Balancing Potential

AJWs TaproomAs a teacher and coach for the past 25 years, I have spent a fair amount of time working with students and athletes on balancing their potential. As we ultrarunners know quite well, potential can be a tricky thing. Success at one distance or in one type of terrain does not always transfer across disciplines. Furthermore, attempting to evaluate potential based on typical objective factors that may work in other endurance endeavors does not really work as well for ultrarunners. Therefore, in that context, balancing potential becomes both a science and an art and requires a simultaneous focus on past, present, and future.

I have become acutely aware of this balance for my own potential as I return from a long period of injury and major surgery. Certainly, I have a 20-year running career to look back on in an attempt to assess my future but in many ways, after so much time off, I am actually starting over. With that re-start comes both the excitement and freshness of doing something new and the fear and anxiety of possibly dashed expectations. That’s where the delicate balance comes into play.

When I look back over the years at some of my most successful students and athletes they were often not the ones with the most talent nor were they necessarily the ones with the best work ethic; rather, they were most often the ones who seemed to be keenly aware of their potential and never lost sight of where it might take them. Even now, as I am working with a handful of runners preparing for big summer 100 milers, I see the art and the science of potential assessment emerging anew.

For me, running has always been a rather timeless endeavor. Regardless of fitness, conditions, age, and attitude, simply putting one foot in front of the other has always given me a welcome respite from the rest of life. In this act, I can take stock of my present while longing for the past and dreaming of the future. Running has, since I first started, been as much about who I am as it is what I do. And when it comes to seeking answers about what’s ahead, it has never disappointed.

Certainly, reflecting on the past can make us better, stronger runners and staying centered in the present can undoubtedly provide occasional transcendent experiences, but something about the hope and promise of a future we have yet to imagine is perhaps running’s greatest gift. On those golden days when all goes well, running makes me into the best version of myself I know and fills me with joy for a future in which I can have faith. My dreams simply become bigger on those days. And it is those dreams, ultimately, that provide the most enduring value of balancing potential.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Green Flash 30th Street Pale AleThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Green Flash Brewing Company in San Diego, California. Known for their award winning IPAs, Green Flash’s 30th Street Pale Ale in an excellent American Pale Ale with toned-down hops and a rich, almost fruity flavor. Sessionable at 6% ABV, it is a great beer for the arrival of spring!

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Do you prefer to honestly evaluate and strive toward your potential or shoot for the moon?
  • Do you aim to maximize your potential for particular events/goals or more generally?

There are 3 comments

  1. Ski

    Another great article AJW, as always your opinions, particularly in the last two paragraphs resonate with my own views on running and life. Hope being runnings greatest gift, is an excellent insight, and with that said, in response to Bryon’s call for comments, I would say that I shoot for the moon. I by no means think that this the best approach, it has often left me discontent with my running and other areas of my life. However, when I consider the alternative of being realistic and complacent, life seems less interesting. When considering whether I should reassess my priorities, an obscure lyric from the Rolling Stones comes to my mind, “loose your dreams and you will loose your mind.” Basically, I realize that I may never achieve all of my goals or see my dreams become a reality, but the thought of life without them seems bleak.

  2. Nelson Prater

    Thanks for another Friday morning treat, AJW. Fridays are typically a rest day for me – resting on Fridays tends to make for a better time on the Saturday morning long runs. But, I couldn’t let a 62-degree morning slip by – I had to run today. There is great hope for the future with spring on its way. And Easter. Renewal and rebirth. I could go for one of those long runs that leave the running shoes squishy right about now – those are coming too. And that trail run on May 14 in the “whispering pines” of East Texas. That I bought a new tent for. Lots to look forward to for sure.

  3. Will Marshall

    I am somewhat proud to say that I do not focus on specificity and thus my potential in ultra marathons will always be limited. I will never take the top 5 spots, but it is still great to be out there in nature and to connect with new people.

    From a coaching perspective, you are definitely right. As you mentioned in the second paragraph, potential comes in to play all the time when athletes have injuries or when they start to get older and a reassessment of priorities (age group vs overall finish) needs to take place.

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