Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Retrospect

How do you reconcile your desire for happiness with the responsibilities in your life? Responsibilities to your self, and responsibilities to others. Work may not make you happy, but you have to go. You may spend time with friends and family when you're not in the mood. You will have work outs that don't feel good. Even days when your hobbies feel like chores.

I used to avoid responsibility, and pursue happiness pretty much exclusively. I thought that's what life was about: Just do what you want to do. Nevermind that on a grand scale, society can't function if every one did that. But on a personal scale, was I really happy?

No. There's a difference between momentary joy, and lasting happiness. In between partying with strangers, I was alone. In between nights of binge drinking, I anguished over my lack of fitness. I looked at those who had many responsibilities, and thought those people had full lives. Meaningful lives. Happy lives.

This cat has a VERY happy life.

The point is, happiness is a long-term goal. It's not always easy or obvious. Sometimes you realize that something you've been doing for a long time... doesn't bring you joy. Sometimes it's easier to just stick with the status quo, to stick with "good enough". The freedom to be happy is really a recent invention. It's not something that our ancestors had the luxury of chasing after. Though interestingly, they were often happier than we are today.

Having near infinite options today can paralyze us. Seeing the success of our friends online can make us feel like failures. Seeing photos of their grand adventures make us feel like we're missing out. Seeing smiling couples make us feel alone. Of course we don't see the stuff they don't post. And they're looking at the same stuff online and feeling just as sad themselves.

So misery is often just a fabrication of the mind. We feel powerless. But we are not. It's a choice.

This past year, I feel like I've acknowledged that choice. You didn't think I was ever getting to the point with that huge preamble, did you?

I looked at my 2016 Retrospect. That was a year when my happiness level fluctuated a lot. My training was often self-destructive in 2016. I had more responsibility this past year, with regards to people I love. And my responsibility promises to only go up from here! But I feel good about that. More importantly, I'm starting to pull back from my break-neck training regime. So 2017 was a year of long-haul changes.

Right this moment probably isn't the best time for me to talk about training. I've been sick for the past few days, and have done very little. So of course I feel like a huge pile of slack. But I compared my totals from this year with last, and felt better. Of course, then I compared my totals with those of my friends, and felt worse again. Whoops!

So less running, but my biking doubled, and my swimming more than tripled. I started out too hard with the lifting challenge this fall and hurt my lower back, so that took a hit. My totals are much less than those of my friends who also did Ironmans. The biking took a hit in the summer because of a leg injury, and it dropped a lot after the IM because I decided to do more running (but that didn't quite pan out). The swimming is getting better and better. More importantly I like it more.

It frustrates me sometimes, to worry about overtraining and hurting myself, but at the same time seeing how lousy my miles are. I know I shouldn't compare myself to others, but of course that's hard to actually put into practice. I suspect despite all my pretty words about finding life balance, I will continue to worry over and struggle with my volume. But I'm optimistic for 2018; I've learned a lot from my mistakes over the past 2+ years.

As I did with last year's retrospect, I'll put some highlights from this past year. By far the most amazing thing that's happened to me.... I can't post about. Not yet. And I'm missing some very important folks in the memories below. Just know that I love all of you.

2017 started out with a solo marathon at midnight!

Todd keeps trying to rope me into doing Lake Effect half marathon again. It was super fun last time I did it!

Boston Marathon was just an unparalleled experience. It's every runner's dream to run Boston, and I got to do it. I still can't believe it.

My first 70.3, Patriot, was awesome! I got to do it with my two favorite people in the world, Geoffrey and Meghan.

Musselman was a hilarious and epic adventure. Wow! What a weekend that was.

My big event of 2017, Ironman Mont Tremblant. Another one of those things I can't believe I did. It's like it happened to a different person. And I get to do it again at Lake Placid in 2018. Holy cow!

Wineglass is always amazing, and this year was no different. Pacing Carrie to her first sub-4 marathon made me realize what life is all about.

And of course there was a ton of silliness throughout the year.

I couldn't help it, here's a few more highlights.

This is generally how I feel!

Overall, it's been a pretty epic year. Although the most important thing has been the people. It's often weird to me how much love I have in my life. I'm still not used to it. It keeps on growing! And more than anything else, that brings me joy. I can only hope that I can return as much love as is given to me.

Growth and huge changes are afoot. But I'm excited for them. There will be some scary moments, no doubt. There will be struggles and suffering. But it's all leading to a very bright future. When I look forward to it, I feel warm all over. Thank-you for reading and have a happy new year!!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Holiday Lessons

I get ten days off work for the holidays (including the weekends). I tend to think of it as an opportunity to exercise a huge amount. In 2015, I ran 58 miles over the break (71 if I include the Friday before); I had one bike ride. In 2016 I ran 72 (or 86 including the Friday). I also biked and swam a lot, and probably lifted. That New Years I ran a solo marathon at midnight.

That volume of training destroyed me for the first few months of 2017. Utterly destroyed me. Which impacted my training for- and performance at -  Ironman Mont Tremblant.

This holiday break.... I'm lazying a lot (and eating a lot!). I've biked twice so far, swam once, and have run a total of about 10 miles. I still have 4 more days, but I doubt I'll get anywhere close to last year's numbers. And that's a good thing. I had considered making my new year's marathon an annual tradition, but this New Year the temperature would make even a polar bear freeze.

I signed up for the Beast of Burden 100 mile ultra in February, but wrote that I no longer plan on finishing that, but just going as far as I can without breaking myself. I'll still get in my long runs, but I'm not going to obsess over getting in 50 or 60 mile weekends.

Beast of Burden? How about a Beast of Cuteness!

Essentially, I want to train at a level my body is capable of. I no longer have my ego tied up in appearing bad@ss. I barely even post my workouts anymore. It's not worth showing off if it just leaves me constantly broken. And I have more positive things to look forward to than impressing a bunch of people I don't know online (sorry reader!).

I still love to train. That will always be a part of my life. And I'm at a point that I will train every day (or just about) without having to struggle with motivation. I bicycled for an hour and a half yesterday while watching Bright with my family. I swam a mile with Lois on Saturday morning while her kids antagonized their grandparents. I had a delightful and adventurous 10k through the snow with my friend Dan on Christmas. What day am I missing? Ah, I went to the gym Sunday with my brother and his girlfriend; I hit the treadmill and some free weights.

Those were all FUN. And they were still challenging workouts. I didn't go easy. I did intervals on the bike. I was racing Lois in the water. My arms were trashed after slamming some weights right after jumping off the treadmill.

I've written before that when you start a new thing, you sometimes push too hard before finding a happy medium. I'm getting to that point. I know what my body is capable of. More importantly, I don't have to kill myself to satisfy some image I have of myself. Life isn't a movie. After the hero blows away the villains in the Nakatomi building, he has to go back to real life. And if you watched the sequels, you'll know that being a hero didn't magically fix his marriage or make him happy.

I'm realizing that. The movies make self-sacrifice glamorous. The credits roll when the hero is still on his or her emotional high. It forever freezes that moment of glorious success. But that's not reality. Us regular people want to be happy, and we want to be lastingly happy. Breaking yourself.... that gives you poignant moments of feeling epic, with lots of exhaustion and depression in between. If you've followed my blog, you've probably seen my ups and downs.

Plenty of glamour without the self-breaking

It's not worth it. I'm ready to be the old guy in the rocking chair who occasionally drags himself to the starting line of a triathlon or trail run. I like writing, and drawing, and photography, and spending time with people I love. And I can't enjoy those things if I'm always exhausted.

That's hard to figure out. Happiness. It's such a vague thing. We all think we know what it means, but we don't. For a while I honestly thought that if I didn't have my training, I'd have nothing. I thought I was happy years ago, when I drank and partied and was a chubby pile of laughter. I was fooling myself back then. I still want piles of laughter, but I want it with people that I deeply love. That's the difference. Sharing your life with amazing people.

Loneliness sucks. I've battled it for a long time. A lot of it - most of it - was self imposed. I've lived with that image of the solitary hero for too long. That I had to do epic things in the night, showing that I don't need anyone, that I'm my own strength. Of course, I posted those things online, which just goes to show that they're bullsh*t. Ultimately, I was still seeking validation. And I was lying to myself about it.

That's the gift I've gotten this Christmas: The realization of what I want in life. And the willingness to go after it without my ego slamming on the breaks. My ego is still there, it's still the same ego that won't let me play monopoly without going into a frothing rage. But it's an old friend. I know how to pacify my ego, to throw it a treat every now and then so it goes back into its corner to happily chew on it. The rest of me, the rest of me will sit with my loved ones eating smoked trout and home made egg salad from local farm eggs.

Happy holidays everyone!

Always ending posts with the cheesy sunset photo....

Monday, December 18, 2017

Beauty and Torture

Well I didn't die.

Not yet.

I mentioned in my last post that I was going to run a 100k on Saturday at midnight (I never know... Is it Friday or Saturday? I should just say Saturday 12:01am). We, um, didn't make it that far. I ran with Chris and Jeff, who are two super awesome dudes. In case you don't know, it's really hard to find people who will volunteer to run an ultra with you at midnight in winter. So the three of us were pretty excited.

Excited that we were all insane.

The weather was actually OK. It was 20. That Friday morning it had been... 1 I think. 1 degree. So it "warmed up." It was snowing. At first I was like, great! Just enough snow to be super pretty. Turns out snow is still snow.

There was a lot of planning leading up to the run. A lot! Logistics of all sorts. We had a number of amazing friends who offered to come help: Lois, Carrie, Julie, and 1 other I believe. They cooked all sorts of yummy things for us. They offered to meet us at our two turn around points with whatever we needed. They offered to pace us. Carrie got a hotel room for the after party. It was to be a grand adventure!

A grand adventure indeed. That's the harbor hotel btw,
where we were supposed to have our epic after party.

I feel bad because all of that flew out the window. On the plus side, I ended up eating most of that delicious food anyway.

I met Chris at the Dandy Mini Mart near Horseheads at 11pm. He's an ultra expert. He had tons of food and water and two large separate bags: One for each end. I.... put two shirts and two pairs of socks into an empty grocery bag and put that into his truck. He dressed like he was venturing on a search for Santa's workshop. I dressed sufficiently... I thought. Chris had a camelbak. I had a water bottle. But it had a strap! So I didn't have to clench my lazy hand. Chris brought sandwiches and things. I had two tiny fruit and chia... things, that I thought looked good. Let me tell you now, they were zero sustenance and lasted 2 minutes.

Although I did bring a bunch of handwarmers I stole from Geoffrey. They were amazing. I grabbed enough to last like 200 hours. What did I wear? My New Balance Leadvilles, which are nice. Warm socks. Long underwear and wind pants which I had bought that day. A compression shirt, a t-shirt above that, and my super warm fuzzy hoody. Warm teal mittens I borrowed from Meghan, stuffed with handwarmers. A headband. A headlamp with dead batteries. Two watches. Didn't need the extra!

All bundled up!

We left Chris's truck and drove to Watkins Glen high school. We sat in my warm car and stared into the night. I didn't actually put on all the stuff I listed above until about 11:50. It required me to get out of my car. Yuck. Jeff showed up near midnight, all ready to go. He was super pro too. We exchanged words. I don't remember what. The types of things that soldiers say to each other right before they go into a battle that probably won't end well.

The ladies were going to meet us there at around 7am. The plan was for us to run 31 miles or so, surviving off our own supplies until our lovely Sherpas brought soup, snacks, and hugs. I thought, 31? I can do 31 at an easy pace. Nooooo problem.

I'm an idiot.

We first ran a mile to the Seneca Lake Harbor. My stomach has been hurting the past few days. I ate A LOT in the week leading up to the run - "carb loading" as the cool kids call it. And my stomach was a disaster. And the rest of me was... not great. But it was beautiful out. And once we actually started moving, most of the stress of anticipation melted away. And running around town... I could pretend that it was just a casual night run, and not a potentially fatal ultra.

We looked out over the water at the harbor for a minute, took some photos. Then we ran back. We paused at the cars again to pee into snowbanks, and so that I could replace the batteries in the headlamp. I only used the headlamp for about a mile before Jeff made an idle remark about how much better it was to run without. That part is true!

We paused again at Shequaga falls. They were frozen and awesome. Some part of me knew that once we hit the Catharine Valley trail all of these beautiful sights would be gone. But still, I basked in the divine night-time beauty. The snow left white trails as it crossed lamps. Everything was quiet. The three of us were animals in the night, rejoicing in our freedom.

I still wasn't feeling great as we ran, though my body settled into it somewhat. I didn't want to complain, and I was committed to the run. We didn't talk very much. Chris told us a couple of stories. I made a couple of random remarks about squirrels and bears. Soon we got onto the trail.

The only other times I've run on the trail were for the Catharine Valley half marathon. It's entirely different in the middle of the night in winter. The elevation was still the same though. It was a steady climb the entire way. And the snow that I thought was so beautiful was suddenly a pain. It wasn't deep, but it was enough for us to slide on every step. I didn't think about it at first, but running up hill in snow sucks up a lot of energy.

Chris's knee was sore because he'd slammed a large piece of furniture against it on Wednesday. He didn't make a big deal about it, but it was tight. Jeff had done a huge amount of traveling the days before, but he was in good spirits. He made fascinating comments about some of the historical landmarks around us. Mostly we ran silently, powering through the miles.

We walked a lot. We alternated. I wasn't sure which was better. When I ran, my stomach bounced and hurt more. When we walked, I got much colder. We were doing about 13 minute miles on average. It didn't feel slow though. And the reality is - in that weather, at night, up hill, with tired bodies - that's still hours you're spending on your feet.

I wish I could say that this part was peaceful and beautiful and liberating. It was just hard. Just plain hard. And I realized that I had been right in my last post: I'm not an ultra-runner. And in other recent posts I've written that I no longer have the desire to punish myself, nor do I feel the need to prove myself any longer. And I felt that. If I had to stop early, it would have no effect on my ego. Even at that point, I knew I wasn't going to run all 62+ miles.

We kept going. We hit parts I'd never been on, then parts Chris hadn't seen, then even parts that Jeff hadn't seen. Jeff told us about a feature of Strava, a sort of heat map that shows where you've run and how much. He was excited that he just added new colors to his map. That was pretty cool. I just checked, but it's part of Strava Premium. And I'm a cheapskate.

This stretch would've made the heat map warmer.

Then we hit the end. We stopped and looked at the map. Chris had been certain that the trail went all the way to the Dandy. But after looking at it again, he realized that the last couple of miles were along the highway. So we had to run along the road to get back to the truck. This part was actually the easiest for me. There was little snow on the pavement. When we finally saw the glowing sign, I felt elated. Nevermind that that was only 1/4 of our planned route.

We stopped. We ate and rested. I changed my shirt and socks for dry ones. They immediately got soaked again. I added a second pair of handwarmers to the mittens. I was shaking badly. I sat in the back of Chris's truck, shivering. He pulled out a chair (a chair!) to sit on so he could change his clothes; super pro, like I said. Jeff went inside the Dandy to warm up, because he's smart. I just kept snacking, and shivering, and drinking water, and shivering more. I was a ball in the seat. The hatch was open, the door was open, and the moonroof was open (for some reason).

We took a long time. A really long time. When it seemed like we were going to get moving again, I txted our Sherpas an updated ETA. I realized Lois was no longer going to be able to see us, because she had kid duties a little later that morning. Of course the ladies were actually all still sleeping, so they wouldn't see the message until later.

Chris told us he was going to drive us to where the trail ended, so we wouldn't have to run on the highway again. That was a relief! If only because it would make the return trip shorter, and I could sit in his warm truck some more. We parked again. We decided to sit and warm up more, to nap a little. It was clear none of us were super excited to get going again. But none of us wanted to be the one to throw in the towel.

We sat there for half an hour, semi-dozing. I sent another updated ETA, almost 2 hours later than what we had originally told our friends. Finally we stirred. We stepped outside. Instantly I felt frozen again. Chris had told us that if we needed to stop, that was totally OK. He asked me what I wanted to do. Like an idiot, I said, "well, I'd at least like to get an ultra out of this, 50k." I thought that maybe because the return trip was downhill it would be easier, and I'd warm up again when we got moving.

Finally, Jeff, the hero, the mayor of everything, the best guy in the universe said, "let's just bag it." Oh sweet Jesus I've never felt so happy in my life. Chris immediately took of his coat. I thanked Jeff for saving my life. We all climbed back into the truck and immediately sped off towards the highschool. I can't describe how jubilant I was.

It was 5am.

I sent an update to the group: Don't come. We're done. Carrie was awake already. She was surprised and concerned. But we were OK. We got back to the high school. We sat there for a little bit, trying to iron out our plans. Chris decided to nap in his truck before driving home; he'd crashed his truck last year after a solo night run and didn't want to chance it. Jeff headed home. I headed to Corning to eat potato and kale soup.

We covered 16.5 miles. My watch says it took 3 hours and 54 minutes. After a lot of napping and eating, I ran later that day with a group of superb ladies, so I got 21 for the day. I was toast.

Couldn't pass up a chance to run with these awesome ladies!
Photo Cr.: Tracy

I've looked on the Beast of Burden website to see if I can downgrade my 100 mile registration for a 50. It doesn't look like I can, so I suppose I'll just run as far as I'm able. I like running. I like running at night. It's beautiful. I like running with friends, love it in fact. But I like to go on runs and then be done. I realized that I don't have the mindset to just go and go and go. Some people do; those people are awesome. I don't.

I can handle pain. I can handle exhaustion. I can handle boredom. But at the same time, I don't need to. I have to compromise between pushing myself, but also actually enjoying what I do.

The Ironman is different. Was different. In fact, I only really felt awful on the run. That 6 hour marathon felt a lot like Saturday's ultra (except worse). The swim I enjoyed, and I enjoy swimming even more today. The bike was long, but it wasn't the same sort of grueling as running. So by the time I got to the run, I was too close to the end to surrender (though I really wanted to).

And that's another thing. Chris mentioned that after he ran Beast of Burden last year, he was trashed for a month. I realize I can't spare a month to rest right in the middle of my Ironman training. I just can't. And I trained with a broken body last year and that sucked, and didn't actually help prepare me at all. I don't know why I thought I could just whip through a 100-miler and jump back into triathlon training. I suppose it's because I thought it would be an "easy" pace. Like walking a 100 miles.

On Saturday I caved after 16.5 miles. I was frozen and broken. And I expect myself to traverse 6 times that length? Of course, I learned some valuable lessons on preparation, nutrition, and dressing appropriately. We all did. But that's not going to make up for an additional 83.5 miles.

A 100 miles it is not.

Those are all excuses. The reality is, it's just not for me. And I have to accept that. I used to hate myself for a realization like that, like I was giving up. Failing. That I wasn't strong enough. But I know now what happens is that I feel awful, force myself to do it, and then I'm ruined for months afterward. It's not worth it. It really totally isn't.

I'll still be on the Erie Canal towpath in February. I'll still run with Chris and Jeff. In fact, I look forward to it. But I won't force myself to go all the way to the end. If for some reason I feel like I'm able to, then great! But I don't have that expectation. I will do it for as long as it feels good and I don't think it's damaging my body. Maybe that'll be 50 miles. Maybe only 30. I don't know. But after I quit, I'll make sure to stick around and help my friends finish. And then celebrate their amazing achievement.

Because that's what it's about in the end: The people. I want to be there, sharing in our mutual passion. To help support them and bask in our awesome humanity. To be part of a driven and loving group who experience life to its fullest. That's amazing. And I want to be amazed.

Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Possibly My Last Post Before I Die

So I was going to just say nothing and have it be a "surprise", but all my friends know now, so it doesn't matter. I signed up for the Beast of Burden 100 miler in February. It's along the Erie Canal Towpath, which is fun, in the winter, which is not so fun. The reason I didn't want to advertise it was so that I could post afterwards and say, "surprise! I did a 100 miler!" But if I'm going to be honest, it's so that if I fail, I could just say nothing and sweep it under the rug.

Too late for that now. But failure happens, and that's an important thing to acknowledge. And you can learn valuable lessons from failures, probably even more so than successes.

I'd like to pretend I'm following some super intelligent and structured training plan. I'm not. I ran back-to-back 20 milers over Thanksgiving, which felt good. I ran a 28 and 10 miler back-to-back two weekends ago, and that was fine too. I ran 16 miles total this past weekend, which felt awful. I'm running a 100k this weekend with my friends Chris and Jeff, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to die.

Maybe if I dressed more appropriately...

And of course, this is all while I'm also swimming, biking, and lifting. Because - oh right - I'm signed up for my second Ironman in July. My swimming has actually gotten better this fall, and I'm at least maintaining my bike strength. And after Beast, I'll have 4 full months before I taper for Lake Placid.

Chris, Jeff, and I are starting our 100k at midnight Saturday morning (Friday night?). The temperature is going to be arctic. There will probably be snow. It will be dark. Thankfully we have some truly amazing friends who will sherpa for us, and pace us at parts, though probably not until the sun rises.

I just looked up the word Sherpas. It only comes capitalized, and only in plural form, and only as a noun. So I used it wrong in three different ways. But so does everyone else. They should just go ahead and add it to the dictionaries. Basically our friends will feed us and drive around our junk and haul our corpses into the woods.

The worst part about it all, as is often the case, is the anticipation. It's not a race. We won't even be going fast. We'll take breaks often, and eat whenever we need. We'll have dry clothes to change into. And if our bodies explode, we won't be losing a medal. It's essentially a big training run for Beast of Burden. So it's about as low stress as an ultra can be.

This is my idea of low stress...

I'm not an ultra runner. If I was, I'd have a much better idea of what to expect. I don't know anything about the community, other than what I've read online. I know it's low key. People do the events to finish, not to race. And if they get hurt, they just stop, and it's not a big deal. I've only ever been a marathon runner, and now a triathlete. And even though I won't ever be super fast or dedicated, those are still competitive environments, and Sherpas mostly aren't allowed.

Even after Beast of Burden, I won't consider myself an ultra runner. I don't have the right mindset. I'm not the kind of person who can just go out in the woods and spend all day there, running, jogging, walking, stopping to smell the flowers. I like to do my training runs as fast as my body allows on that day, and then go home and do nothing the rest of the day.

As I've mentioned before, the main reason I do these things is for the people, and for the adventure. I don't care about Beast of Burden. But I do care about having an epic adventure with my friends. And if that means destroying my body, then hooray! And then I can put a "100" magnet on my car, to annoy my coworkers even more. Double win!

Not being an ultra runner, and having no clue what to expect, I can't say much else. Maybe I'll love it and want to do it again? Maybe it'll be awful and it'll be my last and only one? I told myself Ironman Mont Tremblant would be my own Ironman, and clearly that was false. So who knows. I know I want to keep swimming and biking. The ultra isn't adding new training, just.... more (which I'm not really doing). So mostly it'll depend on whether it's something I can handle with my existing fitness level.

Either way, you can look forward to an epic story in the near future. Insert a laugh emoji here. And if you don't hear from me.... well then thanks for reading, and leave cookies out for my ghost.

This. Except in the dark. With monsters.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Lasting Change is Hard (But These 5 Things Help)

Some people recognize that some aspect of their life isn't working. They make the painful realization, swallowing their pride. They make the decision to change, despite the challenge and scariness. They get on that long road and dedicate themselves to change. And they stick to their decision, ignoring their mind's attempt to second-guess itself. And they come out the other side better and stronger people.

That's some people. A few. A handful.

Most people don't do this. They make a vague promise (to others or just to themselves) to fix some part of themselves. They may make a halfhearted attempt to work through it. Maybe they do a Google search for easy solutions. They mention it to their friends, to get that encouragement and validation. They spend a couple of days dipping their toes in the water. And then they go back to the comfortable life they're familiar with, coming up with an excuse for their failure. "I'm too busy right now"; "I'll do it when I have more money/feel better/have more time"; "I'll do it when I find the best way to do it." Nothing happens.

The thing that needs to be fixed could be anything. It could be their health. It could be a substance addiction. It could be the way they treat people - or rather mistreat people. It could be their emotional well-being. It could be their finances. It could be their feeling of loneliness and isolation. It could be their addiction to smartphones/video games/TV/porn. When you think about it, there's a lot of ways in which we could be f@#ked up.

Running in freezing temps could be
considered f@#ked up...

So why is it that some people are able to make the hard choice to change and are able to stick with it no matter the challenge, while so many others fail?

Consequence of Failure

Sometimes change is necessary to avoid something catastrophic. Maybe the doctor tells you you'll die if you don't lose weight. Maybe you'll lose your home or the life you're accustomed to if you don't change your spending habits. Maybe you realize that a feeling of depression or loneliness won't go away by itself, and nobody else will fix it for you.

It's never been anything critical for me. I've always had to trick my brain into believing that if I don't do a particular thing, that disaster will befall me. If I don't exercise, I'll die. If I don't pull myself out of self-imposed isolation, I'll die. And in a sense I would. It may be a death by a thousand cuts, but the end result is the same. Many of us don't even notice our happiness slipping away. We get used to it and just try our best to stick to the status quo. Until one day it hits us, at which point digging out of it seems too daunting.

But whatever it is in your mind, you have to remember that consequence. Once you start on the path of growth and improvement, you feel good. Even if everything isn't immediately better, you still feel better just to be doing something about it. And it can be easy to let that feeling mollify you back into complacency. You have to remind yourself every day the reason why you're doing what you're doing. Allow yourself to feel that urgency, that fear of failure.

"Failure? Is that another thing I have to be scared of?!"

There's a risk to that too. Certainly you can go overboard in the other direction. But this often is a necessary step before you can find a happy medium. Real change takes a long time. But after a while, you no longer worry about the consequence of failure. You start seeing the consequence of success!

Support System

I don't have too much trouble getting up to do a workout, even if I'm exhausted or in pain. However, I do exercise more - and enjoy it more - when I'm doing it with my friends. And I work harder and aim for bigger challenges when my friends push me to do so (either directly, or just by inspiring me). Additionally, I've been able to gradually shift my goals. Rather than obsessing on performing to a certain level, which often left me disappointed in myself, I can now focus on doing it for the joy of it.

For those who do struggle finding the daily motivation, having a support system can be extremely beneficial. Having a running buddy who holds you accountable helps. Signing up for a race with others who are doing it helps. Competing (in a friendly way) with your friends online helps. Looking forward to adventures that involve physical movement helps. And this is true for any goal.

This does mean having the right social circle though. If you and all your friends prefer to drink beer while watching TV, and you suddenly decide to quit drinking, or start exercising, or stop wasting money, they're not going to support you in that. In fact, they're likely try to drag you back into their fold. It won't be malicious, they just miss you. But it will make it much more challenging for you to keep at it. If you and your friends often engage in negative talk, and you make the effort to become more positive, they'll be incompatible with that goal.

That's hard. Nobody wants to lose friends. And making new friends as a grown-up is tough. I read an article on HuffPost that said so. I haven't lost all my old friends. Some I have. Some I've just drifted away from. Some have accepted the new me, or even changed with me (which is rare but awesome!). Social media makes the transition a lot easier. I've met a huge number of amazing athletes online, and have then met and trained with many of them in person. They're all truly incredible people.

Truly incredible and truly crazy

Thanks to those new friends, I'm happier and in a much more positive mind frame than I was before. Which means I can reconnect with old friends from a place of joy. The more you give the more you get! Crazy but true.

Personality and Upbringing

I have some friends who are very ambitious. They're proactive and seem to manage all of the vagaries of life with aplomb. Not me. I'm "creative". I prefer to be "stress free". I very often describe myself as lazy. I grew up with a terrible work ethic.

There are some who say that today's "millennials" have grown up spoiled and self-entitled. That they've been ruined by helicopter parenting and too-easily achieved trophies. Some would say that technology has ruined our capacity for critical thinking and real social engagement. Some would point to the great number of college graduates still living with their parents. Of course, there's two sides to all of those coins and it's outside the scope of this post to argue that. But the point is that all of those qualities, if they're true, make it more difficult for one to push themselves to personal growth.

People may point out your flaws to you, but ultimately it's up to you to seriously think about who you are now and where you want to end up in the future. This can't be done with self-judgment or recrimination. It requires setting aside your ego and being honest with yourself. That's hard. It's easier to just float along, filling your life with electronic or chemical distractions.

Or edible distractions...

You will find things about yourself you don't like. There are some things you can change. The other things you will have to accept, forgive yourself for, and move on. I'm not a super motivated guy. I can't force myself to be, because it just leaves me frustrated and angry at myself. I not only accomplish nothing, I actually end up moving backwards. So I accept who I am and work with what I have. By focusing on the things that make me happy and bring success, I can continue to grow. And interestingly enough, I end up becoming more motivated along the way.

Replace an Old Addiction with a New One

This may seem like an unhealthy suggestion. After all, isn't it better to simply stop being addicted to things? But go back to what I said above. You can't change who you are. If you have an addictive personality, then you need to give it something to be addicted to. I don't believe I have an addictive personality, but I do have an all-or-nothing one. It often looks the same.

Some people are awesome at self-moderation. That's great; I'm jealous of them. Some of them tell me, "you don't need to quit ice cream; you just need to moderate." I can't do that. And trying to explain that just makes me sound f*cked up. We all see the world through the lens of our own experiences. People who are great at moderation don't get why I can't just.... do some of something. Rather than all of it or none of it.

This is sort of what my brain looks like...

Exercise is an addiction for me. It's a better addiction, I feel, than drinking or partying. Geoffrey quit smoking and took up running. He quit drinking and took up triathlons. He needed to replace one with the other. And he's happier and healthier for it.

If you don't have an addictive personality, this may not help. If you do though, think about what you can give up that's unhealthy. And consider making your goal (it doesn't necessarily have to be fitness) an addiction instead. Use every tool at your disposal. Turn your flaws into boons.

Taste of Success

Part of the challenge of effecting change and taking on a new endeavor is that it feels like work. We live in a society of quick rewards and instant gratification. It's hard to do things that don't have a fast dopamine response.

This changes when you start seeing positive results. You lose weight. Or you produce a nice work of art. Or you get positive feedback from people. Or you just feel better. It's easier to keep doing something if you feel like it's leading towards success. However, many folks quit before they ever get that taste of success.

This can be a double edged sword though. If you've come to expect constant improvement, you can be disappointed by a failure or setback. With training this could be an injury. With many other skills it can involving hitting a plateau. Or real life can bite you in the face and stall your momentum. Any of these things can kill your desire to continue.

I may be giving a thumbs up, but
my real desire right now is cake

In either case, it's important to have your own metrics. Instead of having an expectation of quickly becoming amazing, which never happens, you have to look to the daily victories. Every day that you take an active step towards your goal is a success.  You can consider each step as its own goal, and you can measure those steps. If you practiced the drums for ten days, you may not think you've gotten any better yet. But you can take pride in that you did it for ten days. You can look on a calendar, or in your diary, or in an app on your phone, and see that number ten. Then the next goal is to hit 11. And so on.

Success isn't defined by hitting a specific target. That's an expectation. And expectations often lead to disappointment. Success is a state of mind. There are many folks you would point to and say, "she's successful." But that person got there through diligence and hard work. And it's quite unlikely that they look at themselves in a mirror and think, "I'm successful." They're constantly in pursuit of it though, no matter what. And that comes from an attitude. And even if they may seem successful to you and me, they're not done persevering.

You can't look at your effort as work. Work is a thing you do so you can get food and stay alive. You have to look at it as a blessing, something you get to do, that will result in an overall improvement to your life. It just takes a while to get to that point. So you have to take satisfaction in the fact that you're doing it, because many people don't even get that far. Be proud of it!

I'm super proud.

Change is hard, but it's not impossible. There can be weeks, months, even years in which you feel lost. Losing your identity in an effort to find a new one is terrifying. Many prefer to hold on to the familiar, as mediocre as it is, in lieu of diving into the unknown. At least they're comfortable with what they have now, if not happy.

I've never been satisfied with OK. I've never been satisfied with being average, or being comfortable, or just letting the river of life drag me around. And every change I've made, though they've been punctuated by periods of pain and suffering, have been worth it. Super super worth it.

Don't quit before you start. You can do it. You can.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Training Without a Coach

Some of my athletic friends - particularly the super epic ones - have a coach. And I can see the appeal. They know exactly what they have to do every day, without having to think about it and then doubting their decision. They don't have to worry about training too hard or - more importantly - not training hard enough. They have extra motivation to get moving, because they're being held accountable every day.

I don't have a coach, have never had one, and probably will never have one. I'm not saying that's wrong or right. I'm just writing this for perspective.

I like to sign up for races on short notice. I like to train with a friend if they invite me to. I like to switch or move workouts based on my mood. I like to squeeze in a workout if I have time or the weather is nice. I like to make a workout easier or harder depending on what my body can do. And sometimes if I'm feeling super trashed, I can flake on a workout and be OK with that.

"No no, I didn't flake. I just rescheduled. When? Um, later."

A coach generally will get cranky if you sign up for too many races, as it interferes with your training schedule. They want to know months ahead of time, and even then they're like, "are you suuuure you have to do this extra race?" A coach will move, change, or cancel workouts if it's necessary. But when that happens, you feel extra guilty, because you feel like you're letting down not just yourself, but someone else as well. I already deal with enough personal guilt without piling more on.

And if a coach eases off your training because you clearly need it, you will be crushed by that. Crushed. Because all you'll hear is, "you're not strong enough to do this. You're not capable enough." Of course that's bullsh*t. But I know I feel like that, and I know my friends do too. That's just how we humans work. We take things super personally and beat the sh*t out of ourselves.

I know I don't train to my full potential. My friends remind me often. And I don't care. I know they care. That's why they have a coach. That's why you should get a coach: If you care. I don't. I've hated myself for it for a long time. That's why I overtrained and injured myself and did stupid things. I'm not the kind of person who's driven to be the best. I'm just not. And I know that. And I try really hard not to judge myself for it. I'd rather pace a friend in a marathon than try to race that marathon.

Running 20 miles and not caring.

I've never had a good marathon. Never. Even the ones where I did well, I didn't feel I did well enough. And yes, I can work my a$$ off and keep on trying and keep on improving by little bits until I finally hit the goal I want.

That has zero appeal for me. Just writing that makes me convulse. I just proofread that paragraph and my stomach clenched.

I'm super lazy. I train almost every single day (I hate rest days). I do crazy things. Last week I did two back-to-back 20 mile runs. But I'm lazy. Maybe it makes no sense, but I am. I train exactly so that I don't feel guilty about being lazy. It's twisted but it's true. If I work out for 2, 3, 4 or more hours, then I feel 100% justified lounging in bed the rest of the day, and I feel super good. But before I've exercised, I can't relax. And I'm trying to learn to be OK with rest days, but they're still super hard on me.

Everything in my life is like that. I have friends that are Type-A. They pick a project and go at it full tilt until it's done to their satisfaction. And they do everything like that. Just watching them makes me exhausted. I can't do that. I have to be extremely picky about the things I choose, because I know that most things I'd like to do, I'll never finish. No matter how motivated I am. I was super super motivated to learn guitar. My entire family is musical. I really really wanted to learn to play. And it went nowhere. I don't even remember why I stopped.

"I'm sure I'll stick with this forever..."

Training I've been able to stick to. But only because I do it exactly my way. If I finally decided to quit "f*cking around", hired a coach, and started doing that, it would destroy my love for training. It just would.

That's all just me. If you would do well with a coach, then get a coach. The only real take away from all of the above is that you have to know who you are, and be OK with it. Feeling guilty for not living up to other people's expectations is what ruins you. You just can't do that. You can force yourself to be different, but it doesn't last. And in the end you're just left broken and miserable.

Just be you.

If a coach helps you be a better you, then do that! If not, then not.

You decide.

"Wait, *I* decide??"

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thankful For All of the Things!

I ran 20 miles this morning. The holidays to me means more time to exercise! Any time I'm off work I run more. The weekends are.... fine. But that's only 2 days in which to squeeze in runs, swims, and bike rides. And I'm invariably trashed at work Monday. But I get two days off for Thanksgiving, so I can smash myself today and tomorrow and take it easy (well, easier) this weekend.

I'm lucky. You can even say I'm.... thankful (yes yes, it's a Thanksgiving day post, grooooooan). Some people have to work today, or can't spend time with their families for some other reason. Some folks aren't close with their families. That never makes sense to me and always fills me with sadness. My friends can always consider me family though. And I'm strong enough to take advantage of the time to run for 3+ hours.

Thanksgiving is a time of joy, but it can also be a time of stress. There's shopping, driving, cooking, catching up on a year of family gossip, and so on. It can feel like you have to force yourself to sit and eat... before you rush to do the dishes and make sure the kids are settled with their ice cream. I don't do any of that, because I'm still 5 years old. I'm the one who kicks his feet until treats are dumped into my face. But nevertheless I'm conscientious of the challenges that real adults have to deal with.

Amidst that running-around, taking the time to feel thankful feels like just that: Taking time. Most of you reading this are probably taking whatever few minutes you have to squeeze in your workout, probably in the morning while everyone is still blissfully asleep.

"Don't you dare make us get up."

I remember when I used to sleep in on holidays. I set my alarm for 6am this morning. I guess I got 45 more minutes of sleep than I usually do. But I got up and ran 9 miles. Then I ran a 5k at a sub 7 minute pace. Then I ran 8 more miles. I'm not sure if I won anything at the Turkey Trot; I didn't wait around to find out. There were a bunch of younguns running who smoked me, but maybe I placed in my division? It's not like I could carry (or eat) a frozen turkey anyway.

It was a cold morning, something like 25F when I started. And sweating and then stopping in between segments made that sweat freeze. But it was a lovely run. I didn't care much about my pace. My 5k was slower than previous years, but I didn't care. It felt good. I used to tie my ego to my athletic performance. That just left me miserable. Now I run for the adventure of it. It's awesome.

And I run to burn some calories...

There's a feeling of strength from being able to step out of the house and just go. There's a feeling of freedom, because in that time you're doing what YOU want to do. It's your time, and you're choosing how to spend it. There's no distraction to stop you from contemplating the depths of the universe. There's nobody demanding your attention while you reflect on your self-identity. You can think of any one of 404 things. You can even just listen to music; when else can you blast your favorite tunes without pi$$ing everyone off? It's perfect.

So I'm blessed. I'm thankful. And I'm aware of that now. If I work out, I don't focus on whether or not I fell short of expectations. I focus on the fact that I have the health and opportunity to be doing it! I swam yesterday at lunch. My arms were tired and I swam slow, but it felt really good to be in the water. So good that I even threw in 200m of breaststroke afterwards. I haven't done breaststroke in... a year I think. It used to be all I knew, and I still love it. It makes me feel like a frog.

Frogs are cool.

"I wish I was as cool as a frog :'("

I have all sorts of adventures lined up in the next few months. I have other big things going on that I'm not quite ready to talk about. All of them are making me very excited. They're daunting. They're scary. But I love fear. It makes me feel alive. I don't succumb to fear. If I'm scared of something, it just makes me want to face it head on that much more. I'm thankful that I have things that scare me. That's how I grow and succeed.

I'm thankful for love. My life feels awash with it lately. Can you drown in snuggles? It sounds like a good way to go, like a Monty Python sketch. But it feels like the more I appreciate my life, the happier I get. The happier I get, the more of that joy I get to share with my friends. And the more I do that, the more joy they return to me in kind. Last year I had a tough time and realized how easy it is to get in a downward spiral. Now I'm learning the same thing happens with upward spirals. Like that one Simpsons episode.

"My fellow Americans. As a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball;
but tonight I say, we must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward;
and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!"

Happy Thanksgiving you lovely and amazing people! I'm thankful for all of you! Even those of you who suck a little!