I was struck by a conversation I had with a friend today. We were discussing the merits of using heart rate monitors during aerobic exercise. I expressed my opinion that I thought heart rate monitors were overrated. That is, we should instead use our own perceived exertion level to gauge how hard we are working out. His response was that his perceived exertion level is passing out and dying because, as he put it, “I am not a runner.”
How often to we limit ourselves with labels? My response to that is we are who we are based not on what we say we are, but by what we do or do not. I not a runner simply because I put on a 5K t-shirt and declare that I am a runner. I started out slowly – very slowly – about four years ago. I think I was doing a 13 to 14 minute mile for 20 to 30 minutes with walk breaks every 2 minutes. Now I can keep a 10 minute mile pace for 45 minutes with walk breaks every 12 minutes. I’m still slow – but I’m consistent.
This makes me think of Yoda. Yes, Yoda. In Empire Strikes Back, Luke crashes his x-wing in the marshes of Degobah. An x-wing is a big spacecraft. About as big as modern day jet fighter. Yoda encourages Luke to lift the x-wing out of the marsh using only the Force. Luke says, in a rather self-defeating tone, “I’ll try.” But Yoda rebukes him by saying, “There is no try. Only do or do not.” So Luke gives it a go, but fails. Feeling like a failure, and giving up on himself, Luke slumps on the ground, completely resigned to stay on Degobah for the rest of his mortal life. Exasperated, Yoda uses the Force and lifts the spacecraft out using only his mind. Amazed, Luke says, “I don’t believe it.” And Yoda replies, “That is why you fail.”
Every time I see this scene, I am so moved that I get goose bumps. Because how often in life, when we fail to accomplish an amazing thing, it’s because we never believed we could do it in the first place? And conversely, how often is that we overcome great adversity to accomplish something that required much faith in ourselves?
You see, running, biking, swimming – none of this came easy to me. When I ruptured my Achilles tendon back in 2002, I gave up on myself, started smoking to deal with anxiety, and gained over 20 pounds. I realized in 2009 that that had to change. So I started to make it happen. It was slow and fraught with failure. I didn’t completely quit smoking until 2010. And I didn’t run my first 5K until 2011.
- If I never believed that I could finally quit smoking, it never would have happened.
- If I never believed that I could once again run after rupturing my Achilles tendon, it never would have happened.
- And, if I never believed that I could finish a 13.1 mile race, it never would have happened.
I didn’t just one day declare, “Today, I am a runner!” I had to make it happen. Running a half marathon is grueling and takes a great deal of self motivation. The strength has to come from within. If you don’t believe you can do it, you will quit.
So what are your aspirations? Do you want to be a runner? Or is there something else that you have talked yourself out of because you don’t believe it will ever happen? It’s up to you.