If triathlons and distance sports has done anything for me it has reaffirmed my belief that there is a genetic limit in each of us. With careful training and patience, we can challenge that limit and perhaps even extend it a little, but I really feel that we are all “pre wired” with a pretty hard limit on what we are physically capable of. And while we may be able to mentally harden ourselves off to push farther, we will eventually find that limit. It is greatly effected by diet, habits and training, but we all have a hard cap. Going over this cap sends our genetics into play and we break down. And I don’t mean “push it” injuries like strains or broken bones from effort. I mean physical failures, “over use” injuries, chemical imbalances, etc.
There is also a mental limit. That is what we “think” we are capable of. This limit is easily extended by each successful event that takes us farther than we have ever gone before.
The problem is when the two meet. The addiction and euphoria experienced when you conquer a new goal, can be intoxicating. In the beginning, those goals are things like a 5K or a mile swim. However, as you go along and continue to drink the distance KoolAid, the limits get pushed. Distances and times get challenged. Mentally, you get tougher. You can fight the quitter in you more. Until finally, at some point, you get dragged off a course because your mind says go, but your body has detonated and you are no longer able to perform.
It’s scary, when you can’t go anymore. Mentally and emotionally, you are there. But your body fails. Some people call this their “limit” and blame the failure on training. But I think if you don’t look seriously at each failure from the standpoint of “training” limits vs. “genetics” limits, your days in endurance sports are numbered. And worse, if you go too far, you may end up not being able to do ANYTHING.
While I’ve always said I don’t want people to look in my coffin and say “he looks so good”, but rather “WOW! He used that body up!”… While I’m IN this body, I would like to be able to abuse it for many years to come, which, I think, means I need to be reasonable.
In 2007, I trained for and ran a marathon. However, the abuse I put my body through to achieve that goal was not worth the reward. Of the many injuries I sustained during training, one of them is still with me to this day. I suffered a repetitive stress injury. A pelvic stress fracture (at the thin spot where the two halves join at the bottom). It took me out for about 9 months of 2008.
This is not your normal injury. In fact, the doctor said that it was rare, especially in men. Granted, I was too heavy to run a marathon, which may have factored in to the injury, however I could see that more if my knees, hips or ankles had failed. I really believe that this injury is simply because of the way I was built. And the repetitive stress of pounding out 15-20 miles at a time on longer runs and putting 40-50 miles a week in was just more than my genetic make up could handle. And it manifested itself through this break.
So why bring this up now? When I am in the middle of such a successful recovery? My times at PR levels. My weight is bordering on the lowest I have been in my adult life. Why bring it down?
Let’s just call it “cautionary”. I’m very happy with the way things are going but I have learned to listen to my body a little bit more. And the unique pain that I had when I was running long distances didn’t manifest itself until my mileages got up above 30 miles per week or more. And last week, after the half marathon success I had in Sedalia? The next day, it came back. Not bad. But just enough to remind me of genetics. It has since subsided with the decreased mileage but still, every once in a while, when I get up and turn wrong, it is there.
Don’t get me wrong. Everything is fine. I don’t hurt all the time like I did before. My strength is still there. This is just a warning flag. It went up and now it’s back down. It just made me think.
Mentally, I WANT to do a marathon (or 50K trail run, actually). And I have entertained thoughts of carefully training and leaning myself up to the point that I can compete in an Ironman for my 50th birthday year, coming up in 2 and a half years. And granted, even though my goal is to be even lighter than I am now (by another 20 pounds or so) before I even THINK about competing in these distances, I just don’t know if that will ever be possible. Even at 5% body fat, my body may just not be capable, genetically, of those distances. I have to accept that as a possible outcome.
However, that doesn’t mean I can’t try it out. Push my mileages up (later, as I get lighter) and see what happens. After all, except for those select few whose training, genetics and desire push them to the pointy end of the pack, the rest of us are just setting our own finish line tape up anyway, aren’t we? In the goals that we set and limits we push?
I don’t intend this to be a philosophy for anyone but me. If you agree with it (or not) that is your choice. We all have to decide how far we are capable of going. Those of us with the endurance bug are always trying to do that distance/time… plus one step/second. I just was reminded of my own reality and thought I would share