Friday, January 27, 2006

A Test of the Human Heart: Here's How to Ignite Your True Potential

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." -- Theodore Roosevelt

Have you ever glimpsed your true potential? I mean really, truly and viscerally felt yourself breakthrough beyond what you thought was possible? It's an awe-inspiring experience. Human beings have enormous capacity for achievement, performance, passion and courage. We're capable of more than we know, yet increasingly it seems much of our potential is subverted by modern society, anesthetized by our daily routines. But there is one place where we are free to perform, to establish our own greatness without external constraints -- athletic competition.

Those of you who have trained for, and participated in, an athletic event know what a transforming experience it can be. Not only does your body harden quickly and beautifully, the training process improves other areas of your life. This is because during and after athletic competition, we come face-to-face with our authentic selves and we tap our true personal power. This deepens and strengthens our confidence. Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine saw a race not so much as a competition, but as a test to see how far the human heart can go. Maybe it's time to see how far yours can go.

If you think you need to be an "athlete" to do a sporting event, think again. Watch any local 5k running event in your hometown and you'll see people of all shapes, sizes, colors and ages blaze across the line with equal amounts of joy. An organized athletic event is one of the most enjoyable and all-inclusive activities you can do.

If you already compete in events or if you are considering training for your first one, these tips will help you get the most from the experience:

Choose an Event and Pay Now

When you train for an athletic event, you are motivated to exercise on a more consistent basis. If you've got a race coming up, you are less likely to relegate your workout to the end of your to-do list. So, this week pick an event to do, and register and pay for it immediately. That solidifies your commitment.

Find a Reliable Guide

Step one covers the when and where; this covers the how. Training for an event is like climbing a mountain. An experienced guide can show you the quickest way to the summit while showing you the best views along the way. Hire someone with experience in your chosen sport to design a personalized weekly fitness program for you. It is the most valuable thing you can do to ensure long-term fitness success. (Log onto for personal coaching help.)

Focus on the Bigger Picture

Some people get laser-sighted on the performance aspect of competition, which is great. Just keep things in perspective. Shaving 4.7 seconds off your 10k time probably shouldn't take precedence over enjoying yourself and encouraging others during the race.

Train with Others

Social facilitation is a powerful thing. As human beings, we naturally elevate to the company we're in, so find some workout buddies who have a little more experience or fitness than you. This makes the training process more effective and more rewarding. In spring and summer, "group" bike rides and runs are popular in many cities. Jump right in; these groups are generally pretty welcoming.

Hit Key Workouts

A common training error is to consistently exercise in "no mans land" -- at a moderate intensity. Pick one to two workouts each week in which you truly challenge yourself and be sure to rest for and recover from these sessions. This is the secret to getting stronger and fitter without fatigue.

Open up to Greatness

You don't have to win, place or show in an athletic event to be great. Heck, the pros train, eat, sleep, race and get rubbed down for a living -- that's not impressive. The real heroes are the people with jobs and families and lives who go out there on any given Sunday and unleash their personal bests. When you're big event day arrives, seize the moment by giving your best. That may be having as much fun as you can, it may be pushing yourself to your limit, it may be breaking through beyond what you thought was possible. Choose your own path. The deeper you go, the more you challenge yourself in an athletic event, the richer the reward will be at the finish.