As rational beings, we embrace the struggle to endure. We have to. In life, what other choice is there? In sports, we choose to push our endurance beyond knowable limits. These two types of enduring feel different, but are deeply intertwined. Endurance sports force you to encounter fear every single time you choose to lace up. There really is no telling what might happen when you decide to push yourself during a long run (or ride, swim, whatever it might be). But what happens when you do it over and over again? When you simply wake up and live through each day? You make mistakes, you feel nervous, you face things you’ve never experienced before, and you just get through it. Your current level of comfort expands and you soon reach a new concept of normalcy...You must endure the discomfort in order to get from one side of fear to the other.
Roz Savage discussed fear and comfort zones on an NPR podcast recently and it truly stuck with me. Roz left her consulting job years ago to pursue something more meaningful to her. That “something” happened to be rowing across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, all by herself….in a 23 foot boat. While I can in no way identify with the desire to row for hundreds of days at a time in the open ocean, I can absolutely relate to re-defining your own version of fear, and enduring the necessary gritty repetition to achieve that. After being asked if she is “fearless”, Roz responds by saying (paraphrased): “I was terrified for the first two weeks on the ocean. I had no confidence in the boat or myself. But after some time, I learned a few things about fear. Namely, there is a limit on how long you can be afraid for…after a couple weeks of being completely terrified, you sort of get used to it and your comfort zone expands to accommodate your new normalcy.”
THERE IT IS. This right here is why endurance matters. If Roz couldn’t get through those first two weeks, she would have never blasted through her self-defined comfort zone. We all know that facing our fears is often good for us, but I’m not sure enough emphasis is placed on just doing it over and over again until you’re beyond it (the fear). Doing something once, for a fleeting moment, seldom rearranges your psychological approach to a fear. In fact, it may even confirm your unfounded bias against the thing you fear. Instead, I say do it again. And then again. And then keep doing it until you realize there is a “beyond”. That is endurance.
This weekend I’ll be racing in the 50K North Face Endurance Challenge. I’m scared shitless. But I know enough and have faced this fear just enough times to have some excitement as well. I’m sure it will be muddy, messy and sloppy thanks to all the much needed moisture we have had this week and I say bring it on….It is time for a new normal.