Out of Air

Most of us at some point have probably felt a deep driving force of determination. Maybe it was during a race or sporting event, or maybe it was on a school assignment when you were in school. Whatever activity you may have been doing when you reached peak commitment, there are probably a lot of similarities between that moment and other moments in your life of true determination.

For example in high school I had my first Cross Country race. I was looking forward to showing my speed out on the course. When the day came I made sure I had enough sleep and nutrition to compete at my best. But I also had something far mare salient to my success: an expectation in my mind that I would perform a certain way.

When it came time to race my expectation to keep up with certain runners led me to run with them at the beginning of the race, a pace I couldn’t keep. A few minutes in I started to realize how poor my decision was. How was I supposed to keep this up for 3.1 miles? But I hadn’t learned my lesson.

The person I was following began to pull away, so I picked up the pace even more. I began increasing my pace when I should have been considering slowing down. At this point I was actually passing runners on the course, not realizing that there was still more than two miles to go.

The guy, Kevin, who I was following, didn’t know I was following him, but it was as if he knew I was. He would always stay just far ahead of me so as to make me attempt to catch up. As we neared the first mile I knew I wouldn’t finish with him. I developed a plan: as long as I could keep within sight of Kevin, I was good.

So as we weaved around bends and over hills I would force myself to keep pushing in order to keep up. By this point I was already at an oxygen deficit. We weren’t even at mile 2! For all you non-runners: you don’t want to be out of breath until the last few hundred yards for the final sprint. Even the last half mile or so would have been better, but at roughly 1.5 miles in, there simply wasn’t a way for me to hold my pace for the next half.

Somehow I kept pushing. For some reason as we neared mile 2 I thought we were at marker 2.5 miles. So while all the other runners knew we had 1.1 miles to go, I thought we only had .6 left. I began picking up speed as we neared what I thought was the end. I was closing in. Then I realized my mistake. There was still a mini loop to go. I felt so stupid.

Friends and family were on the sides of the course, cheering me on as I rode past. I could see Kevin a distance up the course. I could still see him though – that was good. I finished the loop, but my pace had really slowed. People were passing me now, as I tried to keep a little speed in these last few hundred meters.

I curved around the final bend. There was about a quarter mile to go. 400 meters… 300… I was barely jogging. I picked up the pace but my face was red for exhaustion. I was really hyperventilating. 250… 200… I seemed like the distance wasn’t closing in. 150… 100… I put every ounce of my body into the last hundred meters, but it looked more like a jog – I had nothing left. Nothing.

As I passed the finish line I gasped for air. My body shook all over. I couldn’t take in enough air. My chest kept expanding and deflating, like a water-balloon that kept getting shrunk back down to nothing. I had done it!

As with many things in life, simply having a high expectation for yourself can go a long way. I learned more about my potential than I ever thought possible. So next time you run a race, find someone named Kevin to race with you.

2 thoughts on “Out of Air

  1. We had our own version of “Kevin” on our first backpacking trip. He had a small day pack on, with long legs and a fit frame. He would stop at times and say “I’m sorry friends, am I hiking too fast?” and I just kept saying “No, no, it’s fine!” — but eventually it was not fine. I had to take a timeout and chug my water. He just stood there talking about life and work as if I wasn’t about to pass out. I remember thinking how he was still so full of breath and not sweating.

    We finished the hike with him and we were glad to have someone along with us to push us so hard, but the Kevins of the world can be daunting to keep up with!

    Glad you finished the race. That’s what’s important, after all. 🙂

Leave a Reply