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Suffer Well


If the mind is not first trained to enjoy hard work, to relish suffering, to address the unknown, then no program, no amount of training can be effective.

Mike Twight, Owner, Gym Jones

I read this yesterday in the current issue of Outside magazine and it clanged in my head like a gong. There’s a part of me that bought into it because of the whole machismo aspect of the way it was presented in the magazine. A bunch of hardcore athletes get together in a bare bones gym, do weird exercises and don’t stop until it hurts incredibly bad. Replete with black and white photos of beings pushed to the physical limit, it was the kind of thing that I am a little ashamed to aspire to. But on a more reasoned level it appealed to me because it captures what I believe to be the foundation of any fitness program: if you don’t enjoy the work, it’s never going to work.

Recently, Tour de France rider, Frank Schleck was accused of having a dubious relationship with one of the many “drug” doctors lurking around cycling (and just about every other professional sport for that matter). This year, Schleck took a brief hold of the yellow jersey and looked like he had a shot at total victory before his teammate Carlos Sastre crushed Alpe D’Huez. Although, Schleck seemed like a good guy and rode for a good team, I knew in the back of my mind that he was never going to be a Tour legend. In a pre-race interview, he confessed that he loved to race but didn’t love to train. How could you possibly compete in the world’s toughest race with this truth inside you? Obviously, drugs would be one way.

As a society, we’ve had it hammered into our head again and again that there’s no need to suffer at any time in any facet of our lives. Drug companies promise chemical remedies. Fitness plans promise brevity and ease. Diets are packaged as delicious and filling. Politicians studiously avoid asking their constituents to just plain “suck it up.” We are addicted to the easy way out and if it’s not killing us it certainly is making us less than we can be.

I don’t do it every day but I like to make myself suffer. I like it for a lot of reasons but the most significant one is the humility it brings to my life. When the pain becomes truly great, when I’ve run out of mind games and promises to myself, when I feel like one more step might cause catastrophic failure, I often find myself looking far beyond anything inside me. I start asking God for help. And in the asking, there is no cynicism, no qualifications or deal making just good, honest desperation, belief and hope that a power greater than myself will take pity on me and help me along.

It’s not a typical means of connecting with God but it works pretty well for me and it makes me feel good. On those days, when I’m finished and the Gatorade tastes so good and the dogs quickly trot off to sleep without moving, I know that I haven’t done things on my own. I enjoy the help.

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