Earlier this morning, I heard a 70-year-old Nova Scotia man called Chris Anderson, who has been running in 29 consecutive Boston marathons and looking to do his 30th, say on TV: “We marathoners often joke that ‘running a marathon is easy; It is the marathon training that is the hard part.’”
What he said definitely strikes a chord for me who now undergo hard daily training so as to be ready for the 7,515 km bike ride in a few weeks’ time. According to the principles of training overload and progressive overload, for the training to be effective and beneficial, one has to keep challenging himself to do something he presently cannot do, then give it time to recover and adapt. Naturally, such training is hard because one is constantly pushing himself to face and overcome new hardship. I can definitely testify to that. Very often, the overload introduced in my training, which is beyond what my current physical condition can handle, leads to breathlessness, discomfort or even pain so tortuous that it takes tremendous willpower to resist the temptation to give up.
Paradoxically, though, the hardship is also where the pleasure of the training lies. I do not mean just the outcome - of seeing progress made, of being able to go beyond previous ‘limits’. Such triumphs are, of course ,the source of sheer joy. But the process itself, with (not despite) all the sweat and blood, can also be joyful. To allow capacity to enjoy the process, I have to screen out the feelings of fear and doubts, the mindfulness of the challenge, and the sensations in the forms of discomfort and pain. Then, and only then, will I be able to focus on the effort and repetition and experience the joy. I find it useful to pay attention to my breathing. I also find it useful to recite prayers. My favourite is the following Taizé lyrics:
Jésus le Christ, lumière intérieure, ne laisse pas mes ténèbres me parler.
Jésus le Christ, lumière intérieure, donne-moi d’accueillir ton amour.
Its message about not letting my darkness speak to me and enabling me to welcome the love of Jesus is very relevant to the situation of hard exercising.
So, yes, I agree with Chris Anderson that training is the hard part, but I have to say that it is also where joy is. He did not say it, but I am sure this is also what he has experienced.