My Paris Mountain 50K Experience

Each year it is my goal to have one major physical challenge that gives me something to focus on and that takes me outside my comfort zone. This year that one big thing was a 50K Trail Run on Paris Mountain. I want to share what I learned from the experience in hopes that you can learn something, as well.

First, I would like to share my “WHY” for doing this particular challenge. My reason for choosing this challenge was much more for the mental and spiritual aspects not about health or fitness. One big reason was to challenge some of my own beliefs about myself. For instance, I realized that I had begun identifying a a non runner or at best a “crappy” runner. This was not always the case. I actually ran track from seventh through 12th grade and even managed a personal best 4:46 mile and 2:05 half mile. Certainly not great times but if I could run those times now I would consider myself pretty fast. So, where did this new identity originate?

While in college my training focus was on getting stronger and building muscle. I even competed in a few bodybuilding contests. I was told and chose to believe that it was not possible or least not optimal to try and gain muscle and strength while running. I bought into this belief and stopped running. It was as if you had to choose between the two. We now know that it is possible to do both.  Many special operators carry quiet a bit of muscle mass and are very strong yet they are also very good runners. Alex Viada, author of “Hybrid Training” is an extreme example of this capacity. He is known for being able to deadlift 700 pounds on Monday and run a 50K Ultra the following Saturday. So, this belief, which I believed to be true at the time, I know now is a false belief and looking back it was also a limiting belief of my potential.

Years later, when I started back running I was not as proficient at it and when I began to experience issues with my hip it actually became painful. This was not the pain I normally associated with pushing the body during hard physical training but rather pain that appeared to be damaging. After, having surgery on both hips I thought I might be able to run again and enjoy it pain free. This really wasn’t the case. It seemed that every time I would try to run even as short a distance as one mile my hip would start to hurt again. I began to think that maybe running just isn’t for me anymore. At the end of of last year, partially inspired by a couple of books I had read, I began to question my belief. What if I had created another false belief. Maybe it wasn’t that I couldn’t run but that I needed to put in the time to get better at it.

I set the goal of running a marathon in 2019 to test this belief. On October 19th, I finished the Paris Mountain 50k. Some of the things I learned I already knew from previous such challenges but were reinforced with this challenge. Others were more specific to this particular challenge.

1. It helps to have goals and targets. I have said this on many occasions, but as humans we are teleological by nature. We do better when we have a target to aim for. Also, if you make the goal a stretch goal and one that is daunting you have a better chance to create the necessary activation energy to actually take action. There were many times in training when I did not want to run and as I began to make more trips to Paris Mountain for training runs I realized that without a specific target I would have avoided many of those training runs. Also, if I had opted to sign up for the 25k versus the 50k I may have felt it was ok to skip a few of those planned trainings.

2. When taking on these types of challenges it often helps to have someone else doing the challenge with you or at least supporting you in the challenge. Thanks, Ryan Miller, for encouraging me to take on this challenge with you. I am pretty confident that if Ryan would have said he was done after that first 25k I would have said I’m done also. So, thanks for pushing on and getting me to do the same. Most of what I learned from the experience came on that second loop. Also, thanks to family and everyone else who offered words of encouragement leading up to the challenge and checked on me after the race. I think my answer was pretty standard after the race. When asked how I did, I replied “I survived barely”. Those words of encouragement mean a lot. I still remember how much encouragement I received during Kokoro 21 and that was years ago.

3. Sometimes you just don’t know until you try. Much of what can hold us back is our belief about what we think we are capable of. Brian Johnson speaks of the three key components of “Making Hope Happen” from Lopez’s book of the same name.
A. Know that our future can be better than our present reality and have a clear goal we are after.
B. Believe we have the power to get there or as he calls it “Agency”.
C. Be wiling to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to get there. He calls this “pathways”.
If we examine those components, we will see belief show up in two of them. The bottom line is, as I see it, is that if we don’t have belief then we will not have the “Agency” to take action. The problem is that we often don’t have any idea what we are capable of until we are actually willing to try.
I wasn’t sure how my body would hold up in preparation for and during this race. A part of me was saying this is a bad idea while another part was saying don’t listen to the whiny, weak, voice and just get out there and do it. When I started more specific training for the race there were some days I had some pretty significant discomfort during and after runs. Fortunately, this discomfort didn’t linger for more than a day or so and didn’t seem to be worsening from one session to the next. There were even a few times when I really felt good after the runs.
During the actual race itself I felt probably as good as I had during any of my training for the first loop of the course. Although, I had not run the exact route before the race I had trained enough to know that the cut off time for the first 25k of 4.5 hours would be a push for me. I completed it in just a little over 4 hours and was pretty pleased with that. I had not eaten much of anything during the first 25K and hadn’t had much to drink either so I knew I needed to eat and drink before setting back out again. A major mistake was sitting down to do so. When I went to stand up I could hardly do so. When I went to walk I knew I was in trouble. I didn’t know if this was going to get any better or if it was going to get worse. Eventually, I was able to get moving a little better and even managed to run some of the last 25 k. Sometimes you just don’t know until you try.

4. There can be many different paths leading to the same destination. I am very fortunate and blessed to be able to pursue two of my main passions and actually make a living in that pursuit. I love High Intensity Training and Jiujitsu. It is in my nature and probably most other people’s also to want everyone to love what you do. HIT and Jiujitsu have had such a profound impact on my life that I want to share them so that they can have a similar impact on others. So much to the point where I would find myself getting frustrated if someone didn’t see these things the same way I do. What I now know is that each person has to find their own path and that there is not “ONE” way but many. Stepping foot on a different path just to experience it can be very humbling and eye opening. That was the case for me. I already had great respect for those stepping out on the trail, but even greater respect now. It also reminded me of what it is like to be a beginner and I like to think that may help me to be more empathetic to those new to my path.

Your Future Self

The focus of week 4 of the Spiritual Challenge will be on creating your “Future Self”.  This is another exercise I learned from Mark Divine.  The “Future Self” exercise is a visualization practice to help you see yourself as you would like to be.  As the saying goes, “If your mind can conceive it, and your heart can believe it, then you can achieve it.”

This visualization can also be thought of as creating or altering your identity. Of course, this exercise assumes that you want to change, evolve, or be a better version of yourself. In the book “Atomic Habits”, James Clear discusses the importance of identity and how it relates to creating new habits or breaking old ones. He says there are three layers of behavior change.

1. The first layer is changing your outcomes.
2. The second layer is changing your process.
3. The third and deepest level is changing your identity.

In the book, he says the problem is not that one layer is more important than the other but rather the direction of change. Many people begin by focusing on what they want to achieve. An alternative approach is to focus on who you want to become.

In his book, “I Forgot to Die”,  Khalil Rafati, has a transformative moment when his sponsor finally asks him a simple question, “Who would you be without your story?” Khalil was a recovering drug addict who had come from an abusive home, dropped out of high school, and now at nearly 40 years of age was challenged by his sponsor to let go of the past and focus on the future. Kahlil is now owner of Malibu BeachYoga and Sunlife Organics a popular juice and smoothie bar with over 10 locations throughout California which making millions of dollars a year.

The “Future Self” visualization is designed to help you become your best optimized self.

Start this exercise by finding a quiet place to sit and meditate.  Then begin by box breathing taking deep breaths in the following manner.  Breathe in for five seconds, hold five seconds, exhale for five seconds, hold for five and repeat.  While doing this method of deep breathing begin to visualize yourself as if you are the person you want to be.  How do you feel?  How do you look?  How do you act?  Continue to visualize yourself as this person until it becomes very real to you.

Once you have created your future self, begin to act “as if” you are that person.  If you, at anytime, are having difficulty seeing yourself as being successful, you can come back to this exercise to recreate your “future self” again and again.  The more you practice the more real it will become and the greater your chance of turning your goal into reality.

This exercise is one that is great to start the new year. It works best if integrated with the other exercises that are part of the spiritual challenge such as eliminating the negative stories and beliefs (BOO), positively believing you can achieve it (What Wolf Are You Feeding), and of course, massive action.

Commit  •  Show Up  •  Don’t Quit  •  Be Uncommon  •  Be Your Best Self

– Billy

Philosophy of Training: Part 5

I began this series of articles on my training philosophy by expressing my belief in the importance of knowing the why behind what you are doing and a general philosophy to guide you in the proper direction. I would like to take a step back to discuss this in a little more detail.

It is my goal to provide the program, tools, and coaching to help you achieve your goals. I will strive to continue to learn more in order to bring you the best. Of course, as I learn more I also realize there is much I don’t know. This is an ever evolving process. As it is part of my personal philosophy to have a purpose or why behind everything we do, I will always have a why based on my current knowledge.

What I encourage you to do is to understand your why, as well. We have discussed this idea of knowing your “WHY” on many occasions. When I have discussed this previously it has been focused more on a big picture “WHY” or purpose. What I would now challenge you do to is to take this concept to include your training on a daily basis. We design each session with a purpose and we want to articulate that purpose. It is our goal to have our purpose for the training and your why for your training to be congruent. Otherwise, it would not make logical sense for you to train with us.

Our training is intended to be integrative. When we consider the training from an integrative perspective we tend to talk about mind, body, spirit. We will save the discussion on the spirit for another day but we can break the mind and body components down to:

1. Physical Adaptation
2. Mental
3. Psychological

When it comes to physical adaptation we focus on
1. Movement
2. Strength
3. Conditioning

Each training session will focus on one or more of these areas. Here are some of the benefits and adaptions we aim to improve.
1. Strength
2. Cardiorespiratory Health and Fitness
3. Body Composition ( increased muscle and/or decreased body fat)
4. Flexibility
5. Bone density
6. Endurance
7. Stamina
8. Power
9. Resilience and Anti-fragility

When it comes to the requirements for physical adaptation, especially as it relates to strength and conditioning, you need a three step process to occur.
1. You need to provide a stimulus and
2.You then need to allow adequate time and resources (nutrition, sleep, etc) to recover.
3. For improvement to occur you need not only to recover but to super compensate in order to positively adapt.
This process was covered in our discussion on stress response.

The mental and psychological benefits of training could be placed under one category but for our purposes we will have two different categories in order to differentiate a few points.

When I refer to mental benefits of training I am referring to things such as :
1. Improved self confidence
2. Increased mental toughness
3. Emotional Resiliency

When I refer to to psychological, I am referring to things more related to the neurotransmitters in the brain as discussed in John Ratey’s book ‘Spark”. He tells us that exercising “is like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin because, like the drugs, exercise elevates these neurotransmitters.”

The bottom line: “exercise balances neurotransmitters — along with the rest of the neurochemicals in the brain.”  You can read the Brian Johnson’s Philosopher’s Note on the book “Spark”.

These benefits are related to movement and physical activity in general not specific training.

The goal of our training is to provide all of the benefits of the physical, mental, and psychological. It is also our goal to educate you on what exercise might be best suited to reach your goals and what intensity, frequency, and volume is optimal to help you attain those goals as safely, effectively, and efficiently as possible.

A simple example to illustrate this approach is as follows. If your goal is to become stronger, add lean muscle, increase bone density, and become better conditioned you may need only one or two bouts of high intensity strength training lasting between 10 and 20 minutes performed each week. If the stimulus is of high enough intensity to stimulate optimal gains you will most likely not be able to recover and adapt with more of the same. However, if you also would like the mental and psychological benefits associated with less intense exercise you may choose to train more frequently without that same level of intensity and get the best of both worlds. This is the current model of our training template.

If you are more concerned with the physical adaptations and less with the mental then you might very well do better in some cases with less training but higher intensity and more recovery. On the other hand, if you are more interested in the mental benefits you may do better by training more frequently with less intensity. The problem, as I see it, occurs in most commonly in the following two situations.
1. You make the mistake of training too intensely everyday without the ability to recover. Eventually this can lead to burnout or injury. (Been there done that).
2. Your goal is to become stronger and/or better conditioned and you focus on volume and frequency of training rather than quality and intensity. As a result, your intensity of training remains moderate compared to your potential and you hit a plateau.

Hopefully, this gives you some insight into your training and helps you on your path to becoming your best self.

Philosophy of Training: Part 2

In Part 1 of this series of articles on the Philosophy of Training, I wanted to establish the importance of having a philosophy.  In Part 2, I want to go a little deeper into my philosophy.

I mentioned in part 1, that reading the Nautilus Training Principles was my first recollection of reading anything that applied logic and true scientific principles to strength training. I had read other things that implied the use of principles. The old Muscle and Fitness magazines spoke of the Weider Instinctive principle, which basically meant that you trained based on what you feel you need to do. There is definitely something to creating an awareness to your body and how you feel but the principle is not based on either logic or science.

As I have been thinking of this series of articles, I have been putting a lot of thought into whether or not we as humans value being logical in our thoughts and actions. If we do, are we actually logical in our actions. My belief is that most people would say that they are logical. I think that most of us believe we are evolved beings and that we act rationally and logically. However, when observing many of our actions they appear to be driven by emotion and primal desires. This is not meant as a criticism but is meant to get you to think about this very fact. Nearly everyday, if not everyday, I catch myself doing, thinking, or saying something that upon reflection supports the above statement. This idea goes far beyond training but I believe it is relevant for our discussion on exercise and training.

I believe, based on my observations watching people train for 30 years, that in general, most people don’t have a logical reason for what they do for training based on the stated goals they have for training. It is for that reason that I want to give you the why behind every training session we have at Alliance. There is a purpose behind every training session. I also want to make sure I am clear in the distinction, between what I am referring to as training versus working out and/or movement in general. Although each of these can be beneficial for your overall heath and fitness, there is a difference.

Going back to the Nautilus Training Principles there was a similar distinction outlined as the “Five Distinctions Between Exercise and Recreation”. These distinctions were covered in greater detail in Ken Hutchins’s book on SuperSlow and “The Renaissance of Exercise”.

Exercise                          Recreation

Logical                             Instinctive
Universal                          Personal
General                            Specific
Physical                            Mental
Not Fun                             Fun

I am not in 100% agreement with these distinctions but they are interesting to consider.

I am in agreement that optimal exercise or training should be logical. My philosophy is that you should know why you are doing what you are doing if you want to be as efficient and effective as possible. One of the biggest take aways here is that we will often choose what we like to do versus what we know we need to do in order to move towards a goal. Just go to any Big Box gym on Monday’s and you will find all the bench presses taken but will always be able to find an open squat rack. This will be the case despite many of those waiting in line to use the bench press have skinny chicken legs.

Universal/Personal and General/Specific
I am tying these together because they are similar discussions. When it comes to exercise or training we all have similar and general needs. For example, we all have the same muscle and joint functions. In general we all require the same type of movement. I believe it is important to be able to perform basic movement patterns and develop strength in those patterns.

Basic Movement Patterns
Vertical Pull
Vertical Push
Horizontal Pull
Horizontal Push

These movements would be both universal and general for everyone. What exercises and how you choose to perform them would be more personal and specific. Your specific goals will also influence what exercise you do. One issue, as I see it, is when we skip or ignore the general training for the specific and personal. Another issue is when we get attached to a personal or specific exercise and forget the original purpose for the exercise. Let’s use running as an example. Let’s say you were a runner in the past and you enjoyed it. You started running to get in better cardiovascular shape and to lose some unwanted body fat. Years later you have a knee issue and running hurts. You want to continue running and when asked why you say to lose a few more pounds and to improve your cardio. My recommendation would be one of two things. 1) correct the issue with the knee so that you don’t continue to cause further damage 2) consider a different approach to achieve the same intended goal (focus on nutrition for fat loss combined with strength training and high intensity low force interval training for cardio). If you choose to run that is fine but realize you are making the decision base on personal and specific reasons.

Training and exercise can be both mental and physical. I personally believe that the benefits of physical training can be as important for the mind as they can be for the body. However, I think it is important to make the distinction again of why you are training. On one end of the spectrum, if you are training just to relieve stress or feel better that is ok but also realize if you are not putting the intensity or mental focus into your training you are not likely to optimize the physical benefits. Vice Versa if you are training for a crucible style event like a marathon, Kokoro, etc. you may gain incredible insight mentally and spiritually but are also increasing your risk of physical injury.

Not Fun/Fun
This is an interesting distinction. I have actually had fun, no pun intended, joking with some clients about this one. I have sometimes jokingly asked, “Do you want to train or do you want to be entertained?” Productive training is hard and if you derive pleasure and a sense of accomplishment from that hard training, then it is fun.  I personally believe exercise and training can be fun. However, it does not have to be a requirement. Sometimes the things that will benefit us most and get us out of our comfort zone are not going to be fun.

Hopefully this will get you to think about your training differently. I look forward to continuing this philosophical discussion and welcome your thoughts on the subject.

Commit, Show Up, Don’t Quit, Be Uncommon, Be Your Best Self<


Philosophy of Training: Part 1

I came up with FITFLO as a way to better articulate my philosophy of training. The acronym describes the purpose of this philosophy which is to integrate the fundamentals of life optimization to become our best selves.I consider it very important to have a philosophy of training. If I take it a step further, I would say that I find it important to have a philosophy of life in general. I can’t really pinpoint where this idea came from but when it comes to training I think it might have been when I first began to study the Nautilus Training Principles. I believe this was the first time that I remember studying principles that made logical sense. Previously I had mostly tried to imitate the training programs of others whom I wanted to emulate.

What does it actually mean to have a philosophy? When I looked up the definition of philosophy I discovered that it’s literal translation from Greek means “love of wisdom”.  I would definitely say that I do have a love for learning especially, when it comes to training and life optimization. However, I believe the following explanation of why anyone needs philosophy better suits my interpretation.

Question: Why does anyone need a philosophy?

Answer:  “You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. Your only choice is whether these principles are true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational convictions—or a grab-bag of notions snatched at random, whose sources, validity, and consequences you do not know, notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a hot potato if you knew.” ( Ayn Rand , Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 5)

I realize that not everyone has a philosophy especially, when it comes to training. Even if they do have a philosophy, it may be different from mine. If I am to be honest, I also realize that this has been a source of frustration over the years. If I have learned one thing from my quest for knowledge it is that I don’t know everything. However, I do have a lot of experience in what works and doesn’t work and that has been integrated into “MY” philosophy which I would like to share and hope you benefit from.

I have posted on the FITFLO blog several old articles discussing my philosophy of strength. In this next series of articles I want to try and keep it simple and practical. For me, it is important to understand the why behind what you are doing.

Observations on Strength

The Alliance Functional Fitness Training System has three main components:

1. Movement
2. Strength
3. Conditioning

I have been placing a big emphasis on movement as of late. It has become the number one priority in our training system. This has not always been the case. For a number of years, I would have to say that strength was the first priority and the cornerstone of our physical training program. So, to make movement the number one priority is not meant to underscore the importance of strength.To quote Mark Rippetoe, “Stronger people are harder to kill and generally more useful”. Strength is still very important but I now look at it from a different perspective.

Let us first look at the importance of strength from a health and longevity perspective. Once we reach the age of 25 our metabolism slows about 2-4% per decade. We also lose about five pounds of muscle per decade. Much of this decrease can be attributed to the decrease in lean muscle mass. The hand grip strength test has been used as a general indicator of strength and is considered by some to be a better indicator of overall health than cardiovascular condition. Fortunately, we can reverse or delay the affect of aging with good old high-intensity exercise. Notice I said high-intensity exercise. Low-intensity exercise does little in the way of maintaining or increasing lean body mass.

My perspective on what I consider high-intensity exercise to gain strength and muscle has changed over time. I used to think primarily in terms of more or less conventional resistance training as the main tool for stimulating these strength and muscle gains. Heck, I still remember the first day lifting weights in an organized training program. I was a very skinny kid n the 7th grade and my football coach encouraged me to start lifting weights. My first trip to the weight room involved a circuit on an old Univeral machine. The very next day, upon seeing my coach, he asked me how much I bench pressed. I guess that stuck because I have used the basic lifts such as the squat, bench, and deadlift as the main tools to build and test strength over the years. Although these exercises are very effective for building strength and muscle they are not the only way. They are also good tools for measuring individual improvement in strength but are certainly not the best way to compare strength from one person to the next.

Athletes who compete and excel in strength sports such as powerlifting, strongman, Olympic lifting, etc, are very strong. However, if you look at these athletes you will notice that very few of them will be good at all of those sports. The reason is that when it comes to measuring strength from one individual to another things such as leverage play a vital role. Now, if you take athletes who compete in sports that don’t require strength but don’t test for strength in that sport then you will not always be able to judge that athlete’s strength in the sport. For example, in the sport of Jiu Jitsu, you can feel if someone is strong or not yet the weight room may not be a good indicator of strength. I am reminded of Jim, one of my old training partners from Atlanta, who was one of the strongest guys I have ever felt on the mat. We started talking about training with kettle bells one day and he told me how much he liked them. It turns out the kettle bells he trained with were like 12 kgs.

One of the things I have fallen in love with lately is the strongman style lifts. This includes sled work, sandbags, farmers walks, etc. It is not necessarily as easy to measure gains in these lifts as with conventional methods but when it comes to improving functional strength I believe they may be as good or better. For some people, I definitely believe they are better. For most of these exercises, there is less stress on the spine, less eccentric loading, and very low skill. In a nutshell this means you can train with more intensity while being safer and less sore. We have seen great gains across the board using these tools. Everybody, from our young Parisi athletes getting stronger and putting on muscle to our OG class getting stronger, have made gains using these tools.

To summarize my observations on strength:
1. Strength is important for longer health and functional ability
2. Strength is individual (find a way to build it that resonates with you and do it)