Journey to My First Half Marathon

me marathon

It was Saturday afternoon, and I paused inside the vestibule of my downtown gym. One street over, swarms of frenzied children scampered down the middle of the road and into the nearby park. I vaguely recalled hearing that the Mercedes Marathon was this weekend and that it began with a kids’ run. Shrugging it off, I headed inside to start my workout.

Last Saturday, I stood pausing in that same vestibule. I smiled to myself when I realized what was happening. Exactly one year later, I was watching the same scene. Only this time, there was no confusion surrounding the race-day preamble.

It was the beginning of my very first half-marathon weekend.

Moving Beyond the Barbell

For someone who spends a significant amount of time in the gym each week, I had never once considered branching outside of weightlifting. It’s a sport in its own right, after all. But what scared me most is the idea I saw touted around the internet and broadcasted as infallible truth across YouTube. It’s the belief that long-distance running and weight training are counterintuitive. That you can’t do both and do them well.

Because of this, I shuddered at the thought of a sprint and considered anything more than a short jog to be not just futile, but threatening. I was just now making some real progress in the gym, so why would I want to give that up for a lousy run?

What ultimately pushed me to stop limiting myself by fear and routine was pure, unadulterated defiance. In the world today, our ever-growing, instantly-accessible body of knowledge brings good and bad. As an avid learner, I’m known to become obsessive in my research of things. I drive myself mad looking for the definitive answer. The research-backed, crème de la crème technique that is worth my time. But that’s just what was limiting me. Instead of listening to anecdote and opinion online, I said screw it. It’s my life, I’ll do what I want to, and I’ll be good at both of my sports.

And that’s exactly what I did.

You might also like: Taking Control of Bodyweight – My Story

1 Mile Today, 13 Tomorrow

I joined the racing world with an unlikely start. Originally, it was a friend who called me and recommended we try running the Mercedes Half Marathon together. Always down for a challenge, I agreed. As it turned out, her team decided to forego the run. But just a few days prior, I had called my dad to ask for training advice, and that’s when he recommended we sign-up together.

As a 52-year-old man, the amount of time, effort, and sheer willpower that he put into this training has earned a new respect from me. Over the years, he’s competed in several full marathons, a few halves, and even a mini-triathlon. I don’t think I could’ve picked a better training partner.

Knowing a plan was paramount to my success, I started training in November 2017, working my way up to 3-miles of non-stop running. According to internet wisdom – which, yes, I was attempting to ignore – that was the starting point for any training plan.

Admittedly, I was a bit over-ambitious in my original selection. The intermediate plan I chose had me running more miles than was normally recommended for a beginner, but the long-distance Sunday runs ended up being my saving grace.

I would begin each week with a long run, increasing in distance as time wore on. By week eight, I set out to conquer the 10-mile run. But near the end, I noticed a sharp pain in my left foot. I had injured the cuboid area of my foot. This almost-crippling pain would continue for the next two weeks, barring me from running any real distance. Luckily, the pain lessened after a good bought of rest, and thanks to my originally-vigorous approach, the setback in weekday training didn’t affect me much.

For the most part, training was therapeutic for me. I learned early on that I preferred outdoor running to indoor treadmilling. The sense of exploration and being out in the world took training from being torturous in the beginning, to a form of meditation. I passed the time listening to the Spotify Running Mixes, Podcasts, or catching up with my dad when we ran together.

The zen wasn’t always there, however. The 6 a.m. runs before work in sub-40 temperatures are memories I’ve tried to expunge after the race. There was also a particularly loathsome 10-mile run I did during light rain and high humidity. In the end, this run is what prepared me most for the race since the conditions that day were practically the same.

You might also like: Running: How I Learned to Just Do It

Mixing Iron and Asphalt

During the 12 weeks of half-marathon training, I still kept up my 4-day-a-week gym schedule. In all honesty, I favored the weights over the road if it came down to it. But I never skipped a long run, and I think that was important.

The biggest concerns in mixing strength training and heavy cardio have to do with degrading muscle mass, using up energy, and burning too many calories to put on size. With this in mind, I came up with a few strategies to not only mitigate muscle loss, but add strength and size during the process.

Most importantly, I used MyFitness Pal to track my calories and make sure I ate enough to replace what I burned running. Dark chocolate was a go-to for a decadent calorie boost, and I went through more milk than a freshly-born child.

Another tactic I used was spacing out the two types of training. I tried to put at least a couple of hours between weights and running, and I almost always did weights first since that seemed to require the most energy.

When it was time for the long runs, I took a few BCAA chews beforehand. While I don’t usually take these, they’ve been shown to delay muscle breakdown during intense bouts of exercise, so I figured, why not?

Race Day

Sunday, February 11, 2018 – The race was here.

I barely slept the night before, a habit of mine before defining life events.

Serpentining through the atrium to use the latrine one last time before kickoff, I was impressed by how in-shape everyone looked. These are some serious runners, I thought to myself.

But that thought changed as we made our way to the 10-minute per mile pace group. The casual crowd there had me feeling much more amateur. But hey, on your first time you’ve got to start somewhere.

With only a couple of 30-second walk breaks, we finished in a little over two hours. The crowd, the cheerleaders, and the sporadic party stations blaring my favorite club jams definitely helped.

What kept me from croaking in those last two miles, though, was the food. I’ve never tasted Powerade, Skittles, or energy gel so delicious. It’s like the organizers knew my famished heart would not go on. There were even tiny beer-filled cups during the last mile. They must have heard I was coming.

The Takeaways

The race is over. Months of prepping, self-discipline, and the occasional limp coalesced into one singular event, and now it’s done.

Crossing the finish line earned me a medal, but I have a feeling the true fruits of this labor will manifest in how it affects my future. In completing a 13.1-mile run, something unathletic childhood Luke would have never dreamt possible, I proved to myself that anything can be accomplished with persistence and intelligence.

Physically, I feel more balanced than ever before. I’m now fairly confident I could outrun a hefty assailant or make it across the airport in time for a premature takeoff. My vascularity has gone up, my resting heartrate’s gone down, and I find it easier to eat healthily and keep an overall fit state of mind.

At the time of writing, one day has passed since the race. My calves and hamstrings are still pretty sore, but nothing worse than some of the leg workouts I’ve done.

If you’ve ever considered running a half-marathon, I say go for it. Yes, you’ll get cool pictures and a few bragging rights, but most of all, you’ll teach yourself that you have no excuse to hold back from what you really want in life.

Why I Keep My Resolutions + Goals for 2018

winter pic

There’s no denying that New Year’s Resolutions come from a great place.

The idea is to learn from last year’s mistakes, set some real goals, and finally get our lives together.

Yeah, we’ve heard that one before. Why is it that these goals always seem to fall through, and we end up halfway through January swearing that next year will be our year?

For the past three years, I’ve begun every 12-month cycle of the Gregorian calendar with a set of goals, and I can honestly say I haven’t fallen short of them yet.

Here are the secrets I use to stay resolute, along with my own goals for 2018.

Keep Goals Fluid

This is my biggest tip. So many people fall into a cycle of failure because they set rigid – and often unrealistic – goals. Instead of judging your success based on how many items you check off your list, consider the true meaning behind each resolution.

For example, one of my 2017 goals was to achieve mid-level fluency in Spanish. I thought this would help propel me in my career, but it turned out that destiny had some surprises in store. I realized instead that my efforts were better spent perfecting my writing.

Did I achieve my original goal by December 2017? Nope. But I realized the true meaning behind it wasn’t mastery of a language, it was career advancement. And that I did achieve.

Just Do One the First Year

What? Only one resolution? Most people could write a novella with theirs! But as history shows, most of these never get accomplished.

My very first New Year’s Resolution was in 2015 when I dedicated myself to – go ahead and laugh – getting a bigger booty. I was tired of looking like a deflated pancake in jeans, and my current workout routine wasn’t cutting it. I reached out to one of my best friends who had a lot of experience with bodybuilding, and thus began a fitness journey that continues to this day. What started as a simple booty quest transformed my entire body, mind, and life.

So, choose one thing you really want to do, and see it through to the finish. Trust me, it feels much better to fully realize one goal than to half-accomplish 10.

Goals for 2018

I’ll share with you here a few of my goals for 2018. The short/long/fun-goal paradigm was inspired by fellow blogger Meredith Tolleson over at The Southern Source. Try it – it’s much more fun than making a boring old list.

  • Short-term goal. This one can be accomplished in a few months. Mine is to take Jacob and myself on a culturally-rich vacation to a place we’ve never visited before. It’s time to get creative and vacay outside of the box!
  • Fun goal. This goal is something silly or fun you’ve always wanted to do, but never put the energy into. For me, this is taking a wine-tasting course to learn how to truly appreciate a fine bottle of wine (whenever I get my hands on one).
  • Long-term goal. I’m really excited about this one. It’s something that may take most of the year, even a bit longer. My goal is to become professionally certified in French-to-English translation. It’ll be a lot of work, but I look forward to the challenge and the huge reward at the end. I’ve already begun studying to take the DALF C1 (Advanced French Diploma) in March as the first step, so wish me bonne chance.

Now Take the Time to Analyze

I’ll admit, it took me a few days of self-lecturing before I sat down and defined my goals. It’s crazy how adverse our brains can be to actually thinking. But it’s so liberating once you do. All kinds of ideas, opinions, and inspirations come out of a good think session.

If you haven’t had one in a while, take a walk, a shower, a drive – whatever gets you inside your head, and figure out how to make 2018 the year for you.

How Volcano Climbing Lead to an Ironman Triathlete

Mt. Rainier

Growing up in Washington, Evan Peterson marveled at the soaring, snowy caps of Mount Rainier. To him, it represented both a landmark and a challenge. But it wasn’t until moving to Birmingham that he found his thoughts returning to the West Coast, and ultimately to the mountain.

Years after it disappeared from his everyday sight, Peterson made the decision to climb Mt. Rainier. In preparing for the climb, he’s accomplished feats and grown in ways that he never would have imagined. Peterson’s story is an inspiring tale of setting a goal and seeing where it leads. And it’s only just begun.

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

After making the decision to climb one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, Peterson knew the first step was to start training. This was no stroll in the park, after all.

While Alabama’s mountains provide splendid views of the city and are home to expansive state parks, they’re no match for Mt. Rainier. Reaching the summit requires incredible amounts of strength, stamina, and endurance. So to train, Peterson started running.

“After a while, I was doing 7-mile runs 3 or 4 days a week,” Peterson said. “I realized I was already halfway through marathon training.”

As a step toward his mountainous goal, Peterson registered for the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon in Savannah, Georgia. On Saturday, Nov. 4, he covered 26.22 miles during his first ever marathon.

“I never thought I’d like running,” Peterson said. “When I played baseball for UAB, running was always a punishment. Now, it’s something I look forward to, and I’ve gotten lots of benefits from it.”

Running for three hours at a time is a huge commitment. It helps that one of Peterson’s former teammates signed up for the marathon with him. The two realized that running doesn’t have to be painful; instead, it’s a way to hang out.

“We were surprised when we realized that, after the first couple of miles, our breathing and heart rates evened out, and we could hold normal conversation,” Peterson said. “Being there to encourage each other is really important on long runs when the joint pain borders on unbearable. Knowing we’re going through the same things helps me push through. They say shared pain is half the pain, after all.”

It Takes an Iron Will

Training for the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon has opened another door along the way.

While training, Peterson began talking to several friends who had completed the Ironman Triathalon, one of the world’s longest endurance races.

ironman infographic

“Running a full marathon is one-third of the Ironman, so I figured why not sign up for the full thing?” Peterson said.

And so began the next phase of his journey. Peterson will compete in the Ironman Canada on July 29, 2018.

Having an extensive athletic background, Peterson has always enjoyed a physical pursuit. But he hopes to gain more than just material benefits from completing the Ironman.

“I expect this triathlon to be a spiritual experience in a way,” Peterson said. “It’s not like other races or competitions. It’s just you out there. There’s nothing to keep you going but your own heartbeat and pure willpower. Once I complete this, other challenges in life won’t seem so big.”

In fact, one of Peterson’s most compelling reasons for committing to a marathon, triathlon, and volcano climb stems from the desire for adventure.

“Adventure is a funny concept,” Peterson said. “Many people have this romantic view of what it means to be ‘adventurous.’ They create Pinterest boards and dream about living in Italy, but never actually go through with it. That’s why I’m doing this. To see what adventure is out there. Just to live.”

A Start is a Start

For someone wanting to start running, biking, or working toward any new goal, Peterson’s number one piece of advice is to simply start.

“It’s so easy to make excuses,” Peterson said. “You can wait till you’ve got the perfect pair of shoes, a new bike, or hours of free time. But the excuses will always be there. If you want to start running, go outside and run. It’s as simple as that.”

Another important piece of advice Peterson gives is to look at a goal like this as a lifestyle change.

“You can’t do just one piece of the puzzle and expect it all to work,” Peterson said. “When I first started training, I was still going out several nights a week and eating however I wanted. I quickly realized that something had to give. Getting healthy, or working toward any major goal, requires you to change your lifestyle, not just one behavior.”

The Goal is Just the Beginning

Peterson’s story illustrates a valuable lesson in the power of goal-setting. While the goal itself is the first step, it’s often simply the catalyst for much greater growth and change. The skills, self-confidence, and wisdom you gain while working toward a goal are benefits that last much longer than the day you cross the finish line. In fact, achieving your goal would feel pretty empty without all of the hard work and grit that built up to it.

So focus on the goal, but know that the true reward is in the journey.

 

RELATED POST: Running: How I Learned to Just Do It

How to Recycle in Birmingham, AL

Recycle in Birmingham

I used to think I was great at recycling.

Every time I found a triangle-adorned bin, I’d toss in whatever plastic cup I was holding, smiling like I’d just single-handedly re-frozen the ice caps.

It wasn’t until I moved into my new apartment in downtown Birmingham that I started asking questions. While I’m thankful to have on-site recycling, I noticed that there wasn’t much instruction for use.

Normally, if something had an arrowed triangle, into the bin it would go. I’m sad to admit that I’ve committed more recycling sins than saves. After some research,  I realized that my recycling faux-pas weren’t just futile – they could be contaminating the very products I’m trying to recover.

Here’s the right way to recycle in Birmingham.

What’s Definitely Okay to Recycle

The most important thing to know about recycling is this – triangle does not equal recycle. It simply tells you what type of material you’re dealing with. The City of Birmingham regularly accepts the following materials:

  • Plastics 1 & 2. This is the number inside of the triangle. These are generally milk jugs, soda bottles, detergent containers, and other jugs/bottles. Keep the lid on and rinse out any residue.
  • Aluminum cans. Beer and soda cans make up most of this category. Make sure to rinse.
  • Steel/tin cans. Think: canned vegetables and beans. Rinse and recycle.
  • Cardboard. Break down boxes first to make them easier to collect.
  • Paper. This includes junk mail, office paper, magazines, newspaper, and cereal/prepackaged food boxes.

What Not to Recycle

  • Glass. It’s not currently part of the ‘ham’s pickup program.
  • Food-soiled material. If you can’t get it clean, the residue could contaminate the entire batch.
  • Plastic bags. I admit – I did it for years. But one of these can clog up an entire facility.
  • Plastics 3 and up. Even if you think you know, always check the number on plastics.
  • Styrofoam. Even when it is accepted, it’s usually too soiled with food residue to be used. Egg cartons are the exception.

Where You Might Be Able to Recycle

Don’t get sad if you’ve got a lot of the non-recyclables from above. I kind of fibbed. You actually can recycle most of these, you’ve just got to take them to one of these drop-off locations.

Figuring out how to recycle in Birmingham can be a challenge if you don’t know the rules. Luckily, the materials here are accepted regularly, so you’ll know when it’s okay to use the blue bin, and when you should just toss it.

MORE ADULTING TIPS: How to Get Free iPhone Insurance

Taking Control of Bodyweight – My Story

I never thought my weight was something I’d need to worry about.

“You’re lucky, you have a fast metabolism,” people would say.

When I was younger, it seemed like I couldn’t gain weight to save my life. I remember awkward conversations with the family doctor over my suspected anorexia, supplemented by my mother insisting I guzzle a daily Ensure shake.

When I started becoming interested in fitness, I began to realize how the body’s weight gaining system worked. It’s a simple equation: consume more calories than you burn, and you gain weight. I spent hours pouring over forums, blogs, and magazines, desperate to build strength the right way. I was tired of being the skinny kid, and I was going to do whatever it took to reach my goal.

Fast forward three years.Dips

 

I’m standing in the mirror of my grown-up kid apartment, looking back at a reflection that would be unrecognizable to 16-year-old me. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, I can finally fill out the arm holes in medium-sized tees, and belts have graduated from necessities to accessories.

But despite all my progress, what’s reflecting back at me in the mirror isn’t the physique I’d always dreamt of. My newfound strength had come packaged in a soft-shell wrapper.

Gaining fat is a natural part of building up your weight, but I wasn’t going to quit at 50 percent. It was time to switch gears and uncover whatever was hiding underneath.

So I made my decision. Diet, or die trying.

20 Pounds Later

Every good diet starts with motivation. Sure, we all want to have a six-pack or thigh-gap, but wishing to look a certain way isn’t concrete enough. A more practical reason works better. For me, it was my upcoming music festival trip. Shirts weren’t something I wanted to have to pack.

So, on March 1, 2017, I made the commitment to lose whatever it took to get my body how I wanted it. Instead of focusing on a certain scale number, I’d let the mirror be the judge.

Over the course of four months, I went from 180 lbs to 157 lbs. While it wasn’t easy, I couldn’t have been happier with the results.

 

Transformation2017
180 –>157 lb transformation. Four months of cutting.

 

How I Lost the Weight

The secret to losing weight was already within me. It’s the same formula I had learned three years earlier, only this time in reverse.

To drop the fat, I knew I needed to eat less than I burned. But it wasn’t as simple as skipping a few weekly meals. I had worked hard to build up solid strength and muscle mass, and if I didn’t give my body the proper nutrients, it would all waste away.

I used three tools to shed the pounds in time for my quickly-approaching festival deadline.

MyFitnessPal

If you’ve dabbled in fitness and dieting, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of this popular iPhone app. It takes the work out of calculating calories and macros. Just set your goal (mine was to lose 1 lb per week), log your food and exercise, and treat the calorie limit like your bank account. If you spend more than you’ve got, you’ll have to pay the price!

A Food Scale

Don’t make food tracking harder than it’s got to be. Sure, you can eyeball 1/3 cup of cheese, but it’s a lot more accurate with a food scale. These small appliances are generally $20 or less and take the guesswork out of how much you’re actually consuming. And that’s important when you’re dieting, because an extra 150 misjudged calories can be enough to keep the pounds sticking.

High-Intensity Interval Training

Also known as HIIT. By alternating between periods of max effort and slower-speed active recovery, you can burn a ton of calories in a short amount of time.

My favorite HIIT routine was on the rowing machine. I’d go as hard as I could for 60 seconds, then back off and row slowly for 30 seconds, then repeat. The movement was constant, and the effects were noticeable.

Although I added HITT, my normal workout routine didn’t change much. To keep from losing strength and lean size, it was important to keep the intensity and frequency just as high.

Fighting Cravings & Staying On Track

Even with a planned-out system, these four months didn’t come without setbacks.

One of the hardest parts was seeing that calorie number nearly maxed out when I had barely finished my first meal of the day. I learned pretty quickly that the only way to stay on goal and not faint from hunger was to adjust my diet toward high protein, low-calorie foods.

I’ll never forget the times spent eating plain salad shrimp for dinner, running up and down my apartment stairs to repent for an earlier indulgence, or bringing cut cucumbers to wine night so I wouldn’t be tempted with chips and cheese.

I think the biggest challenge of all was getting past the “middle area.” Anyone who’s done a big cut down knows what I’m talking about. It’s that phase where you’re no longer big and puffy, but you still don’t have abs, and you just look overwhelmingly average. It can be easy to give up here, but if you can just push yourself to keep trucking, you’ll finally see those last couple of pounds melt up and harvest the sugar-free fruits of your labor.

Anyone who’s done a big cut down knows what I’m talking about. It’s the phase where you can tell you’ve shrunken, but you still don’t see any real definition, and definitely no six pack. You just look overwhelmingly average. It can be easy to give up here, but if you can just push through, you’ll finally see those last couple of pounds melt off and harvest the fruits of your sugar-free labor.

Anyone Can Do It

Losing the weight and achieving a certain look was the original goal, but what I discovered after this four-month journey is that the real reward comes from the struggle. Putting myself up to a test like that, exercising more self-control than I’d ever had to, it taught me that if I can do this with a diet, I can do it with anything in life.

If you have a bodyweight goal, I encourage you to get started today. There is so much free, incredibly accessible information right here on the web. But even without that, you already have the formula. Calculate your calories, track it, and don’t quit till it’s done. If you can stick with that, you’ll prove to yourself that nothing is beyond your reach.

If you can stick with that, you’ll prove to yourself that nothing is beyond your reach.

My iPhone Got Stolen: Here’s How I Replaced it for Free

Losing your iPhone sucks. What’s even worse is when you have to pay for a new one. There’s a way you can protect yourself from this misfortune – for free. Here’s how I got $600 for my stolen iPhone.

Help! I’m a Victim!

We all know the pat-pat-panic.

You suddenly realize you no longer feel the familiar pressure of a phone in your pocket. After a bout of frantic thigh-slapping, you realize it’s just in the other pocket. Your heart stops threatening cardiac arrest, and panic is replaced by a flood of relief.

I’ve been there many times. Only, the last time it happened, that relief never came.

My very first music festival, Hangout Fest in Gulf Shores, Alabama, was more exciting than I could’ve ever imagined. And while there were tons of highlights to the trip, one thing threatened to taint it all.

There I was in the front row, a crazed jumping figure completely engrossed in Dillon Francis‘ closing set. When all of a sudden, I realized something was missing from my arguably too short swim trunks. My iPhone was gone.iphone red

I scoured the crowd, dodging stamping feet, and dug through the sand in search of the year-and-a-half-old iPhone. But alas, the festival demanded a tithe, and I had just unwittingly paid it.

The next morning, as I mourned the loss of my flawless beach candids, I remembered a little something I had read while skimming my credit card statement.

I think this card came with phone insurance.

Sure enough, my phone was replaced for free, and I finally got that flood of relief.

I got a new iPhone 7 Plus (limited edition red, mind you) the next day, and received a check to cover the cost a week later.

Here’s how I did it.

How to Get Free Phone Insurance

Signing up for phone insurance through your service provider is how most people prevent this problem. But for those of us who don’t like extraneous monthly charges, there has to be another way.

Enter: Wells Fargo Cellular Telephone Protection.

For an affordable sum of $0 per month, you get this invaluable cardmember perk by simply paying your monthly phone bill with your Wells Fargo Credit Card.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Credit cards are SO BAD. Well, anything is bad if you don’t know how to use it properly. It’s benefits like these that don’t get enough press.

To make sure you’re covered in the event of cell phone theft or damage, follow these steps:

  1. Apply for a Wells Fargo credit card.
  2. Pay your wireless bill with your WF credit card.

What to Do if You Lose Your Phone

Getting covered is easy, right? Let’s hope you don’t have to use it. But if you do, here’s how to cash it in:

  1. If your phone has been stolen, get a police report. It only takes a few minutes, and you’ve got to have one to get your moola.
  2. Call  866-804-4770 to have a WF claims form emailed to you.
  3. Complete the form, and send over any documents they ask for.
  4. Get that $$$

My experience was with theft. However, the process isn’t much different for a damaged phone. You may be asked to send the phone in if it can’t be repaired at the Apple Store. The company will send you either the amount it costs to fix the phone or up to $600 for a replacement.

Bonus tip: The WF deductible is just $25. I’ve seen other (paid) insurance plans charge as much as $120. Thanks but no thanks.

One Important Thing

This is probably the best phone insurance plan out there. But it does come with one caveat – lost phones don’t count. So, don’t turn careless just because you have WF on your side. This safety net will only catch you in the event of damage or theft.

Phew, That’s Over

Wells Fargo turned my trip from a near tragedy to a blessing in disguise. Check out this plan for yourself and decide if you want to be protected.

-Peace.

 

Running: How I Learned to Just Do It

When we discover a new hobby, it’s usually accompanied by the thrilling rush of a first-time experience. That sensation of utter novelty is what may very well hook us in the first place. But that wasn’t the case with my newest hobby.

Up until the past month, running was something I hadn’t done since my drunning pictureays chasing the Crimson Ride around campus. I preferred the smooth, controlled nature of resistance training to jiggling down the sidewalk, sweaty mop plastered to my forehead. It wasn’t until I experienced the freedom of a solitary, outdoor run that I fell in love with the sport.

Motivated by the new activity sharing feature on my Apple Watch, I was envious of my friends’ already-filled exercise rings. So, I strapped on my electric blue running shoes, grabbed my wireless headphones, and headed out.

Strangely, I was nervous. I watched people run up and down the city’s sidewalks all day long, yet this very normal activity was suddenly rather intimidating.

Casting reservations aside, I tuned for the first time to my Spotify running playlist. I was fascinated at this feature I never knew had existed. A voice came through my headphones and told me to begin running. Well, there’s my kick.

I started trotting down the sidewalk. The app measured my pace and adjusted the tempo of the music accordingly. I’d be lying if I said this magic playlist wasn’t what enticed me to run in the days following.

I found my pace, and at the same time found a foray of new emotions and sensations.

While I love a crowd and consider myself quite social, I’m usually a bit uncomfortable being somewhere like a park alone. As I neared the entranceway to the city park, I felt my perception of my own presence transform. I was no longer simply perusing through the park, feeling as though I needed to be on my phone or talking to someone. Instead, I felt both present and removed.

I watched people picnicking, children playing, lovers strolling. I was there with them, yet I was also there with only myself. It was a comfortable sense of removedness, enhanced by the rush of adrenaline from my pace. The music, which I feared would disconnect and distract me, instead acted as a filter on the world. It was the same scene, but experienced through a different lens. My own lens, one where I set the tempo.

This sense of ownership over my own perception added to the rush of emotions I already felt at that moment. Part of why I think I could appreciate this moment in all of its fullness was the absence of a competing priority. By running, I was relaxing, recharging, and upping my fitness all at once. This sense of accomplishing multiple goals in tandem is what let me be free to fully take in the moment.

I used to get antsy on rest days, not knowing what to do between my regular weight training sessions. Now, I look forward to a switch in routine, and to experience the sensation of being both there, and not there, that I only get on a run. If I wanted, I could rip the headphones out and halt dead in my tracks. But I don’t. After all, those moments of transcendence from the world are what got me hooked from the start.

Post-College Confession

Five Augusts ago, 18-year-old me checked my University of Alabama move-in email one last time, assuring myself that, in the morning, college was finally happening. 8 a.m. would be here soon, so I slipped into my childhood bed and pulled the twin-size comforter snugly under my chin. I gazed upward at the decade-old constellation of sticky, luminescent stars still affixed to my bedroom ceiling. After tonight, I thought, my life will change forever.

Four years later, there I lay once again, staring up at the makeshift vision board I had taped above my college apartment bed. My cat, Leo, shuffled around in one of the myriad boxes I had piled about the room. Tomorrow, I’d pack up my decrepit Honda and make for a new, post-college life away from Tuscaloosa. For the second time in my short span of existence, everything was about to change. Only this time, I wasn’t so sure what would be waiting for me. I knew the gravity of the moment wouldn’t hit until later, but I knew this was it.

College was over.

College GraduationNow, one year into full-fledged adulting, I can safely say that I’m not only surviving, but thriving in a world devoid of $2 double-wells and XXL tees. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Class vs. Cube

One of the biggest adjustments of post-college life has been acclimating to the 8–5 groove.

Boy, how I miss those 2-hour gaps between classes. Breaking an hour for lunch isn’t quite the same as reading Voltaire on the Quad until astronomy starts.

Apart from learning time management, I had to remind myself not to expect results in my new career instantly. In college, it took years to reach the professional milestones, achievements, and reputation that I graduated with. The workplace is no different. You’re essentially a freshman all over again. Learning to stand out and make a name for yourself at work, just like in college, is a surefire way to start the climb up. Only this time, it’s done over coffee, not keg stands.

Looking 4 Friends

I remember feeling a bit lost when I first moved to Birmingham. I was out of my comfort zone, I didn’t know many people, and I couldn’t even get to the gas station without pulling up the GPS.

That’s a sharp contrast from the easygoing flow of college.

In reality, it’s not hard to make friends post-college, but it is different. Being surrounded by 20,000 people your age (plus having a constant margarita buzz) makes collegiate friend-finding oh so easy. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t instantly assemble a squad in your new city. Building relationships takes more time and effort outside of college.

Since moving, I’ve grown closer with old friends and acquaintances, and made new besties through work and mutual friends. Just like the newbies in the dorm, sometimes it takes a little prodding to get to know some of the coolest people. You never know who you’ll meet until you try.

Finding Yourself

I had never understood the concept of “finding yourself.”

I’ve already picked out my major, I thought. What else is there to decide?

Up until now, our standards of success and progress have been outlined for us: Graduate in 4 years, make an A on this paper, get 3 internships and make it look bomb on LinkedIn. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that no longer having that road map feels a little weird.

It’s not as easy as logging into DegreeWorks and checking your class completion bar anymore. You have to learn to set your own goals and aspirations, and create your own metrics by which you judge yourself.

Yeah, yeah, it’s easier said than done. And that’s where I believe the “finding yourself” thing comes into play. We’re young, we’re free, we’ve finally got (a smidgen of) our own money. Don’t waste your after-work time veg’d out on Netflix. Try sometime new, start a blog, plan a trip you’ve always wanted to take. After 22 years, it’s finally up to you to draw the plan.

How to Not Be Poor

Money was such a trivial thing in college. You didn’t really need it to get by. There were meal plans and Dining Dollars for food, and rent money came from that sweetheart Sallie Mae. I can remember cleaning out my car for the sheer prospect of finding enough stray bills and coins to pay cover for the night.

In the grown-up world, that first paycheck – while glorious – is dangerous.

Wow! I remember thinking. I’ve never seen so many digits in my bank account!

What I failed to remember with that first paycheck is that it had to fund a lot more than my weekend gallivanting. Soon, I was cursing my frivolous card swipes and vowed to take control of my poverty-inducing spending habits.

I devised a system that has worked well so far.

I added up the total amount of my monthly bills. I then halved that amount to coincide with my twice-monthly pay schedule. Every payday, that amount auto-transfers from my checking to savings. I’ll later go back and return the money when I sit down to pay bills, but it helps tremendously by giving me an instant picture of how much expendable income I’m working with.

There are lots of different apps and methods for tracking and managing spending, but this one has worked best for me.

No matter how rich you feel on payday, just remember – if you ball like a rock star this week, you’ll play Lord of Leftovers next week.

 

These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned in my first year out of college. If you’re in the same spot, just know that it’s not as scary as it sometimes seems. You’ll acclimate, and you might just find that some of your best adventures are yet to arrive.

Stop And Color The Roses

Cats in Paris coloring book

I sat with one foot tucked behind the other, shifting occasionally to accommodate Leo’s oscillating nap poses. It was pleasant in the shade of the balcony, the warm breeze catching my bangs as I drank in the fourth day of summer. I selected a page from Cats in Paris and began coloring. The rhythmic motion, both mindless and utterly engaging, melted away my stress from the week. I looked up to notice the façade of the towering Liberty National building across the way, its cool white brick dyed an amber glow from the setting sun, lending a serendipitous beauty to the contrasting cerulean sky. I glanced back down, took a sip from my still steaming mug of mint green tea, and returned to my sketch.

For me, these moments of pure relaxation come far too scarcely. It is both a blessing and a curse that I have learned to live with, my constant drive to accomplish something. That drive has pushed me to learn, do, and achieve some of my proudest feats. Yet, I find myself crippled sometimes by its pressure. Perhaps it stems from a fear of not living life to the fullest, of looking back ten years from now and seeing nothing but a inane montage of motions. To live fully, I feel you must infuse purpose into everything that you do. Without it, you’re just killing time.

Some of my favorite pastimes include browsing bookstores, stealing away to write, and going for strolls outdoors. Yet when I look at how I spend my days, I admit that I rarely indulge in any of the above. Sure, I may give each a few moments of time here and there, but dedicating an entire afternoon to one? Preposterous. But what a hypocrite I am! These are all things for which I have true conviction, yet I fail to see them as worthy uses of my precious time.

What I’ve realized today is that it’s okay to take a pause. You shouldn’t feel guilty for it. I believe it is better for the heart, head, and soul to spend some time enjoying yourself than it is to fill your day with endless tasks for fear of being unproductive. That’s something I do, and I know that it’s mostly to hide from myself. I don’t want to calm down, to be forced to process the events and emotions of my day. I get high off the commotion, the always-on attitude I cultivate. But with every high, there comes a crash.

By writing this, I hope to remind myself of this simple truth for when I inevitably forget it. And maybe, it will remind you too.

 

Peach, Please!

Friday, 8:05 am – The trunk door shut with a click and I settled into the passenger seat with a French press-filled thermos and the latest issue of Men’s Fitness. Not a bad way to start the day, I thought to myself.

Jacob and I had taken the day off and were setting sail for Atlanta. Several of our friends had migrated to the land of the Falcons and #ByeWig after collgroup-atlege, and we thought it was time we paid them a visit.

Like a true lover of liberty, Jacob had gotten us lunch reservations at Mat Lager’s Wood-Fired Grill off of Peachtree Street – the perfect place to watch the inauguration ceremony, or so we thought.

We arrived right on time. “Reservations for two please,” said Jacob cheerfully. “And can you turn the TV on this side to the inauguration?”

The hostess scowled. “No, sorry,” she replied. Unfazed, Jacob insisted that he had been promised we would be able to watch the ceremony when he made the reservations. It’s not about politics – it’s a civic sacrament, after all! After a short-lived standoff, a nearby manager overheard and intervened.

“Phew! I was afraid that was about to get ugly,” I said, sipping my mojito, yet keeping an eye out for any unwanted additives.

Once the speech was given and the burgers eaten, we headed toward Phipps Plaza for some shopping. It was a quick trip, as we got spooked by a rabid elderly driver on the way. Okay, we may have cut him off, but you do what you’ve got to do when a left turn is coming up! The driver swerved from behind us, grey tangled locks flowing in the wind and middle fingers flying. Imagine Eustice from Courage the Cowardly Dog, and you’ve got a pretty good image.

We gave a smile and a wave, and zoomed past the ’89 pickup.

“That was exhilarating!” I exclaimed. “I’ve never dueled with a senior citizen before!”

Unfortunately, the high wore off, and we recalled the many photos he snapped of us and the phone call he was making as we passed.

“Maybe we should put some distance between us and Dr. Jekyll,” said Jacob.

We found a nature preserve a good distance from the mall and explored a bit until it was time to go to Lisa’s – our friend Alex’s mom whom we were staying with and visiting. She was going to keep us company until Alex got off work.

Lisa, the impeccable host that she is, greeted us with music, ‘tinis and hors d’oeuvres galore. Later that night, another college comrade, Nicole, joined atlus and we started planning the night. Thus, El Jinete and Psychic Tonya were born.

“UBER’S HERE!” screamed Alex. We piled inside the minivan and made the short drive from Alex’s to the local marg joint, El Jinete.

Through salt rimmed glass, a vision came to Lisa.

“Let’s go see Psychic Tonya,” she chimed. “She’s right across the street!”

We grabbed our to-go boxes and crossed the four lanes of traffic between us and the QT convenience store.

“You can’t go see Psychic Tonya without a roadie,” Alex said, divining my unspoken pondering.

With a 40oz in hand, we walked up to a dark and rectangular house. A tweeny girl greeted us and showed us to the living room. She explained that Psychic Tonya would see us individually, in her lair near the back of the house.

“So, are you here to make sure we don’t act up?” Nicole asked the loitering girl with a giggle.

“No. The wifi’s better in here,” she replied, and returned to her game of Bejeweled.

One by one we were summoned. Each person’s reaction was undeniably authentic. Some were shaken, some mystified, some entirely unreadable.

Finally, it was my turn. I entered the small chamber and shut the door behind me.

“What’s your name?” asked Psychic Tonya.

Shouldn’t you already know that…? I thought, but instead answered with a more appropriate “Luke.”

For $20, you got two questions. The clairvoyant flipped over three tarot cards and dealt out the answers.

I won’t go into details, but they involved a coin, a magazine and a snake. Interpret as you will.

Feeling sufficiently violated, we thanked Psychic Tonya and her accomplice and made our way back to Lisa’s.

Keeping with the spooky spirit, we decided to watch the Hills Have Eyes. Before long, we had drifted into a collective slumber, apparently lulled to sleep by the radioactive screams.

The next day, we waited out the morning rain and went to join some of Alex’s hometown friends at Top Golf. I’ve always imagined Top Golf as an arcade of virtual golf simulators. This wasn’t the case. It’s more like a cuter, outdoor version of bowling. You can drink and chat together, while one friend at a time tees up to swing into one of the gargantuan goal nets.

By 5:30, our swings were giving out and we made our way to South City Kitchen, a self-proclaimed luxury Southern food establishment. I must admit, the fried chicken and greens were on fleek.

That night, we hit the town in Buckhead, danced in a place I mistakenly named Five Pesos, and shared gas station beef jerky with an Uber Drive. A perfect night, if you ask me.

The next morning, we said our farewells and boarded the I-20 back to Birmingham.

“Until next weekend,” I whispered, giving a tiny wave to my peachy pied-à-terre.