Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Grossman Motivation Series Part 8

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.

The energy in the dorm would just be ramping up when it was time for me to trek across campus to the Blue Room. Every Saturday night, I donned my apron and stood behind the counter, mixing frappes for the slow trickle of customers until close. I maintained this trade-off throughout college; I gave up socializing on Saturday nights. In exchange, I gained a small amount of money, but, more importantly, I was always up for the Sunday morning long run. To be fair, all of my teammates made the run as well. The difference was that, on occasion, some of them felt a lot worse than I did.

College students, even serious athletes, occasionally succumb to the temptations readily available on weekend nights. When I was in college, Saturday morning races meant we retired early on Friday night. Saturday nights were more negotiable. In the balance? We all knew about the workout for the next day: It would be the time honored Sunday morning over-distance run. Early on Saturday evening, a runner might well decide to lay off the alcohol and turn in before the wee hours of the morning, knowing that the quality of the next day's run would be higher. The calculus changes, however, with the developing circumstances of the evening: more friends arriving, better music playing, a girl lingering.

We attributed a weakness of willpower to those who fell prey to such temptations and would show up in less-than-optimal condition on Sunday morning. We imagined that temptation stood, like the devil, on one shoulder and outmaneuvered the angel on the opposite shoulder. “Poor sucker!” we'd think, “If only he had listened to the angel!” He could have been cruising through the relatively easy 6:30 per-mile pace. Instead, he’d grit his teeth and barely cling to the back of the group. He may have even expressed regret for his lack of restraint. If the run was bad enough, he may have remembered it well enough for his little angel to bring it up the next time. “Hey dummy,” the angel would say, “You remember what happened last time!”

This raises an important question: If the angel prevails the next time, will our runner be any less of a sucker? Isn’t he still just doing what he is told and obeying the immediate pros and cons as best presented to him? I want to convince you that responding to the angel takes no more strength of will than responding to the devil.

The bottom line is that any choice is ultimately a calculation that pits the pros and cons against each other. Every decision has its reasons. We may think a particular decision ill-considered, but who are we to say? If the Sunday run is important enough to trump Saturday night festivities, then it will. We let the angel and the devil duke it out, and side with the most convincing.

This dynamic implies an existential and practical problem for runners. Like G.W. Bush, we want to be “the decider.” We want credit for our accomplishments. Before the season, we want to set goals for what we can do and afterward, we want to reflect on what we did. If every decision was simply a cost-benefit analysis that depended only on the circumstances at the time, we really can't take credit for any of it. Worse, much of what we want to take credit for is our effort. If our decisions to exert ourselves are really out of our hands (and in the hands of talking critters) then how can we claim that effort as our own? Any autonomous motivation seems doomed to dry up before we even get started.

You may like to think that you really are like the president and can exercise veto power over your little critter advisers. Well, suppose that I grant you veto power? You get to decide now between that next drink and going home early. What sways you? Some reason, right? You didn’t just make the answer up, did you? In that case, you might just as well have rolled the dice or consulted a random answer generator. You can’t then turn around and claim credit for that decision! So while I don't think we can escape the immediate calculus that goes into our decisions, I would like to explore the sliver of light that gives us some leverage over our decisions.

We think of decisions like they happen on the spot, when we have to provide the answer to the perennial question: “Should I stay or should I go now?” This is thankfully false. Your ray of light is that you can make decisions over time that build a long perspective to deal with the question. The trick is to stack the negotiation so that the best answer is the one that is supplied by your critters.

There are a lot of ways to stack your decisions. I’ll provide three that I think provide potent examples:

1. Set the default to "run." Suppose the devil and the angel provide equally compelling cases. Instead of a “jump ball,” have a possession arrow and keep it pointed on the same team. The angel always wins the ball. So, the weather’s really bad, but you skipped the last one and you really need this workout. The scales are about even. Check the arrow: It says “run.”

2. Invert the incentives. Hard workouts can be uncomfortable. Your devil critter can use this against you. “You’ll suffer if you try these hill repeats,” he’ll say. You can, over time, make the discomfort its own reward, like training for a hot race by turning on the heat in the car during the summer. By continuously reprogramming your own responses to dreaded stimuli, you can make them feel positive. “Bring on the heat,” you’ll say. Likewise, late on Saturday night, you can embrace your monastic celibacy.

3. Raise the stakes. Think of the runner who stops at a port-a-potty, and, fiddling with his running shorts, accidentally drops his keys into the froth. He bangs open the door, takes off his wedding ring and throws it in after the keys. His buddy, waiting outside, exclaims “What are you doing?” to which the runner retorts, “You didn’t think I was going in just for the keys, did you?!” Similarly, you can give your runs epochal significance by making them seem disproportionately important. You can imagine that missing a run or even being less than ready to do one well, will set you back compared to your competition. While it may not, strictly speaking, be true, the motivation to put running first may indeed serve to keep you ahead of your nearest competitors. And that motivation is increased by stacking the negotiation.

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.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Red Bull Pony Express run

I got this from GZ who got it from Scott.

Karl is a nut case! That is all I can say. Enjoy.

Tor des Geants

I have never even heard of this race before today but this makes any race in the US look like child's play. HOLY CRAP!

The Tor des Geants, held this year from Sept. 12 to 19, is a 200-mile race through the Italian Alps, with a couple dozen passes, rough and rocky trails, and nearly 80,000 feet of climbing. Beat (guy in the video from CA) finished the race in 132 hours - more than five days - on less than five hours of sleep. He didn't intend to try to convey the entire experience of the Tor des Geants, just touch the surface of what it might be like to barely sleep for five days and cross 25 steep passes in the Italian Alps.

Freakin NUTS!! I think this one might have to go on the bucket list.

No sleep 'til Courmayeur from Jill Homer on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Grossman Motivation Series Part 7

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.

Sometimes the voices of our ancestors whisper to us on the faintest breeze and sometimes we have to be blown over. Distance runners situate themselves to catch both kinds of wind.

I’m running just inside the tall perimeter fence at Johnson Middle School. The 7th graders are running circuits. We come back around to coach Hines for the second time and he stops us to introduce the next activity. I ask if I can keep running.

Ray Nichols stops by my house at the start of his run to Crescent Hill Reservoir. He’s several years older than I. He plays basketball for the high school. He runs to stay in shape. We run around the reservoir. I ask him why he spits. We run back and past my house. He stops at his house and I keep going. He looks puzzled.

I’m in coach Worful’s classroom after school, reclined in a desk. We’re talking about the spring. Many of my friends will be playing soccer. I will miss them.

The van has no A/C, so we roll into Philadelphia with hot air billowing through the windows. It’s May of 1990 and I sit shotgun, talking breezily with Berg. I tell him after graduation I plan to cross the country on motorcycle and run road races. He says: “I’ll give you $100 to get you started.” That evening I race 25 laps around Penn’s track, swapping leads with a Dartmouth runner.

I’m sitting under a picnic pavilion in Duluth, Minn. The mud is caked on my legs, all the way up my backside and spattered across the slogan on my homemade shirt: “KNOW DEFATIGATION.” Dusty Olsen trots across the finish. “You should carry water,” he says. “I finished in front of you,” I respond.

Melody has been waiting for me. She’s at mile 92 of the Western States 100. I tried to stop at mile 85. The tipsy aid station workers hovered over my skeletal frame. It wasn’t possible to stay there. I left for a final 7-mile slog. I arrive to a displaced carnival refreshment stand buzzing with activity in the middle of a remote darkness. Melody doesn’t accept my plea. “You came here for this,” she says.

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.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Grossman Motivation Series Part 6

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.

The buffer of warmth generated from running met the crisp autumn air. The countless tiny droplets from our quick breaths caught the faint glow from the distant street light. We celebrated the end of our season in a fitting way: We played chase. Jennifer Sinai invited the teams to a slumber party at her house, and we were loose on the fields of Sacred Heart Academy that abutted her backyard. Now that I was relieved of the pressure to perform, I became aware of the free flow of air in and out of my body.

That morning it had been a chore just to eat. I was completely congested. I sat across from my coach at Denny’s. I tried to blow my nose so that I could chew and breathe at the same time. He didn’t say anything at the time, but later he told me I had sounded like a fog horn, and knew we were in for a hard day.

Sure enough, I blew another state meet. For a high school athlete, the stakes don’t get any higher. Almost hourly since the previous Monday I was reminded — with an accompanying wave of anxiety — that this was what all the preparation had been about. I had deferred getting nervous about all the preceding meets by assuring myself that each was small potatoes compared to the state meet. Now I had to pay up.

I don’t remember much about the race other than that it was a slog. I had finished ahead of all the other runners in regular season races. Although I felt like I was yoked to my plow and breaking hard soil with every step, I stayed near the lead for the first mile. As runners started to pass me, I remember wishing Dave Lawhorn, my teammate and best friend, well. He went on to a great finish for him in seventh place. At least 20 runners finished ahead of me. My recollection of the run is hazy, but I remember that evening with crystal clarity.

I paused between flights in our game and hovered in the shadow of an old tree. My vaporous breath hinted at a lightness of being completely betrayed by my earth-bound performance that morning. I articulated the problem to myself and got an answer. The problem: Many things are out of our control. The five kilometer course for the state meet is set at the Kentucky Horse Park, on ground trounced by countless horses. There are other fast runners, many of whom prepare zealously to run as fast as possible. Even the things I might hope to control, like my own state of mind in the days before a big event, may well elude my efforts and manifest as illness. On any given day, and especially on a big day, I might do worse than expected.

I might do worse than expected. The sparkle of the street lamp was an angel with the divine revelation: You have a year to prepare so that on the first Saturday in November you may have a bad day … and still finish ahead of all the other runners. My path became clear. I began to plan for the training required to finish a minute or so faster than my nearest competitor.

If you have been around running for a while, none of what I did will come as a surprise. Every issue of Running Times will include some version of the training regimens that reliably yield improvement. I know that night I planned for the added mileage, mostly as additional morning runs and weekly long runs, that I would need.

You can find ways to improve.

We should not brush lightly over well-worn phrases like “set goals,” and “expect the unexpected.” Our ability to use these tools gives us leverage. The world hums along, obeying its own logic, indifferent to our appeals. When we are too proud, we expect that our efforts will be rewarded. When we are too humble, we give up on our projects as hopeless. When we engage with the world and learn from our efforts, we move forward. When we do the work to review our mistakes, we can figure out ways to avoid those same mistakes. When we set goals, we can devise means of reaching those goals based on our own experiences and the experiences of others who have set similar goals. Most importantly, when we take into account those things that used to seem outside of our control, we grow in stature. We assume responsibility for our “off days” and get credit when we succeed despite them.

It should be only slightly anticlimactic to reveal that I finished second at the state championship the following year. My relative performance suffered, as it had before. My time, however, was a minute and 20 seconds faster than the year before. Though my training didn’t put all of my competitors out of reach, I had finished ahead of every other runner in every one of my regular season meets. Rob Shoaf, the state champion both years, had made plans of his own. As competitors will, he took my performances into account and trained so that his fitness peaked just as mine declined. The friendly rivalry was good for both of us. I’m certain that he values the memories of high school competition as much as I do. Not because we can reminisce about our moments of glory, but because our recollections reinforce the nature of performance more generally: We can do better.

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.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Grossman Motivation Series Part 5

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.

This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.

You won't like this message, but you need to hear it: Stop being so puny. You keep shrinking. You do what you're told. You follow the money. You run on warm, sunny days. That would be OK if you also thought for yourself, did things that had no reward, and, most importantly, you ran when it was cold and wet. I can hear you formulating your response already. Be careful. Don't make yourself punier than you already are.

You've got a lot of good reasons to make excuses. For starters, think of how much bigger the world is than you. Who are you to resist gravity, reverse the rotation of the earth or pull back on the outward expansion of the universe? Even among the world of people, you are only one of countless hordes. You don’t even stand out against the backdrop of those you can name: your extended family, those at work or those in your circle of friends (and competitors). You cave to the pressure your boss puts on you, yield to the leverage wielded by your family and haplessly participate in exchanges that depend on little beyond what your neighbor happens to be doing. Is there any wiggle room actually left for you to maneuver? You are vanishingly small.

Worse, you like it this way. You don’t have to own up. When someone tries to pin you down, you have a ready response.

“It wasn't me!" you explain.

Your boss made you do it. You were only doing what it took to keep peace in your family. You were only doing what every other person seemed to be doing. You know how lame that is. Who do you think you are? Don’t answer! Just take the punches. Let them leave a deep impression. You need it.

You've been pressed on this before, I know. It started when you were young. You made your little brother cry; you left him doubled over from the roundhouse you practiced on him. Why did you do that? What were you thinking? Here’s where you dug the hole in which you’ve been carrying aces ever since.

You’ve gone to that hole often, and recently. Yes, you’ve hurt others. But we’re talking about you right now. Why did you keep running through the pain until you wound up injured? You don't even have to think. You’ve got your ace.

"I didn't mean to!" you practically scream at me.

That excuse is so insidious. No edifice can contain it. Yes, you get to declare your intentions. But when your act is offered to you and you refuse to claim it, anything you might have been oozes out of your weak grip and through your soft stance. You are little more than thin, shapeless goo.

When the truth of that has sunk in, maybe you will be ready to build this thing from the ground up. Yes, I’m talking about you, Eric. Only when you accept that you are nothing will we be able to get somewhere.

You will have to claim yourself, one footstep at a time, by taking responsibility for the direction you find yourself headed. No excuses.

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.