Monday, December 19, 2011

Needing a boost

The other night I was watching the Dallas Stars take on the NY Islanders when I saw something I had never seen before.  Take 15 seconds and watch this.

I thought it was amazing.  Brendon Morrow, who was too far behind the play to track back defensively, puts in just enough effort to get close to Steve Ott to give him a boost so that he can make it back and break up a play.

I'd be willing to bet the Islanders wouldn't have scored even if Steve Ott didn't get back in time.  This game is among many regular season games, so there's nothing spectacular about it, but I thought the play itself was so symbolic.

Selflessness.  Team.  Sacrifice.  Care.  Help.  Motivation.

Pretty cool to see.  How often do we a boost like that?  Just a thought.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Felt Great to Fail

OK, so maybe the title of this blog is a little dramatic.

Beginning in April I began training for the Chicago Marathon with one goal: Qualify for Boston. Because of new Boston-qualifying standards and the timing of the Chicago race, I had to post a 3:04:59, which is a 7:03/mile for 26.2. Yikes. I knew the goal was lofty, but when I commit, I’m all in. So for a little over four months straight, I was more disciplined than I’ve ever been in my life. I carefully watched my nutrition, I skipped only a hand-full of workouts and took countless ice baths. I sacrificed many Friday/Saturday nights of going out for the sake of being rested for hard workouts the following day. I was all in. Committed.

On October 9th I finished the Chicago Marathon in 3:10:52, missing the Boston by just less than six minutes. Through 35K (a marathon is approximately 42K) I was hitting a perfect stride, right on pace to qualify. Around mile 23 something happened, and for whatever reasons that came to me at that point in time, I gave myself permission to walk. That spelled the beginning of the end for what I had hoped to be a perfectly executed race strategy.

Toward the finish I saw my parents amidst the crowd, cheering for me. You see, at that point, they thought my goal was still attainable – text message updates on my pace/splits only came every 10K. The last they had seen, I was still cruising on target through 30K. When I saw my folks, I began to jog over to them (much to their confusion). I told them I wasn’t going to hit my time, hugged them both, then continued to hobble my way to the finish. As strange as this may sound, this was one of the most spectacular moments I’ve ever had.

I failed. But man-oh-man, was it fun. Amazing and supportive family, beautiful city, and I felt so happy as a runner with almost 40,000 others. I didn’t hit my goal, but I crushed my previous best time by almost 20 minutes. When I crossed the finish line I surprisingly wasn’t that upset. After all the training and sacrifices, and not hitting my goal, it’d be normal to be upset, some would be devastated! I could point to various things in my life that would be the cause of my atypical reaction, but the bottom line is that I wasn’t upset… just motivated to learn from the experience, make adjustments, and try again.

Me, not too upset shortly after the race.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Consistency Over Time

“It takes a long time to get good.”
– Scott Molina, Ironman World Champion
When I first got into triathlon I had very high expectations of how I’d perform. I over-simplified the sport, if not entirely trivializing it. I mean, “How hard could it really be?” I thought. I’ve been running and riding a bike since I was four, and I’ve been in a pool every summer since I was little. I played soccer competitively for over a decade and have always considered myself to be athletic. So you could imagine how I felt when I was saw much older folks who looked more out of shape than me crossing the finish line well before I did in my first triathlon one year ago. I was so confused as to how a woman with the number “56” written on her calf was flying by me on the bike as if I was stationary. A
humbling experience for sure.

Undoubtedly the single most important thing I’ve learned in my one year of being a triathlete is the quote above by Scott Molina. Getting good is all about the total volume over a given duration. Malcolm Gladwell discusses this concept as the “10,000 hour rule” in his book
Outliers. Whatever you want to call it is fine, but the underlying concept to this idea is that consistency over time is what truly matters.

We live in a society that demands instant gratification. Our patience to get good at anything is wearing thin. It’s all over the place with fitness, we all see it. “Six-Minute Ab Workout’s” that assure results in record time. Programs called “P90X” and “Insanity”. Detox kits that promise to melt away fat. Companies are selling products to capitalize on our desire to take shortcuts and abandon persistence. And I don’t blame them… there’s a market for it.

At the risk of offending some die hard P90X’ers, allow me to say this. I realize that programs like P90X and Insanity achieve real results and provide good workouts. I believe they can truly motivate and kick-start someone to get back into the realm of fitness and health, which is obviously a good thing. My problem with these programs is they’re not repeatable. Most people can’t cycle P90X over and over again. Countless hours of watching a DVD in your living room isn’t something most will do long-term. It’s not a lifestyle, like tennis, cycling, CrossFit or group fitness activities. So what happens? They do the program, lose some l-b’s, stop, then gain it back. Square one.

Most people that want to lose weight fast go the Atkins-route. Hardly any carbohydrates for an extended period of time, and you’re certain to drop mass. Although one problem with this diet begs the question: what happens when you lose the weight and go back to eating carbs? Simple, you gain it back. I’ve seen it first-hand. There are various reasons why, but the net of it in most cases isn’t a scientific one, but behavioral in nature: there was never truly a lifestyle change. The person got good at omitting carbs for a short period of time, but there was not an addition of frequent exercise, a conscious awareness of caloric intake (both quality and quantity), etc.

People want to buy a DVD or stop eating carbs so they can quickly and abruptly shed weight and be done with it, as if it’s a chore on their to-do list. It’s a short-term temporary fix, as opposed to a long-term solution. How about making healthy life-style decisions on a consistent basis over time? How about letting the progress happen naturally with discipline and patience?

Lately I’ve been noticing this theme in my life, and not just with health and wellness.

About a year ago I made a commitment to become more spiritual and further develop my relationship with God. One church service didn’t do it, two didn’t either. But consistent attendance on Sunday’s, followed by weekly small group sessions, and more frequent prayer has undoubtedly got me going in the right direction. It didn’t happen overnight; it happened after successive attempts… baby steps that add up to a lot.

I’m also seeing this theme with people who are trying to find a job. For some reason there’s this expectation that just a few applications should land them a full-time career. And as most of them are seeing, this is not the case. Searching for a new job is tough. It takes time and effort. And the more consistent job seekers are in searching over time, the better their results will be in the long run.

My chiropractor and I recently spoke about this idea. He’s an avid triathlete who recently qualified for Kona. He was telling me a story about someone asking him how he posted such a fast swim time: “They asked me what my secret was, what I did differently in training to get fast in the water, and I honestly didn’t know. I went back and looked over the past few years at my workouts, and discovered that I had swum at least once a week for the past five years.” No magic formula to boost endurance, no special workouts or PED’s to increase speed. Just consistency over time.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

What now?

Advice to all you soon-to-be-graduated college kids
This weekend various members of my family will begin their journey to the middle of absolutely no where: Stillwater, OK. Stillwater is… well, still. And for people like me, it’s not pretty, there’s not a whole lot to do, the climate is average at best and the job market is essentially non-existent. But to thousands of Oklahoma State Cowboys, Stillwater has been the greatest place on the planet and a home away from home for the last four years. The thought of leaving the 46,000-person city is making many soon-to-be-graduates cringe, including my sister. I can empathize with post-graduation blues and depression; I was there a mere two years ago. But I’m here to tell my sister, and other recent grads, to fear not… and that life is good on ‘this side’.

Some undergraduates will shake off this transition to post-college life as if it’s no big deal. Others will be greatly affected. But the majority will fall somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum. No matter how you’re feeling or where you stand, here’s some unsolicited advice from me, two years removed from my undergraduate college experience, to you, who will be walking the stage within the next couple of weeks.

Take time to soak it in
If you’re fortunate enough to have parents that are letting you live back at home until you find full-time employment… actually, scrap-that. Let me start over. If you’re fortunate enough to be one of the few students who already has full-time employment lined up, congratulations! Hopefully your start date isn’t a mere day or two after you walk. If you can spare a week or two to relax, soak in graduation and get your bearings straight, do it. You have your entire life to work, and in the grand scheme of things a couple of weeks are not going to make or break you. I don’t care what anyone says, it won’t.

Now, if you don’t have full-time employment lined up just yet and are lucky enough to have parents that are letting you live at home, again, I congratulate you as well! This isn’t by any means the worst-case scenario to be in. Again, take some time to chill out after graduation, and after you’ve had a few good cries and happy hour sessions with high school friends in your home town, get to it. But I think it’s imperative that you take time to recover from the all-nighters during finals week, the chaos of graduation weekend and everything in between.

A 'lame' job is better than no job
Chances are that if you’re driven enough to get your Bachelor’s Degree, you won’t be the type that’s OK with sitting around doing nothing for weeks on end post-graduation. And chances are your parents aren’t OK with that either. Assuming you don’t have a lot of debt, you actually have an amazing situation at hand and it’s one you shouldn’t take for granted: you have hardly any expenses. Take it from me and others who are now in the ‘real world’: Life is expensive! Some form of income, whether it’s an internship, or part-time role at a retail outlet, is a must. You’ll have inflow and hardly any outflow. Almost every dollar you earn is money in the bank. So, while you continue to search for your first real career out of school, be sure you’re making money somehow, even if it’s a small amount, and save it. Experience is experience, and money is money. Capitalize on no expenses, trust me on this one.

Build and sustain your network
Get on LinkedIn if you’re not already and begin connecting with people. Utilize this online professional network to leverage not just the people you know, but more importantly, the people they know. Most jobs are won due to connections. LinkedIn will help you identify gatekeepers at organizations you may want to work. Never apply directly to a company without trying to find a gatekeeper there first. Chances are that you know someone, who knows someone who works at the company you’re looking at.

Stay fit, stay healthy
I’ve come to learn that attitude is directly correlated with how you feel physically. The days that I feel healthy and energetic are my best and most productive days. Find a routine that works for you at the gym. Take up a new sport, or join a co-ed league.

Get involved
If you’re like my sister who’s coming back to Dallas, capitalize on a huge marketplace with tons of organizations and groups. Joining a Small Group at my local church has been one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. They have groups and organizations for everything. This also relates back to networking.

Keep it in perspective
[Caution: cliché-infested section]

Graduation is not the end of the world. As much as it may seem like it, it’s not. I can’t tell you how awesome it is that when you leave work for the day, you’re done. You don’t go home and do homework or read chapters until 1:00a, you are finished. And guess what… they pay you! And speaking of which, do you know how nice it is to be able to buy certain things you can afford, when you want to? And do you know how gratifying it can be to purchase someone a gift or something you want when it’s your money you’re spending? It puts a completely new meaning to the word: “Earned.” Furthermore, I cannot begin to tell you how rewarding it can be to see your work implemented in the real world, and not just some graded hypothetical in a classroom. Others who graduated with me in May 2009 are seeing their work in the real world. They’re affecting lives through non-profit mission, product development, medicine, law, you name it. And it’s a pretty cool feeling.

Soon-to-be-graduates, keep it in perspective. There’s no draft, no plague, you live in a great country, and you have a freaking degree. Let’s keep it real, shall we? I mean c’mon. You’re 21-22 and have got a hell of a lot to look forward to. And that’s exciting. It’s OK to be bummed out for a while, but trust when I say that you will be better than fine, you will be great.

Congratulations to my sister and the others who are graduating this semester… such an amazing accomplishment!

My sister and I before an OSU football game in Stillwater, OK --- her home away from home.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lonestar Ironman 70.3

A little over a week ago I completed my first-ever Ironman Series event, the Lonestar Ironman 70.3 in Galveston, TX. Some thoughts on the 70.3-mile triathlon...

Swim. I loved the swim... probably my favorite part about the race because I surprised myself by finishing the 1.2 mile distance in 36 minutes. I had predicted a little over 40 minutes and was hoping for anything under 45, so to finish it in the time I did made me overjoyed. The water was 72 degrees and wet suit legal, which makes you buoyant and faster (not to mention salt water in the ocean).

Bike. The 56 mile bike course was an out-and-back along the Seawall. The first half was into the wind, making for an amazing return back to transition. Completed it in a little under three hours. Averaged a little under 19mph, which was 17mph on the way out, 21mph on the way back. This is definitely an area I need to improve on.

Run. Very disappointed in my run as it's what I'm best at. I averaged an 8:14/mile which is much slower than what I'm used to running... but that's also not in very windy, hot and humid conditions, and not after swimming 1.2 miles and biking 56. Was tough to keep my heart rate down.

Total time: 5 hours, 29 minutes and 55 seconds.

To put things into context, the winner, Chris Lieto, finished in 3:45:37. Biking at an average of 27.5mph and running a 5:52/mile on the half marathon. The last-place finisher in my division took over 9 hours to finish the race.

Harder than a marathon? Yes; but different. A full 26.2-mile marathon takes an enormous toll on your body because of what the constant pounding on concrete does to your feet, joints, knees and lower-body in general. For me, a marathon is incredibly painful when you near the finish. I never felt that during the Half Ironman. There's zero impact on a the swim, very little impact on the bike ride, and a half marathon run is much less than a full. When I finished I felt more "cardiovascular fatigue" than anything else. My legs didn't necessarily hurt, but my heart felt tired, as I ran out of gas toward the end of the run.

Nutrition is critical. Months ago when I was training for my first triathlon my mentality was to drink when I'm thirsty, eat when I'm hungry. That doesn't work when you exert yourself for over five hours... I was very humbled by this event with regards to nutrition.

Full Ironman? Some day. 140.6 miles is a long way to go. As of right now, the swim sounds very doable... 2.4 miles with proper training doesn't intimidate me like the bike-run combination does. 112 miles on the bike, or for someone at my level right now, let's call it six hours, followed with a full marathon? Yikes. Some day.

Me coming through transition, after the bike on my way to the run.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Apartment dogs are the worst

I’ve been renting for a few years now, so it’s safe to say that my sample size of apartment dogs I’ve encountered is large enough to generalize. So here it goes: dogs that live in apartment complexes are the absolute worst.

Virtually every time I see a dog in or near an apartment complex they are horribly behaved. They bark constantly, don’t obey their owner and are spastic to the max. In all fairness, it’s not the canine’s fault. It’s 100% the owner’s responsibility. In most cases, these poor pets are kept inside a small apartment (often times an even smaller closed-off area) for the entire work-day, only to be let out for about five minutes while their owner walks them down to use the bathroom. I don’t blame the dog for freaking out once it finally does see the light of the day. They’re not only incredibly anxious to tee-tee-potty, but have craved human interaction since 7:00 in the morning.

I guess I just don’t get it. Why get a pet if you never have time to play with it? I understand recent break-up’s can make someone lonely, but c’mon. I’m seeing it more and more, this unwritten rule that you’re supposed to acquire a pet the second you graduate college. “Oh, a dog would be fun to have!” But at the expense of the dog’s sanity and overall well-being?
The arguments against me here are abundant in nature. Perhaps many are adopted and rescued, and I can’t argue against the notion that their home at an apartment is better than being put down. I also know there are rules to the exception, and that there are plenty of dogs much happier in apartment complexes than at houses with big backyards.

What irks me are those who hastily purchase a dog with no idea of the commitment involved to care for it. Hence why I (personally) have no dog at this point in my life.

This post is dedicated to my family's dog, Sadie. A spoiled little Cava-Poo who is lucky enough to have a big backyard, a big house and a work-from-home owner.