Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Rule of 5s

I have a confession... I don't like running very much right now.

There, I said it. Out load. You couldn't hear that part, but right after I said it, I typed it, so you'd know.

As a lover of running, and a long-time evangelist for the benefits of the running lifestyle, that's hard to admit.

For lots of reasons I won't bore you with, I'm rebooting my running. That means I'm running infrequently. And slow.

I'm also trying to redo my running form, which means that when I do run, it feels awkward, unnatural, like my shoes are on the wrong feet.

When I know I have to run, I dread it. What used to be life affirming, endorphin injecting, jolly offing, is a chore. A chore that lately is done in the inhumane cold under gray skies that have puppies contemplating suicide.

As 11:30 approached, I could feel my butt getting more stuck to the chair. My brain was leafing through its manila folder of sure-fire excuses. My legs were getting heavier by the second.

By noon, I was this damn close (for visual effect, hold a thumb and forefinger (works best if they are on the same hand) extremely close together about an inch from one of your eyes) to giving in to inertia and putting the run off to a mythical, perfect day dozens of procrasti-hours in the future.

Then, a blurb that my good friend Bill sent me saved the day, or at least the run. Bill told me that he'd been reading something by Donald Miller that posed the question:
"Where do you see yourself in five years if you change absolutely nothing?"
My guess is that most of us don't like the version of ourselves projected out 5 years having made no progress, on anything. Ok, maybe there's one or two of you out there who are living the prefect life, and doing it perfectly, but for the rest of us, a question like this is a wake-up call.

We can have all the good ideas and the best intentions, but if we don't actually do something, nothing is gonna change.

Anyway, as I sat in my chair, that damn question popped into my head. And then, as it bounced around in there, it morphed it a bit. I asked myself:
"How much better is your running gonna feel 5 days from now if you spend that time sitting on your ass?"
"How much fitter will you be if you continue to skip runs over the next 5 months?"
"What will your physical, mental, emotional health be like 5 years from now if you aren't running?"
Yeah, that got my ass out of the chair.

And even on the run, a couple miles in when was feeling unnatural and awkward, I asked myself:
"How much closer will you be to the showers in 5 minutes if you stop running now?"
In increments of five minutes, 5 days, 5 months, 5 years, everything we do, or don't do, adds up. That's the Rule of 5s. Every 5 matters.

Make the most of those 5s, and see where it gets you.

Good running,

PS - Don Miller is also the author of a fantastic book (below) that I highly recommend. Though beware, it might change your life.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Trough of Despair

One day a couple of years ago, out on a trial run, my friend/co-worker/running buddy Rob were discussing our recent races.

We'd both had reasonable races, nothing earth shattering, but decent. We also realized that each of us had a experienced a really rough patch around the middle of our races.

With more discussion we decided that there's a moment in every endurance race, and most long training runs, when you're pretty sure your body is failing, that you can't possibly keep going, that you never should have gotten out of bed, and that you will almost certainly die face down on the course before the next mile marker, let alone the finish line.

Rob called it "The trough of despair." It's easy to slide into, and may be tough to get out of, but if you keep going, you will emerge.

The problem with the trough of despair is that a caveman lives there.

You see, our minds don't like the idea of us pushing our bodies to extremes. Deep in our brains lives the instincts of a twitchy caveman worried that at any moment he'll need to outrun a lion. The caveman wants us to hold back, to keep a little something in reserve.

The trough of despair is an illusion our mind creates to protect its body when it thinks we're too deep into our reserves.

The illusion starts with the caveman's voice telling you things like "You don't feel that great, that it's time to slow down, or even quit." or "In the grand scheme of the universe, who cares if you finish."

The self-doubt can be overwhelming, especially in the middle of a long race. Luckily, the caveman has a short attention span. If you keep going, his voice will fade, and you will emerge from the trough.

In the trough, focus on your running, your breath, your cadence, the road or trail. Try to block out the doubt and think only about the task of moving forward. It might take a minute, maybe ten minutes, but eventually, the caveman will step back into the shadows and you'll feel strong and confident again.

The trough of despair, and the caveman, don't limit themselves to trying to screw up your running. They can pop up during a long project at work, or a trying personal time. You don't find yourself in the trough of despair when you're doing something easy, only in the middle of hard, worthwhile things.

Don't fear the trough. Still, you need to recognize when you're in it, acknowledge it, and get through it, because on the other side is the you that you are trying to find.

Good running,

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What would your heroes say?

With the new year comes reflection.

Me, I've been wondering what my heroes would tell me if they knew me. If we were buddies and I asked them for advice, on running and life, what would they tell me?

Thing is, I think I know what they'd say, and I think I'd be embarrassed.

I have two running heroes, Edwin Moses, and Steve Prefontaine, and two non-running heroes, Steve Jobs, and John Lennon.

Edwin Moses, Ed, I'd like to think he'd want me to call him "Ed", was, make that is, the greatest track and field athlete of all time. You can argue for anyone else you want, Emil Zatopak, Carl Lewis, even Jesse Owens, but you will lose. Ed dominated the toughest event in track for 10 years. Ten. Years. He went undefeated at the absolute pinnacle of his sport, for 107 straight finals and 4 world records. No one was even close. Don't take my word for it, read all about it yourself... I'll wait.

See? Told ya. Amazing...

My favorite fact is that Ed majored in physics and industrial engineering at Morehouse on an academic scholarship. Yes, the greatest track athlete of all time was on an academic scholarship. Smart dude.

I have always admired not just his records, but also how he revolutionized his event. Ed used his considerable education and intellect to invent new ways to train, to measure and monitor his success, to accomplish things never before accomplished, things that other well-schooled people thought impossible.

I think Ed would tell me, in his gentle manner, that I'm underachieving and selling myself short. He'd encourage me to find a direction and put all of my energy and focus on finding every possible way to succeed, even if that meant inventing a way there. And as for my running, he'd encourage me to be more disciplined, analytical, and to set more challenging goals.

Steve Prefontaine was a shooting star in US distance running who burned bright, white hot, for too short a time. He was brash. He was arrogant. He was a blood-thirsty competitor. Pre despised the idea of paced racing, saving some for the end. His objective in a race was to run you into the ground. He once said "No one will ever win a 5,000 meter by running an easy two miles. Not against me.", and "I am going to work so that it's a pure guts race. In the end, if it is, I'm the only one that can win it." He ran from the front, counting on guts, determination, and will to get him to the finish line first. Pre never won Olympic gold, but he inspired millions with his balls-out approach to his event, and his life.

"Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it" - Steve Prefontaine

Pre would meet me at a dive bar, buy me a beer, look me dead in the eye, and tell me " First, your running. Dude, you gotta run more, and faster. You aren't running nearly enough days or miles, and when you do, you're too slow. The other stuff... shit dude, stop being a pussy. Trust your talent. Don't fear failure, fear regret. You need to outrun all the bullshit. Man up, look way down the track, and just go... hard!"

Steve Jobs, well, we all know Steve. We all have opinions about Steve. Do yourself a favor and read his Stanford commencement speech. That's the Steve I admire, and the Steve I'd look to for advice.

Steve's email would be brief, abrupt, and direct. "You're wasting your life. Don't follow, lead. Listen to your heart and your intuition. Do something great. Change the world. -Steve"

In many ways, and on many days, I wanted to be Edwin Moses, or Steve Prefontaine, or Steve Jobs. I never really wanted to be John Lennon, I just wanted to hang out with him. The Beatle version of John Lennon would be a lot of fun, and I'm sure very witty and clever. When I imagine (sorry) John and I hanging out, though, it's the John that lives in New York City, far removed from The Beatles life, raising his second son as a stay-at-home dad. We'd meet in the park somewhere. He'd go unrecognized as he approached. He'd shake my hand and sit down across from me at the chess boards, for a chat, not a game.

"How are you, man? What's on your mind?"

I'd tell John that I felt as if I'd unknowingly jumped track years ago and now find myself wondering where I am and where I was supposed to be. He'd tell me to relax. He'd say that everyone feels lost, and to give myself a break.

Then, John Lennon would ask me who I most want to inspire, and then challenge me to inspire them, daily. He'd ask me how I wanted to be remembered, and encourage me to make myself into that person. Finally, he'd remind me not to lose sight of what's really important... to seek peace and love and kindness, and to give it in return.

I have a great life, and I'm happy in it. Yet I can't help but feel that there's a bell unrung.

Good news is, there's still time.

Now, what would your heroes tell you?

Good running,