Back to Fitness: Milestones in Transformation


I recently posted a narrative of a workout I did training for a big race I have this summer, the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. It was an evening workout. I was exhausted from work and lack of sleep, and I really didn’t want to do it. But I knew at the same time, that to truly accomplish what I want to this summer in my race, I needed to start getting used to successfully doing what I don’t want to do, and even what I don’t think I can do.

This post got a lot more comments and feedback than most of the stuff I share, and so I figured somewhere in there I struck a chord with a lot of people.

Regarding our fitness, the truth is that we just don’t like to get uncomfortable. So, most of us don’t. Ever. But I’m not sure we can really grow in our fitness journey unless we push ourselves into, and then through, uncomfortable challenges. As they say, you gotta get out of your comfort zone. Only then can the physical and emotional transformation that we seek occur.

And so, for this month’s column, I’m just going to share this little glimpse into the outside of my comfort zone:

• • •

The warm up for tonight’s workout was predictably rough. Despite my refusal to grow up, my hamstrings and calves are truly 41 years old. I just finished an 11-hour workday and it was warm and humid. I checked my phone—no rain. Sure looked like it’s gonna rain.

I warmed up around U.Va.’s business school and law school. I realized that I pretty much only run in the mountains, so I felt like a stranger in a strange land. Buses, sidewalks, law students. Different.

Tonight’s goal was two hard 5Ks, one on the trail and one on the road. There would be no time goals to meet, not with 36 miles and 9000 feet of elevation change on my legs in the last two days.

Tonight’s goal really was to once again ask myself how much I really want this. Western States. Less than two months.
Zooming out another level, tonight was another day in a plan of transformation.

Transforming into a better runner. This is a slow process. And I’m not sure if you transform on group runs or on easy runs. I’m pretty sure most of my transformation happens on solo runs. Hard runs. This is where you first ask yourself—am I going to do what I set out to do?—am I going to do the workout I planned?—nobody is watching, I can always go easy. I’m tired, ya know.

And second, when it’s hard and your legs are burning, you ask yourself, “are you going to finish?” You can always let up, change the workout, save it for another day. You’re tired ya know.

And so I hit the Rivanna trail. There was an immediate climb that made my heart and legs work a little too hard so early in the evening. This quickly gave way to turning and twisting trails, loaded with roots and close-growing brush. I thought there would be more light, but it was already getting a little dark.

Flying down the trail, the footing was a bit sketchy. But this was definitely not the time to be careful. Careful doesn’t quite allow for transformation.
Arms flailing, branches whacking me in the face and neck, and fleeting light, I pushed hard on the trail. With a mile to go, my legs were feeling dead. There was that voice again “you can always back off.” But I’ve learned to ignore it and try to change that mindset and just keep going. I remembered Brad Hinton out-kicking me with a mile to go at Promise Land a few years back. I don’t want to get out-kicked anymore.
3.1 miles. Beep. Walk. Slow jog. Getting hotter. Head to the track for the road stuff.
10 minutes later, I’m looking for some good ways to delay the start of the road 5K, but its time. The watch goes beep.
This time there is no trail to slow me down. No roots or twists or branches. The focus turns to relaxing up top, extending the hips, major impact on the feet as I race on the pavement and sidewalks. This is different. More intense. Less enjoyable.

I hammer down to The Park—not breaking any speed records, but my legs, body, and mind are tired. I really don’t want to be doing this right now. More accurately, legs are burning. It’s just about dark out now. Pounding around the fields, the asphalt path is punishing, but that’s kind of the point.
I’m some random runner, breathing all hard, while everyone else is playing softball. But that’s kind of the point.
Second loop around the fields and I’m getting to that point I wanted to get to. Where you feel like you reached a little too far today and your body is not quite responding like you feel it should. There’s one more mile to go, pretty much all uphill.
Then I thought of David Goggins and a recent podcast, talking about how he just finds a way to transform from hating these hard moments to just loving them. “I love this s^#t!” he would say as he and his Navy Seal brothers face the trials of their Hellweek training.
Hitting that hill, I laugh and tell myself “I love this s^#t!”. I’m huffing and breathing ridiculously as I fly past law students on their phones and the bus stop.

But it’s perfect, this isn’t about anyone else, just me.
I think of mile 98 of Western States. Will I get overrun or will I outrun. That is not answered on race day; it’s answered today.
Powering up the hill, breathing slightly out of control, I feel rain. Just a few drops at first. Guess the phone was wrong. 1/2 mile left. Then it RAINS. Seemingly out of nowhere, it starts pouring. Hard. Sheets. Wind. Slick sidewalks. But this is definitely no time to be careful.

I am suddenly soaking as if I jumped in a lake, tearing down the sidewalk, gasping for air, pumping the arms, splashing. Desperately waiting for 3.1 to show up on the watch.

The doubt of finishing the workout has left. The doubt of getting chased down at the end of the race has left. A little bit of transformation happened tonight.


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