Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Review: Mental Training For Runners, How To Stay Motivated By Jeff Galloway

Last fall, while visiting the Marine Corps Marathon Expo, I had the privilege of meeting former Olympian Jeff Galloway. During my time at Mylan Pharmaceuticals, my weight first crossed over the 200 pound mark. When it happened, I decided I needed to take decisive action. I changed my eating habits, and I started moving (walking/running). At the time Mylan had this walking/running program called the Mylan Milers program. The program was based on the honor system, and encouraged participants to develop a lifestyle of walking/running. There were incentives for achieving 100 (t-shirt), 500 (sweatshirt), and 1,000 (track suit) miles. I decided that I would attempt to move 1000 miles over the course of a year. The year was 1999.

As I started walking and running my way to 1000 miles (I ended at 1,013 that year), I started to get interested in running. At the time there didn't seem to be many books on the subject. (Contrast that today where there seems to be new books and theories coming out every week.) It was back in that time that I discovered Jeff Galloway's Book On Running (one of the best books I've read on the subject). So Jeff Galloway in some ways had served as a coach and a mentor for me in my running life. Although I took a several year hiatus from running, when I picked back up and started training for MCM, I looked to Coach Galloway for advice.

I've been thinking a lot lately about resilience and mental toughness. How do people persevere through hardships of different types and keep going? What is it that helps them to stay focused and motivated. When I saw Mental Training For Runners I had to read what Coach Galloway had to say. I actually ended up reading it during a cross-country flight earlier this year. It is not a long book, but it is well organized and easy to read.

The book is well researched, and rather than jumping straight into the fix, Coach Galloway starts by laying out a few reasons why we may feel unmotivated. He then goes through various ways we can develop mental plans of attack for each of these situations. The irony of the lack of motivation is that there are so many proven healthful benefits to our mind AND body that come from running. As Coach writes, "A gentle paced run activates the attitude-boosting hormones that can instantly transmit good feelings through your body. Within a few minutes, you feel better, more relaxed, have more energy and experience the powerful internal confidence that comes when the body and spirit are working as a team."

One of the best parts of this book is that this Olympic runner shared the fact that as a kid he was overweight and lazy, and that he was able to turn all of this around to become one of the greatest runners in the world. To me, that's inspiration. To know that someone who was once overweight could turn it all around.

Here are just a few of the tactics shared in the book. I won't write em all, but I do recommend the book to anyone who is wrestling with staying motivated and moving whether as a runner, a walker, or just someone trying to move forward with life goals.

1) Smile. This simple act can help you overcome negative thought patterns and change your demeanor and focus.

2) Focus on the positive benefits of the task you are about to (or are currently doing). What will be the result of me achieving this goal?

3) Your reflex brain will start talking to you when your body or mind start to feel stressed. It will work to tell you to slow down, stop, or quit. When it happens, acknowledge it, and speak into it. Laugh and tell it who is boss and keep pushing toward your goal.

4) Concentrate on one challenge at a time. Don't worry about everything all at once.

Whether you read the book or not, may you persevere in bringing your best to whatever you are seeking to accomplish, and may you hone your own mental toughness to persevere through the hard situations you find yourself in!

Monday, February 08, 2016

Review: TRX and TRX Training and TRX Tactical Tactical Gym and App

During fall 2014, Jamie and I invested in our first piece of exercise equipment. Both of us are pretty disciplined about our fitness and health, and Jamie had first discovered TRX through her job as an exercise physiologist working in aquatic rehab at Healthworks in Morgantown, West Virginia. Healthworks functions as both a rehab and fitness facility and had three TRX bands in its fitness area. Jamie and I had experimented with the equipment a few times and we were really impressed with the ability to use body weight resistance as well as resistance, mobility, and stabilization around rotational forces to focus on core strength specifically and functional strength in general.

During summer 2014, while conducting a site visit for an up close look at our work in Kenya with Nuru International, I started talking with our team leader on the ground, Alex Martin about what he does to stay physically fit while working in remote, rural Kenya. Alex is a USNA grad and a Force Reconnaissance Marine platoon commander (similar to Jake), who, previous to working with Nuru, was part of an incredible hostage rescue off the coast of Somalia. When I asked Alex about his fitness regimen, he quickly replied, “I use the TRX.” My limited experience combined with a respected peer review—and a visible witness that the equipment was portable and could really be used anywhere, led us to purchase a TRX.

So enough background, let me tell you about this piece of equipment. It is essentially  custom designed and stitched webbing and caribiners that allow a person to mount the straps to just about anything (doors, decks, trees, etc.). We purchased our TRXForce Tactical for a couple of reasons. It was advertised as a pretty lightweight and packable piece of equipment (it came with its own small bag), and it also came with an iPhone app that included a pretty rigorous twelve week workout. Separately, we wanted a piece of equipment that was simple, not super-gimmicky, and focused on functional strength as well as core stability. In addition, I was pretty impressed with the fact that Randy Hetrick, a Navy SEAL had come up with the concept for TRX as a way to keep his teams fit and mission ready while in the field, and that his company gave back part of the purchase price of the TRX to charity. Solid all around.

Separately, Jamie and I had just finished our second consecutive Marine Corps Marathon, and had come to the conclusion that while we were able to train effectively for the distance, to take our running and conditioning to the next level we really wanted to develop a stronger core. Plus, we felt like the TRX would be a useful tool for improving posture as we strengthened stabilizers in our back and core.

We have made working out with the TRX a part of our workout regimen for a little over a year now. We have taken it on the road as we travel together for Nuru. After one month we performed the USMC Standardized Fitness Test and did a comparison to baseline form the day we started using the TRX. Conveniently on both occasions we entered 5K races. We were able to shave nearly two minutes off our time, and we did not do any other cardio training (not that I’m advising our exercise plan—just wanted to give the facts). We both felt like we were running stronger, we had a stronger core, and we showed marked improvement in both pull ups and flexed arm hang respectively.

The TRX Force SuperApp and the TRX force itself are excellent training tools I would highly recommend based on my own experience with them. TRX focuses on functional strength and core strength, it is easily portable, and it removes at least some of the excuses one generates for not working out while traveling. That being said, any workout or piece of exercise equipment is only as good as the work you put into it. I know of far too many people who, with the best of intentions, have spent a lot of money and cluttered their homes with exercise equipment. If this is you, before you jump in with both feet, just focus on getting a consistent workout regimen. (Although one additional attribute I appreciate about the TRX is that it doesn’t really take up a lot of space).

If you are looking to take your workouts to the next level and looking for a lightweight, easy to transport piece of equipment to offer an added dimension to your fitness regimen—check out the TRX Force. The TRX ForceSuperApp also includes videos that show all of the exercises along with different levels at which they can be performed, so you can better assess whether you are doing workouts correctly.

Here’s hoping you can crush your fitness goals in 2016 and beyond. Get strong, get focused, and keep moving forward!

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Reflection: Bonfires and Bonding

This year at our Nuru all-staff summit, we started a new tradition, or maybe we continued an older tradition in a new format. We gathered around a fire on the first night of our summit, and shared stories of ways in the past year different members of the team stepped forward and went above and beyond to carry the mission forward. This time of celebrating wins was not entirely new at Nuru, but, the bonfire was.

Sitting around that fire and enjoying some pizza and solid conversations and catch-up times with teammates as the sound of Pacific waves crashed in the darkness beyond us brought back several other memories for me. Back when I was more actively engaged in my tribal community, we would circle up around what we called "Indian-TV" or more specifically "Shawnee-TV" and conduct similar activities. We would enjoy meals, catch-up with one another, share stories, and laugh together as we enjoyed the dance of the fire/"TV" before us. My understanding is that our staff living in Ethiopia and Kenya also have fire pits around which they gather fairly often.

My tribe has a New Year's ceremony (not in January) in which the nation's fire is stamped out to signal the close of the old year and the start of the new year (there's much more to the ceremony, but this is one key element). As the fire is stamped out, individuals are encouraged to make amends, to forgive, and to leave the hurts of the previous year in the past. In this way each year starts with a clean slate.

I can remember heading out to one of my old roommate Lucas Harriman's family home in West Virginia during my undergraduate years too. We would gather about indoors, eat a ton of buckwheat cakes and pizza while simultaneously downing pot after pot of coffee, and then we would make our way outside to a fire pit, and gather around to sing praises to the Creator of the universe, share testimonies of what He was teaching us, and even take time to pray for one another.

I've always thought about a fire as a tool for survival, a place to keep warm, and a place to cook food and share meals, but in reality a fire represents a gathering place, and in some regard, the breath and life of a community. It's no wonder that people talk about relationships ending as "fires going out" or even of death in a similar fashion "their fire burnt out too early."

While I know that there are modern equivalents for gathering spaces, I can't help but think that a fire as a gathering space is unparalleled, especially a fire in the night. The fire calls us away from the darkness, calls us to warmth and laughter, and allows us to see one another more clearly rather than only seeing shadows.

Do you have any fireside memories? May we each make a practice of spending time together with others around a fire, and celebrate community, warmth, and connectedness.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Review: The Trusted Advisor by David H. Maister

A few weeks ago, one of my coworkers at Nuru, Marc, gave me his copy of a book he thought I might find enjoyable. It was called The Trusted Advisor by David Maister. It probably would not have been a book I would have picked up on my own, but I'm always appreciative of a good book recommendation. I had also communicated with Marc my desire to grow in my ability to lead, coach, and develop the talents of others, so I started looking at this book as a potential tool toward that end.

The book, which receives some pretty incredible reviews on Amazon, is a fairly quick read, and filled with personal examples from the author(s) own experiences. The themes of this book are incredibly important and timely in a world that is growing increasingly skeptical of "experts" and those who are in the know. It is a reminder of the Theodore Roosevelt quote, "Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care."

Maister and his fellow authors, Charles Green and Robert Galford walk through the importance of trust and of developing relationships with others as well as the outflow of those relationships over time. It actually brought to mind this short verse from Saul of Tarsus in his letter to the Corinthian church, "Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful." Trust is not something that comes in an instant, it comes over time, it comes from faithful practice, and it comes as a result of very real relationships. The authors point out it comes more from learning how to listen well than it does from all that one might have on their mind to say.

Looking to learn more about how to be a better friend, advisor, counselor, coach, or advisor? Take a look at The Trusted Advisor, and learn from its many chapters, examples, and actionable lists. May we each work to cultivate and practice greater trust in our relationships with others.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Reflection: My 2016 Goals Part Two

A few days ago, I started sharing my top goals for 2016. I felt like my post was getting a little long, and so I divided it up into two sections. If you want to get the rest of the list, check out my previous post. Each year I like to develop a list of overarching goals that inform my life mission and help me bring my best into every day. Here are a few of the goals I have set for 2016. If you are not a goal setter, I want to encourage you to set some goals for your 2016 as well. Below is the second half of my goals for 2016. Please, when you can send me a note to encourage me along the way--I always appreciate it!

Make healthier dietary choices. The data is out there. Sugar is terrible for you (beyond tooth decay), and it is EVERYWHERE! Jamie and I have been pretty disciplined in our food and beverage choices, but we plan to step it up even more in 2016 and part of that means making more meals at home, finding healthy snacks, and taking our vitamins!

Vacation. This is something I have historically been horrible with. I do not take time for vacation. Many times when I actually do take vacation, I still find myself doing work and hopping online to check emails or answer "urgent" requests. This year, I'm committed to planning for and using the vacation time that has been given me. At the forefront, I will take time off to go "off the grid" and celebrate five AMAZING years together with Jamie! Separately, I have gotten out of rhythm with regard to Sabbath. This year, I am working toward renewing my personal commitment to Sabbath. The irony of a general cultural desire to uphold the majority of the Ten Commandments is that we treat the commandment about Sabbath as an exception. 

Simplify. Every year Jamie and I make small inroads toward pushing things out the door that we have acquired over the years. And this year, we are already starting to go through our clothes, books, etc. and donate them so other people can enjoy them. Several years ago I started amassing quite a library, and while I have enjoyed reading just about every book on my shelves, the reality is that I am highly unlikely to read the majority of them a second time. So...I am planning to push many of these tomes out the door. Of course another aspect of simplifying means lowering my footprint, walking instead of driving, and turning off electronics, and lights when not in use. 

Pursue formal training to be a certified coach. This one is a new one in some ways. My entire life I have benefitted from being around people who were smarter than me, more talented than me, and who provided incredible mentorship to me. And at the core of my being, I think one of the things that brings me great joy is helping others bring their very best to the world. As a result, this year I'm pursuing formal training to become a better executive/leadership/life coach and mentor. As one of my personal mentors pointed out to me in a recent conversation, "You already do this stuff--getting trained will help you to do it better."

Play more. I believe this could probably be connected to vacation, simplifying and other goals, but when I think about this goal, it has more to do with seeking to do some activities purely for enjoyment. Whether that is playing a game of cards, playing H-O-R-S-E with Jamie on a local playground, or throwing a baseball in the yard, I want to be intentional in finding time to play in 2016. Life is pretty serious. The work we are doing at Nuru is pretty serious too. But play keeps our hearts light and and makes the serious work a little easier to push through. I don't have a specific goal for the frequency with which I want to play, but I know that I want to pursue more activities than I currently do simply for the sake of enjoying them.

So what are your goals? What will you do to bring your very best in 2016? May we each bring forth our very best for the glory of God and for the good of humanity in the year ahead.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Reflection: Running And Community

While attending the Nuru all-staff summit I had the opportunity to run together with some of my co-workers/teammates at Nuru. Typically when I go running, its either with Jamie or by myself (most of the time with Jamie though). I knew that there were a few fellow team members who cultivated a habit of running, and so I thought I'd invite them to explore an area I discovered on my first day of the summit. We were able to get out a couple of days during the week until I sprained an ankle, and at the very least, ended my own runs. I really enjoyed these community runs for a few reasons.

1) I knew that we were going to have some long and full days at the summit, and that all of us who were able/willing would benefit greatly from an opportunity to move and to sweat.

2) Running together, helped each of us to have a rhythm that didn't push anyone too hard, but ensured that we each had a good workout.

3) We had some great conversations about work and life that likely would never have happened during the normal rhythm of the week.

4) I was able to get to know some of my teammates better, and that puts me in a better position to support them as together we work to take more ground in the fight to end extreme poverty.

5) Knowing that there were other people who were going to run/workout with me helped me stay motivated to get out there.

Are you starting a walking/running/workout endeavor? Find a group of friends or coworkers to do it with, keep each other motivated, and keep moving forward. May we each find people in our lives who will help us bring our best each day!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Review: The Heart And The Fist by Eric Greitens

Over the last several months in a wide spectrum of contexts I've been seeing the name Eric Greitens come up. He's an author, a Rhodes Scholar, a Navy SEAL, a humanitarian, founder of The Mission Continues, and currently a candidate for governor of Missouri. Because his name has been popping up in a variety of different contexts, I decided I would do a quick Google search.

When I did, among the top hits were a couple of books, one called Resilience, and the other was The Heart And The Fist. I decided to start by reading The Heart And The Fist because of its subtitle, The Education Of A Humanitarian, The Making Of A Navy SEAL. This title intrigued me on a few levels. First, given Nuru CEO Jake Harriman's background as a Force Recon platoon commander, I wondered what similarities may exist between the genesis of Nuru in Jake's mind and Eric Greitens' own experiences and conclusions. Separately, I find myself encouraged by the lives of others who have sought to work for a better world, and Mr. Greitens seems to be a person who has sought to do that with his life. I figure any time I can read a book where a person is willing to open up their life and share some of their personal lessons, I am usually made better through it.

And so I picked up The Heart And The Fist. What I love about the book is that there is a mixture of these biographical sketches from different seasons of the author's life that each include both humor and nuggets of wisdom. In even the most serious moments of life it seems there can be an occasion to smile, to experience gratitude, and an opportunity to learn and grow as a person. In the preface of the book, Eric succinctly articulates his thesis. The stories he shares reflect this truth, "...without courage, compassion falters, and without compassion, courage has no direction...it is within our power, and that the world requires of us--of every one of us--that we be both good and strong...For each of us there is a place on the frontlines."

In each chapter of the book, Eric focuses in on key experiences and individuals who helped him learn important life lessons, and who inspire him to bring his best into whatever he does. Although the book is a story about moments that shaped his life, it is just as much a testimonial and tribute to individuals who gave him inspiration and who by being written about, may have the opportunity to give us inspiration as well. In this book, he communicates with a vulnerability and an honesty that does not attempt to paint any of these individuals (including himself) in a perfect light, but rather to show that even amid our imperfections, we each have valuable life lessons to impart, and we each have a unique contribution on the frontlines, wherever they may be.

I highly recommend picking up a copy of his book, and soaking in these stories of hardship, heroism, and simple truths in the hope that it might help you to bring your best to wherever you have been placed, and further, that it might inspire you to be both strong and good. In the words of the philosopher John Stuart Mill (also quoted in the book), " The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."  May we be a people who are willing to fight for good, who are relentless in standing strong, and purposeful in laying down our lives and our comforts for the good of others.