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.

Dear Abdomen, Issue 16-1

Dear Abby, (her real name is Abby Domen, but she uses the nickname is Abby),

I have been doing Yoga/Pilates for a year, and I can see and feel the difference in my strength.  However, I still carry more weight than I want to. I have tried to eat smart and healthy, but my efforts haven’t given me results.  What am I doing wrong?

Dear Lovely Woman,

Let me share a real story from my dear friend Alex.  Alex is a former Marine who fought in Somalia in the 1990s.  A few weeks ago, I asked him what he did the night before entering a known combat zone.  He and all of his squad members had a protocol that they would follow to keep healthy and alive.  Alex would check and recheck every piece of gear, and he would have a fellow squad member review every piece of equipment, as well.  For example, he would take apart his gun and make sure that it REALLY worked to specs.  He would also dump out his pack and confirm that he had adequate rations, ammo, clothing, communications equipment, and the like.   Although he wasn’t sure that he would be using all of his equipment to engage in combat, he made sure that if he did engage the enemy, he would be ready, and his gear would be dependable.  In addition, he had backups for items that were critical.

Combat situation for a Marine

My recommendation is to prepare like Alex.  The night before the start of what you know will be a busy day, pre-assemble your snacks and meals that you need to take with you on the road.  Take this activity seriously, as your family is depending on you to be strong and healthy.  You are worth a 5 to 10-minute investment every night.  In addition, bottle your water and put all the nutrition and hydration you will need in a special place where you can just grab it and go.  Maybe, you need a reminder the night before to do this.  Use your phone to remind you-it’s a free service on every cell phone to have an alarm with a message.

Too often, we wait till we are hungry to address need for timely nutrition.  Don’t wait till the enemy is upon you to see if your gun is loaded and ready.  Lastly, don’t pretend that a bottle of water and a packaged bar and a banana equals good nutrition.

The first few times, you need to go out on a limb and let a close friend who you trust review and provide feedback on your choice of nutrition and hydration.  You want to make the best use of your preparation and get the help you need, in the safest way possible.  Don’t hide any of your intentions, either.  If your plan is to hit the Chick-Filet when you are hungry, say that and tell them exactly what you plan to get.  Look at the nutritional information on your go-to meal and see if it is real food or not.   Get some honest feedback on your plan and listen to the advise that you get, in response.

Once you make this a habit, you should begin to see the results that has been evasive.  More often than not, it is not our intentions that get us into trouble.  It is the unanticipated combat that we haven’t prepared for that sinks our boat.  We need good calories, all day long, if we want to keep our metabolism running as God intended it to operate.

Finally, the real difference between you and Alex is that you WILL engage the enemy every day you leave home.  Roadside billboards, coupons in your purse for a new cereal, favorite foods that the kids like to eat will get your attention and wear away at your resolve to eat real, healthy food.  The enemy wants to destroy you and your image, and food is one of his tools.

Just like Alex does, you should NEVER leave home without expecting combat over what you put into your body.  The media and marketing world shall most definitely wage war on you, They will find a way to get their images into your eyes to convince you to eat something that you really don’t want to eat that happens to be in front of you.

Be like Alex, and fight for your body!

Pyrenees: a trip inside as much as outside.

This blog could focus on any of three different messages, all of which could be a could be a couple chapters long.  The uniqueness of the people, the history of the places, and how the ride changed me are all great stories to tell.  I will sprinkle a little of each in here.

Climbing mountains holds an appeal for many cyclists because of the challenges involved. On a long mountain pass there is no respite. You can’t just stop pedaling and coast to relax and get your breath back. Once you start climbing, you physically suffer.  “Voluntary childbirth” or “Sadistic sporting” are great adages that hit the heart of the matter when used to describe mountainous cycling .  As such, it attracts a unique sort of athlete, one who is drawn to overcoming adversity. It is like running a marathon…daily….for a week.

It fits me.

Jeff Gaura at the top of the Aubisque
Top of the Aubisque stands a statue of a polka dot bicycle to commemorate the king of the mountain.

The People

My learning style has always been one of “move over and let me try that.”  When it comes to visiting new places, that protocol applies, too. I like to show up with a limited plan that demands integrating with the people so I can “do it myself,” and learn how things are done.  This trip would not use that technique.  Instead, I signed up with an organized group focused on cycling tours.  They took care of route planning, sleeping and eating arrangements as well as providing some support mid ride.  I was responsible for making choices each day about which of two routes I would select and what I wanted for meals.  That is about it.  Call it all-inclusive cycling.

Our group of 23 people included three staff and 20 participants.  As to be expected in Europe, there were many nationalities represented:  USA, NZ, UK, AU, IRE.  I was the only American there, and most folks claimed Great Brittain as their country.  Everyone there, except me, had done the ride before or was in a group of people that contained others who had experience.  I felt like it was advantageous to have neither experience nor any previous relationships on which to lean, as it demanded that I integrate and learn from the lot.  Most folks are scared to travel solo and interact with a group that they have never met before and instead go in a group of similar people.  That breaks my heart.  I can’t imagine anything more exciting than meeting people while doing something you have never done before.

Jeff Gaura, on the Atlantic Shore at the start of his Pyrenees trip
Our group, on the Atlantic Shore, at the start of the trip.

Have you ever been to a party and met a stamp collector?  They conclude that you are interested in stamp collecting or are a collector yourself…just by asking their name.  Cyclists behave not much differently than a stamp collector at a party.  Cyclists are quick to conclude that you like cycling, too, even if you could care less.  They display a fondness for an event that includes voluntary suffering that others don’t appreciate.  All these wonderful people were professionals in their non-cycling lives but while we interacted together, it was all about cycling…whether the lady behind the counter at the hotel wanted to hear it or not.

Despite my recent embrace of cycling, I quickly discovered that I had a long way to go to learn the history and psychology of the sport, let alone the techniques and strategy of becoming and staying a good climber.  The Pyrenees are the Disneyland of cycling, so it only makes sense that the people who are repeat visitors know all about Mickey Mouse and princesses.  Our first meal together, the conversation was all that I hoped it would be, and more.  These guys had more experience than me and were both quick and glad to share it.   During a moment walking in the rain on our first night together as a group, I lifted a prayer of gratitude that I was about to spend the next week with those who repeatedly travelled to and climbed in the Pyrenees on a bicycle.  I felt like a middle schooler, looking forward to attending high school for the first time.

The organizers rotated roommates, and that facilitated good one-on-one time with folks.  Paul, Neil and Guy and I all got to spend one-on-one time together.  Neil was an encyclopedia of knowledge and experience!  I probably learned the most listening to and watching Neil.  Guy and I both enjoyed each other’s company, and we engaged in a couple of conversations about the meaning of life.  Talking to him helped me ask great questions of myself, challenging my assumptions about why I am here and what motivates me.  Poor Paul – he got and stayed sick, on and off, physically, most of the week.  That said, it was impressive that he was able to get away for a week, as he had an 8-month-old at home.  I particularly loved hanging out with the Scottish lot in attendance.  Most were drinkers (imagine that!), and they loved storytelling.  They were all friendly and most had visited the US at some point or another and knew where I was coming from.  I wouldn’t hesitate to invite any of these men and their families to come visit and stay with us back in North Carolina.

Scenery off the Western coast of France, in Basque country.
Scenery off the Western coast of France, in Basque country.
Eugene, the young one, at the start of the last day!
Eugene, the young one, at the start of the last day!

My expectations of the people were all met.  Indeed, the best part of the trip was the people.  Many of us connected on social media, and I get messages from them, even though we have already departed.  Great stuff!

The History

Wikipedia documents the stories of the great events in cycling connected to the Pyrenees.  There are too many to list here.  The biggest are the stories of events that happened on Tourmalet, yet it was the stories of people crashing and dying on the descents that made me think the most.  In America, it is common knowledge that there are medical conditions that shorten the length and quality of life of the athletes in football, powerlifting, etc, due to the physical impact of the sport on their bodies.  Yet, we don’t hear stories of football players who die on 3rd down in the 1st quarter of a football game.  In cycling, people get in wrecks and die, moments later, too often.  Sure, they wear helmets now, but safety remains a lower priority than most US sports.  At a couple of locations, there were monuments to famous cyclists who died on or near that spot.  It created moments to pause and think and set aside the suffering of the climb to ponder their fates.

In America, cycling is known as the sport of cheaters, and the most famous cheater of all time is American.  As such, it will be years before cycling interest in the US will be in the same order of magnitude as Europe.  Interest in the history of the sport or the places that made it famous don’t exist in the US like they do here.  In the US, we have football, baseball and basketball, all full of comparable cheaters, yet, for whatever reason, we extend forgiveness to each of these other groups, but we don’t do that with cycling.  I will never understand that.

Cycling is one of the only pastimes where it’s possible for the complete amateur to ride the same routes as the professionals. It’s the equivalent of football fans being able to play a game of tackle football at 3 pm in their team’s stadium, take a shower in the locker room, then walk back out and watch the Dallas Cowboys take the field and play a game at 7 pm on the same day, on the same field.  As we traversed the Pyrenees, there were chalk writings on the road meant for specific riders.  Peter Sagan is the ladies’ favorite, but I also saw Valverde, Froome and others names glorified by the graffiti written in their honor, on the asphalt leading up some of the climbs.  I was riding on historical roads used by the best in the world, literally a few weeks ago.  That was cool.

Lastly, with cycling a big part of the country’s history, France and the surrounding countries have mini aid stations set up on the roads where cyclists can dip their head in a cool bath of water and fill up their water bottles using fresh, cold mountain water.  Some of these fountains are nothing more than a faucet coming from the rocks.  Others are elaborate fountains.

The Changing views

Starting on the West coast of France meant starting in glorious history, natural beauty and wealth.  The southwestern portion of France is known as the Basque region, and the I spent two days in Biarritz, FR, doing recovering from the trip and the changing time zones.  The hills, coasts and greenery are best shown in these photos, not with my words.

Jeff Gaura on the coastal cliffs of Biarritz
Biarritz coast, deep in the heart of Basque Country

During the middle days, we cycled through the Tour de France imagery that the media has made famous.  We climbed famous cols like Aubisque, Pau, Tourmalet, Peyresourde, Marie St. Blanc (the hardest one, for me), Aspin and who knows how many others.  The photography on the top of those cols is the stuff that my father-in-law would stay up night thinking about.  Many of those stops will be remembered all of my days.

On the final day, we traveled through wine country.  That warm, humid and windy climate turned our group of hill climbers into a bunch of time trial experts, as we pushed nearly as hard in those flats as we did in the mountains themselves!

Cycling through the different parts of Pyrenees parallels what you might experience hiking the Appalachian trail, only faster.  We traveled through both high rainfall and low rainfall areas.  We wore jackets and removed layer after layer as the temps hit the upper 90s as we poured sweat on a climb up Col de Jau.  Describing the Pyrenees is like describing the USA to a person who only has a minute to listen…there is too much diversity to cover it all!

The Old Man at the Sea

I take away value from words that people say and acts they do, as memories of the majestic views fade over time.  Their words serve as inspiration.  On our ride, there were two “young men” in their 70s, taking on the course like anyone else.  They were loved by everyone in the group, and during breaks and meals, one of them would occasionally add a tidbit of wisdom to the conversation.  At the end of a long, hot day, when we would all pull into our designated hotel, people would do their thing.  It was in those moments that the tidbits would escape.  Having lived a generation or more than the rest of us, their experience was priceless.

Jeff Gaura on the Mediterranean coast
Helen, Pete (from Pyractif), and I celebrating the completion of the ride.

I was SO not expecting that benefit.  Nearly all of the participants knew that I was there to prepare for the World Championship, with my anticipated take away from this trip is that I would be an improved climbing and have higher fitness needed to do well on the Zofingen course.  As as side effect, I got inspired.

Andy, Everton man turned Scottish, riding through farmlands in the middle of the Pyrenees
Andy, Everton man turned Scottish, riding through farmlands in the middle of the Pyrenees

It was their sincerity that got to my heart.  They shared what others were thinking but didn’t have the courage to say.  Eugene shared that he struggled with thoughts of inferiority, wondering if he could make it or even get out of bed the next morning.  He didn’t hide them…he disclosed them.  How brilliant, and what a great lesson for the rest of us there: don’t keep secrets to yourself.  Get help from others, instead!  His peer, Brian, would leave early on each segment, knowing that the younger lot of us would pass him and leave him fending for himself at the end of the day if he didn’t.  He never took the nudging of the group’s leader to leave lunch or break early to get a head start as offensive. He could have been upset that he had less rest and recovery than the others in the group, but he never voiced it, nor did he believe it.  Indeed, he embraced his role as the old man who needed a head start.  That said, he did the same course as the rest of us, and he did it with an attitude of gratitude and joy that he cold still participate in the challenges of the generations behind him.  He was my hero from this trip.

Not surprising he was voted best rider by the group on the last night.  Go, Brian!  I hope that I can nail the Pyrenees at 72 years young.

My first 250 km weekend

“But for each of us, isn’t life about determining your own finish line?” Diana Nyad

This last weekend, my finish line took 2 days to reach, and there is no way I could ever forget it.  I was scheduled to cycle 162 miles this weekend, including my first 100 mile day.  For a seasoned cyclist, these distances are a somewhat matter of factual part of a training weekend.

I am not a seasoned cyclist…

Nor a future Tour de France competitor.

But a weekend (or more) with this level of climbing and intensity must be a part of my preparation for the Long Duathlon in Zofingen in two months.  I expected that this was going to be a “no pain, no gain” weekend.


I viewed back-to-back days with some fear mixed in with my excitement. Between the driving and cycling, these events would take all weekend.  With my family out of town, the timing was great for these back-to-back rides.  They started on Friday night after work.  I drove couple of hours to the North Carolina mountains to participate in the Hot Doggett 100-mile mountain ride.  This ride was scheduled to take 6 or so hours on Saturday.  The name comes from a mountain near the Tennessee border, Mount Doggett.   Then, on Sunday am, I would to the other side of Charlotte to participate in the Dog Days of Dallas, a 62-mile ride through parts of 4 rural NC counties that I would never otherwise see.

The Hot Doggett started and ended at Mars Hill University, a local NC college set in the mountains north of Asheville, halfway to Tennessee.  Somewhere around 50-80 of us were to start a 100-mile ride at 7:30AM. The views on the ride were to be rich and full of green mountain botany and blue skies leading both in and out of the small towns we would cycle through.  When I arrived on campus, I was rushed, as it took a while a find a parking spot.  I took my bike out, filled the tires with air, and strapped on lots of nutrition for the ride. “Nutrition” means sugars, caffeine and salt.  With my lack of time pushing me to get ready, I skipped the standard trip to the porta john and used the woods in front of the van, instead.  Thank goodness for fallen leaves, as there are no toilet paper trees in that part of the state.

When my bike and I made it to the starting line, I wasn’t shocked to see that no other cyclists were there, as the ride had already started three minutes earlier. I had to ask the timekeeper which way everyone else went.  It created anxiety, knowing that before I even could warm up, I needed to catch the peloton.  I caught my first straggler after 5 minutes, and within 15 minutes, I was in a group of about 30.  The effort needed to do that was non-incidental as the ride climbed nearly 2000 feet in the first 18 miles.  There are no hill patterns of that magnitude at home to practice riding on.  Fifteen minutes into the ride, and I was already sweating.

The temperature stayed cool all morning, and as I warmed up, I quickly slipped past this group, pulling a few people with me.  Riding at the front of strong cyclist, in my aero bars, I entered a kind of twilight zone that felt indefinitely sustainable.  Add that to the inspiration that comes from watching the Tour de France and I had plenty of intangibles to help me overcome the late start.  The highs and lows of the ride happened as planned.  I fried on my climbs, and got cold on the summits, and recovered on the flats.

Hot Doggert Challenge
Hot Doggert Challenge

The personal goal of the ride wasn’t just to finish it, but to finish without stopping or backing off in my effort.  That said, the thought of pulling over and taking a couple of minutes break crossed my mind, especially after 4 hours of steady riding on legs that were screaming at me – wondering what they had done wrong to deserve this.  My bike had the wrong size gears on the back cassette, and climbing on low cadence with big gears wore me out.

During rides and duathlons, I chat a lot. On this ride, I had a couple of conversations to help ease the suffering that goes with sustained climbing.  Aiden is training for Ironman Lake Placid in a few weeks and he looked the part….fancy matching uniform, a bike with all the bells and whistles, and calves the size of our pet chickens.  He too was an IT guy and had nobody in his work life that related to his want to get on a bike and go, and go and go….

There were other guys out there, but the oddest and maybe the oldest guy in the bunch was an guy named Al. At 63, Al’s skin looked the age.  He biked as part of his sanity regimen as a surgeon.  He asked me how many times I’d done the ride. When I told him this was my first 100 mile ride, he responded with a quaint, “What the hell? I’ve done 100 mile rides from Virginia to Alabama and this one is as hard as they get. Son, you picked a doozey for your first long ride.”  The perceived difficulty motivated me throughout the day.

Throughout the day, I would pass Al on all the flats only to see him catch and pass me on every climb. Al was about 6’6” and 140 pounds, giving him a wonderful power to weight ratio. His fitness allowed him to be equally chatty.  In addition, he had a cassette on his rear wheel meant for climbing, whereas mine was meant for the flat lands.

Each time he would pass me, I would make a joke about moving over for the old people.  Geritol, AARP membership benefits and Social Security didn’t help me feel better.  Truth was that I was at 100%+ on those climbs and he was better.  Damn Al!

Ahh...the mountains!
Ahh…the mountains!

Coming down off of one of the mountains, I met up with a memory from my days as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal.  The scenario while climbing Devil’s Fork reminded me of a day when I was travelling to the remote Nepal town of Jumla.  Getting to Jumla meant crossing many summits and Himalayan passes, and with a full pack, travelling alone in the Himalaya was tough.  An hour below the top of the last ridge, I could go no more.  I sat down, feeling defeated, and I spent 5 minutes with my butt on the ground.  Out of nowhere, an old man with a flock of sheep came up the trail and passed me.  Seeing him his sheep go by motivated me to get up and keep moving.  I so wanted to stop and take a break on the side of Devil’s fork. I looked for places on the side of the road to pull my bike over and take a break, but I couldn’t find any. As I hit the 1 mile point to the summit, Al passed me again.  The only thing Al was missing was a flock of trailing sheep.

Damn Al!

After Al passed, I knew that there was no way I was going to stop now.  I fought the rest of the way to the summit, telling myself that this was only making me stronger and expanding my lactic threshold while cycling. Yet, stopping at the summit was a mixed blessing, as the winds and cold temperatures made even refilling my water bottles a painful task.  Despite the wind and cold, it was a needed stop.  Sponsors of the ride had great food selections. I stuffed myself with watermelon and oranges and filled both my water bottles again.  In addition, each time I filled my water bottles, I took a salt pill.  After 10 minutes of descending, I felt stronger and had warmed back up as my jersey dried out.

Soon after crossing the finish line, I added up my nutrition: 10 liters of water, 6 salt pills, 150 milligrams of caffeine, and I don’t even know how many pounds of carbs.  I took a shower, and a couple of Advil before having a meal of BBQ sandwiches, fresh hummus and pita bread before getting in the car to drive three hours back home. I expected to have the desire to pull over and take a nap. After all, I had just traveled 100 miles and climbed over 9700 feet.  Instead, I played my lead card. I got on the cell phone and played chatty for most of the ride home.

The following morning, I was expecting to feel like I’d been hit by a bus.  Anything but!  I found it pretty easy to head down the driveway at 6:15 to drive to Dallas, NC, to do a 62-mile ride.  This ride was hotter, but there were many fewer hills which meant I drank less water…a mere 6 liters.  When I got off the bike to take a shower at the finish line, I had a strong sense of pride.  During the last 27 hours, I had climbed 13000 feet, and cycled ~165 miles and felt like I could run…but probably not a marathon at a 3:10 pace.  My coach tells me that this is great training.

That is great news, as I have only 1 week until I climb in the Rockies…

5 weeks until the Pyrenees…

7 weeks until the World Championships.

Blessings abound, don’t they?

Alex Gaura Running at the University City Duathlon

Visualizing Success

Visualizing success is a part of success.  Thinking you will fail is a pre-cursor to failing.  What do you do when there are good opportunities to practice both, in the same moment?

I had one of those moments.  I picked the path of visualizing success.  Let me explain.

Visualizing Success
Visualizing Success

A week ago, Alex and I had scheduled a 5k/35k/5k Duathlon on Lake James, NC…about a two-hour drive from the house. During the week leading up to the event, I hurt my right calf.  Later, I learned it was a grade 1 strain, but, for that weekend, it was too risky to race on it and potentially make it worse.  So, I committed to driving Alex up and back from the race and let him compete.

We packed both bikes for the event, not just his bike.  I decided that while Alex raced, I would ride the course, as hard as my calf would let me.  So, about 5 minutes after Alex left from the starting line, I went to the car and took the bike down, donned my clothing and pedaled the course the competitors would be on literally a few minutes later.

The first mile was warmup, and I enjoyed the cool mountain air and the scenery.  Coming out of the park, the volunteers greeted me, cheering and tell me to turn right.  Little did they know that I was not a participant!  Instead, they thought I was rider #1.  I decided to let their energy feed me, and, in the moment, I asked the question, “what if I really was rider #1?”  Certainly, I have never finished run 1 in first place, and started the bike in first…but what if I did?

Instead of heading up the hill at Sunday stroll pace, I decided to go as hard as my calf and lungs would let me.  Within moments, my power meter was at 350 watts, and I kept it there, all the way till the top of the hill.  My body was not yet warmed up, but I cycled as if it was.  I couldn’t go at 100%, but I went as hard as I could, no holding back.  I visualized the hills of all the upcoming events:  Minnesota, France, and Switzerland, and imagined what would be required to ascend and descend those hills, with gusto.

quotes-about-losers-for-successI imagined riders coming from the back.  So often, slower cyclists get passed by stronger ones and the slower ones slow down more.  I was not about to let that happen!  All in!

Each turn that had volunteers directing traffic for cyclists energized me. For all of them, I was their first sign of a competitor.  Their enthusiasm was also at a high level.   I would look back, knowing I only had a 5 or 6 minute or so start on the fastest of runners.  With my calf at sub optimal, there was a chance that a flyer would catch me, as the course was really hilly!

As I rounded the final turn to return to the park, I realized that I downed 2 liters of water over 35K – a very fast drinking rate.  As I made the final turn into the park, the original volunteers greeted me with a “welcome back!”  I very much started soft pedaling and letting my body cool down for the last mile of cycling back to transition.  When I got within 200 yards of transition and all the spectators and loved ones started cheering as I neared the area where all them had been waiting.  I got off my bike and began walking my bike to the car and I yelled out, “thanks, but I am not competing in this race, today.”

“Oh man,” one disappointed woman said.  As I reached the car and loaded it up, it hit me.  I could have chosen to setup a lawn chair, just like most of them had and sit there, waiting and watching…and it would have made me miserable knowing that I could be out there.  I could have chosen to view the lack of 100% participation as a form of failure to live up to standards.  Instead, I did what I could do, and visualized being successful at it, and I am better off for it.

Over the next hour, I watched Alex come in, transition out and finish a good race.  He got a 1st place medal for his efforts as tops in the 19-and-under category…even though he is only 14.  We talked about his bike efforts and the people in the way on the trail.

It was a successful day for both of us.

thoughtsintraining chickens sitting on a rain barrel

Food sure isn’t what it used to be.

Over the last months, as my blogging has decreased and my efforts have gone elsewhere, you guys have asked a couple of thematic questions:

  • What is next? What is your next story…you went from nobody to the World Championships.  How do you top that?
  • What about food? You talk about, you teach about it, it but don’t write about it.  What is up with that?

My wife and I have been mentoring folks in our local community about some basic truths regarding food and fitness….time to write about that stuff, too.

0P7HxA4Mb5hugJubAXF10QTeaching on the topic has changed us, and we both have been emotionally touched as we see the differences in our family and friends.

After all, it is the impact you make on others that defines you.  It isn’t the medals on the wall or trophies in your bank account that create real value.

Our passion has affected our community, and it has humbled us.  Men, and women, are visibly different.  They are thinner and stronger, and they are also more confident.  One man engages others and shares his story with anyone willing to listen.  Way to go, Joe!

To start, and to end the conversation, we choose to follow God’s word, and God’s plan.  We use the Bible as our unique scale of sorting out right from wrong when it comes to food.  The scientific method has its place, and we use it, but when there is a disparity between what God says and what a scientist concludes, we go with God.

To jump right to it, the most common question is about how and what we eat.  There are inevitable assumptions in the question, so let’s get them out there.


  • God concluded at the end of creation that everything was good. That word “everything” included all food that he had made. Any suggestion or outright claim that the food that God called good is not good is worthy of an immediate discard.  You have been duped by modern science.
  • We need each other’s support to be successful. Eating and living a healthy lifestyle “alone,” is not a long term strategy.  God calls us sheep, not goats.  Goats can live and thrive alone.  Sheep cannot.
  • Most of what we “know” about food and fitness comes from our family, schools and environment, not from credible sources. Very few start with the question, “what does God teach us about food?” and build from the answer that they get to that question.  They let others answer this question for them.
  • We prioritize real food over synthetics. As my wife likes to quote, “food from a plant is better than food made in a plant.”

As I look at the Bible, there is more than adequate proof that food is problematic.  The first sin involved eating the wrong foods.  The greatest test of faith in the Bible, Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, Isaac, ended in a food sacrifice.  Jesus’s most intimate time on Earth was the Last Supper, and all of the “big” miracles in the Bible involved making food for the masses.  Food plays a big role in how God interacts with humanitymedium_27178077

My wife and I think it only makes sense that the enemy uses food to break our connection with God.  That people eat “bad” food or the wrong foods, or too much food is nothing new….the roots of this behavior go all the way back to the Garden of Eden.

Lastly, the final assumption that I make is the most easy to explain.  What Adam and Eve need from food is the same as what we need today: we still need protein for growth and recovery, fat for energy storage and metabolism management and carbohydrates for energy.  The people before written history needed the same things from food that we need today.  There is no, “they needed different things back then than we do today,” in our thinking.

Alas, there are more food choices today than there were a thousand years ago.  How do we handle it? Our view is that we don’t need to look back a thousand years to sort this out.  Just think of the old black and white photos of our grandparents.  What did they look like?  Were they chronically obese?


Did they eat crackers, frozen pastries, Cheetos, non-dairy creamers, Splenda, frozen burritos, pop tarts, cheerios, Gatorade or Snickers?


For us, the boiler plate of tests is this: am I eating something that my grandparents could have prepared and eaten?  If yes, then it is worth consideration.  If the answer is no, I am eating a fad food…not a good idea to follow fads.

Fads don’t last.  Fads don’t impact history in a positive way.  We want to avoid fads.

The next couple of blogs will contain our findings, and our stories of how eating what is called, “clean food” has changed our family’s lives.

Jeff and Linda Gaura

Faith, Food and Fitness

Over the last few months, Linda, my wife and I have been teaching a course called Faith, Food and Fitness.  We made our own curriculum but we used contents from all the books and magazine articles we’ve been comparing over the last year.   We have a couple of assumptions that we have built the class upon.  That said, those who have attended consistently have shown some remarkable changes both in their outward appearance and their overall health.

Linda Gaura, the faith, food and fitness teacher.
LInda Gaura, the Faith, Food and Fitness teacher

Pants are looser, and their strength is up.  For sure, no one is hungry!

I haven’t weighed this little since school days, and I am wearing a shirt that I wore in high school.  That shirt fits perfectly!

You can see our slide decks that we have used to teach the class up on my page.

We use the Bible as our final authority.  If the claims of science go against the contents of the Bible, we go with the Bible.

We conclude that trying to do “health” alone is dysfunctional.  Living healthy includes as part of its definition that we not do it alone.

Our body is our Temple.  It is meant to be treasured and treated with great respect.  In Romans 12:1-2, God calls taking care of the temple our only “true worship.”  If you take care of your body, you are following God’s lead.

Our body is designed to run and run well on real food, not the stuff that includes a battery of ingredients that we don’t understand.  For simplicity’s sake, we use an adage.  If it grows on a plant, eat it.  If it is made in a plant, don’t.

Life is better when you eat clean food and are strong and healthy.  That said, it takes more work to eat real, clean food than it does to eat pre-packaged and fast food.