Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Trying To Push The Limits

As most of my clients know already I am a fan of pushing the limits. What this means is that I like to test the limitations of the human body and mind through any sort of activity. I have learned through the years that the most, and usually best changes occur on that very last extra lap, the last mile or the extra umph to the end. The other great thing that happens during these strenuous moments is that you are faced with nothing but yourself, what you thought was the very peak of your abilities become challenged right then and there.

My limits were tested last Sunday; and I crashed and burned. I had my fourth marathon planned up in Albany, NY. A runners run. this race was flat as any race out there and just circled around the University of Albany campus and State Buildings about 5 times...how boring. But because of this I figured it would be perfect to work on splits (explained in a second) and push a little further than 26.2 and get 31 in, a 50k, in preparation for my 50 miler in April. The weather was chilly but fine, especially since the sun was shining bright without a cloud in the sky. The small group of a little less than 100 people made our way to the start line at about 10 until 10am. It seemed like everyone knew each other. It was a mixture of students and old runners, most of which seemed to have run well over 50 marathons in their time and also, it seemed to me, really considered this one a fun, short little weekend run...and people say I'm crazy.

My plan was to run 30 minutes straight before breaking down into 8 minute runs, 2 minutes walk splits through hour 2. After that, I would try a different split, working 4 minutes running and 1 minute walking. On top of that, I would be running a slower pace than normal with the intentions of saving my strength so I could push through an added 5 miles at the end. I figured, even if I walked most of those last five miles, I still would push beyond my farthest of a marathon. So off I ran.

Things seemed to be going fine as I entered into my last loop, about mile 20 (they didn't really have mile markers, so I just guessed); but as I hit the turn around I was witness to about 5 other runners crossing the finish line not 20 yards from me. That hurt. I didn't really realize at the time, but that really got to me. Then, pushing on the halfway mark of the loop I remember clear as day, in fact, I think I even said it out laud, "I can't do this". Now, for those of you who know me, those words have probably been spoken by me maybe 5 times in my life, and the second I said them, I was defeated. My body was breaking down and through this, my normally very strong mind was breaking down too. When I crossed the finish at 4:06, I was done; no chance in hell I was running any more.

It was an interesting experience for me to watch myself break down mentally like that. I think negative thoughts all the time just as most people, but usually they act as motivation for me to push harder. This time, I just could not bring myself to do it. I was happy with 26.2, I did it in my second best time, but I've done it before. I went in with the goal of doing more, driving further, pushing my past limits and I could not beat something I had done in the past. Now, of course their all many other factors that are in play here, I assume now that I could have had a much faster time if I was actually going for time. I make this assumption because I was intentionally trying to run slowly, and finished with my second best marathon time out of four. I clrearly wasn't able to stick to the game plan of around a ten minute mile, but I did learn, with the splits, I could push a nine minute mile and probably stick to it for 4 hours straight. Which is a cool thing to learn.

Ultimately, looking back, I did push my limits, I just didn't get beyond something I had done before. It is clear to me now that pushing your limits does not have to mean you set a PR every time you try something. It could be just waking up when you are VERY tired for some people, or making sure you get to the gym 4 times a week no matter what. If it is something you feel you truly will struggle with at the time, and you do it anyway, you push your limits and grow.

When all is said and done, I am happy with the last race, and am still confidant I will finish the 50 miler in April. I will keep pushing every day, and I will keep helping my clients push every day because I know, when you challenge yourself you change, and when you change you learn, and when you learn you progress. It's the never ending process of the mind body and the world, and it is a great thing weather it is understood or not.

Never Stop, GET FIT

Josh Courage

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Drive Cont'd

It was the beginning of March. Spring training for the big leaguer's was quickly coming to an end and I was beginning to lose hope that I would ever get a good phone call. I was slowly allowing myself to think about how stupid it might have been to have not signed an Australian contract. Or perhaps I would head back to France for a full season. But these thoughts were only fleeting; and I kept my head down and got just continuously got after it.

One day, I was looking around for a new place to throw. Seeing how it was early spring and teams were out practicing, it was getting harder and harder to find an area where I could both throw off a mound, and long toss into a fence of sorts. I had more than a few times even gone out to a large field, with no other options around, and just thrown 10 or so balls as far as I could down the field, then sprinted to them and repeated back in the other direction. This was a great way for me to get an intense long toss in, as well as sprints, all at the same time. But I always preferred a fence, just so that I would be able to set up a target.

So I drove out to Shirley Povich Field, out near Potomac, MD. This was a regional park that used to play at when I was younger, and now had been really worked on over the years to allow the Bethesda Big Train and the Georgetown Hoya's play host their home games there. The great thing was, there were about 6 or so field in total, so I knew I'd be able to find some room. I found an empty field way off to the side and set up my routine. I ran a little, went through some active warm ups to get my body and arm loose, then grabbed my bucket of balls and went out to throw. I had maybe gotten three throws in when a pickup truck screeched up to the fence and a man jumped out yelling at me to "Hey! Get the hell off the field!" Well, I didn't much like his attitude, but there really wasn't anything I could do but tell him there was no need to yell and I'd get off the field. Needless to say, I was pretty pissed off about the whole situation. Now I would have to pack it all up, find some other field (and Povich was a hike from most areas) and get it all set up again. But, I would have to do it, I needed to long toss and get a short bullpen in that day, so I would drive around all day if I had to.

As I walked towards the car my phone rang. I dropped my stuff and picked it up, excited because I didn't recognize the number. The man who was calling said he was the procurement director with the Pensacola Pelicans and had gotten a call from the national cross checker scout for the Devil Rays recommending me as a pitcher for their club. He told me that Spring Training would start at the end of April and that if I was ready to sign a contract he would need a fax number. And there was my chance.

A month later I was driving along the white sand beaches of Pensacola in my '89 Saab convertible. The top was down and all I could think as I breathed in the warm Florida air was "I'm in Florida, I am a professional baseball player. This is so damn cool."

The season started with a bang. I had proved myself during spring training and was placed in the roster as the Closer. I had a great host family set up and was making friends with everybody. I would wake up in the morning, during home games, and head to the gym for a couple hours. After that I'd grab lunch and either head out to the beach for a little, or head home to watch a movie and read by the pool. Then, I'd head out to the park to get pre-game warm ups in and prepare for the game. That was my life, and I got paid to do it.

The first highlight came during our first game of the season. We were in Jackson, MS and it was a tight game all the way up to the ninth. We were up by one and all we needed was three outs and we would secure the win. This was my job. I came in, went through my little rituals and proceeded to get three quick outs; a strike out, a ground out and a strike out to win the game. It was great, especially because my father was their to witness my first true professional appearance.

Another highlight was about a month and a half into the season. I was ranked as one of the top pitchers in the league with around 14 appearances, 14 innings and 7 saves. I had only given up 7 or so hits, and only 1 run. The Pensacola News Journal came and interviewed me for a big article, and the local news channel ran a special on me as well. It was a great feeling to be the center of attention as a pro.

Now, as I move on with my life and am going on my second year as a retired ball player, I look back at my short career and always smile knowing that I got to have such great experiences. I loved it. The ups and the downs, the good and the bad, it was all so much fun and I know that I put my all into it to get there. I was never a stand out, never the best, but I worked hard. I worked harder then anyone around me because I wanted it that bad. When everyone else went inside because it was too cold, or too dark, or too wet, I kept training; and I made it. I will treasure those times humbly and forever; and will now always focus on helping other people find what it is they truly want, and get it.

Never Stop, GET FIT

Josh Courage

Friday, February 1, 2008

Drive Cont'd

Back in America now, I was living in Old Town, Alexandria, VA, working at Sport and Health Club making hardly anything. But I was able to work out for free, usually even during work hours just because if I was there in the middle of the day or the evenings, no one was around. The other great thing about the area, was the amount of parks, and, the large, usually empty parking garage directly next to the gym. Most of the time I would bike the mile or so to work, work my shift, workout, and bike home. Then I would grab a bucket of baseballs and my glove, and head out to one of three places: behind the pool at our apartment complex where there was a large fence (I was living with my girlfriend at the time, splitting time between there and my parents house where I would look over things while my Mom was in Belgium for her cancer), at a small regional baseball field that actually had a bullpen, or in the parking garage. The later tended to be the primary spot seeing how it was so damn cold, and usually rainy or snowing all the time.

My program would be to tape a "strike zone" to a wall. Go through a few drills and then proceed to throw 15 to 20 throws at distances that would increase by about 10 paces. I would throw from about 6 or 7 points, getting upwards to 200 feet from the strike zone, then I would come in to about 60 feet and throw specific pitches, trying to hit certain areas of the zone so I could find a consistent release points.

When I was at my parents house, the only place I could go was down to a softball field across the street. It was during these trips that I came up with the idea for a very large baseball facility somewhere in DC. You see, there are no facilities anywhere around DC. It is unbelievable. For an area that produces some very, very good baseball, and has some pretty streaky weather patterns, one would think a great indoor training facility would be a sure thing. But, there is always an obstacle; and I wasn't going to let the the stupid weather win.

So, in the dead of the winter, I would take my bucket of balls, my glove, some string (to weave a strike zone into the backstop) and a shovel down to the field. I would mark off my points and shovel away the snow and chip away the ice to secure my footing when I threw. And I would go through my program. Every time I did this, every time as I walked through the small path that leads through the woods to the field thinking to myself "what the hell are you doing Josh? Why go through all this trouble? Just throw tomorrow when the weather is better" I would think of two quotes that I still use today:

"What did you you to make yourself a better baseball player today"

"There is always someone else working harder than you"

The first one is pretty popular, so I just added the "baseball" part. This insured that every single day I wouldn't just do something to make me better, I would do something to make me a better Baseball Player. The second one I remember my father telling me when I was younger and it stuck. I have had friends who wanted nothing more than to be on a baseball field every waking second of their lives. And I wanted that. But instead of thinking about it, hoping and praying someone would let me, I got out and did something about it.

When spring rolled around I was feeling great, all my pitches were working for me, I found out how to throw two different sliders (which would help me with my unorthodox way of pitching. I video taped a bullpen once a week to check for inconsistencies and glitches and would consult with family and friends to get objective opinions on my form. I felt confident that with my abilities at that point in my life, and with my experience in college, and in pro ball in France, I would get a chance.

It came when my friend (the one who found me the job in France), who at this point I had been working with for 6 years, called me up and said I should come into his office for a meeting and a bullpen session with a Tampa Bay Devil Rays scout. I got pumped. A private tryout. I had thrown in front of a couple scouts one-on-one over the course of the past year, but this one was organized specifically for me, not just a chance get together and some familiar words ("You look great, great movement, very smooth, we would just have to see you against live hitting"). My friend told me I would need to "get it done" here, he pulled a lot of favors to get this scout to come in and look at me.

Two side notes here: 1) I pitch submarine/sidearm style (check out the picture). This means I throw in the low-80's (pretty slow in pro ball) and rely on movement and change of speeds to get hitters to make mistakes. I was hoping for a job as a set-up man to a closer, or a closer (the guy who finishes the game). 2) for those of you who don't know, a bullpen session, or just, bullpen, is when a pitcher throws from a mound without a hitter. Basically just a practice session specifically to work on throwing pitches to spots and working on mechanics (and showing off to scouts).

So I went up to the office, where there was a batting cage and a small area with an indoor mound. To make matters worse here, there was no catcher, so, I had to throw into a "catchers net" that had three small target holes, inside, outside and down the middle (thank god I had been throwing to just a target all winter, a catcher helps SO much, trust me. They make you look a TON better). The scout recognized my name, which made me smile knowing that all those trips to the many tryouts had actually paid off, he knew that I worked hard. And my bullpen began.

I threw about 30 pitches in all. About 15 total fastballs, 10 sliders and about 5 or so changeups. And when I approached the scout, he smiled, shook my hand and said "great job Josh". Then I was asked to leave. The next day I called both my friend and the scout to thank them for the opportunity to throw in front of them, and would love to hear feedback, whatever it may be.

A couple nerve raking days later my friend called and told me that the scout really like me and would be doing all he could to recommend me to the national cross checker scout (the decision maker) down in Pensacola FL. I would just have to sit tight and stay ready. Sounds like I'd be doing much of what I had been doing for a year now. So, I kept throwing, kept running, kept working out, kept hoping that I would get a call soon; I just wanted an answer, any answer.

To be Completed This Weekend...

Never Quit GET FIT

Josh Courage