Coming Down: The Black Dog

Last weekend, the race that I had been training for came and went. Months upon months of training culiminated and evaporated into a single fantastic flash.

When I crossed the finish line, I was elated and I rode that unbelievable high for a few days. Now as the buzz is almost gone, I’ve already started thinking about what’s next.

Some refer to this come down as The Black Dog.


The phrase is often traced back to Winston Churchill who suffered from intense bouts of depression throughout his life. The phrase though, can be traced back well beyond Churchill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything. A few drops of desperation.” – Winston Churchill

Churchill often referred to these depressive states as being visited by the black dog. Coming down so quickly from a life-changing event leaves you a bit breathless. It also leaves you a bit dejected and in search of your next high.

Something happens during the training that goes with endurance events. It’s almost unnoticeable while it’s happening, but somewhere during all of the miles, the trails, the rain, the snow, early mornings, cold winds, and the people who share all of these brutally glorious hours with you, something transforms your soul. You bond with people who share a love of endurance sports, you push past limits again and again.

It’s an amazing growth process that’s propelling you toward a demon that you must somehow conquer. All the while, there are doubts and there are fears but the thought of a new distance, of a new personal record, a new adventure in unfamiliar territory drives you harder and longer to keep going.

You find purpose and meaning in all of the craziness of this world. You become a friend to yourself and begin to actually like the person that you are. All of this, all of these moments replay in your mind during the race.

You think about the miles and the pain that you endured to get here. You feel the strength in your legs and the air in your lungs, all developed in those early mornings and late nights spent beating your body into a steel wheel.

It’s what gets you through; the training allows you to accomplish these amazing feats and then suddenly as you make the final turn to the finish, you hear the cheers, the clapping, and you see those who shared this awesome journey…and then in a matter of minutes, it’s over.


There are hours of relishing in the accomplishment and then as the cars leave the parking lot, and the voices fade, the black dog begins to pursue you. He knows that your spirit has been stripped bare.

At first, he’s only a faint shadow and then as the hours and days pass, his breath becomes audible and his eyes pierce the deepest recesses of your soul.

He pursues you with the thirst of a thousand deserts, waiting for a chance to sink his teeth into your heart. His growl becomes deeper and his footsteps quicken. If given the chance, he will drag you down to the depths of a black screaming abyss.

“Depression is such a cruel punishment. There are no fevers, no rashes, no blood tests to send people scurrying in concern. Just the slow erosion of the self, as insidious as any cancer. And, like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience. A room in hell with only your name on the door.” – Martha Manning

In order to avoid the black dog, we start to look for the next challenge. From the outside, people think we are crazy. They think we’re adrenaline junkies. They can’t hear the black dog and they can’t see that he’s on our heels.

Some of us have been in that abyss and we will do whatever it takes to never return. The abyss is where we lose ourselves – where nothing makes sense – and where confusion infiltrates the calmness of our every thought.

I won’t go back there. I can’t. I’ll keep pushing forward with a relentless passion to escape the unpleasant aromas of a hollow life.

Waiting On You

“Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will.” – W. Clement Stone

Your dreams and goals are waiting on you to take action. I am convinced that nothing positive happens in life without action – a conscious decision to move forward toward your goals in spite of fear.

Fear intimidates us and it will continue to do so until we decide to step forward and impose our will on life. The thought of failure is often far worse than the actual event.

“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” – John F. Kennedy

12 years ago – 3 years post military – I had allowed myself to become overweight…really overweight. At the height of the scale, I weighed 235 pounds which was about 50 pounds more than what I should have weighed. I felt terrible…awful. I had stopped exercising but kept overeating for 3 years. Traveling for work, stress, and a love for junk food had taken their toll on my body and my sanity.

One Sunday, I was sitting on the couch and began to really hate what I had allowed to happen. I was more than just miserable, I was downright angry. This would go on for months until one Sunday I decided that I was not going to let this define who I was any longer. I felt like crap and I decided that I didn’t want to feel like crap anymore. It was time to take action, so I did.

“Vision is not enough, it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs.” ~ Vaclav Havel

That Monday I showed up at the local YMCA, signed up for a membership, and committed to myself that this was the beginning of a transformation. That one decision altered the course of my life. I went back the next day, and the next, and the next for months and then years. I started eating better and busting my ass in the gym 5-6 days per week. I took up running, then endurance running. Activity is contagious, unfortunately so is laziness.

Over the next 18 months, I dropped over 60 pounds and found myself in the best shape of my life.Was it easy? Hell no. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I did it and that’s the point. I could have sat on the couch with a bag of chips and a beer and continued to feel sorry for myself…and 18 months later I would have still been fat and miserable.

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Those lazy desires and bad food habits still lurk beneath the surface. Those habits never totally go away, but the more right choices I make, the easier it becomes to win the battle.

Deciding to take action (mostly without the slightest of plans) was the trigger to changing from the person that I loathed, into the person that I knew I could and should be. This wasn’t about image, it was about health, about feeling better, and about setting a better example for my kids.

“I know that I have the ability to achieve the object of my Definite Purpose in life, therefore, I demand of myself persistent, continuous action toward its attainment, and I here and now promise to render such action.” ~ Napoleon Hill

12 years later, I am still with the healthy and fit lifestyle. It has never been about a diet with me, it has always been about a different lifestyle. Action starts the wheel of success turning and good, consistent habits keep it spinning. Whether it’s fitness, business, or relationships, they all require daily action followed by good habits.

So whatever it is that is holding you back, make a choice to take action. Don’t worry about where that choice may lead, just take the step. One step in the right direction could change your life. Believe me.

100 Kilometers- 62.1 Miles of Brutal Determination. 

“Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.” – William Barclay

3 days ago, I sat on the edge of a hotel bed scared out of my mind; afraid of the task that was ahead of me. Laying out equipment and gear in preparation for a 62.1 mile trail race through the Kistachie National Forest, I tried my best to fight back my fears of failure.


My brother was across the room looking cool, calm, and collected. He had been through this process before and now I needed his guidance and his confident spirit, both at that moment and for the next 16 hours.

I knew there would be countless physical and mental obstacles in our quest to conquer a seemingly impossible feat. The mental hurdles would not wait for the start of the race, they had already started their unrelenting assault on my mind. 

Our plan was to get a few restless hours of sleep the afternoon before race day and then try our best to sleep the night before, which we both knew would be next to impossible. Wake up time would arrive with a energetic beep of the alarm at 3:30 AM.


The next two hours were a blur of coffee, running attire, bags of gear and food (that could have kept us alive for at least two weeks in any wilderness setting), a 45 minute drive into the woods of NW Louisiana, and enough pre-race jitters to fill an ocean.

Getting to the starting line would soon prove to be the easiest part of the journey.

The best piece of advice that I received was to picture the start of the run as the entrance of a long tunnel, and the only way out was through the other side. I pictured that tunnel in my mind at least a dozen times during our run.

The difference in the advice and reality is that the tunnel has several escape hatches along the way; it would be our own determined choice to resist the urge to open them and continue pushing forward.

As a small group of fellow Ultramarathon hopefuls gathered at the starting line, I could literally feel the residual adrenaline rolling down my skin. The moment that we had all trained for, sacrificed so much time and energy for, and ran thousands of training miles for, was finally here.

The clock struck 6 AM and it was on. It was time to attempt the unthinkable; to test my mind, body, and spirit, and ask them to take me much farther than I had ever asked before. If they weren’t up to the challenge, it would fall on my shoulders and nobody else’s. My brother was with me, but completing this race was up to me.

For the first hour and a half, we would be running in the dark while awaiting the arrival of daybreak. Headlamps in place, off we went. We knew that we would encounter around 5,500 feet of elevation gain via a varied terrain of soft sand, hard-packed red dirt, rock, and multiple water crossings.

The weather was perfect for running, with temperatures rising from the mid-30’s to around 55 degrees by the afternoon. Our first goal was to finish, just don’t quit. Our second goal was to finish in under 16 hours.

As light pierced the treetops, we were hitting our stride nicely and feeling good. Making a conscious effort to maintain an easy pace – power hiking the up hills and running the downhills and flats just as we had planned. The sandy uphills were by far the biggest challenge of the first 31 mile loop. Treading soft sand takes a toll on your lower legs and fatigues them faster than usual.

Our shoes and socks were taking on sand likes sinking boat takes on water. At the 18 mile aid station, our drop bags awaited us. We quickly scarfed down as many calories as we could, emptied the sand from our shoes, lubed our feet, changed our socks, and off we went.

Each 31-mile loop had around 2,800 feet of elevation gain which was mostly front-loaded in the first 20 miles. This was a welcomed relief for the last third of the loop because we were able to run most of it. We made up quite a bit of the time we lost trudging through the sandy uphills.

Our sights were set on finishing the first loop, getting another round of calories down, taking care of our feet, and getting through the first 10 miles of the second loop before dark.

Then, at around mile 28, my brother’s IT Band flared up and began causing him a great deal of added discomfort. I silently worried if it would be too much for him to deal with, but he kept going. He would have to fight through that grueing pain for another 8 plus hours to finish.

We made it through the first loop mostly in tact. We topped off our water bottles and stuffed our race packs with as many calories as it would hold. One side note: Ryan grabbed a bag of mini-snickers bars as part of our stock-up trip before the race. What a godsend that was! Nothing is more delicious and energy-packed than a mini-snickers bar in the middle of nowhere.


Mis-remembering the first 10 miles of the loop as being all sand and uphill, we were actually surprised to find that this section was a bit easier than we recalled. Then…we found the difficult section. Having already covered 41 miles, we were feeling the painful burn in our legs and the hot spots on our feet more than ever.

Everything ached and the miles were not going down as quickly as before. Now the hills and terrain came at us with a new intensity. One that the trail had not shown in the beginning. This was hell.

Our only focus became making it to the drop bag at mile 49 before we lost daylight. We began moving with a hurried intensity of run-hike-run. My toes were numb, my legs were screaming, and my mind was fighting me with everything it had.

We made it to the drop bag 10 minutes before dark. It was a good chance to get some carb-loaded calories down. Again, we changed our socks, threw our headlights on, refilled our water bottles, and we were off. 13 miles to go. We weren’t racing the clock, we were racing our will to succeed.

This would prove to be the longest 13 miles of my life. As the darkness set in, so did the thoughts of quitting. Your mind is such a powerful tool that when it’s working against you, it becomes a struggle of internal fortitude.

Thoughts of “how bad do you want this” get replaced with thoughts of “why are you doing this?”

It all begins and ends in your mind. What you give power to has power over you. – Leon Brown

As we began the last stretch of the race, there was dark calm of nothingness surrounding us. I would look to the woods in hope of finding some sort of strength, only to find a blank expanse of uselessness.

My mind was pleading with me to stop moving. I became quiet, fighting an internal battle of self-discipline and self-loathing. This was no longer a trail race, it was a fight.

As I looked at my brother, he was wrestling with his own demons – his IT Band was screaming in full throat but he was moving with an unwavering purpose. He wasn’t going to quit, no matter what. The look in his eyes and the purposefulness of his steps gave me the strength I was searching for.

A wave of emotion washed over me at mile 54 and tears were flowing down my face, only I had no idea why. Maybe it was a silent victory over my mind, a reminiscent feeling of always looking to him for guidance and direction – and realizing that after 37 years, that he was still there to give it.

8 miles to go and we now we exchange a silent gaze. Let’s do this. Power through. Everything you have.

We began to shuffle our feet, and then we’re running. We’ve got two hours to the finish. God it hurts! It hurts to run, it hurts to walk, and it hurts to stop. Keep moving. One foot in front of the other until it’s over.

As we round a corner, we begin to smell the familiar fragrance of a campfire. Hope returns and our faces both express smiles. The crowd at the finish line can see our headlights making their way through the forest and they begin to cheer. We crossed the finish line! 62.1 miles of agony and 62.1 miles of sweet glory!


This is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and the fact that I did it step for step with my big brother makes it that much sweeter.


We stared fear in the face and we kicked its ass. To my brother; thank you for always being there to shoulder the load. To my wife; thank you for letting me do this crazy shit. To everyone reading this; don’t ever back down from fear. You’re stronger than you could ever imagine. Don’t ever be afraid to challenge yourself!

30,000 Feet of Perspective

3 months ago, my brother asked me to run a 100 kilometer trail race with him near our birthplace in Louisiana. I hem hawed around for a month or so, unwilling to commit. I had just completed two marathons within a month of each other after spending the majority of the summer and fall training, but 100 kilometers? 62.1 miles?! That was a different story altogether. I am usually not one to shy away from seemingly impossible tasks, but this one was different. In the past, I have set difficult goals but they were goals that were mostly doable and even if I missed, I had the confidence that I would at least get close to accomplishing them.

This one though…this was one of those things that seemed so far outside of my realm of possibility, that it actually posed a more serious opportunity to fail and fail big. I had never run anything more than a 50 kilometer race (31 miles) and this was double that distance and even more daunting, probably15-20 hours of non-stop movement on my feet. Do I have the willpower to do this? Am I physically and mentally capable of covering 62 miles of trail? Is my life insurance paid up? Actually, that was my wife’s question.

After a lot of debate and even more questions of my sanity, I decided to commit and at least give it a shot. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Death, actually. Death could happen. My brother calmed that fear though assuring me that I would pass out first. Thanks bro. My brother is a much more experienced trail and ultra-runner, so I would need to lean on him for that experience and knowledge if I had even a chance of succeeding at this challenge.

Fast-forward a couple of months, and I am on a plane headed to Texas – then Louisiana via car to the Kisatchie National Forest. What the hell was I thinking? Seriously! The race is 36 hours away and I have no idea how this will turn out. I consider myself to be a determined and strong-willed person who is in more than decent running shape, but the doubts are swirling.

This is life though, right? We prepare the best we can for it, but in reality we have no idea what tomorrow holds. If the future brings obstacles that require determination and discipline to overcome, how will we react? I will tell you how; by giving it everything we’ve got and refusing to quit. That’s big talk from 30,000 feet up, but in 36 hours, it will be time to step up and put my will to the ultimate test.

Stay tuned…

Stop Giving In To the Pain

In life, we always have choices. When it comes to facing adversity, we have only two; we can choose to fight on or we can give up. When we choose to fight, we are making a statement, “I will not allow temporary circumstances to permanently alter my life.” 

That’s what quitting does; it alters the landscape of your mind and the more you give in to setbacks, the easier it becomes to do it again and again. This is life altering and it cripples us, holding us back from our goals and dreams.

On the other hand, the more we choose to fight and press on, the more seasoned our minds become. We begin to take on a different mindset; a mindset of courage and resolve. 

“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.” -Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Adversity makes us who we are and it works both ways. If we constantly give in to our problems then we become quitters, never finishing anything difficult. Likewise, if we learn to look our challenges in the face and fight (whether we win or not), then we become someone of strength and mental fortitude. 

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” – Maya Angelou

If we don’t fight, we will never know how strong we are and we will never reach our full potential. Make a choice today and everyday to be a fighter, not a victim. 

5 Life Lessons I Learned From My Grandpa

I was privileged to have my grandpa on this earth for so many years. I’m hopeful that all of us, at some point in time, have had someone that provided an impactful and positive influence in their lives. If you’ve followed my blog for very long, you know that my grandfather was a very special person whom I admire to this day.

He carried so much wisdom and insight from his 90+ years on this earth, that it literally spilled out of him daily. The way that he lived was a testament to his faith, beliefs, and values. He was a man of action, not just words. He modeled his beliefs through the way that he lived his daily life, and in doing so taught me many life lessons. Here are 5 of the most important:

Be content with what you have but never with what you’ve achieved.

Grandpa and grandma lived a life of simplicity. I never heard him say anything about wanting a bigger house, a newer truck, or a better life. They worked to take care of themselves and those who depended on them, but the trade off of more time for more money was never even a question. They were content with what they had.

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This didn’t mean that grandpa never achieved great things though. He was a highly decorated soldier from his time spent serving during WWII. He retired from the Highway Department with a full pension and served as a deacon in his local church for more than 40 years. He was content with what he had, but never stopped striving to be the person that he thought he could become.

You are never helpless. There is always something more that you can do. 

To say that he lived a life of adversity would be an understatement. In a recent blog, I talked about the many hardships that he faced in his life. When I would talk to him about a problem I was having, he would often tell me that we are never helpless and then he would encourage me to find a way through the setback. He never allowed me to take on the victim mentality.

“Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.” — Marcus Aurelius

You don’t have to be wealthy to make a positive impact on someone’s life.

Grandpa never had much money, but he did have several acres of vegetable gardens, which he worked countless hours cultivating and planting in order to produce food for the family. The produce that was harvested was more than what we needed, and as I kid I could never understand why he planted so much.

It wasn’t until I was around 8 years old, that I realized he was planting more so that he could give it away to those who were in need. He also gave away most of his time, through volunteering at church, playing music in nursing homes, and thousands of other acts of selfless service which could never have been repaid by those who benefited from them.

Follow through on your commitments even when it’s difficult.

As I have gotten older, I realize that there were many days when he didn’t feel like getting up at 4 am to till the garden, prepare for Sunday service, or spending his weekend helping to restore the spirits of the elderly and less fortunate, but he always did it. He had a self-discipline that always amazed me and it was through this discipline that he instilled the same traits in me. It isn’t about how you feel, it’s about what you do…everyday.

Don’t become so focused on the talents and accomplishments of others, that you lose sight of your own.

Growing up, I struggled with self-esteem issues. I would often tell him that I didn’t feel like I had any talents or anything that I was good at, so he taught me to work with my hands. He taught me how to build things, how to fix things, and to find self-satisfaction in all of it. He would often recite the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25:14-30 and tell me that it doesn’t matter what we are given in life, it only matters what we do with what we are given.

“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.” – Mark Twain

If we constantly compare ourselves to others, we will live a life stammered by feelings of inadequacy and discontentedness. It’s a recipe for hopelessness and depression. Rather than compare ourselves with the accomplishments and gifts of others, we need to focus on our own set of individual strengths and use those to their maximum capabilities. We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to each other to be the best version of “us” that we can be.

Get Off of the Fence

I should (fill in the blank) but I’ll wait until tomorrow. If you’ve said this today, or even in the last week, you’re fence-sitting. Why? What are you waiting on? The perfect day, better weather, the right mood, greener grass? How has that worked out for you in the past?

If you don’t like where you are, you have two choices – accept it and live with it or take action and change it. No one is coming to save you from your circumstance. You won’t wake up tomorrow with a different life if you go to bed tonight with the same fears.

“The world is more malleable than you think and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape.” – Bono

Too many of us are under this grand illusion that successful living just happens; one day we just wake up and the life we want will magically take shape. It won’t. Nothing positive happens without action. Nothing.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” — Unknown

We only have so many years on this beautiful planet and the more time we spend wishing, hoping, and fence-sitting, the less time we have to see and do and live. We sit on the fence because we are afraid to fail. What’s so bad about trying something and failing? Every single person who has found success has failed…many times.

“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes but don’t quit.” – Conrad Hilton

So get on with it. Get off of the fence and start doing. Experience a different life. Don’t die with your bucket list unchecked. Take pictures, talk to strangers, see new places, climb mountains, swim in the ocean, start a business, ask for the promotion, work hard and do epic stuff.

Stop trying to figure it all out before you try something. Step out and take the first step. Try hard things and fail at them. Action is contagious and it feels good to exert influence on the world around you.

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The fence will always be there, but our time is limited. We get one shot at this thing; don’t waste it. Get off of the fence and start living.

Endurance Runners: Why They Do It

Endurance Runners: A special breed of men and women who push themselves to their physical and mental limits, and then push even harder.

They drive themselves to the brink of complete exhaustion and then go even further. They train to endure, to outlast; not the competition but themselves. Long after most would have quit, they continue on with an unquenchable thirst for more. More pain, more agony, more suffering. It is in this pain that they discover who they really are.

Their tanks are never empty. They always have more. When they run out of strength, they are able to dig deeper than most to find that little extra drop of determined courage to continue. Their minds are unharnessed by the limitations of mortality and their hearts are free from the strain and pressure of societal conformity. The quest to find meaning in their existence stretches far beyond fatigue. In fact, fatigue is only the starting point.

Everyone understands fatigue, but most never tap into the innermost recesses of their spirit to discover the inner grit and determination to push past fatigue.
If they were to venture into this abyss of mental and physical anguish, they too would understand that life is more rewarding when we explore these dark and remote corners of our soul.

For them, there is no end…no finish line. There’s only more to challenge and discover.

“The cure for the pain is in the pain” – Rumi

Most people wait for the feelings of fear, sorrow and misery to find them (and it does find all of us), but endurance runners seek them out. They know that the only way to beat them is to face them head on.

When you ask, “why do you put yourself through this?”, you’ll often hear them say “I can’t explain it to you”. They’re not saying this to be pretentious…no, endurance runners are far from egotistical.

They’re saying it because they know that the only way you’d ever understand it would be by putting yourself in those same dark and lonely places of the soul and fighting your way out. There are important lessons to be learned in the pain of life. Don’t wait for it to find you. Seek to find it, understand it, fight through it and learn from it.

Stop Letting Emotions Dictate Your Life

The ability to overcome negative feelings and forge ahead in order to accomplish an important task is one of the most overlooked aspects of developing a strong mental attitude. Too often, we wake up in a funk and allow that feeling to persist throughout the day. It affects our mood, our mindset, and causes us to perform at a subpar level.

Perhaps we don’t wake up with a bad attitude, but then someone cuts us off in traffic, sends us a nasty email, gives us a backhanded compliment, or we get an extra helping of projects and boom…frowny face syndrome sets in.

If we are not able to shake off those negative emotions and move on with our day, it leads to lost productivity and the tragic waste of an otherwise, perfectly good day. Too many of us let our emotions control us; we let them dictate our lives. String too many of those days together and you have a real grump who’s constantly waiting for the sky to fall.

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.”    – Robert Frost

Learn to identify those temporary emotions for what they really are; brief sensations that can signal anything from fear or concern to outright anger. While some of these emotions can be good, as in telling you to run from that dog that just broke away from his owner, we weren’t meant to hold on to them. Acknowledge the emotion, react if necessary and then move on (assuming the dog didn’t catch you).

Learning to focus on the bigger picture of the day without getting bogged down in the ranges of emotion that sweep through our bodies on a daily basis is the key to maintaining mental focus. We need to stop being reactive to our emotions and start being proactive with our actions…in other words, don’t let your emotions dictate actions.

“Any person capable of angering you becomes your master.”        —Epictetus

Understand your emotions for what they are and learn to recognize that they are temporary. Don’t allow them to make permanent decisions on your behalf.

Know that our feelings and emotions often lie to us. Just because we have a feeling about something or someone does not necessarily make it a reality.

Shift your focus to the task at hand and move forward. When you do, these feelings will take a back seat and eventually return to the nothingness from which they came.

Take back your life and pursue your goals with constant forward action everyday. Relentless forward progress accomplishes great things as long as you are in the drivers’ seat.