Monday, December 23, 2013

Josh’s Story: “I Wanted It Too.” A Romance with Running, from Basement Treadmill to Detroit Marathon.

Josh_performing with sax

I’ve known Joshua James for a long time.  We attended Albion College together and shared a social circle.  We even dated briefly, which makes me smile now when I think back on “that one time I dated a musician.”  After college, we lost touch as we moved in different directions.  Today, Josh is a musician and music teacher, performing and teaching in the Detroit area.  He’s a self-made runner who ran his first marathon in October, the Detroit Marathon.  Josh finished in a super-speedy 4:02:58—smokin’ fast!  We reconnected via Facebook because of the marathon, and he was kind enough to do an interview with me about his newfound love for running.

Our interview is a long one, but I think Josh tells a great story.  So grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, maybe some Christmas cookies, and settle in for a good read. 

Rose-Anne:  I'll start. What sparked your interest in running?

Josh: Well, here's how it REALLY started.  About two years ago I was in terrible shape, and I had some pretty bad health issues.  A combination of stress at my job (teaching) coupled with a musician's lifestyle (late night gigs, food runs at 3 AM, drinking until the sun came up) left me pushing 267 pounds with terrible blood pressure and a heart arrhythmia.

I had a treadmill in the basement (from the previous homeowner), and I forced myself to start getting on it every day.  When I started, I could barely do a 12-minute mile for 10 minutes...

Rose-Anne: Yikes!  Yes, musicians are kinda famous for the health hazards of their work.

Josh:  Indeed, we are terrible with our bodies…so as I started forcing myself to get on the treadmill, I started seeing some great results.  The weight was coming off (fast), and I was sleeping MUCH better at night.  I began eating healthier compared to musician standards.  I got down to 220 after about eight months, and I stayed there for a long while.

At this point my doctor noticed how, despite my [healthy] upswing, the previous years of "hard-livin" had taken a toll on my ticker, and I was placed on some pretty serious blood-pressure meds that I didn't like.  I had some bad reactions to [them].

Rose-Anne:  Ah, no!

Josh:  I realized at that point that if I truly took my health—mental as well as physical—that I could beat this thing without the meds.  (I HATE taking meds unless ABSOLUTELY necessary.)

Rose-Anne:  That must have been a powerful moment for you—that feeling of complete responsibility.  ABLE to respond to this challenge.

Josh:  Oh, for sure. Because of those positive side-effects [from running], I redoubled my efforts on exercise, added some mild meditation, and just began a general push towards "chilling out."

But again, Rose-Anne, I was still just running on a treadmill; I hadn't ever run outside, let alone with people, until late March of this year.

Rose-Anne:  Let’s back up a moment to the challenges of being a healthy musician when the default model is “work hard, play even harder.”  Was it easier to back off of drinking when you started exercising?

Josh:  Regarding the drinking, yes, exercise curbed it considerably.  I'm not dry by any means, but I find now I drink a lot less.  There was time I laid off of beer for eight months.  I really lost weight during that time.

Rose-Anne:  I'm not dry either!  I'm definitely an everything-in-moderation person.

Josh:  Me too, now.  It's taken me a long time to learn that lesson.

Rose-Anne:  But you have, and you did it by adding stuff first.

Josh:  For sure.

Rose-Anne:  Which is always interesting to me--the idea of changing habits by starting something good rather than cutting back on something that can be...well, too much.

Josh:  I decided one day to sign up for Cranbrook's "5k/10k Fun Run" in April.  [The experience was] exhilarating because it felt amazing.  (And it was a trail run, too.)  But I had only prepped for a 5K, and the stupid kids working the course sent me to the 10k path instead of the 5K split.  Those bastards!

Rose-Anne:  Haha!  They knew you were a marathoner-to-be!

Josh:  I never knew what my time was; I ran like 4.5 miles and left in frustration!!

Rose-Anne:  Oh, man!  That sucks!  That kinda sounds like my first cross-country race.  Except I got myself lost because I was so damn slow.  And dumb, apparently.

Josh:  But on my way home I realized how much fun I had, and that I actually could run outside, in races, with people.

Rose-Anne:  Did you feel at all nervous about running with people at the race?

Josh:  I was nervous as hell!  But I wanted to see what all these people could do, and if I could do it, too.

Josh in running gear

Now here comes the cool part.  So [my wife] Kat came across this post on Facebook of some mutual friends who were thinking of starting a Ferndale runners’ group.  They were calling all ages, all paces.  Kat felt I should maybe join them, at the very least for advice and some experience.

Rose-Anne:  What did you think?

Josh:  I did, and I realized I could actually "hang" at something athletic.  I immediately fell in love with it.  [And they] are now some of my best friends.

Rose-Anne:  Aw! That is awesome.  How was your first group run with them?

Josh:  My first run was similar to my Cranbrook fun run; I got lost along the way! But that's how I met my friend Brian, and we've been bosom buddies ever since. 

Rose-Anne:  It must have been so refreshing to leave the basement and find camaraderie in sneakers.

Josh:  Shit yeah!!!  Brian encouraged me to run my first 10-mile race.  That was a great experience...

Rose-Anne:  It's funny how we start running for the health benefits and we stay for something deeper.  Running involves too much pain and inconvenience to be worth it for one thing only.  So which race did you choose for the first ten-miler?  Crim?

Josh:  No, the Kona in Northville. That Hines Park hill was a bitch!!

Rose-Anne:  Oh, shit. Northville is a brutal place to run.

Josh:  So dig this...I had only run for 10 miles the week before, on my own, visiting Kat's mom in Florida.  THAT was brutal!  Brian practically peer-pressured me into signing up last minute for the Kona.  Humid as a rhino's...well, you know.

Rose-Anne:  Heh. Running friends are the worst…(and the best!)

Josh:  So on the Kona, I told Brian..."I'm just gonna ride your hip."  Brian and I helped each other out on that race.  He helped me, and I helped [him] get past those hills.

Rose-Anne:  Ah, so you're a hill runner!

Josh:  Hey, what can I say, I love self-abuse!

Rose-Anne: YES!  Your masochistic streak found a new outlet!

Josh:  When July came around, I decided to just go for the FREEP.

Rose-Anne:  Wow!

Josh:  That's it exactly!!!  A fellow music teacher/cellist friend of mine has run a ton of marathons in her life.  She is a very dear friend.

Rose-Anne:  So you had about three months of serious time to train for the marathon.

Josh:  Yes.

Rose-Anne:  And a good running base to support you.

Josh:  Yes, for sure, but it was more than that.  I remembered how she (my friend Jen) spoke of running...I remembered your experience with running...

Rose-Anne:  Romantically?

Josh:  I looked around and saw all of my friends [and their] relationship with running...Yes, it was and is a romantic view.  All these long-term relationships, and I wanted it, too!

Rose-Anne:  It really is.  "I want what they have!"  That is beautiful.

Josh:  Yes!!!!!

Rose-Anne:  It's a good metaphor, too.

Josh:  Here's the thing; now I'm hooked!

Rose-Anne:  That's the risk you run...

Josh:  It's like a drug!!!!

Rose-Anne:  Wearing ridiculous clothes, spending too much money on races...Getting up early to run?  WTF?!?

Josh:  Haha, yeah...


Rose-Anne:  We are ridiculous.

Josh:  I know, right!?  We surely are...but we're also a deep community!

Rose-Anne:  The highest of highs, the lowest of lows...

Josh:  Dig this…I was thinking a lot about the marathon yesterday...about everyone who's been[our friend] running crew...and everybody else...

Not one of us...I mean, if we're really into this...not one of us is ever competing against each other.  We are only ever competing ourselves.

Rose-Anne:  It's true.

Josh:  And all of us...the community of trying to help everyone else take that first step...and then the next one.

Rose-Anne:  I feel nothing but admiration for our community.  Running is HARD. Even after all these years, it's still hard for me.

Josh:  Rose-Anne, that is the one thing I love the most about running...the community.

Rose-Anne:  You're going to make me cry...Our community is incredible!

Josh:  I LOVE seeing all of the different people on races. And even just out and about in the neighborhood.  I love running past another runner, giving them a nod, and getting one in return.  It IS incredible.

Rose-Anne:  I love waxing romantically about running!  Hearing someone else do it is wonderful.  So tell me more about your marathon training.  How many days a week did you run?

Josh:  Four days a week.  I did the Higdon novice II schedule.  Mon/Wed/Fri/Sat.  [Check out Josh’s marathon schedule here.]

Rose-Anne:  Ah, awesome.  How did you feel the first time you ran more than 10 miles?

Josh:  Yeah...I felt amazing!!


Josh:  I couldn't believe I could run that far!  Heck yeah!!!

Rose-Anne:  I know, right?  How well did your body respond to the increasing distances?  Any bumps along the way during training?  And how often were you running with your running group?  Did you have marathon training buddies?

Josh:  [My body] was doing okay.  At times I had some lower back pains.  But then my massage therapist hipped to running thumbs-up…that helped with the hips!  I ran with the group all during the summer...Mondays at 6 PM, and Wednesday and Friday mornings at 6 AM.

Rose-Anne:  My hips are my weak spot too.

Josh:  I even corralled my sister-in-law to run, too.  Thumbs-up will help a ton!!!  I was always on my own for long runs.

Rose-Anne:  Thumbs-up posture-wise?

Josh:  Everyone had their own thing.

Rose-Anne:  For alignment, maybe?

Josh: forces your arms to move like a locomotive engine.

Rose-Anne:  Ah!  Good form.  Did you like the solo long runs?

Josh:  At first no, but then yes!  I love coming up with new routes.  The old Albion [College] Midnight Runners gave me a great idea, too…cemetery runs.

Rose-Anne:  Gah, the idea of running at midnight right now strikes me as more insane than a marathon.  I am an old lady.

Josh:  I run down to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Palmer Woods neighborhood. Never past 7 PM, of course.  I'd get a shiv in the back if I ran at midnight down there!

Rose-Anne:  Yikes!

Josh:  I'm more of a morning runner.

Rose-Anne:  Less of a shiv-in-the-back runner?

Josh:  Uh, yes.

Rose-Anne:  Ha!   What was your most memorable training run during the marathon cycle?

Josh:  Most memorable...Kat and I were vacationing in Traverse City for my birthday in August.  I woke up super early and ran along the T.A.R.T. trail from Traverse City to Sutton's Bay.  Kat met me there and picked me up for breakfast.  15 miles.  That was a great morning.

Rose-Anne:  Oh, that sounds great.  A perfect morning.

Josh:  It was actually on my birthday, too. It was a great memory.  I drank some good beer later that day, too. 

Rose-Anne:  Aw!  What a way to celebrate.  Beer's good for recovery from long runs.  Right?  Refill those glycogen stores.  Okay, one last question: what was your favorite part about the Detroit Marathon?

Josh:  Oh boy...

Rose-Anne:  Obviously you had an amazing finish, but before that...

Josh:  Brian and his friend Jeni, the three of us, we're all trying to run a four-hour race.  So we're running together…and despite the fact that Jeni and I lost Brian behind us around 12 miles, and I lost Jeni behind me around mile 18, the three of us were constantly looking out for each other.  That was my favorite part.  Oh yeah, and crying like a toddler when I saw the finish line after I turned the corner.

Rose-Anne:  I do not blame you!  I almost cried too, but it was from the pain!

Josh:  I had no tears, of course, but you know what I mean.

Rose-Anne:  I do.  If I had started crying before the finish, I wouldn't have been ABLE to finish.  I'm so proud of you, Josh!  Your story is amazing and deeply inspiring.  I kinda want to go for a run right now...

Josh:  Rose-Anne, I 'm proud of you, too!!!!!

Rose-Anne:  Aw!  You are very sweet.

Josh:  I'm jonesing to get back into training mode again.

Rose-Anne:  Me, too. (But don't tell anyone!)  I struggled through my training this year.

Josh:  Toronto 2015 sounds great!

Rose-Anne:  Yes!  JD is PUMPED about Toronto.  If I plan to run it way in advance, I can probably make the scheduling happen.  So that's good.

Josh:  I saw the web traffic about that spill you had in Texas. Man, Kat and I were sending positive vibes your way.

Rose-Anne:  Yeah, that was freaky and terrible.  [You can read about that accident here.]

Josh:  But hey, chica, you beat its ass the moment you ran across the start line!!!

Rose-Anne:  The worst part of it?  Thinking I'd have to give up the marathon.  Because I wouldn't be able to train for it in the Texas heat/humidity.

Josh:  Just showing up is amazing.

Rose-Anne:  So I power-walked most of my "long runs."

Josh:  I'm glad you kept it going.

Rose-Anne:  And it worked!  I finished!  [You can read my marathon race report here.]

Josh:  You're a trooper training down there!!!  Geez louise!!!

Rose-Anne:  Aw! I just wanted to experience the marathon.  You know?

Josh:  I do indeed.

Rose-Anne:  Thank you so much [for the interview].  You are terrific.

Josh:  Thanks for asking. Let's keep in touch.

Rose-Anne:  Toronto 2015...get it tattooed somewhere

Josh:  I'll run if you do.

Rose-Anne:  Yes, awesome!

Josh:  Hahaha...I'll do it...

Rose-Anne:  And yes, let's keep in touch.

Josh_racing image

* * *

Remember how I said earlier that Josh is a self-made runner?  I’m not so sure about that after this interview.  In fact, after the marathon, he said to me, “Rose-Anne Meissner, it’s ALWAYS we.  If running a marathon has taught me anything, it's that one immutable fact.”

Maybe we take that first step by ourselves, tentative and hoping we’re taking a step toward changing our lives.  But if we’re lucky, we find our running communities, on-line and at races, around town and in runners’ groups.  Once you start feeling a connection with someone because hey, they run too! then you know you have made it.  You have become a runner.

Congratulations, Josh.  Not only did you smoke the Detroit Marathon, you are officially a runner.  I am so very proud of you.

(Toronto 2015!)

All photos courtesy of Josh James and his Facebook page.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

For the Rest of This Month…


This month, I think I’d like to take a break from my usual format of work-out posts + life updates to focus on other material.  Lined up in the queue is an interview with my friend Josh, who ran a super-speedy marathon, a year-in-running review, and a “What’s next?” post.  I’ve been doing a lot of walking this month anyway, so my work-out posts would be not so exciting.  (Besides, I’m in Michigan now and left my notes about last week’s work-outs on my coffee table.  So yeah: I’m not always perfectly organized, but perhaps that is a blessing in disguise.)

Does that sound good to you?  Yes?  Good!  Now I can finally get to work on editing that interview with Josh that’s been on my list of want-to-do for two months.  My motto is always so many ideas and projects, so little time…finishing things is hard.

Happy Solstice, friends.

PS  An owl in Christmas lights!

Owl in Lights

Sunday, December 8, 2013

To Give Something Back

Mile 7 Before the Runners

Mile 7 Below

Mile 7 Above

Week of December 2, 2013:

Monday: Off

Tuesday: Evening run.  36 minutes total, with 24 minutes running.

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Bike commute to work

Friday: Off

Saturday: ~25 minute walk (slow, not included below)

Sunday: Bike ride to and from my assigned marathon spot. (~7 miles round-trip) 

Estimated mileage: 3.2 miles.  Total minutes run/walked: 36.

This weekend, I was able to be on the other side of marathoning: the volunteer side!  On Saturday, Paul dropped me off on the other side of town so I could work the bib table at the expo for three hours.  And this morning, I biked about four miles from my apartment to be the course marshal at Mile 7 of the BCS Marathon.  I figured after a half-marathon and a full marathon this year, it was time for me to give something back to my running community.  So it was with a sense of duty and excitement that I bundled up into marshmallow-like layers and braved the cold and the dark.  My biggest fear was biking in the dark this morning, but even at 6:45 AM, there was enough light that I felt safe.  Plus the roads were pretty empty—always a perk of an early-morning departure.

I made my way into Bryan, parked my bike, and waited for the first runners to come through.  About 40 minutes after the start, a scrappy-looking guy came through, looking strong and fast (<6:00/mile!).  Two minutes later, another runner came through, followed by a handful of other leaders.  The trickle became a steady flow of runners, coming in all shapes and sizes.  I cheered for them all, including my former boss and my friend Tonya.  I clapped, I cheered, I said words of encouragement, and I even got a few high-fives.  There were plenty of runners saying thank you as they went by, and I kept saying, “No, thank YOU!”  I was just as happy to see them as they were to see me.

Having run my first marathon earlier this year, I think it was especially fun to volunteer because I felt like I was part of the club.  I knew what it felt like to be in their shoes.  I knew that most of them would be feeling great when I saw them at Mile 7, but ten or fifteen miles later, they would be digging deep to find the strength to finish.  Knowing what a big accomplishment it is to run 26.2 miles, I was honored to be a part of it for this group of runners.  It was satisfying to give to them some of the love that I received on the Detroit Marathon course.

But now I’m cozy and warm at home again.  We’re going out to dinner tonight to celebrate Tonya’s first marathon, and I’m looking forward to that.  I’ve been working at home today, doing some lab website work and trying to tick off my to-do list.  (Clean out kitty’s litter box?  Check.  Vacuum?  Check.  Give Paul gas money?  Um…no check.)  Tomorrow I get to work at home, which I am very much looking forward to.  Last Friday was my final paid day for postdoc job #2, and I’m glad that milestone has now come and gone.  My last day wasn’t bad, but it’s awkward leaving a job when it isn’t your choice.  I really hate that, no matter how smooth it may look from the outside.

Nothing lasts forever.  A first marathon comes and goes.  Jobs come and go.  Everything flows.  Knowing that, running teaches us to embrace the moment for all it’s worth and to do our very best with the time we have.

I just love how running is a perfect metaphor for life.

PS  Lucy didn’t run today, but she did provide early-morning company.  She’s resting now.  It takes serious dedication to look this cute all the time.  

So Pretty

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Friendsgiving + Contemplation

Ground Covered

Blurry Above

Week of November 25, 2013:

Monday: Evening yoga

Tuesday: Treadmill run.  40 minutes total, 32 minutes running

Wednesday: Off (grocery shopping + date night with Paul)

Thursday: A Thanksgiving Day run!  40 minutes total, 30 minutes running

Friday: Long walk with friends (untimed)

Saturday: A photo walk by myself (also untimed)

Sunday: Long run!  62 minutes total, 47 minutes running.

Estimated mileage: 13.1 miles.  Total minutes run/walked: 142.

Ah, Thanksgiving weekend!  It’s always a much-needed break, isn’t it?  Mine has been just about perfect.  On Wednesday evening, Paul and I had our usual date night.  Despite the temptation to buy nachos from Freebirds for dinner, we made a fried rice dish that was very, very tasty (definitely blog-worthy, if I ever have time to write the post).  After dinner, it was 30 Rock and turning in early because we were both exhausted.  In the morning, we made blueberry pancakes with my favorite pancake recipe (also blog-worthy and on the to-write list) and cooked some eggs to eat on the side.  After breakfast and some relaxing, I nudged Paul out the door so I could go for a run in the sunshine.  It was glorious!  After six days of cold and rain, being outside was heavenly.

Post-run, I packed up and Paul and I headed to Houston to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends.  Our friend Courtney made a Tex-Mex feast, and we ate tamales, Spanish rice, nachos, homemade salsas, latkes (to celebrate the first day of Hanukkah, of course), and pie.  To wash all that down, we drank frozen margaritas.  The conversation flowed effortlessly along with the wine, and I felt thankful to be in the company of so many dear friends.  It was one of the best Thanksgivings of my life.  Friendsgiving for the win(e)!

The next day, we lazed about and eventually wandered outside to take a walk.  We met several gorgeous neighborhood cats, one of whom accompanied us on our walk for a while.  (Paul later told my cat how I had tried to woo these other cats.  Lucy was jealous for a moment, but she got over it.  She knows that I love all the cats.)  After our walk, Paul and I packed up and left Courtney’s, stopped for dinner at Fadi’s (a Houston treat for us), and drove to his sister’s house for an evening visit.  His sister and her wife are always up for a visit, but they were sad that we didn’t spend the night.  Next time…

We arrived home late and went straight to bed.  The next day, after bowls of oatmeal gussied up with maple syrup and butter, Paul left and I was able to tackle some chores.  I spent most of the afternoon organizing money stuff, which I know doesn’t sound fun, but it was a relief to get rent, bills, and receipts squared away.  What can I say—order makes me happy!  After that, I took a photo walk around the neighborhood and thought about my life.  I had hoped that November would be a month during which I could slow down a bit, but that plan dissipated when I found out that I was being laid off from my job.  It’s been a very emotional and stressful month for me, but I think I’m coming to some decisions about what I want to do next.  The short answer is that I’m leaving the academic job sector and seeking my fortunes elsewhere.  My heart feels peaceful about this decision.  As Courtney said, the academic job market is like a black hole: once you’re inside, it can feel damn impossible to get out.  And as Paul said, I’ve got to achieve escape velocity in order to flee the gravity well of academe.  (You get rocket metaphors when you’re dating someone who worked for NASA, and that someone loaned you his copy of Pale Blue Dot.)

I’ve been on the fence about my immediate future for several weeks, but the more I think about not working in a lab, the more I believe that I must leave.  I may come back to academe in a different position.  But my heart isn’t in the lab any more, and I’m in a position right now where I can make a very intentional decision to work on other skill sets and learn more about myself as a professional.

With that decision on my mind, today I did chores, a little bit of work, and went for a late-afternoon long run.  I had daylight but not much sunshine, which is okay with me during these dark autumn months.  After my run, I tallied up my estimated miles run/walked for the month: a total of 32.8 miles.  (I’m cheating a bit and counting today’s run in my estimate.)  I had wanted to run 40 miles, but during this post-marathon month, I’ll take 32.8.  Next month, I’ll try for 40 again!

It’s funny how you can be facing such big life decisions, and yet you still have the daily work of home and cooking and taking care of the cat and doing laundry.  It’s comforting, I think, to feel connected to those rhythms during a time of turmoil.  I hope to write more about my recent work experiences; I think sometimes I delay writing about stuff until I feel like I can say something coherent about it.  My frustration with the academic sector is complex.  It’s not something I can articulate easily in a blog post.  Paul thinks I should write a book about it, and maybe I will, someday.  Right now, my anger and sadness are too raw.

For now, I have one more full week of academic science ahead of me.  Then I blast off into the great unknown beyond the ivory tower.  

PS  Completely unrelated: Lucy loves her outdoor time.

Kitty on Stairs