Why Do We Do The Things We Do?

I am in the process of reading Iron War by Matt Fitzgerald and I am enjoying it very much.  There is some controversy surrounding the book because of the lawsuit filed by Dave Scott and Mark Allen against the author.  I’m not going to give you a review of the book since I have not finished it and whether you choose to read the book or not there is one chapter (Chapter 4) that is titled Pain Community.  This one chapter gripped me so much that I have read it twice and I do not think that will be the last time I read it.


Dave Scott / Mark Allen - Iron War

The chapter focuses on Michael Atkinson, who has a Master’s and Doctoral Degree in Sociology, and his pursuit of why endurance athletes do what they do.  Mr Atkinson wrote a paper titled “Triathlon, Suffering and Exciting Significance” that I’m reading now, but you can also read it by going [HERE] and downloading it for free.  It is a very interesting read but here is what I got out of the chapter.

We, endurance athletes, do what we do because we want to finish what we started and finishing makes us feel alive.  We have two choices when the going gets tough and those are to continue or to quit.  Everything about us no longer exists and it becomes our goal to reach the finish line.  We have at any given moment in a race 1 choice and that is to continue or to stop.  Once we make that decision we are profoundly affected one way or the other.

Think about the times you have been in a race, or even in training, and if you continue through a hard workout how you build on that to tackle the next session.  Your ‘pain’ threshold has moved and you say to yourself I can do this because I made it through that really difficult time.  Or the worst part is if you quit then each workout gets inevitably harder until you conquer that very difficult workout.  It is amazing the mindset that it takes to do the things that we do and how we can carry that into our everyday lives.  You complete a tough workout or race and making that sales call seems so small.  We carry that momentum into our everyday lives and that is just one reason I love this sport as much as I do.

I know that I can race an Olympic or Half-Ironman distance race given my fitness, but it is the confidence that I gain from completing those distances that is the best benefit.  I am more confident when I call a perspective client or when I have to deal with my soon to be 6-year-old because I have conquered worse fears and feelings.  Mr Atkinson believes that triathlon is more attractive than less painful alternatives precisely because of the suffering element.  In looking back I can see that my conversations and interactions with other marathoners and triathletes is more lively than with those who don’t participate in endurance events.  I”m not saying that they aren’t interesting but it seems that when you stare down your fears and beat them that everything else becomes small.

I have taken this concept into my training for the past two days and thought about how much does this hurt and can I or better yet will I continue to suffer.  In my swimming yesterday I pushed hard and was tired that I contemplated pushing my trainer ride to the afternoon but thought about the suffering that I will do during Ironman Texas and decided to get on the trainer immediately afterwards.  I queued up The Sufferfest: Downward Spiral and rode as hard as I ever have in training.  This morning on the 6 mile tempo run when I was at 4.5 miles I could feel my legs starting to burn but I thought about suffering today so that I could enjoy the next level of success and finished up that run with a pace of 7:44/mi which is the fastest I had gone since prior to the Las Vegas marathon.

I am building up a bank of suffering so that when race day comes and that pain hits, because it will, I can say to myself it is time to embrace the suck and push past the suffering.  I have also been replaying in my head,  Mirinda Carfrae’s comments during the Ironman Kona broadcast that it comes down to who wants it more.  At the professional level they are all similar (relatively speaking) in terms of talent and so it becomes who is willing to suffer more.

I think that this take on the suffering is spot on because of the fact that it is more than that one moment in time.  I train and race because of the internal findings of myself as well as the competition.  I enjoy racing against myself to find ways to improve and when I compare my Las Vegas Marathon to the White Rock Marathon of a year prior I know that I suffered more in Vegas and left it all on the course.  With that knowledge I now believe that I can still go faster, and that is pushing me out the gate to train for 2012.

Why Do You Do What You Do?

Do You Believe In The Suffering Thought Process?

Print Friendly

Related posts:


  1. lindsay says:

    Believing in ourselves and in each other, thats why. Well at least part of it.

  2. Natasha says:

    This is a popular question that I get all the time and can’t always fully explain to people. If you haven’t experienced the sense of accomplishment you get from an endurance event then it’s hard to make you fully know what it feels like in words. I always have to have something I’m working towards or trying to overcome. Once I graduated from college and got a real job I thought now what? That’s when I started adding the longer races to my list…
    Natasha recently posted..Tough Mudder vs. Triathlon?My Profile

  3. BDD says:

    I always wondered why i really race and train, its hard to explain till I read this quote, it explains it all

    “Racing is so hard, the suffering is so intense, that it’s absolutely cleansing. You can go out there with the weight of the world on your shoulders, and after a hard race at a high pain threshold, you feel at peace. The pain is so deep and strong that a curtain descends over your brain. At least for a while you a kind of a hall pass, and don’t have to brood on your problems; you can shut everything else out, because the effort and subsequent fatigue is absolute”

    ~ Lance Armstrong
    BDD recently posted..Weekly RamblingsMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      That is a great quote. I will need to print that out and put it in my Ironman Training book. That is just a terrific way to explain it all.

  4. Beth says:

    I think it takes a certain type of person to find their limit then keep pressing against it until it moves. Triathletes are just a different breed.
    Beth recently posted..2012 Race ScheduleMy Profile

  5. Jill says:

    I love endurance running because, honestly, it’s hard and just not everyone does it. Seems like it, as us on blog world are pretty much in the same boat, but really it’s a very small percentage. I love it that I can push myself to do things that most my friends think are insane.
    Jill recently posted..The Best of the YearMy Profile

  6. misszippy1 says:

    Spot on. I do embrace the pain and suffering. There’s even a bit of enjoyment in the midst of it b/c of the challenge. And every time we stare down that pain, we’ve put another notch in our belts and made ourselves stronger for the next time. Bring it! ; )
    misszippy1 recently posted..Talk to me, people!My Profile

  7. Jeff Irvin says:

    Like the LA quote BDD posted!

    I don’t know the “why”? Really have no idea and some days when the alarm goes off at 4am I ask myself “why”? The answer has yet to come and I hope it never does because that maybe the day I stay in bed.
    Jeff Irvin recently posted..Week in Review – All PicturesMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      That is good but I don’t think your competitive side will keep you sleeping for too long. You might move on to Tiddly-Winks but you would remain competitve and seeking something else out.

      Would you blog about asshat tiddly-winkers?

  8. Whats funny is that last week was a bit more painful in terms of training just because I ended up ramping volume up about 30-35% over the previous 4 week average. So the muscles pushed back a bit. But you know what? it’s that familiar feeling of soreness that has REALLY activated my engagement for this next block of training.
    Patrick Mahoney recently posted..Rant – What Annoys Me (a/k/a Tagged By EMZ)My Profile

  9. Jen says:

    Very interesting and I have to say hit so much of it on the head.

    There’s a reason that one of my favorite cliched quotes is: Pain is temporary, pride forever. I do find pride in pushing thru the pain of reaching thresholds that I thought were impossible.

    The one thing I have learned thru this whole journey is that it’s impossible to know what we can do until we are willing to push ourselves to the limit to find out what we can’t do — I’m still pushing and learning every day.
    Jen recently posted..Weight Watchers and Porkys – perfect togetherMy Profile

  10. Dr. St Onge says:

    I would like to take a crack at this one. I think Triathletes/marathoners/ultra-marathoners/etc. do what we do because we live in a society which starves us of the ability to answer the questions that rage deep down in our soul. . . Do I have what it takes? When push comes to shove will I continue or will I wither away and die? When all of my comforts are removed and all I have left (in the moment) is the question continue or quit, which will I choose? I think we subject ourselves to the hardships of endurance sport because life has become too damned comfortable… Competing in endurance sport is the way in which we strain against the shackles of excessive comfort.

  11. B.o.B. says:

    LOVE this post Jason. i’m right there with you on building up the “suffer”. you gotta push through it. i must put this in my memory vault for future races for sure! (miami especially!)
    B.o.B. recently posted..Year In ReviewMy Profile

  12. XLMIC says:

    A coach of mine used to say “Don’t fear the hurt. It’s GOING to hurt. Push to that pain point right away and then you aren’t worried about it anymore. Then you can just race.” All the preparations, all the training are helping make that push possible.
    XLMIC recently posted..The Biggest (tree) and the Best (gluten-free chocolate chip cookies)My Profile

  13. Mandy says:

    That book is on the “if I don’t get it for Christmas I am buying it for myself” list.
    Mandy recently posted..Wagging Wednesday – Icing InMy Profile

Speak Your Mind


CommentLuv badge

%d bloggers like this: