One of the reasons I have been so passionate about encouraging other people, women in particular, to consider engaging in some sort of physical activity is the incredible emotional benefits. I don’t know if I ever would have recognized my own strength and grit had I not fallen into running and CrossFitting. There are so many life lessons I have learned on the roads, trails, and lifting weights. What I have found to be most valuable, right now, is what I have learned about enduring and prevailing in hard times.
As states begin to reopen, I know a lot of people have expressed worry, concern, and anxiety over the possible ramifications of becoming too relaxed. Alternately, I also know so many business owners and employees who are waiting anxiously to get back to work. And I think we are all looking forward to having a little more routine, social interaction, or alone time. Now is still a difficult time. Which is why I want to share what running and lifting have taught me about difficult situations, discomfort, and the power of perseverance.
What Sports Taught Me About Hard Times
Pain Leaves When You Stop Struggling
Most people think of pain and discomfort as feelings or sensations that we have no control over. And in some situations, that’s true. If you trip over a rock, or trying to jump over a toad that you are sure is a snake, and remove 80% of the skin on your knee, you’re bound to feel some pain. And there isn’t a whole lot you can do in the moment to make it go away.
However, if you go back to running, and favor the hurt leg, you are likely to endure sustained pain for a longer period of time. Your body doesn’t want to compensate, it wants to regain homeostasis. But it can be a hard reflex to learn to fight against. Women who have endured unmedicated labor know that the natural reflex to labor pains is to tense all the other muscles in the body, but the pain subsides much faster if we are able to push back against that reflex.
If we are able to mindfully relax our body, regain our posture, and breath through a few moments of discomfort, the discomfort subsides. If we stiffen, limp, or favor an injured body part, discomfort tends to linger. Similarly, the more that you focus on just how exhausted your quads and feet feel at mile 18 of a marathon, the more your quads and feet hurt. If you can train yourself to welcome the pain, and remember that it will subside on its own, the more likely you are to emerge from the discomfort.
This concept of relaxing, accepting, and allowing discomfort to naturally dissipate can definitely be applied to emotional struggles. The more that we try to push our feelings of anxiety or frustration away, the longer they hang around. The more that we try to compensate for feeling uneasy with the reflex to control or numb ourselves, the more we struggle. If you find yourself unintentionally prolonging your discomfort, don’t beat yourself up. We all do it.
But remember, relax your body, accept what is, and allow things to shift naturally. Just like you can practice and get better at shooting a basketball (present company excluded), you can practice the skill of not struggling against pain.
You Always Have More In The Tank
When it comes to endurance racing, one of the worst phrases a runner can hear is “DNF.” It stands for “did not finish,” and means that a runner pulled out of a race before meeting the finish line. For some runners, the DNF is a rationale choice, especially when injury is looming or already present. But for a lot of runners, the worst DNFs come from giving up.
Our brain is hard-wired to tell us to stop doing things that hurt. Which is handy when you’re doing something like touching a stove. But when you are trying to get from point A to point F, and there’s a lot of space to cover in between, that brain can start to panic. And it often tells us we need to stop long before we physically need to.
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In my absolute worst moments of feeling overwhelmed, I draw on the moments that I was able to keep to running when my brain begged me to stop. Or the times that I didn’t bail out of a lift that my brain told me was too heavy. It reminds me that I have the ability to choose to keep going and see what my true limits are, or I can quit. Sometimes quitting is the right choice.
But I never make it without reminding myself that I don’t have to. Quitting is a choice. The recognition that just because I feel like I am tapped doesn’t mean I really am has helped me to finish projects and stay somewhat calm, even when my kid is doing everything in his power to make me question my own. And it’s gotten me to more finish lines (literal and figurative) than I can count.
Good Support Is Priceless
Whenever anyone asks me the dreaded “how to fit it all in question,” I have the same thought. I don’t fit it all in. I have an amazing support system that helps pick up all the little things I leave behind while I’m chasing my dreams. I think we’ve all had more recognition lately that we are interdependent creatures; even the most introverted amongst us.
And honestly, this was probably the hardest lesson for me to learn. Like most type-A, stubborn women, asking for help almost never crossed my mind. And unsurprisingly, help was something I rarely got. But as soon as I started to accept and realize that I could count on other people to help me take care of my kid, or give me recommendations on good running shoes, or just to meet me at the finish line with all my snacks (I’m looking at you, Henry), my quality of life improved dramatically.
There’s a reason that endurance races allow pacers and support crews. It’s the same reason that CrossFitters show up to cheer on our friends during a competition. And that’s what we draw so much strength from one another. And asking for help doesn’t mean you are acknowledging your limitations or weaknesses. It means you are prioritizing your shot at success. Just don’t be a jerk and never offer to return the favor.
The Best Views are After the Hardest Climbs
Climbs are exhausting. On the trails and in real life. There are only two reasons you ever summit a mountain. 1) The feeling of knowing you accomplished something hard and 2) the views are freaking incredible. The harder the climb, the sweeter the victory, and usually the better view.
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I have carried this lesson with me when I have needed to keep pushing through what feels like an uphill battle. In my career, I’ve had several of these moments. Where I push forward through a difficult time period, knowing there will be something amazing waiting for me at the end.
Same with motherhood. Getting through those first few months where no one slept, there were mountains of diapers, and so many tears (from all of us, not just the baby) have made the years of my son making coffee FOR ME so much sweeter. We put in the work and investment on the front end, knowing the payoff will be so much greater the harder we work and push.
Have a Plan, be Flexible
In trail racing, you always have a plan. You have drop bags and extra socks and 15 kinds of snacks. In CrossFit, you set a program that allows you to experience progress and growth. But I have yet to begin the training block that goes perfectly according to plan. Same goes with racing.
My stomach turns, the weather is different than predicted, I catch a cold right smack in the middle of my programming. You name it, it has happened. And all the weird, random, seemingly impossible interruptions will keep happening. I mean, who could have predicted that my best shot at a Boston Qualifier would have been canceled because of a pandemic?!
There is so much strength in being able to problem-solve and figure things out when the plans change. Because they will. If bumps in the road throw you off your game, and you aren’t able to recover quickly, life gets a lot harder. If you’re able to assess what’s going on and make the best decision with what’s available, things usually seem to work out so much better.
Ego will Kill You
I’m not going to camp out on this one, because I think it’s pretty self-explanatory. You have to know that there is always so much more to learn. In life and sports, it pays off to be coachable and to know that there is always someone who is better than you and who knows more than you. Rather than getting trapped in the comparison game your ego will want to play, be willing to adopt an attitude of humility.
Ask for help when you need it. Take advice when it serves you well. And leave any arrogance in the past.
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Always Have Fun Along the Way
My favorite lesson. Life is hard. Sports are hard. It’s easy to get frustrated, discouraged, and fatigued. It can be hard to remember that all of this is meant to be enjoyed. Sure, there are aspects of training that are not my favorite. I don’t think anyone wakes up super excited for burpees (if you know someone who does, they are a psychopath).
But it’s ok for things to be difficult. Some lessons are only learned through discomfort. And despite all of this, you can still choose fun. The coronavirus crisis has meant that races are cancelled, and boxes have been closed. But my son and I have been able to get in more hikes than ever before. We chose the fun.
That is really one of my favorite lessons. That having fun is a choice. The same way sinking into misery is. There will always be curveballs and obstacles and hurdles, and it’s up to us if we choose to look at these situations as insurmountable difficulties, or as part of an exciting obstacle course.
So why choose frustration when we can choose fun instead?
Would I have learned all of these incredible lessons if I didn’t find running and CrossFit? Maybe. But I sure am thankful that sports have taught me lessons that have had substantial positive impacts in my every day life. I know, without a doubt that I am a better mom, wife, boss, and employee because of what I have learned through running and CrossFit. And as someone who continues to learn, I would love to hear what sports have taught you.