Day #41: What’s Your “Badwater”?

Tonight I had the opportunity to hear virtuoso guitarist and Christian songwriter Bob Bennett at New Life Church in Arroyo Grande, California. Bob’s incredible skill on the guitar was a reminder of the compulsion I get every time I witness excellence. And that is that I want to be more perfect after being in the presence of great skill. This carries right over into my running. In witnessing a great running performance (say, for example, Lasse Viren’s amazing finish after falling in the 10,000m in the 1972 Munich Olympics – see below), I long to be better, to go farther and faster than before. In essence, I think that in those moments, I realize the dream I have for my running and for my life: to be all that I am capable of.

Unfortunately, many of us get derailed at some point in the game. At first, we, too, are inspired to strive for and achieve to our potential. But then life gets in the way, we get soured by the exploits of others, maybe the giftedness of others and in some cases even the dishonesty of others, and we lose the drive and fire to strive to become what we are meant to be. A quick response to this problem which I used consistently with my high school runners is the following: before a race, I repeatedly reminded them of my highest standards for their race. I did want perfection from them. BUT — and here’s the catch — I wanted the best that they were capable of giving.

“All I want is for you to run as fast as you can run. No faster. Just run as fast as you are capable of…”

This was our refrain, and this is freeing because many athletes, and especially distance runners, get ensnared by unrealistic expectations – by a coach who actually demands more than his athletes are capable of. This is a no-win prospect, for even if the runner overachieves in one meet, such success is untenable. They will break down eventually. In such cases, under such pressure, athletes turn to overtraining, illegal performance enhancing drugs – and to other ultimately destructive behaviors. Thus, it is vital that we always remember that the high bar we set is that we perform as well as we are capable of. No more than that.

These principles lead me to other thoughts about goals and goal setting: namely to question what excellence I am aiming for these days? And so I ask you the same question: what is it that you are striving towards today? What are you running to?

I happen to be a great dreamer and so my dreams and goals often seem impossibly high. But as important as it is that our standards are achievable, it is also vital that our dreams are big. For example, “Think Big!” was the motto of the CalCoast track club- a southern California racing team I used to run for. We must dream big dreams; otherwise, our vision is no vision at all. And so my vision – my pie in the sky – is to compete in the Badwater Ultramarathon – the grandaddy of all races. 135 miles stretching from the hottest place on Earth – Death Valley – to halfway up the highest summit in the continental United States (Mt. Whitney Portal.) As crazy as such a race may seem to you (and to me:), it is the foundation of what keeps me running everyday – especially when things are looking too tough and bleak.

And so what is your Badwater? Do you have one? Do you have an almost impossibly high standard of excellence towards which and for which you run? Or are you, instead, content to run, yet without a grander vision?

I believe, to my very core, that we are designed, by our Creator, with eternity in our hearts – and that one manifestation of that eternity – in this worldly realm – is excellence. And so I argue that achievable and lofty goals are not the sole domain of the high school and college athlete. Instead, we each should feel the compulsion to be everything that we are capable of in this “experiment of one” and in this one life we are given.

And so I ask you again: What’s your “Badwater”?

Start training for it!

~Coach Reed