150 Miles, 10 Runners, 24 Hours

This past weekend, I captained a team of 10 runners that ran 150 miles in just over 24 hours. When I tell people that, they usually say, “I don’t know how you do it.” But when you break it down, its actually not very tough. Each runner covers on average 15 miles, which is really nothing compared to a marathon. The toughest thing is finding a way to rest as you cycle in and out of a van and in and out of a camp site or hotel room. However, taking 24 hours out of my life and focusing on one goal instead of balancing work deadlines and automotive repairs and upcoming graduation ceremonies, etc. offered me a chance to pick up a couple of life lessons.

Lesson 1: Let go

Coming into this run, my training wasn’t perfect. Far from it. I didn’t get to the speed work I intended to accomplish. I also didn’t do the hill work that I knew I would need to charge up and down the Appalachian foothills of Ross County Ohio. Part of the reason for my training misses were injury related. I busted my foot playing soccer three weeks before the race. My own fault. Another part was illness, I came down with some mystery bug for about 48 hours that had me all out of whack 2 weeks before the race. The other part was just life – too many irons in the fire.

My team also wasn’t much for being a team. Out of 10 runners, I had six replacements; 4 in the four weeks running up to the race. I offered up team training runs and the occasional team outing. No one replied. My Van 2 driver offered up a plan to travel together to the race location. Everyone drove separately without responding. Without any sense of team or camaraderie, I wondered how we would handle the stresses of working together for 24 hours.

Here’s the funny thing: None of it mattered. I wound up turning in great times for my segments, so my busted training plan had little effect. Where I could find flat ground, I was running 2 minutes per mile faster than I had in months and my hill work was respectable. My team also came together on race day like a well oiled machine. People knew where they were going and got there on time. We didn’t have a wasted moment during race leg hand-offs, no one forgot any critical pieces of equipment, and we cheered each other on like we were one happy family. As our last runner crossed the finish line and we all cheered him on, I paused for a moment. All my concerns were for nothing. Sometimes the best thing to do is let go and let the chips fall where they may.

Lesson 2: Leadership is a journey

I’ve been a manager in my professional life on and off for 20 years. I’ve taken training galore and read all the right books. Leadership is practically a formula, right? Nope.

I came into this race with the baggage that I wasn’t as fit as last year with the knowledge that I had signed up to take on the toughest run of the race. I wound up letting that baggage through in some of my communications. I mentioned to one new runner that I “laid the hammer down” and was putting in some quick miles on one of my early runs in spite of my lack of training. I watched him glaze over and think about something else – probably how I sounded like a self-important peacock. I wasn’t inspiring him. I was stroking my own ego to feel better about my performance; and he wasn’t impressed. I had this malarky story in my head that to be captain, I had to demonstrate that I was among the best on the team. I later realized that this was my insecurities talking, which shines through for others to see like a broken bone in an X-ray machine.

I have this iceberg belief that if a leader isn’t where he or she needs to be (preparation, experience, whatever), that leader cannot possibly ask for more out of others. I call it an iceberg because it isn’t something that I outwardly communicate, but its there lurking under the surface and it can certainly sink my ship. This comes from my blue collar, Appalachian, Protestant, ultra-egalitarian, roots. If you’re going to tell me what to do, you damn-well better be standing on higher ground than me. So I hold myself to that standard. The reality is this: Life gets in the way for everyone. At no time in life is anything ever perfect – including for the person selected, volunteered, or otherwise promoted to leadership. But that can’t stop someone in a leadership position from asking of their team what they need. The leader’s role is to lead; to get the most out of the team, regardless of other limitations. Although I didn’t feel comfortable about it, I delivered some less than perfect news to the team late into the event and asked them to deal with it. They did it without question and it worked out nicely.

So, I lived and I learned, and that’s the good news. To quote the Dalai Lama, “If you lose, don’t lose the lesson.

The satisfaction of accomplishment

At the end of the run, the whole team was there cheering on our last runner. The sense of accomplishment started to sink in for all of us. It was a bit rainy and the after party wasn’t as upbeat as the year before, but none of that mattered. As we stood around and shared stories and traded pictures that we took over the course of the run, our achievement took shape. We just ran 150 miles in 24 hours! All of us were operating on too little sleep. None of us trained as much as we wanted. Yet here we are. 150 miles later, injury free and smiling at our accomplishment. The fact that our team fees helped benefit drug prevention programs in the epicenter of the American opioid crisis certainly helped our feeling of purpose. In addition, I picked up a couple of lessons along the way. All in all, it was a good weekend.

If you’re interested in taking part in this run next year, please visit The Buck Fifty. Its a great cause and a great time. And like me, you might just learn something about yourself along the way.

Looking back on 42

42. That is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. At least according to Deep Thought, the supercomputer in Douglas Adams’ seminal work, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it is. Those who have read The Hitchhiker’s Guide… will already be snickering with this reminder. Those who have not, should. Having recently completed my 42nd trip around the sun on this tiny blue planet, I’ve decided to have a look back on my Ultimate Year.

  • It was my first full year without my Dad. He died in 2016, and looking back, his death has had a huge impact on me. Most notably, the circumstances of his death had a profound influence on my mindfulness practice.
  • A year of seniors. My son is now a senior in college, my daughter a senior in high school. My, how time flies.
  • I ran my first marathon. And my second, and my third, and my fourth. I can be obsessive.
  • My first full year of eating a plant-based diet. Inspired by Scott Jurek and Rich Roll, I’ve got better health numbers now than I did in most of my 20’s and all of my 30’s.
  • It was a good year for my career too. I want to keep my career separate from this blog, but it was a good year following a promotion to a leadership position. I have a fantastic team full of amazing individuals. I wouldn’t trade a single one.
  • My mindfulness practice tipped – in a good way. I read several insightful books this past year, but two of the best were The Power of Now by Eckart Tolle and Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. Gaining insights and simply fumbling my way through it, I have taken control of my emotions and want for almost nothing. I would by no means call myself enlightened, but it is a fascinating state of being.
  • I supportted my wife as she pursues her passion: a Master’s of Psychology from Harvard University.
  • I fell in love with trail running. Previously, I had only pounded the pavement. In my 42nd year, I ran several trail races locally and, perhaps most life-altering, I got the chance to run the petit balcon in the French Alps near Chamonix. This is where I took the lead picture of this post.
  • I was able to go whale watching. Surprisingly, this was the highlight of our trip to the Massachusetts beach house in Marshfield. I expected to like seeing whales. I didn’t expect to be mystified.
  • We finally took the trip to Montserrat. After years of traveling to Barcelona and always thinking about it, we finally took the day trip to Montserrat. The monastery houses the Black Madonna and my Mom was speechless. The views from the mountain are stunning.

As I wrap up this short post, I find myself in a state of complete gratitude. My wife and I both hail from small towns (I’m not even sure “town” is the right word for these places) in the Appalachian Ohio Valley, home of economic backwaters and the opioid crisis. Sometimes we look at each other and just shake our heads in awe of what the Universe has provided. The views at 42 were pretty grand.

The view from the Marshfield, MA beach house:

Whale Watching on Cape Cod

James and me (right) in Chamonix before heading up into the Alps

My homemade veggie paella

Looking down from Montserrat

Running Routine: Using a Scorecard to Get Back on Track

My dog is a very good dog. He’s loving, smart, obedient, careful with his 60 lbs size, and almost never makes a mistake. Today, he went out for his morning routine and found something new in the yard that was extremely smellyand then he rolled in it. The last time he did this a couple of years ago, it was a young bird that had fallen out of the nest and died. Now that he’s done this, I need to try to find the offending matter, remove it from the yard and then give him a bath so he doesn’t spread the stinky, mystery “juice” all around the house. This event now takes up the time that I had allotted to fix a healthy meal and then head out in my running gear for an already tight schedule. Oh Rusty, what have you gotten into?

Rusty post-bath
Rusty post-bath

The last several weeks have been a lot like this; our car was rear-ended by a person who has a complicated insurance situation, my wife had to have an unplanned surgery, add in a choir concert, a birthday, an awards ceremony, friends dropping in from out of town, and so on. In addition to disrupting my running schedule, I’ve also been eating “fast food,” opting for veggie burgers and fries instead of well balanced, whole food meals. My pants are tight, I’m grumpy, and I am out of my running routine. In less than 30 days, I need to run three legs of a 150 mile, 24 hour race. I’m the captain of the team so there’s no backing out. I’m not that far out of shape, and I can get there. But I honestly need some mechanism to help me get and stay on the path.

Self-Licensing

Why would a person who ran four marathons last year need a mechanism to get back on track? Moral Self-Licensing. Daniel Effron and his colleagues define this concept as follows: “past good deeds can liberate individuals to engage in behaviors that are immoral, unethical, or otherwise problematic, behaviors that they would otherwise avoid for fear of feeling or appearing immoral.” Of course, my issues are not so much moral or ethical in nature, but they certainly are problematic.

There’s a sort of mental accounting going on here. For example, we got rear-ended through no fault of ours. The guy who hit us gave us a bogus insurance card. Without getting into too many details, he has a pseudo-company car and is insured by someone else. So we’re taking extra time to track it all down so we can get our car fixed without legal escalations. We’re doing all the right things, being professional, jumping through the various hoops, but it is taxing. So in effect, I’ve been giving myself “credit” for doing the right thing in these other areas and then opting for a glass of wine instead of heading out into the cold for a training run. I recognized this Self-Licensing behavior a few days ago and realized that I needed to make a change.

Developing the Scorecard

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. – Peter Drucker

I have used this principle countless times in business and in my personal life. In this case I knew that, at a minimum, I needed to get on track with my running. But there’s a balance here too. Run too much at the expense of other things and the wheels fall off. The obvious companion to running is my diet; I’ve got to cut back on the processed foods. I have also learned that I need to spend at least a little time on mediation as well as some creative outlet to help me feel balanced. So I developed a quick scorecard using Apple’s Numbers application that I can access from almost any device.

Designing the metrics takes a little thought too. I have done scorecards in the past where I simply assigned myself a 5 point rating, where 5 = “well done” and 1 = “ugh”. DANGER: Self-Licensing can come into play here too. For instance, I might assess my day thinking about all the toil and trouble I had and then give myself a bonus point because, really how much salt can be in that veggie burger and fries, anyway? Answer: A LOT, so I need to count it correctly. So I got specific. On first glance, the categories below might seem tedious. Well… I AM a Process Engineer, so I’ve timed it. It takes me no more than 5 minutes to complete the scorecard daily. Here are my scorecard categories I’m using for the 30 days’ preparation going into my team running event:

  • Diet: I eat a plant-based diet, so I’m simply breaking food into two categories: either came directly from a plant (raw spinach) or it was factory processed prior to me eating it (burrito shell). (e.g. 11 whole plant foods out of 20 total foods on the day = 55%)
  • Exercise: Expressed as a percentage of 60 minutes of activity that raises my heart rate (e.g. 30 min = 30/60 = 50%)
  • Meditation: Expressed as a percentage of 10 minutes of meditation (e.g. 7 min = 7/10 = 70%)
  • Gratitude: Expressed as a percentage of writing down 3 things that I’m grateful for (e.g. 2 items = 2/3 = 67%)
  • Creativity: Expressed as a percentage of 20 minutes of creativity: writing, photography, drawing, painting
  • The Feels: 5 point Likert scale where 5 is Amaze-balls, 3 is Meh, and 1 is the inside of a used Trash bag. I’ll use this to track how I’m feeling over each of the 30 days.
  • Notes: Very brief (10 words or less) observations or things I might want to work on tomorrow.

So… How’s it going?

Date Diet Exercise Meditation Gratitude Creativity The Feels Notes

Mar 14

55%

101%

170%

100%

200%

4

I felt great getting started with this!

Mar 15

50%

150%

120%

0%

0%

3

I had a good workout but feeling meh

Mar 16

42%

75%

150%

100%

0%

4

Too much processed food; but date night!

Mar 17

50%

113%

0%

100%

200%

4

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I have run 4 days in a row and I’m feeling quite good about it! I can tell that I’m already bridging some of my fitness gaps while maintaining a good balance with the rest of my healthy habits. Even though I’m only holding myself accountable through a digital scorecard, it has completely given me the motivation I needed. I don’t like entering zeroes.

How about the other stuff?

We’re chipping away at it all. My wife has turned the corner from her surgery and is back on her feet. I took my lunch hour on Friday and made several important calls. I have also observed that now that I’m getting back into a fitness routine, my mood is lifting and so sitting down to figure out “life’s current challenges,” is actually getting easier.