It was a fun question when I was little. The answers varied from a scientist or beauty queen to an architect or teacher. When we're young we really have no idea, but that doesn't stop us from dreaming. Our imagination is endless, as are the possibilities. There are no limits as to what we can be and the world around tells us so. Parents encourage us, teachers provide support and each time we slip and fall we are quickly whisked back up into the arms of someone catching us.
When we get older it gets a little harder. Limits and fears, real or perceived, are always looming in the background. "What if I don't choose the right major?" "What if I fail this class, will I be able to be an __insert engineer, teacher, etc.__." We start over-thinking and over-analyzing what we are or are not capable of either because somewhere along the way someone told us that we couldn't or because society placed some idea in our head that became the reality for our life personally.
Sometimes limits are good, they protect us from getting hurt, give us a healthy more realistic view of what we can or cannot do or just place a boundary in our life that needs to be placed.
Those really aren't the kind of limits I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the kind that have stopped us from having the wild and crazy dreams or ideas for our life. The kind that have stopped us from setting the bar too high because someone told us that we might be disappointed when things didn't work out.
Photo: Susan McManus/Premier Event Management
This post is about many things, but it is also about triathlon (surprise, surprise right!?). I keep coming back to the race by Sarah Piampiano this weekend. She's one of our rookie 30-34 pro class this season who did exceptionally well last year, but had a seriously amazing breakthrough race this past weekend. While I was watching the race unfold I knew something truly special was transpiring. Sarah wasn't the favorite, in fact, most people there probably didn't know who Sarah even was! She was a new kid, a rookie, a bit inexperienced seeing as it was only her third professional race and she was stepping up to the line with the likes of World Champions and Ironman Champions galore. Sarah had a secret though, she believed. She didn't necessarily believe she would win, but she believed in herself, her abilities and that she was capable of having an exceptional day out there. When that day started to unfold, she didn't cower at the prospect or back off when she was out in front putting in a scorching fast bike split and in front of the other girls. She put her head down and she let go of her limits. She faced her fears and decided that even though her fastest half marathon run off the bike was previously 1:29, she could hold 6:00 min to 6:10 pace. When she crossed the line with a 7 min run PR she was elated but shocked by the entire day. Sarah is an amazingly talented athlete, but what impressed me most was the courage it took to race that way on that particular day. That my friends was putting the mental and physical pieces together in a way that the puzzle snapped into place and rewarded her with a win that she so deserved! It was gusty and tough and it couldn't have happened to a nicer girl! Make sure you read the link above! She has a really neat story!
Imagine if Sarah had let the thoughts creep in that she couldn't possibly beat those girls because of who they were. Imagine if she had questioned her own ability to run that fast and decided to back off. Champions have a way of taking calculated risks, but that are risks none the less. If Sarah had decided to place those limits on herself, I am 100% convinced she wouldn't have had the race she did. It would have been impossible.
Sometimes I think back to Ironman Lake Placid 2011. It was such a special day for me in so many ways. Being there with Branden from MADE and the camera crew that I'd spent my last month with working day in and day out to film the show, Kyle, his Mom and Robert standing by and cheering me on, my friends and Ballou Skies Teammates racing. It was just an incredible experience and day.
Lake Placid was my third Ironman. My two previous marathon runs off the bike at the other Ironmans were 3:33 and 3:30. The entire day I'd given myself permission to just let go. Partly because my training had been so dang sporadic leading up to the race and partly because I finally gave my day up to my maker and I believed his plan was better than any plan I could have for myself. Now, sometimes I say things like that, but I secretly hold on.. I try to GRIP the race tight and MOLD it into what I want. Those kind of races almost always turn out badly. Lake Placid was different. I had a peace about that day I have never felt. If I would have finished dead last, I wouldn't have been overjoyed, but I was just so happy to be out competing and honestly, considering my last month, I was just happy to be healthy and able to race. I enjoyed every second from start to finish. I followed my plan, but I didn't "expect" anything in particular and had an attitude of THANKFULNESS vs. "the race and my training owes me this and that". As the bike rolled on I started feeling strong, getting excited and just smiled and loved the experience. When I hit the run and my legs felt great I started running at 7:00 min pace. WAY out of my league.. and better than most of my half ironman runs! In fact, when I passed one guy on the run he said "You better slow down" and I almost (ALMOST ;) listened to him.
Sometimes thoughts would try to creep in "Who do you think you are Kim?? You can't hold this together until the end of the marathon" Then I'd give it up. I'd let it go just as easily as it came. I decided to listen to my body and my heart and both said I could keep going or well, maybe I'd keel over right before the finish line and that would be the end of my day, either way I decided was just fine. This day was a gift and I intended to squeeze every last bit out of it!
That day I set a new run PR by 13 mins for a 3:17 marathon 7:30 per mile.
Now, I'm not suggesting that athletes go out there and do crazy paces or speeds that they haven't tried / proven in training. I said "calculated" risk. You'll notice that about the article that I linked to Sarah's name earlier. She'd not only done her homework, she had some idea that on a good day, she could hold it. That's where it starts my friends. Training is our testing ground, our proving ground and our confidence building ground. As any good coach knows, that's where the rubber meets the road and we make the gains needed to PUT those kind of races together.
However, no major PR like that EVER starts with thoughts or statements to others like "Well, I couldn't possibly ____ insert swim like that, bike at XX miles per hour, run at X:XX pace because" well, because whatever, so- and so- did and they were faster than you, or someone told you once that you just weren't "that" athlete. Sometimes we have to break down those limits in our own mind in training before we can ever attack them on the race course.
I could never run 7:30 on that hilly of a course for 26.2 in training, but I did run 21 at 7:15-7:20 pace about five weeks before :) So, my body knew even if I didn't. Even if my mind told me no, it was my choice to listen or not.
So no matter what we are talking about here.. if its moving to a place you've always wanted to live, making a career change that requires you change everything else about your life, or just your next triathlon, stop thinking about limits like they are insurmountable. Sure, it might not happen on your first try, but at some point, you'll break through what you thought you could do and boy is that sweet when that happens. Set out on the path less traveled and don't be afraid of where it leads you. You might just discover that it was where you were supposed to be all along!