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Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

Today I have the pleasure of handing the reins to a guest-blogger who shall remain anonymous.  She has fought demons that many “fitness” types will never admit they battle on a daily, even hourly basis.  Has she won, lost or fought to a draw?  I will let you be the judge – but be kind.  Despite posting anonymously, I think she is courageous to share her story.   I find the honestly in this post enlightening and ultimately uplifting, especially as I move ever closer to joining the fitness industry.
-Luau

***

People look at me and congratulate me on my weight. They see the outside, borne of exercise and hard work.
And starvation.
And obsession.
They don’t realize that every compliment drives me back onto the road, pounding down another two miles. They don’t realize that, some days, I survived on less than 500 calories and gallons of Diet Coke.
That starvation is control.
And that, if your world is falling apart, sometimes the only thing you can control is yourself. But I went about it the wrong way.

***

I approached Luau about writing this piece a while back; after therapy, I’d finally admitted what my husband and mother already knew: that was I starving myself. That it was a badge of courage for me.
I’d started running after finally being healthy enough to do so. Combined with being the primary caregiver of two small children, working a stressful job, and dealing with a strained marriage, running gave me an outlet for all the stress in my life.  But, as my husband worked longer hours, and as stress piled up, I couldn’t handle it. I started eating less and less. I told myself that I looked good, and that I was happy.

That was a lie.

I saw the truth in the mirror. The gaunt cheeks, the sallow skin. The dry hair falling out in handfuls. I felt my ribs in the middle of my chest, between my breasts, and was terrified that I had some sort of tumor. But I realized that those were my bones, rising up to meet skin because there was no fat between them. On I went, admiring the gap between my thighs, and the slimness of my calves, and the sharpness of my shoulders and collarbones.

You are beautiful, I told myself. I could model clothes with this figure, right? Most women who’d never given birth weren’t this thin; I wore my slimness as a medal of honor. My sharp angles were an award; they were a matter of pride. Every compliment fed the obsession; every word of praise was fuel to the fire of control burning within.

With help, I realized that my relationship with food, and my obsession with thinness…it was all a way to control myself. To get a hold of my life. To stop the downward spiral. She told me that I was an anorexic; I don’t know if that is true, but I think that the label “eating disorder” applies. I told my mother, and I reached out to another friend who I knew was a master of the Starving Arts.

I stopped running.

I started eating.

Later on, life improved. My marriage improved. And after I’d put on five doctor-ordered pounds, a friend said, “Thank God; you looked like a stick figure.” Those words hurt, but I know now that they were true. When my mother recently came to visit, she praised that my “face had filled out;” it took every fiber of my being not to stop eating entirely when I heard that. This, from a woman who had once criticized my heavier self in college, and who belittled her own body. Who had had breast implants and liposuction at some point to make herself more attractive.

Did she not see the walking contradiction? Did she not understand why I couldn’t believe her words?

I knew, though, that the day my beautiful daughter said her round little tummy was “too heavy,” I had to change. I immediately told her how beautiful her stomach was, and decide to commit to a life of self-love, as best as I could. And that meant admitting that I couldn’t control everything, and that I had to control myself in a healthy way. Which meant that I could no longer starve myself; I had to control that obsession and need.

Today, I look at pictures of beautiful friends, friends with soft bodies and ample breasts and hips. Friends who have a comfortable place for babies to rest on, instead of shuffling to get comfortable, as mine do on me. And I think to myself: You were happier when you were heavier. And I think again that I wish I had the courage to have their softness. Even if it isn’t necessarily the healthiest choice, that body takes the same courage that it does to run a marathon.

Their bravery is legendary to me, because I’m not sure I’ll ever have it again.

But I’ve written this story after eating a good dinner. And in a minute, I’ll have a brownie. Pretty good for a girl who used to say that no meal could be over 200 calories, huh?

And someday soon, I will run again. Not out of a need to control, but to know that my body is strong and healthy.

And that I am sound.

That life is better, and I am, too.

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My training plan for June’s 100-miler called for a 24 mile run yesterday.  As a result of the week’s events here in Boston, my training had been a mess, so I was determined to get my long run in.  Jess was kind enough to take the kids out for the day and leave me to my running.

My goal was to run slowly, somewhere in the 10:00 per mile range, to begin the physical, and more importantly psychological adjustment to running at a slower pace than I am used to.  It’s been a tough week here in Boston.  Last Monday’s bombings went right to my heart.  That, followed by the shootout late Thursday night where one brave officer was killed, the lock down of the Metro-West area on Friday and the eventual capture of Suspect #2 Friday night, has made the week a bit of a roller coaster to be sure.  Although I was able to keep #AutismStreaks going, my mileage was minimal.

When my feet finally  hit the pavement yesterday, I knew almost immediately my plans for the run were changing.  Earlier in the day the London Marathon was run, thankfully without incident.  For whatever reason, maybe it was that the Boston Marathon was still fresh in my memory, I just knew that I too would have to run a marathon – and so I did.  I worked my way to the Boston Marathon course and was pleased to find other runners who had the same idea.  Throughout my 22 miles on the course, I chatted with several runners, all of whom, out of some mystical drive had decided that on this day running 26.2 miles was important.  Some may have been running to show support, others may have been running to show defiance.

Me?  I was running for the spectators, the organizers, the security, the runners. I was running for the heroes, for the doctors, the police officers, the citizens who ran toward danger instead of away from it.

I was running for running.

There was something in the air, because every runner I passed made eye contact and nodded – an acknowledgment of unity, of brother and sisterhood.

At about 18 miles into my run, I passed a car at a stop light.  The windows were closed, but I could see the driver’s Boston 2013 jacket.  I shouted something, and pointed at him and continued on.  Moments later when he passed me, he rolled down his window, beeped and gave me a raised fist of defiance.  I did the same and then wept over the next half mile.

***

What was I looking for out there yesterday?
What did I find?

Early in my run I passed a Church that was just letting out of service.  I have not had a relationship with the Guy Upstairs in quite a while, and although I am currently a non-believer, I think I understand why people have religion.  The parishioners were smiling, speaking happily with each other.  Whatever their pastor had spoken about had obviously done some good.  As I watched them smile and chat, I realized that I too, in my own way, was attending church.  I found myself smiling, despite the fact, or maybe because of the fact, that I was pushing my body.

There is a certain peace one finds on the pavement (or trail as the case may be).  Whether running with friends or running alone, the very act of running, to me, is an act of affirmation; affirmation that I am alive, that I can achieve, that I can overcome.  It doesn’t always make me feel 100% good about whatever predicament I may find myself in, but I don’t think any religion or philosophy can do that.

What did I find out there yesterday?

I found a certain amount of peace.

I found the desire to just be.

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After 26.2 miles – 3:50:56

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It’s been a rough, tough couple of weeks here.  For those that don’t follow me or Jess on Facebook or Twitter, we received news earlier this week that Brooke has in fact been suffering from brain seizures.  Jess and I were, despite preparing ourselves for the possibility, completely rocked.  The news from the neurologist was followed up just hours later with more difficult news from Brooke’s neuropsych (or as Jess calls him – Dr. Dreamy).  Her verbal IQ had taken a frightening tumble over the last year, dropping her into the bottom one percentile of her peers.

Yeah…Jess and I walked out of there a complete mess.

That was Wednesday night.  Thursday went by in a complete blur.  Jess stayed home to prepare for Brooke’s team meeting at school, while I drove her around to attend to those preparations.  I just wanted to get to the end of the day and go to sleep.

Sleep didn’t help.

I woke up this morning just as distraught, just as angry, just as stressed.  So many of you have sent words of love and support and offers of connections to doctors.  Up until today, that had been my lifeline – I can’t thank you enough.  I know there are people out there who say that social media has made the world a colder, less inter-personal place, but after what you did for me and Jess Wednesday night and yesterday, I could not disagree more.  Like I said, you have been my lifeline.

But then something else happened today.  Instead of running angry as I have for the last several days, I decided to run comfortably; to purposely run at a slower, steadier pace.  I kept my pulse in the high 120’s and just glided for 5 miles before turning up the pace a little.  It was meditative, contemplative, reflective.

At the end of the run I took my usual “#AutismStreaeks Day Fill-In-Blank” photo.  The sun was behind me, which I hadn’t realized, and created a burst across my face in the photo and it struck me – even the darkest of nights must eventually give way to the sunlight.

...even the darkest night must eventually give way to the sun...

…even the darkest night must eventually give way to the sun…
#AustismStreaks Day 46

 

Brooke will get through this, as will Jess, Katie and I.

Thank you for being our sunlight.

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It’s that time of year again – New Year’s Eve.  It’s when everyone is coming down the homestretch of the Holiday Season – a time filled with plenty of food and drink, one last party and, for many, a lot of weight gain.  It’s also a time when people start to make resolution proclamations.

“I’m getting in shape this year!”

“I’m losing weight this year!”

“I’m getting into that size “fill in the blank” this year!”

And the masses then join a gym or buy some running shoes or “go on a diet”, all of which lasts a week, maybe three, and then it’s back to the same old same old.  By the time April or May rolls around, shoulders are shrugged and thoughts turn to “maybe next year.”

So what’s the problem?  And what, more importantly is the solution?  The problem is simpler than you might think.  The problem is not that people lack motivation, it’s that they lack education and guidance.

Saying

“I’m getting in shape this year!”

“I’m losing weight this year!”

or even

 “I’m getting into that size “fill in the blank” this year!”

doesn’t give you a well-defined goal, not even the more specific third one, because all of these goals are unspecific on how you want to get there.

The question anyone who is making a fitness New Year’s Resolution should be asking themselves really is, “what is my goal?  what is it that I truly want to achieve in terms of fitness/weight loss?”

“I want to get in shape” can mean so many things – what kind of shape?  at what cost?  The same can be said about “losing weight”.  There are all kinds of ways to lose weight, some are long-lasting healthful methods, some are…well, not.  Both can get one to a goal of losing weight and/or getting “in shape”; one can get you there rapidly, the other can get you there and keep you there indefinitely.

Once you’ve defined what it is you are actually trying to achieve, the next question becomes are you willing to change.  If you are trying to alter your physical make up for the better, undoubtedly, you will need to change some habits, and change can be hard.

That’s where it all falls apart every year for the majority of people.  An unfortunate result of our on-demand society is that we have become more and more a people who demand results immediately.  We then assume that if we don’t get the results we want immediately, that whatever we are trying must not work or must not work for us.

We start to make excuses –

oh, I’m just not shaped like that. 

oh, I’m big-boned. 

oh, I tried that and it just doesn’t work for me.

oh, it was uncomfortable.

Really?

Well, to be honest, for a small percentage of the population, that is true, HOWEVER, the overwhelming majority of people who use these excuses are simply unwilling to put in the time to change and they think, incorrectly, the excuses will make them feel better.  Now, before you jump on me for calling people lazy, please go back and note I wrote unwilling, not lazy.  Change takes sacrifice and sometimes people are unwilling to make certain sacrifices to achieve change – and that’s okay.  BUT, you have to realize that a choice has been made not to change.  Owning this choice instead of making excuses goes a long way toward inner peace and happiness.  If you can’t commit to change, then enjoy where you are and embrace it.  Mental health and inner peace is just as important as physical health/fitness.

Here’s the bottom line – hard work pays off; consistency pays off; a healthful diet pays off.  You put those three things together and your results are guaranteed.  For some, those results begin to appear on the scale and in the mirror within a week; for others, the visible changes don’t appear for a month or two, but something to realize is that the moment you make a change for the better, good things are happening inside you…immediately.

So is this the year?  Where to start?

The first thing I tell people is to start tracking what they are consuming.
You would be amazed just how much you actually consume throughout the day without thinking about it.  The mere action of tracking, truly committing to tracking you intake, will make you think twice about the variety of snacks that may cross your lips.

There are quite a few food tracking apps, but the two I found easiest to use are:

My Fitness Pal:

http://www.myfitnesspal.com/

and Lose It!

http://www.loseit.com/

The thing I like about their apps over others is that they are user-friendly, allow you to enter recipes and create meals, and have access to bar code scanning for easy input.  The apps also allows you to set weight loss goals over a period of time.  The apps though should be used as a guideline, not treated as gospel.  Once a week it’s a good idea to eat whatever the mouth and stomach desire.  One can’t live in a perpetual state of denial (meaning denying yourself “goodies and treats” – a topic for another post) without eventually feeling bitter.  The 90/10 rule works pretty well for most – for every 9 healthful meals, eat & drink something ridiculous!

The second thing I tell people is that they must perform regular physical activity.
This can come in many forms.  I have always found running to be the most affective, particularly for achieving physical fitness while pursuing weight loss, but physical activity can include swimming, biking, taking the stairs instead of taking an elevator, walking, even enjoying the company of your spouse or significant other (I know people get squeamish talking about sex, but it should be noted that a 150 lb person having sex for 15 minutes burns almost 75 calories – that’s nearly 300 calories per hour or the equivalent of a brisk walk or a 10 mph bike ride, but more fun).  The point is, there are many ways to incorporate physical activity into your daily life.

For those short on time, I did a little experiment this Holiday season.  Some of you may have heard of Tabata – it’s a method of exercise where you do a full body exercise for 20 seconds at 100% followed by 10 seconds of rest.  You repeat this cycle 7 more time, completing the exercise in 4 minutes.  It is intense and if you do it right, you pretty much want to throw up at the end of it.  It is effective, but it is not fun.  So doing a little research I came across HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training).  It’s actually been around a while, but I was so into my running I had not really checked it out.  The concept is to perform high intensity full body actions for a short interval, followed by a shorter interval of rest – it is similar to Tabata but not quite as intense.  Right before Thanksgiving, I decided to see if this kind of quick hit training could make a difference.  I chose to use the burpee as my full body movement of choice.  If you don’t know what a burpee is, click —>>>HERE<<<—.

I did five sets of 28 burpees with one minute of rest between sets.  Within each set I would do a 7-7-7-7  routine to mix up different kinds of burpee variations.  For those counting, that’s 140 burpees.  I was able to complete the routine in less than 15 minutes.  I did this 3 times a week and I purposely did not run during that stretch except on Thanksgiving (had to do a Turkey Trot – 3.1 miles) and on my birthday (ran 4.3 miles for 43 years).  That’s a total of 7.4 miles from November 22 to December 31 – essentially a non-factor.  So what were the results?  Despite eating my share of holiday food, less than 45 minutes of work a week allowed me to actually drop 4 pounds and lose a small percentage of body fat.  I am looking forward to seeing what happens when I bring running back into my routine tomorrow.

The third thing I tell people is get some proper sleep.
Sleep is when the body resets itself.  It’s when it heals.  A solid 6 – 9 hours of sleep is absolutely necessary for achieving good health.

Finally, I tell people to stick with it.
It’s hard when you don’t see immediate results.  I get that.  What I try to remind people is that change IS happening.  Slow change is more permanent, because your body and your mind are getting into habits that will stick.  Stay the course, believe in the program and you WILL be rewarded.

So is this your year?  Do you have a specific goal?  If you really want to change, make it a priority and stick with it until the end of March.  This is a trick of sorts though, because if you DO stick with a regular routine until the end of March, you won’t stop because the routine will have taken over.

Good luck with your 2013 health and fitness goals!

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Sometimes I’m just a shadow of myself…

I wrote this post on Sunday night…hence the weird time references.

***

Some days I feel like a fraud.

Who is this guy?

What the hell is he talking about? 

Does he even know what he is saying?

Today I was overcome with the sense that I’ve been faking it for the last 15 months – ever since, well,  Boston 2011…hell, maybe even before then; that I’ve been nothing but a shadow of something that once was…a shade.  I thought I had rallied hard for 12 weeks at the beginning of this year for Sugarloaf 2012, but looking back I wonder if I really did.  When I came up short at the finish line, instead of being driven to work harder, I simply wanted…

…to stop.

There were commitments though – there was the Green Mountain Relay in June, where I tried to live up to my billing as one of the faster runners on the team and proceeded to puke throughout my first leg and then get passed by a one legged middle aged woman in my second leg.  The overall experience was a lot of fun, but quite honestly, between my puking sessions during my first leg, I was pretty sure this was it for me with running.  I’ve got two more running commitments on the calendar, both related to Autism Speaks – the Boston 13.1 Half-Marathon in September and then the New York City Marathon in November.  After that?  I have no clue?  I must admit I am enjoying the group runs I am leading for the Team Up with Autism Speaks runners on Sundays, but I still haven’t begun my training cycle for New York…time is ticking.

After Sugarloaf, I tricked myself into believing that I just needed to take a week off from running to let my body recover, never mind that I had a 200-mile relay the next month I should have been training for.  The week turned into many weeks.  I’d throw in an occasional run to tell myself I was still running, but the runs became less frequent and much shorter.  They started to feel so insignificant that I stopped logging them.

I just stopped.

Any runner who has religiously logged their miles will tell you just how important that simple act of logging the miles is.  It gives substance to what we have just done.  It gives us a place to go to re-live miles run but also inspires us to add more.

I stopped logging my miles.

I just didn’t care.

I stopped writing regularly too – if you go back through my blog posts, you will see large gaps in time after Sugarloaf…maybe even before then.

***

We all need a break now and then, but this felt different.  This feels different.  Believe me, I still want to make my way back to Boston, to toe the line in Hopkinton.  I still want to run 40 to 60 to 80 miles a week.  I just don’t have the drive anymore.

And because of that, I’ve felt like a fraud as of late.

And it’s creeping into the rest of my life.  I feel like I’ve been mailing it in everywhere, that I’ve given up on whatever dreams I may have had as a younger man or even that man just a few years younger than me.

I want, I want, I want…I just don’t have the drive.  I can’t get out of neutral; even when I do manage to get it into drive, I end up just spinning my wheels goings nowhere.

My weight has come up 10 -15 pounds (depending on the day), my legs have slowed, my hair has suddenly greyed rapidly (though it’s still there), I’m tired and I’m weak.

I know what should be done.

I can see myself from when this blog first started looking at me through time in disbelief, wondering What the Frak is happening to you, man???

***

I should call a frakkin’ Wah-mbulance, believe me, I know.

By most standards, my life is pretty good.  I need to shut the frak up.

***

Yesterday (Saturday) my friend Maddy posted on dailymile that she had run a marathon – not an official one mind you, but wanting to make sure she could still do one, she went out and ran a little over 26.2 miles.  The part that absolutely killed me was that she did it in 3:24.

Right…that’s 1 minutes slower than what I had considered my gutsy run at Sugarloaf – my second fastest marathon ever, and she just cruised around town and did it just to see if she could.  It both depressed and inspired me.  To show you just how much of a badass Maddy is, I will tell you that just a couple of hours ago (Sunday evening) she posted that she had run another 20 miles today (in 2:40). She is a bad. ass!  (I can’t hate her though…she’s a total cutie-pie!)

Maybe this was God sending me a message?

I don’t remember the last truly long run I did.  It may well be that Sugarloaf, way back in May, was my last long run over 13.1 miles (of course if I had been logging my miles I’d be able to tell you!).  Maybe the running gods were trying to remind me through Maddy that the feeling of speed and strength and generally all around badassness comes at a price, that price being miles, dedication, desire, drive.

It all comes back to want and drive.

Right now I’m sitting on a whole crapload of want but I’m staring at an empty roll of desire.

***

..

..

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This post was inspired in part by akbutler. (You will run that 5K!)

That’s right.

Be selfish.

I don’t mean cut people off  in line or swipe the last food item without asking.   I don’t mean hoard all of the ice cream, talk without listening, or think only about yourself.

What I do mean is go out for that long run, go to that gym class, schedule that massage, meet your girlfriend for a manicure and pedicure, book that haircut with your hairdresser, and occasionally, eat your cake too!  And don’t feel guilty about it! (Unless you are one of those people who ONLY does those things…then I’m not talking to you.)

I think that people who work very hard taking care of others very often forget to take care of themselves.  I see it in the eyes of my wife and others who spend so much time tending to the special needs of their children, siblings or parents.

The focus.

The Go-Go-Go.

The exhaustion!

Even when a particular need is met, there is often still a mountain of needs that are waiting to be taken care of.

No time to rest. Must get to the next task!

But what we all need to remember, that in some cases, being selfish is the most selfless thing you can do.  By taking care of yourself, you are better prepared, better able to deal with the challenges that you face.  It allows you to be more than just there.

Taking care of yourself could be getting some sleep, getting a run in, or maybe even something simply cosmetic like getting your hair done.  It’s important.  It’s important because if you don’t do it, you’re gonna crash and be useless.  Who can take better care of the ones you love better than you?  No one, except a rested you.
There’s a problem of course.  There are only 24 hours in a day.  Those hours can come and go very quickly.
When, Luau, when am I supposed to be able to do these things for myself? I hear ya.  I really do. Let me pose it a little differently with an unrelated short story:
Many years ago, the wife and I were struggling with a recommendation from a doctor regarding little Brooke.  I won’t get into specifics, but suffice it to say that it was a very difficult decision that took a lot of soul searching.  We kept asking ourselves, what happens if we do this?  What are the possible negatives going forward?  In the end, and I can’t remember whether it was the wife or I who came up with it, but we flipped it and asked ourselves, “what is the price if we don’t?”  Once we approached it from this perspective, our path was clear.
So I ask you this.  What is the consequence if you don’t somehow find the time to take care of yourself, both short-term and long-term?  And if you ultimately break down, who will be there to take care of those you have been working so hard to take care of?
I am selfish about my running.  4 – 6 hours a week.  Those 4 -6 hour are mine and no one else’s.  Sometimes it’s 90 minutes at 4:30 in the morning, sometimes it’s 2 hours starting at 11:00 at night.  If I’m lucky, I get a lunchtime run in.   It keeps me up even when the world conspires to bring me down, but it also contributes to hopefully keeping me around for at least another 50 – 60 years.  If I can be relatively sharp-minded and able-bodied until I’m 90, Brooke will have me around until she’s almost 60.  Hopefully by then she won’t need me the way she needs me now.  That is why I am selfish.
What do you need to be selfish about?
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Sanity

Last Thanksgiving I wrote a post about how I fended off the H1N1 virus with a massive dose of running.  Swine flu had made its way into our household and I was the last person standing.  I escaped unscathed and proclaimed the medical wonder of running.  Well, I’m back to tell you more about the wonders of running.  Running is not only a great benefit to your physical health, it can boost your mental health as well.   I realize I am preaching mostly to the choir, but for those of you who are not runners, listen up.

Over the last few weeks, the family has been dealing with some stuff.  The family unit itself is fine – the stuff is external.  This stuff has placed an immense amount of pressure on both me and the wife.   It ain’t fun, and quite honestly it tests the sanity.  I have felt myself going from angry to depressed to unsure and back again quite rapidly with nobody to direct those feelings toward.  Interspersed with occasional bouts of thankfulness that I am not in the rubble of Haiti or Chile, or on the streets of Kabul, it can feel like a roller coaster.  Compound that with a mild case of  “When the Frak is Spring Gonna Get Here”itis and you can see how this might bring a person down.

Enter running.

When this stuff started, I didn’t run.  I moped.  I sagged.   Granted, it was two, maybe three days that I didn’t run, but man did I feel it.

I.  Was.  Down.

Every minor, daily setback felt a thousand times worse.

The moment my feet felt the impact of a running stride however, the stress melted away.  Albeit for only the duration of the run, but how blissful I felt as I ran and ran and ran. Had I not needed to get up early the next morning, I may have run all night.

Running is a stress reliever.  It has been proven.  It is a fact.   Over the past 12 days I have run 9 times, all of which were over 6 miles, most being at least 10 miles long. Much like I did while fending off the pigs, I have prescribed a massive dose of running to keep me healthy and more importantly, happy.   It’s working.  After initially feeling down, I have worked my way back to happy (turns out that’s my job here), and all of those things that were bringing me down earlier, don’t seem quite as bad.  Are the stressful things any less stressful?   Heavens no!  However, the drug that is running is working it’s magic.   I generally feel pretty good, and my outlook on the future is fairly bright.

One’s attitude can shape how future events play out.  A happy approach to life generally leads to happy results in life.  So if you’re feeling down and out and life is getting to you, go out for a run, or at least a brisk walk.  The endorphins will do more than any drug or alcoholic beverage can do, AND you’ll be just that much healthier for it.

So while stress is high, I continue to run…and run…and run.

It’s working for me.

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