Concrete Wall Principle

Running long distance is akin to painstakingly poking my eye with a stick repeatedly.

True story.

My background in running saw me sticking to the shortest possible distance to be covered in the fastest amount of time. The thought of doing anything more was not pleasant, although several coaches had tried to convince me otherwise. I hated the thought of gravitating to something as long as a 1500 meter race! It is odd to say that now because for years I've concentrated my running on nothing less than 10 kilometres. The more I hated running, the further I ran. 

In 2001, I saw a poster that said "Life is not a sprint. It is a long distance race." While the words were simple, something inside me changed after reading them. A spark was lit and long distance running became my sport and a meditative place. How could a simple set of words have such a transformative impact on me? 


are inventions of the mind.

they can only be destroyed by changing our thinking".


I came to realize then that concrete walls are really just the barriers we've built in our own mind to tell ourselves the lie that we have no right in attempting to do that difficult thing we are thinking about. In the literal sense, concrete walls can deter us from proceeding. They can have a psychological impact on our belief systems and control us. Over time, they can break us down into nothing if we let them. It is so very important to realize that a concrete wall is just that, a wall. Just as walls are meant to deter people from entering, walls can be scaled, cracked, and torn down. With the mental belief that it can be done, walls can come crumbling down. 

No where else was this feat more obvious to me then when I was training for my first Ironman. When training for such an event in central Canada, it's inevitable that some training will need to be done indoors on a bike trainer to give ones legs the necessary miles needed to prepare for the race. Cycling indoors can be boring at best. There is really nothing exciting about it, and while there are many new technologies and applications that exist to make it more exciting, it is quite easy to fall into the trap of not putting in the serious work that is needed. I discovered early on that relying on an outside stimulus was only a trap. Nothing good could come from it. I made a decision that I was not going to rely on music, television, or anything else. I wanted each ride indoors to be a period of deep concentration where I could develop my mind to rely solely on my internal motivation. My feeling was that in the heart of the battle, no theme song is going to come on to light me up! To achieve this purity of self reliance, I literally setup my bike in front of a concrete wall. There, I would ride for hours just staring at the wall, putting in the hard work, concentrating on the task and numbing my mind to anything else. I did this for many hours and road many miles staring at nothing but a blank stimulus.

Why did I do this?

My motto during that phase of my life and training was "get comfortable with the uncomfortable". I knew enough about Ironman to know that somewhere in the race I was going to face a decision. That decision would be to either quit or keep going. I knew I would need the strength to ignore the lie that I could not finish the race and to quiet the voice in my head telling me to take the easy way out. I knew I was not the first athlete to deal with that concept and this was my way of training for that battle. And, it paid off! Half way through the marathon phase of the race, dehydration set in and the wheels were coming off. A good friend of mine reminds me often that he could barley recognize me because of how pale I was versus how I had looked earlier in the race. As I approached an aid station at the midway point, a volunteer tried to slow me down to take on some electrolytes. I may have gruffly told her not to touch me. Shortly after that aid station, something clicked in me as I saw a runner go by. My mind realized that I was not going to take the easy way out. I was committed to the grind regardless of how I was feeling. I hunkered down and followed the feet of the runner ahead of me, quickening my pace and settling in for 13 more miles in the humid New York weather. I crossed the finish line outside of my goal but I did not take the easy way out. The pain was temporary as the saying goes and I enjoyed an IV line of electrolytes in the medical tent afterwards. 

So, what is the lesson in all this?

We live in a modern society with all the comforts that go along with it. I think many of us have lost touch with what it really means to be uncomfortable, which weakens our armour. Most days I think it is easy to ignore the issue because we have solutions at the touch of a button. The problem becomes obvious though when we face a real crisis or barrier that must be overcome, whether that be a physical challenge or something else. I think we can be all well served by keeping in mind the following:


1. Life, similar to physical pursuits, comes at you hard.

2. We must Drown out the outside noise.

3. To succeed, we must concentrate on breaking through the barrier by keeping the end in sight. 


A never quit attitude takes time to develop and can serve all of us well. Like Rocky Balboa said, "you, me, or nobody is going to hit as hard as life. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward." Be assured that we all have barriers to face. There will be a lot of things we encounter in life that we have absolutely no desire to do. We should remember that all of them exist to help us grow.

If we drown out the outside noise and stare down the concrete wall, I promise you, if you stare hard enough, that wall will come crumbling down. 

- John