Friday, October 18, 2013

Limits vs. Limitations



While I was out for my regular run a week or so ago, I was struggling. Usually, running is joyous and I really look forward to it every day. However, on this particular day I was just not feeling it: my legs felt heavy and tired, my endurance had left me for whatever reason, and mentally I was not into it at all. As I pushed through to finish my run, a fellow runner passed me going the other way, and we exchanged nods and a "hello," which is something that happens regularly on my runs. However, when this fellow passed me, I started to get a little jealous. He was probably just a little shorter than me, but really thin and seemed to glide effortlessly at a much faster pace than I run at. As I finished my run, I kept thinking "I wish I could run that easily!" This is something I routinely say to myself when I run or drive past someone who has a classic "runner's body" and seems to move with an ease that's enough to cause me to have slight pangs of envy.

You see, I'm a big guy and I'm not built like a runner. At all. I'm 6'5" and until October 2011, I was a whopping 360 lbs. I've detailed my history previously (ie used to be in shape when I was younger, let myself go in my 20s, got in shape a few years ago) but since October 2011 I've been between 260-280 lbs and running was a MAJOR part of my journey to lose weight and get healthy. It's something I ended up enjoying so much that it's now a regular part of my life. I run every week (weather and work travel schedule permitting), usually 3 or 4 times per week, and anywhere from 4 to 9 miles per run, depending on how I'm feeling and how much time I have. In fact, it's such a part of my life that I get very upset and thrown off on the days when I can't run.

However, even though I'm in shape and slimmed down from where I used to be, I'm still a big guy: I've got broad shoulders, a wide build, and am built more like your classic NFL tight end or linebacker than any runner you've seen. Yes, I was on the cross-country team for three years when I was in high school, but I was not as tall or muscular then as I am now. Back then, and now, however, I have excellent endurance when it comes to running and I move very quickly for a guy my size.

One thing that I've come to terms with as I've gotten older is the fact that I will never have a "runner's body" and I will most likely never be able to run much faster than 8 minutes/mile, which was my top speed in high school (right now, my best is around 8:45/mi). It used to bother the hell out of me, even a couple of years ago when I dropped all that weight and began running more and more. Additionally, while I'm sure I could train to run a marathon, my guess is that I never will; my long term goal is to run a half-marathon, and I've maxed out around 9 miles, so I think this is achievable.

Thus, I've accepted my physical limitations. But are these also my limits?

I say no. I think there's a difference. To me, in the context of this post (ie physical exertion/exercise), limitations are concrete boundaries that cannot be overcome, such as height, gender, ethnicity, voice, eye color, a disability, etc. Using myself as an example, I am 6'5", broad shouldered, and neither of those will ever change. However, the way I view limits is that they are the boundaries we place on our achievements, such as weight, wealth (for the most part), education, and so on. For instance, I don't think one's weight, for example, is a limitation...it can be changed (for better or worse) by improving or worsening ones habits and effort (diet, exercise, smoking, drinking, drugs, etc). Since I was in shape, then got fat, and then got in shape again, I buy into this wholeheartedly. Likewise, when it comes to the issue of running and performance (and again, this concept can be applied to more than just running; I'm just keeping it focused on this since that was the genesis of my idea), I may not be able to be shorter or lighter framed, but I can try my damndest to push myself to my limits, and beyond, to see how far my performance can go. When I began running again, I could barely run a mile, but I knew that wasn't my limit. Sure enough, as anyone who has run knows, the more you do it and the more effort you put into it, the better you get at it (like anything, really). Here I am pushing toward running a half marathon now, so I prove it to myself every time I lace up and hit the pavement.

Obviously, I apply this thinking to more than just running in my life: my music (writing, playing, and singing), writing (I hope you notice this as you read my writings on this very site!), my work (chemistry specifically and science in general), etc. It what keeps me motivated and pushing myself harder, although to be honest sometimes I am too hard on myself!

Perhaps this entire concept is a bit simplistic to you, and if you think I'm breaking it down too much, I'd welcome to discuss it further in the comments section below. But I think that it's important for everyone to keep in mind that just because you are confined to the body you have and the limitations it may have, you can still push yourself to achieve more than you can do at this moment. And once you've reached that level, it's on to the next level. Like many things in life, it's an iterative journey that is as successful and rewarding as you make it given the circumstances. I am trying to better apply this thinking to my life every day and in every aspect.

What do you think? 

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