Sunday, October 14, 2018

Bromont Ultra - 100-miles of Trails



In an ongoing effort to keep these self-indulgent race reports at least somewhat interesting to read, I decided to try to write this one backwards. We'll start at the finish line and it will be an interesting tale about a guy who, over the course of 30hrs and 4mins, gradually feels better and better about the things he's doing to his body.

I know more people would read these if I edited them down and made them shorter. I'd apologize for the length of this one up front but I’m not really sorry and I'm not writing it for anyone or anything. I discovered along this run that I like to write about things like this because a lot gets forgotten in the midst of life. One day I'll want to reflect and teach people in my life about vulnerability, and believing in yourself, and love and friendship, and what it means to trust someone with your whole heart, and about dedication and grit and sacrifice and mental attitude... This is how I'll do it.

I know everyone doesn't have to run 100-miles to learn about these things, but it's the best way I know how to explore them and amplify them that at this moment in my life.

FINISH LINE
Base camp is a big open equestrian field. A house-sized white tent encapsulates a big party including a band, excited spectators, a bar, and live tracking of racers on a TV.

The finish line was still unreal to me even having had stepped on it a couple extra times at the end to make sure it was actually under my feet. I walked a little further and sat down in a cold fold-out chair; I gave my body permission to relax. The loving touch and comforting feeling of a friend's warm hand on my back was all it took to break me down into my second or third fit of tears in the past five minutes.

I can't remember the last time I broke down like that.

The race director came to shake my hand and congratulate me and the photographer was loving the emotionally overflowing scene. I wish I could add a caption to these finish line photos but I'd argue that there is only one other human that'll know exactly how I felt here.

At this point, my body is structurally sound. My muscles are broken down and stiff and exactly how you'd expect them to feel after running 100-miles. But there's no "structural damage,” such as a rolled ankle or broken bone or something like that. Pushing yourself to physical limits safely requires a structurally sound body. I've given up on the 100-mile distance three times prior due to rolled ankles and it has been frustrating (among other feelings).


Mile 99.9

Two hundred meters away from the finish line, Leah and I were moving about 15min/mi pace and I felt the entire run wash over me. I was reactively starting to whimper and wanted to try and control myself a little more. I slowed down to take a couple deep breaths, "Act like you've been there before," I said to myself. That was not about to happen. As we approached closer, Leah tried to duck off to the side and said that I should cross the finish line by myself. I hadn't said actual words in a long while but I remember telling her that I couldn't have done it without her and she had to come with me. A volunteer came out to scan my race-bib and she said something in French. For the first time since entering Quebec, I didn't ask for English. I don't know exactly what she said, but I felt like I knew what she meant and that was the straw that broke the back of my emotional camel. I gave the volunteer a huge hug and the tears continued to roll in a half-funny, half-sad, all-hysterical way.



Mile 89 - This was the crux of the run for me by a long shot.
It's a little after 9:00 on Sunday morning. I am sitting in a flimsy fold-out chair next to a table with a couple of jugs of water on it and a piece of laminated paper reading AIDE-TOI (HELP YOURSELF)

I couldn't do any such thing.

The pain in my legs, plus the sleep deprivation, plus the low blood sugar was putting in some really hard-hitting blows to my mental state. By this time, a few of the runners of the shorter distance races were galloping by me at what looked like a blazing speed. I was careful not to come to a full stop at many stations along the run, and I only sat for a few minutes when I did, but this plastic chair could have very well been the electric-chair for me on this run. It was the lowest of lows I've felt in an endurance activity and I didn't think I'd be able to continue. I put my head in my hands and cried for the first time in a long while. I was just sad. Even though I had come 89-miles, 11 more seemed impossible.

Leah somehow knew the perfect recipe of how much sympathy to offer me to get me out of the chair, followed promptly by how hard to kick my ass to get me shuffling along the trail again. It is a delicate concoction for a pacer to conjure up. I asked her to come pace me knowing that she would know exactly what to do/say in this very moment. She is an amazing human; our friendship runs deep and she knows me well. She's going to school to be a nurse and I know if she unleashes half of her heart, mind, ambition, and potential on the nursing world she'll be a modern day Florence Nightingale.

It was this motivation from her, plus a chance encounter with a man in a car about 50 meters away waiting for another runner, that got me moving again. The stranger looked at me and waved his hands excitedly from a distance as he shouted something in French. I looked at Leah questioningly (she doubled as a translator as well), but she didn't quite know what he was saying either. He went to his trunk and walked over with a can of Red Bull. "I was trying to tell you that 'Red Bull gives you some wings,'" he said laughing. I chugged it and shook his hand and I smiled just a little smile at him; it was the type of smile that you try and not-smile after you've been crying hysterically. The not-smile that one smiles when the hissy-fit ends and the world makes sense again but you don't want to admit it.

As we moved on for the next few minutes, I was looking at my watch, the time, and the distance incessantly. Leah beckoned me to put it away. She said something like, "Time doesn't matter anymore. We're going to finish."

She said it with conviction and I put it away for the rest of the race.

Not knowing the time helped a ton. Time was a distraction at that point; a delusion from where I needed my mind to be. The only thing that mattered was the current moment. The step being taken: both of these things one million times over. Eventually, if I placed enough faith in the current moment, I knew the finish line would find its way to me. I never have been one to live in the "safety" of the future anyways, it's been worked into a cliche but the future is truly never guaranteed, so there's no use praying away a powerful feeling, even one so "unpleasant" as mile 89. In another step there's a chance I might get hurt, or worse, and never get to run again. If that were to happen, I'd long and pine for the "miserable" feelings of mile 89.

Mile 79 - 5am Sunday Morning
This aid station put the "Bro" in Bromont. It was right in the middle of the last hard climb and these bros had a roaring campfire lit, they offered to make me whatever I needed, and they were bumping reggae tunes that were ironically peaceful for the torture that the rest of the race was doing to me. More importantly, they were the perfect mix of "Get in, get what you need, and GTFO."

The sun would be rising soon and this was one of the things I was looking forward to the most of this race: having gotten to watch the sun set, then run through the night, and then watch the sun rise again--- all in the same run.

The only time things got really weird for me was right before I met up with Leah at mile 76. I was alone on the trail for a long while and very obediently following pink flags when my headlamp reflected something else back at me. I stopped dead in my tracks and covered my lamp with my hand briefly, then removed it. Again, the light shone on what I thought I had seen--- Two eyes were about 150ft away in the woods looking right at me. They were far enough off the trail to not worry about, but close enough to sense something else tracking my every move. If I had to guess, it was a deer, but what was strange was the sense of companionship that came after I watched it a bit and concluded that the animal was not a threat.

I've always called BS on people with stories like these, but I got the overpowering feeling that the animal was actually someone I had known briefly before he lost his battle with cancer this past summer. This man took a genuine interest in my desire to start coaching and writing and even though I only really had a handful of meetings with him, he always left a lasting impression on how I wanted to live. He vested himself deeply in our conversations and asked questions about my running that no one has ever asked before. To me, he was a man that was extremely self-aware and not afraid to be vulnerable. I'll never be able to explain why my brain connected seeing this animal at 2:30 in the morning on a trail in Canada with the thoughts of the late Mike Pimentel but that moment was real and I think he was actually watching in those woods.

Mile 70 - 1am Sunday Morning
I've been wandering around in the dark and rain for what seemed like forever. It wasn't one thing that bugged me about the night. I've run in the dark before, I've run on slippery trails before, I've run through heavy fog, and I've had to pay attention closely to trails to not get lost. But the combination of all of those things at the same was a mental battle and slowed me down big time. My number one goal was to keep my ankles in tact. My legs were in really rough shape at this point but I could have powered along a lot faster had only one of these obstacles not been present.

I checked in to the aid station at Chez Bob (which was actually someone’s garage). Soft Cell's 'Tainted Love' was on the radio, which I thought was also all too appropriate for the moment, to the extent that I thought it was a joke.It was great to get a hug from Kenny. This is also the part of the race where Ken gave me the shirt off of his back, literally. Because that is the kind of guy he is. It was also fitting that it was his Sugarloaf Marathon shirt; his first marathon, and I was there watching him dig deep within himself to finish that run. I tried to laugh and joke around with the rest of the support crew there but my jokes didn't seem to be landing.

They also did a weigh-in at this stop to make sure people haven't lost too much body weight during the run. I hadn't been this nervous for a weigh-in since Pop Warner football where my dad would have me suck down a large iced coffee a couple hours beforehand so the diarrhetic effects of coffee would hopefully shed any last minute "dead weight."

The object of this particular weigh-in was the opposite though, so before I stepped on the scale I stuffed a quarter of a PB&J sandwich in my mouth and washed it down with my self-made 50/50 mix of gatorade and coffee, then ate boiled potato rolled in salt. I weighed in two pounds heavier than I started. This was a good sign.

I made one last attempt at humor as I stepped off the scale and got on my way. I belted out the last part of the song and danced my way out of the garage with eyes locked on the woman who weighed me in... (the lyrics were all too fitting)

Once I ran to you...
Now I'll run from you
This tainted love you've given
I give you all a boy could give you
So take my tears and that's not nearly all
Oh tainted love
Tainted love
(I didn't miss a word… and made it super awkward (read: awesome))

I left with what I really wanted (among all of the foods), the reassurance that no matter how tired my legs are or broken my body is, I still get joy out of putting a smile on a stranger's face even though they don't speak the same language. Also, If you give me the opportunity to dance with abandon and make a lame joke or two… I'll take it. Every goddamn time.

Emotions tend to roll from sky-high to “Chokey-from-Matilda”-low during long races. This was no different. It’s wild how fast the “king-of-the-world” feeling fades, but also plays key in recognizing that the lows will likely be gone if you keep going a little bit beyond yourself. Only an hour or two after the halfway mark was when I hit the first low. It was quick but it was very distinct and significant. It was my first experience with some hardcore thought repression. As I climbed one of the next climbs, it seemed that every single insecurity in my life crept into my head all at once…

You're never going to finish a 100-mile run.
Why can’t you just like a “normal job?” You’re barely squeaking by financially.
Your writing sucks and no one even reads it.
You don’t bring anything good to the table and you’ll never positively impact anything.
You're not a good athlete. You’re still too heavy to be a runner.
No one wants to be coached by you.
You're a huge fake.
Your friends and running/triathlon club buddies secretly think you suck. You’re a bad leader.
You won’t find a tenant for your house and you’ll be forced to foreclose on it.
There’s nothing you can do about any of this.

These thoughts suck. But they’re real. I had to stop in the middle of the trail to think about how I’d deal with them for a minute. The only way I’d be able to finish the run is if I found a way to completely forget about them for the rest of the race. I’m not talking about just telling myself to think about something else when these negative thoughts come up, I am talking about actually forgetting this very moment entirely.


I managed to do just that somehow. I put all those negative thoughts and insecurities in a box and then saw them dissolve. I wouldn’t think about them again until the drive home when my realtor texted me. It’s wild what your brain can do when it’s in survival mode.

Mile 50 - Back at Base Camp/The Start/Finish line - 6:30pm
Judging from the technicality of the trails, the elevation gain, and distance, I predicted I'd be at the halfway point at 6pm. So, I was a tiny bit behind but was on track. I hugged my crew and let them know what I needed from them. I was on top of the world and feeling great at this point.

Fifty miles on trails is far and away my favorite distance to run... and be done. But this time, my legs were in for round two. Forced to make the decision to run back onto the course. I once read the idea that for a few moments, every day, every man becomes a genius, with moments of huge clarity and where everything just makes sense. You've got to capitalize on planning things in these genius moments because soon, one way or another, distractions creep into life and you're back to being a lazy idiot again. The best you can do when you're in savant-mode, is to make decisions easier for yourself when your the idiot. Well, I was in and out of this check-point like a brilliantly-guided idiot.

There was an electric fence right before the final stretch of the finish line. I had an overwhelming urge to grab it, just to see how it felt. I have no idea what this says about my mental state at the time but I actually stepped further away from the fence to distance myself from it as I ran alongside it.


Mile 40 - Lac Gale
The miles between 40-50 were long and arduous. The trail marched you passed Base Camp on your right and then a big loop around it, before you actually finished there. My head was on straight and I was likely jamming at that point. Nothing really mattered and it was way too early to be thinking about anything other than running and eating. The more miles done in the daylight was less having to be done at night.

The only bummer about racing in a land that doesn't primarily speak your language is the trail-talk-BS that you get along the way most times. I like shooting the breeze with everyone. Especially early on. I did chuckle at one point when I passed a guy on an uphill. He said something in French and I politely asked for English. His broken English then replied with a kind smile and encouraging tone, "I said, you are a robot!"

I smiled and didn't quite know how to reply other than a chuckle and "Merci!" I ran along for a few more minutes pondering what that could have meant. When I realized what had probably gotten lost in translation I laughed out loud. I am guessing what he meant to say was, "You're a machine!" as in, I was going uphill fast.

I saw Leah and Ken for the first time at the Mile 40 Lac Gale aid station, but I was mostly just in and out.

Mile 21
Miles 21-40 kind of flew by. This is the flatter portion of the course and offers some good time/relief to check in and fully refuel/rehydrate.

I got a couple text messages from friends and family along the way. My cousin crushed her first half-marathon and another friend was running the BAA half marathon. These things made me really happy.

The Start
The first miles went by extremely fast. There was some trail talk but the only thing I remember thinking from the first few hours is that Allez! is infinitely more motivating to hear than Keep it up!


Pre-Race
The campsite was on point and the race vibes were incredible. After checking in and getting my bib, Leah and I made our way over to one of the fire pits and asked one of the race volunteers if we could make a fire. It seemed like a fire was on everyone else’s minds, and the fresh fire wood was right here too, but no one really took it upon themselves to get it going. The guy we asked seemed curious as to why we even asked for permission. Yeah, absolutely. Why wouldn’t you make a fire in perfect weather like this?


As we got it going, about a few groups of people came over one-by-one to join in and chat. The vibes were high as we cooked our pea soup. Good fire, good food, great people. The venue was on-point and everyone was smiling. I thought back to the start of the last 100 I attempted, where my tent was passive-aggressively thrown out in the field and I was forced to field complaints and listen to negative comments all night long.

As I climbed into the sleeping bag I thought about how awesome real support and real friends will affect someone trying to do something like this. This time I was exactly where I needed to be. And I was so ready. I remember vividly thinking about how grateful I was for everything surrounding me at that very moment.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Seven Steps of Cycling Up Mount Washington


Mile 1 - Shock
It has been just about 6-minutes since the national anthem finished and just about 5-minutes since the the first wave of riders was released up the Mount Washington Auto Road. Given that the waves were scheduled to go off in 5-minute increments, go-time is drawing closer. You stand straddling your bike, front tire kissing the start line, with your left foot clipped into the pedal and your right on the ground for balance. Friends are planted in the same stance on either side and you try to take a deep breath.


The weather has cleared and it turned out to be a pretty nice start to the race. The cannon fires and it kickstarts your heart-rate up a couple beats-per-minute. You shove off the line and clip your right foot into the pedal. If the cannon served as a kickstart, the immediate incline of the Auto Road would equate to curb-stomp.

You are in shock as you pedal up the first mile of the mountain. You’re friends take off faster than you but your breath and heart-rate are through the roof. A lot is happening and you almost don’t notice the first mile because of the shock factor of the environment. The cannon fires again from back at the start line indicating that the next wave is released and that about 5-minutes have passed since you have started. But how can that be? You haven’t even gone a mile yet!


Mile 2 - Denial
Here’s where you stare down at the road and shake your head. You check your brakes to see if they are rubbing. There’s no way that they aren’t rubbing, right?

This is a joke. There is no way that this road is this steep for six more miles. There’s no way you are going this slow. There is no way your heart can beat any faster, the chest strap must be broken.

It is impossible to go this slow at this effort level. You must have forgotten to calibrate your power meter.

There is no damn way you aren’t even a third of the way there yet.


Mile 3 - Anger
Every pedal stroke now is not doing anything. Nothing you do is actually doing anything - and it all hurts. It’s an optical illusion and joke is on you. Your heart rate is now sky high and you can’t seem to get enough oxygen in your lungs no matter how hard you breath. You hear the cheers of the random people on the road; you want to strangle those people. You want to make them feel what you are feeling.

What the fuck are you doing here? Why do you think it’s a good idea to bike up steep roads? This hill sucks so much and you are nowhere near finishing. This sucks. Everything sucks and your legs hurt. Your lower back also hurts from trying to keep your body upright.

YOU’RE NOT EVEN HALFWAY DONE AND IT SEEMS LIKE YOU AREN’T EVEN MOVING!


Mile 4 - Bargaining
The pain in your legs is now normal and you’ve found a tiny glimpse of a rhythm. Breathing still hurts but this is also the new normal now. Maybe you look down at your watch again to continue to count down the hundredths of a mile.


You say: Fuck I just have to make it to mile four because there are only two more miles after that. Just round the corner, yeah, that will feel good. Everything will be better once you get to mile four. You think to yourself, “I’m going to finish this, but I am definitely not signing up for next year. Just finish though… oh yeah, just finish and not only will I not sign up for next year, but I get to pig out on good food.”


Mile 5 - Sorrow
You made it to mile four. But everything still hurts. There is no hope for you. You are alone. Forgotten. Unwanted. You start to feel sorry for yourself but it doesn’t stop your legs. Your mind is crying - your legs are screaming - but they are still moving. Still spinning.


Mile 6 - Testing
Here is where you start glancing down at your computer and watch the turn of every pedal stroke. Every. Single. One.  “Am I going to make it? Maybe you start doing mental math for the next five minutes.

There are hundreds of other people around you - up front, and behind, they are all throwing down with you. They are all feeling the same way and they aren’t giving up… so you can’t either. Onward! Upward!


Mile 7.2 - Acceptance
You can’t breath. You’ve made it to the top though. Despite the 22% kick-in-the-face incline at the last quarter of a mile, you did it.
And that feels damn good.

So what that you had higher expectations at the start line, and know that you could have hammered it faster on “a better day.” You know you left it all out there and pushed yourself. You emptied the tank with what you had today and your happy with that.

These feelings are real. You’re happy with that.

You collapse. As a volunteer wraps you in a blanket.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Token-creeky

Quick recap from yesterday's race. I promised myself I was going to start writing more even if there isn't an overarching, grand, story-behind-the-story. I also decided that I am going to be a little more candid about how I was feeling during the race; I mean no ill-will, just stating things from my perspective.

From my short experience as a coach so far, I have heard all too often that the biggest set back people have is mostly mental/confidence issues. Most athletes have no problem putting the work in, but keeping their heads and thoughts together on race day is difficult.

I don't claim to have answers but I can relate to the feeling. Step one is to put yourself in the situation as much as you can so you are familiar with it. Step two is to know that these feelings will come on no matter how prepared you think you are. Step three is, you guessed, just "act as if" (yeah, spoiler alert, I don't end up winning this race, so I have got to plug myself somewhere in these rambles, alright? Haven't you got that yet?...Stay with me).
So here we go. Confidence or no confidence...

This was my first road race as a Cat 3. Going into the weekend, my legs were feeling great. I rode the weekly Bullet Train on Tuesday then went out for some big-time extra miles. My legs felt primed so I decided to sign up for Tokeneke. I got to the starting line in typical Hafferty-fashion; late, no warm-up, no food for the 66-mile ride, and asking volunteers where staging is (minor details , right?). I was happy they were running 5min late as well. Juan, a 545 teammate of mine, pointed out some of the people to watch for. Some usual suspects and some new faces among my new field. We rolled off a few minutes later. The first lap was a little bit spicier than I wanted it to be but was happy about how my legs were feeling. Maybe I just don’t have enough raw race experience but I always start these races with more self-doubt than I like to admit. I convince myself that everyone is faster than me and when some chump makes a dumb move, I am usually the 2nd dumbest chump in the peloton to chase it down. I was definitely not being patient enough with my efforts but was content with how I was learning and focusing more on reading the pack and moving with the field. The first lap was jumpy, and I put out more power than I wanted to. I averaged 350 watts (Normalized Power) for the first lap, of three, along the steep, punchy, 22-mile course. This 350w workload for an hour is a pretty heavy workload for me - but not crazy. I knew I should have sat in and drafted more but I was anxious to see what was going to happen, and I only knew a couple other people in the 35 person field. Despite my lack of full confidence, I felt like a couple other guys were also keeping an eye out on me. I knew Tucker and his teammate wouldn’t let me get too far away unaccompanied. And throughout the first lap, I was happy to see the Minuteman Road Club (MRC) being a little more provocative than they normally seem to be in races. We finished the first lap and were informed that there was a racer, solo, up front with about 90 seconds on us. No one seemed to care, but the 2nd lap did get a bit spicier. We were about 34 miles in at this point. I got up in front of the pack and put in a good effort right before the climb in the middle of the course. It was dumb and I should have known better. Those who ride Tuesday mornings with me, know that I make the same exact mistake every single week right before the Nagog Hill climbs in Littleton. Low and behold, right after my pull is when both MRC riders attacked hard and took off up the hill together giving me the ole “Right, there Fred!” It was a solid move, two other guys powered up there with the MRC riders. Through temporary exhaustion from the previous effort, and a little bit of cockiness, I thought, “We'll reel them in on the descent.” And I let them go. They weren’t that far ahead at the moment and this is pretty much what I do every Tuesday; make a dumb move, get dropped a little, and have to crush myself to catch up. I didn’t expect 545’s newest teammate, Daniel, to jump up and spring into what seemed like a pretty solid 5-man winning break. I had never met him before the starting line today, but I saw him put in some really strong climbing at the finish of lap one, but then faded back pretty dramatically toward the end of the hill. Anyways, it was not a huge gap going up to climb and a couple other riders proved to be strong on the downhills. I thought I could initially jump on some wheels of the other guys to bring them back in on the downhill. Since Daniel was in the break, I wasn’t going to work to reel them in, but was going to make sure I was up front to put in a counter attack if, by chance, we got them back within reach. I hate missing a break like that but was happy to see a teammate up there. They ended up fading smaller and smaller into the distance and I knew that it was going to be a break that lasted. To be completely honest, I had a gut feeling that, though my teammate Daniel was strong, was not going to last in that break. I felt bad when we saw him fade back to our chase-group a handful of miles later and that’s when I really knew we weren’t going to see that break again. Nevertheless, once he got back into our group, I started putting in a ton of work pulling and trying to make up some time and gain ground on the leaders. I was coercing and coaching a group of about six strangers to take smooth quick pulls, keep the speed up, and conserve each other’s energy. We worked well together for a little bit for the back of second lap but eventually fell apart when we started the third. We could not trim down the gap at all. I half-wanted to throw in the towel and just soft pedal the 3rd lap-- my legs were getting pretty heavy, averaging 380 watts (NP) for the entire 2nd lap. Strava stats are here! I looked back at what was left of my chase-group to evaluate everyone. I didn’t notice at the time, but we actually dropped a lot of people in the chase-group with our efforts. I was bummed when I didn’t see Juan, but was stoked to see Daniel hanging on. This turned my spirits up a little bit and I decided it would be a sorry-ass move to slack off on the last lap and wait it out for the final climb. Going up to climb at the midway of the third lap (about 15miles to go in the race), we dropped even more people; we now had a group of about 5 or 6 (I forget). And, apologies to other racers, but the remainder of the guys were very visibly exhausted. One guy kept shaking his head and mumbling with heavy deep breaths, “I’m just--huuuh, huh-- trying to---huuuhh…” and then he would fade off and not finish the thought. I pull in some decent efforts going up the next few punchy climbs strictly to test the group out and evaluate everyone’s legs; a couple were still fighting but I would pull away from everyone pretty easily on the uphills. Daniel was still looking good with us, too, which was great. After I’d pull away a bit, I would regroup with them on the flats until it was time to pull the trigger for a break. I knew I could save some energy staying with them while still holding off others; my plan was to keep cool until we hit the final climb with about 4 miles to go. I would hit it hard and roll in to solidify 5th place. I was pretty confident in this plan. What I didn’t know though, was that two guys up ahead in the lead pack crashed out, so if it all went according to plan, I actually would have been 3rd. Not what I wanted, but not bad for my debut road race in the category. Well, as they often say, “the best laid plans of mice and men, often need a functioning bike.” None of my efforts ended up coming to mean anything. About 6 miles from the finish, I shifted gears, we were going uphill and I was ready to deliver my final blow and roll away as best I could. I stood up. My right fingers tapped the shifter and the chain moved to a smaller gear. I pulled the handle bar up with my left arm and prepared to crank down on the right pedal. I tapped the shifter once more… I heard a loud “CRACK!” followed by “CLINK… clink… clink… clink….” My foot, expecting the support of the bike, and not getting it, crashed to the ground and I almost went ass-over-handlebars. I looked down at what was the end of my race. The hanger of the rear derailleur sheared completely. Cue the music... Silver linings: 1- My legs were feeling very powerful. See y’all at Mt. Washington! 2- I didn’t crash in the lead break. 3- My mechanical didn’t happen going downhill at 50mph.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Turning Yourself into What You Do

There is currently no word in the English language to describe the feeling you get upon realization that each and every person you see, and even the ones you will never see, is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

This feeling has absolutely fascinated me over the past six months.

(I've been dying to write about it. I haven't quite had the ammo for full piece - and it is probably still a little weak - but I woke up at 3:57 this morning full of energy (only about a half an hour before the alarm was actually set) and I knew I had to find some time to put this together.)

Every person on the planet has made a series of decisions to get themselves to where they currently are. Whether you know it or not, and whether you were intentional with your decisions or not; they have created the YOU that you are right now. Even if you don't agree with someone or something - there is an incredible amount of beauty in each and every human's story of how they got to where they are.


Every second of the day that you spend, you spend getting better at something.

It is either work, or raising a family, or reading, or studying, or exercising, or on social media, or watching TV, or following sports... the list goes on, but the bottom line is that the "essence of you" is a product of how you have spent your time plus who you spent it with multiplied by your attitude toward that time spent. You are perpetually getting better at SOMETHING. The SOMETHING is your choice.

I have friends who play amazing instruments, write gorgeous songs, snap breathtaking pictures, edit tear-jerking videos... friends who bring friends together and make good times great, some facilitate ideas and see the world as Playdough. I have a friend who I have actually never met, who wanted to be an editor, so she spent time and created a website and then asked people to write pieces for her. Now she edits writing like no one else I know. Most of these things, I will never be able to do, because I don't choose to spend my time doing them.


Notice the word choice, I didn't say, "I am too busy for them."

"Busy" is a decision. I've sworn off using the term "I am too busy." I think it is a cop out and a really poor euphemism for "I don't want to do that." 

Often I am asked, "How do you run so far?" - the answer is simple - I have spent a lot of time running, thinking about running, and planning my days/weeks around running. The catch is that I am mediocre at my job, often neglecting friends who like spending time with me, and will never be able to foster a meaningful relationship given the time I put into it- none of this will change unless I change where I invest my time.

This is what makes major life changes so hard and heartbreaking to deal with. Whether it is a break up, loss of a pet or a loved one, change of career... whatever.

You've spent so much time and energy invested with something else (job, pet, person...) and you've not only allowed that thing to to change you and your life... but you've willingly invited them to change it - then welcomed the change - then told yourself it was good.

After the loss, whether it be death or a break up, you are forced to go back and reevaluate why you made the decisions that you did. And it is a vicious circle because are you are reevaluating these things, you can no longer relate or confide in the people or groups that you once found so much meaning in. You can't reach out your person anymore, or go down to the dog park, or, on a very basic level, even find meaning in the fact that another person on the planet values the things you are bringing into the world.

There is resilience and growth in finding new things and people to place value in, though. Appreciating what some thing, some person, some event, or some goal has brought into your life, realizing that it changed you in ways that you wanted at the time, but recognizing you'll learn and grow more in new ways with new goals and new people.

The magic comes in being proud of what you have become and being proud of the journey you are on. Check in with yourself as often as you can to make sure you are on the path you want to be on. You have earned everything you have become... but there is always room to grow... no matter what your starting point may have been.

I think the trick is to recognize that there is actually no "finish line" to your journey. You are never going to get to a magic place and time where you say to yourself, "Ahhh, this is it! I have everything I want and I am done now."

The caveat to that last line is that you can actually have that moment and magic place whenever you want it by simply taking a breath and a quick second to realize all that you DO have and all that you have become.

It's easy to get caught up in someone else and their journey. They have spent a ton of time (maybe even dedicated their life to) being good at things that you'll never be good at or even spend any time trying to be good at. These days, it is easier than ever to get jealous of these things that other people do or have - just flip open Instagram and you'll be bombarded by people telling you how great they are, what they value, and who they like.


If you spend your time getting caught up in the journeys of others, without the same allotted time for yourself, you'll likely find yourself angry or sad most of the time. You'll then spend time taking it out on other people, screaming and beeping in traffic, yelling at people because you're right and they are wrong, or being rude to the Poland Spring delivery man because the delivery was late. This is also a vicious cycle because as you spend time being pissed off at people... you also get better at THAT. So again, I say, check in often with yourself and your intentions.

It takes effort to be happy with what you have.

On a personal note, I wish I could play an instrument, I wish I was better at my job, I wish I kept in touch with people and friends better... I wish I paid closer attention to street signs in Boston so I didn't have to budget $250 a month for my car getting towed or parking tickets.
-BUT-
My appreciation right now comes in a great group of friends, being able to run seemingly long distances, writing about how I feel, and biking everywhere. That's just who I am and what makes me happy right now. It is where I spend a ridiculous amount of my time.


So if you truly aren't happy or proud of you, take a look at where you spend your time and who you spend it with. These are the simplest things and you need no skills whatsoever to change these things... just a conscious mind and active intention. 


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A Gag-Worthily, Hopelessly-Romantic, Version of The Boston Marathon 2018



Most of you know me by now, and know what to expect with my stories from events. What this one lacks in length, won't be shorted handed in romanticizing. Everything from this city, these people, and this run; as played up by yours truly, in my true-to-form, hopeless-romantic, endurance-athlete fashion.




Mile 21.5 - I am at the top of Heartbreak Hill. It's down-pouring. I'm borderline hypothermic and doubled over a barricade dry heaving. My run is over; I am in tears. Friends that I had been running with had dropped me miles ago and not even the amazing cheers from loved ones along the grass of the hill could cheer me up. The wind and the rain had beat me down enough; I decided to give up and walk the remaining fives miles to the finish line on Boylston Street.


I gave up on myself.


That scene was the summation of my 2015 Boston Marathon, and I hadn't forgiven myself since. Which is strange because I am usually the guy hoping for more adverse conditions. In harder conditions, a person is invited to take a deeper look into what motivates and drives them to do what they are doing. This kind of introspection supersedes the posts on social media, the perfect training runs that are bragged about, the egocentric Strava segment KOMs, and, most importantly, it forces the disintegration of expectations that have been setting up by someone pre-race. These expectations are what can be heard before the race, "I should be able to finish this run in (insert meaningless time here)." These goals and expectations are an important factor in one's motivation, but they must be for the right reasons. And as I can see it, all too often they are governed by ego alone.

Though I try not take polarizing standpoints in these posts; here's one: There are definitely right and wrong reasons to do what you do. Especially physical tests that involve mental fortitude.

THE WRONG REASON: You want to make people gasp and say, "Wow, that's fast! You're an incredible person and a better human because you can run that fast!"

THE RIGHT REASON: You want to test yourself and see how you react to the world around you even when it presents you with a situation that is not optimal. You want to recognize your surroundings and find the best version of yourself in those surroundings- at that very moment- in that exact setting. Rinse. And repeat for the very next moment.


An unexpected addition to the expected challenge thrown in at the last minute, like freezing rain and 20mph headwinds, will capitalize the ever looming question, "WHY DO YOU DO THIS?"


To quote Seneca, "No man is more unhappy than he who never faces adversity, for he is not permitted to prove himself.


The 2018 Boston Marathon was, on average, the slowest- across the entirety of the participants- in decades. And though "grit" is not exactly measurable by any means, the same marathon saw the greatest amount of it. Through that grit, those 26.2-miles instigated an immeasurable amount of self-discovery.


The winners of the pro races experienced the same feeling of self-discovery as the people crossing the finish line long after the crowds were gone and stands were deconstructed. Though their clock-time was very different, the feelings were equal across the field.


Not only across the field of runners, but these feeling were also shared among the fans, officials, and police details that came out to stand in the inches-of-rain that soaked our beloved roads from Hopkinton to Boston.


The Boston Marathon, as a community, and as an event, and as an "essence," really showed its true colors and magic this year.


As I look back on 2015 and the moment I decided to give up on myself. I realized that that moment was very crucial in my learning process as well.


If you aren't happy with your time yesterday, or if you feel like you gave up. You are now faced with a new situation of "How will you use that to make yourself better?" I don't think you know what your best-self looks like until you know and experience what it feels like to give up on yourself. The key being that you've got to channel the experience and make the best of it.


I once told an amazing person, and I stand by it to this day, "It is more impressive seeing you fight through your worst fear, with a slower finishing time; than to see you set a personal best on a perfect day."


As I approached Mile 21.5 yesterday, it was as though I crossed-over into this indescribable barrier of time and space. I was brought back to the exact moment of three years ago, and I felt the exact feelings that vibrated thru my body then.


I looked over to the same spot where I gave up on myself and started crying in the freezing rain and the ripping headwinds.


Thinking back now, it was all-too-perfect and poetic that the conditions were set up in the exact same way for me to confront my biggest fear in the same exact circumstances.


I had a friend later text me this:




Through the same chilling cold and howling headwind, I felt the very vivid difference of tears running down my face, even among the rain drops. This year I was still in full stride, but I was crying all the same. I ran past the ghost of myself that gave up three years ago. I realized how much I have learned, grown, and changed in the past three years.


This life is filled with moments like this if you check in often with yourself and become aware of them.


SPECIAL SHOUT OUT AND THANKS TO THE BEST OF FRIENDS AND SUPPORTERS ANYONE COULD ASK FOR - CARLY AND PAUL. YOU BOTH MADE MY DAY. SO MUCH LOVE.