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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The Power of Friendship and Loyalty

Some of the most important people in my life are people with whom I went to high school.  I’ve been out of high school for 30 years, I’ve earned 3 college degrees, but it’s the men I went to high school with that hold these special places in my life.

My kids are 10 years apart and both of their Godfathers are men with whom I went to high school.  They’re the people I associate with the most.  And they’re not necessarily the same people I associated with in school, it’s a continuing evolution driven by the community engendered by the school and executed by these guys.  We’re a tight bunch.

In 2013, one of these men suggested I run something called a “Spartan race” after I mentioned how I was interested in the “Warrior Dash” that had been recently held.  I took him up on it, and my daughter and I did it together.  It was a transformational experience; it gave me a basis on which to build at another point.  More on that in a minute.

That was the first organized race I’d ever run.  And my muscles turned to absolute stone.  Completely out of shape – my training included a walk down the street to the mechanics shop down the street.  Rather than use that as motivation to get in shape, I let the inertia ride.  Over the next two years, I gained probably 35 pounds.

I was out of shape to the point that my sciatic nerve was giving me trouble.  I had a feeling in my foot like I had been wearing a shoe with kraft paper stuffed in the toe.  My doc basically told me that he’d prescribe physical therapy and if that didn’t work, we’d have to consider surgery.

That was NOT going to happen.

And thus began my journey.  I wasn’t about to have surgery on my back, and after having gone through several sessions of PT (and realizing that I really was pretty sedentary), I started back to the gym.  Walking the treadmill.  Slowly progressing toward increasing inclines…speed…time…distance.

Then…another Spartan race.  I knew what that would take, and that one race two years previous gave me a goal.  Next, A Warrior Dash.  Rugged Maniac.  In the meantime, another high school classmate offered me some fitness DVDs.  How important was it that he share?  He overnighted them to me.  Truthfully, it was that one thing that hit home how serious fitness is and how serious he was taking my fitness – even if I wasn’t that serious.  He ran the Warrior Dash with me and we talked on the shuttle bus;  Just how important high school was to us, the community.  How it was unlike any other. From there, he built a group of these same men with an interest in fitness and health.  We were no longer young.  We have to work at it.  And so, relationships started better than 30 years previous began to evolve again.

So, here we are.  Two years later.  We’ve run wo Ragnar Relays, a couple of mud runs, more than a few workout runs together.  I went from “No, no, no, never” to running anything more than a half marathon, to taking my first DNF with him, and eventually completing my first ultra marathon.

This past weekend, we attempted the North Face Endurance Challenge Series 50k together.  31+ miles. 6000′ of elevation gain.  Though a winding path, it’s this occurrence that brings me to the main point of the post.

We ran this race together, but he’s far more advanced than am I.  Without question, I was holding him back.  If he stayed with me, I’d have compromised his time – and while I know he’s all about the team, I also know he’s at least as competitive as I am and  I know I’d feel a little regret about not running my own race.  I encouraged him to run his own race.

Teammates and friends do not hold each other back.  They support each other so they reach their greatest results. Even if that means that they don’t stick together.

At mile 10, I ate it.  On a trail heading down, I lost it, slid down on my arm, banged my foot; ripping open my forearm and breaking my toe.  Meanwhile, not long after, he hit the wall, hit heat exhaustion.  Bonked. He had taken the mountain head on, took it directly on, and as a result he didn’t complete the race. But he gave that mountain everything he had.

He felt guilty that he had left me, because I slid down the trail, ripped open my arm, broke my foot.  Perhaps I should feel guilty that I didn’t hold him back.

THere’s the crux of the issue.  He’s more physically prepared than am I.  I could have used his support, but frankly having him by my side wouldn’t have stopped me from losing my footing and sliding down hill.  He would likely have finished the race, but he likely would have questioned whether he could have finished in faster time. There was nothing he could have done to keep me upright and we never would have known what he could accomplish if left to his own devices.  On balance, it was the right decision for him to run his race…even if it wasn’t finished.

Teammates, friends don’t hold each other back.  We empower each other. Remaining loyal to ones friends makes all the difference.  Running your own race doesn’t mean you’re being untrue or disloyal to your friends.  It means you’re being true to yourself, and your team, your friends are behind you.  It’s how and why you got where you are.  They’re there to support you.  At the end of the day, the only way you can be loyal to your team, is by giving it your all.  You trust your team will not hold you back; your team trusts you’re giving it everything you have. These principles are not in the least at odds.

The reason you run races you know you’re not going to win, is to test yourself.  Teammates and friends are there for you to be able to test yourself, to keep you testing yourself.

On this last Saturday, the better athlete did not complete the course, but a 30-year truth played itself out yet again.  It showed one more time that the men I went to High School with are some of the most important people in my life and some of the most inspirational.

So far this week, I’ve had to reschedule lunch with one high school friend, reaffirmed plans to remember another’s mother who passed away earlier this year, am trying to figure out if I can live up to my commitments by running a triathlon with a third to raise money for a terrible disease.   My Facebook timeline is full of pictures of me with these guys, to the exclusion of almost everyone else.

Life is funny and it moves in funny ways.  Long story short? The people who knew you when you were young are the most likely to stay with you when you’re not young.  Even if they don’t think so.  Even if they think they’ve let you down when they’ve run their own race.