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.
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.