Posts about health, fitness, and nutrition.

How To Create Something Beautiful

It’s not as hard as we think, though it is sometimes harder than we wish it to be. But most worthwhile things require something of us, and we are generally better for the struggle.

So you want to create something beautiful? What it is doesn’t matter. A beautiful marriage or beautiful business (yes, a business can be beautiful!) or beautiful life? What matters is you.

Can you envision that which you wish to create–even if only vaguely? This is your starting point. Even if you have only the slightest glimpse or dimmest view, if you can see you can take your first steps. Many of us are groping blindly and aren’t happy with the life we are creating. Ask yourself–“What is the beautiful thing that sets my heart aflame?”

So now you have at least a vague idea of what you want. You can see a tiny piece or two of the puzzle. Now you need a plan. Not a hard and fast plan with no room for shifting circumstance, but a light-on-its-feet sort of plan that can bend without breaking. Have you noticed how so often in a heavy windstorm it is the largest trees that fall, and often have their roots pulled up as well? Don’t be that tree. Be stubborn in your pursuit but flexible in detail. Be the younger tree that can bend with the wind a little.

Alright. You can see your beautiful thing.  You have hammered out a plan that can bend this way and that but keep its overall shape. Now find some partners. People who can get a glimpse of your dream as well and might share a bit of it. People you respect. Positive people who will encourage your good ideas and discourage your dumb ones. Yes, even geniuses have dumb ideas on occasion. People who will have grand and foolish ideas of their own. People  with whom you can be real  and who will be real with you. People who smile often, even if it is mostly on the inside. People who can disagree without arguing. People who will tell you that you aren’t working hard enough or that you are working too hard. People you know will have your back. Remember, the greatest joys are always the shared ones.

Here we go now! Vision, check. Plan, check. Partners left, right, in front and behind. You’re covered. Now act. With intention. Move forward. Keep your vision in front of you, work your plan, rely on your friends. Some days will be easy–you will feel in step with the flow of all the universe. But some days, perhaps even many days, will be hard. A river eventually reaches the sea but it may have to rumble through rapids, tumble over falls, and meander through some monotonous flat lands before it opens to the beauty of the ocean. Many times, the difference between success and failure is just the willingness to keep at it. So act with intention. Every day. Even if you take a break–and sometimes you must–do so intentionally, with your vision of beauty still before you.

That’s it. See, plan, partner, act. Your vision becomes tangible. The beauty is before you. And the wonder of it is that even before it was realized, it was with you all the way.

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We Are All Gods, Every One…

Now, before my theist friends begin formally filing charges of blasphemy and my atheist friends just roll their eyes (yes, I have atheist friends!), please hear me out.

I am not saying any one of us bundles of mental energy wrapped in dust is THE God or that you have to even believe THE God exists (though I myself do). We’ll save that discussion for a mountain hike or trout stream or over beer and pizza.

What I do mean is this–every last one of us is creative. Some of you are going “Not me…I’m about as creative as a rock.” Well first of all, how do you really “know” that rock isn’t creative? But that too is another discussion for another time. I assure you however, you ARE in fact creative. You may not be an artist or musician or poet or novelist but you are creative.

In fact you are creating right now. You are creating thoughts about this blog post or God or beer and pizza or something else. Those thoughts are jostling their way in among the myriad other thoughts dancing about your mind. Some of those thoughts will dance enthusiastically enough to really get your attention. They will grow and take on a life of their own by spawning other thoughts and captivating your focus. Most importantly, some of those thoughts will be be spawning actions (or non-actions). Those actions and non-actions will then have much to do with what happens in your life. In a most very real sense, you are creating your own life. Right now. Moment by moment, thought by thought, deed by deed.

Why not create something beautiful?

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Things You Need To Know (and probably already do)

This post is a follow up to yesterday’s concerning making changes. Tomorrow will mark the first full work week of 2014 and in my circle of friends and family it’s common to use that first Monday as the first step in a renewed journey. If you happen to have pushed “reset” for this year I hope these reminders will be of help. So here are some things you need to know and likely already do…

1) Bent branches snap back: I have been on both the giving and receiving end of a branch held back to clear a trail snapping back to its original position. It stings a bit and I literally nearly lost an eye that way once upon a time. The branch snaps back because the tension stores energy like a spring and it’s just physics that it wants to return to its natural position once released. The only way to change that is to cut the branch or pin it back until it begins to grow in a new direction. We humans trying to make changes are often like that. We’ve been growing a particular direction for a while and changing that direction will build emotional tension as our habits try to snap us back to where we are used to being. Will power alone is very unlikely to diffuse this tension and will eventually succumb unless we have some sort of plan to “pin” it back until we can grow  in a new direction. Obviously, this plan will vary greatly depending on the change we are attempting, but potential “pins” include partnering with others, journaling, mantras, breathing exercises when stressed, etc. If you simply go it alone with nothing more than “I’ll start this” or “I’ll stop doing that” your will power may work for a while but you are almost guaranteed to lose your grip eventually. This brings us our next thing we need to know–

2) The moment of truth when attempting change is when we “fail”: I put “fail” in quotes because momentary setbacks do not HAVE to become permanent, but often they do. Whether it actually becomes failure or not depends on what we do next. There’s a very complex emotional/physiological/behavior loop that begins to cascade that first day we don’t get up to exercise or the moment we do light up that cigarette or whatever it is that  that we would see as a failure in our particular endeavor. So whatever plan you come up with to help you make a change needs to include what you will do if your branch slips from your grasp and you find yourself having a really bad moment or day or week. Again, partnering with a person or three can be a big help here and I find that meditation will often help short-circuit that negative feedback loop that leads to negative behavior. We must remind ourselves that having slipped and fallen doesn’t mean we have to lay there and wallow in our personal muck. Get back up! The beautiful thing about any “failure” is that it immediately becomes the past. It can be learned from and doesn’t have to become the future. So take a breath and get back on the path you really want to be on. This brings us to the third thing we need to know–

3) That piece of cake isn’t what you really want: I use food as an example because it’s such a common area where we want to make changes. The majority of people I know would really like to eat in a fashion healthier than they actually do. But if this is true why do we often eat so many things that are unhealthy? Why does a very smart person act in a way that is basically insane? The honest truth is that because of our particular wounding in the harshness of life we ALL carry varying degrees of insanity inside of us. Our various addictions–from the relatively mild to very severe are all attempts to cope with this pain. That’s how “comfort food” gets to be comfort food. It makes us feel better in our brains even if it ravages our bodies. Feeling better is what we actually want, not that piece of cake. And do you know what REALLY feels “better”? Success! Victory! So when you find yourself in moments of temptation in terms of the changes you seek ask yourself a very simple question: “What do I REALLY want?” This will bring you back to your conscious and relatively sane self. Your sane self seeks health and happiness over the course of life, not just gratification in the moment regardless of consequence.

So–we have a plan to guide our success and a contingency aspect of that plan for when we fall short of our goals. We do some inward work  concerning what we really want in our life. January turns to April, and we are working out or eating better or have lost weight or reduced our debt or are meditating every day or whatever. It feels SO GOOD! This brings us to our final thing we need to know–

4) You will want to tell everyone but probably shouldn’t: Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good thing to have a small group of helpers to share both victories and defeats. Fellowship in that sense is a very good thing. But when we start talking and sharing with everyone about what we are doing it tends to take our focus off the doing. It steals mental energy. It’s akin to a distance runner wasting energy to make little side trips while running a marathon. Your energy is precious–don’t waste it talking, use it doing. Your changed life or body or bank account is all the testimony you need. You are doing this for yourself and loved ones, not for the spectators. An occasional and brief testimony in response to questions is fine, but if you find yourself becoming an evangelist for your new life, be careful. It’s easy to lose focus and before you know it you find yourself sliding back to the place you don’t want to be. Save the real evangelism for later, when your branch is solidly rooted in your new direction.

To all readers setting out in a new and positive direction, you have all my best wishes for success whatever the endeavor. Don’t just wish for a happy 2014. Make it a happy year yourself. You have the power, so make a plan and take the first step. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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Sometimes the Best Thing To Do Is Something Different

There is a time to be still, and a time to move. Solomon or another sage might have said something similar. Or maybe it was just some everyday Joe philosophically considering the consequences of failing to avoid an oncoming train. Whoever should get the credit for first verbalizing this basic reality really doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is reality.

We’re at that time of year where many if not most of us make some sort of resolution toward change. Most of us fail. A hard truth, but a truth none the less. It takes more than an idea to move forward. More than a desire even. Most of us have those. But what most of us often lack is the voodoo to actually move from point A to point B. We don’t like to admit it, but whatever our difficulty or dysfunction is, it has become comfortable to us on some level. This in spite of the obvious problems it may cause us. We have old friends in our chronic behaviors and we are loathe to divorce them.

So how do we acquire the voodoo? What’s the magic? How do we change? Age-old questions with answers beyond number depending upon both who is asking and who is answering. But all of the answers that matter will have one thing in common. DO SOMETHING. Do something that is DIFFERENT from what we have been doing.

“But that is problem!” our souls screech! We want to change but can’t. We need help. We need God or a Higher Power or a therapist or a friend that will listen. We need a program or a plan. We need to pray or meditate. We need some alone time. I’m not arguing. We have a lot of things we need. Turn to God. Go see a therapist. Meditate. Make a plan. Fantastic! But what will any of that accomplish without action? In most theistic systems of thought God will tell us to make some changes. Change our thoughts, change our actions, change our life. A good therapist will listen and explore wounds and talk about feelings and then give us something to do. All plans that matter involve action steps. Things that must be done.

And what of meditation? What of the “doing nothing” that we wrote of not that long ago? I am still very much a fan. Actions without reflection and a proper stillness in the soul can often be blind and wreak havoc in lives. But a proper stillness that doesn’t lead to action isn’t a proper stillness at all and is in fact useless. Life isn’t just a noun. It’s also a verb. The existence around us is in constant motion. The birds and bees and rivers and seas all move. The universe is energetically and constantly rearranging itself.  We are are microcosm of it. So the power to change is in there. That isn’t the question. The question is will we? Will we do something different?

We’ve all heard the old cliche about a journey of a thousand miles beginning with a single step. I hate cliches. I hate them because they are so stunningly ordinary. They remind me too bluntly that while there is much seeming magic and mystery in the world some things are not magic at all. They’re just work. Sometimes very hard, unpleasant (at least in the short term) work. Sometimes that is exactly the sort of reminder we need, whether we especially want it or not. Today is the first step in the rest of our journey. If we don’t like the direction our proverbial feet are taking us it’s time to do something different. Right now. Not tomorrow or in a little bit when we finish this or that.

So step away from the screen internet addicts. Put down your phone and turn the damn thing off, phone junkies. Go toss the donuts out the window dieters. Put on some shoes and go take a walk Mr. Couch Potato. E-mail that resume job searcher. Fill out the application Miss Going Back To School For The Last Five Years. Finish this post and go talk to your wife over morning coffee. Wait! That’s me. There is a life to be lived.  The only path to growth is through growth itself. Growth is change. So do something. Do something different.





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Avoiding Avoidance

We all have our pitfalls–little traps that if we allow a certain amount of mindlessness to creep in we find ourselves stepping in. Avoidance behavior is a biggie for me. We are ancient enemies, our conflict spawned fairly early in my time here. At times I get the upper hand, but instead of learning from the past and remaining watchful, I tend to get satisfied and lazy and the next thing I know I’m hollering for help from the bottom of some metaphorical hole while fiendish Procrastination grins evilly down at me.

So today, trying to claw my way to the top of the most recent pit, I found myself getting a bit “put out”. Not angry in a way that leads to irrational lashing about, but angry in a way that lights a fire. Angry in a way that asks important questions about why I am where I am and how not only to get out of the hole but to stay out of it for good. So in asking and reflecting and considering past victories and defeats I came up with a few things. They are helping me formulate a plan and perhaps they can help someone else out there.

Basically, to defeat this monster for good, I need (at least) three things. The first is I need a pose. Specifically a meditation pose engaged regularly. I’m not gonna bore you with all the science behind meditation. There’s a mountain of info out there. I will say that meditation is not some weird and vaguely “spiritual” thing. It isn’t hocus pocus or sorcery or an attempt to talk to spirits. It’s very much a thing of the physical brain and has definite and measurable calming effects that provide a clarity to life situations. So, not surprisingly, when I regularly sit I find myself seeing with more clarity and acting and reacting with calm, balance, and purpose. So for me, a first for “doing” something positive is to do “nothing” with positive purpose.

Second, to avoid avoidance one needs a plan for the day. Just today. Not every day. Just the one, single, day we actually are living at the moment. I don’t mean every second legislated in stone but just an idea of things that truly need done and a real intent to do them. Front-end loading works really well. That is, do the hard things first. Just like when my mama made me eat my asparagus as a child. I could wait until the end, eating all the pleasant stuff first but that asparagus would still be there, taunting me, knowing I wasn’t going anywhere until I forced it down. It was better to attack it first and be done with it. When things arise that actually need doing, we aren’t going anywhere until they are done, so we might as well get to them.

And lastly, we need a good question to confront our tendency to avoid. That question is a good one to ask ourselves anyway from time to time, so why not make a habit of it? That question is “What am I afraid of?” Somehow, we often manage to step into some warped cosmic reality where what we should be afraid of doesn’t scare us and what should doesn’t. Instead of considering the difficulties we create and the non-life we engage in by avoiding distasteful or unpleasant or just plain hard things, we think only of the pleasure momentary escape brings us. But momentary escape is just that–momentary. The beast is still out there, waiting for us to come out of our tiny hiding place. And the hiding place has to be tiny because it is that smallest version of ourselves that needs to hide.

So what ARE we afraid of? Strangely, when we ask that question of ourselves in a substantive way, it actually has no substantive answer. What’s the worst that could happen? I suppose the very worst thing is you could die facing your personal beast. Guess what? That’s gonna happen anyway. We may as well live a little before it does, and we will NEVER live encased in fear. Cowering isn’t life, it’s just cowering.

The pleasant discovery I have made over and over again–and apparently keep forgetting over and over again–is life isn’t in avoidance, it’s in engagement. My mom used to have to force me at gunpoint (ok–she never actually used a gun, but I’m sure she was tempted) to force down that asparagus. But today asparagus and I have an excellent culinary relationship. Somewhere along the line I realized it is pretty good stuff and quite good for me. Often, so is that thing you are dreading. And even if it isn’t. Even if it is just plain old unpleasant and no fun there is one more question to ask, a trump card of sorts to play, and that question is “What will delay really get me?”

The answer to that one isn’t “nothing”. Delay will get you something, but not a positive something. It will get you dread–the Undone will always be lurking at the edge of your mind, no matter how many games of solitaire you play. It will get you soured relationships, more work, more stress, more pain, and less life. No one in their right mind wants that, and that my friend is a solid indication that we are not in our right mind at all when we engage in avoidance behavior.

So there you have it. A few arrows in your quiver when avoidance comes calling. Fire away.

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Five Miles

Five miles really isn’t anything. A very finite and relatively short number of steps and breaths. A tiny percentage of one’s life. Pick your feet up, put your feet down. Breathe in, breathe out. Repeat until you are done. And you are done almost before you know it.

Doesn’t that sound easy? To someone fairly fit or who trains consistently, it generally is. To a person that isn’t particularly fit–or that is positively unfit–the experience can be everything but easy.

I ran five miles today. In a race. With a number pinned on my chest. I am not terribly unfit but my training has been very inconsistent this year so I am not especially fit either. I was looking forward to the race, but also dreading it a bit. I haven’t fit five full miles together all year. Until today.

You need to know this for only one reason–that if I can do it, you likely can as well. Yes, there are people with real health issues that preclude them from running at all. I’m not suggesting that anyone who has a serious health risk just lace up and try to put in five miles. But most people don’t have serious health risks. Yet. Most people can run or walk or bike or whatever. They just don’t. They have other priorities. Trust me, I have been there. Motivation is a constant struggle. But the science is pretty clear on this one. While there are no guarantees and sometimes exceptions, the fact is active people tend to live not only longer, but better. By better I mean they enjoy their lives more. They feel better physically and emotionally. In the long run, it is a far greater risk to not move one’s body than to move it.

Five miles really isn’t anything. But for you (or me) it might mean everything. It might mean the difference between an old age spent with serious chronic disease or an old age without. I might mean the difference between actually living into a happy old age or not living at all. It might mean the difference between enjoying the other things one enjoys for years to come or having that enjoyment cut short. Five miles isn’t anything, but it could change everything.

So why not carve out some time this week and find your five miles? Maybe it starts with one mile. Maybe it’s just walking. Maybe it’s in a canoe or on a bike. Your five miles can be on whatever you want it to be. Running isn’t for everyone. You don’t have to be like anyone else. Just move. It will improve your life. It will give you confidence and relieve stress and give you better health. And chances are you’ll meet some fantastic people and enjoy some real fun along the way. You’ll have stories to tell about yourself rather than stories about others to watch on the television. You’ll come to find that moving doesn’t just improve living–it is living. I mean, on a primal level isn’t that what separates the living and the dead? The living wiggle while the dead can’t. Yet so many of the living squander this basic gift of life–the ability to move. To get out and live life.

My last post I encouraged folks to run for Boston. I still think that’s a good reason to get out and move. But if you do that, I hope you get the pleasant surprise of finding out that really, you are running for yourself. We can honor and remember and inspire others, but the only life we get to live is our own. So live. Actively. Actually. Five miles. Do it.

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Our Eclectic Lives

You have likely noticed my blog is a bit eclectic–a post on fitness is followed by a post waxing spiritual or philosophical which is followed by a post about the natural world or backpacking or fly fishing or whatever. The thought has crossed my mind that I would likely get more readers if I stuck to a more specified theme or developed more than one blog and built each around a particular topic. Such an approach suits the Western mind which is very adept at classifying and compartmentalizing. We have a work life and a home life and a personal life and spiritual life and on and on and on it goes. Sometimes we even consciously act to keep these aspects of life apart from one another.

But a simple truth of our living is that try as we might, our life doesn’t have neat little compartments that we walk into and out of. Life is in fact holistic–the different aspects of our lives interact with one another constantly on both conscious and subconscious levels. Work seeps over into home and vice versa. Our health affects just about everything we do and how  we view the world can have much to do with both our mental and physical health.

Additionally, everything we do as individuals happens interactively with the rest of the world as whole, including not only human culture but also our impact on the natural world in which the human culture exists and upon which it depends. Truly no one is an island, and even should we try that act itself would influence in its own way.

So my blog will stay eclectic because my life is–because our human life is and all life is. While I will no doubt emphasize certain topics due to my experience and interests, I will try to keep myself open to new ideas and experiences. No human mind can learn it all nor experience it all, at least not while wrapped in the finitude of our current existence, but it seems to me that the wider our experience here the deeper and richer it will be. And since we are here, living and breathing and learning and loving, why not engage everything with all the depth and richness we can?

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I’m Alive

Confession: I haven’t been running as often as I would have liked since the first of the year. I have a full quiver of the usual excuses…too tired, not enough time, it’s raining, it’s snowing…the usual suspects. That said, in fits and starts I have been moving forward, quite literally one step at a time.

It would help if all the enjoyable runs beginning at my house didn’t start with an uphill. A steep uphill at that. It makes perfect sense though–generally speaking the higher we rise the more beauty avails itself to us which is likely why we often seek the tops of mountains. So yesterday, having no intention of climbing to the top of the mountain, I laced up my shoes and put one foot in front of the other headed on an up grade.

All my runs seem to begin the same way–with me questioning why I do this. It can seem like “vanity and striving after the wind”. After all, no matter how well I take care of myself I am still gonna wind up at the same place (yes, I’m talking about physical mortality but trying to avoid the “D” word). Before my body begins to find a groove, running is a real grind. My body and my mind always seem to argue for a bit but I am never quite sure which one is arguing to quit and grab a bowl of chips. A beautiful thing though…my feet always seem to keep moving.

Yesterday, I did things a bit differently. I climbed the initial grade at a fast walk. As the ground began to level, I jogged a short interval, walked again, then ran a short distance at not quite a sprint. I found myself falling into a pattern of walking and running. And noticing. Not thinking but seeing, hearing, and feeling. Seeing the snowflakes falling softly. Hearing the happy and gentle rumble of the little stream that parallels the road. Noting each breath and the pressure of my feet on the ground. Feeling the life inside me expanding to every part of my body like the quickening of the cosmic life every spring.

Almost before I realized, I was at the top of  the nearly two-mile climb from my house, and it was lovely. Every breath drew in the stillness of the woods and the quiet of the lightly falling snow. Every footfall resonated life and  the sheer energy of it.  I broke my pattern of intervals and just let my body glide back down the hill toward home. I’m not sure I have ever been more fully aware in life. I saw myself connected to all things.

I’m sure you are thinking it was just the endorphins kicking in, and I agree to some extent. I love how our bodies can treat themselves to a high. But it was more than a high. It was meditative. It was engagement not just with the run, but with everything around it and required for it–body, mind, earth, air, water, and the fire at the foundation of life. And I remembered something so fundamental it almost seems primeval. I don’t really run for fitness or to look a certain way. I run because I’m alive, and running is an expression of the the primitive joy of  it all. In running, I’m not a grown-up with all the artificially cultivated responsibilities of our so-called civilization. No–in running I’m a child on a playground, a fawn in the woods, a stream tumbling down a mountain. Good things to be, every one.

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“You Sir, Are A Runner”

There is challenging yourself, and there is being stupid. Sometimes, I fail in discerning the two. Today though, I can proudly say I showed a bit of wisdom for once. I challenged myself but managed to say “No thanks!” when the opportunity for stupidity came along.

Regular readers of this blog (I believe there are four poor souls in that category) know that yesterday I started running again. It isn’t really a New Year’s resolution but just part of trying to practice what I preach. Taking care of the body is a large part of holistic living, and holistic living goes a long way toward health and happiness. So yesterday I put on my running shoes and shook the rust off with an easy jog of a couple of miles. It felt fantastic. Seriously. My endorphins kicked in quickly and it literally improved my mood and energy level the entire day.

That was yesterday. Starting a regimen of any sort is the easy part. The challenge is keeping the motivation going. It’s surprising how many times we start something and it lasts all of one day. So, in its own way, the second day is a first day in its own right, and just as important as the actual first day. The good news is I did it. I ran the second day as well. And I even challenged myself a little bit–I added a small amount of distance and I invited my daughter along.

Now, you need to know my daughter is a very talented runner. She finished third in the West Virginia state championship 10k race a year-and-a-half ago and she had never even run that far in her life before the day we ran the race. So the plan was she would match my pace until we got within about a half-mile of finishing and then she could stretch it out from that point if she chose to.

To her credit, she made it almost a mile of the 2.5 miles that we ran before she just couldn’t hold back any more. She started to stretch her legs a bit and soon she was twenty yards ahead, then thirty, then fifty, etc. This is when stupidity came knocking at the door in the form of my ego. Being left in one’s daughter’s dust is not something easy for a man about to turn fifty. You literally see your youth running away from you in the form of black nylon and pink Saucony running shoes.

So my ego piped up–“Come on boys! We can catch her!” Now my ego is a rather charming fellow at times, so my conscious mind and my body huddled for a quick consultation. Fortunately, they saw that the better part of valor was honestly just admitting that trying to catch her was a fool’s errand and resisted the temptation in beautiful style, informing the ego that chasing a nineteen-year-old in top shape was just plain silly. But my ego wasn’t done. “What’s wrong–you like the taste of that dust old man?” Now insults can be difficult to take from anyone, but when your ego is actually baiting itself, you’ve moved into new, and somewhat surreal, psychological territory. But once again, conscious mind and body stood together and resisted the urge. My ego must be getting a bit old itself, since it grumbled its way back into the deeper recesses of my mind and I’m sure is skulking there still. But it didn’t put up too much fight. Common sense prevailed and now I will live to run another day (which I’m not sure would have been the case if I had actually tried to catch Carly).

The run ended nicely. Carly finished about four minutes before I did and was waiting in my parent’s driveway when I cruised in. High-fives and stretching followed–as well as those wonderful endorphins that make me question why I ever quit running in the first place. Wait a minute–I didn’t quit. I just took a break for a while. But I ran today and I can look in the mirror and say “You sir, are a runner!” Even my ego is satisfied with that.

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