Breakthroughs

The first 15 minutes of my day are tough. Not physically, but mentally. Do I get after it, or do I snooze a bit longer? Tuesday mornings, this is especially the case. On this day of the week, a standard hill workout is scheduled. Hyland Park’s South Ski Hill provides the incline via a 0.5-mile loop going up the hill and back down a class 5 gravel maintenance road. A trail runners version of the “track” workout. This is done to improve climbing and descending ability, as well as accumulate elevation gain in the mountainless state of Minnesota.

So, the alarm sounds at 4:10 and there are 30 minutes to departure time (Hyland is a 20-minute drive from home). Depending on the previous nights sleep this can be an especial cruel start to the day. Nonetheless, it’s time to move.

Somedays breakthroughs happen when we least predict or expect them. When the mind settles the body will often follow. Having commitments, scheduling consistent events in your week, and sticking to a routine is the most effective way to set yourself up for success, and even a personal breakthrough.

Breakthroughs aren’t planned, they happen. For me, on this day, I experienced a mental-physical one that has been a long time coming. Controlling the thoughts in my head: doubts, pity, defeat, and weakness. Letting themselves out while I do what I love (run) is giving in to the athletic process.

Eliminate the decisions you need to make. The fewer choices the better. Show up. Give your best effort. Don’t quit. Good things happen.

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Mindfulness and Movement

Your mindfulness practice should begin and end each day. Mastering your first conscious thoughts is a skill, necessitating practice and repetition. Calming nerves and heightening focus, we can sort through the clutter and clear a path for our mind to focus. The truth of our existence is so simple it can seem unbelievable. Hopefully, your surroundings help draw your attention to this matter.

Movement is natural. Spontaneity can direct the when, where, and how, but action needs to be taken. Similarly to mindfulness, it must be engaged in at certain points of your day to make it concrete. You should begin to create a few minutes for movement flow. Inflexibility and the inability to support your body weight in various positions is a weakness that can easily be eliminated. Persistent practice opens windows. How did I learn to do anything? Practice.

Modern life is filled with barriers to the learning process. The main culprit is the service industry. Anything you need to be done you can pay someone to do it for you. Thus, they take you to the end point, or simply put, they let you skip the process and give you the product. The ability to see things through from beginning to end is lost… for now.

Practicing mindfulness and directing focus place you on a path. Beginning movement connects you with your body and breathe. This experience is an exploration of how your mind and body engage with the world. You learn by doing. Being clear and alert to what you are feeling and thinking. Slowing down to breathe and process.

Calm. Focus. Examine.

Mornings

Protect your mornings. As the first few minutes pass and you begin to awaken, turn your attention to your favorite form of movement. Move the body to prime the mind for what is about to occur, and what may lie ahead throughout the day.

This time is precious. Do not put off what can be accomplished right away.
Win the day. Accomplish more in your first 90 minutes of awakening than you could ever imagine as they day wears on and its effects weaken your resolve.

Rituals of habit, work. Continually showing up, engaging, and finishing are qualities that transfer to other areas of your life.

Friendships and Coaching

The right prescription, assignment, plan, outline, etc. does us no good without the inner confidence that we are capable of improvement, completion, and success.

Friendships develop over time. Often taking months before a level of trust and willingness to care is manifested. This trial period of sharing experiences, exposing weaknesses and displaying strengths is a delicate dance requiring equal participation of both parties. One can not want it more than the other.

Establishing this relationship fosters the potential for new heights. You must give to get. We cannot create more time. A reprioritization must occur and remain to keep the potential a possibility. Commitment.

You must know your “why” in creating change. Admit a void, or known weakness, struggle, insecurity, etc. and be confident in your decision. Continuing down your current path will not produce the desired change. Comfort breeds complacency. We cannot hope to maintain that which hasn’t been maximized. Not knowing our full potential (will we ever?), those words, “maintain”, should never be uttered when speaking of our health. Continuous engagement requires an allocation of energy resources. When training, you are building/working/fatiguing, then recovering, where you lose, in order to regain the energy/resources to begin again. See the full picture.

Committing to coaching requires a letting go of emotion, control, and routine. This is not easy, but it is the only way. Trust requires vulnerability. Change requires months, not days and weeks. This should embolden you to let go of repeated judgment and give in to the daily assignment.

And do you know what I found after several decades of life? We achieve our goal, we become a level of ourselves, and then we want to go further. And we make new mistakes, and we have new hardships, but we prevail. We are human. We are alive. We have blood.

Patti Smith

A Cloud of Fatigue

Wednesday, mid-week, hump day, recovery day, etc. When analyzed from a work, business, or training perspective it’s easy to see why this day can be a tough one to make productive. As a runner, it’s like that 4th of 8 hill sprints. Already feeling the effects of the previous 3, and knowing you’ve got just as many left as you’ve completed, it’s the duty of the mind to force completion and execution.

On this day I back off and recover. All things flow as usual, but I remind myself that this fatigued state is where I want to be. It’s a part of the process. I’ll hydrate, eat well, read, make progress where I can, while working out moderately with a relaxed, complacent mind.

Why not push through and pound away you might ask? It’s detrimental. In order to go hard, with high quality, on Thursday, I must back off on Wednesday.

Accept fatigue as part of the process, but don’t be lost in the foggy cloud that comes with it. Plan ahead and stick to the process. Everything has a proper time and place. When it’s time for quality work to be done, make sure to be ready to execute!

Philosophy of Sport

The philosophy of sport is not a subject I have studied; it is a subject I have lived. There is no better arena for evaluating your value system, no better laboratory for investigating motivation – and no better proving ground for demonstrating one’s defects. Sport exposes. Sport teaches. Sport develops. Sport becomes my art, my language, my way of being in this world.

George Sheehan

Greatness is a lot of small things done well, day after day workout after workout. Competition is the summation of this process. A race can be your life focus for anywhere from a single week to a whole year. For most of us, we prepare with a magnified focus for 12-weeks. This is a tangible time period, but not overwhelming. Enough time to allow you to develop some specific fitness, and then sharpen that fitness for your competition. Wearing many hats, it’s important for you to not let this competition overwhelm the other areas of your life. It’s important to keep perspective, and let the event become your performance. Sport brings the work you’ve done on your fitness and health into an arena where you are allowed and encouraged to lay everything on line. In these moments of sport what manifests is your personal best.

Sport directs my fitness. I do not need a gym to facilitate my exercise and physicality. My event is running, and my distance is the ultramarathon. In the winter of 2011 I felt a strong urge to move my training outside of the gym, into a competitive arena. Running long distances appealed to me, not only as a mental or motivational challenge, also as a competitive, athletic endeavor. I had trained and built a physique, but what was it capable of in a natural environment where success is not measure in reps, sets, and weights?

As the Sheehan quote above states, sport exposes, teaches, and develops. Running and racing made this apparent to me. It felt true to my core. What developed was a new person. The mirrors of the gym no longer sufficed in distinguishing my level of fitness. As a runner, you feel best when moving at a steady state. Rhythmic motion, monitored effort, fatigue, hunger, thirst, patience, ability, these are what now occupied my training. Racing, and it’s demanded effort, placed me at times uncomfortably out of my element of complacency. What I avoided in my training was exposed in my racing. I learned what I was made of. Strength training, my prior passion, morphed into a supplemental activity. It remained essential, though in a functional capacity, providing balance and symmetry in relation to myself as athlete, not exerciser.

A few years later and I am still a runner. Race day is my performance. My calendar year is littered with events to test my mental fortitude, as well as progress in my field of training. Working with my fitness-coaching clients (current and potential), I let this passion bleed into my sessions with them. Individuality and freedom of spirit are essential in personal pursuits that truly last. It is my hope that those individuals are lucky enough to experience true passion, as well as health and vitality, through motion and movement.

Be patient in your progress, yet persistent in your effort. Finding sport is a process of trial and error, but never stop trying, for when it sticks you will be forever changed, and impassioned to lead a life that you may have only dreamed possible.

Heartland 100 Race Report

Flint Hills, Cassoday, KS.

Warning: this will be pretty graphic.

  • Thursday, October 11, 2012.

My wife Jody and I arrived in El Dorado, KS at 6:15 PM. We got checked in and picked up some supplies from the local Walmart. It felt good to arrive and we were both relieved to be at our destination (base). We had a spinach salad for dinner and some greek yogurt for dessert.

  • Friday, October 12, 2012.

Man, I’m hungry. I awoke early and went down to sample the breakfast offerings, which seemed to be pretty good. Headed back to the room as Jody was waking up and we went down for breakfast together. I ate some more and then did my customary 2 mile day before race run. The weather was getting noticeably worse, rain was coming and wind was howling. We cleaned up and relaxed for a bit before going to lunch at a nice little place called Jacob’s Well. We both had soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. It was excellent. We made one more trip to the store before heading back to the hotel to await the arrival of my Dad and Grandparents. I made a small spinach salad for myself at this point and kept hydrating as is customary. We relaxed a bit more before heading to Cassoday for the pre-race briefing. The weather was now pretty miserable, thunder crashing and rain pouring down. The weather was the main topic of the meeting as there was a lot of concern for being safe and cautious during the race. We left feeling excited and a bit nervous about the pending adventure. Arriving back in El Dorado we picked up the family and went to get dinner at a place called the “chop house”. It looked nice on the website, but they had recently changed there menu to be more of a truck stop, cheap food establishment. I was hungry and ate what I ordered. “Rocky Mountain Trout”. It was pretty rubbery but went down OK. Headed back to the hotel we fueled up and I began to organize all of the gear for the next day. It was difficult winding down but finally turned the lights off at 10:30 with the alarm set for 3:30 AM.

  • Saturday, October 13, 2012. Race Day.

Awoke early and showered. Consumed my smoothie, but noticed it was hard to get down. I was not hungry… hmm. Drank some coffee to get things moving and we were on the road by 5:05 or so, arriving in Cassoday at 5:30. I got checked in and waited around in the gusting winds for the race to start. The nerves were setting in, but so was the excitement to run.

We were finally released at 6:00 AM sharp. I eased to the front with another runner and settled into a 7:55 pace. It felt good, but my guts were not settled. I’ve had this feeling before and it usually is not a good omen. We cruised along for a mile or so before being passed by a runner holding 7:30 pace, steady. I let him go and let the other runner (Jerad Fetterolf) run about 50 meters ahead of me. Cruising into the aid station at mile 8.2 I was out quick with a fill of water and a couple of gels. This next section was to be the most challenging as it was very muddy, the rain was now coming steady, and fairly hilly. Up and down we ran into the coming daylight. At about mile 10.5 I had to stop relieve myself, luckily I had a bit of toilet paper and used that as I ducked into a tree just off the road. Unfortunately, it was not satisfying.

I resumed running and stayed on pace, consuming a gel every 25 minutes and hydrating. I cruised into the Lapland aid station at around mile 17 in third place, 2:17 or so was my time. This is a crew access station so I saw the family. Dropped my headlamp, grabbed another gel and filled my water bottles. I was out and off for Teterville mile 25. about 1.5 miles outside of the aid I had to stop again to relieve myself. Not good. My guts were churning. I took some time here, but it was pouring rain and the wind was crashing into my right side. Running on I consumed gels regularly, like I had practiced, but noticed that my stomach was not happy with the sugar. Nausea was setting in. I was still running well but knew my calorie into and hydration may be suffering from the gut issues. I rolled into Teterville in 3rd place still, around 3:35. I cleared some rocks from my shoes and removed my compression sleeves. The rain was really coming now. I grabbed a payday bar hoping it would go down easy and provide some fuel.

Heading out of Teterville I hoped to keep my pace at around 8:20 to 8:30. Again, the weather got crazy. Wind, rain, thunder lightening… crazy! It was intense. I was slowed again by my body weakening. Flu like symptoms. I pushed forward. I caught my mind thinking of the miserableness my body was putting it through and feeling sorry for myself. I stayed in this train of thought for the next hour or so. I ate the payday bar and kept shuffling forward. It didn’t sit. It came up. Shit. Ok, just keep going. Need to get to Ridgeline aid station. There was an aid station at mile 31 or so that I stopped into after getting passed by another runner who looked strong. I drank some coke and grabbed some water. Jogging along I just kept moving. I felt weak all over. Depleted and had no appetite, the typical flu-like symptom.

About a mile down the road another runner caught up to me, Scott Hill, last years winner from Wichita. Really nice guy. He chatted me up and my pace quickened while I ran with him. After about 3 miles we were gaining on the runner in 3rd when I ate another gel. Soon, I had to stop and relieve myself again. Things were now getting painful. I pushed ahead. Entered Ridgeline, mile 36.5 or so. Stopped for a bit. Consumed some Gen Ucan. Trotted out of the aid station not feeling confident at all. Preparing my mind to be out there for 20 plus hours. My pace slowed to 9:30-9:50 per mile. I had to stop again because of my guts. Raw. 6 miles later I entered matfield green aid in 4th place (the lead runner, 2010 winner, had dropped at Ridgeline). I took my time. Took another Gen Ucan. Grabbed some orange slices, a cheese sandwich, and some ibuprofen.

Leaving matfield green I was now in 5th place. I stopped about a mile out of the aid to clear rocks from my shoes again. I shuffled along, finishing eating my orange slices. The rain and wind were kicking. Battering into my right side again. Eventually, I ran the hills pretty well, things were turning around. I felt strong… the first time all day my body was coming along. Great. I held a steady 9:45 on the hills into the wind and passed the 4th place runner who was now walking. I cruised this 7.5 mile section pretty solidly. Hitting the halfway point in 8:10 or so. Not bad for the hell my guts had put me through. Coming back it was steady headwinds and more rain. Everything was soaked. My feet were surely looking like hell, but nothing could be done about that. I stayed warm and protected in my Light Flyer Jacket from Patagonia. Great piece of gear. Gortex. It was during this section that I caught a glimpse of the runner in 3rd, Scott Hill, and his pacer. About 1 mile before the aid I passed them feeling strong. Entering matfield I was confident and grabbed another cheese sandwich, and some EFS gel mixed with water. Leaving the aid, climbing the small hills to ridgeline I started to feel weak again. Depleted may be a better word. Looking ahead though I saw the 2nd place runner with his pacer, walking the hills. A couple miles later I passed them and began more push to Ridgeline. Climbing the final hill there I was dealing with some strong foot pain as the water logged footwear had caused some irritation. The rain had mostly let up now so we were mostly dealing with the crazy gusts of wind. I stopped at the aid. Changed footwear, socks, grabbed my handheld bottle, had a Gen Ucan, grabbed some orange slices. Taking my time here I was passed by two runners, leaving in 4th place.

I shuffled along and did the best I could to maintain a steady pace. Not having a pacer was interesting. You are literally in your own head the entire time. It was at this point that I knew I wouldn’t feel great the rest of the race. Leaving with the headlamp assured me of having to deal with the pending night fall.

I soon passed the 3rd place runner. He was done racing. Now settled to walking. His pace in the first 50 was way to fast and his apparel was way to minimal for the weather conditions. I’m sure he felt like hell.

I grabbed a PB and J sandwich at the aid station with 31 miles to go and ate it. Soon I had what was to be my final gut pit stop. It was laughable now. Running this race on an average of 100 calories per hour was just plain silly. I kept drinking water and taking my S-caps. A few miles later I entered Teterville, mile 75 just as the sun was setting and darkness rolled in quickly. I drank some coke, which sat well thankfully, and left with a PB gu gel. Next aid was Lapland 8.2 miles away. I rolled out and found a decent pace. The coke was sitting nicely. 45 minutes later I was still moving well when I turned a corner and ran smack into the headwind. Daunting. This literally forced me to 11:45 pace, tops. Fighting forward. I stopped at the unmanned aid station and filled my water. Grabbing a fig newton, I pushed forward. I now was focusing on hydration just pounding water and salt, knowing my calories were pathetically low and having zero tolerance for food or sugar.

A few miles later I climbed the hill to Lapland aid. It was here I began to see all of the 50 mile racers, which was nice to have some interaction with others in the night on the trail. Arriving at Lapland I had no appetite. Filled my bottles, and searched for something to eat. It was great seeing my family at these aid stations. They were always positive and excited to update me on who well I was doing compared to the others. My dad informed me that 2nd place was only about 10 minutes up on me. I drank some coke, two cups, and ate a half banana or so. Jogging away I was ready to finish. 17 miles to go. About 1/2 mile out of the aid it hit me, nausea, all the coke and banana came up. There goes that I thought… I jogged on and found my stride, drank water, took salt and kept moving. 4 miles later I came to another unmanned aid and filled my water, took 2 cookies, ate them. Moved on. I was now turning into a zombie in the night. Run/walk was the technique now. I would run all downhills and mellow grades, but walked the steep portions in the night. Rolling up and down. Finally my watch said 92.8. I was at Battlecreek aid. The final manned aid station. As I entered I saw Scott Hill sitting on a chair eating soup I think. I grabbed some mountain dew, filled my handheld with ice and water and was out. Second place was mine, but I still had to finish. I ran the next 3 miles well. Pushing about 9:50 pace steady. Then I ran out of gas. It was flat, but I had to run/walk. I’d run a minute, walk 30 seconds. Drinking water constantly, I pushed onward. With about a mile left I saw the finish in the distance. I stopped and organized my pack a bit and looked up at the stars. It was a clear night. Full of stars and distant lightening storms blitzed the sky. Pretty amazing. I turned off the gravel road and onto the pavement, jogging to the finish. Closer and closer I came and saw my family there, full of energy and happiness. It was great. I crossed in 18:13 in second place. What a day. Epic. My mind had willed this, pushing my depleted body to the finish. I sat down, ate some chili, and began to freeze. We loaded into the Land Cruiser, which had an epic day as well shuffling the family around to meet me at the 8 aid stations. We were all exhausted and crashed upon reaching the hotel.

Never Give Up.

Finish what you start.

The Mind is Primary.

In order to break barriers and improve you have to go through some hell. Knock the door down, bust through the wall, keep pushing. Do not succumb to negative thinking. Use it as fuel. Beat it back.

A lot was learned about myself at the Heartland 100. Satisfaction is a sweet feeling.

Onward.

Gear Used:

  • Footwear: Hoka One One, Bondi B
  • Socks: Drymax
  • Bottoms: Pearl Izumi Ultra 3/4 tights
  • Base Layer: Patagonia Cap 1, SS and LS
  • Jacket: Patagonia Light Flyer
  • Watch: Garmin
  • Pack: Mountain Hardwear Race Vest
  • Salt: Succeed S-Caps
  • Gels: Gu, EFS
  • Generation UCAN corn starch
  • Handhelds: Amphipod

2012: An Honest Assessment

The first ultra-experience, Jemez 50k 2010

The first ultra-experience, Jemez 50k 2010

January 2012 was a turning point.  It was time to all-in, or continuing in that middle-area, of “OK” at lots of things, but “good” at none.  I had just completed a 6-week strength training block in the studio, working up to a 40 pullup max, and 5×315 deadlift.  This was great, but in the end I didn’t feel accomplished.  I was now weighing a solid 165, but was that the goal?  Train in the gym to be better in the gym?  Was I another “crossfit guy”?  Did that motivate me?  The answer to that question was no.  The gym is a modality, a tool to make you better at Sport.  It is not Sport nor can it substitute for it.  Thus, my energy turned toward my real passion… endurance.  Specifically, competitive distance/ultra-running.

Endurance is a strong word.  It says a lot.  When a person has endurance, to me, they are tough, strong willed, dedicated individuals.  See, you can’t fake endurance.  Profound, lasting endurance is earned day in and day out.  An endurance athlete has the ability to recover quickly, relentless pursuing the next goal or event.  Training through fatigue, learning how to actively recover and envision a future of breaking through barriers.

It was at that point, when others had begun their new years “resolutions” that I decided to make 2012 the year I gave endurance my focus.  Being a fairly impatient person, enough time had passed without giving this effort 100%.

Let me summarize happenings thus far.  I’ve competed in 9 events with 2 more coming up soon, from trail and road 10k’s to 50 mile endurance races.  My season will culminate in the Flint Hills of Kansas at the Heartland 100.  I’ve begun the process of building an endurance “base”.  This will take years, but the ball is rolling.  In each event I am a competitor and am racing.  The goal is no longer to finish, but to push my limit, or to out what and where that limit exists.

To say that I’m excited about the process would not do my emotions justice.  I’m thrilled to be in this position athletically.  Having a goal is key.  The mind needs to experience the urgency of competition and deal with the limitations of time.  Each day is a day to improve, take charge, devote energy to, focus on, and make that deposit towards accomplishment. Confidence is gained when you feel satisfied with the sacrifices made the previous day or week.  A bit faster, longer, harder each week.

I have a long road ahead.  Sport specific fitness for ultra-running takes time.  The human body transforms slowly, but nonetheless steadily.

Ask yourself if you are ready to commit… to be all in.  Give it 6-weeks, address the goal, want, or need and devote a portion of each day to it.  It’s like flossing, if you can floss every day you can make progress in the gym.  Don’t have the time or discipline to floss?  Good luck changing your body or accomplishing a goal.  Be honest.  Give it 6-weeks.  Assess where you are at, what was hard, what went well.  Make changes and keep moving forward.

Embrace the suck.  It takes guts to change.