Repeat to Failure

I’ve been upping my mileage lately.  I’ve got a 50-mile race coming up in July, and my usual 100-mile “fun run” in September.  Let the training begin!

I love the extra hours outside, but I’m having trouble keeping my weight up. Yesterday, in the span of five minutes, three different people expressed concern about my evaporating waistline.  They looked startled by my appearance – as if I were a mangy stray who’d left an unwanted deposit on their front lawn.

David Carroll running-3

The trouble is, I can’t eat enough food to keep pace with my caloric output.  60 miles per week = roughly 6000 extra calories burned.  That’s a lot of fettuccine alfredo.

My friend Paul tells me I should be cross training more.  Paul is a weight lifter, and he keeps promoting this thing called “repeat to failure.”

four-hour-body-weight-lifting

You wouldn’t think that weight-lifters are the smartest people.  Paul, for instance, spends most of his free time grunting and lifting impossibly heavy discs.  And yet, weight-lifters have somehow come up with one of the most brilliant concepts of all time.

Repeat to Failure basically means you lift the maximum amount of weight possible – for a limited number of repetitions.  Whereas you might normally lift a 20-pound weight fifteen times, with repeat to failure, you’d lift double the weight – but only for five or six reps.  The idea is to stress your muscles to the point of collapse while also – and this is the tricky part – avoiding injury.

Yes, there’s pain involved.  But, as my friend Paul points out, pain is how you grow.

“Every time I lift a massive weight over my head, I’m literally shredding my back and neck his muscles,” Paul told me. “But later on, scar tissue will grow on top of those damaged muscles.  And guess what that scar tissue will turn into?  Bigger muscles!”

Repeat to Failure strikes me as a wonderful metaphor for life.  Why tread on familiar ground, over and over?  We only grow by pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones.  And the moment of our greatest failure can lead us to the threshold of our greatest success.

This is true whether you’re a weight-lifter, or a runner, or a writer, or a knitter, or a photographer, or a snake charmer or a Minecraft player.  We only get better by taking on bigger and heavier challenges.  And as much as the failures hurt, they almost always make us stronger.

Failures aren’t failures.  They’re stepping stones to success.

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