Friday, December 21, 2012

In Search Of Suffering

I think "suffer" is a weird word.  It always makes me think of Sylvester the Cat's "sufferin' succotash!" expression on the Looney Tunes.

This would be Sylvester, in case you didn't have the pleasure of watching Looney Tunes as a kid (or adult).
I've always been a little suspect of defining what we do in sport as "suffering" (and I'm especially suspect of the term "sufferfest").  Suffering, to me, is what the families of the Newtown shooting victims are doing.  Suffering is what I see at the hospital, when patients are in the midst of a bad diagnosis and they are very afraid to die.  Suffering is your 3rd or 4th round of chemo. 

Yet I will certainly admit to saying things like "I really suffered that last 10K of the race" or "those intervals on the trainer this morning really made me suffer!"  And I don't want to minimize the type of pain we all feel when we push our bodies to the brink.  So I think what we should do is categorize suffering into two groups - (Type 1) the kind we are forced to endure and (Type 2) the kind we willingly submit ourselves to.

This morning Oscar and I went on a run.  It was early and dark and very cold and windy.  It consisted of a warmup, a 30 minute "tempo" portion in which we aimed for a specific average pace, and then a cooldown.  Because a picture is worth a 1000 words:

Click on the picture to make it bigger so you can read my explanations.
As you can see, the tempo portion of the run started off downhill.  Maintaining my goal pace was quite easy.  Then we ran the majority of the tempo along the river.  This part was flat with only slight elevation gains.  It is here that I will admit to giving myself a little cushion to work with on the average pace because I knew what was to come.  What was to come you might ask?  Well, the last 7 minutes of the tempo were straight up a mile+ long hill that starts off some what tame but that is so steep at the top, my lungs (and legs!) were begging for mercy.  My breathing may or may not have sounded like I was going to lose one of those lungs.  I should also mention that turning to run up that hill also coincided with turning directly into a very strong (and cold!) wind.  Fun times.

So what is the moral of this story?  Perhaps to pick a better course for my tempo run next time!  :)  But really, what I want to say is this: I think we are really lucky to have the opportunity to struggle and do some Type 2 suffering in our endeavours to swim/bike/run faster.  I chose this route on purpose this morning because I wanted to make myself "suffer" and struggle up that last hill (and trust me, I sure did!).  Why?  Because I can!  Because Type 2 suffering is a luxury.  Because I'm healthy and strong and my body will take the beating I give to it.  And that is such an amazing thing that I am so very thankful for.  And I encourage you to do the same - to perhaps suffer a little more than you have to, just because.  Not all the time, but every once in a while, just because.  I think there are many people going through some Type 1 suffering that wish they could be so lucky.

Wishing a very Merry Christmas to you all!


  1. I think this is one of the best posts you've ever written. Very thoughtful. And I always like a diagram. :)

  2. good point that this is a luxury. some can't run and we are blessed to be able to and love it! Merry christmas!

  3. Great post and so true. Merry Christmas!

  4. For some reason suffering outside on a run seems so much easier than on a CT when you have to willingly increase those watts....ouch. Happy Holidays glad you have a sufferpartner in O!!

  5. I agree with you completely on your ideas of real and feigned suffering :) Looks like you had a great run though!!! Merry Christmas!

  6. Bravo!!! Great post and wonderful reminder of how lucky we are!!

  7. Definitely suffering involved, but like you said it's all relative!

  8. Very true Beth, great perspective. I'll now add Type 1 and Type 2 Suffering to my fun scale. I now dedicate my type 2 suffering to those that must endure type 1.