One of Life’s Most Important Lessons Running can Teach You (or anything else unpleasant)

Holy cats … this contains a whole lotta truth.

Laney´s Lowdown

Let me ask you something…

Do you think every runner started out as a “runner”?

Do you hate running and figure every runner jumps out of bed and can’t wait to hit the trails… that it’s just… natural?

I’ll let you in on a little known secret... NO runner, body builder, cyclist, or even sales person started out as those things. They started out where you and I do: awkward, unskilled, weak and slow. But what separates them is they put in the dedication necessary to get over that inevitable uncomfortable phase.

I might consider myself a runner now, but flashback to 7th gradeI was the slowest kid on the track team, let’s put it this way, I was the one everyone clapped for at meets because I was the last one on the track. I literally CRIED & BEGGED my mom every day after she’d…

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A Few Brief Thoughts from the Bike Trail

It’s been awhile since I updated this blog. Here are a few random thoughts:

Go Slow, Son

Shawn P. Stapleton

My turn-around point today: Park Boulevard in Seminole, FL.

Today, I rode 33 miles over 3 ½ hours. What a kick! Aside from a sore ass, I felt great. I fueled up before I left, hydrated properly, and took food with me for the ride (an apple, a banana, a protein bar, and a couple of pieces of string cheese). I really didn’t have enough water with me; I have to remember to average one sport bottle full of water every hour. I did, however, eat every hour, which is the right thing to do. I also kept my speed down and just enjoyed the ride. I love seeing the little quirky things in life when I ride, but I even miss those when I am focused too much on my pace. I need to just slow down and enjoy the journey, instead of rushing to the destination.


Don’t Hunch Your Shoulders

My neck has been really stiff recently, so I tried to be conscious of my posture when I am riding, Sure enough, when I push too hard, I hunch my shoulders, tightening my trapezoids and generally wasting a lot of energy. By relaxing my upper body when I ride, I have more energy available for my legs.

But, it’s also served as a metaphor for my life. When one area of my life is difficult, I tend to “hunch my shoulders,” making other areas of my life difficult unnecessarily. By intentionally seeking peace in my life, when I have a difficult moment, I have the energy available for it. In other words, a small problem doesn’t have to derail my entire life.

I had the opportunity to practice that recently. One important relationship in my life turned rocky, which would normally send me into a problematic tailspin and affect every area of my life. Not this time. I didn’t “hunch my shoulders,” was able to keep my head, and eventually, worked everything out in my relationship.


A View from the Funk

My trusty steed, leaning against the tunnel wall, during one of the unoccupied moments.

My trusty steed, leaning against the tunnel wall, during one of the unoccupied moments.

Over the past few weeks, I have encountered a few really weird things on my rides.

  • Drunks – I was rolling along at a pretty good pace early in the morning, before sunrise. Ahead of me, I could faintly make out movement on the trail, so I slowed down, only to find one young man laying across the trail and his buddy standing over him laughing. They were very drunk, and just trying to get home, but someone kept turning the earth on them. Ah, to be young again!
  • Tunnel Dwellers – When I ride north from my house, I have an opportunity to ride through a couple of very short tunnels. Yesterday morning, I saw on a “professional” woman, so to speak, standing in the shadows of the tunnel. She offered her services. I politely declined. Never a dull moment in Florida.
  • Biblical Plagues – On one recent ride, I encountered a couple of brief downpours. In Florida, even the rain is warm, so it wasn’t an issue really. But, the fresh rain brought out the frogs – LOTS of frogs. I couldn’t help but hit a couple of them, which then brought out the seagulls to scoop up the fresh frog carcasses. I couldn’t help but think that maybe I was making a difference.

The Mundane Drudgery of it All

Another Monday morning, and I drag myself out of bed begrudgingly. The alarm on my phone went off at 5 a.m., and I have lain in bed for the past 10 minutes listening to the voices in my head argue over whether or not we will ride this morning. Today, the good voice won, and despite seeing flashes of lightning from an offshore storm, I mount up and go for a spin.

This is the side of weight loss that no one has ever communicated very effectively – the mundane drudgery of it all. Hawkers of exercise videos, equipment, and gimmicks have made it all seem so exciting, with their extended infomercials filled with smiling unfit people who don’t really sweat so much as glow. Maybe we should blame Richard Simmons, but then again, he seems to bear enough burdens.

I think back to the years of eating, the years of sloth, and the drudgery of that part of my life as well. Getting loaded on sugar and fat wasn’t much of a party, so burning it off probably shouldn’t be either. But, it makes me wonder whether this is the reason why so many of us fail. Reliable statistics are tough to come by, but it seems that, at best, 6 of every 10 people who lose weight cannot maintain that weight loss over a long span of time. Many possible reasons have been offered, but I suspect the number of reasons comes close to matching the number of people who are trying.

I pedal my ass off, hoping one day that phrase might literally come true.

One of my reasons has been the incessant toil of a weight loss lifestyle. Going for a bike ride at 5 a.m. isn’t my first choice of activity. There’s nothing glamorous or fun about an early morning ride. I pedal my ass off, hoping one day that phrase might literally come true. But in the meantime, the work I put in seems to have little immediate effect. Yes, I have lost weight, and yes, I have noticed my fitness level start to improve. But, the bad voice in my head keeps asking, “How many more mornings do I have to do this? How long until I reach my goal?”

Intellectually, I can’t handle those questions, because I know that this is a forever thing, and forever is just too much time to ponder. The best I can do is to roll out of bed today, and do the hard work immediately in front of me. Each moment of each day, I have to choose to embrace this new commitment. That’s all I can do. And maybe – just maybe – by tackling this new lifestyle one choice at a time, I can beat the statistics.

So, today I chose to ride, and it was a good choice. Nothing spectacular happened, except that the bad voice lost another battle. I keep hoping that, with every loss, that bad voice gets a touch of laryngitis. I don’t know if it will ever be completely silent, but in spite of its constant assault on my motivation, I will trudge on.

Independence Day

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”

~ Muhammad Ali

Independence Day A colleague noticed this week that I had set out on an early morning ride before work, and was commending me for my effort. Then he asked me if it felt good. I couldn’t help myself when I answered him honestly.

“Nope,” I said. “Honestly, if it felt good, I would have been doing it all along. If it felt good, I wouldn’t look like this.”

I was surprised to learn that Muhammad Ali had much the same sentiment about training for his boxing bouts. But it makes sense: champions train hard, and hard training means experiencing pain and suffering while you pursue a worthy goal. The thing that sets champions apart from everyone else is that they keep their eye on that goal, while the rest of us focus on the training.

Independence Day

I had the day off, like most people, so I scheduled a long ride for myself – 20 miles was the plan. I set out before sunrise and headed south, into a moderate wind that pushed back at me gently, but also kept me cool, so I didn’t really mind. By the 5 mile mark I was pretty pooped, but after a bit of rest and some stretching I was good to go again. In Clearwater and Largo, the Pinellas County trail winds around a bit, so I found myself coursing through some pretty cool streetscapes. I love that about riding here – you can find yourself transported between rural and urban scenery very quickly, so my rides have yet to get monotonous.

I reached West Bay Drive in Largo and felt like I needed to turn around. My goal was to hit Ulmerton Road, about a mile and a half further south, but I had already blasted through the halfway point for my mileage goal, and figured it’d be a good place to stop.

The ride home was much easier with a tailwind. I logged 22 miles in 2:16:00.

Independence Day

Why This Ride Was Important on Independence Day

I have set up big goals for myself, and this ride helped me reach some of those goals. The distance itself was important, but the mental breakthrough has been even more important.

  • I didn’t want to quit. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, and when I reached West Bay Drive and sat down for a minute, I cried. In so many other areas of my life, I just give up when things get hard. Now, even though I was riding into the wind for the past hour, I kept pedaling, kept pushing, kept telling myself that the champion inside of me needs to be set free. To some extent, he was.
  • I felt like I was experiencing freedom again. For more than two years I have been a slave to some pretty insidious forces in my life. I had a massive mental and emotional breakdown, and turned to food as my new drug of choice. Now, I am becoming my old self again, and finding that I am even stronger because of the journey. I felt like Tim Robbins’ Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption, when he stood in the creek, hands raised in the air. “Andy Dufresne – who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side,” Morgan Freeman says in the movie. The crawl is worth the clean.
  • This ride was completely for me. I have spent a lifetime doing things for everyone else and subordinating myself in the process, and am often still guilty of that. But, to focus completely and totally on me, and feel good about it – that’s a kind of freedom that I have never known before.

There are no fireworks that can represent these new feelings of freedom. Really, it’s best represented for me by the wind in my face, while I make little circles with my feet, mouthing the words to some favorite songs, or laughing along with podcasts while I ride. No deep thoughts, no guilt, no shame. Independence Day indeed.



Here we go again …

When I got home from my ride the other day, the back wheel felt funny. I checked, and sure enough, another broken spoke.

So, today I took my trusty steed to the local bike shop to have them replace the rim. It’ll cost me $100.

I am now facing the cost of losing weight, and it’s getting discouraging. I really don’t have $100 to spend, but I know that, if I don’t spend it, I will die an early death. Cycling is the only form of exercise I enjoy.

So, I am spending the money. I’ll go for a ride tonight. I’ll keep at this, because deep down, I know that the cost of riding is minuscule compared to the price I will pay if I don’t.

Meanwhile, if you have suggestions, I’d sure love to hear them.

An Open Letter to My Sons … and Y’all

Note: I know this isn’t really consistent with the weight loss journey posts, but I have found that emotional baggage weighs me down as much as the fat on my frame. This journey is as much about self-discovery and self-acceptance as it is about weight loss, so I offer these thoughts as a way to just express myself. My middle son will soon turn 21, and these thoughts and feelings have been percolating a bit in anticipation of that.

letter writing skillsI have made many decisions in my life, some of which have turned out great, and some of which did not. I don’t call any of those decisions “mistakes,” because I learned from every single one of them. I like who I am today; I’m learning to love myself despite my many flaws and quirks, and I wouldn’t be the same man if I had made different decisions.

However, I also recognize that some of those decisions resulted in pain for other people, including my sons. I wish I had been wiser in those moments, and less selfish in my decision-making. I wish I had been more loving, and more thoughtful about the feelings of my children and others. But, I am learning that you can’t spend today obsessing over the mistakes you made yesterday. I can only apologize, own my errors, and strive to live a better life.

I have listed out three important lessons from those mistakes, and I hope that, by sharing them here, I might help my sons and others avoid unnecessary stumbles in their own lives.

Don’t Be a Victim

In many ways, my father disappointed me. I used that disappointment for most of my life to shape my victimhood, blaming my father’s lack of affection – and, at times, cruel behavior – for my own shortcomings. Today, I realize that I am in control of my emotions and my responses to life’s travails. I don’t have to be a victim. I can choose, each and every moment, to take things less personally and to believe in myself, regardless of how I believe others may feel about me and my actions.

Boys, don’t allow yourselves to become victims. Don’t let my mistakes consume you, and shape who you become. Rather, if you use them at all, use them to spur you on to greater things. You never have to be a slave to your circumstances. Instead, use whatever injustices you have endured to rise up and show the world your greatness.

Don’t Trust your Feelings

There will be times in your life when you “feel” like a failure, or you “feel” like a champ. I spent most of my life as a slave to my feelings, and often still catch myself doing that. I have learned, however, that my feelings are often completely out of touch with reality. Put your feelings in their place by using them as only one of many compasses that guide your travels. Also, don’t confuse “feelings” with “instinct.” Feelings are nothing more than chemical reactions in your body, and can be swayed easily by a lack of sunshine or large amounts of sugar. Instinct, however, is that consistent voice that resonates from the deep recesses of your soul. Trust that voice – more often than not, it will be right.

Love Deeply, but Carefully

Love is many things, and you will feel love in many ways in your life.  Because of love, you will also feel pain and sadness. It’s a fact – love and pain are inseparable. Love that tries to avoid pain is possessive, controlling, and consuming. That kind of love makes for a miserable life.

My wish for you is that you find the courage to love wholeheartedly. Be willing to be hurt. Take the risk, because it’s worth it. When you find real love, you will find that it does not require you to surrender your sense of self, but rather it requires you to be all that you are and more, as you grow with the person you love.

Love comes with risks, but the risks are worth it. You’ll become a better you for having loved, and even for having had your heart bruised in the process. But, that being said, love wisely. Make sure the person who gets your heart is truly worth it. Make sure the attraction is more than physical, which is hard to do, because physical attraction is powerful, and you’ll find yourself sacrificing important parts of your character if a beautiful person demands it. Don’t you fall for it. Make that person earn your affection, just as a person of character will make you earn theirs.

One Final Note

I want you to notice I avoided assuming the gender of the person to whom you might give your heart. Never, ever, be ashamed of who you love, and don’t sacrifice your self-identity because you think others won’t accept you. Remain forever authentic, and you will discover peace and serenity.

Start, and Be Proud of That

Every journey starts somewhere

Every journey starts somewhere.

Everyone starts somewhere. Tony, (“The Anti-Jared”) started at 48 seconds on the treadmill. I don’t think I lasted that long. My first bike ride, I lasted 10 minutes. It’s not about where we start, my friends, it’s about the journey, and every journey starts somewhere.

This post is well worth the read: 48 Seconds On The Treadmill – The Anti-Jared.

If embarrassment is keeping you from starting, let me offer a few thoughts:

  • You’re not destined to be fat. Our ancestors didn’t fight many of the health issues we face, because junk food wasn’t an option. They ate good food because that’s what was available. It’s still available. Every time you eat good food, be proud of that.
  • You don’t need a gym. Get started by just doing something. Everyone told me to just go for a walk. I hate walking. I took up cycling. But, I also clean the house, go sightseeing on foot, and generally spend more time moving. Our ancestors didn’t need gyms, because they were always moving. Move, and be proud of that.
  • Do today, do more tomorrow. Every time you exercise, you’re doing more than you would be doing laying on the couch. Do what you can today. Be proud of that. Do a little more tomorrow. Be proud of that too.
  • Set goals. I have a HUGE goal to ride across Iowa in the RAGBRAI event in 2015. To get there, I have smaller goals every day and every week, and as I knock those goals down, I celebrate with a little self-congratulation and even a bit of bragging. My reward is the kudos of my friends and family. Set goals and knock ’em down, and every time you do, be proud of that.
  • Be your own cheerleader. If you’re anything like me, you’re your own bully, and no one is more critical of you than you. Tell that little judgmental voice in your head to shut up, and start drowning it out with some positive self talk. Feel like a dork doing that? So do I, but it works, and every time I can be positive about myself, I’m proud of that. Do it, and be proud of that.

Now, I have to admit, I feel funny saying these things. I am still grossly overweight, but my journey has begun, and I’m proud of that. I do pretty well most of the time, but not all of the time. The difference is, the bad times aren’t tainting the good times as frequently. Along the way, these thoughts have helped me. I hope they help you too.

Brant Secunda and Mark Allen: 7 Ways to Pick Up the Pace of Weight Loss

Good stuff here. Plenty of common-sense advice.


Brant Secunda and Mark Allen: 7 Ways to Pick Up the Pace of Weight Loss.

Saddle Time

Tarpon Springs, FL, represents the latest distance goal for me. It really felt amazing to see this sign.

I really don’t have anything great to say about this ride, or about where I am at today. On a scale of 1-10 (10 representing the best possible result), my commitment to eating well has been wavering between a 4 and 7. After two years of pretty solid 1s and 2s, I’ll take it.

I took my bike to the local bike shop today to get the broken spoke fixed. This was the second spoke on this rim, but the tech today (I think her name was Deb – be sure and check out Chainwheel Drive) said that once one spoke pops, it’s not uncommon to have more break. Sometimes, she said, they break right away, because when the first spoke breaks, the spokes on either side of the broken spoke, and the spoke directly across from it, immediately have extra work to do. As I said here, spokes break – Deb confirmed that for me. Can’t thank her enough for that.

So, with a renewed spirit, I headed out this afternoon for the longest ride yet in this renewed exercise program. All told, I rode 16 miles in about 90 minutes, and burned 1,700 calories. I reached a mental milestone – rode to Tarpon Springs, the northernmost community in the county and the northern trail head for the Fred Marquis Pinellas County Trail. I am really enjoying setting these random goals (ride so far, ride so fast, etc.)  and knocking them down. This is especially true of distance goals, because it’s not an option for me to just turn around when I get tired. I set the goal – I will achieve it.

The Real Battle

The Real Battle is in My HeadI looked back over my ride log and realized it has been a week since my last ride. Frankly, it seems like longer. The truth is, I have wanted to ride every single day, but my head keeps getting in the way.

On my last ride, I broke another spoke. Nothing cataclysmic happened physically as a result – I just felt a very slight wiggle in my back tire, and even that was only occasionally. In the real world, it was almost meaningless. But, in my head, where the real battle for health and wellness occurs for me, it set off a chain of thoughts and emotions that I am just now understanding.

In my head, a broken spoke means I am simply too fat to ride. It represents all of the humiliation I expect to experience when I climb on the bike. I expect to be ridiculed. I expect to fail. That broken spoke reinforced my expectations, in a way that actual ridiculing could not.

After a week of not riding, however, I realize the truth – spokes break. Bike shops don’t reserve their spoke-replacement services for fat people. They have bins full of spokes, because riders of all sizes break them. My spoke broke while I was working to lose weight. It’s not a representation of some personal, moral failure; it’s really a badge of honor for getting off my ass and exercising. Because, there’s only one class of people who never break a spoke – the people who never ride a bike.

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