Pushing the limits
September 19, 2011 Leave a comment
Life has a funny way of being nice to you one day and then kicking you in the shins the next. After running a half marathon last week, I felt invincible. I was on top of the world. I thought I could do anything. Delusions of grandeur (i.e. running a full marathon within the next two years) entered my head.
Oh, how life teaches us lessons.
The following day I could barely walk. As I hobbled around in an ankle brace with a trekking-pole-turned-cane for the remained of the work week, my coworkers expressed both sympathy for my obvious state of pain and bewilderment at why I would think of running a half-marathon after just seven weeks of running. My ambitious nature is well-known, but, rest assured, I have my reasons for pushing even further beyond the limits that I already do push, and am already criticized for pushing.
The pain continued until Sunday, whereupon I went to a doctor who promptly told me to 1) get an x-ray ASAP; and 2) lay off the running for three weeks.
Now, I fully understand that I’m dealing with a minor injury (either a stress fracture or plantar fascilitis) that will heal in a relatively short period of time. As far as athletic injuries go, I have the equivalent of a common cold. Still, I felt bad because the injury was unnecessarily self-afflicted and because I didn’t like the thought of not being able to run after running had quickly become an important part of my life.
However, as I thought about my injury more–and this will sound crazy–I not only accepted it, but I even became happy about it. Obviously, the pain and loss of three weeks of running are negatives. However, at the end of the day, I can still lay claim to the feat that I ran half-marathon within seven weeks of taking up the sport, which apparently isn’t an easy thing to do. (For more ambitious–or perhaps foolhardy–first attempts at lofty goals, read Bob Spirko’s trip report of attempting Mt. Temple as his first scramble). The injury also reinforced my belief that nothing great is ever achieved without hard work and some measure of pain or sacrifice. To accomplish an (apparently) difficult goal, I don’t mind sustaining a slight injury.
After all, what would life be if we didn’t push our limits? Would the great wonders of the world have been built? Would we have advanced our scientific knowledge? Would we have empires of business and of nations? Would we have explored the oceans, conquered the sky and scaled the heights of the earth?
Before the ill-fated 1924 British expedition on Mt. Everest, (from the more difficult Tibetan side, no less), George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Everest. He famously quipped back, “Because it’s there.”
When you think about many of the goals that we–either individually or collectively as a humankind–set for ourselves, what reason is there for many of them other than to see if those goals are possible. Yes, there are numerous cases where achievement leads to real ‘progress’ that either alleviates suffering or improves quality of life, and I applaud all of those who devote themselves to such goals. However, how much logical reasoning is there behind pushing personal limits, whether they be athletic (e.g. completing the Ironman), professional (e.g. establishing a multimillion dollar business) or otherwise? In fact, one could argue being able to run 10km or start up any business would already make someone more successful than most any other person.
While I’m not sure if there’s much logic in pushing limits to their extremes, I will argue in its merits. I think there is something intrinsically good about seeing what human beings are capable of achieving and about the greatness, glory and achievement that comes with dedication, discipline and sacrifice. Great feats occur because of great thoughts and great deeds, and I think that when one person achieves greatness–provided that greatness did not come at other’s expense–all of humanity collectively shares and celebrates in that achievement.
This desire to achieve greatness is what encourages me to continue to push my limits, and, from my conversations with other similarly-ambitious individuals, it is what encourages them also. I’m sure we all know individuals who are extraordinary in their own unique way, whether its as athletes, leaders, business persons, students, teachers, mentors, parents or friends.
Similarly, this is what also encourages me to push on in the face of setbacks. I know the example of a minor athletic injury is fairly trivial, but most of us know of at least one person in our lives who has overcome incredible difficulties to become exemplary and inspirational in their own way. Perhaps you might even have your own comeback story that no one else knows but made you into the successful person you are today.
Yes, it sucks that I’m out of action for a short while, but at least I’m contented with the knowledge of what I achieved. Moreover, I know I’ll bounce back…
…until the next setback, but I’ll conquer that one too.
This post is dedicated to all of those people in my life who, through their dedication to and sacrifice for the things that they are passionate about, inspire me to pursue my goals with the same level of determination.
Again, I fully understand that my ‘achievement’ and ‘pain’ is miniscule compared to what others have achieved and suffered. My case is illustrative. You can refer to the picture of Tenzing on Everest for ‘real’ inspiration.