By Eric Beach
Since running my last triathlon, my calf muscle has been giving issues. At times I can’t seem to run more than a mile before a sharp pain reduces me to a walk, or light jog. I’ve tried to rest and ice it, slow down my pace, and even not run. Nothing has made a lasting impact. At mile one, the pain returns. At the 1-mile mark, my leg seemingly becomes unhealthy.
Yesterday, I needed to run. I needed a physical outlet. I’ve been reading about proper running form and had some new things I needed to try. It was 23 degrees yesterday morning when the time came to run. The first mile burned my lungs with cold, but I felt alive! But, after that first mile, the sharp pain jolted through my leg. I stopped and walked. I was frustrated but calm.
I asked myself, “What is going on!?!” Unsatisfied with walking I started to run again. I shortened my stride, doubled my cadence, and looked at the road, 20 feet ahead of me. With these things and only slightly bending my knee as I ran, I was able to finish the second mile. Setting out that morning, all I wanted to do was finish a 2 mile run.
I felt good about it. I didn’t finish without pain, but I finished. My pace was slower than I would have liked. In the past, I hated any regression, but now I see it differently. Here’s what I learned yesterday morning.
I tend to live in the future, but stare at the ground in front of me. My thought process is a little like this. “I want to finish an ironman and help others compete in the sport I’ve come to love. But, my knee is preventing me from running more than a mile. My dream then, is impossible. I am hopeless.”
I disqualify myself rather than step back and reevaluate my circumstance. Maybe I should run slower for a while instead of just quitting. I had been running a 5K in the 23-minute range. Maybe I need to run it in the 27-minute range until I’m stronger and understand the origins of my pain. That’s ok! Setbacks aren’t closed doors. Setbacks are more like hurdles, and hurdles were designed to be overcome.
Whatever dream I have, and there are several, will undoubtedly come with setbacks and hurdles. The question isn’t if or when, it’s what are you willing to overcome in pursuit of your dream.
Don’t stare at the ground on the way to your dream. You won’t see the hurdle coming and you will fall hard. I promise.
Don’t mistake the temporary for the permanent. Slowing down for a time doesn’t equal failure if it helps you ultimately get you to your dream.
Overcoming the obstacle, that thing you feel if attempted would overwhelm and kill you, requires success and failure, sprints and walks, and hurdles… A lot of hurdles.
Nobody wins a race because they were comfortable. They win because they committed to what was required to overcome the hurdles. They new the cost’s, weighed them and decided their heart was willing to pay the price. They showed up to the race wounded, bearing their scars and appeared comfortable because the physical race is the easy part.
By Eric Beach
I didn't work out this morning. I could blame the rain. I could say rest was more important. I could give you a list of reasons as to why I stayed home. But the simple fact is, I made a choice.
I woke up with every intention of heading to the pool, but when i walked downstairs, I felt a strong pull to read. Lately, the intensity of my training schedule has disallowed me reading time. I accepted that fact, but as time has gone on, I realize must find a way for my rhythm to include time to read. Its one of the vital pieces to this healing puzzle.
Understand, healing for anybody, is a complex thing. A broken bone mends as long as we rest it. A broken heart, an abused soul, a trauma surviving brain requires so much more. For me, that means therapy with my psychologist once a month (unless I need to increase the frequency), reading books like "King, Warrior, Magician, Lover" "Iron John" "The Alchemist" "Grendel" and others. It means training for triathlon. It means running towards relationships though I want to run from them. It means being my authentic self as vulnerably as I possibly can. It means sobriety, zero alcohol. It means working with my wife on our marriage while building Project Echelon and serving organizations that have helped me, and it means attending healing intensive experiences like This Able Veteran and Save a Warrior.
Thats a part of my journey. Each piece progresses me towards my goal and my core purpose. I read to understand and challenge myself. I train to see what I'm made of and burn off adrenaline. I also train because its meditative for me as well as a it provides me the physicality I miss from the Army. I seek relationships otherwise I'm 3 months from isolating myself and family. They deserve so much more.
Heres what I've come to understand. We as veterans can easily seek the brotherhood/sisterhood. We can drink, fight, talk trash, lift weights, ride motorcycles, objectify the opposite sex, avoid real depth and vulnerability, and much more. But thats stunted living. Thats living in 1/4 of a shadow. Stepping into the light is brutally painful and is a long process. Its the reason so many stay where they are. Its why I did for so long.
We tend to build a persona to become social, but our true self remains isolated, numbed by our patterns of "comfortable". In reality, if we are honest, we aren't comfortable at all.
I chose to forgo the workout today. In the past, I'd define it as a failure. But, healing comes in many forms. I didn't fail. I listened to my soul and finally answered its murmurings.
Its when we slow down and listen to whats bubbling beneath the surface of consciousness that we begin to hear the long silenced voices, crying out desperately to be heard. Give them voice, adjust your plans so they can be heard. Its the journey. Do this and I'll happily welcome you into the arena, where the work begins. Its tough in here, but I'll let you in on a secret, you're not alone!
By Eric Hill
A few days ago, I had the best day on the bike that I have had in a long time. I had a 4 hour ride with some high intensity intervals. It was cold (38*), raining and 20mph winds, but I knew the workout was an important one for my preparation for some big races ahead, so I needed to get it in. 20 minutes into the ride, I was ready to turn around and go home, but I forced myself to keep moving forward. 45 minutes in, I get side swiped by a car in a round-a-bout, but I managed to stay upright and come away unscathed. At an hour in, the intervals begin and I am feeling good, so I push my limits. Another hour goes by and my body starts screaming to ease up, but I know that this is the point where the real gains are made… push through it. Another 30 minutes and I realized I was so cold and wet that I forgot to eat and drink for my entire interval session. 10 minutes later, my body starts to shut down… no more glycogen in the muscles to keep on pushing the pedals… and I have 15 more miles to ride into a block headwind to get home.
I was totally empty. Every pedal stroke hurt, and I loved it. I tell my athletes and teammates that these are the moments that can change you and how you approach adversity. I call it “Embracing the Suck.”
You have a split second to make the decision… embrace it or resent it. Whatever your initial reaction is to that experience, it will stick. So, choose carefully, because it is hard to overcome it once you have made that choice.
What is your tendency? Do you normally take the easy way out or do you own the moment and make something of it?
Next time you hit rock bottom, whether it is at work, in a workout, or in a relationship, I challenge you to embrace the suck. Own the moment and identify where you went wrong, what you can do better and how you can learn from the experience. Those moments are the moments that make us, us. Don’t deny them.
Additional thought… From a young age, we were all told that success is the result of hard work. At first, we resent it. Then, we try and find shortcuts around it. Eventually, it catches up with us and we can’t deny it. You have that moment where you put your “best effort” into preparing for something and it gets thrown back in your face and you realized you failed, miserably. It is in that moment you have a choice, make an excuse and continue on as nothing ever happened or embrace “the suck” and learn from it, grow from the experience, and use your failure as a means to success.
Leave a comment... share a story where you had to embrace adversity in a difficult time and the experience changed your perspective and outlook on success.
- By Eric Hill -
I have been what some might consider an elite athlete for the last 10 years, having run for one of the country's best Division III cross country and track programs in college and now riding for an Elite Domestic Cycling Team that receives invites to international events. Both of these sports, however, are extremely humbling. These sports are not football, baseball, or basketball where you have to beat a single opponent to win a game. In these sports, you first have to beat yourself and get out of your own head and then you have to beat the 100's of other athletes in the field in order to get the satisfaction of "The Big Win."
The nature of these sports has always been intriguing to me, work as a team, function as a unit, but don't let yourself beat yourself in the process. For most, including myself until recently, experiencing this over and over again causes you to have a self centric approach to the sport. Focus on ME, how strong can I get, how far can I push MYSELF for my own benefit, which in turn benefits the team.
Recently though, I have been pedaling, suffering in a different vain. I have shifted gears. My frame of mind and purpose has changed. Last week I was putting myself through a workout I consider to be the gauntlet and it often gets the best of me. Per usual, about 2 hours in to the ride and 45min into the 75min interval session, I found myself in a familiar place. My legs were screaming, breathing was heavy, and thoughts of easing up on the pedals continued to cross my mind. I have a .700 winning percentage (for you baseball fans out there) when I hit this point. Normally, I start trying to motivate myself with negative talk, demanding that I be better, cursing myself to push harder and not give in... I wanted more of myself, but I wanted it for my own benefit, my own glory.
Last week, I found myself in a different position. I was in the proverbial PAINCAVE and I was starting to get those thoughts in my head, but this time, completely unexpectedly, the thoughts and the motivation came from a different place. I found myself motivated by the stories Eric B. has shared with me and by the words of encouragement from the people I have shared Project Echelon with. I found myself tuning out my own physical pain and reminding myself that it was nothing compared to the real pain that so many of our veterans and their families suffer or have suffered. I found myself wanting to dig deeper so that I could get better, but not only for the benefit of my team or individual success, but so that I could shine a positive light on the work of Project Echelon and the veteran's it supports through my efforts.
Most surprisingly, I finished that workout with the best numbers I have ever posted. I dug deeper than I have in a long time and I wanted more.
I simply shifted gears. I ride to represent something greater than myself or my team. That is the Echelon... and there is some great power in that!
- By Eric Beach -
As I train for my half IRONMAN distance triathlon, Saturdays are my long distance days. Every week, the plan I'm following, includes one. They are called, endurance days, and for good reason. The last two days of training have been brutal.
On friday, I did a 30 mile bike workout. Its the furthest I've ever ridden and the ride wouldn't have been particularly difficult had it not been for the wind. The wind was so rough, on downhill sections, I was nearly putting in sprint like efforts to even reach 15mph! Very frustrating! I think we can all remember a time where the effort we put in didn't match the output and I think we can all remember how that felt!
The next day, I left for my endurance day workout. First, a 1200 meter swim. This distance was my longest ever attempted and it went wonderfully! Things are clicking and I'm growing much more comfortable in the water! Point of fact, if you're a swimmer, 1200 meters isn't very far, but for me, its quite a distance! I left the pool exited and transitioned into my running gear. I was looking forward to the run, in part because when I arrived home, I knew I was going to launch our members area on our website and open up our first equipment grant!
I stepped outside and was blasted by wind far worse than the wind from the previous day. I took a deep breath and said, "This is going to suck!" At first it did. I was running into and across near constant 20mph wind. Occasionally it blew less and occasionally it blew harder. At times it blew me sideways and at times it blew my feet together and I almost went down!
I was angry about 3 miles in. That anger turned into determination as I began to personify the wind and yell back at it. "You can't beat me! You won't stop me! I said I wouldn't stop running until I was home, and I meant it! So rage on wind! You may beat me down, but I won't stay there!"
The old me would have quit, rolled over and died. The old me would have tucked his tail between his legs and whimpered home... But the new me... He sees the world and its challenges differently.
I thanked the wind and asked it not to quit. I recognized it was going to leave me stronger than I was at sunrise. Discomfort is a sign of growth and I was growing.
I finished the 10.7 mile run. That means I swam farther and ran farther than I have ever done in my life and I did them back to back! That my friends is something I celebrated! Its an even sweeter victory because I fought through adverse conditions to achieve that goal!
So often in life, we are on the cusp of doing something great. Things fall into place. You feel as though every part of life is confirming you're doing what you were meant to do. But there always comes a time when that changes. Things seem to simply fall apart. You want to quit.
In the book, "The Alchemist" we read a fictional story full of mystical ideas. One such idea is this idea that we all have a core purpose and the universe rewards us when we are on the trail to finding it, something like beginners luck. But, right before you are about to realize your full potential, adversity wails on you. Its as if the universe is testing you before granting you your dream. Its almost as if to say, how bad do you want this? Are you willing to push through the head wind? Are you willing to adapt when the course changes?
These past two days have been part of that metaphoric challenge for me.
Project Echelon awaits its first member. We haven't raised a million dollars. We don't have training camps. There are no great stories of radical transformation and healing as a result of our Project... At least, not yet... In reality, we do have ONE story of healing through the mission of Project Echelon. Its my story... Its my experience on this journey that I've been sharing and that journey is what started the Project and is the reason we won't stop when the winds are blowing! Its why we'll adapt when doubt creeps in. My experience tells me this process works.
At one point during my run, I ran next to a 6 foot ridge line. While next to it, the wind nearly stopped completely. I was alone, running in the wind and the ridge became my Echelon. How many of us are out there lost in the wind, looking for that ridge? Looking for that Echelon? Thats why we fight. Thats why I share all of this because one day, I'll look over my shoulder and I'll see a soldier running behind me. He won't say a word, but his eyes will say I've found my Echelon. In that moment, he or she will find their breath and Project Echelon will show the world its purpose.