Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Learning to Let Go and Just Making it Hurt - Central Park 60k 2006

Nearly 5 years ago I wrote this - it's hard to believe.  I've traveled very far since then, but in the VT mountains I find myself circling back to a great many of the ideals I found in the middle of New York City in what seemed a life time ago.  Don't know why I discovered this old piece of writing today.  But I'm just going to roll with it...

On Sunday, I raced a good race.  At the Knickerbocker 60k I ran 37.2 miles in 4.55.18.  I took fifth overall out of well over 100 ultra runners. 

Honestly, I can care less about the results - the story, and more importantly, the lessons learned upon reflecting on the hurt and mental anguish of the race, offers up a truer telling of the day more than a standard race report.

My friend Jamie offered me up some wisdom on Saturday night.  We run because no were else can you learn and grow so much in so short a duration.  The conversation was prompted by my reservations about racing the next day.  I was feeling rather awful.  A had a horrible emotional and physical 'recovery' from my last Ironman and hadn't run in 4 weeks.  I hadn't eaten all that much either due to feeling ill.  I was horribly out of shape, weak, and 10 pounds underweight.  Not the best scenario when running 37.2 miles as fast as I possible.

But I listened to Jamie and decided to just go running the next day and learn whatever the world would throw at me while I would be plodding through central park for what might take 6 hours.  But like I said, this is not a race report.  This is a remembrance of some lessons learned.  For I wasn't there to race - I was just putting myself in an extreme situation and 'letting go', something I never associated with racing before.

Letting go is tough.  All season I have been an OCD, freak-out-anxiety-prone-super-type-A, everything in order, ultra prepared athlete.  Yes, much to the dismay to everyone around me, for such tendencies spread like a illness to many facets of your life causing stress on others.  

But the first lesson I face on Sunday was that the world doesn't operate on our terms.  We have to let go of our presuppositions and our wants in the face of reality.  It all stems from the conflict that ultimately arises from our wants juxtaposed against the way things are.  It happens all the times in our interactions.  We expect things from people that they cannot provide.  We forget, most tragically, that they should not have to provide them, and maybe cannot.  We must position ourselves relative to our surroundings as best we can.  And this involves relinquishing any foolish notion of control.

I had to accept some hard realities before the race.   I was out of shape and under nourished.  I slept approximately 3 hours the night before.  All probability pointed to a dismal performance and an unlikely finish.  But, nonetheless, for the first time in a long time I just 'let go'.  I accepted things has they had to be, and put my wants to the rear of my mind.  I wanted to be peak.  I wanted to out run all the athletes I saw at the start, the ones that would most likely destroy me today, whom I would on any another day beat.

But, instead of focusing on what I wanted, I focused on what I had.  This was the first time in long time I was confronted with the notion of feeling blessed.  I wasn't blinded, as I often am, by how I think things should be.  I just accepted them as they were.  I was standing at the starting line in central park on a beautiful day with 37.2 miles of possibility before me.  That was enough.  I was just going let myself go and run till I couldn't regardless of pace, position, and outcome.  This is applicable to how we allow ourselves to get psyched out, hurt, let down, strung out, or just burned out expecting things to me the way we want them.  The first moral of this 60k...get over you demands, just start running with what you got...let go....and be thankful for the experience. 
So, as the start sounded I just 'let go' and ran.  They say the first half of an ultra run is done with your legs...the second half with your mind.  I ran the first half pacing with my new friend, Ana, a many time Ironman and a marathoner with the same marathon PR as me.  We chatted warmly and friendly and vibrantly enjoying the day and two hours off running ticked off without much pain.  My heart rate was much higher than normal.  I tried not to think about my rapidly depleting glycogen stores and lactic levels.  I just ate a bit extra. 

But then the 2nd half hit.  It was evident that Ana I needed different paces at this point for our best performances, so we wished luck and I ran out ahead.

Here is where we come to the second notion of this piece: 'making it hurt'.  Before leaving on my bike ride from Oregon back to NJ, my dear friend Nancy made me a bracelet that said 'make it hurt'.  It was something we shared between us.  Pain is a means of change: both physically and mentally.  Times of hurt are times of great transformations.  I was wearing the bracelet during the race.

As I ran miles 18 to 26 I could feel the tension building in my calfs, hams, and quads.  My knees started to ache.  I was pushing a heart rate that was 15 beats too high for what I would call a rational pace.  I was running at a pace my out of shape body, scientifically speaking, could not hold.  I had to look away from my watch.  It only told me that I wouldn't finish.  When your heart rate is 190-193, and your 26 miles with 11 to go...well, that's just bleak.

As I mentioned before, my recovery from my last Ironman had been difficult emotionally.  I hurt a great deal as I tried to adapt back to normal life.  I was cast into a not so uncommon post IM depression.  It's like the person you've slept with every night for 2 years is now gone.  I would always wake with my IM goal, my race on the calendar.  Now I was waking to what seemed to be emptiness.  I felt hollow.  I was agitated, not myself, quite sad, and rather lonely.

My thoughts while running were...let's just see how much hurt I can really take.  How far can I really push my threshold of pain?  What will that be like?  Do I really know what pain is?  Maybe I've just been whiny as of late?  Hell, let's just consider this a legal way to try and kill yourself...just run until you drop dead.

By making it hurt we are transforming our understanding as to what we can withstand.  We set new thresholds from whence we derive new criteria for our spirit and where we can let it begin to rise.

So from mile 26 on I ran as my body locked up in tortuous muscle cramps.  My eyes would wince and tear up as a result of the tremendous discomfort.  But I would not allow myself to slow.  I watched as my perceptions started to alter.  The road would drift before me and sometimes I would get really dizzy.  These are bad sensations to have while considering...well, at best, at this pace I'd be done in a little less than 90 minutes.

But pain of such magnitude does transform you.  It humbles you.  It makes you want to harvest it and cultivate it so that you can evolve from it into something stronger.  It makes you grateful.  It makes you have a quieter disposition.  It makes you take less for granted.  It cuts you to your core and exposes your true self...the one separate from the one saturated in daily crap.  You stop and think about true suffering in parts of the world where hunger and poverty make this an everyday experience.  You want to never inflict pain upon another human being again.  You want to stop and think a great deal more, and act and speak less.  Here is where you begin to start to embrace it.

With 2 miles left I couldn't speak to people as I passed them and they started conversations.  I couldn't keep the road straight before me.  I was sputtering nonsense.  I had a side stitch that felt like I had a horrible knife wound in my side and someone was prying around with a crow bar.  I was mille-seconds from vomiting.  My eyes would roll back in my head as if I were about to face plant and then with all the volition I could muster I would pull myself back to the reality of hurt.  I could only look at a street lamp 10 feet away and give everything I had to get there before sighting the next one.  But I would not slow...after all, I wasn't dead yet.   

This is when it occurred to me that this was my ability to grow.  To step out where I never had.  To run until I would either finish strong, or hit the pavement hard.  This is when I spotted two racers about 400 and 800 yards ahead of me running at a quick clip.  I gave myself over to the suffering.  I welcomed it.  This is my form of cutting...my masochism i guess.  Scars on our bodies are shallow compared to the ones we can impress upon our minds.  I passed one guy with 1 mile left.  The other watched helplessly as I out ran him with 200 yards to go.  I rolled up next to him, looked over with what would look like a cool poker face (but was really just a face numb to the world) and accelerated.  My ears rang with pain, and my legs defined a new reality of hurt for me, but I finished at full clip.

I had taken 5th place with a time 4.55.15.  I couldn't believe it.

Sure I got a ribbon.... but I really gained so much more.... well, maybe less...by letting go, I finally was really able to make it hurt...and thus by making it hurt to such a new degree I learned to embrace it...therefore, making me all the stronger for letting go in the future. 

Life is too short to be watching your watch and counting mile splits.  Sometimes just run towards the worst hurt you can find...and realize that if you don't die...well, you have a new threshold, and therefore a new realm in which to inhabit.  And when things don't hurt....cherish it...cherish it...cherish it.

"The poison of which weaker natures perish strengthens the strong - nor do they call it poison" ~Nietzsche

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ultra Essentials: Common Sense

If pressed, I would have to say that I'm partial to French Lavender.  Though Fresh Mint does have some rejuvenating qualities that are able to slap me back into reality after the most grueling day.

Yes, common sense is vital in transporting my body 100+ miles on race day, but Common Sense has become a necessity in cleaning up the mess I have made of my body in the process.

About 2 hours into a workout or race my mind will start to meander towards my post workout/race shower.  I can't help it.  I might be inspired by the smell emanating from my body.  (Winter training can be debilitating in this regard because when dealing with heavy sweatshirts and coats and snow pants, daily washing is an impossibility).  But I'm also surely transfixed with the notion of being lathered up in a steaming, hot shower where I can finally assuage some of the pain that is taking a joy ride through my muscles and general central nervous system.

During training for the 100 Mile Snowshoe Challenge, I've grown rather fond of my post-workout shower after trudging in sub zero weather for hours on end.  Those ice crystals forming in my eyebrows can be painful, truly.

So is this guy really writing about body wash?  Yes, I am - and I'll do so proudly with all my masculinity intact.  I'll go so far as to brush upon skin care notions and moisturizing effects!  Hey, you all know I'm heavily tattooed.  Many of you can't believe the vibrant colors I have going on some tats that are 10 years old!  So, skin care is not some kind of froufrou wuss thing.  (Yes, I'm on thin ice here, I know.)

And yes, most people expect me to talk about the new legions of compression tights or nutritional supplements that make me perform better.  Blah blah blah.  In due time.  There are plenty of sponsored athletes out there who will claim this and that for you, I promise.  I'll just speak to you about what I really know and enjoy and makes me feel better as a person - which, ultimately, is requisite to feel good as an athlete.

Foremost, when you deal with every form of skin abrasion and rash (yes, gross I know - but it's a reality in ultra distance racing) you need a gentle cleanser.  When you are damp and wet most of the day, you need to be careful not to have your skin dry out - ironic, I know.  As an Ironman I would be doing 3-4 workouts a day and usually showering after each one.

The reason I've grown to love Common Sense Hand and Body Wash is that, not only does it offer me some kind of creature comfort after many hours of abusive body practices - but that it does a good job in aiding me in the recovering from such practices and enhances quality of my skin - which, believe it or not, is a vital component of being able to get up and train such large volumes daily.  A terrible bout of dry skin can derail you no matter how burly you think you are.

 Common Sense writes:
If you frequently need to wash up, the generous portion of moisturizers in our formula can help keep your skin from drying.  We blend together mild coconut-based cleansers, adding just enough water for proper consistency.  Then we mix in pure vegetable glycerine and water soluble castor oil for their excellent moisturizing properties.  To this we add salt for stable consistency, citric acid for balanced pH, and pure plant oils for fragrance.

I know nothing about the chemistry of soap.  I'm already toeing the line of emasculation, I know.  So I draw the line at researching pH levels and what the hell vegetable glycerine is and why it's important!

But this hyper local product from a nearby farm that available in the Pittsfield General Store and Online HERE, is something I've grown to rely on.  With Common Sense you get that quality that only comes from a sincere devotion to a work of art from a loving artist.

There is a certain amount of sanity to be found in pampering yourself after demanding that your body ready itself for a 100 mile snowshoe race.

I would go so far as to claim that aromatherapy might be just as important as any post-workout powder or pill.  What eases the mind eases the body.  When a body is tranquil (and clean) it will recover.  Hence, with Common Sense bathing becomes an ablution, a moment to pause and be mindful of how exceptionally wonderful the moment in the shower feels.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Overwhelming: Part I

When did it begin?  Where does and imperative to saturate one’s existence with the incredible originate?  What does it mean when the instinctual impulse is so potentially self-negating?

As a kid I didn’t just climb trees, nor did I fall from trees- I leapt from trees.  It wasn’t an early conversation with thrill seeking or mischievous enthrallment – it was a harbinger towards my persistently feeling out boundaries as if I were kicking tires.

I think it started with music.  I’ve always had the ear for synchronizing sense data with song.  Headphones where an extension of my perception.  Something adding a texture to everything my eyes would take in and causing a resonance that accelerated absorption of…what?  Anyway, it was, and is, overwhelming.

Of course, my initial understandings of this were misdirected.  One thinks transcendental when something antipodal to otherness is occurring.  It’s frightening to believe this immensity of sensation inhabits your own intrinsic frequency.

And so sensitivity developed towards excess long before I was near any traditional substance of abuse.  (There was time enough for that later) 

So, I abused at fever pitch all the music, literature, road trips, and romance I could before I was 18.  My friends would keep lists of my ‘full hearted’ endeavors.  I threw myself into things on whim and so utterly completely to invoke, rightly so, myself as shallow and submersed within the trenches of passions.  It was beautifully nonsensical and disastrous, more often than not. 

But I felt only accomplishment in my dismal failures.  For my failures were stories that I could tell while all others would remain mute, or speak mildly of some trite success.

So was this early sensitivity a nodding towards insecurity?  An incompleteness or inability to recognize anything genuine in myself?

I don’t know.

I just wanted to hit that moment when there was too much to bear and then bear it.  When there was too much to carry and I held on.  Where I wanted to die, and didn’t.

This was there on my cross-country bike ride on the plains outside of Aberdeen, South Dakota having just peddled 100 miles of prairie with Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes on my headphones. 

It was there when 2 years of devotion culminated in crossing the finish line at Kona and the single greatest anti-climax of my life occurred days later when I landed in Newark.

All across Australia while on tour I had to carefully monitor the music on my iPod, as an overwhelming sense of grandeur accompanied by overwhelming loss imbued every dear friend that came in and out of my life as fast as heartbeats. 

Walking the low veldt of Swaziland with Iron & Wine on the headphones, watching the starving starve and the dying die.  Too much, as well.  And I wanted it all the more.

That’s what I wanted, and that’s what I want.  To be in over my head without recourse, save embracing the overdose of emotion and sensation.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Attn: All Bands - Send Cd's, Hoodies, and Peanut Butter

So, I left the music industry after 11 years to live in a barn in Vermont and train for ultra distance endurance events.  That the gist of the story.

On March 5th I'll be doing a 100 mile snowshoe race.  I learned how to snowshoe on January 30th.  The video proof is HERE from a previous blog post.  Oh, by the way, I've never even run 100 miles straight.

Anyway, there is going to be a 48 hour broadcast of the race and a follow-up video of all the blacking out, fits thrown, freak outs, hallucinations, laughs, absurdities, and tears.  I need a soundtrack!  The video will be featured on the Spartan Race Facebook page which currently boasts 130,000+ fans.

So, send me your cd's, your hoodies (slightly used is ok, I'll be wearing them during race), and peanut butter (race fuel!) and I'll be sure to plug you in the video.  We'll need moments of levity while I spiral out of control and consciousness, and maybe a bit of gravity while I throw a fit and lay down and refuse to move somewhere around hour 30.  Moments of triumph?  Let's hope!

Send to:
Jason Jaksetic
PO Box 591
Pittsfield VT, 05762

Don't forget the Peanut Butter.

Big shout out to my old band mates in The Pilot and Houston Calls.  As well as bands I've had the privilege of sharing the stage with:  New Found Glory, Hello Goodbye, Ace Enders, Say Anything, Jack's Mannequin, Valencia, Artist Vs Poet, Minus the Bear, Bayside, and more I can't remember at the moment.


The latest release from The Human Era - Modern Mirage

Revelation is not a requisite for excellence but excellence clings to the ribs of any revelation.

Unsupported endeavors whether artistic, athletic, or spiritual are the norm - a testament to the intrinsically human constitution of these pursuits where all means of production exceed the capacity for consumption.

Within each person is a burgeoning icon.  Some decide to find it in an other's art, others strike out on their own without permission.

Think Emerson:  

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another. 

As is born this blog without anyone's permission.  As is born every artist laboring without intention of publishing outside his immediate sphere - be it skull or address book.  Yes, there is hope, but an audience, though integral for communication, is not scheduled for arrival.  One composes for an unbooked event and one is more than willing to go there alone.

And that's why the unsung are singing.  And the non-elites are competing.  And the unaccepted are accepting their trade.

The Human Era might not be on your radar.  They might have yet to be revealed to you, but their excellence has been as such to me.

I'm finicky on the trails as to what I let interact with the mindful moment.  I know longer train as if the pain in my body were an aberration needing to be corrected.  You can't both blunt and sharpen a knife, though we continuously try.

But The Human Era's music tends to both advance and retreat in the mix of any sense data.  It inhabits without being invasive.  It is a fulcrum that pulls one to attention but does not pull one from oneself.  This band is as much as you allow them to be.

Give a listen at:  www.thehumanera.com

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dispprobation, Abandonment, Injury, Death

Summit of The Mountain after long day of training.  January 2011

Disapprobation, Abandonment, Injury, Death...

These characters are but a few of the incarnations of my dearest friend, Failure.  The list of aliases goes on and on and is utterly malleable - able to be cast into any shape as to fit into your life most poignantly, and therefore, most painfully.

This year I've invited Failure to dinner - the tables have been set, and, though I am a reluctant host, I'm ready to dish out my guts on the fine china.  Failure in its many forms has yet to RSVP but there is a good chance of its entourage showing up.

Little revulsion is harbored within me regarding this dinner date.  For space has been made for Success to sit shoulder to shoulder with Loss and Ridicule.

Failure is requisite on the guest list if you have any chance of Success's gracing presence.

Putting everything on the line is not necessarily a reckless gamble - a life savings wagered on black.

Owning up to the responsibility to your dreams will ultimately force you to stand upright in the midst of trench warfare - the sniper fire of Failing raining down.

Meditate on this today.  Are you in the line of fire?  Are you so on the path to personal greatness (which is nothing but the attainment of your own personal dreams) that you could find yourself with nothing but Loss?

For you must commit absolutely for a realization to arrive, thus wagering all stability and stagnation - Success never just shows up.

And if it does, or you somehow stumble upon it, what a hollow realization that would be.  What a non-realization of a realization!  What at tragedy, for your dreams were shattered by good luck, the pleasure of accomplishment tinged by fate, not a self actualization made by one's own will.

If this speaks to you pass this blog forward to someone who might need it.  Is there someone you know who has that great idea or big dream, but is sheltering themselves in the rut of mediocrity's safe harbor?

This blog of mine aims to be the infrastructure of a dismal failure.  That's right, I'm fully aware of that.  I might be documenting the greatest debacle of my life.  I'll be laying the framework for ridicule.  I'm in way over my head with all these ultra races this year.  I do, despite any other appearances, wake up at night and look into the dark and see only that emptiness and feel afraid.

There is a huge abyss before me in the Snowshoe Challenge 100 miler.  I've yet to run 100 miles straight.  (That's in May, two weeks before IM TX).  Suffering of a new level yet experienced awaits.  I'm not naive.  I actually have a rather advanced understanding of physiology at this point.  The human body, let alone my body, is ill prepared for such endeavors.  Only the mind, if properly braced and reinforced can keep forward momentum as the world collapses around you in sheets of fatigue, pain, and a conviction of the absolute futility of every additional step.

I'm blogging about what could be a devastating defeat.  Odds are not in my favor - what's under the underdog? - but at least 2011 will be distinct.  A unit of my life where I know I was on the limit of my potential.  And by going so big, the demarcation of my failure might just be a cherished success.  For setting the bar low is in our nature and diminishes the grandeur of the act, itself.  Of life itself.

But, buried beneath this scaffolding of accountability will be a well of achievement and success that is just ready to erupt once given half a chance.  That is worth every 'I told you so' or 'You're freakin' crazy'.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Article on Death Race

Here's a Washington Post article on the Death Race that I am doing.  The interesting component of my story is that I will be doing my Death Race with two ultra runs and an Ironman man in the preceding 7 weeks.

Should be interesting.  But check this out for a synopsis:


Pass this around.  Love to get exposure for the underground of extreme racing!

Ultra Essentials

I found this gem in the General Store here in Pittsfield.

With the huge workout weeks I need lots of calories.  The problem is I often compromise on the quality of those calories.  On a 8,000 calorie training day, I sometimes am forced to go to Ramen in mass quantities.  And, yes, I've spent much of my life smearing Skippy in mass quantities on everything I eat.

To be honest, I can't afford to be picky on calories.  I just need enough of them.  If I was forced to go all organic I'd be broke in a week.

Peanut butter is an essential staple of my diet.  I won't touch on any science or zen regarding this.  I eat cases of it.  During training and racing and recovery.  Most athletes agree.

Vermont Peanut Butter has won the Peanut Butter War, in my brain.  Folks, check out www.vtpeantubutter.com and order some.  I already cleaned out the General Store in Pittsfield.  Here quality of a product trumps any disparity in cost to the competition.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Working on Now

The known is our past.  The known is nothing other than the prison of past conditioning.  And when there is no evolution, there is stagnation, entropy, disorder, and decay...Uncertainty, on the other hand, is the fertile ground of pure creativity and freedom.  Uncertainty means stepping into the unknown in every moment of our existence.  
...Without uncertainty and the unknown, life is just the stale repetition of outworn memories.  You become the victim of the past, and your tormentor today is your self left over from yesterday.  
-Deepak Chopra

Sometimes on the trails I get confused as the fatigue sets in.  I get disoriented.  I don't always know the answer to 'where am I'?

I, however, have unconditionally accepted one axiomatic expression of knowledge.  And it is the answer to 'when am I'?  Which is now.  When now? Now now.

Snowshoeing slows you down.  And like trail running you have to be attentive to each foot strike lest a miscalculation take you out of the racing equation.

All the mountain side contracts into one point of contact where you root yourself into the data stream beneath you.  The contact point is now.  You can't step into the same river twice.  But who cares?  I don't want to.  I want my feet underwater, now.  Once.  And then again.  Once again.

When?  When I'm there.

I'm not by a river bed at the moment.  I'll cross that bridge when I get there. When it's now time for stepping into streams.

The data feed of my consciousness is often riddled with sensory perceptions of extreme pain as the hours of training go on.  In the midst of racing the last place you want to inhabit is the now.  You stretch your mind to that cold beer after the race.  Or, as things really begin to become agitated in my brainwaves I want to be anywhere, than 'here'.  You want to be anywhen but now.

I'm coming to realize that you've stopped racing for intrinsic purposes at this moment, or should I say, this non-moment.  You have been affected into a state of being other than what you are, which, in this case, is racing.  What you are doing, then, at that time.  That present.

If you are not inhabiting the race moment, what are you doing?  I don't know.  Probably whatever it was that I was doing for the last 7 years.

And that is striving for results.  Calculating.  Looking at things through a lens of pros and cons.  Becoming benchmarks - not the transitions between them.  In fact, I wasn't becoming because I wasn't even there.  I wasn't.

It's all the past now, anyway.  And I'll let the disillusionment slip aside when I side-step the obstacle of then and focus on now.  Now now.

All the pain, and fire in my legs.  The delirium of now in mile 50 or 50.01.  The moment that I couldn't possibly want extended indefinitely in the present I hope to, one day, welcome as the manifestation of a goal that was never a goal.  Something that was nothing but a signal that I was moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Burn Your Training Log: Write Your Story

Great, you started measuring your sweat rates and are running your long run impaled with a rectal thermometer that measures your core temperature. I’m very interested in hearing about the experience – just keep the data to yourself.    
Let’s be honest.  I don’t care about how many miles you ran today and what your heart rate was on the various gradients.  Yes, you can link me on Facebook to your uploaded data from your Garman 405 and I can see a Google map with all your biological stats interwoven with your route’s topography.  Exciting stuff!

But even as someone ‘really into’ what you’re doing, my eyes are glazing over.  I actually skimmed the whole thing.  OK, I’ll go a step further.  I probably ignored it.  So did all your friends and family.  They’d rather you spend the time telling about your day.  I promise.

Personally, I’m more interested in hearing about the thorn bush you fell into when you were in flight from a belligerent shih tzu.  I’m more interested in hearing about your reflections upon the park benches reflecting in the river you ran beside. 

I want to know why you were running.  Maybe you were running your intervals at suicide intensity.  Literally.  That break-up you’re working your way through has been damaging and you thought if you ran hard enough your heart might explode.  Take me there in your Tweets, status updates, and blog entrees.  Don't give me time splits.

Now, this is coming from a data junky.  For a whole year I recorded my heart rate and time split for every mile I ran.  Sweat rates, calories consumed, watts powered, laps swam:  you name it, I wrote it down.  

What did it result in?  I’ve got a couple large computer files of stupid ass numbers.  Really, that’s all I have.  Yes, times and heart rates lowered while performance increased.  Whoop-ti-freakin'-do.

But is this the narrative of my life?  I hope not.

Now I write about how Death Cab For Cuties’ What Sara Said can move you to tears as you hit the two-hour mark in Jockey Hollow during a Morristown autumn.  Now I record how my fatigue after a high volume workout made me put my hot cup of coffee into the refrigerator and take a gallon of milk to my office desk.  Now I document the stranger I met on a trail who looked like what Emerson would look like if he wore short shorts and compression socks; or the collection of bucks I nearly crashed into at 50mph on a blind corner on a cycling descent where I was out too late because of a flat.

Now I write about my methodical deductions regarding as to if I prefer diet Pepsi or diet Coke or why I insist on using the phrase ‘soft drink’ to denote soda.  I just note the setting such an internal dialogue.  It was actually dominating my mind in 2003 during the 4 hours I was approaching Aberdeen, South Dakota while riding from Oregon to NJ.  I wrote it all down in a post card in some crazy strange laundry mat with the worst off yellow colored machines.  

My point is that our energy is on the wrong aspect of recording our training.  If you are a busy athlete managing a job, family, chores, and basic life necessities on top of training, you don’t have time to write down methodical data after all your training.

Lance Armstrong has a nice GPS system on his bike that shoots all his vital stats of his ride to his coach Chris Carmichael.  I’m pretty sure you don’t have that luxury.

So just keep a diary instead and focus on the things that make you love training.  The numbers will work their way in, I promise. 

The narrative of your journey is the essence of it.  Every step of ‘now’ trumps the anxiety producing ‘what if’ or ‘when’. 

Take it from someone who’s been there.  I have a drawer full of awards of top finishes in triathlon and running.  I never open it.  I surely don’t go back and read my notebooks of data.  You think certain friends' pictures of their trip to Disney World is boring?  Imagine what you are doing in your discourse about the graphical representation of your lowering resting heart rate over a three month period.

I’m not paid enough to make winning my life.  I’m not paid at all for racing, actually.  And if you are reading this, neither are you, most likely.  You’ve just fallen into the trap, maybe, that getting faster is a validation of becoming. 

Instead now I’m opting to live my life through my training.  I’m not training to invent my life.  I promise you, if you don’t get your head straight, crossing that finish line in Kona might be your most hollow victory to date.  It will just be another number in your notebook and another thing checked off on your way to the next unfulfilling conquest.  Another life dampening been there, done that.

The essence of every finish line should be in each and every nowness of training and racing.   

Destroy the duality of who you are and who you should be.  Make a oneness of who you are and what you are doing.  Continually find yourself where you happen to be.

I’m trying this.  And, as a consequence I just might be getting faster and my fitness improving.  But I’m not focusing on that.  That’s ancillary to my focus.

When you lay off the science are you risking burnout and injury?  Are you jeopardizing peak performance?

I’m sure you are.  Frankly, I’ve forsaken peak performance for peak living.  The burnout makes for a better plot!  Maybe I’ll finally breakthrough what was unbreakable.  Maybe I’ll just break.  I’ll take that.  Or maybe, I’ll just keep doing my think with ear-to-ear grin. 

And this doesn’t mean you need a philosophical justification for your running or racing.  Just keep doing what you are doing and loving it.  Your justification is irrelevant.  What is relevant is your story that I hope to hear sans heart rates and rectal thermometer readouts. 

Don’t be afraid of losing or slowing down.  You just might catch your breath enough to capture a glimpse of who the hell it is that is actually pushing forward at breakneck speed, leaving life in the wake of a distorted landscape.  You’re so much more than numbers.  Your friends and family know that.  Do you?  Better catch on before you alienate them even more.

This is coming from a man whose senior thesis in college was:  The Quantitative Self:  Its Relevance to a New Ethics.

I burned my training logs, so to speak.  And I’m becoming more than an unopened drawer of finishing medals that will have stories to tell, now that I’m ready to listen.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Balboa vs Drago: Ironman vs Ultra Distance vs Death Race

I always get the same response when I describe to someone what I'm doing in Vermont.

"Ummm, you mean, uhh, like in Rocky IV?"
(I'm from Jersey so please imagine the vocal inflections.)

And all I can respond is, "Kinda, yeah."

Every day now I'm training by moving piles of rocks around.  I'm carrying backpacks of lumber up 1000' ft climbs to a mountain's summit.  I'm running through waist deep snow.  I chop wood with a big ax.  I go running along frozen roads and rivers.  I grew a beard.  I LIVE IN A BARN.

I actually begin to question the impact Rocky IV must have had on my subconscious when I was growing up.  I mean, I did watch it every time it was on TBS.  In fact, I watched the whole marathon every time it was on.  I had it on VHS, too.

I distinctly remember being 6 or 7 years old and taking a pair of old clunky roller skates that were the heaviest thing around and doing bicep curls with them.  Afterwards, when my Mother asked if I wanted grilled cheese or Spaghetti O's for lunch I replied, "I'd like steak!"

(Aside:  And does it mean that I'm old that I can remember a time when it was OK to hate Russians.  You were supposed, too!  I mean, Sly had to make Rambo IV all about Cambodia, leaving his Russian fetish aside after Rambo II and Rambo III.)

For those of you who are not a male between the ages of 20-65 this might help explain what I'm talking about.  If you are a male between the ages of 20-65, enjoy!

Ok, now that we're all fired up, let me get to my point.  I know, I know...at this moment you are downloading Hearts on Fire and are getting ready to go run...

Anyway, the juxtaposition of training methods is truly the embodiment of the difference between training for Ironman and training for Ultra Distance races.  Particularly the Death Race which I'm signed up for in June.

I've done 5 Ironman competitions including Kona.

Now I will come out and say that in terms of functional fitness I was not the greatest as an Ironman.  Many are, I'm sure, but I was not.  I could swim, bike, and run like an animal.  Ask me to move a couch or help you nail sheetrock to a ceiling and I was helpless.  I wouldn't even try, actually, because I'd be risking injury.  I'd be all, like, well if I didn't have to get to my masters swim class right now and eat my chia seeds I'd be there for you, but you know how Ironman training is...

Excelling at Ironman was about specificity.  You had a rigid program and if you stuck to it you had a damn good chance of succeeding.  Any of the 700 books on doing an Ironman will get you to the finish line.  Be diligent and you'll crack 12 hrs.  Train hard and you'll be under eleven.  Make it a lifestyle and you might beat the 10 hr mark.  (Full disclosure:  I've never cracked 10.)

And with all these 700 said books there is one thing that is definitely out of the equation:  guesswork.

When I was an Ironman I had every workout planned 6 months in advance and every race charted two years out.  I counted calories burned and consumed.  I engineered each workout in terms of duration, intensity, and frequency.

I love Ironman.  I always will.  It is the greatest popular endurance sport.  Period!  It's full of passion, glory, commitment, drama, and humanity.  It's awesome.

But now I'm trying something different.

Training for things like 100 mile snowshoes and 100 mile trail runs don't fall into this guesswork-less category easily.  The Spartan Death Race absolutely does not.  In these you just need to be rugged strong, intense, determined, and crazy.

Yes, yes, yes, you have to be all those to be a great Ironman, too, I know.

My point is you have to throw out the old training manual with the crossover.  This is what I found out.  Being a pretty elite Ironman does not make me even an average ultra distance athlete.  Folks, Ironman is short!  I'm going to say it.  People are out there running 250 miles at a clip.  They ride their bikes across America in 8 days, on 90 minutes sleep a night!  My boss snowshoed the Iditarod without tent of shelter in -30 degree weather.  People die out there with freaking dog teams.

This doesn't mean it's tougher, it's just different.  In all aspects.

And thus, we come to Rocky and Ivan.  Here they went head to head and rocky came out on top.

Who would win between an Ironman and an ultra distance athlete or Death Racer?

Who knows, it be a disaster unless one of them knew how to box!  The Ironman would win at Triathlon, the ultra runner would win the 100 milers, and the Death Racer would finish the Death Race.  Not rocket science.

What will be interesting, tho, is how I perform at an Ironman this year while training for ultra distance and the Death Race.

Here we can return to Rocky IV.  I'm using a 100 mile ultra run as prep for an Ironman two weeks prior to IM TX.  Very non-traditional.  Ballsy?  Yes.  Stupid?  Probably.  Fatal?  But doesn't Rocky teach us to pull for the underdog, and that his 'heart on fire' will pull him through?

As an Ironman I used to try and be Ivan.  Now I'm good old Sly each and every day.

Pittsfield, VT.  You can count my sit-ups while I hang from the rafters!