Tuesday, November 22, 2016

NYC Marathon Playlist

(as originally written for and posted by KTSW San Marcos

On November 6, 2016 I was lucky enough to be one of 50,000 people who got to run the New York City Marathon. The race began in Staten Island, and made its way through all five boroughs  including Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and ending in Central Park in Manhattan. Throughout almost the entire 26.2 mile course, there were crowds cheering us runners on, which is why the NYC Marathon is referred to as New York’s biggest block party. It was estimated that over one million people came out to cheer us on.

Despite the overwhelming crowd support, occasional on-course live music, and epic views of one of the greatest city’s in the world, there was no way I could have survived the four and half hours it took me to complete the race without a playlist rocking in my bluetooth headphones. The night before, as I tried to get some rest in the Airbnb I was staying in, I had to figure out what I wanted to be included in this playlist. 

I knew I wanted to avoid starting the race too fast, which is a common mistake for first time marathoners such as myself. So I started off my NYC playlist with Tycho. Their new album “Epoch” was the perfect ambient soundtrack to keep my mind and body away from moving too fast as I made my way over the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge. I got to enjoy the view of Manhattan off in the distance across the bay as I made my way into Brooklyn.

In Brooklyn, I wanted to keep the chill vibes going, but also find my rhythm as we entered the crowds on the roads cheering us on. I stuck with the electronic feel and went with ODESZA. Their album “In Return” has long been one of my favorites to run to during training, as it provides melodic beats to find my pace with and soak in the neighborhoods like Bay Ridge we were running through. By the time we got to the infinitely hip Williamsburg, one of Brooklyn’s best bands came on as if by fate: LCD Soundsystem’s “This is Happening” provided the soundtrack for the rest of the second borough, and I may or may not have run one of my fastest miles to “Dance Yrself Clean.”

As we passed over the Pulaski Bridge and into Queens, passing the halfway mark of the race, Glass Animals’ newest album “How to Be a Human Being” took over, and it felt like perfect timing for this upbeat album as the crowds grew larger, louder, and rowdier. I was feeling great, smiling from ear to ear as I occasionally even sang along aloud to some of my favorite tracks like “Youth” and “Poplar St.” As we crossed over the Queensboro bridge and into Manhattan for the first time, my playlist got a little grittier for the first time, as Queens of the Stone Age blared guitar rifts into my ears for most of my trip up First Avenue. 

As I made my way into the Bronx, with it came my all-time favorite band Radiohead, whom I have already written a lengthy blog post about for KTSW earlier this semester. As much as I love everything Thom Yorke touches, it was almost ironic that this would be who I would be listening to as I hit the wall as runners call it, and began struggling in the race for the first time. Although it only lasted between miles 21 and 23 of the race as I returned back to Manhattan, I will always remember how terrible I felt when I heard “Everything In Its Right Place” during my first marathon. 

At mile 23, I was surprised to see my wife cheering me on, and even coaxed her into running a couple of blocks with me, which provided me a much needed pick-me-up (along with the energy gels I had consumed a few minutes earlier). As I entered Central Park to finish the last two miles, my favorite album of 2015 was there to take me home. Tame Impala’s “Currents” is one that I continually find myself coming back to, and I sped through the crowds to “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” 

I finished the race in 4:34:15, running negative splits (meaning I ran the second half of the race faster than I ran the first half) which is hard to do on a challenging course like this one. I could not have done it without the amazing volunteers at the water aid stations, my beautiful wife surprising me towards the end, and the playlist I put together just a few hours before the race. What are some of your favorite albums to run to? Which ones should I include in my future races? Let me know in the comments below!

The EDM Transition

(as originally written for and posted by KTSW San Marcos

We all have that one friend. The one who never misses an electronic music festival. Who prefers furry boots to sneakers. Who only listens to music that sounds like an old computer trying to connect to the internet via dial-up. And if you haven’t been to a show that didn’t involve glow sticks in years, then you very well may be that friend. 

I am not here to criticize your taste in music. In fact, I myself have been to countless EDM shows in my 20’s. But as I come within months of my 30th birthday, I thought I would try to help broaden the horizons of some of those people who insist they only like DJ’s or people who wear a giant mouse-head when they perform. Because regardless of how much you love dancing all night to dubstep or house or trance, eventually you will reach a point when you just can’t hang like you used to.

That’s where I’d like to step in, and introduce you to the EDM Transition. There are tons of bands out there that are heavily influenced by the EDM movement, or influenced the very DJ’s you find yourself blaring in your car as you drive to your early morning classes to try and wake you up. As fun as it can be to watch someone push a couple of buttons to play that catchy hook you can’t get out of your head, (I am looking at you “The Chainsmokers”)  I think you’ll find that not only are some of these artists in your wheelhouse, but seeing them perform live with real musical instruments might take seeing your passion for “live music” to an entirely new level.

The first transition can be entirely painless. Many artists are already combining EDM with live instruments when they perform. Take Big Gigantic, and similar artist Griz, as an example. Both of these acts add a saxophone to their tracks, and if you have never seen someone blow on a sax over some heavy beats, then you are truly missing out. Similarly, Pretty Lights Music artists Break Science incorporate keyboards and live drums with electronic elements. Consider these baby steps out of EDM and into more conventional music genres.

Next, if you insist on the visual elements of EDM shows and festivals, I would recommend the “jam-band” groups. Some of my favorites include STS9, Thievery Corporation, and I throw local Austin legend Ghostland Observatory into this category when they are touring. Others would include Phish and Widespread Panic, to name a few. At these shows, you’ll get a lot of the same elements you get at EDM festivals, some of which I won’t go into too deeply here. But all typically have incredible set designs and light shows that help captivate the audience along with their large bands full of multiple instruments. 

The electronic acts playing with a full band trend continues with groups such as Emancipator
Beats Antique, and Bonobo. The bands play live renditions of studio material, with a singer, and often times additional band members such as a keyboardist, guitarist, saxophonist, string section, electronics, and drummer. Even traditional DJ’s who typically focus on the old-school style of spinning music on wax records, such as Wax Tailor and RJD2, have begun touring with full live bands in support of their albums. You can catch both of them at Empire in Austin in the next few months.

Many artists do not identify as electronic music bands, although their music is in my opinion very influenced by the genre. Some of these include Tycho, SOHN, Neon Indian, and Washed Out. These groups incorporate electronic elements into their songs, and provide a nearly seamless transition away from EDM and into more alternative and indie music genres, the kind we like to play here at KTSW. 

Even some of the most popular bands in the world have heavy electronic elements incorporate into their process. I have been pleasantly surprised  by both Bon Iver and James Blake’s newest albums, which both have added new sounds and effects into their more folk sound. My two favorite bands also give and take to and from the electronic community. Both Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have been pioneering in pushing the boundaries in mainstream, alternative rock and adding sounds they could not have produced with instruments alone.

So next time you get in the car and plug your phone in, instead of listening to that Major Lazer song for the 100th time this week, consider trying out some of these options as an alternative. I think you’ll be surprised how much you’ll enjoy these and still feel like you are getting your EDM fill.

Going Solo

(As originally written for KTSW San Marcos)

When I first move to Austin at the beginning of 2010, the chance to see live music consistently played a big part in my decision to relocate there. Growing up in a conservative East Texas town, getting to see bands perform was rare. After attending SXSW in Austin in 2002 and visiting friends in the city often while I was in college, I saw that it lived up to the hype as being the “Live Music Capital of the World.” However, once I got there, I ran into a problem: What do I do when I want to go see a show and no one wants to go with me?

Despite having friends living in Austin already, not all of them were as eager to go see bands they had never heard of at small clubs and bars on random weekday nights as I was. I will admit that at first I was hesitant to go alone. It was definitely outside of my comfort zone. Who do I talk to in between sets? Who do I turn to and yell “this band is awesome!” or “this song sucks” to? I had only had concert experiences with friends in the past, so it felt a little awkward to be standing in a crowd alone.

My mindset completely changed during my first time attending Austin City Limits in 2010. Although I showed up to the festival with a group, it was inevitable for us to get separated once bathroom breaks and beer runs started. I found myself alone, floating my way through the crowds. Once I came to terms with the fact that it was highly unlikely I would find my group again, I felt a sense of freedom in the fact that I could now essentially do whatever I wanted. 

Gone were the worries of checking to see if everyone could see the stage, if anyone needed to use the restroom, the debates of when to leave this set to make it to another one across the park. I realized that although I had lost my friends, I had 70,000 other “friends” in the park all there to enjoy the festival just like me. I witnessed LCD Soundsystem deliver an electric performance as the sun set behind the crowd, tried flirting with Warpaint for the first time from the front row, and held up Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips in his plastic encasing as he walked out into the crowd. From that moment on, I realized seeing concerts alone may not only be enjoyable, but might actually be preferable.

There is a lot of coordinating that goes into attending shows with a group of people. When and where do we meet? How close does everyone want to get? Will we be able to find each other if we need to go to the bathroom? These can all cause stress before the show even starts. It can be even worse when going with a significant other. The worrying about their experience can actually take away from your own personal enjoyment of the concert. There is also the dreaded “can we leave early?” question that can arise. “Leave early? And miss the encore? Are you crazy?!” Speaking from experience, this can lead to tension, both during the show and long after the concert is over.

Going to a venue alone gives you the flexibility to move through the crowd and find a spot that is just perfect for you and you alone. We all come in different shapes and sizes, so when you are in a group it is not always easy to find somewhere that suits everyone. Rolling solo also eliminates distractions. While I agree sometimes it is great to share concert experience with friends or significant others, there are also times when you want to focus on the show itself and get lost in the music, and not have your chatty Cathy friend next you trying to show you their Snapchat. Which reminds me, while we are on the topic of concert etiquette…


If you are going to a show so you can chat with your friends, go to a bar instead so the rest of us can hear the band we paid to see! 

Please excuse me while I step down from my grumpy old man soapbox, but seriously - if you are talking loudly with your friends during a headlining set of a show, have some courtesy and either save it for afterwards or consider moving to the back of the crowd. 

So next time you want to go check out a band, consider only putting one ticket in your cart at checkout. Get there when you want, grab the perfect spot, and enjoy the undistracted and stress free environment of getting lost in the music. You may never want to go with a group again!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Rockport - August 2016

Last week I visited Massachusetts for the second time with my wife. The first time we came was in December of 2013, just a few months after we started dating, so that I could meet her father who lives in Rockport just outside of Boston. It just so happened that the week we were there was one of the coldest weeks they have had in that area in almost 25 years, and I also managed to catch the flu during the flight. But despite single digit temperatures outside and trying to contain my triple digit body temperature inside, we managed to have a fun trip which included touring Fenway Park and catching a game at the Garden to watch the Celtics play the Knicks. We also spent a day in Rockport, which was the day it snowed over half a foot. Seeing snow fall that hard while also looking at the ocean was a surreal experience for me.

This time, we were smart and decided not to visit the Northeast during the winter, and would be seeing Boston and the coast in the middle of August. Amanda has been visiting the area for most of her life, as her father has lived in Rockport since she was 4, so visiting for her feels as much as a homecoming as it does a vacation. I have been lucky enough to go to Ecuador to visit my father earlier this year, and more recently took a trip to Lake Tahoe with Rogue Expeditions (see previous blog post for a recap of that trip), so I was excited about getting to take one more trip before we both start the Fall semester of our graduate school programs.

After early flights, we arrived around lunch time and her dad picked us up at the airport and drove us the hour or so out to Rockport, where we ate lunch on a patio overlooking Cape Ann and the Atlantic Ocean. We ate clam chowder and caught up, and then headed to his condo to unpack and get settled. After a short jog around town to shake out our legs, the evening was spent telling stories and laughing, and once in bed, we stayed up to watch Benjamin Button all the way through despite being exhausted from our 3 AM wake up call that morning.

On Friday, Amanda met with a higher up at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston for lunch to network and learn more about the hospital, and her father and I strolled down Newbury Street, a popular shopping and eating destination in the heart of the city. My father in law proceeded to give me excellent life advice over our lunch, which is typical when spending time with him. When we picked up Amanda after her meeting, she was beaming with excitement for having gotten to see a lot of Mass Gen and share her ideas for her future with a fellow UT graduate. We stopped for ice cream on the way back to Rockport, and settled in for a movie that night.

The next morning, I decided to go on a running adventure and run along the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway to the Annisquam Lighthouse about 6 miles away from where we were staying. The road itself lived up to its name, and the Light(house) at the end of the tunnel was stunningly beautiful. People commenting on the photo I posted to social media asked if it was really a photo I took, or rather a picture of a painting I was posting. I had not been prepared for how beautiful the coast is in the Northeast during this time of year. Even the rocks were beautiful. That night Amanda and I shared a romantic dinner at the same balcony restaurant we ate lunch at the first day, and watched the sunset over the sleepy town.

On Sunday, Amanda and I rented bikes and explored Rockport on two wheels. The houses are a combination of historic, huge, and beautiful, and come in all shades of colors. We finished the bike ride with a dip in the ocean at Front Beach, which added to the bodies of water I have gone swimming in this calendar year (Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador, Lake Tahoe, now the Atlantic Ocean). We ended our day watching Memento, which we had never seen.

It was bittersweet having to head home the next day, as we felt as though we had just gotten comfortable and relaxed in our little beach condo getaway. But it was great to finally get to take a trip together, as we had both traveled without each other over the course of our first year of marriage, but hadn't taken a trip together since right after we got in engaged over 2 years ago to Portland. While it can be good to have those breaks away from each other at times, trips like these remind us that we truly are each other's best friend, and it left us feeling refreshed before we both get busy in the grind this Fall.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Running with Strangers

(As originally written for and posted by Rogue Expeditions

Almost exactly two years ago I joined my first training group at Rogue Running in Austin, Texas and was invited by my coach to come listen to an informational meeting about a run based traveling company called Rogue Expeditions. I sipped on a beer and watched intently as this couple named Allison and Gabe described how their love for running and traveling had led them to start this company, which included trips to locations such as Kenya, Patagonia and Morocco. I remember being struck by how passionately the couple talked about wanting to create memorable adventures for those who signed up for their trips. Going on one immediately went on my bucket list.

Flash forward to two weeks ago, as I was boarding a flight to Reno, Nevada where I would be picked up along with five other first-time Rogue Expedition trip takers to be the 2016 group to #RunTahoe. I had hardly slept the night before due to excitement, yet ultimately still did not really know what to expect. I would be staying in a cabin with strangers, visiting a part of the country I had never been to, and logging my longest week of miles this calendar year (not to mention logging those miles via trail running which was also not something I had done a lot of). So the sleepless night of excitement may have also had twinges of nervousness mixed in. However, I managed to make my short connection at LAX and arrived safely in Reno (as did my checked luggage) and was greeted at the baggage claim by a very cheery Allison and other runners in the group. The excitement from everyone was palpable, and even one participant whose luggage had not arrived with her flight was still in great spirits as we all began to bond in the car ride to our lodge for the next five days. Pretty quickly my nerves about vacationing with strangers began to subside.

            For runners, bonding is not a new concept. There is the bond created from sharing the misery of training runs. There is the amazing atmosphere created before, during, and after races in which there is always a feeling of celebration. There is that shared runners high when sharing a drink or meal that feels truly earned. I have also found that it is often easy to bond with other travelers. When you meet other people away from home, you get to share stories, and people seem to really open up when they are out of the comfort zone of their daily routines. These two different ways of connecting with people are merged in this environment cultivated by Rogue Expeditions.

After arriving at the cabin and getting to meet everyone in the group, we set off on our first run of the trip. The Donner Lake Rim Trail would give us amazing views of Donner Lake, where the infamous Donner party was stranded in the 1840’s, and we would get to cross over the famed Pacific Crest Trail. Running at altitude can be a bit of an adjustment, but the amazing views and perfect weather distracted us.

 Gabe, Allison, and our other guide Sarah were all very gifted in the kitchen, and each meal prepared by them provided perfect fuel for the adventures we were having during the trip. We had everything from Thai food to fajitas to steaks, and being able to have home cooked meals only added to the family vibe of the trip. On day two, we ran the Rubicon Trail, ending with a picnic on a secluded beach right on Lake Tahoe in the popular area of Emerald Bay. The cold water was refreshing as we ate and took photos of the amazing views around us.

            Day three was the long run, which consisted of 14 miles on one of the most popular trails in the world – the Flume Trail. The views of Lake Tahoe from high up on this trail are incredible, and neither my words nor my pictures can do them justice. The pace for everyone on this run was slow, as we knew we would be stopping frequently to take pictures. We once again ended with a picnic on a beach, this time eating Argentinian styled wraps and climbing on the boulders of Chimney Beach. Back at our cabin, the group bonded over Cards Against Humanity and crossword puzzles, and the atmosphere continued to feel more like a family reunion then a house full of people who had just met days before.

            The fourth day was meant for recovery, but multiple people got up early to go on an extra run before the scheduled trail so that one of the group members who had to leave early from the trip would not have to run alone. The scheduled run took us through the abandoned tunnels of the transcontinental railroad. It was incredible to see the amazing graffiti artwork within the tunnels, and seeing tunnels carved and/or blasted through the sides of mountains was impressive. After another picnic, we headed to the Truckee River to go whitewater rafting. Truly living up to their promise of epic adventures, the hours on the river were a great change of pace from the trail running.

On the final morning, everyone woke up and run the “optional” last run to Moriah Point overlooking the Royal Gorge. Once again, the views did not disappoint, and it was hard knowing we would have to say goodbye to our little cabin on the Serene Lakes. As we began departing, genuine hugs and warm wishes were shared, and plans were already beginning to circulate for when we could all get together again for a reunion. It was not surprising to any of us that a lot of people end up signing up for multiple Rogue Expedition trips. I recently wrote a blog post for Rogue Running about joining a running group and finding a family, and that theme again permeates my feelings towards this trip. The connections shared, the experiences that Rogue Expeditions cultivated for us will never be forgotten by everyone who attended. Every detail was taken care of for us, and all we had to do was show up, run, and enjoy the views. I can’t wait to sign up for my next trip, and hope my words will inspire others to do the same.

I joined a running group to make friends, and instead I found a family

(As originally posted for Rogue Running in Austin, Texas)

In August 2014, I decided to join a training group at Rogue Running in Austin, Texas. I had just gotten engaged to my now wife, whom I met on Tinder (which is a story for another time), and was coming to the realization that as I had grown in my relationship with her, I had lost some of the friendships I had previous to meeting her. Although I graduated from college about a month before moving to Austin, my first four years in the Violet Crown could be viewed more as the “party” portion of my life than the four years I spent in college in my hometown in East Texas. However, most of the friendships I had made during that time were based more around going out and drinking than on something I could consider a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. As I moved down the path towards marriage, my time spent on the bar scene lessened, and I realized I needed a way to meet people that would be a little more conducive to my new, attempting-to-be adult lifestyle.

I learned about Rogue from a friend who had successfully run her first marathon while training with one of their groups. Previous to joining, I had casually trained for and successfully run a number of 10k’s and half marathons, which I did as almost a form of justification for my indulgent lifestyle. It was also somewhat meditative for me, the solitude of pounding the trails or pavement, so I was a little hesitant about running in the August Texas heat with a bunch of strangers.  I tried to maintain a positive attitude, especially considering I had at times in my life experienced the infamous “runners high” and figured if I could catch that sense of euphoria occasionally, that surely I could meet 1 or 2 people I might be able to bond with.

What happened over the course of the next few weeks, months, and now years is a laundry list of life lessons in connecting with people. Running in a group appealed to my competitive nature in a way I had not seen coming, and also reminded me of my past growing up playing team sports including soccer and basketball. I had not imagined a sport as considerably “solo” as running could be groomed and improved thanks to having a team or group around you, taking pleasure in your progress. I also learned that misery truly loves company, and that “embracing the suck” with fellow runners allowed me to overcome mental barriers to run distances I never could have imagined on my casual solo runs of the past.  The accountability these connections provided gave me strength on those early Saturday mornings when I did not want to get out of bed to put in the work I had signed myself up for, and at the end of every one of those runs, regardless how I felt during, I always felt accomplished and grateful for the kind words received from the cheerleaders around me. 

Post-run stretches turned into hang outs, dinners, happy hours, holidays, and life events. I even took my turn at coaching a few groups occasionally as an assistant coach for a season. The bonds forged on the roads of Austin have turned into lifelong friendships and a sense of community and family I could not have imagined. As I spent the Fourth of July with over 50 runners who woke up early to run in the hills of West Austin before enjoying some amazing food and fellowship, I could not help but be grateful for the family I have come to feel a part of. As I train for the New York City Marathon this November, I know that I have the support of hundreds of runners who truly want to see me succeed, and it will be those smiles and handshakes, likes on Facebook, and good luck filled text messages that keep me going. I didn’t need an app to find friends; I just needed to go Rogue.