The problem with a comfort zone is that it is inherently self-destructive. Like your favorite pair of old worn jeans, eventually it will become threadbare, you’ll have no choice but to go in search of a replacement. Earlier this week, iRun Magazine published an article I wrote about “Why I Run”, and this got me thinking about how running fits into my comfort zone.
Running has always been present in my life, but it wasn’t until 15 years ago when I entered AA to address my alcohol addiction, that I became a hardcore runner. I used to head out with two friends I met in my AA group for our long run every Sunday morning. It became more than just about running; it was a time to unwind, and embrace a cleaner, healthier lifestyle. Since that time, running has morphed into a huge foundation of my sobriety, happiness, and freedom.
I run every day of the week, and my weekly mileage hovers around 170 km rain or shine, winter and summer. Recreational runners and non-runners are never really sure how to react to that, so the responses range from: “God, I don’t even drive that far each week!” to “Why would anyone do something so extreme?” Though I’ve tried many times over the years to articulate my love for running, the words have always failed me.
I really believe we’ve become such a society of consumers and quantifiers. We need things to be measurable and definable. When I talk to other long distance runners about this, there is a shared consciousness that is ephemeral and is usually articulated through a knowing glance, or an intense focus as we dig deeper in the latter stages of a marathon or before we crest a steep climb. Something has shifted in our society in that we are no longer entranced by the pure spirit of adventure as something worthy in itself. Everything we do today is only legitimized by “what can be gained” or “what the deeper meaning is”. In short, we’ve lost our sense of adventure for adventure’s sake.
To give you an idea what I’m talking about, in 1922 George Mallory was responding to the press about his attempt to summit Mt. Everest. At that time, adventure wasn’t about collecting data for research about climate change, or about the impacts on the human body, or even to support a worthy cause. “The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, ‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?’ and my answer must at once be, ‘It is no use.’ There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever… We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It’s no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.”
So, when you ask me what is the use in running for 3, 5 or even 12 hours, I can try to tell you what it’s like, but you’ll never know what it’s like. This brings be back to the idea of my comfort zone I started off with. The magical thing about running is that it allows me to operate within my comfort zone while simultaneously stretching the boundaries of that comfort zone. Discomfort lies on the edge of this zone, but what keeps me extending the boundary is knowing that after time, my body and mind begins to acclimate to the pain and discomfort. For me, long distance running is not about jumping into an unknown abyss, but rather strategically climbing into an uncharted territory in my mind to a place filled with the riches of personal growth in the guise of acceptance, vulnerability, and freedom.