This is how it works-
I love to run but there are times when I would rather not. This is when the voices start. Chants, name calling, guilt and reverse psychology is how they get me up and out the door. I don't really mind the voices and have actually started looking forward to their daily calls. Together we have formed a running club that supports, encourages and competes with each other. I love these peeps. They are much more experienced, talented and tougher than I am. Pushing me out the door, through the hard miles and up the monster hills when I am feeling lazy or want to give up. Some people have "real" training partners, coaches and support crews. My team is ALWAYS with me and helps me to keep my eye on the prize and not veer off the track. Sounds crazy- Yeah, probably is.........

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Where Have The Voices Gone?

The VOICES started with one mile and, without warning, they quickly spiraled my life into the chaos of 5k’s, Marathons and Ultra Marathons. Along the way there were some once unthinkable spinoffs. Fundraising, BQ’s, Medals, Trophies, Cash Prizes, Buckles, Running Clubs, Free Shoes, Free Gear, Free Product, Magazine Articles, Podcasts, Videos, Coaches, Coaching, Blogging, Shirt and Merchandise Sales, Unique Friendships, Race Directing, Nutritionists and more fundraising. All of this from running ONE mile? I’m pretty sure it was just a dream.

Where have the VOICES gone? It’s been a while since I’ve heard them calling, taunting, pushing me to the next level. They have abandoned me and took my mojo with them. They no longer care. They no longer need me. They have left me without explanation. No, that’s not exactly true. The truth, as always, is much simpler. They haven’t left me. They are still there, partying, pushing, pulling, begging, double-dog daring me to chase a big goal. The truth is that I haven’t been listening, the truth is that I have tuned them out and drowning their noise in a sea of excuses and, ultimately, lies that make myself feel better.

So, none of that crap was entirely true but it seemed like a great way to dramatize the situation. The VOICES were there long before I began running in 2006 and they remain firmly in control today. When I talk about the voices in my head it’s a positive thing. There is something that drives each one of us to work a little harder, stay focused, keep the faith and stay the course. This something inside of me is what I refer to as the VOICES. Others may view the voices in their head as the anchor that holds them back, but I have found that by throwing a label that usually has a pejorative connotation on something that I see as good – it keeps me from embracing the overwhelming desire we all have to throw in the towel when life gets bumpy and removes the crutch of self-doubt that gets in the way of success.

The plain and simple fact is that I have lost interest in the daily grind to be competitive in the recreational hobby of running races. I still love to run. I still love to compete. I just don’t love to do the work necessary to compete at running. I know that I was never competitive outside of the local Ladies Auxiliary Pie Auction and 100 Mile Fun Run, but it was always a good time to show up and go as hard as I could to see how I stacked up with the other weekend warriors. Collecting medals, buckles and occasional trophy is great for the ego but don’t mean much in the scope of life. It took me a while to figure out that running is just something I do to fill in the gaps between real life events but I’m glad I did.

People ask me, “What changed?” and I really don’t have a solid answer. I still get the craving to throw on a doo-rag and run through the woods, yelling “WOOO” as I go through an aid station on the way to picking off the runner in front of me. I still celebrate as I watch my friends bust out a PR or see a runner that I coach cross the finish line of a goal race. I still love running. I still love racing. I just don’t love the idea of putting in the long hours it takes or the effort it takes to do my very best in every race. I could use the old cop out that things have changed in the running community since I started but… well, things have changed, a lot, for the better.

Races are much more inclusive of everybody these days. Marathons aren’t just about chasing a BQ anymore – they are about pursuing a goal and enjoying the accomplishment. 5k’s aren’t always about running until you puke or cross the finish line. Or both. They are open to runners, joggers, walkers and baby strollers. Trail races have become a normal part of any runner’s world. Even the once “impossible” 100-mile races aren’t looked at as the ultimate distance and the curtain has been opened to reveal that 100 miles, while difficult, is easy to cover if you put in the work and resolve to finish. Road Ultras are more prevalent than ever giving more opportunity for runners to test their mental toughness.  There will always be a certain element of mystery to any new distance, but social media has proven time and again that anybody can do this stuff if they want to do the work.

None of this stuff is bad. It’s all good. There are some arguments to be made about etiquette and reducing the number of competitive runners in big races but, honestly, those same old complaints where there 10 years ago. There has always been an element of runners who take this hobby way too seriously and act like divas at every event. I’m okay with that. It’s their life, their money, their time and I don’t have to live with their egos.  I am free to run as fast or slow as I choose, spend as much time at the aid station or porta potty as I need, wear the race shirt during the race or not.

So… what HAS changed in the past 3-4 years? My choices and priorities. It’s really that easy. I have a 3-year-old daughter so that’s an easy math equation. My boys are getting older, one in high school and one in elementary school, and they have become increasingly busy with extracurricular activities. I spend all my free time during the late summer and fall organizing a youth football league and coaching my son’s team. The last few years have been filled with coaching little league baseball, basketball and football year-round. I even had an awesome experience as a soccer coach a couple of years ago. Throw in summer basketball, fall basketball, track meets and other school functions for my oldest and life got a little busy. Of course, there is always time for more so when the opportunity to coach a semi-pro football team popped up… yep, I was on it. Did I mention the part about coaching runners in my spare time? Probably. Doesn’t really matter.  

All this stuff is fun, but I still had to work a day job – the crusher of dreams for most runners- but even that still left time for homework, family dinner, bath time, story time, playing in the yard, swimming in the pool and other family activities. What it didn’t leave time for was – running, lifting weights and chasing goals. Well, it just fooled me into thinking there wasn’t time. The time was still there as it always was. I used to wake up at 2 a.m. for a 20-mile run before work on a Tuesday morning – that time was still available I just didn’t have the desire to sacrifice.

Obviously, none of this nonsense matters but just the act of writing about it helps me understand why I have placed the running VOICES on a back burner for a while. I have been running consistently in 2018 and have a nice little streak going and things are falling into place but I’m not sure where its heading or if it will rekindle the passion to chase big goals anytime soon. What I do know is this – I love to run. I used to tell people that I was a runner. These days – I realize that running is a part of who I am but it’s really such a small part that I struggle to understand why I had placed so much emphasis on that part of my life once. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever run a marathon or 100 milers again. Today the answer is a very easy and loud “NO” but tomorrow, next week, next month or next year it may change, and the VOICES will be front and center. When that happens, I’ll give my coach a call and we will hit it with a plan that will push me to my perceived limits over and over until the goal is a reality.

Until then – I’ll just enjoy the miles as they come. Life is good, and the VOICES are still jabbering – just in a different way.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Play Hard. Have Fun. Do Your Best.

Orange. Strawberry. Grape. Root Beer. The reward for playing a great game. Or maybe it was the reward for a not so great game. I really don't remember the actual game but I do remember the sweet nectar found in the coach's cooler. Cheap off brand soda that had us scrambling and working hard to get to the cooler first. The game itself may have been over, the score recorded into the history books, but the real competition always came after the game. Losing at this competition usually meant being stuck with a cream soda. That was bad. The game itself? Man, we just played. Everybody wanted to win but at the end of it all... we just played. No pressure from parents. The coaches didn't scream or throw a fit. The umpires were jovial and enjoyed the game. We were just kids. 7, 8, 9 and 10. Summertime meant baseball and baseball meant playing until past dark on fields without lights. It also meant cheap soda. And good times. 

We kept score. You had better believe we kept score. It mattered. It was the most important thing in the world for an hour or so. After that? The score was recorded into that famous history book where all little league scores are kept and quickly forgotten by the participants of both teams. We left the field, went home, watched TV, ate ice cream and carried on with life. Even when we lost. My dad never sat me down and told me about all the mistakes I had made in the game. He never told me that my coach sucked and didn't know what he was talking about. He never mentioned anything really. If he didn't make it to the game, because parents didn't come to every game or practice back then, he would ask how we did - not how I did but how WE did. There was a simple and subtle lesson in that one word. It was, and remains in my mind, a team sport. He would always ask if I had fun. Always. Seemed like a dumb question back then. Did I have fun? What? I was playing baseball dude. Of course it was fun. 

I remember winning a 2nd place ribbon for a bicycle race when I was in 5th grade. In fact, I still have it and it is one of my most cherished awards ever. Second place? The first loser? Yes. 2nd place. Why do I care about this dumb ribbon so much? Because it reminds me of a time when the competition was between kids - not the adults watching. It reminds me of a time when I dug deep and pushed myself out of the inner desire to win. Sure, I lost but it was a good day for me. I worked hard, had fun and did my absolute best. Was I disappointed about not winning? Sure I was. I lost to a ninth grader on a ten speed (remember those things) but that was not an excuse. In fact, my old Huffy dirt bike with the knobby off road tires beat several older kids on much better bikes. I lost because, despite trying as hard as possible, that other kid beat me. The world didn't end and, best of all, nobody pointed out my flaws. When I showed my dad the 2nd place ribbon he didn't ask who beat me, what kind of bike they had or even tell me that I would do better and "get them next time". He simply told me he was proud that I had worked hard and had fun. Simple words - big impact. 

Another great memory is from a weight lifting competition. I was 11 years old and weighed 90 lbs. How can I remember that I weighed 90 lbs? Because I bench pressed a whopping 120 lbs to win the top medal. I don't have the medal anymore but, honestly, it wasn't very important. I was more excited to discover that I could do much more than I thought. I was skinny and not the best athlete in town. I definitely wasn't the first kid picked for kickball, baseball, basketball or football. I was usually picked towards the end of the middle. But that day I felt the exhilaration of success and the genuine surprise in the words of congratulations from the adults in charge. A few words of praise from those in charge meant the world to me. I never even bothered to tell my dad about the medal- it was that insignificant at the time but the memories of the accomplishment remain solid. I could have came in dead last in the competition and still walked away feeling great about myself. 

In 3rd grade we played flag football. The league, for me, was a great place to learn the game. Only a few things really stand out from that season. My coach was not a jerk. He didn't yell or scream at us if we made a mistake. He was quick to use mistakes as an opportunity to learn while making us feel like we were superstars. I don't remember his name but I do remember the example he set. We played under the lights in the big game that year. I truly have no idea whether we won or lost but I know the other team's coach was a raving lunatic that scared the heck out of me. Us? We had cheap, off brand soda and a smiling coach on our sideline. My dad was at that game. I know because he came down to the field smiling when it was over. I was drinking that cheap, off brand soda and he told me how proud he was to watch me play. We probably lost because I don't remember a trophy but, in retrospect, we definitely won.

That was almost 40 years ago and society has changed in many ways. There is a much bigger emphasis on winning today than there was all those years ago. We are quick to look for the best teams for our kids to play on. We sometimes pay crazy fees for the privilege of participating. Coaches are selecting kids based on current talent in kindergarten and first grade in an effort to put together a winning team. Potential talent is overlooked, for the most part, because we want to win now. This feels like a mistake to me and doesn't appear to translate into championships at the High School level. 

Some young kids have "it" and are identified as early as kindergarten as athletes. They work hard. They put their head down and do the work. They have more coordination, drive and focus than other kids their age. To pretend like they will be the only ones that stand a chance of success later would be very narrow minded and naive. Many kids are overlooked at a young age because they are clumsy, lack focus, aren't aggressive or confident enough and are encouraged to find something else they have a talent for. Many of these kids grow, mature and find confidence later in life but have already been written off as not having talent. It has been reported that 7 out of 10 kids choose to quit sports all together by the age of 13. Some of this can be attributed to poor leadership, pressure from parents and burn out. Of course, some probably just realize they don't like whatever sports they are playing but my guess is those numbers are much lower. Talent selection based on current ability over potential future talent by coaches is a driving force in many cases. 

Does this mean that private coaching or competitive traveling teams are bad? Nope. Absolutely not. They are very much worthwhile if the expectation is to have fun, become better, learn the proper techniques of the game AND the kid wants to play. If the expectation is just to win or get a jump start on that college scholarship or the pros then it may be more harmful than good. Good examples of character, learning the fundamentals, teamwork and sportsmanship are great lessons to learn at a young age. An unrealistic expectation to always be the best or win every game isn't going to do the kids any favors. Should these teams include everybody just because they want to play? Probably not in most cases. That's up to the coach, the sponsor and the parents. It's an argument for the benefits of expanding the perspectives and looking long term instead of short term with these very young ages. 

I have heard it said many, many times over the past few years that if kids don't win they will lose confidence and eventually quit playing sports. I don't think that's all together true. Dodging the better teams to pad the stats and ensure victory is a great way to build short term confidence. It also sets up unrealistic expectations for the future and can ruin any chance of overall team success at the next level. Sure, at some point, losing every time will get old but there is a major tipping point before that happens. That tipping point has nothing to do with the kids, the game or the level of competition. It has everything to do with attitude. The attitude of the kids when they decide to weigh success or failure by a scoreboard is guided, for the most part, by the adults around them. Parents fighting with each other at a football game, yelling at the ump in a baseball game, coaching their kids from the sidelines and bleachers, pointing out every flaw on the ride home from the game, the look or sounds of pure disappointment on a bad play and a crazy obsession with winning are great ways to leave a kid with the impression that life is all about winning.  

It's okay for kids to have fun. It's okay for them to smile. That's why they play. Because it's fun. And a game. It's not a job and, most likely, never will be. They should never cry over a loss or a bad play. What's the point in that? Passion for the game? Really? That brings up an entire subject about how unhealthy it is to steer and direct little kids to find their passion. Maybe we could give them a few years and more experience before they have to make that tough choice. My feeling is that passion is a great cover up word for poor sport or feeling they let mom, dad or the coach down. Maybe not. Could be genuine passion. I feel less confident in that assessment than I do with this one ---> Coaches that "motivate" kids by yelling and threatening to bench them for making a mistake aren't doing much for confidence or future psychological happiness. It doesn't motivate the kids to do better. It humiliates, scares and makes them play worse. They know that even if the team wins the coach will still point out their mistakes in front of the team. 

It is a competitive world. That's something I hear a lot. There is truth in that statement. Learning how to compete and navigate through life is important.  Losing is a part of life. Most successful adults have lost, failed or come up short several times before it all works out. Why? Because they have learned that it's okay to take shots even when they don't have all the tools in place or the odds are stacked against them. They understand that winning is great but real experience and skill is learned in the losses. They can enjoy the journey without pressure because there is no expectation to always win. The risk is the reward. The lessons learned in the early years - play hard, have fun and do your best - carry over into adulthood. Trophies from grade school don't mean much if they can't cope with adversity later in life. When adults, coaches and parents lose the true focus of youth sports they are paving the road for disappointment and failure. 

Wins and losses are not always measured on a scoreboard. Am I perfect? Nope. Not by a long shot. I have had moments when I allowed myself to be sucked into acting like a fool on the sidelines, yelling directly at kids instead of coaching them and pretending a dumb game was the most important thing in life. I have used those experiences as lessons for what I do not want to become. They serve to remind that the words I choose to use with kids has an impact on them and will carry a lot of weight over the years. They may forget my name as the years go by but hopefully they will remember the lessons. The important stuff like. Mistakes are okay, even expected, because nobody is perfect. We practice to get better. We don't always win but we always play to win. Good sportsmanship is just as important during or after a win as it is in a loss. It's a game so smile and have fun. A championship trophy at this level will not change their lives. They will do the exact same thing after the game if they lose - go home, eat ice cream, watch TV and be a kid. 

All of this probably makes you think I am just not a competitive person. That my personality doesn't jive with the reality that it takes hard work and desire to succeed. That's not exactly true. I am the most competitive person I know. I despise losing. I don't want participation medals for everybody. I want to keep score. There should be winners and losers in every game. When I set a goal for myself there is no thought of failure. As a kid, I played to win. As a Marine, I competed to be the best. In college, I worked my butt off to graduate summa cum laude. As an adult, I have worked hard in my job to rise through the ranks. In recent years, I have raced everything from 5k's to 100 mile trail races with the intention of competing  for the podium. Nobody plans to lose but... it happens. When it does there is no crying, throwing a fit or a desire to quit and find something else I might be good at - just a note to myself to work harder if I want to win. Even when I have won there is a note to myself to work harder and do better. The trophies and medals still don't mean much. They are just things collected along the way. The friendships, laughs, highs and lows during the hard miles are what keeps it fun. And FUN is what keeps me going back. 

If this felt like a lecture to you - it probably was. Relax. It's just a game. 
If this felt like common sense to you - that's because it is.  Good for you. 

Play Hard. Have Fun. Do Your Best. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Fat Elvis and Eye on the Prize

Three and a half years. I haven't "really" ran in three and a half years. Why? Because I haven't. Sure there are reasons, excuses and multitude of other blah, blah, blah's I could throw out there but the bottom line is simple. I got lazy, lost the desire and mental focus that it takes to compete. The thrill of the challenge and the drive to exceed self imposed expectations haven't been prevalent for a while. The VOICES have been eerily silent like an old friend who I've lost touch with. It's been kind of weird and awesome all at the same time. 

It's easy to live in the past. The glory days. The best of times. We all do it at some point. The ex-jock from high school that needs to talk about the 5 touchdowns in one game. The former high school track stud that set all the records. The genius in college who could make a bong out of play dough. The stud Marine that never got into trouble. I was none of the above but I did okay in a lot of races from 5k's through 100 milers back in the day. A couple of sub 3 hour marathons and a handful of sub 24 hour 100 milers made it easy to fall into this trap. As time goes by the way these stories are told change. 

Back "in the day" I never bothered to tell a story about a race or feel the need to proclaim my PR to somebody I just met. Nope. No need. I just showed up, ran the race, collected whatever award if warranted and went home. I was never what I considered as fast but it was good enough to win a few local downtown ladies auxiliary pie auction and 5k races. Over time this evolved into a reputation in the area as a "fast" runner. I never thought I was but one day, after a 10k, the runners who I considered as fast gathered for a picture with their medals and trophies. I was told to jump in but declined saying something about the fast runners. One of them said, "Dude, you just ran a 37 minute 10k, you ARE one of the fast runners." 

Okay. 37 minute 10k isn't fast by many standards. People will tear me apart for my "huge ego". I get it. But the fact is this- sometimes a 37 minute 10k IS fast. Sometimes a 17 minute 5k does win. Sometimes a 2:58 marathon, 4:20 50k, 7:31 50 miler and 19:37 100 miler is considered fast. The 7:31 50 miler set a state record in Missouri for the 35-39 year old age group in 2011. It still holds the record for 39 year olds. The other ages have fallen to faster times but they have been on flat, dedicated courses. Mine was on a hilly road course with heavy traffic, unmanned aid stations and 85-90 degree southern Missouri humidity temps. Not that it matters. 

Okay... this is the kind of nonsense I am talking about. Buying into your own legend. It's a joke but it happens. My first marathon was good for a Boston Qualifying time and I just assumed that was what was expected. I once ran a marathon with pneumonia and finished in 3rd place. My first 1/2 marathon was ran with the flu but I managed a 5th overall with a 1:30 time. I limped 50 miles with a knee that looked like a football and still came in top 10. My first 50 miler was a climb over Mt. Pinnacle on the Ouachita trail in Arkansas and netted a 3rd overall. I finished 4th overall at one of the oldest established 100 milers, the Arkansas Traveller, on a rainy, miserable day. My first 100 miler was on a trail in Texas during an an ice storm and I finished in under 21 hours. I have ran five 100 mile -true trail-  races in under 22 hours. 60 miles on an old, busted up asphalt track in a pink tutu. More that once.  Started a dumb little running club that turned out okay. I did some unique, at the time, fundraisers for the ACS and raised over $50,000. Blah, blah, blah..., 

3 years ago I fell. Not literally. I had fallen many times on trail runs before then. I fell. I had trained for a 100 miler with the goal of 18 hours. Race day weather took its toll on me and the humidity won. I finished in 21:30 and felt like a failure. Looking back it's stupid to consider a 21:30 finish a failure but whatever. A couple of months later I was smoking a 30 hour timed event in Oklahoma when I slipped in the snow covered clay mud and pulled a calf muscle. I knew I would win this event and the forced decision to stop messed with my head. Once I was able to run again, really run, the desire to compete was gone. The focus was gone. I lined up at the Leadville 100 later that year out of shape and with a big ego thinking it was only 100 miles and I could fake it. After a mere 40 miles I pulled the plug and recorded my first DNF. 

My daughter was born roughly two and a half years ago. She is what my wife and I call the" bonus baby".  Unplanned and unprepared for. You would think at 42 and 45 we would have known what could happen but....  Her birth changed my life. My two boys are amazing and I love them more than life itself but the new Princess?  Oh yes. She is a game changer for me. So things slowed down on the running side. There were months when my total mileage was less than 20. Considering I had averaged 250 mile months for almost 10 years this took its toll. Combined with crappy nutrition and a general dismissal of strength training, the overall result has not pretty. 

Did I mention that I coach baseball, basketball, soccer and football for my kids? Or that I am the head coach of a semi-pro football team? Or that I serve as president of a youth football league? Or that I coach runners from all over the country - and across a few borders? Or that....who cares? Excuses. Things that I choose do. I had always managed to find time to train in the past regardless of work or other obligations. I had simply lost my focus and the drive to compete. It was easy to claim that there weren't any challenges left and I had already proved that I could do anything I set out to do. My life was full of schedules and activities but it was also empty. 

Try being a "legend" on social media for a while. The things you did in the past are celebrated for a while. Then they are talked about some. Then they are unknown. Soon the only people that know are the people that used to look up to you but can now kick your ass in any distance. It kind of sucks to be honest. My ego is not fragile or huge like some may think but I do have one. We all do. And it kind of sucks when you think people don't care or respect what you have accomplished. It's silly but it's real. Especially when you know the only reason you have become "Fat Elvis" or "washed up" is because you no longer care. There is no physical impediment or injury holding you back. It's all about heart. It all comes back to Eye on the Prize. 

Eye on the Prize. Focus. Determination. Grit. It's all the same. Decide on a goal. Resolve to accomplish it. Do the work that sucks to make it real. Don't chase shiny objects. Make it happen. Seems so simple when I type it. Putting it into action is much more difficult. Thankfully, I have finally reached the point in my personal journey that I understand what it takes to crawl out of the funk and back onto the trail. I have remembered WHY I want to run. WHY I want to train. WHY I want to compete. Along with that I have found a renewed desire to "do the work-no excuses". 

Over the past few months, I have begun working with a purpose. I have Coach Jeff back on the job scheduling my training and keeping me in check. I have put in consistent base building mileage. I have found that old burning motivation to get up at 3 a.m. and run 1-2 hours before going to work. I have figured out ways to squeeze strength or yoga in after work and before my kid's practices. I have the focus to run 10 miles or more before coaching football all day. I have signed up for a few short-ish distance races with the goal of chasing buckles again soon. 

I don't expect to ever run "fast" but I do expect to prove to myself that I can run long and be proud of my accomplishments. Will I ever run a sub 3 hour marathon again? Or a sub 20 hour 100 miler? What about state records? Don't know- don't care. The goal is to do what I can while I can and not ever live in the past again. The glory days may be over but that doesn't mean I don't have some pretty decent days to look forward to. Eye on the Prize is still my favorite mantra. I have realized that Fat Elvis is still Elvis. Just go do what makes you happy and life is good. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Garmin 235 Raffle

Idiots Running Club Relay for Life Garmin 235 Raffle
New in box  Garmin 235
$8.97 per ticket
150 tickets will be sold
Winner will be selected using a random number generator app
Winning number will be drawn when all tickets are sold
Drawing will be recorded on video
If all tickets are not sold he winner will be chosen on June 10th 2017
Purchase tickets through PayPal and your number will be emailed