It is suggested that one must step outside of their comfort zone to properly grow, to make real change, to feel fulfilled, to do great things, to BECOME a person of value, TO REACH THE PLACE WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS!
If being uncomfortable IS the comfort zone, what then?
The key to progression in the practice of long distance trail running seems to be mentally falling into the “suffering is optional” space. There will be pain but how much one mentally engages in it is what will dictate personal success. Or to paraphrase some quote I know I heard somewhere – “In racing the furthest distance to travel is between the ears.”
When I say “success” please know I mean it to be relative to us as individuals. My race stats are far from impressive. My physique is for sure a display case of the baked goods I consume alongside a zero limit policy on coffee intake. Some people who trail run are hitting top-finisher status. The rest of us average hobbyists have personal goals which at large seem unimpressive but to us are of massive importance.
A few years ago I decided that in trail running the thing I loved most was the climb. I wanted to get better at the uphill so started doing more and more hill repeats.
The pain of chugging up a steep incline provides a comfort in it’s simplicity and forces me to acknowledge the work I am putting in. Never being able to catch my breath, the frustration of methodically taking each step by each step and despite it all, feeling like I am moving nowhere is a thing I find very comfortable.
Turning around to chop down the same hill isn’t a reward, it’s a task in anxiety management. Taking each step carefully but as quickly as possible, my anxiety hitting the ceiling is something I find comforting.
Since I’ve become comfortable with suffering within my hill repeat routine therefore can’t seem it improve. Or rather – the familiarity of my current discomfort has become comfortable.
I physically give what I perceive to be my all but the results show this not to be the case and I’ve hit a plateau in my specific discomfort zone. This by no stretch means I am “tough” it means I can’t mentally seem to access the places I need to in order to dig in for a deeper sense of pain. It’s frustrating. I want things to hurt more but can’t seem to Woman Up in order to get there.
I don’t know how to push “difficult” into more difficult and I now understand that discomfort for me these days is different than it used to be. Albeit it good news to learn I’ve faced some things head on it also results in a purgatory of mundane tribulation that feels impassable.
On some podcast I heard Amy Dresner say something about how she used to meditate and it changed everything in a positive way, she felt amazing, it made her life infinitely better so naturally she quit the practice of meditation.
I once gave up caffeine for 8 months and I never felt better in my entire life. It was glorious freedom, the apex of personal mental wellness that I was searching for and FINALLY found. Then one day, on a whim, I decided coffee is the drug for me and feels masochistically better than that sense of balance. Fast forward 4 years of over-caffeination by way of coffee and I now even have this tattoo to commemorate my adoration of it:
Trail running at an easy pace feels wildly uncomfortable for me. In general, I do not redeem comfort out of the practice of feeling well. This does not mean I am fast, it means at best I am erratic in pacing and at worst taking my running far too seriously. None of this is conducive to becoming a better trail runner.
As much as I roll my eyes at the metaphors and analogies between running and life outside of it, these observations are unavoidable and truthfully the real reason I run at all.
There is a miss in the message of “get comfortable with discomfort” because it’s entirely subjective as to what we define as uncomfortable.
Changing my results in trail running means changing life outside of it and that is the most difficult challenge of all. How to push through the ease of dis-ease on multiple levels is the biggest question of my life. My being WANTS to feel terrible so how do I learn to associate feeling comfortable with, well, feeling comfortable?