The Stretch Zone

This past week, I committed to running a total of 1200 miles in 2016, working together with my partner Brooke, so between the two of us we will put in 2016 miles for the year. As we discussed our team name, we tried to think about what this challenge meant to each of us, and we then proceeded to take on the genius name of Team TEAM, because the whole challenge of working with someone to achieve our goal was something new to both of us, at least as it pertains to running. The whole, sometimes silly, discussion got me thinking about challenges and growth, which is not something that is easy for most people – myself included.

When I went on an Outward Bound experience as an RA in college, the leaders did a little exercise to talk to us about stepping out of our comfort zone as a way to prepare us for the days ahead. Many of the participants had never been hiking or camping; fortunately, I was not one of those people, so the experience wasn’t as much of a step outside of my comfort zone as it was for most of the others. Regardless, the symbolism of what they said has stuck with me throughout my life, and I still use it as a way to gauge how I am doing, whether I am taking risks or if I am simply playing it safe too much of the time.

The discussion began when the leader drew three concentric circle in the dirt in front of us. He explained that the smallest one, the one in the middle, is our comfort zone. That the size and scope of that zone is different for different people based on personal experiences and personality traits (eg: willingness to try new things). It is where we feel safe in life; the zone represents the space in the world in which we operate. But it is small, and because all the experiences inside this zone are familiar to us, we are not learning and growing as human beings, as members of society.


As you move past that zone, you step into the stretch zone, or the place where you are taking risks and trying new things. This is the space where the magic happens – where you grow through your experiences. Not all the experiences are good; not all of them work out. But the key is that you have taken the risk to try something different. Last year, I stepped out of the comfort zone and into this space by setting the goal of running not just one, but two marathons, when I had never done one before! And because when you are in the stretch zone and you take calculated risks, it is still safe. You do not feel in physical danger at this level (perhaps close, depending on how far you take yourself into the stretch zone), and if you get to the point where you feel as if you are in danger, you can retreat easily to a safer level of stretching.

Finally, the largest circle on the edge is the danger zone; this is beyond the boundaries of your stretch zone, and this is where you likely to get hurt or find yourself in some sort of real danger from which you cannot extract yourself. It is a scenario that is unlikely to happen to most people, and in Outward Bound, they assured us that everything we did would be within the stretch zone. (And I can verify, nothing we did was remotely close to the danger zone.) I honestly have never pushed myself to that point, at least that I can think about, so I am not sure if I am ever likely to do so. If I had to give an example of this for me personally, I might say registering for a 100 mile trail run next month, where I have zero trail running experience, zero idea how to set up support, and zero knowledge of whether I can handle the likely extreme weather that I would face. This would, for me, be a danger zone level decision, one that could see me seriously hurt or ill, and in the moment, I would be unable to remove myself easily from the situation. If I wanted to complete that 100 miler and do it to where it is in the stretch zone, I would have to have ample time to plan, train and get assistance from other more experienced ultra-runners to be certain that the dangerous elements of the experience were limited and manageable.

So why bring this up? The new year is a time of reflection, resolutions and goal setting for most of us. I have been slow to officially name my ‘goals’ as such for 2016, even though I have had these goals in my head for a month or more. I want to continue to expand my life experience. In regards to running, here are my three main goals, and a fourth possible goal that I am not sure if I feel it is in my stretch zone – or the danger zone!

  1. Complete the Louisiana Marathon (17 January 2016) to qualify for Marathon Maniacs
  2. Run a total of six marathons in 2016
  3. Run a minimum of 1200 miles, which is 100 miles per month, as part of a collaborative effort to run 2016 miles this year with my friend Brooke

My fourth ‘undecided’ goal is to earn Silver Level with Marathon Maniacs, which would mean that I have to run a SEVENTH marathon before November 20th. I am debating this one, as currently I could do it, but it would likely mean running marathons in back-to-back weekends, and I’m honestly not sure if I am up for that (or even want to do it!). I have time to decide, so I will likely see how I feel after my spring races before I go ahead and put all my chips on the table for that seventh marathon.

Clearly, as someone who is new to marathon running, running six marathons in a year is a challenge. I will be training for most of the year (my poor husband!), and having to continue a reasonable level of fitness and nutrition beyond what I would normally do.

As far as the mileage count, that itself is not as much of a challenge, considering that I have achieved that goal in 2015 (1395 miles). However, I will be training differently and I don’t see myself necessarily running as many miles. But I do have a teammate counting on me to live up to my goals, and that my friends is also a new experience. I don’t normally team up with people, so the fact that Brooke and I need each other to honor our respective commitments for our mileage goal is a bit of stepping into the stretch zone. I have to rely on someone else, and quite honestly, it’s been a great start. We encourage each other every day and are having FUN at running and adding to Team TEAM’s miles!

So there it is. My list of goals for the year as it relates to running. I’m excited. A bit nervous. But isn’t that how it should be when are stepping beyond the same old, familial experiences and into uncharted territory? Who knows – you may even find that you like that new space!

Where are you right now? Where have you set your goals for 2016? I’d love to hear about how you are planning to step out of your comfort zone this year and get into the stretch zone – that amazing space where experience meets growth. It won’t be easy, but the lessons learned from stepping into that circle will help you become a better, more interesting, more self-sufficient individual! Good luck!

what if you fly

2 thoughts on “The Stretch Zone

  1. I actually consider even thinking about running a marathon a “danger zone” activity. So you’ve tackled danger my friend. Proud of all of your stretch zone work. You’e inspiring,and I know this is going to be a great year for you. Keep on running…..


    • Haha! It’s not a danger zone for me unless I am stupid/crazy enough to try them back to back days (which I know is possible and can be done…I’m just not there. And I may never be!). How is your running going? Hope you are getting ready for RTB! Would love to hear more about your running goals for 2016.


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