Thursday, March 9, 2023

Day 4 of the 30 Day Winter Barefoot Running Challenge: Setting Impossible Goals to Avoid Regret on Your Death Bed

This time, I'll get the shaking, poorly-produced video out of the way. It was day #4. It was early, cold, and kinda sucky. 

Okay, on to today's topic - setting impossible goals

Humans are kinda funny in that we routinely set self-imposed limits on what we can accomplish, then we allow those limits to prevent us from doing truly remarkable stuff. I've seen this this time and time again. People will have a primal urge to do something truly great, but that urge only exists as a fantasy in their head. And they'll spend their entire lives without ever really giving it a shot because they sincerely believe they can't do it.

Or worse, they DO verbalize it and maybe even start. But then they let others shit on their effort, so they give up before ever really giving it a real shot. Years later, on their death bed, they have to confront the regret of never having really tried.

Pause for a few seconds right now and consider what impossible goals you have. Or might have had in the past. If you're brave enough, grab a pen and paper and write that goal down before you continue on.

How I Use Goals

My take on goal-setting is probably a bit different than most people's. I tend to set extremely lofty goals that I have little chance of accomplishing. Alternatively, I might set goals that I can and will accomplish, but might take a long, long time. Either way, the purpose of the goal is to be general enough to give me a direction without limiting the ability to alter my course a bit. 

Imagine we're on a road trip from New York City to Los Angeles. Some people might plan out every road they'll take, every turn they'll make, every stop they'll have. They'll precisely follow a schedule from one little goal to the next. 

Not me. 

My goal would be to simply "head west." 

That gives me the freedom to really explore everything that piques my interest between NYC and LA. If I want to take a detour to see the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota, Cranberry World, or the Shuffle Board Hall of Fame, so be it. I won't be constrained by an artificial schedule that limits my freedom to embrace serendipity and partake on adventures as they present themselves. 

I've talked about my goal-setting philosophy before, including this post on not being afraid to set impossible goals. I've also written about how mistaking anxiety for fear can keep you from attempting impossible goals, and the various kinds of people who can prevent us from reaching our goals.

So far, this philosophy of goal-setting has led to a whole lotta pretty cool adventures.

So What are My Current Impossible Goals?

My current goals are pretty much motivated by a) a desire to stay reasonably capable of doing physical shit given I'm basically a 47 year old rookie cop, b) a desire to explore the mountains around Colorado's Western Slope, c) a desire to continue finding my niche in the world of jiu jitsu, and d) making our world a better place. The first three are decidedly selfish. The last one, in my mind, kinda makes up for the other three.

These motivations roughly translate into the following goals:

1. Run another 100 miler.

2. Earn my black belt in jiu jitsu.

3. Develop and maintain a sustainable weightlifting and nutrition program that'll continue to build muscle and result in me looking good naked and maybe do a bodybuilding competition in the future.

4. Start an in-person Western Slope version of my online-only men's group to help men find a path to self-improvement and, by extension, help build our community into a better place. In essence, this group will help men get better at being men.

All of these goals are either vague or ongoing, and none have specific details. Yet, anyway.

The first goal was the direct result of answering questions from a friend who is entering the world of ultras for the first time, and to a lesser extent, actually missing the experience of running really long races. This goal is one of the reasons for rekindling my interest in barefoot running. This goal feels impossible because I ran for 32 minutes yesterday, and it was pretty damn hard. Had I not done it before in the past, running a hundred miles would seem totally impossible.

The second goal is a pretty common goal for folks doing da jits, this one is a bit more complicated for me. We all kind of take our own path down the road of martial arts, and mine was been going down a specific road for quite some time. I don't really care about competitions, being a bjj instructor at a gym, producing instructionals, or even being objectively good at sport jiu jitsu. I care about helping other first responders keep themselves and the people they serve safer. I need to figure out how to shape that motivation into an actionable plan to improve my skills to a black belt level. This goal feels impossible because I don't feel like my jiu jitsu is improving, and my coaches are 1,000 miles away in San Diego.

The third goal is an extension of the goal I set last year (around this time), but was sort of sabotaged by attending the police academy. The challenge is shift work, which creates a lot of scheduling, eating, and sleep challenges. This goal feels impossible because building muscle takes forever and I love pastries.

The fourth goal is a big one, at least to me. It's the culmination of a series of projects (most notably the BRUcrewSan Diego Man Camp, El Diablo Man Camp, The Lab, and The Curvy Road Project) I've been working on since about the time I stopped ultrarunning back in 2012. These various projects were all centered around the idea of radical self-improvement, but took various forms. All were driven by a simple idea - all of us can lead far more fulfilling lives that make a real difference in our communities, and the road to that life begins with intentionally improving yourself.

BRUcrew was based on fitness and facing awkward social challenges. The Man Camps were designed for men and solving the problems men in today's society face, like not having a sense of purpose, facing relationship problems, and dealing with the difficulties of maintaining meaningful friendships as we age. The Lab and The Curvy Road Project focused on creating a "tribe" of like-minded people that took a lot of the Man Camp ideas and added women and children into the mix. 

Each of these projects failed to fully materialize because of various obstacles. BRUcrew didn't last because interest waned. The Man Camp projects were doomed because all of the members lived too far apart (worldwide) to meet in person. The "tribe" projects failed because the plans were a bit too ambitious and key members of the tribe weren't able to dedicate enough time to make it happen. 

I don't know exactly how this fourth goal will materialize, but the idea is slowly coming together in my head. This goal feels impossible because the previous five attempts at something similar ultimately failed. But like I said, this one's a biggie for me. In my years as a high school teacher, running coach, jiu jitsu coach, and writer, I've learned a powerful lesson - every time you make a positive difference in one person's life, you create a ripple effect that spreads far and wide as they then make a difference in the lives of others. We rarely see the results of those ripples, but they're there. It's kind of my application of the "Pay it Forward" principle:

So How Does This Apply to You?

There's no magical voodoo here. You just gotta define that impossible goal, then start putting in the work. I suggest writing it down. Don't show it to anyone or discuss it for six months. After six months, THEN you can share it with the world. 


In today's social media-driven society, there's a strong tendency to proclaim you're going to do something, then receive immediate positive affirmations from the people around you. Those affirmations feel good (they literally cause a release of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin in your brain), which closely approximates the feeling of actually accomplishing the goal. Those good feelz often prevent us from actually DOING anything to accomplish the goal. 

The six month buffer is designed to give you time to develop the habits and routines you need to establish in order to make your impossible goal a reality. After six months of work, other people's positive affirmations aren't going to railroad your motivation (thanks, sunk cost fallacy!)

So there you have it... that's my take on setting impossible goals. Set one, then get to work.




Post Script

Regarding my fourth goal and impossible goals: One of the fundamental concepts the Man Camps embraced was the idea that a group of men you respect where a sense of honor is cultivated provide an incredibly powerful accountability system. In short, if you have an impossible goal, expressing it within such a group will keep you on track. It's one of the best reasons I believe all men should have such a group.

To that end, if you're a dude (or you know a dude) who feels you're in any sort of rut or feel you want more from life than what you have right now, you could probably benefit from a group like this. The best summary of the underlying principles can be found in the "El Diablo Man Camp" blog, and are listed in order on this page. If you're an analytical type and/or really dig science, this might be a good starting post as it lays out the rational argument of why men need this sort of group.

If the ideas resonate with you in any way AND you live anywhere close to Colorado's Western Slope AND you're interested in being a part of the group I'll be creating, shoot me a message at Put "MAN CAMP" in the subject line so I don't accidentally pass over it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Day 3 of the 30 Day Winter Barefoot Running Challenge: Why Barefoot Running?

 "So wait, you run barefoot? Like, without shoes? You're not wearing those toe shoes or anything?


It's a conversation I've had countless times over the years. 

Back in the early days, I used to give people an upbeat sales pitch on why barefoot running was a good thing. I'd talk about the intrinsic joy the tactile sensation with the ground provides. I'd talk about the hypothetical health and injury prevention benefits. I'd talk about the very real benefits of learning to run with near-peak efficiency. I'd talk about the problems with posture-changing raised-heel, motion control running shoes and how they tended to cause shin splints, knee, hip, and back pain, and plantar fasciitis.

I'd field all the follow-up questions. You avoid glass, hypodermic needles and dog shit by watching where you run and stepping around it. No, your feet don't get really calloused; the opposite actually happens. Yes, you can run races; you put the timing chip on an ankle bracelet. And so on.

It was a long spiel. 

Now? The explanation is a lot more direct.  

I shrug and say something to the effect of "Yeah, it's weird. But it helps solve a lot of shit that makes running terrible."

It's a short, simple answer that hits the nail on the head. But what if people ask if they should try it? 

That gets a little more complicated.

"Why Should I Run Barefoot?"

In all honesty, most people shouldn't run barefoot, at least full-time. It take a while to learn to do it well, it makes you slower, and it limits your distances. And it's looks really, really weird. 

It can, however, be a wonderful tool to help you learn to run better.

To explain why, think of shoes as protection that radically increases the margin of error for running with terrible form. With the right shoes, you can run like a giraffe with rickets and still be able to conquer that local 5k fun run. 

But what if you have some real running goals that require you to reach a degree of performance or sustain running by avoiding injury? Learning to run better is the key, and barefoot running is the royal road because it completely removes the margin of error AND provides immediate, accurate feedback.

The very first barefoot running class I ever ran (about 15 years ago) was a four hour marathon spread over two days. Here's a tiny sample of what amounted to a lecture series:

Contrast that approach to my last foray into teaching when I was teamed up with Merrell:

The process was distilled down to a two minute video, 50% of which is marketing fluff. 

Since the Merrell Bareform vid, I distilled the process even more to:

1. Take shorter, faster steps, and 
2. Land with your feet flat on the ground.

Simple, simple.

Day 3 of the 30 Day Winter Barefoot Running Challenge Intermission

I almost forgot to post the day three video. It's worth noting work and family obligations have kinda delayed the writing process. The videos and accompanying blog posts are obviously not being published on consecutive days. If you're following along in real time, I apologize. :-)

In the video, I talk about the noise I'm making, which is one of the cues I use to determine running form efficiency. Generally, the quieter we are, the better. Having not really run barefoot for quite a few years, my form is relatively shitty, ergo the loud-ish slapping. In later videos, you'll notice I get A LOT quieter. 

It's also notable that this run was not comfortable. Due to the cold and the roughness of the asphalt, my feet were pretty sensitive. This also changes with time, which is a process of my brain adjusting the perception of the feeling under my feet. It's the same "systematic desensitization" process that causes us to "get used to" smells we've been exposed to for a period of time, which causes us to stop perceiving them even though they're still there. Another example - ever notie when you get fuzzy new socks? You slide them on and they feel fantastic! But after about 10-20 minutes, you stop noticing their fuzzy goodness? Same process. 
I'll probably write an entire post on this process in the near future.

Back to Barefoot Running

Learning to run barefoot is as simple as taking off your shoes and running. I've found about a third of the people who try this can do so without any issues and immediately see results. Another third usually have some issue that, after watching them run for a few minutes, is easily fixed with a few simple adjustments. The final third, though, usually require a bit more coaching. 

I'll be running a few classes locally here on Colorado's Western Slope:

I don't have a schedule yet, but stay tuned to this blog (or find me on Facebook); I'll be posting about the plans in the not-too-distant future. 

Until then, if you have any questions about barefoot running, leave a comment! I'll answer them as soon as possible.



Friday, March 3, 2023

Day Two of the Challenge: Building Resiliency Through Embracing Voluntary Discomfort

Last night, as I was lying in bed drifting off to sleep, I was thinking about the idea of building resiliency. We use resiliency to persevere through hardships. Part of my motivation for the 30 Day Winter Barefoot Challenge is to actively build some resiliency, which is something I haven't done in a while. 

The actual ***running*** part of the challenge is pretty easy (despite the fact that I sound like I have advanced stage tuberculosis in these early runs.) The tough part is actually facing the discomfort. In yesterday's run, I had to deal with freezing-but-not-quite-frozen mud. This morning, I had to deal with darkness:

In both cases, I really didn't want to do the run even though I knew the suckiness would only last a few minutes. Now, running a few hundred meters without shoes in chilly conditions is hardly performing brain surgery, scaling Kilimanjaro, or getting a damn Quarter Pounder without pickles in the drive-thru of McDonald's... but it's still kinda hard. 

But this is how we build resiliency - we do stuff that ain't easy. In the process, we develop the mental fortitude to keep going.

In the cop world, there's a lot of talk about "staying in the fight." It's usually framed as a strategy if, when protecting yourself or others, to never give up. Let's say you're responding to a school shooting and get in a gunfight with the shooter. And you get shot. The idea is to keep shooting back and not just lie down and die. 

Unfortunately, a lot of cop training stops at just repeating the mantra "stay in the fight." There's not a lot of actual training that would develop the actual skills needed to get shot and keep fighting. The reality is simply instilling mantras is a piss-poor way to build real resiliency.

Back in the early days of running ultramarathons, I had a lot of mantras I told myself I would repeat when the race started to go bad and I wanted to quit. "I'd rather die than dropout of this race!" sounds great when sitting on the couch watching reruns of the Golden Girls. But at mile 60 of a 100 mile race, when you're sleep-deprived, your leg muscles stop working, and your ass cheeks are so chafed, they start fusing together? 

No so much.

There's only one way to really build resiliency:

Make failure the goal.

Why Failure Works

 We all have limits. We all have the point where conditions get so bad, we just quit. It's not uncommon for people to delude themselves into thinking they would never quit, but those people, without exception, have never actually tested themselves with real challenges. Ergo their cavalier attitude about their mythical resiliency.

The problem is we don't really develop resiliency until we push ourselves to the point of failure. Once we get there, THEN we can learn to push past the failure in the future. 

In my early ultrarunning days, this came in the form of "DNFing" races (the grammatically incorrect usage of the acronym  "did not finish.") I'd get to a point in long races where I could no longer muster the will to go on, which led me to stop running and drop out of the race. It took several races (and a lot of long runs) to learn physical and psychological tricks to keep pushing on after my body and brain told me to stop. 

The first time I ever experienced this was a Hellish experience attempting to run the 2008 Burning River 100 miler in suburban Cleveland. I had never experienced such a degree of abject suffering before; it kind of caused me to really come to terms with our eventual mortality because I had serious internal deliberations that were attempting to rationalize death as a better option than continuing. If you're curious and like to read about suffering, you can read about it here. That experience changed everything for me, and really caused me to understand the value in embracing failure and voluntary suffering.

Anyway, pushing ourselves to failure looks like this:

Fail => Learn => Apply, Fail => Learn => Apply, etc.

The same thing happened when learning jiu jitsu, though it was a very different kind of failure. In a micro sense, I'd try a particular technique, fail, then learn from the failure. In the macro sense, when rolling (what we call "sparring" [or fighting, though it's not really fighting, per se] with another person in jiu jitsu) with my training partner, they'd "tap" me and I'd lose. I'd figure out why I got tapped. To facilitate this process, I made a habit of always choosing to roll with the best person in the class.

The strategy can be summed up like this:

Do hard stuff until you fail. Learn from the failure. Do hard stuff again, fail. Later, rinse, repeat.

So why doesn't everyone do this?

The Learning Killer

Putting yourself in a position to fail means you're rarely, if ever, going to win. And that's really hard on our ego. If we tie our self-worth to winning and losing, almost everyone is going to consciously or subconsciously choose easier competition. We might do it because we tie our self-worth to winning, we need the positive affirmations of being the "best", we might like the feeling of others being envious of us, or maybe we just don't like the sting of losing. 

An over-sized ego often leads us to a grandiose sense of importance and a strong desire for recognition and positive affirmations from others. We begin to believe we deserve to win, and we begin to crave those around us feeding our need to feel important. Both of these drives lead us to avoid challenges that may make us look foolish.

Sometimes ego manifests as a fear of failure where we will only seek out easy challenges to assure we "win." Or we may engage in self-sabotaging behaviors that can later be used as excuses. 

Sometimes this ego problem may come from what psychologists call an external locus of control... we believe our abilities are determined by factors outside our control, like innate genetic limitations, luck, fate, or the actions of the people around us. 

Other times, ego may prevent us from experiencing humility. The more humble we are, the more open we become to learning and growth. This creates a weird sort of irony, where the people with the biggest ego tend to be the least-capable people because they refuse to risk learning through failure.

Whatever the reason, ego often keeps us from facing real challenges, which prevents us from learning to overcome. That prevents us from developing real resiliency.

My Own Strategy

My own personal strategy to overcome this is to re-frame how I feel about competition. When I lose, I frame it as an opportunity to learn how I can do better and carefully analyze what led to me losing. If I win? Well, the challenge was likely too easy. 

 It's the same deal with attempting really hard challenges or setting seemingly impossible goals. If it's too easy, there's little opportunity to really learn. Failing to do something really, really hard almost always results in better outcomes than choosing the easy route. If the challenge isn't really a challenge, or the goal is something you can do right now, today, what's the point? 

So how do I apply this in a practical sense?

I embrace every opportunity for voluntary discomfort. Or, put another way, I seek out suffering. Now, it's important to understand this isn't masochism; I don't enjoy the suffering. It almost always sucks. I do it because it always provides opportunities to learn, and almost always provides an opportunity to learn to be more resilient. 

In the next post, I'll expand on the idea of applying this to the cop world. Much like telling myself I wasn't going to quit running in that 2009 Burning River 100 miler, telling ourselves we're going to "stay in the fight" ain't enough. In the face of extreme suffering, we drastically underestimate the seductiveness of the Grip of Death. We think we know what extreme suffering feels like, but we have no idea. The only way to know is to experience. And the only way to resist the temptation to give in to the Grip of Death's seductiveness is to train to endure suffering by embracing voluntary discomfort.


Day 4 of the 30 Day Winter Barefoot Running Challenge: Setting Impossible Goals to Avoid Regret on Your Death Bed

This time, I'll get the shaking, poorly-produced video out of the way. It was day #4. It was early, cold, and kinda sucky.  Okay, on to ...