It’s not about the food.

Lance Armstrong is an amazing man.  The winner of one of the most demanding, rewarding, and impossible feats in all of sport, (and seven times over), he seems driven to do something more than just ride.  He conquers.  Vanquishes. Beats into submission, every day, the cells, hurdles, and excuses which make him angry.

What, you didn’t know he was angry?  If you haven’t read “It’s Not About the Bike”, I’d highly recommend it.  I’ve never read a book where anger clearly fuels someone to a degree that it leaps off the page at you as his does.  Where did The Big A come from?  Well, from what I remember (and it’s been a few years)  Lance came from a family that catered heavily in disfunction, and used it to fuel his rise in a sport where he didn’t belong.  He was repeatedly told he wouldn’t succeed at things.  One day, a local bike shop owner took a chance, and gave him the opportunity to ride with a local team as a junior triathlete.   Of course, Lance started winning.  Then, he went into cycling.  People said he was too big too muscular to be a cyclist, but he kept riding.  Then the Big C came and got him, and the doctors said he’d never ride again.  And one more time he rode away from it, and won SIX MORE Tours.  So when he says it’s not about the bike, he’s right – when you read Lance’s story, you realize in his mind, it’s about being mad enough, and strong enough, and smart enough, to do what’s right for yourself, at any cost.

I was thinking about Lance last night as I picked up my trekking poles and wandered through my neighborhood, down to the lakefront, and along the path.  Hauling around with aluminum-tipped sticks after dark in the city made me feel just a little invincible – and that was a good thing.  [Because I really shouldn’t be running just yet, I’m sticking with the nordic walking and swimming until I’m 100%, while still gearing up for a 5k or 10k at Thanksgiving. ]  But I wasn’t thinking about my weapon-esque exercise devices last night – I was thinking about the healthy way to handle the upcoming holidays, because I’d challenge anyone to identify a hotbed of anger in American Family Life more dangerous than November 15-December 30, timeline.

Admit it.  I don’t care if you come from the land of Beaver Cleaver or Ted Bundy.  Families are a significant source of stress for all of us, particularly at the holidays, when we all want the better, happier, nicer version of our families (and ourselves) to just GET IT TOGETHER for a few days and pretend to be normal. I mean, I love my family, but we’d all be the first to admit that spending more than 24 hours in the direct vicinity of one another is a recipe for disaster.  Oh, wait, that’s not your family? Just mine? Okay, sure.  [Please click here for a definition of what just happened.]

So your family isn’t perfect.  Who is?  I know I’m not, and as soon as I realized that I didn’t have all the answers, (and, perhaps more important, couldn’t control what ANYONE else did) holidays got a lot easier.  That change didn’t happen overnight.  But (and here’s the punchline you’ve been waiting for) becoming a more active person actually helped me manage that process.  No, seriously.  Maybe it’s the non-military version of Escape and Evade, but it works in my house, and I’d bet it works in yours.  Need proof?

Think about what normally happens when you get really, really annoyed with your family.  What do you do?  If you’re reading this column, chances are you could, maybe, potentially, reach for the nearest baked good.  [When I’m in Cincinnati, that’s, hypothetically, a serving of chocolate chip cookies from Servati’s bakery. Yum.] Or maybe you wait, and find yourself doing a deep dive into a bag of pretzels.  [Hussman’s super salted, anyone?] Or – oh wait, was that the Golden Arches that just flew by your window?  Riiiight.   We all know how it works, and it’s called “let me just ignore what’s really going on here and just chew on that for a minute.  Or thirty.”  Next thing you know, there’s 3000 calories you can’t give back, and you’re in the middle of  shame spiral the likes of which could be the focus of an entire reality series. 

So how do you stop it?  Well, the experts call it “behavior modification”.  I call it “get the hell out of dodge”.   We’ll just call it the “Run Like Hell” strategy from here on out, and it goes like this:  someone upsets you?  Go for a run.  Someone annoys you?  Go climb the stairs.  Someone makes you question whether there really should be waiting limits for handgun purchases?  Go find a soccer ball and kick it up and down a field, then go chase it.  Give yourself the permission to act like a ten year old who is mad at the world and needs to take it out on something.  But use those powers for good, not evil.  Run Like Hell. 

The Run Like Hell strategy takes some planning.  You actually have to OWN a pair of running shoes.  Or soccer cleats. Or whatever.  Just like the Marines (I’m guessing here, sorry) you need to have a planned exit strategy.  Find a park near your house (or your parent’s); find a soccer field at the nearest primary school; or maybe the closest high school football stadium so you can go walk the stairs.  But for your everyday life, and especially for your upcoming holiday trips, think about the best exit route, and what it will take to get you there.   My dad is probably laughing right now, because when I visited him in February, as much fun as we had, I needed some quality alone time.  Each day, I’d walk the 1/2 mile to the local pool, lay out and read for awhile, swim about a quarter of a mile, and then drink a beer.  (I know! Right?) In my mind, it was a perfect way to unwind but still enjoy the time with the family.  And when I got back, most of the time, I was a nicer person (at least that’s how I remember it.)

So, start thinking about your Escape and Evade/ Run Like Hell plan.  Then test it out.  Burn off some steam, and see how it makes you feel.  Just don’t hit the crackpot of Kit Kats or whatever else is calling your name.  Because it’s really not about the food.  It’s about taking that junky feeling, and channeling it into something that works for you. 

Yes, yes, I know – we should all face our issues and we really should do something about them.  All well and good. But until that happens, make sure you have a backup technique. 

So go on.  Run Like Hell.

3 thoughts on “It’s not about the food.

  1. You are killing me with this one! I can’t stop laughing! Are you planning on writing a book? Because you should! You have a beautiful gift for writing with intelligence, humor and sincerity.

    I love the Run Like Hell plan. I have been practicing it since day 1. People say that you can’t run away from your problems, but I firmly disagree. You CAN run away from them. Or perhaps through them. I know I ALWAYS feel better after a run or walk or hike. My mind is clearer and things that were annoying me sort of slip away.

    Thanks for making me smile so much today : )

  2. I had not read 3 pages of Lance’s book when I realized that he has been mad at the world since he was a kid. He denies it repeatedly, but it comes through loud and clear in this book. If I had that much anger coursing through me all the time, I think I’d be able to win the Tour de France as well. That being said, it’s really a good book and gives you alot of insight into a phenomenal athlete.

  3. PS I love the Run Like Hell plan… I’m a KIT KAT person myself, but I didn’t eat one piece of Halloween candy last week at work. I think running up and down the stairs would be great alternative to stuffing my face.

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