At work, at home, at the gym – somewhere someone is talking about a way to make life easier; some sort of hack to get through the day. These hacks apply to anything and everything it seems like – from nutrition to training, to advancing your career through some nontraditional means – and the trend doesn’t seem like it will end anytime soon. In fact, I recently listened to a podcast where Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, one of the world’s foremost sought out cultural thinkers and best-selling author, claimed that humans are in all actuality hack-able creatures. And he’s right – thanks to big data from marketing algorithms and social norms, it’s not hard to predict most human behavior.
Now that’s not to say that each and every human isn’t unique – we are because it is impossible to predict what every individual will do in any/every situation, but that’s not exactly my point. For example, Amazon can predict several items you’d be interested in based on from your searches and past purchases, and Netflix can provide a slew of movies and shows that will peak your interest based on what you’ve previously watched and many peoples profiles may look similar if not nearly identical. As an individual, we can do the same thing – examine what does and doesn’t work for us and apply it to a goal or situation we’re currently experiencing or hoping to accomplish. It’s not only convenience, which is why Amazon and Netflix work so well, but when applied to more than shopping and TV habits, can truly transform your life.
For me, I’ve taken a simple principle and used it to hack my mind. I train for and compete in ultra-distance competitions, and along the way I found a hack to help me put forth more effort during the crux of a harsh workout, endured longer sessions than I would have thought possible, and continued to push myself beyond what I would have dreamed about 10 years ago. I refer to it as “Inside the 90.”
Inside the 90 has a very humble start: 47 seconds. I tell the story of my first run after being sick in bed for two years from complications from my Type 1 Diabetes a lot, so it may sound familiar to some readers. To break it down to its core, I heard about two athletes with Type 1 who would be speaking at a local hospital and despite my sickly state, I attended the talk – it motivated me to finally get active again. I’d been a collegiate athlete at active my whole life – until after I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, so seeing those two athletes was what I needed to figure out how to be active like I was before my diagnosis, but take care of my health with diabetes at the same time, but it was a humbling beginning. You don’t just start “being active” after being sick for two years, but I tried. Two days after the talk, after finally regaining some energy, I strapped on some old running shoes and headed out my front door. I started my watch and worked my way into a slow jog. As I looked down at my watch I saw it click from 46 to 47 seconds – and then I tripped. I fell into my neighbor’s yard and tried to lift myself up but nearly rolled out into the street. I was unable to stand, so I crawled home and passed out on my couch. That was my start and that was all I needed to keep going.
The next day I was determined to run longer than 47 seconds. Though I was humbled by the previous days experience, the Division I athlete in me was ready to go! I swam for a top 10 swimming program in the country; I grew up riding a mountain bike for hours through the hilly trails of mountain country in central Oregon; I had been a rock climber, a water skier and wake-boarder, and I practically lived on the mountain during the winter and dreamed of becoming a pro snowboarder through high school; So there was no way 47 seconds was going to hold me back. But I also had to keep in mind where I’d been the last two years. I worked on a goal that would both build my confidence but not put me back where I’d been or worse – 6 feet under.
“Start small, with little goals, and think about the long term goals and payoff,” I thought. I didn’t know exactly what the long term goal really was, so I finally came to the mental equivalent of conceding to 90 seconds. It was nearly double the 47 seconds of my first run and it was easy to remember and track on a watch. So I did it – and it burned like hell. My body felt every shred of the previous days 47 second venture and my heart pounded! After I pushed myself past those first 90 seconds, thinking that my heart was about to burst out of my chest!, I remember thinking to myself, “WOW… with my heart racing like it is, I know, I mean I really know, that I’m not dead yet!!” And no – I wasn’t running fast at all, but I was running and I had just accomplished my goal.
My training progressed over the days, weeks and months. Before I knew it I would find myself on my bike trainer doing interval sessions in where I would monitor my time, and once I noticed I only had 90 seconds left, I knew that nothing would stop me. Nothing could keep me from finishing strong. That last 90 seconds I was in just wasn’t as hard. I later found myself doing track sessions of the infamous 800’s that has catapulted many marathoners into the big leagues, and on every single one of them, once I knew I was somewhere “inside the 90”, I could kick myself into that next gear to finish stronger, finish faster – finish.
My fitness progressed with my training and by the time my goals came into focus (many years after that first 47 second run), I found myself training for an Ironman triathlon. However, I didn’t want to race an Ironman to cross it off my bucket list or prove that a Type 1 Diabetic could do it (that feat had already been accomplished by Bill Carlson, 20-30 years prior). I was training for an Ironman as it was a means to an end in a way – in order to qualify for the race I really wanted to do, I had to race an Ironman. So I did, and I set the world’s swim split Ironman distance record, which was great, but even better I qualified for UltraMan Florida. No other Type 1 athlete had yet to be invited or compete in this ultra-endurance triathlon that consisted of three days of 321.6 miles of swimming, biking and running.
Inside the 90 had become a simple mind hack to keep pushing my efforts because at this point I would be riding my bike for 10+ hours at a time. I was also riding 100-120 miles and then run a half marathon in a training session. With only 20 miles of hills left on a ride before my run, I would tell myself, “Well, I can finish within 90 minutes, so don’t let your foot off the gas.” It helped. I would finish my ride and go straight into my half marathon run. I would also always try to keep my time under 90 minutes, though that was a goal I rarely accomplished, but would always stay close to. Inside the 90 became a focal point for me. It kept my mind busy and focused on a goal that my fitness was capable of accomplishing.
Inside the 90 also came into play each day of Ultraman Florida. Each day the athletes have just 12 hours to complete the stage. Once I knew my pace had put me approximately 90 minutes from the finish I had another cheering section inside my head screaming at me all the way to the finish!
Nowadays I find myself returning to a new version of “Inside the 90”. After completing Ultraman Florida in 2015 my health, training & fitness, all took a backseat to work and life, and I slid further off the rails than I care to admit. I believe that the Universe conspires to help each and every one of us towards that which is truly important to each of us thought, and recently I’ve been given a chance to return to my Ultraman Ohana. The three pillars of Ultraman are Aloha, Ohana, and Kokua – Ohana meaning “family”. This family has provided an amazing opportunity to race again in 2019, so my fitness needed a recharge to make that possible and sometimes it’s seemed impossible. I had 166 days from invitation to race day. Most people, like I did previously, had years of a strong base fitness with perhaps nearly a year of training. I was in need of rebuilding and I can only fathom the struggle and turmoil, desperation and despair that has taken place inside my muscles, organs, tendons, and body over the last few months. Now I now find myself inside 90 days before I toe the line at Ultraman Florida 2019.
I recently finished an unofficial Ultraman training camp in Orlando, Florida, where I was able to test my fitness. I was also able to familiarize myself with the new coarse and have some fun with my crazy ass group of ultra-endurance misfit friends. Although my mind continues to wonder back to the first 90 second run that was a true test of my endurance many years ago and the subsequent “Inside the 90” moments I’ve had over the years, I find myself questioning everything I do – “Am I strong enough? Will I be fast enough? Do I have what it takes to finish again?” These questions will probably remain unanswered until race day, but I fall back upon my simple mind hack, “I have less than 90 days till race day, so don’t let your foot off the gas.” This I know I can do, so I continue to focus on each training session, recovery session, fueling choice, equipment decision, knowing that when the starting gun fires, I will leave everything I have on the coarse and let the results of my efforts speak for themselves.