A Life of Endurance
Updated: May 10, 2022
This past November, I completed my first marathon in Indianapolis, Indiana. The emotions of crossing the finish line were more than I could have imagined, not because of the magnitude of 26.2 miles, but rather because of the months that preceded the race. Months that consisted of living outside of my home state of Kentucky for the first time, embracing an opportunity for growth, and betting on myself to pave a path.
At the moment of completion, this finish line represented not the end, but rather the beginning. The beginning of a pursuit that is now firmly at the forefront of my life.
The cliche’ that ‘life is a Marathon, not a sprint’ does a good job of encapsulating the importance of the ‘long game’. Whether things are coming easily, or you’re fighting an uphill battle, you can be sure that there are many miles that lay ahead. Focus fully on the mile that you’re in, but acknowledge that one mile doesn’t make or break the end-result.
Endurance: Why it Matters
Running, as a form of endurance training, builds physical strength; this is understood. But the true value of endurance training lies in the mental fortitude that becomes ingrained within the life of the athlete. The training required for an endurance event is a daily practice of devotion to process. Everything is calculated, and great levels of patience are a non-negotiable for anyone who commits to the goal of completing, and achieving in an endurance event.
If I say that I want to complete a Marathon, most people understand that my goal is to run 26.2 miles. Yet, if I say that I want to become better trained at endurance, there is still much left to the imagination; and as we’ll see, that’s where the beauty lies in this entire process.
Endurance, by definition, is as follows:
The fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.
There is great value in becoming a person of endurance. This value goes much deeper than race medals or personal bests. Endurance training is simply life preparation. An act of gaining tolerance for all of the unpleasant or difficult circumstances that you will encounter in life.
Consider these questions…
What is the greatest challenge that you’ve faced, to this point in your life?
In what ways did you endure this challenge?
What lessons did you learn from this experience?
How have these lessons influenced your ability to endure more recent life challenges?
When we experience tribulation, we become stronger. Our mind’s callus in a similar way to our body’s. In order to grow, the system must be stressed. If there’s no stress, there is no need for adaptation.
To endure, and therefore exemplify endurance is to continually make the decision to keep going. To embrace discomfort, find the limit, and sit there. Endurance requires that you go deep within the mind, to achieve what your body can’t do alone.
We need endurance; growth requires it of us. When we endure, we are patient. When we are patient, we are willing to delay gratification. Delayed gratification; the postponement of the reward and feedback loop, is a cornerstone principle to growth because it allows for a foundation to be built. When we rely on gratification to motivate our actions, we allow for interruptions of the process. Lulls where no deposits are being made, and the compounding effects of consistency are brought to an abrupt halt. When we make the agreement with ourselves to commit to action, and to endure all of the forms of resistance that accompanies it, we allow for bricks to be laid. Bricks that will form the foundation of the forever home that we’re building.
A Matter of Perspective:
We would all benefit from increasing our tolerance for the many forms of discomfort that we experience. In order to develop this capacity, we must engage with the experience with frequency and a conscious awareness.
In endurance sports, and the fitness space for that matter, levels of conditioning can be lost much quicker than they can be gained. To gain fitness is an arduous process; a matter of intent where months and years culminate into a well-earned result. To lose fitness is to lack consistency for a short-stretch of time, leading to the athlete’s understanding that day-in and day-out action is the primary factor in development.
These lessons translate into the real-world with great reliability, as our capacity for life challenges can waver when we fail to stress our mental muscle appropriately. The conditioned mind welcomes challenges like a surfer welcomes waves. There is excitement in the unknown. An embrace of the opportunity to problem-solve, and navigate unchartered territory. The more waves that are experienced, the more prepared the surfer is for the next great challenge.
The unconditioned mind doesn’t comprehend this free-spirited perspective, it’s too busy feeling. Flooded with emotions of fear and anxiety, feelings that present themselves in anticipation of what’s next, as opposed to what is. The person who has failed to become calloused through experience will forever hide from the opportunities that are presented in the face of adversity.
Each is a matter of perspective; and you have the choice… Free spirit or a life of constraint?
Putting Endurance to Work:
If we desire to overcome adversity, we have to be exposed to it. Exposure allows for practice; practice allows for lessons learned; and lessons learned encourage growth and adaptation. Frequency is a variable to consider when reflecting on your past experiences…
How often are you placed in a position of mental or physical discomfort?
Are there opportunities for you to endure hardship in your life?
When faced with adversity, how do you react? Embrace or fear?
The case for the great majority of us is that we are deconditioned from hardship. We fail to stress the muscle of endurance with any regularity. When we skip practice, growth is stunted, or worse, we regress. If we desire to be stronger, more calm and composed in the face of adversity, we must be willing to swim into the waves, every single day.
Search out opportunities to be stressed. Engage in tasks that intimidate you, and require you to endure mental, physical, and emotional hardship. Refuse to take the easy road; it only leads to a dead-end.
Growth requires engagement. Establishing opportunities for practice is step number one, but we will fail to grow if we aren’t conscious of our circumstances, and aspects of our game that need refinement. Endurance training requires that you find the edge, push to it, and aim to move the needle over extended periods of time.
When we fail to be present within our struggle, we’re unable to identify the true edge. We give in early, and never activate the strength and resilience that lies deep within. In these moments, we aren’t enduring, we are going through the motions.
Action without focus may as well be inaction. The next time that you find yourself in a challenging situation, whether self or externally-imposed, activate your ability for a conscious awareness of the circumstances, and the opportunity that you have for growth within these experiences. We view the stress of the moment as the enemy, but in reality, it’s our fear of this stress that holds us back. Embrace what is rightfully yours; the ability to endure, and become calloused as a result.
A Lifelong Pursuit:
Endurance is a game of continual progress, in training, on race day, and in life. The finish line is not an indicator of finality; rather it is a benchmark, marking progress along the way. When we reach these benchmarks, we rejoice with those that we love. We celebrate the hard-work that has been done, and the positive return on investment that we’ve received.
What we don’t do is stop.
We never stop.
We set greater goals for ourselves. We find more challenging circumstances to immerse ourselves in; and we begin the process anew, with an even greater understanding and appreciation for the work that awaits.
There is always room for improvement in the game of physical and mental endurance. We can always dive deeper into our capacity for discomfort and stress. There are always more opportunities to learn about yourself, and the strength that you possess. We can keep going; and not only can we, but we must.
The moment that we refuse to endure, and neglect the power of our mind and body, we begin to die. The days begin to run together; emotions aren’t felt as fully; passion becomes buried beneath the rubble of external stressors.
We endure to live life more fully. To tap into every aspect of our being that makes us uniquely human. We endure because we know that we are enough; that we deserve to struggle and rise once again.