Being a Champion (Part II)

A huge part of being great, and of being a champion, is failing.  As Michael Jordan said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career.  I have lost almost 300 games.  26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.  I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And THAT is why I succeed.”   Kareem Abdul Jabbar said “You can’t win unless you learn how to lose.” Olympic Champion Wilma Rudolph said “Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.” and finally, Ralph Waldo Emerson said “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising each time we fall”
So what’s the point?
The point is this:

There is a difference between success and mastery.  Mastery is about the unyielding pursuit of “better”.  Success is about accomplishing a goal.  Mastery is about relinquishing the dedication to goals and results and instead dedicating yourself to the process of improvement.  While we may consider a painting to be a masterpiece, the master who created it sees every flaw and intends their next work to be an improvement upon the last.  It’s one thing to be successful, but it is another to be the master of your outcomes.  Success is is hitting the target.  Mastery is knowing you can hit the target again and again and again.  Success is: “Did you make the time goal you set? did you win the race?”  Mastery is “I did, but next time, I will do it better.” Being close to winning, or close to meeting your goals is an important experience.  Failure makes us stronger.  It drives you to dig deeper and work harder.  It’s the rabbit in your sights.  It’s the reason you find whatever else you can do, and then you do it. Coming close to what you thought you wanted to achieve gives you the ability to excel beyond what you ever dreamed was possible.

As Sarah Lewis says in her TEDtalk, “Masters aren’t experts because they take a subject to it’s conceptual end, they’re masters because they realize there isn’t one.” We don’t revere Michael Jordan or Beethoven because they did something great.  We revere them because before they were great, they always strove to be better, and after they became great, they still strove to be better.  https://www.ted.com/talks/sarah_lewis_embrace_the_near_win

The saying goes “If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again.” And that is valid, but I think we also should add: “And when you finally do succeed, try even harder the next time.”

Embrace your failures and stand on the shoulders of the previous versions of yourself as you build the new iteration. Never stop reaching higher.  Never stop working for whats next.

Right now I am sick with a chest cold, and my arm aches with tendinitis and my shin throbs with the pain of a stress injury. I’m accepting that the goals I had once established may now be out of reach, but that won’t stop me from stretching out for them. If I fall short, it’ll be motivation for the future, and if I succeed, it will drive me to find out what’s next. I’m pretty sure that’s what champions do.

Being a Champion (Part I)

dave_scott_ironman_finish-e1367012285574

This is Dave Scott.  If you know triathlon, you almost certainly know of Dave Scott.  He owned the 80’s for Ironman triathlon, as the Ironman Triathlon Hawaii Championship winner in 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, and 1987.  He’s a champion.

I listened to a really powerful podcast on the way to Lexington on Saturday and this will be the first of at least a couple of posts about it.  It was the NPR TED radio hour podcast about champions. I was driving down partly as a favor to my sister, and also to see my aunt and uncle that live there and get a few miles in on some unfamiliar roads.  I was also hoping that a new rolling route would refresh my feelings and give me some inspiration… I was hoping that somehow I would end up feeling again like I can actually do this.  I was hoping to dispel the internal daemon of doubt that has hounded me lately.  I figured the ride would do this, not a podcast.  I didn’t know what to expect when I turned it on, but I knew the podcast would be about an hour, and that’s how much time I had to kill.

Here’s the link to the podcast: http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/331331360/champions

One of the big things I took away from this podcast, and which is keeping me going right now is that greatness doesn’t come in one step.  People who accomplish incredible feats don’t do it by setting out to win a race or beat a world record from day 1. They are able to break down something that is much too big to take on at one time and make it into “what am I going to do right now… what is the next workout going to be… what is the next 2 hours going to be”.  If you are going to achieve greatness, it comes from setting actionable, achievable goals and accomplishing those one at a time.  Forget about the race while you train.  Think about the training while you train.  Leave the race for race day.  Bobby Knight said “The key is not the will to win… everybody has that.  It is the will to prepare to win that is important.”  Emmitt Smith said “For me, winning isn’t something that happens suddenly on the field when the whistle blows and the crowds roar. Winning is something that builds physically and mentally every day that you train and every night that you dream.”

Today my diet is going to be great, and I’m going to do swim sprint intervals where I focus only on arm position. Then, Thursday morning I’m going to put down an hour of tempo on the trainer before I work my core.  I won’t win anything.  I won’t take seconds or minutes off of any PR.  Today and tomorrow I will accomplish actionable objectives.  I will focus on the training while I train.  I will leave the race for race day.  I may not be great or a champion today.  I may not be great or a champion tomorrow.  Today and tomorrow, though, I will do what it takes to be great.  I’ll do what champions do.

I Never Thought I Would Say This:

I miss running.

Seriously… This time last year I would have bet anyone that no matter what, I’d never like running enough to actually miss it.  I wasn’t even thinking I might ever “be a runner”  (I’m still not sure I really qualify as one).  Even a few months ago, I’d have just said I was only ever going to run because it was part of a triathlon, and that I wouldn’t be looking forward to it at all.

I lose weight from running, though, and I set PRs every time I go out.  It pumps me up.  I like how my shoes look and feel.  I like running tights. (HA!)  I like how I feel after a run.  I like how I feel DURING a run… Not the way I love the sensation of riding a bike and running doesn’t offer the same chance to commune with nature that comes from spending hours in the saddle and cycling is certainly more kind to your body.  BUT, I genuinely like running, at least a little, sometimes.  And I definitely miss it.  Injury sucks.

Pro tip for life:   Don’t get injured.

On a completely unrelated note: Seriously… are there no decent single women around here?  I haven’t met a whole ton of them over the past couple months, but I’ve met enough to have run across at least one or two that were genuinely intriguing. Or so I thought….  Sure, some are fairly attractive, or smart in one way or another, but on the whole, they’re mostly either, A) boring, or B) not really comfortable being themselves.

With respect to A: I feel like being passionate about something in life is a pretty important thing if one is to be a dynamic and interesting person.  Obviously for me that’s bikes and cycling mainly, but also mental health, the environment, and learning in general.  I feel like a lot of people in the 25-35 age group lack any kind of REAL passion.  COME ON! Be into something more than just shopping and watching netflix!  As far as B goes: I recognize that everyone has flaws and I expect them to.  I do, and while I don’t lead with them, I don’t really try to hide them.  I’m comfortable with them. Have I happened across some understanding that eludes others my age?  Are they unaware that it’s OKAY to NOT be EVERYONE’S cup of tea and that actually, our differences are often the most interesting things between us?

A microcosm and extreme example: I went on a date a few weeks ago with what may actually be the most boring person I have ever met.  After 2 hours of talking to this woman, I couldn’t tell you anything interesting about her.  She was into “design” but after querying her for 20 minutes on what that meant, I still have no idea if it means designing of a product or service or process… All of her responses seemed slightly nervous and designed not to offend, rather than to actually reveal any feelings or character.  She didn’t have any passions that I could tell, nor did she seem to have any real strong opinions on anything from music or food to social issues.  She was clearly at least somewhat interested in me, but honestly, I couldn’t tell that she even HAD personality for ME to be interested in.

Not everyone I’ve met is that bad, but none of them are all that much better either.  I dunno… maybe these two things are only so prominent when it comes to dating because the perceived stakes are higher.  Yeah, you don’t want to say the wrong thing and turn the other person off to you and you don’t want to seem weird for being too into something. I get that. But I can’t be the only one who has realized it’s best to just be unashamed about your passions and who you are… In the end, we are who we are and if we’re going to find someone who likes us, we need to BE who we are.  I would think that people my age who are still single would be even MORE likely to realize this…

Exhaustion, Doubt

I’m utterly exhausted.

In spite of not running lately (and maybe partially because of?) I’m so physically exhausted that I’m barely functional.  It’s a chore to get out of bed.  I stayed home from work yesterday just because I was tired. Even socializing takes a lot of work, and since I barely have the energy to do it, I’m pretty sure I’m not doing myself any favors at this point. I’m just spent, and I have another week and a half till my next rest day.  I don’t know how I’m going to make it.

Sleep is a huge part of recovering from training and recharging mentally, and it’s not going well for me.  I’ve had sleep problems for a long time.  This isn’t new.  At this point, though, it’s getting to be a serous problem because I really don’t think my body and mind can handle the kind of beating they’re taking unless it improves.

A few of my friends have told me that it’s kind of common for you to feel like you want to cry sometimes when you’re into a training block, especially if something goes wrong.  It’s not really crying or being upset specifically about the injury.  It’s more just… a sense of release… There’s a lot of emotion that gets suppressed and builds up while you jack yourself up on endorphins for between one and six hours a day. And really, let’s be honest, ironman training isn’t the easiest thing in the world… I’m not upset or sad about the injury or anything in particular, I just feel like I am going to cry sometimes.  It’s different from the darkness of my normal depression.  That still permeates my daily life.  This feeling is more of just pent up emotional exhaustion, and I just feel like it’s all going to pour out at once.  I just feel like crying.

I don’t know.  I’ve never done this so maybe that IS normal.  I definitely know doubting yourself is normal.  But I don’t know if I’m feeling normal doubt right now, though.  Sometimes I feel like I’m coming apart at the seems mentally and physically.  Maybe I bit off more than I can chew.  Sure, I feel invincible sometimes too, but these injuries are piling up, and I’m running out of training time.  I’m not sure if this is going to work out.  I’m not sure I should have ever thought it might.  I don’t really know if my body can handle the punishment required.  Maybe a half ironman is too much.

Broken and Frustrated

I think I have an injury; the usual beginning runner injury: shin splints or possibly a stress fracture. Yeah, I made the classic mistake.  I went too hard too early.  I didn’t ramp up my miles slowly enough.  I basically did everything I was warned not to do.  This is not an eventuality I was prepared for, and not an eventuality I’m sure I can accept. It’s questionable if my mental health, which is helped so much by my training, can accommodate this deterioration of my physical health.  I WAS in a really good spot.  I’m just to the point where running is pretty enjoyable, if mostly for the social aspect…  My knee feels at least okay and doesn’t seem to be getting worse.  I’m getting faster, leaner, stronger.  I’m starting to see the benefits of my core training.  Things were starting to come together….

So much for my ‘wing it’ plan.  And so much for all that crap about things getting brighter…  I’ve really just replaced one drug with another.  Whether it’s a woman, alcohol, food, cycling, training overall… it’s all just one drug or another that I’m using to make myself feel better.  That’s the classic addict mistake.  “I kicked the habit”… no… no I didn’t. I just replaced it with a different habit that’s slightly less immediately destructive.

Did I actually escape anything by moving out of Texas or did i just shake up the etch-a-sketch only to have the same shitty picture appear once the dust settled after I moved.  Maybe i just projected all my shit onto the city i was in and really it just moved on up the highway to Cincinnati with me.  Did she ever really make me feel better or was it just that it feels good to have someone seem interested.  Maybe she made me feel worse in the long run.  Was i ever that into cycling or was it just that I didn’t have to confront my disappointment with everything else while on the bike. Maybe the bike distracts me from actually dealing with shit.  Regardless of what ‘drug’ I’m on and how much of a mistake I’m making with it, it seems pretty clear that I need to be on one to keep things going.

I don’t know what the point is. I’m not happier than I was.  I’m not really in a better place in life.  I don’t have any more idea of how to get to the next stage or where the fuck I even want things to go.  My sister is buying a house.  My parents are retiring.  My friends are all getting married and having kids.  The people I ride with have their lives, and the people I run with go home to their families. Somewhere along the lines I got left out of all of that and the more I try to have a piece of it, the more pointless the effort seems.  It takes forever to actually get to know someone, and anyone who might be good to know is, like me, already too cynical to believe anyone else is worth a shit.  I’ve made like 2 good friends in the past 4 years. I thought, at various points, that I’d made more but they just seem to disappear for various pointless reasons. I’m not seeing any meaningful signs of change or reasons to believe there’s a point to all of this work.
Maybe it really just doesn’t matter. Scientific happiness is just the balance of endorphins and hormones that make you feel good against those that stress you out or bring you down.  Whenever someone asks what religion I ascribe to… what I believe in, I usually say “myself and science”, so… I guess…  It’s time for a bike ride. Even if that only means 2 hours of being happy, that’s 2 hours more than I otherwise would have had.

Super Solo Metric Century

It started very poorly.

I woke up and didn’t really want to get out of bed. I haven’t been sleeping well and I’m not 100% sure why.  I’m normally plenty tired in the evenings and I’ve been keeping my bedroom fairly clean and stress-free.  I haven’t been doing that great at not drinking right before bed, but that wasn’t the issue Sunday morning.  I didn’t do anything Saturday night.  Actually, doing nothing Saturday probably WAS a factor on Sunday morning.  I thought this weekend was going to be really good socially… Thursday evening was decent, but left me feeling frustrated that I seem to have lost any touch that I once had when it comes to identifying and interpreting the signs and signals that are sent by the opposite sex.  Friday evening was almost a carbon copy of Thursday and I spent a lot of Saturday dwelling on it.  I’d like to not care, but I do.  That drags me down. I just end up spinning my wheels on it and it sucks away my will to do anything else.

I made a fantastic breakfast while I got ready, talking myself up the whole time.  French toast from homemade bread with bourbon barrel aged maple syrup and some OJ.  Solid ride fuel for some solid base miles.  One would think that kind of breakfast would be inspiring on it’s own.  Instead, I just felt grey. The radiator in my kitchen mocks me.  It rattles when the building boilers turn on, but it yields no heat, just a racket to go along with the drone of the ever-running fridge next to it.  So while  elsewhere, super bowl party hosts donned their team’s jersey and ran out out for last minute supplies I sat, alone, eating in the sterile flickering light from the rickety ceiling fan/lamp fixture, naked except for a grey hoodie and the scabs from my recent crash.  The prescription bottle across the table and each pillowy bite reminded me that oblivion and sleep was within easy reach.  This was the setting for my half-hearted pep talk about ‘these base miles just being what I do now’, and that it’s ‘a measure of my character that I make them happen.’  The darkness has a way of crowding in on cold, lonely mornings.

I’d decided it was best for me to stick to the bike path given my misadventures last week and the need for me to keep from pushing too hard.  The point was to log low intensity base miles, so, wise to stay on the flat, featureless ribbon of asphalt that weaves it’s never-ending way north along the Little Miami River.  I’d be safer there, less likely to crash and could also meter my output better than in hills.  It shouldn’t be hard efforts as much as it is just injecting miles into the legs. I drove myself and my bianchi over to 50West and got out to finish suiting up.

Fuck. No helmet.
I was already an hour behind because I didn’t want to actually be awake.
I had everything else. I’d battled with the darkness for an hour and I’d only barely made it out before it swallowed me up.  I’d been so close to just ending up on the couch in a haze of pharmaceutically softened self loathing…Just making it there was hard enough but of course, i had to forget the goddamned helmet.
“FUUUUKKK MAN… You have to be fucking kidding me.  Goddamnit”

I drove back to my apartment.  Fueled by anger at myself, I went inside determined to give a fat middle finger and “fuck you” to whatever misery tried to pull me down, I loaded up with what I needed and drank half a can of coke. I put my helmet on, put one earbud in and started recording data.  Screw driving back to the trail.  No time for that now.

By 12 miles in I was feeling good.  The endorphins were starting to flow and the darkness, ebb. Once I got to 20, I’d decided that I should go for a metric century.  It’s all flat, it’s all easy, and 100km would take about 4 hours, which was the right amount of time.  I considered just burying myself and going for 100mi but realistically, for a century I need more than the 450 or so calories I’d brought with me and I had failed to bring any money or a credit card.

I kept output fairly low for the first half.  I’ve been hearing and reading more and more that a proper, long warmup of high cadence, low effort work is especially important for getting your body going for a long effort.  I tried that but can’t say if I really noticed any difference because I don’t have much to compare it to.  I haven’t done more than 45 miles in a while.

It was an out-and-back route and I tried to keep my heart rate under 160 and mostly under 145 for the “out”.  I did some long out-of-the-saddle intervals to give my ass some relief and just practice bike handling out of the saddle for long periods of time too.  On the “back”, I tried to open things up a bit, which didn’t work so well.  It’s hard to know how much of that was wind and how much was fatigue. I had some good bursts but the ability to sustain wasn’t there.  I guess that’s really why these long rides are part of the training plan.  I’d set out to hit a certain average over 3 mile segments but could never seem to hit those goals.  Glycemic roller coaster? Tired legs? 15-20mph variable winds?  Who knows, but the “opening it up” thing didn’t work the way I thought it might.

No matter.  It was a beautiful day and in spite of my continued lack of progress on my social and relationship goals, I knew I was crushing my fitness goals.  Plus, I knew there would be superbowl snacks later.  JACKPOT!  Okay, by that time I was feeling pretty good.

My route had me do a long shallow climb in the last 4 miles.  The pavement there isn’t the best, which makes it harder to maintain a steady cadence.  That hill is one that I use to gauge my fitness.  This would NOT be a useful measure of my ability.  I rode comically slow.  I nearly dipped into my emergency 36×28 gear that I rarely use for anything other than cat 3 and above climbs.  I crawled to the turn where I could either push further up, or turn for home.  Home.  Even on the flat I could barely hold 13 mph in a cross/head wind.

Legs=wrecked but I’m pretty sure I had a smile on my face the whole time.

Patience (again)

I think I wrote about patience before, and I know I’ll write about it again. It’s going to be one of the really difficult parts of training and of dealing with depression.  ACTUAL progress on either doesn’t happen over night.  Remembering that and trusting that the pieces I put in place now will build a stronger house in the future isn’t easy.  I want to be fast NOW, and I’d like to feel good again NOW.  Like… actually good inside.  I don’t really want to be patient.

Snapshots are good in some ways, and necessary, but aren’t really that useful with figuring out where things actually are.  That I did 5 miles at 10:40/mi on a certain date is fine.  Or noting that I felt mostly content and happy at 8:00p.m. last night is fine.  Those snapshots are fine but they’re like the numbers I talked about before.  They only exist for that second; at that moment. It isn’t representative of where I am on the whole.  Maybe I killed a workout and got a new PR but maybe my knees are a wreck afterwards.  Maybe I’m only happy right now because I just got new shoes. Losing weight is great for power/weight ratio but if I’m not eating right, feel like shit, can’t deliver when it matters or I get sick then it’s worthless. Feeling good means nothing if it was only because I was too high to notice the darkness all around.

I don’t want to be patient. I want new friends now.  Good ones. I want old friends to be better, and for me to be better with them. And I want it now. I want to be faster now. I want to be lighter now. I want endurance and strength now.  I want to FEEL stronger in my core and less beat up after long workouts because of it.  I want to wake up and be excited or at least look forward to the day.  I think life is a beautiful and wonderous thing, so why do I dread it so much other than my workouts?  I want to be sure that I ACTUALLY DO look forward to my workouts and not just the fact that they are respite from wallowing in my dysthymia.  I want results. I want progress. I don’t want it to be incremental.

I just have to be patient.

Patience means remembering that everything is on a spectrum.  That progress exists before goals are met.
Patience means recognizing that I’ve already made a lot of really good changes in my life to improve my mental and physical health even if I still get stuck with a 1000yd stare for a while and am embarrassed about my gut.
Patience means remembering that while my diet is no model for anything, it’s also come a long way from 50% beer/pizza/sweets, 50% everything else.
Patience means not NEEDING to be excited about losing weight, but just noting and being content with the steady downtick.
Actually, true patience (and the healthy way to increase that power/weight ratio) would be being HAPPY with a nice steady, progressive downtick.  Maybe that’s rationality… or common sense… whatever…
Patience means having lots of conversations with people I probably won’t ever be really good friends with because those people are still good people, and it’s good for me to practice being a good person too.
Patience means lots of zone 2 and low zone 3 riding on flat ground and gentle hills rather than more exciting efforts, so I can build up the cellular and systemic capacity for sustained high level output.
Patience means doing core strength work and being okay with it yielding basically no measurable, tangible or visible results; just trusting that it’s going to keep me from getting hurt and help me absorb the punishment of the rest of my training.
Patience means doing lots of base runs that are shorter than the longest run I know I can do and slower than the fastest run I know I can do.
Patience means just being myself when I’m out with someone and trying to enjoy it rather than control it or analyze how things are going or gauge their interest or what the chances are of anything more developing.
Patience means letting some pitches go by and being okay with fouling some off, whether it’s in terms of training opportunities or social opportunities.  It’s knowing that it doesn’t always work out, but eventually I’ll connect with a pitch, and over time I’ll get better at connecting.

Patience is the simplest fucking thing in the world.  It’s just waiting for everything to happen. Waiting for the plans to work out the way they were set up. It’s waiting for the fucking delivery guy to bring the food after you order it.  You do A, then B happens… Patience is the “then”.

I ran a long way (for me) last night.  It felt really good, actually.  I am starting to understand why people like running and maybe starting to enjoy it a bit myself for the same reasons I like the other two sports.  It definitely helps to have some good running shoes.  Once you have some basic fitness and can get into a rhythm, it’s a great endorphin flow.

I really want those endorphins again. But I need to wait.  I need to rest. I need to recover.  I need to be patient.  I also really don’t want to foul another one off tonight, but I’m pretty sure I will.  If I am patient, maybe I wont.  I need to be patient even if I do.