After attending the olympic trials this year, I was ecstatic to watch the olympics, particularly the track and field events. One evening during the olympic coverage, they did a wonderful feature on Sir Roger Bannister, the first athlete to ever break the 4:00 mile barrier. Tom Brokaw did a compelling interview with the famous, British, 83-year old retired neurologist who accomplished something in 1954 that many thought impossible. They replayed a clip of Bannister collapsing at the finish line, and Brokaw asked him to describe how he felt when he finished his sub-4:00 race on that cool, windy, historic day. He recalled that it was painful, but he knew it was his chance to be the first to break four minutes, even though the weather conditions were less than ideal. He concluded the interview by simply saying in his wonderful British accent, “The art of running is to give more than you got.”
This quote really stuck with me. I saw this interview the night before taking my boys cross country team to their week-long summer training camp. The first evening we were at camp, I gathered the team in the small living room of our cramped cottage, and we discussed what we needed to accomplish that week. I shared the quote with them (after educating them on who Roger Bannister was), and asked them what they thought he meant by “giving more than you got.” One of my sophomores tentatively raised his hand and said, “It means that there’s more there than you think.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
This quote became the theme for the week. Of the 20 runners that attended camp this year, more than half of them were first-year runners. They were just beginning to test themselves and figuring out what they could do. Each training run we did, whether it was a 10-mile quality run, 800 repeats on grassy hills, or a recovery run, they were reminded of this concept. Some of the new runners who could barely run 8:00-mile pace for a 5k prior to camp were running that pace for a 10k, and even 8:30 pace for 10 miles. There’s always more there than you think. You just have to call on it. Our first meet after camp most of my first-year runners had personal bests by over 2 minutes for their 5k. And still, most of them can’t wait for their next meet, because they know they can do better.
I always ponder this idea of what 100% actually is. When do we truly give 100% on a run? Do we ever really spill it all on a race or hard run? The battle of the body and mind during a race is very complex. All too often my runners tell me after the conclusion of a meet that they know they can do better next time. Why didn’t they give it all just now? Why wait until next time? I wish I had a simple answer to this.
Although there isn’t a perfect solution to this problem of my runners being overcome by doubt when they start to feel fatigued or succumbing to the pain when they start to hurt, I have found that it is very effective to encourage them to always mentally test themselves with every opportunity they have, whether it’s during their next race or a hard practice. I believe runners can get better and better at winning those mental battles; it just takes practice, but it doesn’t happen overnight. This is why our training camp this year was so significant. I saw day after day, run after run, my new runners testing themselves and doing things they previously thought impossible. This builds confidence that there is more there than you think. You just have to call on it. Once you extend yourself a bit further, and you get that taste for success, it becomes addictive, and you want to test yourself some more. My father who coached cross country and track for many years, referred to it as “mental callousing.”
So what is YOUR 100%? I don’t know it, and you don’t even know it yet. But what you can do is continue to extend yourself beyond what you originally thought impossible. Don’t be satisfied with your current times. There’s more than you think. The more I coach, the more I believe this. I’ve seen runners in a single season go from 22:00 for a 5k to breaking 18:00 by the end. I’ve also seen dramatic improvements from one season to the next. A junior varsity runner in the middle of the pack one year can be a varsity top-five contributor the next. That’s the beauty of distance running. The most talented runners aren’t always the ones who taste the most success. Some runners never improve because they are not willing to extend themselves, or they’re scared to test what their 100% is. The hardest-working, toughest runners usually prevail in the end. They keep striving to find that 100%. Roger Bannister also said, “The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.”
So, when one of my runners says, “Coach, I know I gave 100% today.” I respond with, “Nice job. But you haven’t reached 100% yet. There’s still more there.” Deep down, he knows it too.