Questions

How long is a month?

It’s a long time. But it’s also not long at all.

What’s the difference between grief and depression?

I can’t actually tell the difference right now.

Is there anything good about death?

Nope.

Really?

Okay, maybe it’s not all bad. I found this interesting quote from from Ann Lamott’s memoir Traveling Mercies:

Don’t get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does. Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of living spirit. Mostly I have tried to avoid it by staying very busy, working too hard, trying to achieve as much as possible. You can often avoid the pain by trying to fix other people; shopping helps in a pinch, as does romantic obsession. Martyrdom can’t be beat. While too much exercise works for many people, it doesn’t work for me, but I have found that a stack of magazines can be numbing and even mood altering.

But the bad news is that whatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief will give you. A fixation can keep you nicely defined and give you the illusion that your life has not fallen apart. But since your life may indeed have fallen apart, the illusion won’t hold up forever, and if you are lucky and brave, you will be willing to bear disillusion. You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things: softness and illumination.

And here is what Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, whose name is practically synonymous with death, has to say:

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.

These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep, loving concern.

Beautiful people do not just happen.

That sounds great. What’s wrong with that idea?

Because I’ve already been through plenty of defeat, suffering and loss. I get it, okay? I’m trying to be as beautiful as I can be, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job. You can give it a fucking rest now.

At least I’m not this woman. There’s always someone else with a greater burden to bear, equipped with more strength and grace than you with which to handle it. And that’s pretty inspiring, somewhat comforting, and not a little intimidating.

My dad’s memorial service is in two weeks. I keep thinking something magical is going to happen after that, like it’s some sort of grief threshold I’ll cross and then everything will start getting better instantly. But I know better than that.

So you’re sad right now. That sucks. What else are you up to?

I’m working, but not too much and thankfully it’s from home where I’m free to have the unexpected emotional meltdown. I’m trying to decide if I want to pursue a lead I got on a freelance gig with a VERY BIG NAME (rhymes with “schmoogle”), but I don’t know if I have the energy right now.

I’m running, although I don’t really have a plan other than to try to run at least five days a week and do two decent workouts in there somewhere. Most of it’s unstructured. I’ll go run around on the XC course at Van Cortlandt Park. Today I went into Central Park and did 25 minutes of fartlek running, chopped up into 3-7 minute segments over a full park loop. I passed a lot of people and felt like a badass for 45 minutes. I mostly just go run and do whatever. I have a race next weekend, the Cherry Tree 10 Miler Relay, with two of my favorite people. That’s for fun, although I’m hoping I can do something with the 5K fitness I spent months working on building and did not get to use in Houston last month except for running through airports.

I don’t sleep very much. I am plowing through my generic Ambien at an alarming rate. My neck and back are a holy mess — I basically go for the same massage every 10 days or so. My massage therapist is a funny woman, about my age, who has lots of stories about death. We’re going for drinks some night soon, since I’m usually lying face down when we converse and I’d like to change that.

I have neglected fruits and vegetables. I need to get back to those. Also: flossing.

I drink to excess some nights, but that was something I did in the best of times, so don’t worry.

I’m writing up an absolute storm these days.

I am hoping to hit some open mics this month, although that’s been a lot of work since I have to have very short pieces for those and everything I write is about 8 minutes too long. But I have one new piece that’s short and will be working on others. I’ve been going to a few to listen (and mostly rule them out). But I do appreciate living just north of NYC, where if you can’t find an open mic at least four nights a week then you are either blind or not very resourceful.

A few months ago I signed up for a beginner’s acting class that started a week after my dad died. I deferred that and will instead be taking that in about two months. I’m nervous about it, because I’m a terrible actor, but that’s why I’m taking a class, isn’t it? (I don’t want to be an actor, by the way. I just want to learn to be less self-conscious when I’m up on stage telling a story.)

The truth is, I feel awful much of the time. I’m not fun to live with. I get brief waves of levity and then I ride those waves (usually in the form of making amusing Facebook posts, seeing friends, or getting my shopping done) for all they’re worth. I don’t think I’m wallowing in self pity. I believe it’s good to acknowledge and feel pain for the reasons Lamott states above. It would be helpful to have some sense of when it will lessen. But I know things don’t work that way. I have Kleenex boxes in every room of the house. My entire house looks like a psychoanalyst’s office. It’s actually sort of funny, when you think about it.

I’ve developed a theory that the periods of reprieve we get from the soul-crushing sadness are some kind of evolutionary mechanism; they keep us from shutting down completely in order for us to survive. That theory is extending into the idea that maybe death as a physical and psychic experience is also not that bad, or perhaps even fantastically pleasurable. We can only hope.

Thanks for the kind comments on the previous blog post, as well as the various notes and other condolences. I hope that I can be as generous, wise and buoyant a presence for others when I hear the call.

Everything is going to be okay.

2011: a look back

This year was not about racing, training, injury or mileage. It was about survival, observation, change, trust and taking risks.

I ended 2010 with some resolutions. I didn’t do half bad at sticking to them. With the exception of Facebook.

January

I started the year by attempting to let go of all plans and expectations. Considering how the next few months panned out, that was probably a good call.

The year started with baby steps back into running after 2010 ended with roughly four months of no running at all due to a stress fracture. For weeks and weeks after I started back again, I had adductor pain. Since I was turning into a whale I started working with a nutritionist to try to lose weight. That turned out to be a total waste of money and time.

The depression that had been knocking at my door in the fall managed to knock the door off its hinges and come stomping into my mental foyer wearing muddy boots. It was competing with some projects I did: a podcast on eating disorders in which, perhaps ironically, depression was a hot topic, as well as what would turn out to be my final interview for the Houston Hopefuls project.

The depression won. But at least I was running again.

I also discovered some fateful podcasts.

February

On February 1st I registered for the Chicago Marathon. Because I was still thinking there was an outside chance that I might actually have a hope of eventually running an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier for 2012. Oh, the folly.

I dipped my toe back into racing, mostly to see if my sacrum would crack again. I was slow. But not ridiculously so. My body parts remained intact.

I published my third piece for Running Times. That would also be my last one of the year. I closed my business’ books today and noted that I made a grand total of $450 writing for Running Times and Runner’s World in 2011. I have not enthusiastically sought more work from Rodale since then.

I was picking up from square one of the plan (former) Coach Sandra had given me way back in July.  I got back up to 50 mpw and did some hard workouts. We were working long distance at this point and would fall out of touch soon after. That was actually okay with me. It removed some pressure.

I still kept hold of the Trials dream. But it was slipping away. While February allowed some progress on the running front finally, it was my low point mentally. The running was kind of the only thing that was working as I otherwise held on by my fingernails.

March

In early March the bear got me again. I had a dental crisis. I was in a bad, bad way. But I was taking steps in my non-running life to right my little dingy. It was hard work, involving facing a lot of very unpleasant stuff and giving it the credit it was due. By month’s end, however, I was seeing progress.

A few days later I ran Coogan’s and it was alright, perhaps even pretty good. I started to reacquaint myself with the human race too. Another good call.

Then Sally Meyerhoff died. That really affected me. I paid tribute to her at the tail end of our little podcast. I thought a lot about time’s value and what a crime it is to squander it.

During March the work I was doing on myself started to pay dividends. I emerged from the mud, escaped the clutches of the bear. But I would only get a short reprieve. Life would rear its head again soon enough.

But, still, I was running and running pretty well again at that, despite lots of little setbacks and frustrations. That was worth a lot.

April

I regained fitness, slowly but surely.

We saw one of the most exciting Boston races in years. We also lost another great.

I also decided to not go to Chicago and instead eat the registration fee and go closer to home in Syracuse. Yeah, I still believed. Dream not dead. Yet.

At the tail end of the month my stepmother nearly died of complications from heart surgery. This was an ordeal that went on for weeks and weeks. My running dropped off tremendously in April and May. I took 14 days off in May alone. Something had to go.

May

I ran one of the worst races in my short competitive career, out on Long Island. Some of life’s greatest gifts come in the form of being kicked in the teeth, and this was no exception. During this race I had the epiphany that I needed to have: I wasn’t ever going to run an Olympic Trials qualifying time. Moreover, maybe long distance wasn’t for me at all.

By this time Sandra was no longer coaching me, which was fine since I would have been wasting her time given all the changes and interruptions. I found a 10K training plan online and just followed that for awhile.

I also realized that my cat is a lot better at meditating than I am.

I started a crazy freelance gig that required a three hour commute every day and had wildly unpredictable hours (I was there until 10pm with no prior warning some nights). Nevertheless, I committed to getting up at 5am to do training. I also decided to spend the next few months trying to shed extra weight through aggressive calorie restriction.

June

By June my stepmother was better and out of the hospital. But I was full bore freelancing this crazy gig. Which had me rushing through pre-dawn workouts, and it’s never good to rush a warmup because — you guessed it — I got injured! Fuck. Again! Bad calf pull.

That had me out of the Mini 10K, which I’d really wanted to run. But, okay, whatever. Things were basically on the upswing.

July

This month would represent a turning point in many respects.

My June injury healed up. My running would start to improve in a dramatic way.

On July 4 I committed to training to run the fastest road mile I could (this year): the Fifth Avenue Mile. I finally got smart about my training, keeping the mileage low and cutting workouts from three a week to two (with any races substituting for a workout). I would remain uninjured for the remainder of the year. And I’d get faster. Good job, Julie! You can still learn things through observation.

A few days later an outstanding person from Canada Googled “marathon” and “Brooklyn,” got me in the results, and then invited me to the world premier of her show, which I almost didn’t go to because the words “one woman show” strike fear in my jaded heart. But I followed my instinct and went. And I loved it. Then I somehow managed to trick her into becoming a good friend for the absurdly low entry cost of a sandwich. Then getting to know a real performer put some crazy ideas into my head that would start to take root in the fall.

Then I had more lunch with some far flung blogger friends (and some who are closer to home). That was fun.

Despite all the lunches, I was 15 pounds lighter by month’s end.

August

My nightmarish freelance gig concluded and had a couple of weeks recovery before beginning another that was much, much saner, one that allowed me to sleep past 7am most days. My training was, I dare say, going well.

Then I capped off the month with an exciting hurricane weekend in the Poconos with two runner lady friends.

September

I had a kind of spectacular track workout.

I waxed rhapsodic about social media.

I started taking baby steps, with a small group of strangers, toward realizing a long-festering dream of performing, disguised as an attempt to get over my terror of public speaking. But I really just wanted an excuse to talk about myself and try to be funny.

I had a couple of good tuneup races (in Tuckahoe and in Riverside Park) while keeping my eye on the prize: the run down Fifth Avenue late in the month.

I had the race I’d waited three years for. I broke six minutes. Then the day just got better. It was a happy day. And you know what? I fucking deserved it.

October

I lamented the backward slide of track and field policy. I may have even changed (or at least opened) a mind or two in the process.

I considered that perhaps my running a sub-20 minute 5K is not a patently absurd idea after all.

Also, my recently listless, skinny and perpetually thirsty Zen cat was given a diabetic death sentence.

November

I got up on a stage and told a story. People laughed. Or were horrified. But in more or less the right places.

I also won a big-ass trophy.

December

I nabbed a new 5K PR in Bethpage, Long Island.

And here we are. Next stop: 2012.

What are my goals for this year? They are huge, for one thing. Mightily ambitious. They are the kinds of goals you think about setting for yourself when you read about a woman in her twenties getting hit by a truck.

Some of these goals have to do with running and some not with running.

I am not sharing them ahead of time because that’s never worked out well for me. But also because many of them are more qualitative than quantitative in nature. As such, they are harder to measure — and maybe harder to reach. Many of them are not limited to this year. I’m starting them this year, is all. I’ll see where they go and how long it takes to get there.

I will, however, let you know when I reach them. And I do intend to reach them.

Also, Zen cat is still alive, and once again broad-shouldered, energetic and no longer thirsty. Anything’s possible when you throw enough expensive cat food at the problem.

Happy New Year!

Training: Dec 18 – 24

This week I focused on just keeping mileage up and recovering from Saturday’s race. The weather was also not great this week, with rain and/or wind. I had a track workout scheduled for Wednesday but it was pouring all day so I ended up modifying plans and relying on the treadmill. I originally planned to do combinations of 400s/800s at 5K race pace/tempo (no rests). But I don’t like running speed sessions on the treadmill for several reasons. For one, you are forced to maintain a certain speed which, I believe, increases the chance of injury at higher speeds. For another, treadmills are inaccurate, so it’s difficult to know how fast (or slow) you’re actually running.

So I decided to do tempo repeats instead. That way I could just wear a heart rate monitor and do the run by effort. In this case, high tempo effort. It wasn’t bad. I’ve only been relegated to the treadmill a few times so far this season. We’ve been lucky to have had (with the exception of October 30th) no snow this year. This is sort of amazing, considering that this time last year we’d already had several snow storms. It’s also been fairly mild. Considering that I’m training for a winter goal race, I’ve felt incredibly lucky. I just need my luck to hold for three more weeks — I have several track sessions that I do want to do on the track.

It’s Christmas today. This training recap concludes with Christmas eve (yesterday), but I’ll write about today’s workout anyway as I’m likely to forget the details over the coming week. I did a big workout, not assigned by Daniels. A few months back Running Times had a set of workouts that various high school and collegiate coaches use. One of them (I can’t remember who and I’m too lazy to go upstairs and look it up) goes like this: 3 miles at 5K+30 seconds per mile; 2 miles 5K pace; 1 mile all out; 5 minutes standing rests in between each.

I liked the look of this workout. But, since I’m not a 16-year-old boy, I cut it back a bit. For the base 5K pace I chose something that’s a little faster than what I can run now. So the first segment (2 miles, not 3) was like a very high tempo effort. The second segment (1.5, not 2) was like a slightly harder than 5K pace (4K pace, if that’s possible?). The third turned out to not be possible for me today. I knew I’d end up dying, slowing down, feeling like the crappiest runner in the world. So instead I ran 4 x 400m as fast as I could manage, which was 90-94 per. One minute rests. I was happy with that considering the 3.5 miles of hard running that came right before that.

I did this run in Van Cortlandt Park, not on the XC course (I’m crazy, but not that crazy) but along the path that surrounds the fairgrounds. That path is about 1.25 miles and almost completely flat, so it’s good for this kind of work. While I was resting for five minutes before the 400m segments a guy ran past me and commented that I wasn’t dressed warmly enough (he was right — I was wearing tights and tee shirt in sub-freezing weather). I said I’d get warm again soon enough and we struck up a conversation.

His name is Henry and he’s 73 years old. He said he’d been a runner for 50 years until a few months ago when he had heart valve replacement surgery. “They split me open like a Christmas turkey!”

I mentioned that my stepmother just went through that, with major complications, and that he was very lucky to be running again. He agreed (although he said he’s limited to speed walking for now) and then, pulling out his wallet, showed me a small laminated card featuring a simple line drawing of the human heart and connecting arteries that he carries that shows exactly the valve that was replaced plus an artery called The Widowmaker, both of them colored in bright red. “For EMTs,” he said. “In case I keel over.” The latter was 80% blocked when he went in for surgery.

Henry was funny. His new valve was bovine supplied. I asked him if he’d had any problems post-surgery and he said, “No, but I sometimes feel tempted to get down on all fours and eat grass.”

He asked me my name and I said it was Julie. “Julie!” he exclaimed. “I used to run with a Julie!” Pointing over my shoulder he said, “Julie Gaines! She lived right over there. She was a psychologist. I used to always say, ‘No pain, no Gaines!'”

I laughed and said, “Well, I’m not done with my pain yet. I still have some repeats to do.”

And with that we wished each other a happy holiday and healthy New Year.

Runners are just so fucking great.

The me (not me)

(Warning: Non-Running Post)

I was going to wait until New Year’s Eve to write my “what happened this year” post. I’ll still write one. But I thought I’d get a jump on writing about one aspect of what was a terrible-yet-wonderful year.

In the fall of 2010, while attempting to stay in shape as I recovered from a stress fracture, I was spending huge amounts of time running in the pool, spinning and doing whatever it’s called when you use the elliptical. I was in the gym for many hours each week and, unlike running, there was no joy in the activity. It was just a tedious, boring, time-consuming grind.

My playlists of music got old quickly. So I turned to podcasts. I listened to lots of different podcasts but ended up only sticking with a few that were reliably good. Two of them, WTF! with Marc Maron and the RISK! Show, remain my go to podcasts. I wrote about them in February. The first is an interview program hosted by standup stalwart Marc Maron. The second is a storytelling podcast, a weekly show that typically combines 2-3 true stories, told either before a live audience or in a studio, with musical interludes between them.

These two podcasts mean a tremendous amount to me personally, although for different reasons. There was a period of time during January and February when I was completely mired in one of the worst periods of depression that I’ve experienced in years. Coupled with the despair and hopelessness was a near total inability to sleep for several weeks. During that time, because I was so restless, I moved into our guest room and spent many nights listening to archived WTF! shows. Between the highly personal stories of what happened to host Maron during the week (usually a mixture of hilarity and unforgiving self-examination) and his intelligent, empathetic interviews with guests, I was often moved. His voice was like an audio life raft that I clung to in the night.

The other show, RISK!, whose tagline is “True tales, boldly told,” was a similar mixture of comedy and tragedy. Some stories were better than others, but they were usually honest and unflinching. I forgave the more self-indulgent or boring ones because when the stories were good they were incredibly good. Yet, during some shows I’d find myself thinking, “I could probably do a better job than that guy.” Even months after I’d emerged from the depressive mud, that thought stayed with me.

For decades I’d been attracted to the idea of doing standup comedy, yet was terrified by the prospect. And I do mean terrified. I have (or had, up until a month ago) an intense fear of doing anything in public. Public speaking was torture for me. Even business meetings were (and, oddly, still are) a challenge. So the prospect of getting up on stage and trying to make people laugh seemed like the craziest, hardest thing one can do. It’s the purest form of failure — you’re there to make people laugh. That’s hard to do. And you’re doing that as yourself. So if they don’t laugh, in a sense, those people are rejecting not just your jokes, but also you. Like I said: terrifying. I still have trouble imagining it.

But these podcasts, especially RISK!, were a revelation. You could tell honest stories about yourself and people would listen. You didn’t have to be funny, although you could be if you wanted to.  For me, storytelling falls somewhere along a spectrum that spans monologue and standup, as illustrated below. I inserted names of entertainers and where I feel they fall along that spectrum. I in no way include myself in their esteemed company — they’re just there to help you get a picture of what I’m talking about and also because I admire them all in their own way. I can only hope to achieve an originality and consistency of performance, perspective and persona that each of them has managed to.

Storytelling is the oldest form of entertainment, yet it was news to me. I’d sampled the storytelling podcast, The Moth, which is the one everyone knows. But it didn’t grab me the way RISK! did and still does. In fact, I was so affected by RISK! that I started scheming ways to get on it. I started working on story ideas and struggled with how to pitch them. But the biggest obstacle was the performance issue. If you want to tell stories, you have to get up in front of people and tell them. There is simply no way around that. So I started looking for classes. I needed help not just with the “how to” of constructing a story, but also with the mechanics of telling it without being totally petrified on stage. And, what?! It turns out that Kevin Allison, the brains, passion and voice behind RISK!, teaches classes! In storytelling! It was fate! It was fate. I signed up for the September class at The Story Studio.

It was a great experience. I met other talented people. Kevin is an excellent teacher and listener. I got everything I wanted out of it, including the encouragement I needed to keep working on it.

This and some related activity in the theatrical realm has given me a new lease on my creative life. It’s introduced me to some wonderful people — other performers, new friends, potential collaborators. It’s given me the confidence and curiosity to take an acting class to further plumb the mysteries of performance and onstage persona. I am finding themes in my stories that may eventually drive me to doing a longer piece consisting of a cycle of related stories. But I’m getting ahead of myself already.

I invited several friends to my end-of-class performance. Jonathan came too. I deliberately did not share the story I’d tell with him — although he’d heard less-detailed forms of it over the years. I did not invite him to come to the two open mic story slams I attended to get some experience with an audience that was not my class. I needed to do this on my own, unsupported (and unfettered). The act of keeping him at a distance throughout the learning process had one fantastic side effect, though: I got to watch him in the audience, watching me. During my 13 minutes on stage, he wore an expression that was some combination of delighted and dumbstruck. Later, I asked him what it was like to watch me and he said, after a long pause: “It was like seeing you, but some other version of you.”

I knew what he meant. I was me. But I was also not me. I was a transformed, perhaps better version of me. The me I’d like to always be. But I needed a story and an audience to be that person. It’s the person I’m not yet. It’s a start.

A few years ago, when I was still struggling to write short stories, I registered the domain modernstories.com. I was surprised no one had taken it. A bit later someone offered me a few hundred dollars for it. Even though I’d abandoned fiction by then, some instinct told me to hang onto it. I’m glad I did. I’ll do something with it, although I don’t know what yet.

Telling stories to strangers is gratifying, fun and very hard work. I am lucky to have found it, especially while living in a suburb just north of New York City, which seems to be ground zero for live storytelling. There are so many shows to explore. The Moth is not the only game in town. Nor is RISK! For the next month or two I’ll sample other shows and see what’s a good fit, then see if I can fit in somewhere.

Anyway, here’s the first of many ventures I hope to make onto various stages starting in 2012. To honor what RISK! did for me, I decided to tell the truest, boldest tale I could think of. The name of this story is “The Beast.”

Google Search Oddities

“are you old when you’re 46″

Yes.

And.

No.

Why I love social media

Over the course of the day yesterday, from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep, I was connected with others, if not directly through a social medium then indirectly through other activities (writing down ideas to share, emailing a query) that ultimately came about because of a connection I’d made through social media.

I’ve been using message boards since the launch of AOL, circa 1990. I started this blog in 2006. I’ve been on Facebook for around a year and a half. I’m a relative newbie to Twitter, but now use it extensively. At this point, the impulse to connect and share is so frequent, ingrained and automatic that I don’t even think about it anymore.

It’s incredibly easy to dismiss blogging, Twitter, Facebook, online message boards and other components of social media as time wasters. The implication is that we don’t benefit from being in this realm so much as we fritter away our lives. The relationships formed in these media are often similarly rendered illegitimate because they are “virtual” and, as such, assumed to be of lower value by virtue of some assumed ephemerality.

I would like to counter that point of view in this post, by describing the ways in which social media has enriched my life.

It’s helped me find my voice. I’ve always gravitated toward writing and knew that I was good at it. I began making a living at it around 10 years ago, and I enjoy a lot of the writing I do for money. As a profession, writing and editing copy is both fun and challenging. But over the past few years my biggest source of satisfaction has been the personal writing I’ve done for this blog. Now I’m branching out and seeing if I can write for other media and forms of delivery (stay tuned). Finding my voice online has helped me to find it offline as well, which is uber valuable for an introvert who often has trouble dealing with people in general.

It’s made me a better writer. From a practical standpoint, writing for social media has helped me to hone my writing chops, beyond the improvement that comes simply from writing something every day. Web readers demand brevity: short paragraphs; simple sentences in the active voice; tight composition and structure. The extreme, of course, is Twitter. With just 140 characters at my disposal, I’ve learned a lot about editing and rewriting.

It’s helped me to help others. I’m reading a book right now, one that violates the brevity rule (at least in terms of its title). It’s called The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good. Aside from resembling my daily to do list, this is a book about how our brains work, specifically why certain behaviors trigger the brain’s reward mechanisms. If you read the title carefully you’ll see that “generosity” is among those addictive behaviors. I like helping people by sharing  my skills and knowledge and lately I’ve used social media to identify opportunities to lend a hand in ways that go beyond the obvious.

It’s helped me establish new relationships. I have quite a few actual, in the flesh friends whom I would not have met ever were it not for social media. As a side point, I’ll also note that whereas I used to view purely virtual relationships as somehow lacking, I now think they have their place and can be valuable in their own right. If you want an old school example, consider the lowly “pen pal” relationship. I’ll bet lots of pen pals never met each other, but that doesn’t lessen the value of the connection that can be forged through a virtual exchange of thoughts and feelings. Sometimes a friend can be someone you never meet. But I’ll grant you that IRL friends are the bomb by comparison.

It’s deepened relationships I already have. I have a few friends who I knew long before the advent of social media, but for various reasons we drifted apart, only to eventually rediscover each other through social media. In other cases, I knew someone through a non-friendship venue (such as a work project) and discovered a lot of common ground through social media, which helped to advance the relationship from the friendly acquaintance or “work friend” to “friend friend” stage. This is great.

It’s given me the opportunity to try new things. Social media is directly responsible for my running journalism career (such as it is), my having joined a running team, my becoming a host of various podcasts, my decision to travel to certain places, and my exploration of new forms of creative outlet or consumption, just to name a few. Social media gets me out of the house and around people pretty regularly.

It’s provided me with a free publishing platform. For a quiet person, it seems that I have a lot to say. Social media lets me say those things. Whether it’s writing haiku (well, three years ago), or satirizing the kind of taglines I get paid to produce on a regular basis, or presenting an interview project, or just telling some stupid jokes, all I have to do is start an account and I have my own megaphone, instantly. I even have a secret blog that no one knows about.

It’s helped me find support and solutions. Like you, I have problems. Lots of them. Through social media (message boards especially) I’ve found members of my various tribes who are chock full of information, ideas, resources and empathy.

It’s kept my serotonin levels steady. See “problems” above. I don’t know whether I did too much acid in the third grade or something, but my mood will easily plummet without constant vigilance. I’d say about half of the people I follow on Twitter are either professional comedians, comedy writers or regular Janes and Joes who happen to be hilarious. I also write lots of funny stuff (or at least I think it’s funny) throughout the day. Reading and producing this stuff on Twitter elevates my mood. It’s that simple.

It’s shown me that activism is still alive and well. Lastly, there’s other peoples’ use of social media for the greater good. You’ve got things like the It Gets Better Project, which strives to keep gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered youth from killing themselves. Or the Enough Project, which seeks to dismantle warlordism in Sudan and the Congo. Then you’ve got activism that demonstrates social media’s unintended consequences, like Nancy Upton’s hijacking of an ill-conceived American Apparel contest for use as her own personal platform for scathing social commentary. Fucking brilliant. Try doing that with television.

What has social media done for me lately? A lot. What’s it done for you?

How to lose weight when you’re 46 years old and genetically disadvantaged

I promised my sister I’d post about my recent weight loss when I hit 125. I’m a little over 126, but I have a day off from all responsibilities today, so I’ll go right ahead since I expect to be down to 125 within a few days anyway.

When we got back from a visit with Jonathan’s family in England in May I weighed a whopping 141 pounds. I’ve been struggling with weight since late 2009. I’m still not sure why I put on roughly 10 pounds over the course of about 8 months. Nearly half of that piled on within about two months of starting a new birth control pill (Loestrin 24). Then the next 6 arrived very slowly over time. It may have been hormonal. My metabolism may have simply ground to a halt that year. Dunno.

Over the past 18 months of so of trying to shed the extra poundage, I could not get rid of it by eating sensibly, nor did heavy mileage help. I sought the help of a nutritionist and an endocrinologist late last year, also to no avail.

No wonder I'm so slow. I've been running carrying the equivalent of this box of cat litter for the past several years.

When I weighed myself on May 18, seeing a number over 140 — a weight that was flirting with what I weighed before I started running 12 years ago (an endeavor started because I’d gotten so fucking fat) — the same sense of shame and outrage that overtook me in 1999 reemerged. It galvanized me, inspiring a steely resolve: I was going to lose this fat even if people had to die.

In roughly two months, I’ve lost about 15 pounds. Fortunately, no one has died. It’s been a pretty simple process, but it has not been easy. Here’s how I did it, along with some observations and tips. I should note that I’m no medical expert and this has been an experiment on myself, not unlike the one William Hurt performed in Altered States. Although I have not yet broken into a zoo and eaten an antelope [2:20]. But, believe me, I’ve been close a few times.

Here’s what didn’t work

Going to an endocrinologist in search of a hormonal or other chemical explanation. I got tested for various things and got the all clear. I also got this annoyingly generic piece of medical insight: “Most women gain weight in middle age, especially around the waist.” Yeah, well, I’m not most women.

Going to a sports nutritionist. This was another useless exercise. For four months I followed a supposed expert’s advice, tolerated her insinuations that I was not being honest about what I was eating, and grew increasingly frustrated.

Going off the pill. Actually, that may have sort of worked, but it’s taken forever. Here’s something else I’ve observed: every gynecologist and article will tell you that the hormones in the pill are gone from your system in a week or two. I don’t believe this is true, based on several things. For one, I’ve had friends who were on the pill and went off it in an effort to get pregnant. Some of them took as long as six months to get knocked up. For another, the whole reason I went on the thing (beyond the obvious) was to regulate my wild cycles. I could swing 10 days in either direction. Yet for four months after I stopped taking it in January, I could predict my cycle’s start by not only the day, but also by the hour. In the last month I’ve started to go all wacky and unpredictable again. My weight loss rate has also picked up slightly. Coincidence? Again, dunno.

So what did work?

The nutritionist told me that my resting metabolic rate plus non-running movements resulted in a need for around 1850 calories a day. This was just to function. We based everything on that. I was told not to ever cut more than 500 calories a day from base + exercise output total (I don’t know what awful thing would happen if I did; maybe I’d actually lose weight?). Plus I was given elaborate formulas for how many grams of carbohydrate and protein to take in before a workout and in the hours after a workout in order to recover properly.

I’m sorry, but it was all bollocks. I lost no weight on this plan.

So you know what I did? I took the base calorie intake she had me on — roughly 1650 a day — and chopped it in half. That’s right: my new caloric ceiling was around 850. If I did any exercise, I’d add those calories back in. Here’s an example:

Base calorie intake: 850
Run 6 miles easy: 500
Total allowed: 1350

Following this rather parsimonious formula, I lost a little over 2 pounds the first week, then another 1.5 the following week. It’s varied from week to week, but it’s basically been around 1.5 pounds per week. During a PMS week, I usually stagnate, although I don’t gain water weight like I used to, so I think I’m still “stealth losing.”

There’s no secret to this

The laws of thermodynamics are absolute. Unless you’ve got a thyroid or other issue, if your body is deprived of external sources of fuel, it will start burning its own.

But it’s really hard to do

Aside from the behavioral challenges, I’ve got a few other things working against me. For one, I’m way over 40. If you think you can eat the way you did in your 20s and 30s, just wait. You can’t. For another, my physique lies somewhere along the body type spectrum between mesomorph and endomorph. I blame my Viking genes: you need a lot of muscle for hefting swords and engaging in extended bouts of raping and pillaging, plus you need fat to keep you from becoming too cold in Spitzbergen or wherever the hell my ancestors were from. I build muscle very easily, which is great if I want to be a power lifter, but useless for distance running. So I actually have to be careful about doing too much weight or other resistance work. For another, I hold onto fat like it’s going out of style. I gain it easily and then have a bastard of a time getting rid of it.

What does it all mean?

It means that while it’s possible for me to lose fat, it’s difficult and takes a huge effort and commitment. Have you ever tried living on 850 calories a day? It takes planning. It’s tedious. You’re hungry often. But seeing a pretty much constant weight loss of around 1-2 pounds a week is a great motivator. As I said to someone recently, I can deal with eating 850 calories a day for three months more easily than I can deal with eating 1200 calories a day for six months.

Are you ready to suffer? Here are some handy tips!

Use a calorie tracking program. There is no other way to know what you’re taking in and using up. I like Tap and Track for the iPhone.

Plan ahead. If you have a job that you travel to (as I have since I started this venture), pack your food. Apportion your calories among various food items and stick those items in your bag. If you eat all your food too early in the day, tough luck. You’ll only do this a few times.

Stop drinking. I shouldn’t have to explain this one. With only 850 calories to play with, there is no room for extravagances like liquor. Bonus: you’ll avoid embarrassing Ambien episodes.

Eat “big food.” These are foods that have a high density and volume relative to their caloric content. Examples are: fruits, vegetables, and lean animal proteins. I have gotten a lot of mileage out of grapes, cherries, nectarines, corn on the cob, steak and chicken.

Eat small amounts of fat throughout the day. For example, while nuts are very calorie dense, they will keep you full because they take forever to digest. Also, a cup of coffee with half and half will stave off hunger for a good hour or two.

When the hunger pangs get too bad, just close your eyes and think of England. Failing that, eat your own hand — preferably the one you don’t favor. It’s low in calories and you have another one if you need to make a phone call or something.

A special note for runners

Bear in mind that I’ve only been running 30-40 miles per week during this process and doing 2 hard sessions tops. I don’t know that I’d attempt this during a heavier training schedule. Also note that I’ve been careful to make sure I take in at least 200 grams of carbohydrates and 75 grams of protein a day. On days after a hard run or race, I’ll up the calorie intake a bit because I’m usually starving and to me that’s a signal that I need more food in order to recover properly.

Why am I doing this?

Because I not only looked a lot better when I weighed somewhere in the low 120s, but I ran better too. I am now running a lot faster, despite the heat and humidity. But more on that soon.

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