“Bruce had me up to three miles a day, really at a good pace. We’d run the three miles in twenty-one or twenty-two minutes. Just under eight minutes a mile.
So this morning he said to me “We’re going to go five.” I said, “Bruce, I can’t go five. I’m a helluva lot older than you are, and I can’t do five.” He said, “When we get to three, we’ll shift gears and it’s only two more and you’ll do it.” I said “Okay, hell, I’ll go for it.” So we get to three, we go into the fourth mile and I’m okay for three or four minutes, and then I really begin to give out. I’m tired, my heart’s pounding, I can’t go any more and so I say to him, “Bruce if I run any more,” –and we’re still running-”if I run any more I’m liable to have a heart attack and die.” He said, “Then die.”
It made me so mad that I went the full five miles. Afterward I went to the shower and then I wanted to talk to him about it. I said, you know, “Why did you say that?” He said, “Because you might as well be dead. Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.”
- Bruce Lee & John Little (from The Art of Expressing the Human Body)
I first read the following excerpt on stumbleupon.com several months ago. I remember adding it to my favorites and promptly forgot about it. A day or so ago I saw it again on I <3 to run‘s facebook page and this time it really struck me. In the excerpt, Bruce Lee tells the author that if he puts limits on what he can do then he might as well be dead. As a runner this really hits home for me and I feel it accurately describes the crippling effect of a negative mindset.
Little had grown accustomed to the 3 mile runs that he and Lee had been doing. As soon as Lee said they were doing 5 miles, he began making excuse why he couldn’t do it. He put limits on himself and gave excuses to Lee, but he was really justifying his limits to himself. Once they got a little into the 4th mile, Little says it was getting to be too much for him. Once he told Lee that he was going to die if he kept going and Lee responded with, “then die,” Little finished the full 5 miles they set out to run.
So what changed in those last miles? Little was still hurting, still having trouble with the distance. What changed was his attitude. He got angry and suddenly his limitations didn’t matter any more. The limits were from his mind, not his body. If you put a limit on something in your mind, your body is going to automatically start shutting down when you get there. Never limit yourself.
Every runner hits a plateau sooner or later. It’s inevitable. It’s these plateaus that really test us and show us our true selves. Far too often we limit ourselves by “knowing “what we can or can’t do. We say, “I can’t do that,” and leave it at that. We grow accustomed to the status quo and settle into a comfortable groove. We might try to push against the wall, but as soon as it pushes back we settle back in our groove and proceed to let our self imposed limitations hold us back. If you never tell yourself what you can’t do, then you’ll never stop finding out what you can do.
I remember another great story about Bruce Lee. A student of his asked him how to kick faster. Lee’s response: “Kick faster.”