Endurance Sport, Life and Suffering.

Endurance athletes are a strange bunch. They deliberately sign up for events that are going to test them. A small percentage do it as a career, and compete for both podium positions and financial gain,(although it must be said that the financial gains for most are marginal), however, all compete and train due to a strange and important relationship with pain. 

Pain and suffering are the two things that most people want to avoid. A look at anyone’s pharmacy box will probably reveal a collection of various pain-killers. And then you get athletes. People who pop their heads out of the water following a tough swim set, and say something like this, “Wow, that was good, my arms are burning!”. Or, take the cyclist who smiles at the top of a hill because her quads are – you choose your go-to term – “Killing me!” or “On fire!” or “Finished!”. Or take the runner, who, at the end of a run, limps through the door and declares to his family that, “that was a great run”. Athletes are different.

There are certain parallels with endurance sport and life in general. Endurance sport takes you through every emotion in the book, times when you just cruise: a gentle downhill, a cool breeze and you just float along. Then, there are times of testing, a steep uphill, a headwind, hot temperatures, an off day – suddenly you are in a world of suffering and you have something huge to overcome.

This is why endurance sport is so important to me. In the space of an hour or ten, I will go through moments when I will consider giving up. Moments when I just want to pack it in, moments of doubt and frustration. It’s those moments that prepare you for life. Some of my readers will have done a marathon, that’s about 3 – 5 hours of running, or a longer event- you are given 12 hours for a Comrades and 24 hours for Transbaviaans. In other words, the event has an ending. Real life can throw all sorts of things at us that don’t have defined endings such as financial stress, illness, relationship challenges, Jacob Zuma – the list goes on. It’s in times like those when endurance athletes can go back to key lessons learned during a sporting event, just put one foot in front of the other and keep going.

Winston Churchill said this, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

I love Seneca’s quote,


So, may you and I learn to face adversity bravely, both in training and in real life, for that is a key to happiness.


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