What is your limit?

This year I was looking for something big to do. Over the past several years my perspective on what big is has changed. Signing up and running a 5k was big 10 years ago. That 5k progressed to a 10k, triathlon, half-marathon, marathon, half-Ironman and finally the Ironman.

Next on the goal list is a 50-mile ultramarathon and as the springtime training has begun and people start asking eachother what races they are signed up for, I share my 2010 aspirations and sometimes get the same reaction I did after signing up for my first Ironman five years ago – “Why?”

Some people who ask are genuinely interested in my internal drive while others ask the question with a tone that has the subtext “there is something seriously wrong with that guy”. Both have valid perceptions. In my relatively short experience with endurance sports, some athletes have incredible internal drive while others could probably be certified as insane.

The “why” question is not an easy one to answer and I figured that I wasn’t the only endurance athlete that had been asked that question so I started a couple of online groups, Why I Run and Why I Tri, to see what other athletes thought.  Those communities have been inspiring and entertaining to interact with and helped me to see there are as many answers to the “why” question as there are people. Actually, there are probably more answers than people because many people I’ve heard from experience a change in their answers over time.

I think my answers to that question have also changed over time but I have been noticing a common theme as I more closely scrutinize why I continually am pondering the next bigger challenge. There is an attraction to discovering my physical limits.  Inherent in that statement (and maybe more importantly) is discovering mental limits also.

I know there are 40 year old guys out there who have the same build I do, weigh about as much as I do that have run 50 miles.  Logic tells me that with the right physical preparation I should also be able to complete the same task.  So the challenge becomes, do I have the discipline to prepare, the ability to properly fuel and hydrate myself, and the mental fortitude to complete the distance?

At all the distances I’ve attempted so far, the answer to these questions has been yes (after completing my first Ironman, the 2nd didn’t go as planned but I know I can complete the distance). When it comes to 50 miles, I’m certainly confident I’ll be able to do it but won’t know for sure until crossing the finish line.

In the end though, the race is just an attempt to answer that question for myself – what is my limit?

Photo credit: Rob Web

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