Back in the early 2000’s, I entered college and joined Reserve Officer Training Program (ROTC), a college course that leads directly into the Army upon graduation. Not even able to pass the basic fitness test required for the Army, I started working out to improve. How does someone go from, “failed two of the three Army fitness events” to a Special Forces soldier and Professional Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) athlete who specializes in ultra-distance events? It’s a slippery slope but here are four techniques and lessons that I learned through trial and error that you can apply to your own training: 

1. Set short, medium, and long term goals: 

My first goal in ROTC was simply to pass the physical fitness test. Medium term goal included getting the physical fitness badge (aka a good score), and long term (within four years) was to max the fitness test. As I reached those goals, often ahead of schedule, I would adjust my next short, medium, and long term goals. Short term goals were always in the next four months to keep me focused, medium term goals were 1-2 years away, and long term goals were about 4-5 years away. Towards the end of college, it turned into a marathon for a short term goal, iron distance triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) as a medium term goal, and for the long term goal, Ranger School (possibly the hardest military school in the Army). I’ve continued to plan and adjust goals every year for the last 20 years, which has led to some wild events like the self-created Endure The Gauntlet (48 hour multi-lap of one of the hardest OCRs at their hardest venue in the hottest weather for charity).

2. Sign up for something on the edge of your capability:  

As I achieved goals, I found that when I signed up for an event and put it on the calendar, it provided me a hard deadline that require preparation. The choice was always prepare properly or suffer immensely on race day. I would like to tell you I always prepared to the best of my ability but that’s not true. I definitely learned some hard lessons on what it takes to really prepare and train, but I always found the finish line. The persistent nudging of your upper limit can take you to wild levels especially if you…

3. Never stop trying to improve:  

If you aren’t actively trying to improve, you’re probably falling behind. Everyone eventually stops trying to improve, but most stop trying to improve well before they reach their peak physical potential. They give up after a year or after a couple of years of training. To quote legendary marathon runner Bill Rodgers,

“To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month or even one year - but for a lifetime.”

Which leads me to…

4. Consistency is king:  

I’ve never been the strongest. I’ve never been the fastest and I’ve never had the best endurance.  However, when people meet me, they automatically assume I’ve been running 24 hour Ultra-OCRs and finishing on the podiums of races my whole life. The truth is, I’ve had a very steady and slow rate of improvement for the last two decades. As others peak and fall away from fitness I’ve just continued to grind away, often to a point that would seem unreasonable. Nothing glamourous about it, just consistent work. I’m not always the hardest worker, but I’ve been so consistent for so long, it has led to some substantial improvements. The guys I used to envy for their speed or strength in high school, college and my early years in the military, I have physically surpassed in almost all aspects of fitness. 

For many, myself included, endurance sports are a slippery slope. After running my first marathon in 2003 I said, “never again.” Since that Marine Corps Marathon, I’ve covered 26.2 miles more times than I can feasibly count. After my treadmill marathon I said “never again” but I’ve run another, plus did a 100 mile treadmill run spread out over a weekend and a 24 hour treadmill run with obstacles every mile for charity. After 2016’s OCR America I did 7 days of OCR marathons at 7 different venues in June and said “never again.”  However, in late January 2020 I finished 8 days of OCR marathons at 8 venues in the middle of winter. I tell you this not to brag, but to show that when you have an attitude that involves goal settingalways pushing the limit just a little bit further by trying to improve and consistency, your capability will take you to a level that you never dreamed possible. These incremental steps can take you to a level you once thought impossible, the only question is, how high are you going to go?      

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