Endurance Sports is built upon the myth of the impossible.
Regardless of your sport of choice, there are legends of athletes achieving the incredible…and usually video, photos and the Strava to prove it.
The story usually goes with our hero being their typical selves until one day they have an epiphany. Throwing their regular life aside, they put on their athletic gear and tackle an impossible challenge. Whether or not they continue to succeed is almost besides the point: in this moment an ordinary person has done the impossible. That’s all that sticks in our brains.
The story is repeated online, in articles, books and podcasts. But there’s a catch: It’s an easy story to sell but it’s incredibly difficult to replicate.
Unearthing the Depth of Inspirational Performances
These incredible stories often lack a great deal of background detail. While our hero conquers the nearest peak fueled only by the sweat of their own tears…
- We gloss over the fact that they were competitive athletes in high school or college.
- We lose sight of the fact that they have Financial Independence.
- Or that they were blazing the last portion of a path that someone, less successful, had started but failed to complete.
The effect of these stories manifest themselves and not only how everyday athletes select their goals but also how they strive to achieve them.
While Endurance Sports are open and welcoming to everyone, peak performance requires hard work and consistency. There are no shortcuts.
No one looks at an Olympic athlete and says, “I bet her path to this point, where she is competing for a gold medal, was pretty easy.” There’s a tacit understanding that these athletes have worked for the better part of their lives to perfect a specific craft.
We need to apply this same lens to how we interpret the performances of athletes in or own sport. To believe otherwise is to do your mind and body a serious disservice.
But Coach, I Want To Dream!
Of course, you can still dream. Dream big! Dream impossible!
Once you’re done, sit down and begin to outline the steps for how you will get there. These steps are the individual pieces that will determine just how close you’ll come to achieving that dream.
Before you commit to an epic undertaking, build the chapters of the book that tells your story of achieving the impossible. Work through the progression that you are starting. The story of your restarting. Of your rebuilding after a setback. Of how you refocused, and are now trying something new.
Sticks and stones may break my bones but failure will kill me.
Why Is Too Big So Wrong?
Overly ambitious goals are a double-edged sword. No matter which way things turn out, there’s danger for you on either side.
If things do work out in your favor, you begin to develop a sense of inner strength and power that lets you believe the outlier (your success against all odds) is the norm. That you can regularly achieve the impossible. You neglect the role that fate and good fortune had in your success. As humans, we tend to overemphasize our role in the outcome of events.
And if things don’t work out in your favor? Then you have failed. You tried and you were knocked down. Now you have to get back up again with very few lessons learned from the experience.
No stepping stones means no path, no way to retrace those steps in a new and more intentional manner.
Failure is fine if we can learn. But outsize goals often force us out of our comfort zones, leading to unorthodox training and erratic progress that is hard to capture and even harder to learn from.
Use a Beginner’s Mindset to Be Epic and Responsible
Thankfully there’s more than one way to achieve your goals. Here’s how we recommend you do it by creating Stepping Stones.
Start off by dreaming big, placing your flag next to an impossible goal. Define it as concretely as you can. Describe all the elements that are a part of this achievement.
Does it include speed? Elevation? Equipment? Do yourself a favor and capture all of it.
With your clearly defined vision of epic, it’s time to break things down into smaller increments.
Do this as though you were explaining the journey to one of your friends who’s not an athlete.
What are all the things that they need? How will they achieve that accomplishment in terms of power or speed? Approaching this with the mindset of a beginner will help you frame achievable Stepping Stones.
Set Milestones to Mark Progress
With a speed goal, for example, you may choose to complete a shorter event at that speed. Then you can build upwards from there, moving from distance to distance.
Creating these events, and completing them, will help build confidence in your abilities. You can also use them to hone your skills and gain a better understanding of your equipment needs.
Having a path forward will also give you a chance to solve for any problems that do arise. This will help you make sure they don’t get in the way on the Big Day.
Create Space for Performance with Mini Breaks
Just like a big race, your epic undertaking requires that you show up 100% physically and mentally ready.
This is true for even the stepping stone part of your progression. Don’t undermine your own performance by neglecting the need for recovery and sleep.
Depending on the size and duration of your challenge, you’ll need to prepare with intentional recovery and rest. This lighter training week will allow you to recharge your batteries, literally, and prepare for what’s next.
Example Stepping Stones for Your Epic Run
Goal: Complete your first 50 miler.
- Step 1: Build up to running 50 miles in a single week.
- Step 2: Build to completing the marathon distance in a single run.
- Step 3: Build to running 20 miles on back-to-back days.
Example Stepping Stones for Your Epic Triathlon
Goal: Complete your first 70.3
- Step 1: Complete an Olympic distance event.
- Step 2: Be able to complete the distance of each leg of the event.
- Step 3: Complete a bike + run race simulation as a single workout.
Review and Learn
Arguably the most important part of the process is not even your attempt at being epic. It’s reviewing how you did, and learning from it.
Growth doesn’t happen in the outcomes.
Growth happens when we review and improve the processes that generated the outcomes.
For example, being able to run a sub 4 hour marathon is fantastic. But looking at your sub 4 hour marathon time and subtracting 10 minutes is not going to help you improve.
Instead, diving into the elements of your training — what worked versus what didn’t work?. Analyzing your race file to see where you were successful and where you weren’t. That will help you.
Facilitate this process by having access to your own data. Whatever you can possibly capture of your performance, you should. Pace, power, heart rate, mood, hydration status, core body temperature, sleep patterns, weight, etc. It all matters. The more data you have, the more connections you can make. The deeper your learning can be.
Having data means that other people can also help you learn. There’s no way that coach or a training partner can get inside your head when things got tough and that 100 mile run. But they can see the data. They can see the correlation of carburetor piece relative to the temperature of the day, or the terrain. Your data tells its own story, and it has to be a part of the narrative.
Armed with this information, you can then return to your stepping stones and begin to make adjustments. Emphasizing areas for growth and modifying or eliminating areas that had a negative effect. Doing this part correctly will accelerate your timeline to achieving your epic goal.
And who knows, maybe one day they will tell your story.