Tuesday, February 25, 2014


In the winter of our discontent, also known as 2014, my part of the U.S. has had cold weather, Really cold weather. And repeated ice storms. My kids had time off school, at least a delay, several times a week throughout all of January. But it wasn't until early February that we got a real snow storm. Finally a dumping that we could do something with. Snowman by the street, snow angles in the backyard, snow forts on either side of the driveway.

The morning after our 'storm of the winter' I went for a run. In fact the snow was still coming down, but barely. Just a light flurry with almost no additional accumulation. The end of the storm. My town borders a national park, and a trailhead into that park starts from my back yard. This isn't coincidence or luck. This is days of hard work. Blazing a trail, digging up poison ivy and thorn bushes, bridging streams. But the result is a wooded path that links up with ten miles of existing horse-trails that surround most of the park.

This winter, I've taken a break from running. After a tough trail race in mid-November, I took a week off. I went for a Thanksgiving Day run (because I always do), but then nothing until New Year’s Day. I guess I needed a break. Then the weather got cold. So cold that I just couldn't bring myself to go out and exercise. I'm definitely not a weather-wimp. I ride my bike to work every day, in all conditions, even in sub-zero temps. But the prospect of pounding out miles on rock-hard, icy ground never sounded appealing. And because I work at a community center with a huge gym, I have warmer options.

I won't run on a treadmill. It assaults my sensibilities of what running is all about. Which is communing with nature, enjoying the terrain. Strangely enough, I have no problem riding a spin bike, and even instructing spin classes. Most of the serious fitness folks around town are perfectly content knocking out long runs on a treadmill, but many see spinning as an abomination. But for me, this winter has been all about spinning, weight lifting, and H.I.I.T. circuits.

With our snowstorm came warmer temperatures. Barely below freezing. After commuting daily in single digit and low-teen temperatures, this felt like a heat wave. I woke up in the morning with one goal. A long, deep-snow run. The woods were pristine. Twelve inches of unmarred snow. Every now and then, I would join up with deer trails, but for the most part, the only foot prints were mine. And when I was done, I was shocked at how great a workout it had been. An hour of my slow loping gate, high knees the whole way. Each foot fall, an unpredictable angle. This was more about core than legs. My whole body was exhausted. Even my shoulders, chest and back were used up.

The next day, I had a standing monthly meeting that includes some of our most frequent gym patrons. They were complaining about missing a workout day. These are people who will spend upwards to two hours per day in the gym. Pounding on a treadmill, sweating through hour-long spin classes, riding an elliptical for forty minutes at a shot. I suggested that shoveling snow was probably just as good a workout as what they would have gotten at the gym, and each uniformly reported that they clean their driveway with a snow-blower.

This disgusts me. Ignoring the environmental impact and the unnecessary noise pollution, what the hell is the point of being fit if you aren't going to use it. These aren't people with long country lanes as driveways. They have short two-car drives on their quarter-acre lots. Snow-shoveling, a total body workout. Quads, hamstrings, glutes, back, shoulders, arms. Deep breathing – fresh, cleanly scrubbed air. Conversations like this one helps realign my thinking. Helps me remember that the best gym has no walls. 
A week later, I repeated my run. Since our storm, we have had several warm days and even a couple of rainy ones. The temperatures dip below freezing each night, but then back into the forties during the day. We even had a few days in the fifties. When I headed out for my run, I expected a sloppy, muddy mess. It was warm, high in the forties. Running in shorts, a long sleeve shirt, gloves and a hat. There was no mud. The snow had survived the week. Under the crusty surface was a bed of soft, wet snow. Three to four inches of drop for each footfall. Because the snow was not as deep as the previous week, I could go farther, longer on this run. The crustiness made for a more unpredictable foot-strike, which created a heightened core workout, but my legs had much more stamina than on my last run. Things were not as pristine as my last time out. A few other people had been out on the trail. Someone with skis, a dog walker. But no other runners. I just don't understand this.

Nature offers so few opportunities to shake it up. My snow runs are my most memorable workouts of the winter. They were hard, slow, deliberate workouts. All alone, no one to witness what I was doing. In my house, we joke that if no one you know sees you when you go out for a run or a bike-ride, it doesn't count. Well these runs don’t count at all. I didn't see a single person on either day. But what these runs did was re-energized my desire to get outside and experience the world. I've had my pampered winter, and now I'm ready to toughen up and start crushing some unpaved miles. Re-explore the trails as they begin to green-up with Spring. All winter I've been worried about whether I was going to have the motivation to start running again, but now I can't wait for my next opportunity to get outside. And I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I hope it snows again this year.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


This morning, I threw away a t-shirt. Not an undershirt, Haines, Fruit-of-the-Loom variety. Or one of those tank-top wife-beater shirts. But a logo shirt from the Gap. The shirt was all but disintegrated. Every time I put it on or took it off, a new tear would form. The collar was more off than on, and you could pretty much see through it. Pitching it was a big step, and the knowledge that the other shirt that I bought on the same day (actually the exact same shirt except it is grey, not white) will shortly follow leaves me feeling like I'm losing touch with some old friends.  

Like my wife, I'm sure you're thinking "Jeez, it's a t-shirt, get a new one." Not so easy. I hate shopping. I don't really hate going in stores, and I'm more willing than most men I know to help my wife shop for her clothes, I just hate to shop for myself. Every piece of clothing I buy needs to be perfect. I'm talking about that je ne sais quoi – literally. I don't know what makes a piece of clothing perfect - it just needs to 'seem' right. Maybe the fabric; always the fit; possibly the pattern, the color. I go into a store with a vague idea of what I want, and I look around until something speaks to me. And that can take minutes or days or not-at-all.

When I find a shirt or pair of pants that I like, I typically buy more than one. The polo-style shirt I'm wearing today has three matches in my drawer at home. Exact same cut and material, just different colors and patterns. All of my shorts are the same brand and style, Nautica/Windjammer, bought from the outlet store in my town. The Nautica store shut down 4 years ago, so essentially, I have a drawer full of old, stained shorts, and a fear of trying to find new ones.

Sort of lied there – I also have 2 pairs of Eddie Bauer shorts that look and feel identical to the Nauticas. Except that they are about ½ an inch shorter – and that really bugs me, I don’t like to wear them. But here's the thing, even if I don't like a piece of clothing that I've bought, I'll wear it until it is dead. So I really need to get it right the first time. This is why shopping is so stressful.

Five years ago, I lost some weight, and most of my clothes sagged off of me. I went through a huge clothing weed out. I gave a bunch of stuff to my brother, the rest to a charity sale. And I was left with empty drawers. One if the things I needed to re-buy was jeans – something I hadn't done in years. I'd worn the same cut of Levis for 15 years. When I went to buy myself some more, I found that they discontinued my style. After months of wearing huge jeans, stomping and squirming through every Kohl’s, Penny’s and Sears in a 50 mile radius trying on Levis, I finally switched to Old Navy. The 1st pair of jeans I bought there was too big. After that I got it right. I bought four additional pairs. Still I keep the too-large jeans in rotation with the other ones, even though they are uncomfortable to wear – once bought, committed 'till the end.

Last night, I went to a work function and decided to wear a sport coat. This is something I typically only do for interviews and church – which happens about 3 times a year, including weddings and funerals. My father once told me that I should always buy Joseph Banks coats because they have a 'timeless style'. This notion appeals to me, since I will wear this coat for the rest of my life. Last night's coat is twenty years old. It is still in great condition and as near as I can tell, it is still in style. Point for dad. My ties are just as old. These cannot possibly still be in style. But since I wear ties even less frequently than coats, I refuse to invest the time and energy to shop for a new tie. It will be out of style the next time I wear it, if ever.

My small town is very informal. Only the bankers and politicians wear suits. A handful of people wear ties – maybe a doctor under that useless white robe they all have. Working as one of the few male administrators of a non-profit community center gives me an opportunity to define work attire. And since I skew casual, it is shorts and polos, corduroys and sweaters. All interchangeable, all many years old. My wife frequently asks me to update my clothing. Now and then she'll buy me a shirt – button-up oxford cloth style shirt. Something with a hip pattern. So that when we go out at night, I don't look like I'm going to work. I know she's right. My style is tired, lazy. Recently, a friend saw me from far distance. She hurried to catch up with me. "I could tell it was you by the sweater” she puffed when she caught me. I have lots of different sweaters, but since that's all I wear, I guess she could tell it was me – Identifiable by my clothes, like Where's Waldo.

My drawers are full of dying friends. Turtlenecks from LL Bean, the neck part frayed completely through. Shirts with stains, shirts with holes. Corduroys with worn-out wales. And jeans, my new generation of jeans, all with mangled leg-ends – the part by the heel. This look was popular in college in 1980. Not so much now, at work.

I realize it's time for the next big weed-out. Not because of size, but the age of my clothes. My grey gap tee will soon be history. My Nautica shorts, gone. That Ramones t-shirt – sleeves hacked off, stained, shrunk so short that it looks like I've had it since 10th grade – well I might keep that one. The prospect of looking for replacements, seemingly as hard as finding a new best friend, is what delays this step. I know that once I find a style I like, a new pair of shorts from the Gap, a new t-shirt cut from Old Navy, a long-sleeve polo from Eddie Bauer, I'll buy five or six of each and be hooked-up for years. I hope.