My junior year in college, I quit basketball and decided to join my track & field team and throw the javelin. I picked javelin because I wanted to join the T&F team, but I didn’t want to run (funny, huh?).
The first thing I noticed about track and field compared to basketball is that there’s a standard.
Everyone knows where they stand.
With basketball, you can talk about lineups, fit, intangibles and a bunch of other ethereal stuff that’s hard to measure in real life.
With track & field, it’s much more straightforward.
Either you hit the mark or you don’t.
You beat the other guy or you don’t.
You have either can make the time or you can throw the distance or you can’t.
That’s all there is to it.
It’s the standard and there’s no confusion about whether or not you’ve achieved it.
It’s simple, clear and uncompromising.
You either make the standard or you don’t.
In short, it’s a hell of a race:
- 100 miles
- 5 loops.
- 10 miles of climbing.
Lots of people apply for it. 40 will run it. Very few people finish.
Good runners fail never get close. Great runners fail all the time.
Up until this year, only 14 runners have finished the race.
This year, one person finished it…and one *almost did.*
Everyone else dropped out.
John Kelly finished the race about 30 minutes before the time cutoff. The 15th person to finish in 40 years.
Gary Robbins “finished” loop #5 and got turned around in the fog at the very end of the course. Because of that, he ended up inadvertantly taking a shortcut by about 2 miles and missed the cutoff time by six seconds.
In most places, he’d be given the benefit of the doubt. After all, he:
- Ran 100(ish) miles!
- Climbed 10+ miles of elevation
- …for 60 hours
- Swam through rivers
And you could make up tons of more reasons on why he worked so hard…so “let’s just give it to him.”
But that’s not the standard.
And doing so would have diminished both the standard of the race and the athlete.
Everyone could tell how agonizing it was that he had narrowly missed it.
As he finished the run, he said “I’ve got all the pages” (the way Barkley does unmanned checkpoints that you’re required to find), as he fell down exhausted.
The race director counted the pages out of curiosity, but both he and Gary knew what the standard was.
He was exhausted, but he did not finish.
He pulled himself off the ground, gave the race director a hug and (might) try to reload for next year.
The race director made a statement afterwards that because he was coming the wrong way to the finish line, Robbins had not just missed the finish line by 6 seconds, but actually cut the course by 2 miles (albeit accidentally).
Either you make the standard or you don’t.
What’s your standard? Do you have one?
And that’s what’s great about the standard.
It’s not mean, it’s not personal, it just is.
What makes Barkley so unique is that it is so punishing and uncompromising.
Very few people finish it…but if you do…that’s what makes it special…
Have a standard. Aim for it. Respect it when you fall short.
Then get back up and do it again.
I’ve been working on some of my own standards here at Impossible that you can use as a benchmark, stay tuned…
p.s. If you want to read Gary’s story, read this. If you want to watch the agony of missing the standard (by six seconds and 2 miles), watch this.
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