[Daily Impact #3] “My greatest athletic failure…”

For those that know me, cycling was my sport growing up.
I had dreams of racing in the Olympics and riding down the Champs-Elysees in Paris on the final day of the Tour de France.

Every day after school, I would train. Riding my bike 20-60 miles a day, and up to 100 miles a day on weekends that I wasn’t racing. Sprints, intervals, hills, long steady distance, etc…

My training was planned, structured, and with purpose.

Needless to say, I was in cycling shape.

And that is the key phrase here, ‘cycling shape’.

My family has a cabin near Mora, Minnesota. Mora is famous for a cross country ski race called the Mora Vasaloppet that thousands participate in each year. In my teenage years, they put on 4 sporting events over the year that comprised the Mora Classic: a canoe race, half marathon, bike race, and ski race. If you completed all 4 events in the same year, you received a special medal.

I wanted that medal.

I already competed in the bike and ski races, so why not do the other 2 and get that special medal.

The canoe race was easy. One of my uncles did it with me and it really wasn’t much more than a nice day out on the river.

The half marathon. Well, that turned out to be one of my biggest athletic failures ever.

At this point in my life, the only running I ever did was Track. I ran the 400m almost exclusively, and my ‘cycling shape’ definitely contributed to my success on the track. The couple miles and sprints we ran each day at Track practice were a cakewalk for me, so I figured I didn’t have to put in too much training for this half marathon. Besides, it took place less than a month after the Track season ended. I should still be in pretty decent running shape by then….or so I thought.

The day of the half marathon arrived and I was ready. I was in the best ‘cycling shape’ of my life at that point and I felt like I could conquer anything.

The first 4-5 miles were easy. I was running effortlessly, like I had the legs of a gazelle. I was smiling, barely breathing hard, and enjoying the event. I remember seeing a timing clock a few miles in and I was running roughly 5 minute miles.

I couple more miles down the road and my legs were getting heavier. Nothing of concern, but I could tell I was slowing down.

I was half way through the race by this point, my spirits were high, and I was enjoying the experience.

I remember running past the Mile 8 marker, and about a minute later, everything changed.

My legs began to feel like lead weights, and my breathing became more labored.

As I pushed on and my running technique became sloppy, I began to cramp up. Each stride became a jolt of pain as my heel struck the pavement. I was in agony.

The next mile seemed like an eternity.

I was 9 miles in and I was ready to throw in the towel.

My once effortless strides turned in to shuffles, I was gasping for air, and every inch forward was agony.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, I hit ‘The Wall’.

Any energy I had left in my body evaporated. I felt weak, tired, and dizzy. The world around me became a blur and I felt like I existed in a bubble of pain. In fact, I don’t remember any other runners out there on the road with me, even though there were many.

By this point I was 10 miles in and my shuffle turned to walking. I was dizzy and out of breath. Everything inside of me begged me to stop. I still had 3 miles left to go and all I wanted to do was sit down and make the pain go away.

But that is not who I am.

I knew if I was to finish this race, I had to change my perspective.

I had to stop focusing on how much further I had left to go, and instead focus on how far I had already come. I had already run more than 10 miles, 3 more miles is nothing.

And with that simple change in mindset, everything changed.

The will to keep pushing forward returned stronger than ever, my head cleared, and I regained control of my breathing. I was still cramped up and in pain, but now I was mentally back in control.

I would be lying if I said those last 3 miles were easy. Far from it, but I finished.

1 hour and 45 minutes after I started, I finished my first, and last, half marathon.

My arrogance that day contributed to my greatest athletic failure, but at the same time, it also taught me a lesson I have never forgot…that perspective is everything.

That day I learned that when life is hard and you feel like giving up, sometimes it’s best to stop focusing on how far you have left to go, and instead remember how far you have already come.
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