استعداد نیاز نیستکتاب: نمی توانی به من آسیب بزنی / فصل 9
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CHAPTER EIGHT - TALENT NOT REQUIRED
The night before the first long-distance triathlon in my life, I stood with my mother on the deck of a sprawling, seven-million-dollar beach house in Kona watching the moonlight play on the water. Most people know Kona, a gorgeous town on the west coast of the island of Hawaii, and triathlons in general, thanks to the Ironman World Championships. Although there are far more Olympic distance and shorter sprint triathlons held around the world than there are Ironman events, it was the original Ironman in Kona that placed the sport on the international radar. It starts with a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride, and closes with a marathon run. Add to that stiff and shifting winds and blistering heat corridors reflected by harsh lava fields, and the race reduces most competitors to open blisters of raw anguish, but I wasn’t here for that. I came to Kona to compete in a less celebrated form of even more intense masochism. I was there to compete for the title of Ultraman.
Over the next three days I would swim 6.2 miles, ride 261 miles, and run a double marathon, covering the entire perimeter of the Big Island of Hawaii. Once again, I was raising money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, and because I’d been written up and interviewed on camera after Badwater, I was invited by a multi-millionaire I’d never met to stay in his absurd palace on the sand in the run-up to the Ultraman World Championships in November 2006.
It was a generous gesture, but I was so focused on becoming the very best version of myself his glitz didn’t impress me. In my mind, I still hadn’t achieved sh@t. If anything, staying in his house only inflated the chip on my shoulder. He would never have invited my wanna-be-thug ass to come chill with him in Kona luxury back in the day. He only reached out because I’d become somebody a rich guy like him wanted to know. Still, I appreciated being able to show my mom a better life, and whenever I was offered a taste, I invited her to experience it with me. She’d swallowed more pain than anyone I’d ever known, and I wanted to remind her that we’d climbed out of that gutter, while I kept my own gaze locked at sewer level. We didn’t live in that $7 a month place in Brazil anymore, but I was still paying rent on that motherfu@ker, and will be for the rest of my life.
The race launched from the beach beside the pier in downtown Kona—the same start line as the Ironman World Championships, but there wasn’t much of a crowd for our race. There were only thirty athletes in the entire field compared to over 1,200 in the Ironman! It was such a small group I could look every one of my competitors in the eye and size them up, which is how I noticed the hardest man on the beach. I never did catch his name, but I’ll always remember him because he was in a wheelchair. Talk about heart. That man had a presence beyond his stature.
He was fu@king immense!
Ever since I’d started up in BUD/S, I’d been in search of people like that. Men and women with an uncommon way of thinking. One thing that surprised me about military special operations was that some of the guys lived so mainstream. They weren’t trying to push themselves every day of their lives, and I wanted to be around people who thought and trained uncommon 24/7, not just when duty called. That man had every excuse in the world to be at home, but he was ready to do one of the hardest stage races in the world, something 99.9 percent of the public wouldn’t even consider, and with just his two arms! To me, he was what ultra racing was all about, and its why after Badwater I’d become hooked on this world. Talent wasn’t required for this sport. It was all about heart and hard work, and it delivered relentless challenge after relentless challenge, always demanding more.
But that doesn’t mean I was well-prepared for this race. I still didn’t own a bike. I borrowed one three weeks earlier from another friend. It was a Griffin, an uber-high-end bicycle custom made for my friend who was even bigger than I was. I borrowed his clip-in shoes too, which were just shy of clown-sized. I filled the empty space with thick socks and compression tape, and didn’t take the time to learn bike mechanics before leaving for Kona. Changing tires, fixing chains and spokes, all the stuff I know how to do now, I hadn’t learned yet. I just borrowed the bike and logged over 1,000 miles in the three weeks prior to Ultraman. I’d wake up at 4 a.m. and get one hundred-mile rides in before work. On weekends I’d ride 125 miles, get off the bike and run a marathon, but I only did six training swims, just two in the open water, and in the ultra octagon all your weaknesses are revealed.
The ten-kilometer swim should have taken me about two and a half hours to complete, but it took me over three, and it hurt. I was dressed in a sleeveless wetsuit for buoyancy, but it was too tight under my arms, and within thirty minutes my armpits began to chafe. An hour later the salty edge of my suit had become sandpaper that ripped my skin with every stroke. I switched from freestyle to side stroke and back again, desperate for comfort that never came. Every revolution of my arms cut my skin raw and bloody on both sides.
Coming out of the water at Ultraman
Plus, the sea was choppy as hell. I drank sea water, my stomach flipped and flopped like a fish suffocating in fresh air, and I puked a half dozen times at least. Because of the pain, my poor mechanics, and the strong current, I swam a meandering line that stretched to seven and a half miles. All of that in order to clear what was supposed to be a 6.2-mile swim. My legs were jelly when I staggered to shore, and my vision rocked like a teeter totter during an earthquake. I had to lie down, then crawl behind the bathrooms, where I vomited again. Other swimmers gathered in the transition area, hopped into their saddles, and pedaled off into the lava fields in a blink. We still had a ninety-mile bike ride to knock off before the day was done, and they were getting after it while I was still on my knees. Right on time, those simple questions bubbled to the surface.
Why the fu@k am I even out here?
I’m not a triathlete!
I’m chafed to hell, sick as fu@k, and the first part of the ride is all uphill!
Why do you keep doing this to yourself, Goggins?
I sounded like a whiny bit@h, but I knew finding some comfort would help me hem my vagina, so I paid no attention to the other athletes who eased through their transition. I had to focus on getting my legs under me and slowing my spun-out mind. First I got some food down, a little at a time. Then I treated the cuts under my arms. Most triathletes don’t change their clothes. I did. I slipped on some comfortable bike shorts and a lycra shirt, and fifteen minutes later I was upright, in the saddle, and climbing into the lava fields. For the first twenty minutes I was still nauseous. I pedaled and puked, replenished my fluids, and puked again. Through it all, I gave myself one job: stay in the fight! Stay in it long enough to find a foothold.
Ten miles later, as the road rose onto the shoulders of a giant volcano and the incline increased, I shook off my sea legs and found momentum. Riders appeared ahead like bogeys on a radar, and I picked them off, one by one. Victory was a cure-all. Each time I passed another motherfu@ker I got less and less sick. I was in fourteenth place when I saddled up, but by the time I approached the end of that ninety-mile leg there was only one man in front of me. Gary Wang, the favorite in the race.
As I hammered toward the finish line I could see a reporter and photographer from Triathlete magazine interviewing him. None of them expected to see my black ass, and they all watched me carefully. During the four months since Badwater, I’d often dreamt of being in position to win an ultra race, and as I coasted past Gary and those reporters, I knew the moment had arrived, and my expectations were intergalactic.
The following morning, we lined up for the second stage, a 171-mile bike ride through the mountains and back toward the west coast. Gary Wang had a buddy in the race, Jeff Landauer, aka the Land Shark, and those two rode together. Gary had done the race before and knew the terrain. I didn’t, and by mile one hundred, I was roughly six minutes off the lead.
As usual, my mother and Kate were my two-headed support crew. They handed me replacement water bottles, packets of GU, and protein drinks from the side of the road, which I consumed in motion to keep my glycogen and electrolyte levels up. I’d become much more scientific about my nutrition since that Myoplex and Ritz cracker meltdown in San Diego, and with the biggest climb of the day looming into view I needed to be ready to roar. On a bicycle, mountains produce pain, and pain was my business. As the road peaked in pitch, I put my head down and hammered as hard as I could. My lungs heaved until they were flipped inside out and back again. My heart was a pounding bass line. When I crested the pass, my mom pulled up alongside me and hollered, “David, you are two minutes off the lead!” Roger that!
I curled into an aerodynamic crouch and shot downhill at over 40 mph. My borrowed Griffin was equipped with aero bars and I leaned over them, focusing only on the white dotted line and my perfect form. When the road leveled off I went all out and kept my pace up around 27 mph. I had a Land Shark and his buddy on an industrial-sized hook, and was reeling them all the way in.
Until my front tire blew.
Before I had time to react, I was off the bike, somersaulting over the handlebars into space. I could see it happening in slow motion, but time sped back up when I crash landed on my right side and my shoulder crumpled with blunt force. The side of my face skidded the asphalt until I stopped moving, and I rolled onto my back in shock. My mother slammed on her brakes, leapt from the car, and rushed over. I was bleeding in five places, but nothing felt broken. Except my helmet, which was cracked in two, my sunglasses, which were shattered, and my bicycle.
I’d run over a bolt that pierced the tire, tube, and rim. I didn’t pay attention to my road rash, the pain in my shoulder, or the blood dribbling down my elbow and cheek. All I thought about was that bicycle. Once again, I was underprepared! I had no spare parts and didn’t have any clue how to change a tube or a tire. I had rented a back-up bicycle which was in my mom’s rental car, but it was a heavy, slow piece of sh@t compared to that Griffin. It didn’t even have clip in pedals, so I called for the official race mechanics to assess the Griffin. As we waited, seconds piled up into twenty precious minutes and when mechanics arrived, they didn’t have supplies to fix my front wheel either, so I hopped on my clunky back-up and kept rolling.
I tried not to think of bad luck and missed opportunities. I needed to finish strong and get myself within striking distance by the end of the day, because day three would bring a double marathon, and I was convinced that I was the best runner in the field. Sixteen miles from the finish line, the bike mechanic tracked me down. He’d repaired my Griffin! I switched out my hardware for the second time and made up eight minutes on the leaders, finishing the day in third place, twenty-two minutes off the lead.
I crafted a simple strategy for day three. Go out hard and build up a fat cushion over Gary and the Land Shark so that when I hit the inevitable wall, I’d have enough distance to maintain the overall lead all the way to the finish line. In other words, I didn’t have any strategy at all.
I began my run at Boston Marathon qualifying pace. I pushed hard because I wanted my competitors to hear my splits and forfeit their souls as I built that big lead I’d anticipated. I knew I would blow up somewhere. That’s ultra life. I just hoped it would happen late enough in the race that Gary and the Land Shark would be content to race one another for second and give up all hope of winning the overall title.
Didn’t happen quite like that.
At mile thirty-five I was already in agony and walking more than I was running. By mile forty, I watched both enemy vehicles pull up so their crew chiefs could peep my form. I was showing a ton of weakness, which gave Gary and the Land Shark ammunition. The miles mounted too slowly. I hemorrhaged time. Luckily, by mile forty-five, Gary had blown up too, but the Land Shark was rock solid, still on my ass, and I didn’t have anything left to fight him off. Instead, as I suffered and staggered toward downtown Kona, my lead evaporated.
In the end, the Land Shark taught me a vital lesson. From day one, he had run his own race. My early burst on day three didn’t faze him. He welcomed it as the ill-conceived strategy that it was, focused on his own pace, waited me out, and took my soul. I was the first athlete to cross the finish line of the Ultraman that year, but as far as the clock was concerned I was no champion. While I came in first place on the run, I lost the overall race by ten minutes and took second place. The Land Shark was crowned Ultraman!
I watched him celebrate knowing exactly how I’d wasted an opportunity to win. I’d lost my vantage point. I’d never evaluated the race strategically and didn’t have any backstops in place. Backstops are a versatile tool that I employ in all facets of my life. I was lead navigator when I operated in Iraq with the SEAL Teams, and “backstop” is a navigation term. It’s the mark I made on my map. An alert that we’d missed a turn or veered off course.
Let’s say you’re navigating through the woods and you have to go one click toward a ridgeline, then make a turn. In the military, we would do a map study ahead of time and mark that turn on our maps, and another point about 200 meters past that turn, and a third an additional 150 meters past the second mark. Those last two marks are your backstops. Typically, I used terrain features, like roads, creeks, a giant cliff in the countryside, or landmark buildings in an urban setting, so that when we hit them I knew we’d gone off course. That’s what backstops are for, to tell you to turn around, reassess, and take an alternative route to accomplish the same mission. I never left our base in Iraq without having three exit strategies. A primary route and two others, pinned to backstops, we could fall back to if our main route became compromised.
On day three of Ultraman, I tried to win with sheer will. I was all motor, no intellect. I didn’t evaluate my condition, respect my opponents’ heart, or manage the clock well enough. I had no primary strategy, let alone alternative avenues to victory, and therefore I had no idea where to employ backstops. In retrospect I should have paid more attention to my own clock, and my backstops should have been placed on my split times. When I saw how fast I was running that first marathon, I should have been alarmed and eased off the gas. A slower first marathon may have left me with enough energy to drop the hammer once we were back in the lava fields on the Ironman course, heading toward the finish line. That’s when you take someone’s soul—at the end of a race, not at the beginning. I’d raced hard, but if I’d run smarter and handled the bike situation better, I would have given myself a better chance to win.
Still, coming in second place at Ultraman was no disaster. I raised good money for families in need and booked more positive ink for the SEALs in Triathlete and Competitor magazines. Navy brass took notice. One morning, I was called into a meeting with Admiral Ed Winters, a two-star Admiral and the top man at Naval Special Warfare Command. When you’re an enlisted guy and hear an Admiral wants a word, your ass sort of puckers up. He wasn’t supposed to seek me out. There was a chain of command in place specifically to prevent conversations between Rear Admirals and enlisted men like me. Without any warning that was all out the window, and I had a feeling it was my own fault.
Thanks to the positive media I’d generated, I had received orders to join the recruitment division in 2007, and by the time I was ordered into the Admiral’s office I’d done plenty of public speaking on behalf of the Navy SEALs. But I was different than most of the other recruiters. I didn’t just parrot the Navy’s script. I always included my own life story, off the cuff. As I waited outside the Admiral’s office I closed my eyes and flipped through memory files, searching for when and how I’d overstepped and embarrassed the SEALs. I was the picture of tension, sitting stiff and alert, sweating through my uniform when he opened the door to his office.
“Goggins,” he said, “good to see you, come on in.” I opened my eyes, followed him inside, and stood straight as an arrow, locked at attention. “Sit down,” he said with a smile, gesturing to a chair facing his desk. I sat, but maintained my posture and avoided all eye contact. Admiral Winters sized me up.
He was in his late fifties, and though he appeared relaxed, he maintained perfect posture. To become an Admiral is to rise through the ranks of tens of thousands. He’d been a SEAL since 1981, was an Operations Officer at DEVGRU (Naval Special Warfare Development Group), and a Commander in Afghanistan and Iraq. At each stop he stood taller than the rest, and was among the strongest, smartest, shrewdest, and most charismatic men the Navy had ever seen. He also fit a certain standard. Admiral Winters was the ultimate insider, and I was as outside the box as you could get in the United States Navy.
“Hey, relax,” he said, “you aren’t in any trouble. You’re doing a great job in recruiting.” He gestured to a file on his otherwise immaculate desk. It was filled with some of my clips. “You’re representing us really well. But there’s some men out there we need to do a better job of reaching out to, and I’m hoping you can help.”
That’s when it finally hit me. A two-star Admiral needed my help.
The trouble we faced as an organization, he said, was that we were terrible at recruiting African Americans into the SEAL Teams. I knew that already. Black people made up only 1 percent of all special forces, even though we are 13 percent of the general population. I was just the thirty-sixth African American ever to graduate BUD/S, and one of the reasons for that was we weren’t hitting the best places to recruit black men into the SEAL teams, and we didn’t have the right recruiters either. The military likes to think of itself as a pure meritocracy (it isn’t), which is why for decades this issue was ignored. I called Admiral Winters recently, and he had this to say about the problem, which was originally flagged by the Pentagon during the second Bush administration and sent to the Admiral’s desk to fix.
“We were missing an opportunity to get great athletes into the teams and make the teams better,” he said, “and we had places we needed to send people where, if they looked like me, they would be compromised.”
In Iraq, Admiral Winters made his name building elite counter terrorism forces. That’s one of the primary missions in special forces: to train allied military units so they can control social cancers like terrorism and drug trafficking and maintain stability within borders. By 2007, Al Qaeda had made inroads into Africa, allied with existing extremist networks including Boko Haram and al Shabaab, and there was talk of building up counterterrorism forces in Somalia, Chad, Nigeria, Mali, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Our operations in Niger made international news in 2018 when four American special operations soldiers were killed in an ambush, drawing public scrutiny to the mission. But back in 2007, almost nobody knew we were about to get involved in West Africa, or that we lacked the personnel to get it done. As I sat in his office, what I heard was the time had finally come when we needed black people in special forces and our military leaders were clueless as to how to meet that need and entice more of us into the fold.
It was all new information to me. I didn’t know anything about the African threat. The only hostile terrain I knew about was in Afghanistan and Iraq. That is, until Admiral Winters dropped a whole new detail on me, and the military’s problem officially became my problem. I’d report to my Captain and the Admiral, he said, and hit the road, visiting ten to twelve cities at a time, with a goal of spiking recruiting numbers in the POC (people of color) category.
We made the first stop on this new mission together. It was at Howard University, in Washington D.C., probably the best known historically black university in America. We’d dropped in to speak to the football team, and though I knew almost nothing about historically black colleges and universities, I knew students who attended them aren’t usually the type to think of the military as an optimal career choice. Thanks to our country’s history and the rampant racism that continues to this day, black political thought trends left of center at these institutions, and if you’re recruiting for the Navy SEALs, there are definitely better choices than the Howard University practice field to find a willing ear. But this new focus required work in hostile territory, not mass enthusiasm. We were looking for one or two great men at each stop.
The Admiral and I walked onto the field, dressed in uniform, and I noted suspicion and disregard in the eyes of our audience. Admiral Winters had planned to introduce me, but our icy reception told me we had to go another way.
“You were shy at first,” Admiral Winters remembered, “but when it was time to speak, you looked at me and said, ‘I got this, sir.’”
I launched right into my life story. I told those athletes what I’ve already told you, and said we were looking for guys with heart. Men who knew it was going to be hard tomorrow and the day after that and welcomed every challenge. Men who wanted to become better athletes, and smarter and more capable in all aspects of their life. We wanted guys who craved honor and purpose and were open minded enough to face their deepest fears.
“By the time you were done you could have heard a pin drop,” Admiral Winters recalled.
From then on, I was given command of my own schedule and budget and leeway to operate, as long as I hit certain recruitment thresholds. I had to come up with my own material and knew that most people didn’t think they could ever become a Navy SEAL, so I broadened the message. I wanted everyone who heard me out to know that even if they didn’t walk in our direction they could still become more than they ever dreamed. I made sure to cover my life in its entirety so if anyone had any excuse, my story would void all that out. My main drive was to deliver hope that with or without the military anybody could change their life, so long as they kept an open mind, abandoned the path of least resistance, and sought out the difficult and most challenging tasks they could find. I was mining for diamonds in the rough like me.
From 2007–2009, I was on the road for 250 days a year and spoke to 500,000 people at high schools and universities. I spoke at inner city high schools in tough neighborhoods, at dozens of historically black colleges and universities, and at schools with all cultures, shapes, and shades well represented. I’d come a long way from fourth grade, when I couldn’t stand up in front of a class of twenty kids and say my own name without stuttering.
Teenagers are walking, talking bullsh@t detectors, but the kids who heard me speak bought into my message because everywhere I stopped, I also ran an ultra race and rolled my training runs and races into my overall recruitment strategy. I’d usually land in their town midweek, make my speeches, then run a race on Saturday and Sunday. In one stretch in 2007, I ran an ultra almost every weekend. There were fifty-mile races, 100-kilometer races, 100-mile races, and longer ones too. I was all about spreading the Navy SEAL legend that I loved, and wanted to be true and living our ethos.
Essentially, I had two full-time jobs. My schedule was jammed full, and while I know that having the flexibility to manage my own time contributed to my ability to train for and compete on the ultra circuit, I still put in fifty hours a week at work, clocking in every day from about 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. My training hours came in addition to, not instead of, my work commitments.
I appeared at upwards of forty-five schools every month, and after each appearance I had to file an After Action Report (AAR), detailing how many separate events (an auditorium speech, a workout, etc.) I organized, how many kids I spoke to, and how many of those were actually interested. These AARs went directly to my Captain and the Admiral.
I learned quickly that I was my own best prop. Sometimes I’d dress in a SEAL t-shirt with a Trident on it, run fifty miles to a speaking engagement, and show up soaking wet. Or I would do push-ups for the first five minutes of my speech, or roll a pull-up bar out on stage and do pull-ups while I was talking. That’s right, the sh@t you see me do on social media isn’t new. I’ve been living this life for eleven years!
Wherever I stopped, I invited the kids who were interested to come train with me before or after school, or crew on one of my ultra races. Word got out and soon the media—local television, print, and radio—showed up, especially if I was running between cities to get to the next gig. I had to be articulate, well groomed, and do well in the races I entered.
I remember landing in Colorado the week of the legendary Leadville 100 trail race. The school year had just started, and on my first night in Denver I mapped out the five schools on my roster in relation to the trails I wanted to hike and run. At each stop I’d invite the kids to train with me, but warn them that my day started early. At 3 a.m. I would drive to a trailhead, meet up with all the students who dared to show, and by 4 a.m. we’d begin power hiking up one of Colorado’s fifty-eight summits above 14,000-feet. Then we’d sprint down the mountain to strengthen our quads. At 9 a.m. I hit another school, and then another. After the bell rang, I worked out with the football, track, or swim teams at the schools I visited, then ran back into the mountains to train until sunset. All of that to recruit stud athletes and acclimatize for the highest altitude ultra marathon in the world.
The race started at 4 a.m. on a Saturday, departing from the city of Leadville, a working-class ski town with frontier roots, and traversing a network of beautiful and harsh Rocky Mountain trails that range from 9,200 feet to 12,600 feet in elevation. When I finished at 2 a.m. on Sunday, a teenager from Denver who attended a school I’d visited a few days earlier was waiting for me at the finish line. I didn’t have a great race (I came in 14th place, rather than my typical top five), but I always made sure to finish strong, and when I sprinted home he approached me with a wide smile and said, “I drove two hours just to see you finish!” The lesson: you never know who you’re affecting. My poor race results meant less than nothing to that young man because I’d helped open his eyes to a new world of possibility and capability that he sensed within himself. He’d followed me from his high school auditorium to Leadville because he was looking for absolute proof—my finishing the race—that it was possible to transcend the typical and become more, and as I cooled down and toweled off he asked me for tips so he could one day run all day and night through the mountains in his backyard.
I have several stories like that. More than a dozen kids came out to pace and crew for me at the McNaughton Park Trail Race, a 150-miler held outside of Peoria, Illinois. Two dozen students trained with me in Minot, North Dakota. Together we ran the frozen tundra before sunrise in January when it was twenty below zero! Once I spoke at a school in a majority black neighborhood in Atlanta, and as I was leaving, a mother showed up with her two sons who had long dreamed of becoming Navy SEALs but kept it a secret because enlisting in the military wasn’t considered cool in their neighborhood. When summer vacation broke out, I flew them to San Diego to live and train with me. I woke their asses up at 4 a.m. and beat them down on the beach like they were in a junior version of First Phase. They did not enjoy themselves, but they learned the truth about what it takes to live the ethos. Wherever I went, whether the students were interested in a military career or not, they always asked if they had the same hardware I had. Could they run a hundred miles in one day? What would it take to reach their full potential? This is what I’d tell them: Our culture has become hooked on the quick-fix, the life hack, efficiency. Everyone is on the hunt for that simple action algorithm that nets maximum profit with the least amount of effort. There’s no denying this attitude may get you some of the trappings of success, if you’re lucky, but it will not lead to a calloused mind or self-mastery. If you want to master the mind and remove your governor, you’ll have to become addicted to hard work. Because passion and obsession, even talent, are only useful tools if you have the work ethic to back them up.
My work ethic is the single most important factor in all of my accomplishments. Everything else is secondary, and when it comes to hard work, whether in the gym or on the job, The 40% Rule applies. To me, a forty-hour work week is a 40 percent effort. It may be satisfactory, but that’s another word for mediocrity. Don’t settle for a forty-hour work week. There are 168 hours in a week! That means you have the hours to put in that extra time at work without skimping on your exercise. It means streamlining your nutrition, spending quality time with your wife and kids. It means scheduling your life like you’re on a twenty-four-hour mission every single day.
The number one excuse I hear from people as to why they don’t work out as much as they want to is that they don’t have time. Look, we all have work obligations, none of us want to lose sleep, and you’ll need time with the family or they’ll trip the fu@k out. I get it, and if that’s your situation, you must win the morning.
When I was full-time with the SEALs I maximized the dark hours before dawn. When my wife was sleeping, I would bang out a six- to ten-mile run. My gear was all laid out the night before, my lunch was packed, and my work clothes were in my locker at work where I’d shower before my day started at 7:30 a.m. On a typical day, I’d be out the door for my run just after 4 a.m. and back by 5:15 a.m. Since that wasn’t enough for me, and because we only owned one car, I rode my bike (I finally got my own sh@t!) twenty-five miles to work. I’d work from 7:30 a.m. to noon, and eat at my desk before or after my lunch break. During the lunch hour I’d hit the gym or do a four- to six-mile beach run, work the afternoon shift and hop on my bike for the twenty-five-mile ride home. By the time I was home at 7 p.m., I’d have run about fifteen miles, rocked fifty miles on the bike, and put in a full day at the office. I was always home for dinner and in bed by 10 p.m. so I could do it all over again the next day. On Saturdays I’d sleep in until 7 a.m., hit a three-hour workout, and spend the rest of the weekend with Kate. If I didn’t have a race, Sundays were my active recovery days. I’d do an easy ride at a low heart rate, keeping my pulse below 110 beats per minute to stimulate healthy blood flow.
Maybe you think I’m a special case or an obsessive maniac. Fine, I won’t argue with you. But what about my friend Mike? He’s a big-time financial advisor in New York City. His job is high pressure and his work day is a hell of a lot longer than eight hours. He has a wife and two kids, and he’s an ultra runner. Here’s how he does it. He wakes up at 4 a.m. every weekday, runs sixty to ninety minutes each morning while his family is still snoozing, rides a bike to work and back and does a quick thirty-minute treadmill run after he gets home. He goes out for longer runs on weekends, but he minimizes its impact on his family obligations.
He’s high-powered, wealthy as fu@k, and could easily maintain his status quo with less effort and enjoy the sweet fruits of his labors, but he finds a way to stay hard because his labors are his sweetest fruits. And he makes time to get it all in by minimizing the amount of bullsh@t clogging his schedule. His priorities are clear, and he remains dedicated to his priorities. I’m not talking about general priorities here either. Each hour of his week is dedicated to a particular task and when that hour shows up in real time, he focuses 100 percent on that task. That’s how I do it too, because that is the only way to minimize wasted hours.
Evaluate your life in its totality! We all waste so much time doing meaningless bullsh@t. We burn hours on social media and watching television, which by the end of the year would add up to entire days and weeks if you tabulated time like you do your taxes. You should, because if you knew the truth you’d deactivate your Facebook account STAT, and cut your cable. When you find yourself having frivolous conversations or becoming ensnared in activities that don’t better you in any way, move the fu@k on!
For years I’ve lived like a monk. I don’t see or spend time with a lot of people. My circle is very tight. I post on social media once or twice a week and I never check anybody else’s feeds because I don’t follow anyone. That’s just me. I’m not saying you need to be that unforgiving, because you and I probably don’t share the same goals. But I know you have goals too, and room for improvement, or you wouldn’t be reading my book, and I guarantee that if you audited your schedule you’d find time for more work and less bullsh@t.
It’s up to you to find ways to eviscerate your bullsh@t. How much time do you spend at the dinner table talking about nothing after the meal is done? How many calls and texts do you send for no reason at all? Look at your whole life, list your obligations and tasks. Put a time stamp on them. How many hours are required to shop, eat, and clean? How much sleep do you need? What’s your commute like? Can you make it there under your own power? Block everything into windows of time, and once your day is scheduled out, you’ll know how much flexibility you have to exercise on a given day and how to maximize it.
Perhaps you aren’t looking to get fit, but have been dreaming of starting a business of your own, or have always wanted to learn a language or an instrument you’re obsessed with. Fine, the same rule applies. Analyze your schedule, kill your empty habits, burn out the bullsh@t, and see what’s left. Is it one hour per day? Three? Now maximize that sh@t. That means listing your prioritized tasks every hour of the day. You can even narrow it down to fifteen-minute windows, and don’t forget to include backstops in your day-to-day schedule. Remember how I forgot to include backstops in my race plan at Ultraman? You need backstops in your day-to-day schedule too. If one task bleeds into overtime, make sure you know it, and begin to transition into your next prioritized task straight away. Use your smartphone for productivity hacks, not click bait. Turn on your calendar alerts. Have those alarms set.
If you audit your life, skip the bullsh@t, and use backstops, you’ll find time to do everything you need and want to do. But remember that you also need rest, so schedule that in. Listen to your body, sneak in those ten- to twenty-minute power naps when necessary, and take one full rest day per week. If it’s a rest day, truly allow your mind and body to relax. Turn your phone off. Keep the computer shut down. A rest day means you should be relaxed, hanging with friends or family, and eating and drinking well, so you can recharge and get back at it. It’s not a day to lose yourself in technology or stay hunched at your desk in the form of a damn question mark.
The whole point of the twenty-four-hour mission is to keep up a championship pace, not for a season or a year, but for your entire life! That requires quality rest and recovery time. Because there is no finish line. There is always more to learn, and you will always have weaknesses to strengthen if you want to become as hard as woodpecker lips. Hard enough to hammer countless miles, and finish that sh@t strong!
In 2008, I was back in Kona for the Ironman World Championships. I was in peak visibility mode for the Navy SEALs, and Commander Keith Davids, one of the best athletes I ever saw in the SEAL teams, and I were slated to do the race. The NBC Sports broadcast tracked our every move and turned our race within the race into a feature the announcers could cut to between clocking the main contenders.
Our entrance was straight out of a Hollywood pitch meeting. While most athletes were deep into their pre-race rituals and getting psyched up for the longest day of their racing lives, we buzzed overhead in a C-130, jumped from 1,500 feet, and parachuted into the water, where we were scooped up by a Zodiac and motored to shore just four minutes before the gun. That was barely enough time for a blast of energy gel, a swig of water, and to change into our Navy SEAL triathlon suits.
You know by now that I’m slow in the water, and Davids destroyed my ass on the 2.4-mile swim. I’m just as strong as he is on a bicycle, but my lower back tightened up that day and at the halfway point I had to stop and stretch out. By the time I coasted into the transition area after a 112-mile bike ride, Davids had thirty minutes on me, and early on in the marathon, I didn’t do a great job of getting any of it back. My body was rebelling and I had to walk those early miles, but I stayed in the fight, and at mile ten found a rhythm and started clipping time. Somewhere ahead of me Davids blew up, and I inched closer. For a few miles I could see him plodding in the distance, suffering in those lava fields, heat shimmering off the asphalt in sheets. I knew he wanted to beat me because he was a proud man. He was an Officer, a great operator, and a stud athlete. I wanted to beat him too. That’s how Navy SEALs are wired, and I could have blown by him, but as I got closer I told myself to humble up. I caught him with just over two miles to go. He looked at me with a mix of respect and hilarious exasperation.
“fu@king Goggins,” he said with a smile. We’d jumped into the water together, started the race together, and we were gonna finish this thing together. We ran side by side for the final two miles, crossed the finish line, and hugged it out. It was terrific fu@king television.
At the Kona Ironman finish line with Keith Davids
Everything was going well in my life. My career was spit-shined and gleaming, I’d made a name for myself in the sports world, and I had plans to get back onto the battlefield like a Navy SEAL should. But sometimes, even when you are doing everything right in life, sh@t storms appear and multiply. Chaos can and will descend without warning, and when (not if) that happens, there won’t be anything you can do to stop it.
If you’re fortunate, the issues or injuries are relatively minor, and when those incidents crop up it’s on you to adjust and stay after it. If you get injured or other complications arise that prevent you from working on your primary passion, refocus your energy elsewhere. The activities we pursue tend to be our strengths because its fun to do what we’re great at. Very few people enjoy working on their weaknesses, so if you’re a terrific runner with a knee injury that will prevent you from running for twelve weeks, that is a great time to get into yoga, increasing your flexibility and your overall strength, which will make you a better and less injury-prone athlete. If you’re a guitar player with a broken hand, sit down at the keys and use your one good hand to become a more versatile musician. The point is not to allow a setback to shatter our focus, or our detours to dictate our mindset. Always be ready to adjust, recalibrate, and stay after it to become better, somehow.
The sole reason I work out like I do isn’t to prepare for and win ultra races. I don’t have an athletic motive at all. It’s to prepare my mind for life itself. Life will always be the most grueling endurance sport, and when you train hard, get uncomfortable, and callous your mind, you will become a more versatile competitor, trained to find a way forward no matter what. Because there will be times when the sh@t life throws at you isn’t minor at all. Sometimes life hits you dead in the fu@king heart.
My two-year stint on recruitment detail was due to end in 2009, and while I enjoyed my time inspiring the next gen, I was looking forward to getting back out and operating in the field. But before I left my post I planned one more big splash. I would ride a bicycle from the beach in San Diego to Annapolis, Maryland, in a legendary endurance road race, the Race Across America. The race was in June, so from January to May I spent all my free time on the bike. I woke up at 4 a.m. and rode 110 miles before work, then rode twenty to thirty miles home at the end of a long work day. On weekends I put in at least one 200-mile day, and averaged over 700 miles per week. The race would take about two weeks to complete, there would be very little sleep involved, and I wanted to be ready for the greatest athletic challenge of my entire life.
My RAAM training log
Then in early May everything capsized. Like a malfunctioning appliance, my heart went on the blink, almost overnight. For years my resting pulse rate was in the thirties. Suddenly it was in the seventies and eighties and any activity would spike it until I verged on collapse. It was as if I’d sprung a leak, and all my energy had been sucked from my body. A simple five-minute bike ride would send my heart racing to 150 beats per minute. It pounded uncontrollably during a short walk up a single flight of stairs.
At first I thought it was from overtraining and when I went to the doctor, he agreed, but scheduled an echocardiogram for me at Balboa Hospital just in case. When I went in for the test, the tech gelled up his all-knowing receiver and rolled it over my chest to get the angles he’d need while I lay on my left side, my head away from his monitor. He was a talker and kept bullsh@tting about a whole lot of nothing while he checked out all my chambers and valves. Everything looked solid, he said, until suddenly, forty-five minutes into the procedure, this chatty motherfu@ker stopped talking. Instead of his voice, I heard a lot of clicking and zooming. Then he left the room and reappeared with another tech a few minutes later. They clicked, zoomed, and whispered, but didn’t let me in on their big secret.
When people in white coats are treating your heart as a puzzle to be solved right in front of you, it’s hard not to think that you’re probably pretty fu@ked up. Part of me wanted answers immediately, because I was scared as sh@t, but I didn’t want to be a bit@h and show my cards, so I opted to stay calm and let the professionals work. Within a few minutes two other men walked into the room. One of them was a cardiologist. He took over the wand, rolled it on my chest, and peered into the monitor with one short nod. Then he patted me on the shoulder like I was his fu@king intern, and said, “Okay, let’s talk.” “You have an Atrial Septal Defect,” he said as we stood in the hallway, his techs and nurses pacing back and forth, disappearing into and reappearing from rooms on either side of us. I stared straight ahead and said nothing until he realized I had no idea what the fu@k he was talking about. “You have a hole in your heart.” He scrunched his forehead and stroked his chin. “A pretty good-sized one too.”
“Holes don’t just open in your heart, do they?”
“No, no,” he said with a laugh, “you were born with it.”
He went on to explain that the hole was in the wall between my right and left atria, which was a problem because when you have a hole between the chambers in your heart, oxygenated blood mixes with the non-oxygenated blood. Oxygen is an essential element that every single one of our cells needs to survive. According to the doctor, I was only supplying about half of the necessary oxygen my muscles and organs needed for optimal performance.
That leads to swelling in the feet and abdomen, heart palpitations, and occasional bouts of shortness of breath. It certainly explained the fatigue I’d been feeling recently. It also impacts the lungs, he said, because it floods the pulmonary blood vessels with more blood than they can handle, which makes it much more difficult to recover from overexertion and illness. I flashed back to all the issues I had recovering after contracting double pneumonia during my first Hell Week. The fluid I had in my lungs never fully receded. During subsequent Hell Weeks, and after getting into ultras, I found myself hocking up phlegm during and after finishing races. Some nights, there was so much fluid in me I couldn’t sleep. I’d just sit up and spit phlegm into empty Gatorade bottles, wondering when that boring ritual would play itself out. Most people, when they become ultra obsessed, may deal with overuse injuries, but their cardiovascular system is finely tuned. Even though I was able to compete and accomplish so much with my broken body, I never felt that great. I’d learned to endure and overcome, and as the doctor continued to download the essentials I realized that for the first time in my entire life, I’d also been pretty fu@king lucky. You know, the backhanded brand of luck where you have a hole in your heart, but are thanking God that it hasn’t killed you…yet.
Because when you have an ASD like mine and you dive deep under water, gas bubbles, which are supposed to travel through the pulmonary blood vessels to be filtered through the lungs, might leak from that hole upon ascent, and recirculate as weaponized embolisms that can clog blood vessels in the brain and lead to a stroke, or block an artery to the heart, and cause cardiac arrest. It’s like diving with a dirty bomb floating inside you, never knowing when or where it might go off.
I wasn’t alone in this fight. One out of every ten children are born with this same defect, but in most cases the hole closes on its own, and surgery isn’t required. In just under 2,000 American children each year, surgery is required, but is usually administered before a patient starts school, because there are better screening processes these days. Most people my age who were born with ASD left the hospital in their mothers’ arms and lived with a potential deadly problem without a clue. Until, like me, their heart started giving them trouble in their thirties. If I had ignored my warning signs, I could have dropped dead during a four-mile run.
That’s why if you’re in the military and are diagnosed with an ASD, you can’t jump out of airplanes or scuba dive, and if anyone had known of my condition there is no way the Navy ever would have let me become a SEAL. It’s astonishing I even made it through Hell Week, Badwater, or any of those other races.
“I’m truly amazed you could do all you’ve done with this condition,” the doctor said.
I nodded. He thought I was a medical marvel, some kind of outlier, or simply a gifted athlete blessed with amazing luck. To me, it was just further evidence that I didn’t owe my accomplishments to God-given talent or great genetics. I had a fu@king hole in my heart! I was running on a tank perpetually half full, and that meant my life was absolute proof of what’s possible when someone dedicates themselves to harnessing the full power of the human mind.
Three days later I was in surgery.
And boy did the doctor fu@k that one up. First off, the anesthesia didn’t take all the way, which meant I was half awake as the surgeon sliced into my inner thigh, inserted a catheter into my femoral artery, and once it reached my heart, deployed a helix patch through that catheter and moved it into place, supposedly patching the hole in my heart. Meanwhile, they had a camera down my throat, which I could feel as I gagged and struggled to endure the two-hour-long procedure. After all of that, my troubles were supposed to have been over. The doctor mentioned that it would take time for my heart tissue to grow around and seal the patch, but after a week he cleared me for light exercise.
Roger that, I thought, as I dropped to the floor to do a set of push-ups as soon as I got home. Almost immediately my heart went into atrial fibrillation, also known as a-fib. My pulse spiked from 120 to 230, back to 120 then up to 250. I felt dizzy and had to sit down as I stared at my heart rate monitor, while my breathing normalized. Once again my resting heart rate was in the eighties. In other words, nothing had changed. I called the cardiologist who tagged it a minor side effect and begged patience. I took him at his word and rested for a few more days then hopped on the bike for an easy ride home from work. At first all went well but after about fifteen miles, my heart went into a-fib once again. My pulse rate bounced from 120 to 230 and back again across the imaginary graph in my mind’s eye with no rhythm whatsoever. Kate drove me straight to Balboa Hospital. After that visit, and second and third opinions, it was clear that the patch had either failed or was insufficient to cover the entire hole, and that I’d need a second heart surgery.
The Navy didn’t want any part of that. They feared further complications and suggested I scale back my lifestyle, accept my new normal, and a retirement package. Yeah, right. Instead, I found a better doctor at Balboa who said we’d have to wait several months before we could even contemplate another heart surgery. In the meantime, I couldn’t jump or dive, and obviously couldn’t operate in the field, so I stayed in recruitment. It was a different life, no doubt, and I was tempted to feel sorry for myself. After all, this thing that hit me out of the clear blue changed the entire landscape of my military career, but I’d been training for life, not ultra races, and I refused to hang my head.
I knew that if I maintained a victim’s mentality I wouldn’t get anything at all out of a fu@ked-up situation, and I didn’t want to sit home defeated all day long. So I used the time to perfect my recruitment presentation. I wrote up sterling AARs and became much more detail oriented in my administrative work. Does that sound boring to you? fu@k yes, it was boring! But it was honest, necessary work, and I used it to keep my mind sharp for when the moment came that I’d be able to drop back into the fight for real.
Or so I hoped.
A full fourteen months after the first surgery, I was once again rolling through a hospital corridor on my back, staring at the fluorescent lights in the ceiling, headed to pre-op, with no guarantees. While the techs and nurses shaved me down and prepped me up, I thought about all I’d accomplished in the military and wondered, was it enough? If the docs couldn’t fix me this time would I be willing to retire, satisfied? That question lingered in my head until the anesthesiologist placed an oxygen mask over my face and counted down softly in my ear. Just before lights out, I heard the answer erupt from the abyss of my jet-black soul.
Schedule it in!
It’s time to compartmentalize your day. Too many of us have become multitaskers, and that’s created a nation of half-asses. This will be a three-week challenge. During week one, go about your normal schedule, but take notes. When do you work? Are you working nonstop or checking your phone (the Moment app will tell you)? How long are your meal breaks? When do you exercise, watch TV, or chat to friends? How long is your commute? Are you driving? I want you to get super detailed and document it all with timestamps. This will be your baseline, and you’ll find plenty of fat to trim. Most people waste four to five hours on a given day, and if you can learn to identify and utilize it, you’ll be on your way toward increased productivity.
In week two, build an optimal schedule. Lock everything into place in fifteen- to thirty-minute blocks. Some tasks will take multiple blocks or entire days. Fine. When you work, only work on one thing at a time, think about the task in front of you and pursue it relentlessly. When it comes time for the next task on your schedule, place that first one aside, and apply the same focus.
Make sure your meal breaks are adequate but not open-ended, and schedule in exercise and rest too. But when it’s time to rest, actually rest. No checking email or bullsh@tting on social media. If you are going to work hard you must also rest your brain.
Make notes with timestamps in week two. You may still find some residual dead space. By week three, you should have a working schedule that maximizes your effort without sacrificing sleep. Post photos of your schedule, with the hashtags #canthurtme #talentnotrequired.
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