Sunday, March 25, 2012

A First

For the first time ever, I had a complete disaster of a run today. Now, I've had bad runs in the past: tweaks and strains, forced walking, and the feeling of my heart ready to burst out of my chest on an easy 3-miler, but today was a lesson.

I set out for my 11-miler this morning along with my wife and her running buddies, starting from my in-laws' house in St. Louis Park, which is right along the Cedar Lake Trail. The goal was to head into Uptown and around Lake Calhoun and back, with a quick jaunt up towards Lake Harriet to get in a full 11 miles. Today was the first chilly morning in weeks, starting at a brisk 38 degrees, and I chose wind pants and a long sleeve with a t-shirt underneath. Of course, it warmed up a bit by the end and I was regretting the wind pants, but it wasn't altogether a complete over-calculation. Something was off this morning though, and my head just wasn't in it. I forgot a few things at home that I meant to bring with, and I was feeling somewhat numb mentally. It was, nonetheless, gorgeous and sunny, and it was nice to have a cool morning once again. I do better in cooler weather.

From the start, I didn't feel awesome, just ok. My legs didn't want to go, and my cadence was definitely slower than usual, yet my legs didn't feel tired or heavy. I realized quickly, however, that after a few sweet trail runs this week, I was generally not looking forward to this pancake flat piece of paved straightness, and I mean FLAT! I've always hated long flat courses; my body just doesn't do well with the exact repetition of stride for so long. I need even just a few small rollers to change it up, even if ever so slightly. Anyway, by the time I had reached Lake Calhoun, my right hip flexor and knee were already flaring up. Thankfully, the taping of my blisters worked like a charm, so that wasn't causing a gait change.

Once I reached the lake, things perked up a bit. The people out and about in combination with the lake as improved scenery helped me pick it up somewhat and move more smoothly. Perhaps my subconscious didn't want me to look like a stumbling moron in front of all the beautiful city folk, so I took it and ran with it (no pun intended, if that's even possible). Hey, whatever works, right? It was going well until I reached William Berry Parkway and headed up the only incline toward Lake Harriet. I had pinpointed the exact halfway point earlier on the map where I would turn around on Lake Harriet Blvd, but once I hit the western entrance to the bird sanctuary, I couldn't resist. I've run through there several times in the past while racing in the Uptown Chase, a fun run started by my friend Mel in her quest to create new and fun themes for a party. Anyway, it was great running through there again, and I had remembered that there was an exit on the south side, which I thought was just about exactly where I wanted to turn around. Once I hit that spot, however, I realized I had gone double the distance! This is where I started to get a bad feeling.

By the time I got back down to Calhoun, my knee was killing me, so I had to stop and stretch. From there, things went way downhill. I was shuffling at best, interspersed with walking, and a fair bit of cursing. I wasn't completely pissed, mainly because I had seen it coming, and with the way my morning had started out, it seemed to be the general order of the day. I ran into the girls who were stopped for some GU imbibing, and I wasn't surprised that they were ahead of me. I was doing one more mile than them, and I was moving much more slowly. I stole a quick sip of water from my generous wife, and asked if I could get back on the Cedar Lake Trail on the northwestern end of the lake, as to bypass the whole northern end. I was told that I had to go all the way back to the northeastern end to get on the trail, which is not at all what I wanted to hear, but set out quickly as not to prolong my suffering. Once I actually hit the trail, after two wrong turns, I saw the long, flat, lonely road of loneliness ahead of me, and my heart sank.

The last three miles were excruciating, both physically and mentally. I tried my darndest to keep positive and use this as a means to work on my mental toughness, but it's a fine line between pushing ahead at all costs and seriously injuring oneself, and it wasn't worth killing my training. Walking, shuffling, grimmacing...rinse and repeat. With about a mile left, I saw four people way up ahead, wearing the same colors as my wife and her friends. How the hell could they have gotten so far ahead of me? There was only one path and they didn't pass me! This was my last push of the run, to catch up with them without walking or stopping. Once I reached them, they were walking, so I joined them for the rest of the way. Apparently there was a shortcut to get back on the trail from the lake. Eff.

Since then, both of my knees and my right hip have been annoying, to say the least. We did hit up Pizza Luce for lunch, though, which was a truly redeeming post-run treat, complete with beer AND soda. What can I say, it's how I roll.

All of this has brought about a few observations, concerns, and questions. First, the observations:
  • I HATE flat pavement runs. It's not fun, interesting, or good for my body.
  • After talking with several distance runners, it seems that there is something magical about the 10-mile mark. It's decently easy to run up to that point, but as soon as you cross that distance, all bets are off. I wonder if it's mostly psychological, but there does seem to be a trend.
  • Although I worked diligently with my mechanics and form, my hip and knee still blew up. This either means that I need to address my body structurally through PT/chiropracting, and/or find a mechanics coach to work with here in the Cities, as my first choice is currently living in Oregon. 
  • I definitely need to bring water and GU if I'm running 10 miles or more. I figured that it wouldn't be a big deal because of the cool weather and my quality nutrition and hydration this morning, but I'm sure it was a factor.
  • Perhaps I should get back to doing more short runs on pavement, instead of doing all of them on trail, and then doing the long run on pavement. My trail race isn't until May, so I should probably stick to more road running - one race at a time. I just love the trails too much.
  • Although I consider my run a failure in regard to the goal of the workout, it gave me a ton of perspective and I learned a good deal for the future. That's one of the goals of training after all, isn't it? Now I take that learning and make use of it, keeping Rule #1 in mind - Never Give Up.
Now, the concerns:
  • As much as I love and am dedicated to minimalist running, it seems that I *might* need to use more than the Five Fingers for longer distances. I'm not opposed to getting minimalist road shoes with a little more EVA as cushion, but I really don't want to drop $100 or more at the moment. This is a dilemma for me. Anyone know how I can get a free pair of NB Minimus OO Roads? :P
  • If I had this much trouble with 11 miles today, how can I run 50 miles in the fall? What if I blow up like this at my half marathon at the end of April? I REALLY don't want to walk during a race. I'm not as concerned with this one, however, because everyone has bad days. Because this was my first truly bad day, I'll be patient and see how it plays out.
  • Due to finances, I may be able to choose only one or the other when it comes to structural rehab or mechanics coaching. Which one should I go for? If I go for the former, should I see a PT or chiropractor?
  • Could it be that my body in particular is simply not meant for distance running, no matter how hard I train, perfect my mechanics, and toughen myself mentally? (See Rule #1 above)
So there it is. I'll wait and see what my body does in the next few days. Perhaps I just need a few days off. I have plenty of time until the half in April, so I can rest a little, focus on the things I enjoy, namely trail running, and maybe (finally) do some more climbing.  I might switch it up a little and do some more strength training and short intervals, just to give my neural pathways something new to chew on.

Until next time. Wish me luck!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Knowledge, Good Advice, and Stupid Behavior

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Well, this has been an interesting adventure of a week, partly because of some of the choices I've made in my training. The unseasonably warm weather here in MN has affected everyone in the usual it's-spring-and-warm-so-let's-go-crazy-outside kind of way. Everyone and their brother's dog is outside walking, running, biking, or just hanging out by the grill. Going from the mid-40's and low-50's to upper 70's in just a matter of days has given me the illusion that the end of the school year is really close, and that I'm way behind in my training, but it's only mid-March! It's strange how much weather can affect us, and I am particularly sensitive to it. I'm sure that when I'm old I'll be one of those people who can predict thunderstorms because my knees hurt. In any case, I can't complain about the weather: the temps are comfortable, the trails are already dry, and my feet don't get numbingly cold walking barefoot around the house on our wood floors.

Due to all of this, I decided that it was time to do my first official truly barefoot run on Tuesday. With a temp in the mid-70's, I couldn't resist. I decided to go barefoot for the first short part, and then put on the Five Fingers to finish it out. The point at which I would put on the VFF's, however, was undecided when I left for the run. Now, did I know that I haven't run barefoot for anything more than about half a mile to a mile, and slowly at that? Yes. Have I read again and again how important it is to go slow, both in actual speed and progression of distance? Yep. Did I have all of that in my head when I left the house? Sure. Did I still end up tearing the skin off several of my toes and giving myself blisters on the balls of my feet? Damn right I did. As it usually happens with me, once I'm on the run, there's a disconnect between the logic and knowledge in my head and what my brain actually let's (or makes) me do. There have been numerous occasions when I've made stupid choices that have caused injury, pain, or complete exhaustion when I totally knew better. The best example is probably how I care for my fair ginger skin in the sun. You can imagine how someone who makes the type of choices I mentioned above might have dealt with some disgusting and excruciating sunburns over the years, but I must admit, I'm getting much better in that department.

So what is it about us that makes us do stupid things when we know better? I've heard numerous stories from dozens of people over the years who can relate. Is it stubbornness, a desire to prove that we're hardcore, or are we just having too much fun right until we hit the point of no return? In the particular instance of last Tuesday, I was just having too much fun, and I wasn't listening to my feet as well as I should have. I felt the heat building on a few areas of my soles, but figured a few hundred meters more wouldn't hurt (I really wanted to make two miles even, which I did). Because of that, I've spent the week with bandages on two toes and didn't run again until yesterday. In order to take care of my feet a little better, I took to the trails in my Merrel Trail Gloves yesterday as a sort of compromise and because I REALLY wanted to be in the woods again now that the trails are finally dry. It was actually a great 5-miler, but because I was sockless, the hotspots on the balls of my feet returned and became blisters once again. That will happen with temps around 80 degrees. With all of this, I'm wondering how my 10-miler on the road tomorrow will go. I'm taking it really easy today to rest my feet and am caring for my skin the best way I know how, but the concern is definitely there. The damage is done, and at this point I NEED to be smart, and yet my training plan is in my head, the beautiful weather is calling, and despite the pain and hassle I've experienced, it was still really fun and enjoyable, so what's really gonna make me stop? Middle ground can often be the toughest thing to find.

There seems to be something about human behavior that makes us act contrary to what we know is right, healthy, and logical. I have always believed that the world needs dissonance, strife, misery, and complexity in order for us to actually be happy. The scene from the movie The Matrix was right on, in my opinion, when Agent Smith explains that the first version of the Matrix was designed as a perfect world without suffering, and it was a total disaster because people couldn't handle it. Hell, it's the American Way when you think about it; a person thrives on utter despair to overcome the odds and pull themself up by their bootstraps to become successful and happy. We need the challenge.

All of this can be useful when you think about it. With every issue, one learns both their limits and how to overcome the negative results of said issue when it happens, that is, if they make the conscious effort to do so after it happens. As the saying goes; "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you always got." Especially thinking in terms of ultraunning, where the race is more of a survival test than a race, if I can learn how to deal with problems quickly and effectively, I'll be more prepared for the future and can hopefully avoid them altogether. It's often not enough to just hear or read someone else's advice, or acquire the knowledge secondhand, but rather we must actually go out and do it and make the mistake ourselves in order to truly learn and internalize it. This has been one of those times. I will now start over in my progression with barefoot running and do it right. To add one more proverb into the mix; "I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand."

With all of this, I'm sure some of you might be thinking; "Well done, Captain Obvious!" Perhaps I am stating the obvious in my observations, but I've found that it's valuable to remind oneself of the obvious from time to time, because that's the easiest thing to overlook. In closing, I'll say to you all, go out and make mistakes! 
**But try and be at least a little smart about it and learn from them.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Symmetry: Obsession vs. Reality

After a glorious weekend of 60+ degree weather and sunshine, barefoot season is officially upon us!  I had a breakthrough 9.25 mile run along the Mississippi on Saturday morning in my Five Fingers, clocking in at a 7:21 mile pace, which is 40 seconds faster per mile than my 7.5 mile run a couple weeks ago! It was thoroughly enjoyable, but my right side hip and knee were hitched up, causing some issues in the second half of the run. I've been trying to solve this issue in the last few weeks in particular, but it's been something that has occurred on and off since I started minimalist running. I know that this is partly a running mechanics issue, but I'm convinced that it's also due to the wonky body I'm working with.

For a long time now I've been obsessed with the notion of symmetry in my body in regard to achieving optimal athletic performance. I've felt that if I can find a way to balance things out, many of the issues I've had in the past will melt away. I'm very aware of the imbalances between the left and right sides of my body through experiences with rolfing and physical therapy, and just in looking at myself and feeling how my body moves on one side or the other. For instance, my right shoulder is a little higher and sucked in closer to my body than the left, my left hip is anteriorly rotated which I can feel in my normal walking gait, and my abs and lower back muscles function differently from one side to the other when I do the same side-isolated exercise on both sides. Now, this is not uncommon, and I won't consider myself a freak of nature yet, at least not in this capacity, but what can a person do about this, and does it really affect performance?

Most people are asymmetrical at least to some extent, be it shoulder height, hip alignment, or even nostril width and ear size. It's simply the way we are, and just like our friend above, it may help us (with super radar hearing), or it might cause issues (he'll never find a pair of headphones to fit both ears perfectly). After doing a little research, I discovered a few interesting things that apply to my incessant desire to be the best athlete possible.

Asymmetrical Nostrils Mess Up Your 800m Time

I suppose that because of my obsession I assumed that there would be plenty of research out there on symmetry and its affect on athletic performance, but I found a surprisingly small amount online. Admittedly, however, I did not delve deeply into medical journals, but rather took what Dr. Google showed me, so you'll forgive me for not engaging in a full-on medical research thesis just yet. In any case, I found two studies, one of which compared best 800m and 1500m times of fifty middle-distance runners after measuring symmetry in seven traits, including things like ear size, nostril width, and wrist width. For those of you not interested in reading the abstract, the conclusion was thus:
"We conclude that symmetry in traits such as nostrils and ears indicates good running ability."
That seems like quite a stretch, and I think the sample size needs to be increased greatly, along with actual measurements of 800m and 1500m times, but it's an interesting idea nonetheless. The second study - a literature review actually - dealt with the effects of bilateral asymmetry on running and cycling performance, risk of injury in otherwise healthy subjects, and leg preference. Although not a study in itself, it did some of the work for me, as it showed that the research on symmetry is less than robust and needs expansion. Alas, the verdict cannot yet be made, although I think I'll go measure my nostrils right now.

Not Symmetry, But Neutrality

In reading the blog by Kevin Neeld, Director of Athletic Development for Endeavor Sports Performance, he discussed symmetry as it applies to hockey players and made some interesting points that are relevant for all athletes, in my opinion. First of all, he points out that the movements hockey players make can cause asymmetries based on repetitive motions on one side or the other, such as shooting the puck from the dominant side most or all of the time. Those continual rotations with body weight on the same primary leg will cause muscles to develop differently on both sides. I would propose that this is true for many sports. For me, my many years of soccer could be a huge culprit, keeping my weight on my left leg to pass and shoot with the right. Any sport that involves shooting, kicking, or hitting from one side of the body could do this.

The second point, however, is something that I hadn't thought of before, and it has to do with what's inside of us, and no, I'm not referring to Gatorade's tagline. I'm referring to the organs in our body. Neeld goes on to note that the placement of the organs in our thoracic cavity may affect the balance of our bodies, such as the placement of the heart and pericardium on the left, the liver on the right, two lobes of the lung on the right but only one on the left, etc. No matter how hard a person works to achieve symmetry both muscularly and skeletally, you can't rearrange your organs, at least not without a Nazi doctor and some serious HIPAA violations. To this effect, Neeld supports the notion of neutrality in athletes, not symmetry, which makes a lot of sense, all things considered. So I guess I'm now working toward neutrality with my body. The question at this point, however, is how do I best go about doing that? Chiropracting? Physical Therapy? Postural restoration therapy? More rolfing? I'm interested in trying - or continuing - these forms of body work, but as they all cost money, I cannot indulge at the present moment to the extent I would like. I also feel that I must do some more research and focus on strengthening my body a bit more. One of the observations from the lit review mentioned above that I find helpful is that symmetry was improved by increasing running speed, and for cyclists, symmetry improved with greater workload. I did notice on my run on Saturday that my right leg felt better when I did some pick-ups and really opened it up, so maybe I just need to run really fast all the time. :)

Needless to say, I am still very interested in this topic and continue to pay attention to my body and how it moves. Perhaps I just need to stop obsessing and focus on getting stronger and moving more fluidly in a neutral state, even if it's not symmetrical. Neutrality, as it were, may just become a new mantra; "I am Switzerland."

On that note, I sincerely welcome your comments on the matter, and would especially love to hear from those of you in the medical community.

As the Swiss say, "zum Wohlsii!"

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Badass Defined

Bacon. I could end this post here with a title like that. What's badass? Bacon is. Have you ever thought to yourself, "How can I make this breakfast better?" The answer is always, unconditionally, bacon, even if you already have it on your plate. Think about it; is there anything in the world of breakfast that bacon doesn't go with, either on the side or in the dish itself? Consider how bacon has branched out into the lunch and supper realm: in sandwiches, wrapping filet mignon, and as a means to make damn near any vegetable or edible morsel better by offering it's supreme wrapability that can simultaneously provide crispy, salty, mouth-watering protein goodness. Take a moment right now and google "bacon products" and click on the images search. Go ahead, I'll wait. You found the motherload of bacon-inspired goods, didn't you? Bacon band-aids, shoes, lingerie, wallets, flavored products such as toothpaste, and even a statuette of St. Anthony, patron saint of bacon. Not only is bacon the badass of breakfast meats, it's simply badass all around. Several of my friends - and I've heard stories of countless more - lost their vegetarian fidelity to bacon and never returned to meatless consumption. Bacon has even become a sponsor for athletes, and badass athletes at that. My proof is in this video:

Bacon as "kryptonite?" Nooooooo! It's the secret weapon, you ignorant reporter! A thirteen-year-old with common sense (and some serious strength) is all you need to attest to that, although her coach does phrase it well; "Bacon is sooooo good!"

Now that I've got you all obsessed and drooling about the world's perfect meat (feel free to fry some up for a snack while you read, because this one's a long one), I'll continue on into an exploration of what badass truly means, seeing as it's the title of my blog. Here are the essential questions I posed to myself as I embarked on this task:
  1. Anyone can do something badass, but what makes a person a complete badass - a well-rounded, balanced-diet of a badass, if you will?
  2. What are the absolute necessary qualities of a badass, and which qualities are simply a bonus?
  3. Can you learn and practice to be a badass, or is it simply innate?  In other words, we're talking about ye ol' Nature vs. Nurture debate.
Let's get started, shall we?

Question #1 - There are many ways in which someone can do something badass. It takes daring, intelligence, and oftentimes a certain amount of style, but it's certainly possible, and I would gather that almost everyone has done something badass at one time or another, simply because humans tend to thrive on adversity. The world would be a seriously boring place if everyone were happy and there were no obstacles to overcome. Such badass accomplishments could range from enduring prolonged exposure to harsh elements under extreme pressure with few materials, such as the survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, or facing one's own inner demons to overcome some insurmountable mental, psychological, or physical task, such as the myriad success stories on "The Biggest Loser." The difference between that, however, and being a badass, deserves note.

Let's take, for example, an irrefutable badass like Bruce Lee. If we refer back to the original tenets of the definition I gave in my first post, we can all agree that Mr. Lee was intelligent, technically proficient, and driven by challenge. There was something distinct in his character that caused him to exude badassity...badassness...badassitude. He continually pushed the limits of martial arts, challenging not only himself both mentally and physically, but also the structure and format of martial arts in general. To this degree, I would say that being driven by challenge should also include challenging the status quo and not just oneself. A true badass, I would argue, is a source of change in the world, whether they know it or not.  I shall continue more on this when dealing with question #2. When asked to define what a badass is, many of you might simply answer similarly to the statement in the picture below.

"You'll know when you see one"

We can all picture someone who embodies this word, and in many cases it's just plain clear, but is there more to it than just following the three points in my definition? Are all three points of my definition valid, or do they need to be altered? Let's look at the general qualities of a badass first before we make the call.

Question #2 -As I've pondered more and more, there are quite a few qualities that come to mind when considering various badasses: toughness, ingenuity, skill, calmness under pressure, grit, control, strength, doing things on one's own terms, defying the status quo, and disregarding other's opposition and doubt, among others. Which of these, however, is an essential and necessary truth shared among all badasses?

Let's look at the original three first: intelligence, being technically proficient, and driven by challenge. The first seems like a no-brainer to me (no pun intended). Can you think of any true badasses who are also total meatheads? There needs to be something more substantial upstairs than a box of day-old doughnuts and reruns of Tom and Jerry. It should be noted, however, that intelligence isn't just how well you do math, knowing all of the German philosophers and what they stood for, or having a PhD in Science like our favorite TV scientist. According to the Multiple Intelligences Theory of psychologist and Harvard professor of neuroscience Howard Gardner, there are at least nine different types of intelligence that humans have in various combinations of aptitude and preference, and they are: linguistic, logical/mathematical, bodily/kinesthetic, musical rhythmic, spatial, naturalist, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and existential. Does this mean that a person could be an interpersonal badass? Do you know any naturalist badasses? The possibilities do seem viable, and when we talk about intelligence, there are certainly many ways to determine this.

Technical proficiency, being the second tenet, implies an amount of skill and precision in what the badass excels at, or in other words what the badass is known for. In order to be a badass, you must not only be good at something, but be able to do it in a way that stands out, which further implies proficiency, be it proficiency in a particular athletic discipline, proficiency in follow-through, or just simply at kicking ass, like our good friend Bruce Lee. Although a person may not seem proficient at the main goal they strive for, I would argue that proficiency in some other trait that will help them achieve that goal must be present.

Finally, to be driven by challenge seems ultimately vital to me, perhaps more so than the first two. There is no such thing as a lazy badass. Achievement must be among the traits of a badass, and not simply easy achievement, but conquering adversity in some way, shape, or form. As previously mentioned, the adversity conquered often changes perception in human possibility and alters the status quo, proving that the impossible is possible, just like Gordy Ainsleigh did in 1974 when he ran 100 miles in under 24 hours along side racers on horseback competing in the Tevis Cup. This is a badass who changed the face of trail running forever. He is also a badass with a heart of gold, still competing in the Western States, and giving hours of free chiropractic adjustments the day before the race at the pre-race meeting. Living life on your own terms, while simultaneously caring for and connecting with the people around you is truly the ideal badass, in my opinion. "Be the change you wish to see in the world," says our peace-loving badass friend Ghandi. I bet you never thought of Ghandi as being a badass, did you?

Furthermore, I would like to clear up what I find to be misuses of the word. The first is for a person who is simply strong or tough. A guy who can do 100 lb. bicep curls is not a badass, he's just strong. The same guy might be wholly unable to lift his own body weight over a fence (or wipe his own ass with all those muscles, for that matter). In the same light, having only toughness might help you make a name for yourself, such as with this guy:

"I pity the fool who tries to get me on a plane!"

But toughness alone does not a badass make, especially when you attempt something like this:

It's awkwardly cute, isn't it, folks?

The second case of misuse invovles people who are labeled a badass because they do everything their own way and don't care what anyone thinks, regardless of who they hurt or what they destroy. Now, don't get me wrong, I believe that following one's own path and living life on one's own terms is key to being a badass, but without concern for others and the world around you, you're not a badass. You're just an asshole. It seems there's a fine line in that distinction, but it also appears with all this rambling that we're closer to finding a few necessary truths: intelligence/reason, technical proficiency, driven by challenge, confidence in following one's own path (aka daring), and concern for others and world, which may manifest itself in various ways.

Let it be said that I do not consider myself to be a badass, and mostly for one reason - my follow-through. I have always been a little ADD (I use that term non-technically) with my endeavors, following my passions as long as they inspire me, and if I lose steam before accomplishing the goals I've set for myself, it hasn't usually bothered me if I relinquish my hold on those goals and move on. Periodically, however, I look back on the many things I've given up on and feel a bit depressed, as if I haven't done anything truly amazing. Since the inception of my new passion for ultrarunning, I've read a lot about treating it like a survival challenge, which does in effect blur the lines of success and failure, and it certainly changes the rules of racing. Success in its greatest form is finishing the race, and even perhaps in a good position. It might also mean making it farther this time than the last before you're yanked from the course because you haven't made the time cutoff. Failure, on the other hand, might mean not finishing, or worse yet by ending up in the hospital with kidney failure. This has challenged my definition of success and failure. If I don't finish the race, but I'm still upright and all body processes are functioning within the normal range (or maybe just slightly outside of it), that's not a total failure, because there was an adventure involved to which I gave my all, and most likely I learned something for next time. Because of this unique notion, I feel more inspired to go for it, because the stakes are what you make them, and failure will provide a positive learning experience.

For whatever reason - how I was raised, something I experienced early on in my childhood, or just my general wiring - I have never been ok with failure, and therefore have simply not done things that might cause me to fail, and I believe I've missed out on some huge opportunities for adventure, growth, and self discovery. Thus, I must add grit - otherwise known as perseverance - to my list of required qualities of badasses, because it acts, in and of itself, as a catalyst for self-discovery, which in turn leads to the daring of following one's own path, a necessary truth already on the list.  Quitting is not an option, even if failure is evident. I will refer you to "the Rules" that were laid out by my friend Sam Jurek (no relation to Scott), as he also embarks on his personal quest to be a badass, although he may not qualify it in that way. The version we discussed last summer at Western States included slightly more harsh language for #3, and rule #5 was slightly different, something to the effect of "It's probably your fault," but no matter. The key here are Rules 1 and 2. If you want a good example of these two rules, check out this read, and you will surely see a badass in action, although I guarantee some of you might question his intelligence, which brings me to the final point in question #2.

"But what about those people who refuse to give up and drive themselves to near oblivion in the process?"

It seems there must be a distinction between being a badass and having a death wish...or being just plain stupid. In this current age in particular, there has been a surge in people wanting to test the limits of human potential, going bigger, faster, or longer. I could list a ton of examples, some of which are truly inspiring, and some which make me question what on earth is going through the person's head, other than a stiff wind. The key here, however, is to "know thyself," just as free solo climber Alex Honnold does, seen in this segment of 60 Minutes, with the key comments starting around 9:09. An outsider can certainly look at someone and say that they are crazy, but only the person themself can know what they are capable of and willing to risk. The intelligence piece is knowing yourself well enough to not risk everything, but rather to walk that fine line as an art in itself.

Ok, so let's take stock of what we've got so far. We have the original three tenets I posted in my first post, along with the qualities of daring, concern for others and the world, and grit. Now on to the final question.

Question #3 - This question is the toughest one for me. Of course, I want to believe that anyone can become a badass, but something inside me says that one must be born with a certain amount of natural BA DNA, if you will.  Most of the qualities mentioned above can be practiced and honed, but I would argue that for some, a major trigger event is necessary to set them in motion, for example fighting and beating cancer. Let's face it, people are lazy, and you can't be a lazy badass. Intrinsic motivation can make a huge difference, but I don't think it's a necessary truth, because extrinsic motivation can be equally powerful. To this effect, I have noticed two types of badass:
  1. The Obvious Badass - This person may be intrinsically or extrinsically motivated and is clearly focused and driven. People in this group are not only those who don't give up in the face of adversity, but also excel in this state in an open and public fashion on their quest for personal glory, such as climber Chris Sharma. Note that I use the term "personal glory" not to allude to selfishness, but simply as a means to make a name for oneself.
  2. The Unassuming Badass - These are people who may be somewhat reclusive and introverted. They don't look for outside validation or fame of any kind, and in many cases, they may not even know how badass they are. They may also be people who are simply following a passion that takes them well into the realm of determination, toughness, and challenge. After watching a Discovery Channel documentary on the Iditarod sled dog race across Alaska, labeled as one of the toughest races ever, and certainly the toughest sled dog race in the world, female musher Dee Dee Jonrowe came to mind. The most successful female musher in the world today, she simply has a love for her dogs and watching them work. Straight-shooting, practical, and determined, she has made a solid name for herself in the world of mushing. Although definitely not reclusive (she certainly isn't trying to hide with the amount of hot pink on her dogs and her own person), her interviews show a person preoccupied with her dogs and less with herself. Her concern for others and the world sets her apart, as proven by the P.R.I.D.E. Foundation she created to promote healthy lives for the dogs.
I will say no more to this last question, as I think it's still very much open for discussion, but I will end with the question my wife posed to me while discussing all of this:

"Why do you want to be a badass?"

A relevant question indeed. To be perfectly honest, the title of this blog and my quest to become a badass are both tongue-in-cheek and ancillary. My true quest is simply to improve and excel at not only my athletic endeavors, but in my personal and work life undertakings as well. Consider it my New Year's resolution, as much as I hate the idea of that. I've reached a point in my life where I've grown tired of the undesirable qualities I have, and want to work on them by using sport as the modus operandi. This is all an experiment to see if I can awaken my intrinsic motivation, change patterns and habits in my life that are useless or detrimental in some way, and discover my utmost limits (or at least prove to myself that the self-imposed limits I've presumed for so long are completely worthless). If successful in some or all of those feats, the bonus result would be that I am a bit more badass.

So, my dear readers, as always I will invite you to comment, as I'm very curious to hear your thoughts on the matter, because most of this is just musing on my part, and there certainly is much more to discuss.

Until next time, cheers!

Your parting shot
"He sprints on his hands"