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Category: Running

Fear or Curiosity

There are two primary ways to handle most of life’s difficult situations: fear of the unknown or curiosity about what lies ahead. Curiosity is the better choice of the two, and there’s a good reason. It embodies a desire to understand how things work. The key is to reframe the internal dialogue when fear raises its voice. It’s okay to feel fear, but it’s important to learn to speak over it and start asking questions. Choosing curiosity as your default response is more beneficial than succumbing to fear, and the choice is yours! You have the power to act and speak to drown out the voice of fear in your mind.

Don’t get furious, get curious.

Asking a silly question or taking a risk has often paid off for me. Reflecting on the major triumphs in my life, each one seemed beyond my grasp until it became reality. It’s remarkable to consider that if you fixate on a goal in your mind and refuse to give up, you can make it your own.

The next time you’re confronted with a fear-filled thought, try asking questions instead. Cultivate curiosity about the situation and explore why you feel afraid. Fear is the default reaction of our minds. Thoughts like “I don’t want to look like a fool,” “I have no idea what I’m doing,” and “This will never work” often race through my head. Fears may hold some truth the first time, but they diminish with experience. Remember, you possess the innate ability to improve your circumstances. Almost everyone experiences imposter syndrome; it’s part of our makeup. The challenge today is that social media often showcases only the highlights of people’s achievements, not their beginnings. But everyone starts somewhere. By asking the right questions, you can embark on a journey that shifts you away from a mindset dominated by fear.

I have a few things that can help you fight your fear with curiosity in your day-to-day life:

Stop comparing. Start somewhere, no matter how small, and make tiny progress. You will achieve anything you keep putting constant effort into EVERY SINGLE DAY, not just once in a while.

Seek out those at the top of their field and ask how they got started. People are doing what you want to do. Read their books, listen to their podcasts, and try to surround yourself with the tools to make progress. You are an average of the people you associate with most, be it real or fictitious.

Perfection is unattainable.  Those who overcome fear are those who are comfortable with the metaphorical punches—the setbacks and embarrassments. They are fine with appearing foolish, finishing last, lifting lighter weights, or struggling with a single chin-up or push-up. It’s the story you tell yourself that’s holding you back. You can acknowledge those thoughts, but then move on to start asking the right questions on how to change your current situation. If you do the work, you will eventually get to where you want to be.

Keep a journal of the little wins. Our minds love these small victories, no matter how minor they may be. It’s rewarding to the brain when we get things right. In an ultrarunning race, I break down each aid station into little checkpoints and do a mini-celebration once I reach them. I arrive, happy to see the aid station workers, eat some food, and celebrate the small triumph. Then, I shift focus and push myself to leave the aid station. This is a metaphor for success. On your road to victory, have a map or a planned outline of where you want to go, follow the route, enjoy the successes along the way, and then pause to look for what’s next. Shift your focus to the next target and keep moving forward.

In an ultra race, I am always curious about what’s coming up next on the course, whom I will meet, where they are from, and what they do for a living. How did they get to where they are now? Curiosity, not fear, drives me in these events. Fear cripples; fear diminishes you. It will get dark at times, but I am always curious about what the finish line will feel like and what food they will have at the end. I don’t memorize every detail as I head into a race because I enjoy the element of surprise. It’s that curiosity that can propel you as well if you keep seeking it in all your daily activities. Thank you for reading. What ignites curiosity in you during your adventures? Let me know in the comments below.

Philadelphia Trail Marathon – Running Your Own Race

Three weeks after my first 100-miler of the season, I had to switch focus to the Philadelphia Trail Marathon. Recovery was a struggle. Sickness had swept through the house, and I couldn’t seem to shake a cold for days following the Rabid Raccoon 100. It might also have been due to my body being run down from battling the “mud monster” that was that 100-miler. I focused on sleep and recovery because there wasn’t much running I needed to do. I just kept walking, as most do after a 100-mile race, to keep the blood flowing through my legs to speed up recovery. “Motion is lotion,” as the saying goes.

This wasn’t an “A” race for the season; the Rabid Raccoon was, so this marathon was more of a fun afterthought. However, I didn’t want to skip it—I had so much fun last year, and I love racing in the Wissahickon. For those who don’t know, I have been coming here since I was a little kid. I’ve explored every part of the park, documented it, and filmed it—you name it. There’s almost nothing in the entire 50 miles of the park that I haven’t seen. With that said, this is relevant to the topic of this post and race report. Life is not fair, and neither is racing. You will race against people who have trained in this park, running on these trails. That is so critical for performance that I’ve learned your training has almost identically to mirror the race you are preparing for.

I will not waste food! Getting some dirt off my orange slice.

If this was your first time racing the Philly Trail Marathon, you now have your benchmark. You must manage your expectations at all times in racing, and it’s only once you have completed a distance that you can gauge where you might perform come race day. There are other factors that can affect race day performance, such as sickness or injury. There’s only so much you can control! That part is crucial for truly successful racing. You are constantly managing the variables you CAN control. Don’t waste a single thought on the competitor next to you, the weather, or the aid station food they may or may not have. Great race execution comes from controlling what you can in the lead-up to and on race day.

My format for most of my race reports is the same: I write out three things—what went right, what went wrong, and what I would do differently. Why? It’s a brief recap for myself for the NEXT time, for the future version of me when he faces a similar race or course. History tends to repeat itself, so if you are not learning from your mistakes, you will make little to no progress in this sport. If it’s just about being out there, which is a lot of what my true intention is, then this might not matter to you. However, if you are getting frustrated with your performance, then start doing an audit of each race or benchmark performance, which you can do yourself, and see where there can be improvements.

What went right?

A lightweight kit, one water bottle, and minimal food. I had two packs of shot blocks, two RX bars, and tailwind packs to refill my bottle. The food was perfect. I saw the predicted weather and I knew this was going to be a fast race, only slightly sloppy in some sections, but a non-issue. The Wissahickon doesn’t hold water on the single tracks, just on Forbidden Drive. Had there been hot weather, I would have changed my strategy for hydration, but I ended up using one bottle and skipping some aid stations. This worked very well. I could tell I wasn’t sweating, and I was making sure to keep eating about 300 calories after the first hour.

I caught this dude sleeping at an aid station. Always grab and GO!

My mindset going into this was that I was racing MYSELF, nobody else. I didn’t care how I did in this race. I had originally thought about not bringing my hat camera since the video I got last year was decent. I was GLAD I did. Either I have gotten better at editing video, or just the clips came together well because I feel like I made a better video than the year before.

What went wrong?

I set a Pace Pro strategy on my Garmin watch for 9:20, which was a stretch as I knew I was still not fully recovered from the 100-mile race. This should have been more realistic and maybe a little bit slower. Part of me thought I should just take a shot at it since there wasn’t much to lose. I got a little lazy with putting Tailwind in my refills and just used water after the first bottle. There was one slip-up I made with pace. When I finished the first lap, I was so excited and started pushing too hard of a pace. That was a bad decision as it just intensified the effects on my already tired legs. I should have monitored the pace better and dialed it back some. I shouldn’t have had a 7:37 pace on mile 14. What happens is when you tax the system like that, it puts stress on your legs on the downhills. Huge mistake, that did nothing but wreck my legs and give them a really heavy feeling as the miles proceeded. You have to slow down for downhills; there’s no benefit in blasting down them with the amount of damage it does to your legs. Next time I will exercise more restraint.

Stephen cut down the tree the night before to add an obstacle

What I would do differently?

There wasn’t much that went wrong with this race. I was very dialed in for the first lap but got too excited on the second. I need to be patient, and I have had that same thing happen in 100 milers too. You start feeling good so you push, but that’s exactly the time you should be holding back. If you feel good in a marathon, it WILL pass.

So, I kept running my race. I didn’t care who passed me, or what else happened out there. I was just racing myself. Now, I didn’t beat my previous time, but I know that every day you line up at the starting line, the variables change. Conditions are never 100% the same; you get what the day gives you, you control what you can, and you have fun. My ability to stay happy increases my performance more than anything else. Laughing, smiling, and knowing there are just a handful of these experiences in life keep me pushing hard in most races because they are a rare opportunity at this stage in my life.

Getting a hug from my family at the finish line.

On a side note, it was pretty funny how many people saw last year’s video on YouTube and mentioned something. I was glad that it was helpful to some, and several people said they used my GPX file from the site to train on the course. That is why I am doing all of this—to help others achieve their running dreams and goals. 

The last piece of advice I’ll leave you with for training is this: My favorite new quote is, “Easy for those who work hard, hard for those who work easy.” If you found this race difficult, chances are it was either your first time, or you didn’t train on enough hills. It would be best if you replicated the vertical gain per mile in your training runs. For instance, this run has an average of 3,300 feet of elevation gain over 26 miles, which is about 127 feet per mile. So if your training runs don’t average that leading up to the Philadelphia Trail Marathon, you’ll likely have a tough day. It’s the best advice I can offer for those who want to perform well in this race.

Let me know in the comments below how your Philadelphia Trail Marathon went. What would you have done differently if you had the chance? Thanks for reading, and thanks to all those who help make this race possible.

I stayed up too late editing this on Sunday night, but I wanted to get it out into the world.