2013: Running

Running

Since high school, I’ve always been casually acquainted with running’s stress relief powers, and would casually jog a few miles per week whenever school/work/girl problems would bubble up.  I was aware of the power of a 30 minute jog to clear my mind, put problems into perspective, and earn a few beers later that night.

However, I never ran for the sole purpose of getting better at running.  I didn’t track time, distance, or pace.  I didn’t race, I didn’t think about how to eat for fueling and recovery, I never dragged myself out of bed painfully early for a run, and I probably couldn’t hold a 30 second conversation about running (much to the delight of the Chad Stafkos of the world I’m sure).  I wasn’t a runner.  I was happy sticking with my familiar 2 mile loop every once in a while, and never seriously considered what a significantly longer run would actually feel like.

That all changed in March, 2013.  I had recently started to take lifting more seriously, and was happy with what I saw.  Lifts were going up, and I felt and looked stronger.  Yet I was gaining weight, and I didn’t feel particularly nimble or agile on my feet.  I started looking into how running could compliment lifting, with no particular goal outside of being a pretty fit guy.

That March, my little sister told me about a half marathon in August she was planning on running, and mentioned it would be fun to do together.  Without much consideration of how much longer 13.1 was from my previous longest run (7 miles…a year back), I took this as the spark I needed to really get into running.  It was March, New York was thawing, so what the hell, I got started.  I wasn’t exactly starting from scratch, and it didn’t take me long to see results; the runs got easier, the miles ticked off faster, and I was definitely trimming up.

I based my training loosely on Hal Higdon’s plan, and a few weeks in it was clear how well designed it was.  The weekday runs were short-medium, in distance ranges I was already fairly comfortable with, but at a much higher frequency.  The weekly long run gradually increased, culminating with a 10 miler a week before the race.  I had about 5 months to prepare when the plan only required 3.  The extra time was great mentally, as I never stressed too much when my social life, a weekend trip, or a particularly lazy Sunday morning interfered with a run.  In the weeks before the race, I did two 9 milers and a 10 mile with no issues.

The race was one of the best experiences of my life, plain and simple.  Perfect weather (low 60s and sunny), beautiful course (bucolic rural VT dirt roads), and I felt strong and in control the entire time.  Crossing the finish line was a moment I’ll never forget, and a sensation any runner knows and cherishes; a combination of immediately wanting to laugh, cry, vomit, and lie down on a couch with a stupid smile on your face.  Best of all, I beat my goal by 11 seconds (1:59:49).  Race stats here (guess where I stopped to pee?  Twice.)

Yet in the days after, I didn’t feel like this was the ultimate cumulation of a spring and summer of hard work, a crowning achievement to rest my laurels on and move on with my life.  Crossing the finish line, underneath all the burn, exhaustion, relief, and joy, I (secretly) knew I could have gone further, could have gone faster, and could have finished stronger.  I wouldn’t have uttered it out loud, but I felt it loud and clear.

After flirting with the idea of registering for a fall full, I decided to register for a couple more halfs, a 10mile, and a Tough Mudder.  Although all 3 halfs were tons of work, I grew to love 13.1: far enough to take training seriously and be a hell of a workout, but manageable enough that, after a short nap, your legs still work well enough to walk to the nearest diner and consume a 3,000 calorie brunch.

I’ve tapered the running into the winter (aiming for a measly 6-10 miles/week these days) but my first half in 2014 is already on the calendar, and I’m going to be doing the Philadelphia Marathon next fall (if I don’t get into NYC that is).

New York has an amazing running community, with races almost every weekend, hundreds of running(/drinking) clubs, and fantastic paths and parks.  Between the races, the clubs, and the generally happy vibes in Central Park on a Sunday morning, it is simply the most positive and welcoming community I’ve ever encountered.  Runners come in all shapes and sizes, from different ethnic and professional backgrounds, and are all running for different reasons.   Yet seeing someone with a race shirt you were at can be a great conversation starter, and can quickly delve into comparing training plans and strategies, upcoming races, and favorite routes.  You plan to meet up at the next Run and Chug.  Bam, new running buddy.

Really getting into running the past year has been an amazing experience for me.  Along with moving to the city, working hard at my job, maintaining an active social life, I love how I can continually challenge myself towards self improvement through running.  It has turned into so much more than just a way to relieve stress and clear the mind.  I’m still relatively new to it all, and I’m not especially accomplished by any standards, but I literally cannot imagine living in New York without running being an important part of my life.

Plus…pancakes.

My sister and I post Kingdom Run half marathon
My sister and I post Kingdom Run half marathon

My 2013:  Reading.  Music.  Running.

2013: Music

Live music

Ever since discovering the Grateful Dead as an awestruck 15 year old, and the subsequent and thankfully temporary detour I took towards jam bands,  I’ve been a big believer in the power of live music.  My tastes have since widely diverged and expanded (yes, beyond just Phish), and I’ve always gone out of my way to see bands and artists I’m interested in or have heard something good about.  Moving to New York presented opportunities to see an amazing array of concerts, from aging arena headliners to the latest Pitchfork-approved scrappy upstart.  I had a good group of concert going friends with similar tastes, and don’t think I ever went more than 3 weeks without a show lined up.

The ten best shows I saw this past year:

10.  Built to Spill, Irving Plaza.  One of my favorite bands plays a virtually flawless setlist at a great venue.  Yeah, I loved it.

9.  Phish, Madison Square Garden.  I’ll never not love seeing Phish live.  Even though I don’t scour the internet for Phish analysis and discussion as I used to (yes, these websites exist), epic Phish jams still actually sound epic to me.  This show was an old fashioned Phish barn burner in a legendary venue.

8.  Nine Inch Nails, Barclays Center.  NIN kills live.  That simple.

7.  Japandroids, Webster Hall.  I wasn’t really aware of all the hype the album was getting, and had only given it a cursory listen or two pre-show, so I was in the right mindset for getting blown away.  I kept being surprised there were only two of them up there, it was just so big sounding.

6.  Wilco, Hoboken Pier A.  This was the first time seeing maybe my second favorite band of all time, and it was a gorgeous summer night with the Manhattan skyline framing a setting sun in the background.  They sounded crisp, played a great setlist with fun covers and guests, and looked happy to be there.  Never underestimate a band having fun in front of an adoring audience.

5.  Flying Lotus, Terminal 5.  This was my second time seeing FlyLo, and after his ridiculous late night Bonnaroo set, I had big expectations.  His 3D stage set up was literally dizzying, and the balance between huge hip hop beats and his trademarked space-jazz-techno was masterful.  He is simply one of the most creative people making music today, and his live show is worthy of his already classic recent albums.

4.  Fuzz, Mercury Lounge.  I’ve seen Ty Segall 5 times in 2 years, and this may have been the best.  The place is tiny, the crowd was raucous, and the music was ear splittingly loud.  Woke up with several (not so) mysterious bruises the next day.  Meeting and chatting with Ty over beer beforehand made it all even cooler.

3. The National, Barclays Center.  A triumphant hometown show by the easiest to root for band in indie rock on the heels of their excellent new album.  Awesome.

2.  Four Tet, Webster Hall.  I actually saw FlyLo just a few nights before this show, and was totally prepared for Four Tet to be unable to live up to that mindfuck of a show.  Not as dynamic a sound or as animated on stage, but he was locked in the entire time, playing an uninterrupted set weaving familiar melodies in and out for the spellbound crowd.  $5 tickets to boot.

1.  Yo la Tengo, Maxwells.  They’ve been playing 8 Hanukkah shows at Maxwells each year since the late 90’s, and little did anyone know 2012 would be their last run.  In light of a gentrifying Hoboken with sinking interest for sleepy indie rockers, Maxwells closed its doors this past summer.  Even though in hindsight this made it an even more special night, the show still more than held its own.

I made the last minute decision to buy a ticket through Craigslist and make the trek solo to catch what was probably my most treasured recent band discovery.  What I saw was the best possible YLT show I could have wished for- Crazy Horse-esque long jammy abrasive guitar pieces sandwiching shorter, concise, buoyant pop.  The crowd was a whopping 200, and I was right up front (and not even a little bit squished).  This experience cemented my love for this quirky band, and I now celebrate their entire discography (especially in the dreary winter months).  I’ll never forget this concert.

Albums

(Note- I’ve posted my top albums of the year each year since 2006 here).

In 2013, it seemed I always had a favorite band’s new album to look forward to, and I was constantly discovering great new listens.  This was my favorite year since 2010, and I have no choice but to expand my list to 25 this year.

25.  Atoms for Peace– Amok
24.  Sigur Ros– Kveikur
23.  Washed Out– Paracosm
22.  Fuzz–  Fuzz
21.  Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds– Push the Sky Away
20.  Thee Oh Sees– Floating Coffin
19.  Ducktails– The Flower Lane
18.  Yo La Tengo– Fade
17.  James Blake– Overgrown
16.  Parquet Coruts– Light up Gold
15.  Bill Callahan– Dream River
14.  Four Tet– Beautiful Rewind
13.  Disclosure– Settle
12.  Phosphorescent– Muchacho
11.  Kurt Vile– Wakin on a Pretty Daze

10.  The Men– New Moon. Rock and roll for the rest of us.  A pretty big departure from their earlier hardcore punk towards something not too many degrees removed from John Fogerty. Great, no frills album start to finish.

9. My Bloody Valentine– mbv.  I make no claims to be a true My Bloody Valentine fan (I had tried and failed to “get” Loveless for years.) Yet the internet hype was impossible to ignore, and I slowly found myself enthralled by this music.  It was hard to listen to anything else for a while after getting into this one.

8. Arcade Fire– Reflektor.  The biggest band in the indie-verse, with everybody watching, teams up with captain DFA and just flat out delivers. The James Murphy-ization was actually less dramatic than I had expected, and is really no more of a sonic leap from its predecessor than The Suburbs was from Neon Bible.

7. Boards of Canada– Tomorrow’s Harvest.  In a year of super hyped comeback albums, this was perhaps the most underrated and probably the most triumphant.  Somehow even subtler than their previous offerings not exactly known for their sonic dynamism, this is a back-loaded, meticulously paced, hypnotic darkhorse.

6. Kanye– Yeezus. Abrasive, barbed wire rap.  Not sure we saw anybody execute a specific vision so flawlessly in 2013.

5. Haim– Days are Gone.  Almost impossible to believe this is a debut album, these tightly wound, infectious songs are so catchy and fully realized this could easily pass as a greatest hits album.  I can’t imagine any fun loving person not enjoying this music.

4. Vampire Weekend– Modern Vampires of the Weekend.  For some reason, I had chosen to ignore this band up until now, so I went in to this album with an unfair advantage.  It is lively and fun throughout, and to my ears sounds more mature than their earlier output.

3. Jon Hopkins– Immunity.  I’ve accepted that I’m especially horrible at describing electronic music, but here you go- I’m tempted to call this working/studying/reading music, but anytime I tried to get something done with this on headphones, I ended up having to put down whatever I was doing, stare at the wall, and contemplate the mystery of life.  This almost sounds like the soundtrack to an IMAX feature on the millennia of human evolution (I’m picturing epic Neanderthal tribal battles over fertile hunting grounds to “Open Eye Signal”).

2. The National– Trouble Will Find Me.  An album of great National songs start to finish from perhaps the most deserving band in rock. (Mostly) gone are the uneasy, dread filled atmospherics of their last two, and more of a content, warm, and even celebratory (relatively speaking of course) collection of songs.

1. Danny Brown– Old.  This album is a manic masterpiece.  Technical, rowdy, hedonistic, and underneath it all, kind of touching.  For a double album this long and covering so much territory, it is compulsively listenable throughout with not a single weak track.  I didn’t even have to think too hard- this is my favorite album of 2013, and you need to listen to it immediately (just be prepared to feel the strange urge to run to your nearest weight room, therapist, or drug dealer afterwards.)

db old

My 2013:  Reading.  Music.  Running.

2013: Books

Reading

Like many a liberal arts graduate, I was voracious reader growing up who almost completely abandoned non-assigned reading for 4 years, an unfortunate development which spilled into the first couple years of working life.  Yet, with the work flexibility my job allows, and my self imposed Mon-Tues-Wed early bedtimes, I’ve found myself with the time to knock through more books this year than the past 4 combined.  I typically read for 30-60ish minutes before bed each night, and a couple hours per weekend day.  Not exactly prolific, but enough to get through over 20 books this year.

The ten best books I read in 2013:

10.  The Man Who Loved China, Simon Winchester-  Delightful story of an eccentric British scientist who became obsessed with the Chinese language, and the wormhole he followed this passion down.  Set during a very turbulent era of China’s history, it is a very accessible and readable account of an amazing life story.

9.  Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami-  A sweet book that ignited my Murakami binge this fall.  Doesn’t approach the weirdness and triumph of his other novels, but a good story and beautifully written.

8. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon–  Brad Stone- Roared through this one on my Kindle in just a few days.  As an Amazon Prime addict, this only reaffirmed my faith in the company and it’s leadership to forever pursue what is in my bank account’s best interest (at the expense of perhaps everything else in the retail ecosystem).

7.  Bright Lights, Big City, Jay Mcinerney-  Downloaded this on a whim (probably as a result of a “New York in the 1980s” Google adventure), and read it in one sitting on a weekend afternoon.  A kind of Catcher in the Rye for coked up yuppies, it is visceral, hysterical, and just about as fun as books get.

6.  Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us–  Michael Moss (OK I cheated- I listened to this on Audible).  Was, appropriately, my walking to and from gym listening for several weeks.  This book, along with Michael Pollen’s Twitter feed, had almost as much impact on my diet this year as the bagel shop down the street.

5.  The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera-  I read this one in January, and I am fighting to convince myself it’s not already time for a re-read.  A novel light on plot development and heavy on philosophical musings which really stuck with me.

4.  Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain-  I really like the comparisons to Catch-22 here.  This is a darkly funny and deeply subversive book which explores the chasm between the military and the country it serves.  The juxtaposition of the soldiers with the NFL players is unforgettable, and I can’t get the scenes with the Dallas Cowboys owner out of my head.  I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anybody who has ever winced during a “salute the troops” moment during a televised sporting event (brought to you by Doritos!)

3.  Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco, Bryan Burrough and John Helyar-   This one dominated my life for a a good month.  Amazingly well researched, and even with the minute by minute details of meetings and negotiations between hundreds of Wall St types, you never lose track of what is ultimately a thrilling jacked-up-capitalism narrative.  This was definitely the best business book I read all year, and by many accounts, one of the best of all time.

2.  A Wild Sheep Chase/Dance Dance Dance,  Haruki Murakami- Though Dancex3 is technically the sequel to Sheep Chase, these are two very distinct books which can be enjoyed independently (although I’d recommend going in order if you can).  Both are quasi-detective stories, one a search for a mythological sheep, the other for a lost girlfriend, with trademarked Murakami surrealism, ambiguity, and digressions.  Both have fairly weak character development, a meandering plot, and inconclusive endings.  Yet both were fantastic page turners, laugh out loud funny, and ultimately very relateable.  I read these were solid Murakami entry points, and now 5 books in, I’d say that is good advice.  I loved both of these equally, and can unequivocally recommend both to any internet strangers who stumble upon this blog.

1.  Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami.  This novel is metaphorical, philosophical, dreamlike, with “a bewildering overflow of possible meanings“, yet completely and compulsively readable.  Although some thematic elements will be familiar to any Murakami reader, the plot is delightfully creative, and the alternating narrative structure keeps the pages turning with wonder and intrigue.  The characters are more developed, and often likable, than other Murakami I’ve read, and the plot, however bizarre and requiring a suspension of disbelief, is straightforward and gripping.

I digested the book for a few days after finishing before allowing myself to dive into internet reviews and discussion, having enjoyed online analysis of previous Murakami I had read.  Yet I can’t say any were particularly enlightening, or caused me to reevaluate my interpretations.  In fact, I think that is my favorite part of this book: no erudite interpretations are needed to fully enjoy this book.  Any other writer would probably leave me feeling unintelligent, angry, or apathetic by the end of such a metaphysical mind-bender.  Murakami’s writing makes me want to simultaneously turn the pages faster, and slow down to savor the beauty of his words.  I can’t wait to read more.

Kafka on the Shore

My 2013:  Reading.  Music.  Running.

How I Spent 2013 in New York

I moved to New York City on October 1st, 2012.  After living at home for a few months after a breathless 3 years in China, it was a welcome life change.  I had a good job lined up, some of my best friends were living within a three mile radius, and I was simply giddy at the opportunity to live in this amazing world city.

I’ve worked hard at my job, and am proud of the progress we’ve made launching, operating, and growing the business in just this one year.   It has been stressful and difficult working remotely (with a 12 hour time difference!), and we are still in the very nascent stages of what we are ultimately looking to build.

Personally, it has been perhaps an even more fulfilling year.  I’ve spent quality time with old friends, met new ones, patronized hundreds of restaurants and bars, covered vast areas of the city on foot, and am in a great relationship.  Yet as I thought about my year in retrospective, I realized I’ve had a renaissance of two old favorite hobbies, and the birth of a new one.

While I can’t call it the best year of my life (as I recall, 1993 was pretty great), this has been a very important year for me personally and professionally.  After some (albeit pretty minor) personal turmoil upon returning to America, I have a seemingly workable 2-5 year plan in place (spoilers herehere, and here) and the tools and drive to go forward.

This is how I spent my free time in New York in 2013: Reading.  Music.  Running.