Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dominate Adversity

Everyone faces adversity in certain points in their lives.  Sometimes it can be a very dramatic life-or-death situation and other times it may not even register as a significant event in the moment.  I love stories of people overcoming adversity.  People who in the face of overwhelming duress, find the fortitude to stay committed to a course of action or a goal and in the end are triumphant because of the immense mental strength and fortitude it took to persevere.

Amy Palmiero-Winters running at Badwater last year just 10 days after completing WS 100

This is probably also part of the draw for me to continue to push the envelope with running ultramarathons and seeking out challenging physical circumstances and situations that require mental stamina.  I always seek to push myself to that moment where physically things are becoming very uncomfortable and mentally there is a decision to make regarding the current adversity.  Do I fold or does my mind, body, and soul go beyond previous limitations and soar to new heights?

I had plenty of chances to cave after running hard early in this 50 miler

I watched the movie 127 hours for the first time this week.  I never read the book and I saw limited coverage of Aron Ralston’s story when it actually took place in 2003, although I was aware of the general particulars of his story.  Uh, wow!  Of course it is completely hardcore to cut-off one’s own arm under any circumstances.  I think we all would like to think that in a similar scenario we would have the tenacity and pure guts to do what Aron did.  I do not believe that kind of resolve is very common at all.  From the very beginning he took a very measured approach to his situation and kept recalculating his options all along the way.  Of course he did have a number of freak-out moments.  Who would not in this situation?  127 hours is a long time to be alone with your thoughts under this kind of duress. 

I have not read the book yet, but James Franco did a great job in a fantastic adaptation.

As a thrill-seeker, I found myself relating to Aron’s sense of wonder and adventure about the natural world.  I have scurried about my apartment in very similar fashion grabbing this and that while packing for an impromptu adventure on the weekend.  I love taking pictures of these adventures from unique perspectives.  Stuff you do not get to see if you are couch-bound.  I hope I never am in a similar situation where my life is on the line, but if it is, I would like to think I would have the courage to persevere as Aron did.

Being at the right place at the right time is no accident.  Explore your world!

Adversity and courage come in many different shapes and sizes.  Lisa Smith-Batchen running on a broken foot for over 1,200 miles of her 2,500 mile journey across the United States last summer was an incredible display of tenacity.  This picture of her finishing in her home town in Idaho last summer still gives me goose bumps every time I see it as I absorb the depth of her commitment to her cause and the mental strength it took to endure and overcome every physical barrier along the way.    

This pic was in my last post as well.  I take much inspiration from what it represents.

People we bump into during our everyday comings and goings are facing struggles we will never be aware of.  I use my local Starbuck’s as my home office away from home.  Sometimes it is good to have a change of scenery and people watch while working on my laptop.  There are lots of regulars I have come to know and the staff at MY Starbuck’s is great.  Cool people all with amazing tales to tell themselves.  Do you know how sometimes you meet people that emit this great energy and light?  One of the barista’s at this store is just such a person.  Her lightness of spirit and general joy is unmistakable.  Over the past few years we have become good friends.  She is also the mother of 3 very young boys.  About a month ago, Trish confided in me that she had a degenerative ocular disease that was going to leave her blind within a short number of years.  She had to consider various paths of treatment including intense chemotherapy.  Through it all she remained her usual vivacious self.  Ultimately she decided not to take the path of no-return involving chemotherapy.  By choosing this path she knew the odds were pretty good she would end up legally blind unable to see her children as they grew up.

This pic tells you all you need to know about Trish's attitude in life.

I have battles of my own.  None are life and death thankfully.  Currently my Achille’s tendon has been bothering me pretty badly.  After lots of ice and rest the last few days, it felt pretty good this evening as I headed out the door for a very gently run.  I planned on doing about 7 miles very easy.  2.5 miles in and it started to feel a bit tweaky so I shut things down.  I turned for home, cut the pace to almost nothing, and resolved myself to enjoying a brisk walk home in the fading daylight of a beautiful day. Put in the proper perspective, all is good in my world.

It was a beautiful evening just to be out last night.

I thought about Aron and Lisa as I walked home tonight and the strength of character and courage they and people like them display in these scenarios.  Now I am not about to tell you that I found the courage to finish my run strong tonight.    I did walk it in the rest of the way home.  But an amazing thing happened in the last couple hundred yards of my journey tonight.  As I approach my apartment Trish the barista comes bounding across the parking lot of the grocery store next door from out of no where.  “I am not going blind!”  she proclaims.  A miracle!  Alternative treatment options worked and she was given a new diagnosis that she no longer has the degenerative condition that was going to rob her of seeing her boys grow into young men.  I have no doubt that if she had gone blind she would not have changed a bit.  Her spirit and joy for life would have persevered through it all. 

The adversities and stories of triumph of others always remind us that no matter how difficult our own circumstances are there is always someone who was dealt a worse hand and was able to persevere.  Remember, when things are at their very worst and the storm clouds are the darkest, you must keep going.  It is beautiful on the other side! If you quit you will never get to experience that break through moment of pure joy and bliss.  Ironically, the break through moment for Aron came when he broke his arm so he could get on to the business of cutting off his already dead arm and get on with his life!

I cannot do a post about courage and not include an image from my favorite movie.

Will you be ready to act when the moment of truth comes for you?  Will you have the courage to seize the moment and break through?  I wish you all strength and courage for all of these moments of your life.  This world needs more Aron’s, Lisa’s, and Trish’s to inspire us.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Running Hope to the World

I asked what people thought the sneak peek of this picture was going to be all about.  Tarahumari was the most common response of course.  They are beautiful people living in a beautiful land.  Caballo Blanco had the 2nd running of the Copper Canyon races this past weekend to support these indigenous people and their running culture.  I would have loved to have been there to experience that.  Perhaps next year!

These wonderful feet belong to the shining faces below.  These three boys live on the island of San Pedro near Ambergris Caye in Belize.  I was there this past weekend for a spur-of-the-moment trip with my girlfriend Calley. San Pedro is a small island where most of the people ride bikes, golf carts, or walk for transportation.  These boys were running up and down the street hawking bracelets and other trinkets to the few tourists who were around.  I watched them as they joyfully ran barefoot along the cobblestones with no thought or awareness of proper running form, foot-strike, etc.  They certainly were not wondering when the newest version of manufacturer X’s trail shoe would hit the shelves.  I wondered if they even owned a pair of shoes. 

The people of San Pedro and Belize in general are very welcoming and happy people.  Everywhere we went the locals were friendly and seemed very genuinely happy.  It is a very simple lifestyle that most live.  Housing is very basic.  People do not own cars, excessive electronics, or other “stuff”.  Sunshine is abundant and just enough of a cool breeze always seems to be blowing in this island paradise.  The thing I liked most about San Pedro was that it was not commercialized at all.  Where I live in “the bubble” all you see as you drive down the street are the same homogeneous clustering of national stores every couple of miles.  Most of the “resorts” here are over-sized residences with some beach-side cabanas for guests.  The place Calley and I stayed only had 2 other people staying there when we got there and they left after 2 days. 

We stayed at Xamen Ek resort.  The reef is only a few hundred yards off the dock.

Now I am not under some illusion that these gentle people are without problems.  Most of the problems we face here in the United States are completely self-induced and completely avoidable.  Take the economic woes of the last few years as an example.  Greed, over-indulgence, and a general focus on things that have nothing to do with true happiness have left many here lost and awash in a sea of debt and other misery.  Most have given up on the dreams of their youth.  Slowly the ground is given up on one’s dreams inch-by-inch. 

In San Pedro the worries are much more basic.  These three boys were not selling trinkets on the street at night because they wanted to.  They have to do this to help put food on the table.  Reading the local paper I was able to gather that the children here face many perils.  Abandonment and abuse do happen.  Not as badly as in some third-world places, but many are essentially living on the street largely on their own at 8 to 10 years-old. 

Rush hour in downtown San Pedro

Health care is a huge issue here.  It is not the same ridiculous entitlement issue that is happening in the United States.  There is no hospital on San Pedro.  There is no Urgent Care center.  There are a few general practitioners around, but the care is very basic.  The proprietor of the resort we stayed at had a friend who had a basic case of food poisoning misdiagnosed as kidney stones!  She ended up having to take a plane to the mainland and was hospitalized for 2 days in Belize City. 

I had an amazing couple of days overall in Belize with Calley.  We went snorkeling on the amazing reef there.  We swam with sea turtles, sharks, and manta rays.  It was very relaxing.  It is a place I would go back to again and again.  There is much of the Mayan culture and jungle ecosystem we did not have time to explore this time around.  Most of our activities were sand and surf driven. 

Calley commandeered my hat early on.  It looks much better on her.

Most of my posts have connection with running.  I think running is universal across geography, culture, language, etc.  We all have feet right?  Many of my amazing running friends are intimately involved in very important causes.  They use their running exploits to raise money and awareness about situations that need to be attended to.  They have fully embraced the concept put forth by Ghandi:  “Be the change in the world that you seek.”  These people do not just talk about of empathize with people who need our help.  They take action. 

Lisa Smith-Batchen is a perfect example.  For years she has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of children in Africa.  Along with her amazing spiritual sage, Sister Marybeth, they have raised millions of dollars and directly impacted thousands of children’s lives in a profound way.  Just last year she raised over $700,000 as she ran 50 miles in all 50 states over a 60 day period of time.  That is 2,500 miles for the mathematically challenged.  Half of those miles she did while running on a broken foot!

Never bet against these two.  They are a powerful force for good in this world.

There are so many people like Lisa that I know in the Ultra community who are making a huge difference in the world around them.  Caballo Blanco with the Tarahumari.  Jason Harper with his grassroots BE CHANGE campaign.  There are too many to list here.  The main point is this:  It only takes one committed, motivated, passionate person to make a profound difference.  The scale of the effort does not matter.  It can be one person executing a random act of kindness for one person.  If we all did this once each day the impact would be limitless.

Jason has impacted the health and wellness of over 500 children in Sacramento and inspired a movement much larger than himself within his own community and beyond.

No longer am I inspired just to run just to see how far I can run or how fast I can get there.  Yes, I will always revel in the simple joy of running and the freedom of having my feet take me anywhere I want to go with the sun on my back and the wind in my face, but for me it is about leveraging my passion and energies connected with running to make a positive impact in someone else’s life.  Running has been transformational for my body and spirit.  It is time for me to pass on the gift.

Lisa finishing mile 2,500 for the children on her broken foot.  No words necessary.

Whose life are you going to change today?  It just might be yours.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sneak preview of my next post...

Here is a sneak peek of a picture that tells an important part of the story for my next blog.

Coming soon!

What do you think these feet represent?  

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Burnout baby!

Below is an excerpt from the newest post on a blog I frequent:
"Everyone experiences burnout.
Maybe you feel overworked, sick of your marriage or stressed about money. Maybe you’re living a daily cliché: one step forward, two steps back. Life can be tricky like that.
Believe it or not, burnout can be a beautiful thing. Instead of surrendering to burnout, what if you could use it to transform your life? Just like the story of the Phoenix, what if burnout was a chance for rebirth?
Four years ago I was overworked, stressed and a bit burned out. Now, I’m in a much different place. Here’s what I’ve done since 2007 to help redefine my life.
  • Quit smoking for good (after failing more than eight times)
  • Eliminated over $42,000 in debt.
  • Convinced my employer to let me work from home two days a week.
  • Stuck to a budget so we could live on one income which allowed me to …
  • Quit my day job.
  • Started to eat right and exercise.
  • Ended my relationship with stuff."
This resonated with me on two primary fronts.  The first was that I could totally relate to this person and the feelings they were experiencing a few years back.  Hitting the bottom and the feeling of burnout has been a part of my journey in the past.  I am not currently experiencing burnout.  Not unless you count how wicked fast my feet are in my new Newton's and all the rubber I burn in my speed work from my training at the Michael Johnson Performance Center!

The second was due to a number of people who have approached me lately looking for advice on how to get out of their rut and shed themselves of these feelings of burnout.  The themes are universal.  Job.  Relationship.  Diet.  Fitness.  Some are dealing with all four of these elements, while others may only have one or two areas they are trying to move out of stagnation.  

I believe one of the keys to moving out of this negative and toxic zone begins from within.  What is the common denominator in each of these four particular areas?  You are!  Attitude creates altitude.  This may be over-simplifying things, but true wisdom in this world usually is this simple.  It all starts with you.  You have to make the conscious decision that your current state of affairs, while undesirable, are only temporary. You can change anything about your life you choose at any particular moment. It may take several additional steps for you to arrive at your chosen outcome, but the longest journey begins with a single step.

Leave your old self behind!  90 seconds of greatness.

Two of my favorite quotes/mantras from my ultrarunning experiences standout to me in relation making real change in your life and have the dedication to follow through.

In regards to race pace:  "Start slowly and taper off..."  Taking immediate action is good to create some momentum, but it is more important to make consistent forward progress at a pace you can sustain.  A flurry of desperate activity with a quick flame-out will not create lasting change.

In regards to persistency:  "Run if you can.  Walk if you must.  Crawl if you have to."  All forward progress is significant.  Even the smallest of movements forward in your quest for growth and change gets you that much closer to where you desire to be.  Sometimes in an ultramarathon you can feel so good you think you could run like this all day.  Minutes later you may be reduced to walking with no perceived window of time that you can see that you will be able to run like you were earlier.  Invariably, your fortunes will change many times over when running 20-30 hours consecutively.  The key is to always be making RELENTLESS FORWARD MOTION!  You only fail to reach your destination when you quit moving forward, no matter how slow that may be.

Get moving!  Be the change you seek in YOUR world!