Trees are my enemy

I know it’s commonplace for middle-aged men to complain that growing old isn’t for sissies, but I’m about to grouse about my health. Fair warning.

Now, nothing drastic is wrong with me at the moment. Thank goodness. But in recent years, I’ve experienced a variety of physical woes, large and small. I’ve had pneumonia, which I guess can hit anyone at any age. Because I was overweight for so long, my back experienced low level chronic pain. I struggle to get good sleep. I was flexible when I was young; that is no longer true. Last year, for no apparent reason, I tore a bicep tendon. That sucked in a big way.

But I think my biggest frustration stems from my allergies.

When I was a boy, my parents had me tested for food allergies. The testing revealed that I have problems with wheat and potatoes (but nothing else, fortunately). For a while — one year? two? three? — my mother drove me to get allergy shots every week. As far as I can tell, I no longer have issues with wheat or potatoes.

I do have problems with dairy products, but I’m not hear to day to complain about lactose intolerance. Most folks struggle with that to some degree, right?

No, I’m here to complain about trees.

About fifteen years ago, I began to notice I had severe allergy issues every spring. Right around spring break, I grew miserable. Sore throat. Itchy eyes. Sneezing. Stuffy nose. I was a mess. On sunny days, I was such a mess that I didn’t want to leave the house. I would literally retreat to the bathtub, place a wet washcloth over my face, then lay there for hours (I’m serious!) listening to audiobooks. It was the only way for me to get comfortable.

We Roths aren’t so good at solving problems sometimes. We’ll take care of the immediate issue (by hiding in the bathtub with a washcloth draped across our faces!), but we won’t address the core issue. I have this problem, but it’s not just me. It’s my family.

Well, eventually Kris (my wife at the time) managed to convince me to see an allergist. Just like when I was a kid, they gave me a battery of tests. Grass was fine. Dust was fine. Lots of things were fine. Trees were not fine.

In fact, when the doc came in to look at my scratch test, he was startled the welts on my arm. “Wow,” he said. “Trees are your enemy!” I laughed at the time, but that’s stuck with me all of these years. Trees are my enemy.

Alder, in particular, sets me off. The allergist told me that the long, long welt on my arm from the Alder test was one of the biggest responses he had ever seen.

Anyhow, this all comes up because we’re approaching allergy season, and I can sense it. I just spent ten minutes with a minor sneezing/nose-blowing fit. My allergies don’t usually set in until late February, but temps have been warm this year, and we already have some trees blooming here in the Portland area. Not many, but enough. My enemies have launched their first attack of 2021!

Over the years, I’ve developed a regimen to combat these vile plants.

Usually, I start taking a battery of drugs on or around Valentine’s Day. It’s taken me a long time to figure out what works. I take a 12-hour pseudoephedrine in the morning along with loratadine. At night before bed, I take diphenhydramine. (I take two if I’m especially miserable.)

These drugs don’t eliminate my symptoms, but they make them manageable.

It used to be that I only needed these crutches from March 1st to April 15th. I’ve learned though that if I start on February 14th, my body builds up defenses. If I wait until March 1st, there’s a transition week where things suck. I’m also learning that I oughtn’t stop on April 15th. If I do, then the last week of April also sucks. So, I’m currently on a ten-week schedule with these anti-tree meds: February 14th to April 30th.

But this year? This year, things may be starting even earlier. I’m going to message my doctor this morning to see if she can put in a prescription for Claritin-D. I’ll try to hold out until Valentine’s Day before I begin taking them, but at this point it looks like the trees have launched a sneak attack. It’s time for me to take up arms.

Life without alcohol is life on easy mode

While walking the dog this morning, I had a realization. A re-realization, really. I was struck by the difference in my mindset today vs. when I’m consuming too much alcohol.

The past couple of days have contained a lot of stressors for me.

  • Although Tuesday’s riots at the U.S. Capitol weren’t unexpected, they still way heavily on my mind. I know I shouldn’t let national news affect me, but I do. When COVID hit last March, it depressed me. The events around November’s election depressed me. Tuesday’s riots were a similar Big Ugly Event.
  • Yesterday, I did a dumb thing. In the comments at Get Rich Slowly, I called out my colleague Financial Samurai based on some unsubstantiated info. This was a mistake. I own it and I regret it. We’ve resolved things amicably but I feel terrible about what I did. This sort of stuff usually sends me into a tailspin too.
  • Meanwhile, I have ongoing trepidation about the structural stability of our house and my ability to live on my savings for the next eight years. Kim tells me that I’m “catastrophizing”, and I know that this is at least partially true. (Possibly 100% true.) But still, I cannot stop myself.

A year ago, this combination of factors would have me in a pit of despair. My depression and anxiety would be at extreme levels. I would be avoiding work. I would be soaking in the hot tub all day while playing video games. I would feel miserable and worthless.

Today, there are still elements of this going on — there’s a corner of my brain where these thoughts exist — but mostly I find I’m able to tell myself, “Get over it, J.D. You cannot control national events. You made a mistake with Sam and apologized; what’s done is done. And Kim is right that you are catastrophizing. If you don’t like this house, you need to fix it or move.”

I feel as if my current response to things is much healthier than my response might have been a year ago. Or three years ago.

Why is that? I keep coming back to alcohol.

My Relationship with Alcohol

For most of my life, I did not drink. I grew up Mormon. Mormons don’t drink. Although I was no longer LDS when I left for college, I still didn’t drink a lot while there. Yes, I drank some. But not much. And when I drank, it was weird. (I would down two or three shots of vodka in rapid succession while plugging my nose and chasing everything with a salty snack. I hated it.)

When Kris and I got together, she didn’t like me drinking, so I didn’t. We were pretty much alcohol-free until 1998.

In 1998, I started having panic attacks. (I thought they were heart attacks.) For real, my doctor suggested that I start drinking red wine to combat this. So, I did. For fifteen years, I drank wine and whisky now and then, but it wasn’t a regular habit. (And I rarely got more than mildly buzzed.)

In 2012, I learned to like beer. And when Kim and I started dating around this time, many of the things we did were centered on alcohol: wine tasting, wine bars, speak-easies, late-night dive bars, etc.

Then, starting on our RV trip in 2015, my alcohol consumption began to creep higher. With nothing to do in the motorhome in the evening, we’d often enjoy two or three beers (each) or share a bottle of wine.

Eventually I reached the point where I was drinking nearly every day. Even after we returned to Portland, I maintained the habit.

When I started seeing a therapist in 2019, she had me keep a log of my alcohol consumption. I was consuming between 21 and 28 portions of alcohol every week — and that’s just what I was recording. (I tried to be honest, but I know I wasn’t 100% faithful.) Plus, I would count a 22-ounce bottle of 7.0% beer as one portion. Haha.

In the U.S., fourteen grams of pure alcohol is considered a “standard” drink. (Why grams instead of milliliters? Because it’s the U.S., I guess. It’s bizarre.) This is roughly twelve ounces of 5% beer. Or five ounces of 12% wine. But a 22-ounce bottle of 7% beer? Well, that contains 45 ml (~36 g) of alcohol. That’s nearly three standard drinks. (It’d be considered more than four “units” of alcohol in the U.K.)

Translation: I was drinking a lot, and it was fucking with my head. I have no doubt now that much of my depression and anxiety stemmed from alcohol consumption.

Test-Driving Sobriety

In 2020, I managed to go from July 5th to October 28th without consuming alcohol. By the end of that stretch, I was operating at peak performance for the first time in years. I felt great! I felt like myself again.

Yes, I did replace alcohol with pot for some of that time (marijuana is legal here in Oregon), but there were long stretches where I was completely sober. I used non-alcoholic beer to cope with some of the cravings.

From Halloween to Thanksgiving, though, I returned to my old ways. I wasn’t consuming 28 drinks per week, but I was drinking at least three days a week and probably enjoying 12+ servings of alcohol each week. In early December, I felt the depression creeping back, so I put the brakes on.

For the past month or so, I’ve given up alcohol again — but not completely. I may indeed go dry for another extended period of time, but right now I’m simply choosing not to drink whenever possible, and when I do drink, I limit myself to one or two.

During the first seven days of 2021, I consumed four drinks. I drank on three days. Yesterday at Costco, I bought a 22-ounce beer that’s sitting in the fridge for this weekend. I may or may not drink it. We’ll see.

So, let’s go back to my current state of mind.

Life Without Alcohol Is Life on Easy Mode

As I said, if I were currently drinking a lot, the events of the past couple of days would have shoved me into a dark place. I would be miserable and unproductive.

But because I’m not drinking (or not drinking much, anyhow), I’m better able to deal with things. I let myself get riled up by the Capitol riots, but I’m ready to let those feelings go now. I screwed up with Sam, but I dealt with the problem immediately in an adult way instead of allowing it to fester. And while yes, I continue to fret about the house and my financial situation, I recognize that if these things bug me, I need to take steps to fix them.

When I’m drinking, everything is harder. That’s because alcohol exacerbates my natural tendency toward depression. And when you’re depressed, it’s like you’re constantly trying to live normal life while submerged neck-deep in water. It’s a slog.

Life without alcohol is life on “easy” mode. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but it’s certainly life on “easier” mode. (Maybe a better way to look at it is life with alcohol is life on “hard” mode and life without is life on “normal” mode. Maybe I’d find “easy” mode if I gave up alcohol and took my ADHD meds. I don’t know.)

Why I Walk: Some Thoughts on a Car-Free Lifestyle

Since returning from Ecuador in early September, Kim and I have both been focused on fitness. She’s doing Jenny Craig and hitting the gym; I’m doing Atkins and walking all over creation. We’re both down about ten pounds in two months. Yay!

It feels great to be walking again. When I decided to lose weight in 2010, walking and Crossfit were the cornerstones of my fitness plan. (With them, I lost fifty pounds in eighteen months.) After my divorce, I rented an apartment in northeast Portland from which I could walk to everything. I loved it. I loved it so much that when I decided to buy a new home, I looked specifically for locations with a high walkscore.

But when I allowed my life to be subsumed by the Get Rich Slowly course last spring, I stopped exercising. As part of that, I forgot to walk. I got in the habit of driving even the half mile to the grocery store. For six months, I was sedentary, and my body showed it. Over the past two months, though, I’ve re-discovered the joys of walking.

First thing in the morning, I roll out of bed and take a long walk. I walk to “run” errands during the day. I walk to the grocery store. I walk to restaurants. I walk for exercise. I walk for fun. Kathleen and I even conduct business meetings while walking.

True story! Right now, I’m outlining this article about walking during a two-mile stroll to the gym. I’ll write more during my two-mile stroll home.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that sometimes it’s possible to forego the car for longish jaunts into downtown Portland. The center of the city is five miles from our condo. It takes about twenty minutes to drive that distance (counting time for parking). If I take the Springwater Corridor, I can bike downtown in 25 minutes or walk the distance in 85. Not bad.

So, I walked six miles to meet Kim before the final Portland Timbers match. And although I drove to meet her and Sahra for drinks before last Friday’s Jason Mraz concert, we left my Mini at Lloyd Center overnight. The next morning, I hoofed it exactly five miles to retrieve the car. (Believe it or not, I’ve found that walking can be an excellent cure for a hangover.)

If I were to become adept at Portland’s plentiful public transportation, I’d never have to drive downtown.

Because I’ve been walking and biking (and riding my motorcycle) so much lately, I’ve actually begun toying with the idea of selling my Mini. As much as I love the car, I just don’t use it that often. It’s very easy to imagine a car-free lifestyle.

Actually, I suspect that most folks — especially young folks — could profit from experimenting with carlessness. I don’t mean profit in strictly a financial sense, either — although your bank account would certainly benefit — but in myriad other ways as well: physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and more.

From a personal-finance perspective, automobiles are mostly money pits. The Consumer Expenditure Survey from the U.S. Department of Labor reveals that vehicles are the second-largest expense for the average American family, making up about 17% of the typical budget.

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), the average new vehicle cost 60.8 cents per mile to operate in 2013; that includes fuel, maintenance, registration, insurance, depreciation, and the cost of buying the vehicle (with finance charges). AAA figures the average driver spends just over $9,000 per year on her automobile.

But, as I said, going car-free offers other benefits. Here are a few of the reasons I prefer to walk:

  • Walking keeps me fit. I’ve always said that my body is built for walking, and it’s true. Some guys are natural muscle men. I have a good friend who is one of the world’s top ultrarunners; she was born to run. Others are naturally adept at jumping or climbing or swimming. Me? I’m built to walk long, slow distances.
  • Walking calms my mind. Normally my brain buzzes like a swarm of bees. But when I get outside, the pace of the world seems to slow. I’m more present in the moment. I watch the natural world around me. I feel a part of my environment rather than apart from it.
  • Walking connects me to my neighbors and my neighborhood. In a car, I drive the same streets all the time, and I travel through them at high speed. By foot, I’m more aware of the changes around me. And I meet people. Walking home on Tuesday, I struck up a conversation with an older guy who lives nearby. He’s lived here for thirty years, and was full of neighborhood lore. If I’d been driving, I’d never have met him.

When I suggest that more people ought to test-drive a car-free lifestyle (heh), I meet a lot of objections. I’ll admit there are folks for whom biking and busing and walking don’t make a lot of sense. If you live in rural Alaska, you probably need a car.

Often, however, the objections amount to little more than laziness: “I don’t want to put forth the effort and won’t even try.” People are quick to point out why biking or walking or public transit wouldn’t work for their situation, but fail to acknowledge that there are plenty of people in similar circumstances who do make it work. Mostly it’s a matter of will.

To truly go car-free — or to build your life around biking, busing, and walking — may require some forethought and drastic changes, but it’s almost certainly possible.

Note: Interested in car-free living but don’t know how to start? Mr. Money Mustache just issued a challenge: “Can you go car-free this weekend?” he asks. Can you? Give it a shot!

When you begin walking, it can seem like a hassle. It takes so long to get where you’re going! Soon, however, you learn to love the slower pace. How much time does it take? Both less and more than you’d think. Less time because it generally doesn’t take much longer than driving, especially over short distances. But more time in that people tend to grossly overestimate how quickly they walk.

Because I’m a nerd, I keep close tabs on how long it takes me to get to common destinations. This helps me to know when it makes sense to walk and when driving is a viable option. For instance:

  • The gym is a 2.5-mile drive (eight minutes) from home. It takes 32 minutes to walk or twelve minutes to bike to the gym via the nearby multi-use path.
  • Our grocery store is a half-mile drive (four minutes) from home. It takes ten minutes to walk that distance and five to bike it.
  • Our neighborhood is a little spread out. Our favorite restaurant is 0.6 miles up the street, but the movie theater is 1.3 miles away. It takes between four and six minutes to reach these places by car. It takes from ten to twenty minutes to walk and between five and ten minutes to bike.

When you figure in the fitness benefits, it almost always makes sense for me to walk to nearby destinations. Yes, biking can be quicker, but it’s also more of a hassle. I don’t do it often. (Biking makes more sense when I’m going downtown. It’s an hour quicker each way than walking, so the “overhead” of getting the bike out is worth it — especially since biking downtown doesn’t take much longer than driving.)

How fast do people walk? Non-walkers often believe that a good walking pace is four or five miles per hour. I wish. Over the past five years, I’ve logged thousands of miles by stopwatch and spreadsheet. My average pace hovers around seventeen minutes per mile (or 3.5 miles per hour). When hard-pressed, I can crank out fifteen-minute miles. (Once at Crossfit, Kyra paced a group of us to walk a 42-minute 5k — 13.5-minute miles. That was insane. I’d much rather run that distance in 25 minutes than walk it in 42.) If I’m on a groggy early-morning walk, I might amble through slug-like nineteen-minute miles. I feel like my seventeen-minute pace is pretty average — and might be a bit brisk over long distances.

According to my trusty pedometer, I’ve averaged 13,182 steps per day during the month of October. Because I know that the length of my stride yields almost exactly one mile per 2000 steps, I figure I’m walking about 6.5 miles per day. (Some days I walk twelve miles. Some days I walk zero. Most days, I walk five or six.)

Kim and I aren’t ready to go completely car-free. Her work office is 6.5 miles from home. She’s biked before, but it was a bother. The streets were busy, and it was tough to carry everything she needed. If her office were three miles away, or close to the nearby multi-use trail, she’d be more open to the idea. But for now, she prefers to drive.

Meanwhile, I still need want a car for a handful of errands. My orthodontist is twenty miles away, for instance. Also, my mother is in an assisted-living facility halfway between here and Salem. And what about Costco?

But you know what? My braces will come off in a couple of months. After that, I ought to be able to structure my long trips so that I can either take my motorcycle or borrow Kim’s car. Maybe I really could sell my Mini. We’ll see.

Crossfit Around the World

Over the past 2+ years, one of the most important parts of my life has been a dedication to fitness. Starting on 01 January 2010 at 213 pounds and 35% body fat, I’ve managed to drop fifty pounds (though I’m now at 173) and shed fat until I’m at about 21% body fat. I still want to get so I can maintain at 163 pounds and maybe 18% body fat, but I’m pleased with where I am.

Some of this progress is due to diet. But I’d like to think that most of it is due to Crossfit, the exercise regiment that I follow nearly every day. Crossfit contains a lot of different stuff: weight-lifting, traditional exercises like pull-ups and push-ups, running, and crazy things like sled drags and tire flips.

Over the last two years, I’ve undertaken a silly little photo project. I call it Crossfit Around the World. Basically, I’m trying to take photos of myself doing various exercises in exotic locations as I travel. I thought I’d lost two of these photos, but I recently found them. Thus, I’m sharing the first four in this ongoing series.

Crossfit - Doubleunders in France
Double-Unders at the Eiffel Tower (France) — October 2010

Crossfit - Pullups in Zimbabwe
Pull-Ups at Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) — February 2011

Crossfit - Pushups in Peru
Push-Ups at Macchu Pichu (Perú) — October 2011

Crossfit - Squats in Chile
Squats on Easter Island (Chile) — February 2012

The pull-up photo isn’t very good; I’m going to try to re-take it somewhere else in the world. Also, I plan to be in Turkey this September. Any suggestions as to which exercise I should do there? Sit-ups? Sprints? Hand-stand push-ups?

Fifty Pounds

Eighteen months ago today, I started a weight-loss journey. On 01 January 2010, I weighed 213 pounds. I was heavier than I’d ever been in my life.

For the first three months, I struggled to find a fitness regimen that worked for me. Eventually I discovered Crossfit. Meanwhile, I learned to eat more healthfully. (I haven’t been perfect over the past eighteen months, but my diet has improved substantially. I eat Real Food most of the time now, and that’s what counts.)

Now, after a year-and-a-half, I’ve reached my goal weight. I’ve lost fifty pounds. Here are the basic stats:

01 Jan 2010: 213# (35% fat, 30% muscle) with 42-1/2 inch waist
01 Jul 2011: 163# (20% fat, 38% muscle) with 32-1/2 inch waist

Since the start of 2010, I’ve dropped fifty pounds from my weight and ten inches from my waistline. I used to carry nearly 75 pounds of fat; today I carry about 33 pounds of fat. In other words, I lost 42 pounds of fat. (I also lost roughly two pounds of muscle. Not sure what the other six pounds were. Brain mass?)

The exciting thing for me (and for Kris, and for my trainer Cody) is that I can now shift my focus from weight loss to general fitness. Instead of stressing over calories, I can concentrate instead on making smart choices with my food, and on making exercise a routine part of my life. (Well, it already is a routine part of my life. But I want to keep it that way.)

If things go according to plan, I’ll maintain at 160 pounds (+/- three pounds) for years to come. When I dropped from 200 pounds to 160 pounds in 1997, I regained ten pounds within a year, and then another ten pounds within two more years. That’s not going to happen again.

I promise you: These fifty pounds are gone for good.

Burly Man

“There are never any pictures on the website of me doing something burly,” I told my friend Andy a few weeks ago. Our gym’s website often features photos of members doing burly things: lifting weights, climbing ropes, flipping tires.

I don’t see Andy very often. He and I went through the Crossfit “on-ramp” class together, but I exercise at 6:30 in the morning, and he comes in at odd times during the day.

I saw Andy again today. He did the workout first. It was nasty: ring dips, heavy deadlifts, and lunges for fifteen minutes. I did the workout next.

Afterward, Andy said, “What’s your phone number?” I told him. “Great,” he said. “I’m sending a photo of you doing something burly.”

Burly J.D.

Here I am, deadlifting 225#. This is about 75% of my max. If this were my first lift, this wouldn’t be impressive. But this is about my 40th lift at this weight, and it was almost impossible. It sucked.

Okay, okay. I know you’re all getting tired of Crossfit. I’ll try to avoid the subject for a while…

Get Better

Many people have noted that Crossfit is like a cult. It sucks you in until you live and breathe the stuff, and you have to exercise restraint from converting everyone you know. For a long time, I resisted this cult. No more.

Crossfit is awesome. It’s changed me physically, but it’s changed me emotionally and mentally as well.

  • I love that Crossfit workouts scale to meet me at my skill level. If I can’t lift 165# over my head for five minutes, fine. I lift 95# over my head for five minutes instead.
  • I love that Crossfit teaches patience. I may not be able to lift that 165# overhead today — but I’ll bet I can in a year. A year ago, I couldn’t lift 200# from the ground. Today I can lift 300#. That improvement took me a year. It was gradual, and I had to be patient.
  • I love Crossfit gives me confidence. I’m able to do things I never though possible. I mean, really: me a weight-lifter? Get real. Me? Doing fifteen pull-ups. You’re dreaming! But I can do these things. And by doing them, I know that I can go out and accomplish other things in my life, too.
  • I love that my Crossfit colleagues are my family. We sweat together every day. We have rivalries and in-jokes. Sure, we complain about each other now and then, but fundamentally, we’re in this together. We all want to see the other members of the gym improve.

Basically, I love that Crossfit has made me a better person.

Which leads me to this promotional video for Crossfit Liverpoool, which Mackenzie shared on Facebook. Mac and Pam have caught the Crossfit bug, too, you see. I’m not sure they’re actually in the cult yet (though Mac might be!), but they’ve incorporated Crossfit workouts into their lives and seem to like it.

Mac says this is the best Crossfit video he’s ever seen. I agree.

Note: Part of joining the Crossfit cult means watching Crossfit videos. Again, I resisted this for a long time. Now, though, I’m hooked. Crossfit videos rock!

Crossfit isn’t for everyone, and I know that. It takes time. It’s expensive. It’s hard work. But if you have the time, money, and energy, Crossfit is an awesome way to build physical and mental toughness.

Crossfit Total

For the past year, I’ve been focused on losing weight and building strength. With the help of my compatriots at Crossfit Excellence, I’ve managed to lose forty pounds and do something I’d never thought possible — come to love lifting weights.

I’m still not very strong, especially compared with the bigger guys in the gym. But I’m getting better every day, setting personal records (also known as “PRs”) and developing new skills.

For the past few months, our trainer (Cody) has been leading us through a program designed to improve our abilities at a handful of specific lifts: squats, presses, and deadlifts. As a culmination of these efforts, our gym recently held a special Saturday weightlifting event. It was a blast!

Our goal for this event was to score as high as possible at the “Crossfit Total”. We were given three (and only three) chances to lift as much as possible at each of three lifts:

  • Back squat — A standard squat with the bar racked on your back. Thighs must come to parallel (or lower) in order for a lift to count.
  • Shoulder press — Rack the bar on your front shoulders. Press it overhead until your arms are locked. No bouncing or bending of the knees is allowed.
  • Deadlift — Lift the bar from the ground until you’re standing tall, with arms and legs locked out.

It was awesome to watch my friends set new PRs:

Miguel gets fierce!

Paul stays focused!

Carla is strong!

Erica kicks ass!

I set PRs of my own. Going into the day, my one-rep max was 175# for back squat, 100# for shoulder press, and 275# for deadlift. (That’s a total of 550#, though I hadn’t achieved those all on the same day.) My results for this Crossfit Total challenge:

  • I managed 215# for the back squat. On my third attempt, I went for 235#. The weight was fine — and I know I can do it again in the future — but my squat was too deep, and I came forward on my toes as I stood, which caused me to lose my balance and dump the weight to the rack.
  • I couldn’t get above 105# for the shoulder press. This bummed me out, but I know this is my weakest lift. I’m not sure how to improve here.
  • I improved to 295# on the deadlift. My third attempt was at 305#, and I came close, but ultimately just couldn’t get the weight all the way up. (As you can see from the video below.)

My final score for the day was 615#, which boosted me from the “untrained” category to “novice”. I’m good with that. I’ll work over the next year to move up from novice to the next level.

Crossfit Total at Crossfit Excellence

I can’t believe I love lifting weights, but I do. I just love exercise!

Shamrock Run 2011

I want to be a runner, but reality keeps getting in the way.

In 2008, I tried to go from couch potato to marathon runner, but I got injured along the way. In 2009, the same thing happened. I didn’t train for the marathon during 2010, but instead chose to focus on weight loss and general fitness. I lost forty pounds and built strength through Crossfit.

I didn’t run at all last year — I rode my bike instead — until the final day of our stay in Venice. That morning, I got up early so that I could run through cobblestone streets (and over the canals) in the dark. It was awesome — the best run of my life.

When we returned from Europe, I started running regularly. At first, I kept things easy. I just ran a few miles a few times a week. But you know how I am. I couldn’t keep things quiet. I had to ramp up the volume.

So, I started running intervals. And then I started doing hill runs. I boosted my weekly volume. I tried to be cautious about my running, but in retrospect, I again tried too much too quickly. November and December were great — but then I started to have a nagging problem with my left heel. My Achilles tendon was inflamed. It was painful.

After running a fast mile on January 1st (6:24), I hung up the running shoes for a couple of months. I decided to rest, to see if the injury would go away. (I’m still not sure what cause the injury. Was it the hill runs? Was it the five-finger shoes? Was it just over-training? It could have been all three!)

The injury didn’t really go away, though. The entire time we were in Africa, my heel bugged me. We had a free day in Cape Town, during which I had really hoped to hike to the top of Table Mountain, but I had to give up the dream. I woke that morning to a tight ankle. My Achilles was sore, and I was hobbling around. No Table Mountain for me.

When we returned, though, things improved. In fact, they improved so much that I decided to take part in Portland’s Shamrock Run. Instead of a longer distance, though, I opted to do a 5k (which is just over three miles).

The Race
On a cool (but not cold) Sunday morning, I got out of bed early and headed downtown. So did thousands of other Portlanders. My goal was to meet the team from Crossfit Excellence so that we could warm up together.

Fortunately, our team was wearing distinctive shirts. They were green — not such a good thing, it turns out, since everyone else was wearing green — and emblazoned with a lame double-entendre: Caution! Contents are HOT!

The team from Crossfit Excellence
Our team. Or most of it. Eddie and I never could find them.

Right away, I found Eddie, one of my compatriots from the 6:30am class. But, try as we might, we couldn’t find anyone else from our group. No matter. Eddie and I joined the throng for our run through the streets of Portland.

The first mile was frustrating. Because thousands of us were starting at once, there was no room to run. We basically had to plod along next to each other, waiting for the crowd to thin. Eddie and I tried running on the sidewalks and in the other lanes of traffic, but that presented hazards of its own.

The crowd thinned by about a mile into the race, but I was still dodging people even at the end of the run. Also at about a mile in, the course began to climb a gradual hill. We turned from Burnside onto Broadway and followed it up toward the south end of the city. Though the climb wasn’t steep, it was constant and taxing, especially while trying to weave in and out of traffic.

Rant: In theory, we were supposed to line up at the start based on how fast we thought we were going to complete the run. Obviously, people didn’t do that. I was passing walkers and joggers of all sorts. They sometimes got cranky at me for trying to cut through a crowd of them. Give me a break! If they had started with the slow people, they would have made life easier for everyone. This frustrated me.

In the end, I completed my first-ever official 5k race in 24:07. That’s not a stellar time, but it’s not bad either. In fact, I’m very happy with 24:07. For where I am at my age, it’s perfect. I finished 24th (out of 437) for men aged 40-44. I was 305th place out of more than 6400 runners overall.

I’m confident that I could do this run in 23 minutes or less given no obstructions. In fact, that very afternoon, I signed up for another 5k: the Race for the Roses on April 3rd.

Update: I didn’t do the Race for the Roses. For two weeks, my shins have been giving me all kinds of woe. I suspect it’s from doing too much jump rope at the gym. In any event, I took the first four days of April off from exercise completely — and that includes my scheduled 5k. I’m sad now, but recognize this is best for the long term…

The Flirt
After the race, Eddie and I made our way to the beer garden, where we tried to find anyone else in our group. We had no luck.

As we were standing there, drinking our beer (Eddie was actually the only one drinking beer — I gave him mine and drank a diet soda instead), I noticed three attractive women standing nearby. They were giggling and pointing at us. I wondered if I had snot on my chin or something.

But then one of the women walked over to us and smiled. “I have a question for you,” she said. She leaned toward us and said, “How hot are they?”

At first, I didn’t know what she meant, but then I remembered our shirts: Caution! Contents are HOT! Eddie took a sip of his beer. I think he was trying not to laugh. Me? I was shivering, so I said the first thing that came to mind: “They’re pretty cold right now.”

And as I said it, I realized I’d done the wrong thing. I’ve been married for twenty years now, and I’ve forgotten how these things work. When I was younger, I knew how to flirt, and I enjoyed it. But I’m woefully out of practice. So, I completely missed the cues here, and said, “They’re pretty cold right now.”

The woman’s face fell. Her smile vanished. I think she knew she was attractive, and wasn’t used to talking to men who didn’t play along. She furrowed her brow. “Never mind,” she said, and slipped back to her friends. She whispered something to them. They looked back at me and Eddie and they laughed.

When I got home, I told this story to Kris. She loves it. Nothing makes a woman feel more secure than a husband who is too clueless to flirt.

Temptation and Permission

I’ve struggled with my diet over the past six weeks. Part of this is because I’ve intentionally tried to move from “weight-loss” mode to “stasis” mode. Finding balance has been more difficult than I anticipated. But most of the problem has come from the constant temptations around the house.

First, there was the holiday season, which was filled with cookies and candy and all sorts of other good stuff. For a time, I exercised a bit of restraint. And I had no problem eating modestly when we went to holiday parties. Eventually, though, my willpower at home collapsed, and I started sneaking food I knew I oughtn’t. We had a bunch of cheap root beer left after Christmas, for example, and I’ve spent the last two weeks drinking the rest of it.

This recent bout with temptation has simply reinforced what I already knew: I can’t allow crap in the house. If there’s bad food here, I’ll eat it. Instead, I need to train myself that cakes and donuts and the like are only for special occasions: for dinners out, for parties, and so on. It’s not wrong to have junkfood now and then, and I don’t want to practice complete self-denial; I just want to be sure I’m not constantly exposing myself to temptation.

As part of my attempt to wean myself from the junk I crave so much, I’m going to implement a policy I used last spring. I’m going to give myself permission to eat anything I want, as long as it’s healthy for me.

Note: When I say “healthy for me”, I mean healthy by my current definition. Because my diet philosophy is constantly evolving, “healthy” will gradually change. Also, my healthy may not be the same as your healthy.

I’ve been going to the corner market for candy bars lately, for example. Because I’ve been hooked on the junkfood at home, it’s just too easy to rationalize junkfood at the office, too. To thwart this, last week I went to the store and bought 20+ packages of “simply natural” fruit cups from the refrigerator case.

Yes, I know that actual fruit would be cheaper. At $1 a pop, these fruit cups aren’t very cost effective. However, it’s too easy for me to rationalize not eating actual fruit. It rots too quickly. I have to peel it. And so on. I just make excuses. I can’t make excuses with the fruit cups, so it removes some passive barriers.

I view the fruit cups as a transition from the candy bars to real fruit. And so far, they seem to be working.

I’m also giving myself permission to eat expensive cuts of meat for dinner. This keeps me away from the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and other crap that I’ve been drawn to lately. And I bought a liter of grapefruit juice to stand in for root beer. Etcetera, etcetera.

My hope is that by removing the temptations from the house (and from my office — I threw out a bunch of junkfood yesterday), and by granting myself permission to spend on whatever healthy food I want, I’ll be able to feel good about my fitness again.

“I feel fat,” I told Kris yesterday. And while it’s true that I’ve gained half an inch to my waistline this month, my actual weight (based on my weekly average) is the lowest it’s been since I started this fitness regimen a year ago. In other words: Things are fine, and I’m just obsessing. That’s just what I do.