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What a Record Setting Cyclist Can Teach Us About Achievement

Ever since I started doing Crossfit several years ago, I’ve been drawn to stories of people who lean into physical challenges, from super- intense workouts (Crossfit calls them “Hero WOD’s”) to the achievements of differently abled athletes and others with physical limitations who push themselves beyond what they thought was possible.

Of all the amazing stories out there, 24-year old Amanda Coker‘s recent cycling milestone blew me away.

Amanda averaged 237 miles per day on her bike (12 hours of constant riding) for 365 days–from May 14, 2016 to May 15, 2017–on a seven-mile loop in Flatwoods Wilderness Park in Thonotosassa, Florida to set a new world record for most miles biked in one year…86,573 miles.

To put that into perspective, a good amateur cyclist rides 300 – 600 miles a month. The best ride 800 -1000 miles a month. Then there’s Amanda: She averaged 237.1 miles a day–that’s 7,211 miles a month–for 12 consecutive months. That defies the limits of performance.

The previous women’s record was 29,603 and the men’s was 76,076 miles. Not only did she nearly triple the previous women’s world record of 29,603 but she also blew away the men’s record by well over 10,000 miles!

During this grueling 52-week journey, here are just a few examples of what Amanda overcame:
– Temperatures ranging from 27 to 114 degrees.
– Hurricanes Matthew and Hermine and Tropical Storm Colin plus floods and lightning.
– Just 5 – 7 hours of sleep per night.
– 6,000 – 6,500 calories burned per day.

In addition, Amanda suffered road rash from run-ins with rogue riders, saddles sores she would “rather not discuss in detail,” and consistent skepticism from the endurance athlete community who doubted such a feat was even possible.

The Bigger Question: Why?

After discovering cycling as a teenager, Amanda began racing, placing 6th in the junior national championships in 2010. A year later, while riding with her father near their home in North Carolina, she was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury and numerous other injuries. Unable to attend school or work, Amanda began to withdraw from life, suffering from anxiety and depression as she faced an uncertain future. Then, in 2015, sensing the need to break what had become a pattern of lethargy and self-pity, she decided to get back on the bike.

At the urging of friends and a record-breaking cyclist named Kurt Searvogel, (the men’s world record holder) she set her mind–and her body–to the seemingly impossible task of 365 straight days of cycling.

The sheer tenacity she displayed in logging hundreds of miles day after day not only strengthened Amanda’s sense of purpose and resolve, it inspired others to push beyond their own self-imposed limitations as well. In fact, so many riders who showed up at Flatwoods Park to ride with Amanda have set their own personal records that they created a large poster with the names of the “100 and 200 mile club” to document their achievements.

Granted, most of us will never accomplish anything physically close to Amanda’s remarkable achievement, but there’s a lot that we can learn from her grueling and gritty journey. Here are three that stand out to me:

1) There is virtually nothing you face that is insurmountable. For years, no one thought it was possible for a human being to run a mile in under 4 minutes. (Some medical experts said it was impossible–that the cardiovascular system could not process oxygen fast enough through the bloodstream). Then, in 1954, Roger Bannister changed the world’s thinking–and within a few years numerous other athletes duplicated the feat. Like the 4 minute mile, Amanda’s feat should convince us all that we are capable of so much more than the comforts of modern life cause us to settle for. If a 24 year old woman who nearly died a few years before can summon the mental and physical toughness to endure 12 hours a day in 90 degree heat on her bike, what excuse could we possibly make not to commit a fraction of the time and effort to strengthen our minds and bodies?

2) The power of why. I can only imagine how often Amanda was tempted to give up, but the searing memory of her life-altering accident (her father was also seriously injured) created a sense of purpose so strong that nothing–not even two of the strongest Florida hurricanes in a decade–could stop her. Instead of giving into bitterness, Amanda instead channeled her emotions into a burning desire to rise above her setback, bringing many others along with her. In her popular TED Talk, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, neuroscientist Angela Duckworth explains that the more people can see meaning in their work that extends beyond their own personal interests, the higher their level of passion, persistence, and achievement.

3) Routine rules. As author and peak performance expert James Clear notes, the most successful people in any field don’t point to their passion or motivation in reaching their goals. Instead, most learn how to, as Clear puts it, “fall in love with boredom.” Consider the monotony Amanda must have experienced as she endlessly circled the 7-mile Flatwoods loop–34 laps a day– for 365 consecutive days, 12 hours a day. It’s almost incomprehensible to me. But it makes a compelling point: Anyone can work hard when they feel motivated, but only a tiny fraction of people have the tenacity to embrace the discipline of continuous and deliberate practice.

I realize that, to some, devoting a year of your life to riding a bike for 12 hours a day is, at best, misguided and, at worse, pure insanity. But in a society increasingly dominated by personal comfort, self-gratification, and nearly constant distraction, Amanda’s journey is a fitting reminder of what’s possible when we commit ourselves to a single purpose.

It reminds me of a profound piece of advice Eleanor Roosevelt once gave to a graduating class: “Do something every day that scares you.” In other words, resist the constant pull towards passivity and the urge to settle. Instead, lean into your discomfort and develop the habit of spending time at the edge of your comfort zone.

Have you ever attempted a physically demanding challenge such as a marathon, bike race or a fitness competition? What would it mean to the quality of your life to challenge yourself–physically, mentally, socially or spiritually? Feel free to leave a comment–I’d love to hear your feedback.

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How to Live to 100: Nine Healthy Blue Zone Habits

They’re known as the Blue Zones: Areas around the world with the highest concentrations of centenarians (people who live to be 100+ years old). These Blue Zone areas include parts of Japan, Mexico, Greece, Italy, Costa Rica, and even Southern California.

In 2005, author Dan Buettner launched a research project seeking to learn the longevity secrets of these vibrant cultures which culminated in the 2008 publication of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. Although I haven’t read the book, Buettner’s research has been well documented. His work is a fascinating summary of what makes the world’s healthiest people so healthy.

Despite the fact that people live longer today than ever before, let’s face it: Most of us know very few people who make it even close to 100 years old, much less any full-fledged centenarians. Yet Buettner’s work features people like Francesca Castillo of Costa Rica, who, at 100 years old, still cut her own wood and cleared brush from her yard with a machete.

What sets centenarians apart? Is it purely genetics, or are there specific practices we can identify and adopt to help us increase our own life spans? Here are nine habits which, according to Buettner, centenarians throughout the world’s Blue Zones all share:

People who live in Blue Zones walk... a lot.

1. Walk…a lot. This reminds me of the best selling book, Eat, Move, Sleep by Tom Rath, who points out that sitting more than six hours a day is the most underrated public health problem in America. According to Buettner, Blue Zoners walk practically all day, not because they necessarily want to, but because most of them don’t own a car. While that’s not an option for most people, (something that, in my line of work, I’m grateful for!) Buettner recommends finding a place to live that favors activity and connectivity.

2. Don’t retire. Refocus. Blue Zoners all share a deep sense of purpose for their lives. They greet each day with a compelling reason to live. The traditional definition of “retirement” simply doesn’t exist in their vocabulary.

3. Find a de-stressing ritual. Although faced with the same worries we all have, centenarians manage stress through a variety of daily rituals, such as spending time with friends.

4. Follow the 80% Rule. In the age of super-sized portions, centenarians only eat and drink until they feel 80% full.

5. Eat lots of vegetables. In the Blue Zones, the least expensive and most popular dishes are plant-based. Most eat limited amounts of meat and very little refined sugar and carbohydrates.

6. Drink a little wine. Contrary to popular belief, centenarians, by and large, are not teetotalers, although most drink limited amounts and wine is the drink of choice.

7. Cultivate strong friendships. Blue Zoners are consistently found to have a core group of life long friends who provide stability, intimacy, and support.

8. Be part of a community. There is a strong sense of belonging in Blue Zones; a deep-seated cultural expectation of people caring for one another, often centered around religious faith.

9. Stay married. According to Buettner, a positive, committed relationship adds at least six years to life expectancy.

Here’s a question: What would it mean to the quality of your life–and the strength of your personal brand–if you had the physical, mental, and spiritual capacity to live 100+ years? Which of these nine habits resonate the most with you? Which ones challenge you? I’d love to hear your feedback!

This post was adapted from my 2013 blog post.

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Six Lifestyle Changes You Can Make This Summer

If you live in a place where there are four seasons, the onset of summer brings a welcome change of pace. We go on vacation, spend more time outdoors, hang out with friends and, in general, have more time for reflection and recalibration.

And if your summer reflections include elevating your health and fitness, here are six simple improvements that, based on personal experience, will enhance your energy, improve your well-being, and help you feel more alive and present regardless of the season.

Six Lifestyle Changes You Can Make This Summer

1. Spend more time standing than sitting. In one of my previous posts, I shared some of the growing research linking sitting with increased risks of cancer as well as heart disease, depression, and premature death. Despite the plethora of exercise and other recreation options out there, most of us still spend too much time on our butts–so much so that some health experts have coined the phrase, “sitting is the new smoking.” This summer, be deliberate about spending more of your day standing than you do sitting. From getting a stand up desk to tracking your steps through a fitness app on your phone, spending even an hour or so more on your feet can have a huge impact on your health, especially as you age.

2. Clean up your sleep hygiene. Like sitting, the research on the health implications of sleep are enormous. Over the last several decades, the average amount of sleep has steadily declined (it is currently around 6 1/2 hours). Although digital distractions play a part, the biggest contributor is the myth of sacrificing sleep for productivity. Many people, especially leaders, view sleeping more than 6 hours as being a luxury verses a necessity; for others, the lack of a consistent sleep ritual makes it hard for them to fall asleep after a busy, demanding day. Regardless, if you struggle with sleep, take some deliberate steps this summer to examine your sleep hygiene and create a consistent habit of getting to sleep and waking up at the same time.

3. Breathe through your nose. Sure, the idea of improving your breathing sounds overly simplistic. Yet research once again shows that the majority of Americans have poor breathing habits. The most common bad breathing habit, breathing too much through the mouth, leads to shallow over-breathing, which reduces carbon dioxide levels, causes poor circulation, narrows airways, and builds up toxins in the bloodstream. Committing to a daily practice of deep breathing through your nose stimulates the release of nitric oxide which opens up blood vessels and sterilizes the air in your sinuses, among many other benefits. For a simple, stimulating breathing exercise, revisit this previous post.

4. Eat nutrient dense foods. Together with sleep and stress level, what you eat has the biggest impact on your health and well-being. Unfortunately, much of what the average American consumes today has little resemblance to real food, which is part of why we’re so crippled by chronic disease. The good news is, even small changes in your diet can have a dramatic impact on your wellness, especially if your food choices include nutrient dense foods. In a previous post, I reported on four superfoods that, based on volumes of nutrition research, have a dramatic impact not only on your health, but on your energy as well. Commit to incorporating just one of these nutrient dense foods into your daily diet and watch your energy soar.

5. Avoid sugar. According to research, American’s consumption of sugar has reached staggering levels, explaining why chronic disease is so prevalent despite volumes of information and billions of dollars spent on health care in this country. Consider this: The amount of sugar contained in one can of soda is, by some estimates, more than our 18th century ancestors consumed in an entire year! What’s more, volumes of research has shown that sugar is addictive; the cravings caused by sugar are the similar to those induced by nicotine or cocaine. Excessive consumption of sugar has been linked to cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, autism and nearly every known source of chronic disease. And it’s everywhere–just check the ingredient labels on salad dressings, Gatorade, peanut butter and many other unsuspecting food sources. For a complete guide to quitting sugar that also includes inspiring testimonials and practical strategies, check out Sarah Wilson’s blog, I Quit Sugar.

6. Smile more. Like breathing, the act of smiling seems too simple, too reflexive to have any impact on our health. But surprising research has shown otherwise. A 2010 Wayne State University study, for example, found a direct connection between the length of the smiles of pre-1950’s baseball players (on their baseball cards) and their life spans. Those who smiled brightly in their photos lived an average of eight years longer than those who didn’t smile. Similarly, British researchers postulated that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate. The problems is that, while children smile as many as 400 times a day, by the time they reach adulthood, many report smiling less than 14 times a day, providing other unsuspecting inroads to chronic disease: depression and low energy.

Today, the amount of choices we have in what we consume and how we spend our time is far beyond what our ancestors could have ever imagined. But, as the wise saying goes, with great freedom comes great responsibility. Failing to make good choices for our health can have serious consequences, which is why following these six simple strategies can add years to your life… and life to your years!

Questions: Which one of these resonate with you the most? Why do you think that is? What are some other strategies you have employed to improve your health and well being? I’d love to hear your feedback!

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Five Reasons to Sign up for the FML Winter Games

Ever since I started running more than 25 years ago, I’ve been a dedicated fitness enthusiast, a choice that has added energy, health, and adventure to my life. Along with running, I have enjoyed biking (both mountain and road biking), cross-country skiing, triathalons, and more recently, Crossfit.

And although I’ve enjoyed some more than others, there is one step–one “best practice”–that, in every pursuit, propelled my success, personal growth, and enjoyment.

I signed up for competitions.

As a runner, I entered 5K’s, 10K’s and half marathons. When I turned 30, I completed the New York City Marathon, which was the fulfillment of a lifelong goal. When I discovered mountain biking, I did the Ice Man, one of the most physically demanding endurance events I ever completed. Similarly, when I took up “skate skiing” in my early 40’s, I entered the North American Vasa. And three years ago, when a frustrating battle with achilles tendonitis sidelined me from running, I jumped into Crossfit, a high intensity combination of Olympic Weightlifting, gymnastics, and boot camp-style training. Each of those years, I signed up to compete in the Crossfit Open, an international competition with more than 300,000 athletes.

Regardless of how I finished, I’ve never regretted these experiences. Stepping into the competitive arena, regardless of your skill level, always makes you better.

And this year, despite turning 56 three weeks ago, I’m planning to compete in the first-ever Fit My Life (FML) Winter Games here in Traverse City during the first weekend in February. If you’ve made a commitment to improving your fitness in 2017, then chances are this 2-day competition will also appeal to you! Here are five reasons to participate:

via Fit My Life

1. Develop your confidence. In an earlier post, I reflected on some great advice I received from a mentor, that life begins at the edge of your comfort zone. We don’t grow when we’re comfortable; it is when we push past our self-imposed limits and surprise ourselves that we really progress in life. (You may also want to check out my earlier post on developing a growth mindset).

2. Jumpstart your progress. No matter where you are in terms of your fitness goals, the fact is, signing up for a competition is like having one of those “fast-passes” at Disney World. You will be amazed at how much further and faster you progress as an athlete.

3. Make new friendships with like-minded people. One of the best attributes of Fit My Life (FML) is the sense of community. There are seasoned fitness athletes working out alongside beginners in an encouraging and supportive atmosphere. This kind of encouraging, ‘we’re all in this together’ style of competition really brings out the best in people.

4. There are Beginner and Advanced Categories available. Whether you’re a seasoned fitness fanatic or a total beginner, you’ll be able to compete in a category with people of similar ability and experience.

5. This is more than a competition. Saturday’s festivities will include food, craft beer, and great live music. Celebrate your accomplishment with friends and fellow competitors.

BONUS: Support a local charity! All proceeds from the FML Winter Games event will support Veteran to Veteran, a mentoring program for area Vets.

To be clear, this competition will not be easy–you will be challenged both physically and mentally. But you’ve probably experienced something similar at some point in your life. Maybe it was learning a new skill, dealing with an illness or personal setback, or taking on a challenge you’d never done before. They are difficult when they are happening, but, looking back, we have to admit:
This is where the growth happens.
This is where your self confidence soars.
This is where real fulfillment resides.

If you’re looking to make 2017 your best year ever, discover the rewards of taking a trip outside your comfort zone by signing up for the FML Winter Games.

To register online or simply find out more about the event, visit www.FitMyLifeTraverseCity.com.

Question: What’s the greatest physical or athletic challenge you have encountered? How did you prepare for it, and how did you feel afterwards?

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