These are great motivation pieces written by a great runner, Eric Grossman. I had to copy these from Running Times just for my own record in case this is ever removed from the site. LOVE IT! You can find it by clicking here or just read below.
We got Without Limits via Netflix last night. Hate the title. At least I can't blame Pre for it in the same way that I can blame Phelps for the title of his book, No Limits. I much prefer Paul Tergat's approach with Running to the Limit. I don't go for mysterious or supernatural mumbo jumbo. Maybe athletes don't want you to think they have limits -— but of course they do. And, like Tergat, great ones have become very adept at approaching them.
A couple of months ago, I convinced my 10-year-old son to run a handful of 200s on the track. We had entered both kids in a mile race and I wanted them to get a sense of the pace for it beforehand. So, I lined them up and started my 8-year-old daughter first and, five seconds later, gave my son the signal. I told him just to approach, and not pass, his sister. So he did, and he ran very controlled. He also started to look like a lion pacing his cage. So on the fourth repeat, I told him to wait eight seconds after his sister started and then to run as fast as he wanted. I was watching from across the track and my mouth dropped. If I did believe in hocus pocus, I would say that Steve Prefontaine's spirit had found its way to the Abingdon High School track in Southwest Virginia! His strong arms swung low — almost 90 degrees at the elbow — and his legs extended surprisingly far behind him.
You probably know that two movies — just one year apart — came out about Pre. His is a compelling story partly because he competed at the top level, and partly because he died young, but mostly because of the way that he lived. You probably know his story: He was a frontrunner who couldn't stand to be boxed in; he felt that anything less than racing wide open from the start disgraced the sport. He lived full-throttle and partied hard. He bristled at any attempt to reign him in, including attempts from coaches working in his interest. Even if you don't know the two movies and even if you've never heard of Pre, you can get a sense of who he was just from my brief description.
People are master character and story builders, and not just the novelists among us. We have to participate in crafting our own stories in order to be anything. Let me explain.
When I was in high school, I drove a car. What car did I drive? Well, let's see, it was a yellow Volvo 240. At least it was yellow until I painted it blue. OK, so color notwithstanding, can I positively identify the exact car I drove in high school? I could start at the beginning and get an assembly record, conveniently shown on the door jamb as the VIN. But, my brother wrecked the car and the part showing the VIN was replaced. That's OK; it's probably also listed on the engine. Or it was. The engine had burned up and been replaced before we even got the car, so it shows a different VIN than the other parts (well, before the door jamb was replaced). So, should we go with the identity of the engine or with the identity of the pre-replacement part that used to have the VIN? Wait, you think, let's just use the identity of the majority of the car parts. Well TOO BAD because every single part of the car has been replaced at least once (that isn't actually true, but it could be). What is left to make the car I drove in high school a particular car? Answer: it's history.
This gets more serious with people, who are faced with the same problem. Our cells continuously replace themselves and die. In any given seven years, almost all of the cells in an adult human will have been replaced. Why don't we go ahead and change names and assume a new identity to match the whole new set of cells? Who should change the names? In my case, it's this overly analytical, philosophical type who spends too much time alone running on mountain trails.
Becoming a person is not a magic event that happens at conception; it's a process that happens as we grow and start to formulate, with the help of those around us, a story about who we are. Unless we are depressed, the story likely exaggerates the positive. And why not? We have to live the story, so shouldn't we shine it up a bit?
Here's the tricky part, and it will help explain the enormous appeal of sports. I can make up a character with far greater prowess than I actually possess. Sporting contests, however, are specifically designed to separate fact from fiction — they reveal the truth about what we were made of on that day (or days). Exaggerating my story will have at least two devastating results: I'll be revealed as a fraud and I'll misappropriate the resources that I have at my disposal. Conversely, if I am reasonably accurate about what I can do, I can use resources to improve myself and win the most respect possible.
The chances are good that as long as you are improving yourself and winning respect, you'll stay motivated. That works especially for young people who are working to establish themselves. You are telling the story of becoming a good runner. My story, for example, started with accidentally joining my high school cross country team when I got a "special" letter from the coach before my freshman year. Turns out he sent the same letter to all incoming freshman, but I didn't know that at the time. I liked to play soccer and ride my bike, but I had no concept of distance running. It turns out that I was good at it, so I trained harder and harder and eventually became a high school standout in Kentucky. I was recruited by an elite school and readily adapted to training at the collegiate level. I did not, however, adapt well to the way I was coached. Things eventually came to a head when I was denied an overseas travel opportunity offered to the rest of the team. I was ready to end the story line that had me running at that particular school. I called my high school coach to talk it over. He listened intently, as always, and responded that this was my chance to have a real impact right where I was. My perspective changed immediately. I didn't have to be the runner who was humiliated by being denied a team privilege. I could be the runner who took a hit and got back up, even stronger than before. And isn't that a motivating story?
You are going to get knocked around. Your story will have difficulty, strife, illness and injury. Your trials are that much more dramatic when compared to times when you performed well. To stay motivated, you will have to rework your story continuously to confront the reality of your situation and to remain aspirational. Lance Armstrong was a strong rider before cancer. As a cancer survivor, he became an endurance icon. Does he have human limits? Of course. We can all strive to push and even redefine those limits, though, and still live to tell the tale.
Eric Grossman is a member of the Montrail ultrarunning team. At age 40, Grossman won the 2008 USATF 50-mile national championship. Check back next week for more of Grossman's motivational tips.