“No, I’m not having fun – but this might be better than fun.”
– Jennifer Pharr Davis, The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Record-Breaking Power of Strength and Resilience
When I worked at my first job out of vet school, I lived alone. There were weekends – not rare ones, either – when I literally did not leave the house at all. I woke up when I wanted, watched TV all day, read books over and over again, ate forgettable food, and hung out with my cats. It wasn’t bad. There are times I long for weekends like that. But what I did not have was the feeling of having accomplished something besides the bare minimum required for life (grocery shopping, cleaning the bathroom, putting gas in the car). Work was stressful because I was a new doctor and trying to find my way to competence, and I let myself sit in my own world at home and “recover.”
Now, ten years later, a typical weekend might involve writing, studying for a new certification, fitness instruction or workout planning, meal prep, and, always, getting out of my cozy bed early Sunday morning to go run pretty far, usually in less-than-ideal weather conditions because this is Pennsylvania. I honestly can’t remember the last time I slept in on a Sunday and curled up on the couch with a leisurely cup of coffee and a book in my t-shirt and shorts. My boyfriend also loves these things, but we both love something else more: to suffer in the heat or cold or rain, on tired legs, sometimes for 20 miles at a time.
When people ask what my weekend plans are, and I tell them how far we plan to run, they often say, “Yeah, that doesn’t sound fun to me AT ALL.”
But you know what? Running isn’t always fun to me either. In fact, it’s often terrible. It is soaking wet clothes and chafed skin and achy tendons that might or might not really be something to worry about. It is saying no to unfamiliar food on Saturday night because you know there are no bathrooms on your Sunday morning route, and it is going to bed at 10 pm so the run can start before the day starts to get REALLY hot. It is sore feet and subzero wind chill and so much sweat you feel like pouring salt out of the shaker and just eating it when you get back. It is a series of small and large failures and feelings of inadequacy when things don’t go as planned. It is a constant comparison trap. It is a fickle mistress who teases you with weeks of smooth sailing, only to derail your new optimism and blossoming fitness with injury. It is your meditation and your therapy and also the place where you solve problems and generate your best ideas. It is spending five months training for a race, when not a single other person on Earth cares how well you do or even if you run it at all, and where you will be thrilled to come in 15,632nd place this year because the 15,633rd placed person ran two minutes faster than you did last year.
And it’s doing all of this and tolerating all of this and signing up for all of this again and again because you love how it makes you feel to treat yourself like the athlete you might not have known you could be, and because knowing this about yourself makes everything else that happens to you seem just a little more manageable.
No, it’s not usually much fun. It’s BETTER.
So much happens to us in life that we can’t control. Life is a grand mix of joy and love and suffering and sometimes they blend together in ways we don’t quite know how to handle, like an unexpected cancer diagnosis for a sweet old dog in one exam room and a young family with two infatuated kids at their first new kitten appointment waiting in the next, or a client accusing you of negligence in a case where sad things happened for no reason, and another client sending cookies and a note when you couldn’t find the answer and euthanized their dog. Suffering surrounds us and surprises us every day in this field.
The power to choose how we want to suffer on a given day, and to see how we react to that suffering, is the power to change our lives from within.