I recently finished an entertaining read entitled The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon.
In short, the book examines a 1925 expedition into the depths of the Amazon jungle led by Percy Fawcett. Specifically, Fawcett was looking for El Dorado (or 'The City of Z' as he called it.
Ultimately, Fawcett and his team would disappear never to be heard from again. But, Fawcett inspired countless people to search for El Dorado.
Undoubtedly, The exploits of Fawcett acted as a catalyst for countless others to head off on quests and expeditions...some of which likely were ill fated.
I've always been intrigued by people like Fawcett (and Ernest Shackleton) who largely eschew convention and boldly (or foolishly) venture into the great unknown hoping to uncover something that no one has ever seen before.
Honestly, can anyone really say they don't at least like the idea of discovering something novel or extraordinary?
The glorious age of exploration that Fawcett was a part of has long since come and gone as virtually every corner of the earth has been discovered and explored (or will be soon).
What's left for the mere mortal to explore? Outer space is a frontier that the majority of us will never have an opportunity to explore in any substantive way.
But, arguably, as runners we're all explorers and the territory we explore is perhaps more mysterious and enigmatic than any corner of the Amazon jungle.
I've been exploring since I was 15 years old and each expedition I've undertaken whether success or failure was the result almost inevitably served as a catalyst to explore even more.
When I first started running, simply running 3 miles was an expedition fraught with all kinds of pain, peril, and the unknown. Once I 'discovered' my body was up to this task, I explored running farther eventually going as far as 10 miles which seemed a staggering distance and TRULY an 'expedition' in every sense of the word.
Conquering 10 miles led to an expedition that was more about 'speed' as distance seemed to be something my body could handle, I wondered how 'fast' my body could travel. Countless miles and track workouts later, I still don't really know the answer to this question, so I continue exploring.
Multiple marathons and PR's later, I am still searching for the outer limits of what my body can support when I am out on the road, still exploring the uncharted. While I have a 'vague' sense of what I can do, the reality is that I don't really know....and nobody does and that never fails to excite me to embark on yet another expedition.
There are trails I've never run. There are events I've never completed. There are places my running shoes have never touched.
But, independent of the externally visible and tangible, there is the intangible and the unquantifiable.
There is a race inside of me that lies in wait for the right training, the right conditions, and the alignment of the stars. My genetic limits are ultimately unknown to me. Just as I imagine your true limits are unknown to you.
Many thought Fawcett was crazy, but years later it would prove to be true that indeed complex civilizations existed in the Amazon jungle. A city of gold perhaps not, but his instincts were right and ultimately one could argue his expedition was not in vain.
I would not encourage anyone to run themselves into the ground (or the hospital), but I would encourage everyone to be an 'explorer'. Explore a distance just beyond your grasp. Explore a speed that is unfamiliar to you.
Explore the limits of what you can support and chances are this will give you the confidence to explore even more.