Well, I’ve Heard There Was a Secret Chord…

Thinking today. Always thinking. I’ve been in an emotional roller coaster as of late, and I’m sure that it has multiple components. My efforts towards healing, increasing intensity of workouts, the stress of the current events within our community, all of it.

I’m a hot mess right now, and there’s no easy fix. We’re just going to push through it, like any other wall.

I was ruminating today on music, and what it does for me. I always do that when WoodyFest is coming up. I haven’t played/sang much, because right now, today, my focus is on healing. And although there is a temptation to say that where I’m at is “good enough”, I promised myself a year…and a year it will be.

Anyway, the thought I had was of King David (incidentally, quite likely an ancestor of mine, as he would be the patriarch of the Solomon line). When he was not yet king, the previous king (Saul) would call him into his courts to play for him. David’s harp soothed King Saul in his time of sorrow. I believe it is this melody that Leonard Cohen was referencing in the opening lines of “Hallelujah”.

My music is who I am. For me, the voice that lifts me out of my darkest place (there are a few, but this one stands out) is Sinead O’Connor.

Because she KNOWS.

Because you can hear in her voice that she KNOWS.

There have only been a handful of voices I have ever heard that understood that dark place well enough that their voice reached down in the pit to lift it out. You can hear it especially in Johnny Cash’s voice in “Hurt”, “I Still Miss Someone”, and “Sunday Morning Coming Down”.¬† You can hear it in Shane McGowan’s voice in “Fairytale of New York”. The list is short, but it’s powerful.

Anyway, back to the present, because I really want to tell you about my run. It relates, but only in a way that makes sense in my bucket hopping, disjointed mind. I’ll try and connect the two.

So, after doing some short, but intense (for me) hill training yesterday, I was back on course for today’s walk/run. I have pretty much made the 7th 1/10 mile run official, as I can’t remember the last time I haven’t run it. Anyway, today, I also ran a tenth on the last lap.

Or, it started as a tenth.

Anyway, I began that section of the last lap running a tenth. I still had steam, so my rule is, keep going. Up around that bend, then hey, let’s get to that tree, then let’s go around the next bend.

At some point, I realized that if I made it to the trees, I would log another tenth. One mile. I can do this, I figured, and really wanted that mile. So I made it, short on breath (could have done more, but I’m trying not to overwork myself. I have a 5k in fewer than 3 weeks).

It wasn’t until I was cooling down after the last running stretch that I realized I had miscalculated, that I had “only” run 9/10 of a mile. Still, 25% of the total distance, and better than I had ever done.

I was regretting my miscalculation. But then I thought about it, and IF I didn’t think I was about to run a mile, there is no way I would have completed that last tenth. Because I was focused on the goal, I unlocked a level I had never unlocked before, and showed myself that I am expanding my capabilities.

So, I took this long disjointed path to get here: the truth is, we all need someone, some THING to get us out of our dark spots. I encourage you to find that voice. Let it guide you. Let it move you. And take that next step.

Giving Myself Permission to Feel

This year has been about healing, about emancipation, about liberation. And I realized at the outset that most of the hurdles we face are mental, rather than physical.

In my youth, I was conditioned more than raised. I was taught to obey, and my feelings never ever entered¬† the equation. What resulted was a jumbled mess of occasionally irrational ad self destructive cycles that would repeat themselves at irregular intervals, depending on thee stress level. I couldn’t break those cycles.

It affected everything: my parenting, my relationships, everything. And it was through a blowout with a friend that I was finally able to unpack it and figure out what was going on. Because in the aftermath of any confrontation, I always overanalyze and ask myself if I overreacted. Without revisiting the ordeal, I will say that in this case, I didn’t.

For once, I followed the mission statement. Which is what this entire year has been about.

I realized that one key aspect of my personality is that I do not give myself permission to feel. I am so driven by others’ expectations that I rob myself of my own humanity by my expectations.

And yet in the midst of that I am still human. I have the right to hurt, to bleed, and to feel, even when those emotions may not be acceptable reactions to the situation. Check that — ESPECIALLY when those emotions may not be acceptable reactions to the situation. My reaction may not be right, but my RIGHT to react certainly is.

The altercation was about boundary setting. I felt (and still feel) that I have a right to those boundaries, just as anyone else does. And am hopeful that the friendship may one day be restored, although for the moment, it’s too soon.

Two a Days

So I have a long way to go and a short time to get there, so to speak. I’ve been looking at my routine, and, to add to it, I either need to extend my morning workout or add an evening routine. I’m already getting up at 5:45, and don’t want to up that too much (although heat will make it essential to move it up some), an evening routine makes sense. Plus, it will help maintain the blood sugar even better.

I’ve waited for the reveal on a dirty little secret: I am in between dr. visits, and because of my declining blood sugars, decided to try cutting one of my medications in half. I’m still monitoring my sugars closely, and the plan was/is that if they start to climbm I will adjust accordingly.

I’ve been doing it 2 weeks. They are still within target.

As I mentioned elsewhere, I try to get my postprandial blood sugar an hour after the evening meal rather than two, because I want to know just how fast my body is responding. Again, thosse numbers are coming in strong as well.

I am looking into video options because I want to show you just how far I’ve come in a short amount of time. Here’s a “tale of the tape” between February and now:

weight: 292 then, 250 now
Blood pressure(average): about 160/100 then, 120/75 (or below) now
A1C: 11.1 then, 5.7 now
Blood sugar: above 300 then, below 90 (fasting), below 100 (postprandial) now
Cholesterol: 237 then, 189 now
Triglycerides: 232 then, 139 now

If you’re struggling, please feel free to message me. I’m open to questions.

#PhaseTWO

For those following along at home, my goal is to run a half marathon this fall. I’m a long ways from it, but steadily making progress.

This means moving into #PhaseTWO. My blood sugar and blood pressure numbers are phenomenal; cholesterol and triglycerides are decent, and I am moving forward. But I am having to change my diets and move forward while I move onto this phase.

I no longer fear blood sugar swings because there isn’t enough to cause that. I’m feeling better and healthier in years. My gut no longer protrudes past my chest. And while running is still a chore, it isn’t pain that is bringing me down, but energy that I trust I will gain over time.

I have 20 ppoinds to go and my BMI will be under 30. No longer obese (although still overweight), and with the choice to do things that have long been inaccessible. I don’t want to give the reveal, but it’s going to be huge.

My half marathon goal is November 2, although I plan to enter some shorter event beforehand. Somewhere along the line, I hope someone notices the 49 year old diabetic who’s out there tearing up the courses. Because I may not run faster than you, but I’ve come further.

Lessons from Keto

As most of you know, I’ve been following a Keto diet since February. The results have been amazing.

Now, to reach my next goals, I am needing to change the carb balance going forward. I need to optimize for performance, and the carb balance and calorie deficit I have used to get to this point are not sustainable going forward. But I have learned a few things from the time on keto that I can pass on to help others:

1. Once you clear your system of sugar, the cravings stop. I eat less than half of what I used to, quantity wise. I no longer like buffets, for instance, because I can fill up for less than half of what the buffet provides. It’s just not a good value. And I seriously NEVER feel hungry.

2. Sugar plays a bigger role in other issues than is generally recognized. I used to mock my own absent mindedness. At times it was severe. And the issues go back to childhood.

As I have become educated on my own health and healing, though, I am researching the role that blood sugar plays in memory. It is entirely possible that the effects of high sugar levels in my bloodstream impacted me decades before I was diagnosed with diabetes. As an antipoverty advocate, I have to wonder if many issues of poverty are tied to our sugar intake. It, of course, ties to obesity, but I am certain there are other factors as well.

3. Keto may be temporary, but the nutritional lessons are for life. I have become a label scrutinizer. If I cannot see what is in it, I don’t want to eat it.

It almost saddens me to leave the keto diet behind. The results have been dramatic: over 40 pounds weight loss (around 15%); A1c from 11.1 to 5.7 in 3 months’ time, fasting blood sugars from the 200s to consistently under 100, systolic average blood pressure drop of over 40 points, diastolic drop of over 20, cholesterol now under 200, triglycerides under 150. But I have little doubt the lessons I have learned will continue to impact me going forward.

Moving Forward

I’ve put enough time in that I’ve stopped expecting people to motivate me. The only options are those who do it for profit, and I don’t have the budget for that.

One of the mistakes we make in life is that we make our failures private, and our successes public. I think we need a little less of both. Because, see, I lived a lot of my life believing I was the only one who felt the way I did, who had the same insecurities and failings.

The trick, I believe, is in HOW we talk about it. We can discuss our failures without, as a recently departed friend put it, “wallerin’ in yer slop”. They can and should be discussed in a way that keeps us moving forward.

One of my favorite kids’ movies is “Meet the Robinsons”. “Keep moving forward” was, apparently, Walt Disney’s mantra, and it is the theme of the movie. And it’s something we forget, and lose focus on too often.

Yesterday I had high blood pressure (138/107). That is out of character as of late, and it’s discouraging. But I had to think that less than 6 months ago, that was normal. I brought my walk time under 46 minutes today, running 0.75 miles out of the nearly 3 mile route, but I have to remember that only 2 months ago, I was struggling with running 3/10 of a mile over a 2 mile route. So it’s all relative.

So, even in moving forward, it is useful to look back, to remember what you’ve achieved. But it’s not helpful, or useful, to stay there.

I’m looking forward to the road ahead. But the last few months have told me it wont be easy.

Some Days are Harder Than Others

Today, I really, REALLY didn’t want to get up at 5:45. I definitely didn’t want to walk. But, like all things, I’ve made enough progress that I really needed to get out and do it.

After yesterday’s attempt at time, I decided today the goal would be just to get it under 10 minutes per lap. And running, as always, my requisite 6/10 mile.

I do a warmup lap, and a cool down lap, and run the 1st and 3rd 1/10 mile segmeants of laps 2,3, and 4. Because I start at the coffeeshop, which is at the middle of the walking trail, the 3rd 10th comes up first. It is decidedly the easiest. The 1st 10th becomes increasingly troublesome, and I’m not sure if it is because I need more calories, or need to adjust my breathing or what. But I am dragging myself across by the final tenth.

So, as I am increasing difficulty, I’ve added a new twist: on the 3rd tenth, on the final lap, I run it as far as I can. Because I am already gassed, it’s not as easy as it sounds. The goal is to make it past the next marker, and I have been able to do that the 2 times I have continued it so far. I am encouraging myself, though, to run as far past it as I can, and today made it about 100 or so feet further than yesterday.

So all told that means I am running 7/10 mile and some change. That’s a long way from my goal of 1/2 marathon this fall, but it is incrementally closer.

And it’s those increments that will ultimately get me there.

The Hardest Mile

I intended to write yesterday. Butt, the best laid plans…

Anyway, on Tuesday, I was most of the way through work when I experienced a sudden, sharp pain in my shoulder. Because of my diabetes, because of my high blood pressure, I was taking no chances, as the pain was radiating down my arm.

It turned out to be a false alarm, but I did discover my blood sugar was a little low. I knew that day was coming, and am hoping for the time when I get to cut back my medications, or get off them entirely.

As a result, I gave myself an unplanned off day yesterday. Today, though, back at it.

I am trying to post my morning exercise routine of about 3 miles under 45 minutes. I know I can do it in a 5k setting, as you push yourself harder in a competitive environment. But could I do it in training?

I have been struggling towards the end of my routine with one of the running legs. I run the same 1/10th mile sections of laps 2,3, and 4 (lap 1 is warmup; I now run the first running leg of lap 5). I am changing up my eating routine and carefully reintroducing carbs (although I am putting refined sugars/refined flours on my “forever no no” list!). I have been hydrating during the walk/run, and today brought a protein bar with me, because I am not out of breath, only out of energy when I run it.

So I watched each lap. My splits were close, but not good enough (but something I ccan adjust going forward). I entered the final lap needing to finish in 7:20, so I knew I was going to have to run to even have a chance. I ran the first running leg as far as I could, about 150-200 feet past the 1/10 mile marker. And I determined if i had a chance at 45 minutes, I was going to run the final stretch.

As I was about 2/10 mile out, it became clear I could not make it. I figured, oh well, there is always next time. But I stopped and thought about my daughter’s running days, about how I always taught her to finish strong.

And so I ran across the finish. Now you must know my running gait somewhat resembles that of a wounded rhino. But I get credit for it nonetheless. I finished, running. With a time that represents my personal best on that trail, but not by enough to claim bragging rights.

But I WILL claim bragging rights for finishing strong. And for putting in 3/4 mile running today. Those I can claim.

Will I do it again tomorrow? No; you don’t race every day. But I will in about a week or so, because it really is the best way to measure progress. For now, though, going to soak and prepare for a regular routine tomorrow.

Beginning Phase 2

I have been a bit sidetracked over the past two weeks, as the tornado and its aftermath forced us out of our routine for awhile. I still kept up the exercise routine; in fact I already ramped it up slightly, as the walk from the hotel to the river was just under 3 miles, and, well, I never much enjoyed walking without there being a point to it.

I tried cycling out to the river and then walking, but that is an option better suited to when I have been at this a while longer. As I discovered, you use different muscles in cycling vs. walking/running, and my body was quick to remind me it isn’t yet ready for the transition.

So, coming back, I adjusted my walk in the park. I added a warmup lap and a cool down lap, bringing the total distance (according to Map My Walk’s app) 3.16 miles. Very close to 5k distance.

I benchmarked my time today, and it was just over 47 minutes. I’m still running 0.6 miles of the distance, but it is the slowest, ugliest run one could imagine. Still, it is running.

So I’ve decided it is time to transition. I’ve proven I can manage my blood pressure and blood sugar. My cholesterol and triglycerides have been heading in the right direction. I am finding on my morning routine, though, that while I am capable of running even more distance, I am gassed out by the final tenth off a mile. So I am reintroducing carbohydrates accordingly (and staying off of refined sugar.

I suppose I’m far enough into this to tell you that the goal is a half marathon in the fall. I do not just want to be conditioned for it, though; I want my initial time to be under 3 hours. That’s very doable; the concern is building up the stamina to maintain a slightly faster pace than my current pace for 13.1 miles.

Surprisingly (considering the years they have carried a heavier weight), my knees are holding up well. My back is, as expected, seeing bouts of pain that are likely attributed to carrying the weight differently (I have an old injury in my upper back.

While I am not, at 255 pounds, as trim as I hope to be, I am definitely at a weight where I can start exploring other possibilities. Harry Chapin once mused, “I guess our dreams have come and gone, you’re s’posed to dream when you are young”.

I’m out to disprove that!

An Hour and a Half From a Place Called Hope, Pt. 1

“Hey, I have some drippings from the meatloaf to take home”, the waitress told the gentleman, an older local who sat at the table next to me and with whom I had been engaged in conversation. I’ve learned over time that when going into a new community, when you find a local establishment, ask the locals what they prefer. They will never steer you wrong.

The city is Malvern, Arkansas, and the place is Keeney’s Food Market, a new inductee into the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame. It is off the beaten path, located in a mostly residential area, and the cafe sits in the back of the market. “unassuming” would be an apt description.

A very large part of my life has been spent exploring places that other folks tend to overlook. I guess, being overlooked myself, I’ve always felt a special affinity. And every community has color and character, Malvern being no different.

When I was a starry eyed youngster (the first time — I’m still working on the second, as you know), I remember a young Presidential candidate by the name of William Jefferson Clinton telling us, “I still believe in a place called Hope”, referencing Hope, Arkansas, a community near where he grew up. And, being the geeky sort I am, I duly noted that if one were to continue on down the road that brought us here another hour and a half, one would, indeed, find themselves smack dab in the center of a place called Hope.

It’s a fitting metaphor for this small, beautiful community on the banks of the Ouachita River. In my expressions with locals, they have expressed disappointment as they have seen plants close, buildings abandoned, and, as with so many other rural communities these days, their youth so often lost to addiction and crime. and yet, to speak with them, there is still an enthusiasm, an optimism, and an encouragement that hope is, indeed, not so far away.

I spoke with the owner of Miller Drug Store, who allowed me into his back room and the old soda fountain equipment, and he told me of his daughter, who is inheriting the role of being the fifth generation of pharmacists in his family, in this community of 10,000. I saw the forms where the pills would normally be packaged, and sealed with a hot iron before they were sent out to the nursing homes. And I saw the old strip mall, and a bank whose window almost mournfully proclaimed: “Sorry, we are closed”.

A discussion with the Chamber director told me about a gentleman who has since passed, whose friendship with Billy Bob Thornton secured him a bit part in the movie “Sling Blade”, and a few small parts in Hollywood through his friend “Bob” (Duvall), who frequently checked in on him.

Initially, I was going to write a single piece about this small community, a half an hour away from Hot Springs. But a single article cannot do it justice. So, while this article lacks pictures, I have pictures a plenty, and as soon as I can get my phone and computer to agree, I’m happy to share. I invite you to enjoy this experience with me as I share about this community just an hour and a half from a place called Hope.