Speaking of Obsessive

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I wrote recently about being obsessive. It’s nothing new as you’ll see from this blog post I wrote back in January of 2008!

I always enjoy my monthly fix – pouring over the latest Runner’s World Magazine searching for the next cool-sounding race. The Rock & Roll Half Marathon, The Country Music Half Marathon, and on, and on…

Hmmm… The Half Shell Half Marathon in Key West, Florida… How cool could that be? After all, oysters are my favorite food! So, why not?

Why not!?!? Who drives almost 2000 miles in 3 days and pays good money to run 13.1 miles? That’s not obsessive! That seems more like somewhere between low IQ and no IQ. With that settled, I mailed in my entry fee.

I left the house last Friday and spent the night in Savannah with my daughter, Allie. While there I decided to do one more check for the race-day weather report in Key West. I went to weather dot com just to make sure. Wait a minute – rain? That wasn’t there yesterday! They were forecasting sunny and warm!

I decided to Google the Miami TV stations and see what their weather reports had to offer. I found 3 reports and none of them were promising rain – just suggesting it. Good! I can live with those odds. (Getting the obsessive picture here?) I got up Saturday at 4:30 AM and, after filling the gas tank and grabbing a coffee to-go, was on I-95 South by 5:00 AM.

For two and a half hours it was just me, miles of narrow lanes bordered by orange highway construction markers, uneven and shifting lanes, and dozens of eighteen wheelers. Did I mention the blinding rain?

I was thinking to myself – Lord is this one of those ‘Hutch, you’ve been an obsessive fool – turn around and go back to Atlanta’ moments or is it one of those ‘don’t give up and wimp out now you wuss loser pansy’ moments that have provided men, all across our nation, starring roles in those ‘stupid things caught on video’ TV shows? No video cameras around, so I decided to press on.

By 7:30 AM the sun was peeking through and by 8:00 AM it was beautiful and sunny and the clouds were all behind me. And, it didn’t rain in Key West all weekend either! By 1:00 PM I was in Miami and by 3:30 PM I was rolling into the Sea Shell Motel and Youth Hostel on South Street in Key West and just a few blocks from the southern most point of the United States.

The ride in confirmed what I had been told about parking in Key West. It’s horrible and expensive. As such, I parked my car at the hotel and walked everywhere. After checking into the hotel, I took a 1.5 mile hike to pick up my race packet and race t-shirt. The location for packet pick-up was the Half Shell Raw Bar. They were also the primary sponsor of the race and located right on a beautiful marina. We enjoyed a nice Pasta dinner to ‘carb up’ for the race, and a very interesting slide presentation and discussion by an elite runner who had done a 6 day ultra-marathon in Africa. Quite interesting!

I hiked back to the hotel a different and more direct route. On my way, I discovered a very large cemetery – probably a couple of blocks long. I later discovered, from one of the locals, that the original cemetery had washed out to sea in 1847 during a hurricane. As a result, they moved the cemetery to the center of the island. I found that to be very interesting. I took a last-minute detour to visit the southernmost point and catch a picture of the marker that is located there.

I crashed early and was on the road by 5:30 AM hiking back over the Half Shell Raw Bar, which also served as the starting (and ending) point for the race. At 7:00 AM the gun fired and we were off. I had already made up my mind that I was going to enjoy the view and not focus too much on a real fast time. As it turned out, I didn’t have much of a choice. With no breakfast snacks to supply me with energy and having probably eaten too lightly at the pasta dinner, I was not adequately nourished for 13.1 miles. On top of that, I had no idea how warm and humid it was going to be. I had been training in freezing temperatures and it had been months since I had done any heat training. I was caught totally off guard.

As a result, I simply extended my plan to enjoy the sights of the race and slowed my pace significantly. When all was said and done, I turned in a 2:00:44 time – which is still not that bad for me. I’m happy with anything under two hours and, considering the conditions, I wasn’t going to concern myself with an additional 44 seconds.

After receiving my medal I found the shortest route possible back to the hotel (still over a mile) and showered and was on the road by 10:00 AM. I snapped a lot of pictures on the way back. By 1:15 PM I had hit the mainland, gassed up the car, grabbed some lunch for the road, and was entering the Florida Turnpike. That’s where my trip started to sort of fall apart.

I had been warned to take a lot of $1 bills for the tolls, so I did. Upon entering the first toll booth, I headed away from the ‘change provided’ lanes since I had exact change. What I didn’t realize was that I was heading for the SunPass lanes and I didn’t have a SunPass. I didn’t even know what a SunPass was! But, to avoid getting killed I went on through. I felt as stressed as if I had just robbed a bank and was trying to get away from the police – except I was trying to not get away. I kept thinking a speeding car might catch up with me at any moment. But wait, it gets better…

A short while later, I made a wrong turn. The sign said I-75 and I knew I needed to catch I-75 but it seemed that it was coming up much too soon. With no time to consider my options I took the I-75 exit. It was about 45 miles later that I began to suspect that something was wrong. I pulled out my GPS and discovered I was headed due West for Naples. To continue in my present direction meant I would probably be adding 6 or 7 hours to my trip. I turned around and lost 90 miles and an hour and a half in the process. It still gets better…

Now I needed to get back on the turnpike. I pulled up to a small toll booth and noticed it was only going to cost me a quarter to get back on. That’s good, I thought. The machine took my quarter but didn’t raise the bar. Well, actually, the bar had been broken off, but it didn’t raise the ‘stub’ either. My logic was, “The machine took my quarter – I’m outta here!” I had no idea what was coming but a light flashed and the machine took my picture. I’m sure I wasn’t smiling at the time. But they did get my best side!

The rest of the trip home involved excessive speeds, a couple of gas stops, and a late arrival home at almost 2:00 AM – just in time to catch 4 hours of sleep before starting the work week. By the time it was all over, I had traveled 1,855 miles round-trip which included 912 miles from Atlanta to Savannah and on to Key West via I-95 and Highway 1 and a return trip that involved a more direct route up the turnpike and onto I-75 for a total of 847 miles – if you don’t include the 96 mile detour through the everglades. :+) I used 66.68 gallons of gas at an average price of $2.97 (greatly assisted by the lower Georgia prices and careful planning to minimize Florida gas stops) and averaged 27.82 MPG in my Ford Taurus with speeds consistently in the 70 to 75 MPH range. All those miles and I never did eat any oysters.

Still, I would do it all again!!!

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Dealing with Obstacles to Fitness

I don’t have to look much further than those who approach fitness with a missing limb or some form of paralysis to realize that I don’t really have any obstacles to fitness. I suppose I should call them inconveniences, for that’s truly all they are. In fact, in this case a better and more accurate choice of words might actually be excuses. When I plug that term into the title of this post it really puts things in perspective.

As I’ve gotten older, excuses have been easier to come by. A peek in my running log, at the declining miles in recent years, would present all of the evidence I need to make that point. But the truth is that whether you call them obstacles, inconveniences, or excuses they are all unwanted distractions. And with all of the effort and focus it takes for some people just to set their excuses aside and get out and go on a run, or in my case to stay the course on a challenging run when the distractions start calling my name, an excuse or distraction can sometimes tip the scale. That’s why we have to find a way to deal with them.

I’m the first to admit that there’s nothing like a run when the conditions are perfect (however each of us defines perfect conditions.) All of our senses are picking up encouraging signals and that runner’s high cannot be far behind. I’m also the first to admit that an obstacle or distraction that hasn’t been dealt with can quickly steal my mojo and turn even the best running conditions into something far less optimal.

My wife and I moved down to the coast about half a year ago and we’ve got a road where we run that, at various points, allows us a beautiful view of the Gulf of Mexico, different bays, and some gorgeous marsh land. What could possibly be distracting about that besides incredibly hot and muggy summer days? The answer is yellow flies! These guys are aggressive! They come from all sides, they bite, and it hurts!  The good news is that they’re not an all year long phenomenon. The bad news is that I’m going to have to learn to run with a coat of bug spray during the warmer months of the year where I’m already dealing with the heat distraction.

Fortunately, setting goals and striving to meet them comes pretty naturally for me. In fact, I tend to get pretty obsessive about them. And when you set fitness goals and approach them with that kind of focus, obstacles become nothing more that a blip on the radar and a distraction to be dealt with.

So, what’s your excuse? 🙂

That “Other” Kind of Fitness

I’ve run countless races and if you were to ask me what the most important element of preparation is for a race my answer would probably be one that you wouldn’t hear from many other runners.

Sure, all of the elements are important from speed work and an abundance of training miles to proper rest and a healthy diet, not to mention everything in between. But, I’ve never seen anything get me farther faster than that other kind of fitness. Actually, it’s referred to as health and, more specifically, mental health.

Do what?!!!

That’s right – mental health! 

Check out this description of mental health posted on mentalhealth.gov and let’s talk about it for a minute:

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.

Did you catch the part about how we feel and how we make choices?  In a race, the mind can take you where the body doesn’t want to go but that only happens when you’ve made the choices before you’ve considered how you feel. Get my drift? As I’m in the middle of a race I’m thinking:

I’m standing by the choice I made (the goal I set) before I started this race, not because of how I feel right now, but because of how I’m going to feel when I finish this race and meet that goal! (I’m calling that good mental health/fitness and, by the way, it applies to every area of life – not just running!)

In his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl sums it up best with the following:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

So, here’s to your pursuit of strong mental health and the success that so frequently seems to accompany it!

An Unexpected Workout

A week ago I had a business trip to Berlin, Germany. The days were very long with a lot of time spent up on my feet. Combine that with my jet-lag and the last thing on my mind was getting in a run or anything that resembled a workout. The week had already presented me with plenty of that.

The week wrapped up by noon on Friday and my flight home wasn’t scheduled until first thing Saturday Morning, so I decided to spend Friday afternoon riding one of the always popular hop-on hop-off tour buses. I had never ridden on one before but my wife had taken them often when accompanying me on business trips and was a big fan. How difficult could it possibly be I wondered?

The hotel concierge handed me some literature and indicated that the closest stop was two blocks down and directly behind the old church. That sounded simple enough so I set out on a short hike.

While making my way to the church, I scanned the literature. It indicated there were two companies providing hop-on hop-off tours. One company had red buses and the other had buses that were mostly yellow with a bit of a black outline. A quick analysis of the points of interest on the competing tours and I decided to go for the yellow buses.

When I got to the back of the church there was no ticket station as I had been led to believe. I saw people getting on the yellow buses and I saw them paying and decided I was working under a mistaken assumption regarding the ticket station.

We had already traveled a mile or more on the tour when I realized there was no audio commentary as promised in the literature. I assumed the microphone or speakers were not working and decided to pull out the tour map that came with the literature and see if I could determine where we were located. A few more miles and I began to notice that no one on the bus was looking at the sights. Mostly they were looking at me!

A few more miles down the road and the bus came to a complete stop and everyone got off – except me! The driver looked back at me and and informed me this was the end of the line. Everybody off!

Wow! No one told me that the city buses were painted almost exactly like the yellow hop-on hop-off buses. I should have known something was wrong when I pulled out several 10 Euro bills to pay the driver and he looked at me like I had lost my mind. He then plucked one of the bills from my hands and gave me about 7 Euros back. That was a big hint, don’t you think? How was I able to ignore it?

After the initial shock of being ejected from my trusted tour bus, I reasoned that I had enough Euros to grab a cab and get back to the hotel if I were to get completely lost. With that in mind, I decided to take my chances on a self-guided walking tour of the city. The GPS on my phone indicated I was about 6 miles from the hotel and, as it turned out, I passed many of the main attractions I had wanted to see in Berlin on my journey back to the hotel. All in all, it was an enjoyable afternoon photo tour and a most unexpected workout!

Fitness for Dummies

My formula for fitness success is far less complicated that what you might read in, for example, Runner’s World Magazine. I don’t want to make light of the many subtleties that get tossed around by those who write about health and fitness but I constantly find myself being pulled back to the basics!

Food: We’ve all got to eat it! However, many great exercise plans have been completely undermined by a poor eating plan. Notice I didn’t say diet! Why? Because my idea of an eating plan has much more to do with how much you eat than what you eat. Those heavy people who keep tell me that running will give me knee problems are the same heavy people who serve up a 1200 calorie salad and think it counts for healthy eating.

My experience tells me that within reason, how much you eat trumps what you eat. Watching calories (most any kind of calories – again within reason) trumps higher caloric quantities of healthy choices. Why? Because carrying less weight is a big deal when it comes to good health and you manage that through quantity of food consumed – not quality of food consumed!

Exercise: Muscle mass? Bulk up? Those are fine if that’s your thing but I’m all about the most important muscle in the body – the cardiac muscle. And, you exercise that via aerobic exercise. That’s why running, fast walking, and kayaking are high on my list. Let’s get that heart rate up and take care of that cardiac muscle! A strong core does indeed serve to reduce injuries but a strong cardiac muscle serves to reduce the ultimate injury.

Listen: Learn the language of your body! It well tell you what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. Listen to it and fine tune your food consumption and exercise regimens. Heed its warnings! You can ignore its complaints.

Get Obsessive!

The essentials of life tend to leave us with little time left over to pursue hobbies or other interests. As a result, we’re faced with some pretty tough decisions if we want to be organized and productive and enjoy what little free time each of us is afforded. At the end of the day it really is about defining priorities, evaluating time requirements, and deciding which items simply won’t make the cut.

Never was this more real in my life than in 1990 and at the age of 36. I had just completed the two most grueling years of my life in a weeknights MBA program while trying to balance my priorities with a wife, two children (ages nine and seven), and a full-time job. Upon graduating from the program, I asked myself what I had done, prior to those two years, with the time that had been most recently consumed by the MBA program. I didn’t like the answers that came to mind.

As such, I decided to give careful consideration to the use of my newfound free time and decided to take up running as a step toward fitness and an improved lifestyle. It wasn’t long before old habits tried to take over and I was confronted with a tough decision. With so many things screaming for my time, can I really be a consistent runner?

By then I had come to realize just how many benefits came along with running (fitness, weight management, incentives for better eating, physical health, mental heath, and a host of other unforeseen benefits) and I decided that I was going to have to get obsessive about it! If it was to have a place in my life, it was going to have to find that place at the top of my non-essentials priority list. In fact, getting obsessive about it came to mean that it would have to find its place on my priority list of life’s essentials.

I have been true to that decision in the 27 years since. However, three years ago I traded in running for walking and have found myself falling off the fitness wagon. As such, I’m moving back to running, a better diet, and an upgraded focus on fitness. Once again, I guess it’s time to get obsessive!

Write About It!

writeI suspect that my approach to blogging is about as unorthodox as you can get. I’m not looking for an audience (but obviously not trying to avoid one either.) I’m working with the idea in mind that if you want to develop a laser-like focus on something, write about it! And, if you want to hold yourself to a greater degree of accountability, and in turn provide a greater opportunity for success, don’t keep it a secret!

It doesn’t hurt that I like to write and that I like to reflect upon things. It also doesn’t hurt that I like technology, and the artistic and creative elements that are inherent in maintaining a blog. But, at the forefront is a much greater purpose – deciding what’s important to me, putting a plan in place, and finding success every step of the way!

Fitness is just one of several things that I focus on throughout the year, and it’s far from being the most important thing on my list of priorities. However, it’s also one of the things that comes least naturally to me and, as a result, requires a lot more focus if I am to achieve success on an ongoing basis. As I’ve said before, there are simply too many other things screaming for our attention on a daily basis.

What’s in your plan? 😉

Update: I wrote this blog entry on July 27, 2016, well over a year ago, and have written very little since. However, the thoughts are as fresh and alive in my mind as they were when I originally shared them and I want to get back to a focus upon fitness (and writing about it) on a more regular basis.  And so, here I go!