Introducing: The 17 out of 20 Rule
There are long hills, there are steep hills and there are damn hills. Each is a challenge in its own way.
The path I run has a section with a long low hill, followed by a steep hill. The steep hill levels off to cross a road and on the other side of the road the hill takes back over and climbs on. It’s that third section of the hill that makes me want to quit. With every step, I have to consciously tell my brain to think “Yes. Go,” instead of “No. Quit.”
When I come to the third hill, the ‘damn’ hill, I am spent. My quads are oxygen depleted and complaining as vigorously as they can to get me to quit. Since I don’t want to give up, I’ll look around and if no one is coming up or down the trail, I’ll cheat: I turn my body sideways and grapevine up the hill. With this method, I use different muscles that are not in anarchy. I get the psychological benefit of not quitting and it’s not only less painful, it works out a new set of muscles.
On a hot day last week, I spun to my side and began grapevining up, twisting my hips and arms back and forth with each grapevine step, really going at it — if I’m going to grapevine, I’m going to get the most out of it. On this day, just as I swung my arms from pointing down the hill to up the hill, I smacked right into a man running downhill. “Sorry!” I gasped and offered a bit more explanation, “I didn’t see you, and was just, you know, grapevining because.” He ran past, apparently more interested in getting down hill than in my explanation.
At the top of the hill, I saw a good, old friend walking her dog and stopped to talk to her. A minute or two later along comes the same guy back up the hill. Right after he passed us at the top of the hill, he turned and picked his way back down the hill.
As my friend and I chatted and I continued to catch my breath, two more times he ran up, turned and skipped down.
On the fourth time, as he ran past me, I clapped my hands and yelled “Go! Go! Go!”
On the sixth time as he jogged down the hill, I shouted, “How about one more! You have one more in you, don’t you?”
Over his shoulder he said, “This is seventeen out of twenty.”
For a couple of years, I have been running this same track, struggling up the same hills and every hill was a struggle. Yet, I was determined. Even when I wanted to walk, was desperate to stop, I wouldn’t. My mind would be pleading “No! Quit!” and I would correct it “Yes! Go!” I might grapevine, but I kept going. And still every time, with maybe one or two exceptions, that hill kicked my butt.
As I watched him run back down the hill I realized that I didn’t begin to know what it meant to run up that hill. I was just playing at it. He was committed.
Now when I want to be better at something I ask myself, are you going for 20? Have I put in 17 out of 20 effort? Or am I really just doing the equivalent of one trip up the hill every few days?
So now, I tell myself: that damn hill, in fact, any damn hill in my life, can kick my butt all it wants. But it’s going to have to kick my butt three times this run, and four reps each run next week. Until I get to twenty.
What else am I truly 17/20 committed to?