Day #16: The Ingredients of Greatness – reposted from January 2013

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It has been said that the 2 ingredients for a great runner are hubris and humility. According to Wikipedia, hubris means “extreme pride or arrogance; an overestimation of one’s competence or capabilities.” Humility, on the opposite end of the spectrum, is “the quality of being humble or respectful.” So, how do these two apparently opposite traits meld together to form the champion?

Like many paradoxes, this question cannot be easily answered, but we can look a bit deeper to find some take home tips for how we approach our running and our lives.

Hubris is not a quality many aspire to, though it can be argued that we all have a great bit of it inside. Our culture encourages humility as a virtue and boundless arrogance as a flaw. However, without the ability to envision yourself as more than your apparent potential, you will never reach for the stars – to fulfill your true potential. When we are inspired, we are literally “filled with the spirit” of what we can be. It takes a certain arrogance to pursue the ‘unobtainable.’

Ironically, the same unbridled ambition that is fueled by our arrogance and the overestimation of our capabilities often leads to disaster. I am reminded of the story of Icarus and Daedalus – wherein Daedalus the father crafts wings out of wax for his son to escape the prison they find themselves in. Icarus’ father offers advice before his son takes off towards freedom: “Do not fly too high!” Seth Godin, in his most recent book “The Icarus Deception” reminds us, though, that Daedalus also gave his son another warning: “Be careful not to fly too low!” On the one hand, our ambition can lead us too close to the sun so that we will disastrously and spectacularly fall from fame [see Lance Armstrong.] On the other hand – the often overlooked point – we need fear flying too low – thinking so little of our abilities and potential that we crash into the waves of mediocrity [see the Great American Couch Potato.]

To come full circle, my aim in this post is to consider the importance of humility in our running lives. Sometimes, we get so full of ourselves and our PR’s and age-group placement, etc., that we do lose a realistic sense of who we are as runners. Contrast this trait with the paralyzing fear to attempt the ‘impossible.’

In the end, I believe that the greatest among us will dream the biggest dream and ride out our true potential with grace, patience and, yes, humility.

Believe in your potential; get after it!

~Coach Reed