Friday, April 22, 2011

Breaking Point

By no means is my dad an endurance athlete. Nor was he ever. Last time we ever participated in an "endurance event" he tripped me in a Turkey Trot 5k (pretty sure it was to ensure his victory).  So even he might be a little surprised to read he has served as a big part of my triathlon career.

You see, he was a US Marine pilot during the Vietnam era and thus went through some pretty intense bootcamp/survival training.  While his enduring of the trials those schools put him through was no doubt admirable, it is not those feats themselves that inspire me.  Rather, it is a statement he has made to me at various times throughout my triathlon career. Something he learned through those experiences. That is, "When you think you're done, you can really go much further."  Or said another way, when you think you hit your breaking point, you can push much further, dig deeper.

A while back I had a chance to meet a teammate Mike Montoya. Since then I have been fortunate enough to spend some time with Mike and realize his admirable qualities that go far beyond his considerable talents as a triathlete.  Mike is a middle school teacher in Las Cruces, New Mexico and has taken on the difficult, yet to hear him say it, immensely rewarding task of teaching those with mental disabilities.  He also volunteers his time as the track coach.  The other day I rode with Mike and he told me the week before he had coached the team in a meet wherein he let them choose their own events, and form their own relay teams.  Being a middle school team, everyone wants to run the 100 or the 4x100.  However, one athlete, Joseph, one of Mike's students with mental disabilities, wanted to run the mile.  Mike let him, he ran hard, not realizing he could come into lane 1 after the 1st lap he ran lane 8 the whole way, struggling a bit in the 2nd half due to a lack of training.  This last week was the championships, and after letting them choose their own, Mike took the reigns this time and assigned the athletes' events to give them the best shot.  Joesph, would run the 800.

Before the race Mike told Joseph he could cut into the 1st lane after the turn and Joseph nodded he understood.  At the gun Joseph ran hard in lane 8, after the turn, he stayed in lane 8.  He was holding on running even with 3rd place, all by himself out in lane 8.  Heading into the last half of the second lap Mike literally chased Joseph pushing him into the 1st lane.  Joseph ran as hard as he could, sweat pouring, foaming at the mouth, but the outside lane had done him in and he crossed as the final runner.  Immediately after, Mike congratulated Joseph and gave him some water.  Joseph promptly collapsed into a heap and began convulsing.  He had pushed himself THAT hard.  A precautionary trip to the ER and Joseph was given a clean bill of health.  I have no doubt that Joseph had at some point during that 800, thought he had nothing left. That he was done. That he had reached his breaking point.  But he didn't give in. He pushed on, pushed his breaking point all the way past the finishing tape.  Yesterday at a school assembly, Joseph was honored with the first "Heart Award" he so richly deserved.

Earlier this week I had really rough day.  A swim that felt like the bottom was literally sucking me down, and a run where my legs just could not go any faster.  I thought I needed a rest day. That I had reached my breaking point.  The next day's long ride with a long hard interval in it, had me intimidated. I couldn't fathom being able to perform that task.  Then I thought of what my dad has always said, "When you think you're done, there's always more."  I thought of Joseph and how he pushed his breaking point. I put aside my self pity and decided I needed to harden up.  The next day, I completed the ride as prescribed with my dad's statement as my mantra and thoughts of Joseph running repeatedly through my head during the interval.

I am not saying we don't have our breaking points, or that more and harder is always possible or advisable.  All I am saying is that I think we all need to realize at times that our mind can be our biggest limiter and that our actual breaking point, more likely than not, lies well beyond where our brains may want us to believe.

Keep pushing. 


  1. LOVE this. I so needed to read this right now. THANK YOU!

  2. Very timely advice, I'm going to carry this with me to Wildflower.