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Tag: Ultra running

Winning Through Attrition

In a study of the major wars that shaped the course of history, the strategist and historian B.H. Liddell Hart found that only 2% of battles were won due to a direct attack. The majority of successful armies throughout history, Hart writes, all had the “power of endurance to last.” As Ford put it, “You just have to find a way to stick it out, to prevail.” “Lengthen your timeline…It always takes longer than you think it’s going to take. That’s Hofstadter’s law. And even when you take the law into account, you’re still surprised.”

Ryan Holiday

Ultrarunning is about consistency, not a single big event like a 100 or 200-mile distance. If you find an ultrarunner, they are usually consistent—in what they do, what they say, and how they act. They know the battle is won over the long term by showing up daily, enduring sickness, injury, and weathering unexpected storms. It’s not one single race or event that earns you the label of “ultrarunner”; it’s more a mindset and a series of daily habits. The idea is that you have to keep showing up and putting in the work to achieve long-term goals.

The war of attrition
This was the best image I could get for an ultrarunner in “The War of Attrition”

Long timelines are what life is about. There’s no quick fix, shortcut, or substitute for hard work. Those who earn something quickly often suffer from imposter syndrome and struggle to maintain their rapidly achieved fame or success.

‘Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year and underestimate what they can accomplish in a lifetime’ 

When you stretch out the timeline, your odds of winning the war greatly increase. How about 2 or 3 years? You need to be realistic, but that’s not to say you can’t set a huge goal.

You are constantly engaged in micro-battles for your time, as I detailed in this post about the attention economy. Every day, you will face small tasks that take less than 2 minutes but are essential to becoming a better version of yourself. Go to war with yourself and WIN in the long run by overcoming the naysayers and the negative voices in your head. These small victories will help you succeed in your ongoing war of attrition against your own doubts and obstacles.

One caveat to this is that consequences create meaning. It’s not to say you should go on forever in your war of attrition, but something has to be at stake. That’s where signing up for a race puts you in the battle with the “100 miler monster.” You will take action in life when there’s a high penalty; otherwise, you will be lazy and unmotivated in your war of attrition.

Races are when the war comes to your doorstep—that one-on-one fight with the current version of yourself and the challenge in front of you. They provide the ultimate penalty, especially the ones where you could DNF (Did Not Finish). No training = no completion = no finish = no reward. Even if you do DNF, you will learn from the attempt. Racing keeps you honest.

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

Consequences create meaning and urgency. Your time is limited, but it’s often hard to see that, like the frog in the boiling pot of water. If you don’t recognize when things are taking too long or when time is running out, you risk never achieving your goals. Don’t let time waste away on trivial things—manage your focus.

Your health is your most critical currency, and many waste it away. Be aware of the ticking clock and the importance of each moment. Get out there before it’s too late and keep fighting, keep doing meaningful things, until you’re fully cooked and the war is over.

A watched pot never boils?

Pursuit of Happiness

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, right?  Read that last one again.  It’s an interesting line in the Declaration of Independence.  Thomas Jefferson, the main author of the Declaration of Independence, was influenced by the work of John Locke. Locke wrote about life, liberty, and property as fundamental rights.  It would have been a completely different world if the US was only about pursuing property.

Ultras and part of your inalienable rights

Happiness is a vague term, but I’m glad they used it.  Ask someone to define it and you’ll see what I mean.  Holding happiness is even harder.  I like to relate it to trying to grab a fist full of sand.  You can hold it for a while, but it’s not long before it slips through your fingers.  It’s a perpetual moving target, especially with the challenges of adulthood/aging.  In the Declaration of Independence, we were only guaranteed the pursuit, not actual happiness.  The thing is that you get to decide what to pursue.

What it feels like trying to hold happiness

Our lives can revolve around anything we deem important, the choice is yours.  Nobody will stop you if you have the time or no other commitments.  Things that seem like a waste of time to you could bring others incredible joy and happiness.  You have to be careful where you put your time.  Some choices will bring judgment from others because they can’t relate.  Physical fitness is a fine thing to sink your time into.  I’ve gone deep on running, and most commend you for your accomplishments.  We all have addictions to some degree, it’s just some might be more visible than others.

Freshly bottled happiness after creation.

There are so many choices for your “Pursuit of Happiness”.  How do you know if you picked the right one for you?  One thing you could use to measure it is how long the feeling lasts. I called it the “shelf life of happiness”.  How long after the activity does the feeling begin to fade?  Some pursuits always make me smile when I think about them. 

  • Highest shelf life experiences
    • Difficult challenges
    • Experiences with friends and family
    • Creating art and media
    • Travel
    • Volunteering
    • Teaching

  • Lowest shelf life experiences
    • Consuming media (social, video games, TV, etc.)
    • Impulse purchases
    • Mindless Scrolling
    • Gambling

The high shelf-life memories are burned into my mind and replay often.  The ones I can’t seem to replay are things where I consumed media, be it social, or TV.  The little slices of happiness are short-lived and fade quickly.  We get into this loop of what feels good and makes us happy, so we do more of it.  Those difficult challenges shared with friends and family are the ones that bond people together and go well past the expiration date.  If I start a day with a hard run or workout, happiness can last most of the day.  It makes the other events of the day, even if they are stressful, easier than they should be because the happiness from that activity is still strong inside me.  

Happy memories aging in a jar.

Memories fade, no matter how well we try to preserve them.  Believe me, as someone who’s worn a camera on his head for 100 miles.  Even after a big race, or vacation with friends and family, the photos and videos won’t stop happiness from fading. The days after seem to be the worst.  They are followed by a struggle to set your targets for your next pursuit.  Holding happiness seems impossible because you are trying to lock your state of mind.  We adapt and return to our base level of happiness after coming down from a high.

Memories past the “best by” date on the jar.

Awards, medals, or buckles that sit on a shelf may not seem like they are worth much.  They are worth what they represent.  It is a symbol of an experience, a struggle to do something great while you can.  It’s that old cliche about “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”  Sadly, everything has a shelf life.  Everything spoils at some point.  The best you get is a moment in time. I’m bottling and putting those little moments in jars with friends and family even if they spoil.  The nice house, fancy car, and amazing job mean nothing when you’re 90 years young. The last thing you’ll own is your mind and a handful of memories nobody can take from you.  Good luck with that pursuit in whatever you choose!  

What happy memories last the longest in your mind? Let me know in the comments below. If you enjoyed please share it with someone you think might enjoy it! Thanks for reading!