All [people] dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous [people], for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.
-T. E. Lawrence
I had never run more than three miles in my life. But, on a whim I read a book called Born to Run and signed up for a half marathon and convinced myself that I was meant to become a distance runner.
All my motivation evaporated, as I stood outside my door in the Atlanta summer heat, getting ready for my weekend run which was something called “the long run.” In the world of distance running, training plans generally have one run a week where instead of focusing on your speed, you simply try and cover bigger and bigger distances. This helps prepare your body for the eventual long distance you will run on the day of the race.
My first long run was six miles, which meant I had to do my usual three-mile loop twice. Despite my dread, I tried to stay positive. I reminded myself what the training plan said: run slow – slow enough to be able to hold a conversation. The speed is not important, it is just a matter of covering the distance. I took a deep breath and began.
Early on, I sensed my body naturally speeding up to my usual pace. It took a conscious effort for me to slow myself down. I was so familiar with my normal running route and distance that I barely had to think about it. My body could just cruise through it. My conscious mind, though, was focusing on the longer distance.
Approaching the end of the first lap, I remember a distinct feeling of exhaustion. Again, my unconscious mind was telling my body intuitively this was the end of the run; that I had gone as far as I could go and I needed to stop.
When I crossed what was usually my finish line, a strange thing happened.
There were a few seconds of panic as part of me anticipated all my worst fears. I was too exhausted. I was unprepared to run double what I had already done. How could I possibly go any further? Despite these thoughts, I pushed through, putting one leg in front of the next, reminding myself that I could go as slow as I needed as long as I covered the distance.
Then, about 100 yards into the second lap, it was like a fog just lifted away. I didn’t lose my breath. My legs didn’t crumble. I felt good. Better than good, I felt great. Sure, I was still running, breathing hard with an elevated heart rate, but at the same time, a secret reservoir of energy came untapped. I realized that I had way more running in me than I ever knew. The feeling was exhilarating.
From then on, I started loving my long runs. There was no pace or time limit, I was just propelling my body onward, digging down to see how deep the reservoir went. As six miles turned into seven and eight and on and on, I discovered a meditative rhythm to my running – cherishing the repetitive swish and thump of my legs churning over the hot baked earth.
My long rungs became a metaphor for my life, teaching me to break down my beliefs in my own limits.
Pushing my body past the limits of what it knew, taught me to begin pushing through all my unconscious barriers, digging down to the exhilarating depths of living and being.
All of us have these perceived limits. But I have found that no matter how I limit myself unconsciously, my imagination will inevitably dream up something that breaks past the barrier. But dreaming is only half of the equation. It takes courage to take what we imagine and attempt to make it a reality. It takes us to the very limit of what we think is possible. But, transcending our perceived limits is the core of what makes us human.