Tuesday, August 22, 2017

NOT Finishing the Leadville 100

Sometimes, life delivers unexpected lessons at unexpected times.

Two weekends ago, I planned on deriving PROFOUND lessons from FINISHING the Leadville 100 Trail Race.

Hope Pass, highest section of the Leadville 100 Trail Race
Instead, I derived HUMBLING lessons from DROPING OUT of the Leadville 100.

I have never dropped from a race.

This Summer, I dropped out of two.

For years I have loved running ultramarathons on hard trails and big mountains, but this past Summer, I found my love for the trails to be waning.

Really waning.

Pounding out 50-mile training weekends this past Summer to prep for the race while working two jobs as a single dad often felt more like an exhausting additional side hustle than a source of renewal.

My performance at the iconic Leadville 100 was no exception.

I ran a great marathon but when my lovely colleague and crew leader checked on me at mile 30 I told her I was DONE and simply wanted to treat her to lunch and take a nap.

And that's what I did.

No regrets.

I tendered my race bib at the Twin Lakes aid the station to drop from the race. The Mayor of Leadville was the guy running the aid station. He asked why I was dropping. I simply told him: "I don't have the love. And you can't go 100 miles without the love." He said it was the most honest answer he had heard for dropping from the race.

I realize a lot of my running colleagues are wincing as they read this.

“Push through”, “gut it out.”

I get it.

And I agree that “pushing through” and “gutting it” out are USUALLY the better choice.


But here is MY takeaway :   in most big endeavors… starting a business, earning a degree, or running a 100-mile race…..no amount of brains, talent, or training will ever, EVER be enough if you don't first and foremost have a compelling “WHY” for what you are doing. Moreover, the “WHY,” especially for big endeavors that are meant to ENRICH your life (like running), often ebb and flow depending on one's mental and emotional bandwidth… ....which is often contingent on where one is at in life commitment wise.  Instead of fighting it (like I attempted to do this past weekend), I say EMBRACE where you are and be thankful.

I wish I had the emotional and mental bandwidth to go 100-miles but have to accept the timing is not right.

Instead, I'm going to take my current bandwidth for running and do something I KNOW will be fulfilling and run more races with my kids, my dad and my non-running friends.

I'll keep running hard trails and big mountains.

And dammit, I WILL do the Leadville 100 Trail Race.


But not today.

I’m going to get some more high altitude trail running before the snow flies.

Hell, I may even run a section or two of the Leadville 100—even Hope Pass.

But after mile 30 or so....

I'm taking a nap.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ignoring the "Check Engine" Light

The RIGHT decision, is often the UNCOMFORTABLE decision.

This has been my experience and mantra for several years.

The RIGHT decision is often the decision you want to to DELAY.

The decision you want to close your eyes and plug your ears to.

But it is waiting.

Waiting for you to stop lying to yourself that the problem will simply go away.

Waiting for you to get serious about actually solving the problem.

So you can move on.

And grow.

And contribute again.

Perhaps it's addressing the "service engine soon" light in your car that is flashing.

Or fixing that knee pain that is growing worse--and may require surgery--and no running for a month.

Or firing the subordinate because he is in the wrong role and forcing others to pick up his slack.

Or making that phone call to the bank to ask for help after you have been out of work for five months and don't know where the hell the mortgage payment will come from.

Or finally ending that unhealthy relationship that actually ended 10 years ago.

These are uncomfortable decisions.

Because they require uncomfortable ACTIONS.  

But...they are the RIGHT action.

To get you to a better future.

Choosing to ignore the "service engine soon" light because you fear what the mechanic will tell you won't make the lurking disaster waiting to happen in your engine go away.

Choosing to ignore the knee pain won't make the injury go away--it will just keep you from running longer--maybe permanently.

Choosing to keep the employee in the wrong role won't make that employee a better employee--you will just prevent him from finding the role that he COULD thrive in.

Choosing to not call the bank and ask for help when you are out of money won't keep the lender from taking your family's home.

Choosing to stay in the crappy relationship another 10 years after exhaustive counselling won't serve to fix  the relationship--you will only be 10 years older, lonelier,  and FAIL to serve as an example to your kids what a HEALTHY relationship actually looks like.

In other words... deferring the RIGHT decision, the UNCOMFORTABLE decision...only makes the tough situation.....tougher.

I recently viewed a TED Talk by entrepreneur Jonathan Fields where he talked about the fear of taking action.

He mentioned that there are three decisions and outcomes to every potential endeavor:

1.  We can choose to TAKE ACTION and SUCCEED
2.  We can choose to TAKE ACTION and FAIL
3.  We can choose to DO NOTHING

What particularly resonated with me in the talk was when he discussed how choosing to DO NOTHING almost always is the most destructive course of action.

He correctly points out that many people choose to DO NOTHING when faced with tough decisions as they ERRONEOUSLY believe that they and their circumstances will remain static while they elect to stay in their lousy-but-familiar-misery and defer the hard decision.

But Mr. Fields argues that in nature...NOTHING IS STATIC.

We are either going up or going down.

We are either GROWING or DYING.

In our running (and overall health).

In our jobs.

In our relationships.

It may take longer, but doing nothing is far worse than failure,  as failure is almost always temporary and solvable.

Doing nothing may serve to defer IMMEDIATE pain.

But the eventual destruction from INACTION is wider, the wounds inflicted are deeper,  and you are now 5, 10, even 20 years OLDER than if you had chose ACTION.

But here is the good part:

Choosing to make the tough decision and EXECUTE the tough decision sets you free.  That's right--free.

In the short run, it may hurt like hell, but taking ACTION allows YOU to re-draw the map and set the course by YOUR compass.

And not by the compass of an incompetent employee.

Or an injury.

Or the bank.

Or dead relationship.

So how about this:

This year, let's stop ignoring the "service engine soon" lights in our lives.


And get them fixed.

So we can lace up again.

And run free.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Getting in the Boat

I'll never forget the first time I had to fire someone.

Let's call her Sally.

Sally was a good person.

She had the right HEART for the job.

She had the right ATTITUDE for the job.

But unfortunately......

She had the WRONG SKILLS for the job.

We both new it.

For a very long time.

Too long of a time.

We both clung to the false hope that.things would change and she would just one day.......

Get it.

But we both new the truth.

For a very long time.

Too long of a time.

Sally was NEVER going to get it.


No matter how many people helped show her the way.

Or how many training videos she watched.

It was NEVER going to happen


It wasn't time to QUIT and GIVE UP.

It was time to STOP and MOVE ON.

But it hurt too much to do the right thing.

I wanted to fire Sally without going through the ACT of firing Sally.

I didn't want to hurt her.

I have opined in previous posts that the RIGHT decision is seldom a COMFORTABLE decision.

Moving an aging parent into a nursing home despite that parent's plea to stay in the family home.

Giving that newborn baby up for adoption knowing that child will wonder who you were and why you gave her up.

These are daunting decisions preceded by frightening conversations.

These are also COURAGEOUS decisions preceded by NECESSARY conversations.

Decisions that affect lives.


Decisions where opting for the status quo offers a temporary but false hope.....

And short-term comfort in exchange for long-term pain.

Sir Earnest Shackleton
When it comes to making courageous decisions, I think of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his 1914 voyage to the Antarctic.

It's a story that has been dissected by top graduate business schools as the model for survival, leadership and crisis management.

After leaving the continent, Shackleton's ship, the Endurance, became trapped in sea ice. Unable to break free, the men, helplessly watched the ice slowly crush the ship over a period of ten months.

The crew was forced to abandon ship and camp on the ice flows for five months.

After five terrifying days in three lifeboats, Shackleton and crew landed on Elephant Island.

This was the men's first time on land in 497 days.

But Shackleton knew they could not remain on Elephant Island.

It was inhospitable to human beings.

And far from any shipping routes.

They would NEVER be found.

And they would eventually die.

Shackleton knew what had to be done.

They had to risk an open-boat attempt in one of the lifeboats to the nearest whaling station--South Georgia Island.

Over 720 nautical miles away.

In rough seas.

And hurricane-force winds.

A daunting decision.

Stay on "safe" land and surely but slowly die.


Get in the boat, set sail for the terrifying unknown to arrive at a better place.....

.......while recognizing death was the more likely outcome.

I suspect this was a daunting decision preceded by frightening conversations.

But also a COURAGEOUS decision preceded by NECESSARY conversations.

A decision that would affect lives.


A decision where opting for the status quo would offer a temporary but false hope.....

And short-term comfort in exchange for long-term pain.

And death.

Shackleton's decision to leave the island was a tough decision.

But it was the RIGHT decision.

For he and is men made it to help at South Georgia Island.

All of his men survived.

I fired Sally on a Friday afternoon.

There were tears.

But Sally's tears weren't tears of sadness.

They were tears of relief.

She didn't have to worry about telling her husband she had QUIT and GAVE UP.

She could tell him she had STOPPED and MOVED ON.

With dignity.

Because the false hope and temporary safety of the island was no longer an option.

She didn't have to be scared of sailing into the unknown anymore.

The winds were now blowing her way.

She was free to get in the boat.

And set sail for a better place.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Happiness and Hamburger Helper

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
--Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

We ran Lookout Mountain this past weekend.

Start time: 5am.

I bet we've run this road in the dark over 200 times since we first started training on it back in 2009.

Over 1600 feet of heart-pumping elevation gain in just under 4.75 miles.

The relentless grade in the dark will make your lungs burn and calves scream.

Sunrise on Lookout Mountain
But the reward at the top is worth the pain.

An inspiring sunrise.

I guarantee it.

I'm still awe-struck at the golden sun rising under a purple sky on this mountain even after 6 years and hundreds of ascents.

A piece of joy to start the day.

No matter what that day holds.

In 2009 I read Viktor Frankl's book "Man's Search for Meaning."

The year I found myself age 40, laid off, broke and contemplating how I was going to tell my kids we were going to lose our home.

I still have the notice of the auction date from the bank.

The premise of Frankl's book is that happiness is a CHOICE independent of circumstances and that if a man does not choose his attitude towards his circumstances......

.....he will become a SLAVE to his circumstances.

I would have considered this advice polyannish nonsense  but for Mr. Frankl being a holocaust survivor who endured unimaginable brutality at Auschwitz during World War II.

"Man's Search for Meaning" was my "survival guide" during 2009-2010.

I found Mr. Frankl's daily habit of looking for something beautiful around him---no matter how small (like a flower)--- to ease the pain of the horrors around him, particularly instructive.

This is when I discovered trail running.

Just before being laid off in 2009, a former colleague dared me to sign up for a race called the Mt. Evans Ascent.  A 14.5-mile race that starts at 10,000 feet and finishes at the 14,000 foot summit of Mt. Evans.

Little did I know that training for this race would be a godsend---the perfect prescription for sanity to get me through the worst personal and professional smack-down of my life.

I began each morning of my job search with a training run.

My long runs were often at altitude near Mt. Evans before sunrise to acclimate for the race.

I discovered the training provided me with many of the things I lost when I lost my job.

A goal.

A place to be.

A sense of accomplishment.

A purpose.

The long training runs at sunrise at 10,000 feet were particularly helpful as they often served as a REMINDER.

A reminder that life can suck--and I mean REALLY suck.

But in the big scheme of the universe, our problems are pretty damned small and that life goes on and is still pretty amazing and beautiful......

....despite the problems we are battling.

But here's the funny thing.

By finding beauty in the chaos....

I developed more than ripped calves and powerful lungs.

I developed STRENGTH.

The strength to not only press on and survive...... but find meaning in the misery and even derive lessons from it.

Lessons like the importance of gratitude and the power of friendship.

Lessons to share with others.

Lessons that would later become the hallmark of a business class at a community college.

Lessons that never would have been learned, and a class that never would have been taught but for the humiliating ass-kicking of 2009-2010.

I have to laugh, if someone had told me back in 2009 while 40, broke and buying Hamburger Helper at Walmart, that losing my job was going to lead to a great teaching gig and a TEDTalk on overcoming challenge, I would have burst out laughing.

Hardee, harr, harr!

But that how the universe sometimes works.

I guess even the universe has a sense of humor sometimes.

Six years later, I marvel and mean really MARVEL how we were able to pay down the $68,000 in debt, replenish the 401(k)s AND manage to keep the house.

It almost sounds like a perfect comeback story.


Unfortunately, most comebacks aren't as neat and tidy as stories on the Hallmark channel.

In real life, at least in my experience, the victory celebration cake is eaten while other battles rage on.

Unfortunately.....some battles are still raging on.

I'm running North Table Mesa tomorrow with some friends tomorrow.

I'll be sure to bring my headlamp as we're running early.

It's pretty rocky the first few miles.

And the grade going up is relentless.

But that's okay.

I hear the sunrise is amazing.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

No Bikinis or Six-Pack Abs

My Change through Challenge class takes their final exam in three weeks.

The "final:"  a marathon for four of the students and a half-marathon for another student at the Rock n Roll Marathon in Phoenix on January 18th.

Both events are distances that less than 1 percent of the American population HAS ever or WILL ever run or walk.

I have to admit, there are no "Biggest Loser" testimonials this semester about students dropping big pounds to squeeze into new bikinis.

Nor has anyone displayed newly developed ripped, six-pack abs from the training.

But that's how it is EVERY semester.......
Highline Canal, Winter 

I love watching students begin the training believing they will experience tremendous----- dare I say miraculous physical transformation.

They have goals of peeled-off pounds and chiseled physiques.

Only to realize that the changes are indeed profound.

But mainly INTERNAL.......

Instead of EXTERNAL.

It's not to say the students don't get in great shape.

I mean, hey, training for a marathon requires a guy or gal to run for a very long time.

Many times per week.

For 22 weeks!

In good weather.....

And in bad.

Which is why marathon training is so powerful.

Because it gets so damned hard.......

On the body.....and mind.

Thus requiring a bigger....DEEPER reason for doing it........

Than just bikinis and six-pack abs.

Let's face it,  there are easier ways to get a "beach-ready" body than getting up before sunrise to run 20-miles at the Highline Canal when it's 10-degrees outside!

But distance training builds a mental toughness and resolve to conquer much, MUCH more than going 26.2.

Ultrarunner Scott Jurek says distance training is more about TRANSCENDENCE than FITNESS.

I think he's right.

Indeed it builds the character to conquer the bigger distances of life:  overcoming the business failure, finishing that degree at age 30 whilst working full time to support three kids, or summoning the courage to end that bad relationship.

These are the REAL distances marathon training enables one to conquer.

When the students and I fly home from the race next month, I know one of the students are going to ask what type of training they should do while their legs recover.

I'll tell them to do the usual recovery type of stuff.......



.........maybe even some strength training.

Because it'll be Summer before we know it.

And you know what that means.


And who doesn't want to look good in a bikini?


Monday, December 22, 2014

Gift Cards and Instant Cocoa

One of the best things about the morning runs with friends is what happens AFTER the run.

Hot cocoa.

And I don't mean the "crappy powder with fake marshmallows and add hot water" kind of hot cocoa.

I am talking the REAL stuff.

Semi-sweet baking cocoa, almond milk, heavy cream, vanilla and a dash of cinnamon!

Nothing like sharing real, honest piping hot cocoa from a stainless steel thermos with friends after pounding repeats on Green Mountain in 20-degree weather under moonlight.

It's simple.

And....it takes a little longer to make in the morning.

But its worth it.

Because it makes the experience so much better.

Because its REAL.

It's from the heart.

Ultra running legend Scott Jurek mentions in his book "Eat and Run" that the simple act of cooking is an act of love.

I think he's right.

I think there are other simple activities that can be acts of love:

Teaching someone how to oil paint.

Reading a story to a child.

Or even uttering the words: "let's go running."

Like real hot cocoa, they are simple endeavors.

That require extra work.

But they make for great experiences.

Because they require more than passive attention or opening a package and adding hot water.

They come from the heart.

My wife and I were invited to a Christmas service at a church we would not normally attend.

I suspect we share a completely different world view than most of the congregants.

But that's okay.

The service was beautiful.

Beautiful because of what it did NOT have.

No concert-quality sound systems with light show.

No professional actors and a holographic Jesus.

Just a few string instruments and a choir.

And the singing of Silent Night with candlelight.

Like real hot cocoa......

The experience was simple.

It took extra work.

But it was real.

It was from the heart.

And that made it so much better.

I stuck to my goal of not buying any gift cards this Christmas.

Don't get me wrong, there are times when gift cards are the best option.

But over the years, I found myself using gift cards as a crutch.

A mechanism to replace the act of thoughtful giving with the efficient but superficial act of writing a check.

I guess it was last year that I realized that going to Safeway and placing dish detergent and Hamburger Helper in the same cart as the "gift" cards for my friends seemed far, FAR removed from the days of contemplating and surprising a friend with a gift.

I sound like a grouchy old guy.

But the older I get, the more it seems that the "slow and simple" beats the pants off "quick and convenient."

I plan on running Green Mountain and Lookout Mountain a few times with friends this week now that it's Christmas break.

The forecast calls for snow later this week.

I'm not worried

We'll be prepared.

I found a new cocoa recipe from Ghiradelli.

I might even bring the marshmallows.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why Therapists (and politicians) Are Lousy Race Directors

My running buddy and I lead a group run up Lookout Mountain Road every Thanksgiving Morning.

It's 4.75 miles of calf-crushing, lung-burning joy to the top.....with 1600 feet of elevation gain to boot.

Nothing like stimulating the gag-reflex to usher in Thanksgiving!

We've been hosting this come all, come early, choke-and-puke event for six years.

The requirements to attend are pretty simple.......get laced up at Beverly Heights Park at 6am.

..........and then run......walk......or crawl until you hit Buffalo Bill's Grave at the top.

Oh yeah....no leaving anybody behind.


Egos and PR ambitions are to be left at home today.

Because this morning, we're all in this together.

The group is pretty simple......friends.....friends of friends.......current and past co-workers...... and anybody invited by anybody with the guts, grits and cajones to participate. 

The group gets bigger each year.

It also gets better.

Because great running partners do something that therapists and politicians are unable to do:

Bring people together.

Even people with nothing in common.

Except when running.

Then they have EVERYTHING in common.

I marvel at how many runners I have learned from......and shared the trails with.......whom I know have completely different world views than my own.

But on the trails.......in those early hours before the meetings and emails .....it just doesn't matter to any of us who voted for Mitt.......or bought the million dollar home............ or who missed church last week. 

Indeed, running is the great class equalizer.

Whether you are the CFO or the 19-year old single mom.......

The trails are an "equal opportunity employer!"

Running partners are like families.......

.....but without the dysfunction.

Perhaps it's because religion and politics are seldom discussed.......

.....and personal discussions never leave the trails.

For most running relationships, the runners get together.........set big goals........ hold each other accountable........ and support and encourage one another when the weather gets rough.

Because the weather always get rough. 

This is what families do.

Perhaps the next Secretary of State should not be a diplomat...... 

.......but a race director.

She could organize a MARATHON for regions of the world where diplomacy has failed.

Just think of the race tees........"I survived the Axis of Evil" Marathon!"

It looks like the weather is going to cooperate for our Thanksgiving run tomorrow.

Cold temps but sunny skies.

Another record turnout I suspect.

Perhaps Bob and I will make it an official race event next year.........

It would be a lot of fun.

And bring people together.

Better get working on those tees.