It may seem like this passage is about running, but it’s not. It’s about me and you and all of us. The place where the idea was born, though, came out of running. Stick with me, you’ll understand in a moment…
While I have always tried to push myself to do things that I didn’t think were possible, and sometimes succeeded (but just as often failed), and while I have always believed that I could do anything (and I do believe we all can), I am sometimes (believe it or not) hampered by self-doubt.
This all might sound like a contradiction, but it isn’t. As we push to attain new goals, part of us often wonders if that new goal is possible. I’m a big believer in trying. I like to go for it, but as I do, there are times when I wonder if attaining the goal is even possible.
(Imagine, if you will, climbing a big mountain. Each step forward seems like an impossibility. The air is thinning and the apex doesn’t seem to be any closer. You are trying, but in the process, while you believe that it is possible to make it, there are times when it just doesn’t seem like it’ll happen. Those voices of self-doubt and the physical pain that you are experiencing become strong arguments to quit. The idea of stopping and ending the misery is very tempting. Very tempting.)
Success and failure are more closely related than most people realize. The difference between the two is often a minuscule decision – a decision often made in the blink of an eye. Sometimes success is achieved when we give just the tiniest extra effort. It’s that little push that often makes the big difference.
I fashion myself as a marathoner although I haven’t run that far since 2016. It’s been a long time – a long long time. And when I pushed through in 2016, I wasn’t really in great shape. Somehow I did it, but I’m still not sure how. The months that followed that race were filled with all sorts of life’s circumstances that impacted on my ability to focus on that sport. This resulted in fewer runs and less fitness. Then, as I tried to make-up for lost time, I got injured in a fashion I had never experienced before – I ended up with a tear in my Achilles. (I’m still not 100%.) Because of that injury, last autumn I had to take about three months off from running. One problem built on the next…
In January of this year, I started running again and I found out how out of shape I had become. Running just one mile became a struggle. Running multiple miles was an impossibility. I also found that when I could move, I had to go much slower. Much, much, much slower. I used to try to run better than 8 minute miles, now I was running at 12 minutes each mile and having a great deal of difficulty doing it.
At the same time, I was getting older and a certain benchmark was facing me – 50. It’s a strange milestone to achieve. I have always fooled myself into thinking I am younger than my age. Psychologically that’s harder to do when you have to admit that you are fifty. You can’t be young and fifty. You might act young. You might think young. But 50 just isn’t young. It’s a big paradigm shift.
I have wondered over these last two years, wondered often, if I was finished as a runner. I wondered if this is what middle-age feels like. I wondered if I’d ever be able to run far distances again. Day after day, week after week, and month after month, it seemed like I wouldn’t because I couldn’t.
I still might not be able to.
I became the guy who formally thought he could do everything who now doubted if he could do anything.
Progress, if any existed at all, was slow. Most often it was unperceivable. I might have a good run, but that would be followed with a series of poor runs.
There were some good days, but I couldn’t build on them. Or I thought I couldn’t (because I didn’t).
And then, just last Tuesday, with a half-marathon coming on my calendar (I signed up for this race over two years ago), I decided to push through all the pain and doubt and get a ten-miler under my belt before heading into work.
Step-after-step I pushed…and I made it. This wasn’t my farthest run of the year, but it had been weeks since I went that far. And I was certain that a few weeks of new misery, pain, and more self-doubt would now follow.
But then, just two days later, I decided to do it again. I thought, “Maybe I can run ten again.” And I did!
I then did ten more again on Saturday.
And then, once again just two days after, on a quiet Monday morning before heading to work, I did it again.
After finishing these four ten mile runs, I realized that in one calendar week, I had run forty miles. Years ago, when I considered myself an indestructible runner, I did 40-mile weeks as a matter of routine. I hadn’t done something like this, though, in a long, long time. In some ways, it was a lifetime because in the time that passed since my last 40-mile week, I found whatever it is that defines old(er) age: less stamina, more pain, the need for glasses, more of life’s circumstances, and even less hair on my head.
When I look in the mirror I don’t see a young guy. I see… my grandpa.
It’s hard to fashion oneself as young when Grandpa looks back at you from the mirror. (I’m not that old…am I?).
If you asked me just a week ago if I could run forty miles in a week, I would have said, “No, Absolutely not.” I hadn’t even run thirty miles in a week in ages. The idea of running forty mile would have been absolutely absurd. It was impossible. (and here’s a strange dynamic – I did it and I still think it is impossible.)
So, what changed?
What changed was the simple fact that I did it. Step-by-step, minute-by-minute, and on-and-on. One foot strike after the next. Over and over again.
And If I can do what I just did, then anyone can. Absolutely.
We all wake up each day with certain hopes, goals, and expectations. We want our days to progress a certain way. We have things we want to do.
Often times we don’t follow through on these dreams and hopes because we convince ourselves that they aren’t possible.
Over these last years, I have had long conversations with friends and family discussing the fact that it seems that my marathon days just might be over. (And maybe they are.) I have discussed coming to grips with middle age. (Maybe I need to.) For a long time, in my worst moments, I have been telling myself that now that middle age has come that I can’t do a lot of things.
It’s high time I remembered that I can do anything – and that we all can.
Live your dreams. Do the things you need to do. Push yourself in whatever way is necessary to do whatever it is that you set out and dreamed of long ago. Run that race. Climb that mountain. Make that quilt. Read that book. Write that great book. Play that instrument. Paint that picture. Fix that faucet. Complete that project. Go to that place you have always dreamed of…
Whatever it is… DO IT – because you can. As I wrote earlier this summer, “Possibility is everything.” It really is.
Possibility gives hope. Real hope. We can do more than we think.
Usually all it takes to achieve anything is effort (sometimes a lot of it). But with effort, and focus, and perseverance, we can do anything. YOU can do anything. Never limit yourself. Remember where success comes from. Every step forward is a step in the right direction.
You can do it. We all can. Impossible is an illusion.
The power of all of this is just, simply, amazing. And that power is within you.