So lately, I’ve taken to running while listening to podcasts, as opposed to running with music. A lot of runners know that while it’s a personal thrill to take to the pavement, pounding it one foot at a time (of course avoiding the frowned-upon heel strike), it can get pretty boring. Let’s face it: running is, at the most basic level, just putting one foot in front of the other for miles on end.
That’s not to say it’s not challenging, though (it’s simple, but not easy). It’s extremely punishing work, and it takes a special kind of competitive masochism to subject oneself to it, all for the personal satisfaction of doing it a little faster next time. It’s a never-ending goal for runners: “a new PR”. For elite runners, it’s simply “a new R”. And for that, they sweat, they ache, the push their limits, and scrape for that little, tiny edge that will make them a little better than yesterday. Law of diminishing marginal returns be damned: even if the effort is disproportionately large compared to the payoff in improved performance, great runners still train their asses off.
No Sacrice, No Victory
Of course, it’s not always for a PR. Maybe there’s something else they’re aiming for. Maybe they want that sexy beach body. Maybe they want to feel that, in even one section of their life, they have some measure of control. Maybe they want something measurable, something numerical they can hold on to so that they can say “I have outdone myself again”.
That’s the spirit behind the podcast I was listening to this past Friday as I went on a 10-km run. The podcast was from The Art of Manliness, and the specific episode discussed the history and cultural background of Crossfit. Basically, you’ve got a motley crew of gym freaks, doing exercises designed to improve your functional strength and kill you, but not quite. And every time this group not-quite-dies, they get satisfaction. They bring honor to their group (Crossfit is a very competitive club, where people are divided into teams), they see improvement in themselves (performance of Crossfit activities and routines are recorded), and they feel personal development (some transcend their former self-paradigm of “I’m no gym rat, so I can’t lift more than half my weight in inanimate matter”; others become fulfilled from having a group to bond with outside of work). Members of the culture can even engage in what others would see as a perverse game of “I’ve got it worse than you” by detailing how brutal their WOTD (workout of the day) was.
Hurts So Good
As a runner, I can relate. When I can steal some time alone to run, I run hard, far, and long. And it’s typical for my baser physical instincts to scream at me and say “What the hell are you doing? There’s a jeep RIGHT THERE!… What do you mean we’re not going anywhere in particular!?” And at the end of it, I’m spent, sore, winded… but satisfied.
So yeah. Exercise is not a walk in the park, nor is it conventionally rewarding. It’s a sacrifice. You’re sacrificing your body, breaking it down to make it better. You’re giving up immediate pleasure for long-term, physical gain. You’re spending time that you could otherwise use to watch a fun movie, meet with friends, or eat delicious food. From a basic, primal point of view, which is concerned mainly with feeding and mating, it makes zero sense. But from a human point of view, which transcends the baser needs, it’s a glorious victory.