Stress, fear, difficulty, no matter how we frame it, stress is a part of life. Stress is as much a part of our running as our running shoes and finish lines.
We all want to run farther or faster but dwell on what it takes to get us there. It’s funny how we try to avoid running stress, but stress is precisely what causes us to grow. It takes running that extra mile, sprinting that extra hill, or reaching that faster pace.
Have you ever noticed the most stressed people are those who try to avoid stress? But the people who welcome stress, the overachievers, seem never to stress. That’s because once you realize stress is a part of life you can dance with it instead of hide from it. You can use stress as an advantage instead of a drawback. You can use it to grow instead of to wither.
As a runner, we put ourselves through constant stress. But we push through it, break down, adapt, and become a better runner.
That’s because humans are designed to stress. We are designed to adapt to new stresses. Each time we adapt to a new stress we raise our foundation and can build from a higher self.
That’s why the design of a training program progresses. A marathon training program, for example, manipulates the process of growth. It’s designed to increase stress to improve our endurance. The mileage increases each week enough for growth but not enough to cause burnout or injury. Controlled progressive growth allows us to run further.
And it works in the opposing direction as well. By avoiding stress, we lose traction. If you’re not growing, you’re dying, and that’s true for every living organism on this planet. From the grass on your front lawn to the bird in the sky and even the bacteria in your body. Growth is the way of life.
But humans are the only species that can rationalize growth. Progress is a decision for each one of us. Our capacity to make decisions is a gift or a curse; it depends on your individual perspective of life.
Have you ever met a tree that was afraid of heights? One that decided to stop growing because it didn’t want to leave the other trees behind? One that fears to reach its full potential? No, of course not. From the moment they are planted in the earth, they are covered in darkness and struggle to reach the light. And if they are healthy they continue growing until they tip over.
The point is you have the power to decide, so use it as leverage, not a crutch.
As an ultra runner, I’ve experienced the power of stress adaption at its highest level. The first time I ran 100 miles was devastating. After the race, my tortured legs caused a tremendous amount of pain. I laid in the back of a car biting down on a blanket so I could scream without causing an accident. I thought my legs were in pain until I stepped into the shower and the water hit my torn apart and chaffed body. Then the hot temperatures of the shower took me to the ground as I nearly passed out. It was a struggle to walk for days. My stomach was destroyed, and my mind was in pieces. But deep down I knew it would get better.
Over time my body adapted, and it got better, much better. My last 100-mile race I finished with energy, strength, and a smile on my face. Sure it was difficult, but my body adapted to the stresses of running other ultramarathons.
I learned over time that the power isn’t in the finish lines, the power is in the stress. The amount of endurance you develop is determined by the amount of stress you’re willing to overcome. That’s the secret. It’s not in how many races you finish; it’s in how uncomfortable you’re willing to get. The secret to progress is in our struggles.
And it takes hard work, clarity, time, failure, adaption, living, mindfulness, and a leap of faith to emerge from the stress. When we accept stress as a way of life and use it as leverage, suddenly, we become the runner we’ve always wanted to be. But it starts with hard work.
It Takes Hard Work
Ever hear of the famous Italian painter Michelangelo? Michelangelo is widely known as the most famous artist of the Italian Renaissance. He is the creator of the masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
So what does painting have to do with running? Well, although you may think Michelangelo’s artistry was a gifted natural talent, the truth is the guy worked hard.
Michelangelo said, “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.” Through hard work, he turned a hobby into his passion and his passion into his mastery. But isn’t it easy to believe the creation of a masterpiece like the Sistine Chapel was from God giving talent?
When we assume natural talent towards someone else, it only provides us with an excuse not to work harder. But the truth is we remember every one of the greats for their achievements because they practiced harder than ANYONE else.
Work is stress; work is struggle; work is unbearable adversity. But in those moments of struggle is where the magic happens.
So guess what? It takes hard work to run long distance. It takes waking up when you’re tired. It takes going out in the morning when it’s frigid. It takes pushing past exhaustion. And then doing it all over again. If you want to run a marathon or an ultramarathon then you have to suffer, you have to stress, and you have to work hard.
It Takes Clarity
We must know EXACTLY what we want. The hardest part for most runners is knowing what that is. If you want to run a 5k, declare it. If you want to run a marathon, declare it. If you want to run an ultramarathon, declare it. To ‘declare’ comes from the Latin word “declarare”. “De” meaning ‘thoroughly’ and ‘clarare’ meaning ‘make clear.’ To declare literally means to ‘thoroughly make clear.’
Once you have clarity and know exactly what you want, then it only takes a decision. Decide if you’re willing to suffer enough to get yourself there.
Are you willing to suffer to reach your goals? Are you willing to pay the price? Are you willing to hold yourself accountable?
Remember, clarity is power. The more clear you are about EXACTLY what distance you want to run, the more your brain will know how to get you there. So get clear and get to running!
It Takes Time
Everybody has the time to run long distance. 4:00am – 7:00am or 9:00pm-12:00am is plenty of time to achieve most all running goals.
The key is to spend less time on the problem and more time on the solution. For example, instead of focusing on how to run or what gear to use, just get out and run. Those other add-ons will work themselves out as you go. There’s nothing more important for a runner than getting outside and running. It takes time to run long distance, but time is all it takes.
It Takes Failure
If we know anything for sure it’s this: if you GIVE UP, you will NEVER reach your running goals. If running becomes too stressful, if it becomes too painful, or too tiring, the finish line will never come.
What’s the secret to never giving up? Always try ONE more time.
There will be millions of times when you will want to give up. When we run outside of our comfort zone, the thought of giving up lingers in our minds with every stride forward. We begin to become certain we are not good enough to push forward. We begin to become certain that we will become a failure.
But that’s where we all go wrong. Failure is not to tell us who we are; it’s to inform us of what doesn’t work. Failure is there to educate us; it’s there to teach us; it’s there to make us stronger than we were when we started.
A handful of years ago when ultrarunning was new to me, I was running a 37-mile training run. At the time, this was my longest attempted distance for a training run. Everything was going well until mile 28 where I started to lose it. My eyes became glued to my watch and every minute seemed like an eternity! I was a slave to the digital countdown of time. And then it happened, I began to walk. But since I stopped running, was I a failure? No, far from it, because at that moment I did something that changed how I would progress as an ultra runner. I took off the GPS watch attached to my wrist and launched it as far as my arm could throw it.
Training with no watch has contributed to the many ultra distances I’ve run thus far. It’s taught me to stay in the present and to run for the love of running. I’ve run 50ks, 50 miles, 100ks, 100 miles and even longer with no watch. Now, I can wear a watch and have the discipline to keep my mind in the present. I learned a valuable lesson from what I perceived as a failure at the time.
So when you begin to look at failure as an education process, suddenly, the fear vanishes. Suddenly you become comfortable in attempting the IMPOSSIBLE. And by attempting the impossible, even if you fail, you will have stretched yourself and will be able to run farther. You may even run 100 miles!
It Takes Adaptation
The only way a human being adapts is through stress. If you are not running further, or running faster, or running until it hurts, there is no growth. You have to be able to break things in order to build something new. If you want to push the boundaries, and see how far you can go then you must step outside of your comfort zone. Because right now, any distance of any length will create stress. Stress to your body, stress to your mind, and stress in your life. But here’s the good news, it won’t last forever.
I think back to some of my difficult challenges as a runner. I’ll never forget the time I collapsed and forgot who I was and still pushed through to the finish. Or the time I ran for 31 miles with no food or water. Or the time I ran for 30 hours straight. Or all the 100-mile races I’ve run.
And then I think back to some of my simpler challenges as a runner. I’ll never forget when I had the guts to run outside for the first time. Or when I dared to sign up for my first marathon. Or the first time I published a running article.
Now I think to myself, are the difficult and simple challenges so much different?
Any new endeavor that creates stress is only relative to the stress we’ve encountered thus far. When I stepped outside and ran for the first time it created stress, I pushed through it, adapted, now it’s a way of life. When I stood at the starting line of my first 100-mile ultra marathon it created stress, I pushed through it, adapted, and a dream came true. When I released my first article it created stress, I pushed through it, adapted, and a passion was born. It is in our moments of decision where our life is designed.
It Takes Living
Why do we go after our running goals in the first place? Simple, running makes us feel more alive. Progress is happiness and allows us to feel alive. It’s our human nature.
That’s why we hear endurance athletes say that there is beauty in struggle and there is magic in misery. In essence, stress is part of who we are; it’s our way of life. When we struggle and push through the pain, we feel alive! Through stress, we become closer in touch with who we are as human beings. Everyone wants to see the view from the top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs when you’re climbing it. We begin to understand this when we build our endurance as runners.
The most significant problem we face is fear. We fear that we will fail, we fear that we will give up, we fear that we won’t finish. But fear is not only stopping us from reaching our running goals, but it’s also preventing us from being ourselves. Fear is stopping us from becoming who we are meant to be.
The key is to have fun! Have the guts to go for the gold. Have the guts to be terrified, or tired, and push through the pain anyway! Remember, in all the attempts of trying to prove something to yourself that it’s all for the reason to feel alive and become a better self. Never lose sight that running long distance helps shape us into the person we want to be. And never lose sight that it should be FUN!
It Takes Mindfulness
The body has limitations, and the mind does not. After running so many ultra distances, people now ask me how I do it. And the answer is the same every time, “I do it with my mind.” It’s about detaching from the neck down. Every race, every training run, always starts from the mind. If you’re never mentally ready, then you’ll never be physically prepared.
Our preparation starts with our mind. We were all born to run. It’s part of who we are.
In the book Born To Run the author rights, “If you don’t think you were born to run you are not only denying history. You are denying who you are.” Running has been apart of the human civilization as long as breathing and digestion.
Our ancestors have done the hard work for us. Over the past hundreds of thousands of years, they shaped our genetic code. Now all you have to do is make a decision. Decide if you are going to act on it or not. Running long distance is an option for anyone, make up your MIND.
It Takes A Leap Of Faith
Anytime you get close to the edge your brain will always tell you to step back. It will tell you to step back because you can fail. “I’m going to sign up for the race but what if I don’t finish?” “I’m going to run that new distance, but what if I hurt myself?” When you get close to the edge, you remember the last time you tried but failed. Or you remember someone else that failed before you.
Our brain is designed to keep us safe, not to be uncomfortable. So when attempting to run long distances, you have to be able to play between your brain and your spirit. And some days you have to listen to your spirit.
It was exhausting when I ran 116 miles across the state of Florida. When running such a long distance, at some point your body gives up, and your mind takes over.
But on this occasion, my mind struggled as well due to the courses repetitious manner. The course was one straight road across the entire state. The road had the same slight incline the whole way, and every mile of the last 30 miles looked identical. The trees all looked similar, along with the corresponding painted line. The bushes appeared identical, along a road with hundreds of sewer pipes the exact distance apart. The sky stayed the same color blue. The road was the same color black. I kept running and running, and the end seemed it would never come. It began driving me insane!
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well, after 100 miles of running and the repetitive nature of the course, I felt stuck in a perpetual time loop. I began losing it! Fortunately somewhere far past the physical, and just beyond the mental lies the power of the human spirit. And when the spirit ignites, the impossible disintegrates.
If you’ve read some of my other work, you know how I pushed through to the end and finished in first place. But it wasn’t my feet that brought me to the finish; it was my spirit. The spirit was there, it was always there, and it’s there for each one of us if you’re open to it.
So when you’re at the edge, and you’re watching everyone else fly, take the leap! Because if you don’t fly you will fall, and if you fall you will pick yourself back up. As long as you’re breathing you will pick yourself up, that’s our design, that’s survival. Through the mind, body, and spirit we will always stand back up.
Reading this right now is proof you can get yourself back up because you’re putting in the effort. You’re learning how to get through the stress. Remember this: our greatest fear is not that we will never fall, our greatest fear is we will live a full life and never fly.
Leap outside of your comfort zone! Push through the stress, watch adaption work its magic, and repeat the process. Eventually, you will become familiar with the stresses of long distance. Within the running stress, you will realize that any distance is possible. But it takes hard work, clarity, time, failure, adaption, living, mindfulness, and a leap of faith to emerge from the stress.
So lace up those shoes! It’s time to run, it’s time to live, and it’s time to run far, real far! Does that stress you out? Good!
REMEMBER…The amount of endurance you develop is determined by the amount of stress you’re willing to overcome!
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