Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Next Level

Want to get good at anything?  Get ready to get your ass kicked over and over.

I've been thinking a lot about this over the last few days and I just keep coming back to this thought.  If you want to get good at anything, you need to take a whooping first.  Let me explain:

This weekend I ran my first half-marathon(13 miles) in Central Park, NYC.  It was intense, painful and probably the hardest thing physically I've ever had to do.  To give you some perspective, I started running a little more than 2 years ago from doing no physical exercise at all.  As I got more and more into running I would do more runs per week and increase my distances.  By January I was doing a 3 mile run Monday, Wednesday and Fri.  Occasionally I'd do a 5 and I remember the Thanksgiving before I did an 8 mile run (my longest to date at the time). 

I decided to enter my first race, the broad street run in Philadelphia, May of of this year.  It was a 10 mile race down broad street; straight and flat.  I worked myself up to pretty much 3 5 mile runs per week before the race, occasionally testing the waters up to 7/8.  Broad Street was pretty hard, by the end I remember my knees hurting and being pretty tired, but getting across the finish line at pretty good pace.  In fact I spent most of the race passing people.  This was my first time running 10 miles and i remember thinking: now I know what running 10 miles feels like, I probably could have actually run a little faster and been alright, and I know where my training and performance meet.

This weekend's Half-Marathon was a totally different story.  As I said before, physically it was the hardest thing I've ever done.  First of all, the course wasn't flat, it was VERY hilly and as someone with long skinny legs, I've always struggled with hills.  As I finished mile 9 and moved towards 10 I thought: This is somewhere I've been before and its somewhere I know.  Even though the course was way harder, I'd run a 10 mile race and after running it, I discovered that there was a level of being in-shape beyond what I knew at the time.  As I passed mile 10 I moved into uncharted territory.  My legs felt like I was in quicksand, they just wouldn't move like I wanted them too, and the course seemed to be ALL uphill.  By mile 11 I really wanted to stop, I felt like I was just shuffling along, my thighs becoming stiffer, getting passed by person after person, which added to my frustration and desire to quit.  But I promised myself I wouldn't stop, walk or slow, so I kept moving.  I knew I wouldn't be able to run more than the 13, so i made a deal with myself.  I just kept saying: just 2 more miles and then you can stop, you can do 2 miles, Finish it.  Which I did with a time of 1 hour and 54 minutes.(which is actually pretty good)

But I learned a lot, mostly what I learned is that when you get your ass kicked, you realize what other levels exist beyond what you knew and then you work harder to achieve those.  I thought I was in shape, and I guess I am in pretty good shape, but i finished that race by sheer will.  At my level now, Broad Street would have been a piece of cake and now I know what a hard half-marathon feels like.  I know I'm going to need to push myself more, train harder, work myself up to longer runs if I plan to do that kind of distance(or more).  Frankly, I plan to work harder and I'm sure at some point I'll look back and laugh at how hard those 13 miles felt, but as of last weekend: that was my limit.

I've heard the old adage a lot that you learn more from your losses than your victories, and I know they say fighters get better from losses.  I think this is because they realize that there is a level beyond what they knew, and the fighter that beats them is better and is on the next level.

The same can be said for music.  You might think you're a great trumpet player, musician or composer until your face to face with someone who is on another level, at which point you realize what else exists.  You take your licks, you go home, practice and you come back stronger.  So I cherish those ass-kickings, they make you stronger and better if you can take them the right way; as motivation and knowledge.

You gotta lose a lot, before you can win.