Hey Spence, don’t trip over your ego on the way to the start line

I need a test.   I want to check in with myself to see how my ego is doing and its status when it comes to training.  It has certainly intruded over the years in my participation in sports and I’d really like to understand why.  But, first things first.

This upcoming weekend, a local 50K (31.1 miles) here in Corvallis called The Mary’s Peak 50K is taking place.  It just so happens that my training plan for that day calls for a big effort.  It’s a perfect chance to test my resolve in sticking to my plan by not running beyond my means and focus on making a good solid effort.

In the past, when I’ve entered a race, for the purpose of training, and I put that number on, my ego has always pushed me to race full steam, much to my dismay, because I am disrespecting my overall training cycle.  The last time I did this was a couple of summer’s ago when, during a critical point in my training cycle for the Siskiyou Out & Back (SOB) 50K, I showed up at a local relay, Barrel to Keg, and raced three legs as if I were trying to prove to someone that I was fast enough: my ego dared me to do something I should have stayed away from.

Running that relay derailed my training regimen so badly that two weeks later, come the start of SOB 50K, I was not feeling charged up when it really mattered.  If I show up to the start line this Saturday at Mary’s Peak 50K, allow my ego to dictate my effort to race full steam, then I will have lost sight of the bigger picture: that my goal is to peak and race well in September at The Pine to Palm 100.  Sticking to a plan is crucial for me to maintain my health and longevity in the sport of running.  As I’ve been known to say to some of the folks I coach: “Don’t fuck it up.”  Time to man up and practice what I preach.

Racing can take away too much from an athlete, if that athlete is not careful and attentive to recovery after a major effort meant for training.  Although the week after The Mary’s Peak 50K is a rest week, if I overdo that training race, I compromise my capacity to train efficiently in July, which will be one of the biggest volume training months for running that I have yet to attempt in my career as an amateur endurance athlete.  I want to be strong, aware and prepared to move into that four week block. Mindfulness has to displace ego in order for me to reach my goal.

A talented ultra-marathoner, Joe Uhan posted an article on www.irunfar.com about a recent racing experience where he deliberately ran in the middle of the pack instead of keeping pace at the front. In his article, he made several observations about the difference between the way in which the elite runners race and train versus how the mid-packers/age-groupers go about the same task.

Reading this fantastic educational article was perfectly timed for me given my internal debate over the impending Mary’s Peak event just around the corner.  I gained the insight that I can learn from staying in the mid-pack, observing how others run.  The article also motivated me to write this blog post so that I can be publicly accountable for my actions, much like how I’ve been public about my sobriety.  I seem to know my intentions: it’s ultimately up to me to follow through and simply go for a good training run next Saturday.

So, we’ll see how this mind/body experiment goes. I figure that if I’m to pursue this sport in a respectable manner, I must learn to leave my ego behind. I must learn to know my limits. I must learn how far I really can go. I’m not yet a seasoned runner like many of the elite athletes I follow and keep tabs on.  This is only my fourth year running these distances.  Maybe some guys can enter a race whenever they feel like it and seemingly crush the competition on tired legs. I’m willing to bet those kind of guys have been doing this sport their whole lives, or at least a hell of a lot longer than I have.  That is an entirely different issue that I’m beginning to tackle: I’m not those guys.

Recently I’ve found myself during runs quietly repeating to myself that I’m not Steph Howe, I’m not Rob Krar, I’m not Chris Vargo, I’m not Sage Canaday, I’m not Andrew Miller… They are among the very elite in our sport that I look up to as athletes. I’m who I am, so just run like it and don’t try to be someone else. This practice allows me to remain in the present and enjoy a run for the sake of running, step by step, mile by mile.

It seems the more that I peel away the layers of my ego, like I pass through each day of sobriety, the more I understand myself.  I’ve noticed over the last couple of months that I think differently when I run. I don’t run on the basis fear of not being the best. I run to understand who I am and where I’ve come from.  I am grounded. This is all good progress, but I believe that the true work is just getting started.


Edited by Lyn Horton










Starting July 1st, after my last day of work…

Starting July 1st, after my last day of work, I am going to do something that I’ve always wanted to do.  Train, as an athlete, full time.  I have always been intrigued by the idea of living like a full time athlete and understand what exactly that entails.  It is not my intention nor do I have any ambitions to become a professional athlete. I’m not trying to be anyone other than myself, just Spencer.  I simply want to see how far and how hard I can increase my physical and mental capacity.

The timing of this change in lifestyle works coincidentally with my first attempt at running a race of the one hundred  mile distance, known as The Pine to Palm 100 in Ashland, OR, in September. In light of this upcoming event, I’ve mapped out a pretty intense training plan… certainly more concentrated than I’ve ever experienced before. Previous to The Pine to Palm race, I am most looking forward to spending July and August travelling around the state. With the little money I have saved, I want to run, camp out and absorb the freshness of unexplored territory.  So, get ready Oregon friends, I might be reaching out for a couch to sleep on when my sleeping bag gets uncomfortable!

During this extended vacation, I also aim to look at my ego. I’ve been taking in a heavy dose of Eckhart Tolle lately, reading his concept of how the ego, the mind and the subconscious play a role in our daily lives. And thinking about how his theories apply especially to my case as a recovering alcoholic.  In relation to my experience at Western States Camp a few weeks ago, I still yearn to examine the constant narratives that occupy my head on a regular basis. Through the impending and seemingly endless miles of running that July and August will offer, I am excited to see how this self-realization progresses.

One issue that I’ve come to realize is that I have trouble with my physical body image. From an outsider’s point of view, this must sound ridiculous; but, believe me, for years, I have mildly obsessed over body image and weight.  I don’t know where this obsession came from nor its root, but I know it is there. I can say, however, that the first time I noticed someone commenting on my weight was in college after I went from a Division 1 XC Ski racer to a drunken frat boy. I remember my buddy, Todd, pointing out the beer gut that I acquired during my senior year after I had quit ski racing.  Ever since that moment, in 2001, I have been conscious of my weight and it has bothered me as recently as 2007, when I reached 230 pounds, my normal weight being around 170.  Maybe insecurity about my weight will always exist… maybe not.  But, I have a hunch after doing a little internal research that the body image issue may be tied to the bouts I have with my ego…we’ll see. I’m excited not only to have recognized this difficulty but also to look more deeply into my awareness of it.

I understand that I’m taking a bit of a physical risk by attempting to train as much as I plan on training.  I know that recovery, nutrition, and the conscious maintenance of my overall health will be vital to the intended success of this July and August.  To me, the risk is worth it, because now more than ever I am in a place physically to really see how far I can go. My not knowing the eventuality of how my body will react and adapt to more training than I am less accustomed to will be an adventure in and of itself, as well as an unquestionable learning experience.  I am more focused on the process than the outcome anyway.  Who knows, I may completely blow up come August and be shot for Pine to Palm or I may be more fit than I ever thought possible.  Either way, I am ready to go.

Edited by Lyn Horton