Author: Steve Fales

Hello. My name is Steve Fales. I am an ordinary human being trying to make the best of this journey. My life is fairly simple – not boring by any means, but simple nonetheless. Here is the overview … • A great family consisting of a wife and two grown daughters. We manage to love one another despite our imperfections. • Employed in senior management at a marketing / advertising agency. • Avid distance runner. • Chess player. • Collector of people, including a handful of close friends who have likewise collected me. I’ve been a student of life management, productivity, personal effectiveness, business, and biblical spiritual growth for over 35 years. Currently, I’m actively engaged in building what I hope will be a positive legacy that will benefit someone’s life. Feel free to contact me any time. -

Waking Up Is Hard To Do

As an active distance runner and triathlete, I work out five or six days a week, usually in the morning. People who know this often say something like “You’re amazing. It’s great that you can do that.” Please allow me to set the record straight – I’m NOT amazing. In fact I hate leaving my bed. And crawling out from under the covers is not great … It’s horrible almost every time.

After more than a decade of consistent early sessions on the run, on the bike, or in the pool, those first few moments of consciousness are not any easier than they were the first time. I’m not singing the Hallelujah Chorus when the alarm goes off. I’m hearing dirges in my head about then.

So why do it? Because of a saying I picked up many years back: “You never regret the workouts you do. You always regret the workouts you skip.” Deciding whether to go from idle to active will set the tone for the whole day. I can either be energized or feel like a slug for the next 24 hours.

So to anyone who sees that runner / triathlete / yoga practitioner / spin class enthusiast / etc. as some sort of superhuman, I’ll bet money on the contrary. Most likely he or she faces the same struggles, but has learned that although waking up is difficult, breaking up with this lifestyle is even more hard to do.


Who Wants To Be A Runner?

It happens now and then. The fact that I run marathons comes up in casual conversation. Someone in the room, upon learning the distance involved, exclaims “I’d love to be a runner, but I couldn’t do one mile. Never mind twenty-six.” (It’s actually 26.2 by the way.)

Here’s a secret: When I started a few years ago, my goal was to go a quarter mile without walking. I didn’t make it.

In time, however, things changed. The cardio and muscular systems slowly adapted. I gained a bit of knowledge and started hanging out with a bunch of marathoners. I hired a coach. Eventually, covering a fair amount of ground during a workout was routine.

Therein lies the secret to becoming a distance runner. Start small. Be consistent. Keep challenging yourself. Latch on to a mentor or two. One day you’ll look back and realize that you’ve made accomplishments which you never thought possible.

(The principle applies in other areas of life as well. Growing a career; mastering a skill; building wealth. But those are topics for a different venue.)

Only one ingredient is really necessary – desire. So if that describes you, then lace on some good shoes and head out the door. It doesn’t matter how far or not far you get.

Yes, your lungs may burn – walk home and try again tomorrow.

Yes, your muscles may be sore – use an icepack, maybe take an NSAID, and try again in a couple days. (But don’t push yourself to the point of injury.)

Keep it up, and see what happens in six months or so.

One more thing: Congratulations. You achieved what you wanted. You’re a runner.

I Gotta Be Me

I Gotta Be Me - Raw - ResizeAnyone who does regular physical activity has likely run across at least one modern hard-core guru. The most famous are:

— Jocko Willink, 20 years a Navy SEAL, New York Times #1 Best Selling Author, podcaster, and CEO of his company, Echelon Leadership.

— David Goggins, another retired Navy SEAL, author of “Can’t Hurt Me”. His two interviews with Joe Rogan have over six million views on YouTube.

These guys are tough. Super tough. A few of their quotes tell the story:

Goggins: “There is no better way to grow as a person than to do something you hate every day.” … “Suffering is the true test of life.”

Willink: “It’s not what you preach. It’s what you tolerate.” … “Don’t fight stress. Embrace it.”

I have tremendous respect for both gentlemen. Their military service is the reason I live free. Their athletic accomplishments are amazing. They’ve motivated thousands of folk to get off the couch (although Goggins says “Motivation is crap”). The principles they teach are valuable guides for much of life.

Still, I can’t allow myself to feel guilty for not emulating them.

News Flash – I’ve never been a Navy SEAL. I’m a slightly-older-than-middle age man who’d like to lose five pounds, who enjoys swimming, running, and riding a bike. Key word: “enjoys.” I don’t want to hate it every day. As for suffering … Yeah, it happens, but I avoid it when possible. And hitting the road is what I do to relieve – not increase – the stress level.

Not that I’m a slug. I work out six days a week, sometimes twice a day. There are pool sessions, track workouts, long runs, cycling, and strength training – by which I mean lifting moderate weights while watching Jeopardy.

And quotes? Here are a couple of mine: “Look. An inaugural 5K. Maybe none of the fast people will show up and I can place in my age group.” Or “Hurray! I only walked through the water stops this time.”

So, you’re right, David, I’m not that one in a hundred you talk about who’s a warrior. That would be Jocko, you, and many of your followers, some of whom I know personally and admire. I’m more of a fitness lover. And that’s OK. Because I gotta be me.

Just Add Water

It was a Saturday, a couple weeks after my first full marathon. Foolishly, I’d jumped right back into a significant running schedule. About three miles down the road it hit. Major pain. I began limping back to home base.Swimmer - Copy

Soon the Ford Explorer pulled up. My coach, Terri, opened the door and said, “Get in.” As we spoke about my situation, she added, “I want you to start cross training. Swimming.”

That afternoon I joined a gym with a lap pool. Today – several years later – there’s a swim coach, two or three workouts a week, and participation in all kinds of group events and competitions.

Swimming is amazing, in an ultimate paradoxical kind of way. It can be poetic, musical, artistic. As beautiful as ballet. It’s also frustrating as … well, you know. Because unlike running, which is a primal homo sapien activity, proper swimming must be learned. It’s purely about technique. Make that plural. There are so many actions to master.

But in those moments when it all comes together, few experiences are better. Arms and legs moving rhythmically, every muscle in harmony, water supporting you as you glide along feeling on top of it.

Some people say that swimming is a total body workout. I’d call it a total human workout, because it goes beyond the physical. Emotionally and spiritually, your whole being is focused inward (it’s hard to converse when you’re swimming), so it’s a perfect way to get to know yourself and explore whatever’s going on in there.

Feeling severe pain in my leg on the run that morning, and the time it took to get back to the streets, was disappointing in some ways. But I’m actually glad it happened, because through it I gained another highly enjoyable activity: Swimming.

All I had to do was add water.

Angel At Mile 22

There were 45,000 runners, including me, and an estimated one million spectators at the 2013 Bank Of America Chicago Marathon. Those numbers make this experience all the more amazing. The miracle happened at about mile 22 of the 26.2 mile course.

Mile 22 of a marathon is not a very pleasant place to be. At my level (think very amateur), you’ve already been exerting yourself for a few hours. Fatigue set in long ago. The energy-releasing glycogen that your cells had stored from days of what endurance runners call “carbo-loading” was used up a good while back, causing your body to search in every crevice of muscle for fuel. And speaking of muscles, all of them from the waist down are in various levels of pain.

Still, there are bigger challenges – the ones in your mind. Thoughts of “I can’t do this,” and “I’ll never make it” have replaced the confidence of the starting line. That morning, pre-dawn, standing in the start corrals waiting for the gun that would signal it was time to begin, you knew you were ready. Weeks of training, proper nutrition, advice from mentors and coaches, and countless sacrifices had brought you to that place. Now, however, at mile 22, a battle rages in the area between your own ears. It’s the logic of ability versus the emotion of intense struggle.

More than twenty miles are behind. That’s a significant distance for sure, but the more noteworthy number is the four plus miles that still lie ahead. Those last few can seem never ending.

On this particular day, something nearly unbelievable happened. Call it luck, inspiration, or a kind of divine prompting, but for some reason, as I was running the 2013 Bank Of America Chicago Marathon, at about the mile 22 mark, I looked over my left shoulder into the crowd of spectators. I could barely believe what – or who – I thought I saw.

In an instant, my eyes locked onto those of a friend from the running club of which I’m a member way back in my home town of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Or at least it looked like him. Could it really be?

“Craig?”, I shouted.

“Steve?”, he replied.

Yes, Craig from Ft. Lauderdale was visiting the Chicago area that day. He hadn’t planned to run the marathon, but being a fan of the sport he came out to watch. And in the midst of an enormous collection of humans, our gaze met – me a runner, and him a spectator – at mile 22 of the Bank Of America Chicago Marathon.

To my good fortune, Craig was wearing his running shoes. Off the sidewalk and onto the course he came, trotting alongside me. He chanted encouragements such as, “You can do it.” “You’ve got this,” and “If you don’t finish, Steve, I’ll tell everybody back at the club that you’re a baby.”

After a mile or so of keeping me company and lifting my spirits, Craig prodded me with “Come on, pick it up.” Incredibly, I somehow found the strength to do just that. The agony I battled not long before had been overcome by a new resolve to see this race through to a successful outcome.

Moments later, my running companion left me on my own once again. As Craig made his way back into the crowd, I went on to complete the race, collect my finisher’s medal and get some rest.

I think about that day often. It’s a great metaphor of life. There are times when we feel as though we’ve been trudging along forever. Our reserves are depleted and it seems that we just can’t go on. At that very moment, when we want so badly to quit, matters get even worse as new circumstances present themselves, more daunting than the ones before. The path ahead seems impossible to conquer.

Just when we think we’re about to give up, good fortune strikes. The breakthrough occurs. The situation brightens. Often this shift is the result of a fellow sojourner who steps in to lend a hand at just the right moment.

He or she may not intersect with our lives for long, but it’s long enough to make a difference, the way Craig’s support for just two or so miles out of an entire marathon was so very significant to me. Hope returns to our spirits at last, and on the wings of this new-found strength we are able to complete the course before us.

There’s another side to these scenarios, and it’s a very interesting one. The person doing the helping realizes a profound benefit as well. A sense of fulfillment comes with stepping out of the crowd to meet the needs of someone who’s going through tough times. This is a great paradox of human interaction – the giver is often equally the receiver.

The 2013 Bank Of America Chicago Marathon forever holds a special place in my heart. It was 26.2 miles of physical and emotional highs and lows. More importantly, it contained within it valuable lessons that touch the deepest inner places of humanity. I will always remember the miracle that occurred when I saw an angel at mile 22.


Will Run For Food

“As much as you run, you can eat anything you want.” I wish I had a celery stick for every time someone’s told me that. In truth, this assumption is only partially accurate.

Sure, runners burn a lot of calories. In theory, they can put back a lot. But this formula overlooks a much bigger reality that has to do with the running community’s very view of caloric consumption.

Food can be many things: A friend … a means of comfort … an indulgence … a reward. Most athletes, however, don’t think of it this way. Instead, it’s primarily nutrition. AKA “Fuel”.

In practicality, the scene plays out like this. The runner might want the cheeseburger and fries, but there’s an eight-mile tempo workout on the calendar tomorrow morning. Heavy, greasy stuff will lead to all kinds of complications, some of which are unmentionable, while others include normal consequences like feeling sluggish and the self-loathing that comes from lack of discipline. So it’s grilled chicken breast, a dry sweet potato, and broccoli. No butter please.

After a while, the body stops craving the tasty – I mean horrible – stuff. Clean eating becomes preferable. Mostly.

Granted, this formula doesn’t hold up 100% of the time. Now and then caution is tossed to the wind. Pizza, chicken wings, Philly steak sandwich, ice cream, and whatever make it to the table. But that’s OK. After all, as much as we run, we can eat anything we want.

How Long Is A Marathon?

As someone who runs a fair amount, I’m often asked “How long is a marathon?” Here are three answers to that question.

First, the strictly factual. A marathon is 26.2 miles. That’s 26 miles plus 385 yards, or just over 42 kilometers. And to dispel a couple misunderstandings …

— If it’s not called a marathon, aka “full marathon”, it’s not one. People sometimes say things like “My cousin ran a 5K marathon.” Nope. A 5K is 3.1 miles; a 10K, 6.2; half marathon, 13.1. While those are all respectable events, they’re not marathons.

— All official full marathons are the same length. Whether it’s world-famous Boston or one raising money for a local charity, they’re equal in mileage: 26.2.

A less literal reply to the question “How long is a marathon?”, is what I’ll call Response Two: A marathon is far. Really, really far. In fact it might be best not to think about it.

Out of curiosity, I once decided to clock the distance in my car. I reset the trip odometer and took off. The results haunt me to this day. Whether you’re prone to marathon running, or don’t think you ever will be, you might try this just for kicks. It will surely bring perspective to the sport.

(For those familiar with south Florida – Starting on Hollywood Boulevard, two blocks west of Dixie Highway, I went west on Hollywood Boulevard to I-95. North to 595. West to State Road 27. Then 3.1 miles further north before the odometer hit 26.2. Yikes!)

The third response is philosophical. How long is a marathon? It’s the figurative space between two intangible points: The degree to which a person is living life now; and the realization of that person’s potential. Let me explain:

To complete a full marathon, you must first sign up. That takes courage. Next come several months of discipline, usually involving getting out of bed way before you want to. Pre-dawn workouts, some glorious, others torturous. Denial of comfort foods. Sore muscles. Oh, and the actual act of running for quite some time – close to five hours for a mere mortal like me.

Crossing the finish line is euphoric. It’s also transformative, because according to, you’re now in the one half of one percent – that’s .005 – of the U.S. population who’ve ever done so. You feel like you can achieve anything to which you commit. And maybe you can. (This of course isn’t the only human feat with the same outcome. Many other pursuits will get you there as well.)

How long is a marathon? It’s 26.2 miles. It so far that it might be best not to think about it. And it’s a journey from mediocrity to a life without limits. That makes it long enough for me.


A Fisherman And A Runner Walk Into A Bar

Fishermen have a long reputation for being stretchers of the truth. They’ve been known to exaggerate the size of the epic catch years ago, or – even better – the one that got away. But here’s something that hasn’t made it to mainstream common knowledge: Runners lie as badly or worse than any angler in history.

When a running buddy asks you to join him or her for five miles at a 10-minute pace, be prepared for six and a half at 9:30. This principle applies across all levels of the athletic spectrum, from the super fast to the casual run / walker. Scientifically speaking, I’ve noticed a fib factor of around 20%, though it can certainly go higher.

I confess that I’m an offender myself. A few days ago, a friend and I set out for what I said would be six by 800-meter repeats. Finishing the fifth one, I announced “only two more.” She wasn’t even surprised. And just this morning I told my wife I was going out for six or seven miles. The final tally? 8.2.

Unlike fishermen, whose tales exceed reality, runners misrepresent themselves in the opposite direction. I’d like to believe that’s because we’re people of such high integrity. More probable it has to do with the ease in which our exploits can be fact checked. Apps like Strava, Garmin Connect, and Nike Fit keep us honest, and race results are posted online for anyone to see. Saying you ran a four-hour marathon doesn’t hold up to scrutiny when the official event website shows 4:35:19. Internet-connected surveillance cameras on deep sea charter boats might have the same effect.

The big question is “Why do runners say they’ll do less and then do more?” Perhaps because actually running is way more fun than thinking about running – at least up to a point. Six miles might sound daunting when you’re pondering it, but when you get to four, and your breathing is rhythmic, your legs are moving like a fluid machine, and you’re enjoying the scenery … well, heck, it’s just a little farther.

So if you’re ever in a bar and a fisherman and a runner walk in, there will no doubt be interesting conversations all around. But don’t believe a word either of them say.


Relatively Accepting

Runners come in all varieties. Some love the 5K, others the marathon, or even the Ultra, which can be 100 miles and more. Many take to the water and hop on a bike as well, tackling different lengths of triathlon. I met a guy recently who’s preparing for a Double Ironman – 4.8 mile swim, 224 miles cycling, then a 52.4 mile run. Yeah, that’s nuts.

People new to the sport might succumb to comparisons, which can be discouraging. But those emotions are unfounded. I speak from experience: Being a little older and slower than most of my buddies, I feel no judgment – just mutual respect. We wave, smile, and utter encouragements as we pass by.

The spectrum of ability and experience is broad. Athlete A’s distance workout is Athlete B’s warmup. Recovery day for this person is that one’s speed training. We’re all OK with that, understanding that we share the same road, the same groan when the alarm clock rings, and the same elation at the finish line.

So if you’re contemplating that first trip to the local store for a pair of real running shoes, stand tall. Be proud. Then join a club and you’ll soon be in good company.

Sure, you’ll meet a few true warriors who will leave you in their dust. And once you get past the initial fitness curve there will be folk who can only dream of staying on your shoulder. None of that will matter, though, because we’re just a big community.

Runners accept each other right where they are. We know it’s all relative.


Mile Zero

It’s been said that the hardest challenge a runner faces comes somewhere around mile 20 of a marathon. There’s truth to that. But in my experience, an equally tough spot is what I call Mile Zero. And even worse, the latter pops up several grueling times a week.

Mile Zero begins when the alarm goes off, usually between 4:30 and 5:00am. Various activities follow – Select clothes and shoes that match the outside conditions … Apply Body Glide … Choke down that banana, half a bagel and sport drink. Each action carries with it a decision: “Do I really want to do this, or can I go back to bed?”

Next comes the defining moment, the start of the actual run. Those first few stiff steps are going to hurt. Ugh.

Transitioning from half asleep stupor to fully alert athlete occurs gradually. Before long, mercifully, the good stuff kicks in. Like the familiar stride, the regular breathing, friendly conversation if the workout is being shared with others, and that wonderful euphoria that you just have to feel to understand.

Mile Zero was brutal, but worth it. I’ll try to remember that tomorrow.