Which Is Stronger? Mind or Body?

People, especially non-runners, ask me often why I run. When I provide an answer, they rarely seem to understand what I am saying. You see, I like to test myself in many ways. After I started running in May 2008, I slowly began to learn that I could do more than I ever thought possible. At first, I thought it was impossible for me to run a 5k. Then I thought a 10k would be a longer distance than I could possibly run. Eventually, I figured out that I could run a half marathon, then a marathon and then a 50k. All of that was possible when I realized that my mind would try to get me to quit long before my body is ready to stop. I finally got to the point where I was willing to fail in an attempt to accomplish something I did not think I could do. I would rather fail trying than not succeed because I was not willing to put forth the effort.

Opposition is a natural part of life. Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition – such as lifting weights – we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity.   ~ Stephen R. Covey

Today was one of those days when I took on a challenge that I knew would be very difficult. This morning, I participated in the Tribe 5k at historic Sloss Furnaces in downtown Birmingham. This event was put on by Iron Tribe Fitness and concluded with a chili cook-off. My wife, Caroline, and my friends Jack, Barbara and Alison were also there. This was not a “normal” 5k, although that option was available. The Tribe 5k was a 3.1-mile run with five workout stations during the run (click here for a video preview). All of the workouts were two rounds of 20 reps each of the various exercises. My intention was to complete the WODs (workouts of the day) at each station using the girl’s assigned weights. I have not done a CrossFit class in over a year and was not sure how I would do with the workouts. I was doubtful of my performance but I had no doubt I would be hurting afterward.

When the event started, those running the standard 5k took off first. Shortly after, our race began. Since the first thing we had to do was back squats and plate presses, they staggered the start due to limited amounts of equipment. Unfortunately for me, the way they started forced me to have to go to the men’s side where I had to use 75 pounds for the squats and a 45-pound plate for the presses. This was more weight than I wanted to use, especially right before we started running. When I finally finished that WOD and took off down the road, my legs were already feeling like jelly. The next station included wall balls and Russian twists. Again, I had to use the men’s weights with a 14-pound wall ball and a 25-pound plate for the twists. I always hated wall balls when I did CrossFit and quickly remembered why. The Russian twists were not as bad as I thought. Once done here, I ran down the road to the next station. This was a brutal one. It included overhead lunges carrying a 25-pound plate and 200 feet of broad jumps. If you do the math, you will quickly realize that we had to do a total of 400 feet of broad jumps or just over 130 yards. Needless to say, my legs were pretty much worthless at this point and I still had two more stations and about a mile-and-a-half left. The fourth station gave us a slight break on the legs because the exercises were medicine ball sit-ups with a  14-pound wall ball and burpees. I was never good at sit-ups but did better with those than I expected. When I left this station, I realized that I only had one last station before finishing. Once I got there, I wanted to complete this WOD as quickly as possible so I could finally run to the finish. The last station included kettlebell swings and jumping squats. The men were supposed to use 35-pound kettlebells. When I picked up one of those, I knew I had to drop to the women’s weight of 26 pounds. The jumping squats are usually not that hard but my legs felt like jello by now. At this point, I just wanted to be done but I still had a half-mile or so to run. As I crossed the 35th Street viaduct and headed back toward Sloss Furnaces, my friend Jack came out to run me in. I think I was more tired and sore after this race than any marathon I have run.

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Just like others, I asked myself several times during this run why I chose to put myself through this. After all, I could have run the standard 5k and skipped all the WODs. There would have been no shame in that. As I mentioned earlier, I have not done this kind of exercise in over a year. As I was running over that viaduct to the finish, I reminded myself that I was about to finish something that took a lot out of me. My mind wanted me to quit numerous times. I told myself that no one would blame me if I just ran past the WOD stations and ran it in. That may be true. However, I would have blamed myself. I cannot stand to fail. By my definition, failure would have been not completing the event. I was not really competing against anyone but myself. Once more, even with the doubts, I did finish. Every time I am able to overcome that voice in my head that tells me it is okay to quit, I become stronger. Not just as an athlete, but in every area.

“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”   ~ Vince Lombardi

So, which is stronger? Is it the mind or the body? When it comes to physical challenges, I think for most of us it is our mind. My running coach, Danny Haralson of Run University, often reminds us at the end of our training for a race that we are completely ready physically. We just have to realize it in that small space between our ears. To answer the question I get asked often, “Why do I do it?” It is because I want to prove to myself that I can do so much more than I think I can. Will I fail? Sometimes. Will I try? Every time!

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