Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Zen & The Art Of Hardening The F*** Up

The inspiration for the title came from a pair of blog pals last week.  First, Kovas published a post about velominati.com, which is a website dedicated to a very specific segment of cycling culture (read: the pompous and dogmatic culture), but still manages to be pretty funny and in more than a few cases is completely spot on.  The Velominati have 85 rules, of which Kovas highlighted 6 of them.  Rule # 5, caught my eye.  The rule simply states "HTFU" or "Harden the f*** up."  While I must admit I've never been a fan of the term (it's just too thuggish for me), I whole-heartedly agree with the sentiment, and in fact work hard to incorporate it in my life.  What term would I use?  I dunno.  I'd probably go with I've. Freakin. Got. This. if it wasn't already taken.

Later that day, TRI714 left this comment on my post about (for the lack of a better description) fear wrapped up in the context of a cool band.  He said:

Not to come off corny P, but you have so much more ZEN in your life now. There will be the test with the headcases, you know this.  But you really can excel at both passions, it's all about balance and focus. AND YOU'VE LEARNED TO CAPTURE AND CONTROL BOTH WITH "SBR".  I want to go to a show!!!
Getting this comment was cool.  Though I think Craig is giving me more credit than I deserve, I still appreciate it because for the last 3 years I've been striving for something that is at least close to zen.  True, it's often times a neurotic and contrary version, but it's something.  It was nice that somebody noticed.

As many of you know, I've been through a lot over the past few years.  But I've managed to more or less come out the other side both intact and with tons of self deprecating stories to tell.  If someone ever asked me to write an autobiography, I don't think I'd have any idea what I would say, at least in the context of a book.  This blog is probably as close as I'm going to get.  Still, there are many things that I've done and/or "truths" that I have stumbled upon that have helped me out of the hole.  And maybe the by-product of these things and/or truths is what Craig is talking about.  So I figured I'd sit down and try to write out a few of them.  Here's 6 of an unknown number of bits and pieces I hold dear:

1.  Always Add A "1" To The "X"

My first ever runs where extremely painful 2 mile death marches.  It typically took me 2 days to mentally psych myself up for the next 20 minute run.  But eventually, the runs got a little easier.  In the early days I had not yet thought about getting into multi-sport, but I knew I had to do something to keep me engaged in exercise.  So I started pushing myself on the runs - First it was another few minutes.  Then it was another long block.  And finally, it was another mile.  If you are just starting out with an exercise program, I strongly urge you to try this.  After all, another mile is only a long Led Zeppelin song on the iPod.

2.  Set Goals

Physical activity is better served as a structured program rather than a thing you just do.  After about 6 months of running, I did my first 5K.  Not long after that I got it into my head to try a triathlon.  Goals are game changers.  They give you a baseline in the sense that you have specific dates where you have to be at the top of your game.  And they also give you a pipeline because there is always something in your suite of disciplines that needs to be worked on.  Structure gives you purpose, and purpose will help create a very strong sense of accomplishment and self.  These are very strong motivators whether you are trying to shave a few minutes off of your 1000 meter swim time or trying to be a useful voice at your next business meeting.

3.  Go All In

I'm going to say something that might be controversial, but it's not meant to be as I will try and explain.  Here it is - It's OK to be a little bit selfish.  If competing in endurance sports is something you really want to do, then you need to spend as much time as you can shaping yourself to be the best you can be.  I don't think half-way ever works, because no one should ever cheat themselves from excelling at something they love (or want to love).

For me, family come first, as does putting food on the table.  But after that, endurance sports are a photo-finish second.  Time is finite, but I also believe that free time can be found when some thought is put into it.  I refuse to feel guilty about my dedication.  In a society where things like career ambition can trump almost everything else in life, I think I've got a better (not to mention simpler) formula.  Everything is important.  And I just put my nose to the ground and figure out how to get it all done.

By the way, there is one caveat to my concept of "selfish".  Be prepared to pay it back with some high quality selflessness on the other side.  Because chances are that the people in your life will be thrilled to trade the extra training time you need for a better, stronger, happier and more engaged you.

4. Accept Your Place On The Food Chain

Odds are that only a few of us are truly gifted athletes.  I know I'm not.  So I'll always be happy with my last best result.  You should be too.  Because chances are it's already better than you ever dreamed possible when you started endurance sports.  And there is always room for improvement.  Maybe not always in speed, but definitely in form, execution and (why not?) style.

I don't get paid to do this.  And despite the fact that I'm middle aged and occasionally harbor secret fantasies about being a professional athlete (or an astronaut), I'm glad that I'm not.  Because being paid for something implies employment.  And being employed implies work.  And work can imply tedium.  Athletics fueled by passion are actually the better deal.  I'm free to do whatever I want with my training and racing schedule with no pressure outside of what I put on myself.  And since I understand my place on the food chain, I never let the pressure get too overbearing.  This awareness has proven itself very useful.

5.  Don't Quit - Ever

Seriously, barring something completely out of your control or taking risks that could cause you harm, what's the point of quitting?  Enough said.  And by the way, manipulating my points in #4 by arguing that it's OK to quit because you shouldn't put too much pressure on yourself is invalid.  Quitting is tactical.  Managing the pressure is strategic.

6.  Levity Is Not A Magic Trick

I'm not some kind of hot shot by any stretch of the imagination.  I'm a balding 41 year old recovering alcoholic who (amongst other things) produces some insanely smelly farts, loves Star Wars and has a potty mouth.  I'm also a late bloomer in the sense that it wasn't until the last few years that I realized that I already had EVERYTHING and I needn't keep looking for something that wasn't there.  Arguably, realizing this was key  - I could stop being self destructive out of frustration and live in the present.  I am what I am and I do what I do.  Some things aren't great, but most things are just fine.  In fact, they've always been fine.  Armed with this knowledge it suddenly became easier to walk a little taller, warts and all.

So there you go...


Tough Chik said...

I love this, what a great post! Thank you for sharing.

XLMIC said...

My husband says he's "balding" too... I think it's time you guys dropped the "ing" :P

This list is clearly the product of a lifetime of intense experiences and really digging down to see what you're made of... I love it. These ARE "truths"... the only thing I would change for me is the Led Zeppelin part. I would sub in Rapper's Delight... but that's probably because I am older than you and a chick, and I run slower so would need a longer song.

I will be referring back to this as the going gets tough. Thanks for putting this out for us :)

Laurie said...

Wow, what a great post. Thanks.

I would have to say though, that the first part of XLMIC's comment made me laugh out loud. :)

track coach and adorable wife said...

That was a superior post (I didn't want to say "great" again!) I really love # 2 and 3.

misszippy said...

Great list, Mr. Yamagi. I especially like your take on number 3.

Austin said...


"Quitting is tactical. Managing the pressure is strategic."

I'll be surprised if I don't quote that more than once by the end of this week.

Kate Geisen said...

Awesome post.

Aimee said...

This was a great post Patrick! I loved your list! Thank you for sharing it with us!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. Amen to #4.

Glenn Jones said...

"Quitting is tactical. Managing the pressure is strategic."

That's a pretty significant quote. I'm stealing it....

Emz said...


"For me, family come first, as does putting food on the table.  But after that, endurance sports are a photo-finish second. "

Chris K said...

Wow Patrick, that was a frigging great post. Seriously, well written and insightful. I agree about the being selfish POV too.

One of my favorite little analogies is when on a plane and the cabin pressure drops and the yellow masks pop down, the adult puts it on himself first, then put the mask on the kid. You are a better father by being an endurance athlete. And, a great example for Ian.


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