We are capable of incredible things.

Sometimes I think we lose sight of… how BIG of a deal some of what we do is. We go out there and we do things that… days, weeks, months, or years prior… never would’ve been possible… or even conceivable.  This past weekend… I went back to the site of one of those things – my first Ultramarathon. I went back to Pineland Farms Trail Festival not only for my own new accomplishment… but to help a friend achieve her first Ultramarathon finish too.

During the race… particularly in the final 7.7 miles… I was reminded of what it really means to push. To dig deep inside yourself… to a place that, perhaps, we didn’t know existed (or maybe forgot was there). Somewhere we can only tap into during the most extreme moments…

When we dig that deep, and push that hard… we discover who we truly are.

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We throw around phrases like “push!” and “dig deep!” a lot…

Those of us in sports and the fitness industry are particularly guilty of this. We encourage our friends, our clients, our teammates, even ourselves… to push just a little harder, dig a little deeper, and find just a little more effort than we think we can give. In that moment, we’re simply trying to help someone achieve that last rep, that last few minutes or few plays on the field, perhaps that last quarter mile of the race.

We understand people can push a little harder despite themselves…

so we encourage them to do so. We want others to see they’re capable of something more. And, perhaps, we want to see others achieve it to remind ourselves that we, too, are always able to push just a little bit more than we think we can. That is the very reason I beat people over the head with my belief on “limits”…

The only limits we truly have are the ones we set for ourselves.

So we, too, go out there… and encourage ourselves to push a little harder… dig a little deeper. Maybe that’s why we run farther, run faster. Maybe that’s why we do things like run a marathon (or more)

Or are we in it for the self-discovery?

I get asked a lot why I would ever do the things that I do. Sometimes its asked with a sense of bafflement at the apparent idiocy and self-torture of the thing I’m doing. Other times it’s asked with an utter lack of comprehension of what it is I’ve managed to do… not just “why”… but “how is someone ABLE to do that?”. I find I have a few answers to these questions, and they are always the same…

I want to see what I can do. Because I couldn’t do it before. Because… why NOT?

And I know there are other answers, too. Answers I’m not necessarily prepared to give out loud to the casual inquisitor. Something a little more personal. Perhaps… I want to feel… that certain something that only comes when you really need it… something that only shows itself, now, in the most serious of events. I had just scratched the surface with my first marathon… and I knew there was something to it… something more. And then… I found it… in the ultramarathon.

Ultra-endurance events reveal something… rare.

When you push hard enough for long enough… you reach the usual bounds of human capability. Some ultramarathoners (including myself) call this their “pain cave” or “dark place”. It’s something akin to “the wall” that marathoners experience, except in this case… it’s wholly mental, and wholly different. It’s both thrilling and terrifying to know that the vast majority of people will walk this earth their whole lives and not only never visit this place… but never even know it exists.

Those of us who find ourselves there, however… well, once we do find ourselves there we’re certainly neither thrilled nor terrified. What we experience when we visit that place… there are no words for. No singular emotion to describe it. There, in that desolate, desperate, rarely-visited place… you experience something very difficult to describe… something that isn’t normally witnessed in the usual course of human existence. You experience your deepest, most vulnerable, most raw version of yourself. In that place… in that moment… you discover who you really are.

In that moment… you have a choice to make.

That choice is how we discover who we really are. It’s a pretty simple choice, too – you must either fight, and carry on… or not. You can choose to give in, and give up, and allow everything that’s working against you to win…. or you can fight. You can choose to rise up, to battle the demons and beat back the darkness you face, and to ultimately claw your way to victory. There are an awful lot of things working against you inside that dark palce… how you choose to react, how you fight the battle (or not), and what you allow your final outcome to be are all how those of us who choose this sport discover ourselves.

Katrina and I both had a choice to make.

With 7.7 miles remaining of our 50 mile day, our pacer Tom pulled ahead with Katrina until they were just out of my sight. At that point, we both had a choice to make. Hers – to either break down and succumb to not just the crushing weight of this effort but also the emotional weight of leaving me behind… or to soldier on and trust that even if leaving me behind cost me my race… I wouldn’t have wanted her to sacrifice hers just to go down with me. My choice to make? Whether this was it – if I was going to fall apart and find my first DNF… or if I was going to pull it together, find the gas pedal, and punch my way through to the end of this thing despite being solo with nobody to lean on. It was heavy, and it was hard, for both of us…

In the end… we did it.

Katrina and I, in that moment, had to dive deep down to find what we needed. I had to revisit a place I’d only been a scant couple of times before… and Katrina had to find her way to a place deep within herself that, perhaps, she had never before visited. And in the end… we found what we needed, and with it, we found ourselves, the finish line, and each other on the other side of it. I’m so proud of Katrina for getting through all of that and achieving her first ultramarathon finish, and I’m thrilled to have shared that experience with her. You learn a lot about a person when you endure something like that together… and now I’ve seen Katrina in the final 10K of her first marathon and all but the tail end of her first 50 mile ultramarathon. I learned that not only is she one tough lady… but she has incredible physical, mental, and emotional resolve. She has what it takes to make tough decisions… to push past boundaries both implied, blatant, and imaginary. I learned that if there’s something this woman needs… there’s no stopping her. And we both got to that finish… and got our cowbell. What will you learn about YOURself when you fight through the dark place?

Never forget – you are capable of incredible things.

Whether it’s an ultramarathon, a 5k, weight loss success, muscle gains, or simply getting started in the gym… we are capable of so much more than we think. It just takes the courage to try. You need to learn how to dig deep. One day, you might find yourself in a position where you’ve not only learned how… but decided that you’ve glimpsed that deeper place… and you want to find a way to tap into it. When you reach that place, know that what you’ve already accomplished still matters and is still significant. Take everything you’ve learned and keep moving forward. Dig. Push. Achieve. Live Life Limitless.

What’s in this episode:

  • this has gotta be FUN!
  • Sharing the experience with friends and family
  • Back to Pineland Farms Trail Festival
  • Digging Deeper than “deep”
    • what’s really in it for those of us who choose ultra endurance sports.  

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