep me hashtag relatable, because I will say that this afternoon I diiiid get about 10,000 steps in over the sad course of 4.21 miles on my laughable little outing. That is incrementally better of a medal than my 3-miler two days ago. So that was a good job. I gave myself a good girl treat when I got home.

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I guess I’m not a vegan anymore

I paired that with another piece of adventurous viewing material. Following the Barkley Marathons documentary, I’ve been continuing to binge on all types of outdoorsy adventure features. I initially turned to the trusty folks of reddit for follow-up conversation on the Barkley, and that turned up generous recommendations for similar viewing material like the nerve wracking Valley Uprising and the much more quaint Alone in the Wilderness.

I was enlightened by both, and also picked up Long Way Round on Netflix, a series that features Star Wars alum Ethan Hawke and his buddy Charlie (he’s an actor too, but a littttle bit lesser known.) So far the few episodes I’ve viewed have the two planning to take their motorcycles en route through rocky terrain in Russia, Kazakstan, and to ‘America AND New York.’ (both!) It’s from 2004, and the cinematography, if you can call it that, is a little rough. But like the East Coast Trail and Ultra podcast, it’s fun to see a couple of bro-dudes being hilariously ridiculous and goofing around.

Today, after my *extra* strenuous “trail” walk (lol it was paved…), I found the 2007 doc 180º South in the Netflix portfolio. It’s another travel gig that follows a couple dudes (yeah I’ve ventured into dude territory with this endeavor. sup men) who took their dual love of surfing and climbing to Patagonia (region not the building). It’s a solid follow-up to Valley Uprising since it has some of the same characters (the founders of The North Face and Patagonia (building not the region)) who kicked off the sport of mountain climbing in the 1960s. It also leans a little bit hard – though, to nice effect – on a quiet indie soundtrack featuring the likes of Ugly Casanova, James Mercer, Modest Mouse and Vertiver to move along the awesome footage of the beautiful scenery it captures and to set that contemplative mood. One note I must note though: the film takes on a little bit of a promo vibe toward the end when it uplifts the North Face founder’s philanthropist endeavors in Chile. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing given the possible positive effects of the endeavor. And the touch is super light. I’ve been wary about being sold to in pseudo-documentaries ever since I saw the unfortunate and terrible Minimalism, which people seem to like for whatever their own inspired reason. (Dude reads a passage from his own book in a poetic manner while standing on sand wearing his not-minimally-priced trendy clothes. But anyway…)

Never fear, 180º South still gave me all of the feel goods. The best thing about these documentaries is the main characters always give you a meaty, limit-pushing, inspirational quote to keep you thinking, ‘Why am I sitting on the couch right now? Where’s the nearest hill I can go on right now to get my pants dirty and shed my useless asshole lifestyle?’ For instance, the title of today’s blog is not only motivational, but philosophical, and comes from protagonist Jeff Johnson of 180º South. Later in that film one of Jeff’s travel friends contemplates the sadness of urban dwellers losing touch with nature. The lame KPI, if you will, is the rise of iPods, which basically enforced environmental ignorance (I might have a counter there as a music appreciator and veteran sad person, but point taken.) People ear-plug themselves with buds to swim in their own benign world as they obviously pass their community on the street. People don’t want to look at the mess, says the friend. The destruction of the environment is ugly, so we bury ourselves away in this ignorance.

We’re reminded that, “The ocean and the land are the most important providers there could be.”

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Here’s a pretty picture of ocean and land. Life!

Deep stuff. You’re hearing that, and going, ‘Yeah dude. We’re brushing our surroundings off.’ (Although, maybe you’re not as trite as me and you leave off the “dude.”) It makes you want to do something.

That’s the power I’m getting from these creative depictions of dirtbags living the wilderness life. My inner recluse is slowly opening its oyster shell, and going, ‘Ohhhh that’s why people are into sunlight and shit….’ I’m not a daredevil and I swear to the Roman Gods and their moms that you will never get me to jump off anything higher than my bed. But I like the utter life these people have in them, and I’m latching on to this mostly healthy sense of purpose. The characters in these movies seek to face the lack of modern consciousness head on. They’re each making these unique rebel yells toward the virgin sands of time.

And time is like, ‘Whoa,’ and the sand gets all scattered everywhere, and that’s what happens when Fun.

“This is one of the great acts of committing to the unknown,” says a climber I didn’t get the name of in Valley Uprising. Him and his climbing community really don’t know what could happen next. Especially idiots like Alex Honnold (yes, man is legend, but holy mother of all that is NO) who don’t seem to like safety measures too much.

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The incomparable Honnold making palms everywhere go sweaty with his heart-palpitating free solo

And is it stupid to test their muscles against uncontrolled variables? Inspiring?

It can be both.

“Fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all, but we just went for it,” says another uncited character from 180º South.

There’s something exhilarating (for some people) about risking it all. That’s because the human destination, if you’re into overthinking, is not the end game. We all know where that’s going (sorry, dark.) So we might as well get as present as we can, and make the most of our momentary life force.

“Who gives a shit what the holy grail is,” another character from 180º South says, culling from his wisdom of the adventure. “It’s the quest that’s important.”

Here are a few boring proof pictures showing me trying to make the most of my today, before going onward to tomorrow’s local explorations (seriously it’s not very interesting or foresty, and maybe even barrenly depressing. The clouds are still lingering. But I was there!).

Cheers:

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The lake is flowing with a verve in Niles. The rain’s been good for our drought.

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East Coast Trail and Ultra podcast accompanied me on a 3 mile light “hike”

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Today in looking past your limits: a light hike and a new set of digital friends

Every athletic figure seems to have a nickname. It’s proving true in this ultrarunning community I’m getting to know.

Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell.

Ethan “The Ginger Runner” Newberry.

On my latest motivating media find – a podcast called East Coast Trail & Ultra – the two showrunners, who are also part of the weird and wild ultrarunning community, are Ryan Ploeckelman and Sean “Run Bum” Blanton. Though Ryan doesn’t have that charismatic alt moniker, he does have the pro radio voice to carry the show, and along with Run Bum, the dry humor and funny stories to keep you listening.

 

Both of these dudes and their origin stories of getting into ultrarunning also carried me forward on my inaugural “run” of the new year. It was more like an even-paced pseudo-hike, but I felt like I was getting started on fitness again after neglecting my bike for a few months (I’m an occasional road biker, nothing tooo crazy). And what better way to begin than with episode zero of a podcast all about getting out there and pushing yourself to your ugliest limit. I learned Ryan was 200-some pounds and out of shape before he picked up ultrarunning in his early 30s, and that Run Bum, though a seasoned soccer guy, was once the embarrassing n00b who thought pacing yourself meant getting as far ahead of everyone as you can in the beginning… before hitting embarrassing burn out. They were relatable. That was totally me at some point, sort of. I mean, I’m no medal-winner. I certainly didn’t have all the perfect gear at some point. And I’m pretty much not an ultrarunner. I just want to be around those driven people who are silly and positive, and getting out there and setting goals and having fun.

So I felt good about just getting out there and being the best me I could. There wasn’t a lot of ugly limit-pushing today, but there was a brisk walk, some fairly steep inclines (that didn’t last too long), and some decent views of the overcast landscape.

Plus some happy little ducks.20170206_141710.jpg

That’s my favorite part of actually getting off the couch: encountering these cute little animals in their natural habitat just hanging out. I was never a big animal person, but as I get older I’m getting irritatingly softer. I’m that guy crying at Downey commercials and squealing when there’s a funny chipmunk. Welcome to the softer side of Sears.

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My softer side was ready for this perfectly gray day to get out of the neighborhood and go explore the Coyote Hills in my nearby town. Especially since I’m that brand of pale who takes my rivalry with the sun seriously. Even when it’s 80 degrees and most people are reveling in their browning skin and exposed exercise sweat, I’m bundled in long sleeves and full spandex pant, marinating in my own juices (yuppp). Today’s light breeze, lack of sun and 55 degree weather meant I was totally breezy in my Patagonia rain jacket.

It was nice, and I had a good time. I ultimately went about 3 miles in about 1 hour and 17 minutes. I took it slow, and just had a nice time taking in my surroundings. It was also Monday morning, and only a few people were available to brave the dusky skies.

I think tomorrow or Wednesday I’m gonna try to do another round.

Here’s a few more photos. The land is pretty chill, like there’s Bob Ross happy little bushes here and there. Nothing nuts, no thorns or fallen trees. The gray skies made the settled landscape all the more lovely and serene.

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The story of the Barkley Marathons told me, ‘You’re made of more.’

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Still from The Barkley Marathons

Like most people who’ve seen The Barkley Marathons documentary (much less actually experienced or had another closeness to it), the power of its story has stayed with me for days.

Thursday night, February 2, 2017, wasn’t the first time I’d encountered a film about these ultrarunners and their journey to overcome human and personal limitations by scaling and descending a trail equivalent to twice the height of Mt. Everest in under 60 hours. The route is an arguable 100 miles, with over 40% of the course off-trail. Participants must navigate it and its dastardly briars and punishing incline with only a compass and a map. No phones, no GPS, no pacers. Only 1% of runners have completed it during the decades its crazy creators have designed, and re-designed it.

I was first introduced to the event a few years back, when an enterprising friend on Facebook began to publicly chronicle his journey from flab to fab. He was mostly silent before sharing his story, and kicked it all off by posting at the tail-end of his transformation. The inaugural post was a side-by-side that showcased a formerly doughy physique juxtaposed with his newly toned body, jawline and abs in tact. The key to his regimen included a heavy dose of running, he explained. Running was the primary catalyst to his fitness triumphs of weight loss and that carved physique.

Eventually, his new lifestyle got him fit enough to join running elites. The impressive long distances he demonstrated trekking through photo evidence and the odd video were exemplary and inspiring.

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Since I can’t post a picture of my friend’s inspiring journey, this pretty much sums up how you can have the will to start getting fit.

He was the one, whether he knows it or not, who introduced me to Hokas and monitoring your athletic nutrition properly.

As any good marketer knows, friend testimonials are powerful influences. When you see someone you know or relate to transforming themselves, you’re, if not absolutely then at least somewhat, more likely to follow suit. And that’s pretty much what began to happen. I saw the awesomeness of his progress, and knowing it was possible, he inspired me to step up my fitness game. I’d always been interested in body sculpting, and using exercise to overcome my asthma. In the 2000s I took up yoga and light running. I had a stretch of ultra fitness from 2011-2012. I ran for two hours every day, did yoga 2-3 times per week, and added in a little strength training for measure. I was absolutely fabulous by the time summer of 2012 rolled around. But eventually, I got too busy, and didn’t have great reasons to trump my eventual excuses, and I fell off. I didn’t totally let go, but I lost all my muscular progress. By the time 2014 rolled around, my stamina was low and my abs were flabtabulous. I was still relatively trim, but I certainly wasn’t able to dominate a treadmill like my former self.

I was pretty happy when I had someone in close social proximity to look up to. I found myself on the treadmill more, and I also got a road bike.

Most of his posts were still followed by long silences. But when he shared, it was always worth paying attention to. And then, a few months into his story, one of his wholly substantial entries led me deep in to the recesses of this blog’s foundational inspiration: those legendary Barkley Marathons. [Note: according to the intro of a book by a Barkley veteran (which I am currently reading), “Marathons” is always plural.]

The participants, the event creators, and its extended community were focused and amazing. They were made of a niche group of intensely driven trail runners who actually pushed themselves. They ran record times. They were runners who might have started in their thirties. There were all kinds of relatable stories. But why would they participate in this insane event created by an even insaner guy, that no one seems to finish? Why punish yourself? What moved someone to put themselves through total hell? I gobbled up all the media I could on this compelling story of ultrarunners compelled to try, but destined to fail.

The story was weird, and it was philosophical. I liked weird. I liked the creator’s genuine touch. I’m skeptical of material things that are not totally necessary. Your physical body, on the other hand, is very real. I knew from past exercise efforts that focusing on empowering your mind’s storehouse was highly fulfilling. It’s empowering to give your mind and body the TLC that comes in the form of pushing yourself a little bit to strengthen your physical and mental muscles.

This wasn’t just a story of running. This was a story of becoming an ultimate person. Your best self.

I was hooked.

…for a day or so. And then the daily grind of life kicked in. As much as I was inspired, I wasn’t disciplined enough to put my inspiration into practice. I also wasn’t part of a running community that held me accountable. And so the Barkley Marathons’ lessons were harder to keep with me. Soon enough, I forgot all about it and moved through my life difficulties with no real anchor.

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A few days ago, the world and happenstance decided it was time to rekindle the magic again. On that quiet Thursday February night, during a particularly uninspiring Netflix browsing session, I finally stumbled upon the Barkley Marathons’ 2014 documentary thumbnail. It had been a few years by now, and I had no recollection of what I’d seen prior. The movie title looked familiar, but I couldn’t conjure any poignant images.

I queued it up, and like Barkley Marathons founder Gary Cantrell (Laz for short) lighting his cigarette for every year’s race kick off, the documentary signaled a new start, and I was suddenly off. The magic of the Marathons all came flooding back, and here I was, in love with the concept of pushing yourself again. My type-A personality was on the edge of my seat for the duration of this telling of how a meaty three people completed the 2012 course. Most years, none would. What a feat of will.

Never mind that I’d never, ever consider doing something like the Barkley Marathons. I totally know that this specific event is not in my cards. I’ve learned my physical limits, and some of them I know I definitely never want to reach again.

What is in my cards: community and mental possibility. Becoming someone who is proud to say, “I tried.” Putting your best foot forward and seeing what you’re made of was the heart of this film. These were the main themes that resonated with me.

Key to this resonance were the amazing quotes the documentary filmmakers scored from Laz. Every time his face appeared on the screen, I wanted to lean in and leverage each morsel of his wisdom to improve my own scattered sense of life.

“If you’re going to face a real challenge,” he counseled in one scene, “it has to be a real challenge. You can’t accomplish anything without the possibility of failure.”

Coming from a more business-like person, a quote like this wouldn’t have the same effect. But Laz’s laid-back demeanor, lack of concern for health (I mean, he’s a runner who smokes), and willingness to register runners based on merit rather than their financial wellness was altogether inviting. He charged an entry fee of $1.60 and a piece of clothing because he recognized the kind of people a deal like this would bring. Only the slightly crazy, only the fanatics, only those people looking for a little something more out of life by facing a ridiculous labyrinth with equally unreasonable parameters, were likely to show up. Characters. The crux of human life. People needing more than a boring routine.

That’s exactly where I’m at right now: at a crossroads where I can throw in the towel, let my losses in, and watch helplessly as they pin me down hard, paralyzing me and any hope I had of making an extraordinary life for myself.

Or?

Maybe I’ve got a little more in me.

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Barkley Marathons finisher John Fegyveresi (whooo what a name.) I copped this from his blog.

The story that especially resonated with me was 2012 marathon finisher John Fegyveresi‘s story. He, like myself, had at once reached a low point in his life. And then one day, he decided to wake up and put his all into living his best life. From what I gathered, his best life meant being wholly present in his moments and appreciating each minute opportunity to breathe. He’d recognized the limits on life, and as such, experience trumped bodily preservation. Bodily preservation is, thus far, impossible. Mental and physical challenges, and using this world to see what you are truly made of, are the stuff of life.

So, what now?

I’ll use this blog to track and chronicle my efforts to sharpen myself mentally and physically. I want this to hold me accountable, and I want this blog to help me keep the goals of living positively and fruitfully top-of-mind.

It’s just a few days later, and I’d like to keep the momentum and energy I received from the Barkley Marathons story going this time. It’s so easy to get mini inspirations, and then lose them to the mundane things that effortlessly capture your attention. I don’t want to get lost again. I want clarity. I want to create a purpose for myself. And like my Facebook friend, I want to be able to inspire others to do the same.

What’s on the menu?

I’ll leave myself with three things to focus on:

1. Have a physical routine. Be it morning yoga, a weekly run, or a nightly bike ride. Just, invite some sort of regular physical exercise into my routine.
2. Write in this blog at least three times per week. Writing here will help keep me focused, and also help me to reflect on how I could be doing better.
3. Eat good. I’ll keep this open ended, since I’ve been working on my diet the past few years and seem to have something that works for me. It’s not the healthiest, however. Maybe I can start by incorporating more water.

And that’s what I’ve got. If you find this, and feel like following along, cool.

If not, I hope my focus will show itself in real life, and resonate positively with the people I know, love, work with, and are fortunate to meet.

Let’s get to know our limits, and and see how far we can push past them.

Cheers to a successful year!

And to get started, here’s some supplementary viewing material from the Ginger Runner that gives context to the ridiculousness of the Barkley. Ultrarunner Gary Robbins scored a record time for running the 96 miles of the Mount Rainer trail, but was still unable to complete the Barkley Marathons.