Attainable Limits


I golf very occasionally and very sporadically. It’s a fun game, but I can’t imagine doing it regularly. My son likes to play the game, so I go with him whenever he invites me, but it’s really just an excuse to spend the morning with him. Usually, after 12 or 14 holes, I’m bored with the game and just enjoy the walk on the course. I’ve got friends, however, who are nuts for the game. My buddy Mark goes on several golfing megadeath vacations a year, where he and his 3 buddies play 54 holes a day. Every day. 54 holes. Really.

I can’t imagine wanting to do that, or enjoying it. I just don’t think I could hold up. I suspect I’d drink myself into a stupor somewhere around hole 25 or 30. But for Mark, these vacations are pure heaven.

On the other hand, give me a day with nothing to do and a bicycle, and I’ll ride all day. I commute 20 miles to work and 20 miles back on a bicycle. Other folks look at my bike riding, and have the same reaction I have to Mark’s golfing – why?

Not that we aren’t impressed by the feats of others. I’d really like it if I enjoyed golf enough to spend that much time with a few buddies doing something we all enjoyed. I’m truly impressed, and at the same time can’t imagine finding the strength of will or endurance to make my way through it.

The annual RAAM (Race Across America) bicycle race was run a couple months ago. You climb in the saddle in San Diego, and the first guy to Annapolis wins. You have to follow the prescribed route, but other than that, the only constraint is how long and far your body can go before it needs rest. The winner this year made it in 8 days and 6 hours, averaging 22 or 23 hours in the saddle every day, pedaling at an average speed of over 15 mph. This really happens.

I look at the RAAM race every year, and I shake my head in amazement. How can a human being do this? I look at the amazing feats we’ve witnessed in the Olympics this year, and I shake my head in amazement. How can a human being become so “perfect” at something? Heck, I even look at Mark’s golfing megadeath ordeals, and shake my head in amazement. But to that one I still say, “why”?…

What’s truly attainable in our life? How far can we really go with something when we set our mind to it? What are the things that limit us and set our constraints on attainability? We’ve all heard the rah-rah speeches folks give about how anything is attainable if we set our mind to it. We’ve all marveled at the endless shelves of self-help books extolling some magic formula for attaining whatever we want in life.

But deep down, most of us assign a pretty high BS factor to most of that stuff. I’m not going to be running 6 minute miles in a marathon. Not today, or tomorrow, or any time in this life. Really. My bone structure is too dense, and my Scandinavian body isn’t designed for that sort of long-distance running. Well, that, and I’m old.

There are limits, and it’s silly to pretend there aren’t. I’m a believer in defining some level of attainability that’s out there close to what you think the edge is, and working toward it. In my experience, as we move toward that thing we’ve defined as the limit of attainability, we’ll learn a bit more about ourselves, and we’ll move that limit a bit one way or the other.

While I’ve always loved riding my bike, the notion of riding 100 miles in a day would have seemed a bit over the top to me throughout the first 40 years of my life. But as I rode more and more, and got into my 50’s, I began to find that I could push that ride limit up to a bigger and bigger number. Sure it hurt a bit each time I pushed it, but then the limit went up. I was probably close to 50 years old before I rode my first century. After that, the idea of doing that kind of distance day after day on a long-distance trip seemed a bit over the top to me. A little too much pain to endure, a little too much, well, just too much.

Then, I rode across Colorado and Kansas. And survived. And enjoyed it. So the next summer I rode from California back to Colorado, And survived. And enjoyed it. On both rides, there were certainly painful days, but both rides raised the limits within myself.

Next month, I’ll ride my bike from Kansas to Annapolis. I’ll ride 100+ miles a day most days, and will certainly find new ways to push my limits. And I’ll find some pain along the way, and I’ll survive, and I’ll find a lot of joy along the way.

Attainability lives between our ears. That’s where we define it. But if we want to raise our limits of attainability, we won’t do it by listening to some talking head give us a rah-rah speech. We won’t do it by reading endless self-improvement books about how to be a more productive person.

The only way to raise our limits of attainability is to push those limits. Get on the bike and ride. Endure a bit of pain along the way. Find what the limits really are. Get intimate with the limits. Along the way, you’ll keep redefining the limits, and they’ll keep getting bigger and higher. The alternative is to lay on the couch and watch some more of the endless dribble on TV. That’ll move the limits too, but they’ll be closing in on you all the time – descending with each wasted day.

Of course, not all limits are important to all of us. I’ll probably golf with my son this summer, and I’ll probably be delighted to walk the last several holes without swinging the club. And I’ll listen while my buddy Mark tells me of how wonderful his last golfing megadeath vacation was, and I’ll have no desire whatsoever to ever explore that particular limit…

A friend recently asked about biking, “Don’t ya just get on and start pedaling?” Wiser words were never spoken. She’s right – get off the couch, jump on the bike, and start pedaling.