About 15 years ago two of our close friends ran the Chicago Marathon. It made a monumental impact on my husband, Charles. It had never occurred to either one of us that an average human being could run 26.2 miles for absolutely no good reason accept to do it!
Inspired by their accomplishment, in the winter of 2006, Charles began “training” to run the marathon. To everyone that knew Charles, it appeared as a totally random decision, especially because he had never run a competitive race in his life. In fact, he hated running. The only time he ever ran was if he was either being chased, or, messed up on an athletic field and was being punished! Six weeks into his training, he broke his left leg with a stress fracture. But this didn’t deter him from trying again. The following August, he started to train again and to his dismay, he broke his right leg with another stress fracture. His orthopedic Dr told him to give up running and take up swimming.
In November 2016, we attended a business conference in Nashville where Dave Ramsey, the Financial Peace Guru, was one of the keynote speakers. Dave shared a personal story of how he had announced to a co-worker that he was training to run a half marathon. His co-worker was shocked to hear that Dave was considering running a half marathon not a full one since it wasn’t like Dave to do “half of anything”. This sparked and re-ignited something in Charles’ heart. Six months later, I was invited to speak at a church in Salt Lake City where we had the opportunity to connect with one of Charles’ ex-boss and close friend, Mark. Mark has my total respect! He not only served in the US Army as a Ranger in the first Gulf War but has also had a huge impact on my husband’s personal leadership development. When we arrived at his home we where surprised to see Mark in a cast walking around with a peg leg. We shortly discovered that he was 6 weeks out of his 6th surgery to repair a spiral fracture in his right foot, which he suffered in a 65 foot fall while ice-climbing in December 2015. Mark not only survived the fall, but hiked back to his car. He called his wife, who “encouraged” him to make a visit to the hospital. A complete exam was done, x-rays and MRI’s revealed no damage! Not a broken bone, not a scratch! Mark continued to live life as usual though he continued to experience pain. . Mark persevered through the pain and ran 40 Spartan races in 2016 while fighting cancer and receiving chemo. At the end of the race season, he was in the top 13% in the world as a Spartan competitor! Through a series of other issues, he finally diagnosed with a spiral fracture in his foot. Spiral fractures just don’t heal on their own and six surgeries later, included a bone graft/transplant, Mark is finally recovering. I’m truly humbled at Mark’s display of perseverance and determination as well as in awe at what the human body is capable of enduring.
Both Dave and Marks’ stories served as ignition stories for Charles and inspired him to revisit the idea of fulfilling one of his dreams to run the marathon. I’m proud to say that he not only fulfilled his dream in October 2017 but has gone on to run more than a few marathons! So how did he do it?
You might be thinking to yourself, great story Kal, but how does this apply to developing new talents, and brain development?
First, like Charles and many others who have defied the odds, we need an ignition story that sparks, fuels and helps us fall helplessly in love with a future passion! It’s the spark that lights our heart and mind to say, ‘I can do this’. Second the brain needs to forge new pathways. The brain is an amazing muscle that has plasticity. A child’s brain is more plastic then adults. Because the brain has plasticity, when it’s injured it will attempt to find new ways to reroute messages. The same principle applies to learning a new skill or talent. This is done by a 3-step process that helps make the brain smarter. This allows the newly developing talent to become easier, smoother and faster, which makes it enjoyable rather than cumbersome.
Step 1: Persevere. The brain needs us to practice more of what we want and less of what we don’t want. Practice does make perfect. The more we practice the more we build ‘highways’ of neuron connections for that activity or skill. Perseverance is key especially in the face of learning a new skill that might feel super slow, unfamiliar and weird at the onset. Neuroscience tells us that we must persevere and practice the new skill or habit for at least 8 weeks for a new skill to become easy and inherent. Learn to think differently and be transformed by renewing your mindsets. (Romans 12:2) as well, guard yourself from growing weary.
Charles started reading Marathon, The ultimate Training Guide by Hal Higdon, which proved to be an excellent resource throughout his training. He began by changing his daily eating, sleeping and exercise routines as well as persevered through the temptation of reverting back to unhealthy habits. Over the course of Charles’ training, he also persevered because of small victories along the way, which built confidence. This confidence motivated him to push himself to do more, when he really just wanted to stop from either boredom or pain.
Step 2: Repeat: Thinking doesn’t create a skill, repeated practice does. The brain is wired to retain what you practice repeatedly – it becomes permanent. This is true or both good and bad habits. When we repeat something over and over again, the brain produces myelin, which is a protective coating that forms around neuron pathways in the brain. It’s like the insulation around copper wire. With repetition, more myelin is produced which allows signals to move faster, smoother and effortlessly. You start enjoying your new skill when this happens.
And as the miles increased, Charles would repeat to himself, just one more step, one more block, just one more mile…until he finished the workout. I remember his comment after he completed the longest run of his life, 8 miles, “I can’t imagine running half a marathon, never mind a full 26.2 miles!’ Weeks later, running 8 miles was not only a breeze but enjoyable.
Step 3: Visualize. There are images that work their way into our hearts (Ezekiel 14:1-5). Without a vision people perish. God has a greater vision for us than we have for ourselves. Visualize yourself performing the skill – see, feel and hear yourself doing the new skill – it brings hope to the heart. Also, as Philippians 4:7-9 says, think positively so you don’t lose hope. When we close our eyes and visualize, the primary visual cortex lights just as if you’re actually performing the task.
Charles used his ignition motivation as well as Mark’s journey to imagine the pain he experienced as he trained. Almost all day, every day for the last 6 months, he visualizes himself running the streets of Chicago, and crossing the finish line.
I’m proud of Charles for going after his dreams. It hasn’t been easy but there is something to be said about the journey and what it has done to shape him. For his first marathon, he dedicated each of the 26 miles to someone that we personally knew that has or is fighting cancer – one of which is me! I’m humbled and grateful to have his support through not only my cancer but now my M.S.
God the creator of our brain has given us a neurological handbook – the Bible. When we embed its truths into our daily thinking, we can live new lives, develop new skills, become better at what we do and escape as well as replace bad habits.
- Charles ran the Chicago Marathon on October 8 and finished right under his targeted goal.
- He challenged himself to continue training and six weeks later he ran the Dallas Marathon on December 9. He shaved 24 minutes off his previous time!
- Charles' dream to run with his God daughter came true when he ran a half-marathon in May 2018. He broke PR.
- He is set to run marathons in Colorado (September 2018), Chicago (October 2018) and Hawaii (December 2018).
I think I might write a blog on what it means to be a marathon runner's wife and supporter next time!