“I’ve got a theory that if you give 100% all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end” – Larry Bird
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 with a weighted vest and a parachute (I’m an absolute maniac sometimes) and doing Plyometrics in the sandpit.
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 giving your all and letting the results take care of themselves. It’s about making courageous and unconventional decisions at times, which is exactly what I did after being cut from that team.
Instead of playing football, I decided to run cross-country (and yes, that included wearing the embarrassingly short shorts!)
My baseball coach made the suggestion and after telling him no a dozen times, 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 machine. I used my feelings of inadequacy to fuel comeback. I was using cross-country simply as a tool to get in shape, test my mental fortitude and become a better baseball player. It was nothing more than that to me….at first.
Cross-country was a sport that had never crossed my mind until it was too late.
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 (fricken’) practice too!
My legs were shot. I was actually blown away at how mentally challenging cross-country was. It was 1000 times harder than I had imagined.
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. This was a point in my life where I really learned what it felt like when you were giving your all.
Every day I pushed my body to absolute exhaustion. There were many days where I didn’t think I was going to survive.
So, I think I’ve established that cross-country was difficult, and hopefully proved that to be the understatement of the year. Anyways, moving on.
So, in our first meet I posted a time of 24:30 in my first official 5k. Not really that impressive. But, definitely the fastest 5k I had ever ran.
Then, there was a kid on my team named Kyle. 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.
I attempted (and mostly failed) at making him my training partner. Primarily, because I couldn’t keep up with him.
I started fighting to stay by his side in each cross-country practice and let me be honest, early on, it didn’t last long at all. Slowly, I started to be able to keep stride with him for a while, but usually, he left me in the dust after a mile or so.
The thing that was crazy was that I was a faster sprinter than him. We ran time 200-meter sprints during practice one day and I posted the fastest time. That didn’t help me in a 5000 meter race though, except at the end.
Kyle had learned that cross-country was a marathon, not a sprint, almost literally. He learned that cross-country was about giving your all, even if you might never be able to reach that limit (more on this later).
So I could beat Kyle in a sprint, but I NEVER beat him in a race.
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 and your ability to give it your all, pushing your body and mind to the absolute edge.
Cross-country was simply a sport in which the man with the most “guts”, succeeds.
The best runners are the ones willing to push through more pain, for a longer period of time. That was it. Kyle was a great runner, but he simply had 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 running a race 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 really learned the importance of giving your all, even if you aren’t the best at something. In fact, it’s more important to give your all when something doesn’t come natural to you.
By the end of the cross-country season, I had qualified for Regionals, which was something that didn’t seem even remotely achievable in my first few weeks on the cross-country team. But, I had surrendered to the process of getting just a little bit better each day.
At the Regional meet I got absolutely smoked by the most talented runners in the state of Colorado, but I am proud to say that in 12 short weeks, I had made it.
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!
My success in cross-country had very little to do with my physical condition either. I was in really good shape at the beginning of the season. The progress I made was mental. I had learned to overcome mental barriers.
My tolerance for pain increased and I learned how to push my body harder than I ever had before. I learned to cope with the pain, using it to go farther and faster.
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, and still remain good friends to this day.
Cross-country was one of the best decisions I ever made. It truly sucked. Every second of cross-country hurt and I was constantly questioning my decision to participate in such a miserable sport, but it just goes to show you that most of the challenges and barriers we face in our lives are self-imposed.
I am fairly certain that I could have physically ran the same time as Kyle in that year of cross-country. But, I simply wasn’t able to break through the mental barriers that 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 in the cross-country realm.
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 ever reached their limit.
I think limits are impossible to reach. You can continue to get closer and closer, infinitely, but you can never quite reach them.
And that’s ok.
What’s important, is that you are continuously improving; that you are continuously giving your all.
In cross-country, 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’m sure he would say “absolutely not”…and I would disagree)
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. And I have to give a huge, virtual tip-of-the-hat to Kyle, for beating my a** in every single practice and cross-country meet for an entire year. It truly made me a better person.
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