Hercules was half god. Let’s just be clear about that. The guy could basically do anything that he wanted. As I remember from watching the Disney version, he was so good…he was bored. Been there, done that. He was bored because he knew that he would win until a challenge came along that the outcome was greatly in question.
Many athletes go into a race campaign with a goal in mind. They want to improve their time and set a PR, Personal Record. They want to beat their co-worker or place higher in their Age Group or successfully complete the distance. Everyone goes into it with a challenge in mind. Usually these challenges are based on their past performances relative to themselves. These challenges are a fantastic way to focus and fuel the fires of training, participation and racing. They are engaging enough to help you get out of bed in the early mornings and get out the door for a training session on a consistent basis, but they are not always important enough to them to truly define who they are or publicly declare a success or failure. The goals are largely personal and private. But, sometimes, people take on a challenge that is bigger than them. They take on something Herculean.
In my mind a Herculean Challenge comes about when the achievement is set by the community not by the individual and the outcome ranges from the unknown to the seemingly impossible. A great example of this is Qualifying for the Boston or New York Marathons. Those qualifying times have been set by generations of runners logging a time and then history has set the standard to beat to gain access to that elite population. Those feats are Herculean because they don’t happen at the drop of a hat. Statistically, a runner completes about 10 marathons before they finally achieve a Boston Qualifying time. 9 marathons of trying and coming up short until finally success and an earned opportunity to race in Boston in mid April.
The Herculean challenge is actually boiled down to three simple concepts. The first is your willingness to put yourself in a situation where the odds of failure are statistically enormous and the second is your belief in the possibility of success is equally as enormous. I’ll save number three for later.
Frank has always been good at choosing a Herculean task every few years. He started his Herculean resume by doing his first marathon as a self-coached casual tennis player. He ran it in the 5 ½ hour range. As he progressed, the 4 hour, then the Boston Qualifying time of 3:20, then breaking 3:10 all became goals that, at first glance, seemed a respectful over reach and ripe for failure. But he always came through and increased his commitment to training and taking care of his health and body and was victorious in each one of those campaigns.
At the end of last year, Frank came to me with the goal of breaking the 3 hour mark for the marathon. His PR was just under 3:08 and that was stretching things to the limit as he started knocking of the door of turning 50. He knew it was a long shot. He knew that things would be on very tight margins and the room for error was just about nil. But, his passion to try was unwavering.
As training progressed, his fitness wasn’t adapting as we hoped. Benchmarks we being missed and questions about how realistic the expectation of running sub 3 hours was started to creep in. But Frank stayed committed and focused so we adjusted and moved forward. Things started coming together as race day neared and the weather on race day was perfect. His nutrition seemed to be right on and the miles floated by quickly and better than expected.
Frank’s time was 3:03 and change.
He came up short. He certainly gave it all he had and ran the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon with the confidence and belief that the end of the day would yield the result he was focused on, but it didn’t happen.
This is where the third concept of a Herculean task comes into play. What happens after the failure?
Some people can fathom the experience of standing on the foul line with 2 seconds left and your team down by one in the Championship Finals. They can’t comprehend digging into the batter’s box with bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th with two outs and two strikes. But what most people can’t fathom and comprehend most is the desire to be that person stepping up to the line or knocking the dirt off their shoes.
My friend Todd told me that once back in high school. He wanted to be in the position to be the hero or the goat. He wanted the Herculean moment of saving the day. It takes a unique personality to step in to that public moment and reap or suffer the consequences. Needless to say, Todd is taking his second trip to the IM World Championships next October.
If you actually have watched the Disney Hercules movie, you know that the writers did the expected job of creating the doubt that he would taste victory over his biggest challenge. He was broken down and defeated and all seemed lost. For those BQ runners that I mentioned earlier, after they missed their qualifying time again, they go out and buy new shoes and sign up for their next marathon and try again. For Jesse Davis, he signed up for his unknown-th marathon this year to run to his Olympic Trials 2:18 qualifying time to make it by the skin of his teeth. That is what happens? They step up and look for the next opportunity to tempt failure once again. Frank did the same. The wounds of narrowly missing his time target had barely stopped bleeding when he was once again talking about the next chance to hunt down the 3 hour barrier.