New Challenges – New Perspectives

Onward I goAbout three weeks ago, a fear most athletes have came true when I had my first major injury.  My training had been going very well and I had just started incorporating some mountain training.  I was hoping that it was just a slight strain–something that would go away with some rest or reduced training.  Yet deep inside I knew it was probably something worse.  Over the five years I have been running regularly, only once had an injury occurred and it was just something the set me back for a week or so–nothing serious.  When this injury happened, the pain and severity was quite different than anything I ever experienced.  Immediately I went to several medical/athletic websites to try to figure out what the injury may be.  The symptoms lead me to believe it was a type 2 (maybe a type 1) tear of my left medial gastrocnemius aka the upper inside part of my left calf.  On the recommendation of a physiotherapist I got an ultrasound that confirmed that it was indeed a type 2 tear.  That meant 4-6 weeks of recovery–right in the middle of my training for my 100 mile race in late October.  Not what I was hoping…

The good news is that prior to this injury, I had been focusing on many ways to improve my life, attitude, performance, etc.  Several books I read had large sections focusing on the power of a positive mental attitude–no matter the situation.  When the news hit that I had to stop running for over a month, my positive perspective was that this would make me stronger and with a little luck and a lot of elbow grease, I would gain some new skills that will ultimately make me a better runner.

The doctors and physiotherapists all agreed that I could continue to walk.  With that, I set out to become an efficient power walker.  Using many websites, photos, and videos, I learned some tips to improve my pace as a walker which is immensely useful in ultramarathons.  During the Keys 100, I think one of my assets was my ability to walk at a faster clip than most, allowing me to make up a lot of ground in the second half of the race.

Over the past 3 weeks, my walking has improved by leaps and bounds.  It reminds me of when I first started to learn how to run regularly.  I am pretty sure that my form is not legal for the competitive speed walkers but I am definitely not running.  Any motion that is close to running still bothers my calf.  When I walk, my feet land on the heels and roll to the front.  Plus, I am much less fatigued even after walking for 60-90 minutes compared to running.

My adjusted view is this:  I know that I will not be able to match or beat my Keys 100 time at the Javelina Jundred (20:28) but the whole purpose of this race is for the experience and to run a qualifier for entry to the Western States 100.  The only requirement is that I finish under 30 hours.  I am confident that I can walk 100 miles in under 30 hours.  While my running fitness will not be where I want it going into the race, my hope is to have enough in the tank to give it a 50/50 or even a 75/25 run/walk ratio.

Beyond this new power walking ability I am honing, I have been focusing on increased flexibility especially in areas that have been neglected during my years of running.  Also, I have (finally) started to learn how to practice mindful meditation.  It has been a goal of mine for numerous years but I never made the time to learn or try.  In addition, I am working on increasing strength in the supporting areas of the body for running–better balance, posture, and range of motion.

The funny thing out of all of this is that I am not worried or scared.  I have a feeling of peacefulness that tells me I am learning and improving myself.  This is exactly where I should be despite it not being my chosen path.  In a zen-like approach, I am not focusing on what might happen and wishing I could change the past.  Right here is where I want to be.

The Charity Dilemma

wellFor most of my conscious life I have considered myself a caring person.  In fact a pillar of my identity is the desire to help others.  In my adult existence, I have donated a considerable amount of clothes and items to those less fortunate.  I volunteered to help build homes for Habitat for Humanity in Nigeria.  Yet, I have always battled with the concept of giving money.  Many times I come across people begging in the street.  It is very difficult to determine whether a simple handout of money will help or not.  Is this money going to be used to feed and/or clothe or will it simply be used for destructive purposes.  The mental battle not to judge arises as well.  Things have been compounded as my daughters have grown a little older.  They ask me all the time why a person is asking me for money.  Generally I respond by telling them the different possibilities but also stress that simply asking for handouts is not the preferred route.  The message I convey to them is that work is always available, you have to be willing to do it.  What I will do is hand out food to those asking for change.  If they are truly desperate, they gladly take my offering but some refuse.

cleanwaterOn the other side of the coin, I do live a fortunate life and have money to spare–not that I am rich by any means–just a normal middle class life.  I have tried to donate to organizations in the past but then find out how little of the money goes to the efforts they claim to support.  It has paralyzed me to not give out money at all–until now.  Recently on my favorite podcast–The Rich Roll Podcast–there was an episode with Scott Harrison who started Charity Water.  I was greatly moved by the message of this charitable organization.  First, their battle is to bring clean water to the over 663 million people around the globe who have no access to a clean source.  Second, their model is completely transparent in which we as donors can see exactly where all the money goes.  They have 100% open books for their financials and do not keep any extra portion of the donations.  Their operating costs are completely covered by private donors.  They have even teamed with Google so you can track the status of the well(s) in which you contributed to see its status.

openbookFinally, and this blew me away, they have generated this concept of “Pledging Your Birthday”.  Instead of receiving gifts (almost all of which we do not really need), you can ask your family and friends to donate to this charity instead.  Some people use their age to be in dollars as the amount to ask and others just say donate whatever amount you would have spent.  I was very moved by this especially after hearing stories of children aged 7 donating their birthdays.  Can you believe that??!!  A child that age who is so wrapped up in the concept of getting new toys, dolls, gadgets, etc. being willing to forgo it all to help others. Wow! On top of that, I have been going through a slow transformation in the past several years of trying to minimize my life’s possessions.  When birthdays and holidays come around, I really do not wish to receive more “stuff”.  I am truly grateful for those thinking of me, but at age 42, I can honestly say I have everything I need (and more) materially.  My next birthday (unfortunately 11 months away) will be pledged.

100Maybe I buried the lede with this charity but you ask why water?  According to what I learned diseases from dirty water kill more people every year than all forms of violence including war.  In Africa alone, women spend 40 billion hours a year walking for water.  Clean water helps keep kids in schools, especially girls.  Less time collecting the water means more time in class.  Women are responsible for 72% of the water collected in Sub-Saharan Africa.  When a community gets water, women and girls get their lives back.  They start businesses, improve their homes, and take charge of their own futures.

gpsI am fully aware that a post like this is way of the beaten path for me but I am excited over this project.  Personally, I am going to start contributing using their monthly subscription model.  According to their model, it only costs $30 to bring clean water to a person.  It is my hope that some of you will see this in the same light I did and feel comfortable to finally have an outlet to give and feel confident you are truly helping your fellow human.

Five Years a Runner

keysLeave it to me to forget the anniversary marking five years as a dedicated runner–June 1, 2017.  If you know me or have read some of my backstory on this blog, you’ll know that this whole thing started back in June 2012 when I challenged myself to 30 days of running.  I never could run more than 2 or 3 days in a week without injuring myself prior to this challenge.  Short version is that I researched run streakers and websites about getting into running regularly.  I needed to run slow as possible (lose the ego) and keep the distance low.  I’m good at following a plan and after a month, I was hooked.

Over the past five years, I have had incredible experiences, highs, lows, and have learned a lot about myself and abilities–not just on an athletic level.  I have met plenty of incredibly nice and wonderful people.  From running 5-10km at a time to finishing 8th at the Keys 100 miler in 2015, it seems as if I have packed a lifetime of experience on the roads and trails in just five years.

It has not been easy and I think there has been at least four separate times where my training has gotten off kilter or out of focus but I never quit.  Today I am with a renewed focus and know that I will continue to put one foot in front of the other for as long as my body permits.  I am a better person because of running.  It grounds me, makes me happier, gives me a stronger sense of confidence while providing me the ability to roll with the ups and downs in life.  It is cliché but one truly experiences life in a day when running ultra distances.

Finally, I am grateful that my wife and daughters support me and my crazy passion for a sport that such a small percentage of the world participates.  Next on the horizon: an even stronger five years to come.

Living Vice Not Dying

grug-eep-the-croods-34956736-940-473Today as I drove around Mexico City doing family errands, my girls were watching a movie — The Croods.  I overheard some dialog that resonated with me:

  • Eep: Dad, you have to stop worrying about us.
  • Grug: But it’s my job to worry!  It’s my job to follow the rules.
  • Eep: The rules don’t work out here.
  • Grug: They kept us alive.
  • Eep: That wasn’t LIVING! That was just… “Not Dying”! There’s a difference.

That last line repeated in my mind all day.  It’s quite profound on many levels.  Too often I find in today’s hustle and bustle we are conforming to this set of norms and that set of rules–continuously trying to stay within the lines.  How should I be raising my daughters?  What food should they eat?  What should I not do at work?  How should I comport myself in this or that social situation.

In my athletic world, how much should I be training?  How hard should I train?  What should I eat?  Is this the right form?  Did I recover enough?  Am I “fueling and hydrating” properly? And on and on and on…

Rules and regulations permeate practically every facet of my life.  I actually revel in the rules and get a weird sense of accomplishment when I feel as if I have checked all the imaginary boxes on self imposed checklists of things I should and should not do.

While I definitely am not proposing anarchy and mayhem in a ruleless society, this quote was a reminder that I should be more mindful of my actions and decisions.  I don’t have a meaningful takeaway to share with the world but what I do know is the next time I go out and run, it will be with a youthful exuberance and push the limits of fun.  The next time I interact with my daughters, I will be mindful to not stress the rules but instead promote what they can do–ask them what they think.

Let us choose to live rather than simply not die.

Twice as Nice

IMG_0838Sunday marked the return to the trails of Parque Nacional Desierto de los Leones (The Lions Desert National Park).  I went there about 9 months ago trying to find good trails on the mountainsides.  Unfortunately I only ran for 35 minutes and spent nearly an hour hiking through knee to waste high grass, shrubs, and plants.  I was highly frustrated and for the most part gave up on trying to run up there.  Instead of asking around and putting on the hat of adventure, I made up excuses in my head and fully convinced myself to not return.  I did my fair share of complaining repeatedly about no marked trails nor published maps.IMG_0837

This time I had a new buddy show me a different entrance to the park.  We hiked to about 3300 meters of elevation.  Lo and behold, I saw a nice double track running trail.  We did an out an back of a total of 12km.  The time absolutely flew by.  My perceived time on the trail was 15-20 minutes when in reality we ran for 1:15.  The run absolutely recharged my enjoyment of nature running–and it is only 20 minutes from my home.  When I lived in Luxembourg, these trail runs were the norm–little did I know how spoiled I was.IMG_0839Since the two trail runs this weekend, I have not stopped thinking about when I can get back.  I feel like a kid who cannot wait to play with his brand new toy or game again.  With my new attitude, I decided that I won’t let the lack of maps/trail markings hold me back.  I took my GPX files (these are files that show your GPS track on the run) from Sunday and 9 months ago and uploaded them to some websites with open source maps.  I was able to match up where I was in relation to other supposed trails in the park.  That gave me a better perspective where the good trails were vice the un-runable trails.  I printed them out and now am excited to explore the whole park.  Every weekend I plan to go back and become a master of the trails up there.  It is amazing how one new friendship, a social running app (Strava), and a positive attitude can change everything.

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This is one happy guy after finding some fun trails.

Back to the Trails

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This was the view I experienced this morning thanks to making a friend through Strava.  I have heard over and over that there are many trails in the mountains/high hills outside of Mexico City.  Unfortunately, there are no maps to download and none of the trails have signs or markings.  Someone needs to show you and/or you need to memorize it all yourself.  It’s a shame because there is some spectacular terrain.  Today’s run was two semi-different 3.7km loops at 2860m/9300 ft.  We did around 14km of running.  After running thousands upon thousands of kilometers on concrete and pavement, the trail felt like I was running on cushions–bliss if you ask me.

It was definitely good to meet a local runner and start to break out of the same loops I do on a daily basis.  My rejuvenated attitude and positivity already seems to be paying off.  If I can learn more of these trails at 10000 ft elevation, it will be incredibly helpful come 3 months from now when the 100 miler is upon me.  The icing on the cake today was to share the trails with my lovely wife, too.  Happy day indeed!

43 for 43

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Since becoming a dedicated runner, I’ve tried incorporating a long run around my age.  Back in 2014, I ran 39 miles for my 4 country run starting in Belgium, traversing Luxembourg, touching briefly into France, and ending in Germany.  This year, I set out to complete 42 km for my 42nd birthday but ended up doing 43 km.  I justified the “43” since technically your birthday is the first day of the next year and the birthday means you have completed that many years.  It is all semantics, I know.

WARNING: This is more of a stream of consciousness type post.  While I would like all my articles to be top notch, I figured that I will sacrifice quality at this point to try to build the routine of daily writing.  Hopefully, over time they will improve.

43kI set out on this run to just enjoy it.  I had no preconceived notions of total time, pace, or expectations other than reflection.  My GPS watch was set only to show me my cadence (for those non-runners, that calculates the amount of steps I take per minute).  Too often I find myself in the never ending loop of checking my watch for my speed, how far I have gone, or how far I have to go.  If I am in a particularly low moment in a run, it can actually make the run drag even longer if I keep looking at the kilometers tick by.

43k - 1

After seeing my daughters off to school, I took off with good lineup of music in the playlist and a smile on my face.  My journey was to take me all around the western part of Mexico City.  The “fun” part of running in this section is that is quite hilly.  For the most part you are either going up or down.

The last time I ran this distance was in March for the Marathon Before Work Challenge that Fast Corey created.  Since then, my training has been haphazard due to family obligations, random life things, but more importantly I lost focus of my fine tuned dedication I normally have.  In my mind this run was a re-confirmation to my movement forward physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  In fact, it was my 14th consecutive day running.  For those that don’t know, I like the concept of run streaking to get things going in the right direction.  If there is no choice as to whether I am running or not, it makes it a done deal.  After 3 weeks, habits are formed and it becomes second nature.Back to the run…  It was a cool but humid morning.  In the beginning, I did some out and backs to pad the overall distance to the big loop I was running.  The first 30% of the run would have 70% of the elevation gain–over 1000 meters/3300 feet.  On one particular part, I took a road in which I was unfamiliar.  Much to my chagrin, I quickly found that it was much more downhill than I anticipated.  As I continued to descend, I had this feeling that I was going further and further into elevation debt because I had to back track to the overall loop.  In the end, I decided that the uphills are what I need to get my fitness back to top notch so I forced the smile back on the face and went into diesel engine mode as I came back to the loop.43k - 3Shortly after that section I reached the peak of this run.  From that point I felt more relaxed and was able to hit cruise control for a while.  An interesting challenge during this run was all of the chatter coming across my phone because of my birthday.  As a technology geek, I have my GPS watch tied to my phone which would chime/buzz every time another birthday wish would come across.  On top of that, I had a family member in the hospital who I was trying to keep tabs on via text messages.  Then there were some phone calls coming in as well.  All of this caused many stops and starts.  Rather than get frustrated (which can happen to me easily) I remembered that there was no time limit on this run and to just enjoy.  Once I let go of any ideas of how I needed to do this run, I was not bothered by the interruptions.  I definitely need to remember this frame of mind going forward.43k - 4When I run 4 hours or more, I like to carry water and some sort of food.  I used a 3 liter hydration pack for water and brought some Huma chia gels along with some mini Larabars.  I have learned that when you are training for an ultramarathon, it is not just the running that you need to train.  You need to train with your equipment and train your stomach for the food options you will use in the race.  It is much better to find out that a hydration pack or type of food causes you big problems during a practice run then to have race day emergencies or melt downs.  This run was almost perfect in terms of water and food.  My only changes would be to eat about 15% more and to restock the water in the last hour.  I ran out of water with about 30 minutes to go.  Luckily the temperature in Mexico City is quite mild so I can handle it.43k - 5Another point of focus to help enhance my enjoyment of the special day was to take photos.  I love photography but am always too caught up in the moment to stop and take photos for good memories.  Today would be different and as you can see by this post, I was able to capture much of the scenery of the run.  Now that it is completed, I am content that I forced myself to stop often for the snapshots.43k - 6When I crossed the 3 hour mark, I could feel some flagging and fatigue setting in.  My previous experience with many long runs is that I know I have the capability to keep on trucking when I feel tired.  I think I did that for about 15 hours when I ran my first 100 miler.  The tough part is when I started flagging, I was almost at the lowest elevation on this run–meaning I had about and hour of straight uphill to contend with to complete the journey.  Let the mind games begin!!43k - 7Once I hit the final major uphill, I committed to myself I would just downshift to a low gear but keep the wheels turning over.  I knew I would persevere if I just let it come to me and not worry about how long the hill was.  Just relax and go with it… At the summit I had a quick decent through a neighborhood of winding streets.  I could hear my feet slapping the ground quite violently which meant my form was deteriorating.  Eventually I made it to the final huge albeit short climb.  Slowly but surely I made it up while definitely redlining.  From that point I cruised to my make shift finish line and with that, the run was over. 43k - 8 This run instilled and reminded me of a few things:

  • Relax while running
  • Focus on the next step and the rest will work itself out
  • Keep on smiling–it makes you feel good
  • When tired, remember your form
  • I still need a lot of training for 100 miler in October
  • Life is good when you are committed to making it good