2016 Decker Challenge half marathon


It started out as a really early and rough morning. I barely made it to the race before the gun. It was my hardest and hilliest race to date. I climbed 732 feet of hills. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to quit right after hitting 10 miles. But I can’t, and I couldn’t. I kept pushing and fighting. I thought about all of the really early long runs. All the miles. I thought about my dad. It was all I could do to not stop and walk. I even had a couple guys pass me in the last mile. Until I saw the finish line a quarter mile ahead. The fire burned hot and I had to dig deep. I saw Elise out of the corner of my eye at the finish line and I ran as hard and fast as my legs and lungs would take me. I went sub-5, overtook the two guys who passed me a half mile back and wound up getting first place in my division. I won the Gold Cowbell.

I also moved up to 2nd place in my division in the Austin Distance Challenge.

17 miles talking to myself

I haven’t gone on a good long run in a long time; not since marathon training last year. Something about the air. The atmosphere. The runner’s biological clock. It’s September. Something. It’s hard going from running a daily 10k or 8-miler to just up and running a half marathon or 17 miles. I knew the route I wanted to run, I just didn’t think or know if I’d be ready for it. I walked out onto the front porch this morning and just thought, “Okay, let’s go.”

I took it easy. I had my iPod shuffle with me and my ear buds in, but I never flipped it on. I just ran and talked to myself. I told myself the story of Josh as an athlete, starting from the age of 11. It was a good conversation.

First day of Fifth Grade

First day of 5th Grade today:

First day of 4th Grade last year:

First day of 3rd Grade 2 years ago

First day of 2nd Grade 3 years ago

First day of 1st Grade 4 years ago:

First day of Kindergarten 5 years ago:

First day of school 6 years ago:

First day of school 7 years ago:

First day of school 8 years ago:

On running a Marathon

It’s going on six weeks now since I ran my first marathon. Even with all the training, it was rough. I think I should’ve gone on runs longer than 26.2 miles. I think if one were to train on 30 miles runs, a 26 mile run would be a walk in the park.

While it was tough running 26 miles, it was a lot of fun. I was in my hometown, the race was amazingly organized, the course was awesome (and flat), the weather was perfect and it made for a really nice weekend. I drove into Houston on Saturday afternoon, checked into the Magnolia Hotel and tried to go to bed early. Top Gun was on TV and I couldn’t just turn it off. 3:30 a.m. came early. Three and half hours later I was toeing the line.

IMG_7854Elise drove in from my mom’s house to meet me at the finish line. As a nice lady sang the National Anthem, it was at that point that my bladder decided to send signals. When the National Anthem starts, that means that whenever that song is over, you’re going to hear the start gun seconds later. So I started my first marathon. And within the first half mile I knew I should just go ahead and take care of business. So, I did. And then I ran and ran and ran and ran and ran. My first mile was in 8-minutes and some change. The next 23 miles were in the low 7’s. And then the monkey jumped on my back right at mile 24. I held him off as best I could, but my pace suffered a lot. I finally saw the finish line, but it was still a long way away. I waited on my body to tell me when I could sprint. And it did. I probably sprinted the last 300 yards.

My official time was 3:14:58. Here’s the course and my stats from my Garmin Forerunner 610.

I think the best part was having Elise there after the race. She ran up to me in the “reunion area” and threw her arms around me and congratulated me. It’s always awesome to have a pretty cheerleader. Elise walked me back to our hotel and then she walked back to the convention center to watch her cousins finish the race. I stayed back at the hotel and tried to rest and sleep. I got some rest, but no sleep. A little before dark we hit the streets to find something for dinner. There were no restaurants that were open on Sunday night. After walking for a few miles, we finally went back to the hotel to ask the concierge where we should eat.

We had an awesome dinner at El Tiempo. It was the best meal that I can remember having in a very long time. I really do think it was an awesome dinner, although, I was also experiencing a 3,500 calorie deficit.

I think I fell asleep as soon as we got back to the hotel and my head hit the pillow.

Great Friday

This past Friday was awesome. I’d decided to take the day off from work. You know, just take the day off because it was there for the taking. Pretty much a much-needed mental health day.

I took Maly to school that Friday. I usually take her to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I decided to take her to school again. We were five minutes late to school because there were a couple accidents on Escarpment and Slaughter. That was okay. We just went with it and we talked and we were a little late for school. The front office already knew about the accident, so we had an excused tardiness.

Last Friday was also Maly’s last Kiker Keynotes concert at school. The Keynotes performed the night before for family. I couldn’t attend because I had school. So I went to the 8 a.m. concert. That was a great way to start the day — watching your oldest daughter’s choir concert on a Friday when I didn’t have to go to work. I guess the only bad thing about the concert was that my phone ran out of storage, so I wasn’t able to record any of the performance. That’s okay. I think that was because I was supposed to be present and enjoy the show in the moment.

And then after the concert, I played 18 holes of golf at Grey Rock with Steve.

I really needed that Friday.



Eating like I give a f*ck

IMG_7832I’m not a resolution kind of guy, but since the beginning of the year, I decided to lean more toward a plant-based diet. And it helped, of course, that Steve and Joanne (my in-laws) bought Scott Jurek’s book Eat and Run for me for Christmas. Scott’s an ultra runner whose been a vegan since 1999. Runners require substantially more protein than non-runners, so it’s interesting (and easy) to learn that getting protein from plants isn’t as hard as it seems.

I’m not committing to going full-on vegetarian or vegan, but consciously trying more plant-based meals will help me & the family get the vegetables that we should be eating anyway. I was a humanities major, so my math isn’t great, but I think 95% of my meals this past week were either vegan or vegetarian. On Wednesday, I went to lunch with my friend Brant and had a salmon filet with roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli at Whole Foods. Elise cooked bacon last week for breakfast and for a New Years black-eyed pea soup, and I ate a piece of bacon. Beyond that, I seriously don’t think I’ve eaten any meat this week. I’ve had dairy in the form of yogurt and sour cream, but no cheese.

Two recipes that I’ve made this past week turned out damn good, and did NOT leave me thinking, “this would’ve been better with beef or pork.” Last Sunday I made tempeh tacos. Tempeh is fermented soy beans that’s high in protein and comes in a pressed loaf form. You just cut it into whatever size chunks you want, season it and sautee it. Well, that’s all I’ve done with it thus far. I’m are there are a lot of different ways to prepare tempeh. I made my tacos like I’d probably make any other tacos. I sauted the tempeh with garlic, salt, pepper, chile powder and cumin. I served it with grilled onion, guacamole, sour cream, cilantro and jalapeños on mixed flour & corn tortillas. I’d eat the hell out of these tacos all day long.

On Wednesday night I cooked curried tofu. Tofu (and tempeh) are awesome because they’re both like neutral, flavorless sponges, just waiting to absorb whatever flavors you add to them. Instead of frying the tofu, I “heavily sautéd” them, a fancy culinary term I learned from Jeff Blank that basically means I fried them. And then I sautéed yellow onions and garlic with a bunch of chile powder, cumin, ground coriander, cardamom turmeric and garam masala. Then I added some diced tomato (from a can) and heavy cream. That was so amazing that I made a second pan of the same recipe and added cauliflower.

Last night Elise made a Sriracha stir fry with every vegetable in our fridge with some flax seed tempeh and baby bella mushrooms. And that was awesome and spicy.

And yesterday my copy of Thug Kitchen showed up in the mail. Thug Kitchen is a vegan cookbook. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll probably still smoke briskets and pork butts on occasion, but we’ll probably be eating a lot of really good plant-based food in between.

Life advice from Josh: Tell your friends you love them

Tell your friends that you love them. Family should be a given. But tell your friends. They’re your friends because you do, really, love them. They’re special to you for a reason. They know you and they love you because of it. You can often tell things and share with friends what you maybe can’t with family.

Elise lost a friend last week. This was a friend that Elise had known for years. They grew up together. They’d been through thick and thin. Life has since happened and they hadn’t been in touch lately, but there was a lot of history among the two. I heard Elise, from the other room, when she received the news and I’m having a hard time remembering the last time that I’d heard Elise cry so hard. And it was the death cry. The ultimate cry. And it was devastating.

She was a friend of mine by extension. When Elise told me that she was dead, my memories with her flew through my head like fast-thumbing through a picture book. It hurt me a lot, but it hurt Elise far worse. The empathy made me cry. My memories made me cry. Seeing and hearing how it stomped on Elise’s heart made me cry. And hearing Elise say, “If only I’d….” Called. Emailed. Texted. Told her I loved her. One last time. Those fleeting opportunities that we all endure that seem better-spent on life-at-the-moment can’t outweigh a simple gesture to tell your friend that you love her.

“I wish I’d….”

Tell your friends that you love them.

BQ means being quiet

I had a really bad 20-mile run today. It was supposed to be a 23+ mile run and it went from starting out pretty okay, then quickly turned bad and bonky at around mile 15. I’d psyched and prepped myself all week to go on a good long run on Saturday. I woke up at 5 a.m. Saturday morning and just wasn’t feeling it. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I just knew I wasn’t supposed to go on a 23+ mile run. So I took Maly with me, she on her bike, on a ~10 miler instead.

Today I knew I had to put in my long run. I was going to stick to my 23+ miler. And for whatever reasons, at 10:30 a.m. when I’d finally set out, there was some hesitation. Some trepidation. I usually start my runs (regardless of distance) anywhere between 5 and 6 a.m. Today’s long run was starting at 10:30 a.m. Started that late in the morning means traffic. Traffic’s distracting and means you have to wait at intersections. At 5:30 a.m., there’s not that much traffic, so more often than not, I can blow through an intersection.

The first 13 miles or so were okay. I don’t look at my Garmin watch anymore when I run. I’ve adopted a running mantra to just run how I feel that day. If my body and heart are fast, I’ll go fast. If it’s a slow day, I’ll go at it slower. Today started somewhere in between. But there was this little monkey on my back the whole time. The monkey was trying to whisper in my ear, above the drone of traffic, “you’re not really liking this, are you?” I love running. Running is seriously the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. I usually wake up before my alarm and the first things that pop into my head are, “how far? What route? What music are we listening to?”

Today’s run was one of the very, very, very few and far betweens that just wasn’t fun. I had fuel and water with me, but those just didn’t keep my spirit elevated. It was a bad run. And it wasn’t fun. I wasn’t feeling it, at all, the whole way. I stopped more times that I care to recall. I had to stop at mile 15 at a gas station and exchange my only $5 bill for a bottle of water and a convenience store turkey sandwich. That gave me a little pep, but had to stop at the next gas station to exchange my remaining 22¢ for two pieces of gum. I was out of straight-up, high octane glycogen. I’d ran 20+ miles before on less fuel. And I, again, just chalked it up to a bad day and a bad run.

I cut my run short by 3 miles after stopping, walking, or sitting more times. I logged a 20-miles-on-the-dot run, but I wasn’t happy or proud.

I walked into the house on wobbly legs and heavy heart and scarfed down whatever was available on the kitchen counter. And then I hit the shower. While in the shower I thought I was either going to pass out or vomit.

Elise came into the bathroom and I told her that my new plan is to not concern myself with qualifying for the Boston Marathon. And she agreed. She’s held her tongue for months. Her thought has been that I shouldn’t try to qualify for Boston (“BQ”) at my very first marathon.

I’ve flapped my gums, and Elise has told people that my plan has been to BQ when I run the Houston Marathon on January 17th. It’s a lofty and aggressive goal. I’m aggressive and competitive, but I feel like I’m getting to the point where the fire in my belly to BQ is outshining and blinding my overall love of running.

So, I’m redacting my cockiness. And maybe it’s overzealousness, too. So I’m going to forgo the plan to BQ, and, instead, run the Houston Marathon. I don’t want ruin that first experience for myself. And qualifying for the Boston Marathon was just kind of an on-a-whim notion that I considered when looking at qualifying times as the family and I were driving through Oklahoma last year. It’s a coveted race, and I think I’d like to run it one year, but it’s not like it’s been on my bucket list my entire year. I’m just going to run how I feel that morning, because that’s how I like to run. That’s how I love to run. If I BQ, I BQ. If I don’t, that’s okay. I’m fine with that.

Life advice from Josh: Exercise

I should preface this by pointing out that I’m not a doctor, trainer, coach, dietician or weight loss expert. I’m like most folks and I got to that point where I looked in the mirror one day and really just did not like the shape of the guy who was looking back at me. He was flabby. I’m a pretty small-framed guy, so fat doesn’t really distribute well on me. Excess fat positions itself as love handles and man boobs on yours truly.

So I decided to do something about it. I’m not an ease-into-it kind of guy. I went in full force. And, like they all say, the way to getting into shape (and losing weight, if that’s your goal), is diet and exercise. I can make a suggestion that makes that formula 50% easier. Exercise. The diet part will naturally follow if you commit to the exercise part.

I started running. And I started out slowly. I started by running one mile. That one mile didn’t kill me, so I went out the very next day and I ran another mile. Since that second day and second mile didn’t kill me either, I went out the third day and ran two miles. I pushed myself. I had a goal to lose weight, so I was going to push myself to achieve that goal. I didn’t have a specific number of pounds in mind that I wanted to shed, but I was going to keep running every day until I no longer jiggled when I ran. And I knew, realistically, it was probably going to take at least one year of hard work before I noticed the change in myself. So I committed myself. Every. single. day. And that’s what it takes. Exercise and a commitment to your goal.

I didn’t focus on my diet. I’d already maintained a relatively healthy diet (I rarely drank cokes, Starbucks, no alcohol, etc.) – you know, square meals kind of stuff. We’re pretty good about cooking at home. We generally make healthy choices at the grocery store. Elise and I truly try to make nutritious grocery and meal preparation decisions. We’re not perfect, and we admittedly indulge. And we do our fair share of eating out. We love pizza, tacos, Chinese food. But I knew that the choices I made at meal time were the calories I’d be battling at run time. So I consciously created a caloric deficit. Caloric deficit means you burn more calories than you consume. If I’d need/burn 2,000 calories a day just by existing, and I’d burn 300 calories by running two miles, I’d only consume what I’d guess to be 1,800 – 2,000 calories a day. My body would need fuel from something, and after it’d burned off available glycogen (carbs/sugar), it would start burning the fat. And it’s NOT a fast and easy process.

And as I continued to focus on my commitment to running, my body naturally began craving fuel to endure and survive – not the junk that I’d ordinarily eat out of boredom or for taste alone (chips, gummy bears, bacon). Presently I’ll run between 6-20 miles on any given day. And my brain, body and taste buds genuinely want salmon, sweet potatoes, berries, Greek yogurt and whole grains. I actually kind of have an aversion to red meat now. Don’t get me wrong, I still eat the hell out of some barbecue, but my gut will hate me for it if I over-indulge. I guess my point is that your body is a really cool machine that’s capable of amazing things. If you treat it and run it like a high-performance machine, it’s going to crave and need high-performance fuel. It’s going to tell you, “quit jacking around and pouring this crap down my gullet. Give me some stuff I can really use to win this thing, dammit!”

Listen to the machine that is you. Start slow. Start by walking at least 30 minutes. Then go for an hour. Then run. Or join the gym. Or take a martial arts/spin/yoga/pilates/barre class. Whatever. Find your thing. This is your journey. And understand and realize that it is a personal journey. Take your time. It’s a process and the infantile stage of building the machine. I love running because I’m a loner and running requires nothing more than some shoes, shorts and good music (for me).

Log your miles or workouts. Log the food you eat and the calories you consume if you want to commit and get hard core about your diet. Drink lots of water.

You have to commit. No excuses. Don’t think you have time? Bullshit. That’s an excuse. You have to make the time, not make excuses. Your machine doesn’t care about time.

Commit, machine.

58 miles


Fifty miles a week is pretty nuts. I don’t know what 58 miles in a week is. Marathon training, I guess. My goal for the next 6-8 weeks is to maintain around 50 miles per week. And eat. Man, I’m always hungry.

Life advice from Josh: Fill buckets

You have two options: 1) you can empty buckets or 2) you can fill buckets. Choose to fill buckets. We’re lucky in that our 9-year-old goes to an excellent public school in Austin. At 7:30 a.m. every weekday the principal addresses the entire student body in person in the gymnasium. One of the repeated messages is about filling buckets. A simple message to children is very applicable to all ages.

In our daily lives we’re either making deposits or taking withdrawals. We’re either giving or taking. In the emotional sense, we’re either lifting someone up, or breaking him down. Filling a bucket is simply making a deposit in someone else’s life. Rendering a compliment, holding a door open, making a conscious effort to do good and abide by the Golden Rule. When you fill a bucket, you’re making a conscious effort to make someone else’s life better, no matter how small the effort or task. You’re choosing to be selfless.

When you empty someone’s bucket, you’re taking a withdrawal. You’re invariably breaking him down for your own benefit, if you’re conscious of it or not. You’re being selfish. Breaking someone down can cause immediate and long-term damage to both the receiver and the giver (you). Now you’ve got that scarred inventory in your heart and head until you choose to make it right. And you’ve taken away from someone.

Imagine that everyone is carrying with them a bucket that’s not quite full. Do what you can to add to that bucket. Don’t take away. Make someone laugh or smile or blush. A small effort can make a huge difference in a person’s day, and probably make an impact for a lifetime. And make filling buckets a habit. Things that we become really good at become habits.

Try to fill five buckets a day. Fill buckets.

Life advice from Josh: Read

Read books. Turn off the TV. Put down your phone. Pick up a book and read it. Read it before you go to bed. It stirs the imagination, boosts your vocabulary, clears your mind, teaches you things, and, most importantly, it’s much-needed you time. You’re reading yourself a story. It’s therapeutic. It helps you wind down. Trust me.

We got rid of cable television some number of years ago. I don’t remember — I want to say it’s been at least five years, and me, personally, I don’t miss it a single bit. Six plus years ago I started the habit of reading every single night before I go to bed. When it truly became a habit, I asked for a Kindle for Christmas. My kindle is dutifully at my nightstand and travels with me when I won’t be sleeping in my own bed.

Can’t think of a book to start with? Try Harry Potter. Seriously. It’s a wonderful, well-written series of stories that’ll turn reading into a habit for you. Then try re-reading those classics that you were forced to read in high school when you might’ve been too cool, or too busy to read back then. You’ll relate to them now. Then ask your friends for book recommendations. Ask me. I have great recommendations. When you talk about books with your friends and family, they’ll always have great recommendations for you because they know and love you. They have a pretty good idea of who you are and what your interests are, often times taking into account your moral compass and imagination. My mother-in-law always loans me really good books. And those are really special gifts because I know she thought of me and wanted to share something that I’d find of great value.

I’m reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to my oldest daughter right now. That book will make you realize how most of us have sadly dumbed down our personal prose and conversational vocabulary (or just don’t know any better). I like to alternate the kinds of books that I read. I’ll read a classic novel, and then I’ll read a “fun” novel. Right now I’m reading a “fun” Pet Semetery by Stephen King. I’ve always been a fan of horror.

Go to your local bookstore or library. Tell an employee you’d like a book recommendation. Be humble and divulge your interests. Get lost in the books section of Amazon.com. Fun fact: all of the classic novels are free on the Kindle.

Read books. Let your mind paint pictures. It’s better than Netflix doing it for you.