Those of you who are regular readers know that I’ve been a runner since my preteens, and there have been very few weeks, if any, since then when I haven’t laced up my shoes and headed out to move my body across the earth.

Running is important to me, because I find it grounding, because it produces the endorphins that I rely on, because it provides an outlet for stress and anxiety, because it’s good for my respiratory system and bone density. These are the immediate and obvious outcomes.

But running is not only an exercise for the body; it’s an exercise in discipline and of finding peace with delayed gratification.

Sometimes (many times!) I don’t want to head out. It’s cold and rainy, or it’s late in the day, or I’m feeling unmotivated, or sluggish. But I know that, 9 times out of 10, while the first mile may be a slog, by the time I’m finished, I’ll feel energized, I’ll feel better than when I started. Knowing that the reward is not immediate, and that it requires both forethought and effort to reach it – it rubs against the very human desire for instant gratification. But discipline, too, is a muscle we need to exercise.

It’s also an exercise of tolerance.

As a society we are all about constant, on-demand comfort. We don’t want to ever feel pain, or boredom, or anxiety. The overriding impulse is to escape from the feelings of distress, because we feel that we can’t live with them. So we avoid the difficult conversations. Or avoid facing unpleasant news. Or we avoid dealing with the tasks at hand. Or we avoid having to make physical efforts unless we absolutely must.

My friends, running is effort. Muscle-contracting, breath-burning, sweat-trickling effort. It doesn’t always feel great. It isn’t easy. It’s always uncomfortable. You just learn that if you can get past those feelings of discomfort, you’ll eventually feel pretty good – either at the end of the run, or 20 years from now, when the accumulated efforts will help you continue in good health.

I struggle to tolerate discomfort. I want to avoid it as much as possible; it’s only human to feel that way. But I also know that it is only in tolerating those things that I find difficult and distressing that I can move through them, and beyond them. I know that the exercise of sitting with those feelings that I don’t want to deal with is what fortifies my spirit, is what gives me strength.

And so, I lace my shoes and head out again. Because if I can learn to tolerate discomfort, I can learn to tolerate those uncomfortable parts of myself. And that’s how I’ll keep moving forward.

3 thoughts on “Tolerance

  1. Wayne Zelenak says:

    Sarah, your diary-blog reminds me of Jim Fixx, who was an American author and running enthusiast, who wrote the 1977 best-selling book “The Complete Book of Running.” He is credited with helping start America’s fitness revolution by popularizing the sport of running and demonstrating the health benefits of regular jogging. He died of a heart attack while jogging at 52 years of age; his genetic predisposition for heart problems and other previous lifestyle factors may have caused his heart attack.

    Fixx started running in 1967 at age 35. He weighed 214 pounds and smoked two packs of cigarettes per day. Ten years later, when his book, The Complete Book of Running (which spent 11 weeks at No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list) was published, he was 60 pounds lighter and smoke-free. In his books and on television talk shows, he extolled the benefits of physical exercise and how it considerably increased the average life expectancy.

    We are all the captains of our ship and must make the daily decisions to keep the wind in our sails and moving forward, despite the swells of the waves and the length of our journey.


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