An Explosion of Gratitude

I was standing by the open window with a mug of freshly brewed Pu-erh tea in my hands, enjoying the colder than expected breeze blowing in over the sweet sound of chirping birds, underneath a crisp sky with hints of orange beginning to paint the evening with firey colors of the setting sun, when I realized that I needed to run.

It wasn't because I hadn't run in six months, or because the weather was nice. It wasn't because I was finally living in a neighborhood where there were nice running paths or because I had been feeling my fitness level deteriorate ever so slowly.

No, I needed to run because I was so damn lucky to have legs that allowed me to run, to actually still have my feet attached to my body.

A few hours earlier, while I was walking home from the Alewife subway station, I heard a number of sirens in the distance. There was nothing particularly unusal about that, but intuition told me that something big had just happened.

As I walked home, I opened Twitter on my phone and searched for "Cambridge". Someone else had tweeted that something big must have happened because they heard lots of sirens. I then searched Twitter for "Boston" and immediately started seeing photos of what at taken place just minutes earlier.

Two explosions, presumably bombs, exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing several people and injuring dozens, horrifically dismembering people. I was on the subway when it happened, just a few miles away.

When I got home, I began following what was unfolding in Boston. I found a video clip and photos of the blasts online, showing in graphic detail what had just happened (warning: some of these photos are extremely graphic).

It was horrible, but what caught my attention in the videos was the incredible way in which the majority of people rushed, not away from the blasts as you might expect, but towards them. Within seconds of realizing what had happened, people converged on the areas that were affected.

People ripped the shirts off their backs to use them as makeshift tourniquets on those who had just had their legs blown off. Several marathoners who had been running for more than four hours and 26.2-miles continued running straight to the hospital so they could donate blood.

On Twitter, I found a link to something that comedian Patton Oswalt wrote on his Facebook page shortly after the explosions. His words articulate my thoughts quite well:

I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, "Well, I've had it with humanity."

But I was wrong. I don't know what's going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here's what I DO know. If it's one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, "The good outnumber you, and we always will."

So as I stood there at home by the open window, with a mug of freshly brewed Pu-erh tea in my hands, enjoying the colder than expected breeze blowing in over the sweet sound of chirping birds, underneath a crisp sky with hints of orange beginning to paint the evening with firey colors of the setting sun, I couldn't help but feel an absolute sense of gratitude.

There were humans, only a few miles from where I was, whose lives had been ripped apart today, some quite literally. Others had awoken this morning just as I had, but with the intention of running or watching others run a marathon, who now were lying in a hospital bed somewhere with the knowledge that they will never again wiggle their toes or feel the earth beneath their bare feet.

I needed to run. I needed to run for them.

Flow, Commitment, and Why I Run

I’ve always known that I wasn’t very interested in “showing off”, or doing things just to impress others, but the recent discovery of why I push my limits has been an interesting and unexpected journey and it has led me to question several previously held commitments.

It all began when I started breaking my personal distance records for running. At first it was 11 miles (18 km), and then 17 miles (28 km). I set these personal records alone, barefoot, and with nobody watching and nobody except my iPhone keeping track.

And that was enough for me. I didn’t need anything more. It was enough that I knew I had broken my previous records. It was enough because the record-breaking itself was only pursued because I wanted to explore that unknown, to run further than I had ever run before and to discover how my body would respond.

I wanted to feel those new muscles hurt, to know what it felt like to become delirious when my energy stores ran low, and to observe the strange thoughts of doubt surfacing when my feet were so tired that I could barely feel them. It was that exploration into the unknown, that feeling of passing 11-miles and knowing that with each stride I was experiencing something new, something that my body had never experienced before. It was that potential for discovery and that pursuit of the unknown that inspired me to keep going.

I have no desire to prove to others that I can do something. In fact, I don’t even need to prove it to myself. For me, it’s about the exploration, pure and simple. It’s about the journey. And I share my journey with others because the only thing more powerful than taking a journey is sharing it with others.

But if nobody witnesses my exploration — if nobody sees or records me setting a new world record — I’m absolutely fine with that. If I die with my name unknown to the world, that’s OK with me. What matters to me is that I’ve lived well and that I’ve lived in pursuit of the unknown. What matters to me is that I’ve never stopped learning and growing and that I’ve done my best to help others by sharing the uniqueness of my potential.


I’ve become fairly good at turning things down when I recognize that they won’t contribute to my overall vision or direction, or when I realize that I won’t be excited and enthusiastic about doing it when the time comes to follow through.

But what about those things that I’ve already committed to, those things that I was working towards but that now no longer hold any interest? What should I do with them when I discover they no longer inspire or motivate me or when I learn something new about why I chose to do them in the first place?

It seems rather wasteful and brainless to push through stubbornly, to ignore the fact that I’m no longer motivated and do something just because I’ve previously committed to it. Life is fluid, it’s not ridged. Life does not exist as a defined waterway set into stone that we must follow religiously. Life flows, and so should we.

I’ve become so weary of pushing through stale commitments and goals because doing so always creates a toxic feeling, a physical sensation that I can only describe as stress hormones spewing themselves throughout my body. When I feel it, I become hyper-focused on ignoring those feelings and then I need to expend enormous amounts of energy stubbornly pushing through whatever it is that’s generating them.

This stress generates a huge creative block, a resistance that prevents creativity of any type. As I put more and more importance on my creative work, I find myself increasingly weary of pushing through things just for the sake of ‘pushing through and sticking to the plan’. The plan now needs to have a clear purpose and it needs to make me feel alive.

In the past few years, I’ve given up and said no to many things in the pursuit of happiness, peace, flow, and simplicity. Facing negative energy, whether from myself or from those around me, immediately reminds me of just how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned about releasing things that do not feel life-enriching.

But is it necessary to occasionally sacrifice some of that peace in the name of pushing myself beyond limits and stepping outside of my comfort zone?


A few months ago I registered for my first marathon, and then few weeks later I registered for my first ultramarathon. I registered for them because I thought I wanted an official record to show that I had run a specific distance, to see my name on a list of official runners and to be able to tell people that “I ran the Baystate Marathon”, or that “I ran the Chicago Lakeside 50-mile Ultramarathon.”

But as the two events approached, I found my motivation for both of them evaporating.

My focus in the past month has taken an unexpected turn, instigated, I believe, by the creative energy I felt in Tasmania. Up until that point, I was maintaining a regular training schedule and I was on target for the marathons. But when I arrived in Tasmania, I became more reflective and more internally creative. My training took a backseat and I started to reflect on why I had registered for the marathons in the first place.

Setting those new personal records and discovering my true motivations for running and pushing myself made me realize that I have absolutely no desire to see my name on an official record. If I run an ultramarathon all by myself, with nobody watching, I’d feel the same sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that I would feel if hundreds saw me do it.

I’ve learned that running is about the journey for me, it’s not about the destination. Completing an official marathon was a destination, not a journey (a journey would be pushing my body to run a marathon distance, which is something that I could do anywhere, at any time).

And so this is where I need to decide whether or not to push through and uphold a previously held commitment: Do I ignore all these new things that I’ve learned and move forward with pushing myself through the marathons just for the sake of completing them? Or do I allow myself to adapt and flow, to embrace this new knowledge of why I run and then adjust my focus and my goals accordingly?

At this point in writing, my thoughts shifted to what Bruce Lee might tell me. His words about flow came to mind: “Empty your mind. Be formless. Shapeless. Like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or it can crash. Be water my friend.”

I stopped writing for a moment and looked outside to reflect on Bruce’s words. My eyes landed on a seagull perched high on a light pole, just moments before he leapt off and spread his wings. Did the bird commit to flying? Yes. But did he commit to a destination?

When a bird jumps from a tree branch, he makes a commitment to take flight. He may have the intention of flying to a neighboring tree, but he doesn’t make a commitment to do so; a gust of wind may alter his course and force him to land somewhere else. Instead, he commits to the intention of the journey and then adjusts course as needed, flowing and adapting, like water.

Running Notes: Learning About Chafing

Yesterday I set a new personal record for running: 11.22 miles (18 km). While this may sound like a lot, it’s just one step for me towards a 100-mile (160km) ultramarathon. (I set this personal record entirely barefoot, as in nothing on my feet, no running sandals or anything.)

I wasn’t looking at my iPhone during the run, so I didn’t know when I passed my previous record (8mi/13km), but my body definitely felt it. 

I could tell that I was running in uncharted territory. My tight hip flexors and my left achilles tendon made themselves heard. And there was something else seeking my attention: a pain between my legs. Yup, it was chafing.

This certainly wasn’t the first time I’d experienced chafing, but it was the first time I’d experienced chafing with the knowledge that I would eventually be running much further distances. 

If I was experiencing chafing this painful at 18 km, what would it be like at 118 km?

In the past, I would simply endure the pain for a few days, waiting patiently for it to go away (if the pain is endurable, I always choose to endure it). There was no reason to learn more about chafing or even seek out a remedy. 

This time, however, was different. I’ve committed to running an ultramarathon and untreated chafing can get serious can lead to infection, or worse, it could force me to drop out of an ultramarathon.

After a painful shower, my first Google search was, “natural chafing remedy”, because there’s always a natural remedy and natural is always the best way to go. 

The next thing on my priority list was a minimalistic solution: I wanted something that was simple. One remedy caught my eye immediately. It called for making a paste to rub on the affected area using oatmeal and olive oil. I’m a huge fan of both oatmeal and olive oil and I usually have both of those ingredients nearby. Minimalist solution found.

The next step was to research prevention techniques. Chafing was certainly not a new phenomena. Throughout history, soldiers, runners, hikers, and athletes all must have experienced this. What did they do?

Unfortunately, I was unable to find anything conclusive. Suggestions for prevention varied from using vaseline and gels, to skipping the use of underwear (Roman style), to losing fat and staying hydrated. 

It looks like I’ll need to experiment with chafing prevention to find what works for me. Until then, I’ll be sleeping with olive oil and oatmeal between my legs.

Notes: Chi Running Video

While looking for YouTube videos that demonstrated examples of proper running and walking gaits, I came across this video on Chi Running.

I'd come across the Chi Running book many years ago, but I unfortunately never looked into it. (I could've saved myself so much pain and discomfort while running.)

I've been exploring barefoot running for the past few years and as a result of running naturally, I've been discovering just how out of whack my body has become after years of improper running and walking, spurred on by, and no doubt contributing to, my bad posture.

If you run, even just a little, I strongly suggest watching this short video so you can understand how you may be, quite literally, putting the breaks on your progress.

There is so much we're not taught about how our bodies work and a little knowledge goes a long way towards avoiding injuries and correcting existing pains.

Oldest Marathon Runner in the World

I came across an article about a 101 year old man, Fauja Singh, who completed the 26-mile London Marathon recently to became the oldest marathon runner in the world. If you want motivation, look at this guy!

Ever since I began fitness training in my late teens, I've told myself that I want to "die running". (Immobility scares me and the thought of being incapable of running in my old age is not something I'm willing to accept.) Fauja is quoted as saying, "I won't stop running till I die. I want to be remembered as the person who ran till the end".

Last year I set two mental goals for 2012: Hike the Appalachian Trail and run a 100-mile Ultramarathon. After postponing the Appalachian Trail hike earlier this year, I'm left with only one of those two goals: run 100-miles.

I know that running has incredible health benefits and I can only imagine how beneficial it would be to run at least a couple of 100-mile Ultramarathons every year. That seems like a lofty goal to me now, but I know that once I've crossed the barriers I will look back and appreciate my willingness to tackle such a challenge.

Here's to training for an Ultramarathon. If a 101 year old guy can do 26 miles, there's no reason a 30 year old guy can't do 100 miles.

Swollen Shins as a Result of Muscular Imbalances

Over the course of the past 27 years, my posture has suffered greatly from the sedentary nature of my career. The extreme muscular imbalances have created a very dysfunctional body and those dysfunctions become more and more apparent the further I push myself physically.

For example while running, more pressure is exerted on my lower shins than is normal and as a result they've become swollen (and even bruised). They're in pain constantly, even when walking. My hip flexor muscles are locked into flexion, causing my torso to lean slightly forward. Extremely tight calves and quads also prevent full extension of the legs when running.

The past few months I've been doing more running than ever before and I've broken several personal records along the way (dropped my 4 mile run time from 41 min to 30 min in 3 months). Since noticing my swollen shins, I've eased up slightly on the length of my runs (3 miles instead of 4+) and started icing and stretching.

I seriously need to commit more time (i.e., daily) to fixing the muscle imbalances in my body. For the past 6 months or so, I've been using (on and off) Pete Egocsue's excellent postural therapy program, as outlined in two books, Pain Free and Pain Free at your PC. In the long run, fixing the muscular imbalances is more important than any other physical training since exercising a dysfunctional body will only strengthen the imbalances and prevent me from reaching my full physical potential!

My New Workout Routine: Navy SEAL PT

I've started doing a Navy SEAL calisthenic workout routine that takes about 60 minutes and consists of a warm-up, various types of pull-ups, dips, various types of pushups, various ab exercises, a very tough lying neck rotation exercise, and finally lunges, calf raises, and 250 squats.

The only thing I can keep up with is the warm-up, pull-ups, and leg exercises. However, after two weeks I'm definitely seeing huge improvement. I do this workout three days a week and mix in 4-mile, 35-40 min cardio sessions in-between.

I've never done this much running before (15 - 20 miles a week) and my calves and knees are still adjusting to all the pounding on the treadmill. I'm ignoring the pain, but I need to be careful not to injure myself (I'm crazy enough to push myself to the point of injury; I've done it before).

I rarely feel the need for inspiration when it comes to fitness, but the Navy SEALs have given me a benchmark from which I can compare my own fitness. In fact, after reading so much about them the past few weeks I have undergone some profound changes mentally. But I'll leave that for a separate post. 🙂

Should I Run in Polluted City Atmosphere?

I've been living in the city (Cambridge, MA) for almost a whole year now and one of the biggest things I miss about living outside the city is the cleaner air. OK, the air in Lowell is not exactly clean but I can drive 10 minutes and be in the middle of a 1,000 acre state forest where the air is much cleaner. I used to do a lot of running before I moved to Cambridge, both indoors and outdoors, but now I feel afraid to run. I can smell the pollution in the air simply walking 10 minutes between my apartment and the office -- it makes the air dry and thick. I'm not one to quit simply because something is more difficult or because it doesn't taste or feel good. But when it comes to my health, I can't help but wonder, will running in polluted city atmosphere actually be worse for me than not running at all?

Every day I see so many people, young and old, running throughout the city and I wonder if the health benefits they are experiencing are only temporary -- if by sucking down so many unnatural, unhealthy chemicals they're actually shortening their overall lifespan. I touched on this subject a few months ago in a post titled Dirty Air. I concluded the post by saying that a healthy lifestyle cannot be had while working where the crowd works. I don't like to believe things are impossible and I feel there must be some type of balance that can be reached -- perhaps a combination of indoor aerobic activity (rowing machine), indoor anaerobic activity (weight lifting), and various weekend outdoor activities when I visit Lowell on the weekends.

I also wondered if running at night, or early in the morning, would be more healthy than running during the day. I noticed the air smells much cleaner during the late evening and early morning hours. My own hypothesis is that when the sun goes down and the air begins to cool, all the warmer air (which was mixed with pollution from cars and buildings as well as heated by the sun during the day) rises up into the atmosphere allowing the cooler, cleaner air (cleaned by moisture in the air, currents, etc.) to sink down to the ground. If this is true, then running at night and early in the morning, before people start leaving for work, could be much healthier than running during the day. Are there any night runners (or early morning runners) out there that can confirm any of this?

Dirty Air

The air quality in Cambridge (MA) doesn't even compare to that in Pelham (NH). I had to go to Lowell for some issues with my rental properties and decided to visit my parents while I was there. It had been raining and drizzling since about 3pm today and by the time I arrived in Pelham around 8pm everything felt almost tropical. It was amazing. I took a deep breath with my windows down as I drove along road, with dark green trees in every direction. The air felt clean; more oxygenated; it felt healthy.

It's easy to compare the air quality because yesterday evening I went running around the area near my Cambridge apartment. I haven't been running in awhile, and it was obvious my lung capacity had decreased a lot because I needed to take deep breaths all the time. Half way through my run I stopped. What was I breathing in? Car exhaust, the trash sitting on the sidewalk, the smell of laundry coming from a vent, the strong perfume of the person I just passed. Ugh! It felt like I was running one step forward and taking my health two steps backwards!

I can't help but wonder how much of an effect living in the city has on a persons health. I spent the majority of the first 14 years of my life in a rural area with a lot more trees than houses, the following 10 years in a semi-rural area with more houses than trees, and the past 7 months in the city, where there are more dogs than there are trees! I thought of living in a more rural area and commuting to Boston, but would that be any better? I'd probably be getting even more exposure to unhealthy air since I'll be traveling the very routes where the dirty air starts!

In retrospect, a truly healthy life cannot be lived by working "where the crowd works", nor can it be lived if your goal is to simply make as much money as possible (as is my goal for the next 5 years... how much of an impact will those 5 years of living in the city have on my health!?). For many, it's not a matter of choice but a matter of necessity. I'm lucky to still have many of my options wide open.

We are what we consume.

Started running again

I had a good workout tonight. I felt energized as ever, which I'm crediting to my high complex carbohydrate intake throughout the day (whole wheat pasta with my own sauce (fresh onion and mushroom)).

I also decided to start running again and ended todays workout with a 15 minute interval circuit:

15 Minute Interval Circuit

00:00 - 5 mph warm up
02:00 - 9 mph sprint
02:30 - 7 mph run
03:30 - 9 mph sprint
04:00 - 7 mph run
05:00 - 9 mph sprint
05:30 - 7 mph run
06:30 - 8 mph sprint (tired as hell!)
07:00 - 7 mph run
08:00 - 8 mph sprint
08:30 - 7 mph run
09:30 - 9 mph sprint
10:00 - 7 mph run
11:00 - 9 mph sprint
11:30 - 7 mph run
12:00 - 6 mph cool down
13:00 - 5 mph cool down
14:00 - 4 mph cool down
15:00 - end

It's really amazing how long 15 minutes seems when you're enduring such physical stress, and as much as I wanted to stop, I kept telling myself to overcome the pain. I'm glad I did, because I felt good afterwards.

There's a sense of accomplishment I feel after completing a tough workout. Even if I've had a very unproductive day, finishing it with a tough workout would make the entire day seem worth it. A tough workout is also an excellent stress releaser -- no matter how hard my day was, finishing it with a good workout makes me feel as if I could start the whole day over, and go through it all over again.