– Larry Bird
“I’ve got a theory that if you give 100% all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end.”
The summer before my senior year of high school, I tried out for a travelling, showcase, all-star baseball team. It was a great way to gain exposure to college and professional baseball scouts. It was a team that had incredible notoriety in Colorado. If you made it onto this team, you were destined to gain some incredible exposure.
I went out, had an incredible tryout and ended up getting cut.
I was devastated. Actually, that’s not quite true. I was fired up and probably more pissed off than anything. I couldn’t believe I didn’t make the team, especially seeing the talent there. In fact, two of my high school teammates DID make the team.
That hurt more than anything.
I felt left out. I felt like a huge opportunity had slipped through my hands. I felt like I was deserving of a roster spot more than anybody. But, the cards just didn’t fall that way.
I spent the entire summer in the gym, in the batting cages, throwing myself ground balls off my parents’ brick wall (breaking the taillight on my mom’s brand new Ford Explorer once…) and at the local elementary school running wind sprints, doing plyometrics in the sandpit and running sprints with a weighted vest and a parachute. (Yes, I’m the guy you probably pointed and laughed at…I’m ok with that.)
When I get beat at something, I become obsessed with the comeback. I live for it. I was so unbelievably focused on turning that failure into my biggest victory. And let me tell you, I did.
But, this story is not about the success I had in baseball after that failure. This is about the decision I made in the fall of my senior year, and more importantly a good friend named Kyle who repeatedly kicked my a** all fall.
Instead of playing football, I decided to run cross-country (and yes, my shorts were ridiculously short! And I mean uncomfortably short).
My baseball coach made the suggestion to which I reluctantly agreed.
I ran cross-country AND played fall baseball for the high school team. I also went to the gym for several hours every single day, after cross-country practice and playing a 3-hour baseball game. Nothing could get in the way of my quest to overcome being cut from that showcase baseball team.
I was a dedicated, focused and willing to give it everything I had.
Cross-country was a sport that had never crossed my mind once until I found myself at the first practice of the season as a 1st year senior.
I didn’t think cross-country could possibly be that hard. I had played football, baseball and basketball all the way through high school and was prepared for anything. But that first cross-country practice, we went on an 11-mile run.
I was not prepared for that.
Prior to cross-country I considered myself a “runner”, but, I quickly realized that I wasn’t. Before cross-country, I would run 2 miles here, 3 miles there and occasionally jump on the treadmill for 30 minutes.
But, I NEVER ran 11 miles in a day to that point in my life. Ever.
That was the first practice. My legs were shot. I was actually blown away. It was a lot tougher than I would have guessed. It was actually so tough that in the first 2 weeks of cross-country I had lost almost 15 pounds….and I didn’t have 15 pounds to lose! I had to start eating more than humanly possible to support the cross-country, baseball and weight-lifting schedule I was dedicated to.
So, cross-country was difficult. That is an understatement.
In our first meet I posted a time of 24:30 in my first official 5k. Not really that impressive for anybody who has ran competitively.
Then, there was a kid on my team named Kyle. Him and I grew up playing little league baseball together, but we weren’t great friends at the time. He was definitely the star of the cross-country team. He was running 5k’s in the 15–16 minute range. The kid could flat-out run long-distance.
He became my training partner.
I started sticking by his side in every practice and let me be honest, early on, I would stick with him for a bit and then he would lose me. Slowly, I started to be able to keep up with him a little bit longer. But usually, he left me in the dust after a mile or so.
Funnily enough I beat Kyle when we ran timed 200-meter races at one practice, but my sprinting speed sure didn’t help me much in a 3.1 mile race.
Needless to say, I NEVER beat Kyle in a race. Not once.
In fact, I don’t think I ever came within 2–3 minutes of his finishing time. So what was the difference?
What I learned running cross-country was that it was 100% about your threshold for pain.
The best runners were the runners who were willing to push through more pain, for a longer period of time. That was it. Kyle was a great runner because he had simply learned to push his body harder than I had at the time.
Sure, this had come through experience, but it really was all the hours of running he did, that I hadn’t. He had learned that pushing himself an extra 1-minute per mile faster wasn’t going to kill him. Then, another minute faster, still wasn’t going to kill him. It was amazing to me.
I started really pushing myself in cross-country and it became an obsession. Every race was a challenge to beat my previous time.
One of the things I am the most proud of is that every single race, aside from 1 where I was battling shin-splints and we raced at 10,000 feet of elevation straight up the mountain, my time improved with every race. Each race I was shaving 15–30 seconds off of my time. I started to really compete in a sport that I was totally new at.
By the end of the year, I had qualified for Regionals.
I got absolutely smoked by the best distance runners in the state, but I was there.
And, I posted my best time of the year. When it was all said and done my first race was 24:30, but at the end of the season my personal record was a 19:20!
It had very little to do with my physical condition either.
The ONLY reason my times were improving was because I was getting stronger mentally. I was learning how to push my body harder. I was learning how to cope with the pain and keep going.
Like I said, I never caught Kyle in a cross-country meet, but I was always striving to catch him. He was my target each and every race. I rooted for him, but competed heavily with him. Him and I become really good friends that year.
Cross-country was one of the best decisions I ever made. It truly sucked. Every second of cross-country hurt and you always questioned why you were participating in such a miserable sport, but it just goes to show you that the barriers we all face are self-imposed.
I am absolutely 100% certain that I could have physically ran the same time as Kyle. But, in that one year, I was never able to break through the barriers he had already conquered.
I could never convince myself to run fast enough to keep up with him. It’s not that I allowed the pain to win, because I was continuously improving, but I was not on the same mental level as my friend with respect to running. He had learned that his body COULD race at that pace. I wasn’t there just yet…
I think of this in so many applications. We often don’t know what we’re capable of because we have never done it, but once we do, we can never revert back to our old mental state.
I always wonder what my physical limit was in cross-country.
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever reached it and I don’t think any other human being has truly reached their limit. I feel like it’s something that’s impossible to reach. It’s like an asymptote in mathematics. You can continue to get closer and closer, infinitely, but you can never quite reach that limit.
And that’s ok.
What’s important, is that you are continuously improving.
Limits don’t really exist, except in our mind. We all have limits that we have placed on ourselves, in so many different areas of life.
The limits I had placed on my body always surfaced in the middle of those cross-country meets. Keeping up with Kyle for the first half mile of the race was easy, but then my mind convinced me that I had to slow down. I had to conserve energy for the remaining 2.6 miles.
I continued to improve, and had a heck of a season, shaving over 5 minutes off of my time. That’s an incredible feat, and I’m very proud of that, but I always wonder…..
What if I had to guts to push even harder? What if at all costs I would’ve committed to staying by Kyle’s side for an entire race?
I can guarantee that I wouldn’t have died. Would I have experienced more pain than I was accustomed to? Oh, heck yea, but, it wouldn’t have been the end of my existence.
I only ran cross-country for one year and I’m certain that I would’ve continued to improve if I had the opportunity to run for a couple of more years. Maybe I would’ve beat Kyle. Maybe not.
I know one thing that is for certain though. Even if I did beat Kyle, that doesn’t mean that I would’ve reached my limit.
I think we all have an infinite capacity for growth and personal development. Physically and mentally. My question to you though, is this:
Are you really giving your all?
Each race I ran, I thought I gave it my all, but there was always a little more in the tank. This isn’t laziness, or complacency, that’s not at all what I’m suggesting.
I just believe that we all have barriers that prevent us from going further. We have to break these barriers down piece by piece. I could not have went out and beat Kyle in my first year. He had too much experience.
I had to continuously beat my previous time. Then, I had to do it again. And again.
This is the only way to achieve incredible results in your life.
It’s to continuously push yourself harder and farther, until you eventually achieve what you set out to do. Then, you start all over.
Life is about challenging your limits. It’s about testing yourself in new endeavors and quite frankly, it’s about getting beat sometimes.
You’ll never reach your limit, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to, every single day.
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