Life Lessons From a 50K

My body still aches, but my heart is giddy. I recently took a giant step toward achieving my 50-mile goal. 72,829 steps to be exact. 

This August, I completed my very first ultramarathon, The Kodiak Ultra, a 50K in the local San Bernardino mountains. 32.1 total miles of hiking, running, scrambling, and at times shuffling, through dirt, sand, and rocks. Through peaceful pine forests, dusty trails, and breathtaking views at 8,000 ft. Through hours of quiet solitude, mercifully peppered with moments of companionable chatter. 32.1 miles carried me from euphoric optimism, through the pit of self-doubt, ultimately surrendering to fatigue and discomfort to finally accept that I was, indeed, strong enough to finish. 

The endeavor took me 11 hours 21 minutes 20 seconds. I finished 210 out of 215 total 50k runners. And I feel glorious. 

It’s taken me four years to get here from shattering my ankle in 2019. The injury that inspired my 50-mile race dream. Since then, I’ve gone through three additional surgeries and two rounds of Covid, before finally making it to the start line of my first ultra. 

I think it’s fair to say I’m a changed person after the race. A stronger, more resilient person. Physically and mentally. 

But something else happened on the course that I wasn’t expecting. An opening, a softening, an acceptance of myself and others that was not there before walking through the start line. I was shown such incredible selfless kindness throughout the entire course. Strangers believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Others encouraged me to keep going and told me I could do it when I was plagued by self-doubt. People I never met before did not accept me giving up. So even though the race was one of the most solitary experiences of my life, it was also a time I felt incredibly connected to others.

A huge bonus of the entire experience was getting to know a group of badass women that also braved the wilderness to conquer their first ultra race – just because it sounded like a fun bucket-list challenge. My kind of people. 

And so it is with gratitude and pride that I can share some life lessons I learned from completing a 50K.

Tree to Tree

“Little by little, a little becomes a lot.”

-Tanzanian proverb

There was a piece of the course, about 1/4 into the race, that ascended almost 2,000 ft in 2.5 miles. We had just come off a long luxurious downhill, dropping to just below 6,000 ft, the lowest point on the course. At the bottom, we were greeted by a water station, stocked full of snacks and hydration options, as well as, curiously, a Bloody Mary bar. 

It was fairly early in the race, so I was still feeling strong and energetic. I indulged in sponging my neck with ice water, passed on the vodka and snacks, and resolutely turned into the mountain to begin the climb. 

At first, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the single-track trail, ducking under low-hanging branches and moving through a wilderness that seemed virtually untouched. 

My enthusiasm quickly wore off as my heart rate climbed and my glycogen depleted. 

I frequently stopped to catch my breath and lower my heart rate. The distance to the aid station at the top started to feel impossible. The mileage on my GPS watch was barely changing as the minutes ticked by. I was moving at a snail’s pace.

I had to refocus. The exposed south side of the mountain was hot and dry. I started telling myself to just hike until the next shady spot before allowing myself to rest again. I had to break up the climb into smaller, more manageable pieces. At every shaded piece of trail, I allowed myself to stop for about 10-30 seconds, drink some water, catch my breath, then proceed on. When the trail turned and became completely covered in shadow, and I was completely exhausted, I told myself to just make it to the next tree. 

Yes – just the very next tree in a forest of thousands. Sometimes it was 3 feet, sometimes 10. Sometimes I didn’t stop at all. The important point is I gave myself a shorter target, a smaller unit of success. The goal was no longer the top of the mountain. The goal was just the next tree. 

And little by little, by just getting to the next tree, I eventually found myself at the top. 

Sometimes in life, we feel overwhelmed by all we must do. The list of tasks can feel endless, especially if we are out of our comfort zone or trying something new. In hard times, even just getting through the day can feel insurmountable. 

If focusing on the end goal becomes paralyzing and overwhelming – we must focus on smaller steps that can be accomplished immediately, however crudely. Hobbling to each tree is definitely not a representation of a graceful ultra-marathoner – yet inarguably a successful one.  We have to keep moving forward – through the uncertainty, through the fear, through the discomfort and imperfection. The trees won’t come to us, we must move to them. Many small steps add up to big progress.  

Find your tree and celebrate it. And after that, find your next one, and then your next, until eventually, you reach your destination. 

40% Rule

“Only you can master your mind, which is what it takes to live a bold life filled with accomplishments most people consider beyond their capability.”

-David Goggins

As I approached the halfway point of the race, I was emotionally and mentally crumbling. I was physically drained and questioning in my mind over and over if I could do it. I started telling myself I couldn’t. I began making excuses for my body, for my neck, for everything possible to grant myself the freedom to surrender my bib. I told myself I was barely making the time cut-off to the 18-mile mark and it was extremely unlikely I would be able to pick up the pace quickly enough to make the final cut-off before the finish line. I began convincing myself it would be better to tap out with my family at the mid-way aid station so they could take me home, rather than being pulled off the course miles away for missing my cut-off time and relying on course workers to get me back to the finish. My will had dried up, my belief in myself had vanished and my fighting spirit had disappeared. At mile 18 I was a hobbling, vacant zombie trudging forward – no, shuffling forward – with crippling self-doubt. When I saw my family at the halfway point, I broke into tears and buried my face in my husband’s chest, hoping he would comfort me and tell me it would be ok to quit. He didn’t. He graciously sat with me as I guzzled the deliciously cold diet coke I asked him to bring. He patiently waited for me to finish a granola bar. And then gently, but firmly, he told me to keep going. He was not going to let me give up on myself. Deflated, but secretly grateful, I waved goodbye to my family and the possibility of a warm shower for at least another 6 hours, and started back up the trail. Miraculously, I made it to the next checkpoint before the time cutoff where an aid worker barked at me to keep moving, pick up the pace and get it done. A little offended, I begrudgingly continued. There were 7 miles until the final aid station, and then 4.6 miles to the finish. I couldn’t comprehend that added together that was almost 12 miles. Overwhelmingly, almost another half marathon. No – I couldn’t look at it like that. 

Tree to tree, I told myself. Tree to tree. 

When my watch read 26.2 and I officially hit a marathon distance I felt a little spark of pride in the achievement. At that point there was less than a mile to the final aid station followed by a downhill run to the finish line. 

And then, like a lightning bolt, I was shocked by a realization that stopped me in my dusty tracks. 

There was going to be a medal at the finish line. 

If I made it to the finish line but missed the time cut-off, I would not get the medal. I would leave with the bruises and pain, but not with the iconic racer’s symbol of completion. There would be nothing to hang next to my 20+ other race medals in my closet. No physical emblem to prove that regardless of my surgeries and injuries, I am still strong. 

No. Absolutely no way was I going to finish the race without the medal. My fortitude strengthened, I mentally dug in, and I changed my mindset from “can I do this?” to the certainty that “I will do this.”

My belief in myself reignited, and I no longer doubted or questioned if I would finish. I KNEW I would finish. I decided I would. I took charge of my destiny. And I no longer gave myself an “out” or an excuse or reason to stop. 

The switch in my mind flipped. How my body felt was no longer relevant. I cruised the rest of the way to the finish. With a smile. 

David Goggins, an ex-Navy Seal, ultramarathon runner, and now motivational speaker, has famously coined the 40% rule. He says, “When we feel completely tapped out, when our mind is telling us that we are done – we are actually only 40% done. We still have 60% left to give.”

Most often, it is our mind that holds us back. Our biggest limitation is ourselves. 

When life gets hard – and it always does – I think it’s important that we start looking inside ourselves for the change we want to see. Inside ourselves, we have the answers. We can always find a million excuses. A million reasons to justify why not and accept the easy path. There is always a way that the world has let us down. We can succumb to that and be victims of our circumstances, or we can face obstacles as opportunities to grow. If we want something badly enough, we will find a way. If we don’t, we will find an excuse. We must dig in and push through our own mental barriers. We have it in us. We can find our way, we just have to tap into our other 60%. 

Say Hello To Strangers

“There are no strangers here. Only friends you haven’t met yet.” 

-William Butler Yeats

I have always admired individuals that can start a conversation with anyone. The people that start talking to you on an airplane and by the end of the flight you are long-lost friends. The friendly strangers that connect with their Starbucks baristas, grocery store clerks, and servers in restaurants. I am not one of those people. I am the person that walks on an airplane, avoids eye contact, puts on my headphones, and pretends there is an invisible impenetrable wall between each seat. I stay around the edges of social gatherings, avoiding the energetic center. My heart rate increases if I just hear the words “networking mixer”. I have been called aloof, arrogant, and intimidating from the outside, while inside I feel shy, reserved, and oftentimes insecure. 

Which is why it is so extremely important that I actually step out of my comfort zone and say hello to strangers. 

I’m so glad I did at this race. Because I met George. 

Before I said hello, I did not know that George is somewhat of a local ultramarathon celebrity. I did not know he writes and recites poetry, works in a running store, and is healing from an ankle injury. I wouldn’t have known that he drastically changed his lifestyle in his 40’s, quit smoking, started running, and now has completed over 40 ultramarathons. I would not have known that he still pushes himself physically and mentally at the age of 74, to, in his words, “kick the Grim Reaper’s ass.” George, with his hiking poles and flame-printed shorts, set a bar that I aimed to reach the entire 32 miles. 

His kindness, support, and positive energy truly sparkled on the trail, a gem amid the boulders we hiked between. When I fell behind and my energy depleted, George’s steadfast presence in the distance ahead was a beacon for me to follow. We crossed the finish line together, and our glowing smiles in the post-race pics will be a beautiful reminder of the wonderful daily opportunities I have to connect with people around me. 

George wasn’t the only friendly soul on the course I met. I also said hello to Camille, a thru-hiker in her early 30s who, although she has climbed thousands of trail miles, had never entered an ultra before. Her experience hiking gave her the confidence to try the race, so when she told me with conviction that, “getting the vert out of the way first will make the rest of the course feel easy” I let that hope bloom inside me as I struggled behind her up the steep climbs. When she turned and asked if I had any Motrin, I readily handed her my small supply.

I said hello to Eileen, another first-timer in her 50s who loves running and whose goal was just to finish. She did, with plenty of room before the time cutoff. 

There were countless people on the course to connect with. The aid station workers were angels that eagerly refilled hydration bladders and offered encouraging words along with a variety of snacks, even freshly made quesadillas! The volunteer that barked at me to hustle at one of the checkpoints found me after the race and said, “see…I knew you could do it” with a congratulatory smile. 

By running this race I was automatically part of a community of like-minded people that all help each other. A community that puts others first and would rather stop to help a stranger than focus on maximizing their personal race time. There was a very tangible feeling that hung over the mountain like a warm blanket, wrapping hundreds of people in its embrace, this sense that we’re all in this together and we’ve got each other’s back. 

I would not have made it to the finish line without these strangers who did not know me, had no personal interest in my story, and had no real reason to invest energy in me. This community was a gift that I received with gratitude and humility.  It leaves me eager and curious to offer a friendly hello to the next person I meet. Because I know without a doubt, that some of the biggest positive impacts on my life will come from people I haven’t yet met. 

Find Your Tribes

“The more you embrace the weird, crazy things about you, the more you find your tribe.” 

-Jinkx Monsoon

I like being alone. Aloneness and loneliness are two different things. I am not lonely when I am alone. By myself, I feel secure, confident, and calm. The loneliness usually envelopes me when I am with other people. When I am part of a group but feel like I don’t belong.  Or when I am longing for a personal connection with someone, but the effort feels unreciprocated, the bond fragile or unbalanced.  

It is because I am so comfortable being alone that I don’t often seek out new friendships. I would rather have a smaller pond of close relationships, than a wide ocean of friendly acquaintances. This works against me because inevitably I miss out on cultivating real friendships with great people. 

When I do finally find that group where I belong, or connect with that individual with whom I feel seen and understood, I am motivated and highly productive. I grow as a person because I can challenge myself past my comfort zone while feeling safe and secure. Ultimately, the synergy of being with others results in more than what I could accomplish alone. 

I originally intended to do this race on my own. Individually and independently, just show up to the start line, dig into my own head space, and get it done. 

That changed when a fellow soccer mom heard from my daughter in carpool that I was running this race. She said it was a bucket list of hers to run an ultra and asked if I would mind if she did it too.

Admittedly, I had mixed feelings. Part of me jumped for joy at the thought that someone I knew would be so brave to sign up for this too. And yet, a small part of me was scared about the pressure of doing it with someone else and having to measure up to an unknown set of expectations. Putting my insecurities aside, I leaned into the opportunity and eagerly said “Yes! Of course! Join me!” And she invited two other friends of hers who are always up for an adventure. 

When I met them on Friday night to get our race packets and enjoy a carb-load dinner, I was nervous. Would I feel part of – or separate from – this group of extremely fit, determined, and accomplished women? Would my fantasy of completing my first ultra be enhanced or diminished by opening myself up to new people? 

By the end of the evening, as we expressed our excitement and fears to each other, I knew I had found a new tribe. A group of adventurous ladies who strive to balance the demands of family life while pursuing big dreams and goals. As we studied the elevation maps and strategized drop bags, my insecurities vanished. Not one of us had any real clue, we were all figuring it out together. We had nothing to prove to anyone other than ourselves. 

The morning of the race as we ambled to the start line in the inky pre-dawn darkness, ruminating if we should bring a coffee with us, when we should time our bathroom stops, and what was the correct timing for our breakfast snacks, I felt incredibly lucky. So lucky that my friend took the risk to ask if she could join the race. Grateful that I stepped out of my comfort zone to say yes. It would have been a very lonely day without the energetic camaraderie of these women. Even though I didn’t really see them again until the finish line, just knowing they were out there somewhere, knowing that they were going through the same physical experience, and knowing we would come back together at the end, gave me fortitude and comfort. The experience reinforced to me, that I don’t have to be alone to conquer some of my crazy dreams. There are like-minded people in this world eager to jump on whatever crazy idea we have conjured up. 

Whether it is racing a 50k, ballroom dancing, building a community center, joining a bible study, hang gliding, playing on a coed softball team, running a PTA board meeting, MMA fighting, or starting a pet rock club, we can have different people in our lives to fill different emotional buckets. No single person or group can fit all our complex emotional needs. How exciting if we can open ourselves to a variety of connections and enjoy, instead of fear, the differences in the people around us? We all have a little bit of weirdness inside of us – big dreams, bizarre interests, unique desires. We are not alone. As different as we may sometimes feel from the arbitrary standards and norms set by society, there are other people out there just like us. Others that will accept us, while at the same time challenge us, to maximize our personal potential. Life is too short to spend it with people that hold us back, or whose interests don’t align with ours.  There are billions of people in this world.  Billions of opportunities to connect. We can find many tribes. And when we find them, they will certainly help us blossom into the people we aspire to be. 

When Things Feel Hard, Make Them Harder

“All things are difficult, before they are easy.”

One unexpected benefit I’ve noticed after my race, is my improved stamina. My mile times are faster, and it feels like my lungs have an easier time running at a faster pace. 

At first, I couldn’t understand why running felt easier. I mean, I haven’t really run for over 6 months, since before my injury. My race was more of a hike than a run, so why would running feel so much easier now? 

Despite my slow pace, there were times during the race when I felt like my heart was exploding out of my chest and my lungs were screaming for air. I think my VO2 max increased with every vertical step. I coughed for a week after the race, my lungs inflamed from gulping dusty air at a higher altitude. 

But ever since then, I feel stronger, faster, and mentally more durable. When I’m out for a run, I find it easier to push myself, because in my mind I think –  you can do this Shannon, this isn’t as hard as the 50k. 

A few days ago I took a Hotworx cycle class – a spin class inside a sauna. The instructor asked, “Does this feel hard? Good! Now make the resistance even heavier!” Dripping sweat inside a 124-degree sauna, legs already burning at heavy tension, the last thing I wanted to do was make this experience even more miserable. Yet I dutifully turned the knob a quarter turn right and had to stand up to push the pedals up and down. When I finally backed off the tension, my previous effort was a breeze. 

Why would we voluntarily make something that is hard, even harder? Because by doing so, we are making what once felt challenging, feel easy. Every time we crank up the tension, the difficulty, or the pace, we are increasing our stamina, our durability and our resiliency. When we push past our comfort zone, we create new comfort zones. And when we push past those, we are disciplining ourselves to view discomfort as a sign of positive growth. 

So next time there is something that feels hard, something we don’t want to do, something that makes us uncomfortable, nervous, tired, or scared – don’t think, just do it. 

Maybe it’s making the phone call to a family member you’ve been avoiding. Maybe it’s telling your kid “no” when it would be SO MUCH EASIER to say yes. Maybe it’s eking out one additional rep during your top set at the gym. Maybe it’s having the courage to ask your boss for a raise. Maybe it’s as simple as resisting that extra cookie or bag of chips. Or maybe it’s as deep and complicated as standing up for the truth when it feels unpopular or criticized. 

One thing is certain. The more we do hard things, the easier they will eventually be. 

Now I must ask myself a hard question – Am I ready for my next race? Am I ready to increase my distance and complete 50 miles?

I feel scared, nervous, and hesitant. So, the clear answer must be – yes. 

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Do you remember the phrase, Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO)? I think I first heard that term in the late 80’s in one of my first computer classes.  

The concept is common in the computing and mathematics worlds to describe the idea that the quality of input determines the quality output. If you put faulty data into a system, you’ll get faulty data coming out. 

I’ve been thinking about this phrase a lot and am fascinated by how it applies to so many different areas of my life. 

From quality of my food choices, intensity of my workouts, effort with my writing, even the time spent with my kids and family. 

It’s really very simple. The quality of effort we put into life, is strongly correlated to the quality of results we get out of it. 

We live in a culture of immediacy with very little tolerance for delayed gratification. If there is something we want to buy, we make a few clicks, and it arrives on our doorstep within days. We binge watch Netflix series without the interruption of commercials. We scroll through social media videos with the flick of a thumb, passing anything that doesn’t connect with us within a second or two.  

So how is it, in a world of that is dominated by the expectation for instantaneous results, we should also intuitively know or understand that real investment in our health, our minds, our families, our jobs, our finances, takes time. It takes discipline. It takes patience. It takes consistency. It takes work. 

There is no magic pill or workout that will change our bodies overnight. There is only consistency of training and quality of food choices over a long period of time. 

There is no single investment choice that will make us instantly rich for a lifetime. There is only disciplined spending, investing, and planning over a long period of time. 

There is no single day at Disneyland or family trip to Hawaii that will make us a great parent.  There is only being available, on good days and bad, sacrificing and compromising, and fiercely loving through it all, over a long period of time, that will create a lasting bond between us and our children. 

There is no single practice that will turn us into an amazing athlete. There is only showing up, day after day, throwing thousands of balls, running thousands of drills – even when we don’t feel like it – over a long period of time, that will create greatness on the field. 

There is no single story or article I compose that will automatically make me a great writer. There is only sitting at my computer and writing millions of words, honing my skill and craft over hundreds of hours, to one day, create something meaningful. 

There is no magic. 

If I want a quality result, I need to invest quality effort, consistently, over time. 

I cannot sit here and think the road to success will be easy, instantaneous, or immediate. 

The longer it takes, the harder I work, the more effort I put in, the greater the reward. In all areas of life. 

The next time you get a result you aren’t happy with – ask yourself, did the quality of your input match your desired quality of output? 

If not, then I am willing to bet, if you make changes on the front end to dial in your effort, over time, you will achieve your desired outcome. 

A few years ago, I raced a half marathon behind someone wearing a shirt that read “If you ask yourself if you have more to give, the answer is usually yes.” That shirt kept me going when I got tired and wanted to stop running. It incessantly reminded me that I had more inside me to give. I ended up crossing that finish line with a personal record. That shirt still keeps me going when life gets hard. It’s a mantra that reminds me that I will get out of life what I put into it. 

We all have more inside of us. 

Let’s surprise ourselves by what we can accomplish when we give life everything we think we have…and more. 

The Curveball

I don’t know about you, but I am a worrier. A control freak. A micromanager. I’m a planner, a doer, and often, a perfectionist. I am working on the concept of being “good enough” rather than “perfect” and accepting ranges of what that looks like. There is nobody and nothing that is perfect. At the end of the day, most of us are trying our very best with the circumstances, abilities and limitations we have. We all have our own unique “toolbox” to approach life.   

I have to accept that I’m not going to be a “perfect parent”. That construct is a fantasy and doesn’t exist. So, I have to be content with being a “good enough” parent.  How can I accept the gift of loving my kids fully and completely – even with my countless mistakes and errors along the way?

I am definitely not a perfect wife. No matter how hard I try. So how can I accept myself as a “good enough” wife? I’m learning to humbly and lovingly apologize for my wrongs and move on while loving wholeheartedly and just doing the very best I can.

I don’t have a “perfect body”. I’m working to get to a point where I can look at myself in the mirror and be content with having a “good enough” body.  Or better yet, be proud of what my body can do, rather than proud of how it looks. 

I’m not a “perfect writer”. I’m constantly amazed by the creativity and talent that I read from others every day and often feel small in comparison. Sometimes I get insecure about whether I should really push the publish button after I’ve written a new piece. Can I learn to publish a post and accept it as just being “good enough”? 

One of the hardest parts for me with all of this, is to get the validation and acceptance that is it ok to just be “good enough” from myself – rather than anyone else. To be okay with my own flaws – even if others are not.

But I suppose that is one of the lessons on the journey of life. To always be a work in progress. There is no end-destination. There is no perfect. We should always be learning, growing and adapting. Respond to our changing circumstances and environment in a way that is just “good enough”.

How many of you can relate to this feeling: Just when we think we’ve got it all together, when finally we’ve achieved some semblance of the perfection we are longing for, when our life has reached a peaceful balance and we dare ourselves to take a breath, when we feel we are caught up, that we have everything under control, Bam! a curve ball gets thrown our way that we weren’t expecting.  Suddenly, we feel thrown right back into the chaos of having to figure it all out again. And we feel let down. We feel disappointed and anxious and stressed. We feel that if somehow we had tried harder or made different choices, we could have controlled a different outcome. 


Of course, if we had made different choices the outcome would be different. But then we would be dealing with the less than perfect reality of those choices. Because no choice and no decision is ever perfect. With every fork in the road, with every big decision we make, good stuff and bad stuff comes with it. There will be struggle and there will be peace. There will be happiness, there will be sadness. There will be comfort, there will be pain. The yin and yang. The bitter and sweet. The dark and light.  

When we stop fighting the inevitable lack of perfection and embrace the journey of life in all of its imperfect glory, we can start to – dare I say – look forward to curve balls as opportunity for growth and change. It’s not “if” they are coming, it’s “when” they are coming. 

We can’t stop them. Maybe the best we can do is learn to glide with them and see where they take us. 

My blog started as an opportunity to write about my journey of running a 50-mile race. However, realistically, will I be able to run a 50-mile race with two artificial discs in my neck, at least four more significant disc bulges in my spine, not to mention the two metal plates and 14 screws in my right ankle? 

With these curve balls, will I be able to cross the finish line of the race I have been dreaming about? 

I don’t know. The old “perfectionist” me would have said, “Absolutely. Yes. I set a goal. I do not give up. I will not make an excuse. I will find a way to get it done.”

The “in progress” me, is saying – “We’ll see.” 

The “good enough” me, is saying – “Let’s find out what lies on the journey ahead – and write about it along the way.” 

The Beauty of Receiving

It’s my last night home alone after 8 days without my family. 

How do I spend it? Inviting girlfriends over? Going out on the town? Really living it up in my neck brace? 

Nope – I’m spending it at home, in the company of my pets, with candles lit, fireplace on, soft music in the background and a glass of wine. Despite the intermittent barking from the aforementioned beloved pets – it is quite a peaceful and relaxing evening. One that has been rare over the years in a house filled with growing kids, carpool duties, and non-stop activities. Even our vacations are hectic – trying to give the kids amazing “experiences” everywhere we go – snorkeling, ziplining, rafting, fishing, ATVing, the list goes on. The increasingly rare weekend getaways with my husband are filled with dinners out and some sort of plan to reconnect. 

How often do we really get the opportunity to really “turn off”? To completely let go of responsibilities and demands and expectations? To completely tune into the needs of ourselves – and only ourselves?

I’ve learned many lessons during my week of alone-time. A significant one has been realizing how much my body and my soul needs rest. 

Not just sleep. 

But pure rest. 

Allowing myself to let go. 

Allowing myself to just be. 

To not be needed. 

To have absolutely zero pressure to meet anyone’s demands or expectations and just be in the moment. 

To listen to music at any time of day or night. Wake when my body is ready, and sleep when it is tired. Listen to my book, read, journal, write my blog, work on a puzzle, lay in the sun, and observe the world around me. I watched a lot of clouds move this past week. When is the last time anyone had the time to sit still long enough to watch clouds move? Try it sometime. It is extremely restful. 

I literally had no choice but to be still. I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk. I was forced to rest. And when I surrendered to that, when I let go of any self-induced expectations to be productive, the beauty of my free time revealed itself. 

This time-out, this “soul rest” I’m calling it, has been an exceptional gift this week. 

It has restored me. It has recharged me. It has given me perspective. It has fueled my creativity and increased my connection with the world around me. It’s left me ready to warmly and excitedly welcome my family home. I can’t wait to see their smiles and hear their stories about their adventures. I even look forward to the inevitable bickering that I predict will start less than 5 minutes after they walk through the door. 

While I have relished my solitude, I have also been blessed by the gift of friendship during this time. I have enjoyed the company of amazing friends that have so generously visited me, continuously checked in on me, fed me, offered to run errands, and brought me beautiful flowers and books.

I like to give. Giving to others makes me happy. It feels comfortable and fulfilling. If you need something – I’m here. I got you. I’ll give what I can, how I can, the best I can, when needed. 

However, being the one to receive – now that is uncomfortable and scary. I do not like to ask for help. I do not want to “impose”. I try not put myself on anyone else. I don’t want to be anyone else’s burden. 

For me, receiving is an act of extreme vulnerability. To allow myself to lower my walls enough to receive – with no pressure of there being a “right way” to do that. No expectation to express gratitude, no pressure to reciprocate. No pressure to make the “giver” feel appreciated. To just be – with open hands and an open heart, and just…receive. 

An important gift. An important lesson that I am learning relatively late in life. 

As much as I like to give, the opportunity wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t also someone willing and open to receive. It’s a beautiful flow of energy. A balance. To be able to authentically give, one has to also be able to vulnerably receive. 

So this week, this is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned. The beauty of receiving. 

I have received all the love and concern and care expressed to me this week. 

I have felt seen. I have felt embraced. I have felt so incredibly loved. And as a result, I have grown. 

To everyone, thank you. From the bottom of my heart. 

The Gift of Pain

As I sit here on Easter morning, bathed in gorgeous California sunshine, I am overwhelmed with joy and a deep sense of renewal. I feel a tremendous sense of hope. I have been so immersed in physical agony over the last few months, that to sit here without pain, able to freely use my left hand to type, is an incredible gift. Not just that, it is a privilege. 

Over the last several months as I have been all consumed with my pain, it has become extremely apparent to me just how fortunate I am. My injury – a severe disc herniation at C6/C7 resulting in spinal cord and nerve root compression and ligament tear – is very common. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics*, more than one million workers suffer back injuries each year. And that is just in the United States with injuries related to work. Mine wasn’t caused by work, or anything in particular. It just…happened. 

Before this recent incident in my life, I had experienced other significant injuries. I shattered my right ankle, which was the entire inspiration for this blog in the first place. I had undergone surgeries and medical procedures. I had experienced other bone breaks, muscle sprains and strains. I was adept at icing and heating and massaging. I knew how to use anti-inflammatories, pain medicine, and muscle relaxers. 

But THIS. This was another beast completely. The pain has been so incredibly intense I’ve had to use Lamaze breathing techniques just to get through – what I started to call – my pain waves. I lost muscle strength and feeling in my left arm. I couldn’t walk without pain. I couldn’t sit without pain. I couldn’t stand without pain. There was not one moment of time, not a single breath, not an instance, in which I felt relief. Sleep was interrupted constantly. I’ve slept upright either on the couch or a recliner that my husband graciously bought for me, for almost three months.  

Exercise? Forget it. Impossible. I could barely – and with great effort and fatigue – walk the dogs around the block. 

My entire identity was abandoned. My daily routine completely disrupted. I carried Ziploc bags of ice with me wherever I went. I would go to the grocery store in the middle of the day to buy more ice, refill my Ziploc and carry on icing my neck while I was driving, running errands, and striving to be a semblance of the mom, wife, and friend people knew. 

No amount of medicine could numb me enough to feel good. I was taking handfuls of pain medicine every day – to no avail. I was hurting, I was exhausted, I was depressed. It took incredible mental and emotional focus to take the kids to school, try to smile, and get through the day with as minimal interruption to the family life as possible. 

And when you’re that drained and depleted, physically and emotionally, all you want to do is go home, lay down and rest. That reprieve didn’t exist for me. I haven’t been able to lay flat since this all started. 

Moving and staying busy was the only thing that could distract me enough to endure the day.  

The intensity of the pain did recede over the weeks. The bright white gripping pain of the first month eventually dulled to a constant, ever-present nails on chalkboard sensation inside me that would occasionally be interrupted by a brief stabbing spasm if I moved a certain way. Mostly when I was sleeping. A nightmare jarring me awake multiple times a night. 

If it sounds terrible and dramatic – it was. 

I’m trying to make a point that as awful as my experience was – millions of other people are going through the same horror – RIGHT NOW. 

Millions of other people without access to fantastic medical care. People who don’t have insurance or who are under insured. People who are the primary income providers for the family. People without the loving support of family and friends. People with limited choices and limited options. 

I was extremely lucky and fortunate to go through such a difficult experience under the best of circumstances. 

My pain was absolutely the very best it could have been. 

I think about this a lot. 

I went in for surgery to resolve the issue only several months after it first presented itself. This is not only a miracle, this is extreme privilege. 

I was strong and fit when the injury happened, able to withstand months of relative immobility and muscle loss through the process and yet still enter surgery completely healthy. This is privilege. 

I was able to eliminate the use of any prescribed or over-the-counter pain medication within days of a double disc replacement, walking up to two miles within 5 days, and able to completely care for myself without assistance. This is privilege. 

I am able to focus on self-care without the pressures of a job or the daily responsibility of financially supporting our family. This is privilege. 

I have a husband who is able to juggle the demands of his work while caring for me and supporting the needs of the kids and our home. This is privilege. 

I have kids at home old enough to now be the ones offering help, not the ones needing it. This is privilege. 

I have friends literally banging on my front door with meals, flowers, support, and kindness. This is privilege. 

I have a beautiful backyard filled with sunshine and space to relax, rest, and recoup. This is privilege. 

There are things in life we can control and things we cannot.

I cannot control my privilege. I was born into it. I married into it. I live in it. 

What I can do is control how I recognize it and how I use it.

I pray that this experience will open my eyes wider to the experience of others in this world. I pray that I will be more aware of, understanding of, and curious about, other people’s suffering, circumstances, limitations, gifts, and opportunities. I pray that my heart will be open to respond to calls for help. I pray that I will generously mobilize my resources, time, and abilities, to provide for others in need. I pray that I am able to be an example of love and service in this world. I pray that I give back more than I receive. 

I sincerely hope I never have to go through anything like this ever again. At the same time, I am extremely grateful for this experience. I hope this short time in my life has taught me greater humility, compassion, appreciation, and empathy. I can truly say now that I can find the positive of any situation. Maybe not always in the moment. That would be too idealistic for me to claim. But I have faith that eventually, through the darkness, there will be a light.  Even in the greatest struggle there is a gift. We just have to be open and willing to receive it. 


Comfort in Discomfort

Every once in awhile, something surprisingly simple smacks me right in the face and wakes me up. Gives me an “ah-ha” moment. 

Last night it was The Rock. 

Yes, Dwayne Johnson, The Rock. 

Can I take a tangent very quickly and tell you how AWESOME I think Dwayne Johnson is? I love that this big, huge, strong guy lets his daughters do his makeup and posts it for the world to see. Despite being a celebrity, a successful business mogul, social media star (the list could go on) his authenticity seems real, and the love for his family shines through in all he does.

He recently posted a video that I have watched probably 10 times. He quoted his friend Tyson Fury as saying, “Pain that you go through is temporary – but the greatness on the other side is forever.” 

The Rock expanded on that by imploring us to, “just get past the pain threshold,” because,  “on the other side is the good stuff. It’s your greatness.”

Sit with that that for a moment. 

Really think about how many times we stop ourselves when something gets uncomfortable. When something starts to hurt. When something becomes hard. 

How many times have we prevented ourselves from achieving our own greatness? 

I can speak for myself by saying, I stop all the time when it gets hard. Sometimes even before it gets hard because I know what is coming. 

I suppose it’s natural to avoid discomfort. It’s human to try to prevent suffering. It takes self-discipline and strength and courage to confront pain – in any form, physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. 

But sometimes it is through the pain, that we get the reward. In fact, we cannot accomplish greatness without suffering. There is always sacrifice. There is always a tradeoff. There is always a breakdown in order to rebuild. 

When my kids complain about being sore after a workout, I enthusiastically tell them that’s awesome! They should yearn for that feeling. That pain, that suffering, is the indication that their muscles are getting stronger. The pain is a good thing. You cannot grow stronger without it.  

When I am pushing myself to run farther, it hurts. It’s uncomfortable. It isn’t easy. But I have to take those difficult steps in order to get where I want to go. And the further I go, the easier the past distance becomes. Those 8 miles that were torture, suddenly feel invigorating. Then it becomes 13 miles that is difficult. But if I keep going and increasing my pain threshold, pushing through the exhaustion and soreness, soon those 13 will feel rote. 

I ask the question again, how much and how often do we limit ourselves from achieving our own personal greatness because we choose to avoid discomfort?

And I don’t mean just with fitness. 

I’m asking that about many tough decisions, choices and obstacles in our lives. 

How often have we chosen the path of least resistance, to avoid looming discomfort, only to regret that choice later. We procrastinate, we linger, we prolong. 

How many times have we avoided that meeting, pushed the snooze button, delayed the difficult conversation, stayed too long in a toxic relationship or toiled for years in a dead-end job because we don’t want to go through the pain of change? How many times have we not taken the leap to sign up for a race, ask for a promotion, ask someone out on a date, because of the fear of the unknown? Because we try to avoid experiencing the devastating moments of rejection and uncertainty, the toil of hard work, or momentary displeasure? 

And truly, they are merely moments. The suffering is not forever. It is temporary. It is finite. There is always an end. 

Paradoxically, the avoidance of temporary pain, inevitably leads to the experience of future suffering. While embracing and leaning into short-term discomfort, eventually leads to self-satisfaction and accomplishment. 

With this in mind, how many times have we given up on ourselves before really giving ourselves the chance? 

I heard an analogy once about grapes and wine. Apparently, some of the best vintages are produced when grapes have suffered drought conditions. Why? The roots of the plant have to dig so deep to find water, that the fight and the struggle for the plant to stay alive, creates a robustness and complexity in the fruit that is highly desirable. 

The grapes have to get through the pain to get to the good stuff, to get to the greatness. 

The struggle is the opportunity.  

Countless books have been written about this. One of the best I’ve read is “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday. 

He writes, “The struggle against an obstacle inevitably propels the fighter to a new level of understanding. The extent of the struggle determines the extent of growth. The obstacle is the advantage, not the adversity. The enemy is any perception that prevents us from seeing this.” 

We have to be willing to embrace the obstacle. We have to be willing to fight the fight. We have to be willing to face the unknown with the knowing that the only way around is through. 

It is through the pain, that we find the greatness. 

Next time I’m on a run, and I’m tired and want to slow down and walk or stop, it’s actually my signal to keep going. When it’s hard, is when I absolutely can’t quit. Because that is when the magic happens. That’s when the growth occurs. With every additional step I’m increasing my pain-threshold and running towards achieving my own greatness.

It’s time to find the comfort in the discomfort. The peace of knowing that “pain is temporary, but greatness is forever.” 


Well friends, I am sitting here recovering from my second surgery in the past few months, and I struggle with a cacophony of emotions.  Deafening thoughts and feelings banging around in my mind, unable to be calmed by the rhythmic pounding of my feet against the earth with the cadence of my heartbeat pumping in my ears. 


When healthy, I literally run from stillness. My closet bursts with running shoes, tennis shoes, walking shoes, workout shoes – to busy myself into avoiding stillness. 

When the outlet of physical activity is impossible, and I am alone for hours, going nowhere, with nobody, and caring for no one, I find that healing is as much of a mental feat as a physical one. 

The mind begins to wander and play tricks and create fantastical scenarios of “what ifs?” My insecurities and inadequacies are maximized, while my strengths are temporarily and physically furloughed. 

How does an athlete successfully cope with time off? Where does the energy once channeled into physical exertion get reappropriated? 

When our minds are geared towards constantly optimizing our bodies, nutrition, hydration and performance – how do we balance those changed needs while in the idleness of recovery? 

With 4-6 weeks of inactivity looming before me, my fears bob to the surface readily.  

Will I lose my muscle and strength? 

How long will it take me to get back to a 5-mile run distance?

How soon can I begin training for a marathon? 

When will I be able to reach my max squat weight again? Deadlift? 

Will I still be competitive on my tennis team when I return?

What do I do with my time for the next 6 weeks? 

How do I stay focused but balanced? 

My biggest fear – which I’m ashamed to admit – which is even more reason to be brutally honest and admit it – will I get fat? Will I gain back the weight I’ve lost? 

I am becoming more and more aware that there is no end destination to health and fitness. My entire life I’ve subscribed to a belief that if I was a certain “size”, a certain “weight”, if I could run at certain pace, run a certain distance, if I could achieve mastery of a certain physical skill, that would qualify me as “healthy” or “fit”. And since I never fit my own subjective “ideal” – I’ve always labeled myself as inadequate. 

This is both disturbing and heartbreaking. It’s sad to think about how many achievements and celebrations I have missed out on because I was striving for the arbitrary end-result of something. Case in point, when I lost 30 lbs over the last year, I was still striving for an elusive ideal weight. I kept changing the rules – pushing the number on the scale down as the goal achievement. The moment of glorious satisfaction I thought would arrive at certain scale number and fitting into a size 6, never came. 

Now, between the downtime of my first surgery in May, multiple vacations this summer, and starting new hormone therapy for my perimenopause (YES!!! I’m 42 and in perimenopause) I’ve put 10 pounds back on (last time I checked!). Which reinforces my self-induced never-ending cycle of inadequacy. 

Confronted with my current immobility, I am consumed by this feeling. Filled with lists of unanswerable questions.  

What if, faced with the inability to put on my shoes and running from my feelings of shame and deficiency, I use this opportunity of stillness to lean into them?

When I give myself time, space, and quiet – I come to settle on some important realizations.  Inevitably leading me to set new goals. 

  1. Health and fitness are not absolutes. Being physically fit is not black and white and does not fit into a static mold. There is no ideal that works for everyone and there is no “right” way. We are seeing many examples now through the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games, that oftentimes the quest for physical and competitive excellence, leads to a breakdown in mental and emotional well-being. Sometimes hours of training puts stress on relationships and family. GOAL:  Prioritize my health and fitness as a trifecta of physical, mental, and emotional strength and well-being. This means finding balance and self-acceptance while digging deep to motivate and push myself to be the very best I can be. 
  • Bodies change. Our physical needs evolve. Our life circumstances and priorities shift. Our stress levels cycle. What is right for me today, is only right for me today. My needs, desires, capabilities, body, and circumstances might change tomorrow, next week, or next year. I need to develop a better connection with my body to understand what it needs in any given situation. Now – right now – recovering from a medical procedure, my body needs rest and healthy fuel. That is all it needs. That is all I can give it. Next month, when I am emerging from recovery and re-entering the world of fitness, my body will need something different. I mentioned I have entered the dreaded world of perimenopause at a relatively young age. My body needs different things than it did 5 years ago. My body responds to training and external stressors differently now than before. I have a choice to either ignore the reality of what is happening to my body, or embrace the changes and through trial and error figure out a new way to eat, train, sleep, and recover. GOAL: I will work to recognize what unique needs my body has on any given day or moment and respond gracefully, without judgement or force. By developing a trust with myself, I will optimize my performance while minimizing fatigue, stress, and strain. 
  • Food is fuel. Whenever I eat – absolutely every time I put something in my mouth – I either feel proud or guilty. And this changes constantly based on whatever diet I’m trying. When I fall into the trap of fad diets or trying the latest and greatest revolutionary research about eating – I stop listening to my body and giving it what it needs. Depending on the week, carbs are either good or bad. Calories are over consumed to build muscle or under consumed to lose fat. Fasting is employed before cardio to use up store glycogen, intermittent fasting is used to burn fat, or eating small meals 5-6 times a day is tried to stimulate the metabolism and ultimately burn more calories. One week, plant-based diet eliminates inflammation and enhances performance. The next week, eating organic lean meat is the key to getting all the essential amino acids for building strong muscles. The conflicting information is maddening. In its simplest and purest form, food is composed of macronutrients that act as energy and fuel for our bodies. If we consume more macronutrients than we burn, we store the excess fuel as fat. If we burn more macronutrients than we consume, we utilize our fat and muscle storage as fuel. The optimal rate of consumption, timing of consumption, and ratio of macronutrient consumption – is what we should all try to individually optimize based on our own bodies, needs and goals. GOAL: Listen to my body.  Become tuned into its cues for what it needs as fuel for optimal performance, rather than an optimal physique. 
  • Food is more than fuel. By denying the reality that food tastes good and is pleasurable, we make food the enemy. Eating and cooking are primitively social activities ingrained in our unique cultures and family histories. Cooking is a form of art that has tremendous power to connect people and evoke emotion. Sharing a meal with another person or people can foster tremendous intimacy. Memories are often centered around the tastes and smells of our childhoods. To deny this vital part of our human existence out of fear of weight gain is extremely sad. We miss an entire facet of our lives meant to be celebrated and enjoyed. Now, experiencing a good meal with family or friends is different than binging on a family-sized package of Oreos on the couch. Food can become an addiction and an emotional crutch that can be abused like anything else. I’m guilty of this, more times than I care to admit. GOAL: By honoring food, celebrating it, and enjoying it with others, I will respect it more and reduce mindless eating. 
  • Discomfort and Pain are different. I tell my kids all the time, if they want to be athletes, they have to get used to feeling uncomfortable. If they are never uncomfortable, they are not pushing themselves to their limits. By not testing their limits, they’ll never meet their full potential. Whenever they tell me they want to throw up after a hard workout – I say “that’s great.”  I try to lead by example and hold myself to the same standards. Every single time I go into the gym, my focus is how to maximize my effort with every single rep. I think through the movement, the motion, the extension, and contraction. I increase weight when I can. If there is a hill on my run, 9 out of 10 times, I take the route with the hill, instead of going around. However, I have struggled with intuition and listening to my body, because too often, I have pushed myself beyond my limit and created an unnecessary injury. I have done too much, gone too far, and overtrained, which is the polar opposite of healthy progress. Discomfort is a signal that you are working at the upper limit of your capacity and you are expanding yourself. Pain is a hard stop – telling you something is wrong and damage has occurred. There is a very fine line between the two. When I start getting into high mileage training for my 50-mile race, I am sure my perception of discomfort and pain will be blurred. I’m sure I’ll sustain injuries that could have been prevented. But it is an important distinction that I will need to figure out. By stopping myself because of discomfort I will be limiting my potential. By pushing through pain, I will be creating an injury. GOAL: Train hard enough and deep enough to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Learn to recognize when to stop before creating an injury that could detract from my long-term health and fitness goals.
  • There is always something new to learn. I recently embarked on a course to become a Certified Personal Trainer. I’m a nerd that has always liked school and academics. I thought it would be fun with so much personal interest on fitness to add this certification to my tool belt.  I was quite arrogant thinking that my years of running and boxing and weightlifting, while working with a variety of personal trainers and coaches, would make the 15-week course a breeze. I was wrong. The more I learn, the more I realize there is to learn. The body is an extremely complex system of systems. Everything is interdependent. Water, vitamins, supplements, hormones, food, the type of food, posture, balance, strength, endurance, respiratory functioning, brain-muscle connection, cardiovascular conditioning, the list goes on and on. If you change one variable, the entire system can change. That is why it is so incredibly vital that we tune into our own unique system and tweak the variables we can control to optimize our own desired outcomes. GOAL:Continue to research and implement improved nutrition, self-care, and training strategies that support my health and fitness goals and objectives. 

Wow, look what comes up when I give myself the gift of sitting with my thoughts, instead of running away from them. 

Building stillness into my training and cultivating space to address my fears head on, might just be the answer to working through them. 

Love Letter to My Body

Dear Body, 

I open this letter with gratitude. Thank you for all you have given me and done for me for the last 42 years. We have had quite a journey already, and our time together is hopefully, not yet half-way complete. With all we have been through, we still have a lot of growing and experiencing to do together. 

The saying, “youth is wasted on the young” resounds loudly in my mind as you and I have sailed past our prime and now cruise into middle age. 

I also write, to express to you a heartfelt apology.  

I will admit, I have struggled with you lately. I have avoided looking at you in the mirror. I have been embarrassed by you. I have been ashamed of you. 

I have tried to hide you and conceal you from myself and others. 

I have been overly critical, unappreciative, and held you to unrealistic standards and expectations. 

I have compared you with others, magnified your shortcomings, and minimized your gifts. 

I have punished you by over training and under eating. I have indulged you by over-eating and sometimes drinking too much.  

I have lost moderation. My intuition is weak in regards to how you feel, and what is healthy for you in the long term. 

For all these things, I am deeply sorry. 

As I reflect on our past and what we have accomplished together, I’m truly grateful for your strength, your durability, and your resilience to undergo tremendous amount of pressure and stress. 

We have weathered infections, bone breaks, and heart breaks. We have run marathons and hiked mountains. We have raced cars and slalom ski courses. We have ziplined over jungles and snorkeled with sting rays. We have traveled the world and experienced cultures, food, and people that are so uniquely different from ours that our mind has opened and our heart has grown. 

Perhaps most importantly, most magically, we have birthed, nursed, and raised two healthy baby boys. We have pulled all-nighters at the hospital for toddler croup infections. We have had countless sleepless nights soothing nightmares, sick tummies, or just providing a safe embrace for a child that needs comfort. We have walked endless miles at Disneyland, pushed thousands of swings at the park, and read hundreds of bedtime stories. 

Now, we rise before dawn to prepare breakfast and pack lunches for four hungry teenagers. We drive thousands of miles every year to countless soccer games and tennis matches, school performances, and sports practices. We experience with the kids the stinging pain of their defeats or the warm joys of victory.  We agonize, stress, and debate over the most effective parenting strategies. Together, we invest countless volunteer hours at school and in the community, trying to give back more than we receive. Soon, and with a gut-wrenching sense of fear, a new phase of sleepless nights will begin while we wait pensively by the door for the teenagers to drive themselves home after being out with friends. 

Together we hold the hands of our loved ones and provide devoted care for our family and friends. 

These things are not trivial. They are everything.  

So, without shame, I will raise my eyes and look at your reflection, squarely, confidently, and lovingly. Instead of being ashamed of a pudgy stomach or sagging breasts, I will be awed by the sturdy vessel that carried my babies. For the size of my legs, I will appreciate the hours in the gym to build the muscles to propel me up the hills of my runs. For every gray hair, I will appreciate the wisdom I have gained through my years of experience. For the deepening lines around my mouth, I will be grateful for every belly laugh that ingrained itself onto my face for the world to see. For all my scars, I will be reminded of the strength it took to acquire them.

So thank you, Body, for being there for me, through it all. For supporting me and giving me the ability to pursue my dreams. 

We have many more decades together. We can’t trade each other, give each other up, or exchange each other for a new and updated model. We can’t predict the future, foresee our future health, or know what our abilities or disabilities will be. All we can do is embrace this day, this moment, and do all we can to live our best life, right now. 

I will do better, Body. 

I will do better listening to you, respecting you, appreciating you, and treating you with the care you deserve so we may one day, reflect on a long life together with fondness, fulfillment, and no regrets. 

Most lovingly yours, 


Focus On The 1%

I’m a big dreamer. I’m a doer. I set very lofty goals and corresponding high expectations. Hence, the 50-mile race dream. 

Recently, however, I watched a very inspirational TEDx event titled, Don’t Dream Big. 

This seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Definitely misaligned with how I’ve approached life so far.  

Dreaming big is reinforced in mantras and quotes all around us. 

“Shoot for the Moon, Even if You Miss You’ll Land Among the Stars” – Leslie Brown

“Dream Big, Dare to Fail” -Norman Vaughn

“Think, believe, dream and dare” – Walt Disney

“Work Hard. Dream Big. Never Give Up” 

As I began to watch Eric Butorac share his story, I was intrigued. I had never heard of this guy before. His tennis story was completely foreign to me and we are a pretty devoted tennis family. 

I encourage you to watch his video.

In short – he worked his way from being a Division 3 college tennis player in his 20’s, to an internationally ranked No. 3 doubles player for a period of 6 years, making it to the Australian Open. He also succeeded Roger Federer as president of the ATP Player’s Council and at the conclusion of his term, was succeeded by Novak Djokovic. 

How did a guy, with no lofty goal to turn pro, let alone the aspiration to play in a Grand Slam tourney, become an internationally ranked tennis star and a leader in the professional tennis community? 

By not dreaming big. 

Rather he focused on improving consistently, deliberately, and steadily, every day. 

He focused on getting 1% better with every effort. 

He systematically tracked his progress and monitored his statistics. His measure of success was small, but incremental, improvement.  

This work ethic and philosophy eventually landed him on the hard courts of Arthur Ashe stadium playing in the 2014 finals. 

Boom! Mind blown! 

I’ve been processing this philosophy and trying to apply it to my own internal benchmark of success. 

By shifting my perspective from measuring myself against progress towards the ultimate achievement, where the gap can oftentimes feel oppressively vast, how does my outlook change if I gauge my progress on incremental goals and steps?

Let’s put this theory to work on weight loss, since I’m in the middle of a weight loss program. 

Last June, there is no way on this planet, I would have ever believed I could lose 30 pounds. If you told me I would easily be fitting into a size 6 in less than a year, I really would have thought you were an alien from another galaxy. Size 10 has been my standard – sometimes creeping up to a 12. I remember in college working out at a new gym and telling the trainer “I’ve never been a size 8. If you can help me do that, I’ll love you forever.” It didn’t happen. Lost love. 

Fast forward, 20 years later, in my 40’s, I’m in the best shape of my life. 

30 pounds was not my goal. In fact, when I started out, I didn’t really have a goal, I just knew I needed to make a change to my lifestyle. 

I gave myself time, 8 weeks, and the intention to just see what would happen if I made different eating choices. My exercise routine stayed the same.  

I weighed myself every week through the summer, and miraculously, with fundamental and consistent diet changes, I started dropping weight. 

I was elated. Every pound dropped was a success. I felt proud of myself and my accomplishments. 

I was measuring myself on incremental improvement from where I had been, rather than how close I was to an ultimate destination. 

There is a fundamental difference there. 

Dropping one or two pounds can feel like a success, when we compare it to where we were last week. Or it can feel like meager, inconsequential progress if we position it next to a lofty weight loss goal. If I told myself at the beginning of summer, I wanted to lose 30 pounds, a 1-pound change would be discouragingly minute in comparison to the ultimate destination. My bar would have been 30 pounds, not 1 or 2. I would have been setting myself up for disappointment every week. 

Oftentimes, weight loss goals are arbitrary. So many of us say, I want to lose 5, 10, 20, 50 pounds – or whatever the case may be – but who really decides that? Where does that number come from? Who says what is healthy? What is healthy for one person, might not be the definition of healthy for another. What one person thinks is aesthetically pleasing, may not be the archetype for someone else.  

For the vast majority of people, weight loss goals are purely subjective. When we measure small progress toward these lofty and subjective goals, it is easy to become discouraged and give up. 

If we shift our perspective to measure our progress on where we have been, rather than where we are going, we open up new possibilities for success. 

I’m taking this into consideration for my 50-mile race goal.

50 miles seems daunting and overwhelming. When I measure my progress towards completing 50-miles on my own two feet, I begin to question my sanity and wonder 1) How in the heck did I come up with this crazy idea? 2) Why on God’s green earth, did I put my dream out there in a public forum to document my journey? 3) What happens if I can’t do it? (injury) 4) What happens if I decide not to do it, after I’ve already made a commitment to myself and the world?

These are negative questions. I feel uneasy and almost sad inside when I read them. I feel like the opportunities for failure are overwhelming.

Let me shift into 1% thinking. 

I completed a half marathon last year. 

I’m lighter, leaner, and stronger today than I was when I completed my last half marathon. 

I will begin training for my long-distance race this summer. A half marathon is my first milestone on the plan and it’s completely doable. I’ve done so many of them, I understand the training and what it takes it get there. It’s going beyond that 13.1 that feels daunting. 

1% of 50 miles is 0.5 miles. 

Can I regularly increase my distance by 1/2 mile? Of course I can! That is absolutely doable. With 52 weeks in a year, it would take me about two years to increase my weekly distance by .5 miles and cross the finish line of a 50-mile race if I start from a baseline of zero. Put in those terms, any healthy person who has never run a step farther than half a mile before, could cross the same finish line. Incremental progress is manageable. 

My energy just shifted from negativity and failure-bound, to one of optimism, hope, and excitement. 

I can measure my success on improving .5 mile every week, rather than closing the incredible distance to 50.  

Does that mean I’m going to feel amazing every week and make linear, uninterrupted progress? Does that mean I’m not going to have setbacks? Does that mean I’m guaranteed to actually complete the entire race if I follow this 1% plan?  

Nothing is guaranteed. 

But at any time, if I improve incrementally, if I run just 0.5 miles more than I have ever run before – that is its own success to be celebrated.

Apply this concept to saving money. Growing a business. Playing a musical instrument. Academic achievement. Communicating with our spouse. Developing a closer relationship with God. 

The list is endless. We can always make, and then appreciate, small positive changes. 

Does the focus on incremental improvement eliminate the need for the big goal? I don’t think so. I think these larger than life goals give us energy to strive for something bigger than we ever thought possible. But sometimes the destination of where we end up, is different than the goal itself, and that is ok. That is good enough. That is still a success. 

I have some adorable shoelace charms given to me by a dear friend that I wear on a pair of running shoes. 

Run as far as you can, then take one more step. 

And really, it’s that simple. That’s all I have to do. 

Celebration and Gratitude

My intention this morning was for some quick hill repeats after I dropped the kids off to school. I was feeling a bit tired, so I wanted to get my 35 min of fasted cardio in and call it a day for exercise. There is a peaceful regional park near the school with miles of meandering trails and one very robust hill leading down into the campground that offers a challenging workout for those brave enough to run up it.  My intention was to get in 4 or 5 hill repeats as a HIIT workout, but changed plans as my legs seemed to yearn for more mileage once they got moving. 

I ran to the bottom of the hill and veered left, past the campground, onto the dirt trails. I ran 5 miles yesterday then did a heavy leg workout, so my fatigue was palpable. With my music on, I ran about 1.5 miles out, then turned around to conquer the hill on my way back. My heart rate soared as I increased my pace up the hill and pushed through to the top.  Out of breath, I lumbered toward my car. As I approached my vehicle, something in me told me to pass it and just keep going. So, I continued on the trail paralleling the street for another mile, then looped back into the park. By this time, my breathing had regulated, and my body was warm despite the frosty 42 degrees outside. The last mile back was slight downhill, and I was gliding easily under the canopy of trees, rhythmically moving my feet to the cadence of my music, when the word celebrate popped into my mind. 

I turned this word over, curious as to why it came into my consciousness. 

Celebrate this moment, celebrate your achievements, celebrate your life, my inner voice said. 

When I shattered my ankle in 2019, this was the same trail I ran on my very first run, 5 months post-surgery. I remember limping through the adventure, both frightened of the pain and ecstatic that I was pushing through it. Every step was an uncomfortable, but joyful, effort. 

Today, two years past my surgery, two half marathons accomplished, and hundreds of miles walked and run, with two metal plates and 14 screws still holding me together, I am filled with gratitude, humility, and celebration. 

If I hadn’t broken my ankle, I wouldn’t have been determined to exceed the expectations of my doctor and physical therapist and run a half marathon within a year of injury. If I hadn’t run that half marathon, I would never have set the goal to run a 50-mile race before I turn 50. If I didn’t set that goal, I wouldn’t have my blog and I wouldn’t have pursued improving my fitness and health with such determination. 

 My injury changed my life. It changed my perspective on life. 

Setbacks are gifts. They are opportunities for change and adaptation. 

Through these setbacks, whether in or out of our control, we learn. We have the fortunate opportunity to adapt, change and move forward. Or we can see our impediments as roadblocks, resist the hidden lessons, and stay stagnant. 

This week has been SUPER frustrating on my weight loss journey. I really just want to grumble and growl and stamp my feet like a toddler. 

The scale has gone up a couple pounds since last week and despite my best efforts, I really haven’t dropped much in the last few weeks. 

I ask myself, what am I doing wrong? I enjoyed a “cheat meal”/date night with my husband last weekend, did that throw everything off? Aside from that, my diet has been consistent. Worried about the lack of downward movement in the scale, I have increased both my cardio and my weight training. But the numbers haven’t really budged. I am focused. I am diligent. I am determined. 

Intellectually, I know I am fine. My progress pics continue to show significant change, even if the scale doesn’t. Maybe I’ve hit a plateau. Maybe my body just needs to adapt at a weight it hasn’t been for 25 years. Maybe my muscle gain is increasing faster than my fat loss in this period of time. Maybe it’s hormones. Maybe it’s a million things. Rationally, I KNOW:  Don’t make any changes. Stay consistent. Be relentless. Be resilient. Be outcome independent. Just focus on the long-term goal and everything will eventually align. 

Yet, yet….

I am human. 

I want the instant gratification of the scale showing the evidence of all my efforts. 

I want to see measurable progress, spelled out for me in crisp, clear, digital LED numbers on the little white plate situated prominently in the middle of my closet. 

But alas, that is not to be right now. 

So, what do I do? How do I approach this setback? Give up? Rebel against myself and go off the program? Say screw it, it’s not worth all this effort with no measurable progress? Eat those chocolate chip muffins I made for the kids this morning? Trust me, that has gone through my mind many times. But that would be disappointing. I would be abandoning the lesson that I am supposed to be learning right now. That would be giving up on myself.

What should I do instead? 

There is that word again: celebrate. 

Celebrate my glorious date night with my husband. An evening for reconnection, laughter and deep discussion, while enjoying a delicious meal at one of our favorite restaurants. 

Celebrate the feeling of my clothes getting looser and looser on my body. 

Celebrate the strength in my arms and shoulders and back. (I can almost do a pull up!) 

Celebrate my health – that I am able to invest myself into this process wholeheartedly without physical limitations or pain. 

Celebrate my husband – that he is on this journey with me and a tremendous support system. I couldn’t do it without him.

Celebrate my kids – with their ever-ready smiles, words of encouragement and playful teasing that brighten even the gloomiest (and hungriest) of days. 

Celebrate my friends and family – amazing people who have followed my progress and encouraged me and motivated me on this journey. 

Celebrate my trainers and coaches – whose belief in me, has helped me to believe in myself. 

With all of this celebration comes tremendous amount of gratitude. 

I am so lucky. I am so incredibly blessed and fortunate. I am grateful to God for all of these gifts and ask Him to help me give back to this world more than I have received, and be a conduit of love and motivation to others. 

While celebrating all of these amazing gifts and feeling overwhelmed with gratitude, it is impossible to be weighted down by the output of the scale. I can almost laugh at my despondency over the frivolous numbers. 

My life, my body, my health, my journey – is all to be celebrated.  The ups and downs. The progress and setbacks. The peaks and valleys. Good days, bad days. Every single part of it. 

 And for that awareness, for the opportunity to experience all of this, I am humbly grateful.