I suppose I should start by clarifying what “water in your mouth” means. It’s a mouthful of water, enough to make my cheeks bulge out. By the end of the run there’s usually a little less in there, partly from inadvertent micro-swallows and partly from absorption.
Running with a mouthful of water does 2 important things. First, it forces me to breathe only through my nose. Second, it’s uncomfortable.
Before I go into why those 2 things are important, I’ll start where I should have started, at the beginning.
Years ago, I read about Native American boys running all day with a mouthful of water and having to spit it out at the end. I’m not sure which book it was in, though it was probably sent to me by my friend Steve Underwood. It could have been Blood & Thunder, or Tough Trip Through Paradise, or most likely, Plenty Coups.
It was a test for those boys to see if they had the mixture of discipline, fitness, and flat out toughness it takes to accomplish a difficult task.
I also saw it mentioned in Pressfield’s The Warrior Ethos as part of a test for Spartan boys to run 10 miles with a mouthful of water and spit it out at the end, and was intrigued enough to try it.
It’s not as if running’s not hard enough already. If you want to find a physical limit, go out and run as fast as you can for as long as you can. Most of you will last less than 30 seconds. Some of you will make it to 45, though it’s unlikely you have the mental fortitude to push that long unless you’ve specifically trained for it.
The edge of the possible in running is constantly in that very small time window, and energy management is a necessity for any kind of long and fast running. The easiest (well, the clearest) demonstration of the importance of energy management is running an 800 meter race, as Gregory Crouch well knows.
Let’s go back to the nose breathing before we get into the mental piece. Forcing yourself to breathe only through your nose is a limiter on your speed. You can’t get as much air (oxygen) in as mouth breathing, and you can’t get as much CO2 out. Nose breathing forces you to run slower, which allows you (well, me) time to think more about running form, foot placement, and posture.
That forced slowing and subsequent extra time to improve running form is balanced out by the extraordinary stress that nose breathing at the edge of effort can put upon you. The urge to spit out or swallow the water, then take a massive breath and fill my lungs when I’m up above 180 bpm heart rate is intense, and it’s why I do it.
See, I’m aiming to explore the edge of the possible in my own life. That can be in simply physical ways, like running up hill barefoot with a mouthful of water and carrying a 40 lb rock, or in more complex ways, like trying to make a living by selling specialty cookies on the internet.
I’ve talked about this in other pieces, but the short version is that the easy life for me is damnably easy to get to, but every time I’ve taken the easy path I’ve ended up less good, or less capable, or less able, because of it.
We all have, give or take, 80 years on the planet. During those 80 years we First Worlders can do what we want once we come of age, say around 18. That means you’ve got 62 years (that are definitely NOT a given) to explore whatever you want. You can binge watch TV in those 62 years, or climb mountains, or learn to sing, or sew, or stitch people up in the ER. It’s up to you what you do with the time you have.
The guidance I’ve decided upon for how I spend that time is two-fold: One, “Follow your heart.” Two, “Live in the moment.”
When I’m deciding whether or not to do something, whether it’s running up a mountain or supporting a big-wave contest as a jetski operator or adding a new cookie to the online lineup, it’s got to meet either, or preferably both, of those dictums.
Ok, you say, I can see the running and the jetski experiences, but does adding an espresso brownie to your online store help you follow your heart and live in the moment? Really?
Absolutely. Sure, it seems vapid on the surface, but behind that little picture of the Rocket lies months of effort, a dozen attempts at a great product, finding the right ingredients, the organization required in getting the perfect picture, and then the continuous excellence in execution to make batches of them a thousand at a time and ship them across the country where they consistently arrive in top condition.
Managing all that does mean I follow my heart, which is and always has been curious and driven to find the best way of doing something. As Marielle, our shipping guru, will tell you, I constantly geek out on building all the little automation rules that fire off the right email at the right time, or import the correct box size into our shipping software for your specific order based on the number of cookies you purchase.
As far as living in the moment, if you think for one minute that running an online cookie company is an easy way to reap massive profit and not have to juggle bills and checks and invoices and commitments, well, you’ve probably never run an online cookie company. The rewards are certainly there, but not without significant work and consistent attention, just like any other worthy endeavor.
Starting and running a business is as challenging as anything else I’ve done, and it certainly allows me to follow my heart and live in the moment.
So that’s the long way around telling you why running with a mouthful of water is important to me. It’s part of the commitment I’ve made to spend the 80 years I’m pretty sure about (my grandfather lived to 83, so I may get a 3 year bonus) to the best of my ability.
We rise to the level of the challenge we take on in our life, and sink to the environment we put ourselves in most constantly. If you want to consistently live in a better, more challenging world, you’ll make sure you’re living most of the time in a place that’s just outside your comfort zone, and working towards a goal that is right on the edge of the possible.
Too much reading...
How about dessert?