The Lou Fusz Subaru St. Louis Triathlon and Street Party Run finisher medals (right).
There are a lot of exciting days when designing and setting up an event. There is the birth of the concept, the approval of permits, the event launch, answering questions, and more and more and more. Of all of these kernels of excitement prior to the big day itself, there are few that I take more joy in than receiving and displaying the finisher medals.
Let’s make one thing clear – we don’t do “participation medals” – that’s not a thing I’ve ever seen in a race. I don’t think I would have a problem if anyone did that, but I have never seen one. Without being pretentious about semantics – a finisher medal is a different entity all together because you earn a finisher medal. Some people have enough finisher medals that these tokens of success lose some of their edge, but for me this has never been the case. In my eyes a finisher medal has far less to do with what happened on race day and far more to do with all the days before it. Every race is a journey – and fitness, while the biggest leg, is rarely the only one. The mountain to climb that is a finishline is built on the challenges of everyday life as much as the ones associated with how fast your legs and arms go. Be it sick kids, school needs, job obligations, or family commitments – your training is a larger balancing act than what appears on the surface.
I can break down why my finisher medals are important into 3 reasons. Let’s check them out.
Author: Rich Adams
I was riding a downhill a while ago and having a pretty good time with it, and realized that even though cycling is not how I got into athletics, it is definitely the most fun of the disciplines I enjoy. I mean…. you’re going really fast. What else is there? Of course, as I continued I began thinking about what fitness outlets I do and how they serve my well being. This being a rather long ride I came to some conclusions which I thought could be fun to share in this article. After all, the reason for this blog is to have a shared experience with other athletes, to remind them that they are almost never the only ones who think or feel what they think or feel, so I thought this would be a fun one to go through.
So, here is my personal breakdown: Running is my Therapy, Cycling is my Joy, Weight Training is my Ego, Yoga is my Need, and Swimming is something I have to do.
Now maybe you have one that fits into multiple categories, but most people have similar needs that fit into their psyche so some of these should feel familiar.
Running is my Therapy:
I have been running in an “organized” way since I was 13 years old, but I didn’t really understand it for a while. It wasn’t until I was a junior in high school at cross country practice after a (emotionally) difficult day that I realized what running was to me. I couldn’t tell you the details of what made it a bad day and I couldn’t tell you what that day specifically consisted of for CC practice. Looking back I can guess that I was a moody teenager who went for a run. What I remember as clearly as anything I have ever remembered in my life is the feeling I had as I approached my car (a super-sweet 1973 Ford Maverick) after that practice. It was an overwhelming sense of relief. Not the kind of relief of finishing up a long day, but the kind where a weight had been on you and was now gone. My bad mood and bad day had been erased. It was kind of like my eyes had been opened to exactly what running could do for a person. In that moment I realized that I loved to run. It wasn’t a sport I chose because I wasn’t coordinated enough to do a different sport, it was now a sport that I chose to do because I needed it… because the power it had to hit the reset button in a way nothing else ever had, it made me think clearly and it still does.
Cycling is my Joy:
So, I mentioned this above, but is there anything better for pure, unadulterated joy than cycling? Going really fast down a hill with the wind pouring over you, maybe a bit of determination pumping through your veins alongside all that blood and oxygen? Nope… no there isn’t. I was once on the north service road in Lake St. Louis and came to a long, steep downhill. I decided to gear as hard as I could into the hill and see just how fast I could go. Turns out that gravity has a thing or two going for it after all because when I looked at my watch post-ride I was pumped to see that for a brief moment I touched 40 mph. It’s the kind of childlike enthusiasm that can’t really be associated with many other sports. Of course there is an edge to that little adrenaline piece as well. It would be a very difficult task for me to be angry on a bike. If running calms my nerves, cycling ignites them in a positive way.
Weight Training is my Ego:
Look, the human psyche is a pretty complicated thing. While I can’t necessarily claim to know a lot about it, I can confidently say that we all have a little conceit in us. It’s not like humanity invented mirrors to look at someone else!! So, here’s the deal, don’t ignore that bit of conceit and don’t let it overtake you, but feed it appropriately! For some people it’s fast cars or fancy clothes, for me it is moving heavy stuff. It makes me feel good about me. If you lift with any regularity, you know how you look in the 10 minutes right after your lift, and it is, in a word, awesome. When I start to feel discouraged about my appearance (which happens to us all, I’d imagine) I like to go to the gym and lift, not because it releases tension, not because I get a child-like joy from it, but because when I look in the mirror after and all my muscles are engorged with oxygenated blood my mind tells me that I’m Arnold Freakin’ Schwarzenegger and that is excellent!! I often like to remind people that fitness is already sort of a narcissistic act, you do something solely for you, so you may as well embrace that aspect and use it!! After all, the gym is full of mirrors so you can look at yourself.
Yoga is my Need:
There are two kind of people in the world: those that are aware of and accept their weaknesses and those that aren’t/don’t. I like to think that I am the first of the two (and the weakness list is LOOOOOONG) and in fitness it is flexibility. *Sigh* Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to be more flexible, it is a matter of efficiency – and that feeds EVERYTHING else in my fitness regimen – but alas, the good Lord saw fit to keep this just out of my grasp. So when I’m hungry for a challenge, it’s yoga-o’clock. I am NOT good at it…. even a little… like, ever. It is a challenge I enjoy, though. I think it’s okay to suck at some things, and I suck at Yoga, because there is far more strength in humility than nearly anything else. This is just an opinion, but I think people should have a challenge in their life that they are aware of and invite. All too often we are given challenges that someone else provides for us (hello, workplace/school/kids/house), and that lends to stress (for which I go running) and being bummed out (for which I cycle) and disappointment (for which I lift). There is something special about having a task that you aren’t especially good at, though, and coming to the conclusion that even in the face that this may never change, you chase that goal anyways. I’m never going to learn every single language, but it could be fun to try!! Being given a challenge and choosing one for yourself are two items that, while similar in that they are challenges, are worlds apart in their execution.
Swimming is something I have to do:
I…… love…… triathlon. It is as much a part of my identity as anything. Swimming is a function of that sport and allows me to proclaim triathlon as something I love using the old cliché of “warts and all”. And really, the things we love in life nearly always have some warts. Recognizing that they exist, but not caring that they do, is one of the best parts of being human. Let me be clear, I’m not necessarily talking about love for a person (though the parallels are obvious) but more if you love your job – even though you have to file sometimes, or love your home – even though you have to change furnace filters. All the things or activities in life have aspects that we enjoy less, but their inclusion adds to the identity of the thing you love, and without them it’s not quite the same – turns out the warts have their own kind of beauty too.
So, that’s me in a nutshell – or at least the fitness part of me. Each thing that we do lends one more piece to the whole that makes each of us who we are. I don’t so much measure them by how good I am at them (I mean…. of COURSE I keep track of my numbers!!) but how well they fulfill their respective need. Don’t get me wrong, there’s overlap and the lines are not drawn in stone, this is more of a guideline than strict rules, but it’s a nice outline if you wanted to know yourself better. What things fulfills your needs? In the end I like what I do because it fills me out emotionally in a way I feel proud of (warts and all), and I hope you are as lucky as me and have things that do the same for you – whether they be exercise or anything else.
Author: Rich Adams
Training is hard. Let me stress, training is worth it, training can be fun, and it’s rewarding – but even if you love to train (and that’s me) it’s still really hard. For many people this difficulty is what draws them to their training, having a challenge every single day makes life electric, but for the sake of this discussion I’m speaking less about the physical part of your training and more of the mental part – and a very specific one at that.
You see, for some people this mental barrier – what makes it so hard – still needs to be defined. That said, it’s my belief that when you know and understand a limiter of this nature you can more easily overcome that limiter. So today we are going to talk about one if the biggest barriers to happy training that isn’t talked about in the way that I feel like it ought to be – GUILT – in one form or another the single biggest barrier to many people’s happy training.
We’ll start with this: what is guilt – in an athletic application? Guilt is a special sort of emotion and you will often hear people say “Oh, you don’t have to feel guilty”. It can take on many different faces, usually refocusing your attention from what you are doing to what you feel as though you ought to be doing. After all, every person feels that a lot of things depend on them, and guilt reminds us of every… single… one – “shouldn’t I be taking care of this other thing/person”. For me, this comes from two places:
Yup, that’s right, if you train regularly you are the selfish sort of monster who doesn’t deserve the love of your fellow man. Okay okay, JUST KIDDING – but the honest part is this: training is selfish and I’ll tell you why.
That’s right, being selfish is an okay thing to be. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you leave your baby in a crib home alone with a gerbil feeder full of milk for two hours so you can go cycling, but leaving your baby in responsible hands for some “you” time, while selfish in that it is caring solely for one’s self, certainly isn’t bad. All too often we dedicate things like feeling pride in ourselves to some trash bin of emotion we should be ashamed of, but that’s simply not the case. You should feel proud of working hard and enjoy the results from those efforts!! Being selfish isn’t bad, I’d argue it is a necessity of life – here’s the trick: pretending that you aren’t being selfish when you are will eat you up inside. No given emotion is bad, and selfish is NOT a dirty word, it’s how you utilize it that makes it positive or negative. If you make a decision that is all about you and being happy with yourself, well that outweighs the guilty feelings – as it should.
Because here’s the other thing to know – the guilt won’t go away – and that’s okay too. Now don’t mistake your capacity to manage it with its disappearance. Sure, you will learn in time to cope with it, but from my point of reference it will be there for at least 25 years and counting. And it’s okay to be there – you are a dedicated person who cares for and loves your family and friends and values your job and coworkers, and that means you feel an obligation to them. That’s human nature, so congratulations – you’re a human. Knowing this about yourself and being honest about it doesn’t make that guilt fade away, but allows you to accept it as part of your journey, providing the tool you need: to know why it’s there and to include it as a piece of a larger puzzle, the one that makes you…. you.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t or should feel guilty about training and the time it takes. What I’m saying is that you feel how you feel, and that’s okay. I’m saying that if you are driven to train, and guilt can be a limiter, then understand it, know it’s part of you, and know that honesty with yourself will help you make this emotion one more piece of your foundation instead of a barrier to building it. After all, if you missed out on this thing that makes you happy or gives you peace, then the people you are missing it for would probably feel guilty if they knew they were keeping you from it.
In conclusion – train with pride, make a muscle in the mirror you are impressed with, brag a little, it’s okay to miss a workout when someone wants you around, but its equally okay not to. Most important, know that all the things that make you who you are, guilt and all, can make you stronger so long as you let them.
Author: Rich Adams
In my job I have the pleasure to meet a variety of people. One of the greatest honors I’m often given is that these people share their story with me and I love hearing them. I’ve been regaled with stories of cancer diagnoses, lost loved ones, and frighteningly low self-worth – but in the next breath they share tremendous conclusions - ones of recovery, healing, and the joy of the search for self and the victory in finding it. As people describe to me their fight I feel a tremendous depth of gratitude to them because it makes me feel stronger alongside them.
In many stories newer athletes especially have a question that appears to be sort of universal in the human psyche – “Am I a real athlete?” (usually “athlete” is “runner” or “triathlete” but for the sake of inclusion…). This, of course, is more an extension of a baser question of “Am I worthy of a given title” – I can’t answer that one, it’s on a philosophical level far above my rambling, but that first one – the real athlete – that one I feel qualified to answer.
Now, I’ll admit that having been a runner since I was a kid in the early 90’s, I can’t directly relate to the question itself – I’ve never not been an athlete in some form or another in my own mind – it is as much a part of me as anything. What I can do, though, is approach the question from someone who considers himself an athlete and work to define characteristics that I use hoping it may help you find the definition for yourself. So, let’s start with some questions to sarcastically answer the important question.
What is “real” anyway? What is it to be a “real” runner versus a “fake” runner? How serious does one need to be? Are you “real” if you just enjoy something? If someone else enjoys it more are they “realer”? If I don’t compete, am I less “real”? Is there a measure of “realness”, and if so, is there a “realest” and “least realest” person?
Let’s start with things that have no bearing on if you are a “real” athlete. Spoiler alert – a lot of this has to do with NOT comparing yourself to other athletes.
So if we eliminate all the comparative stats, what’s left to determine if you are a real athlete? Well, I’m a simple man and I like a simple approach from an obvious perspective. Are you a “real” athlete? Let me ask…. do you do athlete things? Be that exercise or nutrition or racing or competing or stressing out about body symmetry (okay, maybe that’s just me) or spending objectively ludicrous amounts of money for things that make you subjectively better at your given event? Well…. than you are, so there, all done. Answer made.
I can hear you rolling your eyes from here, which is pretty impressive considering the delivery system of this as a blog, but the first truth you have to look at if you are asking yourself the question is this: an identifier of an athlete are the common athlete behaviors. Here are mine.
The whole point of this is to remind you that no athlete is measured in miles, reps, finish lines or hours spent. “Real” athletes don’t have a definition and there will likely never be a day when you wake up and say “holy cow, today is the day I'm REAL!!” In the absence of a measure of effort that makes you “real” you end up learning that it’s a function of confidence in yourself for you to declare that you are, in fact, worthy of the title. And as a self-declared expert in the field, I’d wager that if you made it this far you're as “Real” an athlete as there is and I look forward to hearing your story too.