The Swim Back

Life is competition.

The fittest survive and pass on their DNA.

Most competitions aren’t life and death.  And truthfully, most competitions we gear up for don’t really matter that much.

But think back to the last time you lost in a battle you really wanted to win.

Did you really put it all on the line?

I think we’re programmed to keep something in reserve.  Just in case.

For some people this program comes from a fear of success.  If they actually win, then the story they’ve told themselves about an unjust world is proven untrue.  And their entire life before has been a waste.

Others might just fear the unknown.  Tim Ferriss likes to say, “people choose unhappiness over uncertainty.”  The job/spouse/fill-in-the-blank we hate is safer than the chance of finding a better job.

One of my favorite film scenes comes from Gattaca.  Ethan Hawke’s character and his genetically superior brother had been competing in a game of “chicken” in the ocean from the time they were kids.  All growing up, the brother dominated.  But there came a point where Ethan’s character finally beat him.



How did he beat his brother?

He didn’t save anything for the swim back.

Maybe we should all do this a little more often.


Going For It

Ask someone off the street if they are spending each day in a state of low level fear and they will always say no.
But if that’s the case, why are they still at that same job they hate five years later?  Why can’t they meet the right person?
Simple.  They are afraid.  Afraid of change.  Afraid of humiliation.  Afraid of failure.
If they weren’t, they would do something different.
Of course this fear is completely imaginary.  2,000 years ago this fear was completely rational.  Get ostracized by the tribe and you’re probably going to die soon.
Modern society has changed this reality but our brains haven’t quite caught up.
Sometimes you have to say screw it and just go for it.
I’m talking to you.
Just go for it.


Life in 2016 is busy.

So busy that we don’t often sit down and evaluate it.

Why are you here?  What’s your purpose?

How are you going to make a dent in the universe?

Maybe you don’t care about making a dent.

That’s ok.

But could you be happier by making some changes?

Anita retired from being a lawyer at 33 by drastically cutting her expenses.  Now she’s fulfilling her new quest to see the world.

When we were kids we imagined what our future was going to be like with wonder.

We can still do that as adults bust most of us don’t.

Maybe we’re sleeping through our lives?

It’s the opposite of Daydreaming.

We’re Sleepliving.




Optimism and Pessimism and Living a Life of Purpose

memento mori

The Earth is a messy, cruel place and the best we can hope for is to die with as little physical and emotional suffering as possible.

Sorry to be a downer.  This article is actually about living better.

Stick with me.

How many of us were taught as kids that we will one day find our soul mate?  That good always defeats evil?  That we will have a nice house with a nice picket fence and a nice family to put inside it?

Why didn’t our parents give it to us straight?

Why didn’t they tell us that the world is brutal?  That life is brutal?  That everyone will be fired from a job at some point.  Half of us will get divorced.  We will lose friends, fingers, and get colonoscopies before the age of forty.

This video, from one of my favorite new Youtube channels – The School of Life, really irked me at first.  But I’ve come to appreciate its wisdom.


The point of all this isn’t to focus on the negative.  I think there are two takeaways:

  1. To base our expectations on reality so we can be happier and more grateful
  2. To live better lives with purpose

There are going to be bad days for sure.  But why do so many of us react when this happens?  It should be no surprise when things go wrong.  How much better would our mental outlook be if we didn’t feel crushed every time?  How much more grateful would we be after a great day?

The media is obsessed about mass shootings.  Yet if you ask an economist about the topic, they wonder why aren’t there MORE shootings.  About 34 Americans die from shootings each day.  It sounds like a lot until you remember there are 316 million people in the U.S.

At Ironman Florida three weeks ago, I raced sick and came down with pneumonia.  I almost quit 20 minutes into the swim, fought dizziness for the majority of the bike ride, and walked as much as I ran in the marathon, finishing the day 2 1/2 hours slower than expected.

Before the race my buddy Derek told me to remember the Idiot’s Running Club Rule #6.  When we talked afterward I was mentioning that I thought I broke the rule.  He said, “if you felt that bad and you still finished, dude, you didn’t break the rule.”

Yeah.  I like that.

Maybe I need to start every day, every race, every appointment with the certain knowledge that it could all go very badly.  Things will not go according to plan.  And simply fighting, even if we fail, can be heroic.

How many people do you know who are living with purpose?  Who have jobs that they love to go to every day?  Who are making a real difference in the world?  Not many.

Now, how many people do you know who are mindlessly repeating day after day, week after week?  Going about our business mostly based on habit.  Pretty much everyone?

Why don’t we take a lesson from Medieval artists who kept a Memento Mori nearby?  A Memento Mori is a small object that reminds us of our mortality.

I recently bought a plastic skull to keep on my desk to remind me to spend my time doing things that matter.  I’m going to die one day and right at the end I’m going to be pissed about all this time I spent on Facebook.

I’m probably going to be just as pissed if I don’t follow through on some of my bucket list ideas, such as being part of a massive food fight, throwing a giant party with lots of alcohol and karaoke and calls for the police, and running in a naked mile running race.

The Memento Mori sounds a bit dark, but thanks to that skull I truly have made better decisions lately about where to put my efforts.  It has given me the strength to say no a lot more.  If you know me, you know I HATE saying no.  But I’m coming to realize that I hate wasting my time even more.

You can always make more money.  Buy another house or car.  The one thing you absolutely cannot get back in life is your time.  Time is the only non-renewable resource known to man.

The ancient Greek Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote:

“There is nothing the busy man is less busy with than living.”


“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”

This really rings true for how I’ve been living for a very long time.  As a result, I am making some big changes in my life that I’ll elaborate on soon.  Eliminating the clutter.  Getting less busy and hopefully living more.

I’ve always been a bit of a Pollyanna.  It drives my wife crazy.  Her realism/pessimism has similarly challenged me.

But I think I see a middle ground now.  Rational pessimism with an optimistic glint.  Expecting the worst but hoping for the best.

This new outlook is already changing the course of my life.  Maybe it could do the same for you?

If you don’t mind, please share in the comments what you could eliminate?  What changes will you make to live a more meaningful life?  

My New Body




I can remember what running felt like in 2001.  Like a deer.  Effortless.  It was freedom.  Joy.

I wasn’t good at many things growing up.  Sometimes I felt like my one true gift in life was running.

I was like Forrest Gump.  I’d run to get the mail.  Home from school.  In jeans or dockers.  My neighbors thought I was crazy.  Racing circles around our back yard with my dog after school.   I was the worst soccer player you ever met – no skill, falling all the time – but I could play all day long.  And outrun everyone late in the game.

On the second day of my freshman year of college, I joined in some games of pickup basketball with these tall black guys (man, sometimes I wish I was a black guy!  So athletic and so cool!  Totally opposite of me).  I don’t think they were on the college team but they were good.  I was terrible but I lasted four or five hours.  Finally I had to quit when all the muscles in my legs began spasming uncontrollably.  I actually crawled part of the way back to my dorm room.  But I never got tired.

Steve Prefontaine once said, “Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run…It’s being creative.”

That was exactly how I felt.

Now when I run it’s like I have a peg leg.  Slap. Slap. Slap.

It takes twice as much effort to go the same speed.  I’m like a man who has lost 90% of his vision.  Thank god for that last 10% but it’s still painfully obvious what’s gone.

We all eventually slow down.  Sometimes due to age.  Sometimes injury.  It doesn’t really matter why.  Neither reason makes it any easier to accept.

Did you know that your body turns over nearly every atom in your body every five years or so?  You get a new suit of skin every couple of weeks.  A new liver every six weeks.

The body you have today isn’t the same one in old photos.

The smiling lady in your 5K or marathon PR post race pic?  Maybe not a stranger, but definitely not the lady in the mirror.

Why should we expect to be able to perform the same today as we did five years ago?

Why do I continue to hold out hope that one day I’ll get past my injuries and make a run at my 5K PR?  That was fourteen years ago!  My training partner and I were rocking out to Ricky Martin on the way to races, if that gives any perspective.

[Fun Fact: After the race we’d go home, break out my trumpet and his trombone, and play and dance along to She Bangs in our underwear.  Then at night we’d go to a bar called Cowboys 2000 and he’d try to teach me how to dance and pick up girls.  I never succeeded in either.  But we did have some great footraces in the parking lot at 1am]

American sprinter Justin Gatlin is in the news.  He had two doping suspensions in his 20’s and is now running the fastest times in his life (and the fastest times in the world) at 33 years old.  He’ll probably win the next Olympic 100 meter gold medal.

If you chart the best times for the fastest sprinters in history, all of them ran their fastest times in their early to mid 20’s.  Gatlin can’t understand why people are suspicious.  He’s now running faster than he did when he was younger and on drugs?!  No way.

I don’t think it’s hard to understand we’re going to slow down.  It’s a fact.  Facts are easy to know.

But some facts are really hard to accept.

Some of my friends have begun keeping track of their “decade” PR’s.  Best times in their 40’s, 50’s, and so on.

Others have started using the WAVA calculator.  This calculator is a way of comparing your current running times to those of your prime.  Kind of like a golf handicap.  We can even compare men and women of different ages in the same race.  Here’s an example:

  • Bill, 59 years old, turkey Trot 5K time 25:10.  WAVA age graded time: 20:25
  • Kate, 64 years old, Turkey Trot 5K time 29:04.  WAVA age graded time: 20:06

So Bill runs almost four minutes faster but Kate has a better adjusted time.  That is, she performed better relative to her age and gender.   Some races even give out awards based upon WAVA times.

Another fun thing to do with WAVA is to plug in your race times every year.  Despite slightly slower times, you may actually have relatively “faster” performances as you age.  For a goal oriented person faced with a slippery slope of decline, you can still have something to train for.

wava chart

WAVA Calculator showing a 20 minute 5K for a 39 year old male is equivalent to a 19:03 5K in his prime

Maybe I should stop longing to go back to the good old days where I could cruise through a mile in under five minutes without too much effort.

Would I even want to go back to that person?  Cocky, self-centered, a know-it-all.

I remember talking to my training partner at the time about some older runners in the local running club flirting with 3 hours in the marathon.  These were truly great times for guys in their 50’s.  He wondered if we could do it.  And I said that if I couldn’t run a three hour marathon untrained I would kick my own ass.

Not exactly modest.

If I could go back in time, I should probably go back to my 7th grade self.  The smallest kid in the school, afraid all the time, who would let anyone copy off of his test for friendship.  The kid with a crush on Kendra from math class.  Kendra, who told stories about her and her boyfriend licking each other’s eyeballs.  Wow, that sounded so cool.  I wanted to lick someone’s eyeballs!

Or maybe I should go back to my 18 year old self below.  Still pretty much a complete dork.  That Eric really liked MC Hammer.


For me, the running slowdown is a metaphor for dying.  I think that’s why it’s been so hard for me to accept.  Dying scares me more than anything.

I remember the first time I actually thought at length about my own mortality.  I was probably ten years old and had an intense panic attack.  I still have them when I think about it.

The first time I found out I had gray hairs was 7 or 8 years ago after shaving my hair off with clippers outside.  I went to clean it up the next day and genuinely thought my wife was messing with me.  I thought she put a bunch of gray hairs in the pile.

Turning 40 next year doesn’t bother me.  I can’t wait for the next age group.  But gray hairs bother me a lot.


But maybe it’s not so bad to be slower now.  I have WAVA.  I have other priorities.  My kids.  A great job.  A totally fun blog.  And after all, I’m not the same person I was in 2001.

This is my new body.

How about you?  How do you cope with slowing down?



I have my second ever stand alone marathon in two days.

Every time I think about it my body shakes.

I told my friend this the other day.  He replied, “Eric, you’ve done four Ironmans, lots of adventure races, and a marathon already.  What do you have to be afraid of?”

I have all kinds of things to be afraid of!   I’m afraid all the time.  Such as:

…Am I doing something meaningful with my life?  Are my parents proud of me?  Am I being a good enough dad?  Husband?

My friend is just under the same delusion we all are…Everyone else is stronger, smarter, better, <insert adjective> than me.

I think I read in Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus that a man’s biggest fear is not being good enough.  I bet this fear is pretty high on the woman’s list too.

[It’s kind of embarrassing to admit I read that book.  Since I’m being honest, I also like to listen to Air Supply and Barry Manilow, and this is my favorite song ever.  <Cringe>]

Back to the race.

Specifically, here are the two things I’m afraid of most about the race:

  • Everyone realizing I’ve got a big ego.  I set a goal to run a time to qualify for Boston.  Then told everyone about it.  Maybe I don’t have what it takes to run that time?  People like nothing better than seeing a cocky jerk failing.
  • Soiling myself in front of everyone.  Like at a trail race last fall.  Yes, I did this!  And it was so humiliating.  Thanks to my buddy Jon T for saying he did it too.  Now we’re poop buddies!

Interestingly, I’m not all that worried about these things:

  • Failure.  I will probably let myself off the hook in ten minutes if I don’t hit the goal.
  • Hurting really badly.  I started too fast in my first marathon and the last ten miles were excruciating.  It might happen again.  Oh well.
  • More injuries.  I don’t know how to stop when a race is on.  I might hurt myself permanently.  This really should bother me more than it does.

What are the common threads?

All of my fears are based upon what others think.

I actually didn’t realize this until I listed it all out.

It’s funny how your mind knows one thing but your heart isn’t so sure.  Here are comments from a facebook thread I made the other day about the race.


frisco comments


There were a lot more comments.  And they were all positive and supportive.   My friends are awesome!

Whether my heart likes to admit it or not, they will love me just as much if I don’t run a fast time.  They’ll probably still love me even if I poop myself, but that will be love from a distance.

Do you find that when you are afraid going into a race, you exceed your expectations?  I do.  In my first Ironman I was scared out of my mind.

I was hoping I wouldn’t have to be rescued on the swim.  Didn’t know how I’d sit through 112 miles on a bike.  And thought I’d have to walk the entire marathon.  Or maybe not even finish.

On the marathon I did a walk-run format.  At mile 20 I felt so good that I ran the last 6.2 miles – with each mile faster than the previous.

Conversely, I almost always have bad experiences when I’m overconfident.  I still haven’t ran a marathon in an Ironman as fast as that first one.  I can’t seem to bring myself to take walk breaks in them now.

Maybe you shouldn’t take advice from me.

I really like something professional runner Matt Tegenkamp said before he ran the Boston Marathon last week.

He basically said that nerves are good.

Nerves mean that the event is important to you and you want to do well.  It means you will do your best no matter what happens.

I recently revamped my blog.  Along with that, I chose a more personal writing style.  It feels really good writing these thoughts and feelings down – maybe like therapy.

But every time I go to hit “publish,” a paralyzing fear creeps in.  What if everyone thinks I’m stupid for writing this post?  What if I embarrass myself or a friend?

Writing this way feels a lot like asking this girl to prom my senior year.  I had wanted to talk to her all year long but was so afraid.  I planned to ask her out every day for at least four or five months.

I found out her phone number and dialed to the 6th digit probably a hundred times before hanging up.  I called her a few times and hung up.  Not long after that I heard about Star 69 (call return).  So I stopped calling her.  Then I found out where she lived and drove by late at night after I got off work at McDonald’s.

I was a stalker before they even had a name for it!

When I finally couldn’t delay any more, I walked up to her, introduced myself, and asked if she would go to prom with me.  In the moment of silence that followed, an incredible pressure built inside my chest.

It was 50/50.  If she said no, I would probably explode right there.  Blood and guts and brains all over her nice yellow locker.  Or if not, I’d definitely go home and demand to be home schooled.   I mean, I’d never even spoken to her before.  She must of course have realized I was a complete loser.

If she said yes, then I could go on with life as usual.

Funny how if the plan goes wrong it’s the end of the world and if it goes right then it’s back to the status quo.

I’m almost forty years old and am finally learning I just have to say “screw it” and push through the fear.  That moment of uncertainty still sabotages me though.  Maybe that’s just part of being human.

In the end if I can look at myself in the mirror and honestly say I gave my best effort, I guess I can live with that.

Bring on the marathon.