“I think there are limits [in ultra-distance running]… but I don’t think anyone actually ever reaches theirs.”
Anton Krupicka in Kilian’s Quest S04E05.
For training and gear testing – and of course, for the fun of it – I found myself running around the lakeside road to ‘my mountain’ (the Traunstein) again.
It was a nice-enough day with a lull in the worse weather that had been moving in.
With an insulating layer and a Windstopper top, what I wore felt rather too warm.
One week before, the temperatures had been even higher, the sun was shining, hardly any snow was visible any more, lots of people were out and about on that beautiful day.
A mother with a twin stroller, running on the lakeside road? Check.
Two old men already coming down the mountain that morning? Check.
Young hikers out for a day of fun? You betcha.
Spring was definitely arriving, between the sunshine and the flowers.
That was then. The week later, it still seemed a nice-enough day, but more of a dusting of snow on the upper reaches of the Traunstein was proof of the worse weather that had started moving in.
Getting higher up the mountain, whose top kept itself shrouded in clouds, the expected wind kicked up, too.
Only that it pretty soon was enough wind that the two layers that had just seemed too warm started feeling too cold; out came the windproof/waterproof jacket and pants that have become my constant companions on such tours.
And still, looking around, listening to the wind, noticing some snow start to fall, it was not enough for me.
A man whom I’d seen at the foot of the mountain came past me as I’d decided to turn back, and of course I didn’t like turning back when someone else went on – but it’s just this sort of social comparison and ego-kick that gets us in trouble. Turn back I did.
Not Doing, at least Not Comparing
Not doing anything isn’t the best thing for growth, of course.
Doing will lead to comparison, however, and that may make for some dangerous challenges.
Even on the nice day a week before, I had noticed that.
Compare yourself to those who are really fast, and you may feel like you belong in a wheelchair.
Walk past hikers, and you feel pretty okay with yourself.
And now, with social media, comparison has all the worse a context, especially upwards to the truly extraordinary people.
The only solution, same as it’s always been: If you are not among the best and greatest who have to compete, retreat from the competition.
Be(come) good enough and better, living for yourself.
(As I said before, at least sometimes, “winning is for losers.”)
Know when to pull back to keep yourself safe and go on another day; be happy not in comparison to others but with what you are able to do.
Having gone once across to, over and around the mountain, and back, and then still having been able to head right on to the train back to my wife – that had made me happy.
Having felt the need to turn back even as I could have gone on (and saw someone else do so) this time, that left me feeling daunted by the mountain, especially as a bit more sunshine would break through the clouds as I was on my way back.
It was only a wee bit of sunshine, though, and at least I got on my way back, not stuck in cold and wind up a mountain, which could just as well have been the case.
Out Further, Comfortably Inside
Becoming at home means both drawing back, making oneself comfortable, and pushing at boundaries, growing.
And here lies an interesting insight from recent science:
“Ego” – that is, willpower – apparently becomes “depleted” as we use it.
So, the more you force yourself to do something, to act in a certain way, and the more you simply have to make decisions, the weaker your power over yourself will become.
Choices such as what to have for breakfast are enough to drain ‘ego’ a bit; by afternoon, you just reach for the worst kind of quick sugar fix.
It doesn’t matter if the choices are inconsequential or important, they all require an effort that the brain will start to have trouble with.
Interestingly, there is an insight from the seemingly physiological side of things that sounds related:
When we feel that we just can’t go on, e.g. running, it may not actually be the muscles that are fatigued to the point of not working anymore, apparently.
Rather, it is our brains triggering a survival mechanism, looking to conserve some energy in case we should still need it later.
In both cases, choices (to make, or just the choice to go on) are necessary, and our mental household of energy is the decisive factor for how this will fall.
To a large extent, our conscious minds may be contributing (and we can learn to override some of these processes), but the real decision falls outside of its purview.
Rationality looks like it plays a role, but its main role may well be to rationalize the decision that came about at a deeper level.
“Hypo-egoic” behaviors that don’t need such willpower because they have become ingrained in us, though, can go on – and we see that in running, where it’s necessary to forget the ego and just become motion if we want to go on at a certain point.
This is also, and more usually, the point of habits.
Make something a habit, and it will happen on cue and without a conscious, rational, energy-draining decision about it being necessary.
Just try to make sure you create good habits for yourself, be they going out for regular runs, turning back when things get too dicey, or regularly cooking good food, not flopping down in front of the TV with a beer when you really, really, would love to make more in and of your life…