Take the Limits OFF
Endurance is a word that has been coming to me over and over recently. A few weeks back, I wrote about F1’s Fernando Alonso’s victory at Le Mans and how it is an exemplary demonstration of Winston Churchill’s exhortation: NEVER, NEVER, NEVER QUIT (see post here). It’s also an example of how Alonso hasn’t let the limits of one niche of motorsports hold him back from achieving more.
And as I mentioned Le Mans- one of the most arduous endurance races in motorsports- I thought I’d tell you about another endurance race. The Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon.
How many of you out there are runners? (I’m not, but my husband is a long distance runner, so on the rare occasion, I have been known to don my tennis shoes.) Perhaps you’ve heard of this particular race. It covers 875 kilometers (544 miles) between Sydney and Melbourne, Australia. Even the world’s most accomplished runners know this race is a true test of their fortitude and endurance. They train specifically for it.
The first running of the Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon took place in 1983. (The last occurred in 1991.) During this inaugural race, something happened that shook the racing world up quite a bit. But, before I tell you about that, let’s hammer out some basics.
What would be some things you would assume to be necessities in order to attempt an ultramarathon?
If it were me (for those of you who know me, you can pause and laugh- I know. I really don’t like running. I’ll do any other form of cardio, but running is barely above the demon burpee in my book)… Regardless, if I were preparing to enter such a race, I’d want to make sure I had the appropriate gear- running shoes, especially. I definitely would want to have trained at least six months for it. I’d want to make sure I had proper running form. And I would want to have mapped out the schedule I would be running on in order to be a true competitor.
In 1983, the five competitors were world class athletes. They had trained especially for the race. They were mostly under thirty. They all knew that they needed to race eighteen hours each day and sleep six in order to complete the race within the record time of seven days. Needless to say, they were athletes who were taken seriously.
However, something uncommon happened at this ultramarathon. Cliff Young entered the race. Arriving in overalls and work boots with gum boots (galoshes) over them because he thought it was going to rain, this 61 year old potato farmer shocked everyone who saw him. He wasn’t wearing the right gear. He hadn’t trained. He’d never even read a book or article on the appropriate way to prepare for a race. And he was too old. No doubt, there were those at the start of that race who made no bones about their amusement at Cliff’s expense.
But Cliff wasn’t there because he needed to be validated by anyone. He was there because he had always wanted to run a race. He just wanted to do it and he didn’t care what anyone had to say about it.
But what made him think he could do such a thing without proper training or preparation?
Here, I’ll let him explain himself:
Well, the race started and the five pro athletes were off and running, quickly leaving Cliff in the dust, shuffling along. Literally shuffling. His form was all wrong. By the end of the first day, Cliff was dead last.
But, while the other competitors ran their eighteen hours and rested their six, Cliff just kept on running. Through the night, he ran. All the next day, he ran. And the next night. And day. And night. He didn’t stop.
You see, he didn’t know he was supposed to stop. He thought he had to do the whole race in one go. So, he just did it.
He took the limits off.
And you know what happened? Cliff Young won the ultramarathon. AND he shaved two full days off the previous record. He finished in five and a half days (5 days, 15 hours, 4 minutes to be exact). The next runner- George Perdon- ran across the finish line ten hours later.
Prior to Cliff Young doing it, no one would have believed such a thing possible. Experts would have trotted out all the reasons why it couldn’t be done. Everyone knows that an athlete needs to rest. They can’t run five days straight without sleeping. You definitely can’t do it in the wrong gear. With the wrong form. And you especially can’t do it if you’re over sixty. It’s impossible. I mean, no one has ever done it before. Right?
But, something is only impossible until someone shows that it’s possible.
Cliff Young had been endurance training the whole of his life. So, he didn’t see any reason he couldn’t run an endurance race. And because he had never entertained the limits, he surpassed them.
What limits have you been entertaining in the race for your dreams? Perhaps they are perfectly logical limits, like the ones the experts put on the other athletes. What have you allowed to hold you back? Your age? Your training? Your experience? What’s your limit?
I challenge you today: Identify where you’ve set your limits. And once you’ve identified where they are, take them off.
Trust me. I know that can be scary. I’m preaching to myself here. There are things I’ve agreed with that have limited me. But, when I examine those limits, I realize they start with one of two beliefs: because it’s always been done one way, it has to be done that way or because it’s never been done, it’s can’t be done. But, let me tell you, I find those limits unacceptable. So, I’m taking them off. I refuse to align my thoughts with them.
Before the 14th of October in 1947, everyone who had tried to break the sound barrier in flight had failed. If Chuck Yeager had set his limit at what others had been incapable of accomplishing, he would never have broken the sound barrier in his Bell X-1.
If the Montgolfier brothers had listened to all the nay-sayers who said man could never fly, they would never have built the first hot air balloon let alone launched it. But they took the limits off their thinking, and on October 15, 1783, they soared into the wild blue yonder.
If Cliff Young had paid any attention to all the reasons he couldn’t run the race or to all the people who said he wasn’t the sort of man who could win it, he never would have done it. But, he didn’t limit himself and look what he did. He ran the race and he won it. AND the Young Shuffle has actually been adopted by many runners because of its efficiency.
If he can do it, so can you. So, as Nike tells all us runners (whether actual runners or metaphorical ones): JUST DO IT!