Running and inner strength for life

Editor’s note:

This is a guest post from my ultrarunning friend, Jon Olszyk. Jon is a dedicated ultrarunner who has finished over 30 marathons and 15 ultra-marathons in the six years since he started running. He is without a doubt the most passionate runner I ever have had the pleasure to know personally. Jon lives in Virginia with his wife, Carrie.

I really don’t think of myself as any type of great runner at all. I tell people “I can’t go the furthest , nor do I go the fastest”. Most people tell me that they admire my mental toughness, strength and fortitude. I don’t know if I believe this is true either. I mean, am I mentally tougher than a Navy SEAL? No. Am I mentally tougher than a cancer patient undergoing chemo? No. There are probably thousands of other situations where I don’t feel like I mentally stronger than the people going thru them. I just know that in training and on race day, I am going to do whatever the hell I can to finish what I set out to do. If it means first, great. If it means last, great. Why? Because if you commit to something, you finish it!

How do I accomplish this?

  • I train in every condition imaginable. I am going to run in the heat, humidity, pouring down rain, freezing cold, windy and many other conditions. Why is this? I know that come race day, I am prepared for whatever comes at me. I love it when people are freaking out about the weather a week before race day. If it’s calling for rain, well, I know that I have trained in the rain. I know what it’s like to run with wet clothes, wet socks and heavy shoes. Do they? Or were they whining about how (insert weather condition here) it is outside so they didn’t run or did the treadmill?
  • If, and this is a big “if”, it’s bad enough to not go outside (I am not a fan of ice, sorry), then I use the treadmill. My treadmill is set up against two walls. No pictures, No windows, No TV, No music. Why? It’s me vs. my mind vs. the stop button. I am alone in my thoughts and when I’m hurting and tired, can I overcome the mental hurdle to hit the stop button? Knowing you can hit that button at any time is a blessing and a curse. I know that come race day, I cant just stop because I am hurting or tired.
  • Running is not easy. It’s hard, damn work. That’s the bottom line. Do I have my bad days? Yes. Do I have my days where I don’t want to run or a run just sucks? Yes. Those days were you get a mile or 2 miles into a run and say “this sucks, I am feeling miserable” are the days where you keep going and what make you, not as a runner, but in life in general. It’s easy to give up when times are tough. You may not realize it during that run (or situation in your life) but somewhere down the line you will use that experience to make yourself a better runner and person.

The 10 best and worst holiday habits

From Dr. Phil Maffetone:

The Best Holiday Habits:

  1. Maintain a healthy lifestyle
  2. Be with those you want to be with
  3. Stick with a holiday budget
  4. Balance work and pleasure
  5. Get enough sleep
  6. Stay at home and have fun
  7. Do things you’re passionate about
  8. Shop locally
  9. Buy & receive only healthy gifts
  10. Share healthy food

The Worst Holiday Habits:

  1. Spending money you don’t have
  2. Visiting people you don’t like
  3. Going to parties you’d rather avoid
  4. Eating things you don’t want
  5. Drinking too much alcohol
  6. Last minute shopping
  7. Holiday travel (especially at peak periods)
  8. Going on a diet January 1st
  9. Gaining weight
  10. Buying unhealthy gifts

How to beat caffeine addiction without really trying

I became addicted to caffeine in the form of diet sodas, especially Diet Pepsi, in my college years, when I was working at a Taco Bell in the late 80s. Employees had free drinks, and the free caffeine was very helpful when working the graveyard shift. Our store stayed open till 3 am to catch the “bar rush” after the bars closed, and we seldom were able to leave the store before 4 am, or even 6 am on holiday weekends.

At first, a single-liter cup would be enough for me, but before long, I was drinking two of them (nearly 68 ounces) through the course of the night. At the time, I hated coffee, so diet soda was my prime source of caffeine. I had begun using it occasionally as a drug a few years earlier; when cramming for exams, I’d buy a 2-liter bottle of some heavily-caffeinated soda to stay up through the night and through test time the following morning. Soon after starting the night shift, I became utterly dependent on it. I needed it to wake up, needed it for energy throughout the day, and especially at night when working.

I was hooked, and in a big way. Although life changed, more than two decades later, I found myself a Web developer Norfolk, Virginia, with a hard diet soda habit that I couldn’t break, though I had tried, over and over again. However, every attempt created headaches that would become insurmountable until I gave in, and then … instant relief! During this time, I saw coffee addicts kick the habit with comparative ease compared to me and my diet soda ball and chain. I’m not saying that a coffee addiction is easy, but a diet soda addiction is undoubtedly more complex. In addition to the caffeine, I believe I became addicted to aspartame itself. It’s thus a double addiction, and in my experience, extremely hard to break.

Nothing helped. Counting the cost of spending more than $1000 per year on diet soda didn’t help. “Cold turkey” withdrawals didn’t help. Weaning myself off it didn’t help. Prayer didn’t help.

But last year, I realized a longtime dream of visiting Spain, and became free on the first day. When I woke up after checking into my rented apartment, I thought I would need to get some diet soda the first thing in the morning. But when I went to Barcelona’s huge market, La Boqueria de Sant Josep, I was satisfied with a small kiwi-coconut smoothie, and to my surprise, the expected headache never came. During my two weeks there, I bought diet sodas only twice, and couldn’t finish them; they were now hideous to me.

A couple of times I did need a caffeine boost, as in waking up at four to catch a cab to the airport, but a simple cup of coffee with cream did the trick, and although I do enjoy a coffee about three times a week now, I’ve avoided becoming addicted.

What happened? How was a day in Spain able to change what twenty years of fighting my addiction in the States couldn’t? I didn’t know till now, until I decided to ask my body what happened through a mental dialogue.

I realized that in Spain I was giving my body more of what it wanted and needed. In Spain, I got outside and began exploring the city soon after waking up every day. I slept whenever I was tired, and woke up without an alarm, free of any schedule. My body enjoyed the sunlight, the fresh air, days full of walking, sightseeing, relaxing in parks, talking, and eating some of the best food I’ve had in my life. Caffeine addiction was my body’s cry for energy and stimulus (Give me something! Make me feel alive!), and with the experiences it was having in Spain, its energy and stimulus cravings were suddenly satisfied.

Now I can’t say that my everyday life now is quite as exciting as a Spanish vacation, but I haven’t become addicted to caffeine again, in spite of developing a taste for coffee and enjoying a few cups a week.

If you’re trying to beat caffeine addiction, try this:

  1. Recognize that your body craves stimulus. Take a vacation, even if it’s just a few days off from work at home. Break the routine. Make it an “active” vacation, one with plenty of walking, motion, and new experiences. Make this a time to savor as many new and pleasant sights, sounds, and experiences as conveniently possible.
  2. Get outside. Breathe fresh air. Get plenty of natural sunlight. Avoid sunburn, but be careful of using commercial sunblocks; some can actually cause cancer. Use your legs. Discover that your own body is a wonderful mode of transportation.
  3. Leave your everyday worries behind you. If you need to “check in” at home or the office, do what’s necessary and stop there. Your routine is not welcome here.
  4. For these few days, don’t set alarms, don’t try to keep any schedule at. If your body wants to stay up till dawn and sleep till late afternoon, do it. Go to bed when you’re tired, and wake up … whenever. Limit your use of alarms to absolute necessities, check out times, catching a plane, etc.
  5. Eat fruits and vegetables soon after waking. After that, start walking, hiking, swimming, biking, or whatever. As the day goes on, eat whatever you want, but only what you really want; don’t stuff yourself. Make sure that you nourish your body well, with fruits and vegetables constituting the majority of your intake.
  6. Don’t consume caffeine unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you do, take only as little as you need to catch that bus or whatever, and then stop… do you really want more, or is that just habit? You may well be surprised that your body no longer depends on it or even wants it that much.

Leave a comment, or drop me a line. Let me know how it goes!