Last September I caught a wild hair and decided I want to run a half marathon. A feat that isn’t so impressive in itself, millions of people do it every year I’d assume, but I had never ran more than 3 miles at one time so I knew it was going to be a struggle for me. I just wanted to be able to say I had done it. It was so fracking hard and miserable and I knew when I finished I wanted to make it a tradition. The feeling you get after finishing something so mentally and physically demanding leaves you wanting more.
I first learned about this idea of intentionally performing challenging tasks in 2014 when I read an article about the basketball player Kyle Korver. During his basketball career he would do a yearly “misogi” as he referred to it. In the article, the author joined him for his 2014 misogi. Korver and crew decided to run a 5k, underwater, near the Santa Cruz Islands off of the coast of California. To keep them on the ocean floor they would swim down to the bottom, pick up an 85lb rock, and run with it as far as they could before resurfacing for air. They did that for 3.1 miles. Doesn’t that sound fun?
Real misogi is a Japanese purification ritual in which people cleanse themselves, often in freezing cold water by sitting underneath a waterfall, in a river, or in the sea. It has become adopted by the English language to become synonymous with some kind of extreme physical and mental challenge that is done once a year.
BLEW – Bi-Monthly Long Endurance Training
My training partner and I have named our little challenges BLEW, an acronym for Bi-Monthly Long Endurance Training. I don’t know if what we have introduced into our training can be defined as misogi, most of what we have done so far is just hard workouts. I feel like to be a true misogi it needs to have some pizzazz to it. We also do it every two months so maybe once a year we will make one of those BLEWs a true misogi.
The purpose for including these workouts into our regular training schedule goes beyond just the exercise aspect of things. There are many reason I like to include them:
1) It reminds me that hard things are possible and gives me an amazing feeling of accomplishment. Finishing something difficult gives you a feeling of accomplishment that you cannot achieve in any other way. I’ve never done any drugs so I don’t know what it feels like to be high but the exercise high you get when finishing a challenging, long workout can’t be beat in my eyes. Running 13.1 miles makes 400m in a normal everyday workout feel like a breeze. Do you know how many times I have told myself during a workout, “It’s only 400m, you ran 400m 52 times once. One 400m run is nothing.”? It is a lot of times.
2) It prevents me from becoming a soft lil bitch and hardens my mind. Here’s the deal. I am a food blogger. I make a decent living. I don’t have much to harden me mentally. The most adversity I face in my life is that I don’t have any furniture in my living room and I sleep on a mattress that sits on the floor. I’ve got it pretty good. The BLEWs that we do are meant to be enough of a challenge that they have an impact on all of the other days between the workouts. As dumb as it may sound that a doing a workout can be responsible for giving perspective to other aspects of your life, I promise you it will. I think a huge problem in the US today is that many people around my age have become a little too comfortable. They have never have to face any real challenges and it makes them mentally weak, which then bleeds over into all aspects of their life.
3) It teaches me not to quit when things get hard. Since starting, I have completed 6 BLEWs. I have wanted to quit all but one of them. This ties in directly with Points 1 and 2 and mental toughness. I think it is important to do hard things to remind yourself that it is possible and you can achieve. These workouts are almost more meditative than anything. So far they have been a constant battle between my bad guy inner voice telling me to quit and my good guy inner voice telling me if you quit you’re a bitch and to keep going.
4) It gives me something to compete in. I haven’t had much to compete in since I retired from any real competition as an athlete after high school. I know so many of us miss competing as we grow into our adult lives. Competition is innate within all of us. Having something like these workouts to compete against my mind is great.
As I mentioned I have completed 6 BLEW workouts to date. Here is what I have done so far.
September 2020 – 1/2 Marathon Run
The original BLEW was a 13.1 mile run. The idea for all of these workouts is that you are just supposed to do them. No training or planning. Just pick a day and go. Prior to running this half marathon the furthest I had ever run at one time was 3 miles. I am the world’s worst runner and adding 10 miles of distance to the most I have ever done was a stretch but that’s the point. It is supposed to be hard. It took me 2:23:38 to finish. My goal was to finish in under 2 1/2 hours so I was happy with my effort but my god was it an endeavor. I made it about 6 miles before I started cramping and was reduced to a walk. The last mile or two was comprised of 100m bursts of shuffling and 20m of walking. It was miserable.
After finishing my feet were blistered and torn and my shins were in poor shape. I knew the fitness part of the equation wouldn’t be an issue but I didn’t consider the physicality of beating the pavement for 2 hours would put on my body. Was it my smartest idea to run that far without building up to that amount of mileage? No, absolutely not. Am I still glad I did it? Yes. I was so uncomfortable for hours after the run I couldn’t even sleep that night. I tossed and turned just to find a position that didn’t put me in pain. Awful. And so awful I decided to make it a tradition and do it every other month.
October 2020 – 50 Mile Bike Ride
The Katy Trail is a gravel trail that stretches across the state of Missouri. In October we decided to take it for a 50 mile trek to fulfill the month’s BLEW obligation. I’m no cyclist and before this day I probably hadn’t rode my bike more than 15 miles since I was 12 years old. 50 miles took us most of the day. We started around 9AM and finished around 3 or 4PM with a stop for lunch in the middle. This one didn’t really get tough until the last 15 miles but when I hit the wall, I hit it hard. My butt hurt so badly I didn’t want to sit for more than a few seconds at a time so I had to stand for much of the last bit. Eventually my quads started to lock up and I definitely bonked around 40 miles in when I ran out of food. 6-7 hours is a long time to be exercising.
January 2021 – 8 Mile Cross Country Ski
January’s BLEW was more of a mental challenge than a physical one. I had never cross country skied before so the learning curve was the biggest challenge of anything. We galavanted through the mountains in Breckenridge for roughly 8 miles and then called it a day. This was the only workout I didn’t consider quitting. It was low intensity enough I didn’t need to stop, it was just technically frustrating.
March 2021 – 1000 Burpees for Time
The most impressive workout on paper that we have done to date was definitely March’s BLEW. 1000 burpees for time is daunting just to read and think about. The 1000 burpees took me 1:59:49 to finish. I snuck in just before my 2 hour goal. I had to giddy up for the last 100 to get in on time. This workout was particularly demoralizing. I remember finishing my first 100 burpees and thinking, “wow I just did 100 burpees, that is a lot of burpees” and then realizing a few seconds later I still had NINE HUNDRED left to finish. I thought I would struggle with muscular fatigue on this one but it was absolutely a mental workout more than anything for me. I just had to keep moving.
May 2021 – The Garage Triathlon
May’s BLEW was what we deemed the Garage Triathlon. It consisted of a 5k run, 10k row, and 22.5k bike ride. 22.5 kilometers is an awkward distance but it was chosen because there was an obvious turnaround point on our trail at 11.25k so it just made sense. I finished in 2:24:09. This workout was more of a grind than the others because it invited more intensity than some of the other ones did. Because each component of the triathlon was shorter and “gettable” if you will, it made you work faster because you knew that in a short time you would be switching modalities and getting some variation.
July 2021 – The Marathon Row
Last week we completed July’s BLEW which was a 26.2 mile row on the Concept II ergometer. It took me 3:27:36 to finish. That is a long ass time to sit on an erg but it was surprisingly not that bad. It was mindless work. I am way more comfortable on a rower than I am with running and the low impact nature of rowing makes it way easier on your body. I stood up off of the rower 4 or 5 times and walked around a bit to give my butt and lower back a break but the only real hard part for me was that my heels were starting to tear from my shoes. I estimated it to be around 4,200 pulls on the handle. That’s a lot.
I joined a gym for the first time in a couple of years and there is a lap pool outside that always looks so blue and refreshing. I am a terrible swimmer. I can hardly do it. I always say “I know how to swim but I can’t swim” when people ask. I sink to the bottom when I get into water. For some reason every time I walked past that pool on the way into the gym I’d tell myself I should swim a 5k. So for this month’s BLEW, I did. It took me 3:10:34 to finish. I legitimately thought I would be able to freestyle half of it….I lasted 50 meters and the remaining 4950m were a mixture of backstroke and chicken-airplane-soldier.
The actual workouts are meant to be relative. I wouldn’t expect most people to be able to bust out 1000 burpees without getting completely wrecked. It may take a while to build up the capacity to do that one. On the other hand running a half marathon for some of you would be a walk in the park whereas for me it was the most miserable exercising experience I have ever had. Just about anyone can get on a bike and ride 50 miles. It may take all day and require breaks every few miles but it can get done. It’s about finishing something that is challenging, not the actual exercise being performed. Choose something that is difficult to you. It should be something that makes you want to quit but is still doable with a little perseverance. I think BLEWs are something everyone should be doing. It will transfer over into other aspects of your daily life. It will train you to become a super human. There will be a time where you are struggling to make it through work or you’re frustrated with meeting a goal you have set and you will think back to your last BLEW and say “If I could finish that, I can finish this.” Make it your own. Get some friends to join. Go out and do it.
P.S. If you have any ideas for what you would program for a BLEW, comment it below. I’m interested to hear what you come up with (so I can steal them to do as well 😎)