World War Me

We all fight ourselves to some extent. No matter the odds, the abilities of the people around you, or the struggles caused by outside influences, the biggest enemy you face on a daily basis is that voice inside your head that tells you that you’re not good enough, not strong enough, not young enough, not tough enough. That inner voice is compelling and very influential. Even those that walk around you, strutting as if they have the world figured out, struggle inside. Don’t let them fool you. The ones that push themselves to be first in every race are fighting the demons inside them telling them, as Ricky Bobby would say, that second place is the first loser.

My biggest obstacle in training, losing weight, racing, is myself. I have a hard time letting go of the past, of letting the failures of my youth not affect the present. It is a hard thing to do for me. I relate everything to the past, to the point that it affects where I am now.

It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell. ~ Buddha

“Maybe I should push a bit harder on this run?”

     “Remember last time you pushed hard and got injured?”

“Maybe I should apply for this position?”

     “Yeah but it’s all politics. You probably won’t get it anyway so why bother?”

“I really like this person!”

     “Yeah but every time you fall for someone they crush you in the end. Protect yourself.”

What results is a shell that you start putting around yourself for protection. Even if you don’t think it is there, it is. I have been doing a lot of self-reflection over that past few years and have discovered this shell. Especially emotionally. Something that happened in my past hardened me to the point that I am just recently discovering how deeply the damage actually is. I know I come across open in these pages and in the podcast, but in many ways, I am closed off, especially to certain subjects. I have taken playing Devil’s Advocate to the point that even those closest to me have no idea what my true thoughts are about politics, religion, relationships, etc. I always take the contrary side, even if I agree with the person I am talking to. I really don’t know why.

For some reason, anyone taking a stance that they know everything and there is no other answer irks me, and I have a hard time walking away from it. This is true in normal life as it is true in training. Take the nutrition example for instance. Tons of data is out there showing that carb loading pre-race does nothing for you and actually can hinder your performance. They are actually putting this information in magazines and books. So why are there still so many coaches telling people to do this? Is it arrogance on their part (“to Hell with science. I know what works!”)? Is it just an unwillingness to accept that something they have done for years is actually wrong? Does it come down to just not being able to admit you’re wrong? Maybe all of it?

“It is an awful thing to be betrayed by your body. And it’s lonely because you feel you can’t talk about it. You feel it’s something between you and the body. You feel it’s a battle you will never win . . . and yet you fight it day after day, and it wears you down. Even if you try to ignore it, the energy it takes to ignore it will exhaust you.” ~ David Levithan

I am not as black and white as people accuse me of being. I just don’t discuss certain things. And to be truthful, there are things that are asked of me that some want a black and white answer to, that to me, is not black and white. For example, when I am asked if I believe in God. That’s a complex question to me. It is not a simple Yes or No, at least not in my mind. The simple answer, the black and white version that people want when they ask me that is “yes, I believe in God”. The more complex, and one I won’t get into fully here is “do you believe in a God that sits in heaven watching us and judging us and when we die takes us all into his kingdom for eternity?”. The black and white answer to that is “no”. But like I said, it is more complex than that to me.

So, even at the ripe old age of 55, I keep fighting this war inside me, this World War Me. The difference in this war than all the others is the only casualty is me.

I am the only enemy.

Dead Zones

One of the hardest parts of being an adult-onset athlete is learning when to back off. We have become so ingrained to sit on our asses for years upon years, that when we do find the energy, the willpower, the need, to get up and start moving, the very thought of sitting back on that couch is anxiety producing. It scares us. This is a hard thing to explain to those who have never been on the “other side”, who has always been active. Taking a day off to them seems easy, and welcomed. When I have a recovery day on the schedule, especially on a weekend day like Saturday, I spend the whole day fidgety. The mere act of sitting still, relaxing, taking it easy is enough to throw me into a panic attack. I get images of scales going past the 300-pound mark again. Images of not being able to get up that hill the next day. Just typing this is making me antsy.

I will find reasons to prove my point as well, even if some are concocted.

“Took a day off did you? Well, you gained .6 pounds because of that, fella! Get your fat ass back on the road!!”

Our inner voices can be very insensitive at these times.

And we listen to these voices.

“We have lost dozens of pounds yet see in ourselves the same, self-loathing behemoth we were 5 years ago.”

It never goes away.

We can look at pictures of us before and now, and see … SEE … the difference and yet it makes no difference to us in our heads. A day off is giving in to the monster, the 300 pound beast inside me that wants, so badly, to win … at all costs.

So … when I struggled through 2016, into 2017, and now facing 2019 with injury after injury, along with new and exciting medical issues erupting, and with it some MORE meds to take, I feel like I am at my wit’s end. I was not sure in recently if I actually cared enough anymore to keep going. I was having a crisis of faith, in a way, and was about to give in to Rick (my inner voice has a name) and let the fat guy back out. I went from a low of 238 pounds in January 2014 back to 278 pounds. Rick is back. And He is angry.

I need help.

The first thing I needed was to get a grip on was my health and injuries. Normal, and I say normal in the most positive way, coaches spend time on your workouts and training plans. I needed more. I needed someone to look at what I could do, what I have done, and what I can do, and try to help me (I say “try” because I am very hard-headed at times) work through it in a logical manner. This is how I found Meghan Fanning at Zendurance Now. I had “met” Meghan through a few online groups I was part of, so when I was rambling on about what my issues were, and she started chiming in, I asked her onto the old podcast to discuss injury management. Once talking to her with Andrew on the show I felt like she understood the issues I was having (as well as Jennifer) so I contacted her about coaching us, and she agreed. Meghan is “Up North”, so the coaching is via email and Skype sessions, but what I like about her is that she tells you what she thinks, point-blank, but not to the point that she’ll tell you not to do something if you really want to do it. An example is the Disney Marathon in 2015. I knew I wasn’t ready, she knew it was probably a mistake, but she gave me some pointers and told me to just take the race as it comes and not to be afraid to pull off if I had to. I did end up DNF’ing that race (the first time I had ever DNF’ed a race), but I felt supported, even in that failure. That is what makes her a good coach. She may not like or agree with something, but she listens and attempts to work around the issue without getting me killed.

Unless you count Infinitus. I do think she was trying to get me killed there.

So, the body was taken care of, but that’s the easy part. The mind is the hard part because I have spent 55 years screwing my head up as much as possible without actually tipping over to insanity. I have been told a few times, and once very recently, that one of my strengths is my willingness to look inward and mess with my inner doctrines. This is not something most people can do, especially men, or so I am being told. I find it interesting to be honest, which is why my undergraduate degree is in psychology. I find the way people think fascinating, but it’s easy to look at others and find their … not faults I think … wrong word … find their roadblocks. Each of us has the capability to be great. It is there. The hard part is unlocking the barriers that prevent us from becoming great. Being honest with ourselves, being Self Aware, is important in this. It is not self-deprecating to refer to myself as a Fat Slow Triathlete. All of the parts of that title are true. I am Fat, I am Slow, and I am a Triathlete. So what’s the problem?

The term “Fat Slow Triathlete” has little to do with weight, quickness, ability, or even triathlon’s. It is meant to provide an inclusive atmosphere for the adult-onset athlete, where support and acceptance can go a long way in bringing everyone to a healthier lifestyle. It’s way of thinking that doesn’t allow for obstacles to get in the way of the things you want to achieve. If you’re “fat” … so what? “Slow”? ….so what? It’s a way of saying, yes I am Fat (or obese, or overly tall, or old, or young), and I am slow (or injured, or tired) but I can get off the couch and train, and I can compete in and complete any race I set my mind to complete.

A large portion of my change was based on getting my life together. By that, I mean deciding that enough is enough and making the effort to change your way of thinking and living. Although hard, it is not as difficult as you may think, once you get the initial “lethargy” over with as your body is readjusting. The hard part is facing the shaking heads, the tuts, and clicks of tongues, from people who at first ask you how you’re losing so much weight, and then when you tell them how, proceed to tell you how that is not going to work, despite having proof right in front of them to the contrary. It is amazing to me the reaction you get from people, especially those closest to you when you try to share with them what you have been doing to change. It’s as if they take offense to the fact that you are improving yourself like they are being personally attacked. They tell you all sorts of things: You’re neglecting your family! You’re obsessed and that is not healthy! You’re being a zealot!

They don’t see the full picture.

If you are struggling, I wholeheartedly recommend seeking out a coach, whether it be a fitness coach or a life coach. Do your due diligence and find one that matches your personality or fills a need you have in your life. I use joke a lot about how Tara Newman would ask me blunt questions like “well when you finish an Ironman, do you expect to be different?” … reminds me of something my grandfather would have said. My grandfather was my first “life coach”. He had his faults, as do we all, but he had this old world Italian way of looking at things that cut through the bullshit and hit the nail on the head. I have striven, in my life, to be like he was, at least in that manner. He has been gone for over 25 years now and I have been missing that person in my life ever since. So after struggling for that long with no one, I am starting, at this advanced stage, to fill that void with people I think like, act like, or wish to emulate in some way.

Andrew and I used to talk on the show about self-destruction or holding back just enough so that you had a reason for not being at the top of your game in training or in a race. It may not seem related but I think it is. A part of me was destroyed in that situation, and I am not sure that I ever fully recovered. There is always a sense of “distrust” in me about relationships, a stand-offishness that allows me the ability to not be hurt if the relationship ends. I have been doing better. Suffice to say, though, that some can be traced to my inner shittiness and cold-hearted side at the most inopportune moments. I can be an asshole to the nth degree at times. Being aware of it doesn’t make it right though. So, as far as training goes, it’s that part of me that just assumes failure.

Just wrap me up now

Pain is NOT Weakness Leaving the Body

At its core what is “pain”?

Pain is your body telling you that something is wrong. It is not a weakness. A weakness is when you have NO pain and your brain is telling you to stop, because you’re bored, or you’re tired. That is not true pain. There is a reason for pain, and true pain is a warning bell for you to STOP whatever it is you’re doing at that minute, or it WILL get worse. I have a couple of examples of this.

The first one happened to me in high school. Playing Strong Safety (or Monster Linebacker as we called it) for the DeLand High Bulldogs against the New Smyrna Beach Barracudas. NSB’s running back, a big corn-fed farm boy, #44, hit the line and we all stacked the middle to stop him. From the corner of my eye, I catch movement to the right and see #44 heading down the sideline. I take off after him and catch him at about the 5-yard line, grab a hold of his pads in the back (which would now be a horse collar foul) and yanked with everything I had. He flipped, OVER the goal line, and I went flying into the bench area. I got up and felt a twinge in my knee, but it had been the first week that I had earned a starting slot and I was NOT about to come off the field. So I limped to the huddle and lined up for the extra point. At this time in High School ball no one really kicked field goals, so they were going for two. They handed the ball to Farm Boy again, he came through the middle where I met him head on …. only he ducked under my tackle and slammed his helmet, and that big old farm boy head, straight into my knee.

I saw stars but managed to get to my feet and limp to the sideline where I was immediately yelled at by my coach for allowing not only the touchdown but also the extra point (obviously I had missed the practice where I was the sole person responsible on defense for stopping plays like this). I went to the bench and sat down but found I was having trouble bending my knee, so I motioned for a trainer. She pulled my pants over my knee and my kneecap was sitting to the outside of my leg. She freaked out and called the coach over, he looked at it, grabbed the kneecap, and pushed it back into place, then told the head trainer to get ice for the “pussy”.

Yes, that is NOT an exaggeration. It is exactly what he said …

On Monday afternoon I was back at practice.

I finally got the knee fixed in 2009 after once again ignoring pain while running on a treadmill and spraining the ACLs on BOTH knees.

A more recent example was a Fit Niche Pub Run in 2011. I usually am “off” for the first half mile or so of a run, so when I felt sharp stabbing pains in my right foot I didn’t think much of it. “It will loosen up,” I told myself. “You can’t afford to miss the miles with a marathon coming up”, so I pushed through it, and the funny thing was it did feel better after a while, and even after the run. I had forgotten about the pain until I got home and got my shoes off. It started hurting again but now was to the point that I could barely walk on it. So what did I do? I iced it for the night, iced it Friday, and Saturday headed out for my training run with Team In Training. I made it 2 miles before having to stop running. I went to a doctor and was told that I had probably ruptured the tendon the starts at my ankle and that I should rest it. I did …. for four days and tried to run the next week’s Fit Niche, made it two miles before hobbling back to the start. Iced it. Then Saturday headed to team run. Made it two miles. This finally got my attention and I sat until the week before the half marathon …. three weeks of no running. I finished the run with no pain and then finished the marathon.

So I started reading. Jeff Galloway and John Bingham mostly at that time. It has finally sunk in that I am not in these events to become a champion. I am in them to finish, to become healthy, and to have FUN. Where I had failed in the past to keep up with training was the same path I was heading down again. I had become obsessed with pace time, and finishing times, and had forgotten to have fun. PAIN is NOT fun.

Galloway says in his book that the pace for a half marathon should be one that is comfortable and that you can hold a conversation throughout the run and after the run. He has a formula that is basically multiplying your normal one-mile pace by 1.2 and that should give you your half marathon pace in the end. My normal pace at that time was in the 12:00 range, which means my half time should be in the 14:27 region. Guess where it was? Correct. 14:23. That means I held my normal pace through 13.1 miles, and I should be proud of that and be OK with that.

This might be I have started to “lose my motivation”. I have forgotten to have fun. When I watch Chrissie Wellington compete in the Ironman she was smiling the whole time …. she was pushing her body to its limit, sapping every bit of strength she had in her, yet she is HAVING FUN. The funny part is when you watch Crowie in the same race, he is grimacing, scowling, hating life. The “man” part.

So … PAIN is NOT a weakness. It’s a warning sign that you are pushing too far. If my Stepfather had heeded the PAIN he was feeling for a year when urinating instead of trying to be tough, we would have found the cancer, but instead, he waited until the bleeding was so bad he was almost passing out, and he died three months later at the age of 64. As “men”, as “athletes”, especially those of us that have seen success before athletically, we try to treat ourselves like we are still 17. but 17 was 38 years ago, and I have to accept that and change my definition of an athlete.

Am I an athlete? I don’t think so. Not really …. I may never really be one …. but I am going to keep racing …. and from now on I am going to have FUN doing it, no matter what my time and pace are.

11 Questions

In Episode 98 we were discussing the importance of learning to say no to things and to people and the concept of “busy” being a decision and why seeking a “work-life balance” might be telling you something about your choice in career (as posted by Debbie Millman in her book and on the Timothy Ferriss podcast). A lot of this was spawned from a book I am currently reading called “Tribe of Mentors” (by Timothy Ferriss). I am a big fan of Tim Ferriss dating back to the “4-Hour Workweek” and pre-order the majority of his stuff when it appears. He is insightful, logical, and clear, but mostly it is because he seeks help and guidance from others and reports them back.

As part of his method, he developed 11 questions that he asks his podcast guests and those he interviews for his book, and I was intrigued by them. I started wondering how I would personally answer them.

So I am going to:

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

The book I have purchased the most is “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson. I loved it the first time I read it and keep giving away my copies so I have to keep buying my own again. I must have read the book 20 times and even have listened to the audiobook (and saw the movie but we will not discuss it here). By far the best by Bryson, it tells the story of his decision to walk the Appalachian Trail and everything that entails, but also includes a detailed history of the trail itself, the region, and the issues facing it. Great book.

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? My readers love specifics like brand and model, where you found it, etc.

This is hard because the majority of my purchases are under $100 but if I had to choose one I would say it is the Moleskin Notebooks. I have one everywhere I go. They sit on my desk at work, on my desk at home, on my coffee table, and in my car. I even had one with me when I attempted the Infinitus in 2017. Thoughts and ideas pop into my head all the time and I am still just enough old school to like writing them down. The problem comes when I try to recall them at home when I wrote it at work. When I pool the books together I often find the same thing written in numerous places.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

I have had a lot of failures in my life, but I am not sure I’d call any of them a favorite. The danger in this question is the first thing that pops into my head are relationships. I have been married three times, which gives the impression that I am a “marriage hopper”, an impression I take considerable offense with. With each “failure” I have learned something, which is not to say I have learned what I WANT, but rather I have learned what I DON’T want. My first I was young (19) and really wasn’t ready for marriage. It was more of a connection to home when I was in the Navy, and when I went to shore duty it became very clear that we had grown distant. The second was a huge mistake, basically taking a friendship to a place it should never have been taken to. The third lasted 24 years. I am still learning what the take away from that one is, but I am figuring it out. I am not sure if it will lead to later success. Maybe the “success” is that I need to wait for the right person. Some say it is seeking perfection, which is fruitless, but like my favorite saying goes; I don’t know how much time I have left. I might as well be happy.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)

My favorite saying of all time is “Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are“. A simple saying in the mirror of all cars right? It means to me that the things in your past may feel like they are right there on top of you, but in reality, they are far behind you and you need to let them go and move forward. Some are harder to let go of than others; hurt, anger, betrayal (see the previous answer for that one) and stick with your psyche for a long time. But you cannot be happy, be at peace, until those past transgressions, those against you AND caused by you, are truly put behind you and released.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

My first instinct was to say “my bike” but that is cheating because I had help obtaining that item, so I have to think of something I personally have invested in. This was a hard question for me because when I hear the term “invest” I immediately go to money, and this doesn’t have to be about money. So I think of time, effort, etc. I’d have to say that the time invested in myself since 2010 has been the most worthwhile. Yes, it put a strain on an already strained relationship and caused as much heartache and heartbreak as it has caused good, but the end result is that I am healthier, wiser, and opened up a new door for me (blog, podcast, coaching) that I have never envisioned for myself.

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

OK. Deep confession time. I played in bands from a young age and I still miss it. I am not comfortable in most public situations and more apt to be in the corner by myself than to be mingling (unless I am brought into the conversation by someone), but when I was playing in a band I was very at ease. I miss that feeling. So my strange habit is that when I listen to music I still envision myself on stage playing. I have done this my whole life, and it always seemed weird to me, but what I have found later in life is that it calms me, especially if feeling anxious or depressed or angry. So I am going to keep doing it.

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

Easy one. The newfound running, cycling, swimming, hiking habits have improved my life, my mental state, and my demeanor. I am still heavy, and I still struggle with some mental issues, but I am 100% better than I was 5 years ago.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

The easy answer is to forget about the money focus and find something you love to do. Seth Godin said it best that instead of planning for a vacation, seek a life that you do not need to escape from. Stay single, do everything you want to do while you can before settling down. You have your whole life ahead of you. People you love or say they love you will be there in the end if they really do. Find your own place in the world. Not your parent’s place, or your grandparent’s place. It drives me crazy when I hear someone say they joined the <<insert military branch here>> because their father and grandfather did. That’s nonsense. I believe the military is a great place to “grow up” and learn responsibility and perseverance, but you can learn that elsewhere too. Do what YOU want to do. Live YOUR life, not theirs

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

So many to count, but if I had to choose just one it’s when someone says “well, at least you have a job”. I cannot tell you how much I hate that saying. It made sense when jobs were scarce, and I was out of work most of 2011, but to settle for something you don’t like, or just because the “benefits” are good is soul-sucking. Believe me, I know. I am knee deep in it right now. As I said in the previous portion, find something you love when you’re young and before you have life responsibilities.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?

I am not sure I am really good at saying “no” when I need to say it. At work, you are hand tied because you cannot just say no to things. I have been saddled with jobs that others should be doing because I happen to be faster and more accurate, so it adds to my daily workload. I should say no to it but I cannot. I still worry too much about hurting feelings, even at the risk of my own mental state and being. I like things comfortable and I am done apologizing for wanting that. So this is my goal. Learn to say no to things that do not make you happy and the things that do not move you toward your goal. Saying no cuts out the static in your life.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

I don’t have a lot of friends, so talking to people is not an option most of the time. Even those that I count as my friends are not always available, and even when they are they are not there all the time. Not through any fault of theirs. They have their lives to deal with also. I tend to retreat into myself. I listen to music. I binge on stupid TV shows or movies. I go for a run or a bike. Basically, anything to get my mind off the issue is what I do.

What would YOUR answers be?