An Ode to my Hometown: Healing

If you’re from Louisville and haven’t been to Jefferson Memorial Forest, you’re missing out. It’s just outside the city in Fairdale, and it’s absolutely stunning. There are parts where you can see downtown from the trail, but it’s still far enough out that you can get lost in the natural silence.

JMF Sun

It was also my healing place. Shortly after my rock bottom night, I was searching for something, anything to make sense. I struggled for a bit, but it was actually a podcast that opened my eyes a lot.

My boss at the time was a runner. Specifically, trail running. This was intriguing to me, namely because I hadn’t done any sort of sports since I was in high school. I was out of shape and had heard of all the health benefits, both physically and mentally, of running.

But I’m an over-planner. I needed more information, and podcasts were something that I had gotten into as an excellent way to digest information and keep up with current events. I went to the running section, and it was, to say the least, limited. It was 2011, after all. But one stuck out. The Rich Roll Podcast.

Rich Roll is an ultrarunner. He runs distances longer than a marathon, which at the time was an insane thought. But the running was last on his background that drew me to listen. Rich is a recovering alcoholic. He was overweight, struggling to get upstairs in his own home. He changed his life, including going to a plant-based diet. If Rich could do it, I could do it.

And in a lot of ways, I copied his blueprint. I learned more about plant-based diets and eventually adopted one. I started training, putting in the slow miles and short distances, building myself up. I learned about meditation and delved into that. I wanted to do everything I could to stop a backslide. I also acknowledge that it was my addictive personality manifesting itself in another outlet.

I was getting better. But I still had lessons to learn. I have been, and I would argue, still am to a lesser extent, a control freak. I didn’t like the feeling that I don’t at least have a say in what’s happening with my life. And being that we are literally specks on a giant orb hurtling through space, I suppose I was going to have to learn how to be comfortable in that existence. And that’s what the trail taught me.

By this point, I was running pretty strong. Not in any sort of race shape, but I could get up the hills without stopping. And there are a lot of them at Jefferson. I digress.

JMF Trail

I was nearing the end of a ten-mile run, and I honestly felt great. But my legs were heavy.  I’ve always been bad at picking my feet up, but that quickly changed. I knew the trails pretty well at this point, where all the awkward dips and steps were. But I wasn’t ready for the root that I stubbed the front of my shoe on.

Usually, when I trip, I’m able to catch myself and carry on. But this was a full-on front tumble, face in the dirt spill. I literally had dirt in my mouth. And once it was determined that I was ok, I felt something else, something that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I felt alive.

That momentary loss of control, when I was at my most vulnerable, I was finally able to feel the weight of everything in my life. Every terrible and good thing, flooding into my senses. It’s probably not unlike having your life flash before your eyes.

I was energized. I felt like I could get up and run another ten miles. It’s such a tiny moment in a life to have that sort of impact, but I remember it vividly. I know there were other contributing factors, but the shift I experienced from before and after this moment was so clear and defined. It was the first time that I felt I had repaired some of myself.

I started living my life in search of these moments. I’ve been slowly relinquishing control ever since, empowering the universe to guide me where I am supposed to be, rather than where I want to be.

This upcoming trip will be my big jump. My freefall into the abyss. I have a general idea of where I’m going, but there is no plan. No hard set date on when and where I’m stopping. No ties to anywhere. Just me, the road, and the universe.

JMF Trees

 

My Health Journey: A Beginning

I believe strongly in body positivity. One of the best voices in this space is Jameela Jamil and her body positivity campaign I Weigh. If you haven’t come across her or the campaign, check them out. It’s all about amplifying body positive individuals and the name I Weigh refers to what we all weigh, every piece of us. Not only our measured weight but the sum of all our parts.

But I no longer feel positive with my own body. And that’s what it’s about, isn’t it? I don’t feel this way because of some elusive body goal portrayed by Hollywood or because I know that this is not the best version of myself.

~

I was always involved in sports as a kid, but my diet was always a wreck. And my familial genes have been against me for most of my life as well. All that said, I was a decently healthy youngster.

I continued to eat a terrible diet, and in my early 20s, a friend tagged me in an old picture of us on Facebook. We were trying to crush Coke cans on our heads, as teenage boys are want to do, and I had never been more embarrassed in my life. The picture was just a very unflattering picture of me, and not because of the behaviors.

I’m not trying to denigrate anyone, especially my family, but I’ve seen what I could expect in my future if I continued to live my life the way I was. A big belly, health problems galore, and an early exit.

I started doing research, listening to people in the know and found my plan. I slowly transitioned to eating a vegan diet, running regularly and hitting the gym on occasion. And running was a revelation.

I love running. It brings me closer to nature, mental clarity and just feels good. And I’ve gone through ups and downs with it. At my peak, I ran a marathon distance on my 25th birthday and ran 15 miles one Saturday, followed by 12 miles the next day. Both feats were accomplished while training for a 15-mile race through the nearby forest.

About two weeks before that race, my IT band cramped and it took me almost 2 years to recover. I didn’t allow myself to recover properly and it threw me off course. But I bounced back a year ago and started training for another race.

My habits took me off course again. My best friend got married last year and I was in a groove. The wedding was out of town and I told myself I’d take that weekend off and come back refreshed that Monday. I haven’t run since.

~

So, back to body positivity. I saw myself in the mirror the other day. I see myself in the mirror every day, but I SAW myself that day. I’m overweight, unhappy and my body has been telling me to wake up for a while.

I know myself well enough by this point to know that I can’t give myself an out. If I have a reason it will be slightly more difficult for me to work out that day, I’ll opt out. Path of least resistance.

So I looked up a workout routine and made plans to follow it after work. I go to Planet Fitness so I can go any time of day. If I have to get out of bed to workout before work, I’ll talk myself out of it. Self-realization is the greatest tool we all can possess.

I’m starting this week. The greatest changes are made when you are no longer able to bear the pain of remaining the same. And I’m there. I’m sharing this not only because I want to document this journey, but also because I do better under pressure.

I won’t share the before picture I took yet. Honestly, it’s a little too much right now. To beginnings!

~

Photo by Guillaume Briard on Unsplash

Keep Your Headphones Coiled (Sometimes)

A few weeks ago, I went hiking on the Appalachian Trail. You can read about my experience here. Because it was unfamiliar territory, and because there are legit BEARS in the mountains, I went hiking without having my headphones in. I needed to be able to detect threats if needed or be more in tune with my surroundings in case a worst-case-scenario happened.

I’m usually the person that doesn’t go anywhere without headphones. The grocery, walking down the street, even at work if I’m working alone, I’ll have my headphones in. It’s my safe space and my bubble that will usually deter people from trying to disrupt me. So to hike for three hours in the middle of nowhere without headphones was definitely outside my comfort zone.

I won’t rehash my entire experience again, but it ended up being a beautiful experience where I was able to clear my head. Without the constant noise to distract me, I was able to dig deep into some issues that I’ve been having and find answers. And I also was able to think of new things I wanted to investigate or do. It was a great place to find some clarity.

I knew I wanted to try it in the city, where the images aren’t so picturesque and the sounds aren’t so serene.

When I came back to the real world, I knew I wanted to try it in the city, where the images aren’t so picturesque and the sounds aren’t so serene. I wanted to see if I could find that same happiness when the elements weren’t in my favor. And while it wasn’t the same experience, the few times I’ve run without headphones since have been beneficial, in most of the same ways.

Make no mistake, headphones are still necessary for me most days. I’m getting back into running shape, which means the majority of my miles are arduous and painful. And the podcasts or music that I like to listen to are a big help toward getting me to the end of my miles for the day. But every once in a while, it’s nice to unplug and listen to the silence (or cars) around you.