“I had always imagined an Olympic champion was something more than a mere mortal; in fact, a god. Now I knew he was just a human being.”

Murray Halberg, 1960 Olympic 5000m Champion

You do not have to be a super-human to win a gold medal. You do have to work extraordinarily hard and be extraordinarily lucky. First, though, you have to want it and, mostly, you have to believe it.

I don’t mean “believe it” in the hackneyed “anything is possible if you believe in it” fairytale. I mean calibrating your brain to the point where a goal becomes an entitlement.

Kenyans live at altitude. They eat entirely organic meals. They run, mostly, on hilly, soft surfaces. Lots of runners do that, however. Kenyan success lays in the Kenyans calibration of “fast”: to be fast in Kenya means finishing in the front group at the Saturday Fartlek, and the front group is full of gold-medalists and world-record holders.

Fast is relative.

I ran my first race against my younger brother. He and his cross country friends set out to break thirty minutes– or sub-six-minute pace– in the Turkey Trot and I, the older brother, set out to beat him. My brother broke thirty minutes. I dropped out after two miles. After that, “fast,” to me, meant sub-six-minute pace.

Ten months later, in my first five-kilometer race, I tried to break nineteen. In my next five-mile race, I tried to break thirty, failed, then succeeded in the following Turkey Trot.

I ran a ten-miler and broke sixty. I ran a half marathon and broke one-nineteen. A year and a half later I ran a full marathon and broke two-thirty-eight.

It didn’t matter that I had no business running those times– I set out to run “fast,” and fast meant sub-six-minute pace. My brain and legs were calibrated.

When setting goals, think of what “fast” means to you and calibrate accordingly.

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