Seek the Truth for Yourself and I’ll Meet You There.

Sometimes we just get caught up in all the wrong stuff. I’m probably the best example of this, my most recent debacle for instance. What’s more important: actually getting out there and doing the work, or getting the credit for having done the work? I started a fitness journey with the sole purpose of being able to do these things, to improve my overall health, to have fun. The purpose wasn’t to leave a legacy of official times littered over the internet, to wit, the very first race I ran on my 46-in-46 year was a self-timed 5k.

Ah, but that little goal set me off on the wrong course: 46 races by the end of the year wasn’t what I needed to focus on. It wasn’t long before I was running 2 races a day, or 3 in a weekend to push the number up.  That in and of itself wasn’t bad, but hell why run anything longer than a 5k when you’re only getting credit for one race? Why not run 2 5ks and get two done?  The next year I course corrected.

“ I used to think the human brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.”
Emo Philips

Sometimes, we get what we need right when we need it. Earlier this week I was out for a run with a friend. It wasn’t a long run, or a hard run. It was pretty easy for the most part: while it eased off during the obstacle races, my piriformis  is still pretty much in a knot and has really hindered running.  I know this guy from running- we met on the first long run either of us had done, where we spent the time talking and really got to know each other; you learn quite a bit about people when you have 90 minutes to do nothing but chat. Of the topics of conversation that day, books and life philosophy topped the list, so its really no surprise that a year and a half later thats what we should be discussing.

He’s mentioned it to me in the past, but this day he had pulled out a specific reference from The subtle art of not giving a f#&k, illustrated it in practice and I decided I needed to check it out.  It was the perfect antidote to my Spartan funk.

There’s absolutely nothing special about that race, about having that finishing time. Nothing. The only thing that makes it remotely special to me is that I did it.  There’s literally thousands of people that run these races every year. Not special.

So I picked up the book, and swallowed it whole. The vignette that really caught my attention was one where in his late teens while at a party in the woods, the author and his friend were discussing jumping off a cliff into the water. The last time he saw his friend alive, he was on his way to get a sandwich and the friend was heading to the cliff.

I could see myself in the same situation, overthinking the “what ifs” and “if onlys.” Spinning endlessly into depression and self-loathing. It took the better part of that summer to come to some meaning to his friend’s death, but he ultimately settled on the idea that if there is really no reason to do anything, then there’s really no reason NOT to do anything.

There is literally no reason to ever give into fear or embarrassment, and in not doing something to avoid these things you’re actually avoiding living.  Death is inevitable, but living isn’t.

And there is it. My friend Duke had given me the key to what was really messing my head. You screwed up. So what. What are you going to do next? I wasn’t afraid of failure to start, why do I fear it now? Seriously. If I was that fearful, I wouldn’t have done it in the first place. Failure is always a possibility, giving up is not. Failure is a possibility only as long as you’re alive – only the living get to experience it, and if I fail because I lose focus doing something badass, that means I’m human.

I’m stopping blaming myself, stopping the self-flagellation and moving on. At some point you realize that you’ve lived more of your life than you have left, and I’ve decided that I’m going to live that time to the best of my ability and I will not let myself get in my own way. It doesn’t matter anyway, so get out there and life your best life. I’m not building some “immortality project” (from another book the author references), I’m just out there living.

Much earlier in the week we were discussing a couple of races to run together, and I was goading him on. There’s a 10k trail race this weekend with an option for a half marathon.  He’s running the 10k, I asked him why not the half – predictably, because most sensible people would say this, his answer was that he’s running the half we had just signed up for in a couple weeks. To which I said there’s no reason he can’t do both. As it happened I decided to run neither.

This went around a bit to this point in the conversation where I said that I feel more bad-ass now than I did at 45. I love that I can kick ass on most guys my age. I am celebrating the idea that I can do this stuff. I hate running. I hate these aches and pains. But,  I LOVE kicking ass. I’m not masochistic. I’m showing anyone who pays attention that it can get done if you want to get it done. All of which sounds like the book that I’ve just finished, I just didn’t realize it. He then said something most unexpected and most appreciated: “You’re scratching your itch which is to inspire others, motivate others through your karma…I love this about you.”

I’ve never thought of myself as anything of the kind, but I appreciate the words: letting go of the reasons you can’t do something, and giving yourself the permission to challenge boundaries, to live your life may have the effect of inspiring others to do the same. Thank you Duke for that inspiration.

 

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Preventable Failure: The Cycle of Self Recrimination

Over the last we’ll say 30 some odd hours, I’ve been cycling through various stages of self-recrimination.  At first I was angry that some volunteer could have made a determination that I didn’t have correct push up form or raise my arms over my head doing burpees. Then when I saw not only was I not counted for having done the correct number of burpees at one station, but at each one I attempted, I was upset with myself. Then I spent some time with the rule book and found that even shorting myself 10 burpees wouldn’t have disqualified me, just added some time to my score. Less than 20 does.  And on the second to last obstacle I failed to do even that.

And the recriminations cycle again.

Worst? This is a stupid race. A race.  It means nothing in the greater scheme of things.  I did it. I have the GPX file to prove it. I have a finishers medal and t-shirt and anyone whose ever volunteered at a Spartan races knows how closely those things are guarded. But, I just don’t have an official time.  5 burpees. 100 yards from the finish line.  It’s all I have been able to think about.

I went out for a run with my running group tonight and the topic of conversation? “How was it?” Ugh. So don’t want to talk about it. I’m not sure what’s more ridiculous – that I’m that hung up about it, or that I have something to be hung up on.  It’s a spiral and I can’t seem to find a way off of it. Even my run tonight sucked which gave me plenty of time to perseverate. I’m mentally ill. I have to be. That’s the only explanation.  Either that, or I’ve just placed too high an importance to these things.

The important thing is getting out there and getting it done. I failed. I goofed, didn’t do what I should have and as a result, I failed. It’s really that simple. People fail all the time – often in far more catastrophic ways: they kill a pedestrian after driving while impaired; they come a point shy of passing their bar exam; they make split second decisions that play out in the worst consequences.  There are a lot of worse things than spending 4.5 hours on a mountain, testing your limits, and coming up short.  No one died, thousands of dollars weren’t lost, no one’s life is worst for me having failed. Its one of those things that happens. Google “race DNF” and find stories of just crushing proportion.  I found THIS article on actually DNF-ing a Spartan. I didn’t DNF, and that cat actually did the burpees, but I guess in reading other people’s stories of failure it helps me to process my own.

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This is from a remarkable blog entry on just this very topic from a slightly different view. She’s talking about dancing competitions, I’m talking about a Spartan Beast, but the lesson is the same: control your inner dialog, your definitions of success.  

No one wants to fail. No one expects to fail. My inner dialogue during the race was all about knowing I was going to finish. Never once did I think I would screw it up. But I did. I’ve screwed up plenty of things of greater importance in my life and screwed up things I’ve worked harder on and things that were far less gratifying to undertake. There are far worse things in life.

And there we are, on the other side of the cycle. At one point I wrote about the implications of negative internal dialog – your beliefs become destiny.   I need to remember these lessons. There’s two ways you can travel on a spiral: you can either slide downward or you can take the long way and crawl back up.  Sliding down is easy, its hard work going up. Just as hard as the combined 10,000′ of elevation 2 Spartan Beasts over the weekend were.

2018 Race Recap #19: Tri-State NJ Beast

Yup. Day #2.  Second one in two days.  For a middle aged, marginally fit guy pushing to find his limits, this was an expression of that journey.  Guess what? I found the limits. I have to say that of some 130 races over the last 2 and a half years or so, this is the most humbling…no humiliating I have felt.

First the course specifics and details.  Sunday clocked in at 14.1 miles – just about a mile shorter than Saturday’s course. I haven’t looked at the maps of both to know if there was actually a mile less or if my watch was inaccurate or what – actually it would be more than a mile less because on Sunday, I missed the spear throw that I made Saturday and had to take a penalty loop.  More on penalties later, because they play a substantial role in my story of Sunday. Elevation gain Sunday was up over 5200′ compared with 5000′ Saturday which would definitely be reflected in that spear penalty as it was just straight up…forever…or so it seemed.

I missed obstacles I got on Saturday, I got one Sunday that I had missed Saturday which felt good. The lesson of the day, though, is that Spartan races are more than physical challenges – they’re mental challenges.  I pushed through this race, and was physically compromised to be sure, but I did it. My mental acuity though, my mental acuity failed.  I failed 3 obstacles with a burpee penalty – 30 burpees and a time penalty.  When I crossed the finish line – I actually took some time to pull myself together before jumping over the fire at the finish – I felt like I had crushed the race.

I later found that I had been disqualified.  It seems I had failed to complete the requisite 30 burpees on ALL 3 failures.  ALL of completing progressively fewer – including the penultimate obstacle on the course – which is the one I apparently didn’t put in the minimum.  I KNOW I counted 30, but knowing you counted 30 clearly doesn’t mean you completed 30.  So, I failed.  And while I finished, and not technically a DNF, I was disqualified.  Rules violation and rules are rules. I’m beside myself upset, all that time and effort to blow it on the last one.

At first I was frustrated because I thought it was glitch or misunderstanding at one station. I was firmly convinced of it.  Then I was angry.  But while I could argue one station, I can’t argue with three.  I blew it. Perhaps at some point I’ll be able to look at a bright side, but I don’t see a bright side right now.  I’m hurt. I’m angry. I’m humiliated.  You’ve got to play by the rules and if you don’t you have to pay the consequences.

Mental exhaustion. Physical exhaustion.  Whatever. Fact of the matter is that I pushed my limits and found that I’m not where I thought I am.  Perhaps that’s the bright side – knowing how exertion affects my mental acuity will help me down the road.  Perhaps. Right now, I just feel defeated.  “Disqualified.” Basically says “cheat.”

When I decided to start recapping each race this year, it was an accountability instrument. I wanted to see my progress through the year, and I wanted to see my opportunities to improve.  I honestly never thought I would fail or at least fail for these reasons.  I thought I was better than that, but now that I know I’m not, I never ever want to be here again.  Failing is one thing – its human – but “disqualification,” damn. I never want to feel this way again.  In failing I know I’m pushing, growing, becoming better. I’m trying hard to see this in that way. I desperately want to see it that way. That’s all just framing – what matters is what I do with it.  The story you tell yourself is irrelevant if you don’t do something to improve from it.

 

 

Failure Potential

I had made up my mind that I would challenge myself this year.  I would try things I had a good chance of failing at doing.  I would try some new things.  In 2016, I set a volume goal and I hit it easily.  In fact, I really didn’t fail at accomplishing any of my goals last year, so among the goals this year was a challenge to do 5 things at which I might fail.

I actually did fail at my first attempt at a 50k – we accomplished about 30k, but decided to stop due to weather conditions and the potential (turned reality) of a harrowing commute home.

My second attempt at a 50k was my second “Failure Potential,” but although it took me just about 7 hours I completed it.  I really really really hate failing.  I got the distance, but in terms of trail races, it was a relatively flat course, so while it was a personal victory not to fail it wasn’t the most technical of courses.

My third “failure potential” attempt was another 50k on a very technical course and about 6100′ of elevation gain up and down a mountain. This as one I probably should have allowed myself to fail; about mile 10 I fell, gashed open my arm, broke a toe and damaged a tendon.  I was so delirious, I actually wound up adding an extra mile by wandering around a little off track. It took more than 10 hours on a course with a 10 hour limit, having been allowed to finish by virtue of avoiding course marshalls for the last 40 minutes or so.

So the fourth was another 50k, and at this point you’re probably saying to yourself, “if you’ve already done 2 what would make you think you couldn’t do it again?”  Here’s where my head was though: the last time I had done the distance, I had messed myself up.  Badly. I really wasn’t sure I was ready to do this again physically, I wasn’t sure I was mentally able to do it.  Frankly, I may not have been able to do it, but at the end of my first of 3 loops there was my friend Rich and his son.  I was such a great feeling seeing them there to welcome me in and to see me off that it was just what I needed to keep going.  Had they not been there to volunteer, I likely would have given it up.

So where am I for the fifth?  Originally, I had a different plan.  I am registered for a December 32-miler that’s described as “nightmarish” and with December weather in New England such as it is, I’m pretty sure this may be one of the bigger challenges of the year – except my boy now has an event on that day and I need to be there.  So I needed a different plan.

Another goal was to break two-hours running a half marathon.  I was able to accomplish that in October. 1:51:56, but a week ago I as given a bib for another half marathon with a three day notice on a much flatter course than the October race.  The week before that, I had run a 10-miler at an 8:18 pace so I really thought I had a good chance of beating that 1:52 time. And so it was, my Failure Possibility was to break 1:50:00.

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That’s me in the orange shirt about 3 rows back. For the record, this was the Wave 2 start line. 9:00m/m runners don’t start at the starting line otherwise.

For the first couple of miles I was feeling good, but I really had to pee: the porta potties at the starting line were packed, so I had to wait.  Fortunately there were some on the route and I availed myself of one at mile 3.  That took about 40-50 seconds,  but my mile pace was still reasonable for that mile.  The real problem kicked in after that though.  I had slept terribly the night before; I went to bed too early, woke up in the middle of the night and was terrified I’d over sleep, so I stayed up.  It turns out running 13 miles on 4-hours sleep is really, really hard.  Never mind trying to beat a 1:50:00 pace.

It had rained all morning and through most of the race.  The course was part bike path and drainage was suspect, so on top of low octane fuel I was battling mud and the elements.  As 1:50 came and went I still had the opportunity to finish in under 2-hours.

And there it was. As I hit 13 miles, I was just over 1:55.  The last .1-mile+ was a path along a water element, which was flooded and muddy.  People were trying to avoid the water and mud by running  along the side, but if I tried that I’d never finish in under 2-hours, so I took the Spartan Race option and went through, high-stepping and all.  A minor victory in that I finished 1:57:38 so I had conquered the 2-hour mark twice this year and really twice in a month, but I failed at my time goal by almost 8-minutes. Or put another way, by about 30-seconds a mile.

My 5 opportunities for failure netted a 3 wins – 2 losses record.  Not bad, really. I found some limits, worked harder and got past one of them.  I’m going to try to beat that 1:50:00 time again, but it’s probably going to be next year before I can attempt it so I feel pretty comfortable that I can report out on this endeavor.  I learned more resilience from this than any other goal I’d set for myself, something I hadn’t anticipated.  The goal was to push myself by getting out of my safe zone.  What I got out of it was that I need to aim higher more often and what I learned was how resilient I can be.  Very awakening.

Very awakening.

 

DNF

I came,  I attempted something I wasn’t sure I could complete, and…I didn’t.

The Fat Ass 50K was certainly going to be a challenge – I’d never actually run more than a little more than 13 miles in one block, and I gave myself about 24-hours to prepare – but hell one of my goals this year is to attempt 5 things I’m not sure I can complete.  And Lo.

I didn’t.

Now, not completing the challenge wasn’t a direct result of being unsure I could.  I feel good that it wasn’t about defining my success too easily – we got 18 miles in.  A new high water mark for me, and I feel like I earned that high water mark.  I feel good that it wasn’t about giving myself an excuse not to complete it – “I didn’t think I could and see?”  I was ready to crawl the rest of the distance if I had to.

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My race buddy – someone whom I admire and respect immensely – convinced me to pull the plug.  I spent the better part of the last 3 miles walking for longer periods of time, dealing with knee pain.  It also just so happened to start snowing at the end of our first 6-mile loop and by the time we got to Mile 18, it was coming down pretty good – unbeknownst to us (although, as native and lifelong New Englanders we “knew”), the roads home were going to be brutal.  The trails were quickly becoming overly hazardous for running.  It was something like 19-degrees.

Now, do I have an excuse?  Sure, I have plenty.  Fact is, though, the race wasn’t finished.  It wasn’t finished for a bunch of reasons. Were it just my knees, I would’ve pushed; were it just the weather, I would’ve pushed.  But it wasn’t.  It was a 50-mile drive home in white-out conditions, it was the increasing possibility of serious injury on the trail.   Here’s one really important take away from my first completed goal of the year: when you make the decision to quit, it means other things are more important.

The reality that I would have finished last – I mean like dead last by a LOT – wasn’t a factor.  It wasn’t important enough to me not to finish last that I quit.  I WANTED to finish; hell I was all set to crawl my way if I had to.  This race was for my dad, after all. What was a factor, though, is that if we were dead last, we would have been the only people in the park and the possibility of getting stuck would be vastly increased.  So, uncharacteristically, Rich was the one arguing the better course to chart was to quit.

So, there’s only one thing I could’ve changed yesterday: my own ability.  Had I been better conditioned, we would’ve been faster, and therefore would have been better positioned to finish.

Next time, I plan to have all those variables lining up in a way that makes it more probable than not that I will finish.  My plan this year is to set goals without worrying about whether or not I know I can succeed, Sine metu ad metam.  This was the embodiment of that.