So my world champion couch potato of a 17 year old asked me to train him. “Train you for what?” I asked. He replied by gesturing at his somewhat pudgy, video game-playing physique with just a bit of disgust and said “To be… Not This.”
I’m not kidding you when I say Michael has been epically inactive for most of the last 4 years. By doing one of those internet based schools, he’s managed to limit activity mostly to walking to the block to the corner store for doritos. No joke. We chose a few very lofty but achievable goals but step one is almost unreasonable for someone with his current fitness level: Couch to 5k in 26 days – and he’s determined to run, not walk, the entire 3.1 miles.
While I’ve always given new athletes watered-down workouts for a couple weeks (as an adaptation and evaluation phase), I knew we wouldn’t have that luxury with only 3 1/2 weeks until race day. Fortunately for the boy, I’ve got a jedi mind-training trick up my sleeve that will teach him to dig in and do more than he should be capable of. Unfortunately for the boy, I learned it from some Special Forces guys and that means it hurts. A lot.
Training started today and I wanted it to be a killer on him… I wanted him to want to quit. I wanted him to decide that asking me for help was a mistake and to think that training for a 5k wasn’t worth it because no way could he repeat the suffering for another workout. I wanted him to question his very existence and wonder if he wasn’t destined to be an overweight video game junkee that would never be happy with himself. He needed to reach his breaking point and be sure that he couldn’t continue, then I had to push him wayyy past that. And break he did.
We started the day with running for a distance goal that he’s never done before. He managed at most 400 meters (1/4 mile), but usually more like 200 at a time. He was allowed to stop and walk any time he wanted, but he had to walk in the opposite direction of progress. (that warmup sure took a while!) With no time for coddling…it was time for hill repeats.
Gasping at the top of the hill a short while later, he declared he couldn’t do any more. A-hah! Just what I was looking for! With a little pep talk he managed a couple more hill repeats, after which he could tell his legs were going to stop listening to him any minute. What he didn’t know yet was that he was only at the half way point and he kept naively asking them for more. Finally done with hills, he limped triumphantly towards the car.
You should have seen his face when I told him he could refill his water and then we were repeating the distance we had started with. (Is there an adjective that describes disappointment, fear, and certainty of failure all at once?) Broken, walking funny, and in complete disbelief, It took more than a little coaxing to convince him to risk falling on his face with dignity over walking with shame back to the car in defeat.
Michael dug deep and set off in spite of knowing that he’d never make it. It was a fight for every step but I’m thrilled to say that he finished the impossible, very happy and proud of himself (hopefully as much as I was).
Today was a huge deal. It was about mental training more than physical training. It was about pushing off bullshit limits that we put on ourselves because most of us have no idea what we are capable of and just as much about feeling a sense of greatness by accomplishing something most people never will when all you’ve ever felt is inadequacy.
He now has a taste for the accomplishing the seemingly impossible. I’ve found that taste to be like sugar – it’s pretty addictive. I think he’s hooked.
***It’s been several days since I wrote this, and for the first time ever – he’s doing workouts without my being there to hold his hand. He’s actually hounding me for them every day. For the first time in many years, the boy believes in himself.***