Tag Archives: grinding

Grinding Towards Beauty

So yesterday I decided to avail myself of being so close to a few of the most amazing national parks in the United States, if not the world.  The park of choice?  Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah.  This was really a two-part kind of initiative… because, you know… I’m all about efficiency!  YEAH!  OK, I really never thought of it at a two-part anything.  I just wanted to hike a park whose beauty I’ve long heard stories about.  I just wanted to seem like an efficiency ninja.

The mission was to hike the Angel’s Landing trail.  Now, being someone who likes to have a bit of an understanding of the challenges before me, I decided to read up a bit on what this trail was going to be all about.  This is what I found:

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Hmm.  “Strenuous… Long drop-offs… not for anyone fearful of heights…”  Plus look at that cheerful little illustration of the figure launching himself into the abyss off a cliff.  SUCH FUN!  Plus, I’m an elite athlete in great shape.  My legs are my strong point.  So, in other words… COME AT ME BRO!

So off to Zion I went.  I slapped down my $25 entry fee (good for 7 days, I may add, in the event you want to come back) and made my way to The Grotto area where the West Rim trail begins along the Virgin River.  And I defy you, my friend, to enter into that park, realize you are looking for The Grotto and not continuously sing about it a la Elvis Presley’s “In The Ghetto”.  Seriously.  Can’t be done.  Especially not after I placed that in your head.

The hike starts off just fine, rolling along the edge of the Virgin River and I was feeling mighty fine with high 60’s/low 70’s weather.

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Look at how happy and at-ease I am! Also, please notice, that I am at the bottom of the hike near the river.  This is not a coincidence.

Umm… and then you begin to hit the incline as the path turns towards the heavens and you begin your ascent.  Holy.  Freaking.  Cow.  It basically becomes an uphill assault on your body with much of the path twisting back and forth and always an exposed side with more of a drop than you care to think about.  Don’t get me wrong – with each passing loop up and up, the views get more and more spectacular.  I ‘m not sure I appreciated them as much as I could have on the way up since I went with my typical approach of going up any steep hill – head down, keep moving and no need to look far ahead because you’ll know when you’re done.

And that’s an important takeaway that has to do with more than just hiking.  As anyone reading this blog knows, I enjoy physical activity a lot, but I’m always looking to find the bigger lesson.  In this case, the approach I would use for a big, long hike up a steep incline is the same as any other big challenge I would face in life – you sometimes just need to put your head down and keep moving.  If you spend all your time looking only at the finish line, the only thought in your head will be that you have SO much farther to go… so many more steps… when will I ever get there… it’s just so hard.  Yeah, that ain’t gonna help with much of anything.  But the process of taking step after step?  Of just driving forward and grinding?  Provided you are pointed in the right direction, you will get there… so why worry about how much farther it’s going to be?  Process over end result can yield a huge win.

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The view from the pinnacle is always worth the struggle.

Well, this process eventually got me to the top.  I felt tired, but elated.  Look at me!  I’m at the top!  Wait, there’s a sign over there… ohh, Angel’s Landing is a little farther.  Only a 1/2 mile eh?  Wait a second… it’s over THERE?!?!?!?  And I need to climb up a cliff face using chains?!?!?

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Umm… yeah, probably not happening today.

I decided to pass up that final 1/2 mile.  I had a few woozy moments on the way up with a nice wide path – I wasn’t in the mood to see how I would feel while hanging off chains on the side of a cliff.

To make up for this less-than-heroic moment, I decided to jog most of the way back down – maybe 1.5 miles worth.  It went fast, smooth and I felt amazing by the time I got to the bottom.  Plus, I had the chance to pause and get one more shot of my shining face:

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It’s all smiles on the way back down.  Smile and really sweaty baseball hats.

It was a great experience that I really cannot recommend strongly enough.  The feeling of being up there and admiring all that amazing natural beauty is hard to put into words.  You feel incredibly small, but incredibly peaceful all at once.

In the end, I took away a few important thoughts:

1) As much as my legs burned on the way up, the payoff was amazing.  You never get the truly great experiences without a little bit of sweat equity.

2) Big challenge.  Head down.  Feet moving.  Don’t stop.  You’ll get there.

3) This didn’t fit my neatly detailed training for the day as I prepared for Tough Mudder.  I did not have my GPS tracker on to tell me exact logging of every step and detail and informational nuance.  Who freakin’ cares?  I got my butt handed to me in gorgeous weather in one of the most beautiful places on earth?  You have to know when data adds nothing but confusion to what should be a very clear path.

I encourage you to find some beauty and grind to get it… and along the way, you may just find beauty in the grind itself too.  I know I did.

Welcome to the Suck

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The suck welcomes thee.

A book I read a few years back and enjoyed immensely was “Jarhead” by Anthony Swofford. It’s his personal story of being a Marine sniper during the first Gulf War and is both interesting and extremely well-written.

One line from the book that always stuck with me was the greeting new Marines would receive from their comrades when first getting to Iraq… “Welcome to the suck.”

470524_3298591025221_1281256846_3250509_233616841_oI must confess I get that notion a little bit of late.  As I begin to really hone my focus more for my May 6th Tough Mudder, I begin to switch up my training program from a primarily strength-focused regimen to one where I lift less and run more… a lot more.  Up until this point, most of my running was in the form of sprints (either on a football field or up a hill) or while playing a sport (usually soccer or basketball).  Running for the sake of just… well… running?  Sweet mother of God… why would anyone want to do that?  But here I am… a dude who is running in my super-jazzy new New Balance kicks (lovely, aren’t they?) and doing all I can to get myself into running shape for my race.

So where does the suck come in?  Simple:  My lifting (my pride and joy!) is taking a hit right now as I am spending more energy and recovery resources with running. However, my running is really not very good… at least not yet.  That puts me in the middle of a bunch of suck.  My good thing is becoming worse (although that should level out soon) and the thing I am spending a ton more time on… well… I’m still a bit awful at.  POWERFUL SWEET!

But this isn’t a post about wallowing in the suck, bemoaning my state of being to the uncaring Fates… ohh not at all, not at all.  This mucky middle I find myself in… this place where I am feeling all out of sorts… is actually a good place, even if it doesn’t feel that way.  This is a growth spot – a place where I am firmly out of my comfort zone and figuring out what I can do.

It hurts.  It’s frustrating.  It’s certainly not all that much fun.

It’s also supremely satisfying in a lot of ways (at least after the fact when I am done running, I feel good and I am popped on the couch watching Manchester United play soccer like I did today).

Tomorrow I will get up and run again.  It will (hopefully) hurt a less little and I will be a little quicker.

In short… I will embrace the suck until the suck it is no more.

In The Grind

I’ve known a few different people in my life who have been stuck in health situations you wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Situations that would make even the most stouthearted people you’ve known droop their heads in despair.  There is nothing pretty, glamorous or glitzy to be found for someone pushing through those kinds of life moments – not surprising, of course.  They don’t do jazzy MTV reality shows about people battling leukemia.

But when I’ve looked at the way they’ve braved their way through those situations, I’ve always come away with a mixed bag of feelings that take me some time to sort out.  There is the inevitable sadness and questioning of why something so awful could possibly happen to someone so good.  There is the fleeting feelings of “Will they get better? Will they pull through?”  I feel really thankful that any of these notions (at least for me) were, in fact, fleeting and quickly replaced with a determined answer of “Damn straight they’ll get better.”

The most profound feeling I tend to have is a blended sense of pride in the dignity with which they carried themselves, admiration for their bravery and a very dedicated notion that I have absolutely nothing to complain about in my own life.  I mean, how could I?  Even the worst moments of my day are so thin and pale compared to even some of the best parts of their day.  The worst day you could possibly have in the office will simply melt in the face of the best day of someone with chemo.  It makes you get your mind right… and quickly.

Now here is what I find amazing about those in that fight: the people outside of the fight will see their courage, bravery and utter determination to fight through someone awful.  There is incredible heroism in it all.  But you know what?  Anyone going through that fight never sees it that way until maybe much, much later, when they have pulled through and the dust has settled… and probably not even then.

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When they are in the grind, there is nothing heroic to feel in that moment.  Just a push to get better.  A push to not feel like everything is crashing down.  A push for the next moment to feel better than the last one.  How heroic would you feel if you were stuck in a moment like that?  Not very.

It is only to those who stand outside and watch with terror and awe that it can be that way.

But this is why it’s so important to understand this feeling of pushing through those dark moments: When we have our own difficult journeys or life challenges, most of us will never feel as if there is some noble purpose to it all.  We are hyper-fixated on the fact that the moments sucks, we hate it and we just want to be through with it as fast as possible.  However, if we can have just a flash of inspiration in those dark times, a point of self-realization that our moment is actually an opportunity for us to show our mettle… then we have something good and real, even when stuck in the muck.

It reminds me of something I read recently where we shouldn’t pray for help, but should pray for challenges with which to prove ourselves.  Clearly no one is going to pray for a grave disease or the loss of a job or something like that.  Let’s not turn this into some kind of insane gauntlet of masochistic self-discovery.  But the perseverance of those who have gone through REAL hardships and have come through with grace and class have shown me that as bad as I may feel in the grind, there is always, always, always potential meaning to it for me.

The part that requires strength is accepting that fact, even when I am on my knees, broken and wishing it would all end.  That’s why the inspiration of those I’ve seen push through it before drive me.  And fight on, I will.