The Perfect Trap

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
― Anne Lamott

A common phrase uttered in the world of sport is: practice makes perfect… or, better yet, perfect practice makes perfect. In relation to competition, this may be the very thing that is holding many of you back from peak performance.

Competition in sport has a way of exposing your weaknesses. Maybe you train to your strengths, or obsessively compare one workout to the last, judging your performance in the present moment. These tendencies, over time, become hindrances to progress. You improve by encountering failure, embracing the unknown and using experience to move your forward. This is the antithesis of perfection.

In the above quote, Ms. Lamott is speaking of writing, and obsessing over perfection. How will this look? How will this be perceived? How does this make me feel? Is it (am I) ready? Its application is directly relevant to sports and competition. In endurance sports, you are your main rival. The other competitors are their own rivals on race day. It is your body of work that is represented when the gun goes off. All dreams of perfection must be released and the importance of acting and reacting must be prioritized.

So, how do you avoid the perfect trap? Here are a few examples:

  1. Ditch the watch: run by feel and emotion. Biofeedback is fun to track, but it can hinder the mind if the numbers aren’t where they “should” be.
  2. Train with a group: training partners, friends, and teams can provide the necessary stimulus to lift you into a new training experience. *Communicate with the group members and understand the goals of the workout before beginning.
  3. Go off road: nature is calling. Hitting the trails is a great way to add new and dynamic stimulus to your training. The mind works harder to engage with the environment. The body reacts to sudden terrain changes. Pace and speed go out the window when the terrain dictates movement. Also, proprioception, coordination, mobility, and strength are enhanced by training off road.
  4. Remind yourself that your finishing time matters to no one else. Nobody cares, but you. Nobody remembers, but you. Release the social pressure of achievement and be happy to be able to participate.

As the great Stoic Marcus Aurelius wrote:

“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.”

We take on these difficult challenges, because they bring out the best in us, on that given day. Be happy in the moment and embrace the beauty that competition and sport bring to life.

Onward and Upward!

Peace. Pity. Action. Progression.

Inspiration, instigated by a thought provoking read.

Action requires information. Let peace inform your actions and your intention will be displayed. -MFT

Too much posturing. This is what I do. What I’m good at. What I’ve done. What I have. Where I’m going. Enough. Absorb information. Inquire. Learn. Who you are will be displayed through how you move, speak, and engage. No declarations. Just listen. Ask.

Stop. No more looking for pity. Don’t desire those who love and care for you to give answers. They will and you probably won’t take action. The cycle continues. Time goes by. You don’t need pity. Opinion does not equal actuality. Black and white. Win or lose.

Life is swift. Enough digressing. Forward is the way. Not in the future, but in the now. You are here. There is no past, or future, only present. 365 days go by fast. 365 sunrises. Opportunity is offered only so often. Is it too late to begin? Not if what you want is worth the pursuit. Limitations are self employed.

Peace of mind. Not giving a fuck what others think of YOU. That’s progression. No groups. No need for belonging. Flow happens when you engage. Acceptance is not worth the time or effort.

“Yes, I teach. I lead. I coach. I declare. But in the same breath I learn. Because anything else would mean I am dead: either death-dead or living-dead, stagnant, redundant, repetitive, stuck. I have wasted time, of course, but I won’t waste life. And that’s why I’m here, on the road, in the dirt, atop the bike but sometimes on the ground next to it wondering what just happened. I am a student. This is how I learn.” – Mark Twight

Maintenance for Longevity

“A soft, easy life is not worth living, if it impairs the fibre of brain and heart and muscle. We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage… For us is the life of action, of strenuous performance of duty; let us live in the harness, striving mightily; let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out.” – Teddy Roosevelt

Coveting the new, finished product is not an unknown concept. Yet, it is the act of ownership obsession that stifles personal growth.

All items that make our lives easier and/or more convenient require maintenance. Fairly infrequent is the act required, meaning our confidence and expectation trumps action in upkeep. When failure occurs, which it will, it takes both time and capital to get our life up and running again.

Our mind and body are no different. Neglect, and pay the price. Abuse, and live with the consequences. Time/age escapes no one. The fade may appear slow, until the check engine light flickers on. What will the diagnostic test reveal? What’s the damage? For many this is a trigger to wake up and forge a better life. For others this is the beginning of the end. The mind accepts the sentence.

Maintenance prolongs life. By now you should be familiar with what is minimally required of you to keep your arteries clean, blood pressure down, BMI at an acceptable level, and a myriad of other necessities to live a respectable life. But you slip. You stop learning. You envy the healthy and vigorous. You spiral into the depths of self-disrespect, and loathing.

But wait, doesn’t that new car come with an owners manual? The proficient dealership whom sold you the car is so kind to send out reminders of when service is needed. Just call, schedule, drop off the car, heck, you even get a loaner for the day… how convenient and caring of them? You clean your car, washing it weekly. It requires “premium” gas. You justify the extra expense by reminding yourself it is required to keep the engine performing. All this for the peace of mind in knowing that you’ve done what is required, as an owner of this find piece of machinery.

Now think of all of the luxury items this applies to? Maintenance is a daily process. The more things we own, the more maintenance we must do. Look at all the businesses that are simply products of required maintenance. Pretty amazing to think about.

Now back to you. Why does this one thing that you’ll take to your grave get get abused, punished, polluted, neglected, etc.? How has this become acceptable? It starts at a young age. A few silly choices, and habits start to linger. As you grow older those few bad habits start to multiply. Pretty soon the effects begin to show. Fatigue, lethargy, weight gain, acne, flatulence, and dependency creep in and take hold. Some can fake it longer than others, but the cold hard truth is unavoidable. Your time has come. With more neglect comes greater reliance on modern technology and medicine to stay alive. More dependence…

You, the ultimate possession, the un-replaceable commodity, the selfless giver to the soul, deserve more. The process is rather simple, yet the journey is long. Correcting behaviors is simple. Nutritious food. More sleep. Less stimulants and depressants. Exercise. Hydration. Choices that all add up and lead to change.

Enough already. No more ignorance and complacency. It’s time to give back to ourselves. Stop. Think. Engage. Honor. Refuse to “wish you had” and instead be “grateful for” the gift of sound mind and functioning body.

Very few things are needed.

Sustenance: food and drink. Nourishment. Water. Meat. Vegetables. Fruit. Nuts. Grains. Recognize when you embellish. Don’t chastise, minimize. Why? Understand weakness. Unavoidable slips need not derail commitment.

Fitness: Lift. Climb. Step. Crawl. Jump. Push. Pull. Stretch. Run. Walk. Bike. Swim. Ski. Row. Dance. etc. Experiment to discover enjoyment. Fulfill daily. Options are unlimited. Consistency is key. Repetition is the mother of skill. Daily engagement resets your mind, fueling the drive to give the body what it needs. Internal as much as external. Heart. Lungs. Brain.

Growth: Mind. Body. Soul. Books, mentors, friends, family, spouse, lover, student, coach, community. Growth comes from listening, and applying advice and lessons. Simply taking a step back, surveying, and making a decision is often all that is needed.

Onward.

“EACH OF US IS born with a 70-year warranty, but few of us read the instructions. We blindly go through life without consulting a manual for the operation of the human machine. The maintenance and preservation of our bodies doesn’t concern us. We believe that longevity and freedom from malfunction have been built in by the Creator. And they have. But we can live long and stay healthy only if we take care of our bodies as we would our automobiles. We have to follow certain rules to get maximum performance and maximum longevity out of what we were born with. We have to apply the biological wisdom gained over the centuries to our day-to-day living. Make no mistake about it: Nature does not allow for error, and she is not reluctant to inflict capital punishment. Deviations from the correct regimen can certainly diminish one’s daily well-being and eventually one’s life span. True, aging is inexorable. And death is inevitable. But neither should occur before its appointed time.” -George Sheehan

 

Endurance Runner: The Process of Becoming, Pt. 1

Do the least amount necessary, not the most amount possible.

-Origin Unknown

In 2012 I made the conscious decision to participate and compete in ultramarathon running. My running background (circa 2008) was minimal at best, but had begun to evolve and grow into a daily, obsessive passion. Living in a high desert climate, at the time, allowed me to spend a lot of time outside, exploring the mountains, foothills, and in New Mexico, the flat, soft ground of the river trails. The ability to easily run on trail, away from pavement, cars, and people was exactly what I was looking for. Casual 45 minute runs extended into weekend trail exploring, covering 13+ miles in an outing became the staple of my weekend. An initial foray outside of my comfort zone, created a spark for change and forever altered my view of health, exercise, and wellness. As a fitness professional, I naturally became engrossed in the history of the sport, who the top athletes were, where they lived, how they trained, ate, what they wore, etc. My gravitation towards the competitive side of the activity was natural, but also something I felt a need to temper (initially). The changes in the mind happen much faster than those in the body. I visualized the product, racing Leadville, competing well, and being accomplished. At that point I had to begin the process.

With no formal coaching or advising I began to read about training for running, and the different ways in which athletes approached the sport. Having spent many years with strength training as my foundation or mode of fitness, it was not something I was willing to give up or even begin to replace. Thus, trail running became what I did on my own, every other day. Running 18-20 miles per week provided me with a nice balance. Having a lot of recovery is beneficial when beginning a new sport or any fitness regiment. We call this “absorption”. The “rest” allows us to soak up the workouts and build excitement and anticipation for the next outing. Looking back, this is why we often perform so well in new activities. Absent of the expectation of performance a person simply flows and consistently does their best, not knowing what that is or what it can be.

Week Flow:

  • Monday: Strength / Cross-Train
  • Tuesday: Run 6 miles
  • Wednesday: Strength / Cross-Train
  • Thursday: Run 6 miles
  • Friday: Strength / Cross-Train
  • Saturday: Run/Hike 10+ miles or 2+ hours
  • Sunday: Rest

In the beginning I ran the same course, repeatedly. It was a nice distance, offering a variety of terrain: nice climbs, some short and steep, some long and gradual, with equal descents. The biggest factor was that I enjoyed it. I came to know every inch of the course, knowing my times from previous runs, and if I was “on” a good pace or not. Super simple, yet extremely effective.

A balanced schedule allows you to continually build confidence and foster strong mental and physical growth. By focusing on the daily activity, being present each workout, you can then begin to assess the effectiveness of the training (sleep, nutrition, lifestyle choices, workouts, etc.).

Gradual lifestyle changes give time to ponder your true desire and intention of your new pursuit. Patience, with persistence, brings success.

Pursuing Peak Performance

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Points of failure in all instances define the limits of systemic function. Right Practice must seek to extend those limits through the pursuit of failure… Outside the formal practice, physical training involves the pursuit of success. Within the formal practice, physical training involves the pursuit of failure.

Michael Livingston, “Mental Discipline

When we train, we must seek to fatigue the working muscle or energy system. Doing the plank, or forward-leaning-rest, focus intently on the position you are trying to hold, tight hips, legs, locked out arms, as well as tension throughout. If a break down occurs, stop. There is no honor in spastic extended effort. In your next attempt at extending your time in plank position use your previous best as your bench mark. The same goes for pushups, pullups, squats, or other bodyweight exercises. Crush the muscle group you are training, keeping body tension throughout. True failure is controlled. It still “looks” smooth and easy. Following this protocol helps with injury prevention and overtraining.

In my running/endurance training I love :30/:30 intervals. 30 seconds of very hard effort, followed by 30 seconds of easy recovery. We must hit these hard, and then back off completely to get ready for the next. The body is adapting and with adequate rest between these intense sessions our fitness builds and expands. New realities, new limits, personal bests, course records, all become possibilities with focused training and recovery.

Respect your efforts and engage in positive recovery practices, daily. The younger crowd seems to frown on stretching, until they become injured. Start your daily stretching practice sooner rather than later. With heightened levels of exertion comes increased strain on the major movers, i.e. hamstrings, groin, and quads in running. Seek to lengthen these muscles on a daily basis via a few simple exercises:

  • Instep-Stretch
  • Pigeon
  • Downward Facing Dog
  • Wide Founder (foundation training)
  • Wide Founder into Windmill (foundation training)
  • Narrow Stance Decompression Breathing (foundation training)

Work + Rest/Recovery = Training

 

 

Discomfort

The awkward, uncomfortable feeling of physical struggle we feel when the workout gets hard is essential to growth. Most people seek to avoid this at all costs, but to do so is to avoid growth and progress. Be clear on your “why” before, during, and after.

“Working out” is your pure practice of engaging in lifestyle change and enhancement.

Discomfort never lasts. Comfort never progresses.

When it’s over. You won’t regret it.

Engage!

Recovery

Move blood, flush by-products of previous day’s effort and create a demand for food.

-Gym Jones on Recovery

A mature message, that is not always easily digestible, but when it’s from the crew at Gym Jones, it’s honest and accurate. I could add to this statement, but will refrain. If you’re an athlete, or want to start training smarter, understand the physiological intention of your workouts.

Move often. Move frequently. Vary your intensity levels. Work + Rest = Training.

The Power of “Simple”

The act of stripping things down to their barest elements and approaching tasks in a step-by-step manner has been largely forgotten in our 21st century instant access culture.

When speaking of health we are sold on the outcome. The potential for massive change in a short amount of time utilizing some new way of eating, moving, or living is all too common. The majority of the consumers of these products achieve no such results or consistency in their life. One can’t blame the product, but look no further than society in general’s approach to life… making excuses as to why we failed. Justifying the act of quitting is even more prevalent now in the age of social media, where each one of us has our own pulpit.

Break the change. Build momentum. Some of my favorite workouts each week are my foundation training sessions. They are structured and approached wonderfully, with an excellent balance of education and application. Rarely do they cause me to break a sweat, meaning I can focus intently on my form, and they can be done anywhere at anytime during the day in 5-15 minutes.

I also really love strength training sessions that take me from my feet to the floor. Simple. Take two exercises: lower body or full body, standing exercise (KB swings, squats, step-ups, lunges, etc.) and pair it with a prone movement (plank, pushup, or any floor pressing, or core intensive exercise). Moving between the two exercises will challenge your cardiovascular fitness as well as your total body strength and stabilization.

Example Circuit:

10-1 Ladder of KB Swings paired with a Plank: 10 swings / :30 plank, 9 swings / :30 plank, 8 swings / :30 plank, etc. down to 1 / :30 … this is not easy if done properly, but can be completed in under 10 minutes.

Example Circuit:

4 rounds of (:30 Squats of Step-Ups / 5-10 x Pushups / :30 Rest) … simple yet effective, for more challenge you can eliminate the “rest” portion and just alternate between Squat and Push.

Note: when making your workout “simple” you’ll want to focus hard on your form. Get the most out of each movement. Tackle the reps with confidence and be careful to not look ahead. Too much focus on the “end” of the session will result in minimal gains from the workout.

Know your intention and pay attention!

Running: Speed Play

How many of you like to slip into a comfortable groove, let the minutes and miles add up, and lose yourself in your runs? Me to… this is why we run! The flow, the feeling of easy, steady effort and the satisfaction of completion keep us coming back for more of these amazing experiences!

When I first started to “train” for running, which was later in my fitness career, mid-20’s, I was introduced to track workouts and tempo runs. Man, I hated these! My ability to gauge effort was non-existent, therefore I would go too hard, too early in the workouts, and struggle to hold on and finish them. Where would this leave me? Down and out for 2-3 days not wanting to even run a step! This is how you disrupt flow.

As I’ve progressed in the sport and have a more solid grip on my abilities both in training and racing, I’ve been able to engage in these more challenging workouts and reap the benefits that come with them. I’ve also learned about another way to trickle in speed work while I enjoying my daily “cruise” runs. This form of training is termed “speed play” or “fartlek” style.

Speed play is exactly that, you mix in 10-30 second bursts of accelerated running or even sub-maximal sprinting during a run of easy pace. There is no set schedule as to when you do them, just when you feel like it. Sometimes I’ll run to a certain landmark (fire hydrant, stop sign, driveway, etc.) and other times I’ll run for set periods of time.

There are many benefits to these runs. First, I believe you can recover from them during the run much better than a standard track or tempo run. This is excellent for beginners or recreational runners, which, most of us are. Second, I believe that it prepares you to race! Setting multiple in race goals, and knowing what speeds you are capable of running makes racing fun and competing more engaging. Third, they make you faster! You’ll see your cruising speed increase, which may transfer to other runs.

How to apply:

Start walking and warm up into a jog. Take 10-15 minutes to properly warm-up before starting your first speed play interval. For the next 30 minutes have fun. Mix in some speed with your cruising pace. You’ll cover more ground, realize new abilities, and hopefully reap the benefits of turning over those legs a bit faster! To finish, slow down and jog it in. Walk around for a couple minutes and stretch your hamstrings, hip flexor, and groin area. Start with one a week and gradually increase to two of these engaging workouts each week.

Enjoy the run!

Mindset: Practice in Pursuit of Excellence

miyamoto_musashi1

“Rote, mindless repetition is not practice… it is purpose that focuses the practice, and it is the intensity and specificity of that focus that governs the efficacy of the practice.”

Michael Livingstone

“The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical.  It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms … this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.”

Albert Einstein

In my personal training practice I teach from the point that the body is a function of the mind. To make physical changes the mind must be able to manifest a vision for what leads to those changes. To simply want the endpoint, or reach the summit is a fleeting desire. Preparing to climb the mountain may lead to a successful summit, but we must start the process of preparation and mental transformation.

Learn to think of change or transformation not from your current condition, but from that of the teacher, coach, or prominent figure that has given you a image of success. What often stands in the way is this feeling of immense physical distance between the present and the future. The body is far from where it needs to be to stand on the summit and without a strong, patient, willing mind, we will never touch our physical potential.

Preparing for transformation will not leave you with a culminating completion. The path becomes the way. The journey of preparation, undertaking of challenges, completion or failure in competition can and may fill your lifetime. True devotion to the process will lead to a new mind and body, one that you can’t envision now, nor will you know where it leads you.

Understand that by seeking knowledge through purposeful practice you may never reach the summit and that will be okay. Success becomes a commitment to the self. You will never arrive or graduate to a state of completion. Know this and pursue your personal excellence anyway. Be comfortable in this knowledge and realize that possessing this level of awareness is not common in Western culture. We are taught from a young age to focus on completion and to endure the valley’s in life to, hopefully, experience its peaks: graduation, marriage, children, promotion, retirement, relaxation, and finally heaven.

“Reason enslaves all whose minds are not strong enough to master her.”

George Bernard Shaw

“The Way is To Train.”

Miyamoto Musashi