Thursday, June 2, 2016

Self-Imposed Limits

One of the best things about running is that the longer you stick with it, the more it teaches you and the more you grow. It's not just that you get better at it, or smarter about how you go about it. Running breaks down our self-imposed limitations even when that's not our goal.

And like any muscle, once we've broken down, we grow back stronger.

When I first began running, I was a two-miler. I mean, when I really first began, I considered anything an accomplishment, but once I got into the habit of it, two miles was my maximum.
And being able to find this kind of data is why I'll never leave Nike+.
Then I ran a 5k, and I was like, okay, 3.1 miles is my maximum.

And every day I'd run 1.5 miles from my house to a stoplight down the road, turn around, and run home. Then, a friend mentioned she had finally pushed beyond and gone four miles, and I remember thinking OMG, I can try to go four?!

And the first time I did, I felt absolutely elated and indomitable and just. plain. awesome.
I enjoyed going back and reading the build-up to this run. I was smart about building the mileage and then ran it three times the following week! I hit 4 miles and never looked back!
Since then, I've watched other self-imposed limitations fall by the wayside. I remember thinking a 10k sounded so daunting and scary, so impossible. And yet here I am, having run multiple.

I remember thinking that a sub-30 5k was impossible, and yet here I am, inching into the 26-range.

There are myriad examples, and there's no need to rehash them all; I guess what I'm getting at is that running - more than anything in my life - has shown me that many of the barriers and roadblocks I've faced are in my head. They're completely self-imposed and they're often not even physically impossible; they're only mentally impossible.
There was a time not that long ago that running a marathon seemed like the hardest, craziest thing someone could ever do! And now I've run three!
As a brand new runner, I couldn't run a quarter mile. Maybe physically I could, but I'd never done it before. The mile run in gym class? Yeah, I'd make it halfway around the track and start walking. Part of that was that I'd never been trained to pace myself (and I've written about that before), but it felt completely physical.

I wonder now if maybe that inability was mental. If I had known how to push myself, maybe I could have gone farther.
And maybe that's the point. As we stick with running, we learn to overcome our mental obstacles, and then we go farther - maybe because we're finally physically ready, but also because our minds have finally caught up with our bodies. Finally, our minds believe.

And once the mind is on board, we can do pretty much anything. So now I'm sitting here wondering: what else in my life feels physically, truly impossible? And, more it?

What has running taught you?
Are you mentally stronger in different aspects since becoming a runner?
What is something you truly think you're physically incapable of?



Montana Ross said...

Love this so much! So many things felt impossible before I started running. Each time I hit a new mileage barrier or run an OCR I do something else I didn't think I could do. Eventually I know I'll be able to overcome my fear of heights- little by little I've been breaking down those barriers. And I've watched friends go from 5k to 10k- and now she's saying she wants to run 8-10 miles. Before she never had the desire to run more than a 5k. Definitely changes your mindset!

Bianca @ Mitten Runner said...

Great Post, Ali! I agree that many barriers in running are more mental than physical. If you don't think something is possible, then it's probably not going to happen. Such an easy thing to say, and yet a hard thing to grasp. I'm definitely becoming more confident/mentally stronger though!

Megan @ Meg Go Run said...

I always feel like if someone WANTS something bad enough, they can do it. It doesn't mean it will be easy. It could even have to be LIFE ALTERING. But not only do you have to WANT it, but you have to open your mind to the possibility- like you said!

That being said, I am going to totally contradict myself because there are things I don't think I will ever physically be able to do lol!!! I feel like I could still PR in the marathon but there's not way I'd be physically able to like cut 20 min off my time. Well maybe I could. If I quit my job, hired a professional coach, and like dedicated my life to it. But I don't really want to do that. :)

Fairytales and Fitness said...

I remember having these same feelings. I was hooked on running after my first 5K and although I would watch my sister run all these long distance races I thought the only other race distance I could MAYBE do was a 10K but even that was pushing it. My how we grow!

Fairytales and Fitness said...

I remember having these same feelings. I was hooked on running after my first 5K and although I would watch my sister run all these long distance races I thought the only other race distance I could MAYBE do was a 10K but even that was pushing it. My how we grow!

Fair and Freckled said...

I love this ;) Look how far you have come! I was the same way, I loved to run 2 miles, but three seemed crazy lol
Once I finally got a 5K done, 4, 5, and 6 came much easier. Mentally, I have grown a lot stronger and I can have tough runs with out falling part, for me the physical part is more challenging lately. I am hoping I can find my way to a good middle ground.
I have been trying to work on on pull ups for a few years now, I am beginning to think that may be physically impossible lol

Jennifer @ Dashing in Style said...

Love hearing your journey through realizing those barriers are self-imposed and how you broke them down. The power of the mind is truly amazing!

Ana said...

This is so true! I had a similar journey, I still remember the fear as I was on my way to pick up my bib for the first 10K!

It's so funny how the brain plays tricks on us!

Jim Kennon said...

To be sure, there are physical limitation. But the mental limitations start to take effect long before the physical limitations are reached. It's a difficult thing to adequately explain to someone whi is just starting or is limited to shorter distances. But the feeling whenever you reach a new milestone is exhilarating. My first race ever was a 10K, and the longest I had run before that was a little over 4 miles. It was excruciating during the last mile, but about 30 minutes after finishing, I was elated. As I trudged across the finish at my first half marathon, I swore to myself that I would never do that again. Two hours later, I was planning how I could improve my time at the next one. The further you go, each time you reach the new goal, you get mentally tougher - and at some point you realize that if you are mentally tough, you can overcome just about anything. I remember way back when I thought 5 miles was unattainable, I spoke with a new co-worker who had run three marathons. At that point, I thought the marathon distance was impossible. I asked him if there was a trick, a secret about how to run a marathon. He replied, "Yes - put one foot in front of the other." At that time I thought he was joking. I have since come to the realization that it is just that simple.

chocolaterunsjudy said...

I am not sure I'm capable of a marathon. That is, I know I could do it if I put my mind to it, but considering I tend to be injury prone just running half that distance . . . I guess I simply don't want it badly enough.

But you are right. Running has taught me a lot. And one thing is that you do have to roll with the punches. Weather will suck sometimes. Your legs will feel like lead sometimes. Sometimes running is the last thing you'll feel like doing!

And yet, if you just get out there and do it, you'll almost never be sorry that you did.

James Douglass said...

Nice post, Ali. I feel like the physical limits and the mental limits are two donkeys on a trail, connected by a loose, elastic cord. When one advances it tugs the laggard forward, but the response isn't instantaneous, especially if the second donkey is a stubborn ass.

Ali K. said...

It's pretty awesome when you start realize that your mind - not a physical obstacle - has been the thing holding you back! Suddenly, so many things seem possible!

Ali K. said...

I've noticed how strong you've been getting mentally, and it's totally paying off in your tri training! I love watching you work toward new, scary goals!

Ali K. said...

I totally agree that sometimes, the thing that stops us is that we're not willing to make the sacrifices and truly make the changes we need to make to reach a goal. Goals and dreams are easy in our minds; the work is HARD. It's probably physically impossible for me to train for the Olympics because money and time aren't on my side, and because I'm such a late bloomer. Luckily, that's not my dream anyway!

Ali K. said...

I think it was a post you published a couple months ago that inspired this topic for me. It's funny how we get into a mindset of what we can do, and then one little change - trying that 10k, for example - can be enough to really inspire us to keep going!

Ali K. said...

I do think there's a point where your physical body maybe hasn't caught up with how ambitious and positive your mind is. I'm in that stage right now, too. But I love that eventually our bodies do usually catch up as long as the mental game stays strong!

Ali K. said...

I never understood how strong the mind was until I began running!

Ali K. said...

Race fear is funny because sometimes, even if we're seasoned runners, we still get nervous and jittery at the start of races!

And now I bet a 10k seems like peanuts to you :)

Ali K. said...

That joke about finishing a race and saying "never again" and then searching for the next one just hours later is SO true. I think all runners can relate to that.

It's very true, too, about running a marathon. One foot in the front of the other...and eventually you finish!

Ali K. said...

I love (and hate) that some days running feels effortless and others I can barely slog through a mile. It's taught me to power through anyway! And you're so right - I'm rarely sorry that I got out there!

Ali K. said...

I love that imagery and wholly agree. I think it will help to think of the physical and mental as two donkeys when I'm struggling with one and excelling in the other.