I just finished North by legendary trail runner Scott Jurek. The book is about Jurek’s quest to break the “fastest known time (FKT)” for the Appalachian Trail. The book was a refreshingly honest account of the physical and mental toll it took on Scott, his wife Jenny, and his crew and the resilience needed to move 2,190 miles in 46 days on foot. I recommend it to anyone interested in stories about mountain adventures (or adventures in general).
But this post isn’t a book summary. Instead, I wanted to share one of the more interesting take-aways (at least for me) from the book. One of the reasons I was excited to read North was because, in addition to the plot, I would learn about endurance from a philosophical standpoint (reference Shackleton’s Way). I expected to learn “why” he had pushed himself to extreme limits to be the best in his craft year after year for decades. And why this challenge. And why now. But this book does not provide those answers either because he doesn’t know or he can’t articulate these drivers. And maybe that into itself is the lesson.
Don’t need a “why” to be great:
This is interesting because if you google “finding your why” you’ll find dozens of articles that suggest that being able to articulate your why is a necessary driver of greatness. But one of the most skilled and decorated endurance athletes to ever live still to this day cannot explain what drives him. “You rarely ask why when you win.” he claimed. On the last page of the book he states, “She’ll (his daughter) probably want to know why (he raced to set FKT), but I doubt we’ll be able to tell her in a way that makes total sense.”
Correlation does not equal causation. We don’t live in a binary world so while understanding your “why” might be helpful, it’s not necessary for greatness.
Thanks so much for your time.
“The process will never let you down, even when everything else does. The process is a thing you can control: how you show up, the promises you’ve made.”
– Jonathan Franzen
Recently, I wrote about marathoner Des Linden and her insane focus on daily training / practice. She approaches each session as if it’s is the most important training day of her life. To borrow from Franzen, it’s the process of showing up for training day after week after month after year, combined with clear talent, that makes her an elite performer.
I don’t have her talent. I tend to linger in back third of most races. But I’ve learned in the past couple months that the adoption of a process for training could generate significant improvements. I learned this after a recent race setback that forced me to analyze historical training logs.
I noticed that what I thought I had done in training was different than what I actually did. In fact, the volume I completed in training was >30% lower what I was asked to do.
How was I not aware of the massive variance between expected and actual? Confirmation and recency bias played a part. I manufactured a story that I was doing the work and had cheap but logical justifications for not completing workouts. Those unfinished workouts add up over a year and I paid the price on race day. But the main driver for underperformance was lack of established daily and disciplined approach to training.
After an honest chat with my coach, I decided to sign back up for the race I failed to complete last year (Leadville Trail 100).
And I incorporated the following process for training:
- Show up for every workout with a focus on both quantity and quality
- Ensure gear prep, nutrition, other training logistics done the day before
- Log my workouts immediately after and often text my coach a quick summary
To be sure, I still have days I miss and workouts where my hearts not in it. Work and family can provide easy and legitimate excuses. But, due to my newly installed approach, those off days have become the exception. And as a result, training has become more fun and my splits have improved.
My race is in 3 weeks. But regardless of result, I’ve witnessed the benefits that a process provides and I’m more confident than ever in the upcoming challenge.
Thanks so much for your time.
For most of my 20s and into my 30s (well, until I got married and had kids), I spent a significant portion of my weekends with friends and family at dive bars in Chicago (my favorite was and will always be The Lodge on State and Division). I liked dives because they were quiet enough to talk without yelling and because they served coldbeer (one word, please). Combine the coldbeer with the divey vibes and it was a perfect setting for what was then a weekly catch up that usually covered dating life, work aspirations, current events, entrepreneurial ideas etc.
As a dad of two under two, my time for beers with buddies has been constrained significantly (most of my buddies face similar issues making group hangouts nearly impossible). Naturally emerging in it’s place are collaborative projects / events with one or more buddies and while different, these projects provide similar benefits as the dive bar did as it gives me the opportunity to connect with friend(s) on a regular basis.
Group projects to date have included:
- 2 clothing brand projects (1 failed, 1 in process)
- Reading same book
- Competing in same sports event (triathlon in 2008 & 2015, trail run in 2017 & 2018)
- Improving nutrition (current)
- Learning to grill (current)
- Small dollar sports betting (on hiatus)
- Exchanging music recs (current)
- Sharing pics of 4Runners (current)
The quantity of friends has diminished since the dive bar days but the quality of the friendships I do have has increased materially. And these projects have been a catalyst.
Note: “splendids” is the name of the clothing brand my buddy and I are working on and this blog’s logo (of the salmon-colored stegosaurus) is the splendids’ logo.
I paced / crewed for a buddy a few weeks ago in a trail run on the Wyoming / Montana border called The Bighorn Trail 100. My buddy is a talented trail runner with an impressive coach (All American collegiate runner, top 5 Leadville 100 finisher) who travels with my buddy for each race. Given that it was just the three of us out there for the weekend I was able to spend some quality time with my buddy’s coach. Over those two days we spent hours talking about a range of topics from career to family to running. It was a memorable trip.
A few days after I returned to Chicago I received the following text from my buddy’s coach.
“Best of luck at Leadville. Be patient out there”
For some reason, and it took writing this post to figure it out, this advice had an immediate and profound impact on me. It wasn’t because of the words used but instead because of how perfectly tailored the advice was for me. It was the kind of advice you only receive from a seasoned veteran who knows exactly what it takes to get the job done.
Historically I’ve ignored the word patience as it’s largely overused by parents, teachers, and other disciplinarians. But the more I thought about it, both in the context of the upcoming race but also in other aspects of life, the more the word took on a new, inspirational meaning for me.
Patience (noun): the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering
The aforementioned google definition sends chills, right? Read it again if your answer is no. This is a word reserved for the masters of their craft like Jesus or Chesty Puller or Nelson Mandela or Des Linden; each of whom withstood setbacks and suffering in the pursuit of excellence. Patience.
Be patient out there. Now I understand coach, thank you.