I sped causally down the valley, warm wind in my face, David close behind me. It felt good to bike for once without my commuter saddle-bags weighing me down. It was Sunday and we were enjoying an easy 20-mile ride.
An easy 20-mile ride. I pondered the odd novelty of the phrase, the ease with which I now categorized such a workout. Easy.
Five years ago I wouldn’t go to the gym for more than twenty minutes. Four miles was my personal running limit. I was too terrified to ride a bike.
And yet, last month I ran my first marathon.What changed?
As I switched gears to pump up hill, the Tortoise and the Hare children’s story popped into my head.
It’s seems the classic “found my potential” story, but it’s not.
I didn’t run the marathon because I found my potential. I ran it because I stopped putting limits on my potential. I stopped thinking I had to be a hare, and started being a tortoise.
I thought for so long that the only people who could run marathons were hares – people born to be fast and athletic. But my perspective changed. Tortoise’s can do marathons too, it just takes them a little longer.
My marathon took me five and a half hours. That’s not impressive, at least when you just look at numbers. But it took me three years and three tries to get there, multiple doctors appointments, and numerous physical therapy sessions. I’m not a hare – I had to work really hard for it. But I did it, and in doing so I shattered my self-imposed limits.
By accepting that I’m a tortoise, and therefore accepting that I’m slow but I’ll get there, I’ve rearranged my self-image.
I can’t do anything fast – but I can do anything.
I spent years putting limits on myself, making excuses not to try, because I was afraid that my slow speed would negate my efforts. But that’s insane.
Most of us are tortoises. Most of us won’t make it to Boston or win medals. But that’s no reason to put limits on ourselves. When I set distance rather than speed goals I just need self-confidence and determination to reach them.
I could run 100 miles, I could do an ironman, or bike across the country if I wanted to badly enough. But I probably won’t run 100 miles or finish an ironman – but because I don’t want to put the training time in, not because I can’t.
(I haven’t ruled out biking across the country yet.)
We put too many limits on ourselves because we’re afraid of trying and failing. But you can’t fail if you accept the challenge ahead of you, target for distance not speed, and are willing to try until you succeed.
I crested the ridge and the freedom and adrenaline of soaring downhill overcame me. As the wind whipped my face, I made a vow:
I will never put limits on myself again, because believing I can do anything is far too liberating.