What do rowers and other endurance athletes do to prepare for the realities of their sport? They train… a lot. They train to improve their capacity. They train to improve how efficiently their body can get oxygen into the muscle and carry away waste. They train to improve the overall percentage of their engine they can run aerobically vs. tapping into pain-inducing anaerobic systems, and they also train to tolerate the pain of lactic acid. They train to manage the discomfort, and the uncertainty, of the race so they can endure the struggle without being pushed into their panic zone, their place of fear.
Life is an endurance test. None of us knows exactly from where the pain will come, when it will arrive, or how much we might encounter… but it is coming.
As Covid has so vividly demonstrated, the suffering doled out by the endurance race of life can be very fickle. And still, the stories that recount the unexpected blessings of this struggle resound as we slowly start to emerge from it. Having been forced to reorder our priorities, many of us have renewed or deepened relationships, eliminated clutter from our lives, learned new ways to work, and realized who we are and what really matters.
As our endurance race continues, we have a ways to go before leaving behind this current struggle, and of course we know there will be others ahead. For some wisdom, I take a page from Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, in which the author shares an insight from the then-world’s number one ultra-marathoner, Scott Jurek:
The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other, he understood, but to be with each other… He was no good and had no reason to ever believe he would be, but the joy he got from running was from the joy of adding his power to the pack. Other runners try to disassociate from fatigue by blasting iPods or imagining the roar of the crowd in Olympic Stadium, but Scott had a simpler method: it’s easy to get outside yourself when you’re thinking about someone else.
Even the best trained athletes on the planet know at some point that the difference is going to come down to what they decide to focus on. They can focus on the fear or find the good. They can focus on themselves or focus on others. As Jack, an OSU grappler remarked in an early BTL practice, “you can’t be grateful and fearful at the same time.” Where’s your focus?