December 31, 2019
50K Trail Run: 5 Lessons Learned
Recently, I ran the San Joaquin 50K Trail Run Race — it was 32 miles with 5,500ft total elevation gain through the mountains.
I walked away from this epic adventure with 5 big life lessons learned.
Whether you’re a runner or not, these 5 insights are deeply powerful.
Hope you enjoy this inspiring episode!
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FULL TRANSCRIPT [The following is the full transcript of this episode of “The BE ULTIMATE Podcast.” Please note that this is direct from Travis speaking unscripted and unedited.]
Welcome to the Be Ultimate Podcast.
This episode is dropping actually, I believe, on the last day of 2019, so a lot of you are probably going to hear it right after New Year’s, but Happy New Year, you guys. It’s a new year, and it’s a new decade, which is super exciting.
This is always a time of year to reflect upon new goals, affirmations, dreams. And because life is about growing through challenges, in order to do that, you’re going to have to move out of certainty into uncertainty. You’re going to have to move out of what you know and what’s familiar and maybe what’s comfortable into the mystery of things.
So naturally, along with that comes some fear and some nerves, some anxiety. But look, you don’t want to be one of those people who dreams big, who has goals, and you know deep within your soul you want more, you want to achieve more, you want to grow more, but you don’t have the courage or the spark to take decisive action.
In this entire podcast, we’ve been going for almost a whole entire year. We’re about 11 months into this Be Ultimate Podcast operation, but the theme of this podcast is about being ultimate. And that word ultimate means the best imaginable of its kind.
Look, you were born to level up. You were born to grow. You were born to reach goals and then to want more. That’s part of our nature.
The same way that the universe is expanding and growing, we are also meant to expand and to grow, and it’s my firm belief that the moment that we stop growing is the moment that we really start dying.
So think and reflect upon what do you want this year to be like.
How are you going to challenge yourself? How are you going to level up? How are you going to do things that maybe scare you right now?
And I want you to put these goals into writing. I want you to write them down in a journal, in a notebook. I want you to write it down in your calendar, to get as specific as possible. I want you to tell your friends, your family members because the more you do that, the more real it becomes.
You’ve probably heard most people, three weeks into the new year, they give up their resolutions.
I don’t want this to happen to you because I know the more that you’re challenging yourself, the more you’re growing, just the more happy you’re going to be, the more joy you’re going to have, and I support you within that.
So recently, I ran a 50K trail run race called the San Joaquin Trail Run. And this was back in December, so a few weeks ago, and it was really one of those things where as soon as I signed up for the race, I was like, “Oh, shit. What did I just do? Did I just make a really, really big mistake?”
I’ll admit to you, I was scared. I had fear. I had doubt.
In the Buddhist tradition, these are often labeled as the hindrances, these obstacles that show up along our path of growth and awakening and transformation. And the thing is, is that that’s actually a really good sign when these things come up. If they don’t come up, then that means that we are playing too small.
So I sign up for this 50K trail run race, 32 miles, 5,500ft total elevation gain, and I was like, “What did I get myself into?” But again, this is a new year, a new decade, and this is what you have to do. You have to choose goals that scare the shit out of you. They’re barely within your reach. They’re not beyond your reach.
Life is about making decisions. These are like seeds you plant, and these seeds can grow into magnificent things.
“The mountains are calling, and I must go.”
You see, for me, more than anything, one of the reasons why I love trail running is because I love being in nature. And I live in Los Angeles. I live in a big city. I live in a place where there’s a lot of concrete.
I grew up surrounded by nature. I grew up on a piece of property, 10 acres, lots of trees, a stream, the forest, so there is a part of me that really yearns to be in nature. One of the reasons why I’ve really fallen in love these last few years with trail running.
So Saturday, December 7th, 2019, I woke up at 4:00 AM, and I drove to the race located in the San Joaquin area, east of Fresno in Northern California, somewhat near Yosemite National Park. It was dark, rainy, cold, and after check-in, about 65 of us, we lined up, and at 6:30 AM, just before the sun began to rise, we were off, and it was quite the adventure. It was epic, and looking back on 2019, it’s one of the proudest accomplishments of the year for me. It’s one of the most exciting things I feel like I did because again, the greater the challenge, the greater the reward.
What I noticed during this race and really thinking about this race after I’d finish was there were these insights and these lessons that I learned that were very similar to what I’ve learned within my studies of yoga and mindfulness and meditation, and I wanted to share these five lessons with you guys on this podcast.
Whether you’re a runner or not does not matter. These lessons, these insights, they really are universal.
1) Running Without Ego
The first one I learned was about moving through the race without ego. Now, about a year and a half ago, I did my very first trail run race, and that was a half marathon. I learned a lot from that half marathon because as soon as the race started, we are off and running, and– I got caught up within the energy of all these people just gunning it out from the start line, and I ran faster than I probably should have because I felt like I needed to compete, and I didn’t want to get left behind and all these things that are connected to the ego.
But what happened is, is that on mile 5 of 14, my knee I had injured many years ago really started to bother me, and I couldn’t run. I had to start walking. So from mile 5 to about mile 8, I had to power walk, couldn’t run. I’d started too strong, too fast, and was going beyond what my body could handle. It was way above and beyond the stress that I was putting on, so the body reacts by beginning to shut down. Somehow at around mile 8, my knee started to feel better again, and I was able to run, and I was able to finish that race.
But that afternoon, walking upstairs to my hotel room with my wife, I could barely make it up the stairs because my body was jacked. My knee was messed up. I looked like a really old crippled person.
When I did this 50K, I didn’t want to repeat that. I really wanted to do the race in a way that honored the intelligence and the wisdom of my body, and I knew that in order to do that, I couldn’t get swept up within the competition of the trail run race. So I learned a lot from that first race, and it was no longer about competing, and it wasn’t about comparing.
At the beginning of the race, I got passed by many of those 65 runners. Like more than half of those people, they zipped past me. Fortunately, I was really grounded within my strategy, which was to take it easy and to just say, “Hey, this is a really long distance. This is 32 miles. This is longer than a marathon. You’re going through mountains. You have insane elevation gain that you have to get through. Take it easy in the beginning, and then if you feel like you start to tap into energy later on into the race, then you can pick it up a little bit.”
So I got passed by all these runners, but I was cool with it because I wasn’t running from ego. You see, I knew looking back on this adventure and this race, I wasn’t ever going to care what place that I got. It wasn’t about getting a certain place. It wasn’t about getting a trophy. It was about doing something that was challenging, something that brought up fear, that brought up the hindrance of doubt and overcoming that and moving through that and then being able to look back and say, “You know what? Despite those challenges and despite those obstacles, I persevered. I still did it. I didn’t let anything stop me.”
And so it’s really about the adventure. And again, that means looking at this– whether it’s a race or you doing something in your life, it’s about functioning from a place of non-ego. As I joked about on another podcast, “your ego is not your amigo.” Ego stands for “Edging God Out.” It’s the barrier that keeps the small self from expanding into the big self.
So that was the first insight I wanted to share with you guys. Run with humility.
2) Preparation and Training
Now number two is that it’s all about preparation and training. So whether you’re in college, whether you have a big meeting, whether you have a big sports event coming up, whatever that goal is that you want to achieve, whatever that adventure is that you want to go out in 2020 and do, it takes preparation. It takes training. It takes commitment. It takes focus. It takes discipline, and nobody else can do the preparation for you.
“You can’t hire someone else to do your push-ups for you.”
You have to do the work.
So I knew back in September, two months before the race, that I wanted to train smart, so I hired a running coach. If you want to master your mind, what do you do? You go to a meditation master. You go to a monk. You go to somebody who’s been living this life, and you go learn from them. If you want to master your finances, you go to somebody who’s accumulated a lot of wealth, and you learn from them.
Well, I figured if I wanted to do this 50K successfully, I had to go out and find a mentor, so that was part of my training. So I’d found the guy, shout out to Nate Moore, and Nate runs 100-mile races, and he’s run many of these and 50-mile races. He does this all the time. So he became my mentor, and he gave me a training plan, and he kept me on task. And if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have trained properly. I would have overtrained. I would have run too much, too far. A lot of it is about pulling back in the right way so that you don’t get injured and you don’t get burned out. A lot of people when they’re training for a marathon, they’re doing too much, too long, too fast, and they’re just not training properly.
I encourage you to get a mentor, for you to get a teacher, for you to get somebody that’s traveled down this path or whatever your goals and your aspirations are and hook up with them. A lot of these people, you can do long-distance coaching with. That’s what I did with Nate. And you work out a fee, and you pay them, and ultimately, in the end, it’s a very wise investment.
You see, during the big event, the goal, the adventure, the race, the big meeting, whatever it is, during the big event, you can only fall to the level of your training and preparation.
What this means is the more prepared you are, the less that you’ll fall when you’re in the big event. But the less prepared you are, the further you can fall in that big event.
I think about Michael Jackson who used to talk about even in the peak, in the pinnacle of his career, he still got nervous because he continued to level it up in his life. He continued to do things that scared him, and so he had nerves. But he talked about as long as he prepared and as long as he trained, as long as he rehearsed the amount of time that he needed to do, the preparation and the training, the time that he had put in always was bigger than the stress of the nerves.
When you get into big trouble is when the stress and the nerves is much larger than the amount of training and preparation that you’ve done.
So in preparation for the 50K, I’d put in the workouts. I got out on the trail. I got out on the road, and I trained over and over and over again. And even when I was traveling– I had to travel to the East Coast. I went to Maine. I went to Kripalu in Massachusetts. I went on vacation in Hawaii, and even on vacation, I got my butt in the gym, and I got on the treadmill, and I did my workouts. I rarely ever missed the workout, and because of that, I prepared.
Now, part of my training was what’s called Zone 2 training. We have five different zones, and these zones are related to your heart rate, and the higher your heart rate, the higher the zone. So the philosophy around Zone 2 training is that you keep your heart rate at a certain level where you’re burning fat instead of burning glycogen or sugar because when you burn glycogen as your source of fuel, eventually, you reach what’s called the lactic acid threshold, and that’s when your body starts to break down. But when you burn fat as your source of fuel, you can go really long distances.
The other thing about Zone 2 training is that it’s not that stressful on the body. So it’s low pressure. It’s low stress. It’s low impact, and therefore you’re never exerting negative stress on the body. Your body’s able to absorb Zone 2 very well, much more than if you’re going too hard, too fast in Zone 4 and Zone 5.
I love this philosophy because it’s really in alignment with the way I live my life and the way the Buddha talked about, which is to walk the middle path. Zone 2 for me is running the middle path.
In the Zone 2 training you build up the mitochondria in your cells, and the mitochondria are the energy or the fuel supplies of the cells. You’re building out the mitochondrial density, and over time, what happens is, is your Zone 2, your heart rate stays at a certain lower level, but you’re able to run faster and longer and further but again, without too much stress exerted on the body.
Zone 2 training gives you a certain type of fitness equanimity.
Now, how does this apply to life? Well, when you’re doing yoga and you’re doing meditation, in a way, you’re building up a Zone 2 within you. So you’re going through your life, and you no longer sweat the small stuff. Right?
Before yoga, before meditation, you were reactive, things would stress you out, you would snap at your loved ones, your kids, your boss, or whatever, but then you started doing yoga. You started doing meditation, and you created a type of resiliency. You kind of created something within your nervous system that could handle stress in a positive way. You’re able to absorb pressures and stresses in life.
“Run with the earth, not against it.”
In long-distance trail running, they call it the strategy of flattening out the course. So when you’re going up a mountain, go up slower. You’re going up in elevation. This is really high intensity on the body, so you slow down. When you’re running down a mountain, then you can speed up. You learn to flatten out the course.
Now, trail running going up and down mountain should sound familiar to how life is. Right?
We all are facing periods in our day, periods in our year, periods in our life where it’s like we’re going up a mountain. We’re facing challenges. We’re facing adversity. And then other times, the trail levels out, and we’re coasting along. Things feel good. Everything’s falling into place. We’re in a good groove. And then other times in our life, we’re going downhill. Things are coming at us very quickly and easily and effortlessly. And then inevitably, we have to go up another mountain.
This is the nature of life. This is the nature of being human.
You can learn to flatten out the course within the ultra-endurance event of your own life by allowing yourself– when you’re facing challenges and when you’re moving through a lot in life, those are the times where you have more self-care routines. You slow down. You do more Yin Yoga. You meditate more. You sleep more. You slow down.
And then there’s times in your life where you feel strong, and you feel great, and you’re accomplishing your goals. You’re just nailing it on all levels. Your relationships are rocking. Your job is rocking. Everything is going great, and you pick up the pace. You learn to flatten out the course of your life. Yoga and meditation will increase your inner resiliency, like Zone 2 training, so that you can navigate the vicissitudes of life with greater grace, nobility, dignity, health, and joy.
3) Stay Present
Number three, always stay present. You see, if I’m running a long distance race, if I’m thinking about how far the finish line is, I’m going to go crazy. You see, the amount of mileage you have to cover is so staggering you can’t help but just be present. If you start projecting too much into the future or you’re reflecting too much on the past, then you’re going to struggle and suffer.
What happens is, is you exhaust yourself mentally and emotionally because of where your mind ends up going. So the way to transcend that is to be very, very present, this step right here, this moment right here, this breath right now, this sensation that’s coming up right now, and to just be present.
It took me eight hours to complete the event. But I will tell you those eight hours went by incredibly fast. I couldn’t believe how fast the race went.
Now, you might be listening, and you’re thinking, “Man, eight hours is crazy. And you’re running. You’re doing that race the whole entire time. That’s a really long time.”
But when your mind is present, you transcend time, place, and space. Time becomes malleable and bendable, and you slip into this kind of wormhole. I think this is why a lot of people are attracted to athletic events or any event that is intense because it forces themselves into a deep state of presence.
I remember being at certain phases in the race and thinking about how similar the experience was to some of the meditation retreats I’ve been on because when you’re meditating 10, 11, 12 hours a day, it’s the same thing. If you’re thinking about, “Gosh. How am I going to get to the end of the day?” Or, “How am I going to get to the end of the retreat 10 days from now?” Those were the moments on retreat where I would often struggle the most. I’m like, “How many more days of this do we have? We have seven more days. This is insane!!!”
You have to surrender to the moment that’s unfolding right here, right now.
Life is a long-distance event. How present can you be? When you’re having a conversation with somebody, how present can you be for that person? When you’re listening to this podcast, treat it as if it’s a listening meditation. When you’re doing something, give it all your attention, all your presence because so often, our mind is, again, thinking and worrying about the future. When am I going to cross the finish line? What if I don’t cross the finish line? What if something happens? We waste so much energy and brainpower when our mind does lacks presence.
4) Be In Command of Your Mind
Number four, being command of your mind. Now that we’re coming into a new year, a new decade, this is huge.
Your mind can be your greatest supporter or your greatest destroyer.
The power of your mind is everything.
Dealing with an old injury where I’d been hit by a car, I went through many months where I’d walk with a limp. Sometimes I’d be running the race, and I’m thinking, “God, what if my knee gives out on me like it did in the half marathon? How am I going to make it? What if I can’t walk?”
Anytime I would notice my mind shifting to worry, shifting to fear, I would rein it back in. I would have to command my mind, “No. You are not going to go to that negative place. You’re not going to go to this place of unnecessary fear and worry,” because the reality is, is my knee was okay.
So I worked with an affirmation, and I probably repeated it over 1,000 times during this race.
My affirmation was “steady and relaxed.” This was the thing that got me through the race.
I remember hearing a story about Gandhi. As Gandhi traveled all throughout India trying to gather people together to bring down the British Empire, he had a walking staff. He walked just about everywhere he went. While he’s walking and he had his walking staff, he also would work with affirmation and mantra. He worked with the mantra known Ram, and he would chant it over and over again. He had his physical walking stick, and he also had his mental walking stick.
My mental walking stick was “steady and relaxed.”
I knew if I stayed steady, I knew that if I kept moving, that eventually, I would cross the finish line. And again, I wanted to do this in a way that was relaxed. I didn’t want to injure myself. I didn’t want to run from a place of ego. I wanted to do it with as much ease as possible.
These two words, steady and relaxed, in yoga are sthira and sukha.
I love this affirmation not just within running a 50K but also when we do our yoga. This is what yoga asana is supposed to be. A yoga pose is technically supposed to be done in a steady and relaxed way, and if it’s not, then it’s technically not a yoga pose. And ultimately, we can bring that mentality to all things that we do in our life.
Command your mind. Use mantra. Use affirmation. Don’t let your mind go places. Don’t let your mind go to the virtual reality of illusionary thinking. Command your mind to go where you choose it to go.
5) Embrace Change
Now, the last five of the five insights was to embrace change. When you’re out on the trail for eight hours, you are experiencing a lot of change. There’s a lot of things that are arising and passing away.
I remember at one point, I’d be running with this guy, and we’d be hanging out. We’re running. We’re talking. Where are you from? I’m from here. How many races you’ve done, and we’re hanging out, and then next thing I know, I look behind me, and the dude’s gone because for whatever reason, he slowed down, or I picked up and– it’s like that in life too.
We have friends that come and go. We have relationships that also dissolve and go away. And very often, we want to hold on. We want to cling. We want things to last forever.
All things in the world of form are temporary. All things must pass. Everything has a birth, a life, and a death.
Also, the terrain is changing.
Like I mentioned earlier in the episode, sometimes you’re going up the mountain. Sometimes you’re coming down the mountain.
Tony Robbins speaks of how we live our life in seasons, metaphoric seasons, where sometimes it’s wintertime. And wintertime is a time of contraction, so our finances might contract. Our health might contract. We may get sick. Our energy may contract. We may not feel super joyful and super happy.
In the same way that our heart expands and contracts, other things also expand and contract. And then on the other side of winter, you have spring and summer where maybe things are rocking. Things are going great. Again, we’re flying down the mountain, but through the ups and downs, the highs and lows of life, to be in that state of equanimity, that state of steadiness.
Also, the weather, when we started the race, it was rainy. The sun wasn’t up. It was dark. And then there were periods where the rain went away. There were times when the trail was slippery and muddy, and you’re barely able to stay standing – you’re almost falling down – and other times where it was rock hard.
Life is also like this as well. Regardless of the terrain, of the weather, or the people you’re with, is to relax into the natural flux and flow and change of things. As Zen master Suzuki Roshi says, “When you realize that everything changes and you find your composure within the change, then you find yourself in Nirvana.”
So those are the five insights.
- Run with humility, not ego
- Be prepared and train
- Always be present.
- Be in command of your mind
- Embrace change
So it’s the new year, you guys. If you haven’t already, take time, pen to paper, set your goals.
What do you want to do this year?
What do you want to achieve?
Really be aware of the words that come out of your mouth, especially the words “I am.”
If you say, “I am not good enough. I am ugly. I am not worthy. I’m not smart enough. I am never going to do the things I want to do. I’m not capable,” etc., etc., then that’s the reality that you’re going to create for yourself.
Work with affirmations.
“I am whole. I am magnificent. I am amazing. I am strength. I am health. I am wealth. I am love. I am powerful. I am unstoppable. I am limitless.”
What are your I am’s?
Get clear and be specific with what your I am’s are, what your beliefs are, what your thoughts are.
When you’re driving your car and when you’re brushing your teeth and when you’re standing in line and when you’re on the airplane, you’re either saying these out loud or you’re thinking them inside of your mind, and these thoughts and these beliefs will become the foundation of shifting and shaping your outer reality.
So let’s finish now with the ultimate prayer.
“May we bring strength where there is weakness.
May we bring courage where there is fear.
May we bring compassion where there is suffering, and
may we bring light where there is darkness.
May we be ultimate.”