The athletes have finished their warm up and are moving to the line for the start of the workout. It’s a tough one, what we call an “edge” workout. They will challenge themselves – going beyond what they’ve done before. 120 yard runs in 19 seconds, 35 seconds to jog back to the start, 30 seconds to rest and then repeat – 10 times.
They approach the line quietly, intentionally, focused. One of them asks again, “How many of these?” A few of them say something encouraging like, “Alright we got this.” But, this is new territory. And then, they go.
10 sounds so far at the start. You take them one at a time though and pretty soon you’re halfway. You can’t see the end but you’re committed now so you keep on going. You get to eight and realize there are only two left. You are past your edge now, outside the comfort zone of what you have done. You’re tired and feeling the challenge but you’re ok. The last two come and go. The final run is actually one of the fastest.
In an On Being podcast Ashley Hicks, the Director of Black Girls Run shared a wonderful piece of advice given to her shortly before running the Chicago Marathon. Buying a new pair of shoes and feeling low on enthusiasm, the clerk in the running store told her, ” Yeah, the best thing for you to remember is that the blessing is outside of your comfort zone.”
The athlete knows that the body, in order to adapt has to be challenged, to go beyond what it knows to create a new response; increased fitness and strength is one of the blessings found outside our comfort zone.
There is another blessing out there as well and that is the knowledge that exploring the boundary increases the edge. 10 is possible so now maybe 12. Everything inside that new edge is in the comfort zone now. Deep in the match or the race or the game, when you’re feeling that exhaustion, you remember you have already been here, you know this territory and you know you’re not at the edge anymore. You know you can go farther.
We don’t earn our blessings, but we do need to open ourselves to receive them. They are gifts. So, the athlete’s path can become a spiritual one. There is the blessing of the practice itself; of learning how to go outside the comfort zone, explore the edge, receive the blessings, return to the center, integrate them and then adapt and grow in new and sometimes surprising ways.
So find the edge, then lean out just a little further and, here’s a blessing to take you out and back from the poet and philosopher John O’Donohue: May my mind come alive today To the invisible geography That invites me to new frontiers To break the dead shell of yesterdays, To risk being disturbed and changed.