Once you have overcome something you view as challenging, whether for you that means graduating from college, getting that dream job, losing a bunch of weight, saving a dying relationship, surviving trauma, or finishing a challenging event, your perception of the world changes drastically. Your paradigm of “normal” or “common” shifts to a new level. What was once uncommon in your mind becomes common. After completing my first and only 100-mile race last September, to finish was no longer the challenge. On that day I learned that we are physically capable of continuing on pretty much no matter what. This time around, the challenge, the new uncommon task, became how fast could I cover the distance. A different pursuit all together than finishing. One that taught me so much over these last eight months and showed me that I have yet so much to learn. That I will always have so much more to learn.
I have talked about it before, and I will restate it here, I love the 100-mile distance because it forces someone to engage with building what is known as the five pillars of personal growth. Taken from former Navy Seal Commander Mark Divine’s book, “The Way of the Seal,” the five pillars are the physical, emotional, intellectual, intuitive, and spiritual. To maximize yourself in one, you must grow the other four. Training for the 100-mile distance to me is a way of growing to be the best version of myself. To run it as fast as you can, there is very little room for error. This comes in the form of the day to day discipline and executing on race day itself.
Every day you have to make a commitment to excellence in improving yourself. Will you make the choice to train your body, mind, and spirit to accomplish the task? Will you feed your body the nutrition it needs and give it the ample rest it needs? Will you stress the system enough with the proper mix of cardiovascular training, strength training, and mobility? Will you train your mind to be calm, relaxed, and adaptable? Are you willing to perform research and practice things that others may deem abnormal? Can you practice gratitude on a daily basis? In a way, training for the 100-mile distance is a lot like a philosophical practice of a stoic lifestyle. That is how I came to view my journey. As a practice in stoicism and virtue.
I have been running competitively since I was 12 years old. Couple the 17 years of training with a degree in exercise science, numerous certifications in different exercise modalities, experience working with different populations in exercise, and the privilege to have a best friend as my coach who also has just as much experience, and I feel that I have the physical training figured out. This was all evidenced by the fitness gains I was able to achieve over the last 18 months. Going from a 3:09 marathon at a fast course last June 2018, to doing back to back 2:50 marathons in the peak of my training for this race.
Where I tend to struggle most is the mental side of training. Not the competitive nature of an event. I don’t get nervous or scared of that. However, I let my emotions control me and my competitiveness do things such as run workouts way too hard, not take enough recovery days between hard days, or run too hard early in races. While competing hard and pushing oneself is important, balancing it with being disciplined, patient, and stoic is also important.
I lack patience. This isn’t always a bad thing. Rarely is anything truly black or white, or 1 or 0. It’s a double-edged sword. As Commander Jocko Willink would say, it is a dichotomy. Impatience sometimes lets you push projects through to get things done that otherwise may never get done. If you never swing for the fences you can never get a home run. You have to take risk to achieve greatness. So often people are paralyzed from taking action towards their goals and thus they never gain any traction. However, if not harnessed, impatience sometimes leads to hard lessons learned. I am aware that this dichotomy is one of my greatest strengths and weaknesses about myself and I worked hard over the last eight months to harness it.
To train my mind for more control I undertook a number of disciplines:
1. I studied Wim Hoff’s extreme elements and deep breathing techniques. I would partake in a weekly routine of 12 minutes of deep breathing work followed by two rounds of a three-minute ice bath, and 12-minute hot sauna exposure. This has been shown to give one more control over the parasympathetic nervous system than was previously thought possible.
2. I read Mark Divine’s second book, “Unbeatable Mind.” In which, I was taught about box breathing meditation and the power of intense visualization. Each day, I would visualize the race and think about my goal intensely.
3. I read Miyamoto Mushashi’s “The Book of Five Rings.” This book is an ancient story about strategy and philosophy. The main take away from this book was that every day you must train to know yourself, the world, and your enemy. In addition, you must train to remain calm and that there is no true end or beginning to anything. The only thing is right now. If you can master yourself through training every day you will always be in control of a situation and raise the probability of becoming the victor in that moment.
4. I listened to a David Goggin’s Podcast every single day. David Goggin’s, a Navy Seal and UltraEndurance athlete, wrote the bestseller “Can’t Hurt Me” and his no excuses, no bull shit, get it done attitude are what I strive to live by. I also listened to every podcast I could on Ultra Running or fitness.
5. I was in an ethics class at school (required to sit for the CPA exam, not for the purposes of this race) and learned about the different schools of thought. I reflected upon these philosophies and how I could integrate them into my life to be a more virtuous human being.
I made great gains over the past 8 months, however, when it came to the day of the race, I realized just how right these teachers are when they say these disciplines are something you must practice EVERY SINGLE DAY.
“When one of us goes to war, we all go to war”
This year, for my all-star crew team, I had my original crew from last year, Colby and Moses as well as my girlfriend, Lauren Howell. Their enthusiasm to be out on the course to support me through a 100-mile race is something to truly be grateful for. It shouldn’t surprise me as they support me every single day towards chasing my goals. In addition, my mom came to the race with her boyfriend, I had other family members come, I had numerous friends come out to the event to support me, numerous people messaged me telling me good luck, and numerous more following me online. My community. My tribe. Every time I do anything, every single day, I represent every single one of these people. When one of us goes to war, we all go to war. That’s what this was to me. A war without lethal weapons.
I knew going into the race who the favorites were. I followed their workouts on Strava and sought out any information I could on them via their blogs, articles, or other media on the internet. I thought I was dialed in for what everyone was going to do come race day. The clear favorite was Patrick Reagan. Patrick is a full-time runner sponsored by Hoka and numerous other companies. His 100-mile PR coming into the race was 13:01 on a hillier course and very hot (100 + degree) day. He also finished third at worlds in the 100km distance. I knew going in it was going to take a Herculean effort to compete with him. I knew for sure that the recognized world record of 12 hours 44 minutes would be broken by the winner (12:08 by Zach Bitter is the unpaved trail world record, however, the Brazos Bend race director does not recognize it as such because the course is disputed as being an actual trail). This is a 7 minute and 36 second per mile pace. Talk is super cheap, however, I honestly thought I could complete this task. The thing is I knew Patrick definitely could. My goal was to win so this is what I prepped my mind for.
While extremely difficult, I thought I had a chance to beat Patrick because he had run a 100-mile race six weeks before the Brazos 100 and I admittedly thought that event would tire him out. Patrick ended up teaching me a lesson in professionalism, racing, what is possible, and stoicism that I will take with me forever. I mean that in the most admirable way. We actually had a chance encounter at “The Running Event” two days before the race where we had a “face-off.” Our first encounter ever.
From the gun, Patrick took the race out fast in a 6:50 mile. There was a pack of guys going with him, however, this pack quickly thinned out as early as three or four miles. By this time, it was just Patrick and myself with the pack quickly chasing. Besides the quick first few miles, everything was going exactly how I envisioned. Then, around mile 12, I made the decision to try to catch Patrick off guard. As in “The Book of the Five Rings” control the situation and throw your enemy off-balance. He had slowed down slightly, so I decided to pass him and continued to keep the pace we were on. This move in of itself was ok and in reflection, what I still believe was the right move. While still very early, I was saying to everyone that I was not there to take part in this event, I was there to compete from the beginning. I was calm when making this decision and very aware. It was not emotionally fueled. I was there to test not only my limits but everybody’s.
While I doubt this decision actually threw Patrick off that early in race, it was one that needed to be done. The mistake was I didn’t slow back down, stay calm, and let the race come back to me. I told my crew that I was going to slow down and I consciously kept saying to myself “slow down,” however, I couldn’t muster my body to do it. What started off as a calm decision had boiled over into pride overtaking me. What happened now was the tone of the race was set as Patrick was rolling with the pace, not giving one inch. Not a single freaking inch. I had to roll with the tone I had set and compete with what would come. My coach, Colby, and I knew going in that there is no way to truly prepare for the last 30 miles of a 100-mile race except racing more 100-milers. We would just have to wait and see what happened.
The race was the same 16.67 mile loop six times. I came through the first loop in around 1 hour 54 minutes and 20 seconds, only about thirty seconds ahead of Patrick, two minutes ahead of third (Ryan Montgomery), and four minutes ahead of fourth (Sam Skeels) and fifth (Ronnie Delzer). We were all ahead of world record pace 1/6 into the race.
I continued to keep the pace. Patrick and I went through the second loop at 3 hours 52 minutes. Six minutes ahead of Ryan, eight minutes ahead of Sam, and 11 minutes ahead of Ronnie. Still under world-record pace 1/3 into the race.
The course is a figure-8 loop so you had a general idea of where everyone was as you doubled back during each loop. Every-time I ran by Patrick, I would do my best to gauge his thoughts and perceived effort. He never seemed phased. Always seem poised, relaxed, and in a general rhythm. He would say “good job” and “thank you” to other runners who told him he was running a great race. He never broke form or changed his head position as he did this. All I could do was continue to push forward.
I ended up going through 50 miles in 5 hours 57 minutes and about 30 seconds ahead of Patrick. We were on an average pace of 7:08 per mile. We were about 10 minutes ahead of Ryan. 14 minutes ahead of Sam, and 31 minutes ahead of Ronnie We were halfway through the race and well under world record pace. I knew that this was when the racing was going to really start. My body was no doubt tired. You could just read it on me. Patrick looked like he had barely warmed-up. While my body was starting to fatigue, I have been more tired before, and my mind was ready to go to a very dark place that very few people have ever gone. I was truly prepared to run until my body said no more. I told my crew, “this is truly a war.”
Shortly after passing 50 miles, Patrick caught up to me and we started to run together. I put it in my head to just relax and roll with him until I couldn’t any longer. Then figure it out. At this point I had made the choice already. Win or crash. Fuck the time. Someone is going to do something truly amazing.
In the mean-time I told myself to watch Patrick and look for any signs of fatigue. While running with him, I kept going back and forth from being ultra-competitive to just truly admiring this person. Everything was very dialed in. The form. The rhythm. The gear he had. How he took his nutrition. How he hydrated. How he interacted with other runners with such kindness. How he went through aid stations efficiently. I could tell he was going in and out of very light rough patches because our pace would slow and speed back up. However, he just remained calm. He remained stoic. He was keeping something held back to really drop the hammer.
I knew nothing else about this person going into this race besides his accolades. When we were racing though, shoulder to shoulder, I could feel the positive energy flowing from this other being. I felt that while we never met, never lived close to each other or anything, we were now connected and would forever be connected by this experience. As a lifetime runner and someone who chases excellence every day, I know how much effort and time he has put towards crafting his discipline to do what he was doing. Experiencing that so up close and personal is something that taught me so much.
I would make it to mile 62, about 100k into the race, with Patrick before he started to drop me. Going through lap 4 of 6 (66.68 miles), Patrick was at 8 hours 9 minutes 50 seconds and I was at 8 hours 12 minutes 9 seconds about a 7 minute 22 second per mile average, however, I was really starting to hurt. I was about 13 minutes ahead of Ryan, 32 minutes ahead of Sam, and 44 minutes ahead of Ronnie. To win was out of the question at this point unless something really happened. Now my goal had to change to secondary goals which were finishing in under 13 hours (7:43 per mile pace) and holding on for second or third place (a podium). No small feat considering I had given it a lot to get here. However, I thought I could hydrate, get some fuel, stay relaxed and settle into a nice eight minute per mile pace and be ok.
I ended up running to mile 70 maintaining a 7:22 average and I really hit a wall. This was around the same place I hit a wall last year. This time, I was mentally prepared for it. I had already re-framed my mind to not think about the win. While disappointed because I had visualized it for so long, I told myself, get through this rough patch, you will come out of it. You have been here before and know that the body is capable of coming out of it. I slowed down miles 71-75 with 9:05, 9:39, 9:39, 9:59, and 9:50 mile splits before coming back on mile 76 with a 7:16 mile. This is where my Garmin died and I no longer have splits.
By this time, my legs were not coming back around as much as I would’ve hoped. They were actually starting to hurt more than they ever have before. They seemed like they just weren’t even working. My quads ached a deep ache and it seemed like they wouldn’t even absorb load while jogging. I was eventually passed by Ryan at around mile 79. He was very kind and had great words of encouragement. He asked what was wrong and I told him my quads were shot. He laughed and said his were too however he was just rolling through it. Getting passed sparked a little energy in me causing me to try to pick the pace back up. The pain in my quads grew even more. I got to mile 81.43 and asked Colby to be my safety runner. I started walking and even walking it felt like my quads just weren’t working. I have been exercising for a very long time. I knew in my heart that the pain in my quads wasn’t right. I never had the thought of not finishing, but I knew they were fucked.
Seeing Colby, Moses, and Lauren and knowing that the pain in my legs was not normal caused me to ask Colby to be my safety runner. Colby started walking with me and that’s when I broke down emotionally. I started crying a little bit as I had this overwhelming sense that I had let everyone down. Many people, whom I love, sacrificed a lot for me to do this race, many people had taught me lessons along the way, and a lot more were looking up to me. When I thought about the prospect of walk/jogging the last 20 miles and getting caught by everyone, I just couldn’t escape those thoughts of letting everyone down. It’s silly in hindsight to think I had let anyone down by not winning one of the fastest races of all time. I share this with you because it’s important to realize that there is a universal human condition. No matter how tough people seem on the outside or confident, we all have fears and insecurities. The difference is, some of us have just learned to cope with it, hopefully in a healthy way. We are all doing the best we can with what we have.
I went through lap 5 of 6 (83.33 miles) at 10 hours 57 minutes. My average pace had slowed to 7:53 overall. 42 minutes behind Patrick. And a few minutes behind Ryan. 18 minutes ahead of Ronnie and 22 minutes ahead of Sam. I knew that I was completely done. Or so I thought…….
Before taking off for the final loop, I told everyone that I was probably going to walk the whole thing. Everyone was very encouraging and positive towards me. Doing everything they could to build me up. Telling me I was inspiring, strong, and that I would loosen up. Seeing the positivity in everyone definitely helped me remain positive.
I started walking with Colby, who I have known since I was 15, so 14 years. Colby knows very deeply what motivates me. He kept feeding me and feeding me.
“You may not win the race outright, you may not podium, you may not get anything. HOWEVER, IMAGINE IF YOU COULD JOG WHEN YOU THOUGHT YOUR LEGS WERE ABSOLUTELY DEAD. WOULDN’T THAT BE THE GREATEST VICTORY OF ALL? If you could overcome this? Then you WOULD TRULY KNOW you are capable of FUCKING ANYTHING.”
He was right. If I could find a way now. After going for it all. After my vision of the last eight months being completely wrecked. After knowing for a fact something is fucked up with me, yet I don’t know what. If I can COMMAND my body now. If I can will it now to jog. I know there is absolutely nothing I can’t do. That is the greatest victory of all. So, after walking to mile 84.5ish, I started chanting a David Goggins quote “YOU DON’T KNOW ME SON!!!!! YOU DON’T KNOW ME SON!!!! WHO IS GOING TO CARRY THE FUCKING BOATS!!!! I AM!!!” and dug to a place no one should ever go, and I started running again. Ronnie Delzer passed me right after I started running and I know had to hear me yelling. I continued to yell, chant, and RUN.
I made it to about mile 86.5 and that’s where I found my physical limit on that day. My legs gave out. Literally just buckled and said no more running. I shit on the side of the course and I started pissing Coca-Cola. These were the signs of Rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdo is where your muscles start to quickly break down into your bloodstream. It can cause kidney failure and heart failure if not taken care of quickly. At that moment though I still wasn’t ready to quit. I walked the half mile to the mile 87 aid station where I had family and friends. I sat down on a cooler to start preparing my mind for the hardest 13-mile walk of my life. I was in a competitive state of mind that has been developed over my entire life.
My mom is a nurse and I know it broke her heart to see me like this. We told her what had happened, and she advised me to stop. She didn’t say I had too. She left that decision up to me. That moment was definitely one I will take with me forever. She knows how dangerous Rhabdomyolysis is, however, I realized then she also understands the psychological pain that this world can sometimes inflict upon you. I felt for the first time in my life, in that moment, that she understood why I run. I run to harden the human spirit and to teach myself that I can overcome real, everyday life situations. Life is fucking a beautiful thing, however, it can be cruel and harsh. It can kick your fucking ass. I run so that when life kicks me in the ass I am ready. Her letting me choose whether or not to keep going showed me she understood that.
Her advising me to stop and not telling me too was also the moment I snapped out of the competitive state. I knew that stopping would be painful. Against every cell in my body. However, if you run to become more stoic, if you train to be a warrior, a part of training your warrior mindset is also knowing when to throw in the towel. So, I did just that. I gave my mom and my girlfriend a hug and started crying. I couldn’t stand up under my own power anymore. I let myself feel the pain of the rhabdo and of quitting. Then, within 5 minutes, I let it go. That moment is over. Now what are you going to do in this moment. To make this moment the best you have ever had. It’s just another learning experience.…
I ended up spending 48 hours in the emergency room as they worked to rehydrate me. Once again, the extreme privilege I have of having so many people who care about me was on full display. The below picture was about 30 minutes after the above one where I dropped out.
My CK levels were at 44,000. Extreme levels are considered 10,000, normal levels are 1,000. There is a lot more research that needs to be done on Rhabdo in runners as most marathon runners have elevated CK levels, yet no symptoms. The only conclusive thing I found is that if you have extreme muscle weakness and discolored, coca-cola/tea colored urine, please seek medical attention as you have Rhabdo.
I don’t advise anyone ever running to the point that I did. I made a few mistakes in hydration and nutrition that could’ve delayed my symptoms to further in the race, however, it was probably going to happen due to the intensity I was pushing myself and the fact I didn’t know the early signs of Rhabdo, only the later signs. In the future I will know what the early signs of Rhabdo are and back off a lot sooner in the pace. These early signs included extreme, un-usual muscle achiness and lack of the muscle working properly.
These last eight months were quite the journey training for this race. The race itself was incredible. I am already excited to get back on the log in an effort to nail the next one.
Here are the final results:
Patrick Reagan 12:21 and new world record for a trail 100 mile by 23 minutes
Ryan Montgomery 12:59 and 4th fastest 100 mile time of 2019 all surfaces
Ronnie Delzer 13:29 and 8th fastest 100 mile time of 2019 all surfaces
Sam Skeels 14:19 and 15th fastest 100 mile time of 2019 all surfaces
I will conclude with my main take-aways/reflections, some of which is sort of repeated from the recap. Thank you for reading and I wish you all the best as we continue on this cosmic journey with each other!
"There is a powerful driving force inside every human being that, once unleashed, can make any vision, dream, or desire a reality." - Anthony Robbins
MBA Graduate Degree. CPA Exam. Ultra Running. A 2.5 year journey of transforming my mind to truly believe we are capable of anything.
These past six months have been six months of many "endings" and new "beginnings" that were 2.5 years in the making. After my 100 mile race this past September, I graduated with my MBA from Texas State University, was a part of the 4 person RunLab team that set the Spectrum Trail Racing Circus Trail Race 12-hour relay record (MUD and FLOODS! Worthy of a blog post all on its own!), and completed an 8-week intern program with Ernst and Young in Houston. In completing this transition I left organizations that I have been connected to for the past 5 years: RunLab Austin (worked there for 1.5 years, was a fanboy before) (have since re-joined the RunLab team as a part of their Online Platform: RunLab.US) and Power for Parkinson's. Every ending though marks the beginning of something new...... My hope is that sharing the story of my journey can help you along in yours....
MBA Graduate Degree. CPA Exam.
As a graduate student, one of the most common questions you get and one of the questions that pops into the minds of students is "is it worth it?" It's often the topic of conversations during late study sessions or when you have to tell your friends every weekend that you can't hang out because you are studying. What are you going to get out of it? I never liked this question because "worth" is going be different to different people. Is it the monetary return on investment? The time studying investment? The time lost with family, friends, and pursuing fitness? The loss sleep? My experience is unique to me, and thus, the "worth" is my interpretation and I am not going to attempt to persuade anyone one way or the other. My aspiration is that the following may help you organize your thoughts in a decision process, not necessarily for a masters degree, however, for any goal you are on the fence about pursuing...
My decision to get a masters degree was based on two big factors:
1) I realized while pursuing my fitness career aspirations and when working with various non-profit organizations that there came a point in the evolution of an organization where growth became limited by either a lack of capital, experience, knowledge, networking, or a combination of all the fore-mentioned. There came a point where grit, passion, and hard work were not enough to overcome these things. There had to be a balance. I made the conscious decision that school was the right path for me to gain the necessary capital, experience, knowledge, and broader network for my long term aspirations. In short, school would open more doors for me career wise as I would acquire not only a new set of skills but also a multi-disciplinary framework of thinking. I would be able to address needs and wants in different ways. As stated, my path is but my own.
2) Since my earliest conscious memories, sports have been my life. For a long time the pursuit of getting as physically fit as possible was my main goal in life. Over time this passion developed into helping other people becoming physically fit. As it was, I felt very unbalanced in my personal development. While a part of developing the physical is developing the mental fortitude and grit to overcome obstacles I felt I needed to take these lessons and evolve other pillars of my being. A recent book I read by Mark Divine, "The Way of The Seal", put it best by describing the five pillars of human development as: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and intuitive. I needed to develop these five pillars.
Fast forward 2.5 years, a MBA, and five classes away from sitting for the CPA exam and I would tell you the biggest value school gave me was the confidence that I am truly capable of anything I set my mind too. I have become a more balanced individual as the emotional, intuitive, mental, and spiritual pillars began to align with the physical......
Admittedly, I was not the best student in undergrad. People who know me now find it hard to believe I actually failed Chemistry II my sophomore year. Yes, a "F". While I got my act together after that in undergrad I never thought of myself as a "scholar" or was very confident in my ability to learn. I am not admitting to be a scholar or genius now, however, this time around in school, I chose to take the lessons I had learned from attempting to improve fitness and apply them to being the best student I could be. I would study relentlessly. If I was not working I was studying. Spending 10-12 hours each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday studying because I worked during the week. Staying up during the week if I felt I needed to study more, which was often the case. Admittedly, this sucked at first, however, each exam and paper I received an "A" on reinforced the process and confidence that I could in fact do this. That I could do anything. I took great joy in this feeling...... In addition to finishing with a 4.0 in my MBA and accounting courses, I was elected by my peers as the MBA Class President, chosen by accounting faculty to represent the accounting department at recruiting events as an Accounting Ambassador, took 3 additional business courses through Harvard Business School Online (finishing with High Honors), and was rewarded the $15,000 "Future Texas Business Legends" scholarship by the Texas Business Hall of Fame. This was all icing on top of the wonderful experience I had meeting people from different work disciplines/walks of life and having the opportunity to travel to Santiago, Chile and Lima, Peru to study business in different cultures.
Since graduating, I recently completed an 8 week internship and then accepted a job offer to work at Ernst and Young in their Assurance division beginning in the Fall of 2020. Currently, I have to take five more classes before I can sit for the CPA exam. In the mean time, in addition to studying for the CPA exam, I have decided to put all my focus into two tasks: 1) Laying the foundation to accomplish my life goal of making high-quality fitness programs accessible to as many people as possible (currently working with RunLab.US to develop their online platform and to help runners run healthier and happier). 2) Become the best 100-mile ultra-runner I can possibly become........
An ultra-run is defined as any run greater than a marathon or 26.2 miles. This can be a 50k, 50 miler, 100 miler, or a distance even greater. I have chosen to try to maximize my ability to cover 100 miles by foot as quickly as possible over trail and on the track. If you have read to this point, you might be wondering about the seemingly contradictory thought process right now. "You worked so hard over the last few years to get your life balanced through studying and working and now you are saying you want to RUN 100 MILES AS FAST AS YOU CAN?!?!?" Yes. That's exactly what I want to do.....
About 5 years ago, I burnt out on training for running. As mentioned before, I chose to direct my attention towards helping other people achieve their fitness goals. For a while this lit a fire inside of me. Over time I gradually just felt out of balance. My desire to achieve the physical dominated my life. Over the last 2.5 years my physical training took a back seat as I directed my energy towards studying and working. In an effort to stay fit, I signed up for the 2018 Houston Marathon with the goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, hoping this may re-spark my desire to workout. Admittedly, it did not..... Then, shortly after the Houston Marathon, while with my best friend, Colby McCune, I watched a David Goggins talk on Joe Rogan's podcast. David Goggins, a retired Navy Seal, Ultra Runner, pull-up world record holder, motivational speaker, among many other accomplishments has recently come into the spotlight. I was lucky enough to have him as a guest speaker 10 years ago as a freshmen on the University of Texas track team. Back then he fired me up to push myself to places I didn't think were possible. 10 years later he re-sparked something inside of me. His "no excuses, you have one f*cking life, what are you going to do with it?" mindset resonated with me. He says, "you can settle for being uncommon or you can be uncommon amongst the uncommon." I was selling myself short... I signed up for my first 100 miler, trained for and ran it last September while going to school full time and working full time breaking the previous course record in a, very admittedly, in hindsight, lucky day (for a recap read the blog here). However, that day completely changed my life.........
"Running 100 miles will expose every weakness that you have. You aren't disciplined enough to train? You will be exposed. You aren't patient enough to pace yourself? You will be exposed. You aren't willing to plan out your nutrition and hydration? You will be exposed. You aren't willing to do the little things such as foam rolling/mobility to handle the volume? You will be exposed. You don't know your body well enough to know when to take in fuel, to push the pace, or to conserve? You will be exposed. Your "why?" isn't strong enough when the going gets tough? You will be exposed." - Colby McCune
The journey of running 100 miles allows you to experience so much of life within a relatively short period of time. The act of training for 100 miles and then running it is the perfect metaphor for life. You will learn so much about yourself and the world in this short period. The lessons you learn carry over into every other facet of your life. This last point is whats so important. I realized, to maximize your physical pillar you do not give up on the other four. All five must move in unison. It is the act of pushing your physical boundaries that allows the other five to also move up for all five must be balanced over time. That is why I have chosen this task. The lessons learned will blend over into my other goals allowing me to attempt to become "uncommon amongst the uncommon" and allowing me to try to be the best version of myself.
Over the next 1 to 1.5 years I will be sharing as much of my training as I can on Strava, Instagram, and YouTube. I also hope to share with everyone not only my knowledge about running but also my other life experiences through social media channels such as FaceBook and Blogging. I truly do hope that me sharing just helps you accomplish whatever your crazy goals may be. Together we are capable of anything. One spark lights the fire and you get enough sparks you can make a raging inferno.... Let's become that spark...... My racing schedule will be posted on the main page soon, however, I will be running the Boston Marathon on April 15 and then my "A" race is the Brazos Bend 100 Miler on Saturday, December 7 at Brazos Bend State Park... I hope you can follow along!
“Show me a self-made man and I will show you a fool.” I was once told this quote by a mentor of mine and it always turns out to be true. Never more so than this weekend….
After getting a lot, a lot, A LOT of food in me and some rest I have had some time to reflect upon this 100-mile run. I will try to put into words the lessons I have learned or that have been reinforced.
The first thing is that I am blessed to have even been able to have had such an opportunity to attempt something like this. To have been raised by parents and in an environment that taught me to never believe anything is impossible. To have had a consistent community of family and friends who not only constantly support me but also care enough about me to spend their time following the FaceBook updates. To have the health, resources, and time to attempt such things.
In the months leading up to the run I was admittedly anxious. The run itself presents many unknowns. The mere amount of time you have to be moving increases the probability of something going wrong. To minimize this probability, I asked questions of those who had done these 100 mile runs before. I listened to their stories and the lessons they had learned about training, fueling, chafing, blisters, and more. I read books and listened to podcasts from others. From keeping an open mind and being able to learn from others I gained confidence. This was in addition to the 8 marathons in 10 weeks I ran in the final block of training.
Even with my confidence getting higher each week leading up to the race, the week of the race I was admittedly getting worried. The battle with my mind before the race was already beginning. The doubt had started to creep in. “Did I train enough?” “My foot kind of hurts.” “My groin kind of hurts.” “Did I go too hard these past few weeks?” “I haven’t been sleeping much.” “What if my fueling isn’t correct?” “What if I get dehydrated?” “What if I can’t stay up long enough in the night?” “What if………”
Then, the evening before the run was too start, all of that doubt melted away. I took the time to think about what this moment really was. The reality of it all. I was in a beautiful city with my best friends who went above and beyond planning as my pit crew. Seeing their energy and excitement in planning my meals, clothes, hydration and my entire support was a turning point. Then getting on social media and seeing the response from everyone before I even started the race was the final turn. I was reminded that this run is not something to have doubt over or worry or anxiety. I was reminded that this was something to be thankful for. I realized, as I have before, it’s not always about actually getting your goals it’s about the fact you even dared to try… The mere effort is enough...
Going into the race my first goal was to finish under the cut-off time of 31 hours. With a high goal of 24 hours finish. I truly thought going in I could do it in about 20 hours. I also knew I could run at least 40 miles at 9-minute pace as I had done this in practice. The last 60 were the unknown….
During the race within 10 miles I was in the lead with the eventual winner. We started to go downhill and he said “hey lets pick up the pace” and of course I said “yea let’s do it.”
We started to clip off sub 8-minute miles and at the 21 mile mark we got to the first pit stop. I took my time and the other runner left. I ended up passing him about 2 miles later and seeing that he slowed down a lot I made the decision right then to just keep going at the clip he had set a little while before. While probably not the best decision, I also came to test myself and this was what I was going to do.
I knew mile 37-54 were going to be challenging as this was the longest part of the run without seeing my crew. During this point I had my first few super highs and super lows. At first I was thinking “wow, I am actually going to win this thing. I feel GREAT! I AM GOING TO BREAK THE COURSE RECORD!” Then all of a sudden around mile 50 I hit my first real obstacle. I had run out of water and the dehydration hit me just all of a sudden. I had to walk for the first time during the race. Luckily, my crew had put a wet towel in my pocket and this is what kept me cool enough to get my legs back under me so I could jog to mile 54. I was still at an 8:50 average. While I had my first minor set-back, knowing the fact I was going to be running with my friends the rest of the way gave me more confidence. The real take away here is that my goal had changed. It was no longer enough in my mind to finish. I got greedy and I wanted to have it “all”….. It was 13 miles until the next check point….
After getting my fuel in me and getting to run with my pacer, we continued to click off 9-minute miles feeling great. Then at mile 63 or 64 I hit the biggest wall of my life. I was out of water. My GPS watch died. There were no markers to indicate how much further until the next check point. We had no idea how far it was… For those that know me, I plan everything in my life almost to the tee. Being out of control in this moment made me panic…. We started to do a walk/jog thing as all the negative thoughts came rushing into my mind… I thought I was literally going to have to walk the last 35 miles…. Making it worst was we saw a huge tank that said “Russel Tank” thinking it was the check point however, the check point was still 2+ miles away. That completely wiped me out. I got to mile 67 and was mentally shattered. My quads, hip flexors, and calves were aching and cramping. My right foot was starting to pulsate. I literally had just walked 2 miles and had 33 to go. I couldn’t stand up. I sat there in pain with my head down just wondering how the fuck I was going to do this. It had all happened so suddenly and with little warning….
My crew doused me with cold wet towels, massaged out my muscles as I sat there crying. Part of the reason I came was to see how I would react in this moment and here it was. Part of the reason I came was to see what thoughts I would turn too when I thought it was over and here it was. I had thought about this moment for months if not years, visualizing it, trying to feel what it would be like and it had finally hit me. I sat there in a lawn chair for 15 minutes going through every last thing in my head to get my body up and moving. I thought about my dad and my mom. I thought about the starving children I had seen in my travels to India, Haiti and beyond. I thought about those that have to walk to school each day or don’t have a warm home to sleep in or a hot meal to eat each night. I thought about those soldiers whom sacrifice their lives every day for us to be free. I thought about all the people in real pain who would give anything to be where I was in that moment. The moment where I just had to choose to keep going. A moment of nothing but the freedom to choose to push forward. A moment to be thankful for. This was it. There was no more pressure to win or to break a record. I had gotten greedy. Greed kills. I had let the future that had yet to happen overtake me. Don’t let what hasn’t happened yet destroy you. I realized this. I realized the pursuit is enough. Just choose to keep pushing forward. It is a gift to have that choice as so many in this world do not….
My crew lifted me out of the chair and got me to take a few steps. I looked them in the eyes and told them I was thankful for them and that I wasn’t stopping for anything in this world. That I was going to crawl to the finish if that’s what it took. Then my mind was back on straight and we ran….
We took off from mile 67 and every step was hurting. I was barely moving at 13-14 minute miles, however, my mental state was back and I was laughing with my pacer. At mile 70 we were passed by the eventual winner and something inside of me instantly clicked and I started going with him. For 3 miles we ran together. The winner, his pacer, my pacer, and me. Then all of a sudden, I felt great and my pacer said ride the wave. Going up a hill I re-took the lead and started pushing close to 9-minute miles again. This lasted until about mile 78 before I hit another wall. At mile 80 the eventual winner and myself were tied. I knew that I didn’t have much left to give. We had just gone down a one-mile hill and after the mile 80 check point we had to turn around and go back up it. At this point though everything had melted away. I was laughing and smiling just taking it all in. Everything slowed down that last 20 miles, figuratively and literally. Everything became beautiful. Seeing my friends still excited for me 13-14 hours into a run. Having them encouraging me as I stumbled back and forth on the trails and often times off the path. Walk, jogging through tall trees under the moon for 20 miles. Knowing that I was going to finish. That I wasn’t going to give in. That I was not going to quit. That I had friends that would probably use this as motivation to chase their own goals. It was all a gift. Every last step…..
I was passed by the eventual 2nd place person at about mile 94. Him coming up on me actually made me fall over. With 2.5 miles to go we realized that we were still on pace to break the old course record. I wanted to finish so badly, however, at the same time, oddly enough I didn’t want it to be over. For how much pain I was in physically knowing what I was about to do, I just wanted to stay in the moment. With half a mile to go, Colby and Moses, my pacers throughout this entire tale, jogged it in with me. Cheering me on and telling me how proud they were. I pulled out the American Flag my mom brought home to me from her time serving in Afghanistan that brought home some soldiers. Fuck pain. Fuck limits. I had done it... 17 hours 30 minutes. A 3rd place finish. The previous course record was 17 hours 37 minutes….
To end, as cliché as they may be, the biggest take away’s are:
Key Benefits Of Yoga For The Endurance Athlete. Plus 10 Quick Yoga Poses To Help You Open Up Your Back, Glutes, and Hips For Happier, Healthier, and More Effective Endurance Training
Often times endurance athletes such as cyclists, runners, and swimmers work one plane of motion known as the sagittal plane. Endurance athletes use the same muscles day after day to move forward in the sagittal plane and all other planes of motion are neglected. This constant work of the same muscles in one direction leads to tight, overused muscles and eventually muscle imbalances. Muscle length imbalances and muscle strength imbalances lead to altered force couple relationships, which can manifest themselves as injuries over time. Injuries often times lead to other injuries in what is known as the cumulative injury cycle. This cycle of constant injuries can demotivate one in their fitness journey.
Every muscle when it contracts to produce movement has an opposite muscle that must relax. Think of the tricep relaxing when the bicep contracts. If a muscle is in a shortened or chronically contracted state its opposing muscle must be in a relaxed or chronically inactivated state. Even though this muscle is relaxed, the body still needs to perform the duties of this inactivated muscle. The body is an efficient machine and will find a way to keep you moving. If a set of muscles is inactive due to a tight opposite muscle, your body will start to recruit other muscles to do its job. This is known as synergistic dominance. The recruited muscles, however, must still perform their other original duties in addition to their new duties and therefore become more susceptible to being overworked, to being injured, or being broken down unless the underlying problem is fixed. Think of an employee having to perform more duties since another employee is being lazy or just fails to show up. This employee does not get any more benefits from working more, but is just under more stress. This employee may be able to handle the additional work load at first, but eventually will break down. The same is true of a muscle having to do more work for an inactive muscle. Without the relaxed muscle returning to it's working state, the recruited muscle will break down.
Image Source: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/ef/b8/d1/efb8d168aeb22e6f16ae1135341d84a3.jpg
The most common demonstration of this phenomenon is the lack of gluteal muscle activation (weakness) caused by tight hip flexor muscles (pictured above). If one's hip flexors are tight or in a shortened state, this can lead to anterior pelvic tilt where the pelvic bone is literally pulled forward by the tight muscles. As you can see from the picture above this leads to an overactivity in the hamstring muscles and an overactivity of the lower back. This overactivity of the lower back caused by excessive shortening of the hip flexors can manifest itself as lower back pain.
The gluteal muscles attach to the hip and all movement is generated from this powerful muscle group. Without proper glutueal muscle activation you begin to recruit your hamstring muscles for hip extension. This over-activation of the hamstring to extend the hip can lead to a hamstring strain as the hamstring is forced to do more work than usual. Also, without proper activation of the gluteal muscles, which work to abduct and adduct the leg (slowing down rotation as your leg pronates to absorb the ground contact force), you begin to recruit muscles lower down on your body such as your calf muscles in order to slow down abduction and adduction of the leg. The ground contact force has to be absorbed somewhere in the body and if your glutes are not doing their job the rest of your body must compensate. This compensation can lead to calf strains, achilles tendonitis, shin splints, and plantar fascitis.
So how can one avoid chronically overactive and tight muscles that lead to injury? Through incorporating a regular flexibility and mobility routine into one's workout regimen. Always warm up for a minimum of 5 minutes before working out. Warm up even longer for harder workouts. Also, performing stretching 2-5 times a week at least 15-30 minutes at a time will leave one feeling loose, supple, and refreshed. It will also help one in avoiding injuries and this will lead to consistency in training which will lead to a happier and more enjoyable fitness experience. I have found Yoga to be the best, most effective, and enjoyable way to get regular flexibility and mobility into an individuals routine. Besides the stretching benefits, Yoga also provides one with clarity of mind, balance, and inner strength. More on that in a later writing. For now, below are 10 Yoga poses that will help unlock your hips, glutes, and back which will lead to happier, healthier, and stronger endurance training.
Warm Up With 4-10 rounds of Sun Salutations:
Yoga Hip Opener Poses For Endurance Athletes:
1. Low Lunge
Image Source: https://s3.amazonaws.com/yoga-assets/assets/content/articles/Y21_5.jpg
2. Warrior I
(Perform on solid ground. Performing on rocks as in the picture is inherently dangerous and should be used with extreme caution)
3. Warrior II
5. Extended Side Angle Pose
Image Source: http://cdn.shape.com/sites/shape.com/files/u87/extended-side-angle.jpg
6. Garland Pose
Image Source: http://www.yogatrail.com/yoga-poses/media/2013-05/yoga-pose-garland-pose-3297-1.jpg
7. Bound Angle Pose
Image Source: http://www.yogaoutlet.com/images/guide/yoga/15511002282011110328.jpg
8. Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
Image Source: http://www.yogaoutlet.com/images/guide/yoga/15511005042011111855.jpg
9. Thread The Needle
Image Source: http://kamloopsyogabootcamp.com/health-fitness/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/thread-the-needle-300x194.jpg
10. Pigeon Pose
Image Source: http://media4.popsugar-assets.com/files/2013/01/03/1/192/1922729/0106160053fb5c08_3-Pigeon-Pose/i/Pigeon-Pose.jpg
When the word “core” is tossed around in conversation most would instantly think about the coveted “six pack”. The image of defined muscles forming a pattern across the front of our bodies. Every year, millions of people start training in order to slim down their core and even more people start training in hopes of achieving the “six pack”. The “six pack” brings about a sense of accomplishment, bravado, and an image of strength being attained. This blog is written in order to turn traditional thinking on its back. What most people think about the core is wrong. Someone doing hundreds of crunches a day is a waste of time. Someone who has a “six pack” doesn't necessarily mean they have a strong core.
First and foremost it is important to state that yes there is an aesthetic appeal to having defined and toned abdominal muscles. To achieve this you are going to have to lose body fat which is mainly due to nutrition. That is why having a six pack doesn't necessarily mean someone has a strong core. It means they are skinny enough to see their six pack. Real strength is measured by the ability of the core to stabilize the spine and produce force.
All movement is generated from the core. So what exactly is the core? Most people when thinking of the core think of the superficial muscles that we can see (mirror muscles) such as the rectus abdominis (the six pack) and the oblique muscles. In addition to these muscles there are a host of deeper and intermediate muscles that work to stabilize the spine, rotate the torso, bend the torso, and produce movement. These muscles are pictured below:
When starting a core exercise regimen it is important to start off with stabilization exercises. Stabilization exercises work the deep muscles close to the spine and aid in spinal stability or posture. Think of stabilization as the foundation of your body. Similar to a building with a stronger foundation being able to support a larger load the stronger your spinal foundation the more force you are going to be able to produce overall and hence the stronger your core actually is. While all of the core muscles work on bracing and stabilizing the muscles closest to our spine are going to work on stabilizing the spine the most. These muscles are the transverse abdominis, multifidus, erector spinae, and pelvic floor muscles. Stabilization exercises include bridge variations, plank variations, and off-center loading. Pictured below:
Source: somastruct.com; soccermaniak.com; shape.com
After a foundation of stability has been established within the core, in order to gain strength one needs to train to be able to produce more force. Force is defined in physics as mass multiplied by acceleration (f=ma). In order for the core to be able to produce more force one must systematically increase the mass which they apply to the core musculature as well as systematically increase the acceleration applied to the core musculature. Increasing applied mass seems to be a little bit more clear on how to do so I will start there.
Once you have developed spinal stability it is time to load the core using exercises that put force vertically along the spine. These exercises include the bench press, squat, and deadlift. You can start these exercises with low weights or even no weight until you get the technique down. Actually do not add any weight until you absolutely have the movement technique down. Beginning to add weight before you can perform these exercises correctly will lead to injuries.
Once you feel comfortable with the movement technique start off by doing 3 sets of 6-10 reps at 75%-85% repetition maximum 3 times a week. The bench press, while working the pectoral muscles, also takes spinal stability and strength in order to accelerate and decelerate the weight. You must engage your core musculature, especially the obliques and lateral fibers, in order to get the weight back up to the rack position.
The squat and the deadlift are some of the most functional exercises we can do. Functional exercises being defined as motions we use in everyday life. The squat and deadlift each engage your entire core musculature from the pelvic floor through the abdominal wall. It is important that you seek out an experienced trainer in order to perform these exercises with proper form. Since they do engage so many muscles, performing with improper form can lead to movement compensation and then injury over time.
Now that you have some ways to increase the mass (load) to your core musculature we are going to discuss the second part of the equation f=ma. In order to create acceleration within the core one needs to add twisting and throwing motions to their routine. While there is a multitude of workout equipment out there I have found your best tool for creating acceleration under load is the medicine ball.
Overhead soccer throws, side throws, wall bounces, squat tosses, squat overhead slams, lunge throws, or any variation of a throw with the medicine ball will create acceleration throughout the core. This will force you to recruit more muscles and increase the force placed upon these muscles. By placing more force upon your abdominal muscles you will eventually develop stronger abdominal muscles. This is the final piece of the puzzle to achieve a stronger and more efficient core.
Happy training my friends.
As promised, 10 Exercises To Do For An Awesome Core:
Always consult a certified professional before performing any exercise program. Always be cleared by a licensed physician before beginning any exercise program.
1) Plank With Opposite Arm/Leg Raise (Perform for one minute)
2) Plank With Spider Man Crawl (Perform for one minute)
3) Bridge Lower Raise (For one minute. Can load weight as comfortable.)
4) Suit Case Carry (Carry for 20-50 yards in each hand)
5) Squat (2-3 sets of 6-10 reps @ 75%-85% 1 Rep Max)
6) Deadlift (2-3 sets of 6-10 reps @ 75%-85% 1 Rep Max)
7) Bench Press (2-3 sets of 6-10 reps @ 75%-85% 1 Rep Max)
8) Hip Catch Throw (Perform for one minute)
9) Lunge Med-Ball Throw (Perform for one minute)
10) Overhead Soccer Throw (Perform for one minute)
Exercise has been an important part of my entire life. When I was a child most, if not all, of my exercise came in the form of play. For hours on end I would go exploring on foot or by bike. I would sprint against my friends to see who could get to a random landmark first. I would jump fences and climb through narrow openings. Exercise, at the time, allowed me to become aware and learn about the World. It is blissful being a kid.
My mode of exercise eventually evolved from play into a more structured regimen when I started running cross country and track in middle school. The practices provided a discipline and a routine which I could base my life around. It provided community and friends that would go on to last a lifetime. Running also provided countless life lessons with the most important lesson being that each day you must wake up and be ready to work hard towards your goals. I fell in love with running and everything it came to represent in my life.
Running eventually led to having a network of individuals that opened up opportunities for me to delve deeper into my passion. There is an entire economic market built around running such as sports therapy, retail, event setup, marketing, nutrition, volunteering, and coaching. We are lucky in America to have the opportunity to do a number of different things based around our passions. I explored each aspect of this running market to see which component I enjoyed the most. I interned at a sports therapy office for a summer, worked at a retail store, set up running events (5ks, 10ks, fundraisers), worked on marketing, passed out nutrition, volunteered countless hours, and finally coached many individuals. While I still partake in a little bit of each of the aforementioned segments it was coaching that won me over. The direct impact you can make on one's quality of life with improved health or performance is a very fulfilling phenomenon. The physical and emotional changes you can see through helping someone with their exercise routine is priceless. The coolest aspect of coaching though is that no matter what age or what background someone may have exercise can play a vital role in improving their quality of living. From the small child that plays, to the elite athlete who chases marks. From the middle-aged parent who works countless hours, to the senior citizen who is enjoying their twilight years. Exercise can make us happier and healthier. Exercise can bring us together over a common cause.
When I started out coaching I coached exclusively runners. Middle Schoolers, High Schoolers, and some adults. It was my sport of passion and I thought everyone should run. As I started coaching more and more individuals though I realized that this was not realistic. Running can sometimes be a brutal activity and not everyone likes to or has the capability of running. I realized at this point that if I wanted to make a real impact I would have to expand my knowledge. I became obsessed with learning as much as I could to be able to help as many people as possible. Already armed with a degree in Exercise Science from The University of Texas I started reading countless books on physical, mental, and spiritual training. I wanted to be able to have the ability to help anyone with their quality of life through fitness training, which is just as much a mental battle as it is a physical one. From this passion I have had the opportunity to meet and work with many different populations. I have had the opportunity to see different parts of the World. I have had the opportunity to make an impact.
I understand that I am very fortunate to be able to do what I am passionate about. If it was not for living in a great country, being raised by great parents, and being a part of a great community there would have been no way I could be doing what I am doing now. For everyone who has made this possible, thank you! I leave this writing with a few questions. Food for thought:
Why did you become what you chose to become? What gets you up each day motivated to make a difference? What inspires you? What get's you excited? Find it. Use it. You are powerful. You CAN make a difference.
Food poison sucks. You can’t keep any food down. You can’t drink enough water to stay hydrated. You spend most of your time in a restroom on a toilet. You can’t even go to sleep because if you do you will begin to spoil yourself. This had become first my perception of India, and then it had become my reality: a terrible place thousands of miles from home with no sanitation, terrible bathrooms, no hot water, no air conditioning, spotty internet, and horrible food. A place where animals shit in the streets, trash accumulates, and everyone just gets sick. To sum it up, I was pissed. I don’t get sick. Here I was 3 days into my trip to India, and I couldn’t leave the toilet. I hated this place… for 48 hours. And then I decided to do something about it.
Reality, circumstances, and emotions are all thoughts that are created within the mind. Thoughts in the mind are nothing but electromagnetic waves. They are vibrations inside your head, and if you so choose, these vibrations can be projected out onto your world and become your “reality.” Since thoughts are electromagnetic waves, they are an actual, physical phenomenon. Can we control these waves, and by doing so, create a reality that we love? The answer is yes.
We hear the stories about humans dreaming up and performing extraordinary things. The automobile, airplanes, space ships, cell phones, 3D printing of organs, nano-tech, and all the other technology we have in our modern world. What allows these people to elevate themselves in order to achieve such feats? It all comes down to each person thinking beyond their occasional doubts and believing that they truly CAN ACHIEVE. They have conditioned their minds to believe that they are worthy of being successful. Through constant reinforcement and discipline, they are confident that they will find a way to succeed. Rather than allowing negative vibrations sit and empower their minds or bring them down, they instead take action. They have trained their minds to simply recognize negative emotion and let it pass. Through a constant stream of goals and a determined, positive mindset, successful people become constantly closer to towards their ultimate destiny.
Another example of the mind being able to create its reality comes from the stories of people going through extraordinary stresses that our minds cannot even begin to comprehend. Some examples include prisoners of wars, abuse victims, and cancer survivors. Yet, at the end of some of these stories, we find out that these people are some of the happiest and become some of the most impactful in their respective communities. We look upon these people in awe as we think of ourselves going through a situation just as tragic- wouldn’t we simply give up? How do they maintain this positive reality?
To be honest, I have been very fortunate in my life to have never had to face an extraordinarily stressful situation. I am not trying to compare my situation to the above mentioned, but I am trying to learn from others- there is something to say if I begin to let a stomach virus make me hate something when in comparison, a stomach virus is nothing. I was letting the negative vibration overtake me and bring me somewhere I absolutely did not want to be. I had over 3 weeks left in this country. I already wanted to leave, and I let this attitude carry over into everything I was doing. I did not want to go to the cafeteria anymore, and when I did, I only wanted to eat my own food: power bars and peanut butter sandwiches with chia seeds. I only wanted to drink bottled water, and if I had had the choice and could’ve afforded it, I probably would’ve flown in bottled water from Amazon.com.
During these 48 hours, I told everyone I talked to and everyone who would listen how terrible this place was. How Texas was the greatest. I told them I wanted to go back home. I complained constantly and then even began to let my thoughts turn into bigotry. I started to believe that my sickness was somehow a result of every single person who lived in India’s fault. That somehow, if every single person here would “just clean up,” I wouldn’t be sick. Just typing that statement now feels completely ridiculous…
While iMessaging my friends back home (when the internet went out every 20 minutes and conversations led to words that I am not particularly proud of), I just complained and complained. Finally, I needed a reality check from the Universe.
It started in the classroom with my master (that is what you call the person who trains you in the Yoga practices) teaching us about the principle of reality. He taught us that all emotions are created in the mind, and that our response to each situation we live through is first produced in our mind. My master told the class that yes, you will continue to feel negative emotions and negative thoughts, but you are instead just aware of these thoughts and choose to let them pass. He continued on to say that that concept could be applied to our response to sickness (I believe this was due to pretty much everyone being sick with food poison and dehydration). Our response to sickness, not the physical illness itself but our response to it, can be chosen. I have read books on this subject- “Think and Grow Rich” and “The Magic of Thinking Big”- but their teachings had escaped my mind. I started to turn over a little bit, but I was still in the negative territory.
This negative thought process, as mentioned earlier, spilled over into my conversations with my friends back home. Finally, one of my best friends and I got into a pretty big argument about my constant complaints. It was pointed out that here I was in India, living in some of the better accommodations, while the people across the street from me lived in a stacked up pile of bricks with a metal sheet thrown over it. It was pointed out that I am in pretty good physical health, with access to money, and with loving friends and family. And of course, I had traveled to the other side of the world simply to LEARN YOGA. As a typical guy knowing that I was about to lose the argument, I was stubborn and just resorted to argument generalization tactics that made me look childish at best.
As our master taught us, “the rock hits bottom before rising back to the surface.” This was my bottom. I had alienated myself from my Yoga classmates, and now I had alienated myself from my friends at home.
Later that day, we went on a hike up a Himalayan mountain to the new ashram that was being built by our Yoga school. We hiked for a good 25-30 minutes, and I even ran the last 5 minutes or so. With my chest heaving and sweat dripping, I overlooked the mountain range. I was still filled with so much negativity that even the mountain range looked insignificant to me. I remember thinking, “Even the mountains in India are shit. Colorado is better…” I recognized this thought and started to feel disappointed in myself. I sat down on a ledge and closed my eyes. I began to breathe deeply, as we were taught in class, and reflect. I reflected on how I had gotten to this point. How I was sitting on this ledge at this very moment. I reflected upon the events leading up to it. During this reflection, I admittedly started to cry. My life is wonderful. I have parents who love me beyond belief, and because of this love, I am able to pursue such things that led me to sitting where I was sitting. I had friends back home who supported me and were interested in my adventures. I was a part of several different communities back in Austin such as St. Stephen’s, Power For Parkinson’s, TXDot, AISD, the JCC, and the Austin Fitness scene in general. So much love and support was behind me being on that ledge overlooking that mountain at that one moment, and I was furious with myself for being so ungrateful for it. That was it. It was time to change my thoughts.
“Lorin…...Lorin…..” One of my classmates was calling my name. I dried up my tears with my shirt and turned around, putting on a smile. “Want me to take a picture of you?”
My forced smile became genuine. “Yes please. I would like that.” It was another sign from the Universe that I had yet another community that I belonged to. Another group of people that I could call my friends.
Later that day, my main crew at Yoga school and I decided that we needed to crash the Indian wedding that was being hosted near our accommodations. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Indian weddings are week long celebrations, and we had already witnessed the commotion of a few of them. I was still feeling crummy at this point, but I was starting to turn for the better. Also, it was on our bucket list, and I needed to stay a part of my crew.
We went down to the wedding and stood outside of it apprehensively. Were we really going to be those tourists who just walked into a wedding? People already think harshly of North Americans (they really didn’t). Finally, a drunken guy from the wedding told us it was ok and to just do it. Using this as our excuse, we decided to walk in. We stood at the back, still apprehensive as those seated began to stare at us. There was a dance floor in the front, and we decided that would be our main goal. We began walking slowly in between the chairs towards the dance floor. We stopped a few times to laugh and take in the fact of what we were about to do. Then, much to our surprise, when we got close enough, not only did no one care but we were literally pulled onto the dance floor in the midst of the crowd. There were kids, men, and women going crazy to Indian pop music and dancing their hearts out. I completely absorbed myself into the moment. I danced with anyone who wanted to dance. It was such a blast! Afterwards, people at the party were hugging us, kissing us, and thanking us for celebrating with them. It was the exclamation point to me coming back to positive thinking.
From that point on in my trip, my frame of mind was one of positivity. I was thankful for the opportunity to be able to do what I was doing. I was thankful for the opportunity to make new friends, see the good in strangers, and create new experiences that would become another piece of my life’s stories. My stomach still wasn’t “regular” for the rest of the trip, but my mindset had evolved into a higher realm. Thank goodness that from there on out, the experiences were priceless.
Our daily schedule at Yoga School is the following:
6am: Wake Up
6:30-6:45: Herbal Tea
7-9am: Pranayama, Mantra Chanting, and Asana (Chanting and Yoga)
10am-11am: Yoga Philosophy And Its Relation To Modern Science
11:15-12:45: Yoga Anatomy And Physiology
2pm-4pm: Library Time
5:30pm-7pm: Asana, Pranayama, And Meditation
As you can see from above we have a pretty full schedule for the entire day. This is our schedule Monday-Saturday and on Sundays we have a team activity planned such as hiking, river rafting, or sight seeing. A group of us is also hoping to be able to rent mopeds to explore the country side.
Anyways, while the above schedule seems like there is little time for freedom to explore, a group of us has been using the library time by going out into the real World to learn. Specifically, I have learned about relationships and the value of a dollar. I will delve more into the value of the dollar for this writing.
The current exchange rate for the dollar into Indian currency is 61 rupees for one dollar.
The following is what I have purchased thus far and for what price:
1 Liter Of Water: 10 Rupee (from an outside market)
1 Roll Of Toilet Paper: 20 Rupee (from an outside market)
Honey Cream Soap: 30 Rupee (from a physical soap shop)
Razor Blade and Shaving Cream: 20 Rupee (from an outside market)
Cafe Coffe Day Latte – 103 Rupee (came out to 140 after some weird tax confusion)
Masala Chai Tea and Carrot Banana Smoothie – 80 Rupee
With exception to the Cafe Coffee Day Latte, which is a corporate entity, everything is very affordable.
I will explain how ridiculously cheap everything is in comparison to the states using the Masala Chai and the Carrot Banana Smoothie purchase.
Back in Austin, Texas drinking juices and smoothies is very popular. One would be able to put together a pretty solid argument that it is seen as hip and cool to spend $4.95 minimum and up to $9.95 on one smoothie from Juice Land or Daily Juice. Most of the time, at least for me, I have to go home and eat again after having one of these smoothies, but hey you can't put a price on cool. Am I right?..... I could go on a rant here about how this overpriced smoothie craze just feeds the ego, but I am guilty of drinking these overpriced smoothies too so no need to bash. If people pay then of course you sell and that price is the agreed upon social contract. That's economics 101.... Besides, let's be honest they are dang good and make us happier. Isn't our happiness worth $9.95 for 12 oz of goodness?.....
Enough attempts at humor. This writing is to bring to light the value of the dollar by showing that here in Rishikesh, India the “Juice House” is practically identical to these places in Austin, Texas yet you can get much more at cheaper costs. My group of friends and I got 4 smoothies and one Masala Chai (for me) for 300 Rupees or right under $5. 4 for 1 special with an extra Chai. Sounds like my kind of daily deal, groupon, or whatever coupon joke you would like to insert here. But seriously, the fact is it is ASTOUNDING. World economics are crazy.
Below are a few pictures of the place as well as our drinks so you can have a visual of what I am writing about. Next time you think though "o it's just a dollar" pause for a second and think about the power of that statement. In some places a dollar goes a long way. Be appreciative of the power of a dollar.
At 5pm it would all get started. Our one month complete immersion into everything Yoga. The Yoga Hall where the ceremony was to take place was full 15 minutes before the supposed start time and the teachers were already sitting in the front of the room seemingly preparing. People were excitedly chatting about an array of things but mostly centered around travels to get to India and expectations for the course.
I was sitting patiently not really expecting much but for the teachers at 5pm to introduce themselves, give us a spiel on rules, and what to try to accomplish over our 1 month here. How wrong I was.
When 5pm came the 3 teachers began chanting. Over the course of the next hour these teachers continually chanted and performed rituals. I thought the chanting would stop after 10 minutes and when it did not I began to become quite confused. To be honest I was trying not to laugh especially since I was sitting in the front right next to them. After about 30 minutes one of the men got up and went around the room putting a red string bracelet on each person's wrist. After each person had a red string bracelet he went around the room again and put a red mark in between our eyes and then some rice that stuck to our foreheads. Finally, he circled the room a 3rd time and fed us each some sort of cake ball.
After this 3 part ritual, they continued chanting. After about another 10 minutes of chanting they lit a series of candles and had us line up. I was the first one to go and they handed me the lit candles. I had no idea what to do so I started kneeling down to bow to the statue in the front of the room. They hurriedly stopped me from doing so and had me stand straight up. Still confused as to what to do I just stared at the flames. Then I was instructed in broken english to spin the candles 5 times in a clockwise manner that encircled the statue I was facing. The whole process was awkward, mostly because I had no idea what was going on. Then I passed the candles to the next person and we all went through this process.
After we were all done the chanting continued for another 10 minutes and finally they stopped.
We then went around the room so each of us could introduced ourselves and explain what our objectives and expectations were for the course.
Then we departed.
The strange thing about the initial ceremony was nothing was explained. We still have no idea what the mantras were or why we had to turn the candles. We were just told because that is the opening ceremony that begins the program. We were told no other significance. O and our red wrist band reminds us we are here to practice Yoga, just in case we forget.
I know the above description may sound as if it is in negative light and that is not the objective. It was to show how confused each of us were. The actual experience of the opening ceremony set the tone of what our one month was going to be like. We were going to be practicing a way of living not just some form of exercise. Every action we were going to take was going to have a purpose towards an ultimate goal. We were not just going to be performing overly-commercialized forms of Yoga. We were going to get an authentic experience.......
The first week of class is all about laying the foundation of Yoga. Before we can master it we must first understand 3 basic questions: What is Yoga? Why do we want to practice it? How do we practice it?
So in addition to our actual physical practice of Yoga we have daily Yoga philosophy which explains ancient reasons of why people practiced Yoga (more spiritually based) and tries to explain the benefits experienced using modern day science. We also have an anatomy and physiology class which not only goes over the muscles and joints that are involved but delves into the physical brain adaptations (neuro plasticity) that take place as well as changes in the bodies nervous system. A combination of philosophy with hard science.
It has been a great experience and opportunity to be able to discuss in depth life philosophy with others. The basic Yogic philosophy has its roots in Vedic Civilization. The entire basis of Yogic philosophy is becoming aware of the self or what is known as realization. This is the ability to be aware of the higher spirit or your consciousness in the present. You are not distracted by anything from the past or from the future for these are just thoughts that fill the mind with clutter. They are not real. Only the present is real and the ability of constantly being aware of the present will lead to happiness. Yogi's are on a quest for perpetual happiness or what is also known as enlightenment. Through training, meditation, and practice one is able to control the mind/consciousness to focus on the present and realize the ultimate self. This is the entire basis of practicing Yoga. To practice freeing the mind of all thoughts but the present.
It has only been 2 days of classes, but by the end of the class today (Tuesday May 12) I was already extremely more flexible and my body feels more fluid as well as my mind. My friend told me before I left that I would probably come back a pretzel and now more than ever I believe I truly will. In addition to being a “pretzel” I also believe that at the end of my month I am going to come back home with a completely different view point on how to live life. A deeper understanding of human relationships. Not just relationships with others but our relationships with ourselves.
They stated in class that we must become 100% selfish in order to become 100% selfless. We had a great discussion on this and they left it open for interpretation. What I ultimately interpreted this as (I will continue to think deeply about this thought) meaning is that we must be the best versions of ourselves, invest in ourselves 100%, love ourselves fully, and only then will we be able to become the best selfless version of ourselves. We have to first maintain our own health, develop and practice our own passions/skills to the best of our ability before we are able to be at our best ability to be selfless or help others.
With that said, I will do my best over this next month to learn and to practice as much as I can. This way I am better equipped to come back and share in my findings. I will invest time in learning, a selfish act, in order to perform selfless deeds.
Thank you for reading my blog and I hope that they have been providing some food for thought!
Until next time.
Our opening ceremonies are scheduled for 5pm. After my morning adventures and my deep thoughts down by the Ganges it is only 8am. I have one hour before breakfast is served so I decided to stop and get a coffee. I go to Cafe Coffee Day again to grab a latte. After an awkward interaction in which they had no more coffee left but the latte I ordered a latte. Strangely, I got the smaller latte and it was more expensive than the large latte from the day before. Not wanting to cause any disagreements or make a scene I just paid the said amount before sitting down to enjoy my latte and think about the day ahead in the cool air conditioning.
I have some goals for while in India. The main objectives are: I want to learn a different culture. I want to explore a different philosophy. I want to expand my way of thinking and expand my way of viewing the World. Finally, I want to try to get a feel for how everyday life is in India. I want to see some universal actions and values in people that can help me connect to anyone.
With that said, I decided in Cafe Coffee Day that my objective for this day was to play cricket with children. I had seen some children the day before playing in a dirt field and today I was going to play with them. Back home in the states I am around kids for a good majority of the day and I feel the innocence and happiness in children is something that can connect people. It makes our lives a bit brighter.
With my goal set for the day I made my way out of the coffee shop and over to breakfast. By this time more people had arrived for our school and I went around introducing myself in order to see what backgrounds everyone had. On this morning I was particularly gravitated towards an Indian women who lives in Bablai, India. I found it very interesting that someone that lives in India would come to Rishikesh to learn Yoga. After talking with her a bit I found she grew up in a household where her parents spoke English. She did not practice traditional Indian customs. After working in marketing for HP she has decided that learning Yoga and the benefits of enlightenment is now her journey. Pretty cool. After some more discussions with her on our thoughts about this process of enlightenment I asked her if she would walk with me through town. Thankfully she said yes. Very convenient because my new friend speaks Hindi.
As we were walking and talking I saw children playing cricket at their home. I turned to look at my new friend and asked her if she would ask them if I could play. She must have thought I was joking because she looked at me and gave a slight chuckle. I looked at her and told her I was serious. I would like to play cricket with the children.
She asked for me and the kids instantly ran up to me with huge smiles on their faces. They handed me their ball and motioned for me to pitch to them. The ball was nothing but a very old, worn tennis ball that was a little bit soggy presumably from going into the puddles all around. The bat they used was nothing but an old wooden plank with a tiny handle they made on the bottom. Very simple yet so effective in the amount of fun it could provide.
I pitched very easily and more often than not the kids would hit the ball with great force sending it over the wall before all of them cheered joyously at their accomplishment. I soon got in on this cheering and the men watching started laughing and imitating me. Not being a self-conscious individual this just fed my enthusiasm to cheer even more and act even crazier with the kids.
The kids were pretty good at taking turns batting and when I went up to bat I would intentionally strike out. This made the kids jump with enjoyment at the thought of striking me out.
After me playing for about 30 minutes I think I earned the respect of the men of the house because they brought me a glass of water and smiled while offering. Not wanting to be rude and not really thinking I took the water said thank you and took a sip. I instantly regretted taking a sip because the water had a foul taste to it and this brought me back to my current reality that I was in India. Not wanting to be rude again, I swallowed that first sip then set the water down.
I continued to play cricket with these kids enjoying their energy, enthusiasm, laughter, and joy for another hour before finally calling it quits to rest before our opening ceremonies.
By this time my Indian friend had come back to watch me play cricket. I asked her to tell the kids I had to go and they begged for me not to go. After telling them I had to leavef, they asked if I would come back again and they let me know that they got out of school each day at 1pm if I ever wanted to play again. To cool.
Playing cricket with these children for a hour and a half reinforced my thoughts about children everywhere being able to teach us about life and that children deserve opportunity for life fulfillment. Children everywhere, when provided with love, are bundles of joy. No matter what language they speak. Their innocence is something special and beautiful in this World. This innocence, joy, and love can connect grown humans. It proves that these qualities found in children are Universal. It proves that grown people, while yes we should mature to some degree, we should also maintain some purity in order to fully enjoy life. This had to be one of the best experiences I have ever had. Witnessing and being a part of this Universal truth.