After getting an inspired message at a men’s group meeting this week, I came home and measured the size of the windshield in a car. I then compared it to the corresponding rear view mirror in the car.
The front window average 54” across and 36” top to bottom. That is a total surface area of 1944 square inches. The rear-view mirror measured 9” by 3”, a total of 27 square inches of mirror.
To put into perspective, only 1.3% of the total area to stare at is for looking backwards. The remaining 98.7% of space in front of me is meant to see forward.
The forward direction represents where we should be looking nearly all the time. That is why it represents such a large portion of the field of view.
This applies to nutrition and fitness.
When we seek to change to healthier eating patterns, nearly all of our efforts should be focused on what is ahead of us-the next meal or snack, the next day, etc. Too often we find ourselves consumed by thoughts about what certain foods from the past we are craving, instead of being focused on the task at hand.
With athletics, it is important to review efforts from the past. But once we have reviewed those lessons, discussed and learned from them, we must move forward with the next workout/training cycle to get better at our craft.
This last weekend, and Duathlon Nationals, my bike broke on the 2nd climb up a mountain. I was stuck in 15th gear for the entire climb….my cadence during that climb was 31 rpm. That hurts! Might as well have pushed a wheel barrow up that mountain. Fortunately, when I crested at the top of the climb, I jumped off my bike and successfully fixed the issue before getting on my bike and descending back to transition. My placement in the race dropped a couple of spaces since last year, but it was still a good day, and I earned a TeamUSA slot for 2018.
My son saw a young man in front of him fall. His emotional response to the accident caused him to forget to take off his helmet. He did run 2 wearing his helmet. That cost him a few seconds, but he also did well enough to finish in the top 6 and get a TeamUSA slot for the Sprint distance.
The windshield for both of us is large now. Alex begins Cross Country season, and will not see nor wear a cycling helmet until the fall, at our next race. I have ITU Worlds in Penticton in 8 weeks, and my focus is on preparing for an even greater challenge than Nationals.
During my stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I lived in a remote village in the Kingdom of Nepal. Sure, the scenery of the surrounding Himalaya was great, but it wasn’t nearly as memorable as the people whom I lived with for 2 years. I remember how some villagers would put fresh manure in their wounds, claiming that it helped to stop the spread of pain. Two weeks later, when they still had festering wounds and were confronted (by me!) about how stupid that cow-shit-on-a-cut idea really was, they said that it was part of the process called life. It was a rite of passage to be able to live through the cut and the corresponding recovery. Lastly, they just got used to it.
Sure, they didn’t know any differently, as science was not a mainstream idea used in decision making, as it is in the West. That said, it pointed out some fundamental flaws that all of us have when it comes to enduring something that hurts us. It is called Redneck Thinking (with Capital Letters).
We believe that the way we have been doing things is an effective way. It may or may not be the best way, but it is a safe way, because we survived it.
When confronted with better ways, we will occasionally change. Most of the time, though, we don’t.
When our ways cause us to suffer, we look to make sense of it all, saying that it is good for us…we say that it builds character and toughness.
Here is the real kicker. The older we get, the more we fall victim to the “old ways work, why change it?” sort of thinking.
No place does this happen more that during conversations with people who are interesting and show leadership. I can’t count the number of times someone has said, “this is a great recipe. You ought to try it!” I agree with them, both in heart and in mind. The conversation ends, often with a recipe in my inbox, only to sit there until I delete the idea. I redneck it.
I KNOW that if I had just cooked it and tried it, there is a good chance that the dish would have likely to make it to our dinner table repeatedly. I KNOW that I would be better off for trying something new. But, more often than not, I don’t.
Truth is, we are all rednecks. We generally do what we did the last time, even if it wasn’t that great of an idea. What really seals the deal with our hard-earned title of redneck is how we view our poor results as “part of life.”
As an athlete, this is measurably true! Often, I reject good ideas backed with good science. Yet, this last weekend, I went out on a limb and tried a new idea to address an anticipated pain from an upcoming event.
Last weekend’s event was a 103-mile bike ride up Mt. Mitchell, NC. The ride is much like a day in the Pyrenees in France, with a bit more climbing. Like most bike rides that include both more volume and more intensity that I am used to, the expectation was that I would be both tired before I was done and I would HURT the day (or two) following the event.
Science has a name for this hurt phenomena-Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. You know what it is-that feeling you get the first time you play basketball as the start of a new season that makes you think that in the two days afterwards it would have been more pleasant to have been hit by a truck.
Part of the dread of DOMS is knowing that it is coming. Knowing that you will be hurting the next day. It is not just a physical phenomenon; it is also mental. Knowing that what you are about to do is going to hurt will prevent people from trying.
A few days before the Mt. Mitchell ride, I heard an episode of The People’s Pharmacy, a syndicated radio show where a married couple helps take complicated medical studies and learnings and simplifies the learnings so folks like me can understand them.
This episode currently on the radio as I drove down the road was titled “What is the science behind fabulous foods for health?” The first segment of the show was about the effects of foods on either delaying or eliminating DOMS. The researcher being interviewed took a very complicated question and simplified it. He had heard that cherries and cherry juice (but not cherries from concentrate, mind you), could reduce if not eliminate DOMS if eaten in correct volumes, over the right period. The science sounded solid, and he had enough unanswered questions to convince me that he was still humble enough to do more good science.
Wanting to tackle my Redneck crown and take it off, I decided to try out his idea. Cherries and cherry juice, 2 days before the event. Cherry juice the day of and 2 days after. I hit the grocery store and bought both fresh cherries and juice.
The big day came. 103 miles of riding later, no pain. The next day, no pain. The following day, 80 minutes of running and still no pain. I am currently on Day 4 after the event, I haven’t had to miss a workout. I never felt the slightest bit of pain (although I was tired after expending 8000 calories in about 7 ½ hours). Last year, after this same event, I was fighting to reach down far enough to tie my shoes. This AM (day 4), I woke up early and did a 10K run as if the event had never happened.
Just this AM, I thought, “what other clever ideas have I rejected that have led to a pain that I just didn’t need to experience?” What other cherry juice alternatives are out there that could give me power, speed, endurance, flexibility and strength that I have been missing?”
The only thing that has prevented me from learning them is my addiction to redneck thinking. I suspect that I have already either read or heard many great ideas that could help me perform at higher levels, but I have rejected them in favor of the items that I perceive as my source of comfort.
Getting used to pain is often deemed a rite of passage for an athlete. Push through the discomfort and you get better is the mantra. So, so glad to learn that isn’t the truth.
And one day soon, I hope to get this redneck hat off of my head!
When called up to serve, one should serve, especially, when no notice is given. Today’s blog is about one such instance.
This year, I am competing in only 4 duathlons: 1 regional, 2 national championships and one world championship. My training and racing is split between 6 running events, 10 cycling events, scouting, running a non-profit, parenting and being a husband-not in any order.
This first duathlon of the year was the Outerbanks Duathlon, in Corolla, NC. The thin strip of land on the Eastern edge of NC that represented our cycling and running surfaces had ocean both to our left and to our right. Unlike most days in the Outerbanks, race day was near windless, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The temps at race start were in the 50s, meaning fast times for all competitors.
Before these sanctioned events, there is a time for announcements, the playing and singing of the National Anthem and a prayer for the athletes. Despite the trend of a few citizens in this country, no one took a knee in protest of anything; showing that the nation is not, in fact, falling apart with anti-American sentiment as the media depicts. Hands on hearts and mouths singing were everywhere as we anxiously awaited the starting gun.
Immediately after the National Anthem, the race director lifted the microphone and said, “and now, for a moment of prayer for the athletes, here is Jeff Gaura,” and he handed me the microphone.
I had no heads up. It would have been tempting to hesitate or even lift the mic to my mouth and say, “really, dude? Do I look like Billy Graham today?” I most likely could have made a moment of humor out of the circumstance, but we are talking about communication with the Eternal, in public, and that would be equally inappropriate as flag burning or the like. This moment required my best.
Although I can’t tell you exactly what I said, here is how I remember it.
“Let us be reverent and remove our hats as we pray to the Lord. Heavenly Father, thank you for the effort from all of those who made this event happen, especially from the sponsors and volunteers. Without their effort, we would not be able to enjoy this day as we are about to. I want to thank you for giving us the bodies and the discipline to prepare for and perform this act of running and cycling to our utmost, as most people not just in the United States but in the world, do not have the ability to undertake and finish what we are about to do. Regardless of the outcome, thank you for our success in the effort. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
I completed and did well in the event, having the fastest overall 2nd run and winning my age group by several minutes. Immediately after having a quick drink at the finish line, I approached the race director and asked him what made him think to have me lead everyone in prayer. He said he remembered watching me pray at this event last year, and he knew that I was a praying man.
You just never know who is watching you, and what they will remember. If I am found guilty of being a praying man, I accept the label and any consequences therein attached.
The Badwater labels itself as the world’s toughest footrace-Death Valley to Whitney Portal, in the middle of summer. It is 135 miles of tough running, and you have to finish it in 48 hours. Do the math…that is more than 5 back to back marathons.
Until Friday afternoon, Badwater was nothing more than a “what’s next” race. When I scheduled the East Coast version called Badwater Cape Fear, I did so as a response to winning the Weymouth Woods Ultra-marathon, and I picked this Badwater for the challenge of it. Thought it was the next logical progression. The Badwater Cape Fear edition starts with a “quick 12 mile warm-up” on the scenic roads of Bald Head Island before heading down to the beach to run 20 miles (or 40 miles) in the sand to Fort Fisher and back. Running on roads vs. running in sand is like trying to find something in common between standing in an igloo with walking through a jungle. The position is the same; the surrounding conditions are not.
It isn’t the statistics, but the people make that race unique. At pre-race check-in, awkwardness associated with meeting new people migrated to “very cool” first impressions in a matter of a minute or two. Conversation with other runners about their path to the Badwater never generated the same answer twice. Former triathletes, college track stars, marathon runners, women with two kids, etc, were all excited about lining up the next day. For many, their spouses were there supporting their athlete. I got to hear stories both from Badwater veterans and support staff who have been there as these extreme endurance athletes ran though the desert all night long, in the middle of summer. I had dinner with a multi-time Badwater finisher who gave stories about the depths of despair that are a part of running in the desert for that long.
I asked one guy why he signed up for Badwater Cape Fear, and he said, “I was in a funk, and I knew that I needed to suffer to get out of it (the funk), so I signed up and now I am here.” What the heck….
About 2 hours into the race, I stopped wondering what all the other athletes were thinking. “What was I thinking?” consumed my thoughts. Heading down to the beach, seeing 10 miles of sand ahead me, knowing that once I started the 10 miles each way, there was no quitting. Running on Cape Fear, with Frying Pan Shoals to my right and nothing but undeveloped dunes to my left put me in a funk that I had never been in.
Here is a sample of the comments that went through my mind:
Oh, that man just got attacked by a dog. OK, he got up and is still running….
That was a pretty fast puke! That girl just kept on running.
That old man looks good in a tutu and pink high tops. NOT!
Profanity isn’t helping, here. But it does feel good…
Why don’t they have better choices at the aid station? No chicken, beef or pork tacos? I really want a taco right now.
I am never doing one of these races EVER again. What was I thinking?
Who in the hell invented high tide? Stupid.
Who thought that running in high tide would be “loads of fun?” Idiot.
I wonder when they are having the next Badwater? This is kind of cool, and I might like to do another one.
How did I get sand up my butt? I have stayed away from that body part, most intentionally!
Profanity doesn’t feel good anymore, yet it keeps coming.
That guy is fast!
Was that a boy or a girl?
Why did that other girl get all those body parts pierced?
Can I ride with the beach patrol in their truck, just for 5 minutes?
How are the two of those women talking and laughing?
Why aren’t I talking and laughing?
I have a 3-hour drive home after I this race. That isn’t happening. My hip flexors are somewhere out to sea. WTF?
The people working these aids stations are great! I could not keep going without their help!
Profanity is working again.
I am sure that those who don’t believe that Jesus is their savior will have to run this thing.
At the finish line, I felt blessed that not only could I do this race but be successful at it. Dave Krupski came up to me at the finish line and started some fun/casual chat. He DNF the race, as he got hurt and never made it down to the beach. He said that he had a couple of athletes that he coaches out on the run, and he was there only for them, now. I had no idea who he was, until I started writing this blog piece. He is a crazy successful Ultra Marathoner who personifies the ultra-running community well. No concern for awards or accolades. He had a focus on what races he had just done and what he has coming up…we could all learn from that sort of approach to living.
Will I do another Badwater Ultra? Maybe. Will I do the Badwater 135? Not a chance. At least, I got my steps in.
There is a Badwater 508 cycling event that has my attention, though…anyone want to do it with me?
King Solomon is considered in the Bible to be the wisest man that has ever lived. He had more wealth and more leisure time than not only any man of his time, but our time as well. Solomon used his time to rule a kingdom and write down words of wisdom. He often wrote about what is meaningless and what is good. In the end of his lament, he concluded that undertaking great projects, building parks and reservoirs, amassing wealth, and any delight of a man’s heart proves to be meaningless. Yet, he doesn’t stop there. He gives guidance for all of us as to how to live our lives. In Ecclesiastes 2:24 he states, “a person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their toil.”
Today while riding in the virtual world within the software program of Zwift, I earned the coveted green jersey. For those non-cyclists here, let me explain. In each of the worlds grand cycling tours (Giro D’Italia, Vuelta Espana, Tour de France, Tour of California, etc.) there are classifications for the top riders. This is no different than how we in America claim which quarterback or which linebacker is the best, on any given Sunday, using statistics. Using an example from the cycling world (Tour of France), the best overall rider wears a yellow jersey; the best mountain climber wears a polka dot jersey; and the best sprinter wears a green jersey. Normally each of these is a different rider with different skills. I have never considered myself to be a strong sprinter. Climber? Yes! Sprinter? No way-there are too many young guns out there with fast twitch muscles that I just don’t have.
Participating in this virtual training has some requirements. You must attach your bicycle to a stationary trainer that creates resistance as if you were riding on the road. You sit on it and pedal as if you were outdoors, riding on a brisk spring day. Since you aren’t outside, we rely on electronics attached both to the bicycle that measures power and cadence, as well as a heart rate monitor to measure aerobic effort. Each persons’ efforts are run through an algorithm to determine the equivalent speed as if we were outdoors. It isn’t exact, but the calculation is within a percent or two. Today, during my ride, I passed under a banner that indicated my speed during a specific interval was being calculated and ran through this algorithm. I have passed under those blow-up markers a hundred times, and nothing ever happened. This time, though, my jersey changed to green and the icon representing me changed to green as well, indicating that I now had more Sprint points than any current rider. I had never seen this before and quickly glanced at the statistics screen on the right. It showed that there were currently 1042 riders all participating in the same event that I was.
Holy screaming pedals, Bat Man Woo hoo! My mind immediately shifted to Ecclesiastes 2:24. I had most certainly been toiling during the last 45 minutes as my heart rate was near threshold and I was pouring sweat, even with the doors open in the basement the ambient temperature in the room in the low 40s. Out loud I stated, “I shall now find satisfaction in my toil. Thank you, King Solomon, for your help today.”
It is commonplace for people who do not understand holy Scripture to ask simplistic questions such as does that stuff really apply today? Today I was reminded of the importance of enjoying my toils while I still could have them. There will be a day when I can no longer ride a bicycle. I do not know when that day is. However, if at 51 years old I can be the fastest sprinter in a group of 1000, I will take it and celebrate!
Time for some yogurt, blueberries, and granola, and maybe I will do it again soon!
In society, when a boys fails to be focused, a quick-to-throw-out comment we say is, “boys will be boys.” The incorrectness of that comment is that it uses future tense (will be) to describe the present. The truth is that in the future, boys will be men. As an athlete and parent, I have a role to play in making sure that my boys become men.
The most blatant problem with men who are assisting today’s boys in their path to manhood is that they are quick to tell boys what to do and often are too time stretched to show them how to do it. To further complicate it, they don’t lead by example. We tell our kids that schoolwork is important, but we ourselves spend very little time learning new things that are mandated upon us. We make poor food choices, right before their eyes, then we harp on them for being picky eaters. From my perspective, the reason men aren’t helping boys become men is that they aren’t practicing what they preach.
My youngest son is now 16 years old and is making the migration from boy to man. If I parallel his path to that of a wildebeest, he is commencing on his first journey across the Serengeti as the monsoons of adolescence creep into his life. My intentional response is not that of the traditional talkative dad who tells anecdotal stories to his son from his recliner and the dinner table at the end of a work day. The use of words (or lack of action, whatever you want to call it) are known dysfunctional strategies that I actively discredit. He yearns for an example to emulate. He needs not just a hero but a hero who is also focused on improving. He needs another wildebeest.
Lead wildebeest is one of my jobs. As an athlete, I take responsibility over a regimen that makes me competitive. My workouts, nutrition plan, recovery strategy and use of my downtime are all important to my success on the field of competition and in life. He sees me create and update training plans both for myself and other athletes every week. He watches and helps me and his mom cook healthy meals for the whole family on Sundays, so we have great leftover/snack choices before we get hungry.
My son is also working with a private running coach and runs for his school teams. Over the fall and winter, my son logged his miles running both Cross Country and Track. He got better, every month, from those efforts, but his school couldn’t provide enough of the elements that make the difference between good and great. He and the other kids weren’t getting examples of how to put it all together-nutrition and recovery needed to be taught and on display as much as the workouts/training.
Now that he is in his “off” season from school practices, my youngest son is doing workouts that I am designing for him. We use trainingpeaks.com to create and log all of our efforts, and he is improving quickly. In our house, my wife and I both eat real food, nearly all the time. I have a nightly stretching regimen that is combined with core strengthening and stability exercises. He sees us, and he follows our lead.
What is different? To begin, he is sore a lot. Too many mornings he walks down the hall looking like he has recently been stabbed in the thigh. Second, he ends his workouts winded for more than a moment or two, as hard days are now really hard. Third, he is getting more rest days. During his sports seasons at school, he would end up with no more than one day off a week. Now, he gets at least two and sometimes three days off a week.
I take him to the weight room with me and show him what a max effort bench press looks like before I tell him to do one on his own. He sees me do an all-out 2 minute effort on the bike trainer before he is told to do one.
He is getting better, faster than he otherwise would at school.
Behind his success is simplicity of watching mom and dad lead by example and doing as matter of factual the stuff that makes us faster.
On to the punch line. Two weeks ago, there was a local 10 mile race that I signed up for. He and one of the top runners at his school also decided to sign up. On race morning, conditions were great for a fast run-cold with no wind in the forecast. Even though I had only run an organized race at that distance one time before, I was able to set a personal best, even after celebrating my 51st birthday. It felt good to see that getting faster as I age into my 50s is not just possible but reasonable with a focus on holistic training.
My effort wasn’t nearly as great as seeing my son cross the finish line ahead of me. We ran within 50 feet of each other the entire race. He pushed hard during his last mile and separated from me. He can in 68th out of 1133 men. I got 75th.
During some quiet time after the event, my wife asked me if she thought I could have beaten him if I had tried harder. Perhaps. But perhaps not. I was pleased with how well I did. I was elated to see how well he did.
Where we fail to lead by example, we create a future that isn’t as good as the present. Let’s leave the future better than we find the present and invest in the next generation by doing the right thing, in front of their eyes, first.
Accountability is at the core of reaching a goal, and accountability requires measurement. If you can measure something, you can improve it. I achieved a lot of goals in 2016, and here is some background on implementing a measurement strategy and use it to make your goals happen.
Let’s do a hard accountability measurement example first that many of us all share-we want to spend more time with family. If you say you love your family and want to spend more time with them, you have set a goal. How do you make the claim that you are doing something about it and not just blowing hot air and making another fruitcake New Year’s resolution? Start with the measurement!
Get out your calendar and look at how often you saw them in 2016. Perhaps you saw them a total of 6 times, and all but one of those instances coincided with a holiday. That means your measurement showed that you had 5 holiday visits and 1 non-holiday visit. Remember, we aren’t measuring quality here-just quantity. To reach your spoken goal of spending more time with family, you need to visit them more than those 6 times. That means that future measurements include numbers that are larger than 5 and 1. Perhaps you could set a goal of 6 holidays and 3 non-holiday gatherings. From your measurement, you see a need to pick some holidays that you missed and add in a couple of non-holidays. The unspoken assumption here is that you will continue to repeat your previous behavior.
At the start of last year, I studied the outcomes from running and riding my bike. I knew I could do better but the causes for the low performances were a mystery. So, I got serious with my measuring. Here is what I committed to measuring:
Body Fat-I was between 10 and 12%, and I knew that I needed to get to 8%, if not less.
Power on the bike. Going “as hard as I can” didn’t give me a metric to say how hard was hard. Measurements shows that my sustainable power was 200 watts and change. I needed it to be in the 255 Watt window to get the sustained speeds that I wanted.
My running cadence was 165 to 168 strides per minute. I needed to get to 180 to be more efficient.
The difference between the speeds that I did my long runs at was not that much different. My easy days weren’t easy enough, and my hard days weren’t hard enough. I needed to learn how to go easier, as well as go harder.
To address body fat, I felt that most of my eating habits were healthy, but there was room for improvement. I committed to a monthly body fat measurement regimen with one of my Pilates instructors, Laura Pittman. I knew I was eating too many carbohydrates late I the day and needed to measure what happens when I eat less. I started eating more sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, and I added more veggies. During my monthly body fat analysis, I watched my weight remain relatively constant, but my body fat went all the way down to 7% at the end of the racing year. It remains there. Success!
To address my low power, I incorporated more “hard” sessions that included repeated efforts above my best race efforts. These anaerobic efforts worked wonders to increase my power. My cycling speed is up 10%+, and I haven’t worked out any more than I did in 2015.
My running still has room to grow. My long runs are nearly all on trails, so I run slower. I have started doing intervals but that aren’t frequent enough or fast enough to result in much of a difference. To address this, my first 4 events of 2017 are all running events, forcing me to prioritize running ahead of cycling until the end of March. This makes me put more runs on the schedule.
Every Sunday, I review outputs from these tools and adjusted workouts.
I implemented a plan to address these-details of this would be an overwhelmingly long blog. Suffice it to say that without the help of my family and business, this plan would have failed. Here are the 2016 results:
I had two first place overall wins last year: one duathlon and one Ultra-Marathon. That causes me to shake my head in disbelief, and, in one instance, cry. Beating everyone else in an endurance competition when I am 51 years old breaks nearly all molds people have of what the aging process is.
I did better than ever both at Duathlon Nationals in Bend (9th place in my age category) and at Duathlon Worlds in Switzerland (10th in my age and 91 out of 241 overall). Despite aging, I am getting faster in both disciplines.
I finished the competition season at 7% body fat
I didn’t get injured. I could have put this first, as it is a precursor to success with everything else. What this means is that I didn’t get any overuse injuries or range of motion injuries associated with not being aware of your body’s limits. Had I been in a car accident or the like, I would still be making this claim.
Giving-it-away points were higher than expected. Giving-it-away points are earned each time my wife and I share our knowledge of fitness and nutrition. I helped a couple of athletes out as well as taught two of our classes.
The items up there that I controlled are the 3rd and 4th ones. The first two I didn’t control-I have no input as to who else shows up on race day. However, I know that 1 and 2 would not have happened without 3 and 4 happening.
Accountability requires that I do this process again, starting now. There were things that didn’t go right in 2016 that I need to address in 2017. My goals remain the same: run faster, ride faster and longer, avoid preventable injury and eat better. The obstacles I hit were associated with inconsistent efforts to get there. My strategies all revolve around avoiding inconsistency.
In those moments when you get honest and observe that your results don’t meet your goals, don’t take the “let’s try harder” strategy. That doesn’t work. Start with measuring your efforts and keep doing it. You need the feedback provided by measurement to see if your efforts are working.