I was selected to pace running group for their 400 meter intervals. I felt nervous. It was our 12th and final time around the track and we all felt exhausted from pushing through the interval training in the heat and humidity. We were pacing 85 seconds around the track with a minimum 45 second break in between. In the 32 degree heat, I had lagged behind on the intervals and felt lucky to cross the 400 meter mark in 90 seconds.
I started running when I was 34 years old. I was overweight. My first time out running was 15 minutes: 5 minutes running, 5 minutes walking, 5 minutes running. I collapsed in our living room, gelatinous and the color of pus. My wife thought I was having a stroke. Though it may have not looked it, I had just had the time of my life.
Now 10 years later with multiple marathons, ultra-marathons, and even running 7 marathons in 7 days, I’m still not a confident athlete. I grew up hating sports. I was always the last selected for a team. At field day, in 6 years of elementary school, I once earned a green, 4th place ribbon to go with my other golden “Good Sportsmanship” ribbons.
So here I was running 400 meters with a track team, sweat pouring down my face. The goal was to maintain pace. Runners were not allowed to pass the pace leader until after 200 meters. I stood there for our 45 second rest trying to catch my breath. I had barely finished the last one in 90 seconds. The pressure was on. Where would I get the extra 5 seconds from?
I dashed. My stride felt strong, long. I sensed the others behind me, baring down, wanting me to keep the pace.
My breath came naturally as we went around the first turn. I expected on the straight-away passing the halfway point someone better could pass me. By the time we hit the second turn, I still lead the pack. In fact, I didn’t see anyone out of the corner of my eye. My lungs hurt.
I hoped someone would pass me and take over the lead and hide me from the shame. I came on to the last straightaway. As always, at the end, I pushed a bit, ready to give a kick. Nothing too dramatic as it was too hot and the last interval.
I stopped my Garmin and looked down: 73 seconds! How had I cut off 17 seconds from my time? I had barely been able to hit 90 seconds, and now I was easily running at 73 seconds.
We can do more than we believe. When challenged and motivated and in the zone, we can accomplish more than we dare dream. When we push ourselves out in front, working with others, we succeed where we had previously failed. Of course, a great deal of practice and discipline help make those opportunities possible.
In my case, I learned that I could improve my time by nearly 19%. Imagine improving your mindset you improved everything you did by 19%. Even 10% improvement would make huge differences. A 1% course change on a rocket shot out into space can make a literal universe of difference. A 10% change of trajectory is enough to move the limits of imagination. 20% is even beyond that. The ability to win, the mindset to be out in front, risk, take a chance, lead, and give it your all, will help bring about that difference in life. It may not be as easy to measure as a stopwatch, however just knowing you’re improving in small increments will help you make huge changes that lead to personal success.
David Sweet is the founder and CEO of FocusCore Japan, a leading executive search firm. He is author of six books and holds a Ph.D. in Leadership Development. For more information, contact him at David@FocusCoreGroup.com.