I was watching that documentary, “Running on the Sun” the other night about the Badwater 135 mile Ultra marathon. You know that race: the one where crazy people run in 120+ degree heat through the valley of death and up mountains. The one where there is a lot of puking and weaving from exhaustion. The one where you are DQ’d if you need to take an IV due to dehydration. The one where they run on the white line so their shoes don’t melt. The one where people get all their toenails removed beforehand so they don’t have to deal with the nuisance of black toenails that fall off in their beds at night and getting stuck in their sheets to be eaten later by the dog.
The one where you find yourself wondering how it is possible for human beings to go this distance, in this heat.
If it’s not enough that a healthy, 30 year old can do it, there is always the token 67 year old grandpa, or the guy with the prosthetic leg who crosses the finish line. It’s not necessarily the elite athlete who runs this race. It’s the teacher, the writer, the bagel delivery guy.
In light of the Olympics, this has gotten me thinking: what makes an endurance athlete? What are the common traits that these seemingly invincible souls possess? 'Cause I want them for myself. Can I get them at Walmart? I actually like Target better – can I get them there?
First off, we know it can’t be all about being in good physical shape. Certainly that’s a component, but it takes extreme brain power to reach these heights. Any of us who have run races know that in the hard times it’s the mind that tells the body what to do not the other way around. Without mental and spiritual strength, you can become dogshit really fast.
There are tons of lists out there about what characteristics these athletes have, but this is my blog and I know you’d rather hear what I think. So, in my humble opinion, these are some of the traits needed for greatness, Shut up and Run style:
- Commitment: This means venturing out for a training run when it’s not convenient – when you have a runny nose, when the weather is windy, snowy or rainy, when you have work to do, when you just plain don’t feel like it. You have made a promise to yourself to achieve your goals. Don’t go letting yourself down.
- Strategy: There has to be a plan in place. A goal, a training schedule. This will motivate you to keep your commitment to yourself. Make it manageable, yet challenging. Tailor it to you and your needs by mixing up various plans if need be.
- Giving up your Fear of Failure: To do great things, you have to be willing to fail. It happens to all of us. “Failing” is different for everyone. To some it is DNF’ing or DNS’ing, to others it is not meeting a time goal. Whatever it is for you – don’t let that hold you back. We all have sucky training runs and disappointing races. If you run long enough, you will probably get injured at some point. Roll with it. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off. Move on. Strategize for your next race and commit to it.
- The Willingness to Run Your Own Race: You’ve heard it and it’s true. There will always be someone stronger, faster, better. Don’t get caught up in what Suzy blogger or Jim runner is doing. Set your goals for yourself. Compete with yourself to exceed them.
- The Ability to Sacrifice: We all know nothing great was ever achieved without great sacrifice. Understand from the get go that it will not be easy. That you will be in pain. That you will be tired. That you will feel burn out. That you will have self doubt. That doing long runs on Saturday means missing Friday night happy hours. That a run might replace a lunch date. Know that you will feel these things and that you will continue on regardless. Because that is the sacrifice you are willing to make. You committed to it and you are willing to sacrifice for it.
- Being Hard On Yourself. I don’t mean this in a masochistic way, but I bet you that any Olympic or endurance athlete will tell you that in order to be great, in order to meet goals, you can’t let yourself off the hook. Naturally, there is a time and a place to back off, but as a general rule, when you are tired, you keep running. When you are in mile 20 of a race and you hate life a lot, you keep running. You do this because you made a promise to yourself and because sometimes you need make your ass do things it doesn’t want to do. Life is not meant to be a ride void of challenge.
Yeah, yeah we all can’t be at the level of athletism that these folks are, but we can give it our best effort. This is a list from one who is not too experienced, but from one who has had to push through distance and pain. I would venture to say that most of us have inklings of these traits. What would happen if they were in full force and guided us each day?
I wonder, what do you think it takes to go the distance? We can learn a lot from each other.
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