Suffer Well

rhinoToday was speed training. My miles went up this week, which means I had to throw in not just one more 800 repeat, but two. Joy of joy’s! Thankfully, my exercise induces rhinitis decided not to rear its horned head today.

I was tired when my alarm went off at 5:00 am. I stayed up late talking with my 16 year old until 11:30 last night. I knew the whole time we were talking that it would make it hard to get up and moving in the morning, but he is such an insightful kid. I enjoy hearing about what goes on inside his head. So, I listened.

The morning was crisp and cool. I ran over to the high school track and finished the first five 800’s. On the sixth one, my legs started to burn during the second loop. On the seventh one, my legs were burning on the first loop. It was well worth the burn, and it would have been worth the rhino too had it shown up.  Having taken a two-year hiatus from speed training, I have actually enjoyed getting back into it. Sure, I don’t like it when I’m headed over to the track telling myself how much it is going to suck, how my lungs and legs are going to burn. I try to bargain with myself and negotiate my way out of it.

I have a quote on my office wall that reads, “If you ran without sacrifice, congratulations you just jogged. Running hurts. It always has. Wooly mammoths didn’t just roll over onto a plate and serve themselves up to prehistoric man with fries and a shake. They had to be caught—and running down a woolly mammoth was a bitch. Guess what? Running is still a bitch. But one with purpose. It teaches us that good things do not come easy. It teaches us that we are capable of more than we think. It teaches us that hard work will be rewarded, and laziness will be punished. Don’t expect to learn those life lessons from running’s shiftless stepchild: jogging. Next time you suffer on the roads or trails, suffer proudly. It means you run like an animal.”

No one wants to suffer. No one wants to watch those we love suffer. But suffering is the greatest teacher. It is a tender teacher because things could be so much worse in every case, but it only gets bad enough to make the change happen that needs to happen. No one gets off this planet without suffering. No one. Suffering levels the inequities between us all. I don’t care how high your mountain of greatness is, suffering makes it obsolete. You find yourself staring eye to eye with those you probably looked down upon during another part of your life. Suffering bonds us all as participants in this great human race.

All life-altering decisions contain suffering on both sides. It doesn’t matter if you make the right decision or the wrong one you are likely to go through a period of emotional or physical pain. And if you don’t learn what you needed from it, you’re going to do it again and again.

I watched a video on the Barkley Marathons, which is a wicked 100-mile or so race without a defined course and 65,000 feet elevation gain. You get an incredible sixty hours to finish the race. In thirty years, only 14 people have finished the thing. On the video, the race director shakes the hand of a participate who has dropped out after finishing two of the five loops and he says, “I only regret you could not have suffered longer.” I thought it was a fitting statement (Here’s the video if you want to watch it http://vimeo.com/97270099).

Suffering is an opportunity to get stronger, to face your fears, to reach out to others, and to learn about who you truly are and what makes you tick. So suffer well.

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