Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Spirit and the Gifts that Matter

A week or two ago I took the scientifically validated and highly accurate How Santa/Grinch Are You quiz. I was not surprised by the result - 25% Santa, 75% Grinch.

I think it's just that the things I do like about the holidays were not at all represented. The quiz was mainly about gifts and movies and decorations and THINGS. I love the holidays themselves, but the needless emphasis on STUFF in our OVERSTUFFED culture saddens me given that we are already living far beyond what our planet can safely provide.

Exhibit A: The "breakfast sandwich maker". I saw this in a sale paper yesterday. I mean, who wants or NEEDS that?!

What I like about the holidays is not the "things" but the general work/life slowdown. I like our quiet empty college town and the free parking. I love having the kids out of school for a few weeks. I like the disruption to the routines and sameness of life. I like the family togetherness and traditions we share. I like making cookies and doing jigsaw puzzles. And I'm not opposed to all things - I enjoy the small surprises and unexpected gifts, given and received, that are just because. 

I like that the holidays allow me to be a little extra playful - with "elf" runs and rides, and swimming in a fun Christmas swimsuit. These put me in the holiday spirit, and help me give the gift I really want to give. That gift is to show that the best treasures of life can't be bought, boxed up, or wrapped. The real gifts of life are things of experiences, challenges, playfulness, and love. The real gifts are in us, in others, and right outside our doors!

If you know where to find them (hint: not in a mall), gifts will flow 365 days of the year.


So get out of the malls, shut down the computer, and despite the busy-ness of the season, make time to get outside and feel the air, hear the sounds, and connect to what matters.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays to all.
May you be wrapped in peace and happiness.

....and do at least one silly thing.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Finding motivation in the off-season

As mentioned before, I decided this year I wanted my November and December to be unstructured, to call my own shots for a bit. After five full years of racing and training, other than injury time-outs, I was ready to re-charge and Coach Jim was in full support. And from a coach's perspective, it seems silly to write workouts for someone who really shouldn't be and certainly doesn't need to be "working out" with any focus. I'm still logging what I'm doing, we communicate often, and we've begun planning for 2015. The real work will start in early January.

Left to my own devices, I didn't do a whole lot in November - I biked around 180 miles, ran 45, hit the gym a few times, and swam just 5700 yds. I felt a bit lost and absent was the satisfaction that comes from training. I started to look for some ways to motivate without the burden of a structured plan.

Along came the Runabout Sports December 100 Mile Challenge. I knew this was just the ticket and it lit an instant fire under me and lots of friends too! It has the perfect elements of community, flexibility, accountability, and fun. That very afternoon I hit treadmill for my own little speed workout, and I've been having a blast since finding different ways and places to get out and run!

Ironically, my two highest run mileage weeks of the entire year have been the past two!! This could be good base mileage to carry into January. (And now you know my little secret...I'm a low volume runner.)

I'm currently at 34 miles for the month.

The other place I needed a kick in the pants was the pool. I solved that with a new holiday swimsuit. In order to lower my cost-per-wearing of the Santa and Reindeer suit (which was more than the $30 I typically spend on a suit)...well, I pretty much have to go to the pool. It's not exactly something you can wear anywhere else!

It also helps to have friends at the pool :-) Good accountability!!!

Just a few small changes on the motivation front initiated a great ripple effect for me. 

If your fitness motivating is waning this time of year, find some new ways to get excited about it. Consider making a pact with friends, or try a different group fitness class, or get a new pair of running shoes. A change-up can have a big impact.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Florida A1A Half Marathon

I'm in Florida for 48 hours for the very happy wedding occasion of my company's Chief Connector!   This morning I headed out on the scenic A1A for a run, knowing I'd do 8, or maybe 10 miles toward the Runabout Sports 100 mile December Challenge. Impulsively I thought wouldn't it be FUN to do my own half marathon? (Well, to quote something I read somewhere, it was fun...until it wasn't.)

( might want to recalculate that supposed1630 foot elevation gain.)

Now that I'm done, of course in hindsight I will say it was fun. I saw at least 100 cyclists out in small groups, a lot of walkers, and a few runners.  I waved or said good morning to everyone I could.

I saw a lot of mansions, yachts, and expensive sports cars and thought about how no mansion, yacht, or expensive sports car could ever satisfy me more than a good swim, bike, or run!

At the half way point I stopped to take a selfie on this bridge and met Thor, a triathlete who lives in NJ and has a marketing firm in NYC. We had a nice race chat about races, warm temps, and work, then parted to finish our respective runs.

The drawbridge was up over the intercoastal waterway, and frankly I was glad for the excuse to take a little break! The bridge itself is a metal mesh and as I ran over it I imagined what if one of the little grates was loose and I feel through into the water?! The things I think of when I run....crazy.

To the nice man who told me I looked "energetic" at mile 10. THANK YOU. I needed that because I was feeling anything but.

At 13.1 miles, like a pot of gold at the end of my run rainbow, I found myself at a tiny hole-in-the-wall market where I stocked up on snacks and drinks at reasonable non-hotel prices. SCORE!

I hope your day is bringing adventure and proverbial pots of gold too!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: Mark Allen's 'The Art of Competition'

I've added a new and unique book to my triathlon library - The Art of Competition by Mark Allen with photography by Nick Borelli. (Website: Pardon the post-its in the photo above, they are marking some of my current favorite pages.

First, a little background --

Mark Allen is a 6-time Kona Ironman World Champion (1989-1993 and 1995). He went on to be named the World's Fittest Man by Outside Magazine and voted the Greatest Endurance Athlete of All Time by ESPN. He's in both the ITU and USAT Hall of Fame, and works now as a coach, author, and speaker.

What that list of accomplishments does not tell, is that his 6 wins were preceded by 6 losses, a streak that would cause most of us to give up on ever getting the win. A new perspective built with shaman Brant Secunda allowed Mark to stem the tide of losses, and find the peace, mental strength, and belief necessary to become World Champion - 6 times over!


Mark Allen knows a thing or two about hard work and the physical and mental sides of training and racing. The Art of Competition is a product of 25 years of reflection on what it took to change his mindset to that of a winner.

Triathletes are drawn to books with plans, numbers, and science that can tell us how to swim, bike, and run faster, in the least amount of time, while staying healthy, and attaining an ideal body composition. We look for the details that might give us an edge - a lighter more aero piece of equipment, some new training fuel, a quicker way to recover, a new coach, a sport-specific strength training routine, or a speed workout that is sure to lead to gains.

We spend time and money looking outward for the answers, but I'd argue few of us look inward. We don't know how. The Art of Competition gently opens the door to that process.

It's scary to think about our own insecurities, fears, jealousy, uncertainty, and doubts. Yet those are are the very demons we face on the race course, when we are truly alone with our thoughts. The relatively comfortable lives many of us lead do not offer many opportunities to build courage, invite uncertainty, or experience the discomfort of significant change. We tend toward the status quo.

Triathlon and other sports give us the chance to build our inner character. Mark Allen crafts the words that explain what we often feel in that process but cannot describe. 

The Art of Competition is over 200 beautiful pages with 90 quotes paired with stunning two-page landscape images. You might think you can "read" the whole thing in one sitting, but the fact is you won't. Each quote will leave you quietly thinking about your own experiences and character and perhaps ways to better develop the inner self. Many of his quotes have served as conversation starters with my children leading to far more interesting discussions than "how was school today!"

This is the go-to book when you seek inspiration and something bigger to chew on than endless thoughts about watts or pace or heart rate. These are the mantras that will help you to get more out of yourself, to find the courage, and the belief!

The book transcends triathlon and it's easy to see application of these mini-lessons in work/business, relationships, life challenges, and parenting.

The Art of Competition is a great gift idea for the triathlete in your life. Here are some samples from the book pulled from The Art of Competition Facebook page:

 "Excellence is not a part-time job."

"The final step is possible only because of the thousands taken before it."

"The greatest victories can't be seen" 

"Inner peace, then outer results. Not the other way around."

The Art of Competition was named the winner in the Sports category of the 11th annual USA Best Book Awards as well as a finalist for Best Cover Design: Non-Fiction. Pretty cool. They need a blog category ;-)