The importance of nice…

I hate nice.  Nice is a weak word.  I prefer other words: assertive, direct, strong, badass, wise, thoughtful.  Nice is exhausting mentally, and it requires thought.  When I’m nice I have to consider other people’s feelings, and I can’t dismiss other perspectives just because I don’t share the same outlook.  Humility, patience, compassion, and understanding are a necessity for nice.  Self confidence with nice is a must; otherwise, you might get confused with someone who’s soft.  Plus, when I am nice to people I feel vulnerable.  What if they aren’t nice back?  What if they try to take advantage or get one over?  Moving through the world with a hard exterior is a natural defense mechanism – a wall that is difficult to bring down once it’s built. 

If nice is so hard (for some people), why bother with it at all?  Here’s a short list:

  • It’s easier to get what you want… as long as you are assertive
  • It feels better than acting like a jerk (usually)
  • You don’t have to apologize for acting like a jerk
  • You get what you give
  • (For leaders) people will follow
  • (For parents) your kids act like you act
  • A kind word or a smile can change someone’s day in an instant (I know several people who did not commit suicide because a friend called to say, “Hi” or did something nice and created a sliver of hope)

This last point is important.  When I see my kids in their natural habitat, they often mirror my behavior (scary).  If I scream and yell when they don’t do what I want, they scream and yell when other kids don’t do what they want, or their parents for that matter.  Another easy trap is to apply my expectations as an adult to my kids whose understanding of the world differs vastly from my own – and get mad at noncompliance, even though my commands offered no specifics other than, “Go clean that room or I will set fire to your belongings.”  It is completely unnatural for them to walk through a room, see a mess, and think to themselves, “Self, you should go clean that up.” 

If I bark commands to clean up, or generally criticize bad behavior, and fail to offer praise, I’m teaching my spawn to avoid criticism.  The munchkins might not repeat the thing they did wrong – “I will not tell my brother I want to lock him in a box with tape around his hands and feet” – but there is no lesson in what’s right.  If no one teaches you, how do you learn that anger is normal but it’s what you do once you’re angry that’s important?  To try to give our kids the tools they need to get through life, I need to patiently explain, in a nice way, what the girl can do instead of threatening her brother with confinement.

My kids show me everyday that I get what I give, and the only choice I have is to try to lead by example.  I can’t talk about being nice, and then talk down to waiters, or teachers, or anyone.  If I constantly criticize everything around me, the kids will do the same.  Basically, being nice is about treating people with respect; keeping your mouth shut when you feel threatened or hurt; having the humility to apologize when you fuck up; and accepting that the only thing you control in this world is your reaction to life. 

Life on life’s terms

Does reality ever derail your expectations for life?

Personally, I’m horrible about setting unreasonable expectations for myself.  This applies to little things, like how much sleep I get; recurring activities like how often to work out; and big-ticket stuff like promotions and money.    When I want 8 hours sleep and get 7, I get frustrated.  When I want to work out before dinner, but it doesn’t happen until after, I get irritated.  Raises and bonuses are never enough.  Happiness?  Of course it’s reasonable to expect happiness every second of everyday.  Right?  Everything is outside my control, and that’s the problem.  Life doesn’t care what I think, and that pisses me off.

What’s reasonable?

It’s reasonable to want life terms that don’t suck, but I have to want things that I can really get, things that aren’t dependent on external factors.  This is not a new concept – the Stoics promoted it thousands of years ago, and the principle really hasn’t change.  I can’t expect things that happen around me to go my way, but I can expect certain things from myself: work hard; accept events without judging them as good or bad; learn from each new experience; find ways to help other people; and have faith that everything in life has a purpose – especially pain.  Without faith that pain is linked to progress, one is likely to repeat the same mistakes over and over and learn nothing.

It’s possible you are asking yourself, “why does faith matter and where do I get it?”  As far as I’m concerned, the source is irrelevant, just find faith, and make sure it’s something bigger than you (god, fate, Depak Chopra, trees, whatever).  My decision-making is flawed (shhh! don’t tell my wife), and a reliance on flawed thinking ends in disappointment eventually.  Plus, this world has too many incomprehensible, mysterious parts – people, work, traffic, tragedy, weather, childhood psychology – that defy understanding.  Without a belief in something bigger than me, I’m destined to a life of loneliness and fear.

What’s important?

For me, living a good life is the only way to attain reasonable happiness – that is what’s important.  Living a good life does not mean getting rich, or choosing a softer easier way, or avoiding sacrifice, or pursuing self-interest over duty and honor.  It means taking risks, being accountable, acting with humility, accepting people for who they are – and not trying to change them, doing the next right thing, and letting my actions define my character.  Words are easy.  Action, and change, are hard.  I often let fear keep me from taking risks that might lead to growth, but the more I focus on those things that are in my control, and have faith, the more I can live a reasonably happy life on life’s terms.

GORUCK Challenge – Lessons Learned

Two weeks have passed since I completed the GRC, and life is as normal as it gets.  Gear is clean; wounds healed; and a vague sense of restlessness has replaced motivation to train.  Always after a big event, a lack of focus follows, or perhaps a slight depressed feeling.  To fill the void, my first inclination is to sign up for another event, but this is a recipe for poor preparation and burnout. 

Goruck Heavy begs me to sign up.  I can hear faint whispers, “Ben, 24 hours of good livin’ is essential.  You need to prove it’s possible, and you’ll end up in awesome shape.  Do it.  Do it!!”  Okay.  The whisper is more like a shout, but whatever.  HQ scheduled a Heavy on October 4th in New York,  twelve tantalizing weeks away.  However, I want to stay in a relaxed mindset and enjoy training.  A twelve week cycle is short; requires laser focus; and leaves little room for leisure.  Rather than plunge ahead, risk injury, and create stress.  I (for once) want to take a more reasonable approach*.  Before making a new plan, a look at the lessons seems wise.

Preparation

I detailed my training plan in this post: Goruck… thoughts from a rookie.  For the most part the plan was sound, but there is always room for improvement.  We spent an inordinate amount of time during the challenge with heavy crap on our shoulders – logs, people, rucks, etc.  If we weren’t carrying something, we were contorted in some type of plank position, and if not in either of the first two positions, we were on the ground crawling.

Based on the above, one training for the challenge would benefit most from a focus on the following (in addition to a base program that encompasses pushing, pulling, hinging, and squatting):

  • Planks (probably with a ruck on) – you want enough strength that cars could drive over you without breaking form
  • Shoulders and triceps – think Schwarzenegger in Commando holding Sully over the edge of the cliff
  • Sandbag carries – get used to carrying heavy s**t in various positions for distance

Running with the ruck was a linchpin in my program, but hiking would have been sufficient.  There wasn’t a lot of high-end cardio.  However, every challenge is different, and I don’t want someone to read this, get smoked, and later think, “I want to throw up right now because that running guy said there was no high-end cardio.”

Execution

Clothing and gear:

  • Running shoes are perfect footwear – they’re light, drain easy, and are comfortable.  If running shoes provide Appalacian Trail through hikers enough stability, they’re good enough for 12 hours of abuse during a challenge
  • T-shirt and shorts might not be the best choice - knees and elbows get thrashed during the hours spent on the ground.  Long sleeves and pants might create issues with overheating, but at least find a way to cover knees and elbows (maybe a compression shirt)
  • GR1 (ruck) – other packs are not qualified for these reindeer games.  Spend the money.
  • 3L hydration bladder – water worked fine; diluted Gatorade isn’t a bad choice either
  • Food – PRO BAR, GU, Honey Stinger Energy Chews - there was minimal time to eat.  Keep food accessible and get as many calories as you can.
  • Bring money in case you resupply at WaWa – public access to water is not gauranteed

Work:

  • Figure out how to talk to your team
  • Make sure to tightly knot shoes - wet shoe laces come untied easy, and we were wet early and often
  • Prepare to suck at physical tasks and keep going – success is almost entirely a mental game; a bad attitude = misery for you and everyone around you
  • Help other team members; find a way to contribute; and you won’t have an opportunity to feel sorry for yourself.  More importantly, punishment is swift when people don’t find ways to step up
  • Expect any crushable items in your pack to get crushed
  • Enjoy every painful moment and let the Cadre’s message wash over you like a tonic – to walk away from a challenge without absorbing the message is a waste

The feeling of accomplishment compares to few moments in my life – getting my black belt; finishing my first 50k; finishing the marathon; and maybe summiting a mountain.  When you finish invest in Neosporin and expect an adventure in pain when you shower.  For several days after, expect to feel like you took a fistful of sleeping pills.

*Note to self: reason is relative.  Outsiders – people not in my head – might think any plan that involves training for 24 hours of log carrying, crawling, flutter kicking, and other nameless painful acts is a sign of mental instability.  These people know nothing.

Princeton GORUCK Challenge Class 642 – AAR

The Beginning

Note: This post is long.  If you have no tolerance for long, wait.  A short “lessons learned” entry is coming.

My buddy Harry and I rode down to Princeton together, both rambling about this and that, how we had nothing to compare a challenge with, blah, blah, blah.  Traffic was a nightmare, but for once, I left plenty of time to get there, and we arrived about half an hour before the start.  After our arrival, the first person we met was Pig (a colorful member of Team Farm – Chicken and Unicorn were also present).  Everyone hung out in the parking lot laughing and watching the sun set, waiting.  From across the field, a guy appeared, with a large cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee, and walked directly into our group.  He informed everyone that we were about to get our money’s worth, and mentioned something about logs.  Cadre Tom had arrived.

We were soon lined up and laughing our asses off during roll call.  Cadre let us know that this was going to hurt, a lot, but, we could still escape before the pain.

Welcome

Roll call ended and the fun began.  Details are blurry.  Every time the class hit muscle failure on an exercise, and lay useless in the grass, a new exercise was initiated.  We were reminded of our uselessness often.  After what seemed like hours, truly an eternity, Cadre announced that 20 minutes passed.  Then the crawling started – line up and low crawl together.  We sucked at this task, and thus repeated it, over and over and over.  Other fun stuff with animal names – monkeys, elephants, bears, crabs - was mixed in with crawling .  Good times!

Good livin!

The Log

 

 

Logs

Cadre granted a brief reprieve.  We drank water and took a brief march to an area covered in giant logs.  These were big f*&%ers.  I said to myself, “Self, how the hell are we going to carry these beasts?”  Self had no answer.  But, carried they were, often with difficulty, for hours.  Eventually, we arrived in a WaWa parking lot.  Two drunks queried us on why we were carrying logs.  Everyone just mumbled unintelligible curses.  Low water levels in our hydration bladders prompted a second short break to resupply.  20 people smelling like a swamp and covered in dirt entered the WaWa to buy water.  It was hilarious.

The logs were carefully laid to rest and we had more fun with exercises named after animals. 

Casualties

At some point, Cadre decided that a few team members died – some of the biggest people on the team.  Given their new status as dead people, it was important that they not be abandoned. The livings were tasked with carrying the casualties, and it sucked.  This movement taxed me mentally more than any other, and our destination seemed unreachable – really, the team leader kept saying we were almost there, but we weren’t. 

 The point of the challenge and a long walk 

Carrying casualties finished, we enjoyed some time on the ground in a field.  All of the exhaustion vanished briefly when Cadre Tom reminded everyone what the challenge is really about:

  • Act unselfishly or fail – when one worries only about oneself and allows another team member to fail the whole team fails
  • Step up and find a way to help – leaders have the courage to act in spite of physical limitations and fear – many of the women on the team defined this ideal; they couldn’t carry a person so they carried extra rucks, or found other ways to contribute
  • Teamwork is not about being fast – being fast is slow if people repeat the same mistakes over and over by not working as a single unit What it's all about.

From here, the end of the challenge was in sight, but first a long walk back to the start.  This was the easiest part of the night, though not easy by any means.  Cadre gave us an hour, but stressed that running was not an option.  Why? Because, he a f***ing hates running, that’s why.  Another twist made life difficult, but my background with running made the walk tolerable.

We, of course, did not make our time hack, which frustrated me.  People were just done, and neither threats nor promises motivated anyone to move faster.  After PT and logs and everything else, being done made sense, but failure to even try was the real problem, and that’s what pissed me off.  Fortunately, there were consequences, and equally  fortunate, the consequences didn’t last too long.

Then it was over.  Cadre told us to put our rucks down.  Letting the ruck touch the ground seemed like a trick at first, but then patches were handed out, and we could finally, truly relax.  It felt great.  We earned the patch, and learned valuable lessons about teamwork, limits, and sacrifice. 

Throughout the night, I lost count of how many times I mumbled something about having nothing left (complete sentences were too hard), only to find another gear.  The only thing that made that next gear possible was seeing my teammates take another step when mind and body said another step was impossible.  To finish a challenge, mental toughness is the most important character requirement.  Physical fitness helped me contribute, but finishing was all mental.

Physical Fitness Can Help You Fight Cancer (guest post)

I’m very excited to publish the blog’s first guest post on a topic that dramatically changed my life – cancer.  Esophageal cancer killed my dad in 1978; he was 43; I was 3 or 4 days away from turning 4.  Fortunately, we have a great family, and my mom had a great support network that helped us have a good life.  Although I was too young to understand, I can’t imagine how hard it was for her, and life was obviously much different from what it might have been otherwise.  Enough about me.

By Melanie Bowen
Physical Fitness Can Help You Fight Cancer

In your fight against cancer, do you find yourself battling stress and fatigue as well? Do you feel like the only thing you can do is rest until you feel better? Actually, the kind of fatigue you are experiencing does not diminish with rest. But a doctor-approved physical fitness plan, designed around your stage of recovery, can help you regain your strength and fight your disease.

Light Breathing Exercises for Aggressive Treatment Stage

If you are receiving aggressive cancer treatment at this time, breathing exercises are an excellent first step in your physical fitness program. Start by just becoming aware of your breathing pattern, as you inhale and exhale. As you practice slowing down each breath, you will learn to breathe more deeply, and immediately begin to relax and feel less stressed.

Learning how to breathe properly creates a wonderful foundation for your exercise regimen, because these breathing techniques will benefit other types of exercise later on.  These easy exercises improve blood flow and circulation, and increase the quality of physical and mental activity. As your strength returns, you should notice that you are able to do more to care for yourself.

If you are battling pleural mesothelioma or other lung-related cancers, breathing exercises offer a lot of value to recovery because the entire lung is used. You take in more oxygen, and improve respiratory function. Just be sure to consult your doctor before starting any exercise regimen, and find a trainer who can monitor your progress.

Moderate Yoga Exercise for Active Recovery Stage

Are you in the phase of recovery where you are beginning to regain some strength? You may want to consider taking your simple breathing exercises to the next level with yoga.  This ancient practice centers on posture and breathing control, and can help manage the fatigue, stress, pain, and sleep issues associated with cancer treatment and recovery.

Some study results indicate that persistent stress is a potential risk factor for cancer. Therefore, finding therapies that help reduce stress can benefit everyone. Yoga creates a peaceful, calm internal environment by centering your thoughts. Achieving this relaxed state is especially important for cancer patients, because it may improve any psychosocial and physical distress related to your treatments.

Yoga can also increase flexibility, which leads to improved strength and overall wellness. For an exercise that benefits both your physical and mental quality of life, check with your doctor and then find a yoga class in your community.

Advanced Running Exercises for Later Recovery Stages

If you are in the later stage of cancer recovery and your physician has recommended a more strenuous exercise program, consider running. The many benefits of running include reduced fatigue; improved muscle strength and physical endurance levels; and better stamina. In addition, running promotes physical wellness by strengthening bone density and slowing down bone loss.
Running also contributes to emotional well-being. This simple exercise can be done almost anywhere has the power to relieve tension and anxiety and is even prescribed by doctors as a treatment for depression.

If you decide you are ready to improve your energy level through more advanced exercise, start running. It’s a great way to get in shape now and stay in shape for the future.
No matter which stage of cancer recovery you find yourself in, developing a plan to improve your physical fitness can help put you in control of your life. As soon as you begin to exercise you will start to feel stronger. A solid physical fitness plan will help you cope with each stage of recovery with the energy and attitude you need to beat cancer and live a healthy, happy life!

About the Author

Melanie is currently a Master’s student with a passion that stems from her grandmother’s cancer diagnosis. She often highlights the great benefits of alternative nutritional, emotional, and physical treatments on those diagnosed with cancer or other serious illness.  To read more from Melanie, visit her blog for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. In her spare time, you can find Melanie trying new vegan recipes, on her yoga mat, or spending time with her family.

 

Mom said life isn’t fair. So what?

Do your bestWhy do your best when…

Bad things happen to good people;  bad people get things they don’t deserve; and life isn’t fair.   The fact that life isn’t fair shouldn’t be news to anyone.  When  I consider that my job reduces me to an anonymous number (literally, my login at work is a 7 digit alpha numeric value), or feel overwhelmed by finances, or find some other reason to cry about life, it’s easy to feel sorry for myself and do just enough to get by.  What’s the point when the status quo seems like an unbreakable constraint?  How does one find meaning and purpose in everyday, often mundane, activities?

Perspective

My aunt (Rosemary for the record) once suggested I find someone worse off than me and help them when any sort of depressed – read feeling sorry for myself – feelings popped up.  Helping someone else, when used to combat day-to-day frustrations, is an astonishingly effective tool.  Helping others puts my petty problems in perspective.  When someone with real problems – death in the family, battling cancer, can’t find a job, struggling with alcoholism - shares the reality of their life, the details bludgeon me and reveal the abundance of gifts in my life.

Finishing a GORUCK Challenge, or running an ultra, or climbing a mountain are all activities that many people only dream of doing – many people also label such adventures as crazy, but that’s a different story.  My job is boring, and working for a megabank has its drawbacks, but it’s stable, the people are great, and work gets left at work when the day ends.  Circumstances look like blessings or burdens based on one’s perspective.  How we view life’s events is a choice, happiness is a choice.  Is lifting a heavy weight an impossible task, or an opportunity to get stronger?

Choice

Lack of perspective obscures the gifts we’ve been given, and removes the power to choose opportunity or defeat – only one outcome is visible.  The real kick in the teeth is that some people are robbed of the choices others take for granted, and yet possess the fewest resentments toward the world.  Minor aches and pains, boring jobs, lack of free-time to pursue “hobbies”, owning old cars (but certainly not classic), and all of life’s minor indignities are not nothing, but there are more important things.  Those who choose resentment over gratitude, who choose to wallow in minor problems instead of acting on opportunities, are throwing away a gift.

Why do your best?  Do it because the gifts life gives can vanish in an instant, and all that’s left is resentment over what might have been.  Do it because being a victim is damn hard when one always chooses to make the best of a situation.  Do it because someone made sacrifices, and gave up choices, to make life better, and we are all honor bound to try to do the same.

Some might think, “what’s your best?”  To me, doing your best means the following:

  • Carry your weight – do not sit back and let someone else work while you watch
  • Contribute whatever you can
  • Apply 100% effort, anything less is cheating
  • Accept failure and try again, and again, and again
  • Never quit
  • Do the next right thing
  • If you aren’t responsible, don’t take responsibility
  • Learn to listen to criticism
  • Never humiliate or shame anyone – ever

As a final, final thought, I should note that I am no where close to doing any of this stuff perfect, but I’m trying to get better.

Princeton GORUCK Challenge: Thoughts from a rookie (pre-event)

The beginning

I really don’t remember when I first read about the GORUCK Challenge, but I do remember that I didn’t want to like it.  Why?  It was potentially all-consuming.  Every review offered glowing praise with a hint of mystery about what actually happened.  A visit to the GORUCK website (www.goruck.com) removed all remaining reservations about the event.  Promises to suffer and endure through difficult tasks and sleep deprivation had me hooked, but I wasn’t ready physically.  Running robbed me of the strength to carry heavy things; ruck; and perform feats of strength.  I needed a training plan and time to execute it.

Getting ready

To allow for adequate preparation, I picked a June target date.  Lack of funds meant I couldn’t get a trainer.  Books were the best alternative, and I found a few with tons of great info.  Here’s the list:

Each book served a different purpose, and all were helpful.  “Intervention”, “Never Let Go”, and “Easy Strength” cemented a core philosophy – do no harm; movement not muscles (squat, hinge, push, pull, carry); good form; consistent effort; and got me started building base strength.  “Starting Strength” broke down techniques necessary for good form, and “5/3/1″ took everything to the next level.

I officially signed up for the event last December, and ordered the GR1.  Ruck runs started in early January with (15 lbs), and weight increased 5 lbs every two to three weeks with a 45-ish lbs. upper limit.  I limited running to once a week at a slow pace (about 5 mph), and ran for about an hour and a half.  Several people with Challenge experience strongly recommend against ruck runs (fast walking is allegedly better) - due to risk of knee injuries, but my ultra running experience taught me that gradual increases over a long period of time are manageable. 

Running and lifting were integrated into a single plan, and karate was added for good measure.  Combined, my schedule looked something like this:

  • Mon – Overhead press and associated assistance lifts (dips, kb shoulder press, BB row, chins, planks)
  • Tues – Off
  • Weds – Karate + Deadlift and associated assistance lifts (good morning, front squat, Bulg. split squat, loaded carry “LC”)
  • Thurs – Off or lift if Weds was a miss
  • Fri – Karate + bench press and associated assistance lifts (push ups, pull ups, LC, curls, wheel)
  • Sat - Back squats and associated assistance lifts (Stiff leg DL, walk lunge with KB, LC)
  • Sun – progressive ruck run (include stadium stairs and LCs)

Any last words?

It’s two days until the event, and s**t is getting real.  I’ve maintained the same training schedule, but reduced volume and intensity over the past two weeks.  Even with the reduction, my back is cranky – not normal.  I feel beat up - normal, or at least similar to past experience tapering for ultras.

What would I do different?  Until I see how much I suffer during the challenge, it’s hard to truly gauge how well the plan worked, or not. 

In the end, I know that the cadre know that they can crush the group, physically, in roughly the time it takes them to smoke a cigarette… and I’m ready to work.

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