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Every new distance seems impossible when you first begin to wrap your head around it.
Think about the first race you ever signed up for that you thought was really long. Before you started the training, the race distance probably seemed almost insurmountable, right?
I mean, how could anyone go X miles?
The very first distance I ran that made me think: whoa, this is going to be LONG was a 6 mile run I did during a high school crew practice, circa 1989. We ran daily, but never that far. But, we had gotten in trouble, so we were punished by running 6 miles, while holding our oars. I don’t remember what we did to deserve that punishment, but I do remember the run.
I liked it.
At some point during high school – maybe even during that run – I decided that I wanted to run a marathon “someday.” But, when I set that goal, it seemed very far off, and possibly not even likely.
I mean, how could anyone ever run 26.2 miles?!
I remained a runner from those early crew years, but it took me some time to come back around to my “someday” goal. Flash forward to my early 30s. I finally decided I would run that marathon – but the thought of running 26.2 miles seemed slightly insane and overwhelming – yet really exciting.
I broke down the training into little milestones (see what I did there?) that would allow for gradual adaptation. My first 10 mile run. My first half-marathon. My first 16 mile run, then 18, and finally to 20 miles. I didn’t go from 10 miles to 20 miles in one week, it was a gradual and consistent process of adding more time, a little bit at a time, week by week. It was 4 months of training to go from 10 miles to marathon-ready.
In this sense, the preparation for new distances is like boiling frogs. We turn the heat up on ourselves, gradually almost without notice until there we are – working through the distance that – at one point – seemed nearly insurmountable.
John and I crossing the finish line of our first-ever 26.2 miles at the Atlantic City Marathon. I can still remember how delicious that day felt, and how excited I was to do another one the second I crossed that finish line.
I’ve been thinking about this process of gradual adaptation quite a bit after training for and completing the Double Anvil. Others have said to me: “I couldn’t go that long!” “You raced for 25 hours?! How can you do that?” “A 12 hour trainer ride? What on earth?!” And of course, the well known: “I don’t even want to drive that far!”
My answer to that last one? I don’t want to drive that far either. That’s why I swim, bike and run through the distance.
When I saw John training for the Double last year, I thought these very same thoughts. I said these very same things.
I remember his longest trainer ride of 10 hours. I remember thinking there had to be something wrong with him. One Ironman is plenty long enough – how on earth could I do two? More importantly: why do I want to?
But, after crewing that race in 2014, I knew I wanted to do it. The training and the race were seemingly impossible, but that was part of the appeal.
My training for the Double officially began somewhere around Thanksgiving, 2014, with a 6 hour ride. I remember thinking to myself: Hmmm. The shortest “long” ride I will do for this double is my longest long ride for a single.
The poor little frog starts getting an idea of what’s happening, but still isn’t sure. It feels warm, but it’s okay.
Next up on the schedule was an 8 hour ride, which was probably the worst one of the entire training cycle. I remember feeling a bit of despair that the longest ride I would do would be an additional 4 hours.
Boy, it’s getting hot in here, isn’t it?
I did another 8 ride and got used to that as a “base” ride. I was getting used to the water by then. That ride was followed by a 9 hour ride, which gave way to a 10 hour ride, and so it went until one day I found myself riding for 12 hours.
Oddly enough, that 12 hour ride was one of the best rides I had throughout the entire training cycle. The last 90 minutes were a little rough–the water was pretty dang hot. I was boiling, but I managed to get to the end of that training cycling without cooking myself.
After that volume, I rode another 8 hour ride – but this time at a harder effort than race projections. And, unlike the very first 8 hour ride, I felt strong – mentally and physically. I knew I could handle the heat.
So, what’s this got to do with you?
If you are like most athletes that I know, you probably have a seemingly impossible goal you’ve toyed around with – maybe for years, as I did with that first marathon.
Maybe you allow yourself to think about it in brief snippets, but then push it away because you have uncertainty about whether you can go that far (or that fast), how you can find the time, or whether you have the mental stamina to keep the heat on for the training and the race. If you are having a hard time taking that first step and committing, I recommend that you stop thinking about the reasons why you can’t go after your goal, and start focusing on all of the reasons why you can, why you want to, and why you should.
And, when you start your journey, remember: you don’t need to jump right into the boiling water. Turn the heat up slowly, gradually, consistently. Have a plan for yourself that will allow your body to adapt both physically and mentally to the stresses of training–even if that means you are a few years out from the ultimate prize.
Be consistent. Be methodical. Be patient. Analyze your progress. Follow the principle of gradual adaptation. Before you know it, you’ll be able to take the heat, and the triumph of achieving your goal will leave you with a sweet, warm glow.
What seemingly impossible goal do you want to meet? Have a similar experience? Share it!