January 16, 1998, is a significant date in my personal history. That date marks a dramatic change in the trajectory of my life story.

Prior to that date, I was on course for disaster. I liked to imagine that the disaster looming on the horizon would be dramatic and sensational, but in reality it was more likely to be simply mediocre and sad.

But I went in a different direction.

Since that time, I recommitted to living life without the use of drugs, and all sorts of new possibilities have arisen. As I look back at the twenty-year journey, it’s convenient to think about it in terms of five-year segments.

In the first five years, I finished high school, left my small hometown of ~5,000 people, and began my post-secondary studies at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. I studied English for Secondary Education, imagining myself becoming a high-school English teacher and having summers off to write. But I found it difficult to be a “normal” college student, and I convinced myself that I needed to live off campus, have a car to drive, and so on. Soon, the life expenses I had outside of school became such a priority to me that I was working more than attending class. I eventually realized, with the help of some guidance from an experienced friend, that it would be wise to leave the expensive private educational institution and consider a more affordable public institution. I moved closer to home–to Champaign, Urbana–and spent a little time repaying some debts that had accumulated during my time in Peoria. I began taking classes at the local community college in order to have enough credits to transfer to the university. I began work at Espresso Royale, which played a pretty significant role in my life over the years to follow.

Shortly after I reached 5 years clean, I transferred to the University of Illinois. I continued in my pattern of working too much to be as successful as possible at school, which meant I spent more time and money at the U of I than I needed to, and my GPA also suffered. But I completed my bachelor’s degree in 2006. I had been involved in service to the organization that helped me remain drug-free, and I learned of a job opening within the organization that was perfectly matched to my skills and experience. I left my coffee-shop job of half a decade and left the Midwest, arriving in Southern California with about 8 years clean and a long-distance relationship with a woman in Illinois. Once I got my feet under me at the new job, I paid off my car, bought a motorcycle, and enrolled in a Master’s program in English at Cal State Northridge (CSUN).

I spent my 10-year anniversary in the hospital. I had crashed the motorcycle: I broke my left wrist, fractured my right elbow, cracked a rib and had a laceration on my liver, and had a few stitches around my right eye. Prior to that date, I’d never broken a bone or had a stitch. I guess I was making up for lost time! It took a few months to fully recover from that accident, as my brain had gone a little soft for a while there. The symptoms of that were pretty scary to those around me, but I thought they were just being dramatic. When I viewed video evidence later–which I still have a hard time viewing–I realized they were right to be worried! I ended up getting back to work and back to my classes at CSUN, and a couple years later I had a Master’s degree, a long-distance marriage, and a divorce under my belt. The belt was also a larger one, as most of the reading and writing I did in support of my master’s degree took place at Denny’s. (For real.) I weighed nearly 250 pounds when I crossed the stage to collect my master’s degree.

Mom came to California to see me walk in my graduation ceremony–she had been losing weight and said it had something to do with cat-scratch fever she got from one of the strays living in her garage or basement. Six months later, we learned that it wasn’t cat-scratch fever. Mom had stage 3 breast cancer. The prognosis was supposed to be reasonably good, but Mom kept acting like her own nurse and ended up with an infection. I had the privilege of bringing my nephews home to Illinois to visit for Christmas that year. She was always happiest when she was spending time with her grandkids. We flew back to California on January 1st, and Mom’s infection ended up spreading to her blood later that week. She passed away on January 7th, 2012.

By the time I reached 15 years clean, I had recently finished working with my brothers and sisters to get the home we grew up in prepared to be sold. Between the sale of the house and a modest life insurance policy, we each got a small inheritance from Mom’s passing. Knowing my own spending habits, I knew that it would be easy to nickel-and-dime that money away very quickly if I didn’t do something smarter with it right away, and so I became a first-time homeowner in 2013 when I bought a condo in Canoga Park, California.

After Mom’s passing, I had also renewed past efforts to get fit, and so I had joined a marathon training group. (I wasn’t sure whether I really intended to run a marathon… I was just tired of stalling out in doing the “Couch to 5k” training on my own.) Around the time I bought the condo, I also completed my first marathon, and then first half marathon, and then second marathon, and then … and then… and then. I also started teaching part-time at the local community college to supplement my earnings from the nonprofit. In the following few years, I served on the board of directors for the running club that made marathons possible for me–the L.A. Leggers. I served as a pace group mentor, as the newsletter editor, and as the club president. I am deeply grateful for the gifts they gave me–and they keep on giving. With some nudging from a fellow Legger who served as a mentor with me, I signed up for an Ironman in 2014. As I had done with the marathon, I signed up first, and I worried about getting ready next. In Cozumel, Mexico, on Thanksgiving weekend 2014, I swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles, and ran (and walked) 26.2 miles to collect an Ironman finisher’s medal after 15 hours and 44 minutes of exertion.

By the time I finished my second Ironman in October 2015, I had gone on several dates with an incredibly fascinating woman named Aisha. We took a weekend trip together to Rosarito, Mexico, in early November. As with the marathon and Ironman, I decided to sign up first and worry about getting ready next. We became parents of the most amazing human being I have ever met, Eugene Robert Corning, on August 3rd, 2016.

As fate would have it, I was offered a full-time, tenure-track teaching position at the community college starting the same month Gene was born. After ten years of wonderful, difficult, joyous, challenging, uplifting, and heartbreaking years of work with the nonprofit, I said my good-byes and switched over to full-time teaching.

Gene was just a few months old when my dad called from Illinois to tell me he had been diagnosed with leukemia. Within a few weeks, we were in Illinois for Thanksgiving, and Gene got to meet his Grandpa Corning in the oncology unit at the same hospital where I’d been born. After a few months of intense treatment, Dad appeared to be free of the cancer cells. Then, in May, he called again and said they’d been mistaken. I don’t know whether Dad was optimistic or in denial, but each time I talked to him, it sounded like he had plenty of time to work with. Then, in July 2017, my Aunt Vicki–Dad’s sister–called and told me to come home. Aisha, Gene, and I were able to get home by the next morning, adn I spent the majority of the next several days at the side of Dad’s hospital bed, letting him know that it was okay for him to go. In the early afternoon on the 4th of July, I held my hand on his chest as he took his final breath. My family, once again, was an incredible source of support and strength as we proceeded to bury him and say our good-byes.

Because education seems to factor so much into the thread of the narrative of this 20-year journey, it only makes sense that I enrolled in a doctoral program at CSUN in the fall of 2017. As of the time that I reached the 20-year mark of abstinence from drugs (including alcohol), I am one semester into a 3-year educational doctorate (Ed.D.) program. Just like with the marathon and ironman, and now parenthood, so long as I stay above ground and keep moving forward, everything’s going to be okay.

I didn’t really mean to write this much. And when I stopped using drugs, I really couldn’t imagine being blessed with this much. As a teenager, I was burning every bridge I could find and slamming shut all the doors of opportunity. I had no idea how privileged or fortunate I was, until I stopped shutting out the privilege and fortune. Since getting clean, life has been incredibly good to me. As I continue on to the next 5-year, 10-year, 20-year period of living and enjoying life without the use of drugs, my goal is to continue looking for ways to carry that goodness forward to help others. For all of you who have been a part of this journey, Thank You. For those of you who are not yet part of my journey, how can I help?

A Lot Can Happen in Two Years

It’s been just over two years since I posted here, and quite a bit has taken place in my life since then. Around the time of that last blog post, I had recently completed my first Ironman in Cozumel, Mexico. In the year that followed, I completed a term as president of the L.A.Leggers, I made significant progress on a book project for the organization I was working for, and I trained for and completed a second Ironman event (this time in Louisville, Kentucky).

Right around the time I did that second Ironman, I had recently started spending time with an awesome woman, Aisha. She called and left me a voicemail the night before the Ironman, and out on the course, whenever my willingness waned, I simply thought of her voice on that message.

A couple months later, we were on the road to becoming parents together. My book project was finished, I was in the process of applying for a full-time teaching gig, and we were trying to figure out how long we would be able to make her one-bedroom condo work for the two of us and the baby on the way. That was December of last year.

Fast forward another year. Baby Eugene is almost 19 weeks old and passed the 19 lb mark sometime last week. Aisha and I have been married since April. I’ve got one semester under my belt as a full-time, tenure-track English professor, and we’ve been living in a 3 bedroom 1 bathroom house in Reseda since early November. A reality tv personality is headed to the white house. I’m running 2-3 times a week, sometimes pushing Gene Bean in a running stroller, and I’m signed up to do the LA Marathon again in March 2017.

And I’m blogging again.

Overall, life is good. Stay tuned.

Corndog vs LA, round 2

2014-03-09 06.14.30

You can watch a video of my limping across the finish line here.

I showed up to Dodger stadium nervous but determined. I didn’t know how my ankle was going to feel once I started going, but I was willing to try it out. For about 14 miles, it was good and so was I. I was on pace for a personal record and beating up the LA course the way I wanted to last year.

But then the adrenaline wore off, and I began feeling the discomfort in my calf. Continue reading “Corndog vs LA, round 2”

Recap of 2013


I did it! I made my 1000 miles in 2013 goal, in spite of the late-year bout of plantar fasciitis, which nearly knocked me out of the running. (groan) A few of the miles were on a treadmill, and a few were on an elliptical machine, but every mile counts in my book.

Here are some other accomplishments from the year:

  • Ran my first marathon. Then a second in my goal time of under 5 hours.
  • Raised over $2000 for Camp Kesem by harassing my facebook friends endlessly.
  • Ran my first half marathon. Then a second in my goal time of under 2 hours.
  • Bought a condo.
  • Was elected to the board of my running club.
  • Ran every single day in August, including some Rocky-inspired running on the streets of Philadelphia.
  • Went to Europe, crossed the Mediterranean on a ferry (with my passport), and went to Africa.
  • Started teaching English at my local community college.

I suppose that’s enough for one year, don’t you?

An Absent-Minded Professor

2013-09-05 14.54.06

August was a long month.

And it wasn’t just because I decided, at the suggestion of a running buddy, to run every single day in August.

Or, having announced to the Facebook world that I made a commitment to run every day in August, I was coerced into setting a goal for myself of running 1000 total miles in 2013. (And by coerced, what I mean is that someone made a casual suggestion and I jumped right in…)

No, in August my workdays were growing longer as each day brought us closer to a convention of roughly 20,000 members in Philadelphia, PA. And, back in April or May (before I’d made my first mortgage payment), I’d purchased a ticket from Philly to Spain, where another smaller convention would take place afterward. One of the selling points for that trip was my friend from Spain telling me, “Chris, you can take a nearby ferry from where I live in Spain over to Morocco. You will have a chance to visit Europe and Africa in a single trip!” How could I argue with that?

So in early August, I was preparing for our convention, and preparing for my vacation, and running every single day.

Continue reading “An Absent-Minded Professor”

Marathon Man


I was certain I had made a mistake by signing up for the OC Marathon.

And I felt that doing so was just the first of a series of bad decisions related to running. And other fitness.

I purchased my OC Marathon registration shortly after my previous blog post (about running the Hollywood Half, joining the Leggers board, and buying a condo), mostly because a few other runners from my pace group said they were going and that I should come along, too. Some small voice in the back of my mind said, “You know, you didn’t really run the LA Marathon, since you walked the last 9 miles of it. Running this one could be a great way to redeem yourself.”

Of course, every single person with whom I’ve discussed my LA Marathon experience has simply looked at me funny when I described my experience in such a way that might suggest any need for redemption. But, you know, they just don’t understand.

Signing up for OC was only the first mistake. Continue reading “Marathon Man”

On the Run

Crossing the finish line at Hollywood Half Marathon

I’m officially a race junkie. I actually had to talk myself out of signing up for a half marathon that’s taking place on May 5th because I’m already running a 10k on May 19th. The only other races I’m signed up for after that 10k are both half marathons in 2014, so I can wait until later this year to sign up for something sooner. I may have to work up a running allowance of some type—something like six 10Ks, three half marathons, and one or two marathons per year. We’ll see. (Those numbers are just off the top of my head; you can’t hold me to them.)

The pic here is of me crossing the finish line at the Hollywood Half Marathon, which took place on April 6th. It was a really good race experience for me; I finished in 2:13:08.9, which works out to a pace of about 10 minutes and 10 seconds per mile. I felt strong and energetic nearly all of the way through, with just a minor decline of energy around mile 7 or 8. All in all, it was a far better experience than I had at the LA Marathon.

Just after that race ended, I went on to mark an enormous life milestone: Continue reading “On the Run”

Fail Better

Group photo of LA Leggers 12 min/mile pace group

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. Enough.

As of last week on Sunday, I had raised a whopping total of $330 for Camp Kesem, the charity I set out to raise $2000 for. I wrote the previous blog post, emailed its text to a targeted list of friends, and posted a link to the post on facebook.

Throughout the week, I received emails from the donation site each time a friend or family member sent money. The steady stream of generosity wore me down to the point that each new email was like seeing a new set of ducks swim for the first time ever. My cold heart was melting a little bit! By Friday afternoon I was just $305 short of my goal, so I promised on Facebook that I would jump in the ocean if I made it to $2k by Sunday morning.

Mid-afternoon on Saturday, I surpassed the goal by $30!

And then the time came to be ready for the next big challenge: 26.2 miles.

One of the things I’ve heard quite frequently in my training with the LA Leggers is that you shouldn’t do anything new or different on the day of the race. While that advice sounds great, the simple fact of the matter is that I didn’t get up at 3am for a single training run throughout the entire training season. Not once during all of my training did I park my car at 3:30am, walk a half mile to the Doubletree hotel, drink a cup of coffee, eat a banana and an orange, and then catch a shuttle bus across town to Dodger Stadium. There was no training run – long or short – before which I ate a bagel and sat in the third base seats buzzing with nervous anticipation for over 2.5 hours before lining up to run.

In all of my training to be a distance runner, I typically climbed out of bed precisely 45 minutes before the run was set to begin, ate no food (except a gulp of caffeine-infused protein shake on occasion, earlier in the season), and showed up to the starting point just minutes before the run began. I drank nothing during my training runs over than one squirt from my water bottle every five minutes. The one time I added a splash of gatorade to my water at mile 13 of an 18-mile run, I found that I felt much more thirsty at the finish than usual.

On the morning of the LA Marathon, I did so many things different. But I felt confident, and I showed up at the starting line with a plan in mind to perform better on race day than my training had prepared me for. I knew that my projected finishing time if I stayed with my Leggers pace group through the end of the race would be 5 hours 15 minutes. This would mean remaining disciplined with a 1-minute walking break at the end of every 5-minute running segment. I was confident I could do this, as I had done it twice for 20-mile runs with the the group. It was old hat for me by now.

Mile 7

If we could do 5:15, why not try to shave a measly 15 minutes off and break the 5 hour mark? I knew it would be incredibly foolish to try to shave those 15 minutes off the front end of the race by going faster than I’m trained to do. Doing so would carry a huge risk of burning myself out and being unable to finish the race at all. But the last half of the race is a different story. With the enthusiasm of the crowds, the buzz of endorphins, maybe a little adrenaline, it seemed like a realistic possibility to stop talking walking breaks around mile 17 or 18 (based on my math) and shave off that pesky 15 minutes. The beautiful thing about this ambitious plan is that if I discovered along the way that it was just not possible, I could resume taking walking breaks at any given point and still finish in 5:15 or less.

At race time, things turned out differently than expected.

Continue reading “Fail Better”

Why I Run

A meal with Mom before moving to LA
A meal with Mom before moving to LA

As you know, I’ve been training for the LA Marathon since October 2012. One of my motivating factors has been a charity project a friend told me about, Camp Kesem, which provides children whose parents have cancer or who have lost a parent to cancer with an opportunity to participate in summer camp with others who have suffered the same loss.

I am an adult who lost a parent to cancer. Mom’s passing was a shocking reminder of how fragile life is and how truly valuable and precious our moments with loved ones are. The lingering sadness and sense of loss—which comes with each day I can’t call her, each holiday or birthday, each trip back home that no longer feels like home—has only been made bearable by a renewed resolve to savor life, and to live in a way that I would be proud to tell her about if I could call her just one last time.

This is why I run.

Few children of cancer victims probably have the luxuries I’ve been afforded by simple virtue of growing up and enduring my 20s. I had the privilege of developing loving supportive relationships with countless true friends with whom I’m able to freely share the pain of my loss, knowing from experience that I can expect empathy and support.

Children of cancer victims have their greatest sources of empathy and support taken from them. As much as adult family members want to help and offer kindness to these children, no adult can replace a parent. The compassion shared by peers who know and share the pain of this loss, on the other hand, can be the only thing that helps a child to truly understand that he or she is not alone in the world.

Camp Kesem offers children of cancer victims this opportunity. You can help support Camp Kesem by following this link and contributing what you are able. Even $5 will make a difference.

I’m running 26.2 miles this Sunday to remember that, even though I’ve suffered a loss, there’s still a long road ahead of me. Show your support for Camp Kesem by making a donation, and these children might be able to see that there’s hope ahead for them, too.

The Finish Line

Live Ultimate

On the 10th of February, I ran my second 10K. As I mentioned back in early January, my goal for this 10K was to beat a one-hour finishing time. In January, I had completed both an 18-mile and a 20-mile run with my training group, the LA Leggers, and so I was feeling pretty good. But going into February, I knew I had an event to attend on Groundhog Day that was going to prevent me from meeting up with the Leggers, which somehow made it seem more acceptable in my mind to miss out on mid-week runs that week, meaning an entire missed week of training a week out from the 10K!

I was worried that the missed week might mean I wouldn’t be in good shape for the 10K. But when I did my mid-week runs during the week of the 10K, I was feeling pretty good. I did a 3.14 mile run (Pi! And about a 5K) on that Thursday in 28 minutes, which is a quick enough pace to finish the 10K in under an hour, provided I could sustain it for twice the distance. That made me feel much more confident.

On the morning of the race, I made my way into the horde of runners at the starting line, all set to get started on the run. The starting gun sounded (not an actual gun) and the horde lurched forward gradually to cross the starting line. Each individual runner is given a timing chip prior to the race, which is attached to the shoe using twist-ties. Electronic sensors under the starting line and the finish line make it possible for each runner to get his or her exact time for the race based on the timing chip. This was how I determined my running time for the 10K in December, and how I could be sure I would know my actual time for the 10K in February in spite of the fact that it took a while in that big crowd to make it over the starting line once the clock was started.

I felt pretty good through the first half of the race or so, which took us through some Santa Monica streets up through the corner of Ocean and San Vicente. The route then turned East, heading up San Vicente a couple miles before turning around and looping back to finish on Ocean Avenue. Going East on San Vicente was an uphill climb, and the further up I got the more convinced I became that I wasn’t going to meet my sub-hour aspirations. I was moving to slow, I thought, and I didn’t feel very strong. At each mile, volunteers with synchronized timers called out the current time, and when I passed the five mile mark (1.2 miles left to run), the time was 52 minutes and change. Knowing that it takes better than a 10-minute mile pace to break an hour on a 10K, having less than 8 minutes to clear the last 1.2 miles seemed impossible.

The impulse to slow down—to give in to the sense of defeat I was already feeling—weighed heavy on my torso, my knees, and my feet, even though coming back down San Vicente was a nice, gradual downhill stride.

But I didn’t slow down. I did, however, fail to find the energy to push harder. I kept running, thinking maybe I’ll still beat my time from December, even if I don’t break the hour mark.

And I crossed the finish line. The clock at the finish said something like 1 hour, 1 minute, and 40-some seconds. This was better than my time in December. And it still wasn’t my personal chip time, from when my shoe crossed the sensor at the finish. Had it taken me a full minute and forty-some seconds to get across the starting line? I had no idea. It could have been 30 seconds or 3 minutes, for all I knew.

So I went home and found the page online where I’d be able to view my official time. And I spent my entire afternoon clicking “refresh,” waiting on the numbers to be posted.

Finally, they came in.

My time: 59:57.0. Hooray! Goal achieved!

In less than 2 weeks, I will be running the LA Marathon. It’s like running a 10K and then keeping going for another 20 miles. The race will finish by taking San Vicente down to Ocean Avenue, turning left, and crossing the finish line.

I’ve done this.

I can do this.