Thursday, April 26, 2012

When Does That Get Fun? (Dirtbag Cut)

Dear Dirtbag Friends,
When I submit an article to active for publishing it goes through an editing process. For every single thing I've written I have been exceptionally happy with the final edit, and I think they do a wonderful job there. Editing is not easy, and I have a ton of respect for the people who have to cut for length and content, making articles fit into the vision. With that said, I feel that When Does Endurance Training Get Fun  lost some of the message I was going for in the final edit. Thus, I'm going to go all Ridley Scott on you and present the Dirtbag Cut of Where Does That Get Fun? below. I want to stress this is nothing against and I love writing for them. They put out great content. As I said, I feel my cut presents my thoughts a little clearer in this case. Thanks for reading. 


When Does That Get Fun? (Dirtbag Cut)
By: Doug Robertson
I put my head down on the table at a friend’s house. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I rode seventy miles this morning. I’m beat,” I replied.
“Oh,” she said, “and that was, like, fun for you?”
Well, some of it. The downhill parts, definitely. On the downhill parts I’m like the pig in those insurance commercials. Weeeeeee! But the uphill parts?
“Yeah, I like it. Pain and I are best buds. It’s not fun unless it hurts...not that it hurts that bad.”
Lies. Macho lies.
Endurance sports are not fun. Not in the traditional sense. Not in the way going to a movie, playing a video game, or eating ice cream is fun. Endurance sports are hard. They hurt. Most of the time they hurt a lot. If you’re really good at them then they actually hurt more, but you’re better at absorbing the hurt, which in turn allows you bring more pain. Endurance sports are about suffering.
So why are we doing it? Shouldn’t a hobby be fun? Especially a hobby with the kind of time and cost commitment required by training for a marathon or triathlon?
First, this isn’t a hobby. Model rockets and stamp collecting are hobbies. This is a sport. Fun isn’t the point of sport. Fun is the point of games, and as the t-shirts say, “No one plays triathlon.” Still, all this defining doesn’t answer the question- Why do something that isn’t fun, that actually hurts, in your free time? Why spend so much time and energy, risking injury and constantly walking funny up stairs, on something that isn’t fun?
Not that the whole adventure is solely an exercise in masochistic pain and suffering. If it were then it would be called “soccer.” Training for an endurance event should have elements of fun, otherwise its just a grind for weeks on end. Grinding is bad because eventually the thing being ground, in this case you, will wear out completely. You know going in that the whole process won’t be a gas because you should be preparing yourself to suffer, which is by definition not enjoyable, but incorporating fun elements smooths things out. Fun is the grease.
Group training, running with friends, laughing through the pain and pretending it doesn’t hurt all make training more fun. If you have a group of running friends, a great drill for mixing up a run is a Last Man Sprints drill, what used to be called an Indian Run, where a group of four or more athletes run in a single file line and the last person sprints to the front while the others call encouragement. Or a fartlek run where you and your partners alternate deciding when to go hard and when to dial back.
Trail running breaks up the monotony of the road better than anything. It is also a great way to get away from cars and their exhaust fumes and their drivers who seem determined to pull off your shoe with their front tire. Another trail running bonus is when nature calls you’re already in nature, simplifying things. The best part has to be running through mud like you’re a child again. Squish!
Athletes are always getting creative to add enjoyment to their exercise. Finding random things on the side of the road and stopping to take pictures of them to share on a forum, blog, or social network (or tweeting them to active or your favorite active contributor #photobreak) is fun, plus you get an excuse to take “picture breaks.” You could even develop a fake rivalry with a famous person. I, for example, am training for the Half Ironman on Big Island in June. Lance Armstrong is also doing this event. I’ve decided he and I are archrivals and I amuse myself on runs by coming up with WWE-style promos challenging him and posting them online. There is nothing in the rule book about not being silly. Having a smile somewhere in your head to go to when The Wall looms large can be invaluable.
Look around at most events and you’ll see people in crazy costumes, interesting gear, or doing simply strange things like juggling for the duration. It hurts just as much for them as it does for anyone else, but they have found their own way to cope with the suffering. Sure, the doing isn’t always fun, but the way it is done it can be.
More and more races are becoming more fun-focused. Obstacle course-style events like the Warrior Dash, the Spartan Race, and the Tough Mudder are successfully combining the idea that a race should be hard with the idea that something you pay money for should include lots of smiles. Athletes of all levels are showing up in droves to get dirty, play like kids, and still be sore the next day. A recent Warrior Dash on Oahu sold out so fast they added waves. At one wave every half hour, with about five hundred people in each wave, more people played through their course in one day than most Americans realize live on Oahu. They must be doing something right. Same goes for the Run Like a Diva half marathon series. Did you know they have an aid station dedicated to handing out tiaras and pink feather boas? Women’s events know how to have fun.
And yet most endurance sports, while you’re doing them, when you’re two hours into a four hour plus effort, are not fun. Fun, again, is not the point.
Discovery is.
Endurance sports are about discovery. Discovering where you go when the going gets tough. Discovering how much more you have than you thought that morning. Endurance sports are fun in the way climbing Mount Everest or writing a novel is fun. The process is long and arduous, it takes planning and patience and luck, and there will be numerous times along the way where you want to throw up your hands (or just throw up). Those moments aren’t fun. Those moments are brutal. Those moments happen seven miles into a half marathon. No one likes the seventh mile of a half marathon. The run portion of an Olympic distance triathlon sucks for most people.
And right there, right when you’re suffering the most, that is when the discovery can begin. Once you hit the point of highest suffering there is only one place to go, and that is past it. When you learn to “embrace the suck,” as Chris McCormack calls it in his book, I’m Here To Win, you discover things about yourself you never knew.
I feel I need to be honest here- It is a million times easier to say, “And then you push through the suffering to the point of self discovery,” than it is to actually do it. But going to that place where you do hit the wall is a learning experience that you can’t get anywhere else. Hating mile seven, walking through some aid stations, and finishing at a zombie-shuffle sprint teaches you about your depths, your strength, and your ability to overcome. As your own inner-Columbus sailing on the seas of suffering you have discovered a new place within yourself.
And that is fun.  
How do you make training fun?


  1. Hmmm, what makes it fun for me? Beating guys half my age! Just kidding, (well not entirely), I just love running, especially on trails. Whenever I go on a run or bike ride, I just think how lucky I am to live in Hawaii! That's what makes if fun for me!

  2. I think training for endurance sports and racing them has a lot of suffering with occasional moments of real fun. There are those rare times when things are going just right and I find myself actually smiling and chuckling. Those are the moments I consider fun.

    1. I know exactly how you feel Kepa! Sometimes I just can't stop smiling during a race or really fun training run! It's all about feeling so alive! The pain is just part of that feeling. You're never more in touch with your body as when you struggle to get a little more air in your lungs, or feel your heart pounding in your chest.