I did it. This past sunday, in Vancouver, I qualified for the Boston marathon. It was the moment when all the hard work of the last 2 years and training intensity of the last 4 months paid off. The last sprint to that finish line was magical: My wife and 19 month old son cheering me at mile 26, the energy from the crowds, the timer showing 3h:07m:01s with 100 meters to go, the memories of all the hard workouts I had done, all the people who supported me along the way and everything that getting to Boston meant: the power of determination, learning how to fight adversity and the beautiful connection of body, mind and spirit.
Six months after deciding to run a full marathon and embarking on a journey to pursue a much more active lifestyle as an endurance enthusiast, I finished my first marathon in under 4 hours. Then moved on to a second, third and forth marathon improving my time up to 3h20m in 1 year. Step by step, milestone by milestone, I have been able to see the power of focus, setting goals, dedication and rethinking priorities. Now, on my fifth marathon two years after the start of this journey, qualifying for Boston with 3h07m11s was a dream come true, but in many ways, just a start. Breaking 3 hours, running a 100 mile ultra marathon and doing an iron man in Kona are all things that I aspire to do (and will do).
So here are my 5 main learnings from the last 2 years:
It’s all about the journey, not the destination
The more I reflect on this hardly fought for accomplishment, the more I realize that life is not about the destination, but about the journey. The last 2 years made me stronger, healthier and happier in many ways. I started a journey of self discovery that is still in its early stages. The joy didn’t come only come from crossing that finish line. It came from many little moments during the past 2 years. Every day simple moments: watching the sun rise in the middle of an early AM run, feeling the rain on my face during a rainy sunday long run or even the joy of being able to fight 20 mph head winds in freezing and snowy Chicago along the lake path watching the silent white city in front of you.
Destinations are important but are not the end goal. They keep you focused and help you explore, but its the journey that counts. Be adventurous, don’t accept limits others and society put on you. Reinvent yourself. Constantly. Aim to be better, not because of what others may think or how they’ll perceive you, but better according to your own standards that only you can define. Always ask yourself: what is next? Continue the journey.
You can’t do it alone
Running may seem an individual sport. It’s not. Your training may be done alone or in small groups (I personally like to run alone), but what makes you stronger is the network of people around you. It’s that group of people (however small or large it may be for you) with whom you share your own accomplishments and frustrations. Its the people you reach out to when you have a miserable failed training session, when your body hurts, or when you feel at your very best and want to share an amazing workout or simply, the funny situations any runner eventually encounters: running away from a dog, watching a deer cross a fence a couples yards away from you, or in my case almost getting attacked by a group of ducks in Chicago. For me this small group of people were my wife, Fabi Kirst, my friend, mentor and awesome runner Oz Hofstater and my coach Ian Torrence (an amazing ultra runner). Beyond your close group of friends, find inspiration in others. For me, Rich Roll, Scott Jurek, Brendan Brazier and Ian Torrence. Finally, let the memories of others provide the much needed extra energy when you need to dig deep. For me, my father Jorge and grandfather Alberto, who lost their battles to cancer many years ago.
Patience and faith
The beauty about training for endurance sports is that you need to be very patient and have a lot of faith. I didn’t get it at first. I wanted to train harder every day to improve faster. If I wasn’t beating my last workout, I wasn’t moving quick enough. But my coach Ian made me realize I was doing it all wrong. I needed to go slower, take time to rest and recover, so I could then go harder on key workouts. Fitness would come with patience and going through the appropriate stress/rest cycle. He gave me a training program that had slower paces than what I was running before. I still remember, in the first week I had to give him a call and ask: how is this going to get me to run below a 7:10 minute/mile I need to qualify for Boston if in most of the long runs you tell me to go 45 seconds to 1 minute slower? The answer: with patience and faith. He was right. Now this applies to life in general as well. Pace yourself and you’ll accomplish great things you didn’t think were possible at all.
Disconnect to connect
I call my long runs my thin place. Where heaven and earth come closer.
“I’m drawn to places that beguile and inspire, sedate and stir, places where, for a few blissful moments I loosen my death grip on life, and can breathe again. It turns out these destinations have a name: thin places.” … “They are locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever.” – Eric Weiner
I have an intense corporate job and like to do all I can to be a good husband and father. Like all of us, we are surrounded by technology that keeps us connected all the time. Checking email before even getting out of bed, and checking it as the last thing before you turn the light off when you go to sleep was starting to be usual practice for me. I was always on. My mind couldn’t stop thinking of work and thousands of other things. Text messages, emails, twitter, facebook, ….. Until I found my long runs. My long runs taught me how important it is for us to disconnect so we can connect our body, mind and spirit. Its my meditation time, something that keeps me sane in the life I live, but also something that makes me better during the week and each day. I taught my mind to disconnect when needed. The amazing feeling of being disconnect is so strong that I now to it more often throughout the day and guess what? My productivity, happiness and health have all improved. I am in control of my life – I schedule my priorities, I don’t prioritize my schedule anymore. The ability to disconnect is critical if you want to live a happy life. Be selfish for 1 hour or 2 in your day and disconnect – wether that means going out for a run, sitting alone looking at the ocean, or going for a walk and counting your footsteps. Forget your goals and everything you have going on for a moment every day. Its impressive how you will feel more connected and stronger.
Adversity strengthens you
My coach Ian once told me: we all need more hills in our lives. It’s so true. 10x hill repeats – at first I hatted those workouts. Torture. But the fact is that adversity makes you stronger. The harder the training, the easier the race and same in life. The more prepared you are to face extreme situations, the better you’ll endure anything that comes unexpected. Go after that hard challenge. Learn to enjoy it. Don’t think twice before leaving home for a workout if its too cold, too windy or too rainy. Go find that hill, that hard trail, that tough track workout. It will make you stronger. Find joy and comfort in facing adversity voluntarily. It will bring more peace of mind when unexpectedly facing it involuntarily.