I Meditated Every Day for 365 Days. Here’s What Happened.

That’s right.  I meditate.  Cue the gong and the stereotypical vision of a monk sitting cross-legged in a cave with hands pressed together humming, “Ommm.”  But that’s not what I mean.  There are tons of different types of meditation, including the guy-in-cave-cross-legs version.  I did not think I would EVER be the kind of person that meditates, but I really didn’t know what it actually was or how it worked.  In 2014 when I was stuck in an over-stressed and under-recovered loop for too long, I stopped sleeping.  Literally overnight I went from everything in my life being relatively normal and fine to being a sleep-deprived insomniac.  Over a month went by where I was dealing with insomnia, and as it wasn’t getting any better (worse, in fact), I knew something had to change.  My research on what the hell was going on in my brain and why my body wasn’t able to calm down and fall asleep led me to several different avenues to heal myself.  Basically I had chronically high cortisol (the so-called “stress hormone”) and instead of melatonin (the “sleep hormone”) increasing at night and cortisol decreasing, my levels did the opposite.  When you are laying in bed for hours and hours and your heart is racing and you feel like you’re running a 5K, it’s scary and weird.  A common theme I kept coming across was how meditation helps reduce or eliminate insomnia and lowers high stress levels (and increases happiness and lowers blood pressure and improves immunity and the list goes on).  I figured I would give it a try.

I downloaded the Headspace meditation app and on a wild Friday night at 8pm, I sat down in front of the fire place to meditate.  I felt weird and a little embarrassed.  The Headspace app is a guided meditation where Andy Puddicombe walks you through each meditation.  (His British accent and calming voice is enough to lower anyone’s stress levels)  I meditated for 10 minutes.  And I went to bed.  I slept a full 8 hours without waking up once.  After a full month of struggling with insomnia and laying awake for about 5 hours each night (and ending up sleeping for maybe an hour or two), I slept all night long.  I was a convert.  I knew the next morning that there was definitely something good about meditation.  So I stuck with it, and over the next few months, my insomnia came and went but generally continued to decrease in severity the more I meditated.

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Once I had zero sleep issues, I kept on meditating (using the Headspace app).  I started to notice other benefits as well; not only was I sleeping better (and deeper), but I was also generally happier throughout the day.  I was much less reactive to work problems and home projects that weren’t going well.  I was able to listen to others during conversation and not get sidetracked in my mind.  I focused better at work and was able to concentrate on what I was doing for longer periods of time.  It’s hard to put a number or a value on improvements in thought and positivity and happiness.  ABC’s Dan Harris (host and anchor of Nightline, Good Morning America, etc.), who famously had a panic attack on live tv and struggled for most of his life with anxiety, decided to, in his own words, “F*** it, I’ll try meditation.”  He, too, was totally converted.  He now has a book (and an app) titled “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story.”  He openly admits that he has no idea how to quantify how much better his life is thanks to meditation – but he ball parks that he is “10% happier” because of it.  And I agree.

I know the skeptics will say that meditation is ‘just weird’ or ‘ain’t nobody got time for that.’  And I thought all the same things.  But think about how much of our daily grind is moving at an extremely fast pace: keeping up with emails, going to meetings, driving to and from work, hurriedly throwing groceries in a cart and then getting mad that it takes 6 minutes to check out, answering texts, getting in a run, cooking dinner, doing dishes.  There are a thousand things pulling us in a thousand different directions, and it’s easier than ever to fly through an entire day without stopping for one minute and being thankful that you’re breathing.  Or just letting your brain relax.  Most of what we do every day is automatic, reacting without really thinking.  When I was in the third grade, I remember walking home from school one day and asking my best friend Neil if he ever felt like school is the same every day and goes by really fast without even realizing it?  Yes, that’s the autopilot I’m talking about.  Even kids understand it.  Meditation helps to literally rewire the synapses in your brain, so that everyday moments are not on autopilot.  Instead of waiting in line at the grocery store for 2 seconds and automatically pulling your phone out to check facebook or instagram, you can just be still.  Feel your breath.  Be thankful that you are standing in a line.  There are people who are suffering in hospitals or who don’t have a place to call home or even money to buy groceries.  Life is pretty good, and we all deserve to feel that every once in a while, because it won’t last forever.

If you have come across meditation or ‘mindfulness’ before and wonder what it’s about, I urge you to check it out.  Download Headspace – there is a free 10 day trial.  Try some of the free online meditation exercises.  Listen to a podcast about it (my personal favorite right now is Finding Mastery with Michael Gervais).  As I meditated most days of the week through 2015 and every single day in 2016, I was also learning about all of the professional athletes, company CEOs, health advocates, and ultra runners that meditate every day and swear it changed the way they live.  It is absolutely incredible the power we have in our brain; and the key to unlocking a hell of a lot more of it is mindfulness.  I still struggle with stress and frustration and being rushed just like everyone else.  Meditation won’t make you perfect and it won’t solve your problems for you, but it definitely helps.  It has helped me think more clearly under stress; I am more productive at work and at home; I worry less; the hard times in training and racing are easier because I can shut my mind up; I sleep better; it helped slow the constant chatter and thinking in my mind; I relax more easily; I am more compassionate, focused, and happier; I experience deeper and am more mindful and appreciative of the little moments in life.  My days don’t go by on autopilot quite like they used to.

Meditating is challenging yet extremely gratifying.  I have made my daily ten minute meditation the most important part of my morning routine and have watched as it changed me, the way I think, and the way my brain operates.  It has been absolutely life changing for me and millions of others.  Give it a month of effort.  I promise it will be worth your time, even if it’s just five minutes a day.  Stop the autopilot, and start living better.

The Ted Continental

Not a lot to say about The Ted Continental.  Entry fee:  none.  Requirements:  Bike, camera, helmet, cue sheet.  The ride wasn’t born out of necessity.  It was just another ride.  It was also a completely different one.  This was a celebration of Ted heading toward marriage.  A bachelor party of sorts.  A ride through Indiana’s terra incognita.  Pit bulls, gas station ice cream, buttery smooth pavement in the middle of nowhere, gravel roads in the middle of somewhere, and a lot of awkward conversation with yard drunks.  We rode toward the next town and toward the finish.  We rode toward the beers we knew would follow.  But mostly, we were just riding.

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The best part about the ride wasn’t the Devil’s Backbone or the dive bars or the surprisingly huge tunnel.  The best part was the one where we were just pedaling along.  I don’t remember the exact moment, but it was perfect.

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7 Weeks of Cram-training for The Fig 12 Hour Adventure Race

I heard that my teammate Reed was looking for a couple of people to do The Fig Adventure Race (Red River Gorge American Classic).  Reed is an experienced adventure racer and Cat1 mountain biker.  Giesla and I have talked about doing an adventure race before; it just sounds like our kind of race.  Adventure races usually consist of many disciplines – mountain biking, running, hiking, canoeing/kayaking, rock climbing, rappelling, etc.  I knew The Fig was a mix of mountain biking, running/hiking, canoeing, and zip-lining.  I asked Giesla if she wanted to a 12 hour race, and without hesitation she answered, “Hell yeah, let’s do it.”  I texted Reed to see if he needed some teammates and thirty minutes later we were signed up as a three-person coed team, one of the most competitive fields.  With 7 weeks until race day, we needed to do two things:

1)  Get in shape for a 12 hour race.  And very quickly.  We were both in decent shape, but I was coming off of a very easy 4 weeks of minimal training, trying to rid my hip of tendinitis.  Giesla had been running and lifting weights but not training for anything.  We have run plenty of marathons and a few ultras together – and I have done a few 6 hour bike races – but neither of us had ever raced for 12 hours.  With a heavy cycling factor to the race, we needed to get our butts on some bikes.

2)  Giesla needed to learn to mountain bike.  Oh and Giesla needed a mountain bike.  Getting a mountain bike would be the easy part; learning to mountain bike would take a little more out of both of us.  My teammate Nick is an amazing dude – I called him to see what he would recommend we do in order to find a bike to borrow.  We were just looking for a simple mountain bike that would get Giesla around during the race.  Long story short, Nick let us borrow his fully carbon Scott Scale Pro – he and Giesla are the same height (short).  I hesitated to borrow such a beautiful race bike, but Nick pretty much forced us to take it as he has done The Fig before – and he is a very generous guy.  Thank you, Nick!  Now about that part where Giesla has to learn to mountain bike in a very short time…

I thought teaching my wife to mountain bike would be awesome.  It’s not so much that I’m a bad teacher or that Giesla is a bad learner.  Okay, I am a bad teacher.  But mountain biking is also very difficult to master.  It doesn’t help to know that you have a 7 week deadline to learn and then you will be racing.  Mountain biking is challenging – to ride singletrack and doubletrack trails and gravel roads confidently, quickly, and for 12 hours in a race setting – that is a lot to take in.

Training, Week 1

Luckily, Giesla is strong and up for a challenge.  A whole slew of falls, crashes, F bombs, scrapes, bruises, blood, and tears won’t stop her.  Even if all of those falls, crashes, F bombs, scrapes, bruises, blood, and tears happen to be in week 1 of learning to ride a mountain bike.  On a borrowed bike.  With clipless pedals.

With new clipless pedals, Giesla was still getting used to being locked in to the bike.  On our first ride, as we hit the 10 mile mark where we were turning around, I said “Haha, look at those cats!”  The cats were funny, but that took her mind off of being clipped in to her pedals, which isn’t good as she tried to put her foot down.  BOOM.  Bloody knee, scraped elbow, bruised shin.  Not a good start.  Stupid cats.  Her knee had a big gash straight across it.  It looked like a tiny mouth, and the whole ride home it would open and close as she pedaled.  She bled all the way home.

We ran twice during the week, got a few bike rides in, and then finally on Saturday we went to the Ferdinand State Forest for Giesla’s first ride on trails with Nick’s carbon race bike.  The Ferdinand Forest is my favorite place to ride because it is rugged and hilly and I know the trails well.  That does not mean it’s a good place to learn.  Giesla fell a lot, so she compiled a few more bruises and cuts.  That was a tough Saturday.  We figured Sunday would be a good day for an easy road ride.  Close to the same place where the cat fall occurred, a chipmunk ran out in front of us.  When you’re going 20mph on a road bike, you can’t really swerve.  Giesla’s tire ran over and partially paralyzed the poor, little chipmunk.  My heart hurt seeing this, so I had to turn around and put it out of its misery.  It was sad, but I assure you that I comforted the chipmunk prior to easing his pain.  And then I comforted my wife the whole way home.  That was a tough week.  Week 1.  Really, we are still in week 1?

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On our normal evening ride after work

Week 2

The falls really start to show as Giesla’s legs are cut up and bruised.  I tell her that it is all part of mountain biking.  We run and ride roads through the week.  Saturday was another road ride, and Sunday was our first long gravel ride.  I love riding gravel roads and was excited to show Giesla some of my favorite places.  The Deam Wilderness is a beautiful place to train – I have ridden 40 miles without seeing a single car.  So we were surprised to see a car pull up after our first ride – moments after being stark naked changing out of our cycling clothes.  It is critical to have beer and food immediately after a gravel ride, so we sat on the tailgate and enjoyed chips and beer and hot apple cider.

Week 3

Turns out, it is awesome teaching my wife to mountain bike.  I notice Giesla getting a lot stronger.  She has no idea, but I can see her putting more power into the hills, after only a couple of weeks!  She is getting much more confident on the trails and gravel too.  In the middle of the week, Giesla gets sick with a sore throat and a nasty cold.  On Sunday, still feeling and sounding terrible, she decides to do our planned gravel ride anyway.  It was very cold and started raining five minutes into our ride.  She crushed the 33 mile route – most likely because we had beer waiting for us at the end.  We had a recovery smoothie, and then we picked up a million persimmons while sharing a beer.  We planned to make persimmon cookies or something, but that never happened.

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Giesla was sick and crushing some gravel

Week 4

Week 4 started a difficult couple of weeks where our work schedules were hectic and the weather would not cooperate.  We weren’t able to ride at all during the week – so we settled for some short runs and a lot of strength training.  On Saturday I did a long run, and Sunday we headed to the Deam again for a 30 mile gravel ride with some trails mixed in followed by a forty minute run on horse trails.  We both felt good and discussed thoughts about the race – things like ‘what the hell are we doing?’ and ‘why did we sign up for this?’

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Running through the Deam Wilderness

Week 5

Work schedules and rain forced another week of mostly running and strength training.  I had been struggling to sleep around this time and barely slept at all Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night.  Saturday was a long run for me, and Sunday we did another 33 mile gravel ride followed by a forty minute run.  This was our longest single day in training, so we ended this one with beer, chili, hot apple cider, and homemade bread.  Fall colors were in full swing and temperatures were definitely dropping.

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Me riding some trail at the Deam

Week 6

Week 6 was the first week of our planned taper.  We have never done an adventure race, so we just tapered like we would for a marathon or an ultra.  We have no idea if this is good or bad or wrong or right.  On Saturday morning, we did a mountain bike ride at Brown County.  Giesla did really well, except she fell over one time on a root-filled section of trail in front of a family with little kids.  She may have dropped an F bomb on the way down.  Those kids will hear it some day anyway.  That was probably fine.  After that, we met up with Dustin, Adria, Joni, and Adam and we all rode from our house to Oliver winery.  We had some cheese, bread, wine, and apples, and then it was a nice, easy ride home.  Sunday we ran short and easy, and then Sunday night my body decided to stay awake most of the night again.

Week 7

With race day coming up, we were in full taper mode.  Easy runs and easy weight lifting all week.  I cleaned the bikes, re-lubed the chains and drivetrain bolts, made a few adjustments, secured bike lights, triple-checked air pressures, changed headlamp batteries, packed essential race gear, filled water bottles and hydration packs, and generally spent too much time worrying about bikes and race gear.  We ran easy together on Tuesday and wondered aloud what the hell we were getting into.  We were both a mix of nerves and excitement and a lot of unknown.  We didn’t know what to expect.  We didn’t know if we had trained enough.  What we did know was that the race was on Saturday, 7am to 7pm.  Nothing left to do but to get there and see what happens…

The Fig 12 Hour Adventure Race – Race Report Here

 

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Rainy and cloudy – taking a break on a defunct bridge

Hip Hip Hooray! Hip Tendinitis!

I decided 2014 would be the ‘year of the bike.’  I wanted to spend my training time exclusively on riding.  Giesla asked me to pace her in a Spring marathon – so we ran the Carmel marathon in April (she got a PR!) and then I ran the Dances with Dirt: Gnaw Bone Half for fun.  For the most part, my limited training time was focused on the bike.  I didn’t know exactly what my plan was, but I signed up for a 6 hour mountain bike race and focused on that.  I was really excited about it, training was going well, and I was actually loving all of the training rides – but a couple of weeks prior to the race, my mind started to go other places.  Right around the time that I started tapering for the 6 hour race, my mind constantly drifted back to running trails.  I did my best to ignore it for a while.  But it’s all I could think about.  The 6 hour race came and went – it was amazing even though I did not have the day I had hoped for.  I spent some time recovering and figuring out what I wanted to do next.  I realized it had been a few years since I had done a 50k.  Really, it had been a few years since I had done any consistent trail running.  And it had been a long time since I was excited to run again (2012’s long-lasting injury put a bad taste in my mouth).  But there I was, half way through my ‘year of the bike,’ in the best cycling shape of my life, and all my body and mind wanted was to run.

So that was settled.  Even though I had just spent 6 months training on the bike, I got the urge to do another ultra on trails.  So I shifted my training and started the buildup.  This wasn’t necessarily the ‘year of the bike’ that I thought, but I was anxious to get back to trail running…..  Everything was going smoothly, and for the first time ever, I had plenty of time to build up slowly and train properly, instead of my usual 8 week cram-training.  It felt so good to be excited about running again.  My friends Ted and Jeff took me out to run Paynetown which I had never run before.  I fell for the loop hard – it reminded me of my favorite trail where I grew up at the Ferdinand State Forest.  I started running at Paynetown whenever I could.  My long runs gradually increased, but around the time I hit 20+ miles on long runs – DISASTER!  TIGHTNESS!  SOMETHING IS WRONG!

Not the kind of disaster that should derail training, but my hip flexors started giving me pain and tightness.  They never bothered me during runs, so I continued training normally and tried to stretch.  Nothing helped, so I went to the chiropractor.  Two visits later, I was diagnosed with tendinitis in my tensor fasciae latae – it sounds like a delicious coffee from Starbucks, but it is really just a pain in my ass.  Not literally, the pain is actually on the left side and kind of in the front part of my hip.  I received a strengthening and stretching regimen which I follow.  I took a week off – no running.  I am lifting weights and doing a lot of strengthening exercises.  I am frustrated.  It hurts to walk.  It hurts to stretch.  It hurts when I wake up.  It hurts when I sit down.  It hurts when I stand up.  But, it does NOT hurt when I run.  Does that make sense?  No it does not.  The worst part about being injured is not the pain.  The most challenging, frustrating, terrible part about being injured is the mental side.  The runner’s mind is constantly screaming “Let’s goooo!”  Being used to running or biking everyday but suddenly doing a lot of ‘resting,’ the runner’s mind cycles constantly over when can I run again, how long will this take, how much fitness am I losing?  The mind wants nothing more than to go out on a carefree trail run in beautiful, sunny skies.  But the body simply says NO.  I have dealt with injuries from bike wrecks and overuse injuries, lasting a couple of days to six months.  The self-battle that occurs mentally is present with every injury.  This time, with a trip to Colorado and Utah in the next couple of weeks, the anxiety is heightened.  I really don’t want to be limping around out west, looking at the mountains from a distance, sipping on a tensor fasciae latte from Starbucks.  What a depressing thought.  Instead, I want to be deep in the landscape, scrambling up some new trails with Giesla, our hydration packs packed with water (and beer for the summit).  For now, my running has pretty much stopped completely.  I am riding a little bit  but mostly lifting and stretching and strengthening my hip and glutes.  I really don’t enjoy lifting weights or staring at a wall and doing squats and box jumps and leg lifts, but when I have to do it to be able to get back out on the trails, I am pretty motivated to get it done.  My diet has shifted too.  Since the tendinitis has arrived, I have increased my spinach and blueberry intake – the dark stuff heals!

Hopefully, my hip and TFL can bounce back and heal quickly.  The mountains and trails of Colorado and Utah are calling, and I really want to be able to run pain-free and worry-free while we are there.  The Fall/Winter races are the last thing on my mind right now – worst case, I guess I could fall off a cliff and land on my hip, causing the tendinitis to explode and spread everywhere including my fingernails; best case, I can salvage some fitness, get a normal cram-training buildup completed, and race a 50k before the year is over.  I am trying to be as positive as I can – for one, I have never had tendinitis!  So this is a new experience, yay!  Of course, the best news of all is that I am able to look forward to running again soon.  Just another bump in the road, a bump in the training – pretty normal stuff.  The next couple of weeks are at the forefront of my mind.  I am definitely dreaming of some mountain running and summit beer drinking.  If I can’t run, I will hike.  Another positive note for not running – if we hike, it will be a lot easier to carry more beer.  Maybe this injury is a blessing in disguise.  Soon, I might be stumbling around the top of some 14er, lost, happy, laughing.  Hmm.. Excuse me while I go do some leg lifts and clam shells and dream about the mountains..

G Money on a run in Alaska

Giesla actually running in the mountains.  Not the dream stuff that I am doing right now.