I've been here before.
Let me tell you about one of my heroes.
In 2003, while studying abroad in the Czech Republic, Andre Kajlich waited by a train one night after hitting the bars with his friends. The next thing he knew, he was on the tracks, struck by the train, and fighting for his life.
The accident severed both of his legs and, remarkably, left him alive.
Eight years later, in 2011, he competed in his first para-triathlon. Rather than remaining crippled emotionally and physically by the accident, he found a way to explore his limits. Now a world famous para-athlete, Kajlich blogs openly and honestly about his setbacks, aspirations, and his journey.
I first read about Andre in a Runner’s World interview a few years back, before I officially took up running. I was pretty stunned at the raw honesty of some of the statements he made about his life. I guess I was in a place where I needed a wake-up call of my own. I encourage you to read the interview just to get a hint of why this was life-changing. Here's a quote:
“It’s an amazing thing, running- especially at that maximum turnover. It’s also amazing to never do something again because you can’t. I’d like to transfer that concept into everyone’s head, because inevitably it will happen to all of us.”
Soon I began stalking him as I tend to do when I find extraordinary people with stories I can't shake. I eventually reached out to Andre and we exchanged a few emails about the psychology of motivation, failure, and the allure of extreme sports. I’ve been particularly interested in the concept of failure, because in order to achieve anything really large, you tend to run into failure along the way. And, you have to learn to handle it like a champ. After attempting his biggest feat yet, the SoCal400, this May, Andrei agreed to do an interview with me.
Failure is a strange subject to discuss in the world of extreme sports. When an extreme athlete fails to reach a set goal, there is a sense that it doesn’t matter: They’ve already gone above and beyond norms anyway. But many athletes argue with this notion, insisting that the goal you set is the one by which you measure your success. Dean Karnazes says, “You can’t be afraid to fail. But unless you fail, you haven’t pushed hard enough.” When Andre stopped short of the finish line at the SoCal400, I knew I needed to interview him to hear some thoughts about what happened:
M: You set out to achieve a goal that surpassed anything you'd done before: a 400 mile ride with a 32 hour time limit. Going into it, what was your mindset like? Did you entertain the idea that you might not finish?
A: I definitely entertained the idea of not finishing but was pretty confident that I would. I don't think I would consider it over-confidence but I did make a major mistake of seeing this race as just a small thing on the way to Race Across America. Considering it is the biggest race I've ever done, too much of my focus was on what came next. Because of that, my planning, preparations and even the trip surrounding the race were totally inadequate. I got down there about 36 hours before the race, behind on sleep and with a ton of things left to do. Without trying to make it sound like physically I should have completed the thing... scratch that... physically I should have finished it.
M: Talk to me about thoughts along the way. What were strategies you used when things got difficult? What obstacles did you face?
A:The race was going great. I think in the first 100 miles you go up from sea level to 5300ft. back down a couple thousand before climbing up again and then you drop down into the furnace that is the Salton Sea basin. It's a tough start but I was going well. During the big climb my sister drove up with music blasting and we had some fun; then I'd tell her to buzz off for a while when it started getting tough and I felt like focusing for a while. Then I saw a group of riders ahead I started to just reel them in, caught up, chatted a bit, and then took off with some extra hop in my step. It really helps to have a diversity of emotions and a diversity of things to give your attention to over the course of a race.
M: Many athletes know that we must have reasons to call on when things seem insurmountable. Do you remember the reasons you called on?
A: I don't call things like “what I'm doing this for,” “what I've sacrificed,” or anything like that. I try as much as possible to go with the experience and the emotions that come with it, because ultimately that's why I'm out there - to experience this thing. In the past, I've had strategies worked out in advance—normally just ways of seeing the race. For example, during my first Ironman I decided I would not think about the end of the bike. At the time the distance was really daunting. So I just tried to get myself to be okay with pedaling forever. That actually worked really well. Often I get tired in the longer than 24 hour races and come to a point where I want it to be done—I want out. Thankfully some switch gets flipped finally and I'm like a machine. I don't care how hard it is, I actually relish it, and no matter how long it takes I'm going to finish "this thing." Unfortunately that didn't quite happen in this last race.
M: What did the failure to reach the finish line mean for you? In what ways was it positive? In what ways negative?
A:At the time I didn't really care. I mean, that is why I quit. The entire point alluded me. It was lack of sleep and the same thing has happened in the past to me but I have been able to get over that particular point in the race. This time that didn't happen. I told my team I'd continue another 30 minutes but we chatted about it and I just decided to stop. I'm sure if I'd done that much more, it would have got me going again. So really, at the time I didn't care but now I'm pretty bummed about it.
M: What would you go back and say to yourself at the start line, or during that race, if you could?
A: It would probably require going back a bit further than that. I got to the start line too tired and I don't know how much I could have done. More importantly, I don't think I'd say anything to myself, other than "Be safe and enjoy this,” because I’m glad this happened. I learn best through experience. If I really found myself at that stopping point or was advising someone else, I'd say get in the van and sleep for 30-60 minutes and then make up your mind.
M: What's next for you as an athlete and a human being?
A: In my mind, it’s an unnecessary distinction. It's all part of my life and for me it doesn't matter so much what I do as long as I can make them quality experiences. Right now, I'm hoping that I can go race this fall. There's a number of races (Silver State 508, No Country for Old Men, 24hr World Time Trial Championships) that I could race and try to qualify for Race Across America. At the same time, I really can't afford any of them and have other important things to figure out in my life. Well, riding and racing seem to help me think on those things so maybe I'll just pick one and go for it.
I used to think that many people never truly have to face failures, because big failures require big risks, and vice versa. But now I realize: We all know what failure feels like. We've all, at some point, taken a risk at something that didn't pan out. It doesn't have to be an ultramarathon or a business idea or an application to Harvard. It can be a human relationship. It could be a phone call to your mom. It can be a time you tried to give somebody a Valentines Day Card in middle school and they laughed in your face. Failure is an experience, and it helps you understand limitations and obstacle so that you can push against them like the little obstacle-crusher that you are.
When have you failed? Why did it happen? What would you have done differently? Share it. The world wants to know.
~Stay tuned for more interviews with heroes and athletes I've stalked. ~
In early March, a company called Soleus Running asked me to test and review their new GPS Fit running watch. They graciously sent me this really badass, cute little watch pictured on the left.
Here's my review of the little pink number called the Soleus GPS Fit 1.0.
Disclaimer: I haven't tried every GPS Watch out there -- only the Garmin 10, the Garmin 310XT, and the non-GPS Polar FT heartrate watch.
Ease of Use:
This thing is super easy to figure out. Meaning, if I can figure it out without the detailed instruction manual, any human can. I pulled the Soleus out of the box, charged it up, messed around with it for about five minutes and then set off on my first run. The watch itself comes with a really simple start-guide that gets you on the road quickly. For more detailed instructions, a video, and support, the website has everything you need.
The watch allows you to create your user data and then set up your "Mode" which is auto lap, time, unit, user, night, contrast, chime, and alarm. In a nutshell, you're deciding whether the run with a backlit screen, which user is running, whether you want the watch to beep on laps or set distance, and whether you want to clock in kilometers or miles. After that, you lace up, walk outside, and get a signal. On your run, you can press the LAP/ENTER button to change your display to PACE, SPEED, CALORIE, CLOCK, OR DISTANCE info. The screen data is large and easy to read, even in brash sunshine, and has a backlight for the dark. Thumbs up.
When you get the watch, you need to charge via USB it for four hours before use (like most GPS devices.) After that, each time you plug in the watch (via USB) it displays the percentage of charge. This is helpful to me, because I'm notorious for setting out to run and realizing my watch is dead. The USB charger is simple and can be plugged into any standard phone charger or computer port. Even if you don't have the software downloaded, you can simply charge it on your laptop. For me, a watch with longer battery power is optimal, because sometimes I hit the road for more than 8 hours. But for most running purposes, this battery life is more than suitable. Thumbs up.
Getting a GPS Signal:
The watch takes anywhere from two to five minutes to find a GPS signal. The amount of wait time changed day to day, for me. But as a disclaimer, I live very close to the coast (2 miles) and sometimes location affects GPS signal waiting time. Your watch may contact outer-space faster than mine does. Still, this wasn't a terrible wait time at all. You can stretch on the driveway or even take a walk-lap around your street while the watch searches for a signal. I took this watch on five runs, and it never lost signal once I started, even while running on the beach. Thumbs up.
I really liked wearing the GPS Fit. The one Soleus sent me is pink (see above), and I usually run far away from pink and purple and ponies and rainbows, but this pink watch is Hear Me Roar Pink rather than I am a Disney Princess Let's Have Tea Pink. (See photo.) You can get a Soleus GPS Fit in six other colors too, and they're all pretty cute. This is one thing I'd rate over Garmin. I think this watch is most comparable to a Garmin10, which I tried out by borrowing from a friend when I started running, and I'd say the Soleus comes in more attractive designs and colors. This is a purely subjective judgement, and you know what you like. (Check out the other colors -- the purple and blue are also stylish.) The watch is a great size and very lightweight -- check out my wrist-to-watch comparison (below). Having used the much bulkier Garmin 310XT lately, the Soleus was a really welcome change in size and weight. I would rate the size of the watch as a 10/10. Major thumbs up.
Downloading your Data:
Even though I'm not big on keeping my run data stored online, I tried it out for this watch. Downloading your data is fairly simple. You'll need a STRAVA account, and then you'll download SoleusSync from the Soleus website, which is compatible with both Mac and PC. Next, you plug in your watch to the laptop. (By the way, if you also use other devices like Garmin, TomTom, SUUNTO, or Timex, you can upload to your STRAVA account.) Once everything is installed (which only takes a few minutes), you can open up SoleusSync and connect to your watch. Your data downloads and displays your runs, times, pace, and route. You can delete or save runs as you please, and this account also syncs with MyFitnessPal, JawBone, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It's like Minority Report - you can practically create your own fitness police state. (Just kidding.) Even though I'm not wild about storing all my run data online, thumbs up to this process for anyone who likes to look at their stats and keep it all online.
I think this is an awesome watch for anyone looking for easy use, fashionable design, and quick uploads of your data. The watch retails for $99 USD on the website and comes with a ton of support. When I was sent the Soleus, I'd already been using a Garmin 310XT for about six months, and I'm used to the multitude of features on that watch -- bike, swim, run, 20-hour battery life for ultramarathons, long training days, forgetfulness in charging, etc. But if I'd had the pleasure of a GPS watch when I started running, I think I'd pick this one easily. In purple.
Head to the Soleus website to check out the GPS FIT and other watches! And follow SOLEUS RUNNING on FACEBOOK to get updates, news, and specials on their gear.
Okay -- and now for the giveaway: Because I'm blessed to already have a GPS Watch and really love to pass on great gear to new runners, I'm going to pass along this adorable pink GPS watch to some lucky runner. A lot of people have passed on good information, gear, and help to me, so I'm paying this one forward. To enter your name in the hat, post a comment below and share one reason you love to run -- either on the blog or on the Miles Over Matter Facebook Page where this review will be posted. On Wednesday, March 25th, I'm going to ask an unbiased third party to pick the most awesome comment. If you're chosen, I'll contact you for your address to send you the watch and charger.
Happy running :)
-Miles Over Matter
We all know that the best thing about Christmas is stockings. (And family, goodwill, etc.) But stockings are amazing.
Inside your Christmas stocking should appear tiny things that you love. What's even better, it's for stuff that only the people close to you know you love. I have one friend whose stocking I will fill with Swedish Fish. Another friend – I would fill the stocking with Beanitos chips. Another one – CaptaiNn Crunch and Jagermeister. For my dad, Good & Plenties and smoked oysters. Personally, if I found nothing but Lindt Chili Dark Chocolate in my Christmas stocking, I'd be thrilled.
But this is a blog for runners, so I'm guessing you want to know the top tiny little joys a runner would love to find lurking in a Christmas stocking. I know just the things!
So many products sold in the health and fitness industry are bullshit. You know that, I know that, and we know we all know that. Tea can't detox your body in 48 hours. Magical powder can't make you gain ten pounds of muscle in ten days. But Quest bars can fill you up and make you happy and energized. They have a lot of fiber and a lot of protein and very little carbs or sugar, which for me means they're not going to make me hungrier than I already was before I opened the thing. (Funny how some foods do that.)
It's almost hard to narrow down my top flavors, but here are my top three:
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough –super delicious, no fake-sweetener taste, good texture, very filling.
Peanut Butter Supreme – hands down, best flavor. Perfect salt/sweet balance. Perfect Perfect Perfect. It tastes just like the peanut butter cookie you wish you had.
Chocolate Brownie – chocolatey but not sawdusty. Not too sweet. Not too heavy. Perfect for a chocolate dessert after the gym without undoing all your squats.
If you like fruity things, you will probably love Apple Pie or Raspberry Cheesecake. The greatest thing about all of the flavors is that none of them taste like artificial flavoring. Banana Nut Bread tastes exactly like banana nut bread.
Quick facts: Every Quest Bar has less than five grams of net carbs, no gluten, and no added sugar. They're sweetened with Stevia, Sucralose, and Eurythretol. Packed with whey protein and healthy fats from almond and peanut butters, they also have added ISO fiber. Well + Good rates Quest Bars #2 in the top 5 best protein bars. And you know those folks know what they're talking about when it comes to health and fitness. Here's the Quest Website where you can order them directly or find more flavors. They also have protein chips (which are to die for!!!) and might be a good thing to stick at the top of the stocking or just dump directly in your mouth.
One quick note: Steer clear of Quest bars during your taper for a distance race. These bars are extremely high in fiber, and fiber and fats should be limited in the three to four days preceding a marathon or distance race.
2. NUUN HYDRATION
If you've read this blog since the beginning, you know that I've loved Nuun since day one. I'm not a sports drink drinker, so it's water or bust for me while I'm running. But if you spike your water with Nuun, you get magic flavor, electrolytes, and very low sugar all in one. Nuun has sent me free samples several times, because they are amazing, and just recently they sent me a sample of the new Nuun Energy to test out. Nuun Energy is a new creation by Nuun. Containing caffeine and magic electrolytes, these are great staples to use IN THE RACE for a quick pick-me-up. Nuun now makes disposable packets that fit in your pocket, sports bra, shoe, or race belt, so you don't have to carry the tube. These are EXCELLENT for spiking up your water and dosing electrolytes when you need them most – after several hours of sweating.
I used Nuun Energy during the Chicago Marathon, especially when the sun came out and heated things up about mid-way through the race.
I've never had a Nuun flavor I didn't like, and I've never met a runner who doesn't like Nuun. If you haven't tried it yet, you need to get onboard. The tubes are small enough to stash in your purse or gym bag, and definitely stocking-worthy. Don't tell anybody, but Nuun is also pretty awesome if you have a hangover. I've personally never ever had a hangover before, but I hear that if you happen to drink enough alcohol to incapacitate a small horse while dancing to Sir Mix-a-Lot one night in someone's backyard 48 hours before a half marathon, or if you drink a whole bottle of wine on a family trip right before you run a 50k trail race, Nuun tablets will amplify your re-hydration and de-stupification. I heard that once. From somebody.
If you're not yet a Nuun fan on Facebook, you should be because they give away free stuff all the time!
3. L.E.D. LIGHTS
These are the best little thing to have when you want the freedom to run at any time of day -- 4am and 11pm not excluded. You just clip these suckers on your shorts, top, sock, shoe, bra, face, whatever -- and then you run into the wee hours of the morning and late hours of the night. Perfect for law students who can't run during normal hours. Great for insomniacs. EXTREMELY NECESSARY for safety if you're running at night or on a dim trail -- even if you've got reflective gear. You can buy these at any running store, or Dick's or Sports Authority, and they last a while and shine bright like a diamond. Go thee to the store and snag some. I like the ones made by Nathan because I've been using them since April and they don't seem to ever run out of shine.
Ho Ho Ho – enjoy your holiday and be safe, stock the stockings, and run your ass off.
I haven't been the greatest blogger this fall. We could go as far as to say that I've failed at blogging. But I have done a pretty good job at being a law student, which means I've done relatively nothing but read thousands of pages, write hundreds of pages, and try to sleep in between. Sometimes, the overflow has spilled out in the form of breakdowns, outbursts, and accidentally long runs. Sometimes, I've escaped law school and run marathons on stress fractures and Nuun tablets. But all in all, I survived the fall, and now I want to talk about inspiration.
Inspiration: It's a noun. It's something we fuel on. It has no calories. It's free. Inspiration goes like this: You're walking around, minding your own business, and suddenly somebody puts you in a headlock and force-feeds you hyper-energizing, life-changing perspective. It could be in the form of a story. It could be watching somebody do incredible bike tricks. It could be witnessing the most powerful speech you've ever heard, or watching someone cross a finish line after running more than 140 miles in the span of a day. It could be as simple as a statement someone makes about life while they're cooking eggs, or a documentary film about criminal justice. It could be a poster of Abraham Lincoln winking at you. But whatever it is, it captivates you like a great wave gathering around a school of fish and rushing them forward into new space that looks like the same ocean but feels completely different now. You are the fish. Inspiration is the wave. The ocean is everything around you, and your swim has everything to do with your mindset.
In the last few weeks, I've witnessed some things that have fed me inspiration. Last weekend, I visited the sidelines of the Icarus Florida Ultrafest, organized by Claire and Andrei Nana. It doesn't matter what kind of runner you are, from 5k to ultramarathon – you know that any distance and any goal requires perseverance and dedication to the self. Even if you don't run, you know it takes a certain amount of resilience to do anything that involves a sustainable struggle.
Ultra-running is cool because it's all about mastery and journey. And because of that, you meet some of the most incredible spirits on earth at ultrarunning events. Some have long beards and crazy hair. Yet some look like certified accountants. Some look like human transformers with bulging calves and quads. Some look like little Elvin Fairies that run on air and Cool-Whip. But no matter what, the collective human spirit you feel at an ultra-running event is undeniably special, because nobody's really running 50+ miles for money or medals or weight loss. Most are running for a beautiful plethora of truly humanly-honest reasons: to push their own limits, to train the mind, to beat inner conflict, to improve the self. To journey. To wander. To do something incredible.
Last weekend, I watched Alyson Venti complete 140.8 miles in 24 hours – enough to qualify for the U.S. National team for the 24 hour run. Alyson Venti is the reason I wanted to enter the world of ultrarunning sports. I didn't even know what an ultramarathon was before 2013, when I saw an article about Aly winning the Keys 50. I had never even run a 5K. I still haven't ever run a 5K. But I was fascinated with Aly, in all of her beauty and grace and badassery, and I knew I had to try distance running.
I also met a man named Jesper Olsen this weekend, a runner from Denmark who ran around the world twice. Let me repeat: He ran around the world twice, once in a North/South direction, and once in an East/West direction. Clearly there were flights involved to span bodies of water that couldn't be traversed on foot, but after meeting Jesper, I'm convinced he may have run the aisle of the plane during transit as well.
Last Sunday morning, after running for six days straight, he drank some water and then whipped out a laptop and gave a casual presentation about his run around the world. He described the slow change of culture you get to witness when spanning a continent on foot – the slow evolution of the language from town to town, and the slow motion turn of the seasons, the landscape, and the architecture. Folks, I was mesmerized. This man is standing in front of me, in his glasses, joking about running through sandstorms and blizzards, crossing Russia and Japan on foot. All I could think about was the human fight you have to possess to complete a goal like that.
But inspiration doesn't have to come in the form of extreme distance running or world records. This past week, on Friday morning, I saw a man on the side of the interstate, during a traffic jam, changing his tire in a rainstorm. He was laughing.
Yall, I almost cried. You have to really understand the beauty of life to laugh to yourself while changing your tire alone in a rainstorm on the side of the interstate on your way to work. In a drenched shirt and tie. You have to be evolved or crazy. Let's go with evolved.
That guy became my new symbol of human resilience. He joins the ranks of countless friends and heroes who have taken their situation and accepted it, changed it, and celebrated the process. Man, it makes me tear up just thinking about the fight I see, sometimes, in the humans around me that don't let hardship, heartbreak, or adversity defeat them.
You can let stuff get you down, but you can't stay down. Took me a long time to figure that out, but I think it's finally sinking in. If you're fighting something, struggling to overcome, or just trying to accept the life with the best attitude you can – Folks can see you. And they appreciate your waves of positive influence.
Sometimes you're the wave. Sometimes you're the fish. But may you always be strong, resilient, and vulnerable all at the same time. May you flip on your back and float for a second to realize what a miracle it is we're even here on this ball of grass and saltwater, floating through gravity which doesn't exist. Holy shit.
Check out this great article on being mentally strong by my friend Claire Nana.
Check out this book on running around the world by Jesper Olsen.
Check out my friend Keith Rogers, who is taking the leap to build a professional photography practice.
Check out my friend Corey Martinez doing what he was born to do with a bike.
Who inspires you? Let the world know man, man!
Where To Catch Me
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