where a man can build his strength and freedom

How to keep going when you are unable to go on

Running at dawn representing the courage of keeping going when we are unable to go on.

Have you ever had the experience of finding yourself unable to go on?
You were in the midst of doing something so extremely hard
that it took everything you had.
And suddenly there was no more.
Your gas tank was so empty
there weren’t even any fumes to run on.
You were simply unable to go on.

I have had that experience several times in my life.
It’s freaking scary.
One heck of a surprise, especially if–like me–you think you have no limits. 🙂
…and find out you DO.
Humbling, daunting, and very painful.

Last year’s Race

I’m a duathlete.
The duathlon is an endurance sport where you run, bike, run.
Last year I raced the Olympic Duathlon in Cleveland.
You had to run 2 miles, bike 25 miles, run 6.2 miles.
I made it through everything
until about 3 miles into the last run…
and suddenly I was unable to go on.

Wow what a shock.
A total kick in the gut.
I had trained hard all year for this Race and I was sure I would finish!!!
But I didn’t.

Fast forward a year

So here I was a few weeks ago, coming up on the same Race.
I was going back to Cleveland to race the Olympic Duathlon again,
utterly determined to finish it this time.

So, I asked my coach: “What did you do when you were unable to go on?”
I figured he knew, since he had successfully completed an Ironman Triathlon
when he was 50.
In an Ironman you have to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, then run 26.22 miles.
I figured he must have come up against his limits somewhere in there!

Here’s what he said:
1) I decided to wear sunglasses so I could stay inside myself
and not get distracted.
2) I repeated over and over: “Just keep going.”
3) I prayed continuously: “Thank you, God, for all my blessings
past, present and future.”
4) As I was climbing the worst hills on my bike,
I shouted “NO! NO! NO!” to all the doubts inside me
that were telling me I couldn’t do it.

Why was this a winning strategy?

I thought about what my coach said.
I concluded that essentially
he had built himself a psychological and spiritual fortification.

First, he set a psychological boundary.
He took responsibility for his own Race
by staying entirely focused inside his own mind.
He was not competing with others.
Indeed, he was not even noticing them!

Then, he continuously encouraged himself with optimistic words.
Just keep going” meant as long as he did that, he would make it!
“Just keep going” was in effect his success mantra.

All the while, he expressed gratitude.
By thanking God for all his blessings, past present and future,
he was giving the credit to God for his strength and for the outcome.
He was acknowledging he could not DO these extreme feats ALONE!!!

His thankfulness was also an expression of faith.
It meant he believed he would receive from God
the strength he needed to continue.
In sum, he was running on faith, not on fumes.

My Race this year

I won’t keep you in suspense. I finished.

I was the only woman in my age group (70-74) to complete the Olympic Duathlon,
and I qualified for the Duathlon National Championships in Omaha in 2024.

How did I do it?
I essentially followed my coach’s strategy and added one more element:
I made a vow.

I vowed to myself and to my husband that I would finish no matter what.
I never break my vows, so as far as I was concerned that sealed it.
Like Margaret Thatcher, I said to myself:
“Defeat? I do not recognize the meaning of the word.”

To my shock, the Race turned out to be
WAY WAY WAY tougher than last year!!!!
This was due to high winds and extreme heat and sun.

I can not adequately describe what it was like
to pedal uphill into a headwind so strong I was barely moving,
in 80+ degrees in full sun, up a Very Long Hill
(not to mention the many others.)

There were three loops of the bike course,
so I had to make it up that Hill three times!!!
Each time in a more exhausted condition
than the last time.
As I rode up I hollered “Thank you, Jesus!”
and I didn’t care who heard me.

Other racers way younger than me got off their bikes
and walked up some of those hills.
I never got off.

Like my coach, I did the whole thing on faith.
I made it to the Finish Line on gratitude and determination.

Hahaha and yes we must factor in that my son was there videotaping me…

I leave it to you to conclude what were the decisive elements,
and to consider which factors will work best for you in a clinch.

But regardless of how you get there,
I can assure you that victory is sweet.

What is victory?

Victory is our reward for keeping going when we are unable to go on.

But what is our victory, really?
It may look like our victory is the medal,
or the degree,
or the marriage,
or the job,
or the completion of chemotherapy
or the achievement of whatever other goal
that was so hard we could not continue
but we did…

But our victory is more than the specific outcome we achieved.
We built something far beyond that.

We built our courage.
We built our capability to do things beyond our limits.
We built our confidence in ourselves
by proving we can count on ourselves
when the chips are really down.

It is this growth in our courage that is our true reward.
Our priceless prize for not giving up.
The courage we built when we were unable to go on
stays with us for the rest of our life.
And will always be there for us
when we need it.

Dr. Hall

PS for more on building courage or any other quality you aspire to have,
please see my previous post: How can I improve my opinion of myself?