The Hollow Glow

At 21, I completed my first marathon. Like many first-timers, I had little to no idea what I was doing. What started as a run fueled by extremely unrealistic expectations quickly morphed into a near crawl kept alive by aspiration.  I could have cared less. At that time, I was oblivious to this world of “runners”.

 

 

It was my 3rd year at university. I didn’t have a running group. I had no “training plan”. My only strategy was to run a little longer each week. I didn’t know that periodicals like Runner’s World existed. My interest derived from curiosity and excitement, not competition. My chief concern was the competition I was going to be having against myself. I wanted to see if I could endure every last inch of 26.2 miles.

 

On November 7, 2010, I lined up at the Fresno Two Cities Marathon. Upon arrival, I was taken aback at the amount of people signed up for the race. Where and when are all of these people running? I had never seen any of them. Regardless, not only was everybody lined up, but all looked like they knew what they were doing. I felt like I did not.

 

The energy was infectious. I blazed through my first 10K. Rookie mistake. I thought I had a chance at qualifying for the Boston Marathon; another rookie mistake. I was stoked. Perfect weather, legs are feeling good. That changed quickly. Any ideas of Boston grandeur dissipated quickly and my stride deteriorated after the 16th mile. Every step forward hurt more and more.

 

And more.

 

Then, the intensity ratcheted up to a new level at around mile 20. Almost instantaneously, I was introduced to “the wall”. It hit hard. Despite my best attempts at forcing the pain aside, it just stuck around and infiltrated my mind. I had difficulty tolerating such extraordinary discomfort. Up to this point in my life, I had never felt anything like this. My physical state deteriorated at a faster rate than my dawdling pace. Perhaps, even more concerning was that every last fiber of resolve I thought I had in me was now withering away.

 

Soon, the crowds increased.

 

The cheering intensified. 

 

Perhaps my ride on the struggle bus is coming to an end?

 

Many a spectator hollered, “You’re almost there!”

 

Gee, thanks. It sure doesn’t seem that way.

How much does “almost there” really mean? At this point, their definition of “almost there” was much different than mine.

 

I know spectators meant well and their support helped, but I wasn’t thinking rationally. This isn’t a plea for forgiveness either, just the matter of the situation. There were no positive thoughts floating around. No good vibes. None.

 

I had officially stepped into a new territory that I’d never felt before in my life: a world of pain.

 

 

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Still though, I kept going. Earlier in the race, I noticed some elderly folks participating in the marathon. I grew eager to see how long they would last. Well, now, THEY were blowing by me. Hubris really is the silent killer. Apparently, “Almost there” didn’t equate to “there”. The only way I would get through it was by taking one step at a time.

 

I turned what appeared to be the final corner.

 

There it was, the iconic arena that is Woodward Park.

 

Almost there!!!!

 

Finally!

 

Finally!!

 

Finally!!!

 

I glanced around. To my left, there stood my parents, family friends, and others. I felt like I was floating and clicking off sub-6 minute miles. I wasn’t. The pictures confirmed otherwise. I looked at the clock: Four hours and some change.

 

It’s finally over.

 

No more almosts!

 

Immediately after crossing the finish, I was adorned the finisher’s medal etched inscribed with the race and date. Out of nowhere, this wave of emotions washed over me: relief, joy, exhaustion, excitement, ecstasy, and unrelenting discomfort.

 

In an attempt to exit the finishers village, I tried to play it cool like I knew what I was doing. The medic was watching. She saw me. Perhaps, it was the staggered cadence, pale face, and slurred speech that was a dead giveaway. I don’t know. She asked me politely to take a seat and drink some water.

 

No, I’m good.

 

I did my best to fight it. It didn’t work. My hobble only intensified. Nevertheless, I submitted to the overwhelming exhaustion and took a seat. Finally, a logical thought! Heeding her advice might be a solid life decision. She then wrapped me in one of those stylish aluminum blankets. I was super fired up over the aluminum blanket because now, it felt like I had finished a marathon.

 

After exiting the finishing chute, I saw family and friends. They shared nothing but encouragement. I rolled around on the grass in a pitiful attempt to find the smallest semblance of comfort.

 

The sweat had all but dried up on my shirt. I got really cold really fast. Fortunately, my Dad’s friend, Kadalak (a 2:28 marathoner in his day), knew the post-race protocol. He came equipped with a sweatshirt for me. That stuck with me, as I have packed a sweatshirt at the finish line of every single long-distance race I’ve done. 

 

At this point, the primary objective turned to pizza and beer. Walking was an unforeseen struggle. My Dad sat me down on his bike and pushed me along to the car. And to think that I tried to play it cool earlier…

 

Beer had never tasted so satisfying as it did in that moment. The collective joy was now emanating around our corner table.

 

Satisfied, I swore I would never put myself through anything like that again. One and done. It wasn’t “fun”. I earned my regalia.

 

After lunch, we parted ways and it started raining. This made turning a nap from an idea into a reality the least challenging task of the day.

 

I woke up from that nap and the Oakland Raiders - my favorite team in any sport - were on television. They were in overtime with the Kansas City Chiefs. I was so stoked that I could have cared less who won the game. In my struggle to move, I watched. My favorite player, Sebastian Janikowski, had an opportunity to win the game. The Polish Cannon lived up to his name and smashed it through the uprights. I smiled and thought to myself: How can it get better than this?

 

The next week was surreal. I remember feeling a tremendous sense of accomplishment when I walked into my Ancient Chinese Civilization course the next morning.

 

Some friends asked about it. I said the usual stuff. It was hard. I hit the wall. I’m never doing that again… The week wore on and I remained on cloud nine. Literally. It was like a high that no drug could provide. Friends and family called to see how it went. By Thursday, it went from “brutal” to “incredible!”

 

It was surreal. The euphoria was different than anything I had experienced before. Kevin Eslinger , swimming coach and ultra-endurance athlete once paddled 120 miles from Santa Barbara to Ocean Beach (San Diego). He coined this post-performance bliss as “The Hollow Glow”

 

What follows these profound moments is a Hollow Glow. Hollow in the sense that you’ve just enlarged the space that you live in, by doing something that you’ve done beyond any previous experience. At the same time, there is the glow. It might just feel like you’re walking a couple inches higher off of the ground. You feel like you aren’t touching the ground for however long that glow lasts. To me, this is a sign that we all have this proclivity to literally grow as much as we can. When you do something that produces this, it doesn’t take too long before you start looking at what the next target may or may not be" 

Kevin Eslinger

 

 

 

Lessons learned:

 

1.     The beauty isn’t necessarily the challenge; it’s how far one is willing to stretch his or herself to meet the challenge. That’s where the edges lie.

a.     Everybody’s edge is different, thus, everybody’s challenges require varied degrees and frequencies.

b.    26.2 is really an arbitrary number. On that day, it wasn’t. This was a goal that required preparation and was sustained by purpose. It took every step of that distance to uncover a place deep inside of me that I didn’t know existed. Such an intense experience lays a   foundation for new discoveries. There’s nothing arbitrary about that.  

 

2.     The result is only one variable of many. That’s not to say it doesn’t bear any weight, but quantifying success shouldn’t be solely limited to the outcome. Focusing only on the results limits one’s propensity to learn afterwards. Other variables to consider might be: self-talk strategies, nutrition, hydration, sodium intake, pre-race routine (week before, day before, morning of), pace allocation…

 

3.     I still am unsure of what this post-race euphoria can be attributed to:

a.     Is it the movement?

b.    Is it the distance?

c.     The time?

d.    The preparation?

e.     All of that energy coming together?

f.      Or is it the simple act of challenging oneself?

g.    I’d like to believe it’s a collection of all of the above.

 

4.     Never underestimate the incalculable value that a challenge might yield. Really, I had no idea how influential that day would be in my life. I got way more than I bargained for on that day.

 

5.     How might I be undermining growth for other areas of my life? 

 

6.     Participating in these challenges is a privilege because it’s voluntary. Others aren’t so fortunate, as the challenges many face aren’t by choice. It’s a 21st luxury, so choose wisely.

Feeling Stressed? PBS.

Anything worth striving for will contain some degree of resistance. That resistance comes in many forms, but perhaps it manifests itself through stress. Stress is everywhere, all the time. Rather than neglect it, it's worth examining one's relationship with stress. In sports, stress is a part of preparation. For example, think of a strenuous workout that pushed you to the brink. If you were prepared for it, then that stress helped. Not only did it strengthen the body, but fortified the mind.

The appropriate amount of stress equips the mind for difficult moments in the future. Stress Inoculation is a strategy used by the U.S. military to equip soldiers for combat. Through training, soldiers are gradually exposed to a plethora of variables that emulate combat-like scenarios. As time progresses, so too does the intensity of these exercises, thus providing soldiers opportunities to make important decisions that imitate  the high pressure situations associated with combat.

 

However, if too much stress is experienced too soon or too often, then the consequences are not positive. They range from physical injury to a decline in training or performance to psychological burnout. Still though, stress is necessary. If you haven’t appropriately exposed yourself to stress in training, then it is likely that you won’t be ready when it comes time to perform. If you’re not ready to perform, don’t expect your “A game” to pull you through. That’s not a reliable option. Ever. According to legendary sport psychologist, Ken Ravizza:

 

“Are you that bad of an athlete that you have to feel great to perform well?”

 

Rather than rely on the unlikely chance that your “A game” will show up, use training or practice as a way to prepare your mind. If your mind is not equipped to handle the stressors during training, then it becomes more probable that these stressors will derail your performance. Performance-related stressors come in many different forms. Some include:

-                Not feeling 100% (pretty much everybody, all the time…)

-                Inclement Weather

-                Concern regarding external variables or what lies beyond your control

-                The challenge itself

 

These physical stressors tend to influence thoughts, attitudes, or emotions. Most, if not all, of these are within your control:

-                Feeling Unprepared

-                Lack of Confidence

-                Distrust

-                Fear of Failure

-                Lost b/c everything seems to be moving too fast

-                Wayward Focus

-                Feeling Inadequate

-                Bargaining

-                Misaligned thoughts

-                Constructing a False Narrative

-                A Distracted Mind

-                Lack of Belief

 

 

If these are not addressed, they have the potential to exacerbate how you experience a performance and then the performance itself. If this mind-body connection implies coexistence (it does), then the internal activities that accompany a physical performance deserve your attention. If not addressed, these mental minions chattering away can quickly morph into mental mutants that will sabotage your decision-making ability, thoughts, and actions. That leaves you bargaining, hoping, or wishing for either a miracle or for the performance to end as soon as possible. Such adversity (that never should have started in the first place) leaves you in a reactionary and defensive position. It inhibits your performance because you are directly in your own way. The only one who can get you out of your own way is you. Fortunately, there are strategies you can implement in training to prevent an unraveling from taking control.

 

PBS is a strategy that can put you back on the offensive and in a more proactive position. PBS stands for PAUSE; BREATHE; SELECT. PBS is like going from a red light to yellow light to a green light. It can help slow things down, providing you ample time to refocus and move forward.

 

In preparation for you next goal, practice using PBS. What you SELECT to focus on can be a mantra, quote, song lyric, image, or verse. It is important that it is meaningful to you and you alone. Then, take ownership of it. If you don’t believe during the difficult moments in training, then you certainly won’t believe it during a performance. A couple examples are:

 

Eat the Wolves

 

Ride it out

 

Let it go

 

Remember, You chose to do this

 

Be Aggressive

 

Follow through

 

Embrace this

 

One Step at a Time

 

The ad below (circa 1998) is one of my all time favorite Nike commercials. It's a nice reminder that conveys how sport can be a tremendous platform for anybody because it grants innumerable opportunities to test one's physical limits in conjunction with the internal dialogue. Status, speed, time, money, agility, height, weight, vertical leap... I could care this. To this day, every single time I watch this I get energized when I see the elderly gent catapult himself up the stairs. He literally is propelling himself forward with unbreakable belief. Every single step. It still gives me goosebumps.

You can use PBS as a tool to mentally reset. Much like training the physical piece, this requires t  practice, practice, and more practice. Don’t just save PBS for the strenuous workouts. The more you practice, the more efficient you’ll become at flipping the switch and reigning your focus back in. Through this intentional repetition, you become able to quiet your mind. Then, when that static dissipates, it’s replaced by a crystal clear focus. Coupled with that is a clarity that gives you the opportunity for both body and mind to work harmoniously. What more can you ask for? This is part of the tool kit that will help you paint your masterpiece. PBS isn't the end-all, but it is one step closer in freeing yourself from distraction so that all you need to do is execute the task at hand. 

https://medium.com/thrive-global/the-growth-equation-stress-rest-growth-de95a5cdcd1d 

https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/stress-inoculation-therapy/ 

https://twitter.com/kenravizza1/status/975411297469849601?lang=en 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FqKRN5FQgw 

Digging for Gold.

 

No more.

 

It’s over.

 

The weight no longer a burden.

 

You can draw in a deep breath.

 

The long-awaited moment of reprieve is here.

 

It’s okay to now attend to the “other” plans; you know, those promises, hopes, and dreams. The ones that were placed aside for what felt like forever.

 

Finally.

 

The innumerable sacrifices and early morning workouts are done.  

The all-consuming grind of an all-out effort catalyzed by total focus and exhaustion has concluded.

 The spectators may or may not remember you.

Now, a decorative piece of fleeting glory adorns your neck.

With that, comes recognition.

It’s nice. That's undeniable.

But the finish line is merely the beginning.

The effort put forth today will outlive any one race result, success or failure.

 The race actually started months ago.

It was a culmination of intention, consistency, imagination, and curiosity.

After the race, did you find what you were looking for?

Are you open to learning? 

What did I do right? What went wrong?

Did I go out too fast? Did I hold back?

Did I lay it all out there?

For whatever rhyme or reason, the analysis won't stop.  

Like a miner sifting for gold... Except, what exactly is the gold?  

Why are search for it at the finish line? 

Is that really the best option? 

 Before the quest,

 You need to clue in.

 That means gathering intel. 

 Lots of questions asked.

 Hopefully, it results in some learning.

 Or some humility.

 If you’re fortunate, you just might get to bring home some gold.

 But what exactly is the gold?

Is it tangible?  

How do can it be quantified?

 Is it a “job well done”?

 Is it the job itself?

 Where is it? 

Is it waiting at the finish line?

Can it be measured in ounces or pounds?

Is it revealed in the pursuit?

Does it mirror the investment?

I wish I had an answer, but I don’t.

Just questions.

However, there are two certainties I have learned:

1.     The gold must be earned.

2.     Once earned, you wear it forever.

That type of value outweighs gold or any superfluous item.

 It never rusts.

 In fact, it becomes a part of you.   

Nobody can ever take that away. Ever.

Whatever you’re gold might be, keep searching, keep learning, and getting better.

Oh yeah and keep your eyes open because there's plenty of gold to be found along the way.

A couple hours after completing my first Boston Marathon (2017), there was some extra gold beyond the finish line. I will never forget it. 

A couple hours after completing my first Boston Marathon (2017), there was some extra gold beyond the finish line. I will never forget it. 

Composure: Internal Poise Amidst External Noise

"We suffer more often in imagination than in reality"  

- Seneca

Often, in sport, the one who loses control is the one who loses the match, race, or game. Losing one's composure has the potential to alter an experience. Sometimes it's a slow digression of mounted frustration; other times, its a definitive moment that stands out. Either way, losing composure is losing emotional control. Since you are the only one in control of you, this is not good. If undressed, mental frustration exacerbates so rapidly, it can be easy to identify through  the nuances of one's body language: facial expressions, the "deer in the headlights look", or angst-ridden looks of exasperation. These looks exude weakness, physical deterioration, or a complete falling apart. They are completely dependent on the individual. One certainty is that you will not be able to perform at 100% for every single outing. This is why composure matters.  Given the likelihood that you are your own worst critic, getting back on track is not easy. But it is possible. These moments can continue to suck or they can be teachable. That's up to you. Below are a couple of tips that will help in fortifying the internal poise, so that the external noise can stay away.

1.  Realize - Maintaing composure starts with understanding yourself and your environment. This means finding out (possibly through journaling) how many variables were at play. Pay attention to what might have precipitated those moments when control began to slip away. Was it a product of circumstance?A tough practice/workout that you dislike? The weather? Were you under-the-weather? What matters with what is included on this list, is what matters to you during your performance. Once you come to identify these factors and understand them, you'll be better equipped to handle them in the future. 

2.  Reframe - Once the external factors are identified, now it is time to work with them. This is the step where you are able to flip the proverbial switch. Reframing is not a one-off deal either. A game/race progresses and can change instantaneously, further reinforcing the need to constantly adjust. These options range from a deep breath, to a mantra/quote/song lyrics, to chunking the overall goal into segments. "Chunking it" means eating the elephant one bite at a time, which can either be committing to running beyond a visual landmark. It can also be committing to playing your best for the next minute, shift, or quarter. Reframing keeps the mind present, and, thus keeping you in the driver's seat. 

3.   Embrace - Once you're in the driver's seat, you're in charge. This doesn't mean you'll be at 100%. Nor does it mean that all systems will be firing. Embrace is fluidly welcoming what might happen, as opposed to forcing it aside. There is value in embrace because it allows you to extract 100% out of the 45% feeling that you are currently experiencing. Reframing gets you to the here-and-now; embrace keeps you there.  From there, potential is boundless.

Whether your game is sport, business, or school, composure keeps you engaged with only what is relevant. Composure has the potential to affect your opponent. Once composed, the opponent can't gain insight. An added bonus is that their mounting concern means nothing to you. Internally, you might barely be holding on, but composure keeps everybody guessing; that is everybody except yourself.  

Insufficient Noise

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Saturday afternoons during the Fall of 2007 were loud, really loud. Three friends and I created a band. Insufficient Noise was the name and Aggro-hardcore was the game. Today, I’m still unsure of which genre that was. That’s not because our collected talent elevated us above label status. Actually, it was quite the opposite. That didn’t matter because we didn’t care.

At the time, we were preparing for an upcoming battle-of-the-bands performance. As the date drew closer, so too did we. Each session got louder and a tad bit more cleaned up as our collective energy was unbound.  It wasn’t that we were as excited about the performance as much as we genuinely loved jamming together. These weekly shred sessions consumed us. Every day, more ideas, sounds, and feelings regarding practice were being discussed at school. We fed it. It fed us. It was all we wanted to do. It was us.

Each week, we met at Meyer Hesse’s house. Meyer was the drummer and behind his parent’s place storage shed. There was nothing remarkable about the shed; it stored many items, both commonplace and miscellaneous. Behind it was a massive oak tree preserve.

For a couple afternoons a week, this shed served a different purpose. It housed hoarse screaming, disorderly distortion. The shed represented the perfect juxtaposition of near-deafening noise pollution enveloped by the serenity of an immense, surrounding forest.

That shed became our domain. It was there that the name Insufficient Noise came to be. The purpose of the name was two-fold. First, it was a direct reference to our obnoxious sound. Second, it was meaningful to us. Each shed session was full immersion on the task at hand. Essentially, we were blocking out the noise of the outside world that was considered insufficient to our pursuit. We weren’t concerned with how others qualified our quantified our music. Our noise was our noise, and nobody could take that away: 100% authenticity. We hadn’t the slightest clue as to what we were doing, but we knew we loved it.

As a verb, ‘shed’ means to discard, disconnect, or to rid. That is exactly what took place each session. Harsh judgment was nowhere to be found. There was no fear of failure. We were completely disconnected with anything beyond our domain, and, in turn, fully connected to the task at hand. That, to me, was catharsis.

 

 

 

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Our performance at the High School “showcase” was really just a dressed-up version of our sh(r)ed sessions, precisely the way it was intended. Many of our peers deemed it atrocious and confusing, including a couple of my family members. We didn’t really care. It propelled us to keep playing, writing, and tightening up our game. The flames were stokes and the fire burning. There was nothing else we wanted to do, so we kept at it.

Still unsure of what was more erratic: our attire or our music? 

Still unsure of what was more erratic: our attire or our music? 

2007 to 2018…

It seems smartphone use has become an almost daily conversation. As they are relatively new devices, more and more evidence continues to emerge. These devices are not inherently bad, nor are they good. They are tools. They do have the capacity to create a cascade of problems, most of which are unnecessary. These devices offer a dopamine loop that is disguised as a constant flood of distractions. One hour passes by. Then another. And another. I am by no means any less guilty for squandering my own time as well.  The problem is real and carries an array of psychological ramifications, many of which we have yet to discover.

In much further depth, a recent Atlantic Monthly  article elaborates on the connection between smart phones and increasing levels of anxiety, stress, and other conditions. Always being one-click away carries real weight. Less 16 year-olds are obtaining drivers licenses because there are less people their age going out. When some teens do go out, they have they capability to share their whereabouts for all to see. Often, many others observe these posts from a safe distance (usually from home). Not only does this generate an feelings of exclusion, but it’s literally crippling. As a society, it seems we are a long ways from understanding how these devices affect our brains. It’s more than dopamine.  

 

 

Back to the shed…

A wooden box filled with gardening tools and family heirlooms was hallowed ground. From the outside, it was no different than any other shed. On the inside, it was a perspiration-soaked arena. In there, we were moving. We were grooving. Free from distraction and expectation, we were unapologetically ourselves. For a couple moments a week, we were invincible. Nobody can take that away. Ever.

In the past ten or so years, I went off to college and did that whole deal… The initial adjustment to college was difficult. At the time I didn’t know it, but what I needed to find was a shed. There was no way it was going to be literal.

Eventually, I started jogging 2-3 miles 2-3 days a week. It was a release from stress, expectations, distractions. Each time I finished, I purchased a chocolate milk at the student store as a reward. They were well-earned and delicious. But chocolate milk wasn’t what kept me coming back for more. I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but I understood that I needed to do something because doing nothing produced nothing.

After I’d wash up, I would feel even better. My mood elevated and I was more confident. It could have been the warm shower after a cold run. Regardless, following each run was a calming sense of clarity that washed over me. I didn’t know that at the time, but it felt right.

Running slowly became vehicle for journey to see how far I could push my body. I soon learned that it was moreso about how far I could push my mind. Then, my good friend – Josh Hickey – introduced me to the trails. That was a whole new world. Without a doubt, the lessons I’ve learned out there cannot be rivaled by anything I’ve learned in a classroom.

The trails have become a source of connection through disconnection. Oh and that feeling after? It’s still there. I have come to learn that this deeply-intrinsic satisfaction can’t be manufactured. Nor can it be purchased (except for maybe the purchase of elicit drugs). It has to be earned; the price you pay is discomfort. That’s not to say that the discomfort is always physical. Most days it’s an early-morning alarm, fatigue, or a lack of motivation. But once you get going, that entangled web of thought dissipates. Thought becomes clearer. While you can’t literally run from all your problems, taking time to move will help. Choosing to stay sedentary will not.

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On the trails, I have also shared intensely personal conversations. I have tripped, kicked rocks, and fallen on I have ranted and raved about anything and everything. Some days, everything is in rhythm, just like those days in the shed. And in those moments, I don’t concern myself with anything except forward movement. I’m not wishing my stride was like so-and-so or that I could hammer even faster. Aesthetics, stride, and pace become completely irrelevant. I might never win a race, but that doesn’t matter because I know that feeling of catharsis that follows a trail run is immeasurable. I hold onto that feeling as I enter back into reality.

Currently, the external noises fueled by an on-the-go society are becoming more prevalent. Thus, that constant infiltration is making it harder for many to navigate their own landscapes. People are being pushed and pulled in every direction. Many consume as a way to keep up with people they don’t like. If you let it, it can become a 24/7 distraction from acknowledging what it is you want, who it is you are.

Whether it is shedding (v) oneself of superfluous things or seeking a literal shed (n), this idea of “shed” will help navigate through the noise. Decisions become more sounds. Choices begin to make more sense. Those aligned actions add up; your character is reflected through that accumulation. Hopefully, that reflection is one that is authentic to your existence. Authenticity harbors integrity. Once integrity is established, it’s that much easier to align who you are with what it is you want. In understanding that, it becomes easier to eliminate potential diversions. Once off-track, it becomes more difficult to filter through the insufficient noise that has the capacity to weigh you down. It can literally stop you in your tracks. So keep on. Find your shed.