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The Pie Report: How To Cut Time Off Your Marathon

Last week, as I stared at the final pieces of pie waiting on their respective tins, I contemplated a pie of different sort: a chart that might explain how I ran the Philadelphia Marathon a full 33 minutes faster than I had run Boston, only six months earlier.

Here’s what I came up with and why.

How I Cut 33 Minutes Off My Marathon Time in Six Months

Inside The Legend

Don’t Wait 20 Years Before Boston in 2022, my previous marathon was New York in 2002. MAAAAYBEEE I waited a little too long.

Before 2022, my previous marathon was in 2002. I still have the singlet– and Warren.

I think waiting six months, like I did between Boston and Philly, was much better for results–irrespective of the 20 years of straight up aging and depreciation. First of all, there is a certain slow accumulation of stamina that builds up as you train at longer distance. This is not an infinite curve (you don’t keep getting faster forever) but early in the learning curve as you train, you tend to gain multiple capacities at once: grasping the fundamental logistics of how to do this, overall endurance and strength, and the numbing stupidity to keep going long distances when you are losing it. As in life, the retention of knowledge and the strength are somewhat fleeting–six months is good– whereas the stupidity can last a lifetime, so #keepGOING.

Train Differently I’m big on mixing things up. I rarely run the same route twice. But this time, I mixed things up in a more radical way– instead of following a traditional race training plan that specified how many miles to run each day, I shifted to a plan that emphasized total minutes run at a specific pace. The plan, summarized here, was provided by Olympic marathoner Jared Ward, who, coincidentally was present at the finish line to present me my medal, along with Bart Yasso (spellcheck keeps wanting to change his name to Lasso, which also seems appropriate) the man who got me into my first marathon in 1991.

I really had no idea how much I needed that coaching on varying paces to run throughout the weeks. I’ve never been a watch-watcher (when I’m not training I rarely even run with one) so I was a little leery. But by hitting different pace goals (for speed repeats, tempo runs, power repeats, and long runs, see link in caption below for details) I was brought back to the urgency of my track and field days, when time meant everything.

Click here instead.

The objective measure of time also allowed me to believe I could go much faster for longer than I realized. In fact, I ended up adopting the training pace regimen for a 4:30 marathon, which was a ridiculous reach, considering my Boston was clocked at 5:13. I would have been thrilled to just break 5 in Philadelphia– and yet, I comfortably crossed the line at 4:40, well beyond my expectations and, age-graded, the fastest marathon of my life.

Eat, Drink, and Be Salty One of my lasting memories of Boston was stumbling into the medical tent, still queasy and unable to get myself home more than 30 minutes after the race. Within 3 minutes after the nurse gave me medicine, I was as good as new. Her miracle cure? A fun-size bag of potato chips. Crunch, crunch, crazy.

My new Salt Life Visor design for Adidas.

A few days before Philly, I finally did the research on why those chips worked so well to restore my balance. Based on the research I could find, I needed to get about 500mg/hour of sodium per hour of exercise. Yet I had consumed only about one-third of that. And once I had become queasy from lack of sodium/electrolytes, I had avoided taking more — the exact opposite of what I needed to be doing.

So I grabbed my Clif gels, Clif Blocks, and SaltStik nutrition labels and calculated how I could take in 2500 mg during the race, since I wasn’t at any particular risk for overdoing it and exacerbating hypertension. I also didn’t carry a water bottle (I may have been sipping too much in Boston, at the expense of my nutrition) and instead, hit almost every water stop and most of the Gatorade tables. Bingo. I never hit the sodium wall and didn’t need the potato chip cure after the race.

Walk, Run, and Be Amby After Boston, I received a message from a long-time friend who was 15 years older than me yet finished 15 minutes ahead of me. His secret? He adopted a run/walk technique that he learned from one of his former roommates.

Have friends in fast places.

Normally, I would brush off advice like that from an old-timer– I kinda knew what I was doing. But when the long-time friend is Amby Burfoot, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon, and his former roommate is best-selling author Jeff Galloway who literally wrote the book on The Run Walk Method , you listen. I started to play with this concept during my training. It took me a while to settle in on an interval that worked for me– but once I did, it left me much fresher at the end of my long runs. This was a game changer on raceday. It makes a huge difference to plan for your walks and take them BEFORE you “need” them, rather than just start walking when you are gassed (and it’s too late to really regain your stamina.) I ended up doing this regularly (if not religiously) during the marathon. I ran the first 6 or so miles walking a few steps at the water stops. Then slipped into my favored pattern: running 10 minutes and walking 30 seconds. I think it helped my time–I ended up well ahead of almost all the runners who passed me while I was walking– and I know it helped my frame of mind. (Find Run Healthy, Run Long, Amby’s training newsletter featuring nutrition, science, and injury prevention HERE)

Look, Cheer, and Be Chatty Another unsettling Boston memory was the feeling from running alongside so many other struggling runners at the back of the pack, yet not commiserating with them for mutual support. At Philly, I tested my theory that perhaps by engaging some, I would help put myself at ease and run happier. I think it worked, too. In addition to frequently pulling up beside a runner going at my pace and starting small talk, I took advantage of the most under appreciated feature of good marathon course design: the switchback/out-and-back.

We all find inspiration differently.

Some may say it looks ugly on paper, having the course double back on itself. The other marathons I’d run (Boston and NYC) have classic designs that eschew this kind of map. But as a runner, I loved it. From 9 mile on, the mid-pack runners like me were facing faster (and later in the race, slower) runners who were on the other side of the out-and-back. I found myself not only admiring their form and resolve as they ran, but shouting out their names printed on their bibs to encourage them and boost my own spirits. It felt like stepping out of the solitary confinement of my own prolonged misery that is marathoning.

Good Beet and You Can Run To It Maybe you recognize the catchphrase of Rate-A-Record on American Bandstand, which was filmed not far from the Philadelphia marathon course at Studio B, 46th and Market, until 1964.

The Beet Goes On

But this beat is run to the root vegetable. I had come across some research that indicated beet juice could be an elixir to help endurance athletes, so I loaded up on eating beets and drinking beet juice in the days leading up to the race.

A Series of Fortunate Decisions So many little details go into raceday, it’s a bit mind-boggling for an obsessive planner like me. I felt like I didn’t have much margin for error if I wanted to run fast and happy. I think having run another marathon six months earlier gave me enough relevant experience to get alot more things right this time around. I also incorporated the Cinquino Progression, what some call the most effective tactics for optimal layering in running. I created this winter protocol from decades of cold weather running my native habitat between Buffalo’s Lake Erie and Rochester’s Lake Ontario.

It could have been worse.

A lot of other little things built up. Moves like the late addition of a running vest that stored my expanded gel collection while protecting my nipples from the biting wind, picking the right gloves, remembering the Buff balaclava that my daughter had given me last winter, running into a friend who reminded me about the compression socks I had worn in Boston and which would serve me well on this cold day in Philly, registering with the American Association for Cancer Research’s Runners for Research to give me motivation as well as a place to gather before and after the race, reliable and enthusiastic race support, having someone you love at a designated location on the course to look forward to seeing, and perhaps most of all (? see below) the trip to the thrift store for throwaway clothes to wear (and pray with) at the start.

Florida does have its charms.

Don’t Get Covid Two weeks before my Boston Marathon in April, after a (mostly) lovely trip to Florida, I tested positive for Covid-19.

I had all my shots and booster, so the effects were not life-threatening. But having a respiratory virus before I was about to run the longest distance I’d run in 20 years could not have helped.

I was even very faintly testing positive with the at-home swab the day before the race. This time around, I could have a normal taper and not have the added worry about a sore throat and my lung capacity being compromised.

Eat (PB&J), Pray, Run It’s 7:10 am Sunday, in view of the Art Museum, iconic for reasons not having to do with its collection.

Sorry, Rock. No cotton sweatpants in a marathon.

In 29 degree semi-darkness, I find myself waiting in the Orange corral before the race, with other nervously shaking (or shivering?) runners hoping to maybe break the 5-hour mark.

Just like lying awake in bed after a restless night waiting for my alarm to go off, I find these final minutes waiting for the starting gun to go off are starting to be filled with doubt, fear, anxiety, and a general what-the-fuckery that often cloud my mind and keep me from savoring and appreciating the incredible opportunities ahead of me.

Do I even belong here? Did I prepare enough? Are these shorts going to chafe? I should have eaten more of that PB&J sandwich. I have to pee. I’m going to screw up and go out too fast again. Tighten those shoelaces for the 7th time. They still seem loose. Everyone is talking about the wind on Kelly Drive. How bad is it going to be at the end? Am I really going to be able to keep it together today?

With all these emotions rage-swirling my mind, I hear a horn and see the corral in front of my group go off into the morning sun. We are beckoned to move up into position at to be next in line. I’ll be fine. Totally fine. Right?

Three minutes to go. I have already removed and tossed aside the oversized sweatpants and cotton hoodie that I had picked up at the thrift store the day before. I now slip out of the fleece overcoat that is my final layer of protection, and before I toss it, I make sure I didn’t put anything in the pockets. But wait. What’s this?

A true Hail Mary

Rosary beads??! Made in Italy!?!

While I didn’t need to carry any extra weight for 26.2 miles, but there is no way I was going to throw away found rosary beads one minute to go before the race. I may be missing mass this morning (again), but in an instant as I clutch and relive the familiar feeling as the beads fall through my fingers, I instantly feel the full embrace of the countless Sunday mornings and family time spent in and around church and Catholic school.

And a little bit of my parents stays there with me, reaching down to me in the city where my father’s immigrant parents first settled after their passage from the old country, assuring me it would be ok.

I squeeze them once more, extracting every morsel of whatever divine powers they may bring me today, then slip them into the right front pocket of my running tights.

In front of every great man, there is a great woman. In this case, they are both my parents.

I no longer worry about the wind on Kelly Drive. I know it will be at my back.

50,000 Footsteps on the Streets of Philadelphia (and not one on the Rocky Steps)

My Garmin watch tells me I landed more than 50,000 steps on Sunday, November 20, 2022. That’s how my wearable tech will remember the day into digital eternity.

Here’s how I will:

Signs Are Good

Sorry to blow our elaborate cover, but Philly sports fans have been playing the national media for years. I know because I am one, of the Sixers and Phillies, at least. We laugh behind our backs at the idiotic stereotypes of us being more abusive and rude than other fan bases.

Santa is Cool
We don’t boo Santa Claus — there was even one running in the race on Sunday, to what I understand was thunderous applause. (FYI> We do boo and throw snowballs at drunken fools who stagger onto the playing field in costume and make a mockery of the beloved Kringle.)

We cheer any athlete who gives maximum effort — as was on display Sunday, when 14,000 runners were cheered relentlessly by perfect strangers who lined nearly the entire route. Many of us were plodding along at a pace that was not particularly cheerworthy, yet I swear I heard people yelling their support just as loudly as I have at Citizens Bank Park. And this after standing in below-freezing temperatures FOR HOURS.

And the signs! They were the best. In addition to the old favorites like “Run If You Think I’m Hot,” an assortment of fart/pooping your pants gags, “Tap Here for Power,” “If it were easy, I’d be doing it,” “All This for a Free Banana?,” and “Worst Parade Ever,” a few memorable ones stood out:

You are running better than Twitter

Hal Higdon Lied (if you know, you know)

YOU = AWESOME (on a board about the size of a lunchbox, held diligently by a tiny little girl, maybe 3 years old)

And my personal (least) favorite:

Because of Inflation, You Have to Run 28.6

I remain baffled as to why so many people were there, cheering so loudly, remaining for so long, while knowing so few people (if any) actually running the race.

I am left to make only one controversial explanation: Philly fans are the best. Fight me.

Brushes With Greatness
Boston Billy brought the plaque he was awarded in 1974 for winning the old Philadelphia Marathon.

I’m either lucky, #blessed, or have a little Forrest Gump in me, because I found myself meeting and talking with both Bill Rodgers and Jared Ward. Rodgers takes his place on the Mount Rushmore of American marathoners with four Boston wins and four NYC Marathon wins.

Bill Rodgers even autographed my bib. “Let’s Run– Forever!” I appreciate the sentiment, but that might be a liiiiiiiiiiitle too long for me.

Ward, a 2020 Olympic marathoner, designed the training plan I used to train with over the past 4 months and was at the finish line to present my medal.

Actually, now that I think about it, there’s a fourth possibility for my good fortune: In 1989, I happened to go to work at the company that published Runners World. There, among the running dignitaries like 1968 Boston Marathon winner Amby Burfoot, I met Bart Yasso, an editor and itinerant golfer, who befriended me and got me into the 1991 New York Marathon, my first. Bart introduced me to Rodgers and Ward this weekend as he continues to live the dream as The Mayor of Running and avoid ever working a day in his life.

A personal Philadelphia sports thrill for me was being able to flash Allen Iverson’s signature “Let Me Hear You” hand to the ear gesture to the crowd. I’ve done it at other races when I really want to egg them on to cheer for us as we go by, but this was especially meaningful, since I had witnessed AI do it so many times on the court in South Philly.

At several junctions of the race I flashed my best “I Can’t Hear You” signal. I have to believe at least one person there got the reference– and that’s a close enough (existential) brush with greatness for me.

The people I DID NOT want to brush upon were my usual nemeses — the novelty runners. As a spectator, they are amusing. As a fellow runner, they not only annoy the goo out of me, they hold the unique danger of being in your general proximity when you come upon the race photographer. That could mean you are forever enshrined as the guy just behind the Big Bird, or running side-by-side with a Hot Dog.

I am officially a faster marathoner than The Batman.

This Sunday, my villain was a superhero. All I heard for a couple miles as we came upon waves of spectators was “HEY BATMAN!” and “Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-nah – Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-nah BAT. MAAAAN!” (And then I had to sit here and sing the theme song and count out the “na na na’s” for this post. Ugh.) Happy to say that I eventually broke free of The Batman on Walnut St, passed the Teletubby at about mile 10, scoffed at the guy juggling as he went by in the slow lane of a switchback, and ran down and blew right past The Guy In the Full Suit and Tie with about 2 miles to go in the race. Fingers crossed that I don’t appear in any photos with them.

Leaving It All Out There

One of the mental pictures I’ll take with me was on Kelly Drive on the way in to the finish. After traipsing out to Manayunk for several miles into the wind and uphill, the final 4.5 miles come back the same way, but this time slightly downhill and with the crosswind mostly at your back. By then, I was pretty sure I was going to make it without the kind of crash I experienced on the hills of Boston at about the same point in the race.

And, perhaps unlike the hundreds and hundreds of my fellow runners who now looked like they had gone out too fast earlier in the race, I was feeling as strong as I did all day and started passing them bunch-by-bunch like grapes at a vineyard.

At one point, the road kind of opened up, such that there wasn’t anyone in front of me in my immediate vicinity, and there the wind starting swirling low to ground. The dried leaves that lined the route along the Schuylkill River were now in full dance. Nature’s crunchy litter being whipped around and foaming sweetly like a wintry cappuccino, a spiral that promised to draw me in and transport me up, up, and away into my own Super powers. I ran through the whirlpool like a rock star coming onto the stage through the fog machine, dead set on finishing the race at my fastest pace of the day.

When I looked back up again from the leaf fog, I was surprised to see the 4:45 pacing group that I had tried to keep up with for half the race, but whom had disappeared out of view as I slowed down my pace as the miles had mounted. But here they were. As I finally caught them, I was content to sit in behind them, knowing I could make it in 4:45 if I could keep up with them the rest of the way, only a few miles to go.

That contentment lasted about 12 seconds, as I realized they were going too slowly for me now. I had graduated to a faster pace and was past them before I could even decide if I should slow down. Instead, I chose to ignore my watch, not worry about hitting any specific time, and just let it go. Enjoy going full speed and at full strength, without feeling the need to force myself into utter exhaustion.

Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive.
Look, up at the finish line, it’s NOT Batman.

To trust my training. To trust my body. To trust divine timing. To run free. To finish strong. And let the numbers, like those swirling leaves which will transform into the spring’s new soil, fall where they may.

When I heard Bart shout my name after I had punched across the finish line later, I didn’t even realize it but I had cut 33 mins off my Boston Marathon time from 6 months earlier. And, according to the age-graded charts that compare a runner’s time to where they are relative to others of their age cohort, had run the fastest marathon of my life.

The Cure for THOSE Moments

We all have THOSE moments.

And when you are training for the Boston Marathon like I am (please CLICK HERE to support my fundraising for Boston Children’s Hospital), THOSE moments happen constantly.

But all of us, throughout our days, face THOSE moments: the infinitesimal nanoseconds of adversity and apathy when we find ourselves choosing from one of the Big G’s.

1) Give in

2) Give up

3) Give effort

That’s alot of G’s to keep track of, but I’m adding one more even bigger G that makes the decision easier: Gratitude.

When I move into a Gratitude mindset, I immediately sense my shift from feelings of obligation (I should…) to joy (I get to…). I move from making excuses why I can’t (Meh, but….) to reasons why I can (Yes, because …). In gratitude, I see the decision and its corresponding call to action with a refreshing and appropriate perspective– not too myopic, not too vague.

Gratitude has been shown to make us happier, reduce depression, increase self-esteem, improve relationships of all kinds, breed optimism, reduce impatience, improve decision-making, make work more meaningful, reduce turnover of employees, improve sleep, reduce blood pressure, help recovery from illness and spur exercise,

Keep in mind, even for a runner, the “right” decision isn’t always to Give effort. Sometimes, it’s important to Give in to what you are feeling and pause. Sometimes, it’s critical for your well-being to Give up a certain goal, or a certain relationship, or a fixed mindset.

We don’t only get stronger by pushing harder. We also grow by knowing when to rest and recover. Gratitude helps. When we consciously appreciate what we have and understand how we’ve gotten here, feelings of clarity and resolve can guide us throughout it all.

Maybe Gratitude comes naturally to you. Maybe you wake up with a smile on your face and joy in your heart, grateful for another day to live a beautiful and loving life.

Me? Not very often. I usually wake up with quick metal recap of things that went wrong, things unresolved and eating at me, and things I have to do in order to feel better. More focused on what I don’t have than on what I do have. More focused on what to do than how to be.

Don’t wait until Thanksgiving to be thankful.

So I had to earn a Certificate in Positive Psychology from Wholebeing Institute at Kripalu to fully grasp the human potential of Gratitude, the Biggest G of all.

Let me be clear: Gratitude matters.

Let me be more clear: Gratitude is (almost) everything.

It’s incontrovertibly the most powerful remedy for human happiness. Time and time again, in countless experiments and social observations, the heartfelt expression of gratitude is shown to be the most immediate and lasting method of happily sustaining a meaningful, pleasurable, and thriving life.

And yes, like the Italian delicacy of wild foraged cardoon, it’s free when you know where to look for it. (Hint: find a mirror.)

For Gratitude isn’t something to do exactly. Gratitude is how to be.

This article from Psychology Today is the best piece I’ve ever seen to summarize key research studies and 28 Benefits of Gratitude. You can also download a free report on 3 Gratitude Practices from a link in the story.

In my next post, I’ll share how I move into gratitude during my long runs with my Gratitude is Every Stride Mantra.

Please CLICK HERE to check the progress of my fundraising or to contribute to my fundraising goal of $10,000 for Boston Children’s Hospital.

Only FIVE MORE MONDAYS before Marathon Monday! Every dollar matters for this great cause! Please help me meet my goal!

Louie’s Cooking With Love March Madness Edition: Cardoon v. Fava Beans

This month I’m marking the 101st birthday of Louie, my dad, by publishing legendary recipes that feature two of springtime’s premier delicacies. These Cooking With Love recipes (along with all the others that have been revealed so far) can be found here.

Take a look and let me know what you like best, foraged wild cardoon or homegrown fava beans, the first crop planted in the spring garden?

This is a classic match-up: wild v. domesticated, found v. cultivated, weed v. legume, stringy v. furry (see below). About the only thing they have in common is the Romano cheese that accompanies them both so well on your plate.

There’s gotta be some cardoon in there somewhere.

My Winner: Cardoon

I love them both but have to give a slight nod to the cardoon. The burdock plant, often found on the border of fields, is best picked when it is young (but not too young) when the stalk is about the width of your ring finger. In our family, it has a mystique all its own, because of the very miracle of finding it– for FREE!– in the secret locations that were scoped out in advance and discussed only in hushed tones among family.

Cardoon brought us together like nothing else could because it involved all three wings of the family– the hunter/gatherer (my dad), the sous chefs (the kids), and the cook (my mom until she got fed up with the feeding frenzy that ensued, and would let my dad cook ’em with love).

As you’ll see from the recipe, the real time-consuming work isn’t so much finding them and cutting them down, it is in the peeling of the stringy, fibrous plant. And the cooking takes a little longer than you might imagine because if you rush the flour and egg dipping, you end up with “globs of gardooni” — and that’s as bad as it sounds.

So keep in mind, cardoon are a laborious team effort to prepare. In our house, they were treated with the ultimate respect. Meaning they were eaten with our fingers while standing up, still warm from the pan, as they were being cooked, as soon as they hit the serving tray lined with paper towel.

Sadly, my parents never once dressed up my brother Mike as a fava bean.

Fava Beans

The fava beans have a much different arc to their story. They are planted in the garden in early spring. Here in Pennsylvania (Zone 7), around March 1. Growing up in western New York (Zone 6) a week or two later, definitely by St. Joseph’s Day (March 19). I planted mine last week.

They hold a special place in my heart because, when my daughter Eve was 2 1/2, in the last year we could select a Halloween costume without her input, we dressed her in a fava bean costume for trick or treating. The outfit’s primary feature was a furry vest, like the luxuriously soft inside of the pod. It was a big hit for the handful of people who actually got it. Not to mention, a sensibly warm ensemble for a cold northeast evening of going door-to-door foraging for candy. Eve has largely forgiven us for the transgression (I hope). Since it was before iPhoto, I don’t have the images at my fingertips to insert into the article quite yet.

I hope you enjoy all of Louie’s favorite recipes. My goal is to put up some more seasonal favorites during the year, so please be sure to COMMENT, LIKE, SUBSCRIBE, and SHARE the page to get them all.

And who knows, maybe I’ll find the photos of that fava bean costume!

Valentine’s Day Leftovers: Ingredients for Love

“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.” 

—Ursula K. Le Guin 

Those were the words on the last slide of the last presentation of the Embodied Positive Psychology Summit I attended a few years ago at Kripalu in Lenox, MA. I didn’t know who Le Guin was and, to be honest, by that point in the week, I figured I’d learned enough that I didn’t need to write down what seemed like nothing more than a trite quote. 

I filed those notes away and carried on. After surviving another St. Valentine’s Day (historically, a holiday of particularly horrific romantic blunders on my part), it seems like a good time to forage my emotional refrigerator for leftovers and revisit that quote– and thoughts from other speakers at that conference that I found in my notes– to see if there are some new ways to get bread from that stone.

Relationships are NOT Hard Work

We all know relationships can be confounding and that love can’t be taken for granted. Personally, I learned that stuff through my own, er, research. Which is to say, I found out the hard way through relationships that had ended in disarray– either from neglect (too little effort) or despite intense and well-intentioned attempts at repair (too much).

The notion that a relationship that is hard work has always seemed to me to be a losing proposition. I want to put in the effort and attention– but if it’s really “work,” it sounds mandatory. and, frankly, awful.

I prefer play.

So how can we acknowledging that love takes some effort, but what kind of effort? And how can we approach the work of relationships so it feels more like play and less like work?

I have had relationships that have worked well—effortlessly, actually. Relationships that didn’t seem like work at all—until they had a great fall. And then, all the work and all the king’s horses couldn’t put them back together again. 

So what kind of effort was Le Guin talking about? What is this remaking and reconstituting the “bread of our love”? This artisan loaf of passion that can give us the sustenance of enduring love?

I looked over other notes from that session and given it some more thought. Which secret ingredients could be in this elusive delicacy?

Here’s my first attempt at putting them together into a recipe that I would like to cook up in my own relationships. Please feel free to try this at home and let me know how it tastes for you.

Try This At Home


1 growth heartset

Into this, mix generous amounts of intentional acts that: 

Express our strengths
Spot strengths in others

Sprinkle with micro-moments of positivity resonance.

Bake for as long as you can, stirring often.

Growth Heartset

The growth heartset is the ever-expanding bowl into which we knead all our other ingredients for love.

With a nod to the pioneering work of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset, Megan McDonough of Wholebeing Institute coined this phrase to help us to move toward the attitude that we can increase our capacity to love. As we act in awareness of this capacity to expand, we can see love as a force that can keep pace with our lives. There are complexities of life that can otherwise deaden the love that we notice ourselves feeling—and, if we don’t work to expand our love, we can shrink toward those limits.

Put on Your Loving Eyes to See and Acknowledge the Strengths of Others

Character Strengths: Expressing and Spotting

The two main ingredients that we mix into this growth heartset are intentional actions that complement each other perfectly: Expressing our strengths while spotting strengths in others. 

Neil Mayerson, chairman/founder of the VIA Institute on Character, illuminates the fallacy of what he calls “scorecard love”—when we offer only as much love as we feel is being returned to us. That kind of relationship can’t break free and expand. It’s made small and petty through calculation and reciprocity. This limits how and when we can express our love—and our selves. Neal pointed out that research into the role of character strengths is clear: When we express our strengths, we witness an increase in health, positive relationships, and flourishing. 

So where Megan assures us of our ability to grow, Neil gives us a way to do that: by expressing our strengths.

The complement to this comes from the work of Todd Kashdan, director of the Well-Being Laboratory at George Mason University, who unveiled his first presentation on a multi-year research project into the role that characters strengths play in love relationships. His findings show that a central driver of relationship satisfaction is expressive appreciation for our partner’s strengths. How often and well you express this heartfelt appreciation actually shapes our partner toward their strengths—and fosters togetherness. Likewise, the more you choose to perceive and focus on the costs of your partner’s strengths (which I think is a nice way of saying “reminding them about all the crap that bugs you”), the more the relationship erodes and lessens the sense of belonging. 

So while Neal is calling us to express our strengths, Todd is showing us the importance of recognizing the strengths of our partners, even in situations that may be otherwise frustrating to us. 

To know and be known. This should sound familiar to CiPPsters and anyone who’s studied with Tal Ben-Shahar, as it is one of the fundamental tenets of his approach to his teaching and his life. 

Rise with Positivity

The yeast for this recipe comes from Barbara Fredrickson, principal investigator for the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her presentation on micro-moments of positivity resonance (which contained the slide with Le Guin’s quote) summarized work that shows how love truly is the supreme positive emotion—the one that has the most influence in broadening and building waves of positivity that shape us, in tiny bursts of positive emotions.

With a foundation of safety and connection, these micro-moments appear among couples in the form of shared (although not necessarily mirrored) positive emotions, bio-behavioral synchronicity (that ripples back and forth between partners), and mutual care and concern. That broadened foundation allows us to build embodied rapport (“We clicked!”), social bonds, and commitment.

Cook ’em Up With Love (not to be confused with Louie’s Cooking With Love)

So that may be the recipe that I, and perhaps you, have been looking for—express our strengths, see and appreciate the strengths in our partners, tune in to the micro-moments of positivity that resonate between us.

When we can be aware of these ingredients for love, we are ready to fold this dough into the bread of love that can expand to sustain us throughout our lives. Which leaves just the baking—whether it be the burning fires of romantic love or the gentle warmth of the other kinds of love that give our lives meaning. 

So turn up the heat. And bon appétit!


To mark the 100th anniversary of my father’s birth on March 3, 1921, Taking Mulligans is establishing a special section dedicated to some of his favorite recipes, called Louie’s Cooking With Love.

Louie, as he was known to all, was an avid gardener and forager who took great delight in bringing his harvest into the kitchen. My mom Rita, who spent several years of her youth helping to run operations at the Eagle Hotel in town, was a marvel at cooking to feed. She kept us all happy with her homemade dishes, even though she claimed she actually liked doing laundry more than cooking. My dad, on the other hand, enjoyed the creativity and traditions of cooking. Mom cooked the meals, he cooked the delicacies like cardoon, puff balls, fried dough, and stuffed calamari. As Rita would often say, “I cooked to feed, but Louie. He cooked with love.”

That became the name of a spiral-bound notebook of handwritten notes and recipes put together to pass along his recipes. With these foods come the love of family that my parents both shared with gusto. Now these homemade recipes can be yours too right here in Louie’s Cooking With Love. (Thank you to Mark and Maria for all your care and work on that treasured keepsake, and to my siblings Mike, Anthony, and Liz for photos.)

To commemorate his 100th birthday, try one of these favorites. And come back for more. I’ll be adding more recipes as time goes on, so subscribe to the blog or follow Taking Mulligans Facebook page to see the full collection.

Buon Compleanno, Luigi!

Global Running Day = Global Gratitude Day

I have no idea who started Global Running Day or whey they did it.  Doesn’t really matter at this point, because I’ve found a better use for it.

I know it’s better, because I’m using the day to express my gratitude to people who, in ways large and small, have contributed to my running life.

I believe that’s the best possible way to spend the day.   That’s because I know from studying the science of happiness that the heartfelt expression of gratitude is the single most impactful practice we can perform to grow our own happiness.

Sure, go ahead and run. I’m going to do that as well.  But it’s not enough. We can do that any day of the year. Today, join me in Global Running Day to reach out individually to people who have made running a better part of your life.

Gratitude from the Past: Thank you to my coaches and fellow runners at Notre Dame High School in Batavia, NY. And for still being able to (kinda) fit into my cross country jersey.


For me, it’s a wide ranging list, from those I run with regularly: the two knuckleheads I run with regularly during the week at lunchtime and the ultramarathoner who I idolize and who I can occasionally catch up with on some of her shorter runs.

To the folks I run with every once in a while:  the Saturday morning group, the Sunday morning group, the trail runner / golfing buddy with the infectious laugh, the rogue group of trail runners who summit a local mountain with evening runs that end at the bar, the author and friend who swears he absolutely loved my running memoir, the guys I run a marathon relay with once a year, and my grad school buddy who assures me we are going to run Boston someday.

To those I can only run with vicariously: the yoga teacher/health coach/writer who whose tiny little instagram posts of her Washington DC runs always make me wish I was running next to her and the physician neighbor who joins me in vowing we will get out together one of these days.

These are just a few of the folks who are primary in my running life today, which means they are but the tip of the iceberg of people in my past who have helped make running a lifelong pursuit.

IMG_1551Who can you think of, past or present day, that has helped you?  I encourage you to make Global Running Day the excuse to reach out and thank them for making running a part of your life.  Let them know.




AWAKEN: Don’t Let It Go, Let It Be—The Wisdom of Difficult Emotions

The greatest gift of our emotions is the awakening they provide us. When we can stay with our emotions, even our most difficult ones, they become stepping stones to being fully alive in our humanity.

In the third and final step of renowned Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön’s “Three Steps to Courage: Working Compassionately with Difficult Emotions,” I share with you my understanding of the teaching she provided to hundreds of students gathered earlier this year in Vermont at Pema Osel Do Ngak Choling, the East Coast study and practice center for the Mangala Shri Bhuti sangha.

In this post, we’ll look at:

Step Three: AWAKEN through being in direct experience of those emotions, which hold the wisdom of our shared humanity.

This is often taught as “letting go.” During some of the most troubling times in my life, using the idea of letting go of my emotions provided great relief.

I would imagine the feelings coming in through the front door of a house, and then breezing through the house. I would focus on opening the back door of the house and having the troubling emotions just whip themselves right out, leaving me calmly in peace.

I think Ani (Sister) Pema, as she’s known to her students, might say “Not so fast!” to that strategy.

She prefers to think of this stage not of letting go, but “letting be,” which immediately struck me as a more powerful way to approach this task.

To me, it’s not “letting go,” because by no means are we casting away our emotions. We are instead being kind to them, learning from them, turning them over in our bodies and minds in order to find the aspects of them that can inspire us to be the people we want to be. As we let our emotions be, they become our teachers, not our prison guards.

In other words, when we let them be, they let us go.

Think about it this way. What if I told you to let go of, or “get over,” all the positive emotions you feel in life? What if I tried to convince you that, to be happy, you must stop feeling love, compassion, understanding, ecstasy, and joy? I hope you’d think I was crazy! Those emotions are the good stuff—the parts of our life that we cherish the most. We feel them when we are at our best.

Pema Chödrön teaches us that the other emotions, the difficult ones, are also the good stuff when we understand them for what they are—seeds of wisdom nestled in the challenges of the human condition.

There is no more benefit from transcending our “negative” emotions than there would be from transcending our “positive” emotions. In these emotions, we find our humanity—and each other’s.

In terms of positive psychology, I would say the difference is in how we feel and cultivate the multitude of emotions we let be. While we benefit from feeling our loneliness, jealousy, anger, and other seemingly toxic emotions, we don’t necessarily benefit from cultivating those emotions or reaching deeply into them such that they crowd out the heartfelt positive emotions.

Instead, we acknowledge the difficult emotions and compassionately reflect on the circumstances and patterns that keep reintroducing these emotions into our life. In that way, we can transform those emotions into wisdom, while moving away from the storylines that keep bringing these emotions into our lives.

Ani Pema shared another way to think about this awakening to our difficult emotions.

When we try to stop feeling our emotions, it’s like we flash-freeze them. We bind them up and try to keep them from affecting the rest of our lives.

“But where will we find our water?” she asks. “Where will we find refreshment? Where we will find life itself? In the ice cube.”

When we thirst for wisdom, we don’t throw out the ice cube. We sit with it, we warm it, we melt the habitualness that hardens our perspectives and perpetuates our suffering. It may feel cold, but it is useful to stay with our “ice cube–ness” in order to understand the flow of water—our wisdom—within us.

Here’s an ice cube visualization that may help you in meditations that center around melting the ice within you.

Strong emotions can awaken the tenderness of our hearts and unite us with all others who are suffering. When we grow our feelings of love for our own unique set of emotions and “Me-ness,” we move along the path toward feeling love and compassion for others, even those we are in conflict with—toward a “We-ness.”

This also gives us access to the humanity of others. Or, as Ani Pema put it, “I use the frustration of feeling that emotion to know the experience of everyone who has felt this emotion.”

This viral video from Denmark, titled “All That We Share,” vividly and memorably makes this point. We have much more in common with others than we realize.

Keep in mind that our emotions are among the most ecstatic and significant beauties of being human. They drive our life energy, they fuel our creativity, they form our love and empathy. One can say that all the wisdom that we seek is found in our emotions. There lies our happiness.

To the degree that we can truly feel not only positive but also difficult emotions, and be patient with them, that’s the degree to which we can understand others. In this way, we stand in our own shoes and know that this is all a part of us, and we can now walk in the shoes of others who share our human condition. This gives us permission to explore our interdependence with others.

In other words, you are not isolated by your emotions. In fact, our emotions are EXACTLY what connect us to each other.

TRANSFORM: Mind-Blowing Meditations That Help Us Be With Difficult Emotions

What emotions are most difficult for you? According to Pema Chödrön, it is in those emotions that we find the seeds of wisdom we most need in our lives.

Earlier this year, I attended a retreat with her entitled “Three Steps to Courage: Working Compassionately with Difficult Emotions.” I’m taking a few posts to explain what I learned in hopes that you can apply some of these lessons in your life and with your positive psychology clients.

In this post, we’ll look at

Step Two: TRANSFORM the emotions without judging them.

What do we do as we sit with the difficult emotions? The work is to recognize their inherent wisdom and explore their contours.

For example, consider the emotions that surround spending time by yourself.

Do you experience that as loneliness or as aloneness? Loneliness brings up feelings of sadness, maybe regret, isolation. Whereas aloneness can be a valuable, peaceful state, giving you the space to be yourself while still feeling connected to life and the living. The difference between the two might merely be the storyline that you’ve bought into about spending time alone—and whether you dive into that storyline or refrain from reacting to it.

When we refrain, we hit the pause button, interrupting the storylines that urge us to escape from the difficult emotion. In step two, we move on to transforming—kind of like hitting the slow-mo button. We connect with the emotion and examine it with tenderness.

Feel it. Accept it. This frees us from reactivity and makes our emotions more accessible to us. We’re not going to dwell inside the depth of the feeling, but we do need to acknowledge it to relieve our fear of it.

Going back to our example, when feelings of loneliness arise, we first catch the “hook” of the emotion by acknowledging the feeling. Then we interrupt the storyline of that emotion and refrain from acting to escape from—or go too deeply into—that emotion.

Instead, we stay with the emotion and increase the spaciousness around it, so we come to a cooler, more detached acceptance of it—rather than picking a fight with it. We safely acknowledge feeling lonely, then wrap that feeling in a blanket made of other aspects of our life where we feel connected, even when alone.

It can be frustrating to have difficult emotions come up time and time again, derailing us from more pleasant thoughts or activities. Yet that time spent simply being with the difficult feelings is necessary in order to gain access to the wisdom of that emotion.

Here are three ways to start extracting that wisdom in ways that blow away our preconceived notions of how we identify with our emotions.

1. Shift a nebulous feeling to a more physical, tangible, sensory one.

This can be done with a little game that Pema described, which could be called “Qualities.” Take the feeling and start to describe it using questions like:

If this feeling were a color, what color would it be?

If this feeling were a temperature, what temperature would it be?

If this feeling were music, what kind of music would it be?

Continue with other qualities, like sound, touch, a piece of art, a genre of movie, a pair of shoes, a famous person, food, etc. Don’t worry about being so precise about the description—just name what comes to mind when you start to hold it in these ways.

2. Shrink the difficult emotion by seeing it as something tiny that’s being consumed by an ever-expanding perspective.

This way, you’re not fighting to eliminate the emotion—you’re just understanding it as a small piece of a larger sense of your self and your place in the world. You can think of that difficult emotion as

A tiny drop of water being consumed by the oceans of the world

A single bead of sand losing itself in the beaches and deserts of our planet, among all the planets

A tiny speck of light disappearing among the stars of the galaxy, among all galaxies.

In this way, you blow away the notion that this emotion defines your identity—it is merely one of emotions you can safely experience in a rich and diverse life.

This is now my favorite meditation when difficult emotions arise. For me, it’s helpful to visualize how miniscule that emotion is within me, much like this video simulates the mind-blowing scale of our physical world and our place within it.

3. Work with the emotion through a guided Tonglen meditation—the lovingkindness meditations for which Pema Chödrön is well known.

Through these meditations, we expand our perspectives from ourselves to all beings, and with this expansion, we wish for happiness and love to come not only to us, but also to all.

Here’s a short excerpt from one of her guided Tonglen meditations.

Trying to repress a “bad” feeling doesn’t work, because that feeling gets so much attention that it ends up governing the rest of our emotions. It’s like trying to keep the emotion in a cage, where it rattles around and reminds us of its desire to break free and threaten us. Every day, we have to vigilantly check it to make sure the lock is in place and the cage is secure.

That emotion, as harmful as it may be to us, has a place in our lives—but it’s not healthy to have it stalking our minds day and night. It’s more useful to let that emotion roam wild on a wide and expansive terrain, where it can live on its own but not threaten and constantly bother us where we live.

When it is set free, there’s no need to kill that emotion or flee from it, for it is no longer an imminent threat to us. It’s a small animal roaming far and wide across the entire continent.

Next week, in my final post about the retreat, I’ll share with you my understanding of how refraining and reframing culminates in unlocking the wisdom of our emotions. That’s Step Three: AWAKEN through being in direct experience of those emotions, which hold the wisdom of our shared humanity.

Now we begin.