Surely, you’re familiar with the anecdote of placing a frog in a pot of boiling water. He’ll jump out of course. But if you set a frog down into a pot of water at room temperature and slowly bring it to the boiling point, the frog will sit there and eventually boil. I suspect this is a bullshit urban legend but the metaphor works for me so I’m using it.
For whatever reason I’ve been inundated lately with motivational announcements advancing the notion that running through pain and adversity demonstrates mental strength and is akin to heroism. You’d think I would agree with that but I don’t. Clearly I like running. I ascribe all sorts of benefits to it. But pushing myself to run hard through the last miles of a marathon isn’t something I necessarily believe is wise or admirable. Whether we are talking about an intense marathon after hitting the wall, or simply completing a particularly tough workout after your body screams at you to ease up to avoid injury; the ability to finish is less mental fortitude and more like the frog sitting in a slowly warming boil. You do it because the repetitive motions of the run self-condition you to accept ever-increasing levels of pain at a slow enough rate that you adapt and overcome. Both brain and body become numb to the dangers. The idea of stopping or turning around when you’re clearly lost but over halfway there isn’t a decision you make because you’re too invested. You become half pregnant. You do it because you’re stupid.
This was never obvious to me in my youth. I still remember the football coach in high school referencing the ’76 Japanese Olympics gymnast who recently performed the rings with a broken leg as he set the expectation that regardless of our injury, we always walk ourselves off the field. Idiot. I’m smarter now. I’m in tune to body stress and pending injury and take the requisite precautions. I cool down even in many races rather than sprint for the finish. Meeting that runner the other day with the cadaver tendons got me thinking on this topic. My goal is to be able to continue to enjoy running. Even Neil Young never burned out and is slowly rusting. Live to run another day.