Running Past Your Comfort Zone

Something I keep coming back to in life is finding joy in being uncomfortable.

When I was a kid, my dad had this pillow that was only nominally such. It was hard as a rock (I still don’t know what the filling was), and no one else in the family would voluntarily use it except me. Any time I needed to travel with a pillow, that was my pick. There was also this scratchy yellow blanket of his that I used to use. There was a blue one that looked identical but wasn’t scratchy. I wanted the yellow blanket. At some point, I decided that not having creature comforts was what being a man was about.

This notion stuck around. I slept for weeks on a box-spring (I have no idea why I didn’t have a mattress that long) that had a piece of metal sticking out that I had to avoid rolling into. In high school and college, I wouldn’t wear a jacket if I didn’t have to (I went a full year without wearing a jacket to school. Granted, I lived on the Texas/Mexico border). I went without AC in my truck for the better part of a year (possibly, this was just me being cheap).

I could make do.

And more than that, I relished being uncomfortable. I still do. Last night I was sleeping on a 5-year-old Walmart futon with a throw instead of a real blanket or quilt, despite having plenty. And I was happy reflecting on it.

This shows up when I’m working out, too. I’ve said it before, but there’s a masochistic part of me that likes running when conditions are less than ideal. Whether it’s rain, heat, or cold, I like being out there when other people aren’t. I hate spring and fall when the sidewalks and paths are crowded with (what I believe are) weak-willed runners who find their treadmills, TVs, and air conditioning when they retreat indoors.

In the book A Good Year, which became a movie that was only marginally like the book, the opening chapter includes the main character running when no one but the most hardcore runners would because it was too rainy. This was an idea I could appreciate and gave entirely too much emphasis too within the grand scheme of what the book was about.

And so it goes. When I’m in miserable conditions and suffering, I’m kind of happy. I believe this is when I’m growing the most. And it’s always been this way. Every great workout I’ve had was miserable, but when I got to the end, I was glad to have survived. I looked forward to the binge. I looked forward to cutting in line in the cafeteria for pizza and tater tots after miserable football workouts in high school. I earned that pizza.

When I’m running, I go until something gives, usually my lungs. And if I’m hitting the end of a workout and I’m feeling good, I run faster until I’m not. I love striding to end runs (this week included striding past all the cars stuck in 5 o’clock traffic just to mock them and their internal combustion engines).

And yoga is basically one gigantic session of being uncomfortable (the good kind, not the bad kind; If you’re not sure, the good kind is like a deep tissue massage that hurts but feels good, and the bad kind is like banging your knee into the desk drawer when you turn in your chair, just hurts). You’re constantly trying to put yourself to the edge of your comfort zone. This is how you get better.

Even playing guitar is an exercise is discomfort. I like playing until my fingertips hurt from the strings. And then next time I can play a little longer or harder before they hurt.

I want to earn my sleep. Working until exhaustion has been the easiest way to do this. It’s not the healthiest behavior, but at least I know when I’m thrown into a less-than-ideal situation I can survive (see races with ice warning, snow on the ground, on muddy course and the only hills in Florida, with rain, and every Star Wars fan in Central Florida).

And this is when I grow.


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