Training for a new challenge can be intimidating, whether it be running your first marathon, or going to your first group run. Rather than focusing on what you haven’t done yet, consider what you have done, what it taught you, and how those experiences can be applied to your planned ascent of that next mountain top. Even if things weren’t easy at the time, if you are learning, you are growing.
In my case, my perspective on running, and attacking new challenges, has been informed in an unmatched way by my middle school PE program. At my school, 7th and 8th graders could apply for inclusion into an alternative physical education program called Outdoor Fitness (OF). OF offered students the opportunity to undertake challenges beyond what many might consider possible for kids of that age. We trained for a half marathon, we ran 29 miles between two cities in one day, we walked 55 miles in under 24 hours around a lake, and climbed a very lengthy hill on stilts (fall and return to the bottom to try again until you made it). Not to mention, students could build up to sleeping overnight in a mountain forest with only a coffee can of supplies. Although Miss Call, the OF instructor and local legend from the time she began leading coast to coast summer bicycling trips for OF students in the 1970s, was incredibly demanding of us, the lessons we learned through the process of attempting these tasks have remained a constant. Not everyone has such an extreme set of experiences at an early age, but we have all had crucial moments that have forged our outlook. As I encourage athletes today, here are four central aspects of that perspective that I try to pass along to everyone undertaking a new goal.
BELIEVE. Instead of assuming these tasks were outrageous to even attempt, Miss Call assumed we were capable. We, in turn, then assumed we were capable. Rephrase the question in your mind from “if” to “how”. Belief requires a companion plan, but it assumes that there is indeed a way from point A to point B.
PREPARE. We didn’t run 3 miles before we ran 2. We didn’t run 8 miles before we ran 6 or 7. Nobody camped out in the woods with their partner until they had done the crucial tasks required under supervision. We had done the work to not only survive, but thrive. Avoiding injury, enjoying race day, or surpassing your time goals are all easier when you have given yourself enough time to progress your training sensibly and without skipping steps.
PERSIST. In OF we weren’t allowed to walk during runs. We were assigned routes with steep hills, long sets of stairs, and distances we had never come close to running before. Miss Call would even hide in the bushes and apprehend those who chose to walk. But note, I didn’t say we had to run fast. What we had to do is keep going. “Grandma shuffle” she called it, and I still do. Our job was to stay in the game and not give up. Walking might occasionally even be faster than running, but the decision to run required the kind of mental focus that sticks with you for a lifetime. Whether you are sprinting, running, jogging, or even walking, if that is what you can do instead of stopping - be resolved to keep going.
PASS IT ON. Running is often perceived to be an individual sport, but OF taught us all that collective success was the preferred goal. There were strict rules for making sure those behind you knew where to turn next. No one was left behind. You pass someone, you give them a high five and tell them good job. No exceptions. I can remember very few things we did where it mattered to be the fastest, but many in which it mattered to have everyone succeed. When you’re, accountable to a friend or training partner oftentimes your fidelity to your own goals increases. Strava can be a tremendous asset in cultivating this sense of shared endeavor and can help you gain allies near and far, as well as maybe encourage another to keep going.
Note: This is the second post in a month-long series of coaching posts in partnership with Strava. Hope you’ll continue to follow along!