Near the end of July 2010, a friend of mine, who has since gone on to create an amazing bike challenge called Bike Zambia, posted on Facebook that he wanted to do a Tough Mudder race. Up until this point in my life I had never heard of a Tough Mudder, and after researching it I thought three things:
1) Oh man that looks so difficult.
2) I want to do that!
and 3) I am currently in no physical shape to do that.
At the time I just was back from Peace Corps for a short time (read a single month) before I left the country again, and as I sat there watching the videos on the website I decided to give myself a goal. I wanted to run one of these in my life. I wanted to do it if for no other reason than because I wanted to prove that I had it in me to run that far (10-12 miles) and do all of those challenges. But also in part because it looked like there was more to it then just throwing yourself at the obstacles, it was about team work and coming together with strangers to overcome those obstacles. As I was trying to figure out where my life was going next, that sounded very appealing.
So I started running.
At first I ran in place in my kitchen in Tajikistan because a) it was super hot everywhere and b) I had no idea where I would run where people wouldn’t look at me like I was a crazy man. So I ran inside in place in my kitchen. First for 15 minutes, then for 35, then up and up and up. By the time I left Tajikistan I could run in place for over an hour.
When I got back to the US I decided to take my running outside. It SUCKED. I knew I could run in place for a long period of time, but running outside was harder than I had imagined. My knees hurt, my feet hurt, my lungs hurt (though that might have been because I was running outside in a city) it was way different from running in place (not on a treadmill, just in place). At first I could only run 2 miles, but I kept pushing myself, and soon I could run 4, then 5, then 7, then 9. I pushed my base running distance (the distance that you can run without a problem after taking a month or so break) from half a mile to 4 miles.
Then I ran my first 5k, then my first 10k.
After I finished my first 10K I thought “Ok I can do a Tough Mudder now… maybe.” A group of my friends from Peace Corps and some of their friends signed up with me. Those guys made me train harder than I had before and I was psyched and scared, as I had also signed up for a Ragnar Relay two weeks after that race. The morning of that Tough Mudder it was cancelled due to weather (via a 3 am text message).
Two weeks later I ran in someone elses goal, a Ragnar Relay. It was an experience I will never forget, and actually wanted to do again almost as soon as I finished (almost).
Then my best friend in DC told me he wanted to do a Tough Mudder and asked if I could join. I immediately said yes, after all this had been a goal of mine at this point for almost three years. This time, there was no canceling, though there were complaints (even by me) of how cold it was the morning of. I didn’t complete all of the obstacles (actually I flew off the second handle bar on one and into the water due to both exhaustion and muddy hands), but I tried to do all of them, and can therefore honestly say that I feel different (mentally and physically) than the man I was three years ago when I thought of that goal.
So today I sit here bruised, sore, and have a number still visible on my head from a sharpie, but I am feeling great. I started running and going to the gym, because of this goal. I started eating healthier, and thinking about things I had not thought about before (like how the movies I watch affect my actions) due running. I started rock climbing because I was already exercising and it seemed like another way to do it. In the process of pursuing this goal, I helped others achieve their own goals, I have picked up new hobbies, and I found new ways to relieve stress and simply have fun (yes running and rock climbing are now a form of fun for me). It wasn’t my only goal during those three years,but it still had multiple side benefits that I had not even contemplated when I started towards it a little less than three years ago.
That’s what is amazing about goals to me. They are not things that should come easily or quickly, for during those long hard hours of training, practice, or patience, the pursuit of your goal will bring you into many other amazing places, offer you other benefits you hadn’t thought about, and show you the door to even more goals. Look at America’s goal of getting to the moon, it gave us Tang, personal computers, Velcro, scratch resistant glasses and so much more. Or look at the goal of landing a job you love to do, sure it affords you money to do many things, but it also gives you friendships, contentment, and possibly even free coffee (mmm free coffee). Goals all have many side benefits you find a long the way that can make your life feel better, while helping you turn the impossible into the possible.
So think long and hard about your goals. They can change you and the world around you (if simply because they change you), even if the goal is simply running in a race or learning to spell minute correctly.
So today I want to sorely thank goals. They can push us towards a better version of ourselves and our world.
I also want to thank that original friend who put the goal in my head, JD; and my friend Jimmy who today is sore with me.
Next goal? Run a Tough Mudder and Ragnar Relay within a month of each other. Third times the charm right?
THANK YOU GOALS!