|I wrote the piece below about fifteen years ago, before the amazing David Goggins retired Navy SEAL and and ultramarathon runner, ultra-distance cyclist, and triathlete (and a lot more). It is still a a cornerstone to drive my habbits. If you would like to listen to the concepts and some of the best memories I have of the Leadville trail 100 races, you can listen here on Aligator Perserves.|
What drives you to get up day after day and lace up shoes, put on a helmet, buckle on a climbing harness, or pick up a paddle? It certainly perplexes many people when you head out on a run during a blizzard….but every time you step out the door to train and endure, you build another brick in the foundation of mental toughness. Each time you bike in the rain or run in adverse conditions you win a small victory and triumph over the forces of ease that threaten to pull you into complacency and risk-free living.
Suffering and sacrifice teaches “that you are better than you think you are and that you can do more than you think!” (Ken Chlouber, President for the Leadville Trail 100). Suffering and succeeding in the face of adverse and even harsh conditions connects you with the physical world and the immediacy of the moment; it forces you to be “present” while the modern world is increasingly moving toward the second-hand experience typified by reality media.
In many cases modern life has substituted simulation and vicarious experiences for first-hand experience. Video games and “reality TV” shows begin to constitute actual participation. This has resulted in reducing the suffering and discomfort which comes from any intense effort—the sweating, the burning muscles—the blistered feet—and cheats you of the ability to develop character and to learn just how much you can accomplish.
My personal motivation comes from transcending our everyday existence and performing my absolute best when I place my toes on the starting line. There is solace in the purity of the effort in which no amount of political maneuvering or positioning will make you any faster. There are no judges to interrupt or cloud…just the course, your performance, and the clock.
There are very few things remaining in life that have a directly proportional return on effort, and where hard work is rewarded with results. I think you must have something in your life for which you are completely responsible for success or failure (barring any significant act of nature that might try to thwart you during the competition). Your performance is your responsibility and is a direct reflection of your sacrifice, dedication, discipline, and perseverance. This sense of personal responsibility and control can be very liberating from the comfortable world into which so many of us are seduced.
American’s typically have a sedentary job in a climate controlled office building offering little more physical challenge than pressing the elevator buttons. Our days involve pushing the remote on the garage, driving to work, working, and then reversing the process. Competition, and specifically competing in an event like a 100 mile trail race or a multi-day adventure race, introduces risk into an otherwise safe and predictable life.
When was the last time you were presented with an invitation like the one posed in Ernest Shackelton’s recruiting advertisement for the crew of the Endurance and the Antarctic expedition?:
We need suffering and sacrifice in our lives to expand the perceived limitations we impose upon ourselves. It is important to striving to be more than you are today, and to exceed what you think is possible, for if you do not stretch the boundary that currently defines you, you simply do not grow. In fact, you shrink. You need a completely “audacious plan”…climbing “Everest,” whatever Everest might be for you. Your challenge then results in a great journey of sacrifice and commitment, and ultimately leads to your “test”…where you learn you are more than you think you are...
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