Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Grossman Motivation Series Part 10

These are great motivation pieces written by a great runner, Eric Grossman. I had to copy these from Running Times just for my own record in case this is ever removed from the site. LOVE IT! You can find it by clicking here or just read below.

Maybe you saw me on TV. The Western States 100 was featured on NBC's World of Adventure Sports in July of 2007. I was interviewed the day before the race as well as at mile 56. You might have noted my deliberate and rational mental preparation during the former, and my almost complete mental breakdown during the latter. I was stopped. Though desperate for water, I could barely sip any fluid. Though desperate for calories, I could only nibble at food. Everything was making me sick. The run had already completely stripped me of all pretense and all hope of finishing competitively. When asked how I was doing, I could only respond: "I can't imagine going on."

I have only been able to muster the desire to run Western States on alternate years. I ran in 2005 until I dropped out at mile 78. At mile 20, my vision completely blurred in one eye, I collided with a sharp branch and gouged my right thigh. Over the next 50 miles, the inflammation grew intolerable. In 2009, I once again organized my training around preparation for this pre-eminent ultramarathon. I sprained my ankle at mile 12. Although I finished, I wasn't able to run again until late fall that year. When I did start training again, I developed chronic Achilles tendinitis that stayed with me through the five ultras I started in 2010. When I became simultaneously plagued by an acute hamstring pain, I stopped running. Instead, I began to saw and split large fallen trees for firewood. Seriously. I gave myself a hernia.

That was two and a half weeks ago. Last Thursday, I was scheduled for a follow-up exam with the surgeon. I jogged lightly in the morning. Knowing my propensities, he asked if I had been running since the surgery. He checked my incision, cut a suture and sent me out with a pass to ramp up training again at my discretion.

Early last spring, after months of trouble with my Achilles, I was told that recovery would likely depend on spending a year limited to very light running. I had reasons to try and run anyway. For several years I've enjoyed the benefits of competing with a sponsored ultrarunning team. I wanted to keep my place on the team. So, I ran even when I would have been better served by resting. Now I have given myself no real options.

That is the ultimate truth we have to contend with: Decision making, like politics, is local. Each depends on nearby factors. Appearances notwithstanding, choices aren't freely made. The decision to run depends on the rewards we get by doing it, offset by the costs we incur. So why are some people able to exercise moderation and work toward their long-term interest while others fall prey to temptation, overdo it and end up injured?

Freedom emerges where the person inserts long-term interests into near-term calculations. This doesn't involve magic, but it does involve reflection and effort. My purpose in the previous nine parts of this series has been to elucidate the kind of reflection and effort required. One pitfall we both face when I write about willpower is that we may both be convinced it is something I have and you need. So I keep reminding myself, and you, that willpower doesn’t work that way. We cultivate the freedom we desire. When we imagine that it is a gift that some just happen to have, it immediately evaporates.

Aligning short and long-term interests mostly requires a comfortable relationship with the passage of time. Yes, patience is a virtue, and your best ally in cultivating freedom. As I hope I’ve shown, I’m not particularly patient. When I start training after a layoff, my impulse is to see how far or how fast I can go. After a few weeks I feel good — I’ve readjusted to the immediate metabolic demands and my legs itch to move faster. The short-term gratification I get from running longer and faster does not align with the long-term benefits I’ll get from coming back slowly.

I’ll need to refer to my own playbook to manage. If you haven’t already read them, check out parts 1–9 in this series (see "related articles" below). At the core of developing willpower is one central tenet: feelings change. What feels good today may not feel good tomorrow and perhaps, more importantly, what feels painful today may not cause pain tomorrow. One of the greatest appeals of running ultramarathons is that we are forced to realize that it never always gets worse. That’s because you will have run into the wall. The race is so long, though, that you have time to come out on the other side. The most striking thing you find is that what had seemed hopeless can be recovered. You will rise and fly again and quite likely feel ecstatic for having transformed yourself.

If you did catch that episode of World of Adventure Sports, and stuck it out through the last commercial break, you saw the backside of a tall scrawny runner as he strode through the undergrowth en route to a respectable sub 24-hour finish at the Western States 100. I was conferred the Energizer Bunny award for getting back on the trail and finishing despite my near total collapse only a little over halfway through the run. The reward of finishing was reason enough for withstanding the trials of that day. The real value of the experience, however, was outlasting my impulse to stop. Nearly every bone in my body cried to be still and rest. A very subtle chord resonated through me that this too shall pass. So I hobbled out of the aid station, then walked, jogged and finally ran again. All it took was time.

Eric Grossman is a member of the Montrail ultrarunning team. At age 40, Grossman won the 2008 USATF 50-mile national championship. Check back next week for more of Grossman's motivational tips.

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