To find out

A few years back, when the Rock ‘n’ Roll series still came to St. Petersburg, I had the opportunity to hear Frank Shorter speak at the expo.  (For those who are unaware, Frank Shorter is the last American man to win an Olympic gold medal in the marathon back in 1972.)  He said a lot of interesting things but what stuck with me after all these years were the words he use to describe his motivation for running. He said, quite simply, that he ran “to find out.”

At first I thought it seemed like a curious thing to say, that he ran “to find out,” but the more I thought about it, the more profound it seemed. It wasn’t a matter of trying to prove something to anyone else. All he wanted to do was to find out – find out if he had trained hard enough, if he was ready, if he could do it, if he was made of the stuff he’d hoped he was made of.

I’ve found myself revisiting those three words several times over the course of the past year, almost always when I’m facing some sort of tremendous challenge that leaves me feeling a little breathless.  What I’ve found is that this little shift in perspective – doing something “to find out” – makes things…well, not less scary, but more like an adventure. One where you don’t need a suitcase or a passport. An adventure of the soul. You throw down a challenge for yourself, you prepare the best you can, and then you go and do your best.

You do it to find out.

Part of what has motivated me to become more committed to my athletic pursuits is definitely this sense of wanting to find out just what I’m capable of. When I think about all the things I’ve done in the past few years that I had once considered impossible, I’m filled with this insatiable curiosity to find out.

But it’s not just about my life as athlete, but about my life as a human being.  Through sport I have had the opportunity to find out a lot about myself: that my capacity to withstand pain can be used in service of achievement instead of abuse; that I can be resilient in the face of adversity; that I am capable of working hard to get shit done; that I can be terrified of something and yet I’ll go and do it anyway.

I’ve also found out what it feels like to suck at something; what it feels like to want to lie down in the road in a weeping mess; what it feels like to suffer so abjectly you can’t even plaster on a fake smile for the camera, and worst of all, to feel these things knowing that I actually fucking chose this, for fun. I usually find out more about the kind of person I am from my struggles than I do from my triumphs. I think this is true for a lot of us.

Tomorrow, when I line up in the sands of the Atlantic Ocean in the moments before my half-ironman, I’m sure I will be a little scared and a little nervous – which is normal because it means I care about doing well – but I’m also excited, because I want to see if I’ve improved at this distance and by how much, because I want to see if I can swim as well as I think I can, because I want to give myself a benchmark against which to measure myself on the bike. I’m excited because I want to find out.

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12 responses to “To find out

  1. I’m a long time follower of your blog but this is my first comment. I think you’ll do great! Good luck!

  2. Such an awesome point of view. Thanks for the insightful read and good luck tomorrow!

  3. Just yesterday during a long run at my cabin, my parents brought me a bottle of water (so kind!) I couldn’t talk much and I was a little shaky with fewer than 5 miles to go. My mom said something like, “You sure don’t look like you’re having fun.”
    Maybe I didn’t show it because it was a pretty warm day and I had just run more than 13 miles, but I actually was having a pretty good time. I immediately thought of this post, about finding out what it is to suck at something. I also do this crazy stuff to find out. I run and bike long distances and deliberately put myself in pain because I want to find out what it is to feel alive.

    • “I run and bike long distances and deliberately put myself in pain because I want to find out what it is to feel alive.”

      I do this too, and I’m often struck by the paradox of it. People throughout all of history and in many parts of the world want the kind of comfortable, easy lives we have, and yet a lot of us still feel driven to subject ourselves to controlled kinds of pain and fear to make ourselves feel alive. I personally sometimes feel anesthetized by modern life, and so it’s nice to get that visceral reminder that I’m not just an economic production unit or a consumer of cheap shit or a sex object or a walking uterus or any other kind of objectification, and that I am in fact a living creature who can act and feel and think independently of what others demand of me. It’s a refuge of sorts, in a weird way.

  4. This is the best reason, which can sustain us athletes even past the time when we stop getting stronger–because there is always more to find out. Congratulations on all your hard training, and on this latest challenge!

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