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  • Writer's pictureCoach Knickerbocker

The Unknowable You

How is it possible for an individual to run 100 miles? Or 200 miles?

Courtney Dauwalter is an ultra distance runner. She regularly competes in races that can go one for upwards of 48 hours or more. She takes short breaks in this time period and has a support team of people that are essentially her pit crew, but she is essentially on her own. Just her, in her own private pain cave, accompanied by the unending brain chatter that I presume is trying to derail her most of the time.

Here's a short documentary on Courtney that I found to be illuminating. It reminded me of two things: 1. A question that I have posed to many groups of masters women.

2. The concept of having a "demon" inside you. An indescribable source of motivation that drives you forward through "the pain cave" or through an incredibly difficult period in your life.

First, have a look at the documentary.

Then keep reading.

Do you have any idea what you're capable of achieving?

Think about that for a minute.

I'll ask again.

Read it slow.

Do you know what you are actually CAPABLE of ACHIEVING?

Of course you don't.

One never knows what one is capable of until one is tested.

You could be tested in a myriad of ways, physically, mentally, emotionally.

You could be tested athletically by being physically pushed to what you believe is your limit. Only to then realize that the limit you thought was a hard wall is in fact malleable. Crunchy on the outside, yet soft on the inside, like a rice krispy treat. It feels hard when you press on it, but push hard enough and you'll push right through it.

Yep, that's what you THINK your limit is but you are actually capable of so much more.

You could also be tested mentally by being placed in a situation you feel completely unprepared for but nevertheless have to perform. Maybe like coxing a race for the first time without having really been coached on how to do that. Or getting into a boat to race for the first time. A situation that's not completely out of the realm of possibility for masters rowers.

Even if you have been coached just the mere fact of doing something like that for the first time can cause one to question their capabilities. Of course your capable of doing the thing, it's just a matter of being exposed to it, taking on the challenge of it, and being open to learning about yourself through it.

So maybe it's exposure to the unknown that helps us to better understand what we're capable of? You try something you've never tried before and realize, Yes, I can do that.

Are you a woman that never engaged in any type of athletic activity and are now rowing? Did you ever think that you would be capable of getting into a boat with 8 others, doing something so technically, physically and mentally challenging, and enjoying it?

I suspect not. Now that you know you're capable of doing that, what else could you be capable of doing?

For those out there that do not think they will ever achieve the greatness that they want to achieve, the first step is to actually believe you are CAPABLE of achieving that thing. The next step is to be MOTIVATED to achieve that thing.

So whether your goal is to break 4' on that 1K, or race in a boat at the HOCR, or get into a single and compete, review what you've done in your life and remind yourself of how much you've been able to accomplish. Some of which you probably never thought you could accomplish.

Take a good long look at those.

They are not in your imagination.

They are REAL, and they count for something.


A Conscious Decision

In order for you to expand your capabilities though you must make a conscious decision to do something you have never done before. It is these exact opportunities that you actually give yourself that further your understanding of yourself and your limitless potential.

In addition, since you are the one giving this opportunity to yourself, you create a powerful personal momentum because YOU control it. You decide what it's going to look like.

How many things that happen in your life can you say that about?

So when's the last time you did that? When was the last time you made a conscious decision to attempt something that seemed like a stretch?

Let's take the breaking of the 4' masters barrier on the 1k for example.

Does considering that as a possibility test your self-concept?

If the answer is yes, then that's exactly where you should start.

You have to make the decision to reach outside of the limits you have placed on yourself. Whether those limits be age based, ability based, experienced based, time based, whatever.

Those perceived limitations are self-imposed and come from someone deep inside you that still believes they are true.

You: Ok Coach so let's say I do make that decision and go for it and it still doesn't happen. Is there a limit to my capability?

In other words what happens when you attempt something, you do your best, and still you fail? You don't break that 4' on your 1k test.

Does that mean you're not capable of achieving that next level?

In my humble opinion it doesn't mean that at all! Unless you decide to accept that experience of failure at face value.

"I failed and so I'm done. I'm not meant to achieve this particular level."

I call BS on that sister-friend!

As I've said before Failure (yes, with a capital F) is a liar.

The thing that failure wants you to believe is that you can't do it or it can't be done.

That's the big con that failure lives off of.

The two things that you can take away from your conversation with failure are these:

1. It is only in THAT moment you were unable to achieve the thing. This is not a global moment or a forever result. It is simply this one singular moment.

It is just This Now, but it doesn't have to be the Next Now.

2. You are now stronger and more capable of achieving this thing after failure because you KNOW what didn't work, what mentally or physically held you back, what you need to do differently.

It means that in some other moment, given different circumstances, better training, better mental preparation, a supportive team or teammate behind you, you in fact COULD achieve the thing and therefore increase what you originally thought you were capable of.


The Demon(s) Inside You

Of course there are some things that maybe you're not going to accomplish no matter what your capabilities are. For example I'm not going to achieve summiting Mt. Everest, but that's not because I don't have the capability to do that.

It's because I am not motivated to accomplish that particular thing.

If I really had a burning desire to summit Mt Everest I would train, mentally prepare, get educated on the process, save the money to undertake the expedition, etc. I would have the motivation (the demon) inside me to accomplish this.

Which brings me to number two on the list, the "demon" inside you. That indescribable motivator that lives inside all of us that drives us to do challenging things and to stretch our self-concept of our capabilities.

To be clear The Demon is another level of motivation. One can have motivation and accomplish things bigger than what they thought they could accomplish, but having a demon means that you step outside of yourself and leave everything by the side of the road in order to achieve the thing you thought unachievable.

The Demon is absolute. She is unforgiving in the way she drives you forward. She is unrelenting in her pursuit of greatness. She is the blinder that you put on once you've made the conscious decision to extend yourself outside of you.

What about that other demon? You know the one.

The one that is negative. The one that does everything she can to stop you from achieving your next level.

How about that one? How often do you let her speak and ignore her sister?

Is it easier to hear one over the other?

I'll bet it is.

I'll bet that the demon you have a closer relationship with is the one that stands directly in front of you with her arms crossed saying,

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Have a conversation with your demons. Get to know both of them.

Which has more influence over you? The demon that pushes you forward? Or the demon that convinces you to stay put.

Understand the why behind her.

Is she driving you to achieve just a little bit more than you did yesterday, last month, last year.

Or is she the voice in your ear telling you you've gone far enough, why waste your time?

Get to know your demons, both good and bad.

What is that thing in Courtney Dauwalter that drives her to find a place of possibility from inside "the pain cave"? Did she know she was capable of that level of exertion both physically and mentally?

Of course not.

Did she listen to the demon of denial? Of course not.

She's embraced the demon inside her that pushed her on. And because of that she now has access to that demon at exactly the moment she needs her.

So again I ask you, do you know what you're capable of achieving?

If the answer is no. Which I suspect and hope it is. Then the obligation you have to you is to explore the possibilities of this unknown.

It's all an exploration of your internal driver. It's not how quick your catches are or whether you have set in the boat or what the call is for the sprint. Those considerations have their moments certainly, but this is just for you, just about you. Ultimately those technical/fitness factors will not carry the day. They will not bouy you through the pain cave. You embracing the demon inside you that wants to see you achieve greatness, will.

It's you pushing your limits, or what you think are your limits, only to find that they are not limits at all but rather concepts or beliefs that you've held for a long time about what you're capable of.

You are capable of so much that is, right now, unknown to you!

Time to explore the unknowable: You, the demons inside you, and your next level of great capability.

Row hard, Row well, Compete, Have fun.

Coach Knickerbocker

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