Friday Inspiration? Moved by the struggles of others

The other night, bored during a six mile treadmill run, I started scrolling through so-called triathlon inspiration videos on youtube. I got mostly what you’d expect. Chris Lieto finishing Kona. An age grouper struggling to the finish line. Many of them were set to Eminem for some reason.

Then I came across this one:

Viewed almost 1.5 million times this video is almost all images of people falling to pieces. There are images of bike wrecks, runners collapsing, runners suffering from back spasms so bad they can’t stand up straight, people on stretchers, ambulances, all in the name of inspiration.

I was of two minds watching this video. Part of me was horrified that these images of people’s bodies failing them would be seen as inspiring; but another part of me was inspired by it, admiring the determination. As someone once said about the classic video of Julie Moss finishing the Ironman, “there are those who will look at that video and know they never want to do the event and those who will look at it and know they have to do it”.

Friday Inspiration: The Dawn Wall

Yesterday Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson did what was considered impossible – they free climbed Yosemite’s Dawn Wall. Unlike most achievements in climbing, this one is actually getting some serious mainstream press attention, including numerous articles in the New York Times.

It should.

What Caldwell and Jorgenson did isn’t just an incredible physical feat, its an inspiration to, as Jorgenson said yesterday, “find our own dawn wall”… and send it.

Surprisingly for such a huge event, there doesn’t seem to be any footage around yet of Caldwell and Jorgenson summiting. Instead, here’s a great video with Caldwell about his obsession with the project:

Friday Inspiration – Shalane Flanagan and the Berlin Marathon

This coming weekend (the 28th) is the Berlin Marathon where Shalene Flanagan is going to attempt to beat the America record. If she does it, she’ll be only the second American woman, after Deena Kastor, to break 2:20.

This is the second time in a year Flanagan has laid it all out there with an epic goal. In the spring, she hoped to win Boston, something most fans of the sport knew was a long shot. Still, she gave everything she had. She didn’t win, but she did set a new American women’s record on the course. Here’s an emotional interview with her after Boston:

The American record is also going to be tough.

As Flanagan said in this Runner’s World piece,  “I may epically fail, but at least I’ll find out whether I have what it takes. It’s a daunting task.”

I really hope she gets it.

There’s about 10,000 videos online of Flanagan. She’s charming, funny, and beautiful and many of the videos focus on her personality. Fewer of them focus on her running. Here’s one of the better one’s I found that shows her actually running:

Friday Inspiration — The Mile

Tomorrow, I’ll be racing the mile for the first time. I’ve no idea what to expect and for a race that take me less than seven minutes (I hope!), I’m pretty nervous.

Its funny how contemporary recreational running has changed. Everyone runs a 5k, millions run marathons, but few race the mile.

I’m trepidatious, but excited to be part of the excitement at the 5th avenue mile. Getting to watch some of the world’s best, while also running myself, is a rare opportunity. Should be fun… and painful.

When you talk of the mile, there’s one name that always spring to mind – Roger Bannister. Here he is:

Friday Video: Training the Mind

“It is easy to the train the legs, it is difficult to train the mind”.  So says Anaco Garcia in this beautifully shot little movie about running.

Its true. To run at our best we need to carve away, mile by mile, day by day, at our legs.  We need to shape them into engines built to run fast. We need to expand, breath by breath, our lungs ability to take in oxygen, and our hearts ability to transfer that to our blood.  We need to build ourselves, physically, into runners.  There is only one way to do this —  with relentless, consistent, physical practice.

But we also need to build the mental runner. We need to chip away at the self doubt which tells us we can’t do another mile, that we can’t run any faster, that our best years are behind us, that “this is all I have in me”.  We need to show ourselves through repetition and failure, and long hours on the roads that we are always capable of doing just a little bit more. That settling is never ok.

We need to remind ourselves, again and again that sometimes, doing more means doing less. It means giving the legs a break or taking the pressure off a work out.  It means not letting commitment become overtraining and it means taking it easy this week so that next week, you can make the whole thing harder.

There is no short cut to getting there, either physically or psychologically.  You have to put in the time.  You have to feel the pain.  You have to wait out the injuries, and suffer through the bad weeks, and months, of training.  If you want to be any good at this stupid game, you have to try and you have to fail, repeatedly.  You have to start now.

The Barkley Marathons

The Barkley Marathons is* an ultra marathon held in the mountains of Tennessee every spring. It was featured in this award winning documentary (available on netflix) and has fascinating me for years.

In its full form, the race consists of five loops of twenty miles each run through unforgiving Frozen Head Park.  That the sixty mile version of the race is called the “fun run” gives you a sense of the race’s whimsical sado-masochistic qualities.  The course is not marked and most of it takes place off trail.  Participants must navigate by map and compass to a series of books placed on the course, pull the page which matches their race number, return to the start, and present the pages to the race’s mastermind, Lazarus Lake*

It is an insane event and for that reason it appeals to the certain type of masochistic ultra-runner.  Every year, the Barkley Marathons gets more and more publicity, and every year, Lake makes the race harder and harder.  Yet as the Barkley gets harder, it appears that better and better athletes become interested in this, the most impossible of ultra races. And now, it seems like every year someone finishes the race.

This past year, there was one finisher — the super accomplished ultra runner Jared Campell. Here’s a great short film on the race and Jared Campbell’s victory.

The film touches on everything that makes the Barkley so compelling – its difficulty, its willful obscurity, and, in a world where ultra racing is becoming a bigger deal, its stubborn refusal to be accessible or, really, even finishable.

I’ll never run this race. I have a terrible sense of direction and nothing sounds less appealing to me than being lost in a fog, freezing my ass off, while some maniac cackles at my misfortune at a camp strewn with license plates.

Still, its fun to follow.

If you want to dig deeper into the crazy, there’s a book about the race’s early days.  And here’s a website compiling race reports for the 16 runners who’ve completed the race.  And here’s another compiling more information on the race. And yet one more from the Believer.

Race Director, Lazarus Lake.

* are?

* This race is bizarre and filled with a myriad of idiosyncratic rituals and traditions. For example, Lazarus Lake is not even the race director’s real name.  Entrants must bring a license plate as part of their entry fee.  The race starts whenever Lake feels like it, and it’s beginning is marked by the lighting of a cigarette.  I could go on, but you get the idea. It’s a zany little race in the woods that happens to be nearly impossible to finish.

Friday Inspiration – Gutting it Out

For weeks now, people have been talking about Meb Keflezighi gutting it out in the final miles of the New York Marathon and crossing the line with local Staten Island runner Mike Cassidy.

Meb and Mike bringing it home

If you read this blog, you probably already know this story – Meb has battled injuries all fall and wasn’t a hundred percent coming into this race.  In the latter miles, he fell off the pace and seriously considered dropping.  But, being a fucking bad ass, he stuck with it, eventually meeting up with sub-elite runner Mike Cassidy.  The two of them brought it home, trading the work at the front, and crossing the finishing line hand in hand.

Here’s Meb describing what happened.

And here’s Mike Cassidy’s article on the “time of his life”.

Its a powerful story and something that can only happen in running.  In no other sport do the world’s best run with the work-a-day hobbyist.  In no other sport can a amateur get so close to a pro.  Its one of the many reasons why, while I am struggling with my running these days, I’ll also love this sport, I’ll always deeply admire Keflezighi and I’ll always love the New York Marathon. 

Friday Inspiration – Yurt Dwelling Ultra Runner Fantasies

Ever have one of those months where you’ve spent so much time in the office that you start to forget what the park looks like?  Where you’re barely squeezing in a run on a treadmill late at night? And suddenly while you’re eating dinner at your desk you find yourself watching a video of a Mike Foote, a hippie ultra runner who lives in a yurt in Missoula. He’s chopping wood, drinking beer, and running all the time and you think, “hey, that doesn’t look so bad.”

I’ve had one of those months.

Snows coming down in sheets here in NYC and there isn’t a yurt for miles. It’ll be another night on the treadmill for me.  But tomorrow is Saturday, it is supposed to be fifty degrees, and I don’t have to work (much).  I can’t wait to get out in the park.

Friday Inspiration – The Lessons of Play

Last weekend I went climbing with my young niece.  She took to it immediately.  With little fear, a lot determination, and weighing next to nothing, she did wonderfully.  There were times at the beginning when she got nervous – when five feet off the ground she asked me to lower her down.  But as the morning wore on, she got higher and higher, and more and more confident.  She kept at it, she got better and  I think I had more fun watching her scamper up the holds than I do when I am climbing myself.

My niece and I at the climbing gym.

My niece and I at the climbing gym.

Being in the gym with a child brought home that climbing is, at base, pure play.  Like all play, it can teach us things about ourselves without our even knowing it.   Sure we adults focus on ratings, hand strength, and how long we can hold a dead hang on the finger board.  But all of that is just an extension of the play.  We work the finger board, or watch what we eat, to make the act of climbing more fun.  To solve harder problems, to increase stamina, all so we can play more.

By working at the play, we learn things about ourselves.  My niece may not have realized it, but she was learning that to get good, you need to put in the time.  That because you failed on the previous attempt does not mean you will fail again.  That while the wall is high, you make it to the top one hold at a time.

Her first send!

Her first send!

These are the lessons that play and sport teach us.  Are they corny?  Perhaps.  But I often need to be reminded of them and the lessons go down easy when they are learned messing around in a climbing gym.

Speaking of working at play, here’s a video of some kids killing it at a bouldering competition.