Now’s the time to dial in your perfect world, one with stronger fitness, less stress, more fun, better health, and all the adventure you can handle. Sound too good to be true? Let endurance king Dean Karnazes and our five-part action plan guide you to greatness—then get ready for your best year ever.
Step 1: Get Fit, Eat Right
A Life Cheat Sheet from Dean Karnazes
You’re entitled to call Dean Karnazes crazy. But hang out with the endurance dynamo and you realize he’s not nuts; he’s just happy. What’s his formula for fulfillment?
Presenting nuggets of wisdom from Ultramarathon Man himself:
Do What You Love
I never really had a five-year plan. I just asked myself, “If I could script my perfect life, what would it look like?” I love nothing more than to run through the mountains for 100 miles. It’s been the most rewarding experience of my life.
It’s Never Too Late
I ran a lot as a kid but quit in high school. I didn’t run again until my 30th birthday, when I realized that I wasn’t fulfilled and had to make a change.
Balance is BS
On a normal day, I get up at four in the morning and run 20 to 25 miles before making breakfast and taking the kids to school. My average night’s sleep is about four hours. Learning to sleep so little took me about a month. I also started tuning in to my diet. And when you feel good, you’re much more motivated. I cross-train three or four days a week, on top of running. I might go windsurfing or mountain-biking before picking up the kids. That’s my life. It’s frenetic, it’s crazy, it’s fast-paced. There’s no balance.
I think Western culture has things backwards. We equate comfort with happiness, and now we’re so comfortable we’re miserable. There’s no struggle in our life, no sense of adventure. I’ve found that I’m never more alive than when I’m pushing and I’m in pain and I’m struggling for high achievement. In that struggle, I think there’s a magic.
Be Your Biggest Cheerleader
As with anything, you have to believe that you can do it. And I think that’s a learned trait. I believe that anyone can do exactly what I’m doing.
Eat Mindfully—Here’s How
Step one to creating a food formula that powers you to new performance peaks is to keep a journal recording how you react to what you eat, and take stock of four fundamental indicators: mood, mental clarity, energy, and digestion.
Prevent Injury with These 4 Moves
Nothing halts your journey to athletic greatness faster than an injury. The trick to avoiding them? Don’t fall. But if you do, your odds of walking rather than hobbling away will be much better if you’ve built up essential support and stability muscles. Bryan Diekmann, who sees some 50 new injuries a week during the winter as a trainer at Vail, Colorado’s Steadman Hawkins Clinic, one of the nation’s top sports-medicine centers, offers four exercises* to strengthen your defenses.
External Shoulder Rotations
Prevents dislocations, sprains, and tears by working the oft-ignored muscles behind your shoulder, which provide socket support during a wipeout. Lying on your side, with your top elbow locked at 90 degrees against your hip and a rolled towel in your armpit, rotate a small dumbbell (under 20 lbs) away from your body.
Helps avoid lower-back strains and sprains by building those muscles so you can withstand the sudden lurches of impact sports. Holding on to a weight bench and resting facedown on a Swiss ball placed under your hips, raise both legs so that your body is completely straight, then lower (20 reps).
Boosts overall lower-body endurance to avoid those last-run-of-the-day-type injuries by developing all essential leg muscles in coordination to put some power in your balancing skills. Start with your legs bent roughly 30 degrees, standing on a taut resistance tube held at shoulder height; squat to 70 degrees (25—50 reps).
Side Ball Crunches
Helps you stay physically centered so you don’t biff in the first place by building obliques, which run alongside your torso. Lying sideways with a Swiss ball under your right hip and your feet crossed where floor meets wall, raise your torso toward the ceiling (20 reps each side).
*For all exercises, do 3 to 6 sets, building at your own pace.
Ditch Your Desk
Grinding out ten-hour days in front of a computer has a seriously degrading effect on all things physical.
Step 2: Go Already
Acting on your wanderlust will work wonders.
- Take all of your vacation time: It’s yours. You’ve earned it. What are you waiting for?
- Negotiate a sabbatical: “These can be paid or unpaid, depending on the situation. The bottom line is, an unpaid leave of absence is better than none at all.”
- Fine-tune your career to create more natural pauses: “Many people are getting more creative at doing seasonal or contract work, which frees you up to travel.”
- If all else fails, quit: (But first devise a solid six-month financial backup plan.) “Make strategic use of a time-honored personal-freedom technique popularly known as ‘quitting,’ ” says Potts.
Spread the Love
If you feel too guilty to take off for no good reason, try combining it with an altruistic mission or a self-improvement goal.
Commit to a Yearly Vacation and Rent Globally
Outside reconnaissance agent Mark Jenkins advice on how to make it happen:
- Find the right partner: “Everybody will say, ‘Great, amazing, I want to go’; 90 percent won’t. Line up a number of potential partners and hope that one will come through. If they don’t, go anyway.”
- Go where you want to go, period: “If this is your big escape, don’t be cheap. Do what you want.” Just be prepared to skimp on post-trip lattes.
- Go long: “Two weeks is the minimum.”
- Psych up your body and mind: “You will hate yourself if you’re out of shape. Besides, training for a big trip is a way to get psyched.”
Renting a home away from home has become increasingly easy, thanks to online resources.
- Play the field: If looking to rent overseas, go through an agency unless you speak the language and know the area, advises Stellin. “You’ll have the added security that somebody is standing behind the rental in case the electricity goes out.”
- Seek out word of mouth: For an unbiased review, ask someone who’s been there, done that. If you don’t know anyone who’s rented a house in Croatia, toss out a question on a travel forum (thorntree.lonelyplanet.com) to find an agency.
- Get curious: Pepper your source with questions: What am I not seeing in these photos? Who can I call if I need help? “The more questions you ask, the better,” says Stellin. “If you aren’t getting the answers you want, it’s a good reason to move on.”
Step 3: Simplify
Henry David Thoreau, whose bible of minimalism, Walden, exhorted his countrymen to “simplify, simplify” , many of his prescriptions for a streamlined life still apply. Take heed, and transcend.
Thoreau says: “Let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.”
Weed out the extraneous so you have more time to surf, ski, bike, and play.
Thoreau says: “Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.”
Damn straight! Jump-start your stalled passions by enrolling in a course or a workshop; you’ll be amazed how a weekend of refining your fly-fishing skills or honing your photographic eye can reignite long-dormant recesses of your brain.
Thoreau says: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.”
More often than not, greatness is achieved by those who follow their own muse.
Thoreau says: “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
Though you’ll probably want to stop short of Thoreau’s hermetic extreme, spending some quality time alone helps bring mental clarity and perspective: Try to block out a minimum of 30 minutes a day of solo time—be it on your mountain bike or your meditation mat.
Thoreau says: “Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only.”
We’re not going to tell you to give up certain nonessentials, like your new powder skis or this magazine, but the core thinking behind Thoreau’s willful poverty is worth practicing.
Today’s experts pick up where Thoreau left off, advocating easy first steps to simplifying your life.
“A great life is not the result of a few gigantic wins,” says Robin Sharma. Here’s Sharma’s advice for getting started:
- Expose Your Excuses: Keep a notebook with you and make a top-ten list of your most common cop-outs so you can start eliminating them.
- Clean up your messes: Start with the clutter on your desk and work up to financial, personal, or any other unfinished business hanging over your head. This will free you up for more creative pursuits.
Make Time to Play
Schedule some quality goofing-off time with family or friends at least once a week.
When in doubt, adopt the Japanese worldview of wabi sabi, which celebrates the beauty of all things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. (That includes you.) It’s about using your missteps to “look at the map you drew for yourself and reevaluate where you stand.”
Step 4: Give Back
Bad news for selfish bastards: A new wave of studies shows that altruistic people not only live longer; they also lead healthier, less stressful lives.
Biologists have long known that when we help others our brains release the same endorphins responsible for a runner’s high, inducing feelings of well-being, reducing stress, and even strengthening the immune system. Scientists who observed volunteers over the course of decades concluded that anxiety and depression dropped significantly for those who gave help.
Lend a Little
Microfinancing—making small, interest-free business loans to impoverished people in developing countries—is all the buzz. See firsthand what a difference it can make by investing as little as $25 at kiva.org, a San Francisco—based site that works with microcredit groups around the world to help entrepreneurs like Agnes Meseno Silei, who’s seeking a grand total of $300 to start a beadwork business in Kenya. You’ll choose your loan recipient (Kiva features photos and bios) and receive regular e-mail updates about his or her progress. And you’ll likely get your money back within two years—loans are not guaranteed, but Kiva has a 100 percent repayment rate—just in time to reinvest and help someone else find economic independence.
Share Your Sport
Juan Herrera is a 23-year-old kid from the salty-aired but sometimes mean streets of San Diego.
Today Herrera is an Outdoor Outreach staff member who spends every weekend with about a dozen kids, ages 12 to 18, going surfing or mountain-biking in San Diego County, snowboarding at Mammoth, and scaling cliffs in Mission Gorge.
I could’ve ended up a junkie; now I’m an adrenaline junkie.” He’s also an “Outdoor Idol,” according to the Outdoor Industry Foundation, which this year honored Herrera and seven others—including kayaker Rush Sturges, 21, and 20-year-old climber Emily Harrington—for both excelling in their sports and inspiring the next generation to do the same.
The idea that getting outside can have mental as well as physical benefits has been gathering momentum since the 1960s, when Outward Bound and NOLSintroduced young people to the backcountry and watched them morph into more confident versions of themselves. Golden, Colorado’s Big City Mountaineers, founded by the American Hiking Society’s Jim Kern, takes kids backpacking.
For the rest of us, it’s a no-brainer. Whether your passion is ice climbing, sailing, or cycling, sharing it with other people means you’re changing lives while doing what you love.
Step 5: Just Chill
Tame Your Worry
Amid so much exuberant hype about spa treatments, green tea, and the “science of happiness,” many of us have forgotten a paramount law of human behavior: Stress makes us great, to a point.” When stress sets in as we begin a challenging endeavor, hormonal releases lead to improved focus and creativity. Push too hard for too long, however, and you’ll pass a critical juncture and go from feeling motivated and alert to anxious and incapable. And the spas and green tea? Can’t hurt.
Bringing Sex Back
When it comes to reducing stress, good ol’ intercourse is best. To reduce stress, do it the old-fashioned way—with no solo action or extracurricular activities.
Cheat on Your Yoga Teacher
So says outspoken yoga master Mark Whitwell, who’s been delivering some chakra shock waves to American yogis in recent years by claiming that treating yoga like just another fitness class—90 minutes, three times a week—means we’re losing out on the stress-reduction benefits that drew us to the mat in the first place. Whitwellbelieves that 20 minutes of daily yoga at home alone is the essential foundation of any practice. He argues that proper breathing while moving at your own speed is vital to relaxing yoga—and nearly impossible in the forced pace of a class. “When you establish a daily practice, it becomes healing to the entire system,” says Whitwell. “You’re able to digest life easily.” Whitwell suggests completing nine sun salutations (illustrated below) each morning, using breath to initiate the basic movements. Breathe in and out deeply through your nose, emitting audible sighs from the back of the throat on all inhales and exhales, and concentrate on flowing through the posture. Oh, yeah—and expect to sweat.
Stand with feet together and hands in prayer position (a). Inhale, raising arms overhead. Exhale, folding forward (b). Inhale into warrior one (c; right foot forward). Exhale into a runner’s lunge (d; hands on either side of front foot, back knee on the ground).
Inhale into push-up position, exhale, and lower to the floor (e). Inhale into upward-facing dog, exhale into downward-facing dog (f). Inhale into warrior one (c; left foot forward). Exhale into runner’s lunge (d); then step forward so feet are together, retaining breath. Inhale, standing with hands overhead (b). Exhale, bringing your arms to prayer position (a).