I wanted to quit today. Badly. And the sun hadn’t even risen over the mountain ridge yet. I was finishing my third speed interval on the high school track and I felt horrible. I’ve been running consistently for three years trying to get fast enough to complete a marathon in a time that will qualify me for the Boston Marathon. I can go the distance, I’ve been athletic and kept myself fit all my life, but speed eludes me.
As I rounded the corner to end the interval, the demons in my head started to talk, again:
“Why are you doing this? You aren’t getting faster.”
“You don’t need to finish the workout. Just call it a day.”
“You’ll never get to Boston. Why don’t you let this go and try something else?”
“When was the last time you felt strong out here?”
“This isn’t for you. It’s for fast people.”
“You can’t do this.”
I needed a win this morning, but all I got was another day of feeling weak and unable to hit my marks while my running partners seemed to glide effortlessly through the workout. The strong days have been few and far between, if not absent, recently. I wanted to feel like a cheetah out there, but instead I felt like a marshmallow. As I huffed and puffed my way through the short recovery walk between intervals, the voices in my head grew louder. The disappointment of defeat took hold of my chest and throat and anger began to bubble in my blood.
“I’m so done!” I yelled in my head as I considered heading home.
But then I remembered the Giant bamboo.
Giant bamboo is a term used to classify several species of bamboo that are considered the largest of their kind. Some of them can grow upwards of 100 feet. While that’s impressive, that’s not what motivated me on the track. It’s how they grow that kindled a little hope in me. Bamboo must be consistently nourished for many years with all the building blocks that help it mature and grow. During this time not much appears to happen. Outwardly they don’t grow or change much. Until one day, its growing season starts and it begins to shoot upward rapidly, using all the preparation it had in the years prior. Some have been known to grow as fast as three feet in 24 hours (that’s an inch and a half every hour!). It will keep growing quickly over the next several weeks to months until it reaches its full height. From there it will grow branches that spread out and produce leaves.
Harvested bamboo has a wide variety of uses ranging from construction materials to kitchen utensils, all of which are possible because of patience in the growing process. Neither Mother Nature nor bamboo farmers give up on nourishing the small plant because it doesn’t bloom more quickly like other trees and plants. The bamboo doesn’t give up because it is frustrated that the early years seem unproductive. They all hang in there and trust that each effort will accumulate to a large pay off in the end.
I’m not a plant and I don’t know for certain that I will have a gigantic growth spurt someday, but I do know that my consistent efforts will add up to something beneficial in the end, and in the process. That little ray of hope was just the reminder I needed this morning to pull myself out of the drag and keep going. Even with the renewed determination, though, the remaining workout was still grueling. I had to tell the demons in my head to stop talking and replace them with words of self encouragement. Each lap around the track was still physically painful. My body still had to push through its comfort zones and challenge muscle fatigue. But it was also rewarding. Just doing challenging things, regardless of the outcome, feels good, especially when they’re over.
When I got home and checked the workout stats my watch recorded objectively, I was surprised to see that I had performed much better than my body and mind had been telling me at the time. I actually hit my goals and surpassed many of them, even though in the moment I didn’t feel like I was even close. I had been discouraged by irrational assumptions and plenty of thinking errors. I’m so glad I did not give in to those self-doubting demons and cut the workout short. When I compared my target speed zones to the ones I was trying to hit a couple of years ago, I gained further evidence that I was indeed improving. I couldn’t reach those speeds when I started. I couldn’t even get close to them. But now I’m doing large sets of intervals with them. The change and progress I want to see is building within me. I can’t give up. My growth season is coming.
Not everyone is a runner but, chances are, most people are working on some kind of desired change or goal. Often it can feel that our efforts toward them are meaningless because we don’t see or feel much improvement, especially in the beginning. Growth, if any, seems to be happening so slowly. It’s tempting to give up. It’s challenging to ignore self doubt and try to be patient. When our consistent efforts aren’t working, we may rationalize the goal is better suited for someone else. But ignore it all. Don’t forget that underneath the seemingly unchanged surface, progress is brewing. It’s patiently waiting, like the bamboo, to shoot up. Keep at it!