Motivation is a funny thing. As I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve never been all that fast, and I can barely out jump a rhinoceros. There have been a few times in my life, however, when I was temporarily able to make my body do things for a brief period of time that it normally refused to do.
In 4th grade I was chosen as a representative of Mrs. O’Brien’s class for the 800 meter run on field day. In 4th grade, field day is a big deal and bragging rights are involved. The race started off as one would expect for 4th graders – an initial all out sprint, followed by a drastic slowing since 4th graders are largely incapable of any sense of pacing and strategy. After 600 meters or so, I was a distant third, and the leader was a kid who had been held back a grade. Perhaps it was unfair for a 5th grader to be racing 4th graders, but I guess that is beside the point.
The leader’s name was Ronnie, and he was easily the best 4th grade athlete at Battlefield Park Elementary School. For unrelated reasons, he may also have been the least likeable. Anyways, he was probably 75 meters ahead of the second place kid and myself, and it was pretty clear that he was going to cruise to an easy victory. At that point, still some 200 meters from the finish line, Ronnie decided to show the rest of us up by waving his hands around and slowing his pace a bit to grandstand and taunt.
Well, something about Ronnie’s antics set me off, and suddenly the cramp in my side and my the fact that I could hardly breathe sank into my subconsciousness. In an instant I was sprinting, and the kid in second place became the kid in third place and was lost somewhere behind me. Ronnie was still well ahead of me, and I was trying to extrapolate my closing speed in my head to see if I had any chance of catching him. I knew that it was going to be close, so I dug a little deeper and tried to push my pace even faster.
With about 50 meters to go the cheering from the onlookers picked up, and Ronnie decided to glance behind him to see how far he was ahead of his competition. By the time he saw me, I was probably 5 meters behind him and I moving must faster than he was. I still remember the “oh shit” look in his eyes when he realized what was happening, and by the time he hit his top gear again I was already ahead of him. Unfortunately for Ronnie, he finished less than a second behind me and it was the only time that I ever saw him cry. Crying is decidedly not Kosher for 4th grade boys, much less for 4th grade boys who should have been in the 5th grade. The memory of that field day race and Ronnie’s crocodile tears has stayed with me for 30 years, and I remember it like it was yesterday.
A more recent example of performance enhancing motivation came in 2007 when I was training for the Monument Avenue 10k. I am not quite sure what prompted me to sign up for that race, but perhaps it was due to a prior New Years resolution. Because of my competitive nature I wanted to do well, but there was nothing in particular that was motivating me. I arbitrarily set my time goal as 50 minutes, which is an 8 minute per mile pace. That was, admittedly, and pretty ambitious goal for me at that time, but why not aim high?
About a month or so into my training, my wife casually mentioned that she had been talking to our neighbor about the 10k and my time goal. My neighbor is an avid runner, and she has run countless marathons. She routinely podiums in her age group. According to my wife, my neighbor commented that my 50 minute time goal was “optimistic” since I was a non-runner. Honestly, she was probably correct, and I know her well enough to understand that her comment was not intended to be malicious or mocking in nature. In fact, she and her husband are great friends ours, and they are fantastic neighbors. Nevertheless, that little switch inside m head went off again, and I was determined to prove her wrong. I doubled down on my training and finished the 10k in 47 minutes 10 seconds.
This brings us to early August 2013, when we were on a beach trip to the Outer Banks with friends – less than a month before the Wintergreen Spartan Race. Richard and Jessica Engel were one of the couples that we vacationed with, and Richard was (and is) a far better runner than I can ever hope to be. It probably helps that his quads are as big as my waist, but I digress. Anyways, I typically like to train solo so that I can run at my own pace, but Richard was adamant that we should run together, and he promised that he would run at my pace.
Against my better judgment, we set off for a 5 mile run together, and true to his word, the first 2.5 miles were largely at the pace I desired – with a little bit of friendly banter back and forth. On the way back home, however, I noticed that Richard kept pushing the pace faster and faster. For me, all conversation ceased, and I was focused only on not being left behind. Pride alone kept me on his heels, but there is little doubt that he could have left me far behind if he truly desired to do so. This was emphasized by the last 100 meters or so, when he ran backwards at the pace that I was running forwards. I collapsed in the driveway of the beach house as soon as we got back, and to add insult to injury, Richard casually commented that he was going to “run a few more miles.” Apparently, I had been holding him back and he really needed to get a workout in.
Flash forward another week or so, and Richard and I were discussing my upcoming Spartan Race. I had tried to coax Richard into doing the Spartan Race with me for months, but oddly, every time he said that he was going to sign up, something came up. Finally, after the price for the race had increased to its maximum, Richard indicated that he wouldn’t be doing the race due to the high price. Hmmm…funny how that worked. He then told me that I had roughly a “50/50 chance” of completing the race. I kept waiting for the “I’m just joking, I’m sure you’ll do fine” punch line, but it never came.
Now don’t get me wrong, Richard is a great friend of mine, and he and I routinely but each other’s chops. Unbeknownst to him, however, he had flipped my little interior switch once again, and I was full of motivation to prove him wrong. Little did Richard or I know at that time, how much his “50/50” comment would impact my 2013 AND my 2014 Spartan Race.