Jessica and the Art of Moribund Middle Age Maintenance

The other day I ran seven miles. I averaged 12:54 per mile, with my quickest mile being 12:28 and my slowest, the final cool down mile, 13:55. I’ve run quicker miles and done longer runs, but this one felt different.

The Reservoir

I hadn’t run for a few days prior so when I headed out to the reservoir track where I like to run, I was planning to take it a bit easy. Before I left the house I mentioned to my wife that I only planned to run a 5k. The reservoir track is at the top of a hill and the path up is a third of a mile gentle slope that works as a nice way to warm up my legs. Once I reached the top I flipped on my Runkeeper app and my Spotify running mix and began to run. 

Normally, I like to start my runs with the song “A River Called Disaster” by Trapper Schoepp. It has a really cinematic and energetic intro that bleeds into the fiery opening line, “Bent up and beat up, broken and bruised, tied up, taken, mistaken and used.” The rhythm drives through the whole song like a machine as the guitar dances around. It’s a pounding, electric song and great to run along to. Today I wasn’t looking to push myself, I was just looking to find whatever pace my body wanted to go and stick with that, so I just hit ‘random’ and off I went. 

Jessica

The song that began to play was “Jessica” by the Allman Brothers. The 7:30 ode to Django Reinhardt is perhaps the greatest driving song of all time, and one I love to run to. The joyful easy vibe that feels like the excitement  and possibility of an open road heading West always makes me happy. It was the perfect setting out song. The song grooves along to Dickey Betts guitar just as I immediately fell into a pace that felt like gliding. The miles and songs began to flow by as I kept running. I never got winded or very tired and just kept going, well past my planned 5k, past 10k, and eventually heading down the hill because it got dark.

When running becomes gliding and my mind begins to drift, the whole experience feels a bit magical. There is an almost spiritual quality to it when your body just takes over the effort and you can let go. It’s probably just a combination of endorphins and adrenaline, but it’s a real feeling nonetheless. The best way to describe the feeling is to simply listen to “Jessica,” and the way the song feels like movement as much as music. 

It really is a nice place to run

A few weeks back I read a piece from Paul Flannery about running 50 miles. Flannery is someone I used to follow when he was a terrific basketball writer, who now writes about running. This particular piece detailed a 50 mile race he trained for and ran in Vermont. At the time, I felt inspired by it, but confounded as to how that was even possible. After finding my pace while listening to Jessica, I think I understand. 

I think about the piece every time my legs get a bit tired and I feel like quitting. There are two other articles about the why and the aftermath, but the one that hits me is the one about the actual doing. . It’s about accomplishing goals and doing something that feels impossible, and discovering that maybe nothing is really impossible. I’m probably never going to run 50 miles in one go, but the more I run, the less ridiculous it seems.  

When I got to my car, the last song that played was “Shakedown” which features the line “We’re going steady now” and that’s how I felt, like I’m going steady now. A year ago at this time, I could not say the same. 

It’s appropriate that it was a Trapper Schoepp song playing at the end of the run, because my journey over the last year begins with him, in an oblique sort of way. 

Folks keep asking me how I lost the weight, so I thought I’d write about it. Here it is. 

Last year at this time I was having panic attacks on a regular basis. I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. My blood pressure was in bad shape and I was having ectopic heartbeats frequently enough that I had developed pretty bad anxiety about going to bed, because it was impossible to ignore them while laying down in the dark. I did not have a job, and, of course, The Pandemic was still going full bore without vaccines yet available. I was in a pretty grim place. 

Please ignore the Covid hair, I went a year without cutting it.

Towards the end of the year I started trying to eat a low sodium diet to at least help with the blood pressure if nothing else. It helped a bit but I knew I needed to do more and get some exercise. Walking up and down the stairs in my house was enough to wind me, and we don’t have a lot of stairs. After being essentially house bound for a year, I wanted to get outside too, even if it was Winter. 

At some point in this period I saw a post from Trapper Schoepp on instagram that was a metallic basket in the snow with what looked like a frisbee in it. I didn’t know what it was, so I looked it up and found out it was disc golf. I had vaguely heard of disc golf but knew precisely nothing about it, and didn’t think much more about it that day. A few days later driving past White Clay Creek State Park, I noticed the one basket you can see from the road driving past (Hole 15 if you’re interested) and it took me a minute to recognize what it was. 

Not the actual image, but you get the idea

Up until that moment I had absolutely no idea that there were disc golf courses all around me. For the record, there are 21 courses within 25 miles of my house. When I got home that night I got to thinking that it might be fun to give it a try since it would be exercise, outdoors, and something I could do with my wife. I spoke with her and she was interested and we ordered two Innova starter sets. Each came with a driver, a mid-range, and a putter, and a few days later I headed out to White Clay to give them a try. 

I found where the course started and headed down to the tee. I lined up my first shot with the driver and threw the disc, an Innova Leopard, and the disc flew maybe 50 feet. I walked over, picked it up and threw it another 50 or so feet. Eventually I got close to the basket and after a few tries, sank a putt. I didn’t have UDisc at that point so I kept my score in Google Keep. My score on that first hole was a 5, after a full 18 was 99, 55 over par. At the end I was exhausted, it’s about a 2.5 mile walk, but I had fun. I went back the next day and played again. The third time Jen and I went together and we had a lot of fun. I was hooked. 

A few days later I ended up in the hospital.

I was watching the Sixers play about an hour after Jen and I had had dinner. We had ordered out because neither of us felt like cooking. The food was from Perkins, a restaurant neither of us particularly like, but I had been in the mood for pot roast and they were the only ones who would deliver it. As I sat there trying to relax and watch the game, my chest felt funny. I checked my pulse, which is something I do frequently because of the ectopic beats and the accompanying anxiety. My heart rhythm felt weird. It wasn’t like extra beats, instead it was jumping all over the place. I immediately went into a panic attack and that set my heart pounding as well as jumping all over the place. I walked up and told Jen she needed to drive me to the hospital. 

Once there I told them what was going on and when you’re having heart issues, you jump the line and go right back. They put me in a small room and took an EKG. I was in a state of Atrial Fibrillation. My rhythm wasn’t rapid, which is very dangerous, but it was completely irregular. Eventually they gave me some medication and sent me home with a cardiologist appointment the next day. 

This began a month of cardiologist visits, holter monitors, EKG’s, new medications, depression, panic, and exhaustion. After about two weeks, while on a new medication, I came out of AFib. I would go back into it for a few hours twice more, and eventually I would have a small heart monitor implanted in my chest that records my heart rhythm and sends it to a lab when I hit a button in a phone app. 

At the end of what I could only describe as one of the worst months of my life, my cardiologist said I should try and lose about 5% of my weight and she thought that would help prevent any kind of AFib relapse. 

Brandywine Park

The next day I went back out and played a round of disc golf. I began to play almost every day. I wasn’t working so I had time. Sometimes I would play 36 holes in a day. It was fun and before too long I began to notice I had lost weight. Doing between two and four mile hikes almost every day made a difference. 

I have been fat almost my entire life. I’ve been reasonably active, but have never eaten particularly well, so despite loving playing basketball or hiking in the woods, I’ve never really managed to take much weight off. About seven years back I got into walking every day and managed to run a mile or two, and once eked out a 5k, but stopped pretty quick. I have gone through periods where I’d lose 30 or 40 pounds but always put it back on. 

The Arm belongs to Kirby Puckett

This period of this year reminded me of these other times when I got into a semblance of shape. Except this time instead of culminating in petering out and putting the weight back on, I ended up back in the hospital with gallstones. More specifically, I ended up in the hospital over a holiday weekend because I passed a gallstone and the pain was pretty horrible, but it also threw off my kidney levels enough for doctors to want to monitor me. I was in the hospital for four days, mostly because of timing, and went home with a sheet telling me to eat a low fat diet and to follow up about having my gallbladder out. 

So I began to eat a pretty strict diet, eating mostly the same things every day, rotating between three different recipes. I went back to playing disc golf and between that and the low fat diet, I began to lose a lot of weight. A noticeable amount of weight. When you weigh as much as I did, losing 20 or 30 pounds isn’t noticeable. I lost 50 pounds in fairly short order and that was actually noticeable. 

Before too long, I plateaued in my weight loss and needed to expand from disc golf. I had begun to lift weights, just dumbbells, but that wasn’t helping too much. One day during the summer I decided to go to the reservoir and walk a few miles before going to the park to play disc golf. The next day I did the same thing, but this time I ran a quarter of a mile. It knocked me for a loop but felt good. 

Slowly I began to push myself to run a bit more. It took a few weeks but I managed to run a mile. This was the first mile I’d run in 7 or 8 years, and maybe the 7th or 8th I’d ever run in my life. As I said, I’ve always been fat, and middle school was particularly hard for that. I have a very distinct memory of middle school gym class making us run a mile and having to walk most of it, to the scorn of my classmates and the gym teachers. My first thought was “fuck you, middle school gym teacher” when I finished the mile that day. 

I kept pushing and before long I could run two miles. Then three. Then I could run three miles a couple of times a week. The first 5k I finished was because of a rule I placed on myself when I started running. Each additional milestone was in part because of the same thing. It’s a simple rule, when I’m running, I don’t stop if the Bosstones are playing. The main mixes I run to have are about 20% Bosstones songs, and I keep going at least until the song ends. That first 5k, I was ready to quit after about two and a quarter miles, and then the song “Green Bay, Wisconsin” from the Bosstones album “While We’re At It” came on, so I pressed on. It’s not a long song so I figured I’d just stop when it was done. The next song was “Go Big” from the Bosstones album “Jackknife to a Swan,” so I pressed on. After that came “Where’d You Go?” and it was around then I realized the universe wanted me to finish what I’d started, so I did. The Bosstones have always been there when I needed them.

The pounds began to really melt off. Between Yoga, weights, disc golf, and running I was quite literally shrinking. 

I’m bad at selfies, but you get the idea

At the time of writing, I’ve lost 122 pounds. I’ve dropped 12 pant sizes, and oddly, half a shoe size. When I see my reflection in a window or mirror when I’m out and about I keep having odd dissociative moments because I look incredibly different than I did a year ago. When I look in my bathroom mirror or look down at myself, I don’t think I look much different, but in those reflections, I look like someone else. 

I feel like someone else too, if I’m being completely honest. I start a new job in a week, all of the tshirts and jeans I’ve been wearing for a few years are in a plastic bin in my basement, and my doctors have all done literal double takes at my last few follow-ups. I’m off most of the medications I was on. My blood pressure is great, and I’m in the process of weaning off of the heart medications too. But best of all, I can run. I’ve even got a free t-shirt for completing the 49th annual Turkey Trot in Newark, my first “official” 5k, to prove it. 

Why the shirt was from two years ago is beyond me.

It’s been a long journey this last year. It was hard crawling out of the very deep pit I was in. I’m by no means where I want to be, but after feeling buried in darkness, I can feel the light on my face again.

It’s impossible to imagine I would have gotten here without all the support of my wife, friends and family. I am having trouble putting into words how important my wife, and close friends have always been, and how vital they’ve been for me this year. None of them have ever so much as jokingly fat-shamed me, or made me feel bad about my weight, and they have been the first to celebrate my weight loss. They’re also the ones who have to put up with my running updates and stats and do so with grace and encouragement. I’m lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing people. 

Having the occasional rock star with an active Instagram providing inspiration and inadvertently setting me on the right path doesn’t hurt either. 

Things are getting better.

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