The other day I ran up and down all the steps of a stadium for the first time. The first few flights felt great; I felt energized and confident about this whole endeavor. But by the time I reached a fourth of the entire thing, I could feel it–in my legs, lungs, heart, and head. At the halfway mark, I was “making deals with the devil”, as my friend who was running with me put it. At somewhere around three fourths, in a delirious and dehydrated state (it was also around 90 degrees and so humid that the air felt like soup), I started to question why I was running in the first place.
What was I gaining out of this? I certainly was losing a lot right now–sweat, feeling in my legs, and the will to keep going. I thought back to the most common pieces of advice I hear, “do it for the ladies” or “it’s summertime, you need that beach body.” Surely, for someone college-aged like myself, this is also motivating. It’s vain, but so are we at times, I’ll concede to that.
But I also started to realize a fault in this school of thought: there is an achievable end. As soon as I deem myself attractive enough (which, assuming I’m not terribly self-deprecating, should happen at some point), I’d lose the urge to keep working out. I’d have reached my end. It would also become easy to coerce myself with excuses. “Well, I feel pretty good about the way I look today, and I didn’t eat anything that unhealthy. Maybe I deserve a break.”
The reason this is a big problem to me is that running, swimming, biking, or whatever, have never been about the physical outcome. They’ve been about the mental discipline. Now, I know the word discipline sounds like it’s something you’d hear spoken in a movie about samurai fighting to reclaim their heritage or whatever, but seriously it’s important.
One thing I’ve always loved about exercising on my own is knowing that I’m the only one accountable, on all ends. If I mess up, I’m only affecting myself, but also, and maybe more importantly, the only thing keeping me going is myself. When I’m tired, sweating, hurting, and feeling like I should just give up, the only reason I keep going is because I’m making myself, and there’s something rewarding in that.
As I reached this conclusion, I started to push myself a bit harder, and my body began to push back against me. It didn’t seem like it was going to be as easy as it was in the sports movies’ 3-minute chumps-to-champs reels.
I also thought back to a reason a good friend of mine once gave, “every time you work out, you become a better person.” Now, whether or not you agree with that as an academic, it’s a damn good motivation if you can make yourself believe it as a person.
With that in mind, I reached the seven-eighths point and couldn’t bring myself to do anything more than walk. But I kept walking, my body pushing me to go more slowly. And when I reached the final two flights, I sprinted (which probably looked more like flailing) and collapsed immediately after finishing the final step, knowing that I probably just ran one of the slowest stadium times in history, that I’d be terribly sore the next day, and that neither of those two things mattered at all.