What Are You Running From? What Are You Running To?

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Like life, running is all about going from one place to another. It’s about the journey and embracing how the journey changes us.

For me, the joy of running flows from the pleasure of having the chance to explore what happens to me when I run.

When I run I love the experience of voyaging to and discovering new places both internally and externally.

I love to explore how the internal terrain of my mind and emotions grows and changes along with, or in response to, the external changing landscape around me as I run down busy chaotic city streets or up tall mountains and through valleys as I get lost in the stillness and wonder of the wilderness.

Wherever I run, whenever I run, I love the feeling of how running leads me to understand and reveal new things about myself and the world around me. Simply, put I run to understand. 

The Joy of Fighting for the Flow State

I love to be surprised at what bubbles up as my heart rate rises and I get immersed in the flow state. That flow state: where everything fades away and I am fully submerged in the moment of what is around me.

The wind whipping by my face. The cement streets, dusty trails passing quickly beneath my feet and the tall grass brushing my legs. The sun warming my face. The sweat starting to build on my skin and roll down my back and soak my shirt. All of it gloriously leading me to the flow state.

But the truth is that running almost never starts good. I have to work at getting to that flow state. And some run I only get a bit of flow or none at all, which is a whole other topic to explore on another post. 

So honestly, I usually feel crusty and rusty and out of sync at first.

Of course I might not think this during the run but I love that fight. I’ve learned to embrace the struggle to get to that flow state. It’s part of the experience. Without that first 1-2 miles of initial struggle the joy of flow is meaningless.

I love to gradually dig and dig and dig…and prospect beyond the surface and find the running gold that I’m so desperately in search of. The internal revelation is the gold I’m searching for. That flow gold is what I seek.

Sure, the physical feeling is good and being physically healthy is a bonus.  But ultimately it’s the psychological and emotional transformation that I treasure the most.

So each run it’s like I am on the hunt to find something that will change me or help me appreciate life on a deeper level. And that’s what my “running gold” is.

What Is Running Gold?

For me the running gold is finding a new truth or insight about why I run or who I am? 

So what “running gold” have I found recently? What has “the flow” revealed to me?

Well, on my runs lately I’ve been thinking about the connection between the physical paths we take when we run and the emotional and psychological journey we go on as we make our way down roads, up hills, along treadmills and through beautiful wooded trails.

Two Questions: What Am I Running To? What Am I Running From?

Basically, I’ve been reflecting on Two Questions: “What am I running to? What am I running from?

From those Two Questions I’ve been reflecting on and exploring what happens to my mind, heart and soul as I run the same routes on the roads, in the mountains and wherever else my run takes me. How does repetition and familiarity lead me to a deeper sense of purpose, meaning and awareness? 

As I explore those Two Questions, I’m fascinated, consumed and challenged with what happens to me psychologically and emotionally as I experience those routes over and over again? What happens when I go out and come back to the same place where I began?

Does Where I Run Matter?

What about my favorite routes? When I run my favorite routes am I remaining the same person? Am I changing even though the route remains the same?

Do I like to run the same routes because I find comfort in familiarity and I don’t want to change or grow emotionally? Do the same routes keep me from growing as a person? Or does the discipline of repetition of the routes force me to do deeper and face certain things about myself that I might be running from?

Can I make the routine routes more meaningful by changing my mental perspective?  How do those familiar, personal and repetitive running experiences change me? Do they change me? Why do they change me?

Because of those Two Questions, and whether it’s a new or familiar route,  I’ve started to wonder about the connection between the fact that when I run I change my physical state. But how does this change in physical state, the rise in blood pressure, heart rate and being in the Flow State, impact my emotional state? Does my emotional state change along with my physical state. If so, how?

When I come back to where I started on a run I wonder and ask myself… what did I just run from, what did I just run to? How are those looping and “out and back” routes pushing me to grow and challenging my perspective on life?

 

When I recently ran up to San Jacinto Peak, I couldn’t help but wonder… Was I the same person when I returned after that mountaintop experience?

If I did change (and I know I did), did I remember what I just learned and experienced?

Will I be able to take that moment of joy and revelation and flow state and have it impact the rest of my life?

This bring me to a fear that I have when I run.  It’s a fear that I’ve better understood as I’ve asked myself those Two Questions.

What’s my fear?  Forgetting what I learned when I run.  I often forget about what I learn when I run but I don’t want this to happen anymore.  I don’t do it intentionally but it just happens because that’s what the body does when you come out of flow state.

But I don’t want to do that anymore.  Whether it’s major or minor, I want to remember what I saw, felt and thought during my runs.

I want to fully realize, appreciate and celebrate that I have been changed in my run. Sometimes it’s a big change other times it’s small. But either way I don’t want to let the flow gold slipped through my fingers.

I Want to Remember, Learn From What I Experience

I want to remember and take action on what was revealed to me during my run.

And it’s this fear that is actually powering the inspiration to write this post about the Two Questions.

I don’t want to forget the gift that God has given me during my runs. I want to cherish and hold tight to that flow gold and pass on what I’ve learned to you.

I want to be a conduit of inspiration.  I want to inspire you, my fellow runner, to do the same. To have the same clarity and breakthrough when you run.

I want us to have the shared pleasure and joy of learning from our runs. I want us to not only be changed physically but emotionally and spiritually. And understand the why and how on a deep and meaningful level. 

I want to take a moment and reflect on what happens to us during our runs.

I want to appreciate the truth and magic of what just happened in our body and soul. And I want build on and take action on what I learn. Whatever that might look like.

Most of the Time It’s Not Easy

As I’ve shared in this post, whether I realize it or not, when I run I transport myself to a new psychological, mental and emotional destination.  Thinking about what I’m running to and running from excites me. I don’t always like to ask those Two Questions and I often have to fight to get to that point of focus and flow. But I enjoy and welcome the struggle because I’m always in a better place when I do.

So I fight to ask those Two Questions. I fight to explore the answers. I fight myself to face the new questions that bubble up. Why?

I fight to ask those Two Questions because it helps me better understand and appreciate why I am here on planet earth. It helps me to remember that I’m not only running just to run but there’s a deeper purpose that we’re suppose to discover.

Why Do I Run?

And this, my friend, is why I believe I run. To understand thyself.

For in these moments of flow, insight and reflection I drink in and let the greatest benefits, pleasure and true purpose of why I run rush through me. Those Two Questions give me the opportunity to discover more of who I am and what I am suppose to do in life. They give the running more significance to the world around me.  

Those Two Questions are not only a way to understand what’s going on inside me but those Two Questions give me a chance to get outside myself and connect more with the people and world around me.

By simply asking what I’m running to and what I’m running from, I’m empowered and inspired to connect more with my fellow runners as think about them, their lives and how I can help and inspire them as we share this amazing and transformative experience together.

So whether we’re running fast or slow. Whether we’re going up or down.  Whether we’re going in a loop or “out and back.” Whether we’re returning to where we started or ending up in a new destination, let’s ask ourselves those Two Questions.

What am I running to? What am I running from?

And let’s explore the answers to those questions with ourselves and share the answers with each other. See you on the trails!

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Reflecting On 26.2

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Have you ever wanted to do something you’ve never done before and really make it matter? And make it matter not just for you but for others too?

Well, I did. I ran the Chicago Marathon for these three reasons. It was an amazing adventure that changed my life. It was so sweet on so many levels. It challenged and transformed me. So here’s what I remember as I reflect back on the experience.

Running 26.2 miles was complex. It was a revelatory blur of emotional, mental and spiritual transformation. The experience altered my heart, mind and soul forever, but at the same time so many parts of the experience remain a mysterious enigma. I’m still figuring out why it changed me and what actually did change within me.

And that’s why I’m writing this post: to see what exactly I do remember in hindsight with the hope that through the writing process I might make sense of the mysterious parts and discover new truths. I also hope to inspire you to share and reflect on your own running adventures and embark on similar journeys.

So here’s my story.

Getting revved up

It was 45 degrees and sunny as a steady wind blew in off Lake Michigan. It was a near perfect morning for a race through the city. I remember standing in the start corral on Columbus Drive in downtown Chicago surrounded by thousands of my fellow runners. Here we all were about to do this crazy ceremonial and communal act of running 26.2 miles.

My heart and mind revved up. I was filled with all sorts of emotions. Feelings of joy and excitement bubbled up as I thought back to all the work and time that led up to this moment. I found myself thinking back to all those long runs along the Fox River and my three reasons why I was about to run 26.2 more miles to complete The Mission and head into uncharted territory.

My eyes began to well up as I look up at the gorgeous Chicago skyline reflecting the morning sunshine and felt a swelling surge of energy coming from the crowds all around me.

I was pumped and bursting with pride and excitement because I was about to embark on an adventure that I had never gone on before. And even better, I was going to run alongside my brother Joe and run this race for a great cause: to support my aunt in her struggle with Multiple Myeloma cancer.

Shedding the old and ceremonial acts

I did what a lot of other runners do before the race. I peeled off a layer of clothing and left behind my warm-up jacket in the start corral. But for me this moment was more than just losing some extra clothing. I had heard about this practice of tossing your warm up clothes from other runners and I wanted it to be a special moment for me. I wanted it to mean something.

Leaving behind my jacket was an intentional spiritual act. I had run many training runs in that jacket and for me it was a shedding of the old and heading out on a new journey of self-discovery.

So I unzipped my jacket, slipped out my arms, rolled it into a ball, closed my eyes and gave it a ceremonial kiss and held it up to the sky like a warrior offering a sacrifice hoping for a blessing from the heavens before heading into battle. Then as the corral started to slowly lurch forward like a herd of cattle I tossed the jacket on the ground.

I then took the obligatory pre-race selfie with my brother, did a couple short jumps up into the air like a boxer loosening up before a fight, let out a few rebel yells and got ready to run.

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Even though I ran more than 400 miles during training nothing could truly prepare me for the burst of adrenaline that flowed through me as we crossed the start line and began the race. It was hard to fight the urge to go out hard and fast. But I resisted the temptation and stuck to my plan: run my own race and just enjoy the moment.

It was such a wonderful way to experience the city of Chicago. For the first few miles running through the downtown loop among the tall towering and magnificent buildings and cruising through the neighborhoods made me proud to call Chicago my hometown. It was nothing short of awesome to feel the love from the swarming throngs of cheering people. I had a huge smile on my face as I ran by and read all the creative, funny and inspirational signs of encouragement. And I didn’t know a cowbell could be so inspiring! I couldn’t help but run along the sidelines and slap a few hive-fives and smack signs that said “Hit the button for running super powers!”

Mile 2: The Blind Runner made me see

Speaking of inspiring it was amazing to run past the blind runner and his guide at Mile 2. I loved how every runner yelled and cheered as we passed him. As I went by him I wondered…

What does it feel like to see nothing the entire race but only experience the smells and the sounds of the marathon?

What does it feel like to run blind and only trust a guide to lead you for 26 miles through the city?

Would I have done such a thing if I was blind?

How different would running be for me if I ran less with my eyes and more with my heart?

It was a beautiful metaphor to ponder for the next two miles as my legs got loose and my body warmed up.

Mile 3: What if life were like this?

At Mile 3 I turned to my brother and said ‘Wow, how cool would it be if life were more like this and people were cheering you on all the time as we traveled through our days?”

He then looked at me and said, “You do have that. It’s called family.”

Hmmm? I thought. Interesting response, because, yes we do have family, but honestly, life isn’t always like THIS. And life can be very lonely sometimes. We need to have more people cheering us on like THIS in life, I thought. We need more cowbells, slapping high-fives and “hit the power button” signs.

With that idea rolling around in mind I ran along I thought more about how I need to be more intentional in how I encourage other people. I felt a strong and unexpected conviction rise up in me. I realized that I need to work at encouraging people not at the biggest life moments and but also in those not-so-big-and-in-between life moments. I know I loved seeing all those signs and smiling faces as I ran along and once the race was over I knew I needed to return the favor back to people in my life.

So that was my second aha moment as I ran my first marathon. Thank you, Mr. Blind Runner. Thank you, thousands of cheering people on the sidelines. Only 4 miles in and two great learning moments. Not bad!

Mile 13: Running sideways and starting to feel it

And that’s where my mind was at, but how was my body doing? As I approached Mile 13 my legs felt more tired than usual. Looking back I think it was a combination of two things.

1) For the most part I did train on streets and pavement knowing the terrain of the Chicago Marathon but I will say that one thing that stood out was how different it is to run on the city streets. I don’t have any scientific  data or evidence, so all I can say is that it’s just different and I could really feel it in my legs.

2) The other thing that played a role was the fact that during the marathon I was rarely running straight for very long, especially in the first half. For much of the race I was bunched together with other runners I was doing a lot of weaving in and out, stopping and starting, speeding up and slowing down, and in some case I was actually hopping in between people in order to get ahead and find running paths. And I’m sure all that extra effort put extra pounding on my legs that added up. And that was a big reason why I felt more tired feeling around the halfway point. But what I didn’t expect was a big surge at mile 21. More about that in a bit.

Yes, I did have moments of doubts. I expected to. I intentionally trained without music and focused on using meditation and mindfulness concepts to quiet my mind. I learned a lot from reading this excellent book Running with the Mind of Meditation. This turned out to be one of my favorite parts and most valuable elements of my training as it helped me to cope with physical pain and mental obstacles like doubt, fear and uncertainty, all of which were major obstacles in the later stages.

Miles 14-16: Beyond the cheer zone and the race within the race

My first big wave of pain and doubt set in after the Mile 14 cheer zone. I would say that Miles 15-16 were some of the most solitary, quiet and contemplative too. As we left the mighty roar and inspiring adrenaline rush of the cheer zone behind us, you could feel the struggle set in and tension thicken in the air.

The emotional buzz of racing through the downtown din quickly wore off and I could feel and hear the murmur of the subconscious thoughts begin to bubble up and creep in. A strange sense of hyper-awareness came over me. I tried to run faster to run away from the unwanted thoughts but they were still there keeping pace with me. It was such a profound moment. It was the first time during the race that I felt like I was running away from something – and it was all happening in my mind.

It was a strangely surreal feeling to experience. It was like a race within a race. For a moment I forgot I was in the marathon and then I blinked a remembered I was running again.

The rhythm of the shoes pounding the pavement and synchronized breath of the runners around me thrusted me into a deeper contemplative flow. For a moment the fear of this thought chasing me went away and a new thought popped into my mind.

I realized I didn’t need to keep running from what was chasing me in my mind but instead I needed to slow down mentally and face what I was running from head on. I needed to let it catch me so I could conquer the fear I felt.

So I did let it catch me and this is what I found myself hearing as I slowed my mind down to listen…

Don’t let running be only about running from something or running to achieve something. Running is so much more than that. It’s about running to a new destination of self-discovery. It’s about being one person when you start and arriving back where you started as someone new.

It’s about being fearless and courageous enough to face the emotions and fears that bubble up while you’re running and not forgetting them once you stopping running but instead taking action in your life on those very thoughts.

And when you run with an open heart and mind you’re going to discover things about yourself that might be painful or terrify you to your core. But you must embrace it all. The good and bad. The joy and the fear. This is one of THE REASONS why you run, Chris: to face, cope with and conquer pain and fear in all areas of your life.

That was hard to hear because, for me, running is so often something I do to feel good and escape but it was a divine and sublime message that I needed to hear. And ever since I’ve continued to wrestle with those thoughts hoping to put them into action more in my life.

Miles 21-23: Into the unknown without my brother and why I love Pilsen

I didn’t expect what happened at Mile 20. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect beyond 20 miles. The plan was to run the entire race with my brother but it didn’t work out that way. At around Mile 21 my brother had some issues with his leg and waved me on to go on ahead without him.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yes, go!” he yelled waving his hand.

So on I went in to Pilsen and into Chinatown.

Then came one of my favorite moments of the marathon: running through the hispanic neighborhood of Pilsen. I will always remember the glorious thumping, pumping and pounding of the tubas, drums and guitars coming from the mariachi bands.

I know this might sound weird but I didn’t really hit “The Wall.” at Mile 20. I expected to but it never happened. During miles 20 through 24 I felt a surge of energy I didn’t expect. And I’m sure it’s no mistake that those mariachi bands are at this point in the race, and I tip my hat and say thanks to the race directors for the strategic placement of the tuba and mariachi by the race directors. I sure needed those tubas then and I will never forget how it all made me feel.

Miles 24-25: MMA fights and baptisms

At Mile 24 and 25 the physical side of myself was so broken down and my emotions and mind were so raw and unavoidable. I could no longer hide behind what my body could do. I was running on pure emotion, grit and will. All of my fears, doubts and anxieties were right there taunting, poking and punching me. It’s was like a violent and twisted MMA fight inside my body and mind. It was hard to separate the external cheers from the internal jeers and vice versa.

From that point on it was a series of rapid-fire visceral and mental and physical thrashings. I had no choice but to dig down and find a deeper level of spiritual contemplation and emotional revelation. A lot of weird thoughts went through my mind. I was coming to the end of my physical self and I literally thought about everything in my life. My wife, my son, my daughter that’s on the way, my job at Walgreens, my dad who passed away in 2010. My successes and my failures. It all rushed at me, full force.

Back and forth the inner battle went. Sometimes my body was crying out wanting to quit and other times my mind was screaming ENOUGH! I felt great then…I felt like shit. But I fought through it knowing that each of those moments were only a temporary moment of doubt and pain.

Then suddenly I remembered what I read in George Sheehan’s classic book Running and Being, where he sagely says that running and going beyond our physical self in a marathon and pushing ourselves beyond our physical and spiritual limits is like an act of holy sanctification, our sweat is like a baptism and the whole experience is a rebirth and cleansing of the soul. I then felt the sticky and sweat drenched shirt clinging to my chest, arms and back. I smiled and looked up to the heavens. Took a deep breath and my mind calmed back down. I acknowledge the pain I was feeling, accepted it and ran on through it.

I was pretty pumped up as I neared the end of the marathon. It’s was hard not to be. And at Mile 25 got lost in the moment. I remember grabbing a banana from the aid station, then downing some water. I remember slapping someone another high-five.

For a moment I forgot where I was on the course. Then I had this enormous sense of self-awareness come over me. Then at the same time everyone around me faded away and it was as if it was as I was the only one running the marathon. It was like I was floating above the pavement.

It was a beautiful thing. It was a spectacular spiritual moment to behold.

Moments like this don’t happen to often, so for a few steps I closed my eyes, kicked my head back and extended my arms to my side like a soaring plane. I put my palms up and smiled up at the sky as I felt the sunshine hitting my face and soaked in the glory of the moment. And on I went to the final mile.

Mile 26: Completing THE MISSION and scaring ladies

I opened my eyes and had my game face on. I quickened my pace. It was time to finish THE MISSION. Heading into the final stretch I felt emotionally spent but spiritually strong. I felt physically tired but still searching for something more and wanting to see what I could do beyond my physical and emotional means.

I loved the final moments of the marathon and the only real downside to this moment was that I scared a few other runners as I cranked out and powered through the last mile. I let out a few tribal yells (including a few fist-pumping F-bombs and extra curse words to push myself.)

That said, I’d like to take a moment to say sorry to the two runners I scared. Sorry, ladies. I hope I didn’t startle you too much as I came up behind you as we all scurried down Michigan avenue and turned on to Columbus Drive and made our way to the finish line. I hope you both weren’t too scared and had a great finish to your race.

Beyond 26.2: New behaviors, real life challenges and what’s next

I took about a week off after the marathon. Yes, I was sore and hobbling right after the race. About halfway through Monday I started to feel better and I took my first post-marathon run on Friday and felt pretty good.

As I recovered I stuck to my training diet (which is now what I normally eat) and ate the usual mix of recovery food which for me included protein shakes, fish oil pills, chia seeds, greek yogurt, quinoa, etc. And as a bonus, I’ve continued to eat quinoa and chia seeds before and after runs which I didn’t before and I feel great.

Since the marathon, I’ve also had many moments in my personal life and at work where life has challenged me and I’ve looked back at my marathon experience for strength, clarity and inspiration. And I love the fact that I’ve been able to do transfer my marathon experience in to real life moments because that’s exactly what I was hoping this whole adventure would do. I wanted to do something I’ve never done before so that I could use the experience to overcome challenges in other areas of my life.

So what’s next? Well, I’ve been planning my next race adventure as I look at doing a trail run or half marathon in 2015 and maybe even an ultra in the near future.

I hope my marathon story has inspired you to run a marathon or do something you’ve never done before. I hope it’s inspired you to not only do something like this for yourself but do it to support others and to connect with the world around you and the world and feelings that are inside of you.

I can’t say enough how honored I feel to have had the opportunity to make my training and marathon matter beyond myself and support the MMRF and my aunt Angie. Because of that, there’s one question I’ve really pondering; “how can I make each run count?” I don’t want to be the only person to benefit from running, training and racing. I want my physical activity to help make the world a better place.

That said, since the marathon I’ve been experimenting with and planning on doing a few things.

1. I’ve been using the Charity Miles running app. So far I’ve enjoyed using it and each run I do I get to pick a different charity to support. It’s a pretty cool app and I love the concept and like my Fitbit experiment I’ll be sharing a full review and thoughts on the Charity Miles app in the future.

2. I’m planning on volunteering for a race. In his book “Eat and Run,” Scott Jurek encourages all runners to give back and volunteer at a race and I’m looking at organizations like Chicago Run and local races to donate my time and efforts to help others.

3. I know I need to connect more with other runners. Running is such a solitary sport and it feeds my natural introvert tendencies. So I need to be intentional about seeking out community. I really miss the meaningful experience I had training and running the marathon with my brother and because of that I’m aiming to connect more with other runners and get involved with more group runs and local running groups.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll be sure to share more as I continue to reflect and hit the road and running trails. Congrats to all my fellow Chicago marathon runners and I hope to hear about your experiences too, and I invite you to share them in the comments below.

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3 Reasons Why I’m Running My First Marathon

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I’m getting ready to do something I haven’t done before. Run a marathon. I’ve done a half marathon before and the experience changed my life. So I thought it was time to embark on a journey to connect with the world and people around me in new and exciting ways.

Why am I running a marathon? Well, for starters, the challenge fits nicely with my 3 words journey this year. Throughout 2014 I’ve set out to do and work on things related to those three words – pushing, stretching and growing myself – and running 26.2 miles to put my mind, body and spirit to the test is right in line with what my 3 words are all about. Endurance and long-distance running
allows me to do all those things and I’m excited to see what I will discover.

 

Running For A Reason

 

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But I’m not just doing it for myself. If there’s ever a chance to use running as a way to help others, I’m all in. And same goes for running the Chicago Marathon. This year I’ll be part of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) PowerTeam. My aunt has been battling MM for several years and it’s an honor to be able to support her and others and make my miles matter to help a worthy cause. If you’d like to donate to the cause you can visit my donation page. Thanks for helping out and spreading the word.

And the other cool thing is that I won’t be running this race alone. Yep, It’s a family affair and I’m pumped to be running with my brother Joe who ran his first marathon last year. He’s been sharing some marathon wisdom with me already and I’m looking forward to a little brotherly bonding and competition out on the road.

Training Body and Mind: Great Running Reads

As I mentioned before, running is a natural part of my life and an important element of my creative process. Running is one of the ways of how I cope with life’s challenges. When I run I think through things. I escape. I find balance. I find clarity. I find out who I am. And I love to learn why other runners run and what their experiences are like too.

That said, in preparation for the marathon, I’ve been soaking up a bunch of running books and one of my recent favorite reads has been diving into and soaking up George Sheehan’s 1978 classic book Running & Being. I don’t know why I hadn’t read this book before but I’m happy that I’ve found it now.  Running and Being is a beautiful journey through the mind and heart of a runner who’s wrestling with life, searching for meaning and pursuing the spiritual truth of why runners run. If you’re a runner and you haven’t read this before I highly suggest you check it out. Heck, even if you’re not a runner, it’s hard to read this book and not want to laced up up your shoes and head out on the road.

The book is packed with passages that have deepened my love and appreciation for running. Several passages have stuck in my mind while I go on my road runs. One passage that has really stood out to me was when Sheehan says he wasn’t sure “if he was a writer who loves to run or a runner who loves to write.” I can totally identify with that because running plays such a major role in my daily creative and writing flow. I can say too that I run to write and write to run in my own way. He also deftly articulates how during the running experience “sweat is like a baptism” and “pain is like sanctification.”  I love those ideas, and as I’ve been training and building my base miles, I’ve been meditating on what those thoughts mean to me and what the race experience will teach me about life.

Another book that I’ve enjoyed is Marshall Ulrich’s Running On Empty. This book chronicles his journey to run across the United States and other endurance adventures. What I’ve enjoyed the most is that it also explores his experiences struggling to balance his love for running with the other relationships in his life. He shares how he not only pushed through and overcame the physical pain but he also shares the emotional and psychological pain he endured.

Whether I agree with or complete understand his reasons, I do appreciate Ulrich’s honesty and vulnerability in sharing the emotions he felt because, as other long-distance runners can agree, running (especially training for a marathon) can take time away from family. It’s extremely valuable to hear how another runner who’s also a father and husband, has worked through the struggle sharing both how he succeeded and failed.

To wrap up this post I want to share one passage that Ulrich quotes that has really resonated with me:

“All men should strive to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why.” – James Thurber.

That quote stops me dead in my tracks and forces me to think about why I’m running this marathon.

Yes, of course, I’m running to stay healthy but there’s more to it. Yes, I find immense joy and pleasure when I’m charging down the road and flying through the woods and hopping over logs and rocks on the trail. But I know that for me running is very much a ongoing journey of meditation and discovery that impacts all areas of my life. There’s a lot of teaching myself discipline too. I believe that the joy of running is that much sweeter when you’ve successfully taught yourself discipline and learned how to control and grow your mind and body.

So then I’ve been asking myself…

What things in my life are inspiring and driving me to run? What do I enjoy the most about running? What fears and anxieties am I running from? What goals and accomplishments am I running to? What things in my life do I need to put behind me? What things should I be running to instead of worrying about the past? If I didn’t run how would my life be different?

My Three Reasons

For me, what I know is that right now I run and am running this marathon for three reasons:

1. To challenge myself to grow mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. And to see what this race and running will reveal about who I am in all those areas, and all the while having fun soaking in and embracing both the pleasure and the pain.

2. For my aunt and to support and raise awareness for all those that have been impacted by Multiple Myeloma.

3. To build relationships with others, especially with my brother. I want to do something together that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.

These three reasons make up the mental foundation that helps to keep me grounded and focused when my mind wants to wander and focus on the pain and consider stopping or quitting. Yes, running is a joy and pure fun, but I know that there are days when it’s not fun and it’s just pure discipline and hard work and I’m using these three reasons as reminders both to get me on the road and keeping me running.

During my training I’ve had several runs already during which my mind was flopping all over the place and my body didn’t feel good, but I struggled through the run and that battle to build mental toughness was a great lesson to learn and I know there are going to be moments during the marathon where I’m going to be challenged mentally and physically; and so too in life. And the beautiful thing is that my running experiences are powerful moments that I can transfer to other areas of my life, such as what it’s like to launch and run an internal social media program at Walgreens.

That’s all for now. I’ll be sharing more about my training experience as the summer roles on and I’d love to hear what your experiences are like too.

If you’d like to donate to the support my MMRF fundraising efforts, you can visit my donation page. Thanks for helping out and spreading the word.

Good luck to all my fellow Chicago marathon runners!

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No Sports for A Year Update #1: Oh, The Things I’m Learning!

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It’s been 136 days since I began my experiment to not watch any sports for a year.

So how’s it going?

Well, it’s been fun, hard and revealing to say the least. And here’s a collection of thoughts, findings and questions that have surfaced so far.

It’s Simply Complicated

For the most part, some days it’s easy and other days it’s hard not to watch sports.

I’ve noticed that the degree of ease and difficulty has fallen into and been dependent on these three categories:

  • My current emotional state; to what degree do I need sports to help me escape from or cope with any given life situation?
  • My engrained habits; how much of my body and brain’s auto-pilot has been trained to just flip on a game without even thinking about it? (Apparently I do have some degree of sports addiction.)
  • The impact on my relationships; How do I connect with people and what have I learned from this crazy choice I’ve made?

 

The Big Games: A Big Deal or A Big Waste of Time?

When it comes to the big sport events I’ve started to keep a tally of how many I’ve not watched. In a funny way I’ve actually become somewhat proud of myself that I’ve been able to do this and take this experiment this far. Like running a marathon, this experiment has become a true test of endurance and in some cases I feel like I’m developing a new not-watching-sports muscle.

So far I’ve not watched the Super Bowl, Olympics, Final Four, NHL Playoffs, MLB opening day (yes, I consider that major sporting event for the last 30 years of my life). Yes, I have missed watching these games, but on the other hand, I’ve not. Why? Because I’ve been able to finish books, write, run, spend time with family and do other things that have more meaning for me.

This is a strange and unsettling discovery that I’ve had to wrestle with. I’m at odds with that feeling because I’m not quite sure what that means.

I’ve had to ask myself…are the Big Games really important to me or are they just a big time suck holding me back? If they are important, then why? What do I get out of watching them? What do I lose if I do? Who do I lose if I don’t watch the Big Games or any live sports?

To be honest, there’s a part of me that really loves to watch live sports but there’s another part of me that loves the feeling of doing those other things. I’m not quite sure on the value or significance of this conflict of feeling. But I know it’s turning out to be a thought that I must unpack and understand. And hopefully I’ll have more clarity as this experiment continues.

What If…We All Didn’t Watch Sports For A Year?

I’ve also started to think about the financial impact of this sort of experiment. What would happen if everyone in America did this for a year?

That said, I heard this enlightening  commentary by NPR’s Frank Defourd about the supporting the home team from the comfort of your couch. In it he mentions that the fact that sports teams don’t make as nearly as much money when people go to the ballpark as when people watch on TV at home.

So, yes, I’m probably making a very (very) small dent in the revenue department of major sports teams, but, I wonder…what if more people didn’t watch sports for a year? What would be the financial impact of that?

Besides the money, other thoughts have popped into my head like…

Would the world be a better place if we didn’t watch live sports? Would we all see sports in a different way? Would this new perspective empower us to value the relationships and connections we have with other because of sports? Would we end up watching more live sports after we’ve realized how much the act means to us and others around us?

Heck, I know this experiment is starting to do all those things for me.

One of the things I’m being forced to do is to think more deeply about why I do watch sports, how live sports has changed my life and how live sports is both a healthy and unhealthy emotional escape.

Why Do I Get Emotional: It’s Just Live Sports?

I’m being forced to think and go deeper to understand why I get all teary eyed and emotional when I tell people about my first time watching a Cubs game at Wrigley Field with my dad. Or why I feel within myself a visceral mix of emotions (joy, excitement, sadness, grief, etc) when I tell them about my fondest memories learning how to yell “Green Bay sucks” in sub-zero weather at a Bears game when I was eight years old. Are those buried emotions, and not actual live game itself on TV, the driving force behind my desire and need to watch live sports?

Besides the emotions and psychological fodder that has begun to bubble up, the other  habitual and social challenges.

I’ve learned that it’s nearly impossible to avoid watching sports in our culture. Sports are everywhere; on our minds; at the core of most social interactions. Sports even define our worldview and for some it’s a religion deeply rooted in fabric of our lives.

Yes, I knew all that stuff before I started doing this experiment but now I’ve had the chance to step back and think about what all that stuff really means. And I’ve been forced to ask myself the tough questions.  Is the amount of live sports we watch good? Is it bad? If so, why? And what do we benefit by watching hours and hours of live sports?

How does live sports help us make sense of the world around us? How does it help us we cope with life’s struggles?

Yes, there are many good things about watching sports but, like all good things in life, watching sports has a dark side and I’m realizing that too.

Watching sports can help us avoid things we must do. Watching sports can slyly and subtly make us too sedentary (mentally, physically and socially) where all we do is play the spectator too much and never get off the couch to join in the game. I do have to say that I’ve enjoyed playing sports more now that I’m not watching as much.

Of course the goal here (no pun intended) is to strike a healthy balance and aim to find the right mix of watching and doing. And that’s what I’m trying to figure out what that means for myself.

Confession: My Eyeballs and Live Sports

I have to be honest and say that my eyeballs have caught glimpses of games over these last several months.This is because of the simple fact that I can’t cut myself off from the world and the world is full of sports. I’ve been at sports bars to connect with co-workers and friends, and it’s nearly impossible to not let your eyes fall for a split second on live game. But in those situations yet another thought has intrigued me.

In these situations I’ve both realized how much a welcomed distraction sports are to relationships, especially in those awkward moments where nobody has anything to say and we’re all just watching the game, sipping our drinks and then a dramatic play happens and we all cheer together or comment on how great the play was, maybe do a little smack talk, swap some hive-fives and then the next conversation starts.

I’ve also realized how hard it is to truly focus on the conversation when a billion sports games are flashing and flickering all around me on giant flat screen TVs. Again, is this truth a good thing or bad thing? I also know that what’s happening in these social sports situation is nothing to just gloss over and avoid. There’s something big happening here.

So to answer some of these questions and make sense of my own experiment I’ve turned to the experts.

secret live of sports fans

In the book the The Secret Lives Of Sports Fans Eric Simons explores this crazy sports-watching obsession we have. It’s been great to read the book and fascinating to read his work and put a sociological and biologically context on my own experiment. I’ve been learning just how genetically wired we are to love sports and why it’s important to be aware of the chemical process that’s going on in our bodies when we watch sports. On future updates, I’ll be sharing more about how that book is shaping and enlightening my own experiment.

Family and Friends and The “Fake Sports” Conversation

I’ve taken special note of the responses and reactions of family and friends. When I first started out my family and friends were aware of my experiment and they would ask me about it and want to know why I was doing it. In some cases some family even went so far as to not watch a game because they didn’t want me to “break my vow.”  Yes, they actually called my experiment a vow. Like I’m a monk on a religious quest. I thought that was interesting.

But now that nearly 6 months have gone by, those same people have largely forgotten. So what I’ve had to do is either gently remind them that I can’t when they ask me to go hang out and watch the game.

Or if I find myself in a “hey, did you watch that game last night” water cooler conversation I’ve been testing out a “fake sports” conversations sub-experiment and pretending like I did watch the game. I carry on the conversation using my past sports knowledge. Why do this? I want to see if they can figure out that I didn’t watch the game and I want to see just how much of an impact not watching sports has on relationships beyond family and friends. I also want to so what I might discover about the role that watching live sports plays in initial interactions with those around me. To be honest those “fake sports” conversations have been some of the more expectedly entertaining and fascinating parts of this experiment and I’m looking forward to sharing more of what I discover.

Those most people have forgotten, I do have to credit my younger brother Ken for keeping my experiment always on his mind. While at work he continues to send me texts of game scores and messages with pictures of Wrigley field asking me if I remember what that place was.

Thanks, Ken. Those texts are priceless. Your playoff beard is coming in nicely too. Maybe I should have grown a no live sports beard? Maybe next time.

The Real Reason I Watch Live Sports?

One of the hardest, most fascinating and revelatory parts of not watching sports has been the impact it has had on my relationships.

Even though I’m an introvert (I recently discovered and accepted this), I still love connecting with people. I love relationships. I love getting out of my own head and into the hearts and minds of others. So I’m an introvert that loves to be an extravert? I’m not even sure what that means?

What I do know is that by doing this experiment I’ve begun to think more about how I’m wired up and how watching sports impacts and has influenced the type of person I am and the type of person I have become.  In some cases I’ve realized that I could actually care less about the game that’s on TV and I’m watching it because I want to connect with people.

In some cases I’ve realized that I also watch sports to prepare for interactions with people.  What does that mean?

Well, here’s what I think that means.  If I’m meeting someone for the first time I always try to find a common ground. And in most cases, live sports is that common ground.  But now that I’ve removed watching sports from my life I’m finding that there’s an awkward pause. Do I tell them what I’m doing or do I have a “fake sports” conversation with them?

It’s been a 50/50 split. Sometimes I carry on the fake sports chat or sometimes I tell them about my experiment. And I’ve been surprised in both situations.

Sometimes people are interested and they ask me about it and other times they say “oh, that’s cool.” And then nothing comes of my “no live sports” disclosure and we then try to talk about other things.

Other times I’ve had some really great chats about why other people watch live sports and they start to ask me what I’ve learned and then they end up sharing a live sports story about themselves.

What’s been both fun and challenging is my process for picking which people I tell and which people I have a fake chat with.  Those type of situations have been interesting to experience as it’s shown me the level of skill or aptitude certain people have for being able to talk about more than just the game and instead go deeper to explain what the game means to them and why they watch sports.

And I really want to know the significance of the awkward pause. What does that say about me? About that person? What does this tell me about the connection I have or don’t have to those around me? What does this say about the role that live sports plays in how we all relate and connect with each other?

This No Sports Experiment has been both beautifully strange and utterly fascinating to me and I’m still sorting it all out. I’ve actually have more questions now than when I started this experiment. There’s just so much to it and each day a new thought and revelation rabbit hole pops up that I love to jump down into and explore.

That said, there’s been lots more that I’ve learned but I wanted to share these initial insights with you to see what you think and I’d love to get your take on this too.

That’s all for now on this update and I hope you’ve enjoyed it. My 19-month old son Calvin just woke up and it’s time to be a dad and hang out, run around the house listening to Wilson Picket’s “Land of 1,000 Dances” and Gold Frapp’s “Ooh La La” over and over again because that’s what we do on Sundays, besides watch sports. Well, maybe not this year, anyway. And maybe I’ll tell him all about this crazy experiment when he gets older.

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My Three Words: Health. Hunger. Habit.

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livefix chris catania garden

For the last several years, I’ve watched others do the “my three words” yearly mission. And it’s time for me to jump in.

Yes, I’ve thought of my three words before, but I’ve just thought about them.

Until now, I’ve taken little action to crystalized my three words, write them down and truly make them the focus for a year of my life.

So in 2014, I’m doing it.

It’s the end of February and by now many New Year’s resolutions are toast, or hopefully you are still going strong.

If you’re struggling, hopefully this post comes at the right time and it will inspire you to get started or get back on track if you’ve lost some steam.

Let’s be clear, though.

My three words aren’t resolutions. They’re guideposts and word triggers packed with personal meaning and significance.

I’m using them to quickly remind and ask myself:

 “What are the most important things to do, measure, refine, and think about on a daily basis?”

I can quickly look at my three words and go through a quick and simple rundown in my mind and to see how I’m doing on a daily basis.

I’m aiming to review my three words nightly before my head hits the pillow and I’m using them to help me focus as I start my day.

But I’m not just sharing my three words with you just to do it and say I crossed something off my To-Do list.

No. I’m sharing them with you because I know that by making my three words, and my thoughts about them, public it’s making them more real to me, AND I’m also inviting you to hold me accountable and dialogue about them. (I’m serious. Tweet me. Ask me about them @chriscatania.)

I’ve shared this kind of personal goal stuff before and by whenever I’ve made it public it’s helped immensely. Sharing personal goals publicly has given me that much needed lift and accountability boost to keep going when I don’t want to.

I know for a fact that telling you what I’m aiming for in life in this blog post helps me reach me goals and change my life for the better.

That said, I’ve decided to say no to all the doubt in my brain and I’ve clicked “publish” on this blog post so you can join me and we can help each other. Yes, in case you’re wondering, I do have more details on these words including how I’m measuring success, but I’m not sharing that stuff here.

I want to keep it simple for now. Just three words.

So let’s do this!

Without further ado, here are my three words.

Health.

I chose the word “health” to remind me that I want to focus on developing and staying healthy in all areas of my life, specifically:

1) Physically

2) Mentally/emotionally

3) Spiritually

Those three areas are foundational to be being the best husband, father, friend and co-worker I can be. Yes, there are more details to these “health” areas of my life but I won’t share them here on this post.

What I will tell you is that I know that when life gets crazy and I start to lose focus on what matters, it’s usually because I’ve stopped making it a priority to devout time to nurture at least one or more of these three “health” areas of my life.

Hunger.

There are two reasons why I chose hunger in 2014.

First, I want to stay hungry. Not hungry for food (which isn’t usually a problem) but more like Rocky Balboa in Rocky I and Mr. T in Rocky III, and Rudy in Rudy. (Yes, I’m a big fan of Rocky and sports underdog movies. No shame here.)

Seriously, though, I want to stay hungry for growth. I did grow a lot in 2013 but I want to be more intentional about it in 2014.

I want to feel that rumbling in my stomach and in my soul as I aim for my goals in all areas of my life.

I want to keep my eyes on the prize, be proactive and not let life’s distractions, negative thoughts, and other mental junk food that comes hurling at me on daily basis, stop me from being hungry for what matters in life.

Secondly, having a hunger and a thirst for bettering yourself is exciting and it’s contagious. I love being around people who are hungry for life and learning.

What I mean is that I want to inspire a hunger for others.

I once heard someone say that what you do in life and what you share with the world should inspire others, and what you do should improve the quality of life for others too.

So I’m taking those great thoughts as a personal challenge and I’m aiming (and hoping) that by staying hungry for growing, learning and constantly evolving who I am will inspire others around me.

But, again, let’s be honest. Maintaining that hunger is hard. And that’s why I’m sharing this with you, remember? So we can help each other stay hungry. Do we have a deal? Thanks. I know you’d be with me on this one.

Now on to the last word.

Habit.

I told you before that I purposely don’t do New Year’s resolutions.

Why? Well, because New Year’s resolutions only happen once a year and why should we wait 365 days to change what we’re doing? That would waist so much time.

In my short time on planet earth, I’ve learned from others (and by failing myself) that creating daily habits that I can gradually build on is the better way to go. It’s better than creating New Year’s resolutions.

I’ve learned that aiming for gradual habit change gives us more power to create a lasting foundation for behavior change. When we look at the challenge to change habits as a “one day at a time” (or even one minute or second at a time) thing, it’s not as overwhelming for our brains.

Yes, no doubt, changing our behavior is one of the hardest things to do.

But one thing I’ve learned is that knowledge is power. And taking the time to read and understand what drives our habits and behaviors has helped me reach my goals.

I love reading books and blogs to soak up as much knowledge as I can, and I highly value taking an experimental approach to life in general. That’s why I do these Fitbit and No Sports For A Year Experiments.

I read what others have learned, and try to apply it to my own life,  and I also learn by doing (succeeding and failing) myself.

And when it comes to reading books about habits and understanding how to change them, I’ve had the pleasure of learning a lot from The Power of Habit, Nudge, and One Small Step Can Change Your Life. If you haven’t already, I recommend checking these books out as there is a lot of excellent research and practical stuff you can do to help change your habits.

Alright, these are my three words for 2014: Health. Hunger. Habit.

And Yours?

What are your three words this year?

Thanks for sharing and be courageous today and always, my friends.

Note: The photo above is of a zig zag bridge in the Japanese garden at the Chicago Botanical Garden. It’s designed to get you to stop and think about where you’re going.

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A New Concert Fan Is Born: What Will Baby Calvin Experience?

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I’m beyond excited to share the news that this week we welcomed a new concert fan in to the world!

While many of you were rocking out at your favorite shows on Tuesday night our first child Calvin Christopher made his grand entrance onto the world’s stage.

Over the last nine months I’ve thought a lot about how this little amazing dude would change our lives forever. And even before that, as you can see below, my curiousity has taken me down some very interesting paths as I wondered about how live music influences, impacts and inspires the growth of babies and children, and how parents and families evolve through the process too.

Here are some of the thoughts that have been running through my mind. It’s a mix of posts and Live Fix Radio episodes that feature chats about the relationship between babies, kids, families and live music.

We’ll be sharing more about our concert experiences with Calvin, and until then, go ahead and dive into these explorations and post your responses to the questions in the comments below.

What About These Thoughts?

  • What show should be Calvin’s first?
  • How will the shows, like this one and this one, that we went to while Calvin was still cooking in the oven influence his love for live music?
  • How do parents who are concert fans introduce live music to their kids?
  • What was the first show that you experienced with your kids?
  • What type of live music experiences did you have while you were pregnant?

Check out these explorations:

 

 

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A Hot August Night Tribute To The Biggest Neil Diamond Fan Ever

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Neil Diamond Hot August Night

A long time ago I realized that there was no point in denying the influence of my parents on my musical tastes, especially my love for live music.

And in my early twenties, I started asking my parents questions about…who they were when they were young, why they made the decisions they did and other important details about their lives that I didn’t already know the answers to.

During my inquisitive quest, I got to know more about my dad’s love for Neil Diamond. And sadly, last Monday my dad, Joe Catania, passed away at the young age of 60. And like we’ve done for other live music fans who’ve passed on, this post is a tribute to his life and especially his love for experiencing Neil Diamond live in concert.
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