miles from memory: preparation with intention

I'VE never been a good runner. And when I left the District back in November 2016 I wasn't running at all. Well, maybe once or twice a week. The truth is, I had given up. I had given up on myself. During the summer leading up to leaving the city, it seemed like every single thing in my life had taken priority over my running. The nights I would have normally spent running the neighborhood just to make sure I was getting out there were replaced with writing emails and spending late nights in the office. Later nights on the couch resulted in late starts to the day. It was a cycle I needed a change. Flying in to a war zone 7,000 miles away probably isn't at the top of any list of ideas to break that cycle — but it happened. These days, the miles come before the emails. And in a war zone, I found power in the preparation.

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"Ok, water bottle, check. Pre-workout snacks ready to go. Shoes? Socks. Wait.. where are my socks?" It's 11:02am, and I'm all out of energy after a 14-hour shift at the office. I need to wake up again in six hours to have enough time to get my run in before work. Part of breaking the cycle I'd wound up in before getting to Afghanistan was preparing for a run with time and intention. Set my clothes out the night before; find a system that works. Socks, inside the shoes by the door. A small snack next to a bottle of water for some pre-workout energy. Headphones charging, double check! Some days It felt like I had all the time in world and getting ready for the wake-up seemed pointless but in those moments of "whatever" I'd remind myself about the cycle and the giving up on myself. I wasn't going back there. 

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"but in those moments of 'whatever' I'd remind myself about the cycle and the giving up on myself. I wasn't going back there."

There were mornings I'd wake up and think to myself, "Why did I ever give up in the first place?" Now, sure some days It's ok to just stay in bed and rest. It's ok to run only 4 miles instead of 5. But after a year of being intentional with my preparation, I'll never again turn a rest day into a week of staying in bed. That planned five-mile run won't ever again become "well, two is fine." 

While the starting & final numbers aren't relevant, the number that matters the most to me is 25. Not falling back into that trap. Not letting the cycle wind its way back up and spiral my progress out of control again, I found myself 25lbs lighter a year later. Going in to it and figuring out what preparation to me looked and felt like, there was never a "I'm gonna lose..." moment or thought. No: instead, it was a life change goal. I could have lost half that and I'd still feel great about the progress I made. No pound lost could ever weigh more than what I gained mentally. You can't weigh mental health. There's no scale to weigh confidence in yourself. You just feel it.

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Before every long run or even a morning run around my neighborhood, I plan ahead. Clothes set out the night before. Coffee grinds ready, water ready to be boiled. Every step of my morning is laid out the night before. And unlike pre-Afghanistan days, I plan for the after. I know the value of time. I know how much I missed the little moments. I try not to waste them now. So, in my run bag goes an extra t-shirt for the after. No more sitting it wet clothes or letting the end of my run be the end of my day. 

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When asked "Are you a runner?" I always thought I was supposed to say "No." I've never run a marathon. I don't know anything about my PR stats. I don't know who's who in the running community. There were all these reasons that went in to that "No," but that's changed. In a war zone far away from home, I became a runner. And most importantly, I became a runner for myself. It was in the walks to the gym with commute shoes on and my running shoes in my bag on the other side of the world that I finally realized what being a runner meant to me. I realized just how much the paths and roads I ran on when I never felt like a runner were the roads and paths I missed the most. The paths I took for granted once before and let go unexplored were the same ones waiting for me when I was too busy giving up on myself. No longer would I take them for granted. No longer would I give up on myself. While I still may not know who's who, I know who I am better than I have before. 

Today I wake up a runner that runs for no one but myself. Today, and every day going forward, I refuse to give up on myself. Life becomes a whole lot easier when you believe in yourself. Here's to re-introducing myself to those roads that were always there for me.

Here's to the miles to come.

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miles from memory: comforts of home

IT'S 5:17pm and my alarm is going off for more than likely it's third round of snooze and I'm finally putting "foot to pavement" (as my old drill instructor would say) and again my feet slide into shower shoes. I'm simply waking up just to go to the bathroom down the hall but going barefoot is a no go. It's shower shoes to get ready when your outside shoes line your entryway. This is strict routine. Speak to anyone who's ever spent time in Afghanistan and they'll more than likely tell you about the "dust & dirt" - it's everywhere. It just latches on as if you've watched your towels with your favorite fleece. It's simply unavoidable. So essentially from the first day you arrive in country, you accept you'll more than likely never walk around barefoot until you're out of country. This is something you can't really prepare for mentally. 

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A roughly 20X20 room would be a pretty decent-sized room to spend a year in. Though, this room isn't for just one person — no, you're in a room with two others and you're all fighting for just that extra foot. There are no floor to ceiling windows nor skylight. Two windows barely big enough to even be classified as windows, if I'm being honest. I was the latest to arrive in the room which meant I had two curtains making up the "walls" of my space and well... no window.

At this current time during my deployment, I'm on the night shift. Lucky for me that means I can roll in to the office at roughly 7pm. So today, I'm gonna spend a few extra minutes in the gym. Which means walking the hundred yards to get there. Like I said, small compound. Though, on this day, there's another dust storm. Cool. Another one means even more dirt. By no means is it anywhere close to cold out. No, its August and it's still 100 degrees at 5:43pm.

Back in DC, I think I had grown to love the morning coffee before a long run more than the run itself. There's something about starting your day with a process. One that requires attention and the end result determines how good that cup of coffee is. A saturday morning run with some English soccer on in the background, a cup of coffee, and natural light — nature's alarm clock — is my perfect morning. It can't be beat. It was by far one of the hardest things about being in that 20x20 room for a year. No morning light. No morning coffee. It was wake up, find your shoes and stumble to the (shared) bathroom. Don't even bother turning the room light on. You wouldn't dare. Not when one of your roommates starts his shift at 9pm. He's still asleep. 

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"i had two walls & two curtains making up the four "walls" of my space and well... no window."

I found myself on most days wondering if I should event put myself through this process. Why wake up and get a workout in? It just means coming back in the room, trading workout shoes for shower shoes, spending more time in the dark (because no light of course), piecing together an outfit in the dark. Which by the end of my deployment meant the same pants and a rotation of 2-3 clean shirts (well, I think they were. It was a long year, give me a break). I couldn't be upset about the lack of soothing English soccer commentary during my get-ready time if I just stayed in bed, right? Instead, I forced myself to get up. I had the time. Shit, I had plenty of time. Who am I kidding. When you're there, you work every day. I don't mean, "oh, I worked "like" every day." No, I mean every single day. 12 hours a day. Don't even think for a second of calling in "sick." You don't get it call it in. Not even once. There was one day that life just caught up to me and I needed a day. I showed up 30 minutes passed my time, told my boss what was going on. "Okay, go back and get some sleep," the captain said. "Be back in an hour though." Cool, that should fix it. 

Now there were days where I'd have the chance to hop off the compound for a run down the main road on the base but only under a few very specific conditions: For starters, no headphones. You had to be able to hear the base sirens and loud speaker just in case an attack happened and you're out in the open nowhere near a bunker. Yes, that happens. You had to wear glasses, again in case said attack happens and shrapnel hits you. An arm band with identification. No real safety thing here, just hate an arm band as much as the next person. Oh and worst of all, THE DUST! This is the main road. Every vehicle is on it. Driving, kicking up that stupid dust. Don't even get me started on what that road looks like in the winter. Now, I can get over the music, the glasses, even the arm band but I had to make the decision constantly: A long outside run or pick dust boogers out of your nose for the next 3 days. Ok, boogers it is today. Nothing beats the open road. It just cannot be beat.

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"You had to be able to hear the base sirens and loud speaker just in case an attack happened."

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It was never lost on me that somewhere, someone had it worse. Without a doubt there was someone in that same country who would love to be able to slip on shower shoes instead of living in boots 24/7. Someone who would much rather have to "deal" with no window light instead of dealing with sleeping outside. I know that — and in many ways those mornings that were tough to get out of bed often turned in to a regular "get your ass up, Carl" pep talk. I had to. That day may not see a break. There may not be another chance. Those miles were my escape. Those miles on the treadmill, on the open road, or that hour of strength training might be the only moment of quiet I have for the next 24 hours. I couldn't waste it. When you're deployed for a year, you work with the same people day in and day out. You eat every meal together. You become family. You rely on one another to help keep you spirits up. When the other side of the world is asleep and no one is answering your facetime calls and you've caught up on your current book collection and there are no more "likes" to pass out on instagram, it's those fellow co-workers that you spend time with. But no one is gonna be there to get you up and out of bed. No one telling you to run. You have to get yourself up and talk yourself up every single day — weekends and holidays, too. Every mile felt like a long run. Every morning, regardless of your location, schedule, or living quarters, you'd start off alone. After a couple months of this, I started treating every morning & every lonely walk to the gym as if I was headed somewhere in my city back home. That walk in the heat wasn't a walk in the heat. No, this walk was a rainy morning in November, on which I'm wearing two layers, gloves, and a cold weather cap. When every single day for a year has guaranteed moments of loneliness, you have to find ways to make those days feel less lonely. You've got to day dream and tell yourself the hardest part of this run won't be worrying about your compound being shelled, but whether the line at your coffee shop is gonna be too long after your run. 

We all have a routine. We know when we need to wake up. We know our kitchens like the back of our hands. We all stumble barefoot to the bathroom, eyes barely open. There's a sense of comfort in that. I never took it for granted — or at least I'd like to tell myself I didn't. But more than ever before in my life, I know how incredible it feels to have that comfort. The comfort of home.

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miles from memory

IF you’ve ever had to make the decision to leave home in your life, then you know the obvious things will be missed. Your friends, family, favorite coffee shop & of course your favorite bagel shop. Though, rarely realized what will be missed are your favorite places to run, the views that come along with those favorite paths or roads. While overseas in Afghanistan for the year, living on a compound no bigger than a 1/4 mile wide and access to one road with only so far to run, it was those paths and roads back home that I cherished the most. Nights on the treadmill at 3am during my break for an hour to hit the gym often meant a good playlist (comprised of old tunes of course because well.. wifi not good enough to stream) in my ears but in my head I was home. I was running the National Mall in my head. I wasn't spending the next 25-30 minutes running on a treadmill that could only be described as "shaky" at best. Those moments with eyes wide open, I was home in 30 degree weather running around the city, chasing the sunset to Lincoln in August in 90 degree summer heat. For those next few miles, I wasn't alone. I was stride for stride with my fiance, laughing at ourselves for no reason. I was two steps behind every runner I'd ever ask to meet up with me for a run. When you're 7,000 miles from home, a 3 mile run can be some of the longest miles you'll ever endure. 

I've run all over the world from South Korea to London, Paris to Colombia. However no mile or miles I've ever run will ever compare or make me miss home as much as I did, while I was running in Afghanistan. Every single one of those miles, I attached the thought of home. Every single step, stride, sprint and boost of energy came with a memory attached.

Over the course of this 3-part series, I'll be sharing the locations & memories that meant the most to me while away. From those morning, pre-run cups of coffee, the getting ready, of course the miles and the post run snacks, it all played a part. These are the locations and memories that inspired me every single day to keep going.

this is,

Miles From Memory.

-cm

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