Even in this very troubling world, there is still so much to feel good and hopeful about. You just have to find a way to neutralize all of the negative energy we're bombarded with daily and accentuate the positive. This is not always easy and oftentimes I have to tell myself to count my blessings. I'm always on the lookout for good stories that inspire me to feel happy, positive and upbeat about the world--and today I have two to share.
Meet Rich Roll, who at 40 looked in the mirror and didn't like what he saw. Two years later, after making major changes to his diet and adopting an active lifestyle, Rich completed a double Ironman Triathlon at the Ultraman World Championships, finishing eleventh overall and third among Americans. Rich, who lives in Malibu Canyon, Calif., took on a plant-based diet and lost more than 30 lbs. en route to becoming a national-class endurance athlete. You can read more about Rich's adventure by clicking here or by visiting his Web site.
Rich Roll crossing the finish line of the Ultra Man World Championships. Photo from www.richroll.arnokroner.com. Do you think many people saw a double Ironman in Rich only a few years ago?
Rich's story may not translate well to the average American, who probably wouldn't be inclined to try a double Ironman, much less a marathon. But how about a duathlon? Meet 40-year-old Tom Herzog of Overland Park, Kan. Tom lost an incredible 170 lbs. over 11 1/2 months and just recently finished a duathlon. His story is incredibly inspiring and shows just what you can do when you set your mind to it. To learn more about Tom's story, click here.
What separates Tom, Rich and so many other successes is that they believed in themselves. They knew the world wanted to keep them down and, instead of surrendering to a life of health problems from free donuts at the office and going numb in front of the TV, they fought back, transforming themselves and making sacrifices. This is about believing and it comes from deep within the human soul. They suffered adversity and set-backs during their transformations, but they stayed strong in their belief in themselves and conquered great obstacles to their remarkable successes. As nothing good comes easy, they made plenty of sacrifices, as any dedicated endurance athlete must do.
Forget about the fluff and garbage Oprah and others spoon-feed to make people feel good about themselves; stories of real people like Tom and Rich demonstrate the vastness of the human soul, the power of belief and courage to drive real personal change that makes the world a better place, and the ability to inspire others.
Stories like Tom and Rich really connect with me. In 1999, I remember stepping on a scale that registered 219 lbs. I wore size-38 pants and a size-48 suit and not until 2003, when I was north of 220 lbs., smoking a few cigarettes a day and eating way too much fast food, did I really do something about my ballooning weight. Fifty-one pounds later, I feel like--and am in a very real way--a different person. Forget about winning a 100-mile race, breaking 3 hours or making it to Boston; there was a time when the sheer thought of trying to finish a marathon sent shivers up my spine. But like Tom, Rich and so many others, I believed and was willing to make sacrifices. As I made changes to my diet and took my running to the next level (I've always run; just not as much as I do now), the pounds came off and over the course of a few years I literally transformed myself into an endurance athlete. I will never, ever go back! Why would I? Life is so much more adventurous and fulfilling now.
Ask almost any endurance athlete if they're super-talented or blessed with natural ability and most will say no. They'll tell you they just work hard. In my opinion, the overwhelming majority of people out there have no idea what they are capable of physically and mentally because they don't ever test their limits and they're unwilling to make sacrifices. Society today doesn't want us to test our limits or make sacrifices; it just wants us to stuff our faces with garbage and veg in front of the TV watching endless re-runs of "Law & Order."
I completed another solid training week as I now prepare for an exciting fall and early-winter racing season featuring the Tussey Mountainback 50 Mile/USATF 50-mile national championship on Oct. 3 and The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship Gore-Tex 50-Mile on Dec. 5. I'm also planning the Aurora Labor Day 5K to assess where I am with my leg turnover.
For the week, I ran 72.3 miles, with quality hill-repeat and track workouts. My track workout on Friday saw three one-mile repeats at 5:38, 5:39 and 5:48. I kind of lost it on that last mile but overall this was a solid workout and something to build on over the next eight weeks. So long as I stay committed to hills repeats, intervals and high mileage, I will achieve the quick leg turnover and power I'll need to run well at both Tussey and North Face.
I am also continuing to work on my form to correct my over-striding. This is so hard! Based on a lot of stuff I'm reading, including the late Gordon Pirie's excellent booklet, "Running Fast and Injury Free" (which you can download for free), I'm trying to run with my legs slightly bent at the knees and my forefeet hitting the ground directly beneath my body. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the key isn't to have a long stride; the key is to have quick turnover. Pirie, who was a legendary runner from Brittain, says that you want three turnovers every second. I'm going to see if I can transition into neutral-cushion shoes that will encourage forefoot striking.
This week the goal is 80+ miles with high-quality hill-repeat and track workouts. I'm planning five 1600s, each at sub-6-minute pace.
Needless to say, it was tough not running in the summer Buckeye Trail 50K, which drew some great talent from the region. At the time, I just didn't think it was a good move during my recovery from the Mohican 100, but sometimes you just have to say to hell with it. The Buckeye is a premier local ultra and I should have run in this race. Having learned my lesson, I've decided that come hell or high water I will be in next year's Buckeye 50K, even if it's a training run.
A final thought on the Tour de France, which I've been obsessed with over the past two weeks. Like most people, I was rooting for Lance Armstrong, but then I saw his Astana teammate, Alberto Contador, climbing the mountains and I realized how badly the Spaniard wanted to win. He won the tour in 2007 and now, having dashed Lance's hopes on the Swiss Alps, where Lance used to destroy his opponents such as the great Jan Ulrich, he is the man. There could be no greater climber or measure of an endurance athlete's heart and desire. Go Alberto!
On a side note, I just don't understand why Americans don't like endurance sports, which seem to have a good foothold in European life. I'm not one of those people who think all things Europe are good; I'm not. I think European life is way over-rated. But I do think Europeans turn out in huge numbers to support great events like the Tour de France and I wish they'd support endurance sports here in the States. Most of the people who show up at marathons are there because they know someone in the race. In Europe, it's part of life.
Onward and upward!