Thursday, February 23, 2017

Tri Training

I'm signed up for the Mont-Tremblant Ironman in August. I'm also doing two Half-Ironmans, Patriot in June, and Musselman in July. I still consider myself mostly a runner, and that's what my blog usually is about, but I have to do a fair bit of biking and swimming too. I could run every day, even if I'm not feeling well or I'm "not in the mood." Biking and swimming are a pain.

Well, indoors anyway. Biking for hours on a stationary bike sucks, even watching Netflix. And swimming back and forth in a pool gets... repetitive. Doing those things outside is a lot more fun. But right now I don't have much choice. I don't want to jump into the water at my first triathlon and exclaim, "oh wait, I don't know how to swim!" And drown.

Drowning blows.

I still suck at swimming. Old ladies regularly kick my a$$ in the pool. Not that I'm knocking old ladies. They're badass. There's one I see regularly who's around 70 and looks like a locomotive in the water. Churn churn churn. I look like a pigeon that just fell into a puddle. Except the puddle is 8 feet deep.

"It's wet?! Nobody told me it would be wet!!"

Geoffrey and Meghan have insane training plans. Their coaches try to kill them every day. Geoffrey's legs have swelled to the size of tree trunks. Meghan trains more in a single day than I do in a week. I can't do what they do. I've always just "winged" my training. But it's the only way I can avoid burning out. The two of them will likely cross the finish line in Quebec hours before me.

That's OK.

I'm doing it because I can. Only .5% of people have completed a marathon. But 1 in 200 isn't awesome enough for me; I've done plenty of marathons. Less than .01% have completed an Ironman. That's something I could maybe boast about. I recognize it's just my ego. But it's healthier than showing off how much whiskey I used to drink.

Well, if I drown, maybe that won't be true. You can only figuratively drown yourself in a whiskey bottle.

Training for a triathlon has its upsides. No one part of my body gets as hammered as when I just run. There's more variety, more options. If the weather is awful outside, I can hop on the stationary bike and pretend I'm not lazy. And swimming can be downright therapeutic when my body is fried. I don't foam roll or massage my muscles or do any of the other things that intelligent people do. But swimming helps even out the many kinks in my body.

At this point I think I have more kinks than "body".

Finding the time can be hard. Well, mostly getting up when it's still dark out is hard. I often exercise before and after work. And I do 8 to 9 hours total Friday through Sunday. And that will only increase as I get closer to the summer. I'm impressed by people who have a family and still train for a triathlon! I'm not sure that they even sleep. I don't sleep either, but only because my body is still expecting me to pull out my late night sick pack of Coors Light.

"Just four more to go!"

Ahh the good old days.

2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running seems like a lot. It is! But then, I used to think a full marathon was far. Now I'll run at least half that distance just for giggles. And some people think a triathlon of any length is a feat. But I swam for an hour, biked for over an hour, and ran 5 miles on Sunday, which is somewhere between a sprint tri and an intermediate tri. And once my bike rides start stretching to 4, 5, 6 hours, even that won't seem that terrible.

Your mind just gets used to it. You torture it enough, it gives up complaining. Some folks may hesitate to sign up for an event that far exceeds anything they've done before. But that's what the training is for. As long as you don't slack off, you will be able to finish. Maybe not fast, but you will. And I signed up for the Ironman almost a full year out, so I have no excuse.

I waste too much time posing for cameras.

There's no way I'd be doing what I'm doing now if I hadn't signed up. If you're someone who struggles with exercising daily.... sign up for a race! It doesn't have to be an Ironman. Even a half marathon is awesome! And the fear of failure, the fear of embarrassment, is greater than the ickiness of slush and snow. Prey on those insecurities!

Training daily is all about fooling your brain. Motivation sucks. You can't count on it. But manipulative trickery.... That's gold! Your brain only wants fried foods and sleep. Anything beyond that and you will start hearing an angry buzzing between your ears. Don't feel bad. My brain hates me too.

Use any and every dirty trick you can think of to keep yourself going.

Also, I used "well" a lot...


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Bad Stuff is the Good Stuff

I've been fortunate in life. Despite occasionally b@#ching about being sick for a few weeks or running slow, I've been lucky. Things have always worked out for me right when I needed them to. There are many people who aren't so lucky. They suffer from anxiety. Depression. I used to think, "that makes no sense. They should just get over it."

That's because I was an idiot.

I would judge these folks because when I was younger, I didn't stress much over anything. It's not that I was better at handling my $hit than them. It's because I didn't really care about anything or anyone. It wasn't a solution. It was an escape. I was afraid of caring. Now there are things in my life that I value strongly, and people that I care about immensely. So now I get anxious or melancholy much more often, but it's worth it.

I also have friends in my life who suffer from depression or anxiety. Some of them have to take medication for it, because if they don't, it will ruin their life. For my younger stupid self, this was hard to grasp. But I've experienced the mental anguish of my friends second-hand for some time now. And due to my constant training, I've experienced my own brain chemistry get completely f@#ked. I've gotten really upset, really angry, anxious, and downright depressed, even though I would tell myself logically, "what the f*&k? Just get over it!"

It doesn't work.

Growing up doesn't prepare you for this at all. School is easy. Students may feel like it's tough, but it's not. You have structure. You are told what to do. You know exactly what to expect. You don't have to worry about a car breaking down, staying late for work, or a friend inviting you to an all day event that you have to go to (yeah, skip that wedding because you don't feel like going; just try it). In school, life makes sense. You feel like everything is going according to plan, and that is immensely comforting.

Then you graduate and you realize, cr@p, you have absolutely no clue what to do. Suddenly the down comforter of purpose and structure is violently ripped away from you, exposing you to the harsh elements of real life and self-doubt.

I went to an Ivy League school, not because I was smart or hard-working, but because I was lucky. I grew up poor, but I ate enough and had a place to live, because I was lucky. I felt satisfied in my world view, confident that my life would work out perfectly, magically. I was lucky to have this faith and sense of solidity.

When I graduated I didn't get an awesome job. I wasn't a driven or dedicated person. I lived with my parents and was only slightly employed. I would sleep in, go to the gym, and hang out with my very few nerdy friends. I kept living like a child. The only reason I got the awesome job I have now is because my dad got tired of me bumming around the house and directed me to a job ad (again, pure blind luck).

I still didn't find meaning or direction. I started drinking and my social life exploded. Ahah! I thought. This is it, this is what I was missing: Connection. But it wasn't connection, it was just empty frivolous validation and ego-seeking. I didn't give a shit about the people I met; I only sucked emotional highs out of them. I hurt people, but I didn't care. And I still judged those who were anxious or scared.

"I'm not anxious. This just sucks."

I coasted by like this for years. I jumped from "relationship" to "relationship". I use quotes because saying I was capable of anything substantial at the time is laughable. I partied. I drank. I got fat. I had a lot of fun. A lot of fun. And for a long time it was enough. I convinced myself it was enough. I avoided stress and responsibility like they were the plague. And having a nice job convinced me I wasn't a total loser.

Now I stress. Now I worry. Now I get anxious. Now I get depressed. And thank God. Thank. God. I want responsibility. I want to give a $hit about things. I want to have people in my life that matter so much to me that I think constantly about them and worry about how they're doing. I want to obsess over my training and whether I'm working hard enough to accomplish my goals. I want to have to review this blog post to make sure I didn't use the same fancy noun twice.

I'm a human being now. I'm no longer a pile of goop chasing after stimulus. I'm no longer a child absentmindedly chewing on salty snacks drowning myself in pretty colors and noises. I'm no longer an imp chasing after petty indulgences. I thought I was liberated before, but I was just scared, confusing pain-avoidance for freedom. My soul is liberated now, free to immerse itself fully in life.

And life is awesome.

Absurd, awesome, whatever.
Photo Cr. Marc Ryan

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentines Day!

Life is tough and weird and crazy. Sometimes it's hilarious, and sometimes it's painful. There's times when we rejoice, and times when we suffer. But the bad times are much easier to bear with people you love, and the good times are that much better when shared with them!

The past few months have been just as bizarre for me. There were times when I felt absolutely alone, refusing to allow anyone to break my self-imposed isolation. Thankfully that's been more than offset by the immense love and joy that I've been given recently. I sometimes whine that I don't "deserve" it, but love is something you cultivate. It doesn't just fall on top of you like a chandelier while you're reading Tolstoy.

I have likewise had ups and down in my training, which I've mentioned in other posts. In the fall, I buried myself in a dark place due to my overtraining syndrome. In January I could've easily fallen into a similar pit of despair due to a horrible stomach thing, but thankfully I didn't allow myself to do so. Someone has recently entered my life who makes me feel genuinely blessed. She's reminded me that I want joy in my life, and that secluding myself is just an indulgence.

That may seem weird, that choosing to feel bad is an indulgence. But it is. Ultimately we decide how we react to the events in our lives. We can choose to focus on the bad stuff - the disasters. We can choose to take for granted the good stuff - the minor miracles. Or we can take it all as an opportunity to grow, become stronger, to prosper, and to be more joyful.

Being alone brings a sort of comfort. It's a familiar pain. And when you're alone, nobody can hurt you, and you can't hurt anyone. I've hurt a lot of people in my life. I used to be very selfish, and now I recognize that fact. I feel guilty for having hurt people. And yet, when I talk to those old friends, expressing my regret, they forgive me! The guilt doesn't help anyone, it just acts as an excuse to not change. I embrace change now. It excites me and brings constant improvements.


I don't really celebrate Valentine's Day, or most holidays for that matter. One may argue it's just a commercial holiday, meant to sell greeting cards and chocolates. One may say, "why do you need a special day to express how you feel?!"

You don't.

But it's a day of focus. Today, I can't not think about love. The love I have to give, and the love many others have so generously given me. It's a day I can say "I love you!" to my dear friends without making them too squeamish (although I generally don't mind making folks squirm a bit with my sappiness these days). And even with the cards and chocolates and stuffed bears that will go straight into a closet... it brings a moment of warmth. Sometimes it's all too easy to forget how lucky you are to have the people in your life that you do.

I know I've been mentioning love a lot recently. I promise I'll go back to talking about crushing rocks with bare feet! But as always, I write for myself too, and this is a lesson I do not want to forget. I have forgotten it all too often in the past. I can never have too many reminders of how important it is to me. Out of all the highs life has brought me - beautiful nights of music and laughter, crossing the finish line of a brutal race, breaking a brick with my bare hands - love is the one I can point to and say, "this is it. This is why I'm alive."

So to you reader, I love you. And to some special readers, I love you extra :)

As close as I'll come to flowers!

Friday, February 10, 2017

I Never Feel Like Working Out

I didn't feel like swimming today. I spent half an hour trying to log into my investment account so I could get my 1099 and failed miserably. And I was tired, and sore, and hungry, and just really whiny. And I have to, like, drive 15 minutes to the pool, and there was a big hairy guy in the shower room aggressively scrubbing his manly bits for all to behold.

I went swimming. And it was amazing. I had a huge learning moment and shaved 20 seconds off my 100 meter time. That's a lot, by the way.

Yesterday it was 15 degrees. Fahrenheit. In Celsius the number becomes even more depressing. I really didn't want to run. All day I was thinking, "I really don't want to run." I even debated jumping on a horrible, awful, soul-crushing treadmill. It was so cold that polar bears were crossing town heading south for warmer climes.

I went running. Outside. I ran 10 miles. And it was amazing. I don't know why but it was just really great.

I never want to ride the stationary bike for two and a half hours either. That's just a really long time to have my balls crushed. But then afterwards I get to eat a bathtub full of ice cream.

But knowing that I'll feel good after a workout doesn't really help me before a workout. I've had plenty of terrible workouts, so it's far from a guarantee. And I don't have to eat ice cream. I can just not exercise, and eat a normal meal like a normal human.

If I only exercise when I feel like it, I will literally never work out. It's really rare that I'm actually motivated to go outside. Usually because it's a gorgeous day, or I'm doing it with a friend. But it's the dead of winter right now, and there's nobody around for me to have adventures with. So it's just me, tired, suffering from a bit of Seasonal affective Disorder (ie. hating winter), and often freezing.

I have no problem exercising every day. I may b*tch and complain, but I get up and I go do it. Every time. Sometimes I even exercise when I really shouldn't, like this past month when I had just the most horrible thing and exercising made it ten times worse.

Most of the folks who read this are probably already bada$$ athletes, and know what it's like to be sore or exhausted and kicking patoot anyway. But if you're one of those who struggles to get going in the first place.... Well, I'm going to be a jerk. The reason you struggle is because you treat working out as something you want to do, rather than something you have to do.

If you want to exercise, it's going to lose out every time to the other things you want to do which don't involve sweating or freezing or smashing your body. Like watching TV. Or reading a book with your cat (if it's literate.... otherwise in the proximity of your cat). Or eating an entire thing of Oreo cookies and then staring at the empty tray with a slight frown.

However, if you treat exercise as something you have to do, on the same list as going to work, doing your laundry so you don't smell like Oscar the Grouch's socks, or grocery shopping so you don't die, then it's no problem. It doesn't matter how you feel. It doesn't matter if you're not in the "mood". If your kid is sick, you stay up all night wiping her nose, and then go to work (after drinking ten coffees). It doesn't matter. You may hate yourself afterward, but you just do it.
"I don't wear socks, dummy!"

Because you have to.

How do you get to that point in the first place? You have to be kind of crazy. You have to convince yourself that working out is as critical to your survival as earning a living and and putting digestibles into your body. Which, for some people, it is. But even if that's not the case, you just have to pretend. I mean, you don't really have to work at a job. Plenty of people have super sh!tty lives and keep on kicking. If you lost your job and your house, you'd be fine. You just wouldn't be able to afford bags and bags of Oreo cookies anymore.

It requires changing your life. Downright destroying it really. When you first started working full time, you probably had to sacrifice day-drinking with your unemployed friends. When you started doing your own chores, you probably had to sacrifice sitting around doing nothing all day. If you had a kid, you probably had to sacrifice.... well, everything.

Exercise is one thing that you choose to make sacrifices for. That is incredibly powerful. A lot of us feel helpless in our lives, like we're just being dragged along on a prescribed path. And yeah, going for a run may be as exhausting as doing a mountain of dishes, but it's something you chose to put into your life. It's something you chose, because it adds meaning, satisfaction, and a sense of accomplishment to you. It's something you chose, because it makes you a better and stronger person.

And because you chose it, you have to do it.

Every day.

Even with results like these,
I still don't feel like working out

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Discovering Your Personal Nature

I have often wondered about who I am, what my purpose is, how I should live my life and whether I'm doing it "right". I've made a lot of mistakes, and will likely continue to make a lot of mistakes. I judge myself harshly for things that are beyond my control. And I feel time slip away that I will never get back.

I've always been a fan of language. I like learning new languages, appreciating how cultures are shaped by the language they speak, and seeing both the similarities and differences between them. It's pretty cool stuff for a nerd like me.

When I was in my 20's I wanted to learn a new language. I couldn't decide which one I should start with, so I ended up spinning my wheels and doing nothing. Finally I realized I was just making excuses and that there was no "best" language to start with, so I just picked Japanese. Useless? Maybe. Probably. But I liked it.

I studied it for a couple years, mostly through audio lessons on my work commutes. I did some other languages too, although not quite to the same extent. But I stopped about a year ago. I got frustrated that I never would get to practice with native language speakers, and that I was forgetting more than I was learning. I didn't know when or where I would get to travel.

What's my point with the story? It was neither right nor wrong that I started to study languages. And it was neither right nor wrong that I stopped. The only wrong thing was in judging myself. Should I do it? Which one? Why am I doing it? Was it wrong that I quit? Should I go back to it?
We all struggle with these thoughts...

Those are all stupid questions. They make me feel guilty. Either I squandered my life learning languages I'll never use, or I'm squandering my life not learning languages. It doesn't matter. What matters is whether I'm happy. Whether I feel like my life is moving in a generally positive direction. Whether I'm proud of myself.

I train for the same reason. Plenty would say it's a waste of time, that I should be focusing on my career, or that I should be making babies or something. I train far more than is necessary to be fit and healthy. And I'm never going to get rich or famous as an athlete. And I struggle sometimes, both physically if I get hurt or sick, and emotionally if I feel disappointed in my performance. Some of my friends say I should chill out, have some whisky, and reacquaint myself with a social life.

Ultimately, it's arbitrary. It doesn't really matter what we do. We all will die some day. But I can't afford to second guess myself. In the modern age, most of us have near a infinite number of options available to us! Should I learn to play guitar? Should I go back to school? Should I write a novel? Should I take Crossfit? Should I get into monster trucks?

Should I just eat this box of donuts?

The real problem is fear. It's easy to get paralyzed by the sheer number of options available and to end up doing nothing. Or to keep jumping from thing to thing without ever developing any mastery. Or to be riddled with guilt for not doing the "right" thing. And ultimately it becomes an escape. An escape from being forced to look deeply inwards and to figure out who you really are.

Because who the F@#k knows? Nobody. It's impossible to know. You spend your whole life learning and die knowing nothing. The only thing you have any control over is how you feel. Do you feel happy and successful? Or do you feel miserable and unsatisfied.

Exercising makes me feel good. Writing makes me feel good. I don't need to painstakingly analyze these choices. I might make adjustments as I learn and grow. But I'm not going to let doubt or fear effect my mood or decisions. It accomplishes nothing, except to make me feel sh!tty.
That's a lot of weight. Maybe I should second guess it...

There is one exception, one thing we should all pursue because it undeniably makes life much richer and more amazing: Love. We all know that and we all want love. And yet many of us - most of us - struggle with it endlessly. And it often causes more pain and drama than joy. Love has to come from a position of strength and self-respect.

If you are insecure about your decisions, or feel guilty that you haven't made any, or worry that you're on the wrong path, you're going to project that. It's going to tarnish every relationship you have. If you are proud of who you are, and confident that you are on a path of joy and success, then you will exude that as well. But that is a choice.

Discover a thing, your thing. Whether it's running, painting, knitting, or scuba diving. Do that thing. Love it. And love yourself because of it. And then when you love yourself, you will have no trouble giving and receiving love. It will reverberate from and towards you, ever increasing in strength. And when that happens, you won't doubt yourself anymore. You won't question your decisions. Your life will be full. And it will be joyful.

Almost as joyful as eating this cupcake.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

I'm Not an Athlete

A lot of what I write here is catharsis. If I'm having a tough time for some reason, I kick my own butt to remind myself that a lot of it is just in my own head. I know a lot of folks have similar struggles though, so I hope it helps you as well.

One of the things I tell myself - when I'm feeling depressed and mad at myself - is that I'm "not an athlete". I tell myself that I'm just embarrassing myself by pretending that I am. I was sick for most of January, and my body still isn't 100%. I've gotten back to nearly my previous level of training, but my body is definitely still struggling.

It doesn't matter though. I'm never going to be an elite athlete, and that's not a goal for me. I tried to qualify for Boston last year and failed. I failed exactly because I trained too hard and and messed up my body. Then I got angry at myself for my perceived weakness and trained even more, which only made me worse. The problem wasn't that I suck at exercise, it's that I expect too much from myself and don't rest when I need to.

I've mentioned before that one of my priorities is vanity. I like looking good. And that's something I can do without breaking myself, simply by maintaining my calorie intake. I also like to do crazy adventurous runs. I ran a marathon at midnight of New Years. I didn't care if I did it fast. Most of the time I don't have a pace goal. I'm signed up for an Ironman, but I just want to finish it and say I've done it. So if I have a slow workout.... It really doesn't matter.

On Sunday I had a good swim. I swam a mile and a half entirely with freestyle stroke, which was a first for me. I was telling Geoffrey about it, because I wanted to share my joy. I said something like, "it's nothing for you, but for me it's good." And he told me, rightfully, that his swimming has nothing to do with mine and that I shouldn't compare myself to him. I should compare myself to myself. I had a better swim than my previous swims. And that's what counted.

Thumbs up for not drowning!

Because I'm friends with so many other runners and athletes, it's really easy to get caught up comparing myself to them. And I have no doubt they compare themselves to me. And I have to admit, guiltily, that one of the reasons I did that midnight marathon on New Years was to make people say, "holy cow!" Because I still have quite a bit of ego banging around in my skull.

To an extent, it's OK. Competition makes you train harder. But it's a double-edged sword. Too much of it and you start looking for reasons to feel down about yourself. And pushing yourself to work harder can easily turn into pushing yourself too hard. Which can lead to the negative spirals I'm all too familiar with.

Anger also can be healthy to an extent. If I don't want to get up and run because it's cold or dark out, I'll get angry at myself and go and do it. That's OK. Afterwards I'll feel good about myself. However, if I run, and then get angry at myself for my run afterwards, that's not good. I have no way to vent that anger. I just sit and stew and hate on myself.

"Stop hating yourself and feed me already!"

Everybody would tell me that I am an athlete. One, it's because the people I love are amazing, and make me feel good when I'm struggling. But two, they see the things I do: How much I lift, run, swim, bike, and that I teach karate. If I exercise for over ten hours a week and tell myself I'm not an athlete.... That's just me indulging myself in pointless whining. And it's not fair to my friends either. If I run ten miles and say it was junk, how are they going to feel about their 5 mile run?

It all comes down to getting stuck in my own head so much. It's why it's so important for me that I have love in my life. Because being with people, talking with them, always makes me feel better. I'm really my own worst enemy. And in being able to help them with their personal demons, it reminds me that I'm not the only one who struggles. I'm not the only person in the world who sucks sometimes. There are people who I would consider better athletes than me who beat themselves up too.

Although sometimes there's a good reason to beat yourself up...

That's the thing. Your pain is your pain. Your struggles are your struggles. Your successes are your successes. You may look at others, and perceive them as being "better" or "worse" than you, and would expect them to feel comparatively better or worse about themselves. But that's not how it works. The fat guy eating a box of friend chicken wings might be feeling pretty amazing about himself. Whereas I may be hating on myself because I did one fewer rep on my deadlifts that morning. Our universes are entirely different.

So whatever your feel, whatever you think, it's entirely 100% your choice. Sure sometimes something really awful happens, and it's hard to not feel down. That's OK. I'm not saying you should force yourself to be giddy with joy all the time. That's a recipe for insanity. But if you stub your toe and start hating on yourself for being a clumsy idiot (which may sound like a dumb example but I totally do this), then maybe don't do that.

Like I said, I wrote this for myself. I often judge myself. I often feel lousy if I don't perform to some arbitrary standard. I get angry at myself for getting sick and not being able to exercise. And then I force myself to exercise anyway, and get angry at myself for getting even more sick. It's a really stupid pattern, and it makes no sense. I'm getting upset that I'm not superhuman.

Being superhuman would be boring though. There's no challenge. I'm defined by my challenges. All of the pride I have in myself is due to overcoming challenge. The fact that I feel challenged is good. Because that is a recipe for growth. For learning. For becoming a better human being.

Although I don't know if I'll
ever overcome my vanity...