I decided this year to scratch a few things off of my fitness "bucket list" and I have four weeks until the fun begins but along the way I have discovered a few things...
One of the biggest events in this area every year is The Gate River Run. It is the largest 15-K race in the country and it involves some pretty challenging stretches over several bridges, the last of which is a half-mile climb at 6.0 degrees about 8 miles into the race. I have never been at a fitness level that I felt comfortable attempting this until this year (I do not want to be one of those people who walk the thing in 6 hours and then talk about how they "run" the event every year) but so far training is going quite well and I am right on schedule.
I must admit I keep surprising myself by pushing the pace faster than I ever thought possible and I am amazed at how much the mental side of things gets in your way. It is so easy to get into a mindset about what your limits are but I keep finding that this is simply not the case. For example... I usually just do squats at 225 pounds for three sets of 12, but I have never really pushed to see what my maximum weight was. So, one day, I decided to punch the numbers into a 1RM calculator and it came back that I should be able to do 405. My first thought was, "no way". Being the curious type however, I rounded up a couple of buddies to rescue me if needed and headed to the power rack. After loading up what seemed to me to be an absurd amount of weight, I found much to my surprise that I was able to put it up not once, but twice. I was truly amazed.
I made a similar discovery by using a different calculator that translated VO2max numbers into running times to see what my theoretical time on a 5-K would be given my lab-measured level of fitness. Again, much to my amazement, the predicted number was so much beyond that which I had ever attempted I thought it to be impossible. Nevertheless, one day I hopped on the treadmill, punched in the predicted pace and started running. A half mile became 1, then 2, and then 3 and before I knew it, I found myself running the distance just about 8 minutes faster than what I once thought to be my best effort... this, despite my expectation that I would not last even a mile at that pace. I exceeded my preconceptions in every way.
My takeaway is this... don't let your mind get in the way of your progress. Set some goals, use whatever tools are at your disposal to make them a realistic challenge. Do not simply pick some arbitrary number that sounds good. We always underestimate ourselves and in the process short-change our progression. Try it, take up the challenge and be ready to amaze yourself with your capabilities.