The thermometer in my car for the outside temperature read 28 degrees on December 31, 2012.
As I entered Stony Creek metro park yesterday morning, I whined in my mind about how the weather was frigid, how the wind was whipping across the lake, and how I didn’t want to leave my toasty car, complete with seat warmer, to do my 6-mile run. I promised my cross country team that I would join them for our last run of 2012, and I wasn’t going to let them down. As I pulled into the lot, I saw the boys starting to gather by the starting line of the 6-mile loop, bouncing up and down like crazy people, trying to stay warm. In my usual fashion on nasty-weather days, I approached them with an over-enthusiastic, semi-sarcastic tone. “Well, hello everyone! Beautiful day for a run! Let’s do this!” Some groaned. Some rolled their eyes. Then we directed our attention to Luke, one of my athletes who, in spite of the wind chill, was wearing shorts and a big grin. This lightened the mood as we all shook our heads and chuckled. Before our lips turned any more of a bluish hue, we lined up at the starting mark took off as a pack.
I don’t run very often with the guys, but because they are just getting back into their training after some down time, I was able to keep up. We chatted about running gear we received for Christmas and various movies we watched over break. The run seemed to go by faster than normal for me, due to the company, and I was feeling pretty good. The guys picked up the pace and broke away from me the last 1.5 miles. I looked down at my Garmin. I realized with less than a mile to go that I was about to get a personal best on the 6-mile loop, which I have run countless times. I picked it up a bit, watching the guys finish ahead of me, one by one. Andrei, one of my cross country captains, stayed by the finish line and cheered, “Yeah, Berry! Way to go!” As I crossed, I looked down at my watch and saw that I beat my previous best time on the loop by 59 seconds.
As we walked to the shelter to stretch, I said to the guys, “This is a special day.”
“Why?” Justin, one of my runners asked.
“I just p.r.’d the loop.”
He responded, “Like a P.R., P.R.?”
“Yes, a p.r., p.r.”
He commented, “This is a strange day to get a personal best. It’s so cold out.”
I responded, “It’s always a good time for a p.r. It doesn’t matter what the conditions are.”
Even though I didn’t set out to get a personal best yesterday, my body was ready to run faster. Getting physically prepared is only part of the equation. Being mentally prepared, willing to work on less-than-ideal days, and aware of windows of opportunity are crucial. I had a whole list of excuses of why I could have run poorly yesterday or not even run at all. Before I got out of my car, I changed my mindset. I pumped myself up for a good run. If I hadn’t sucked it up, I wouldn’t have had my best 6 mile run on that loop.
I thought about other examples when runners had good races in less-than-ideal, unexpected situations.
Chris, one of my athletes who graduated last year, set some serious goals before his final season of his high school running career. Last November we discussed what he hoped to accomplish before he graduated, and he said he wanted to break the school record in the 1600m, which was 4:25. Up until then, his best times in outdoor track were consistently in the mid 4:30’s, so this was a rather lofty goal. He trained hard during the indoor season and by early February, he whittled his time down to a 4:33. We had an early outdoor meet in April, and the temperature was in the 40’s and the wind was howling. To prevent myself from freezing while coaching that day, I had 4 layers on, including a full-length down parka. Chris was focused, knowing the meet had stiff competition. He hit the goal splits we had discussed through lap three, then he took off on lap four, racing for first. He ended up getting out-leaned at the finish line, but ran a 4:23.5, breaking the school record by almost 2 seconds. Instead of waiting for the weather to break and for the bigger meets at the end of the season, Chris seized the opportunity on that bone-chilling, April afternoon. He didn’t use the frigid weather or the fact that it was an early meet stand in his way. He never ran as fast the rest of the season for a multitude of reasons, mainly due to lack of quality competition and running multiple events at meets. If he held back that day, who knows if he would have broken the school record. His training, good competition, focus, and willingness to race hard that day allowed him to achieve greatness, in spite of the bad conditions.
Even Sir Roger Bannister, the first sub-four-minute miler, achieved the “unachievable” in 1954. Many thought at that time that the conditions would have to be perfect in order to break 4:00. Bannister thought otherwise. On the chilly evening of May 6, 1954, he broke 4:00 on a wet, cinder track, with a roaring cross wind. Many years later, he admits that he knew if he didn’t go for it that day, someone else was going to do it soon after. He seized his opportunity for greatness, and will always be the one who first broke the 4:00 barrier, one of the most significant moments of running history. What if he made excuses that day about the weather?
See more about his race: Roger Bannister: Breaking Limiting Beliefs
So what does this mean for the average runner like me?
We can all achieve our own personal greatness. Every day is an opportunity to test your limits and do something you previously thought impossible. Make every day of 2013 count. Don’t make excuses, even on those blustery, winter days. Seize all opportunities to develop as a runner, no matter the conditions.