Dan Waldschmidt

by Dan Waldschmidt

April 10, 2019

74 Miles, 12 Lessons, 3 Broken Toes And 1 Finish Line.

I weighed 168 pounds. With all my gear on. 

The only reason why I know that is because I was required to step on a scale and be measured. It was the Arkansas Traveller 100 — and my first 100-mile ultra-marathon. 

The reason for being weighed sounds absurd at first. But if you lose too much weight during the event, the race officials automatically force you to quit, as that is usually a sign of rapid dehydration. And then death. 

Flash forward 5 years and I’ve attempted a whole bunch of ultra events — from races to setting records and a few other crazy things in between. 

I’ve always been prepared for my races.

At least as much as you can be. 

Physically, your body goes through massive amounts of struggle to complete an ultra event. 

Ar first you feel fine. And then you don’t — for a long time. Being prepared physically prepares your body for the inevitable pounding that it’s going to receive. 

The mental side of these challenges needs just as much preparation. But if you know you’re prepared physically that certainly helps what you think about while you’re running. 

Obviously, if you haven’t trained well and don’t feel like you are capable of finishing, your mind is going to remind you of that every step of the way. 

It’s all crazy and ridiculous to most people — but I’ve just not found anything else in life that mirrors the journey to success like running an ultra-marathon. 

I tell you all of that to share a few important lessons I learned a week ago running the hardest ultra-marathon I’ve ever attempted. 

Aptly called the Georgia Death Race, it lived up to its name. 

I had to drop out last year after 13 miles due to what we thought was a broken leg. Thankfully, it just turned out to be a bunch of broken ligaments and an extreme strain on my right ankle. 

Going into the race, I can’t say that my fitness has been as strong as it has been in the past. 

Far from it. I’ve been so busy with work and family that I’ve cut my running miles each week in half. 

Imagine getting ready to run the toughest race of your life and knowing that you are not physically ready to attempt to challenge.

And, you’re at least 10 pounds out of fighting shape. 

To say I was nervous was an understatement. I had basically decided in my head that I was going to drop out of the race a few days before the race instead of making a fool out of myself by quitting in the middle of it. 

But Sara pushed me hard to not take the easy way out. Multiple times she kept telling me: “You’re stronger than you think you are. Just go out there and do it.”

Over and over again. She kept reminding me

It wasn’t until a few days before the race that I actually committed in my head to make it happen. You’ve been there before — where you just get angry at yourself for thinking like a loser — and you decide to do something about it.

It was decided.

My longtime running buddy, Will, and I were going to take on this race together — all 74-ish miles. 

And we did. He finished in 33rd place, and I was 2 seconds behind, in 34th place — where 50% of the people who started the race quit, despite the beautiful weather. 

About 25 miles into the race I rolled my left ankle. We took a few minutes to walk it out and then we kept running. Two miles after that I tripped over a rock sticking out of the ground and smashed up three of the toes on my left foot. An hour later, all the toes on that foot were numb. 

As Will, who was in better shape than me, surged ahead throughout the day, a single thought kept racing through my mind: “Stay with him. Stay with him. Find it inside yourself. Just stay with him.” 

You start the day by counting the aid stations. Then, you start by taking off the miles. At some point you just find yourself taking one step after another.

Whatever it takes to get across to finish line. 

I started running that morning at 5:00 a.m. It was 18 hours, and a few minutes — just after 11:00 p.m. — that I finished. 

I can’t even begin to express to you how painful it was. My head was full of negative baggage. My body felt clunky and out of sync. And I just wanted to be anywhere else but in the hills of Georgia running an impossible race. 

To say I learned a few lessons would be an understatement. 

Life is about lessons. A painful moment like that is about transformation.

Here are a couple of key takeaways that were reinforced:

  1. You don’t have to be in perfect shape to accomplish an outrageous goal. You just have to be willing to try.
  2. Go out of your way to surround yourself with friends and influences who push you out of your comfort zone.
  3. You can’t wait until you feel ready to commit. Commit now and then work towards getting ready.
  4. When you feel like quitting, tell yourself to do it later. It’s easier than saying no and accomplishes the same thing.
  5. The moment you quit everything feels better. You either have to live with the shame of giving up on yourself or the glory of having crossed to finish line.
  6. Most people give up on themselves too soon. Don’t be one of those people.
  7. Confidence in one part of your life always helps the other parts of your life. Use what you’re good at to build up the areas in your life that you need to improve.
  8. Whatever it takes is always what it takes. Plan for your journey to be a lot more painful than you expected.
  9. You’re tougher than you think you are. No matter what you think right now.
  10. Every starting line has a finish line. Every dark evening has a bright morning. It has to get better eventually.
  11. It’s not your fault if you think about quitting. But it is your fault if you actually let yourself do it.
  12. You’re probably going to find out that what you thought you knew about what you would have to do is going to have to change for you to get to where you want to be. So change.

I had been running for more than 50 miles when I saw a sign on the side of the trail. I was nearing an aid station but not really sure how far away I was.

You’re in the middle of the woods after all. It’s not an exact science, even if you have a smart GPS watch on. 

The sign on the side of the trail said. “You are almost there. 1 mile until you get there.” 

One mile until I could grab some food. One mile until I could throw down tiny bathroom-cup-sized portions of flat Coca-Cola and ginger ale. 

When you’re in that position you start imagining how you’re going to feel and what you’re going to do. You get a little bit excited. You might even jog a little bit faster. 

A mile later, there was a chair on the side of the trail with the sign taped to it. A single word on a large piece of poster board. 

It just said: “There”. 

I had been warned a mile earlier that I was almost there. But now that I was at the chair, I was there.

For a race named the Georgia Death Race such gameplay seems fitting. The same is true for life. 

What you think will be won’t always be. It’s going to get a lot harder before it gets a bit easier. Despite how you might be feeling now, know that within you is everything you need to cross the finish line. 

You have the resilience. You have the skill. You have the toughness. You have it all. 

Even if it seems like you’re out of shape. Even if you look around and it seems like there are so many other people more qualified or capable. 

Take another step. Move in the direction you want to be. 

The biggest lesson I learned finishing this race is the same lesson that keeps surprising me every day of my life.

It’s a simple concept. 

One that often gets overlooked because it’s not sexy, glamorous, or trendy.

It’s simply that activity is your greatest superpower. 

Taking action right now is your fastest path towards breakthrough. 

Stop thinking about it. Stop complicating it. Take action.

BTW, if you are curious about this nonsense, here are a few pics:

About the author

Dan Waldschmidt

Dan Waldschmidt doesn’t just talk about leveling up. He’s obsessed with it. He's set records as an ultra-runner and been the personal strategist for the leading business leaders of our time. He wrote a book, called EDGY Conversations that accidentally became a worldwide bestseller and continues to share his insights from the stage as a keynote speaker and on the blogs and podcasts you will find here. Most days, you'll find Dan heads-down, working on breakthrough strategies for his clients at EDGY Inc, a highly-focused, invite-only, business strategy execution company based out of Silicon Valley.