Are weak people humble?

Is humility weakness? Are weak people humble?

If you’re great, shouldn’t you be proud of that? So, are great people not humble?

It’s not quite that.

Humility is a respect, trust, faith, and admiration for the future. Humility is the force that lifts up bricks and places them higher. Humility is a deep understanding that my current self is not as good as my future self could be. Tomorrow could be better.

Non-humble people are as great as they’ll ever be.

But humble people only get greater.

Photo by Igor Kyryliuk on Unsplash

An exercise of gratitude: I barely survived the Zumbro 50 Mile run

Hi John, thank you so much for your hard work to put on the Zumbro race. I was a first time 50 Mile finisher and I barely made it. What a brutal course! It broke me absolutely sideways.

[Strava activity here]

On the start of the second lap, just after cresting the first hill, just before 5am, the light and darkness started to vibrate and I began to hallucinate. I had to stop running to re-center myself. I couldn’t run without hallucinating again. For 4 long, slow miles, I beat myself down. My self-talk was a downward spiral of negative. I was walking slowly.

I was giving up.

I was going to finish the 2nd lap, get into my car, and drive away without telling anyone.

Eventually, I waddled to the first aid station. The volunteer told us we still had time to finish. We could do it if we just kept moving forward. I realized that I could still make it if I just walked the remainder of the course… for 11 more hours. The sun started to rise. At the top of that next hill, I suddenly got mad. I cursed the course. How dare Zumbro punch me back and think it had won? I stamped my feet, threw a tantrum, and screamed into the woods that I would beat Zumbro just to spite it. I kept going.

11 long hours of hiking later, I sprinted as fast as I could across the finish line. A volunteer handed me a coke. I collapsed into a folding chair and started to cry. I bawled my eyes out, convulsing with agony and relief and gratitude that I had entered the darkest place earlier that night for those 4 miles. I had decided to give up. But my legs had just kept moving forward.

Thank you to the volunteers, thank you to you, and thank you to all the other participants. Every single runner that passed me wished me good job and good work and good luck. There was no way I could have finished by myself.

Thank you for pushing me to grow beyond my limits.

Credit to Mike Wheeler here

Is it possible to summarize each Portugal place we visited in a single phrase?

No, it’s not possible to capture the depth of a place in words. So why try? Instead, let most of the sand slip through our fingers until a few specks remain. New York City could be summarized as “people; lots of people.” But this would miss the incredible culture, diversity, and character of the city. At some point, we have to draw the line. We remember what we remember. The things that remain resonate with us. So, I’ve tried to describe the essence of the places we visited, so you’ll also be interested in going!

  1. Monsaraz: “castle overlooking cobbles and local art”
  2. Reguengos de Monsaraz: “families in the square”
  3. Castelo de Vide: “wise souls wander the narrow streets”
  4. Marvao: “castle in the sky”
  5. Sortelha: “true medieval ramparts”
  6. Monsanto: “rock village hospitality”
  7. Tomar: “Christian Convent on the hill”
  8. Fatima: “pilgrims in awe of God’s miracles”
  9. Obidos: “history plus modernity equals quaint streets and tasty tapas”
  10. Nazare: “big waves hit beach cliffs”
  11. Aveiro: “gondolas, bike paths, and industry”
  12. Guimaraes: “mountaintop over cafés in the square”
  13. Coimbra: “discover deep wisdom here”
  14. Lagos: “local vibe among touristy beaches”
  15. Portimao: “best boats and best caves”
  16. Sagres: “the edge of the world”
  17. Sintra: “touristy fairytale castle”
  18. Porto: “expressions of pure style on both sides of the river”
  19. Lisboa: “the genuine experience, with a taste of San Francisco and spice from Barcelona”
Portugal Trip: Week 1 and Week 2 (Feb-Mar, 2022)

Most people wouldn’t notice this during vacation

My wife, our two friends, and I traveled to Portugal on vacation in March, 2022 for 16 days. What an amazing time! I highly recommend vacationing in Portugal for many reasons, but mostly because of the healthy balance between comfort and newness.

When we go on vacation, we go off the regular path. We explore back streets, talk to locals, and wander. Here are the unique things we noticed on our trip.

Porto, PT in March, 2022

People go slowly and spend quality time

We often saw big groups out for lunch in every city and town throughout Portugal. Friends catch up in the square. They sip espresso under umbrellas at quaint patio tables. Well-dressed professionals go to lunch for two hours, typically ordering a few bottles of wine and three full courses. There’s no rush, even during the workday. The most important thing is to slow down and enjoy the present moment with friends, family, and colleagues.

One night in Porto, we sat down for dinner at the crowded riverside and looked around. There were at least one hundred people in view. Every single person was strolling, relaxed, and chill. I counted zero people in a rush or stressed.

Another day, within the winding streets of beach destination Nazare, we watched in awe as a truck lumbered down a one-lane street between three-story buildings. The driver stopped the truck in the middle the road, blocking the way. He got out, grabbed his delivery from the back of the truck, and strolled into a doorway. Meanwhile, three cars idled behind the truck. A whole 30 seconds passed before the driver came back out, waved nicely at the cars behind him, and continued on his way. Half a block later, he stopped again! By the end of this ordeal, the cars behind him had been delayed a whole three minutes. But they did not honk. They smiled and waited. Tell me any city in the USA that has this kind of patience for more than 10 seconds!

Óbidos, PT in March, 2022

Steep cobblestones are no problem for strollers

Portugal towns and cities are filled with history and culture. They were built on hilltops and mountains, overlooking kilometers of lush countryside. Buildings and roads are tightly packed; they were built for people and animals. Cars are made thin to fit the narrow, winding streets. Parking is impossible unless you know the best spots. Good luck renting a car in Portugal without scratches along the sides!

All of this is fantastic. I love it. There’s so much character, uniqueness, and depth in towns that have endured for centuries. Technologies come and go, but the towns remain. An elderly woman walks hundreds of steps down and up to get groceries. A family pushes kids in a stroller across the square. They are experts by now. Parents lift the little ones up rain-slick stairs and maneuver stroller wheels down steep stone paths.

Digitizing my past to write my future: Transcribing my notebooks into Obsidian

I have a new project. Using Obsidian as a second brain (thanks to my brother for the recommendation!), I am going to digitize all of my physical notes. I have many, MANY pages of notes. They range from travel notes to intellectual musings to pictures. This transcription project could easily take 100 hours or more. But it is a worthy and lifelong opus.

I’m doing this for a few reasons:

  • I want to make my notes easily searchable
  • I want to be able to easily relive and appreciate my past
  • I want to connect past ideas across time and space to generate new ideas

By using tags and connections in Obsidian, I can make connections between nodes (notes) that would be difficult to realize otherwise. These connections could unearth unknown topics in fresh ways. For example, maybe a note from 2014 could connect to a thought from 2018 that could address a problem in 2022.

I plan to write new blog posts based on realizations that come directly from this project. More to come!

Grant’s notebooks, ready for transcription
Grant’s Obsidian Second Brain connections as of 2022-02-20 (check back in a few weeks!)

On a mountaintop, I see my future self

Each time I hike to the top of a mountain, I get a strange but familiar feeling. I wake up. I feel like the last months were all a dream. Standing there, looking out over the wilderness, I feel real.

Something is going on here. Maybe mountaintops bring us closer to heaven; summiting is an accomplishment that brings us purpose; the beautiful landscape is awe-inspiring. But that’s not quite everything.

On top of a mountain, I feel connected to my previous selves that also summitted mountains. Spacetime creases, bends, and folds inward on itself. Suddenly, my life is a continuous moment: just those mountaintops. Everything else between those moments falls away.

Then, my future self looks back at me from the next mountaintop. And I know there’s more climbing to do.

Grant at the top of Zugspitze (Sep, 2017) – Notice the look of excitement but with terror

I’ve been training a lot for this Zumbro 50 Mile Race in early April, 2022. The full course boasts 6,750 feet (2,057 meters) of elevation across 50 miles (80.5 kilometers). The elevation gain is about the distance of the Kentucky Derby. Thinking of the elevation gain in these terms makes it more manageable. But by the last lap of this race, I will dread every gentle rise like a mountain to summit.

That’s the point of Ultramarathons: to push yourself beyond your perceived capacity. In that sense, mountaintops are like finish lines. At the finish line of my previous race, I saw my future self looking back at me from the next finish line. And I knew there was more to come.

New-trition in 2022

I recently realized that I need to prioritize my nutrition. I have reached a weight of about 210 lbs. while exercising. At 6’0″, I am technically obese or overweight. So far, my BMI is 28.3, which is high but not very high. However, my fat percentage is 24.5% which is normal. And my muscle mass is extremely high. So all things considered, my health metrics are fine. But that’s no reason to ignore my health.

But the more I can slim down, the better I can reach my goals; the more my muscles can propel me over the same distance. So, I consulted an expert nutritionist from Allina Health, a clinic local to my area, to learn more,

Here’s what I learned: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” This means that just because part of something is bad, doesn’t mean that I should remove it completely. Because I may be losing something valuable by throwing it out. For example, eating meat often causes higher health risks. But, this case isn’t a universal reason to stop eating meat, because meat has other benefits that would be lost.

Nutrition is highly personal. Don’t take the advice for me as advice for you. You, the reader, have your own body and goals and quirks. Here are my lessons:

  1. I need to consume about 150 grams of protein per day. That means keeping meat in my diet to make this easier. I can increase the percentage of legumes I eat, but I cannot lose the protein that I need to maintain my lifestyle and goals. The best practice calculation is 1.4-2 grams of protein per weight in kilograms.
  2. I should add lentils, beans, or similar protein- and fiber-rich legumes to every meal. Recently, I have been adding a salad to nearly every meal as an add-on. I should do the same thing with lentils and beans to boost my protein and fiber intake. Protein gets me to my goal of 150 grams per day. And fiber fills me up quicker, so I can eat less and get full quicker.
  3. I can eat all kinds of legumes. Different vegetables contain different nutrients depending on whether they are raw, cooked, or roasted. I thought raw veggies always have more nutrients. However, sometimes cooking veggies can bring in new nutrients! I should eat a variety of colors of veggies, prepared in different styles.
  4. I should continue reducing sweetened foods with added sugar. But, I don’t need to throw out all sugar completely. I get benefits from the other nutrients in sugary foods.
  5. Soy milk is generally better than almond milk because it has more protein.
  6. I should buy more frozen fruit when we run out of fresh fruit. Typically, we go shopping every three weeks or so. But our fresh fruit goes bad by the second week. So, we should get frozen fruit to eat after the second week.
  7. I should eat without distraction: focus on eating the meal rather than multi-tasking. This gives me a better indicator of how much to eat until I’m done. So, I am less likely to overeat.
  8. I should eat when I’m hungry. Intermittent fasting has some benefits, such as maintaining stable blood sugar levels. However, it’s not a universal solution to weight loss or health. I lose valuable opportunities to take in nutrients while fasting.
  9. Below is a visual I can follow for each meal. Then depending on my goals, I can adjust the portions and sizes from this starting point. For example, in the morning, I should take in more protein. Whereas in the evening, I should take in more carbohydrates.
Source from Allina Health

Goal Achieved: The Sub-4-Hour Marathon

A few months ago, I set a goal to run a marathon (26.2 miles or 42.2 km) in under four hours. That would require a pace of 9:09 minutes per mile (5:41 per kilometer), including rest stops. I did a lot of research and put together a training plan. I focused on my diet, nutrition, and daily lifestyle. I incorporated certain types of workouts that would benefit my faster tempo speed. For Ironman training, I hadn’t been running with a high heart rate. But in my previous failed sub-4-hour marathon attempt, my heart rate was too high for too long. So, this time I worked on improving heart rate efficiency.

Activity tracked in Garmin Nov, 2021

In the end, I achieved the goal! I want to thank Taylor H. for his huge help during the pivotal 3/4ths of the race. He ran with me and handed me bottles when I was feeling down. Thank you!!

This attempt was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. One way to visualize it is by Relative Effort (RE). Strava calculates Relative Effort from a variety of metrics like heart rate and pace. Out of all 1,200+ activities I have recorded on Strava, this sub-4 hour marathon was my highest relative effort by a massive margin.

406 Relative Effort: The sub-4-hour marathon

330 RE: 84 mile hot, hilly ride
311 RE: Failed sub-4-hour marathon
249 RE: 107-mile hard rainy ride
245 RE: My first marathon
244 RE: Another 100-mile ride

Strava Relative Effort of Grant by Nov, 2021 (Strava file here: https://www.strava.com/activities/6285022972)

I went through stages of grief during this race. To better understand the experience, I’ve summarized each mile of the race.


Mile 1: LET’S GO!!! I just finished listening to a David Goggins’ speech I was super emotional at the start.

Mile 2: I realize now that I forgot to pee before starting the race.

Mile 3: Selecting my music: epic Christian hits to go deep outside of myself.

Mile 4: First time I stopped for a drink of energy/electrolyte mix. Feeling solid.

Mile 5: My fastest mile by effort. Settling into a good pace.

Mile 6: My neighbors raking the leaves are looking at me funny after seeing me six times in the last hour.

Mile 7: I took a longer break here to pee and refresh with my drink mix and ginger tea. My stomach was feeling good. I took off some warm outer layer clothes, like my hat and gloves, as I warmed up.

Mile 8: One hour done. Feeling way better here than I did last time.

Mile 9: My heart rate starts to rise from my all-day pace into my tempo pace. From here onward, I’m burning more than I can replenish. That means the clock starts ticking on my energy reserves.

Mile 10: I start to get that small voice at the back of my mind telling me I’m uncomfortable.

Mile 11: The last mile that I run during which I feel “good.”

Mile 12: This is when the run starts getting difficult. I’m barely halfway and I feel like I’ve been running forever.

Mile 13: At the halfway point, I feel a boost of positivity, but this is short-lived. I’m under pace, but not by much. I bought myself a bit of wiggle room by running faster than I need to. But I’m getting tired.

Mile 14: The voice gets louder, yelling at me that I’m tired. But I get a savior: Taylor texts me that he’s on his way, and to stay strong. I shake my head in disagreement.

Mile 15: Taylor joins me for this mile. I can barely talk or breathe. I’ve still got my headphones in. We run together and blast out a solid mile time.

Mile 16: Taylor lets me run alone and instead manages my water station. Every mile I complete the loop, he hands me a bottle so I can sip and jog without stopping. I drink my mix according to the plan of one bottle per hour. I continue sipping lemon & ginger tea to help my stomach settle.

Mile 17: The wall gets bigger and my legs are heavy. I push a last effort to stay under pace, but I can’t. I fall backwards into stages of grief.

Mile 18: Grief stage 1: Denial. I have more than an hour remaining. My pace is slowing. I push harder, worrying that I’m about to hit the same wall that destroyed me last time at Mile 19.

Mile 19: Grief stage 2: Anger. I am livid at myself. This is the first mile during which I can’t run under pace. My speed starts slowing. Negativity washes over me like a deluge telling me that I won’t make it. I cry weakly.

Mile 20: Grief stage 3: Bargaining. I tear apart my old self and begin from the start. I don’t care about maintaining a pace. I care about finishing under 4 hours. I will do whatever it takes. I start doing mental math at how slow I’m going: calculating how much time I can lose on each mile and still make under four hours. Taylor has to leave so I’m on my own for aid.

Mile 21: Grief stage 4: Depression. For the last six miles, my heart rate had entered threshold pace. This is like putting the clock on my energy reserves into overdrive. I now have minutes, not hours, of energy left. I start to lose touch with reality; in a way the connection between my perception and surroundings starts to “melt.” I wonder if I can live with myself if I can’t finish. The reality of failure starts to make more sense.

Mile 22: Grief stage 5: Acceptance. I’m at my lowest. I would cry but I don’t have the energy to. I’m in a unique kind of pain. This pain is not sharp and obvious. It’s like the earth has ratcheted up the force of gravity pulling down on me. I can’t stay upright. Roots and molasses rip me downward. I know only one thing: I have to keep moving forward.

Mile 23: I build upon my acceptance. The clock on my energy has entered hyperspace as my heart-rate enters super-threshold. I am working the hardest that I’ve ever worked before. I switch my playlist back to David Goggins, looking for inspiration. But I feel distant from it.

Mile 24: I count every step, minute, and second until my torture is over. This is my slowest mile by time, but my hardest perceived effort so far. I finish my last drink bottle and throw it to the ground. Nothing else can help me now.

Mile 25: Wait, there it is. I can see the light now. The pacing math becomes easier. I see now how I can maintain this exact pace without pushing more, and still finish under four hours.

Mile 26: But it’s going to be close. I push harder again. My mind starts to reconnect back with my body and surroundings as I realize that I can do this. I count each .01 mile interval and I look down at my watch every couple of steps. I repeat to myself that I have to finish. I have to do it.

Mile 0.2: I push my pace to a sprint, which is the hardest I can run. This is the longest two minutes of my life. The only thing I’m focused on is staying upright. I stare down at my watch as the distance creaks higher.

Finished. I see the watch hit 26.22 and I’m done. I collapse onto the ground. I thank God and I am grateful to be done. I text Sahyli and text Taylor and call my brother Peter.

It’s over. A few minutes pass by and I am heaving air through my lungs.

I turn over. Struggling, I stand upright.

The next thing…

I’m onto my next adventure. I realize now that physical races are something special for me. They incorporate body, mind, and spirit in a way that is engaging and empowering. I rise to the occasion because I have to. These challenges force me to be better.

My next long-term goal, as of now, will be an ultramarathon running race. Or a running/hiking/walking race. It feels right. I ran the marathon slowly during my Ironman marathon, and I want to know that I can run longer. So, I’m looking into 50K and 50M races next year. I bought a new pair of shoes. I’m seeing a chiropractor. I’m changing my walking and running gait. I got a book. I’m listening to experienced ultra runners.

The odds are stacked against me: I’m heavy (more than 200 lbs / 94 kg). I am stocky and not built like a runner. I don’t have a coach. I hate the 3 Hs: Heat, Humidity, and Hills. I never really learned how to run: I just ran.

So, it’s a perfect challenge.

There’s something special about an Ultra that has a time cut-off. For a first-timer like me, I’m just hoping to finish. I don’t care what position I finish. I’ll be happy to arrive in last place, as long as I’m within the time limit. There’s something special about showing up to a race and not knowing whether you can finish it. Either I’m within the time cut-off or they drag me out on a stretcher.

So, my next challenge will be finishing a long distance within a certain time limit; but it’s not finishing under a specific time or pace (other than the time limit). Ultra time limits have some buffer. You don’t have to run fast to finish within the time limit. Some Ultras can be finished at the pace of a fast walk. But they’re so damn long and difficult that some races have more DNFs than finishers. So to me, the challenge is making the distance, not the time. I actually don’t know if I can physically make that distance at all.

There’s another thing I looked for in this next challenge. I want to do something big in an area in which I can do something smaller. For example, I can run a mile. So, why not run 30 miles? 50? 100? Maybe the next challenge after this will be an entirely new sport. Who knows.

I have to train more to get there. Specifically, I need to train my mind to invest all-in on this challenge. I need to prove some things to myself. I’ve run two full marathons already. Both times, I’ve hit the wall that broke me and I slowed to a walk. My best time is more than 4 hours. My next goal is training to run a sub-4 hour marathon. That pace is exactly 9:09 minute per mile pace for 26.2 miles including rest stops. I’m aiming to run under 9:00 minutes per mile to buy myself time for rest stops.

After a couple weeks of training in October, I spontaneously tried to do it. But I failed after 19 miles. I analyzed what went wrong and set a new date. Below is my After Action Report.

Anyway, I’m going to spend the winter running either way.

Now I’ve just got to decide for which race to sign up.

19 miles out of 26.2 Miler: After Action Report on 2021-10-10