I have recently been studying the life and ultrarunning performances of Yiannis Kouros, a Greek athlete in the 1980’s who held over 150 world records and who seemed able to tap into a spiritual realm that helped him overcome the physical barriers of his body. Kouros was known to sleep for only two and a half hours per day in order to fit in training, studying, work, family, and music. He knew that he had it in him to break world records and he dedicated himself fully to his pursuit of them. He even married a non-Greek woman so that he did not have to get too involved with family life, as was expected in a Greek family, in order to run and travel. In the 1984 Spartathlon from Athens to Sparta, the man ran 250 km’s in 20 hours, 25 minutes! Look up the list of his records and you realize very quickly that Kouros was essentially superhuman, even against today’s standards. Kouros was and is of course, an outlier in the world of endurance sport and even in regular everyday life. So what’s the “take away” for us regular folks and runners? I would suggest that it’s consistency and results.
Putting the work in, day in and day out, for years, produces the hoped for results. We don’t have to be world record breakers or elite runners to get the results we are looking for. Getting out the door and pushing your body with gentleness but a firm resolve for years on end will inevitably get us further in our endurance and more importantly, our understanding. We begin to see our body’s limitations and imbalances and we work to overcome and correct them by running more yet. We do this with a gentle approach and one that increasingly taps into a spiritual practice. Our bodies become vehicles for our emotional and mental struggles and as we run, we often live in The Now, and some of those struggles get smoothed out, their sharp edges ground down to less razor sharp chaos within us. Stick with this pursuit of running for years, every day, and our spirits become transformed. We become new beings, capable of the “exceeding” that Kouros talks about in his own running performance.
Alcoholics Anonymous seeks similar consistency and results as in running. Our co-founder, Bill Wilson, was once asked if he would change anything in “How It Works” and he said that he would only change the word “rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path” to “never have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.” There is definitely something to be said for AA groups that talk about and practice The Steps and Traditions, “suggesting” that newcomers take The Steps and put one foot in front of the other, so to speak. Bill Wilson wrote in The Grapevine in 1962, “in this life we shall attain nothing like perfect humility and love. So we shall have to settle, respecting most of our problems, for a very gradual progress, punctuated sometimes by very heavy setbacks. Our oldtime attitude of ‘all or nothing’ will have to be abandoned.” The long distance runner will also never achieve perfection – room for improvement always exists for us and even for elites, there will always be someone faster. We suffer “heavy setbacks” because of injury and fueling and pacing mistakes, but when we stick with the training and the racing, we are bound to make the “gradual progress” that AA’s strive for as well. Wilson also wrote in The Grapevine in 1961 the following about consistent progress: “Day by day, we try to move a little toward God’s perfection. So we need not be consumed by maudlin guilt for failure to achieve His likeness and image by Thursday next. Progress is our aim, and His perfection is the beacon, light-years away, that draws us on.” The words “day by day” and “move a little toward” are no strangers to us long distance runners. Consistency and repetition in this sport and in our AA lives produces many hoped for results, though they come “sometimes quickly, always slowly,” as my home group good-naturedly likes to say.
Our Big Book has the following to say about results: “We found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power, which is God” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 46).
I would suggest that the greatest ultrarunners of all time, like Kouros, set aside their prejudice about what is possible and “became willing to believe” in a Power that could carry them incredible distances in unbelievable times. Yes, they train long and they train hard, but they do so with the belief that one step after another will lead them into forward progress that is infused with a Power they don’t fully understand, but that surely comes along side them in their lowest moments to push them on. AA takes a lot of negative flak for its reliance on and acknowledgement of a Higher Power, but the results are plain to see in the rooms and in the lives of AA members with quality sobriety – we go incredible distances to get well and the results are such that we can often only throw up our hands and say, “But for the grace of God” I am sober, alive, and putting one foot in front of the other today. Miracles happen on the roads and the trails and they happen in Alcoholics Anonymous through The Steps and through a God of our own understanding.
AA Grapevine “At Wit’s End” Joke of the Week
New to the Site This Week:
1. Look under “Running in the 4th Dimension” for Billy Yang’s awesome film “15 Hours with Ann Trason.”
2. Look under “AA Speaker Picks” for Marilyn B. at AA Convention in Overland Park, KS, 2002