Tag Archives: just one more

Just a Little More

WAY BACK AT THE dawn of history (around 2007), I was on the mat at the start of a weeknight Aikido class. Our instructor worked us through the warmup routine until we got to the wrist stretches. Then he stopped for a moment.

“I was asked recently how far one should take a wrist stretch,” he told us. “Everyone is different, so there isn’t an absolute answer. But in general, take it to where it begins to hurt. Then push it just a little further.”

I’d been taught in exercise class not to stretch into pain. But his approach made sense to me. Where it begins to hurt is the limit of what the body is used to. To become more flexible requires pushing into the uncomfortable, just a little. Not enough to cause injury, but enough to trigger an adaptation. And we were to determine that point ourselves. The intent was to reach and push past our own limits, not someone else’s.

Okay, perhaps this is more than "just a little"?

Pushing past my limits of pain. Whether or not I asked for it.

I soon found that the principle of “just past your limit” carried over into every part of Aikido training. You can sit for five minutes in seiza? Great, how about six? I’ve never been the most flexible guy, but with practice I could eventually manage twenty minutes in that posture during Sensei’s lectures in advanced class. Leg-numbing, agonizing minutes, but I did it. The pain sometimes diverted my attention from what Sensei was saying, but as was explained to me, that too was part of training.

For my next trick, I will stand up. Or try to.

For my next trick, I will stand up. Or try to.

Later on I was introduced to the complementary concept of “just one more.” Think you’ve done as many breakfalls, or buki strikes, or whatever, as you possibly can? Well, you could probably manage just one more. Repeat until you’ve reached your goal. The brain knows it’s a scam, and yet it works remarkably well. To this day I use it at the gym during particularly brutal workouts.

Just one more - or 40 more. I forget.

Just one more – or 40 more. I forget.

During more than ten years of Aikido study, I’ve had many opportunities to use both “just past your limit” and “just one more.” Sometimes I use them consciously, but the excellent teaching and the example set by the senior students have already built them into the class atmosphere. You push through the challenges because that’s what everyone does. And pushing your limits little by little adds up over time.

But there have been a few occasions where my limits were not only pushed, but blown out of the water. Sometimes, like with a test or a race, I know what’s coming; there’s time to prepare, to psych myself up.

And then there are the ones that drop out of the sky, smack me upside the head and dare me to beg for mercy.

It’s July 2010, near the end of an intense, two-hour advanced class. 90 degrees in the dojo. Sensei calls for a series of breakfalls. We begin with backward falls and progress to forward rolls. Sensei calls out the first sixteen (two series of eight), and then each student in turn calls out another sixteen. There are six or seven students in the class and I’m the most junior, so I count last.

My attempt at a forward roll.

My attempt at a forward roll.

The set isn’t all that bad, but Sensei immediately begins another. I’m now really tired and sore, and my form is slipping. But I keep up as best I can. At my turn to count the adrenaline kicks in, and I complete the final sixteen rolls. I stand in dizzy, triumphant exhaustion. I’d pushed past my limit.

Except Sensei doesn’t call a halt.

“One more set!” his voice cries though my fog of fatigue. “Hajime!”

WTF? This isn’t “just one more,” it’s dozens more. I’m already past my limit! But the other students start the breakfalls, and there’s nothing for it but to go along.

My world shrinks to a small rectangle of canvas, the sound of my labored breathing, the mat quivering from the slapping of arms and legs to the inexorable “ichi-ni-san-shi...” cadence of whoever’s counting. My pants are untied and coming loose. I can barely push off the mat enough to roll instead of drop flat on my face. Just one more. Just one more.

Then, finally, it’s my turn again. I’m ready to collapse into a soaking pile of dogi-clad bones, but I call out those last sixteen rolls like a Marine. If I’m going down, it won’t be with a whimper, dammit. “Roku!” Roll and stand. “Shichi!” Roll and stand. “Hachi!” Roll and stand.

Yame!” Sensei calls. It was over. We lie flat and relax, then stretch. My head clears, and we line up for end of class. Sensei smiles at us. “Excellent work,” he says. “Four hundred! And no one quit!”

Four hundred continuous breakfalls at the end of two hours of hard work. I’m stunned. From the accomplishment, yes, but also from what Sensei has just said. Quit? As tough and as painful as those sets were, the thought of giving up before Yame had never entered my head. Never an option.

Looking back at it now, those roughly twenty minutes were truly life-changing for me. My body had put out the effort and endured the pain to push past its physical limits, and I’d had the mental discipline to hold myself together during it all. Out of it came a sense of inner confidence that I was capable of far more than I’d imagined before.

'Nuff said.

‘Nuff said.

The class took place years before I became a marathoner and then an ultrarunner, or started cycling centuries, but I think that my Aikido training, and in particular that one breakfall session, made all that possible. All that “just a little more” and “just one more” had set the stage to go well past, and many more than, my previous limits.

Thanks to my wonderful Aikido family for the lesson.

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Long Runs: Training the Brain

Recently a fellow 40+ runner posted his experience (so far) in training for his first half and full marathon, and asked his readers for advice. For better or worse, I gave him my thoughts. He thought they were pretty good, although I understand his attorney is now trying to contact me. He must be a new runner, too.

Me at Road Ends 2013 finish line

I’m not tired! Really! It’s all in my mind!

Anyway, among his lessons learned in long run training was that it’s as tough mentally as it is physically. Yup. 530,000 marathon finishes per year sounds like a lot, but it’s far less than one percent of the American population. I believe the main reason the other 99 percent will never run one isn’t the physical challenge of running 26.2 miles. Rather, it’s developing the mental stamina needed to get your body to run that distance. I can speak from experience that the brain gets tired of running well before the body gives out.

A recent article in Runner’s World addresses how large a role our brains play in how fast, or how far, we can run. The author, already an excellent runner, attempted to improve his performance through computer-based exercises designed to create mental fatigue – so-called “brain endurance” training. You can read the grisly details here.

So let’s say you’re interested in the challenge of a half marathon, or even a full marathon someday, but you prefer to train more traditionally. How do you develop the mental stamina to get there? I don’t know what will work for you, but here’s how I managed it.

1. Just starting. The good news is that no previous experience is required. Until my mid-forties I wasn’t a runner, and couldn’t think of many things more tedious. I’m not exactly sure what ‘flipped the switch’ but I ran my first 5K race in 2008, and just five years later I’ve run seven half marathons, two full marathons, and two ultramarathons, and log at least 1,000 miles per year.

2. Allowing enough training time. “Couch to 5K” programs are popular and fine, but couch to marathon takes a little longer. When I decided to go for a half marathon, I had never run more than six miles at a time, so I gave myself six months to train. This gave me time to ‘build the base’ without pushing too hard or feeling anxious about how close the race date was.

"Just two loops" or "8 more stages" sounds much more doable than, "33 more miles".

“Just two loops” or “8 more stages” sounds more doable to me than, “33 more miles”.

3. Splitting up the distance. As I mentioned in my recent posts about my Run Woodstock ultra, running 50 miles still seems kind of unreal to me. But dividing the race into 12 stages of 4.2 miles each (the distance between aid stations) made it mentally manageable. Half and full marathons generally have water stops every two miles, which I still use to reset physically and mentally when needed.

4. Running with others. I still remember a Saturday morning 20-miler where I started out with a large group and wound up at the halfway mark in the middle of nowhere by myself. (It was a “taper week” for the other long runners.) Running the return 10 miles solo was really tough. But there was no shortcut on that route, so I had to finish.

Pacing with others is fun, too! (Kona 10K, 2013)

Pacing with others is fun, too! (Kona 10K 52:00 pace group, 2013)

By contrast, earlier this summer I ran 19 miles with two other folks the entire way, and it was far more pleasant. Conversation helps pass the miles, but just having other people there with me helped keep me moving. Research bears out that running with someone can make you run longer and harder than you would by yourself.

5. The idea of “just one more”. As my Aikido instructor has said, “No matter how many breakfalls you’ve done, you can always do one more.” When my long runs get tedious, or body is fatigued during a race, I apply this as, “I can do this for one more mile” or “Just to the next aid station”. It usually works. And of course once I hit the aid station, or finish that one mile – I can still do just one more.

So there you go. If you’re starting to get the feeling that you could do this, and you’d like that feeling to go away, this post from Jilly Bean should do it. You’re welcome.

More: Read some additional motivational tips for distance running.