By Christopher Cudworth
There are accomplishments about which we all dream. Personal records we strive to achieve. At times these goals seem unreachable. Impossible.
But we persist, doing the small things that add up to big changes in our bodies, minds and hearts. Doing the possible so the impossible can happen.
One of the most transcendent moments an athlete can experience occurs not in competition but in practice or a workout when an effort that used to be difficult comes with greater ease. It can be the pace of an interval workout. Climbing a hill on the bike. Even swimming without that sinking feeling that comes with fatigue.
When those things happen in practice the human mind becomes adapted to a new level of performance.
Run fast, repeat
Recently a friend shared an experience in which they were doing a set of repeat miles when the group doing the workout got excited by the feeling of running fast. The pace picked up and three laps ticked by at 67 seconds per lap. With the coach exhorting them to slow down, not to race in practice, the group ignored the directive and kept going, finishing in just under 4:30 for the mile. In practice.
That kind of breakthrough moment does wondrous things for an athlete. At the world class level we’ve seen marathoners tear through the middle miles at 4:40 pace and even 4:30 in surges and we wonder, how do they do that?
The answer is that they have done the possible in order to accomplish the impossible.
Dialing it up
That may include running even faster than 4:30 per mile in practice in order to prepare to run 4:30 in a marathon race with ease. Many world class distance runners are capable of mile times below 4:10 and even 4:00 per mile, making 4:30 seem like a jog. That means the sustainability of running 4:40 pace much less strain on the body.
When our distance team at a small Midwestern college (insert your own Penthouse joke here) prepared to run against much better teams at the Drake Relays each year, we’d set up a workout to do repeat quarter miles at 60 seconds each. We knew none of us was capable of a 4:00 mile, but running that pace was possible, and the remote possibility of getting on a roll and caught up in the pace would often drag us to “enhanced” times, bettering our PRs by seconds or even whole chunks of time.
Pulled to new levels
It’s just as miraculous to get caught up in a pace line on a bike and get pulled to distances and speeds you never thought imaginable. Early in my cycling career on a windy day in March I knew enough to tuck into the group going out into the wind. Some massively strong triathlete pulled us along at 22-24 mph for 30 miles into the wind. He hardly got off the front at all. I jumped into his wake for miles at a time, staring at the vee shape of his back and catching rare glimpses of his seemingly indefatigable thighs. The effort became trancelike, flirting with fatigue at every pedal stroke yet rolling onward.
When we turned southwest the wind became a crosswind and it was tougher to find space in which to relax. Yet the miles rolled by, and the cyclometer showed a pace per mile of 22 mph.
Finally we swept around a big curve and the wind was at our backs. I thought that would be time to relax. Instead, the group jumped on some invisible signal and I got gapped. All was lost. The group tore off ahead at 26 mph hour. There was no catching them now.
I was left to ride the last 20 miles of a 70-miler alone. Yet the thrill of riding so hard did not dissipate. I finished with an average of just over 21 mph, cutting across several spans of crosswind on my own.
Feeling the change, being the change
Turning into the driveway that day the world felt completely different. Truly the impossible had happened. I’d never ridden near that far, that fast. Sure, as beneficiary of all those group draft dynamics the work could not be claimed as my own, alone. But rides would come in which 20 mph became the norm as a solo rider.
It wasn’t sudden, but the impossible had indeed become possible. It happens with every pedal stroke. Every stride. Every revelation of self and purpose and hope.
Some people argue that the world and its amazing diversity could not have come about without a great designer. Experience tells us something different, yet no less amazing or exclusive of something fantastic to realize. It depends on our manner of vision.
In fact the organ we call the eye came about through incremental changes in cells and tissues that inferred a critical advantage to creatures that could sense light. At the most basic level, this was vision. That it became shared by so many billions of creatures and their kinds is evidence that the possible can indeed lead to the impossible. Thus we can see in full color, but it came about one tiny shade and light particle at a time. It is as if the universe had a hunger to be seen, and in return, it rewards our seeing.
A fantastic model for the impossible
That same process is what we call “vision,” and it’s what businesses try to create in their employees. The communal change that comes about when people begin to share even the simplest vision can be a powerful thing. It is also why people who run and ride share something special in their endeavors. What we are witnessing––to each other and within each other––is the impossible becoming possible one person at a time.
That’s a wonderful, miraculous thing no matter how you look at it.