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Hero Workouts

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The Utility of Pain

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The first time someone called me a masochist I thought they were crazy. Of course I didn’t like pain. Who likes pain? Hell forget pain, I didn’t even like discomfort. I was a hedonist by most accounts. I was certainly NOT a masochist. Still it’s hard to claim this when I continually signed up for increasingly painful endurance events. So I began to argue that I didn’t do these events for the pain, I did them for the lessons and the absolute joy I got from them. I said all of these while pretending that the pain was perhaps corollary to joy and learning, but not casual. Somewhere in the last week, maybe during a midday run in 100+ Middle Eastern heat, I realized that the lessons and the joy are not parallel to pain, but rather the direct result. A sunrise is never more spiritual than after a long lonely night. Sleep has never been more exquisitely well earned than after 100 miles. Part of it is simply appreciating things, providing the contrast of pain to pleasure. I firmly believe that the greatest pains in life are equally matched, or even dwarfed by, their counterparts – the greatest joys.

Think of the greatest joys in your life? Did a single one of them come without pain? A marathon? Childbirth? A great love? A inspirational friendship? A reunion with loved ones? Yoga? Dance? Art? The only joys I can think of that don’t come with pain are books and drinks with friends on a beach. And that last one often comes with pain the next day. Pain is a part of life, every day. Every stubbed toe or stiff back. Every ignored text or goodbye. The memories of loved ones far away or even gone completely.

So why seek out pain? I remember hiking with a man a year or so ago. I’m not sure I even knew his name at the time but somewhere lost in the desert waiting for the sun to rise we ended up sharing some of our biggest scars – his life in particular had seemed full of pain. I remember thinking, why is this guy lost on a mountain with 100lbs in his pack? If he wants to suffer he should just go home and live his life. Why seek out pain when there’s seemingly an abundance of it in the world?

Because, just like anything, you need to practice pain. Willingly exposing yourself to pain allows you to practice it, allows you to control it, to cope with it. I’m not just talking physical pain. There’s some true emotional and spiritual pain associated with endurance events as well. This is the most important pain of all to practice. There’s no other way to practice but to just feel it. You can’t fight it or numb it, at least not permanently. You can only settle into the pain, understand that with every step it may get worse. It may then all of the sudden get better. The physical pain may cause the emotional pain, or vice versa. It may cause joy. It may be the first of many painful episodes, a fresh hurt destined to be by your side for years to come. It may be the final scarring of an old wound. The ways you cope with pain over the miles, the mountains, and the mud are the same ways you cope in everyday life. Settle in and start listening to what the pain is trying to teach you – about your body, your spirit, and the world you inhabit.

These lessons you learn through pain are often the ones that stick with you. A burnt hand is a visceral memory that teaches you to be cautious around fire. Serious chafing reminds you to stock up on body glide. The pain of rejection or a broken friendship reminds you to be kind with your words. The loss of a loved one makes you appreciate those you have. When someone hurts you, you learn your capacity for forgiveness and compassion – and the strength it takes to exhibit both. The lessons you learn through pain and suffering are some of the cornerstones of your character.

One of my favorite lessons is that when forced to suffer, its best tosuffer with and for others. The pain you are willing to withstand for and by yourself - for money, ego, achievement, vanity - is a fraction of the pain you are willing to suffer with and for others.  There is no nobler cause than the one you take up for others. This is the idea behind Hero WODS, this is why Hero WODs are so exquisitely excruciating and why they are so often done in groups. I'm in no way equating the pain of an hour (or more) workout to the pain of losing someone, but I'm saying it's a way to practice it. It's a way to suffer and bond with others but like the bond - unbroken by death - a hero feels with his or her unit, squad, or family. It's a way to honor the sacrifice of men and women by sacrificing our time, our bodies, and most of all our comfort. Willingly withstanding pain is our small way of showing commitment and respect to a higher cause. In this case the cause is honoring the service, sacrifice, and legacy of others. It's a way to focus on the joy of knowing someone like the namesakes of these workouts. It's a way for us all to reflect on the lessons we can learn from them, ourselves, and our collective pain."

So this memorial day, if you’re so inclined, I urge you to practice a little pain. Go for a little longer run, (safely) do an extra set or extra rep. Feel the pain associated with a visit to a cemetery or a call to a Gold star family. Learn a lesson from this pain. Then be joyful. Cherish your lesson, your pain, and your joy. Know that while the pain for so many never goes away, it can and will subside. And in its place is peace and joy. So for the moment, settle into the pain.

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Things I Learned...31 Miles for 31 Heroes

Originally posted August 2015 after a 31 Mile ruck run (with 31#) in honor of the 31 Heroes killed in Afghanistan 6 August 2011.

Over the past two weekends I've been honored to run and work out for causes. Specifically men and women that have died in the cause that is the United States of America. Here's what I learned.

Don't invite infantry Marines to endurance events. If you've ever doubted the physical capabilities of these assholes, let me cure that. They are stubborn. They are competitive. They are the very reason I joined the Marine Corps. I respect and admire how they've forced me into humility. They are beasts. You deserve the very best in leaders.

Working out for a cause, whether it's a WOD, a marathon, a 160 mile run, or a 31 mile hike, is the most humbling and amazing experience. I've often wondered why we do these things in honor of people. Some is it is to honor the fallen, the heroes. Some of it is to remind the families that their heroes are alive and well I others' hearts. The joy and the closeness at a mile marker is enough. But even more than that is the bond we formed through shared hardship. I would never say that running or rucking a mile is equal to the pain of losing a loved one's life. There is no physical pain that can equate to that. What we do in their honor will never bring them back. It'll never cure the pain. In fact it's actually quite selfish. We do it for ourselves. The bonds we bond in physical suffering connect us. They create communities. And that's the crux of human existence.

We all want to be connected to people. It's why communities form. It's why countries exist.

Powerful things shake us. They are phenomenal. We want those things. We at the very least want to be connected to those things. Those people. Those communities.

Confessions, I struggle with inadequacies. I don't like people telling me I'm not good enough. I don't know, blame my dad. Credit my dad. Shit credit my mom. But today and every day I start to realize that we can overcome our inadequacies by being better. Trying harder. Sacrificing more.

Strength and calm. Strength is calm. And vice versa. What an incredible lesson.

I rucked, shit ran, 31 miles with a group of people that had never ran that before. Yeah they did it for the 31 heroes that lost their lives, but they also did it for the guy or girl next to them. The built a community with honor today and for that I could not be more humbled or proud. I've done some incredible physical endeavors, with some amazing people. Never have I've ever been so in awe of the men and women beside me. Military and civilians. Passionate endeavors fueled by passionate ideas. This wasn't the hardest thing I've ever done, I never hit my low, I was never desperate, but it, combined with the memories of my lows and desperation, might have taught me the most about my purpose in life. For that, I'm eternally grateful.

This video captures my thoughts. All of these things made me who I am. I'm no where near perfect. But I love who I am. And I'm so thankful for everyone that pushes me to me better. I have no haters. Everyone in my life seems to support and love me, and they make me who I am. And there aren't enough to words in any language that describe that. Come up with new words.

Keep learning. Keep growing. Be humble. Be humbled.

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