Adversity University

Running is an elective. Mountain biking, too. All the biking. And hiking, also. In fact all the exertion. Optional. The timeline of human history is one that runs from high exertion through extreme inertia. We once ran to chase game so we could eat. Now I can order a pizza (and often do) from my couch (yup), on my phone (why not?), without talking to a human (because yuck). I have it brought to me. I haven’t yet figured out how to have someone else chew it, but that must be coming, right?

One reason I choose doing hard things outdoors is because it makes everything else I do better and easier.

My wife asks, “Why does it always have to be something epic thing with you?” Put aside the fact that most of my runs are 5 miles or less, she gets frustrated that I always really want to do something hard. Why? What am I doing? When I could be on the couch eating pre-chewed pizza?

At this point, because I’ve been at this for decades, a 3 mile run or a short hike, while pleasant enough, is sort of like takeout exercise. It doesn’t last very long, it’s not very satisfying, and I don’t learn very much. It can be worthwhile if I can do it with a friend or with the family, but mostly I want more than that.

All this outdoor challenge isn’t real life. I don’t have to do it. But it’s really good training for real life. It’s a great way to study adversity, a way to get uncomfortable in all the ways and then practice dealing with that. When I say it like that, it doesn’t sound like much fun. Strictly speaking, there are quicker ways to get uncomfortable, and uncomfortabler ways, too. And obviously, all this stuff offers more than case studies in pain. Some of it is definitely fun (Type 1).

But Type 2 fun, the kind that shows up magically after 5 or 6 miles, and very certainly after 10, is where deep learning occurs. How do I sit with pain and discomfort? How do I manage it? How do I keep my head, while my body is in open rebellion?

Those lessons come back when I’m at the end of my patience with my kids, or more often, with myself. What I learned out there on the ragged edge endurance helped immeasurably when I sat with my dad in hospice and when I watched my brother die. But those are dramatic examples.

What really motivates me run far, hike high, ride hard, etc. is knowing that as I get older, so much will get harder, and that I’ll need all the help I can get to thread the needle with patience, grace, and maybe even equanimity.