I started running in Hampton Roads, Virginia and a hill meant you went to Mount Trashmore (yes it really is made of what you think) or to go to a couple of high bridges that allowed Navy ships to go upriver to ship repair yards. Otherwise all of our running was flat, really flat. But race directors are sadists and they always put at least a couple good hills on nearly every course so you have to train for them, otherwise when you hit one they seem a lot more daunting. Mount Trashmore is only about a quarter-mile uphill with even less downhill so it wasn’t all that good for training so my friends and I usually headed for the bridges which were much longer and steeper but had other challenges because they were in less than savory neighborhoods. This hill training is always important because it gives your body a good perspective on the tests it will encounter along a race course so you made the necessary sacrifices in order to train correctly. Of course when I moved to the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming with my first couple of years spending at least a couple of weekends every month in Boulder CO I really learned what hills were and didn’t have to go seek them out as they just sort of grew right there naturally (no trash needed).
The point of all that is you have to be intentional about training for the uphill. The same is true in life. Many people only prepare for the best of times but they don’t prepare for the climb it will take to get to the top at whatever you are doing. And they certainly are not intentional about the uphill climb and even more they definitely don’t purposefully try to enjoy the uphill climb. Stick with me here for just a second. I want to paint a picture for you. The setting is Deuteronomy and the person is Moses. This dude is supposed to be leading the Israelites to the Promised Land but because of a little disobedience challenge they wind up in the wilderness wandering aimlessly for forty years. But now is the time, they’ve wandered and wandered around in the desert, with a horse with no name and they couldn’t get out of the rain (oh wait different story). Anyway God speaks to Moses and does he tell them to head on into the Promised Land on a nice straight, flat road with no twists and turns and definitely no hills. No God isn’t like that so he says “Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites;” Deuteronomy 1:7. Now I know most people have a lot more faith than me but right here if I’m Moses I’m going “say whaaat???? Are you seriously daft in the head? Did your momma drop you as a baby?” (As if I’m really brave enough to say that to God…..oh wait just did). But Moses was different so he gets the people ready, appoints leaders, sends out spies and then of course we have the famous twelve spies of which only two actually believed God could give them the Promised Land, the rest being much like you and I. So now we make it to Deuteronomy 2 and there they are wandering aimlessly around the hill country and then God speaks to them again and says “You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north.” And as I read these words my mind immediately goes “what would have happened differently if they had just gone into the hill country like God said? Would there have been less conflict and less war?” The answer is most likely probably not but the point is that you and I can make the same choice the Israelites had to make. We can face the difficult challenge of the uphill slog or we can keep wandering in the desert. The uphill climb will most likely prepare us better for the incoming challenges life will always throw at us just like training hills prepares us better for the last hill at mile 26 when we know we have less than a quarter-mile left to complete a marathon. So here’s what I say “head straight into the hills intentionally and challenge them.” Do not be afraid of the giants that live in the hills, if they were supposed to crush you there’s nothing you could have done anyway. But if you head into the hills you may find yourself presently surprised when the author of this life throws a hill into your race at mile 15 or 26 or 50 or 90.
Living an ultra life means hitting the hills and training hard to run straight into them instead of around them.
Yeah I stole that one from some movie that is like world-famous and I’m hoping I don’t get sued for using it. I thought about this one time when I was running a familiar trail up Tongue River Canyon outside Dayton WY and I got to this milestone rock (we all call it Karen’s Rock after the founder of the Bighorn Wild and Scenic Trail Run) and I thought I heard this waterfall off to my left or south of me. Of course with my hearing it could have been west, north, east or south, you can never really tell for certain with hearing loss. Anyway I was going to go up to the top of the ridge which was about another 5 miles and then turn around and kick the downhill in the rear when I suddenly just stopped and said to myself “Boldly go where no man has gone before”. It’s not like nobody else has ever wandered off in search of this waterfall but I wanted to go exploring so I did. I began bushwhacking my way south and still hadn’t come up on the waterfall that I knew I was hearing so kept going. I ended up in the most incredible place I had ever seen. It was a canyon and there were multiple waterfalls coming down as the river tumbled down into my very familiar Tongue River Canyon. As I stood there just soaking up the beauty I thought what a joy it is to get off the beaten path and discover such incredible beauty.
We can do this in our every day life also. For instance I try to constantly think outside the box at work. Instead of concentrating on all the books I have read about growing territory and profitability and leadership I try to think about each individual project I am working on, each individual customer, each cost center and each employee as if I am approaching them for the very first time and not just apply all the time-worn solutions to every challenge that is facing me. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19. To boldly go where no man has gone before means that you absorb all the wisdom of those who have gone before you but you look for the new thing, the new path and you apply that wisdom in a new way instead of the tried and true way.
Living an ultra life means that as you run your own race you apply the wisdom from others but look for the new path.
I grew up in a house where peace meant saying and doing what you thought your parents wanted to hear and see from you. I have experienced many managers throughout my working career who believed peace came from expecting you to speak and act like you thought they wanted to hear. What this produces is people who are constantly trying to figure out how to please the person in charge so they can live in peace. What that produces is people who are constantly embroiled in never really knowing what is the right thing to say or do. I remember when I was training for my first marathon – The Marine Corps Marathon – and a young Marine and I decided to train together. I really took it seriously and was laser like focused on sticking to the daily training plan. He liked beer and checking out girls. So we tried to get together at least twice a week to run and when we did he was always lagging a bit behind and would blame it on his shoes, a pulled muscle or whatever he thought I wanted to hear. All I really wanted was that he get serious about training and put his best efforts forward but he was much like me in that he was trying so hard to please everybody around him that he couldn’t really look into the real him and just be himself with no thought of who he thought I wanted him to be.
This is something that plagues us all because we are part of a system that rewards good behavior that is determined by being who the person handing out the rewards wants you to be. Jeremiah 1:5 says “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;” If you’re still looking for a reason to stop trying to please others and get off this insane treadmill of trying to be what some “other” person wants you to be step back and realize one thing. You were uniquely formed and set apart long before your mom and dad even started dating. That means that the Creator of the universe was thinking about your unique qualities, characteristics and behavior long before you even started running around this incredible world. So why are you wasting so much time trying to fit into what some “other” person wants to form you to be so you can be rewarded with a pay raise, a better grade in a classroom or simply peace at home? Why not begin to act on that unique person you are and be wildly successful at being you?
Living an ultra life means you do not have to please anybody to run your own race, it means discovering the real you and then being that person.
You have to know who you are and what you’re capable of. In running this means learning your pace and learning how far you can push before your body breaks down. There is a fine line between pushing too much and not pushing enough. If you push yourself too hard your body can break down and injuries begin to pile up. If you don’t push yourself enough, you may finish races but you will always wonder what you left on the course and how much faster you could have finished.
Mid-week runs are “base runs” for a reason. Base runs help you find your “sweet spot” so you can begin to push just enough on each consecutive run. Training is a balancing act which requires you to be brutally honest with yourself in assessing whether you coasted through a run, pushed it through a run or pressed yourself into injury.
In our lives being brutally honest with ourselves is also important. I call it taking the mask off. We all wear masks. These masks deny who we really are and delay our ability to accept ourselves as we are. You must build your base, remove the mask and begin to live the you that you were created to be. To do this is going to take the very same step as building your base in running – you must be brutally honest with yourself and begin to ask some basic questions of yourself. Who are you in your unguarded moments? In other words you’re by yourself, you don’t have to pretend to be strong for everybody, no need to post a selfie on Facebook and who are you in this moment? When you’re just chilling out with friends what do you like to do? Are you the talker, the listener, the one with the jokes, the one who drinks too much, the one who sits by themselves, the one in control and planning everything? Answering these questions goes a long way towards finding out who you are but it isn’t like a day process, this is going to take some time so be patient with yourself and find your rhythm, your true rhythm. Once you find this person you will be well on your way to running your own race with perseverance.
Living an ultra life is setting aside the mask and revealing the real you to yourself.
One of the very first things you learn when you enter a race is that you have to run your own race. Most people learn this the hard way and I am no different. There I was lined up for my first 5K all ready to go and scared out of my wits. This may be hard to picture but I was the tallest and perhaps roundest runner I could see anywhere – 245 odd pounds of rolling muscle, somewhere under all that baby fat, and with my Kangoo boots giving me an extra 5” I looked tall. I knew better than to go to the front of the pack as that was where all the real “runners” were. I was intimidated as all get out because everywhere I looked there were all these athletic looking people – long legs, narrow waists, no apparent fat anywhere – and I was not at all like them. So the gun went off and we took off. In the back of my mind as we hit the half mile mark I’m thinking “this is not going to turn out well” as I was booking along with kind of the front of the middle pack. And then the wheels fell off. Just as I got to the first mile I had to pull off to the side as I felt like I was going to barf, my whole body ached and I honestly believed I was having a heart attack. I did finish the race but I learned a valuable lesson that day. You have to run your own race and you can’t focus on the other racers around you because they have to race their own race also.
Imagine if there was a way to learn this early on in life also. Hebrews 12:1 says “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” I spent so much of my early life trying to please other people and fit in that it got to a point where I didn’t even know who I was and it was a hard process with lots of ups and downs to get back to running my own race. And that my friends is what that verse from Hebrews means. We are all hindered by the things that aren’t getting us any closer to who we were designed to be. The challenge is that we keep wearing those things, the habits and thoughts that entangle and hinder us. In order to run the race marked out for us we must throw these things off and begin to run the race marked out for us with perseverance.
In the next ten posts I am going to detail ten steps to beginning this new year by getting on track to run your own race and not deviating so you can truly live an ultra life.
In January 2010 I was 260 pounds and I was a mess not only physically but emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Exercise to me was getting out of the golf cart to go hit my next ball and even that was done with lots of huffing and puffing. On the outside I probably looked pretty successful as I was closing lots of good sales on my job but at night my wife and I were downing a bottle of wine a night and drifting away from each other. Spiritually I went to a really good church and went through the motions so it mainly looked like I was engaged but I was angry with God and didn’t want anything to do with Him. As is fairly obvious I was going nowhere fast.
Then one day I made a choice and that choice was to take back my life. I joined a gym with my wife and we went through a ten week boot camp where we changed our eating habits and sweated off some pounds. I began to feel alive again. That November I started running, sort of. I ran in Kangoo boots and looked a lot like an overweight Tigger but I was running. In December I completed my first 5K and in January I signed up for my first marathon and life began to change. Running is a large part of what it took to rescue my life and it continues to this day and I am convinced that other people can live this life also.
John 10:10 “The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows.” (Amplified) Many of us allow the thief to break into our lives and steal, kill and destroy and I want to emphasize the fact that this passage is about our lives, it isn’t about our homes or cars or businesses. The thief loves to destroy lives, to take lives apart and cause people to live a life of just getting by. Why is it so many bury themselves in TV programs, romance novels, working long hours, drinking and even hiding behind a religious veil? Because it doesn’t take any effort to not live a full or abundant life. Choosing to live a full, abundant life means you and I have to step out of the comfortable and begin to climb some mountains so that we can fully grasp the life that Jesus has for us.
When Jesus said he came that we may have and enjoy life and have it in abundance He was saying that a life that is full is a life where we can set aside the distractions that keep us from living that life and really begin to live. For me the way that I began challenging myself to go further and harder at life was to abandon the short races and go after races that challenge me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I knew I could go marathon distance and felt elated so it got me wondering how far I could go. So In January 2014 a mere four years after being 260 pounds I decided that I would get my weight down to 185 (I was 200 pounds at the time) and for my 50th birthday I would run 50 miles supported by my forever girlfriend and fantastic best friend. And I completed it in about fourteen hours and was elated and hooked. Ultra marathons became my new challenge and living an ultra life became my new motto.
An ultra life is simply a life lived to the full, a life of abundance and enjoyment. Living an ultra life is an opportunity to take part in the best that life has to offer us. It is an opportunity to take back what the thief wanted to steal from you. Living an ultra life is an opportunity to get your life back and isn’t that worth it? Come with me as we take back life and live it to the full. It is going to be an awesome adventure!