In Bloom

“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.”

The plan after wrapping up the final Make a Wish event in June was to get back into shape, but I felt lost as far as what “in shape” looked like to me. “In shape” used to look like being able to go out and run a 30-50 mile outing at the drop of the hat, but my heart still wasn’t longing for those types of distances. I continued to feel guilty for not wanting to cover long distances.

Our final Make a Wish hike event (Trailblaze 2.0) for 2022 was in South Carolina. My primary job function at 2.0 was napping…

Kidding kidding… it was volunteering and making sure hikers had a splendid time along their 28 mile journey.

After all the songs had been sung and all the drinks had been drank… it was time to head back to Bama. The BFD crew I rode up to SC with was staying an extra day so I had to score a ride back with someone else.

It’s been said, “one good conversation can shift the direction of change forever…”

Janey was kind enough to let me bum a 5-6hr ride back to Alabama, but more so, was kind enough to share some of her own struggles and how she persevered. She helped me simplify my problem into smaller, manageable goals. It’s funny because in my therapeutic practice… I do this daily for other people… but alas… it’s often tough to make changes and manage our own issues independently.

Like Janey and I discussed… I started small. I started running a few miles 3 days a week and started getting in the gym 2 days a week. And ya know what? It sucked. It sucked real, real bad. I felt like a SLOB. But I knew consistency would be the key and I desperately needed a short term goal to keep me on track… so I signed up for a trail 5k our company sponsored.

I also joined Ellison Fitness Innovations because I felt weak, frail and out of shape. I missed being an all-around athlete and this lil adorable trainer was determined to get me back into shape.

Over the course of the last 3 months… I’ve fallen back in love with being an athlete… not just a runner. I’m finally in a rhythm and have found a new routine! I’m in the gym by 5am 4 days a week and participate in a men’s workout group (F3) 1x a week. I’ve gained some weight (sitting at 145-150lbs compared to the usual 125-133lbs) and feel healthier than I’ve felt in years.

I’m still running 20-30 miles a week and it’s feels like the perfect amount. Despite a favorable outcome of a struggle bus effort at the local trail 5k… my speed is no where near where it was last year…

But that’s alright. The important thang thang is… I’m excited about this new transition into a more well-rounded type of fitness.

Now that my groin issue has dissipated… I’ve finally got a few adventures planned, some quality mountain time, a few shorter trail races… and perhaps a trip out West in the spring.

Wrapping up the end of a long short week at the office… I’ve been reminded how small talks can be impactful and lead to big changes.

Pressure

This time last year I was in some of the best run shape of my life racing at the Cruel Jewel 56 miler. I was light, nimble and fast. I was putting down solid weekly mileage and enjoying the process.

This year… life looks different. I’m lucky to get 5-10 miles in a week and probably haven’t glazed over 100 miles in the entire year. Other people seem to be more concerned with my lack of running than I am. I’ve had to reassure many folx that I’m not depressed and wilting away. It’s just my passion and priorities have changed a bit for the time being.

To be honest, fitness and being able to run long distances has been so far off the priority list at the moment…. and honestly… I’ve been ok with it. For the past 10-12 years I’ve been pounding out long efforts and heavy mileage. Running had been a top tier priority, but now, my priority isn’t fitness focused but instead… intellectual and career focused. My body probably deserved a lil break.

Some of the issue has been a nagging groin injury but mostly, I was tired of the internal AND external pressure of feeling the need to have to maintain a certain level of fitness year round. Running got to feeling like a second job. I was in desperate need of setting some boundaries to hopefully change my mood/mindset. Running just wasn’t fun anymore… so I stopped.

But the philosopher says… “No pressure, no diamonds.” He ain’t wrong. Pressure can be good. Pressure can be healthy. Pressure can inspire and motivate us to aim higher and reach lofty goals. Pressure can also be devastating and disastrous. Pressure can be binding and keep us from success. Like all things in this world… it’s about balance.

I had to reevaluate. What types of diamonds were important to me at the moment? Running didn’t make the list.

💎 #1: My career. I just passed the 1 year mark as a clinical therapist with Central Alabama Wellness. I love my job. Its something I’m passionate about and want to make into a lifelong career. Like most careers and ya know… things like… running… they take a lot of effort, training and study to do well.

💎 #2: Leisure time. I’m bad bad at resting and relaxing. Leisure time is something my wife has harped on and encouraged me to do for years but something I have failed at time and time again. Leisure time can improve overall cognitive wellbeing, physical health, and quality of life. This concept really didn’t sink in until this year. I’ve always felt the need to keep pushing, but sometimes we need rest and lighter moments. It’s something I still struggle with but is getting better.

💎 #3: SpecV. In high school I was obsessed with cars but I let that passion die. A year or so ago I sold the trusty ole Honda Element when it surpassed 300k miles and bought an older manual Sentra SpecV. I absolutely love this car. It’s fun as hell to drive and has been a blast getting back into the car scene.

After a 5 month break from almost all exercise, I’m back running some short miles and working out. My running is labored, hard and HOT but the consistency is slowly coming back. I don’t suspect any 100 mile races in the near future. Mainly, I’ve missed the mountains and running with my friends and need to be in good enough shape to play with them again. I did somehow manage to Couch to 26.3 mile run/hike the Alabama Trailblaze Challenge a few weeks ago so I know the longer distances are still buried deep within my soul…

Also, we raised over $1 million dollars this year… which is NUTS!

But I suppose… This is my life and its ending one moment at a time… so I reckon it’s time for me to shed the winter coat and start working towards that Tyler Durden sculpted Fight Club body… ooof… I may need to call upon Ellison Fitness to get me there 😅

Pink Duct Tape

We had our first Birmingham group hike for the Alabama Make A Wish Trailblaze Challenge this past Saturday. At the beginning of every Trailblaze season, I always overhear and sense the exciting nervousness of hikers as they begin the 12 week journey. Some are worried they won’t be fit enough or capable of completing the 26.3 mile hike. Some are worried about the inevitable pain and uncomfortableness to push themselves to uncharted territory physically and possibly mentally. As a hike leader, it’s my job to support and encourage these hikers to stay consistent, stay positive and safely push their boundaries. The majority of the hikers have never taken on a challenge like this and their nervousness is understandably justified. Every year we get avid hikers as well as folks who have never hiked a day in their lives and both types of people on the spectrum have successfully completed the journey. I had one conversation with a hiker this past weekend about my own personal failures and shortcomings. It got me thinking of the times where I decided to pull out of certain efforts and times where I made the decision to suck it up and push through the uncomfortableness. One of those times was in 2018 during the Cruel Jewel 100…

“Maaaaaaaan f*ck Hardrock. F*ck Cruel Jewel. F*ck all is this sh*t. I’m done.”

I waddled into Camp Morganton (mile 50) drenched, chaffed and hating everything. Between the Georgia humidity and the overnight storm I had just trudged through, I had spent the first 15hrs30mins of this hellacious race soaking wet. I was over it.

I plopped down, removed my race bib and started to explain how Satan himself had come up from the depths of Hell to spend the entire day/night running demon horned sandpaper along my inner thighs and scrotum.

A girl standing in close proximity bluntly said. “Don’t be a p*ssy!”

I recognized the face but at the time had never actually met this girl. It was Jen, one of Ash’s best friends. I just rolled my eyes and continued bitching about how everything sucks. OJG, Matty Fierce and Jen must have done a good job with their pep talk and spinning my negative talk into positive talk, because before I knew it, I had a a dry pair of socks/shoes on and my race bib pinned back on a pair of dirty yellow shorts. I wasn’t entirely thrilled at the thought of stepping back out into the downpour to penguin waddle my ass back across the north Georgia mountains with a cheerful Lucifer scraping away delicate layers of skin in my shorts… but nevertheless, I begrudgingly stepped into the doorway of Camp Morganton.

“Aight Matty Fierce. If I step my ass out of this doorway and back into this rain… no matter how long it takes, I’m not quitting. Ok? Ok.”

OJG and MF didn’t let me quit. I spent the next 18hrs slowly and painfully moving my body across some of Georgia’s toughest trails.

At mile 69, Luci had stopped with the demon horned sandpaper and moved onto extinguishing lit cigarettes on the bottom half of my manhood. WHAT SINS AM I PAYING FOR?!?! There had to be SOMETHING I could do to ease the torture. WWMD? What would Macgyver do? I’ll tell ya what he’d do… he’d do duct tape.

I took the bright pink duct tape out of my plastic supply bin and wrapped it around my inner thighs. It wasn’t comfortable, but it allowed me to get back moving. The next 36 miles were much of the same… just slow, painful, wounded duck type movement along the Dragon’s Dong (aka: the Dragon’s Spine – aka: the Duncan Ridge Trail).

But after 35hrs, the end would eventually come and the mission objective moved from finishing CJ100 to a desperate search for Goldbond within the walls of a 24hr Walmart.

I’ve had a few unpleasant experiences in my day. Getting 18 teeth ripped from my skull was a bit unpleasant… breaking my clavicle and having to hide it so that I could pitch in the World Series was a bit unpleasant… self-forcing my douche shoulder back into place and ripping my labrum 360° was a bit unpleasant… and now sitting in a hotel bathroom at 1am painfully removing pink duct tape from raw, bloody skin was a bit unpleasant.

So where is that fine line of pink duct tape? At what point do you pull the plug and say… “nah fam, I’m good.” At what point do you rip a gritty piece of pink duct tape off in your teeth, strap it across your bare skin and keep going? I believe it’s situational and on a person by person basis. For example, my buddy Ryan just completed the H9 100 miler in some of the worst conditions imaginable. For me, that race (especially in those conditions) sounds absolutely awful and something that I wouldn’t enjoy. However, for him, he made the decision to suck it up and push through to be the first person to ever finish. He metaphorically had his own reasons to strap on some pink duct tape and push through the uncomfortableness.

Ryan @ H9 100 Miler

Especially when its something like trail running, I’m a big advocate of the fun factor. Trail running is a big passion of mine because it’s FUN for me. I think one of the reasons I’m not super competitive in my practice is because I’m afraid of losing the feeling trail running instills within me. I understand that mountain ultra trail running isn’t always snow cones and kittens. Hell, most of the fun in endurance sports IS that uncomfortableness and that desire to push boundaries.

So when do you quit? I don’t quit often and it usually takes a lot to get me to bow out. I can only think of a few instances where I decided to throw in the hat. One instance was a long 60 mile route I had planned along the Art Loeb. I knew from mile 13 something was off, but since Ash had driven 3hrs to join me at mile 18 for the last 40 or so miles… I didn’t want to bail immediately. I would end up calling it quits at mile 42. To this day… it is still the worst I have EVER felt while on the trail. I made the decision to drop mainly because it would’ve pushed us going overnight through a storm and the thought of a warm meal at the Waffle House sounded all too appealing.

Another instance I dropped from an event was at Rebecca Mtn 50 miler (2018). From the starting line something felt off and by mile 14 I started having weird full body cramps. I tried my best to overcome my body’s revolt, but my inner voice kept prompting safety concerns so I bailed at mile 37.

pic cred: Gordan Harvey – smiling as I’m walking to drop at mile 37
pic cred: Gordan Harvey – official DNF face

Another time we bailed on an outing was this past summer. We had planned to do the 55 mile NAR loop as a training run for OJG, Hump, and Kyle’s upcoming 100 miler (IMTUF). After a slight, accidental bushwhack adventure off route, the allure of colbeer and warm food was enough to hop in the car with Katie Gregg after 41 miles

A third time I bailed was AGAIN at Rebecca Mtn 50 miler (2019). I felt fine and dandy for the first 18 miles and was moving along at my goal pace. Things went south after leaving Bulls Gap. I threw up for the next 12 miles and it got to the point I couldn’t even hold down water. Around mile 32 I came walking down a dirt road laughing and yelled ahead to my buddy Matt who was crewing me, “I’m done bro!” Despite appearing perfectly fine and having a great attitude… I just wasn’t fun anymore and didn’t have anything to prove by death marching 20 more miles in the Ransack.

DNFs happen. Bad days happen. It’s kinda absurd to think things will always go smoothly. Failures are growing pains and shouldn’t always be viewed as bad. Sure, failures can be disheartening, but if you can observe the positive side of failure and utilize it as a learning point, growth happens and you become a better athlete and overall better human.

Now that the year of January has ended and another year begins on this beautiful orb, God willing, I’ll get the opportunity to rip off a few more pieces of pink duct tape, push through some uncomfortableness and continue to learn from my successes AND failures.