Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Mediocre Middle

I think many of us are stuck in the mediocre middle— an area between happy and UN-happy— a stable, yet unfulfilling place.  A place lacking MEANING. 

We attempt to occupy the void of this middle ground with iPods, iPADS, MP3s, plasma screen TVs and SUVs. But attempting to replace meaning with toys is akin to treating bronchitis with a cough drop—it provides temporary comfort, but fails to address the underlying ailment.

Unfortunately, many remain in this safe but miserable middle-ground of mediocrity  and avoid making a change until a dramatic life event (e.g. disease, job loss) FORCES a change.  Absent a dramatic life event, years…even decades drift by--slowly, but quite surely. The result: a life of regrets, missed opportunities and unrealized potential.

I say get out of the middle.  Today. But on YOUR terms.  Don’t wait for leukemia, or your boss to fire you, or some other external event to force the change.  I say find that personal mission NOW—a marathon, a new business, a new career teaching high school chemistry.  Something big—bigger than YOU.

Something that you can pursue relentlessly and proudly call your life’s work.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

When the Map is Incomplete

Often, we must summon the courage to get on the road and on our journey with an incomplete map. 
As long as we know our DESTINATION, we must trust that the path will be revealed.
If we wait until we can see the entire picture, and how to eliminate every possible danger, I think we take the bigger risk never getting started.  Thus missing the joy of victory...and the joy of the journey.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

An Accountability Partner

This Sunday, I will meet my running partner--correction--ACCOUNTABILITY partner, Bob, at 5am at Beverly Heights Park for our weekly 22- mile time trial up and down Lookout Mountain.  Our post run recovery will be two extra hot venti black coffees at the Starbucks in nearby Golden.  Then it's home in time to start coffees and waffles for our families that will be just waking up.

How is it possible to do this every weekend?

When I would rather stay in my warm bed.  When I would rather gulp down some steaming oatmeal instead of a PowerBar?

One word:  accountability.

Knowing that someone is waiting for me and counting on me to appear every cold, pre-dawn Sunday gives me the strength to consistently START what I know I wouldn't START on my own.

It forces me to dig deep, throw off the covers, get out of bed and BE ACCOUNTABLE.

But there is more.

An accountability partner reminds me that I won't be alone. 

I won't be facing the cold, the darkness, and the monster hills by myself.  There will be someone there to help me find the strength to put one foot in front of the other and FINISH the run.  FINISH what I start.  An accountability partner provides me the strength to FINISH what I know I wouldn't FINISH on my own.

It provides the strength to forge on.  Instead of turning back early, and heading for the blueberry pancakes at IHOP.  To BE ACCOUNTABLE.

But it get's better.

An accountability partner helps you discover new limits.

Last weekend, Bob and I encouraged a colleague from work to attempt a double run up Lookout Mountain with us.  He had only run it once--ever.  We encouraged him to break up the second attempt into 1-2 mile increments.  He stopped many times encouraging us to go on without him--so he could turn back.

We didn't go on without him.  And he didn't turn back.

That morning, our colleague successfully ran two times up Lookout Mountain.  More importantly, our colleague was taken to the far edge of his limits--or what he thought were his limits.  And LEAPED beyond.

Would he have completed this feat had he run alone that morning?  Perhaps. But  I would like to think that his success that morning was due to that unique energy that results from generous and grateful acts of  people bringing out the best in OTHERS. 

My Principles of Accounting students who form study groups--accountability partners--experience the same success in their studies as I have found on the trails.  A result of that unique energy reserved for those who encourage and help others.

I think we all need accountability partners.  In running, in school, at work...and in life.  To get us out of bed, to remind us we are not alone, and to help us move beyond our preconceived limits.

I just checked the weather. The forecast for Lookout Mountain at 5am this Sunday is 20 degrees and light snow flurries.  Perfect weather for running--if you aren't alone.

See you at 5am Bob.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Seek More Strength, Not More Stuff

If only, I had a nicer boss.

If only, I had a newer house.

If only,  I had more money.

If only, it wasn't so cold to train.

We often convince ourselves that happiness is just within reach IF ONLY  some problems would go away.  Unfortunately, when one problem resolves, one, two...or ten more seem to take it's place--a new conflict at work, a new car repair, a new training injury....and on, and on.

Seeking a problem-free life is akin to hoping for only perfect weather...or a race without hills.

We forget that those wicked hills and headwinds on the track and in life make us tougher.

So instead of wishing for the problems to disappear, or wishing only for sunshine, perhaps we should embrace the trials and strive for MORE STRENGTH.  A mental "umbrella" so to speak, to help us conquer the storms and gnarly hills in our running and in life.  And make us stronger to fight on another day.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Just Say No--Often

In my Principles of Accounting II class, students learn the economic concept of opportunity costs.

op·por·tu·ni·ty cost:The cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action.


They learn that spending to build a new factory may result in fewer resources to hire new staff.  Or bumping salaries today may mean living with a crummy health insurance plan for an extra year.  The business world, in other words, is about trade-offs---learning when to say "yes" and when to say "no."

I think this economic concept applies on the track and in life.


You can only do so many good things at the same time before you CEASE being GOOD.  If you sit on EVERY committee at work, volunteer EVERY night at church, give to EVERY charity that calls and commit your kids to EVERY sport, are you being effective?  No.


We blab the mantra of "less is more", "family first" and "exercise is important" but our calendars reveal the reality of where our priorities truly reside.  We commit ourselves--and our KIDS-- to multiple committees, meetings, sports, volunteer projects and charity pledges--forgetting that when we say YES to something (e.g. a new project at work), we are really saying NO to something else (e.g. time with family) . What's more, we sign up for more commitments for the wrong reason--guilt.

The result:  a treadmill of MORE to-do lists, MORE meetings, MORE action items, MORE emails. A week becomes one elongated day leaving us gasping on Saturday--only to sort the mountain of junk mail and maybe start some laundry while contemplating a grocery list.  What's more--we feel guilty for not dedicating enough of our time and effort to the commitment we signed up for! Basketball with the kids at the park? Nope. Start that novel you have always wanted to write?  Yeah, right.


Sound familiar?  


How about this for a solution:  Say no.  Often.


I say apply the notion of opportunity costs to your decision making at home and your training.  Ask yourself what your top 1-2 priorities this year are for:  1) your job  2) your family   3) your health (mental or physical) and  4) charity.  Any "opportunity" that comes your way that does not advance these areas should be immediately rejected.  In other words say "no."


By applying this economic logic, we can focus our energy for the right things for the right reasons--and set personal records on and off the track.





Sunday, January 22, 2012

Extra Credit Points

Should I stop providing extra credit assignments for my students?

It's not that I mind grading the extra work. I actually enjoy it.  Nor is there a lack of students with the ambition to work for the extra points. There always are.

The issue is WHO is completing these extra credit exercises and WHY.  One would think that the failing or near failing student with the 55% in the class would jump at the opportunity to lift his / her grade to a passing score.  Not so.

In my experience, it is the A-student, that's right, the A-STUDENT that routinely juices her grade with extra credit points.  The D-students, and failing students (i.e the students that REALLY need the extra credit points) seldom ask for extra credit work. At first, this phenomenon seemed strange to me until I really thought about it from the A-student's perspective.  The A-student wants to build in a buffer to be sure she maintains the grade she has worked so hard for during the semester.  An "insurance policy" so to speak on her previous work.  The failing student, however,  is often failing,  not do to lack of BRAINS, but lack of effort.  In other words, an A-student is often an A-student because she is willing to do the things a failing student is NOT willing to do--including extra credit.

But it gets stranger.  The A-student who completes her extra credit assignments invariably tallies her total points near semester end, and makes a very rational but very disheartening (disheartening to me that is) calculation:  do I have enough REGULAR points plus EXTRA CREDIT points to NOT study for the final exam?  In other words...can I FAIL THE FINAL EXAM and STILL GET AN "A" IN THE CLASS?  The answer is often a rational but disheartening "YES."

So let me summarize:  1)  I provide extra credit so that... 2)  I take time to grade the extra credit from the A-students that do it so that...3)  The A-students who don't need the extra credit have the opportunity to intentionally FAIL the final exam and still receive an "A" in the class.

Like I asked before...are my extra credit assignments a good thing?

I think the example of A-students completing extra credit assignments when they don't need to is instructive.  I think it demonstrates that those who operate at the highest level---whether as a student, an employee, manager, athlete...or as a parent, succeed not just because of brains or talent, but the willingness to do the things that most others are UN-willing to do. Things that make us work more, discipline ourselves more, smile more, volunteer more....care more.

As we head into another week,  I say we ask ourselves what "extra credit" are we committed to doing?  The extra credit required to get that promotion at work, earn that "A" in class, that personal record on the track...or re-build that relationship with that parent.  What efforts are we willing to expend to get there--efforts that may exhaust us--even humble us-- but also provide our careers and lives with meaning--the meaning derived only from giving our very best and making a difference.


Friday, January 20, 2012

The Art of Solitude

The hard drive in my Dell laptop died a few weeks ago.  After 14 days without access to CNN Online and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2007, I now wish I could arrange a wake for all the electronic toys in my home including my TV—correction—especially my TV—and practice The Art of Solitude.
As I stood in The Geek Squad repair line at Best Buy to drop off my dead electronic beast, I was overcome by the Las Vegas-sounding sights and sounds of the latest video and audio technology.  From garage-sized plasma screen televisions bigger than my first apartment to military video games that eerily resemble the streets of Fallujah, I couldn’t help but wonder if these happiness-producing gadgets were really making anybody… well… happy.
As we increasingly trade play stations for Steinbeck, and our high definition televisions for Bach, I think of the writer Anthony Storr who posited that solitude was the essential ingredient to imagination.  He mentioned how artisans and great thinkers intentionally sought solitude to develop their craft.  The English historian Edward Gibbon considered solitude, “The school of genius.”   As I approach my 43rd birthday and my three young children grow older, I find myself desiring that my family and I follow the tunes of Storr and Gibbon instead of the tunes of Disney Network and FoxNewsOnline. 
I don’t dislike technology—really.  A Nokia phone hangs from my leather belt like most other Americans—especially when camping in the woods or climbing a “14er.”  I do however believe, that we have entered new territory when we're no longer appalled witnessing our fellow travelers in the restroom at the airport  maintain conversation on their Blackberries while…um..completing their business.  I realize time management gurus may applaud this multi-tasking behavior but I wonder if our nation will have to replace fluoride with Ritalin in the drinking water if even the restroom is a place devoid of solitude.
While running the Denver Rock n Roll Marathon last Fall, I noticed more than just a few runners who appeared to have been infected with the technology bug.  The “less is more” running gear list of shorts, shoes, and a singlet has been replaced with a “more is more” gear list that now includes a heart-rate monitor, a 900-song capacity iPOD and a Garvin Global Positioning Satellite device to calculate average speed, distance, and altitude with tallied results all completely downloadable to ones laptop for critical analysis.  George Sheehan, the great writer, physician, marathon runner, and arguably one of the most important figures to popularize running said of his solitary runs: “I am searching for the meaning within my experiences.  In that hour (of running) devoid of distraction, when the world is on hold, I can focus on the troubles and joys of becoming myself and arrive at a sort of peace.”  I wonder if Dr. Sheehan would have had found the inspiration to find his words  that launched the great running boom in America had he begun his morning runs with The Fugees blaring through his iPOD.
I just received a call from Agent Smith at The Geek Squad informing me that my laptop is breathing again and is ready for my immediate pick-up.  As I drive to the store, I reflect on the extra games of Sorry and Candy Land I have played with my kids and how much more hopeful for the future I feel from not being constantly logged on to WSJ.com or CNBConline.  As I turn off the ignition, I think.  And then I think some more.  I can always pick up the laptop next weekend.  It’s time for another game of Candy Land.   


Fire Your Therapist... and Get a Running Partner

It’s amazing what a running partner will tell you on a long run. Things he would probably not tell his mom, dad, spouse, or even therapist. Nothing like the sweat and pain of a gnarly hill at 5am with light snow to open up the communication channels— channels that would most likely lay dormant over a comfortable venti cup of Starbuck’s coffee.

I wonder how many marriages and friendships could be healed by firing the $100/ hour therapist and instead, lacing up with a friend for a long run up Green Mountain.   

Perhaps, instead of  another self-help book or  counselor, or purple pill,  what we really need is a good friend to tackle the gnarly hills of LIFE we face each day to keep us accountable…and remind us we are not alone.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Choose Crazy Over Smart

Top performers, in any endeavor (business, athletics, art, parenting) often work more, obsess more, fail more and keep going when all the "smart" people say quit.

I say be "crazy."  And know that you are in the company of champions.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Character First

To develop as an athlete (or student, or businessperson, or parent), I have discovered one must develop character before developing skills

On the the trails, I find my performance increases when I stop focusing only on results.  To quote the famous  business philosopher Jim Rohn:   "What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.  

I find speed and distance only improve when I stop focusing on...speed and distance...and instead focus on things like: stamina, discipline, resilience and gratitude.  If character is the foundation to creating and developing skills, I say focus on character and the results will ensue.

I think this approach applies on the track, in the classroom, the office and in the home.  Instead of focusing on earning the "A" in that Statistics class, focus on the discipline of working through a problem, focus on the stamina of spending one hour in thoughtful reading of the text--without the TV, internet or cell phone in reach.

So this week, when contemplating that big project or goal at school, at work or at home, make sure you are willing to develop the character traits that goal demands of you.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Ask yourself this:  are you more proud of the things you have ACCOMPLISHED, or the things you have OVERCOME?

  • Overcoming the fear of the daily 30 mile drive three days per week to complete your child's Leukemia treatment.

  • Overcoming the stress of working two part-time retail jobs while working with the bank over the missed mortgage payments from that job layoff last year.

  • Overcoming the exhaustion of single parenthood: coming home from work to do dishes, laundry and kids homework--all whilst maintaining a "B" average to finish night school next year to get out of poverty.

Perhaps ACHIEVING and OVERCOMING are not different--but two sides of the same coin--finding and pushing through our limits.

Often, overcoming challenges, on the track, and in life, forces us to confront these limits and step beyond.  How often have you overcome a challenge, on the track, in school, at work, or with your family only to look back in awe how you made it?

But here is the BEST PART:  overcoming lets us experience...dare I say it...JOY.  That's right--JOY.  That unique destination reserved for those few who stayed course, persevered, to fight the good fight to victory.  It is also in this hollowed place where we receive the most valued of treasures:  the strength to carry on for the next fight...and share with others still fighting. 


Monday, January 16, 2012

Why Health Clubs are Crowded in January

After thousands of miles on the trails, I have come up with a RUNNER'S definition of the word commitment.

Commitment:  doing what you promised yourself you would do....even when it's no longer fun.

Starting is easy—it’s the FINISHING that we humans are lousy at.  Starting requires courage, finishing requires commitment.  But where does commitment come from?


I think creating commitment demands you confront your “why?” Why am I enrolled in this college Accounting course?  Why will I wake at 5am and train in blowing snow, in darkness and on ice through the Winter—even when I don’t want to—which will be almost always?  Why will I stick with this job, or this marriage that isn't so hot right now?

I think your “why” has to be a BIG “why.” Big enough to get you through the periods of doubt and exhaustion. A burning call to action that will jump-start you to summon the courage to squash the voice in your head  screaming at you next month in the 10 degree darkness to quit.

If you don’t know your “why”...why you are contemplating that college Accounting course or training for that marathon, I say WAIT to begin.  That’s right—WAIT.  Wait until you know why you are contemplating the journey.  In running, if it’s just about hard abs, and a nice butt your commitment will fail—yes—fail as I suspect a tight butt and six-pack abs are not big enough reasons to get you to get you out from under the covers in February at 5am.

Finding your "why" will not only facilitate commitment to succeed in school and on the track, but in the bigger courses of your life:  your job, your kids, your marriage.


Friday, January 13, 2012


This is what I have found to be the definition of courage:  acknowledging your fear (and there may be a lot of fear), putting it aside, and executing with the RIGHT decision, even when it's NOT the COMFORTABLE decision.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

When the Janitor Conquers the CEO

The marathon is the ultimate class equalizer.  Come race day, the notion of reaping and sowing is absolute.  There are no shortcuts, there is no cheating, there are no excuses.  You see, 26.2 miles is simply too far to cheat or cut corners. The marathon asks, no, DEMANDS one thing, and only one thing:  did you put in the WORK?

The marathon does NOT care what color your skin is, nor the size of your bank account, nor how many degrees you have, nor your title at work.  The marathon has no prejudice.  It is the purest form of meritocracy.  And this is why the janitor will conquer the CEO on race day if the janitor put in the work and the CEO did not.
When  setting our 2012 goals this year, I think we need to keep in mind the metaphor of the marathon. What do our 2012 goals DEMAND of us?  Are we willing to make the number of calls to meet that sales goal, are we willing to do that extra credit assignment to earn the "A" instead of the "B", are we willing to get up 30 minutes earlier each morning to exercise and improve our health....are we willing to actually DO what that these goal DEMAND of us?


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pain, Pain, DON'T Go Away!

Our brains instinctively tell us to avoid pain.  I would argue that in training, as in life, I think it is impossible to achieve mastery without pain--sometimes for a long time.  Though counter-intuitive, we should be LEANING INTO the pain of effort--not away.

We often avoid the rain, but rain cleanses, it makes things GROW--just like the pain of effort makes us grow.  It is okay to put on a raincoat when it rains--it not okay to stay inside and AVOID the rain..and the pain...lest we deny ourselves the joy of victory.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Most Important Card in Your Wallet

For real inspiration, pull out the most important card in your wallet--your library card.  At the library walk past the self-help and pseudo-psychology books and head for my favorite section--the biographies.

The biographies are road maps written by the practitioners--the ones who have been truly tested--and lived (and written) to tell us all how they did it.  Victor Frankl surviving the Nazi the concentration camps and Vice Admiral James Stockdale surviving the Hanoi Hilton are two such examples.

So this week, if you find yourself in search of answers to your challenges, consider the biographies--where the real solutions to overcoming this life's most daunting challenges lie.


Monday, January 9, 2012

The Tortoise, the Hare and Compound Interest

In training as in life, victory is seldom a singular, big event.  Instead, it is often a compounding of small but CONSISTENT victories (like compound interest!)--a result of persistence and sweat. This is why the tortoise always beats the hare.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Marathon Running is Not Just About Running

Marathon training is more than running--I think it's a metaphor for LIVING.  Biking, swimming, walking...GARDENING...all can be vehicles for self-knowledge and improvement. 

And that is what this daily blog is about.  Sharing insights of life I have discovered not from a self-help book or a re-run of Oprah.  But from the trials and contemplative nature of distance training.  I don't think one can help BUT derive endurance, insight, and inspiration running up Mt. Evans Road before sunrise or Lookout Mountain Road through the fog on a Thanksgiving morning.

May these thoughts and observations I have discovered somehow inspire you to run farther... or to find YOUR vehicle to self-knowledge.  Knowledge to not only run better--but to live better.