Elemental Motivation Part 3: Running for Love

Our previous two posts in the Elemental Motivation series (Part 1, Part 2) focused on far darker motivations than the topic of this week’s post, love. Running with hatred and vengeance served their purpose for me but neither is sustainable. When one looks at the greats of history, all their achievements were reached through love. In running it is no different; I cannot think of a single great runner who has not been fueled by love. Ryan Hall, Meb, Kara Goucher, Desi Davila, the list goes on. All of these individuals have love flowing through every fiber of their body as evidenced by their running, smiles, charities, and achievements.

For the past two years I have had a hard time coming to grips with the word love. In fact, I despised it and criticized those who chose to believe in it. Sure I loved my friends and family, but even with them I was distant. At the time it was far easier to shut myself off, give up emotion, and scoff at the thought. I believed it was for the weak and needy and I couldn’t stand it. I held true that invincibility and invulnerability were true strength, something that love could not touch. However, as of late, my viewpoint on this has been evolving.

Over the past week I have been attempting to think back to the exact point when I began to run with love as a motivator. I believe it was a gradual process that occurred unbeknownst to me. The best pieces of evidence I have are the Boston and NYC Marathons. I am extremely fortunate to have such amazing friends and family who love me dearly. They follow me to my races all around the country to be my cheering section, emotional support, and so much more. After the Boston Marathon I winded my way through blustery streets, silver cape in tow, only wanting one thing, my friends and family. When I found them, I couldn’t hold back the raw emotion within me and my eyes began to well. It was so amazing to me that this group of people cared so much for me that they would assemble themselves along a 26.2 mile course simply to cheer me on, only to see me for a split second. NYC was much of the same, complete with a group of friends who traveled from a city I no longer lived in just to watch me race. Their enthusiasm was phenomenal as they hung over the barricades screaming and jumping for me. I couldn’t help but quicken my pace as the wave of their love and encouragement flowed through my body.

Boston and My Family

My amazing family and cheering section post Boston Marathon

I am now at a point in my life where I am fully trying to give myself up to the idea of love. I am calling myself out on my greatest weakness and working to eliminate it. “Sigh No More” by Mumford in Sons in particular has helped me to identify what it is exactly that I am looking for and desiring: “Love it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free, be more like the man you were made to be. There is a design, an alignment to cry, of my heart to see the beauty of love as it was made to be.” These words are hauntingly beautiful to me and a perfect encapsulation of the power of love. I can say for certain that when I am gutting out my run during Ironman St. George in 2 months, my thoughts will not be of hatred and revenge, they will simply be of love. My mind will flash to memories of friends, family, charities, Iowa, California, THON, PSU Crew, club XC, and so many more. My challenge to you this week is simply to think of all you love while you run. I have a feeling you’ll be amazed by how much there is and how great of a run you have. Next week will be the fourth part of the 5 part elemental motivation series focusing on a team that showed me a love I could never have imagined during a time I needed it most.

Always in Stride,

Jack

NYC and Friends

Me at mile 25 during NYC Marathon blowing kisses to my friends who made the trip out to cheer me on!

Quote of the Week – “Well I can see you’re in pain and I know that there’s something wrong. I know that you have been angry, I know that you’ve seen hate. But you gotta dig deep to the heavens above sit down, learn and create. Ya gotta lose all your anger, lose all your hate, it ain’t gonna work no more. I wish the world was run by love, absolutely nothing more.” – O.A.R.

Song of the Week – Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More

Video of the Week – Ryan Hall Running for Love

Elemental Motivation Part 2: Running With a Vengeance

In part 1 of the elemental motivation series, I touched on the subject of running fueled by hatred. This week’s post will focus on the transition from running with hatred to running with a vengeance. There are always times in our lives when our character will be tested. These times will push us past the boundaries of what we once thought was all we could handle. In my life, I have been fortunate that nothing overly traumatic has occurred compared to the hardships that others in the world have faced. In hindsight, I am always grateful for the hardships. After every trying time in my life, I make it a personal vendetta to make it a turning point. I use the time to evaluate where I am at and where I want to be. I have always been in love with the idea of the mythological creature of the phoenix, rising out of the ashes to become beautiful once more. It is the age old adage: when all is lost, all is left to gain.

Stronger. Faster. Smarter. These three simple words were all I concerned myself with when I was chasing what I believed was to be my vengeance.  After that January’s events, I shut myself off from everyone and everything to focus on becoming stronger, faster, and smarter in every facet of my life.   I adopted an extremist, back against the wall mentality and became obsessed with Lance Armstrong’s quote: “I was written off. That was the moment I thought, Okay, game on. No prisoners. Everybody’s going down.” It was my defense mechanism and provided me a safe haven. I formed in my mind the life I wanted to be living and focused all my energy on achieving it. I wanted to be stronger so I would work out every day for countless hours. I wanted to qualify for the Boston and New York Marathons so I ramped up my training to become faster. I wanted to have an internship for the summer and full-time position upon graduation so I threw myself into my studies to improve my GPA. I also brought my lifelong dream of wanting to move to California to the forefront.

Making this life I had in my mind was to be my revenge. Whether anyone cared or not, never crossed my mind. Nothing mattered to me but making this dream come true. One quote from Once a Runner would play through my mind at all times “Running to him was real; the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as a diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.” I was at a point in my life where I fully believed that running was all I had left. It kept me sane. Boston was constantly on my mind and I would stop at nothing to get my BQ.

Finish

The Boston Marathon Finish Line (Photo Credit: hikeclimbsurfrun.com)

This intense dedication and motivation was exactly what I needed in my life to get me to where I wanted to be. In October of 2010, I ran the Steamtown Marathon and qualified for both Boston and New York with a time of 2:49:36 for my first marathon. In the summer of 2010 I secured an internship that would later turn in to a full time job. Most recently, I made my lifelong dream of moving to California come true and moved to Manhattan Beach in October of 2011. Accomplishing these goals completed the circle of creating the life that I wanted. Had it not been for hardships, I would never have forced myself to focus so intensely on what it was that I wanted. Now that these goals have been accomplished, I have turned to a whole new set of goals. However, this time they are fueled with love as opposed to hatred and vengeance. Next week the third post in the series of elemental motivation will focus on running fueled by love. My challenge to you this week is to focus on how to turn the negative events in your life in to positive motivators.

Always in Stride,

Jack

Manhattan Beach

My new home town of Manhattan Beach, California. (Photo Credit socalarea.com)

Song of the Week – I Made It (Cash Money Heroes) – Kevin Rudolf

Quote of the Week – “Running to him was real; the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as a diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.” – John L. Parker Jr.

Video of the Week – Once a Runner Trailer

Elemental Motivation Part 1: Running With Hatred

Winter in State College

My college training grounds in State College, PA. Photo from travelpod.com

The harsh winters of Central Pennsylvania can often put one’s spirit to the test and leave one disheartened. I would oftentimes pride myself on keeping my running consistent through these winters and enjoyed the challenge. There is one winter that I will always remember in painstaking detail. It was during my senior year at Penn State and it tested me in ways I never imagined possible. I was exposed to the wide range of human emotion during that winter and was forced to learn things I sometimes wish I hadn’t. I saw a side of myself I hope to never see again.

At the age of 23, soon to be 24, I still have a lot to learn and a lot of growing up to do. I would like to think I have made progress since high school and that I learned a lot about myself during college. The learning process is forever ongoing as is the act of learning how to love. My inspiration for writing on this topic comes from the one event in my life that has done more to shape who I am more than any other. It happened two years ago when I was a senior at Penn State University. I still do not go in to specifics of the incident, but I can say that there has never been a time in my life where I was more filled with hatred, anger, confusion, and sadness.

The happening left me in a shattered state where I had no idea where to turn or where to go, so I ran. Running everyday was my saving grace during those dark days. I didn’t know how to handle what had happened or how to purge the hatred that I had built up. I took it to the trails of State College, Pennsylvania and punished them. I was running faster than I ever had in my life. Images of the event and those involved would flash through my mind, inspiring rage, which I turned into mile splits I had no idea I was capable of. It became an addiction. I began to thrive off of it and pushed others away. In hindsight, I also pushed away some of those who had done nothing wrong.

While I do not encourage it, I do believe that having hatred as a motivation can be a healthy way to deal with the emotions when compared to other possibilities. However, to have hatred at all is never healthy. I liken the effects of running with hatred to the effects of what I have been told chemotherapy is like. It is true that both provide some type benefit. Running with hatred can provide better times and chemotherapy helps to eliminate cancerous cells. However, both also leave one feeling weak and are a poison to the body and mind. My challenge to you this week is to eliminate and release any hatred that you may have. It is freeing to do so and puts one in a far better state of mind. My world changed in wondrous ways once I released my hatred and turned to forgiveness.

Always in Stride,

Jack

Next week in part two of our series we will look at the evolution from the motivation of hate to the motivation of bettering oneself.

Quote of the Week – “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Song of the Week – Breakeven (Falling to Pieces) – The Script

Video of the Week – Lance Armstrong LiveStrong Commercial

Bring On the Wall

Last night, as I glided along the beach path staring off over the Pacific Ocean, I was hit in the face, hard. Luckily it wasn’t a seagull surprise and fortunately it was figuratively not literally. I was in the midst of my weekly long run, an hour and a half in, when I hit the wall. For those who may not know, the wall is the sudden loss of energy accompanied by extreme fatigue when the body switches from burning glycogen to burning fat.  My wall last night was a drastic change from a 6:50 pace down to a 7:30 pace in a matter of seconds.

I have a love-hate relationship with the wall. When it occurs during training, I absolutely love it. It gives me a chance to further push my limits and increase my pain threshold. I have always believed that people rarely show how strong they truly are. I believe the wall presents a perfect opportunity to explore one’s strength. There are many sayings about the topic and my favorite is from motivational speaker Eric Thomas: “Don’t cry to quit, you already in pain, you already hurt, get a reward from it.” I am in love with the idea of learning from pain.

Pain has taught me so much throughout my life. On Sunday, I will be introducing a four part series on elemental motivations for running. During this series, I will be touching on some of the most painful moments of my life and how much they have taught me. Pain and the wall teach me about myself and the amount of pain I am able to handle. When I battle the wall during training, it instills confidence for being able to handle it during races. In life, walls allow me to realize that I have always been able to overcome challenges in the past and the future will be no different.

Though walls are not necessarily desirable, they serve an important purpose. Randy Pausch put it best: “Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want something badly enough. They are there to keep out the other people.” I often think of this during my races and will with absolute certainty think of this during Ironman St. George. Every athlete goes through some form of pain during a competition. For me, it will be a matter of managing that pain and seeing how badly I want my Kona slot. My challenge to you this week is to identify your walls in life and in training and develop your means to break through them.

Always in Stride,

Jack

http://marathonrunnersdiary.blogspot.com/2009/03/carbo-loading-gone-awry.html

Amusing interpretation of "the wall".

Quote of the Week: “Don’t cry to quit, you already in pain, you already hurt, get a reward from it.” – Eric Thomas

Song of the Week: Don’t Stop Me Now – Queen

Video of the Week: One of the Most Famous “Wall Hits” 

Are You a “Real” Runner?

When it comes to talking about running, there is one, five-word phrase I have never been able to come to terms with. For the past 12 years I have been running, and during that time I have had countless conversations on the topic. I sometimes pity those who have to deal with me, but hey, no one said they had to stick around or even listen for that matter. Luckily for me, most of my friends either understand my obsession or are runners themselves. During these conversations, I have noticed that many themes and common phrases arise. However, there is one phrase, of five words, I hear far too often: “I’m not a “real” runner.” I’ve often pondered what this means. What classifies one as a “real” runner? What is it about someone’s running that could possibly make it “fake”? Most importantly, who had the nerve to set this unspoken qualification?

It seems to me that this qualification exists only in the minds of those who use the phrase. I believe this harsh judgment is self-imposed and always undeservedly so. I personally refuse to believe the statement and make a point to question those who use it. I tend to believe that the phrase is a result of runners attempting to validate their own goals by comparing against the goals of others. Is a “real” runner defined by the prestige of their goals or achievements? To be a “real” runner does one have to win an event in the Olympics, a marathon, or a race in general? While all of these are great goals and achievements, I do not believe that they define what it means to be a runner. Goals are personal and not up for deliberation by others.

To me, a runner is very simply defined as someone who runs with some form of a goal in mind. When it comes to the act of running, I believe it is black and white. You are either running or not. However, the goals of runners are black and white only in the sense that one has a goal or not. Goals are limited only by one’s imagination. Kara Goucher, for example, has the goal of winning the Gold Medal at the Olympics this year in London. I have the goal of becoming a professional runner/triathlete. The man in our video of the week has the goal of eliminating his “man-boobs”. All of these are great goals and hold meaning to those who create them. The act of self-deprecation by stating that one is not a “real” runner certainly does not help one to achieve his or her goals.

Jesse Owens sums up the definition of running quite well: “I always loved running. It was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.” This week on your runs, my challenge to you is to let your mind drift to your goals. Define for yourself what your running means and what it is that you are chasing after. After all, the chase is half the fun and you ought to know which direction to go.

Always in Stride,

Jack

Quote of the Week – “I always loved running. It was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.” – Jesse Owens

Song of the Week – Where the Streets Have No Name – U2

Video of the Week – Nike “I’m Not a Runner” Commercial

The Noblest Pursuit

Five and a half years ago I found myself stepping on to the Penn State campus as a freshman. How I ended up there, I can’t quite be sure. Perhaps it was the higher tuition of my beloved University of Iowa, possibly the proximity to my family’s home in Mars, PA, or maybe the prestige of the Mechanical Engineering program. I recall saying farewell to a teary-eyed mother and a stoic father who simply said “you know what you’re here for”. I came to Penn State weak. I was self-absorbed, close-minded, and far from altruistic. Four and a half years at Penn State changed this forever.

Once my stay at Penn State commenced, a transformation began. My eyes opened and I began to see the world through a whole new lens. I finally started to realize there was so much more to life than personal glory and achievement. In fact, I realized that there is much more to be gained by the exultation of others and the act of becoming wholly altruistic. It is at Penn State where I found my love of philanthropy.

The recent passing of Joe Paterno brought back memories of the Penn State philanthropy I loved most, THON.  THON is a 46 hour dance marathon designed to raise money to combat pediatric cancer. It is also an event designed to take cancer off the minds of suffering kids, even if only for 46 hours. Dancers dance for 46 hours straight with no sleeping, sitting, or resting as a way to take on the pain of these children. THON is essentially a two day celebration of life filled with dancing, activities, song, and community as well as a time to remember the children we’ve lost. Since 1977 THON has raised over $78 million for children with cancer. (See video to get a better idea of THON.)

In recalling the moments in which I interacted with Joe Paterno, one memory stuck out to me most. I thought back to 2009 when I was a dancer in THON for my cross country team and Joe was there during the late hours for a pep speech. He was never all that good with words but they carried immense meaning. He said to us that day: “I wish the whole world could see and feel what’s in this room right now. Love and commitment and dedication, it just reeks from this room. 58 years at Penn State and I’ve never been more proud than right now. Never been more proud than the warmth in this arena and to see what you folks have done. When those families came up, I had a tough time keeping my composure. God bless every single one of you.”

When I reflect on Joe’s life, I don’t think of the football coach, rather, the humanitarian and philanthropist. What I take from him, is that there is no greater purpose in life than to help others through your actions. You, as a runner, are in a position where you can do tremendous good for others. It is the charge of those who are able, to take on the pain of those who are suffering.  If you are struggling to find motivation to fuel your running, putting a purpose behind your running can provide motivation you never thought imaginable. The rewards of doing so are infinite and allows you to experience the range of human emotion. It will bring you to tears, give you a smile larger than you could ever imagine, and make you feel complete. My challenge to you this week is to in some way, shape, or form make someone else’s life better. It can be as simple as exchanging a smile or perhaps something as big as fundraising to run a race for charity.  Personally, I have decided that out of all profits I make from my writing and speaking, 5% will be going to LIVESTRONG and 5% will be going to THON. In the meantime I will be dancing in LA THON this weekend to further combat pediatric cancer. I encourage you to follow in the footsteps of great humanitarians in athletics such as Ryan Hall, Lance Armstrong, Joe Paterno, and many more. You will find that there is nothing in life more gratifying than to make someone else’s life better.

Always in Stride,

Jack

If you would like to donate to LA THON (all proceeds benefit THON), please go to http://psula.donorpages.com/2012DanceaTHON/jhm5024/.

PSU Club XC THON

The Club XC dancers and me during the later hours of THON.

RIP Joe Paterno (1926-2012)

Song of the Week – Open Your Eyes – Snow Patrol

Quote of the Week – “Believe deep down in your heart that you’re destined to do great things.” – Joe Paterno

Video of the Week – THON Promo Video

The Power of the Pack

Howling winds, 2 feet of snow, and a mysterious mountain. This is not exactly what you would imagine as the training grounds of Ryan Hall, Meb, and other US Olympic runners in Mammoth Lakes, California. However, I was not here to train as one might expect. The swirling winds, slushy roads, and bitter cold prevented any such training. I came to Mammoth Lakes to attempt to learn how to snowboard, discover new experiences, and to spend some time with great friends.

This past October, I moved to Los Angeles, California, a city in which I only knew only a few people. Little did I know, that would be all that I would need. I was fortunate to have these contacts who introduced me to some of the most amazing people in the world. One of them was a friend from an internship and introduced me to her boyfriend and his friends, a group of UCLA Law Students. From day 1 they were an extremely welcoming group and took me in.

I am an extremely independent and stubborn person and would like to believe I am 100% self-sufficent. However, even I know this is only a facade. I have learned over the years that I can be great alone but I am not my full self unless I am surrounded by those who further excel me. People like this are able to take me to a whole different level I never would be able to achieve by myself. They also make me happier than I could ever imagine just being without.

I want you to remember that life truly is about sharing these types of moments, spending time with great people who excel you, and most importantly making other’s lives better.

The Lost Art of Sportsmanship

There is one man I will always look up to and admire above all others. He is my career advisor, life coach, and best friend. He is my Dad. As with most fathers, he has worked to pass on his advice on all the various aspects of life based on his own experiences. There have been times when I have rolled my eyes at his advice or ignored it, but when it comes down to it, I have found it to be invaluable. During one of our phone calls this week we spoke about a lesson he was helping one of his coworkers to teach his son. It is the lesson that sticks out most to me when I recall memories of my childhood: gracious winner, gracious loser or as Dad says for short, “GWGL”.

These four simple words have taught me more about sports and life than any others. It means to always be a great sport, regardless of outcome. It means to shake hands with your opponent, congratulate them on a great race/game, and to always show respect for them. It means to practice “The Code” as told in our video from Nebraska Football: “If we should win, let it be by the code, Faith and Honor held high. If we should lose, we’ll stand by the road, and cheer as the winners go by.” My Dad would always tell me “GWGL” before and after each game. Though this advice was not always the easiest medicine to take, I always found I felt better about myself when I heeded this advice.

Dad and I during a baseball game in my younger years.

It seems these days that sportsmanship is becoming more and more of a lost art. The commercialization of sports paired with big egos has seemed to cause many to forget the basic meaning of why we play. Sport is not about multi-million dollar contracts, large stadiums, endorsement deals, or fame. In its most elemental form, sport is about inspired competition against yourself and against others. As I watched the US Olympic Marathon Trials, I realized that this is one of the many reasons why I love running so much. When it comes to sportsmanship, I can think of no better showcase than running. There are no personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in running because they are not necessary. The running community is about having a great race as defined by you and encouraging others.

My challenge to you for the week and throughout your life is to always be a gracious winner and gracious loser. Before the race wish your opponents good luck, offer encouragement during the race, and congratulate them after. It does not require much effort to implement these actions but offers a large reward. It is a great reflection of self and showing of character. You can be sure that if I should ever decide to go down the road of marriage/kids, the first lesson they will be taught will be “gracious winner, gracious loser”.

Always In Stride,

Jack

Dad and I soaking up the wonders of the world.

Song of the Week – Little Lion Man – Mumford and Sons

Quote of the Week – “Simply trying to define sportsmanship, I think most folks would agree, responsibility and self respect, qualities that today seem in short supply at times. If character is what you do when no one is watching, then perhaps sportsmanship is that conduct with everybody watching. Frankly, the sports industry would probably survive without sportsmanship. It’s so large and so well financed, but it would be refreshing if more parents and coaches, more administrators and more journalists, and especially more players realized there is room to win with flare and style and even get rich and still keep the values that first brought us here to the games.”- Bob Ley

Video of the Week – Nebraska Huskers Code

How Big Will Your But Get in 2012?

You made it! The year 2012 is now here with 2011 in the rearview mirror. You may find yourself in one of many states this morning: hungover in search of a greasy breakfast joint, relieved the “couples” holidays are over (’til February), attempting to piece together the events of the night before, optimistic for what the new year will bring, or possibly a combination of all, some, or none of these. Regardless of your state today, the new year has arrived. The celebrations have ended and all that remains are your thoughts, maybe some new stories, and most importantly your resolutions for the new year.

Resolutions are a great idea in theory and carry strong momentum through the first few weeks and possibly months of the year. I am a proponent of them myself and will certainly have my own for the upcoming year. My issue with resolutions is when they begin to taper off and people begin to lose sight of the goals they set. March and April come along and resolutions can seem a thing of the past. They may have been conveniently forgotten, pushed to the dark recesses of your mind, or just slowly diminished to dust as the weeks passed on.

Most of the posts here focus on positive motivation striving to deliver encouragement and empowerment. However, I have found every once in a while that a little tough love is a necessity. I believe that tough love makes you want to succeed that much more and makes it all worth it when you achieve what you’re going after. Coaches who demand your absolute best and dole out compliments rarely are the ones I admire most. These compliments are simple and concise, yet carry immeasurable meaning. Tough love has a way of putting things in perspective and serves to inspire a passionate, burning desire to achieve. When it comes to New Year’s resolutions I think we all could use some tough love.

My challenge for the week and for the year is to impose some tough love on yourself. I want you to ask yourself a question based on an idea originally posed by motivational speaker Sean Stephenson. How big will you let your BUT get this year? How big will your BUT become to prevent you from following through on your resolutions? No, I’m not talking about the fleshy cheeks you sit on, I’m referring to your excuses. We all have them: I would go for a run today “BUT, I’m too tired”, “BUT, I don’t have the time”, “BUT, the weather is bad”, “BUT, I have to hang out with my girl/boy friend”. The simple fact of the matter is that you could go for a run, but you are making a conscious decision to take the easy way out. You are letting other activities or reasons inhibit you from your goal and resolution.  To be honest, nobody wants to hear about your buts and on some level you dislike yourself for using them. It’s weak, uninspired, boring, and when it comes down to it just an excuse. This year follow through on your resolutions, make a story worth telling, embody greatness as defined by you, and above all else keep the promises you make to yourself.

Always in Stride,

Jack

Quote of the Week – “For true success, ask yourself these four questions: Why? Why not? Why not me? Why not now?” – James Allen

Song of the Week – Mirror (feat. Bruno Mars) – Lil Wayne

Video of the Week – Michael Jodan “Excuses” Commercial