Each year it is my goal to have one major physical challenge that gives me something to focus on, and that takes me outside my comfort zone. This year that one big thing was a 50K Trail Run on Paris Mountain. I want to share what I learned from the experience in hopes that you can learn something, as well.
First, I would like to share my “WHY” for doing this particular challenge. My reason for choosing this challenge was much more for the mental and spiritual aspects, not about health or fitness. One big reason was to challenge some of my own beliefs about myself. For instance, I realized that I had begun identifying as a non-runner or, at best, a “crappy” runner. This was not always the case. I actually ran track from seventh through 12th grade and even managed a personal best 4:46 mile and 2:05 half mile. Certainly not great times, but if I could run those times now, I would consider myself pretty fast. So, where did this new identity originate?
While in college, my training focus was on getting stronger and building muscle. I even competed in a few bodybuilding contests. I was told and chose to believe that it was not possible or least not optimal to try and gain muscle and strength while running. I bought into this belief and stopped running. It was as if you had to choose between the two. We now know that it is possible to do both. Many special operators carry quite a bit of muscle mass and are very strong, yet they are also very good runners. Alex Viada, author of “Hybrid Training,” is an extreme example of this capacity. He is known for being able to deadlift 700 pounds on Monday and run a 50K Ultra the following Saturday. So, this belief, which I believed to be true at the time, I know now is a false belief, and looking back, it was also a limiting belief of my potential.
Years later, when I started back running, I was not as proficient at it, and when I began to experience issues with my hip, it became painful. This was not the pain I generally associated with pushing the body during hard physical training but rather pain that appeared to be damaging. After having surgery on both hips, I thought I might be able to run again and enjoy it pain-free. This wasn’t the case. It seemed that every time I would try to run even as short a distance as one mile, my hip would start to hurt again. I began to think that maybe running just isn’t for me anymore. At the end of last year, partially inspired by a couple of books I had read, I began to question my belief. What if I had created another false belief. Maybe it wasn’t that I couldn’t run but that I needed to put in the time to get better at it.
I set the goal of running a marathon in 2019 to test this belief. On October 19th, I finished the Paris Mountain 50k. Some of the things I learned I already knew from previous such challenges but were reinforced with this challenge. Others were more specific to this particular challenge.
1. It helps to have goals and targets. I have said this on many occasions, but as humans, we are teleological by nature. We do better when we have a target to aim for. Also, if you make the goal a stretch goal and one that is daunting, you have a better chance to create the necessary activation energy to take action. There were many times in training when I did not want to run, and as I began to make more trips to Paris Mountain for training runs, I realized that without a specific target, I would have avoided many of those training runs. Also, if I had opted to sign up for the 25k versus the 50k, I may have felt it was ok to skip a few of those planned pieces of training.
2. When taking on these types of challenges, it often helps to have someone else doing the challenge with you or at least support you in the challenge. Thanks, Ryan Miller, for encouraging me to take on this challenge with you. I am pretty confident that if Ryan had said he was done after that first 25k, I would have said, “I’m also done.” So, thanks for pushing on and getting me to do the same. Most of what I learned from the experience came on that second loop. Also, thanks to family and everyone else who offered words of encouragement leading up to the challenge and checked on me after the race. I think my answer was pretty standard after the race. When asked how I did, I replied, “I survived barely.” Those words of encouragement mean a lot. I still remember how much encouragement I received during Kokoro 21, and that was years ago.
3. Sometimes you just don’t know until you try. Much of what can hold us back is our belief about what we think we are capable of. Brian Johnson speaks of the three key components of “Making Hope Happen” from Lopez’s book of the same name.
A. Know that our future can be better than our present reality and have a clear goal we are after.
B. Believe we have the power to get there or, as he calls it, “Agency.”
C. Be willing to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to get there. He calls these “pathways.”
If we examine those components, we will see belief show up in two of them. The bottom line is, as I see it, if we don’t have belief, then we will not have the “Agency” to take action. The problem is that we often don’t have any idea what we are capable of until we are willing to try.
I wasn’t sure how my body would hold up in preparation for and during this race. A part of me was saying this is a bad idea while another part was saying, don’t listen to the whiny, weak, voice, and just get out there and do it. When I started more specific training for the race, there were some days I had some pretty significant discomfort during and after runs. Fortunately, this discomfort didn’t linger for more than a day or so and didn’t seem to be worsening from one session to the next. There were even a few times when I really felt good after the runs.
During the actual race itself, I felt probably as good as I had during any of my training for the first loop of the course. Although I had not run the exact route before the race, I had trained enough to know that the cut off time for the first 25k of 4.5 hours would be a push for me. I completed it in just a little over 4 hours and was pretty pleased with that. I had not eaten much of anything during the first 25K and hadn’t had much to drink either, so I knew I needed to eat and drink before setting back out again.
A major mistake was sitting down to do so. When I went to stand up, I could hardly do so. When I went to walk I knew I was in trouble. I didn’t know if this was going to get any better or if it was going to get worse. Eventually, I was able to get moving a little better and even managed to run some of the last 25 k. Sometimes you just don’t know until you try.
4. There can be many different paths leading to the same destination. I am very fortunate and blessed to be able to pursue two of my main passions and make a living in that pursuit. I love High-Intensity Training and Jiu-Jitsu Training. It is in my nature, and probably most other people also want everyone to love what you do. HIT and Jiu-jitsu have had such a profound impact on my life that I want to share them so that they can have a similar effect on others. So much to the point where I would find myself getting frustrated if someone didn’t see these things the same way I do.
What I now know is that each person has to find their own path and that there is no “ONE” way but many. Stepping foot on a different path just to experience it can be very humbling and eye-opening. That was the case for me. I already had great respect for those stepping out on the trail, but even greater respect now. It also reminded me of what it is like to be a beginner, and I like to think that it may help me to be more empathetic to those new to my path.