Tuesday, September 20, 2011

You are already good enough ...

As I sit down to start writing, I already know this could go in countless directions. What I am intending to say is something like this. "We are all trying so hard to be good enough, for ourselves or for others, and are constantly bombarded with messages about how to be better and more. But right now, you are all you ever need to be and are already perfect. This sounds like an empty platitude but it is infinitely true."

I jotted a note to myself a few days ago that said "I am pretty good at so many things, but have not figured out what I want to be truly great at ...". At the time, I think it was meant as a call to arms to get cracking on figuring out what that latter thing is. In a recent business bestseller, Jim Collins stated, "Good is the enemy of great". His assertion is that when we settle for good, we won't demand great. And I often find myself sympathetic to this viewpoint. Voltaire had already asserted the corollary 235 years earlier, "The better is the enemy of the good". It is commonly understood that he was advising us to not overlook the good, always in search of the better.

As much as I am a happy guy, I have also spent a lot of time taking much for granted, and even beating myself up. My wonderful erstwhile-wife often pointed this out to me - that I should enjoy my successes a bit more, instead of deciding that if I had already accomplished something it couldn't be that great and press on in search of more, more, more. Granted, that is likely my hard-wiring, and in many ways I would never want to change it. But, I had a moment of satori in a mindfulness meditation program I was taking a few years ago when we were asked to identify a word that limited us in our lives. Most people came up with words like "stupid", "lazy", "weak". The one that leaped to my mind was "exceptional" - and I knew immediately what I meant ... that nothing was good enough that wasn't exceptional. Even being exceptional at ordinary things didn't cut it, nor pretty good at exceptional things. Only being truly exceptional at truly exceptional things would "make me satisfied". Note the previously mentioned trap - if I could do it, that automatically ruled out its exceptionality to me.

And don't even get me started on "other people"! I preach acceptance and love, but have always struggled with impulsive judgement and dismissal. It actually drives me a bit crazy about myself. I know it is not just me doing this, but it is my voice in my head that I have to listen to. "Look at that idiot." "That poor unenlightened soul." "How can he/she possibly be happy living like that?" At least now I catch myself as soon as the thoughts come up, and don't give them any power, but they are still there.

I often tell the story of a conversation I had at a music festival a few years ago. I saw people lined up to pay $30+ for temporary tattoos and, for some reason took umbrage with that. "I don't get why the fuck any adult would get a temporary tattoo for a music festival", I opined to my friend. His reply was not intended to be particularly philosophical, but it led to a weekend long reflection for me: "I don't see why there is anything for you to get." Of course! Why was it up to me to judge anyone? How would the world be better if everyone were the same, much less the same as me? Why was I lowering my energy about what others were doing, and then sending that shitty energy out into the world? Their choices are every bit as valid as mine, and I'm sure there are lots of things for which others feel justified in critiquing me.

Where does all of this condemnation and "better than" and negativity come from? Well, our basic societal institutions are drenched in these themes. The predominant Western religion makes it clear that we are "born of sin" and must live a careful life conforming to someone else's rules until we die, at which point we will face "judgement" determining whether we are allowed into paradise or cast into a fiery eternity of suffering. Our entire "growth based economy" is a pyramid scheme that can only work if people buy more and more and more. To ensure this, everyone must be dissatisfied, unhappy, even afraid - and respond by spending money they don't have on things they don't need. Marilyn Manson expressed this well in this clip from his interview with Michael Moore in "Bowling For Columbine". And our "winner take all" party-politics system has become the ultimate zero-sum game with winners and losers and vicious tactics intended to convince voters that "we are right and they are wrong" (I am particularly familiar with this dynamic, as my short time as a "candidate" brought some of my basest tendencies to the surface and actually upset me significantly).

I was raised in a wonderful family and given every conceivable advantage. My parents worked hard to instill "good", solid values in their children - which were, naturally, couched in lots of good vs bad and right vs wrong. I attended "good" schools where we were taught the "right" way to think and to do things, so that we could someday have "good" jobs and have a "good" life.

Life has, in many ways, become an unending competition. We must compete, as individuals and as countries, for jobs. According to the 60" propaganda machine on your wall, "reality" means outwitting and outplaying your opponent. Every face needs making over and every ride needs pimping. Nothing can ever be good enough. Think you are doing ok? Well, then you'd better tune in and see these cribs! More more more.

Where is this getting us? I honestly believe that it is causing us to miss most of the beauty in life. "We" have more than ever, and are less happy. Most of us have so much more than we truly need, but so much less than we have learned to want - and it is the latter that we notice.

Yes we have problems. We are polluting and harming our planet. Governments are going broke. People are getting depressed and frustrated. But, despite what the talking heads try to convince us of, the solution is not to work harder and spend more to keep the system working. Logically, this can only make things "worse".

Instead, slow down, breathe deeply and look around at the beauty that is already everywhere. Consume less. Smile more. Help someone. Whenever you are feeling lack, try giving something away. Let go of the need to have all of the answers and understand that we don't even know what the questions are :)

Whether you subscribe to science's Big Bang Theory or The Bible's Book of Genesis or any other faith system,  the entire Universe was created at the beginning of time. Before that, there was nothing to speak of. Then, rather suddenly, everything was here. Whichever story you choose to believe, that core fact remains: there was nothing, and then from that nothing there is now everything. And it is either all God or it is all matter, or it is all energy : and in any of these cases we are all A PART of that, not APART from it. We are not all just IN this together. We ARE this together.

Bringing that back to the practical, what does it mean? To me it takes the pressure off! None of the "noise" that makes up what we have come to see life being about actually matters. I can choose to make it matter, as most of us so often do, but the world was here before I was born and will be long after I die - and I am not responsible for that. There is nothing that the world, or God, or The Universe needs from me. I get to decide what I want my life to be and, whatever that ends up being is absolutely fine. Because, no matter what, I am PART of the whole thing. And a part that no one or nothing else can possibly be. And you are just as integral a part. And so is everyone and everything else.

So, in light of all of that, I am going to let go of the universal steering wheel and know that nothing needs to happen for me to be good enough, and that everything that happens to/with/for/from/by me has value. I am still free to strive for anything that I want, and to create games called "important" and "improvement" and "success"- and can do so boldly and bravely knowing that everything is perfect no matter what.

And, most "importantly", I am going to look upon everything and everyone else as perfect as well, and as beautiful, and as intrinsically related.

I love life. I love myself. I love you.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Humbled but happy :)

So, yesterday I set out to find out if I could complete a 100 Mile Ultramarathon with next to zero training. Well, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Meaning that I accomplished the mission by finding out that I couldn't. Not even fucking close! I dropped out somewhere around the 42 mile mark after a nasty tumble, and actually had to hitch a ride with a volunteer from an aid station.

Here is my brief race summary:

  • arrived Friday evening at 6:30pm, awesome pre-race meal of spaghetti and salad, lots of very nice folks. Got checked in, weighed in, briefed, etc.
  • slept in back of truck, after a tall-boy Stella, hitting the hay about 11pm
  • up at 5:30am, breakfast of coffee and bagels, bathroom visit, into race gear. Running in tights, shorts, Mud Mafia t-shirt, compression hi-socks over ankle dri-fits, ballcap and low-tech shoes. Camelback with water, tons of gels, extra socks and my lamp.
  • 6am start. Still dark. 100 milers, 50 milers and 50km all starting together (25km starting at 9am)
  • gorgeous morning - 10C? Sun came up as we rounded a lake, so beautiful. Day warmed up but never too hot.
  • course was very hilly and technical. 20% forest roads and 20% biking trails. Lots of rocks and roots and uneven footing.
  • awesome aid stations - well stocked with food and water and electrolyte drinks. Very encouraging, friendly volunteers.
  • I felt phenomenal the whole way "out" ... the course was 25 miles out, then back, then repeat. My cardio was perfect, never winded at all and very solid energy. My legs were definitely feeling the steep hills, though, and my feet were very sore - especially the 5th metatarsals on both ... where I have big bunion issues and stress fracture worries from earlier this year. Was still confident I could press through.
  • A few miles after the aid station at the 30 mile (50km) mark, disaster struck ... I was running full-stride, in one of the very few flat, open stretches of trail. Suddenly I was falling hard. My right foot had gone straight into the loop of an exposed root and stopped dead. My whole body twisted and I landed on the outside of my left foot, feeling an awful crunch before landing squarely on my face in the dirt. I stood up and dusted off and tested my weight on my foot. It seemed reasonably ok, all things considered, so I started running again but had a significant hobble. In short order I knew that I was not finishing my hundred. I decided to finish the first 50 and call it a day. After several more miles, even that truncated plan became moot, as my foot throbbed to the point of hop/walking to the next aid station. When I arrived I asked them to mark me DNF and sat at the picnic table. There was no way I was taking my shoe off (in fact, it stayed on until I had driven all the way to Orillia), but I snacked and hydrated and visited until another volunteer arrived and one of them could drive me back to base.
  • So, less than 12 hours after starting what was to be a 24 hour race, I was driving back to Orillia.
And, I can honestly say that I am OK with that. For starters, I did not deserve to finish. I had not put in the work and was being a bit foolhardy. Which is totally okay - that is not an unusual strategy for me! Sometimes it works out ... this time, not so much. I could try to blame the DNF on a fluke accident, but the fact is that my legs were terribly fatigued and I'd already dodged the bullets of several trips and stumbles on the rugged terrain - it was only a matter of time until one of them caused an injury.

In my last post I quoted Dean Karnazes saying, “A good athlete, a strong athlete ... can fake their way through a marathon. They can kind of grunt it out. It might not be pretty, but they can kind of get there. With an ultramarathon, you can’t skimp on your training. It will lay you flat.” To which I reply, "Right you are my friend!"

I truly loved this Facebook comment from Kristin Lundy last night, just after I announced my DNF, "Congrats on 42! Hope your ankle gets better soon. Anyway, now I can tell you, you have to TRAIN for a 100 miler silly! You wouldn't have been able to walk for a week!!!! Let me know when the next one is ;)". I met Kristin and her partner Jack Cary at the McNaughton Ultra in Vermont in May. I was training for The Death Race and Jack (a 2-time Death Race finisher) was crewing for Kristin in her 30 mile ultra. She then went on to do something unbelievable ... she just kept on running and completed a full 100 miles. Just because. No official result. No belt buckle. She HAD done the work, and was planning a 100 later in the summer, but she "felt it" and went for it and did it. THAT is a rock star move :) And I honestly appreciate that she didn't offer me her advice before my race. Very cool to let me learn it on my own.

A beautiful moment for me... During the hobbling stretch at the end, an old fellow caught up to me. I am guessing he had to be in his seventies, white hair and white beard. He was moving at a fast walk and as he pulled alongside he said, "You look like you're in a bit of trouble my friend." I explained what had happened and that I was done for the day. I asked how he was doing and he said, "Oh, I don't know really." To which I replied, "Where are you at?" (Meaning, "What's up that has you uncertain?") ... His answer was awesome - "Well, right this second I am exactly one foot ahead of you in a one hundred mile race!"

Irish Joe is his name, and he is fantastic. I picked up my pace to be able to enjoy his company, and he shared with me that he knew he could finish the hundred miles but was worried he wouldn't make the 30 hour cutoff. He has run the Haliburton Ultra 15 of the 18 years it's been held, but had never stepped up to the biggest distance until now. We chatted about other races he has competed in and I was thrilled when he mentioned a 100 mile snowshoe race in Vermont. Turns out we are both huge fans of the crew at Peak Races, and shared stories about Andy Weinberg and Joe DeSena and their awesome crew down in Pittsfield. When we arrived at the aid station, we parted ways - my race was over and he steamed on, but not before giving me a big hug and insisting that I email him before heading down next to VT so he can join me. I hope, and sincerely believe, that I will see his name among the 100 mile finishers when the list gets posted.

Today I am very comfortable with my decision to withdraw. My feet are sore but salvageable - which may not have been the case after many more miles. I have an even greater respect for my ultra friends. I am still so new to all of this - ultras, marathons, obstacle running - and took for granted how hard they work and how amazing their accomplishments are. And I am re-inspired to buckle down and build the skills and stamina to run alongside them. I will absolutely be back in Haliburton next September to take care of this unfinished business.

But first, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is my next race. It was my first ever race, of any kind, in 2009 when I finished in 5:21. I returned last year and improved to 4:36. This year I would love to see a 3:59. As Dean pointed out, I can still fake my way through another marathon, but after that the real works starts!!

Friday, September 9, 2011

"You don't have to be fast. But you'd better be fearless."

"I agree to the dumbest things ..."  Katy McCabe

I just read that wonderful quote on the Facebook wall for an insane group workout planned for October 9th. Katy McCabe is one of the coolest, funniest, fittest chicks you could ever meet. The event is unofficially called "Four Thousand Ways To Fuck Up A Ten Mile Run" and it just started as a "wouldn't it be cool" conversation. Wouldn't it be cool to run 400m, then do 25 pushups, 25 situps, 25 squats and 25 burpees ... and repeat the whole thing 40 times. I threw the idea up on Facebook two days ago, inviting a few Spartan/Death Race/Crossfit friends, and all of a sudden there are over 50 people participating, all over North America, and lots more pending. Too much fun!!

Agreeing to the dumbest things has long been my modus operandi, although some would point out that I am, as often as not, the one also generating the dumb ideas. My most recent dumb idea was signing up for tomorrow's 100 Mile Ultramarathon on the trails of Haliburton Forest. Yep. 100 Miles.

That is about 70 miles further than I have ever run. Two marathons, yes. But both on flat, paved roads with crowds cheering us along. This will be all day and all night, in the dark woods, on steep mountain bike trails. Four marathons, back to back to back to back.

Why did I sign up for the 100 mile? There IS a 50 mile, a 50km and a 26km division. In fact, my original intention was to sign up for the 50 Mile, as that would be a huge leap from what I have done so far. But I didn't get around to it. I wasn't compelled to sign up. Probably because the outcome was predictable ... I would finish, sore but intact. The 100 on the other hand - there is some serious mystery there. Some BIG question marks.
“A good athlete, a strong athlete ... can fake their way through a marathon. They can kind of grunt it out,” says Dean Karnazes. “It might not be pretty, but they can kind of get there. With an ultramarathon, you can’t skimp on your training. It will lay you flat.”
That quotation came from a recent article in the Globe and Mail newspaper, entitled "Ultramarathons test physical and mental endurance". In it, Karnazes (one of the world's greatest distance runners), explains the attraction to, and perils of, ultramarathoning. I am that good, strong athlete who has faked my way through both marathons without any training. Unfortunately, I am approaching the ultra with the same regimen - i.e. none. I have run exactly twice since the end of June, both times well under 10km. I had a good excuse, though ... I went into the Death Race with stress fractures in both feet and came out with bunions and pinched tarsal nerves. So a bit of rest was in order ;) And THAT is why I am classifying this as a "dumb idea".

Another awesome take on ultramarathoning comes from an unexpected source - The Oatmeal. It is one of the funniest blogs anywhere, and has led to a spectacularly hilarious book (to which Jack recently guffawed all the way home from Vermont). In this great post, he recounted his recent 50 Mile Ultra experience.

Anyway, that is all I have to say about this today. In a few hours I am driving to Haliburton for the 6pm dinner/briefing and then I will sleep in my truck. My goal is to finish in 24 hours. The cut-off is 30. (The nightmare would be a 31 hour pace - haha!) The course is a 50 mile loop ... twice.

I cannot imagine a more challenging format, mentally. If it is a 100 mile loop, once you are halfway you HAVE to finish as it is the same distance either way. On a ten mile loop (like the McNaughton course), you just have to convince yourself to do ten more miles again and again. I am anticipating the voices in my head as I complete the first 50 mile loop ... "You have finished a 50 mile ultra!", "That is twice what you have ever run!", ""That is good enough!!". And it will likely be just approaching sunset too ... so I will be heading out into the dark for the second half. With no support team.

I will let you know Sunday how this very dumb idea works out :)

PS ... The title to this post was stolen from the phenomenal book "Born To Run" by Chris McDougall. Buy It! Read It!!

Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, And The Greatest Race The World Has Never Seen

Friday, September 2, 2011

Just dropping in to say "hi" ... :)

Wow. Another big hiatus. Funny how this blog goes in fits and starts. If you've figured that I just didn't have anything good to write about of late, I can assure you that it's very much the opposite ... I have just been too busy doing awesome stuff to sit down and recount it! :)

This has truly been as good a summer as I've ever had - and I have enjoyed some spectacular ones (windsurfing in Europe, working at a summer resort, planting trees in Northern Ontario, living in Whistler, BC, etc). 

I have shared several huge adventures with Jack - he crewed for me at The Death Race, joined me at Camp Bisco in Albany, NY, and paddled the Missinaibi River with me (a pending blog post about a 7 day trip that turned into a 9 day odyssey, with 3 for 3 destroyed canoes and some impromptu rockclimbing our way out of Hell's Gate Canyon after a missed portage and some out-of-our-league whitewater followed by waterfalls). Along the way, he also caught five of the biggest pickerel I have ever seen - all in one afternoon! Back home, Jack fell completely in love with waterskiing/wakeboarding/kneeboarding and any other excuse to be towed behind Papa's boat. :)

Katy represented Canada at the Pan-American Wrestling Championships in Mexico, and let me be her personal chef/trainer/assistant for the whole week prior helping her prepare. Then she was home just three days before heading to Poland and Germany for 3 weeks of training camps. Earlier in the summer, she medaled at her first international meet, and then I spent five days in Timmins with her at the Northern Bear Wrestling Camp. When we've had her home, there have been lots of trips to Canada's Wonderland with her awesome friends and some chill time on Lake Couchiching in the boat.

In the midst of all of that I have managed to put together a fairly productive summer as well - selling some terrific homes, coaching several great clients, shooting a weekly arts-scene program for our regional cable station, and booking a busy speaking schedule for the fall. I also earned my Open Water Diver certification from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and did some diving in Lake Simcoe

What is coming up? Well, this is a holiday weekend and we will be doing lots of sailing, wakeboarding and hanging by the bonfire. Friends have booked a cruise ship and a band for Sunday night for an annual summer ending shindig. Straight from the boat, I am planning to drive overnight to Pittsfield, VT for a few days to help clean up from the terrible flooding caused by Hurricane Irene. Almost as soon as I get back I am off to Haliburton for my first ever 100 mile ultramarathon. I had originally planned to do the 50 miler, until a friend said - "Why don't you just do the Hundred?" Strangely that is all it took. Along the same line of thinking, a Death Race compatriot encouraged me thusly, "Johnny, you'll have no trouble with it. Just think, at 5 miles per hour you'll finish in 20 hours or so, which is way less than the Death Race." Sounds downright easy - haha!!

September also brings Dragon Boat racing, a Girl Talk concert in London, and a chalk-drawing event for POGO,... while October has the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon, Explosions in The Sky and Skrillex, as well as an RV trip to U of Michigan for the homecoming football game.

I am looking forward to a busy Autumn professionally as well; continuing my real estate momentum, building my Versapay client base, and expanding my coaching company in an exciting new direction (stay tuned). I am also coaching a 15 week Self Expression and Leadership Program for Landmark Education at the Toronto Campus, and launching a monthly film series in conjunction with an awesome local yoga studio - the premiere is tentatively scheduled for October 18th, screening "May I Be Frank?" Stay tuned :)

Alright, off to bed. It has been a wonderful day! A few hours catching up in the office this morning, then Wonderland with Katy and Jack and Lucas and Emily and Aly and Lauryn, with a stop at the Drive-In on the way home to watch "Thirty Minutes Or Less". Kids are all sleeping, and I'm loving life!

Next up - a proper recounting of our epic adventure on the Missinaibi!! In one of the quieter moments of that journey, I snapped this picture. Truly as beautiful a place as there is ...