Finding the I in Team

Ragg Mopps – the whole team at the finish line.

Let’s just say I had my doubts going into my first RAGNAR relay.

The RAGNAR concept is this: Twelve people divided into two vans embark on a relay race. With one runner on the course all the time, they traverse 200 or so miles to the finish line. There are also ultra-runner teams who choose to run the same course with six people. In our case, the starting point was Saratoga Springs, NY and the finish line a mere 193.1 miles away at the Lake Placid Horse Show grounds.

Van 1 is Tracey, Rory, Jeff M, Jeff L, Josh, and me

Months ago, a co-worker, Allison, asked me if I had ever run a RAGNAR race, and would I ever consider one if the opportunity arose. No, I had not, and of course I’d consider any endurance event. A few days later an email arrived from Allison saying her RAGNAR team was a few runners short and would I like to join the team.

I’m in.

Then I read up on it.

Everything about the RAGNAR experience seemed awesome. Smiling people in team uniforms, costumes, and decorated vans running through communities around the clock, living out of a van and catching rest and food when they can. I’d never run in the wee hours of the morning, so the prospect of running under a clear, star-filled Adirondack sky at 3:45 am appealed to me.

But then it hit me. For the first time ever I would have to share something that, until now, had been a complete solo effort. Hmmm…

My support ‘team’ has always been with me over the long course of my endurance career – either on the sidelines cheering or somewhere else in the race heading for a finish line reunion. But, when I race, I race alone with my own thoughts at my own pace. I’d never had to rely, or be relied upon. Sharing something so personal felt odd. I wasn’t sure I’d like it.

In the weeks leading up to the race, several other runners were unable to toe the line, so I reached out to some gym mates and found myself surrounded by four friends in our van, with one runner we didn’t know. Rory, Tracey, Jeff L. and Jeff M., all members of CrossFit MidHudson, agreed to step into the unknown with me. Josh, who we would soon meet, was also a first-timer.

This would certainly be interesting.

From the very beginning we clicked, each of us making room for the others and finding room for themselves in our new vaniverse. We reveled in the weirdness of it all, and Josh fit right in.

Then, after a leg or two, Jeff L. realized we were ahead of schedule. Prior to the race, each team member submitted an estimated pace for the race, so each leg was theoretically timed in order for us to estimate when we would arrive at the checkpoints. Jeff L. pointed out we were beating our estimates.

That’s all it took. We were no longer running for ourselves, but for the team.

My first leg was 6.3 miles, which I dispatched faster than I had ever run that distance. Over the course of the ensuing 30 hours, we hung out with friends, laughed a whole lot, supported and encouraged each other, and, through our running, inspired each other to reach deeper, feel better, and run faster.

We celebrated every victory we could find – passing runners and other vans, never walking, shaving more and more time off our estimates, and remembering which band recorded that 90’s song. On occasion we’d stop at check points which, overnight, looked like Reebok-sponsored refugee camps. And, on occasion we’d meet up with our other teammates to commiserate and celebrate.

We were relying on each other, and it was okay.

It was at 3:45 am Saturday morning on my last leg when I realized I was running a long, straight stretch of paved darkness under a clear, star-filled Adirondack sky. It was beautiful. And I was alone…with friends.

In that moment I realized the brilliance of the RAGNAR concept; if you surround yourself with the right people, you just might find the I in ‘team.’

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get-out-of-your-own-way

Fill in the blank: I don’t ______.

I don’t run on treadmills. There was a time I traded winter’s chill for the warmth of the indoor trainer. To overcome the mind-numbing staleness I tried every distraction imaginable – ipod, magazines, television. Eventually I gave up and returned to the cold, wild outdoors where I now happily slog through slush and snow.

Winter, however, is unforgiving to those of us who begin and end our workday in its unrelenting darkness. But, that’s okay, I can still go to Crossfit Mid Hudson and get my workout in…

Fade out, then in on the competition logging miles on the treadmill, pushing the speed a little faster…

By creating my own limitation and crossing the treadmill off my bag of tricks I’ve taken my rightful place with my colleagues who will this Spring be scrambling to catch up to those fit gerbils who spent the winter working on their weakness and becoming stronger on their treadmills and indoor cycling trainers.

And I wonder why I never get faster, I mean I work really, really hard…

Those of us who enjoy pushing our limits must recognize when we are the ones fortifying rather than breaking down our boundaries.

What’s standing in the way of our dreams? How far out of reach is that career we desire? What needs to be done to hit that next personal best? Where have we settled when we absolutely should not have?

Just a quick word of advice as we enter the season of excuses – dissect your limits, you’ll find yourself in some of the details. The road to happiness is right there my friends, get out of your own way and go.

Common ground

story

One of the joys of being an athlete is telling stories.

From the everyday lessons and hilarious moments during training to epic fails and victories at races, as athletes we’re always ready to shoot the breeze about our experiences and listen to others recount their greatest hits.

These shared experiences render our differences irrelevant. Because of my athletic pursuits I’ve forged strong connections with people I would never have otherwise known. Had we met under different circumstances, we would never have connected on such a meaningful level.

Perhaps we would have been at odds on most issues and written each other off.

Endurance sports have taken me to so many venues where inevitably I meet people who share my passion. Facebook then enables us to look beyond the connection and realize the differences. Yet, our connection remains as long as there’s that passion and new stories to tell.

My recent dive into Crossfit has placed me among an amazing group of people who could be my sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, or even, dare I say, a grandkid or two.Yet, whether we’re in or out of the Box, our common love of CF breaks down generational walls, making room for everything truly important, like our distaste for burpees and thrusters.

The only time we ever diverge is when the rare 80’s tune is played to my obvious delight. \m/!

So, why doesn’t this work in the workplace? Too often factions form, controversy brews, and trouble breaks out.

This is the litmus test for shared passion and great team building.

When diverging personalities come together without a common ground, there’s potential for disaster. That’s when leaders need to act quickly to find a connection between people to build on. It can be done, but it takes hard work.

Some time ago I took over a team with a number of vacancies. Instead of merely filling these positions I created an overall strategy for building a stronger team that would connect on a deeper level than their jobs. When the team was assembled, I could tell it was successful from the outset. Lunch gatherings were as hilarious as they were instructive, conversations abounded, and the brainstorming fed a collective creativity that produced amazing ideas.

I built a team with the right people whose connection transcended the work we were doing.

Let’s face it, why would we spend our free time working out with or partying with people we didn’t connect with? Yet, so many people spend the better part of their week with strangers, and the less we have in common with them the harder it is.

As leaders it’s our responsibility to build teams, which means we must bring passion and connection into the picture before we do anything else. People will ignore a whole lot of differences between them when they are connected meaningfully. If all they have are their differences, then nature will take its course.

Step one is getting to know your people and writing down their traits, hobbies, and activities. Perhaps you could begin something extracurricular under the umbrella of your wellness program or as a conscious team building exercise. This doesn’t have to happen in secret. Your colleagues may even appreciate the effort and help out.

You must be a catalyst for change at work by drilling into what makes your people happy and resetting your team’s course, reminding them about their common passions. Along with this being great for business, it makes of one heck of a fun place to work.

The art of science

Bowling-Soccer-3

Recovery is science wrapped in art.

So many people I know are Type A’s who dive headfirst into everything. There they are, entrenched in their work and athletic life, leaving little or no time to recover.

In order to achieve our dreams and live life to the fullest we must incorporate mindful recovery into everything we do.

Athletically, this is based in science. Nothing good happens when we workout. After an intensely satisfying session we’ve stretched, stressed, and torn our muscles, preparing them to rebuild stronger. The key is to give them time to rebuild and not just get right back into breaking them down again and again.

Professionally this is as much psychology as anything else. Weekends don’t count when you’re in it neck deep all week. Our responsibilities stay with us when we clock out, never too far away from our psyche.

A week ago, my friend Mario got a cold. That might not have been so significant except for the fact that this morning he’s running the Philadelphia Marathon.

Mario posted his concern on Facebook, worried that potentially a week sidelined by illness may derail his plans. The beauty of the post was that every single person who responded encouraged him to relax and stop worrying, that the recovery would do him good and that his goals were still well within reach.

I was one of those who provided words of encouragement, and I wonder how many others, like me, easily gave advice we would find difficult to follow ourselves.

So, how to break free?

As for work, I will tell you with complete certainty you cannot count on weekends to really recharge. In the case of a Monday through Friday schedule you simply must regularly schedule midweek time for yourself, not to run errands and catch up on life, but to do something you love to do.

Going to the dentist is not recovery.

And, those things you already do that you feel offer you respite, like spending time at home with family and friends, are all good, but you can take your recovery to new levels by trying new and different things.

See what the mall looks like on a Wednesday afternoon, visit a local town you haven’t been to in a while on a Tuesday morning, or, as I did a few weeks ago, check out the local bowling alley with your colleagues on a Friday afternoon.

The positive effects of true time off are rooted in the joy of playing hookey. There’s a dose of defiance and anti-establishment combined with our basic and often overlooked need to play necessary for this to work. You must fully embrace making a selfish choice in an environment that values selflessness.

Call it what it is – playtime.

Recently a number of coworkers have discovered a local playground they’ve begun visiting at lunchtime. The brief escape provided by a swing set and slide recharges them, and they return with energy, enthusiasm, and most importantly a genuine smile, armed to take on the afternoon.

You shouldn’t have to twist your own arm to recover. It should be as much a part of your week as work, working out, and life’s other obligations.

Let me know how you schedule recovery into your life, and if you don’t yet, let me know how you plan to embrace this wonderfully selfish pursuit and how it affects your life.

When you take time to recover, the science behind it will make you feel better. You however are the artist who must paint this important color into your masterpiece.

Me vs. 155

Will

A few more words on motivation.

After posting my last blog I competed in Crossfit Mid Hudson’s version of Festivus, a competition designed for Crossfit newcomers. As the day unfolded I realized the line between my words and life had been obliterated.

My world became pure motivational inspiration.

ladder

The first workout of the competition was called a Thruster Ladder, pictured above, the challenge being to see how far we could get by doing one thruster a minute beginning at 65 pounds and increasing 10 pounds every minute until we got to 155 pounds. When you had either completed or failed at your highest weight, you filled the rest of your minute with single jump ropes, adding to your score.

Until the competition, the most weight I had ever thrust correctly was 85 pounds. Anything else seemed physically impossible.

With the barbells lined up on the floor in 10-pound increments, I went first in my heat. Every minute on the minute the assembly line of competitors accomplished the thruster at hand then moved like clockwork to the next one. It was all fun and games until 105.

At 105 pounds I started to think. I was in the ‘personal best’ zone now. Not exactly being known for my Olympic weightlifting skills I began second guessing my ability to blaze these weight trails with my compatriots behind me. My inner voice was not fueling my fire.

However, every other voice in the room was.

My team of crossfitters willed me on. There were no doubts in their minds I would complete the next thruster and the next and so on. Their decisiveness drowned out my inner voice, replacing it with theirs. As I approached the bar I knew I would succeed – no doubts.

Looking down at the 135-pound bar it occurred to me this had been a significant weight for me six months earlier when I had clean and jerked it as a new personal best. That was then and this is now, I thought, piece of cake.

Well, listen to Mr. Confident…

I brought the bar up and went into my squat clean and managed to stand tall. When I pushed the bar up to get it overhead it stalled at eye level. I pushed again to no avail and dropped it. My first failed attempt.

If you had asked me what my strategy was at the beginning of this event I would have told you as soon as I failed on a lift I would immediately begin my jump ropes in order to maximize my score. Everything was different now. My people were behind me 100%, encouraging me to focus, breath, take my time, and get that damn weight up!

I glanced at my jump rope and smiled. Hell no, I would lift this weight and move on to the next. I did just that.

One hundred and forty five pounds held the same fate for me, a failed attempt followed by success. The crowd’s cheer exploded as I realized I was performing far beyond the expectations of everyone – except everyone around me. I had become an extension of them, powerless to do anything but complete the task at hand – do the weight.

One hundred and fifty five pounds proved to be my new nemesis. Two failed attempts jettisoned me to my jump ropes, where I vowed to tangle with my new foe on another day.

All day long, three separate events with four heats each, we took turns inspiring and being inspired. As I judged Will Santiago (black and white picture at top) through his paces I became his most vocal fan, urging him on and becoming one of many voices in a chorus that had decided he too would power through each challenge that lay ahead.

If motivation and inspiration could be bottled, we could have stored away pounds of it at our Festivus event. The feelings were genuine, specific, and bountiful. We were swimming in a pool of encouragement, every one of us drenched in it like the sweat that poured from our bodies.

I can’t emphasize enough to you to make sure you are putting yourself in similar situations no matter where you are, work or play. You are worth nothing less than someone’s complete attention and investment, and they are worth yours.

You can’t teach nice

team

If you haven’t surrounded yourself with people who inspire you, don’t be surprised if you’re not inspired.

Over the years job requirements have gotten laser specific. Gone are the days of the good natured utility player; someone who can do a little of everything and be reassigned to your organization’s greatest need. In our review of resumes we’ve created a cold science of matching skills to skills. When those rare hits are found, we too often end our search based more on qualifications than anything else.

I fear we’ve made it easier to create teams of uninspiring, humorless people, resulting in uninspiring, humorless teams.

How then do we screen for humor and inspiration?

The other night I showed up at Crossfit Mid Hudson a little early and watched the class before mine finish their workout of the day (WOD.) A WOD is a workout measured in time, repetitions, or rounds that you complete with other people who are also competing for the best time or most reps against their own best times and everyone else in the room, which is affectionately referred to as the Box.

A friend was struggling through the paces of the day’s tough WOD when the magic took over. At every struggled step on her journey someone encouraged her to ‘stay tough,’ ‘keep going,’ ‘be strong.’ She completed the WOD and collapsed to the floor, only to be congratulated by the same people she was competing against seconds earlier.

Under the right circumstances the Crossfit model works wonders. Although each person’s time is recorded as a solo exercise, there is a strong sense of teamwork, encouragement, and inspiration. Everything in the WOD is designed to make you give up, but the fire inside you fanned by everyone around you makes you finish.

In the case of Crossfit, you don’t always get a chance to choose who’s surrounding you. However, at work and most other training opportunities you do.

How have you surrounded yourself with the right people?

In the case of your team you absolutely must have a legal way of screening for inspiration and humor. Have you ever asked these questions?

  • Tell me what inspires you.
  • How have you inspired others, specifically?
  • Tell me about a time when you were inspired to exceed a goal.
  • If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you want to play you? Why?
  • If you were a car, what would you be? Why?
  • If you had one year with no financial obligations what would you do with the time?

Curve balls in an interview are necessary just to see this prospective team member’s reaction. And, you can learn so much about someone as they reveal the answers to these questions. Remember, you’re hiring for your team, a coveted membership to an elite group. Not just anyone deserves to be a member, and you can’t teach nice.

This is true for our training partners. There should be a give and take that inspires and challenges everyone involved, whether it’s a large group or one other person. Your training can be serious, but never too serious.

Your time and effort are worth more than you could ever quantify. Since we’re surrounded by people in so much of what we do, make sure the criteria for joining Team You is as high as it can be, and that you are screening for the right qualities.