2017: a Year in Review

There is both art and science to reviewing and critiquing your work.  Without question, I must (and you should, too) start with the measurable parts.  These numbers come from trainingpeaks.  If I did a some exercise and didn’t log it in trainingpeaks, it doesn’t count.

April 2014
Me and the boys…and the dog

Running : 790 miles, covered in ~124 hours.  There are some 5 minute miles in there, and some 20 minute miles.  Should finish at 850 miles, as I have one more 50K Ultra to run.

Cycling: 3050 miles, covered in 166 hours.  There are some 3 mph moments in there, as well as some 50+ mph moments.  Should finish at 3200.

Pilates and Strength Training:  49 hours, 45 minutes worth of equipment and Pilates matt classes.  This will finish at 54 hours (+/-)

Hiking with scout troop: 120 miles.  That will get another 6 to 8 miles added this weekend.  This hikes are pure fun, and I don’t include these efforts in my total time spent performance

Total investment:  ~360 hours, not counting travel time, recovery or rest.

2017, by the Body.  I get body fat analyzed most months.  Between January and August, I watched my weight go from 173 to 176.  However, my body fat started at 11% and ended at 8%.  Even though I got bigger, I had less fat.  I started with 19 lbs. of fat and ended with 14 lbs. of fat.

By the Events:

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ON the bike, at Worlds, in Penticton, CA

Duathlons: 4  (1 local, 2 nationals, 1 world).  I love these events, but conflicts with other areas of my life prevented me from average more than one a quarter.  I am an athlete, but I am also a scoutmaster, parent, husband, church leader and president of a company.  Those all have a place, and, in general, duathlon took a back seat when compared to previous years.

Runs:  7 (4 Ultra Marathons, 2 half marathons, 1 10 miler).  At the start of the year, the idea of 4 Ultras seemed crazy and painful.  In retrospect, I learned more from doing these events than any other event this year.  They challenged me and help me understand parts of me that I used to be far from my definition of self.  OK, they can be painful….sometimes.  My greatest achievements and fulfillment came from completing Ultras this year:  Badwater and Annapurna.  Uniquely difficult (running in the sand for 34 hours vs. running in the Himalaya for a day)

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Riding through the mountains of NC.  What a blessing to live here!

Cycling Events: 8.  North Carolina is a great state to participate in organized cycling events.  We have mountain rides that challenge your climbing and descending skills, and there is very little traffic where I live, making the idea of getting on your bike and heading out for a day of riding simple and comparatively safe to my peers in Europe or other parts of the US.  Every time I get in the mountains and ride in the crisp cool air, I get a sense of gratitude that I pray I never loose.  My backyard rides to Morrow Mountain and Albemarle are as good as any that I have done in the Pyrenees…even if not as long.

By the checkbook:

Total cost:  $5114.  After sponsorship, final out of pocket was $461.  I include in my numbers gasoline, hotels, food and nutrition, cycling components, running shoes,  bike shipping costs, parking, rental cars and any food I buy at the race venues.  I use my credit card perks from frequent business spending to purchase airline tickets, so my airfare costs to travel to Bend, OR and Penticton, CA, were less than parking fees at the airport.

Many peers my age have, as their greatest non-work/family/community investment time spent watching TV.  For comparison’s sake, my DirecTV bill for the year was $1300, about triple my fitness bill.

Let me share one sentence to ground it all.

I invested, on average, less than an hour a day in my fitness.

Sure, there were several 4+ hour days, and even one that exceeded to 12 hours.  But the average investment was less than 60 minutes.

The return on investment:  I am fit.  I get all the benefits of being fit and having a broad combination of strength, power, and endurance.  I get credibility when I speak about health and fitness, as I demonstrate and practice what I preach.  I CAN act youthful, if not a bit silly, since my body let’s me.  I stay healthy.  I avoid injury that plague many my age.  I don’t have to talk about doctor visits and prescriptions when I gather with friends.  The high point of my day isn’t what I am eating for dinner.  When I get together with family and friends, I don’t have downgrade the experience to playing board games and eating together.  I can go outside and play/work/bask in God’s creation.  I can touch my toes (sort of) and can let off steam by putting on a pair of running shoes and just going.  I can eat a lot of calories without concern.

And, I have a resting heart rate of 32.  It is worth an hour a day to get all this reward.

Next Year’s plan, as it sits today, is for 5 runs (a 3 day Ultra experience and 4 others), 8 duathlons and 6 mountain rides (that cost money).  There will be some last minute additions.  The current budget for this is $7300, as it includes taking my son to Denmark, as he gets to participate in his first world championship.  I would like to see sponsorship make that go to $0.

And, I will continue to invest an hour a day and build my tall tales, places seen and races conquered, at age 52.  I hope to have another 40 years of this in me, so I can be like Sister Madonna, and just keep going.

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Sister Madonna, aka the Iron Nun, competed in and won the World Championship in Standard Duathlon in the 85+ age group.  She was a light to all of TeamUSA.

 

 

Annapurna 100 Race Report

This is an old-fashioned race report, on a not so old-fashioned race.  Indeed, it was the most unique race I have ever done.  This was and is a bucket list event for any endurance athlete, and it deserves to be treated as such.

The race options were 50km and 100km.  The 100k race uses all of the 50 km race, plus some extra running on the streets/flat of Pokhara and some additional running after reaching the 50k finish.  I registered for the 50k.  I will break it up into thirds, as that is how my mind perceives it, in retrospect.

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Starting in the dark outside of Pokhara, Nepal
To begin, the race director operated this race on Nepali time, meaning we didn’t start the event until 5:22 am, even though it was scheduled to start at 5:00.  The first part of the race (15k or so), traversed a relatively flat section of the country before turning North and heading uphill into the foothills of the Himalaya.  I would compare the “scene” to be similar to many other Ultra-marathons, in that there was variable scenery and terrain, lots of conversation and anticipation regarding the next check point/aid station (CP).  As the sun rose over the south Asian valleys, we were treated to some crazy sights and sounds not to be found in the USA.  Water Buffalo were making early morning cud chewing sounds, and random cows walked unobstructed on the trails and roads that we ran on.  As we ran though villages on the sides of the valleys, children would step out from their houses and see what all the fuss was about, and sometimes, I would talk to them, and they would occasionally run with us.  They were very much NOT ready to hear a white guy speaking to them in their native tongue, and I loved watching their faces as they go from mild shock to a big smile as they felt that they were participating in the race with us.   There were several watering holes on the trail, and we watched women draw water from them, wearing their saris with tika on their foreheads.  It was surreal.

There were two limiting factors that I unsuccessfully addressed in my choice as to how to run this first third.  First of all, the roads were dirt based and intermittently covered in stones and not gravel.  My feet alternated between landing on just dirt, just stone or a blend.  The stones were of all sizes and shapes, and within an hour, the bottom of my feet were beginning to fatigue, as I had foolishly chosen to run without looking as to where my foot landed, thinking we would be off this terrain soon.  Second, the course routed us through small tribal villages, but none of these villages had the Western equivalent of street lights.  The paths were unlit, and there is no moon shining down the light the way this time of year, as layers of fog descend after sunset, and they don’t burn off until sometime after 9 am.  By the end of this first section, my legs and lungs were strong, but by feet weren’t.

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Me, in the distance, starting yet another steep descent.

I had arranged with the race director to have three drop bags on the race, as I knew that I would need to change clothing a lot as a result of my prolific sweating-this was perhaps the only time that knowing how to speak the language made a difference, as no other competitor on the 50k had three drop bags.  When we did arrive at CP4, I changed out of my soaked shorts and shirt, put on some new ones and downed a PBJ made with bread and PB that I had brought from home.  It tasted so flipping good!  As a treat, I also took my iPod from my drop bag, put it on, and started running with a woman from Slovakia.

That started the second section of the course.  Within a minute or two, we were  introduced to the steepness of the Himalayan foothills.  During the first section, my pace had been between 8 and 9 1/2 minute miles; however, once we started on the first climb and I had to resort to run/walk, I could tell that my final pace would be a lot higher.  Once we reached to top of the first climb, we were met with a 20%+ downhill walk to the valley floor where we crossed the river on a footbridge.  We ended up using footbridges like the ones you see in pictures at least half a dozen times.  This first descent made me acknowledge that I hadn’t adequately trained for descending.  My knees began to ache before we hit the bottom and I was relegated to walking thoughtfully down slick rocks as we gave back a 1000+ feet of vertical over the course of a quarter of a km.  When I hit the bottom, the effects of the fatigue were obvious in a way that concerned me, as I couldn’t run faster than a 9 minute mile on the flats.

bridge crossingOnce we crossed a footbridge over a major tributary of the Ganges River, the climb was on!  We climbed steadily for 7 km, and my pace never was faster than 20 minute miles.  The surreal side of the race continued to impact me, as we would go through tribal villages occupied by Gurungs.  Everyone in the village would have a cell phone with a data plan.  I stopped at a woman’s house with another Nepali runner, and we struck up a conversation about meat as she filled my water bottles and offered me some buffalo yogurt to relieve my boredom and fill my stomach with some variety.  Alas there were no bathroom to be found.  Development in the third world takes so many forms…both good and bad.

There were a few moments that I was sure a old man in a walker could have passed me.  Himalayan trails were not built with switchbacks in mind.  When the trails require elevation change, they just go straight up or straight down.  There is no way to train for this in the states, unless you live in the basement of the Empire State Building.  That said, the Nepali nationals had an advantage over the Westerners in this section, and those guys whom I passed during the first third passed me and never looked back.  The uphills were very manageable, but the straight downhill sections wore me out.  The stairs that the villagers had put in were often slippery that time of day, and I watched many people fall down both during the climbs and the descents.

When we hit the final third, flat sections were not to be seen.  Ben Looney and I were in the front of the American contingent from our group.  I changed clothes one last time, and I felt great.  However, with two climbs and one descent remaining, the weather took a change for the worse.  The temperature dropped and rain started coming down. I was not equipped for being cold and wet.  Ben had a raincoat with him, but I did not.  I felt dumb and considered turning in my Eagle Scout badge, as I was anything but prepared.  Instead, I improvised by going off the trail and entered a Gurung house, where Ben and I rested and waited for the rain to pass. Fortunately for us, no one was home, I didn’t have to explain what we were doing and drink a cup of tea. Within 15 minutes, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out.  The temperatures quickly warmed and our spirits were again high.  The climb to the final aid station was tough, but I knew that Ben and I were going to finish strong.  I said a prayer of gratitude before having a bowl of soup at the last CP and starting the final descent.

We stopped to get some photos, as we could see the town of Sikles in the distance, and knowing that it was the finish line gave us lots of inspiration for the final push.

We “knew” that the final climb was labeled as the 7000 steps.  I didn’t count, but it seemed like it was 70,000 steps.  With about 3 km to the finish line, we concluded that we had already gone 50k, as we had gone off course a few times.  It took us over an hour and half to cover the final distance to the finish line, and we were ‘escorted” into the town by young boys running ahead of us wearing only flip flops.  We were were within 5 minutes on the finish line, I consulted with Ben, and we agreed to run to the finish line, whatever the trail was like.  Crossing the line to a crowd of cheers and clapping made our day.

At the finish line, we were aware that the temperature had dropped.  We gladly accepted our medals and certificates before changing our clothes and sitting down for a couple of bowls of hot soup before heading to bed.

My final ranking was 44th out of 106 competitors.  I came in 20 in my category.  My time of 12 hours 22 minutes translates to an average of more than 14 minutes per mile.  Prior to this race, the longest that I had ever run was 9 hours, and my longest bike ride was 7 hours.  The following day, I celebrated my 52nd birthday, and I couldn’t be prouder of this accomplishment.  Slow but steady won the day.  Only Ben and I out of a group of 6 runners were able to complete our races.

There are stories of people and places that will come later (maybe next?), for now, though, I can’t recommend this race for those who want to see what they are worth.  It tests more than your strength and endurance.  It tests your ability to focus as well as your capacity to overcome difficult moments that are an inevitable part of an Ultra.

Will I do this race again?  Probably not-it is a lot like the Badwater.  Then again, now that I had done something more difficult than Badwater Cape Fear, maybe I will do it again.

Stay tuned.

 

The impact of Sunday School on air travel

As I prepared to leave for Nepal to run the Annapurna100 Ultra-marathon, I was excited to have negotiated an entire row of 4 seats, all to myself, for the flight.  I knew that hang 4 adjacent seats would make it easy to sleep as we crossed both the Atlantic and Europe, en route to the Middle East.  There is no amount of training or nutrition that can substitute for rest, and there is no chance that I will do well on an Ultra-marathon, at altitude, in a land known for the Earth’s largest mountain range, without good rest leading up the event.

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4 seats, all to myself…so I thought.

Three hours after lift off, I found that the combination of movie watching and eating had made me sleepy.  I stood up and headed to the bathroom before settling into my row of seats to get what I thought would be 8 hours of sleep.  I was grateful that Etihad Airlines had agreed to allocate an entire row of seats for me with no one else sitting in them, and I was quick to share on Facebook using the hashtag #iloveetihad.  It felt like I was flying first class.

The map showed that we were about to leave Canadian airspace and would be over Greenland within a hour.  I visualized that I would wake up somewhere over Russia.  I was so excited to be travelling to the land of world tallest mountains to run an epic race.

Unexpectedly, I woman in Middle Eastern garb approached me and started a conversation that mandated I come to terms with some malformed opinions from my past.  This woman was a Syrian Refugee who was flying to the Middle East for back surgery.  She was having difficulty walking, let alone sleeping, and she asked if she could have my 4 seats so she could rest and offered me her one seat up at the front of the cabin.

It would have been culturally easy to tell her, “no.”  After all, had just negotiated for all those seats and had paid the price of the ticket.  In that moment, I felt righteous in claiming that those seats were mine, and I had the full-support of Etihad, company that owned the transportation service.  Instead, I found myself agreeing with the contents of a recent blog that all but connected the dots that to be a Christian is to be pro-Refugee.

“Yes, Ma’am, you can have my row of seats.”  I picked up my headphones and water bottle and headed to my new single seat up front.  I was feeling upset and self-righteous that my faith was mandating that I suffer, without any joy, when I did nothing wrong.  For sure, this outcome wasn’t anywhere close to my expectations when i negotiated that row of seats just a few hours earlier.

“Thank you, kind sir!”  I only sleep few hours, then I come find you and you sleep some hours.  Is that item OK?”  I knew she was translating from her native tongue into English, and she was expressing a plan that she thought was equitable.

“It must be OK,” I said with a giggle, knowing darn well that God uses moments like these to change people’s hearts.

I have had multiple bad experiences working with the local refugee community in Charlotte. I have found them to be more demanding than newborns  In addition, they are unequaled in their inability to share gratitude with those who are trying to help.  Lastly, they have demonstrated insensitivity to adjust to meet the demands of Charlotte’s culture.  They have shown to me that they are OK not fitting in nor taking steps to improve their lot, no matter how much it hurts them to resist the change.  To be succinct, I found it a waste of time to help them.

In Sunday school, we are discussing pro-life.  Sure, it is nearly always associated with abortion rights, but leaving it only in that context is like saying food shopping is about buying desserts.  The Pro-life position includes a stance with regard to special needs children, the incarcerated, the handicapped and even includes conversations on racism. God loves all life and has never shown any one group greater or lesser favor based on who they are.

In that moment, I didn’t want to give up my seats to a refugee.  I didn’t know her circumstance or anything about the choices that she made that got her to the place where she needed back surgery.  I made me question how the Good Samaritan felt when he, too, stopped and spent both time and money helping someone who had no ability to return the favor.  I wonder if the Samaritan “wanted” to stop and help the guy who lay dying  in the ditch that day.

She kept her word and came to trade back with me a few hours later.  I slept for a few hours before we traded again.  When we arrived in Abu Dhabi, neither of us were rested, but we were both better off than if we had regular seats on the flight.  I knew that the only want to overcome any sense of resentment for the moment was to talk to her and get to know her a bit.  I learned that she had one family member on the plane (sister, maybe), but she had “no more husband,” and based on her body language, it meant he was no longer living.

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Syrian Refugee and me, flying to the MIddle East
As we left the plane to go our separate ways, I lifted her up and prayer and thanked God for using that moment to change my heart, even if only a little.  It wasn’t an accident that I read that NY Times article and had a real world refugee experience in the same month.

As I prepared to board the plane for my final leg of the trip from Abu Dhabi to Kathmandu (another 5 hour flight), I was met by a representative from the airlines who took my boarding pass from me and replaced it with a first class service, saying, “Thank you for your advertising.”

It is very tempting and certainly easy to think that this was coincidence based on worldly events.  I know better.  I walked down the Jetway crying like a boy saying, “good bye” to his mother as he left for military boot camp.  I was just used by God…and I got to see it in near real-time.  I got a moment in time when I made the world a better place, and it altered my heart, in the process.

I slept like a baby in a big seat that I didn’t have to share with anyone else on the final flight, and I arrived in Kathmandu, refreshed.  My boys greeted me at the airport with flowers and hugs as we headed into town.  We talked and joked until it was time for bed.

I am nowhere close to pro-refugee, but God is.  And I see that now.

I am running the race of my life in three days.  It is the high point and my “A” race of my athletic year. Yet, I am already sure that the greatest growth moment of this trip has already passed.

To DNF or not to DNF-that is the question

DNF stands for Did Not Finish.  It is written at the end of the race results next to each athlete who failed to reach the finish line.  For the first time in my Ultra Marathon career, I took a DNF.  It was the right call, but it sure was preventable.

Jeff LaughingEach time I race, there is a moment during the race when I must address feedback both from my mind and my body regarding mid race performance metrics.  My mind tells me stories and reminds me what I am feeling.  I speaks and shares that I am slowing/speeding/going to slow/going too fast.  The mind, though, doesn’t always give black and white directions as to how to address the issues as they arise.  It is more like a sports commentator or television newsperson.  They point out issues, with little ability to address the core deficiency or shortcoming.  One would think that the best way to address feedback that says, “you are going too slow,” would be to speed up.  But how do make adjustments is never discussed in the space between my ears.

Second, my body gives me similar messaging, but only uses imperative statements as to how to fix the problem.  Examples include, “I am hungry, Feed me!” or, “I am dehydrating, give me something to drink!”  The exclamation points at the end are intentional.  The conversation is only about my body’s current state, not its past of future state.  It is primordial.  I really like it, as it is never ambiguous.

This last weekend, I decided to DNF at mile 21 of a 31-mile Ultramarathon.  This year, I signed up for the US National Whitewater Center (USNWC) Ultra Marathon.  I have done this race twice before, and each time, I found the value of the event and the lessons learned to be worth in the investment.  I love that I can sleep in my own bed the night before and travel less than an hour to get to the venue.  Yet, this year, the race didn’t go as I had planned.

Upon arrival, I did my normal check in that includes setting up my own aid stuff at the end of each 10 mile lap.  That means I would place a cooler and a small bag that contains a couple of changes of clothes (shirt and shorts), as well as some Jeff-ific food that I know I can keep down and use as fuel when my tank is empty.  Since it was my third running of this event, I knew that there could/would be a few changes to the course each year for variety’s sake, but I didn’t know what that might mean.  I was confident that I could finish the race, based on my fitness and the assumption that the race directors would be taking care of us when we were out there running.

The changes to the race turned out to be catastrophic to my game plan.  The distance was the same, and the level of difficulty changed only slightly.  What WAS different was access to aid stations.  I was very much used to having the ability to get something to eat or drink every 3 miles or so.  This year, the first aid station didn’t occur until 5 miles into the event, and the second one was 4 miles later.  In the past, runners would see 3 aid stations during those first 9 miles.  Now, we were getting only two aid stations.

Once I finished the 2nd lap, I walked to the official race timer person and gave him my race number and told him that I was DNFing.  My mind was telling me, “you can’t possibly go 5 more miles with nothing to eat or drink, as you have already hit a stage in your hydration and fueling that has you fatigued.  My body was saying, “I am thirsty and hungry, please feed and water me more often.”  Both message sources lead me to the same behavior choice….stop what you are doing and do things differently.

I didn’t have it in me to go 5 miles till the next aid station at mile 26 before getting anything to drink.  Temperatures were going up, fatigue had set in, and I knew that injury was more likely when the body is under extreme stress like the kind of stress dehydration can cause.  And, I didn’t have a way to carry water with me for the next 5 miles.  I was done.

In two weeks, I am racing the Annapurna 100 Ultra-marathon. There was no way that I was going to let this local race and my desire to finish it and get a prize deter me from the real goal of successfully finishing Annapurna.  That race is a big-time fundraiser for The Nepal Project, and I will be travelling half way around the world to compete.  Finishing today’s race wasn’t worth the risk of a preventable injury.

I stretched a bit and walked to the showers to wash the dirt and sweat from my body.  I downed my recovery drink (yes, I love Endurox), before heading to my car to drive home.  Before I made it home, My body was already starting to recover and was saying to me, “I am hydrating but still need more!  Keep the liquids coming!”  My mind was saying, “you have stopped before you regretted it.   Wise.”

Of the two errors I made, one was exclusively on me.  My preventable error was that I didn’t review the placing of aid stations before the start of the race.  I assumed that the entry fee would have included just as much evenly spaced out aid as it had in the past.  Wrong.  The second error was my human decision to believe the race-director’s pre-race briefing when he told the runmers that there was plenty of aid on the course.  That turned out to be untrue.  Two pits stops in 9 miles, repeated 3 times, is less assistance than I was used to.  Had I known this in advance, I would have brought my running pack that would have let me carry water and food during the race.

This prompted me to review the spacing of the aid stations on the Annapurna 100, and I can see that there are 3 instances when I will need to go 5 miles without aid.  For those reasons, I am bringing my running pack to Nepal, and I will fill it with powders, PBJ sandwiches, power bars and maybe some gels that I know will make me happy during the final part of that race when all the climbing starts happening.

If that is the lesson that I learned by DNF, it was worth it.  The real name of this blog should be “To learn from a DNF or not to learn.  That is the question.”

I learned.

Let people watch you fail. It helps you both.

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First Run at my first National Championship

 

One of my favorite parts of being a committed athlete is the social value that I get to pay forward.  You might ask, “what is social value, as it applies to an athlete?”  Let’s start with a colloquialism we all have heard.

“If at first you don’t success, try, try again.”

How often do we see our friends and family stop an activity when they fail in a grand way?  For sure, the one place where I watch it play out in real time is the façade of dieting and exercise.  Parents start fad diets and workout regimens, and they get results…but only for a time.  The hands of time take their toll during the battle, and their willpower is replaced with the patterns of the past.  Voila-they return to failure mode.  Failed dieting and exercise regimens are the true unwanted occupants in our kitchens and on our neighborhood walking trails.

On the flip side, I read some news that seems intuitive while also helping the next generation avoid the abomination of obesity that my generation is trying to normalize.  MIT published some research on Sept 21, 2017, in Science that demonstrated that parents who struggle and suffer in real time in front of their children are really doing a great service to those children.  By struggling and fighting a battle in front of our children we teach them that hard work pays off.

“There’s some pressure on parents to make everything look easy and not get frustrated in front of their children,” says Laura Schulz, a professor of cognitive science at MIT. “There’s nothing you can learn from a laboratory study that directly applies to parenting, but this does at least suggest that it may not be a bad thing to show your children that you are working hard to achieve your goals.”  Further, the study claims that “children’s persistence, or “grit,” can predict success above and beyond what IQ predicts. Other studies have found that children’s beliefs regarding effort also matter: Those who think putting in effort leads to better outcomes do better in school than those who believe success depends on a fixed level of intelligence.”

They designed an experiment in which 15-month-old babies first watched an adult perform two tasks: removing a toy frog from a container and removing a key chain from a carabiner. Half of the babies saw the adult quickly succeed at the task three times within 30 seconds, while the other half saw her struggle for 30 seconds before succeeding.

babyandtoysThe experimenter then showed the baby a musical toy. This toy had a button that looked like it should turn the toy on but actually did not work; there was also a concealed, functional button on the bottom. Out of the baby’s sight, the researcher turned the toy on, to demonstrate that it played music, then turned it off and gave it to the baby.

Each baby was given two minutes to play with the toy, and the researchers recorded how many times the babies tried to press the button that seemed like it should turn the toy on. They found that babies who had seen the experimenter struggle before succeeding pressed the button nearly twice as many times overall as those who saw the adult easily succeed. They also pressed it nearly twice as many times before first asking for help or tossing the toy.

We must struggle in front of others if we want to teach the next generation about grit.  Sure, there are feel-goods associated with showing off weight loss and body shape changes, and all those positive accolades can stroke an under stimulated ego.  Just look at Instagram or Facebook for evidence.  The real social value is not to you and your desire for attaboys.  The social value comes from fighting the battle, recording your efforts, documenting your setbacks and fighting hard the next time, when those you love are watching.

I love competing with family and friends watching, even when I lose.  The act of publicly going at 100% and preparing to go at 100%, teaches others other that hard work pays off.

Go fight.  Go fail.  Let your family and friends watch.  Just don’t give up-then, they will grow up and do the same thing.

 

Loyalty, Athletic Training, and the American disconnect

As the year comes to an end, I find value in looking back at Trainingpeaks.com record of my activities.  I like to compare what I did against what I planned on doing.  Was I loyal to my workout commitments?  Or did I make up an excuse that equated to saying, “I wasn’t loyal to myself.”  Was I loyal to my race commitments?  What races did I plan as my A races, and did I treat them as such?  It is a valuable endeavor that I recommend we all do, in our work lives and with our personal goals.

Then, I got a real world opportunity outside of athletic training to apply what experience has taught me about loyalty.  Last week, I lead out scout troop on a discussion of the application of loyalty, in modern America.  The 100+ year old vision of loyalty predates anyone currently living, and when Baden Powell and his successors wrote down what it means.  They said,

“A scout is loyal to family, leaders, friends, school and nation.”  Lots of kind words here, but some examples to clarify seem appropriate.

Loyalty is when the older brother helps the younger brother with homework, because Mom and Dad forgot how to do it.

Loyalty is when a fireman goes into a burning building to save someone’s life.  It isn’t the paycheck that he is being loyal to.  It is humanity.

Loyalty is when you visit someone in a nursing home when you would rather being doing something else.

Above all, loyalty is what causes young men to give their lives, in battle, both on domestic soil (police) and on foreign soil (military).

Loyalty is the center piece of an endless cycle of giving and getting that in scouting has repeated itself for decades, as men have continually helped boys to become better men.

Stand for the flag

And, at the center of the symbol of this loyalty is our country’s flag.  Since before written language, there have been flags that represent a people group.  To disrespect the flag in some countries (China, for example) is deemed a crime with mandatory jail time.  Same goes for the national anthem.

Currently, the US media has created a spotlight directed at those demonstrating disloyalty to the flag.  They are using these events to seek attention for their cause.  It parallels both in action and intent when a toddler starts breaking things as part of a temper tantrum as he tries to get his way.  Those who do choose this specific attention seeking path are a route to tear down a universal value.

At the core of the value of any flag is the desire to have something that represents all of us when words can’t do that.  In central North Carolina, there is nothing going on to warrant the attention that the media is putting on the current confusion that a handful of people are experiencing, Most Americans still get the contents of the picture above without the need for an explanation.

The flag represents the country we call our current home.  It doesn’t reflect your opinion of your your home, nor does it reflect anything that you have earned or are entitled to.  Others earned the right for this to be your flag, and some of them paid the highest price for you to be able to have that flag.  If you live here, it is your flag.  The only way to change that fact is to move.  For the record, I suggest that you stay.

We are grateful that this is our flag.  It has survived many wars, intermittent assaults on both is value and its longevity, and it is part of the uniforms that many of us wear, myself included.  I love what it stands for and respect those who have graced me with the ability to call it my flag.

The cross, though, represents perhaps the only symbol that is greater.  The Cross is the way to our original and true home.  Without the cross, no such path to eternity exists.  It is for the cross that we kneel.  Our hand goes over our heart for the flag.  We kneel for the cross.

There is a reasonable chance that some folks just don’t know this.  For you, I hope this serves as some education.  For those that know it, it is your reminder not get to get caught up in momentary justifications or words from people whom you trust that are deceiving you into believing something contrary.   For those that disagree, it is your warning and our plea-don’t tear down that which others have built with their lives.  The Chinese get this.  Most Americans get this. You should, too.

Finally, John Wayne said, “The very word ‘loyalty’ is life itself, for without loyalty, we have no love of person or country.”  Loyalty is inseparable from our identity.  Don’t get lost.  Be loyal, instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balance-not something you find…it is something you make.

This year represented my 4th opportunity to compete in a World Championship level event in Duathlon.  Since there is no Intergalactic Championship to take part in, this year’s race in British Columbia, Canada represented the end of the road for competitive Duathlon in 2017.  Nothing bigger than a World Championship…at least, not yet.

World Championships are always memorable.  The Parade of Nations makes you feel like an Olympian, albeit with only half the number of countries represented.  Putting on the National Team uniform and knowing you represent the USA for all to see is humbling yet empowering to the spirit of adventure that lives in all of us.  The overwhelming sense of funk that all athletes exude when their race is over and they socialize with other athletes is the source of great olfactory assault, yet mildly reaffirming that you just finished something that is difficult and special.

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Running with Mike and Rob

 

The best part of the 2017 World Championship was getting along with other TeamUSA athletes.  Run 1 turned into a fun run with my friends Mike and Rob. We ran side by side for the first 5k, averaging about a 6 ½ minute mile and we all reached the transition point within 10 seconds of one another.  We talked to each other, often, keeping each other encouraged.  Rob said that our banter was the only thing that kept him going during those first 40 minutes of tough running.  The bike was super-fast, as the terrain was flat.  Run 2 was more of run 1, and I hit the finish line, setting a personal best for that distance, despite a few cramps.

 

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3 athletes and the coach from Liberty University

I got to meet some great people and connect with some old friends.  I traded clothing with a Team South Africa athlete, and I got to meet the coach of Liberty University Triathlon and connect him with my youngest son.  Can’t tell you how proud it would make me feel to have both of my sons attend Liberty!  Rob and I attended an essential oils party with a couple of girls on TeamUSA, Melissa and Kerry.  We laughed so hard that it hurt!  Lastly, getting to experience the solar eclipse, minutes after crossing the finish line is an event I don’t ever see replicating.

Each year’s World Championship has had a unique focus in my memory.  Year one, the top of mind item was trying to reconcile my desire to compete with a lack of training due to injury.  Year two, I was overwhelmed by the distance and effort required to complete Powerman Zofingen and was grateful to finish the race.  Year three challenged me in that I was trying to become a better Ultra Marathoner while simultaneously getting stronger on the bike.  This year, I attempted to have a greater balance of training, life and work, with Spirit a part of every task.

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Kerry and Melissa-too much fun.

After all, balance isn’t something you find.  It is something you create.

This year started with a far-fetched goal of competing and finishing the Badwater Cape Fear Ultramarathon in early March.  I hyper-exceeded goals there, coming in near the top in the standings, both for age and for overall.  The end of the year includes 3 Ultra Marathons in a 7-week window, including one in Nepal to raise money for school building and another with our scout troop to help boys develop into men.  Although neither event has happened yet, I am sure that joy will come while running with Nepali natives and with our scout troop.  Both events shall be my “highs” of 2017 with regards to fitness.

After all, seeking fitness for fitness sake is selfish.  Using fitness to build the Temple of God while helping others hits at the core value of the human experience.

It is my heart’s desire that each of your reading this, regardless of where you are in your fitness journey take a few moments to answer the question, “how can I use my fitness achievements to help others?”  No matter how many medals I hang on my wall, none of them are worth as much to me as the smile I see when I help another athlete achieve something new.

That is the balance that I want all of us to create.  That is the selfish application of fitness that can make you happy.  Give it away, and you will have more wealth in your heart than you can imagine.

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Before the Start of the Badwater.  Seems so long ago!

My bike now sits in the basement, with only a day or so a week of riding happening between now and the winter.  My running shoes are now my weapon of choice, and the finish line now has images of people I am running for, not of places to see and things to accumulate.  Follow the story on http://thenepalproject.org for ongoing updates of the impact of the Annapurna100 on the people of Nepal.