Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What drives you?

Recently I was asked to be a guest speaker for a group of people doing a weight loss challenge. I happily agreed to do it but I was a little unsure what it was that they were looking for from me. They offered some suggested topics for my 30 minute presentation like how exercise has enhanced my life, what makes me get up and move and general fitness tips like injury prevention when exercising. I admitted that this was all a little new to me but I’d put something together for the group. First off, I don’t claim to be an expert in health and fitness. I have no formal training in the subject but I have spent plenty of time trying to get fit and I know what works for me. With that in mind I decided I would focus my talk on “what makes me get up and move.” I never really thought about why I do what I do and I thought this might be an opportunity to look a little deeper into myself and see what makes me tick.

A little background on me is probably in order. I played sports and was a competitive kid. I feel like even as a kid I pushed myself harder than the others did. Soccer and water skiing were my primary sports through high school and early college. When I transferred to Sac State I began competing at a regional and national water skiing tournaments. After graduation I decided to postpone the real world and chased a dream. I began skiing full-time and was able to make my living as a professional skier until I was 30 years old. For me it was rewarding. Every day was spent exercising and trying to get better at my sport. 100% of my income was based on my performance and that provided clarity. There was the satisfaction of doing well and there was the disappointment of failure. The measure of success and failure was very clear. Eventually I retired from skiing, got a wife, a real job, two kids and a back surgery and just like that life became about as different as it could be. As the infant years passed and the haze finally lifted I began to miss the feeling of competition. The summer of 2005 I was in Squaw Valley and heard about a group of 400 endurance runners who had just left the floor of Squaw, ran over the mountain and would run the 100 miles to Auburn by the following day. The race was called the Western States 100. I was blown away! Later that day I hiked the 3.5 miles to the top of the 9000 ft. mountain just to see what that was like. I stood there imagining what another 97 miles of rough terrain would be like. I wondered if I had what it would take to make it to Auburn. I could only imagine what they went through. So the next week I began training. Each weekend I would go a little further and a little further. Within a few months I very slowly completed a 30 mile run and by November I completed a 50 mile race with a good enough time to qualify me to enter the lottery to get into Western States. I was lucky enough to be chosen in the lottery and I spent the next 6 months training as hard as my body would allow me. The last weekend in June of 2006 I completed the Western States 100 in 23 ½ hours, earning the coveted silver buckle award for a sub 24-hour finish. The sense of accomplishment was unlike anything I’d felt before in athletics. I went into this totally committed to accomplishing a goal and I did it. I was done. I hung up my running shoes. Mission accomplished. At least that’s what I thought! I’d still go out for a run now and then but for the rest of 2006 and all of 2007 I didn’t train or race again. But there was always something pulling me back to that day between Squaw Valley and Auburn. I began to feel like I was wasting away that wonderful fitness I had worked so hard to achieve. By the end of 2007 I began to realize that I missed that nervous feeling I had that early morning as I stood at the starting line in Squaw Valley with 100 rugged miles stretched out ahead of me. Even more I missed that feeling less than 24 hours later as I crossed the finish line in Auburn. I also missed every agonizing mile in between. In 2008 I began training and racing again.

What I learned is that I don’t love running. It’s not about the running. I love the feeling of being fit and I love to have a goal to chase after, something to obsess over. So what motivates me to get up and run long before the sun comes up every morning? What motivates me to spend half a day on the weekend putting in 35 miles? The answer is fear! Fear of failure, fear of being unprepared. When you commit to lining up for a race with nothing but 100 miles of rough trail between you and the finish it is a little scary. You know before you even take that first step that you are in for a rough day, guaranteed. If you don’t get out of bed and run in the morning or if you don’t put in those miles on the weekend you will pay the price on race day. The distance is not forgiving.

So now we know what motivates me to get out the door and exercise but what drives me to push myself so far? Why do I want to run for 24-hours? I want to do it because it is hard. Many of us go through life without really challenging ourselves, without setting lofty goals. Some may find their lofty goal in their work or in other areas of their life. For me the purest challenges are physical challenges and the greater the challenge the greater the reward. What I love about Ultra distance running is that success or failure is not open to opinion. You either complete the distance within the allotted time or you don’t.

Does any of this apply to the weight loss challenge group I’ll be speaking to? Sure it does. There are many similarities between the weight loss challengers and my Go the Distance run.

First, you have to set a goal and announce it. The greater the goal the harder you have to work and the greater the reward when it is accomplished.

Second, you have to be motivated to meet that goal. You have to want it and that fear of failure is what will push you to chase after your goal every day.

Third, there are no quick results. No single day will make a big difference. Success will be a result of months or years of consistency.

Fourth, accountability. In my case that has never been as well defined as it is with the Go the Distance challenge I have set for myself. I recently mentioned to someone if they are ever having a hard time keeping to their exercise program, try telling an entire community that you are going to run for 24 hours for their children. You won’t miss a workout. What that means is I have no choice. I have made a commitment to an entire community to see this thing through to the end and I won’t let anyone down. I will be held accountable when I step on the track the morning of April 22nd. For the weight loss challengers that happens when they step on the scale. That’s the great thing about a weight loss challenge, they can’t hide and they know they will be held accountable and I commend them for having the courage to make the commitment.

So what drives you? What gets you out of bed every morning?