According to legend, when the Persians attacked Athens, Pheidippides was sent to Sparta to ask for help. He ran the entire way only to find that the Spartans would give the Athenians no aid. Rather than lamenting his city’s situation, he turned around and ran the entire 150 miles back to battle, taking up arms and joining his compatriots. After the clash, he ran another 22 miles into the city and announced Athens’ victory. How did he do it? How did he manage to keep moving through all of that? Perhaps Zeus powered his body, or perhaps Pheidippides had a little bit of a god in him to begin with. We’ll never know for sure. But we can be fairly confident that, as he ran, he was thinking of anything but the arduous exercise, and that’s exactly what you should do.
The mind is a powerful tool, alternately pushing you to go further and convincing you that you can’t. With it, you have determined what you believe to be your maximum level of performance, exercise-wise. You think that you can run no further than five miles, and so you don’t. But this limit is all in your head. If you stopped dwelling on the point of stopping, you would likely find yourself moving past it, running further than you ever thought you would. Some people do this by focusing on an object in front of them, a hill, a building or even the television in front of their treadmill. Others count to 100, utter a phrase every time their foot touches down or compose e-mails. No matter what the distraction, the result is the same: dissociation. They distance themselves from the physical difficulty, and so should you. Rather than focusing on your shortening breath and tired legs, think about anything else – your boyfriend or girlfriend, the music blasting in your ear, the shadow of the man in front of you or the nine times table. But don’t let your distraction push you too far.
Immediately following his proclamation, Pheidippides died. He had worked his body to such an extent that it crumbled. Don’t let that happen to you. Push yourself but not to the point of insanity. Be aware of when your body is being slowed by your mind and when you are truly injured. You can go further than you think, but you can’t go anywhere if you are hurt.
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