Endurance is defined as “the ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue, stress or other adverse conditions; stamina.” This post was supposed to be about how we endure as athletes. Unfortunately from when I started writing this post to the time it was published- just a few days- my family was rocked with devastating news. A man who has been like a father to my husband and a wonderful person in my life for almost 30 years- has been suddenly diagnosed with what looks to be a significant tumor. We continue to be hopeful for better news. My friend at work just buried her 19 year-old son who died in a car accident on his birthday. Each of these families must dig deep to find the strength to go on, to endure, despite the insurmountable pain in their lives.
How do athletes endure the physical and mental pain as they push themselves to the brink? Ultra marathons are distance events which are longer than the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. Were these ultra marathons created out of necessity? Maybe after a particularly grueling marathon, a group of athletes were standing around asking, “Is that it?” “Shouldn’t there be more?” – to the disbelief of the rest of the runners who were collapsed on the ground gasping for air like fish out of water and wiping up the crime scene cut-out of sweat imbedded in the pavement.
Typically, ultra marathons are 50 miles and 100 miles. Seriously? Training for these races can be a grueling process. Yet the number of new participants to this sport is increasing rapidly each year. Why are competitors being drawn to these events? One of the reasons is for bragging rights. The most common appeal of ultra marathons is a desire to complete an event which so few competitors even attempt and even fewer accomplish. That is the main reason why I am considering training for an Ironman. I think it would be very cool to say to myself that I finished an Ironman race. Most athletes are constantly challenging themselves. A typical distance runner may grow bored of their usual running regimen and will look to train for an ultra marathon to shake things up.
Endurance athletes, like all athletes, must be both mentally and physically tough. Athletes must be tough not just to endure the many races they run or the length of the races, but their goal is usually to triumph. They must be tenacious, patient, persistent and effective problem solvers.
Recently, my 17-year-old son who plays ice hockey at an elite level, woke up in the morning of a play-off game with a stomach virus. In the car ride to the rink, my husband told him about Michael Jordan’s “fever game.” It was 1997 and the Bulls/ Jazz series was tied 2-2. The day before game 5, Jordan, suffering from 104 degrees fever, stayed in bed with the medical team watching over him, doubting that he would be in any condition to play game 5. Suffering from fatigue, dehydration, nausea and dizzy spells, Jordan missed two team practices as the doctors pumped him with fluids hoping to flush out the intestinal bug.
During the first quarter of the game, Jordan was essentially useless, but in the second quarter, something clicked for him, mentally, physically and emotionally. He scored 17 points in the second quarter. Later, he told the media, “It was all about desire…somehow I found the energy to stay strong.” At halftime, Jordan was given fluids and cold towels. In the third quarter, nausea and fatigue returned and he was useless. In the fourth quarter, Jordan somehow found the strength to turn it on again. Jordan scored the winning basket with a total of 38 points for the game. The Bulls won 88-85. After the game, Jordan said, “that was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.” It was an epic performance by Michael Jordan, just one of the many reasons why he is referred to as the greatest basketball player of all time. It’s about dealing with adversity and finding the strength to persevere when we think that we can no longer go on. That day, my son managed to have a spectacular game and afterwards when my husband asked him how he did it, he said, “I just tried to put the pain out of my mind and I thought about how the team was counting on me, I just dug deep.”
The power of the human spirit can be very strong. What about those athletes who choose to compete at an age well beyond when the rest of society calls it quits. Why would a 94-year-old woman still want to run track? Because she can. Olga Kotelko is a 94-year-old track star from West Vancouver. She took up running at 77-years-old. Almost 20 years later, she still does aqua training three times a week, bowls, gardens, lifts weights at the gym and trains for track-and-field competitions- including 100- meter races, javelin and shot put. She is the center of a study focusing on exercise and gerontology at the Montreal Chest Institute at McGill University.
What drives 83-year-old Australian Ray Moon to be the oldest competing body builder in the world? Moon has won four Victorian and Australian body building competitions and is considered by Guinness World Records to be the oldest bodybuilder in the world. Moon has had polio, open-heart surgery, suffered cardiac arrest, two minor strokes and was once declared clinically dead. He has had a pacemaker and a hernia, but instead of giving up, he found the gym. “Giving up never won a race,” he said. He began bodybuilding only eight years ago and does five strength and cardio sessions a week, including approximately 4 miles on the treadmill and 45 minutes of weight training. After taking two years off to battle bladder cancer, Moon has returned to competition. “I’m nowhere nearly as good as these fellows who are 50 or 60. But age is no barrier. Life is what you make it.” A strong message- “Life is what you make it.” Take control of your life.
“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility”- Eleanor Roosevelt