So, who is Betsy Hartley?

About a month ago Betsy and I had a very honest and open conversation.  I was having anxiety around having people think and/or assume that we were dating, in a romantic relationship.  For me, I wasn’t entirely certain why the anxiety was persisting.  So we talked about it,  as we talk about most things, and expressed our honest opinions on the subject.  Today, I am still working through this anxiety.  However, last weekend on our trip to the Western States 100, it began to become clear to me.  While on a run, descending down from Emigrant Pass on the PCT the day before the race, our relationship began to make sense.  Betsy Hartley is the big sister I never had.

Me and Betsy’s relationship runs far and wide.  First and foremost we are great friends.  Furthermore we are also business partners in Novo Veritas, LLC.  Adding on that I am her running coach, her roommate, and a part of her accountability team when it comes to food.  Also, we are currently talking about buying a new company car together.  Even more, she is my crew chief for Ultra Marathons, training/traveling partner, co-season ticket holder for Beavs Basketball,  Emery’s aunt, a founding member of my accountability team/board of advisers, and co-everything else in just about all walks of life today.  We are certainly joined at the hip for most things in life that we enjoy doing.

Betsy is a fucking pain in my ass.  I am twice as much of a fucking pain in her ass.  For instance, as her coach, I am attempting to get her to the start line and through her first attempt at the 100 mile distance.  I know that she has had a relatively quick buildup in a short amount of time in her mileage since she embarked on her own lifestyle change.  After her 100 she is going to be fucking jazzed to do more and will hate me when I put on the brakes for her to allow proper recovery.

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The Novo-Veritas Team

Because of our close quarters I see her, and vice versa, when times are good and when times get dark.  It’s been hard to learn how to communicate when one of us shuts down, which I am more prone to doing.  It’s the nature of our living situation.  We’ve chosen to ride this stage of life out together as roommates.  Today, I feel like Betsy can now read me and has a good idea of how to communicate and react when I feel like shit.  I know this process of learning has been challenging for her.

Early in my process of recovery I realized that I was in fact an introvert.  When it comes to Betsy she met me as “hotel guy” displaying a largely extroverted side, always selling something and in go-mode.  When the extrovert – introvert change became more evident our relationship hit a bit of a wall.  She began witnessing the pains and aches of communication with a new introvert.  To be clear, Betsy is an extrovert, period.  Without saying it out loud I had forced her to relearn how to communicate with me.  Again, it was a very painful process for her from my point of view.

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Seeing Betsy off for the 2016 edition of Peterson Ridge 40 Miler

 

So, what makes her a big sister to me?  For starters she is extremely protective of me, especially when it comes to the people who I surround myself with, always making sure that I am near positive-minded people.  She knows that I am still very much in the beginning stages of recovery and she ultimately wants to see me thrive in ways that are unimaginable.  She gets the fact that with one drink all of the progress that I’ve worked for would vanish in an instant.  She doesn’t want to see me go backwards.  I completely appreciate her support in this regard and would not have made it this far in recovery without this unwavering support.  Ultimately, recovery has to come from within, but it certainly helps to know that she is firmly in my corner.

Lastly, and more importantly, everything we have done together is based upon our friendship.  Without friendship, the core of our work, we would not have gotten this far in everything that we are doing together.   It’s something that I’ve taken for granted in the past, probably due to the anxiety I was creating for myself that people assumed we were dating.  I have found lately that we laugh more together, and just talk, rather than having everything be so black and white, compartmentalized, as it once was.

As I write this entry my anxiety over the outside perception of us being in a relationship is becoming even more clear.  I guess a part of me was afraid of having that perception that we were in a relationship show the world that I was unavailable.  More so, it’s becoming clear to me that the anxiety I was holding onto had nothing to do with reality.  Who fucking cares what other people think, right?  What other people think of me in none of my business.  Furthermore, my instinct says that whatever happens to me relationship-wise will ultimately run its own course.  From what I’ve heard and understand the best relationships occur when neither person is even looking.  Again, my mind at work again.  Breathe dude, get present.

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Stop fucking taking selfies.  I’m tired, grumpy, and sick of being in the car for 8 hours.

Moving forward Betsy and I have some big ass fucking plans, not only for our business, but for our training, running, and coaching.  So yeah, we are in relationship, just not the kind that everyone thinks of as a typical “relationship.” After having taking the time to process and write about this I am more excited than ever to see what the two of us can accomplish, professionally and personally.  We are free to fly to create our own destiny, both individually and as a duo.  Game on!  Now get in the fucking car, don’t tell me for the 1000th time that you don’t know what music I want playing, stop fucking with my seat warmers, stay off your damn phone, and just drive, or better yet, just let me drive 🙂

Love you!

For more about Betsy please check out her blog:  https://allbetsareoff392.wordpress.com

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My Continuing Struggle with Disordered Eating

The first time I felt fat was after my senior year at St. Lawrence University.  I had spent that year taking every drug and ingesting every ounce of booze that I could get my hands on.  The week before graduation, while hanging with some buddies in a hot tub, my friend Todd mentioned to me that I looked fat.  That comment hurt because I knew it was true.

The second time I felt fat was when my ex-fiancee called me “fat spence” circa 2007.  She was referring to a question that I had asked her about her thoughts on me getting back into shape after having indulged for a year in 80 hour work weeks and copious amounts of alcohol.  She said that she didn’t like the idea, that she liked “fat spence” better than “fit spence.”  Her words, not mine.

Fast forward to January 2016.  After maintaining my sobriety from drugs and alcohol for almost 2 years I decided that I had to get leaner.  I’m not sure where the idea came from.  I believe I had seen a picture of me running the 2015 North Face 50 Miler and thought that I looked pudgy.

Starting around New Years Day I started an account on MyFitnessPal and began tracking everything that I ate. (note: I believe that MyFitnessPal can be a very useful tool for some people, in fact some of the folks I coach use it for purposes of useful feedback).  Getting on the food tracking website was rooted in fear.  I was afraid that if I didn’t have a control and accountability mechanism then I’d go back to being 230 lbs, my heaviest weight to date.

I tracked every single thing I ate for 7 straight months.  I also paired my Garmin watch to sync the amount of calories I was burning.  I was hellbent on losing weight, in seek of finding my ideal race/running weight.  Every single day I had to log the meal I was about to eat to make sure that I didn’t forget to leave a single ingredient out of the proper calorie count.  I obsessed over it.  Each night after dinner I’d get to my computer and look at my total for the day.  If I had a 400 calorie deficit I was convinced that that was a good day and that I could go to bed happy knowing that I was going to lose weight from the days intake.  It got way out of hand when I’d be going to bed knowing that I was upwards of 800 – 1000 calories in deficit.  In my eyes less calories consumed equalled a lighter weight in the morning, regardless of the consequences.

The joy of eating totally went away for me.  I found myself consumed with controlling the amount of food I ate each day, thereby skipping the enjoyment piece of the wonderful and healthy food that I was putting in my body.

I began bringing my scale with me everywhere I went.  When I didn’t bring my scale, or know exactly where my weight was every morning, my world got thrown off and the narratives of “you’re fat, you’re slow, and you’re weak” crept back in to haunt me.  I wanted so badly to achieve a weight which would equal faster running times.  This obsession with a number on the scale began when I read some article about ideal race weight.  In general, for me, given my height and build, the ultimate running weight was somewhere in the ballpark of 144 – 149 pounds (I’m currently 154).  It’s important to note that this obsession came on the basis of one single article.  I hardly did any research on the subject, I was basing my perception on something that was extremely skeptical.  But I listened and continued to feed the obsession.

So where do I sit with this today while I write this story?  A couple of weeks ago I dove headfirst into the idea of meditation, not just so I could tell everyone I was meditating (like I had before), but because I began to see what it could do for me.  Furthermore the act of meditation enhanced my ability to breathe and reset my head, away from the negative and manic thoughts.  When my mind takes over and starts telling me all of these stories about how I used to be and what I will become I’m able to revert back to the act of breathing, which gives me relief from all of the negative bullshit my mind wants me to hear.  Breathing has become my new anchor, my home, my place to just be.  Breathing helps me to remember that who I was, fat or fit, is a thing of the past.  It is not who I am today.  It also helps me to appreciate and actualize the continuous process of self-discovery.  I must remember and respect the fact that when I decided to get sober I had no idea who I really was.  Disordered eating is just a small fabric in the construct of Spencer Newell.

Moving forward, my next step is to go get an accurate body fat percentage, something I’ve avoided for years. I feel that I need scientific proof that I am not getting fat again.  I know this seems ridiculous but it is the truth.  Then, I will continue the work with my trusted professional to continue exploring why I look at weight the way I do.  Luckily, she is someone who has worked with several endurance athletes, on eating disorders ranging from Bulimia to Anorexia, and everything in between.  Today during our appointment I divulged every single act of madness when it came to calorie counting and the scale that had occurred since the beginning of the year.  She is a trusted member of my team and clearly confirmed that the action I was taking to control my eating in an obsessive manner, was indeed, disordered.

I am tired of living with the pressure I put on myself to achieve a certain weight.  I am sick of logging every shred of food I eat.  I truly want to relieve myself of the incessant pressure and anxiety of having to stress about how I see food.  It seems like a cloud that plants itself in my head and doesn’t let me see or enjoy the workouts and the food I eat for what they truly are, simple acts of pleasure and enjoyment.  Working honestly and whole-heartedly on this next challenge is just another step in the process of recovery and self-discovery.  As I told my team member today, I’m glad that this layer of recovery is clear to me, it helps me to understand that this whole life is a process of learning.  When the learning stops what else is there to live for?

 

 

 

 

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Embracing Ambiguity

“Any human who has to hold himself together is someone who is ready to fall apart.  Trying to hold yourself together is a terrible way to go through life.  Our task now is to prove this to ourselves.  The fear of falling apart can never be quieted by adding more pieces to your self, such as success or the hope of success.  With this approach to life, you wear out faster, because you now have even more conditions you believe you must control in order to keep your life together. “ – Guy Finley, excerpt from The Art of Letting Go.

Last week I had a enlightening appointment with my Therapist, who I trust, and is securely on my accountability team, along with a handful of others.  This is how the meeting transpired, loosely:

Me: “I think I have an issue with over-commiting myself.”

Her: “Go on.”

Me:  “I think that it’s rooted in my issues that I have with control.”

Her: “Go on.”

Me: “I feel like I constantly need to control my settings, that I am over-protective of my routine and when it is shaken it creates overwhelming anxiety.”

Her: “Go on.”

Me:  “I think it’s rooted in my upbringing as a child and also my attachment to being in the corporate world for 13+ years.”

Her:  “Are you done now? This story is getting old.”

Me: “WHAT!!” (mind blown)

Of course there was more substance to the conversation. My conclusion was that she had a point.  I actually HEARD what she was saying.  The same old narrative and story-telling was indeed becoming old news.

The theme of our visits has largely consisted of my day-to-day”problems” and what is ailing me in life.  Usually the issues can be traced back to a variety of events from my past, the story that I keep telling myself about myself.  What had happened was that it had been brought to my attention that I was still going round and round in a vicious circle of thought, my mind was again dictating my reality.  Personally I believe that I’ve experienced some mental and mindful growth lately, however, perhaps I had hit a threshold of true understanding.

The realization that had occurred, although I had previously understood it on a conceptual level, was boiled down to the fact that perhaps my main fear had to do with the unknown, the ambiguity that surrounds this world and this life.

I have a twisted fascination with natural disasters.  Super-volcanoes, Tornado’s, Tsunami’s, and Earthquakes.  (The fascination goes even deeper when it comes to conspiracy theories, but we’ll save that for another day ).  Off the Oregon Coast is the Cascadia Subduction Zone.  It is forecasted that the “big one”, an earthquake that would trigger a series of massive Tsunami’s up and down the Pacific Coast, is overdue by 200 years.  An event such as this could devastate the Pacific Northwest.  It seems to be all over TV lately, I’m a sucker for every news clip and documentary on the subject.

I bring this up to display a point and to ask myself a question.  Do I have any fucking clue when or if this event will happen?  The answer is no.  However, my default setting is to constantly seek the truth about where, how, when, and why this event is going to occur.  The fact is that no-one really knows for sure.  Not having a shred of scholastic education on the subject drives this point home even further for me.  Yet I continue my pursuit of the facts about when I am going to need to duck and take cover.

Furthermore, another default setting of mine is to automatically look for the “if/then” scenario in all that I do.  Training, working, sleeping, eating, socializing, dating, etc.  If I do this then that will happen.  After having the realization regarding my fear of the unknown it was brought to my attention that I live, and therefore create overwhelming anxiety, based on getting to specific goals and finish lines.  “Life” becomes worse for me after those goals are achieved, or failed for that matter, when I realize that my all of the expectations that I put on myself in pursuing that goal had everything to do with everyone else and not a damned thing about myself.  Enter the ego and down the rabbit hole we go. The vicious cycle continues.

With that being said, after uncovering my fear of the unknown, I gave it a few days to let life happens as it is meant to be, without my control.  Hence, I attempted to let the past go and have no expectations about how the short-term would look and play out.   I worked on the things within my control, for instance over-committing myself, and found that during those days I achieved happiness while following the flow of life.  Happiness is letting go about your ideas of happiness (The Art of Letting Go, pg. 27).  I approached those days making and having very few plans, apart from my training regimen, and guess what?  I survived, and thrived, in many ways.  You can ask my friend and roommate Betsy as she is one of the few people in my life that truly witnesses me on a day-to-day basis.  My life seemed lighter, more fulfilled, and, believe it or not, freaking exciting!

So how can this apply to life moving forward?  To start, it can begin with training.  I have set off on a goal this year, a childhood dream, to live and train as an endurance athlete to the absolute best of my ability.  In this regard my day to day schedule is centered around workouts, recovery, nutrition, and sleep.  Today, I am very grateful to say, that I have the support team behind me to help make this happen.  My personal board of advisers, a group of trusted friends and peers, is keeping me accountable in many ways, not just athletically, but spiritually, mentally, and physically.  I’m at a time in my life where I can go for it:  I’m single, I have no kids, I have the time, I have the passion, I have medical insurance,  and I’m fucking stoked and committed to seeing what happens.

With this goal I am aware that several things could happen throughout the process.  Largely, those things (injury for instance), are out of my control and those things scare the hell out of me.  Why?  Because I want an “if/then” scenario to happen.  I cannot control the outcome.  The truth is, I have no idea what is going to come out of this pursuit, and I have to accept that.  Yet again, I can’t control the outcome.  In fact, strange as it may seem, the unknown is beginning to become a part of the excitement!  Without the pressure that I put on myself to achieve this  ambiguous goal (I say ambiguous because I don’t have any specific race goals/achievement goals attached to this pursuit) I feel like I am free to fly.  Not having that pressure, which I ultimately create in my own mind, I am able to explore my love for being athletic in a creative fashion.  Endurance sports is my passion and I do it because I absolutely love it.  Sport allows me to express myself in the deepest and most meaningful ways.  Sport allows me to apply the creative genes that were passed on to me by my mother and father.

Without pressure, I can succeed.  Without anxiety, I can succeed.  Without expectation, I can succeed.  Internal pressure, anxiety, and expectation are all within my control.  There is a shift occurring that I am truly understanding how these things have effected my past life, my story, the narrative that plays in my mind about who I am and what I do.  The truth is, the one thing in my control is the ability to let these things go, and to create a new story, by myself and for myself.  We are the masters of our own destiny.  And the thrill of it all?  Who the hell knows what that destiny is other than it’s assured to be a wild and crazy ride.  Time to buckle up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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