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Thursday, April 12, 2012


My wife and I recently finished reading the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy.  Yeah, i know it was written for young adults, but its really a pretty entertaining read and there's some pretty good stuff about suffering in there.  And I couldn't help but wonder where i could get my hands on some of that 'Capitol medicine' - would sure come in handy during expedition length adventure racing.

Ms. Everdeen, finding her limits
But the book really got me thinking about limits and where they come from.  I've touched on this in some of my posts before and i find it a very compelling topic.  I'm particularly interested in the idea of physical limits vs. mental limits, and how, in my opinion, mental limits are often rationalized to be physical ones.

Physical limits are comforting.  They stem from outside of our control.  "I'm just not built right."  "I just don't have the right genetics."  While this can be true in terms of performing simple tasks at some limit (i.e. running a 4 minute mile) or skilled activities (getting massive air while downhill mountain biking), it is true much less often in terms of endurance sports.

As soon as one believes they can't physically do something, the rest becomes moot.  Whether or not one actually can do it becomes immaterial - the body will only ever attempt to go where the mind leads.  It becomes a stalemate - the mind looking at the body and thinking - it doesn't even matter if i wanted to do that - it's beyond me.

But if you are like me and interested in finding (or more realistically just closely approaching) your actual physical limits - the mental limits have to be removed.  I've luckily developed (after years of 'practice') a system of planning activities that removes the mental limitations.  Here's how it works:

  1. Choose a simple task that you can already do.  My present fascination is with swimming - but almost everyone knows how to ride a bike and run - these are simple tasks.
  2. Find a race or plan an adventure involving this activity.  Make the duration/distance twice as long as anything you've ever done - or harder by far in some other way (terrain, type of support, etc).
  3. First consider and then plan only how to survive the worst case scenario (physical failure), not how to prevent it (prevention would mean not doing the crazy thing in the first place).  In most races this is easy - you'll either carry a cell phone, team up with a buddy who is capable at the distance/task, or make sure there is a sweeper that will find your wreck of a body by the side of the trail and begin the extraction process.  
  4. Then consider only the best case scenario and convince yourself by whatever means necessary that your race/task is going be that, and that you're more than capable of finishing and might even have a really good time.  For example - your longest ever run is only six miles, but you can probably do 10 if need be.  And your walking pace is at least 3 mph (and walking is easy, right?) so even when you can't run anymore you'll make decent time.  And you love trails.  The weather will be beautiful and the views outstanding, etc. etc. 
  5. Commit. In the back of your head relish the thought that in reality you are going to see what its like to explode.   Simultaneously cling to the thought that you might just not have to (ie, one in a hundred times that best case scenario might actually look a little like what happens) and this will help you get beyond the point of no (or 'no easy') return. 
Of course if you're not like me - if you can read about Katniss Everdeen exhaustedly stumbling through the forest, dehydrated and hungry, without longing to know what that feels like -  then you probably shouldn't follow these steps. Because for you, the misery you experience will probably never magically transform (seemingly impossibly) into one of the best and formative experiences of your life, begging to be recreated by ever tougher challenges on a semi-annual basis.

1 comment:

  1. Nice Andy!

    When should we get together for some conversation?