How often do you push yourself out of your comfort zone? Physically. Mentally. How often do you truly challenge yourself?
If you want to be a better runner- if you want to grow faster, stronger, improve in any way- you have to be able to embrace discomfort. Running is not the easiest activity. To run well, you have to engage your whole self. To run well, you must encourage synchronicity between your heart, your mind and your body. If your legs are tired, you learn to use your brain to push on. When you’re mentally fatigued, you engage your heart to race to the finish.
None of this is comfortable. None of this is easy. And if it is, you probably aren’t pushing as hard as you could.
Training the body to get uncomfortable is fairly simple. Not necessarily easy, but measurable, understandable. It can be accomplished by utilizing speed workouts, hill repeats with limited recovery time, running miles upon miles at a variety of speeds. Countless books have compiled data and statistics outlining the exact mathematical equations that, if followed, are touted to help you achieve a breakthrough.
But training your mind, your soul to get uncomfortable, to stay there and push through it, is another matter.
I’ve heard it said the marathon is about who can make themselves hurt the most.
Some of this mental stamina comes with the physical training- you won’t be able to complete many workouts without some willpower and the desire to overcome fatigue.
But there is nothing like taking a giant leap into the unknown to test your limits, see what you’re made of and come out the other side more comfortable with life’s risks. And what better way to do that than go on an adventure?
Unfortunately we can’t all plan trips to insane international locales every weekend, but there are so many ways to add a little adventure into your day. A little growth. Little things you overcome on a daily basis can add up over time, and will develop your adventurous spirit while building your confidence.
Let’s start with trail running. Getting off the road is an easy way to kickstart your sense of adventure. I recently went on two trail running trips in Mexico (which you can read about here and here) with Aire Libre, and I have no doubt it influenced my 1:29 half PR a month later. Why?
These adventures broke down every fear I had related to running and asked me to gather the strength, the clarity to conquer them.
When you’re thrown into a new environment like that, everything shifts. On a long run through the streets back home it’s easy to zero in on the tiniest things, to groan about the early mornings or timing bathroom breaks, to give in to anxiety when that old injury starts acting up.
But when you take yourself out of your routine, you are free to forget about everything beyond the moment, the experience, the adventure. It’s just you and the light feather feeling of being in flight, in motion, of bounding uphill.
Trails are magical. If you can’t go off to another country this weekend, seek out a trail or a new park near you. Physically this will also support your running, because on trail or any varied terrain your body will utilize different muscles in order to stabilize itself, so you’ll be working muscles you usually don’t.
Trails are a great way to remind yourself why you began this sport, giving you a sense of weightlessness in motion but keeping you grounded in the beat of your footsteps on the path. The sheer beauty, the honesty of it is astounding.
It doesn’t escape me that years of training allow this weightlessness. It doesn’t come easy for everyone. But no matter your level, let the adventure of a trail run be a return to nature. Consider the natural world which granted you this life.
What a gift.
Returning to the idea of adventures… if you can get out there and travel… even better. Doesn’t even have to be a running trip.
New experiences challenge you, and the more difficult they are the stronger you will become.
Adventures ask you to be brave, and will reward you for doing so.
The key is that you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
You are going to need to adjust, adapt, deal with the unexpected. Physically and emotionally. Different things are hard for different people. Maybe your greatest struggle is feeling alone. If that’s the case, travel solo. Teach yourself that solitude is okay, and can often be a blessing in disguise. Perhaps the most frightening thing for you is to go someplace whose language trips over your teeth. Go there. Learn to relax and embrace the imperfect dance of unfamiliar words across your tongue.
In running, in the marathon, in a race.. you are out there having fun, I hope, but it’s not easy, per say. It’s hard. Especially with endurance running where you have to deal with the unexpected- whether it be gut issues or fatigue or hitting the wall or just struggling to meet your pace and not understanding what’s gone wrong.
When you travel, when you explore, when you add adventures to your life… you run into similar issues.
I recommend solo foreign travel for the ultimate self-growth, because you are relying solely on yourself. You have to figure out an unfamiliar language, currency conversions, how to deal with any issues that arise…
Sounds kind of like running, right?
At the end of the day, this makes me think about how we train. How beneficial it could be to focus more on trails, enjoying the run, seeking mental challenges. Embracing adventures, embracing discomfort, will make you a stronger person. It will make you brave. And if running is your thing, it will make you a stronger runner. After all, it’s been said that 90% of the game in running is mental, and challenges present us with the greatest opportunities for mental growth.
5 ways to get a little more adventurous this week
- plan a trip. anywhere. everywhere.
- sign up for an adventure race, like Ragnar
- talk to someone with an entirely different life experience than you. really listen. learn from them.
- take your run off road. go somewhere new. wake up.
- explore a new city, or a new neighborhood by yourself
How will you create adventures for yourself in coming months?