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!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Sometimes it Sucks a Little

Right now is a perfect storm of dropping temperatures, short daylight, tired body, and a trash diet. I used to hate myself around this time. I'd push myself to do useless workouts when my body was fried. I'd look at every extra pound of weight with anguish and disgust. I'd beat myself up for not wanting to freeze in the dark.

I realize now that this happens every year around this time. I gain a little weight, but it doesn't mean I'm going to keep gaining weight forever until I don't fit in my house anymore. My training may be spotty, but it doesn't mean it'll trickle away to nothing. I'll get used to training when it's cold and dark. I'm familiar with the pattern now.

It's hard to avoid obsessing over the day-to-day, to instead focus on the big picture. If I have a lousy swim, my first thought is, "oh no, I'll never have a good swim again!" If I don't have enough time to do a long run, my first thought is, "I'll never get the mileage I need!" But that kind of thinking does nothing. Even if it was true (which it's not), it still would accomplish nothing.

"Oh no, it's going to be winter forever!"

There's the daily goals: Do X miles or go for X time. The weekly goals: Do all these workouts and don't die. The longer term goals: Train and crush this race. But the ultimate goal is to be happier and healthier, to feel strong and accomplished. Exercising on broken legs is not healthy. Feeling guilty for eating too much does not make me happy. And I can't feel accomplished if I'm always feeling disappointed in myself.

You have to remember the big picture, the point of it all. What I'm doing now is what works for me. I chose fitness because it checked off a ton of boxes. If crocheting checked off all the same boxes, I'd do that instead. Unfortunately there's no medal for making a mean sweater. No rush of endorphins as all your best friends scream at you. Well OK, I don't know that much about crocheting. Are there medals?!

It's easy to get caught up though. My training is a big part of my identity now. Missing a workout can feel like losing a piece of yourself. It's especially hard if you came into fitness from a place of anger, or unhappiness, or lack of self-worth. During a slump, your mind starts racing, thinking, "oh no, I'm going to slide right back into that cesspool of misery!"

And once I become miserable is when
the questionable dating choices begin..

Relax. No road is smooth and perfect. Every climb has dips and setbacks. I can vomit up a cheesy cliche about keeping your eyes on the peak, but I think that's dumb. I'm not going to climb if I don't enjoy climbing. I will say though that resting is nice. I like to work hard, and I like to relax. Yes, I'd like to reach the top of the mountain, but I'm not in a rush. I feel satisfaction in watching it grow closer. And I'm in no hurry to have to find a bigger gnarlier mountain!

I've been counting calories for 4 years this month. After the initial precipitous drop, it's been pretty stable, fluctuating by about 5 pounds here and there. Last fall it jumped up by 10 because I ate an absurd amount of ice cream. But I quit ice cream and quickly lost that extra weight. Halo Top doesn't hammer my gut quite as badly. At the time, I was horrified by my quickly increasing waistline. But now I know that I can easily reset.

I've been training regularly for almost that whole time. At first it was just running and lifting. Now it includes swimming and biking. That too rises and dips based on a bunch of different things. But motivation isn't one of those things. It's in my blood now; there's no taking it out. If I flake on exercise, it's because I have to. Because I'm so broken that even my penchant for bad decisions can't get me up. I'm scheduled for Ironman Lake Placid next July. That means I have to - and will - train a LOT leading up to that.

One thing I'll say though is that I feel stronger now in general than I did last year. I almost ruined myself by running too much after Ironman Mont Tremblant, but I luckily wised up. This time last year I was suffering from overtraining syndrome, and that was a dark sh*tty time. I remind myself of that, so that I don't make the same mistake again. It taught me that exercise isn't enough for its own sake, it has to fit your goal.

That goal is happiness. That goal is health. That goal is to feel proud of myself.

And running in the winter isn't ALL bad.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Bond of Pain

The title sounds like I'm going to talk about something kinky. I haven't quite breached that threshold yet in this blog. Probably for the better. I don't think anybody wants to know me quite that intimately.

I had lots of friends when I was in my 20's, or at least people I could party and drink with. Few, if any of them, were people I felt I could really count on. But in all fairness, it's unlikely they could count on me either. We mostly lived frivolous, lighthearted lives. We just wanted to have fun and not deal with anything serious.

The friends I have now are people I can count on. How do I know? Because it's not uncommon for us to try to murder one another in endurance events spanning many hours. If you're willing to say, "hey, let's do this brutally hard and painful thing together!", then fixing a handrail or helping with other real life things suddenly becomes trivial in comparison.

"Brutally hard and painful" is my middle name!

Even more than that, it speaks to their character. The friends I have work their a$$es off to make something better of themselves, and they appreciate others who do the same. We want to support one another in our ever more challenging endeavors. Sometimes that means smashing a tree in their backyard, and sometimes it means pacing them for 10 or 20 miles in the middle of the night.

I used to be selfish, really selfish. I never wanted to feel "obligated" to anyone. Guess what, I was alone. Even when I was surrounded by people I was alone. I didn't care about them - not really - and they didn't care about me in return. Oh sure, on the surface we'd be like, "you rock bro!" But if they asked me to help them move, I'd be scrambling for excuses.

I think the thing is that none of us really cared about anything, or at least we didn't know yet what was important to us. I certainly didn't know. I spun my wheels and squandered a lot of time and energy. People didn't know me because there wasn't much there to know. And it was hard for them to relate, and therefore to give a sh*t.

I have zero sh*ts to give!

I know now what matters. And I have people in my life who also know what matters to them. And many of those things overlap. It creates a very powerful bond. When I help a friend, they help me in return. Though we don't think of it like that. There's no "points" to earn or redeem. It's just an ever lifting spiral where we all bring one another up to greater levels of happiness and success.

Training is hard. And doing it in isolation is very hard. Even when I was feeling depressed and alone, I was still posting stuff online for the validation. But now I'm not really training for the ego boost (well, ok, that's a lie, but not entirely for my ego!). Now I'm doing it for the community. I feel like the strength I'm building is strength that I can share with the ones I love. Many, if not most, of the races I sign up for, I do so because of the other folks doing them.

When I first started exercising regularly, I wasn't trying to join a community. In my mind, I didn't expect that entering on this lifelong path would result in meeting some of the most incredible folks on the planet. I didn't expect that I would find individuals that I cared for to such a great degree, who cared for me in return. I didn't even know that was possible for me.

I've written about my past before, that I came from a place of solitude. I thought I had missed my opportunity to become a human. When I was engaging in wild shenanigans in my youth, it was a distraction from that isolation. It didn't actually fill that hole in my soul; it just covered it up for a while. Now I realize I had just been afraid.

I ain't scurred of you.

Why was I afraid? I was afraid of losing my freedom. But that freedom means nothing if I can't share that time with others. I was afraid of letting people down. Failure happens, but in the long run I contribute more than I take away. I was afraid of being vulnerable. But if we never open ourselves to others, we risk poisoning ourselves with compressed anguish.

Training is pain. When you are in pain, your are vulnerable. But it is also when you discover your own greatest strength. When I do brutal races with my friends, I see that combination of strength and vulnerability. Their strength amazes and inspires me. Their vulnerability bonds me to them. When our spirits are open to one another, that is when they can entangle and rejoice.

It is in that moment of vulnerability that you realize that you're not alone. When you open the closet of your soul and reveal the demons within, your true friends won't flee. They will pick up their sword and do battle on those demons, even as you help battle their demons. In the end you may be weary and stained, but with a newfound radiance and joy.

I don't have any demons! Just fluff!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Does Finishing a Marathon Make You a Marathoner?

I saw this article posted a while ago: Steve Jones Raw: Starting And Finishing A Marathon Doesn't Make You A Marathoner. The first time I read it, I agreed and disagreed with it. Actually, I don't really know how I felt about it. I didn't want my head to hurt any more so I forgot about it. But then I saw it pop up again this morning. And a bunch of my friends are arguing about it. So I want to think about it, and the best way I can do that is by writing about it.

I'll start by saying what the most important part of running and marathons is to me: People. All of my best marathons where the best because of the people who ran with me or those who cheered me on. I felt pretty good when I ran Wineglass 2015 in under 3 and a quarter hours. I hung out mostly with Geoffrey that weekend and it was hilarious.

Wineglass 2016 was a much better experience, and not because I ran faster. In fact it took almost 6 hours to finish that race, but every minute of that time was worth it. That's because I paced a friend with stage 4 lung disease. And that whole weekend I hung out with a bunch of awesome LUNARs. Overall it was way more fun - but also more valuable - than 2015. And if someone came up to me and told me that me and my friend weren't really marathoners, I would've punched them in their stupid face.

Wineglass 2017 was just over-the-top amazing, because I spent even more time with even more incredible people. And the race itself was by far the best marathon I've ever run. It was just intoxicatingly fun . It felt like it lasted 2 seconds, even though it took me and Carrie just shy of 4 hours to finish. And if anyone had told her she wasn't really a marathoner, I would quite likely have murdered them.

It's pretty clear to me that my priority when it comes to running is the community and the people I have come to love. However, it's also clear that this is not the priority for Steve Jones when he runs. And that's totally OK. I just wanted to lay context. It's important to understand the perspective from which people say what they say.

All about people.... crazy people!

But I'm not done yet.

A lot of people tell me I'm fast. I'm not. I could be. But I squander my potential. My training is improving at a snail's pace. I run for all the wrong reasons - or at least I used to. The reasons have changed, but they skipped right over wanting to become a super duper athlete. I want to do well, but I don't want to be the best. I don't want to get into that head space. I'll explain later.

I know I'm not as fast as I could be. That's not to say I don't push hard at marathons. I have finished every marathon I've ever started, including ones that I really should have quit. The 26.2 on the end of Ironman Mont Tremblant was one of the most brutal experiences of my life. Some races I have pushed super hard, and some I stopped trying when I realized I had zero hope of accomplishing anything.

Does that mean I'm not really a marathoner? Out of the 10 official marathons I've run, the solo marathon I ran on New Years, and the 26.2 at the end of IMMT, should I only count those where I ran fast? Or pushed hard? Guess what, I've played that game. It had one result: I hated myself. Because I knew I wasn't fast and I knew it was entirely my fault and all that because it wasn't a priority. It's pretty clear that being not just fast, but the fastest, is a priority for Steve Jones. So, again, I've written a bunch of stuff that barely has anything to do with his words.

But I'm not done yet.

My problem with what he said isn't what he said. It's that he said it. Publicly. That makes him an a$$hole. I've thought all sorts of stupid things in my life. Many many stupid things in fact. I've written some of those stupid things in this blog, and got severely chewed out by my friends. Thankfully most of my idiotic thoughts I keep to myself. They are safe there in the dark recesses of the sad angry corner of my mind.

This is hiding in that same dark corner...

The truth is that I've judged people. A lot. I've judged people that I love dearly. I've had the exact thoughts that Steve Jones vocalized. The exact same. And those thoughts always - ALWAYS - came from the same root.


Every single time - Every. Single. Time. - I've ever judged someone else, it's because I'm actually judging myself. If I say Bob is slow, it's because I believe I'm slow. If I say Bob isn't really a runner and is just wasting his time, it's because I feel I'm not really a runner and I'm wasting my time. If I say Bob shouldn't bother running a marathon because he'll just humiliate himself, it's because I believe I shouldn't bother running a marathon because I will just humiliate myself. Bob isn't the problem. Bob has done nothing wrong. My problem is me.

My problem is guilt.

My problem is anger.

My problem is depression.

It's not about, and has never been about, the person I judged. It's always been about me.

It's also the reason I pushed myself so hard. The reason I caused myself injury. The reason I trained stupidly. The reason I pushed myself far beyond pain and exhaustion. Because of my insecurity, my unhappiness, my guilt, my anger at myself.

"Wooooo... I hate myself! Wooooo...."

I'm not saying Steve Jones pushes himself hard for this reason. I don't know him at all. Maybe he's a super cheerful guy who loves life and just likes to run fast. Although I will point out that a happy guy wouldn't go and say something that would upset so many people on purpose. But look at other athletes.

Michael Phelps is an obscenely good swimmer. He's won many many gold medals. He has also dealt with depression and low self-worth all his life. Lance Armstrong inspired many many people for many years with his amazing achievements at Tour de France. He definitely blew me away. And then it was discovered that he doped like crazy and destroyed lives to hide his secret. Mike Tyson suffered from self-loathing his entire life. Google famous athletes who've suffered from depression and prepare to cry a lot.

And many successful non-athletes have similar stories. Many actors, musicians, comedians and others have suffered. Many have committed suicide. Robin Williams and Curt Cobain immediately jump to mind. Carrie Fisher didn't kill herself, but she lived a very hard life that resulted in her death. Many have died because they pushed themselves passed the limits of their bodies. That's a form of slow suicide as far as I'm concerned. I've had dark thoughts of a similar nature myself as well.

Pushing yourself that hard is not natural. It's not. We did not evolve that way. Our minds and bodies don't want to do that. I believe that anybody who trains to a brutal degree and pursues success at any expense does so because he or she has personal demons to exorcise. I certainly did, 100%. I hated myself so I started counting calories. I hated myself so I started exercising and kept increasing the volume at a drastic rate.

Seriously, look at this chubby weirdo.

I'm a lot happier now, and my body is getting stronger. And I feel myself on a continued upward trajectory. Will I continue to train as hard? I honestly don't know. Will my opinion of why people push themselves hard change? Maybe. I certainly will always push myself for the sake of people I love. I would defend them with my body. Most of the people I've mentioned above though pursued success for themselves.

It's not a bad thing to train to deal with the negativity in your soul. In fact exercise is a positive and healthy way to deal with that junk. And you can do it in such a way that doesn't result in a shortened life span. And your training can bring joy to you and those around you. And, if it does bring you joy, and you learn to love yourself and others.... Then you will not be inclined to say or write something that hurts or insults those people you love.

Does that make sense?

So my summary. Success isn't bad. It's great. Training for success is great. Sharing your success with others in a positive way is great. Having an opinion about success and what it takes to get there? Fine. Totally fine.

Sharing an opinion that accomplishes nothing except to piss a bunch of people off?

Now you're a jerk.

"I'm not a jerk, I'm just way better than you."