Dude, just give me the facts!

I’ve noticed something lately about myself, and others, that I am not able to tolerate very well:  Bullshit.  It’s a hard one to explain, especially because I was such a good bullshit artist in the past.  To be clear, I am calling out myself here, no one else.

The biggest shift within this change has to do with myself, and the things I’ve told myself, to feel wounded, broken, un-likable, fat, slow, and that I suck.  I’ve recently started keeping closer track of the things my mind tells me about myself.  It’s a constant battle, one that I am willing to keep fighting.  Perhaps it is because I still live in the past on occasions, I’m willing to admit that it’s all about progress, not perfection.

I’m currently in Northern California for a 4 day training camp on the epic and historic trails of the Western States 100 course.  Over the past year, since the last time I was here, I’ve coped with some mega battles within my head, having to do with the negative thoughts about how I look, how I feel, and the point as to why I put all of these miles in my legs every single day.  This time I feel that being mindful and present is allowing me to let go of all of those incessant and repetitive remarks, from my peers and my own head, to just simply go outside and run and enjoy every single step.  Also this year, the self sabotaging criticism is largely gone.  I have let go of those self-proclaimed made up notions.  I guess I just don’t care about what others think (not that they did in the first place).  One phrase I’ve heard in recovery is: “it’s none of my business what other people think of me.”  I absolutely agree with this.  At the end of the day I know that I’m the one that has to live with myself.  I guess I’m lucky to not be in a relationship at the moment just so that I can try to attain the best grasp possible of what’s it’s like to face yourself in the mirror and ask yourself the tough questions like, Who am I?  As long as I go to bed each night feeling OK with just being me, then I know it’s been a good day.

I learned to bullshit with myself, and others, when I learned to drink at St. Lawrence University.  Being thrust into a role of being an extrovert, on my own accord, I felt that I had to play the image of not having any weaknesses.  I was president of my fraternity, had a ton of friends, and basically kicked ass at life, or so I thought.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret all of the fun I had in college, and if I had another chance I’d probably do it again, exactly the same way (maybe I need to let that go as well).  The problem was that I put pressure on myself to be that person after school, carrying many habits into the next step of my life…my 20’s.

During my 20’s and early 30’s I became a master of bullshitting myself.  It came out in different ways.  Not everything that happened during those years was “bullshit” especially when it came to my friends and family.  Luckily I was able to maintain many, if not all of the relationships, that I forged over those years.  Most of the bullshit came from with-in.  I used to lie to myself about what made me happy, about what I wanted out of life, and most of the time I would try to rectify the situation by simply drinking, to curb the inner bullshit.  I suppose it worked for a while, until my drinking career caught up to me and simply became unmanageable.   I’m grateful today that I don’t have to worry about that aspect of life.

With many of the folks that I help out with athletics, life, sobriety, and beyond, I have developed  relationships with each of these folks that is not based around bullshit.  I hold myself to a high standard because I know, from experience, that bullshit can lead me down a rocky road.  I hope to instill that notion in others, to teach them that life can be pretty damn good if you’re just honest with yourself.  For me, today, it’s all about honesty.  No bullshit.  I want the facts, and if they’re inner battles to fight, let’s fight them together.  But know that the goal of working together will ultimately to be able for you to look in mirror and know that today, you were honest with yourself.

Enough out of me today…there’s a sick Markus Schulz set playing, my legs are up to recover, and I’m about to get on my bike for a recovery spin to get ready for tomorrows 22 miler to finish our camp.  Life is good.  Tonight, I plan on going to bed with a smile, because I’ve been 100% honest with myself all freakin day.

 

 

 

 

 

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McDonald Forest 50k Recap: Execution and Letting Go of My Ego

 

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Moments before the start….captured by my boy Patrick Means

“Holy shit!” I said to myself yesterday as I crested the summit of Dimple Hill yesterday during the 2016 McDonald Forest 50k.  I was 13 miles in, amazed at what I had just accomplished.  Up to this point in the race I had done something that has rarely happened in my life as an athlete.  I was sticking to the plan and running within myself, for myself, by myself.

In 2015, at the same race, I went out like my hair was on fire, keeping pace with the leaders for the first 4 miles.  Thinking that I “deserved” to be among the leaders, that I was “worthy” of being in their presence, I went above and beyond my means and ultimately paid the price with a hefty and overdramatic bonk 8 miles later.  For me, my ego was driving the hell out of that behavior.  I had placed so much pressure on myself to be among the best that day. That pressure, which led to anxiety, set the tone for a long long day in Mac Forest.

At yesterdays start I made a conscious decision to not get caught up in the intensity of trying to be among the leaders from the get-go.  Starting fast has been a limiter of mine in the past.  Starting fast typically means that I’m on the path to another bonk some time later in the race.

The biggest struggle for me, in racing, is letting things go.  A 1/2 mile into yesterdays race I had to let the lead group go.  It was a very hard thing to do.  Fortunately I settled in with my friends Cary and Sean to establish a solid pace that I could maintain and build from.  Hearing that I was 5 minutes down on the leaders 5 miles in wasn’t easy for me. However, I was able to let it go.

When I crested Dimple Hill I noticed that my patience from earlier in the day was beginning to pay off.  As I efficiently hustled through the aid station someone told me I had just passed 5 people, who were busy refueling.  I hadn’t even noticed.  As I descended down the fire road, into the section known as the Maze, I had a sense of clarity and calmness wash over me.  I was in a good rhythm, one that I felt was sustainable throughout the next section of the course.

The “Maze” and I have had a tempestuous relationship in the past.  Typically I have always fallen apart here, getting crushed by the constant variation in terrain.  However, this year for training, I approached preparation for this section differently.  During the last month leading up to the race I became friends with the Maze, spending a ton of time getting my body and mind  prepared for the tough section.  This year, I am proud to say that racing through the Maze went off without a hitch.  I fucking nailed it, and passed a handful of other racers in the process which was a bonus!

After getting settled back in to a more consistent rhythm heading down the Extendo Trail I took notice of the fact that the patience I had displayed during the first half was continuing to pay off.  Heading out of the Oak Creek Aid Station I was able to go on the attack while ascending the Uproute climb.  At the top climb I heard one of the Race Director’s, my friend Dennis, shout at me:  “Spence!  Money!  Keep driving it!”  After a brief revisit to the Maze, on the way to the dreaded Alpha Trail climb, I was in fact, able to keep driving it.

The Alpha Trail climb is notoriously hard.  In the past I have always found myself walking, feeling defeated by the day, laboring up the tough and steady 1.6 mile ascent.  This year was different.  This year I ran the whole damn thing, flawlessly for me.  Once again, during the few months of training leading up to race day, I took it upon myself to end long 20-30 mile training runs with an “as fast as possible” effort to end the run, climbing the Alpha Trail with everything I had left in the tank.  Specificity seems to work for me as it relates to training.  Yesterday the cumulation of this specificity paid off.

After a minor recovery section, while descending into the last aid station at the Saddle, I grabbed my last bit of nutrition from my support crew, my gal Robin, and charged into the last section of the day.  Also at that station I heard from my friend Wendie that Cary, a friend and great competitor, was only a minute or so in front of me.  The carrot was planted. I told myself:  “Settle in dude, you got this, you’ve run 4 miles thousands of times in your life, you can do it again.”

After negotiating the climbs of the Vineyard Mtn. on a freshly cut trail, I reached deep within to summon up the courage and confidence to attack as fast as possible all of the way to the finish.  Would I catch Cary?  Only time would tell.

To be honest I don’t remember the last descent to the finish too well, I was locked in, in the zone, and over the course of the descent I put down the days fastest mile at a pace of 6:05.  I was never able to catch Cary, which, by the finish line, didn’t wrinkle me a bit.  Just to have been within a minute or two of him is an honor.  He’s an athlete and person that I look up to in this community, I value our friendship greatly.

My default post-race setting is to immediately seek out the official time and result of the day.  Other than Cary mentioning to me what place I had come in, I can honestly say that the result didn’t matter. Not knowing exactly how and where I finished was of no concern.  The big result and win for me had come in the form of patience, sticking to my game plan and running within myself for the duration of the four and half hour effort.  As I left the finish line to head home, I left with a most profound sense of accomplishment, having known that I had run within myself to the best of my ability.  For me, I had won MY day, no one else’s.  It felt good to walk away being content and fulfilled.  It was a profound experience and one that I could get used to.  It’s different, for sure, as I’m very compelled to let my ego run the show.  Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, from a competition standpoint, I was able to let go of my ego and just be me.

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The Novo Veritas team, moments after Betsy PR’d at her second attempt at the Mac 50k

Later in the day it was brought to my attention that I ended up 8th overall, a full 20 minutes faster than my best previous effort at the Mac50k.  I was a little stunned to hear that I had cracked my first top 10 for a Mac 50k.

Looking back at the progress from one year to the next, which I tend to do around big races, I’m humbled with the fact that what I had always wanted from this race happened during a time where I had no expectations of anything.  My goals had been achieved without me even knowing it.  For me, that’s a sign of progress, to break loose of the default setting of having my ego dictate my actions.

Today I feel lighter, not physically, but emotionally.  I feel like I am really buying in to the process-first mentality.  Today I will embrace that feeling as I move on to the next step, whatever that step may be.  Today, I will just continue to be un-apologetically me.

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Another Bump in the Road: Pick up the damn phone and call someone!

Over the last few days I am reminded by how cunning and sneaky my alcoholism can be.  It doesn’t care where I am and what I’m doing, it seems to rear its ugly head whenever it feels compelled to do so.  Yesterday it came to a peak and for the 2nd time in two plus years I felt intensely compelled to go buy a bottle of Crown Royal and get after it.

On Wednesday I could feel something begin to settle in.  Depression. It wasn’t dramatic, its onset came on slowly.  I made sure to keep my 12 step meeting attendance a priority, ramp that shit up.  Thursday was a bit worse.  The gray continued to develop, in a very familiar way.  I had felt this before, meeting attendance increased.  Friday seemed to even out, I still felt “off” but didn’t have too much of an increase of any dark thoughts. I went addict on meetings and hit 3 that day.  Yesterday, it turned for the worse.  I had a shitty ride in the morning, two flat tires, my legs were sore,  and I felt defeated.  After getting home I hammered a smoothie and sat in the sun to try and meditate through the dark thoughts.  Ultimately, after around 20 minutes of failing to be mindful, the intense cravings to drink started swirling through my mind.  Was I caving?  Was a bottle of Crown Royal really going to solve my problems and help me feel better?

For me, the mind took over and started to tell me that maybe this past 2+ years had just been one big fantastic dream.  At this point I had a choice to make.  I could either  let the mind take me down a dark rabbit hole or I could do something that I’m not so good at, reaching out for help.  My ego tells me that I can deal with tough situations like this on my own.  My ego tells me that I can overpower the demons, by myself.  My ego is deadly.  With reluctance I managed to send some texts, make a phone call, and rally my troops for help.  It didn’t feel good at the time but I feel proud to say that by doing this I was able to stay sober yesterday.  I ended up hitting a 12-step meeting with friends, where I felt I could be honest and open, with like-minded individuals.  I’m still learning to lean on my friends and family when circumstances like this come up.  It’s a process.

So, what would happened if I went back out?  I have no idea other than to say that I’d have to start the process all over again.  “Hello, my name is Spencer, I’m an alcoholic and I have 24 hours of continuous sobriety.”  That statement frightens the hell out of me.  I am trying to continue to not live  day to day based on fear, I have become better at it lately as I’m finding that fear has been a significant driver and root of my past transgressions.

This morning I woke up feeling better, perhaps in part from a good night of sleep (crashed at 8:30PM after a meeting and a two hour session on my foam roller).  I’m about to head out into the Mac Forest to finish up the last bit of McDonald Forest 50k prep.  It’s sunny out, it’s kinda warm, and I feel positive that I’m digging out of this funk.

I understand there will continue to be bumps in the road.  In many ways I’m still very much a newcomer to sobriety.  Even though I’ve got 2+ years of sobriety I know that with a flip of the switch I could very easily go back out.  With that, I will continue to respect the fact that I have an issue with addiction and alcoholism.  For now, I will continue to RESPECT THE PROCESS.

 

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