In his book, Good To Great, author James C. Collins describes a conversation he once had with the late Vice Admiral James Stockdale. For those unfamiliar with Stockdale's story: in 1965 he ejected from an A-4E Skyhawk over North Vietnam and was taken captive. He spent seven years in the Hoa Lo prison, where he was held in metal leg restraints and often locked in a bath stall. He was beaten and tortured on a routine basis.
When speaking to James Collins, Admiral Stockdale described his coping mechanisms during captivity. "I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade." *Note: He chose to make this torturous captivity the defining experience of his life.
Collins then asked about prisoners who had the most problems or did not make it out: "Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart."
"This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Collins describes this mentality as "The Stockdale Paradox." In short, the Paradox includes a clear objective coupled with realistic discipline. For me, Stockdale's choice to make captivity and torture a defining experience is unbelievable and awe-inspiring.
For more on Admiral Stockdale's story, check out the book In Love and War by James and Sybil Stockdale.
Years ago my friends and I tried a workout regimen that included multiple “Cal Runs” every week. The Cal Run concept was simple: 1) Execute one minute of push-ups - Jog for two minutes; 2) Execute one minute of crunches - Jog for two minutes; 3) Execute one minute of squats or lunges - Jog for two minutes; 4) Repeat...
Nothing complicated. The idea was to practice upper-body, midsection, and lower-body exercises with cardio mixed in between. Our routine started with three to four 35 minute Cal Runs per week, and quickly grew to four 1-1.5 hour runs per week.
We were kinda proud of ourselves. Sometimes we’d count reps of push-ups or crunches and brag that we had knocked out hundreds while jogging four miles or five miles or whatever. One day we decided to experiment with an 8-mile jaunt. With all of the stops and starts, the 8-mile Cal Run (one that included lots of M&M movie jokes) took 2 hours and 25 minutes. Truthfully I thought I would be exhausted, but the next day was only a little sore. The granddaddy of all Cal Runs was a 12.5 miler, which took 3.5 hours. I was moderately sore after that one.
So what were the results? It should be noted that our nutrition strategy during this time period was non-existent. After 1.5-3.5 hour workouts, we would frequent the Pizza Hut buffet or pack away one pound of chicken fingers and French fries. Our body-fat levels were much higher than they should have been, and diet is the reason.
But what of the workout? Below is are lists of the Positives and Negatives of the Cal Run routine:
- Confidence – after completing a 12.5 mile Cal Run, I was unafraid of greater physical challenges.
- Endurance – akin to Confidence, I knew I could perform for hours at a time without feeling tired or quitting.
- Muscle-tone – not sure on this one. While my muscles often felt sore after a workout, my diet was terrible, and I suspect that the long workouts combined with poor diet may have been catabolic? Did I end up tearing down muscle and training my body to store fat that I did not burn during exercise?
- Comradery – probably the most fun I have ever had while working out. Cal Runs inspire spontaneous jokes and sometimes pretty deep philosophies.
Things to Improve
- Diet – of course. One of these days I’ll try the routine again while being smart about nutrition.
- Rather than start at 35 minutes and build to 3.5 hours over time, the routine should have been divided into 3-4 week periods that increased in intensity.
My next experiment with the Cal Run will include: 1) one month of an Endurance phase, with three or four 30-minute to 1 hour cal runs per week; 2) one month of Moderate Intensity, with three or four workouts per week, each including calisthenics mixed with 200-400 meter interval runs; and 3) one month of Extreme Intensity, with calisthenics followed by sprints or speed jump-rope intervals in a circuit.
I’ll improve the diet/nutrition portion of the strategy as well, and hopefully avoid the catabolic/fat storage effect.