30 Days of Gratitude – Day #26, Five Things for a Thankful Thanksgiving

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Continuing with my 30 Days of Gratitude, I am taking a step back to reflect on some of the things I am thankful for this year going into the holiday season.

Day #26 – A Time for Giving Thanks

While I have taken one item per day for my 30 days of Gratitude, they have become rather long-winded posts. For today I really wanted to focus on just the basics – I have a lot to be thankful for!

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1. Having my wife and boys around the table with me. We have already eaten as this is published, thanks in part to Black Friday moving to late Thursday afternoon.

2. That my brother survived his heart attack and continues to be an important part of my life. I was definitely disappointed that we had to cancel plans for Thanksgiving together, but am glad it was a choice we had to make. Never take anyone for granted.

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3. That we have a roof over our heads and jobs that put food on our table and clothes on our bodies. It is so easy to take the affluence most of us enjoy for granted.

4. For all of our health – not perfect, but we are all here and able to do things together. For me personally, I am thankful for a body that will carry me across miles upon miles of running every week and sustain me through busy days of work and family as well!

5. For Danny, Chris and most of all Lisa. Oh yeah, and our dogs Rosie and Riley, our cats Leo and Dolly, and our fish Monty as well!

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What Are You Thankful For?

30 Days of Gratitude – Day #25, ‘Elephant With Earrings’***

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OK, before I start … the amazing comments over the weekend have simply floored me. I repeatedly say how much I enjoy all of you guys because of the insightful, thoughtful comments that go in new directions and beyond my original post … um, yeah, totally.

Continuing with my 30 Days of Gratitude, and although it sounds weird, I am thankful for having had to deal with obesity at 23, and the humbling experience of having to do it again at 46.

Day #25 – Wow … you were really, uh, big!

*** ‘Elephant with earrings’ was a drawing and tease-name in the 5th grade by Vinny Eisenhauer. As you can imagine, being an 11 year old boy in the mid-1970s who shopped in the ‘husky’ section, that was some pretty insulting stuff. It hasn’t bothered me in decades, really – but it has stuck with me. I think about the life-long impact of things like this as I watch parents (still) encourage their kids to judge harshly based on appearance (like when my son grew his hair for ‘Locks of Love’ because a friend of his had cancer), enter Pinewood Derby cars where the parents obviously did the whole thing against ones made entirely by the kids, or even seemingly harmless things like parents getting competitive with their toddlers having to ‘win’ costume contests that are much more about the adults. 37 years later there are many names I wish I remember … but one I DO is Vinny Eisenhauer, because of ‘Elephant with earrings’.

Looking back through my life there were more than a couple of times when I could have made or stuck with choices that would have stopped me from becoming as large as I did by the end of my college years – the easiest is at the end of my freshman year when I had finished the tennis season and the tennis coach wanted me to lose some weight but wanted me on the team again, and the football coach wanted me to work on weights and build endurance and try out for varsity. Instead I dove headlong into music and technology :)

As a result of low activity level and significant overeating I found myself close to 400lbs (I honestly have no idea … my first weigh-in was at 375 and I had already started losing weight). I have written time and again about losing weight both in 1989 and in 2012, so I will skip that (and if you want to read them, you can see My Running Story – In The Beginning …, My Running Story – The ‘In Between’ Years, My Running Story – The ‘Corning Years’ Through Today). But here is the thing:

I honestly believe that having been severely overweight has made me a better thin person, more aware of my health and very appreciative of the joyous gift of running.

I am not saying that being overweight makes you a better person, or that having been fat suddenly provides some universal clairvoyance or anything. I am just saying that for me personally, I feel more connected to the duality of being the same person in two different bodies having gone through it … twice.

In August I wrote about fat shaming and thin privilege, talking about the way that fat-shaming transcends ridicule to become oppression … and while I really didn’t expect much of a response, the comments were incredible.

And here’s the thing – the reality is that body-shaming runs across sizes and shapes and everything else. We are judged by someone else’s expectations of what we should look like, and so many people feel like they are harshly judged as too fat or too thin or eating too much or too little or for any of a variety of reasons. This is a gift that belonging to this community has given – an appreciation that everyone has a different story and deserves to be appreciated for the wonderful person they are.

OK I am thinking it, so I might as well say it – apparently some people believe it is required to have a weight/eating struggle to be a runner or a credible and ‘relatable’ running blogger. At least that is how it seems. A few people like Megan will readily say that they have never had to deal with much in the way of weight loss. Honesty is more important than false commonality.

But for others … it is as if having been obese or dealt with an eating disorder somehow gives a ‘story’ or ‘narrative’ that they are missing by having maintained a healthy weight their whole lives. WTF. Take it from myself on the fat end and ANYONE who has dealt with an eating disorder (and please make sure you have read Danielle’s incredible ‘Life with ED’ series if you haven’t already) … these are NOT ‘glamorous backstories’! I might have learned much from battling back from obesity twice … but yeah, I’m not sure that being a generally sensitive person wouldn’t have helped me along the way to gaining empathy.

My point? Your story is your story, and pretending to share someone else’s story doesn’t make you ‘more cool’, instead it makes you a rather obvious phony.

Well … since I have started down this path of alienating other bloggers … let me just keep rolling, and apologize in advance. I was reminded by a couple of posts I read this week that I think that ALL of us sometimes need to be reminded sometimes:

RUNNING. IS. A. GIFT.

Every stride we take is a joyous gift. Every run is something to celebrate. Sure, some runs are crap. Some days we feel like the Blerch has truly won. Yes, I get it – I have had my fair share of those days. And I also get that within this community we should feel that we have a safe place to complain to each other about what is a shared experience. But let us never forget those who cannot run, and really – for those of us who love to run … remember that we love this sport.

I have never forgotten how it felt in March of 2012 when I weighed over 275lbs and started running again, determined to lose weight and prepare for a marathon that fall. It was a pure force of will breaking through the pure suckage of the first couple of weeks until I began to hit my groove.

My ultimate thought here – own your story.

While I have disordered eating thoughts and have used restriction as a tool in the past, I don’t claim to really understand what it is like for those who have taken eating disorders to the point where it compromised their health. That is not part of my story, and I will never pretend it is. I do not claim that running marathons means I understand what it is like to experience childbirth (sounds ridiculous turned around and applied to a guy, doesn’t it?) – sure they are both hard things … but there are many difficult things in life and they aren’t instantly related by their hardness.

Also – treasure and protect your health. We are given one body, one life, and that is all. Hollie wrote about periods recently, which provided a relief valve for a number of young women who seemed to feel it was almost a rite of passage for women runners – which is absolute crap, of course. As I watched my brother lay unconscious spring of 2013, just 6 months after we ran the Wineglass marathon together … I was reminded of the fleeting nature of life. My father very nearly died of a heart attack at 45, and there was my brother on his second at 49! I have had a full cardiac workup and am fine – but it is a reminder … do not take this life, this body we are given for granted. Ever.

I DO have personal experience with extreme weight loss, but even in this my story is singular. What I have gone through as a child and adult is my own history, framed against the story of who I am, my gender and origins, where and when I grew up and those who were around me throughout my life. Having been obese is part of who I am, just as being ‘that guy we always see out running’ is part of who I am. And I am grateful for the part it has played in shaping the person I am today.

How do you feel about weight and fitness and motivation?

Yeah, more Weird Al …

30 Days of Gratitude – Day #24, Why Did They Help Me?

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Continuing with my 30 Days of Gratitude, I can look back throughout my life and see people who have had a positive impact on me in one way or another, some small and others fairly large:

Day #24 – The People Who Didn’t Need to Help

When I was mentoring a young woman on another project last week, I was thinking of a former colleague I saw at a conference last month for the first time in more than 20 years, and the lasting impact he had in my life. He and I worked in different groups but he saw my interest and aptitude for statistics and data analysis and it changed the course of my life.

But he is far from the only one – I can think of people who helped me out with advice, suggestions, friendship, and more … for no apparent reason other than to be a good person. Obviously it starts at home – my parents provided guidance and opportunity and my brother blazed the path as oldest child.

Sure there are co-workers and bosses and others who were basically assigned to help me out – but typically they are not ‘mentors’ in my opinion. For me Mentoring involves more than just task-based instruction … it actually means that you have taken an interest in a person beyond helping them navigate a new job position or handle a new task.

I feel I have been blessed throughout my life with people who have taken time beyond what was required:
Teachers: seriously teachers are SO undervalued in our society. As I entered my senior year in high school I had teachers pushing my guidance counselor for me to go into math, physics, English and music. Not just pushing me – taking time and working with external schools and my guidance counselor.

- Paper Route: My Boston Herald route took me through the low income housing … and let me just say that you can learn more about generosity when it comes from people with absolutely nothing to give. I had one guy – who might very well have been a drug dealer – who greeted me with a smile and a quick hello chat at least once a week, tipped reasonably well, and gave me a $20 Christmas tip each year in person. He taught me a lot about how wrong it is to just make snap judgments based on housing, skin color and income.

- Bradlees: I think back to working in high school, and vacations during college – I worked at the Bradlee’s Department Store. I could name a ton of people there who left significant positive memories and impacts – Steve R, Ginny B, Jim G, Leslie H, and many more. But there are a few that really stood out for me – Mike S, George L, (one guy whose name I totally blanked on), and most of all Richard LaPointe. I always bristle at the ‘child he never had’ description, but he clearly took me under his wing – he’d gone to school for physics but never finished and ended up as a retail department manager – and simultaneously wanted to make sure that didn’t happen to me, and appreciated the discussions we had. I worked at Bradlee’s over the course of 7 years, between 16 and 23, and it remains a cornerstone part of my growing up process.

- Administrative Assistants: at my first two ‘real’ engineering jobs (Bruker Instruments and Lambda Physik lasers), both were small companies where much teamwork was needed. Each had a single main administrative assistant, and they were totally taken for granted. Yet they were absolutely key to the day to day operations of the entire place. My experience at Bradlees had taught me to never under-value anyone, and getting to know these two (Karen at Bruker, Barbara at Lambda) reminded me that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. This continued on with ever person at every level in my companies since then. You can learn SO MUCH from those who are responsible for the daily success of a company but are treated as invisible by much of its management.

- Co-workers: as an engineer, scientist and statistician through the years, many of my tasks have been self-focused and directed … but always in a team context. Yet there were always people who I worked with or near outside of the project and team who were willing to help, actively sought to make my life easier – and they are the inspiration as I try to help younger engineers today. From Paul and Paul and Ron and Brian at Bruker to a few folks at Lambda to countless people (Chas, Phil, Wenyan, Kira, Liz, Mary Tedd, Ron, Rob, Chuck, Jim, and on and on) at Shipley, to an incredible cast of folks at Corning (Casey, Jess, Dave, Scott, Karen, Jason, Bethany, Susan, and so many more) … I have always had someone I could ask a question, make a joke, ask about my kids, or whatever.

- Friends – good and bad: Not everyone who is a mentor is a positive influence, nor is every mentoring a positive experience. I look at some of my friendships as exercises in learning my self value – because of the realization that they acted as if I had none. Most of my good friends are good friends – and with that comes the normal ups and downs of the decades. But there are also others – and for this one I single out Hemant, a co-worker from Shipley who called me the day I got laid off (he had been laid off before) to talk about his experiences and help put mine into context. It didn’t take away the sting or shock, but it was a critical moment for me that I really think helped me a great deal as I went forward.

- Lisa and the boys: It should come as no shock that they will get their own ‘Gratitude days’ … but I put them here to say – never underestimate what you can learn from your children and that wonderful person who married you.

Have you had people who have helped you ?

And well, I can’t NOT use this song … can I?

30 Days of Gratitude – Day #23, The Power to Walk Away

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Continuing with my 30 Days of Gratitude, I am thankful for the ability to walk away from unhealthy relationships.

Day #23 – Sorry … NOT gonna do it!

Early this year I wrote a post I liked about Setting Healthy Relationship Boundaries. Of course I also added some running context:

Running is a great form of exercise to be sure, and also opens up for us the possibility to seek within ourselves a sense of peace while also pushing ourselves to extremes. Yet like anything else it also offers a form of escape – which can be a good thing or a bad thing.

Let me put this bluntly – running is almost always a lousy way of establishing boundaries in relationships, because it generally is used as an escape. The same is true about traveling for work, volunteering to work off-shift hours, working holidays to avoid family gatherings and so on.

I think it is important as we get older to learn to deal with these things more directly, as I laid out in the post.

Personally one of my greatest strengths is my sense of loyalty … but it is also a weakness. It is one of the biggest things I have worked on through my adult life. I am much better than when I was younger, but it still happens. I will stick with things for far too long, investing myself where is no return, and compromising myself emotionally to the point where it impacts the healthy relationships in my life. I am so glad I have had Lisa by my side to work through all of this through the years … yes my circle is smaller, but it is overflowing with things that matter.

I have certainly seen this in blogging as well. Watching others as I have returned to focusing on blogging this month, I have seen genuinely nice people who are truly wonderful people – they are the part of the community I love. I have also seen those who will be BFFsies so long as it benefits them and then they are gone without a second thought. I have seen lies and harshness and passive aggressive behavior and more.

And I have let go of some blogs over the last couple of months that were no longer healthy – I had said that I would engage honestly and expect others to do the same with me. I also noted the ‘OMG u r the BESTEST’ commenting culture – whether to just be seen commenting, to get more cross-comments, or to always be positive to avoid looking mean/judgmental/rude … I really don’t know why. But when I see someone say something that makes no logical sense in a post, something that isn’t supported by things in their other posts or Instagram or Twitter … and THEN even in their replies to comments fail to maintain a consistent story? Well, if I say something then get attacked for it? Time to move along. And I wish I could say it only happened once … actually I wish it never happened at all.

Thanksgiving and the holidays are a great time to reflect upon our relationships. I hear so much about the great times, amazing gatherings, wonderful close families and so on … then at the same time I hear about the conflicts, the hidden agendas, the side-talk, the difficulties between spouses that come up, and on and on. And you know what? These are very often from the same people! Maybe yours is that mythical unicorn perfect family, but chances are … not so much. The questions you have to ask are (a) do I care (b) do I end up emotionally dealing with Thanksgiving until Christmas (c) is it impacting my relationship with my significant other and (d) what do I want and can reasonably expect?

During the holidays we often feel that we need to put on a smile and ‘suck it up’ and put on a show, or perhaps we love the time of year and revel in the joy of things and can let the negative stuff roll off our backs. But there needs to be a time for honesty, for refection and appraisal. Maybe that is something better left for the New Year, to get a fresh start and recommit to a year of healthy relationships … regardless of the consequences.

Because in my opinion there are few gives we could give ourselves that is better than a life filled with healthy relationships.

How do you do with identifying and walking away from unhealthy relationships?

30 Days of Gratitude – Day #22, Getting Old Might Suck, But Who Really Wants to Be Young Forever?!

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Continuing with my 30 Days of Gratitude, I am thankful for the years I have behind me.

Day #22 – Aging Is Not Always Bad

Our society puts a high premium on youth, but that is mostly in terms of appearance – we want our celebrities young and beautiful. But as noted by Chrissy, being (or even looking) young makes it hard to be taken seriously.

Recently we have seen several examples of people who either are trying to go back, or not move on, or something. These might be mid-life crises, people in college really wanting to still be in high school; wanting to be single and in their 20s again, and so on. The motivations for this vary, but they mostly seem to stem from fear or regret – maybe someone fears moving away from home or having kids or getting married, or they regret the path they took or choices they made.

But getting older isn’t all bad – and of course it really isn’t optional!

What I find interesting is the way some in our community are dealing with it. Amanda had a great post about when PRs are behind you, addressing the reality that eventually there will be nothing we can do to get faster.

Then Harold laid out the alternatives pretty clearly:

being dead

or

being old

Personally while I do wish I had discovered racing back when I started running, I have no desire to be in my 20s again … or even my 30s. I loved those years – my 20s were a journey of discovery as I went from fat to fit, assuming I’d be single forever to married. My 30s brought our two boys, home ownership, great accomplishments professionally, and amazing times with Lisa.

Our 40s have seen our boys become great young men, my layoff and move to Corning NY, and some of the best times of my marriage. The last few years have seen my running restart with vigor, taking my daily mileage from 2.5 to 7.5 miles, cutting 33% off my pace, and the first races of my life.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I know I will get older, as will everyone around me. I look forward to seeing where the boys and up and how Lisa and I can continue our grand adventure!

How do you feel about getting older?

How about some songs about getting old? There is a fun list on Slate, but I’ll just go with The Who … because of the delicious irony of 70+ year old geezers still trying to rock like they are in their 20s!

30 Days of Gratitude – Day #21, You Guys Are Awesome (Mustache Some Questions Post)

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Continuing with my 30 Days of Gratitude, I am thankful for this incredible blog and social media community.

Day #21 – Sorry … NOT Sorry!

OK, when I got tagged not once but twice I thought ‘how am I going to do ANOTHER’ award post as a Gratitude post? Then I realized something – I don’t have to fake it!

Truth is, I would have totally left this blog and the community behind if it wasn’t for all of you great people – over the last couple of years since I started reading running & healthy living blogs and writing my own blog, I have learned SO much (um, tapering, fartleks, compression, I could go on forever!) – and thoroughly enjoyed ‘meeting’ so many great people. It is definitely something I am grateful for!

So when I got nominated by Harold and Nicky Nicole (sorry, couldn’t help myself!) to add my own post, naturally I could’t say no!

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4 names that people call me, other than my real name:
1. Dad
2. Mr. Anderson (normal)
3. Mr. Anderson (Matrix voice)
4. Mikey A (old nickname from high school & college, heard it a couple of times at reunion this spring!)

4 jobs I’ve had:
1. Newspaper delivery (Brockton Enterprise, Boston Herald, Boston Globe)
2. Retail associate (Bradlees, through high school & college)
3. Optical Engineer
4. Statistician

4 movies I’ve watched more than once (OK, since THAT list is in the thousands I’ll go with the ‘memorized’ concept):
1. Star Wars original trilogy (OK, three movies is cheating, but at least I narrowed it from all 6!)
2. Harry Potter movies (more cheating)
3. Real Genius, Airplane and Better Off Dead (yes, still more cheating)
4. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

4 books I’d recommend (I just did yet another book post, so these are recent books never on one of my lists … links are NOT affiliate, just Kindle links):
1. The Art of Racing in the Rain (2009) by Garth Stein
2. Burial Rites (2013) by Hannah Kent
3. Gone Girl (2012) by Gillian Flynn
4. Sweet Tooth (2012) by Ian McEwan (Lisa was *not* a huge fan of this one :)

4 places I have lived (yeah, not big on moving :) ):
1. Stoughton, MA. (25 years)
2. Troy, NY (college years)
3. Acton, MA (4 years)
4. Townsend, MA (13 years)
5. Horseheads, NY (last 6.5 years)

4 places I have been (tough choices!):
1. Cape Cod (about a million times during my life!)
2. Disney World (by myself once, and a few times with the kids!)
3. Karlsruhe Germany (a couple of weeks on business but plenty of time to explore!)
4. Antigua (honeymoon – such great memories!)

4 places I’d rather be right now:
1. Boston area / Cape Cod
2. London
3. Somewhere in the Carribean
4. San Francisco

4 things I don’t eat (perhaps this illustrates part of my food problem!):
1. Clams due to a strong reaction (by extension I don’t touch mussels or oysters), not allergic, but will be on the couch all day
2. Um … I tend to avoid processed foods, fried foods, packaged sweets, ‘chemical soup’ etc. But those are ‘avoid’, not ‘don’t eat’.

4 of my favorite foods:
1. Ice cream
2. Fresh fruit
3. Sweet potato
4. Peanut butter

4 TV shows that I watch:
1. Twin Peaks (Old Fave / re-watching)
2. Doctor Who
3. Castle
4. Grimm

4 things I’m looking forward this year:
1. Maintaining running, fitness, weight
2. Danny graduating and starting college
3. Chris doing his college search
4. Whatever adventures Lisa and I have

4 things I’m always saying:
1. How are the college applications going?
2. Are you guys almost done with homework … we’re going to bed
3. Time to wake up!
4. True story!

Have you done one of these posts? If not … consider yourself nominated :)

30 Days of Gratitude – Day #20, Another Year of 3000+ Running Miles

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Continuing with my 30 Days of Gratitude, I am thankful for the joy of all those boring miles I run!

Day #20 – As I have said – BORING!

One of my earliest blog posts from over a year ago was called “Mostly the Miles are Just Boring” (I did a ‘from the archives post here), where I talked about my thoughts about blogging:

Back when I started this blog I was conflicted – I was planning to talk about running and ‘healthy living’, but wasn’t planning a hardcore running or foodie blog. At the time the blogs I most enjoyed were ones written by runners with more to discuss than just running.

At this point I have stopped doing weekly summaries, occasionally do monthly summaries, and generally just keep track quarterly. I do like looking back over time and see how I have been feeling and what I have been doing in terms of runs and running. And of course I love getting comments and feedback and getting to read others’ insights.

Oh, and this:

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I mean, because hugs are always good, right? Even sweaty, gross, post-run hugs! :)

Most of all … I just love running. Not racing, ‘training’, talking about running … just getting out and running. Not running FOR something, TOWARDS something, or whatever … just running.

And this week I have once again passed 3000 miles for the year!

I really thought that last year with 3150 miles (2012 was just under 2000 in 9 months) would be my peak, but this year I managed to keep up my mileage all summer in spite of not doing ‘doubles’ and never running on a day Lisa and I were both off from work.

But this past week I was reading comments on a running forum, I was reading some posts that were criticizing some running bloggers … and in particular a theme emerged about miles – that they need to have a PURPOSE, work towards an OUTCOME. Basically three opinions were formed in the comments:
– You should be getting much faster
– You should be building endurance to run longer distances without crashing
– Or … WTF, knock that crap off running those useless miles!

I can see their point – assuming we each only have so many running miles in our legs, why not put them to specific use? And it was pretty clear that the people with very strong opinions were young (20s or maybe early 30s), race-centric and very competitive. So the idea of ‘junk miles’ is clearly unappealing to that crowd. In that ‘junk miles’ post I had the following thoughts:

There are also three REALLY good reasons to focus on maximizing your training efficiency in fewer miles : injury, burnout and frustration.

If you are injury prone, or recovering while training for a new event, every mile can make you more prone to getting injured. And if you are getting stuck in a rut of doing the same thing again and again, chances are you aren’t improving and might be getting burned out and lose interest in your training. None of this is good.

So my advice would be to ditch someone else’s definition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ miles, figure out based on your own personal experience what YOUR balance of ‘quality vs. quantity’, and develop your own optimal training plan … regardless of how someone else would judge it.

And for me … even as we had three days with air temperatures in the ‘teens’ this week including a sub-zero wind chill day, and once I got myself properly bundled up – I was happy to get out and run my miles. Yes, I am still doing a minimum of 7.5 miles per day, generally 6 days per week, long runs on the weekends and so on. And I still love running – it is not work, not a chore … and that is part of the reason I never consider myself ‘training’, because that sounds hard! I’d rather spend my weekends on an 18 mile fun run with hill repeats than on TRAINING …

How do you feel about reading running-specific blogs? Do you feel miles must have a ‘purpose’?

Um, yeah … you’ve probably never heard THIS one before (based on the number of Run ### Run blogs, anyway … )