Recommendations, Running, Writing

A meat eater for The PlantPower Way

2 Comments 29 April 2015

Do you know Rich Roll? If you don’t, you should. I met him two years ago and no one else I’ve met in my sobriety has had a deeper, more lasting, more positive affect on who I am and who I want to be.

His story is incredible. Like me, he is a recovering alcoholic. He’d been sober for years but, on the eve of his 40th birthday, he realized that he was deeply unsatisfied, 50 pounds overweight, and heading for a heart attack. He knew he had to make food his medicine, so he adopted a plant-powered diet (no animal products, no refined foods, all organic and GMO-free) and undertook a radical transformation, culminating in his creation and completion of The Epic Five: five Ironmans on five different Hawaiian islands in less than a week. Incredible? Just short of impossible, I’d say.

Rich is an impressive physical specimen and, knowing his accomplishments, I was expecting a Type-A, performance-obsessed, go-go-go neurotic asshole. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Rich was humble and unassuming, perceptive and thoughtful, so relaxed his presence was nearly hypnotizing. Behind his down-to-earth demeanor, though, was a fierce, probing intelligence and an unrelenting drive. Rich wasn’t satisfied to have unlocked a better, more authentic version of himself. He had an undying commitment to service and he wanted to share what he had learned. Not just with other ultra-athletes or other sober alcoholics, but with everyone.

I fell in love with Rich right away (a love that’s only deepened over the years) so I tried to go plant-powered. Having grown up in a meat-and-potatoes household, I was clueless about how live on a plant-powered diet. I knew what I couldn’t eat, but I had no idea what I should eat, and how to prepare it. I failed, tried again, and failed again.

So I’m really excited about his new book, The Plantpower Way. I’ve already bought two copies as gifts. It’s a cookbook, but it’s much more than a cookbook: it’s about how to live plant-based, how to prepare and enjoy vegan meals, how to achieve complete nutrition from only plants. At its core, the book is about how to eat well—for longevity, for health, for performance, for happiness—and, most importantly, how to enjoy eating well.

Yes, I have mocked vegans. I will continue to mock vegans. But I am genuinely excited about this book and, if you’re like me and you enjoy the occasional bacon cheeseburger and maybe a mountain of Twizzlers, you should buy it. Why? Because we know that cheeseburgers and Twizzlers aren’t good for us (Twizzlers are pretty much the opposite of food). Because we know that we aren’t eating enough plants—fruit and vegetables, but especially greens. And because we know that kale by itself tastes like crap. I’ve had the pleasure of eating Julie’s cooking several times and it’s hearty, satisfying and out-of-this-world delicious. I don’t know if I can bring it the way she can, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

I’m not plantpowered and I doubt I will ever go all the way. But just by trying a plantpowered diet, I’ve learned so much about how I eat and what I should and shouldn’t be eating. If you’re a vegan, obviously, you should buy The PlantPower Way. But I’d argue that if you eat meat and cheese, if you eat candy, if you eat delicious Nacho Cheez-its, it’s even more important for you to buy this book and soak up the wisdom within. No, it won’t make your diet perfect, but it will make it better… and isn’t ‘better’ what we’re all aiming for?

Here it is again: The Plantpower Way

Running, Writing


No Comments 01 January 2015

I was running with Robin Arzon after Thanksgiving when she threw down a challenge: run 5k every day for the month of December. Do you know Robin? If you don’t, you should.

You know those folks on Instagram, forever posting the inspirational sayings? ‘Inspagram,’ I call it—the pics of clouds or food with some corny inspirational saying superimposed on it—like that’s going to solve the weird old man pain in my back or the parking ticket on my windshield or the new venture capitalist landlord driving me out of my home, the place I’ve lived the longest in my entire life, the slanted, trembling apartment where I went to hell, and then came back. If you can see the SPAM, in ‘Inspagram,’ well, I can, too. At best, that shit is like aspirin or hot coffee or cold beer—it’s a quick fix that’ll keep you going while letting the root problem quietly fester.

Yes, Robin rules Instagram, but her shit’s different. You won’t meet a cuter badass, or a more badass cutie. Great story—she’s a former lawyer who was held hostage at gunpoint, an experience that didn’t scar her as much as it destroyed her capacity to feel fear. She trashed her old life, broke a new trail, and now gets paid to be an everyday superhero (tights and all). Getting diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes after running 5 back-to-back marathons has only increased her drive. Her tolerance for bullshit is lower than mine. She won’t try to sell you anything she doesn’t believe. It may sound like she speaks in hyperbole but that’s just dry reporting on a life lived in hyperbole. When someone like that issues you a challenge, you don’t say no. But I know Robin—she reminds me a lot of my badass trainer Tracy Helsing who was so instrumental in getting me sober—so I suspected it was going to suck.

Human beings are odd. When we encounter something bad, we feel the need to share it with a friend: “Oh man, this carton of milk is really sour—it smells like someone ate asparagus, then peed in it, then left it in a hot car all summer. Here, you smell it.” 5k comes out to 3 miles so I came up with a catchy hashtag—#3for31—and created a Facebook group and tried to rope everyone I knew into doing this stupid thing with me. A lot of you signed up.

I don’t want to say I approached it with arrogance. I mean, I absolutely approached it with arrogance, like I do everything, but I just don’t want to say it. 3 miles is nothing, hardly enough time to even get warmed up! 3 miles a day works out to only 103 miles for the month. I’ve done that in a week. Piece of cake, right?

Not so much. If a bully is picking on you at school, it only takes a split-second of courage to throw a punch and get them off your back. It’s much harder to go from being totally sedentary to running your first race—you can’t just do it once and be done with it, you have to go back to it again and again. Running every single day, shit, that’s the worst. Each day undoes the work of the day before. You do it—good job, gold star!—and then you wake up and, Christ, you have to do it again. Running every day is like trying to change your posture. It’s like trying to change your mind.

It never got easy for me. Yes, Morrissey, it is really so strange: the last mile is not the hardest mile. The hardest mile is the first mile. And what’s harder than the first mile? Lacing up your goddamn running shoes before you even leave the house. I’m a big guy, 220 pounds, and a distance runner. It takes me a long time to warm up, six or eight miles. Once I finally got the hated running shoes on after a long dry ocean of procrastination, there was that first shitty mile where my old, lumbering body was still waking up. Then another. Then another. Then my run was done. Just three miles, but none of them good miles, none where I felt like I was cruising instead of just laboring. Sure, I could run more and sometimes I did—21 one day out in California a couple days before Xmas—but it didn’t matter. The next day, there were still 3 shitty miles waiting for me.

I managed to get sick twice in December. My IT band acted up. My left knee hurt the entire month. I ran with Robin a couple of times, in the freezing rain. I ran with my sister, also sick, who hasn’t mastered my technique of blowing snot rockets and just blew her runny nose on her shirt. I ran with my brother-in-law, Bill, who has no cartilage left in his knees after 26 years spent rucking in the Marine Corps with a 70 lb pack. The day after my big run, I hiked four miles with my old man, coughing and feverish, tottering along behind him though he’s 70 and has had both knees replaced. Mostly, I ran alone, in the cold, in the heat, in the dark, in the blazing sun, my chest aching with each breath, annoyed that these stupid little runs were annoying me so much, hating Robin’s challenge, hating myself for hating it.

But running is reliable magic. Epiphanies have often come to me on long runs, but I expect nothing from runs under 20 miles. Doing this #3for31 challenge, I stumbled on a big epiphany at the beginning of a small run, a puny four- or six-miler: through running, I can understand the relationship believers have with God.

I don’t believe in God. It’s not that I did and then, in a fit of hurt, I decided God was dead to me. Nothing terrible happened to destroy my faith. I’ve just never had it. I remember when I was maybe six, walking out of our house with my shirt off and standing in our driveway. I looked up at the sky, looked at it all around, in every corner and just thought to myself “…Nah.” At times, I’ve wished I believed in God, but I have never come close to believing. I have never been able to understand how people believe.

But, running, I understand how believers feel about God. Running is greater than I will ever be, it is more powerful than I will ever be. Running is invisible and it is all around me. I can never beat it, I can never escape it. I can throw myself at running with all my strength, with all my will, curse it and flail at it. I will never trump it; I will never hurt it; it will never even register the attack.

Running is unconditional. I can ignore it for days, weeks, months, but running is always there waiting, always listening. Running will always be there for me when I need it. Running will always welcome me back. When I have been arrogant, running will humble me. When I have been bad, running will punish me. Running won’t wait for me to be good to reward me; it won’t wait for a new accomplishment; it will reward me for every single attempt I make.

Running is infinite. I can be greedy, gluttonous, take as much of it as I want and there will still be enough for everyone else. Running is mysterious. I am more intimate with running than I have been with any lover. Running knows my body better than any person alive, it knows every part of me. Running through a canyon in New Mexico, so lightheaded from the altitude that the entire world sparkles, moving forward just to keep from falling over; running through the hot California summer, so overheated and dehydrated I am barely moving, the desperately wringing hot, sour juice out of a moldy grapefruit on the side of the road just for some moisture, rinsing my shirt in a mud puddle just to cool down; stumbling into a hotel bathroom, reeking terribly of every possible bad organic smell, swampwater and mud, horseshit and old, wet shoes and fourteen hours of sweat, layer upon layer, every possible body odor, my pruney feet, my crotch, my ass, then stripping down and after a minute of agony when the hot water washes the crusted salt into and then out of each abrasion of my skin, the heavenly scent of clean water and nothing else.

Running listens patiently without judgment. Running keeps my secrets. Running is comforting because it never answers back. Running is infuriating because it never answers back. Running is endlessly sympathetic. Running is endlessly cruel. As much as I have learned about running, I can’t pretend to understand any more than the smallest part of it. Running alone understands all of me. I want to love running. I try, again and again, to love running, but I fail, I can’t. Running is too hard, and I hate it. It doesn’t matter. Running loves me.



I accepted Robin’s challenge because I’d fallen out of love with running. I’m back. Totally in, one hundred percent, till death do us part.

Did you run #3for31 with me? Andy Andrist did. Last time I saw him, we were shitfaced and doing whip-its in a beer-drenched hotel room in Death Valley. Tina Lipsky did. I had a wicked crush on her in high school but I’ve only seen her one night since I was fifteen and that was ten years ago. Alex Puls did. I’ve met him twice, once when I bought a guitar from him on Craig’s List and once on the floor of MSG when he got me VIP tickets to a sold-out Billy Joel show. I ran with Tim Sweeney once in Toronto, met Scotty Kummer once in a town I hope to never go back to. I’ve never met Erik DeAngelis, who posted a new drawing each day with his mileage. I’ve never met Tamiko Radke, the woman who gave birth to an entire rock band, three brothers who have outshone their influences: Radkey. I’ve never met Heather Belizzi, who sent me a hat that said GRATITUDE.

What’s next? A revelation: this ain’t the end. Robin knew that this challenge would be tough for me, but she knew I could do it. She knew I could do it because she ran 3 miles every day for seven months.

If you know me at all, you know I’m not going to give something up without exacting something in return. I completed Robin’s challenge; now she has to take on mine. The next challenge is #31for31—write for 31 minutes, each and every day, for all 31 days of January.

Are you up to it? Maybe you’ll be too busy, working on running 2015 miles in 2015. I’ll be on tour, doing my own challenge: 35 shows in 38 days. I hope to see you out there.


What’s touched me the most about doing this challenge is the people who took it on with me. If you ran #3for31, I probably don’t know you. Some of you, I know your name or your face but probably not both. Most of you, I don’t know at all. You ran in Finland or Mexico or Illinois or Canada or Spain. Most of you, I have zero frame of reference for.

If we meet and you tell me you know me from Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, I will give you a blank look because there are a lot of you out there. But if you tell me you ran #3for31, I will know instantly who you are. Because we are now related in some way. We shared something. We ran alone together, every day, for a long time.

Running, Sobriety

Five Years Sober

6 Comments 29 May 2014

I’m celebrating five years sober today. The above picture was taken just before I quit drinking. I was at the end of a UK tour with Freshkills. I remember that I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open when this picture was taken, but I can’t recall much else.


In 2009, I lived in a run-down apartment right next to the BQE. I drove a crappy little maroon Dodge Neon that was falling apart. I had bags under my eyes and a paunch. I had nothing resembling a real job or a steady income. My primary sources of income were working door at Piano’s one night a week (11pm to 4am from Saturday night to Sunday morning, not a particularly fun shift) and working off Craig’s List. I played in three bands: Freshkills, RIBS and Rumanian Buck. I was comfortable in the knowledge that I had failed as a writer.


And now? I live in the same run-down apartment right next to the BQE. I drive a crappy little maroon minivan that is falling apart. I have bags under my eyes and a paunch. I have nothing resembling a real job or a steady income. And everything else is radically transformed. I haven’t had a job since 2011 because I haven’t had to. I own a little house in California. It’s not just that I started writing again, I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams and became a bestselling author. I still don’t write every day because I have shitty work habits, but I ought to write every day because people are actually waiting for works I’ve promised them.


My body looks almost exactly the same as it did when I quit drinking, but I know it’s different inside. I can run. I didn’t just run a marathon, I ran a bunch of marathons, I ran marathons as training runs, I ran 2 marathons back-to-back, I ran a bunch of ultramarathons, the longest of which was 62 miles. It’s impossible to deny it: I’ve come a long way. And I have a long way to go.


I loved all three of the bands I played in in 2009, all three broke up, and all three broke up because of me. Yeah, I’m sober and I have a pretty decent handle on the whole “not drinking” thing, but I’m still angry and depressed and resentful and irritable and insecure and self-loathing and anti-social and neurotic and detail-obsessed and high-strung. Some of these were issues when I was a drunk and I’ve made improvement on them. Some of these flaws only got worse when I stopped drinking. And some are new. What’s the solution? I know if I had a couple of beers the next time I go out to a friend’s show, I’d have a much better time. I’d relax, I’d be able to connect with people better, I’d be funnier and more animated and less morose. And everything I’ve worked so hard to achieve would unravel, slowly at first, and then very quickly. My only option is to stay the course. I need to try every day: try to relax, try to enjoy, try to be more patient, try to let go.


I say I’m “celebrating” five years sobriety but that strikes me as an odd choice of word. I’ve chosen a rocky path and I know I have more difficulties ahead: what’s to celebrate? And how do you “celebrate” sobriety—a tall glass of seltzer and a marathon of Law and Order: SVU?


This is how I understand my illness: there are two people inside of me. One guy values his friends and family, still has a dream or two, is interested in the world and wants to do stuff: to engage, to participate, to express, to create. The other guy wants destroy the first guy, he wants a drink before even getting out of bed because fuck it and fuck you and fuck the world.


I’ve done a decent job of neutralizing the other guy these last five years. It’s not always an epic battle of good and evil, usually it’s just a battle to find a matching pair of socks and get out of the house… but yeah, some days it is an epic battle of good and evil. So I’ll celebrate this progress and celebrate the hard road ahead of me in a fitting way: by tackling the toughest ultra-marathon I’ve ever encountered.


The Peak Ultra in Pittsfield, Vermont is 53 miles of torture. I had trails of crusted blood down the back of my legs from the biting flies when I finished, and I started shaking uncontrollably not long after. It took me nearly 14 hours to complete the first time I ran it 3 years ago and I swore I would never do it again. I’m going to do it again.


I know I’ll never totally defeat this other guy because, well, he is me. But I can show him who is in charge. I can grind him down, I can knock him back on his heels, I can wear him down, and I can make him suffer. Wish me luck.

Running, Sobriety, Writing

when the wheels come off

2 Comments 08 July 2013

I had a pretty shitty day at Finger Lakes Fifties on Saturday, which was only heightened by the fact that it’s one of my favorite races and I had a bunch of friends/ fans/ supporters there. I feel I need to write about if just to unpack it for myself.

I didn’t have a promising week leading up to the race. On Monday, driving back from working on a record in Virginia with a friend, I had a blowout going about 85 on the New Jersey Turnpike. I had to wrestle my van across three lanes of heavy traffic in order to get over to the side of the highway to safety. I came as close as I ever have to rolling it and I’m not going to lie to you, it was pretty scary. Nothing like a brush with a banal death to make you appreciate the life you have.

Long story short, I got home at 8pm, a full 8 hours later than I’d hoped, out several hundred bucks for the tows and getting overcharged for a couple of used, dryrotted tires to replace the new-ish one that had blown out and the spare that had gotten stolen. Ugh. I was running late on the next Kindle Single so I stayed up till 8am to get an extremely rough first draft off to my editor.

I ended up staying two extra days in NYC before leaving town and I have a (very understanding) subletter, so then I spent two nights on air mattresses, one at home and one in Aaron’s guest room (thanks, pal!) I booked a hotel room in Ithaca the night before the race in hopes of getting one good night’s sleep but, of course, I can never sleep the night before a race.

It hasn’t been a great year for running for me. I haven’t been excited about running for a while. I signed up for 2 other ultras before Finger Lakes and didn’t even make it to the starting line. I managed to get a little re-energized by befriending ultra-triathlete Rich Roll and doing a marathon for Boston and actually ended up doing more training for Finger Lakes this year than I did last year.

Still, once the pack thinned out Saturday morning and I got out there on the trail alone, I found myself getting bored and dreading my second and third lap. I’d trained in minimalist shoes to strengthen my lower legs but chose to race in my Montrails, which soaked up all the water and held on to all the mud we ran through, so my feet were wet and heavy. Nothing I haven’t dealt with before, though. As I approached the end of the first lap, I started to consider dropping. My left hip and my right knee were bothering me and, after 15 miles, I was running as ragged as I usually do after 40 miles. Again: nothing I haven’t dealt with before. Running 50 miles is difficult by design.

When I came to the turnaround, I sat down for a minute, talked to some friends… and then tore off my tag and sadly slipped it to Chris Reynolds, the hard-working race director.

I told myself one of the reasons I quit was because I wanted to hang out with my ultrabuddies, many of whom I haven’t seen for a year, but after dropping after just one lap, I felt so shitty about myself that I split as soon as I could. I felt bad about it the whole day and then, when I woke up the day after the race and wasn’t sore at all, I just felt worse. I totally could have done it, and I totally pussed out.

What went wrong? Lots, but little of it had to do with my body. Sure, I was tired and hadn’t slept well in a week and I wore the wrong shoes and should have stretched/ warmed up more. But those are pretty common mistakes for me– I’ve made those mistakes and still gone out and had great races, even run PRs. What’s wrong is in my head: I’m just not emotionally invested in running anymore.

When I started running, my life was pretty empty. Band practice, work a couple nights a week, not much else. I had a lot to figure out and nothing to do and a ton of new, restless energy. Running was a means of escape: it filled up my hollow, newly sober days, it gave me a sense of forward momentum so I panicked less about the uncertain future ahead of me, it gave me a physical outlet for my anxiety. Yes, running is a means of escape. This aspect of running has been given plenty of attention– too much, in fact. Because running is also a means of CONFRONTING your issues.

When I quit drinking, I was in horrible shape– both fat and skinny. Running meant dealing with that head-on. I had shitty relationships with my family, many of my friends, a couple of women… okay, let’s just say I had a shitty relationship with the world in general. When I ran, my body was occupied but my mind was idle, so I was forced to reflect on the decisions I’d made, the grudges I held and the grudges held against me. So running meant dealing with those issues head-on. But at the very core of my beef with the world was fear. I was so afraid of failing that I was afraid of trying. Running when I was sorely out of shape meant both trying and failing, again and again, and out in public, in the world I resented and hated and feared. Maybe running is an escape for some people but for me, running was all about confronting the shit that I hated and feared the most.

Ironically, now that I’ve written an ebook about running that’s garnered me all this attention, I run less than I did before I wrote it. I run less because my life is full now. I have great friends and every single one of my relationships with my family members is dramatically better than it was before I stopped drinking and before I started running. Also, I have a career now, which is awesome, but it seems like there’s always an email I am late in responding to or a phone call I haven’t returned. I bought a house, which is also awesome, but man, that is a buttload of work and it seems like I’m just getting into the thick of it now. I’m doing lots of other awesome crap like going to Ireland and England and Canada and building guitars and teaching a bootcamp and that’s great… but it means I have less time for running.

Which may be okay. Because I need running less than I used to. For one thing, I’ve taken a lot of steps to resolve conflict in my life… which means I don’t have entertaining worries to obsess over when I’m on my feet. Yeah, there are definitely some days when I wake up feeling angry or depressed and I have to go out and run till I’m exhausted. But that happens less frequently now than it used to. Often, when I do feel like that, I can’t go because I have too much other shit to do– usually good shit, like writing or making a record, but still shit that prevents me from running. I’m not okay with that. But I have to get okay with that, as it’s not going to go away.

I’m going running today. I hope that I will always run. But if I don’t, that’s alright. Running doesn’t define who I am. I define who I am. At the end of the day, running is a completely selfish action that I undertook to save my life. It has to stay something I do for selfish reasons.

When I bailed after just one lap at Finger Lakes, part of the reason I felt like shit is because I felt like I was letting my readers down. I hate letting anyone down but I especially hate the thought of letting my readers down, many of whom are fighting battles similar to mine. But here’s the thing: I didn’t write The Long Run for you. If it’s inspired you or helped you, that’s great… but I didn’t write it to help anyone and I certainly didn’t think it was going to inspire anyone. I thought it was an ugly story of an ugly man trying to become less ugly and I only hoped that it did as well as Shipwrecked. In fact, I wanted to put a warning label on it: ANY INSPIRATION YOU MAY RECEIVE FROM THIS STORY IS PURELY ACCIDENTAL. READER RELEASES THE AUTHOR FROM ALL LIABILITY.

I didn’t even write The Long Run for me, I didn’t want to write it at all! My editor Dave said “Your next Kindle Single will be about your transition from druggie/ drunk to ultrarunner and it will be called The Long Run. I have spoken.” I protested a bit but I relented because we’d already been through a bunch of shit together and I trusted him and, well, I didn’t know what else to do.

Am I glad I wrote it? You betcha. There is no other way of saying it: it changed my life. Oh, okay, at the end of the day, yes, I’m glad that it may have helped or inspired people because I do care about people and I want everyone to be okay. But here’s what made me stop at Finger Lakes: I realized that I was running for other people and that I wasn’t running for me. Call me naïve, but I still feel strongly about authorial honesty. I don’t make shit up– everything I write about, whether it’s horrifying or accidentally inspiring, is absolutely true, it actually happened in the real world. If I’m doing anything just to fulfill someone’s expectation of me, well, I’m not being true to myself. And I gotta be me.

My running buddies have said “You’ll get it the next time!” I love Finger Lakes 50s and I’m indebted to Chris and Joe Reynolds for putting it on… but there may not be a next time, there or anywhere else. That’s okay. Running was there for me when I needed it and I’m incredibly grateful for that. It makes me really sad to think about giving up distance running, even for a little while. But the reason why I’m able to give it up is the same thing that is so fantastic about running, why I will always sing its praises as the cheapest and most effective therapy around: running loves troubled souls unconditionally, and running will always be there for you when you need it.

Running, Sobriety, Writing

Graduation Day

No Comments 09 May 2013

This monday, my drug and alcohol counselor ‘graduated’ me from treatment. We’d each separately brought the idea up several times in the past but it never seemed like quite the right time. But I brought it up to him about a month ago and we both agreed to think on it before meeting up again.

When I walked into his office on Monday, he greeted me with a copy of the NYTimes I was recently in, the first time I’d seen it in the flesh (they recently printed the covers of two of my Kindle Singles on the front page of the Arts section). It was a cool surprise for both of us as I hadn’t given him a heads up about it– he had been surprised to find it, much as I was surprised to find out he knew about it. I like my counselor a lot and I like to think that it was a rewarding moment for him as a therapist to be kicking back after work with his paper and stumble upon the work of a client who had come to him an anonymous drunk getting the nod from the Old Gray Lady. It was also the sign we had both been waiting for.

We had a great last talk. I gave him a big awkward hug–the first in our career– and gave him my solemn promise that before I took another drink, I’d call him. I’m going to miss him: as a tireless listener, as a fount of solid advice, and as a really excellent human being.

I met vegan Ironman legend (and fellow alcoholic) Rich Roll a couple of weeks ago when we did a really intense podcast together. He asked me a lot of tough questions, some of which are still rolling around in my head, unanswered. He made a couple of assertions that I wasn’t ready for and that I’m primed to react negatively to… but when you’re hanging out with a guy who has trod the same darkness you have, done even harder work than you have to pull out of it, and then has gone on to do some really un-fucking-believable things, well, it’s in bad faith to do anything other than hem and haw and think hard about it and then respond with total honesty.

When I mentioned to Rich that I had graduated from treatment, he responded simply with “Are you cured?” Apparently, ballbusting is the fourth sport triathletes engage in… (keep it up, Rich, and I am going to give you that Charlie Horse I promised you when we last met). As usual, he’s got a incontrovertible point. The sidelines are littered with alcoholics who mastered sobriety so completely that they felt comfortable going right back to drinking. It’s good to have a friend to nudge me on that point. In the words of Ida B. Wells, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

Drinking or not, I know I’ll always be an alcoholic. Just as I tired of the cult of alcohol, I have no interest in joining a cult of no alcohol so I’m going to continue to work hard in my life to just make alcohol irrelevant in my life, a minor footnote in my past, and make sobriety my natural state. Pretty revolutionary thinking there, huh? Making your natural state your natural state? Thanks, it feels good to be a hero.

I will never make alcohol irrelevant in my life. Sobriety will never be effortless for me. I will asymptotically approach these two ideals, but I will never reach them. That’s okay. I will get closer to them than I am now. That’s good enough.

On the subject of addiction, here are a few words from my failed book proposal. May they help you on your way:

There is a shiny black scorpion with a long, armored, serpentine tail coiled around my spine at the base of my neck. Its pincers reach through gaps in my vertebrae to gently but firmly grasp my spinal cord. Its reticulated tail lovingly circles my spine, cradling each wildly curved bone, its terminus hovering expectantly over that braid of nerve endings; a bulb pregnant with poison, then a thick, cruelly curved spike.

             The scorpion is asleep. Life is pretty sweet right now. When I run under the blazing hot sun until I’m exhausted or find a smelly dog on the street in Mexico and scratch that tickle spot that makes its leg skitter and it sheds all over the clean shirt I just put on or when I make my sister’s kids laugh in the back seat of the car by singing bathroom songs, good, healthy blood runs over this sleeping scorpion, softening its armor, turning its thick black shell walnut brown, then rich, racehorse brown, then liver and finally pink, slowly eroding it and dissolving it, absorbing its minerals and proteins back into my body.

But when I get a whiff of Jameson or take certain types of cold medicine or get too angry or tired or depressed, it twitches uneasily in its slumber, its tail writhing minutely, its pincers digging ever-so-slightly into my spinal cord. I live in fear of what will happen if that evil little fucker ever wakes up.

The Jameson thing, I get. I’m an alcoholic. I have been for a long time and the common wisdom is that I will be one for the rest of my life. The scorpion stirring in its arachnid dreams when alcohol vapor hits my sinuses is a purely chemical reaction. But this vile crustacean/ arthropod/ dinosaur/ demon wakes for other things, too: pornography, video games, Ebay, Facebook… even a fucking Snickers bar. Crack, methamphetamine, heroin—they’re huge. Ounce for ounce, each of them is more destructive than enriched uranium. You can’t ridicule someone crushed under that avalanche of pleasure. But a fucking candy bar? The smaller the thing that diminishes one, the smaller one is by comparison. A woolly mule of a man, 6’5”, 215 pounds, a man who has broken bones by accident and on purpose… laid low by a piece of candy? You gotta be kidding me. It’s too pathetic to even be a punchline.

This spiny black abomination, it’s not some rare tropical parasite that wormed its way inside me. It’s not a hive of nanobots implanted by an elite squadron of secret UN commandos, it’s not a malign interplanetary virus injected into me by some universe-hopping alien scientist. Cell by cell, molecule by molecule, atom by atom, I built this monstrosity, one miniscule bad decision after another. It’s a devil of my own creation, blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh, my mistakes incarnate. Now I have to live with it as it lives within me and try to slowly wear it down before it wears me down. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen, place your bets. [end]


Recommendations, Running

My Two Cents on Five Fingers

No Comments 19 July 2012

If you run, you have an opinion on Vibram Five Fingers. Has there been anything more divisive in the running community in recent Memory? The message board of my local runners’ group, North Brooklyn Runners, is regularly taken over by pissing contests between heel/ forefoot strikers, all convinced that their way is the only way. Vibrams are a godsend/ they’re an abomination/ they will cure all your running problems and injuries/ they are so hideously dorky that they may cause the human race to stop breeding and go extinct. I can’t promise to deliver some elusive truth on the subject as we all run for different reasons with different goals—indeed, one of the reasons we love running is that it’s as specific and intimate and personal as love itself—but here’s my take.

Like many newbies, I was introduced to ultrarunning and minimalist footwear by Christopher McDougall’s excellent Born To Run. We value good running books for their power to inspire us to run. Born To Run is powerful and exciting enough that I wanted to throw the book down when I finished it and go run 50 miles in my boxer shorts in January in the middle of the night. Obviously, that would have been a horrible mistake. While it’s not as obvious, snagging a pair of Five Fingers after a lifetime of running in ‘traditional’ running shoes and banging out an eighteen miler would be an equally horrible mistake.

Vibrams are clearly a radical departure from what we understand as a running shoe. As such, they’re an invaluable tool but I don’t think they are the end-all, be-all Greatest Of All Time. I grew up a barefoot kid, was a drunk for nearly twenty years and comfort has always been my guide—my shoes come off the minute I walk in the door and my pants immediately after—so I didn’t have to transition from a lifetime of running in huge-heeled running shoes. I know my experience is atypical, though, so if you are just starting to run barefoot (or “barefoot”) GO SLOW. The more time you take to transition to the barefoot style of running, the less likely you are to injure yourself and the more likely you are to stick with it.

Use your Five Fingers wisely. Twice, I’ve started trail races in Vibrams and switched to more traditional shoes halfway through. The first race started on beautiful, dusty single-track… and transitioned quickly to jeep trails strewn with golf-ball sized rocks that had me hopping and cursing for miles. The trail on the second race was riddled with roots and kicking a couple of those in a row just about ruined my day. Hell, I was following a guy in Five Fingers at Virgil Crest and every time I heard the soft ‘thunk’ of him kicking a root, I winced on his behalf. Though I love the unfettered feeling of running through the woods in Vibrams, ironically, I use them more for roadrunning. Though most people think of them as a trail shoe, I find them to be a better road shoe. On trails I don’t know or trails I know to be rocky, I default to New Balance MT-101s or, my old standby, Montrail’s Mountain Masochist, which is a far cry from a barefoot or even a minimalist shoe.

Still, my Vibrams and real, nothing-on-my-feet, actual barefoot running very much inform how I run and why I run. I run to feel free. And running in Mexico, down dusty streets, narrow jungle paths, on and off the beach, in and out of the surf, wearing only a pair of flyweight shorts, I feel gloriously animal, almost completely naked, free of all human concerns. So I wholeheartedly recommend investing time, effort and maybe even a little money in barefoot or ‘barefoot’ running. It’s good for you, like patting a smelly old dog is good for you, and it’s also good for your running. Now, even when running in my heavier trail shoes, I occasionally accidentally sneak up on people. I used to sound like an elephant falling down the stairs. Just match them to your purpose and to the terrain you’re running. And for God’s sake, do not wear them when you are not running—you make us all look bad.


11th male at the Finger Lakes 50 miler?

No Comments 26 June 2012

Finger Lakes 50s is one of my favorite local races, one my to-do list every year. It’s kind of like they threw a camping party with watermelon and a bunch of folks decided to run. I ran about a total of 50 miles in the 90 days preceding it this year… and knocked about an hour off my time, coming in 11th male in the 50 mile race. Annnd I’m never training again.

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