Stoicism and Running
This past week, my Google+ hangout group decided to post our weekly goals and if we ever felt like we were headed off track, we could seek out support from each other. My two goals were eat only three sweets and have only two glasses of wine throughout the week. Now to some people that might sound like a pretty easy task, but for me, it is quite the opposite. Choosing to put myself through this incredibly uncomfortable (and I’m not exaggerating) state of denial, is my way of learning that voluntary discomfort makes me a stronger person. Or in other words, living a life of stoicism plus hormetism will help me to become my best self.
I never was much for philosophy. To me, it seemed impractical to argue about the what ifs and the abstracts of life. However, during a road trip over Christmas, I came across a great blog, GettingStronger.org, and it has shown me that some philosophies are not only practical, but they can also make us stronger, both physically and mentally in the process. GettingStronger is a health and fitness blog about “the philosophy of Hormetism, based on the application of progressive, intermittent stress to overcome challenges and grow stronger physically, mentally and emotionally”.
Allow me to attempt to briefly explain the philosophies of stoicism and hormetism in a Tracie Rodriguez simplified kind of way:
Stoicism: a life of tranquility that is free from negative emotions (grief, anger, etc.), independent of cravings, and that is prepared for the worst of circumstances by having practiced and imagined them throughout the course of life. A life that embraces voluntary discomfort in order to be prepared for the day it actually arrives (as in the day chocolate stops being produced and all of the grape vines burn to the ground).
Hormetism: Exposing your body to low doses of bad things in order to build strength and resilience
I strongly believe that in the world we live today, discomfort is not something we are too familiar with. I have a hot shower in the morning, coffee, food, the news at my fingertips, my Garmin, my iPod, my cold weather running gear, etc. I seek out things to make my life more pleasant, and often times I succeed. Of course, there are other circumstances that make life a little uncomfortable, like talkative students, but overall, I’d say I have it pretty good. Thirty degrees and raining, no problem. I’ll just hit the treadmill. Sleepy and groggy? Got it covered. Starbucks is two blocks from my house. But in taking the stoic approach to life, I think it’s time I started to deal with the rainy weather and learn I can live just fine without caffeine.
In striving to be a stronger and better runner, I have come to terms with the fact that I will have to expose myself to some discomfort. I don’t know too many people who think hill repeats, running in 90 degree weather, or tempo runs are as relaxing as a nice bubble bath, but we all do it for the same reason – to truly discover what we are capable of. A few weeks ago, I asked my super fast cousin (3:04 marathoner), how do you deal with the pain that comes with doing speedwork? Hill repeats make me want to hurl and I always question why am I doing them in the first place. A nice flat road which be much easier. My cousin answered my question with quite the stoic response – you just embrace the pain.
Yes, embrace the pain.
So in the spirit of pain embracing, I have been thinking more and more about how I can incorporate this philosophy into my everyday life, along with my running life. I have learned to take cold showers, go a day without coffee, sleep a little less than desired, and make running in the rain the same as running in the sunshine. Of course these are not things I do everyday, but I do them once a week or so in order to teach my body and my mind that I can do it and I will survive. Just a few weeks ago, I thought the wind was going to blow me off the road but I continued to tell myself, it might be windy in Boston so just deal with it. Voluntary discomfort.
In going back to my goals from last week, I’d say I did okay. The sweets I could manage but there were so many get togethers and outings we attended, that I failed on my two glasses of vino. However, I took my speed workouts outdoors in the 80 degree weather along the hilliest course I could find in hopes that it would better prepare me for whatever may come April 16th. Tomorrow I’ll go sans coffee and Wednesday I’ll go for the cold shower. It’s crazy, I know but I do feel this stoic approach to life is helping to make me a stronger person, both mentally and physically.
Here’s to an awesome week!
Happy Trails and Happy Running,