20 May, 2022
Being uncomfortable has bad connotations - but you could use that to your advantage as we learn from contributor Graham McKenna's experience.
Ever since going through counselling in 2017 and realising that I actually love running, I have found myself finding more and more parallels between running and real life. It makes for an easy analogy and in its simplest form “we are all on a journey, some will have it harder than others and some will need to train harder to reach the same outcome”
When I broke my leg in August I spent a few months laid up and sulking, feeling sorry for myself. I did try and use the time wisely though and listened to a few audio books, chiefly Green Lights by Matthew McConaughey and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** by Mark Manson.
Alongside one of my favourite authors, Benjamin Hoff, these two books got me thinking a lot more, connecting the dots as it where and trying to find a way to write my own ideas and thoughts around all of these books and how they relate to life and running and the various crossovers they presented.
I’d like to present what I think is one of the most important parallels and the various connotations it could be used with.
I first heard that phrase when watching an interview by my good friend Vic (The Happy Runner) (listen to our podcast with Vic here) as she talked about her preparation to get ready for running the Monarchs Way, a 625 mile route that she set the FKT (Fastest known Time) on. It was said as the state in which she had trained. For her, running with dirty hands, running in the rain, purposely pushing herself outside of her comfort zone was training her mental state more so than physical. Knowing that the run would be hard both physically and mentally and training for both.
I understood what she meant and although it stuck with me I didn’t really think much more about it.
I then saw it written again when I was studying for my ultra-coaching course and it got me thinking…
Listening to those audio books a few things stuck out. Firstly, “get out of your comfort zone” this isn’t necessarily something bad or extreme and as Matthew states it can be something as simple as just doing something differently. When we look at the whole “comfort zone” thing it can be daunting, after all why make yourself “uncomfortable”?
“We cannot fully appreciate the light without the shadows. We have to be thrown off balance to find our footing.” Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights
It is by changing things and stepping out of our comfort zone that we grow. This is as true in life as it is in running. If we only run the same route at the same pace all of the time then little will change, if we change our route or our training technique (maybe try a sprint session once a week) then things will change much faster and we will see improvements. The same can be said for life, if we just sit and watch the same shows on TV or read the same author then even though we may well be happy, there will be little personal growth.
“Without difficulties, life would be like a stream without rocks and curves – about as interesting as concrete. Without problems, there can be no personal growth, no group achievement, no progress of humanity. But what mattes about problems is what one does with them.” ― Benjamin Hoff, The Te of Piglet
I used this example whilst on a run with a friend, the thing that terrified her most was being in the middle of nowhere and being lost. By stepping out of her comfort zone a little and let’s say only going a few miles from home and allowing herself to be “lost” but to find her way back will give confidence in her abilities. By expanding this further eventually the fear of being lost will subside and the knowledge that she can find her way is gained.
It is easy to fear the unknown and life will eventually throw you a curve ball or force you from that warm blanket of your comfort zone. It is how you cope with these eventualities that matters to how you progress.
Let’s quickly look back at using this in a running sense. When we take part in our first event or run a certain distance for a first time, it is an “unknown”. We may have trained up to the event and may well have completed two thirds of the distance but the remainder is a surprise, it’s for this reason that I always tell friends to never worry about time when completing a distance for the first time, be that 1 mile or 100km.
Whilst healthy, self-reflection can also be uncomfortable. Reflecting on ourselves can be daunting but in doing so it may allow us to find patterns in behaviour that we can change.
“The play-it-safe pessimists of the world never accomplish much of anything, because they don’t look clearly and objectively at situations, they don’t recognize or believe in their own abilities to overcome even the smallest amount of risk.” ― Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh.
Emotions can be another “uncomfortable” to get comfortable with, although things are changing, the “A Typical” Stiff upper lip is still prevalent in society. Hiding or squashing our emotions can be detrimental though and have a much more negative effect on us. Leading to negative self-talk and potentially spiralling even further. Embracing and accepting these feelings can allow us to grow and become stronger and more resilient.
“Pain is an inextricable thread in the fabric of life, and to tear it out is not only impossible, but destructive: attempting to tear it out unravels everything else with it. To try to avoid pain is to give too many f**** about pain. In contrast, if you’re able to not give a f*** about the pain, you become unstoppable." Mark Manson
Not quite Mark, but damn close :)
I'm Graham, an ultra runner and coach, who uses running to fund raise. I co-own Start Running Stay Running CIC. I've done some crazy challenges on a treadmill but I also love getting outside. This country has some fabulous places to visit and I have a place in my heart for South Wales.
If you want to follow Graham's journey, check out his website here.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realise that I no longer possess the fitness, stamina or stupidity of youth. To achieve the goals I now set myself, I too have to train just as hard as everyone else. As long as my body is fit and my mind is able, I’ll continue to push my boundaries. I still have a few “bucket list” challenges that I’d love to do and as ever I’ll most likely do them for charity; helping others in the process.
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