Tuesday, February 25, 2014

But I Don't Feel Like It Anymore - Commitment vs Feelings and Why You Should Do It Anyway

"Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable (of becoming)."
-Coach John Wooden

My first career (1995-2001) was inside and outside sales for a technology firm in Silicon Valley during the dot.com boom/bubble years.  That's a fancy way of saying that right out of high school I got a job working for my father's business partner Paul on business development of a new territory.  The new territory?  Southern California.

From 1995-1997 I went to school full time and worked part time developing new business making cold calls from a business guide.  This is prior to major & minor companies having robust websites and prior to Google telling me how to find any information on any company, product or person that has a public presence.  I had only an encyclopedia sized book, a company name, their product line and a phone number.  It was my job to call the receptionist, and somehow talk my way through the web of that company to get to someone who purchased electronic components from other companies to make the product that they sold.  Simple enough, right?  Only problem was that the bigger the company, the more intricate the web of people who didn't know what anyone else did, not to mention the bulldog receptionists and personal assistants that were hired and trained to be a firewall against calls like mine.

Paul, my mentor/boss, has completed many endurance rides/runs.
In 1997, Paul (co-founder of the company, Signet Technical Sales, later Signet LCD and then IDS) offered me a full time position.  I accepted and stepped full tilt into the corporate world, which included 10-15 hours a week of commuting (to and from San Jose) and 40-60 hour weeks.  "Salesmen have no hours!" Paul used to say, much like Alec Baldwin's character from my favorite movie about sales, "Glengary Glen Ross."  Back then, I would spend most of my day dialing up strangers and asking for a favor, "please tell me who I need to talk to who makes the decision on purchasing these parts for your products."  I got really clear that there were going to be good days and bad days.  Days I felt inspired to do it and days I didn't want to pick up the phone to encounter 43 more rejections in 44 calls (and the 1 other call was a voicemail).

My last full year at Signet (2001), I stopped commuting.  I moved from San Francisco to San Jose, and cut my 3 hours of daily driving to 15 minutes each way.  I suddenly had 2 to 2.5 hours per day I didn't even know what to do with.  I was inspired, energized and ready to train for my first marathon, something I had put off for 5-6 years.  I committed to run my first 26.2, which was actually the second time I made that commitment (it was first a New Year's Resolution in 2000, until I didn't feel like training anymore, about maybe 19 days later).

I had signed up for the San Diego Rock'n'Roll Marathon, I also booked the round trip flight from San Jose to San Diego for early June and I hired a coach to help guide me (shout out to Coach Kaley, the first coach I ever hired).  Problem was, I was overeager.  I trained myself right into an overuse injury (ITBS) within about 2-3 weeks.  I wanted to run, but I couldn't.  So Coach Kaley (a very talented triathlete) started working with me on swimming and biking (as much as sitting on a spin bike can be considered biking).

I cross trained for a full month, until I just didn't feel like it anymore.  My knee hadn't improved, and I still had pain after mile 2 on basically every run I'd go on to test it out, about every 2 weeks.  I stopped training altogether.  That was mid-February.  Late-May came up on me fast and I realized I had a trip to San Diego (flights booked, accommodations made) and suddenly I was feeling inspired again.  So I went for a few runs to shake off the rust, determined my knee didn't hurt at mile 2 anymore and flew to San Diego.

*Note: this is NOT my bib # from 2001
Along the way I had raised maybe $500-$900 for the NCCF, but it was all in $1-$2 per mile sponsorship donation checks.  I was certainly not fit for 26.2 miles straight, on roads.  But I also felt a sense of obligation to finish what I started since I couldn't donate checks for the amounts they were written out for if they were based on the miles I had committed to doing.  I was in a quandary: do I run a marathon and put myself at risk of re-aggravation of this injury that put me down for 3-4 months?  Do I not run it, yet send in the checks anyway?  Do I not run it and send the checks back to their donors?

I went into the marathon expo on Saturday and again was inspired by all the fit, healthy people. There were many charities there with teams, and coaches, and team colors.  I knew I had to send these checks in.  I also knew I needed to run the distance.  I also didn't want to spend another 4 months not being able to run.  I decided to walk 13-14 miles, Saturday.  I got the course map and followed it until I got to a freeway entrance (94 out of downtown SD) and elected to do another lap around Balboa Park.  I wrapped it up in about 4 hours (about 17-minute mile pace) and went to visit my sister for dinner in La Jolla.  Sunday morning I caught a cab to Sea World, and at about the mile 14 mark I waited for the race to come by.  I watched the elites, the sub-3 national class athletes, the age groupers, and somewhere about an hour later jumped into the fray.  Again, I walked more than I ran, but I was coming up against my feelings of failure, the disappointment I wasn't an official participant (it was a chip race, and I'd never show up in the results).  But on the other side of those negative feelings, I was doing something maybe for the first time in my life, that wasn't going the way I envisioned it, and I was finishing it anyway.  My watch read 6-hours, 17-minutes when I hit the 26.2 mile mark, and based on when I started the day prior, my unofficial time would have read 22-hours, 17-minutes.  By all measures of marathon finishes, I was a DNS (on Sunday) or a DNF (on Saturday).  Two half marathons in back-to-back days is not a marathon.  But I sent in those checks and wrote a letter to everyone who donated, "I am happy to reimburse you if you object to the way I completed this marathon, and here's why you won't find me in any official results...".  It was a huge turning point in my life.

Officially finished my 1st marathon 16 months later.

Even today, I still come up against the feelings of "I don't want to train today, I just don't feel inspired or motivated to do it." and some days, those feelings win out.  But more often than not over the past 13 years, I cast my feelings and lack of motivation aside, and ask myself, "what am I committed to?" and often, the answer is pretty simple.  When you ask yourself what you're committed to, and weigh it against what you're feeling, whatever is bigger wins.  So my commitments have become huge, 'larger than me' type challenges, such that my fickle and ever-shifting feelings can be good, bad or ugly, but rarely are they bigger than my commitment to the goal.

You won't win this battle every day.  But the more you play this game, the stronger at "being your commitment" which is essentially "adhering to ones principles" instead of empowering your feelings which can change moment to moment, day to day and are as unpredictable as the weather.

What are you committed to?
*post a comment below and declare what you're committed to!

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Heavy Lifting for the Runners' Mind - My Film List for the Mental Game

I'm fresh off of my second 50 mile DNF (both coming the first weekend in February on my sophomore run of a course in my Santa Monica Mountains backyard).  I know that my body didn't respond, part of which could have been just having an off day, and part of it definitely being undertrained.  I don't regret being undertrained, as my focus is on Summer 2014, and I now know there's no way I'm peaking too early.  But that's also my self-justification for not doing enough of the necessary grunt work, laying the foundation brick-by-brick.  I'm out the door for a run in a few.  One day at a time.  All that said, until my body failed me, my mind was solid in spite of a great number of problems out there.  That is one of my take-aways.  I have 4 months (or 17 weeks) to get in peak 100 mile shape.  I know my mind is ahead of that curve.

"Like success, failure is many things to many people.  With a positive mental attitude, failure is a learning experience, a rung on the ladder, a plateau at which to get your thoughts in order and prepare to try again."
-W. Clement Stone

Get to work on your mental game.

It seems like a general and broad-sweeping stroke.  But here's what I mean when I say that.  Workouts and physical fitness are only about half the story when it comes to setting new personal standards in speed or distance (or both).  You must develop the mental makeup so that you don't mentally breakdown.  There are a lot of ways to get there, and generally speaking, a coach will implement these things into your training runs (sometimes overtly and often times, like in my case, covertly).  You can always improve your mental game.  I love reading inspiring books and watching inspiring films (they absolutely do not need to be about running to be good for your mental game).

Here's a list of a few movies that really stoke my mental fire.  What I mean by that?  I cry tears of joy, tears of anguish and tears of being moved by the human spirit each and every time I watch them:

Ferg Hawke running through the valley of death
MY TAKE: A searing documentary about the BADWATER 135 Ultramarathon (aka the World's Toughest Footrace).  I've crewed/paced this race 3 times now, and I'll be stoked to be help another friend get this done this year, even though I can't attend the race.

SYNOPSIS: This 90-min documentary features Canadian Ferg Hawke as well as Scott Jurek, Dr. Ben Jones, Charlie Engle, Ray Zahab, Monica Scholz, Pam Reed, Dean Karnazes, Marshal Ulrich and Mike Sweeney as they experience the BADWATER Ultramarathon. Footage from both the 2005 and 2006 races are included as well as interviews, course profile, blister care and finish line drama. The race itself is broken into the six legs and even after 90 miles three athletes are separated by only about a mile and a half. The finish is amazing with records falling and 11 athletes are shown crossing the line.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS: Because if you're reading one of my blogs, let's be honest, you're already pretty silly, and there isn't much sillier than running 135-miles through Death Valley in the peak of summer heat.  In case of invisible self-limiting barriers, break glass (ceiling).  This movie will leave you without valid excuses.

QUOTE I LOVE"If you run long enough, something is bound to happen."

How many setbacks must one endure to realize an impossible dream?
MY TAKE: It is slow at points, but then again so is life.  If you patiently entrench yourself in this story, you'll feel Rudy's passion, his devastating lows and triumphant over-coming of long-shot odds.  I love this movie.

SYNOPSIS: Rudy has always been told that he was too small to play college football. But he is determined to overcome the odds and fulfill his dream of playing for Notre Dame.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS: You don't have to like college football, this is a movie about having a tenacious spirit and chasing impossible dreams.

QUOTE I LOVE"In this life, you don't have to prove nothin' to nobody but yourself."

What inspires you to run fast?  Old dares do it for me.
MY TAKE: Also takes some time to build into things, but each scene is vital in a really well woven piece.  It examines the why of two Olympic runners.  One runs to "feel God's pleasure" and another runs from an absolute terror of being second best.  Love vs Fear.  A perfect examination of life.

SYNOPSIS: The story of two British track athletes, one a determined Jew, and the other a devout Christian who compete in the 1924 Olympics.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS: It doesn't matter why you run.  It matters that you run (see: exercise).  This movie will have you examining why you run and when you run and may enable you to get the most out of your mental game by determining your mental outlook.

QUOTE I LOVE"I've known the fear of losing but now I am almost too frightened to win."

Buoyed by great performances and Academy Award nom for Giamatti
MY TAKE: One of my 2-3 favorite films of all time (the other 2 are Shawshank Redemption and Crash).  I love this movie for so many reasons.  It will make you feel.

SYNOPSIS: Based on the true story of fighter Jim Braddock, who in Depression-era New York enters the boxing ring out of desperation to feed his family. He becomes a common folk hero as he battles his way up the ranks, vaulting from broken-down ex-boxer to living legend with a string of amazing upsets to his credit. As word of the scrappy underdog spreads, entire families stay glued to their radios, cheering, praying and experiencing his victories as their own. Their devotion reaches fever pitch when Braddock faces heavyweight champ Max Baer. That night, Braddock's dignity, courage and determination gives hope to a nation and earns him the nickname of Cinderella Man.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS: You don't have to like boxing, nor be a fan of Russell Crowe or Renee Zellweger.  This movie is about choosing to get back up after getting knocked down (no matter how many times you hit the mat).  Boxing may be a perfect analogy for life in the courage to get back up off the mat when life is punching you in the face.  Give in to this movie.

QUOTE I LOVE"For two hundred and fifty dollars I would fight your wife... and your grandmother, at the same time." 

Photo by Luis Escobar, RD of Born to Run Ultras and Red Rock
MY TAKE: This is JB Benna's masterful weaving of a story about living outside the box, challenging one's perceived limits and going into that unknown void and seeing what part of you comes back from it.  This movie inspires me for many different reasons.

SYNOPSIS: This is the story of the 2010 competitive men's race in the granddaddy of trail ultra runs, the Western States 100.  In addition to following 4 of the top ultra runners in the world, it tells much of the story of how the Western States Endurance Run came into being.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS: Because everyone faces their mental breaking point in a race that means a lot to us.  Sometimes our expectations, our goals, or even the conditions in the race can break us.  Sometimes it's our competition.  But watch how these competitors respond to being broken, and what they do in the face of it.  Warning: it might make you want to run Western States, or 100 miles, or both.

QUOTE I LOVE"I can still take one more step. And so at that point I decided to take one more step until I could not longer take one more step." 

HONORABLE MENTION - Other Films I Love for the Mental Game
The Fighter, Finding Nemo, Rocky, 300, Rocky IV, and many more...

We could all use a little (more) work on our mental game.  These 6 movie-films will help you with that (and I threw in 5 more on the HM list a few sentences above this).  Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.  Let me know what you think, especially if you see them now (with new perspective).

If you have other films you love watching, post a comment below and let us know what films help you with your mental game!