Yesterday I walked back into the office after my regular lunchtime workout, a colleague asked me, Jon are you feeling ok? (I was pale in the face, sweating profusely, breathing heavily and generally not particularly aware of my surroundings.) Yeah I feel fine, why? You don’t look well. I’m good, I just worked out.
5 minutes later we both went for a quick trip to Wholefoods to grab some snacks and on route she asked me, Jon, I get why you love eating well and exercising, but do you actually enjoy pushing your body to such extremes? I don’t understand how that could be enjoyable or what emotional reaction you get from it. That question stumped me a little, I have been asked how I got into health and fitness and why I love it on numerous occasions, but never why I am willing to push myself to the point where I nearly pass out. It stumped me so much that I thought about it for the duration of my journey home that day. I came to the conclusion that I am willing to push myself to such extremes because there are certain attributes in individuals that I hold very highly, attributes that I like to think I have, that can be tested by pushing your limits physically. All of these attributes transcend fitness and are in my opinion vital in day to day life. So by pushing myself am in so doing proving to myself that I have them.
I like to think I am a very honest person, I don’t lie (for the most part #disclaimer). I’m polite, but I tell it how it is and if I say I am going to do something, I will do it. This is the one characteristic I value most in a person, someone that doesn’t understand the power of their word will never have my respect (whether they are looking for it or not). Lying to others is easy, but it is even easier to lie to yourself and there is no where I see this more prevalently than in the gym. How much you can lift, how fast you can run, how far you are willing to push yourself or even just how much energy you have. Bottom line, lying to yourself in the gym can be dangerous. It is important to know when you should keep your foot on the pedal and when you should ease off. Pushing yourself beyond previously conceived limits allows you to test that honesty.
A few months ago I was on a West England Touch Rugby team bonding weekend, which consisted of an array of fitness tests (7 in total), military style team based activities and other such nonsense. Towards the end of a very long, very tiring day our coach introduced us to a hill which he had appropriately named Police Brutality. We had done a full days (6-7 hours) training and 5 fitness test including 2 back to back hill sprints, but this was something else. I put it at around 250m and the incline was insane. Before setting us off, he said. Boys, it has been a long day, but this is your penultimate test. Most of the tests you have done today have tested your fitness, this hill will test your mental resilience. This hill will show me one thing, which of you are willing to keep pushing when everything in your body is telling you to stop. The test for this hill is not if you can make it to the top, not how quick you can do it, but if you can make it without walking. If you can keep running all the way, you’ve passed.
That moment I decided I wasn’t going to stop, no matter what. We set off, at what was a very conservative pace considering we are all competing against each other, but as he said, it had been a long day. The incline increased rapidly, I upped my pace wanting to attack this thing head on, but that didn’t last long. By the time I reached half way my legs had turned to lead, I had sweat in my eyes and was struggling to take in enough oxygen to stay awake. At this point many started to walk or had stopped entirely for a breather. I kept going and by the time I reached 3/4 of the way up I had no idea where I was, I knew my legs were still moving but other than that I couldn’t tell you anything about the last 1/4 of the race, other than that I collapsed at the finish and am pretty sure I was hallucinating.
Pushing yourself on occasion is essential. It puts you in a very comfortable position of knowing that when things get tough you can count on yourself to not give up, regardless of what is thrown at you. So, get used to the pain and if you can, learn to enjoy it.
There are obviously many other characteristics that I value, but I hold these two very highly. So question answered, more for my own benefit than yours, but I hope Why Being A Masochist Isn’t Always A Bad Thing made for an interesting read.