Endurance: 1 the ability to withstand hardship or adversity
especially: the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity
2 the act or instance of enduring or suffering
Endurance has many connotations. Endurance athletes take on great challenges in races that require training to build up stamina through long, repetitive workouts. It’s the ability to endure mental hardships through disease and injury, poverty and distress. Resilience in the face of adversity. Strength in the midst of suffering. I think of the adventurers and explorers of centuries past who developed physical endurance through a life of toil and honed their mental fortitude as they pressed on into the unknown. Some are born with the genetics to endure. Others are bred for it. And some just make a decision to keep going despite the circumstances.
I started camping and hiking when I was in college. One weekend I was preparing to go out in the woods with a friend, gathering my old hand-me-down canvas tent and Coleman sleeping bag, my kerosene lantern and cooking gear. My grandpa was at the house and he was puzzled as to what I was doing. He even seemed a little irritated. And I remember him telling me, “You wouldn’t like it so much if you had to live like that all the time.” And in my youthful ignorance, I shrugged off his comment as irrelevant and obvious.
When I decided to start the DoubleShot, I let go of the comfort and cash that came with my gig as a personal trainer. I left the town that had provided for me because I was restless, bored of the routine, sick of the safety of everyday life. I was enamored with what I knew coffee could be, even though I’d only tasted the tip of the iceberg and would only know the true depth of this industry a decade later. Enamored with coffee and Colorado, I packed my things and began a journey to combine my infatuations. Before long, I was living in my car, sleeping in a tent or on the side of the road somewhere, in a church parking lot, a truck stop alongside eighteen wheelers, someone’s sofa, wherever the sunset chased me down. And that sort of lifestyle set in until it was uncomfortable. All my savings dwindled and work was hard to come by. I remember going to the grocery store, counting the money in my wallet and deciding how many dollars I would save for gas in my car and how much I could spend on fuel for my body. (Ramen noodles, a loaf of white bread, peanut butter and jelly, a couple minutes staring at the meat section, and a quick sniff at the pastry counter, and my $5.00 bill was spent.)
My grandpa lived a hard life, scrambling, clawing, doing what it took to survive. He passed on that lifestyle to my dad, who agreed wholeheartedly that unnecessary discomfort is a luxury. They moved from renthouse to shanty, attempting to farm until the grains that fed the chickens dried up and the monotony of eggs ceased with a chicken dinner. They lived in a partially-finished garage with sheets hung across wires for makeshift rooms separating parents, three girls and two boys. For drinking water they dug a well with shovels, and they put up an outhouse in the back yard. Holes in the roof of the garage allowed my dad, at 10 years old, to star-gaze at night and dream of the endless possibilities outside that life of pauperdom.
Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, the first U.S. astronauts were hired by NASA, Alaska and Hawaii were admitted as our 49th and 50th states, and my dad’s family moved into a house with indoor plumbing for the first time as he began his junior year in high school. It was a pivotal time for the world and for the family. As I would find out over the course of my upbringing, my dad hated hunting and fishing because growing up that’s what he had to do to eat. (Interestingly, my grandpa still enjoyed hunting and fishing; he just didn’t like little kids along for the sport, so I never acquired the skills.)
My dad started his own business when I was 10. He spent his 20s perfecting his trade, adding knowledge and skills to his repertoire, and observing the business behind the office doors. And then he made his big break, taking his career into his own hands. Throughout my upbringing, whether we were broke or not, he never wanted us to go without, to suffer the depredations of poverty, or to appear that we had less than anyone else. He worked his life away making sure he could provide.These were the formative years of my youth.
Fate and foundations found me back in Tulsa at the end of a couple years hardscrabble life on the road. Trial and failure repeated again and again. As you might know, starting a business from nothing is nearly impossible. And then the struggle really begins. I knew at that point I had gone all-in. I had cashed in my chips, dedicated my life, and like the explorers of old, my only option was to carry on. There was no giving up, no going back. I moved into an apartment without gas or electricity, malnourished and tired, just recovered from a near-death experience from carbon monoxide poisoning. Alternatively taking cold showers in winter and sleeping under a blanket of summertime humidity, I persisted for three-and-a-half years like this. Because I knew there must be a way out. Because I knew suffering was a part of it. Because my grandpa and my dad did it before me. This was my heritage.
I started racing when I was just out of college. I was sort of fast and moderately successful. But over time, it became apparent that the longer the race lasted, the better I would do. And so I started doing 24-hour mountain bike races and 36-hour adventure races. And eventually my runs went from 5K to 10K to 26.2 miles and onto 50K, 50 miles, and ultimately 100 miles. Am I a talented runner? No, not by any means. Am I a fast ultra-endurance athlete? Absolutely not. But you see, I quit competing with the field several years ago when I realized the fight was inside me. Today I live in a house with running water, comfortable furniture, and all the normal utilities (I even have WiFi!). I eat meat every day. I’m wealthy by the standards of most people. That daily physical and emotional struggle to survive is gone. And I’m back to some extreme version of my college days; of self-inflicted discomfort.
Four days ago, I completed Ironman Tulsa. And I finished without training for it. It has been my M.O. for the past few years to compete in races without properly training for them. When I was in my 20s, I established goals for my life that hinged around the idea of ultimate freedom: 1) To be in good enough physical condition that I could do anything at the drop of a hat without needing to train, and 2) To be wealthy enough that I could do anything I wanted without regard for cost. I basically accomplished the former in my youth, but had to sacrifice that in order to strive whole-heartedly for the latter. But to me, it’s still important to prove to myself that I can endure. I still want that physical freedom, and though that doesn’t come from a high level of fitness any more, I have built the mental fortitude to carry on, to suffer willingly.
So as not to drown, I started swimming two weeks before the race, and put in 6 solid efforts. I’m a decent cyclist. And I know how to run. So, once I got over the panic that set in for the first five minutes or so in what felt like icy cold water, I felt confident that I would complete the swim. And I did, in a decent time even. Rain pelted us for a lot of the cycling course, but those Osage Hills are my home and I loved every climb. Cramps began to set in toward the end of the bike (calf cramps also set in during the swim, but they went away after I got out of the water and regained my vertical equilibrium). By the time I got off my bike, I couldn’t even pedal in the saddle any more because the muscles in my legs would seize up. This was from poor hydration and lack of training. But with only 26.2 miles to go on foot, I was basically home free. Then my stomach started to hurt, again from poor hydration. I got into my ultra-shuffle and jogged one mile at a time, stopping at every aid station for Gatorade and water. But I wasn’t there yet.
There comes a time during these hard efforts when you’ve gone as hard as you can for as long as you could. And that’s when it gets juicy. It’s hard to get to that point; it takes a long time, and once you get there, you would normally call it a day. So it’s a really remarkable time when you get to commune with suffering and carry on. When you find it in yourself to keep moving despite the road ahead. For me, it could’ve been 8 more miles or 20 more miles because I found that place in my soul where pain and difficulty are signals that I am succeeding. And I wallowed in it, moving forward step by step, forcing my mind to control my body and not vice versa.
A woman on the course said to me, “I just want this to be over,” and my first instinct was to tell her NO, this is why you are here. We worked all day to get to a place where discomfort and exhaustion would make most people quit. This is a special occasion when you are pressing toward a goal and you come to this place not many people know and fewer people go beyond, and you just keep going.
And I get it; I’m pretending to suffer the depredations of exploration and poverty. But you want to know why the DoubleShot is successful? In part, it’s because we’re still going. Never giving up. No matter what.
Today is my 48th birthday. More than twenty years older than when I set off toward this goal. I want to know that my lifestyle today still supports the ability to do what I want physically whenever I please. And I guess that’s why I didn’t train. I just wanted to see if I could.
But as my grandpa said, I wouldn’t like it so much if I had to live like that all the time. And thank God I don’t.