Why Do Hard Things (Like Running or Wintering in Alaska)?

We are in the middle of training for our second Eugene Marathon, all for a race we won’t win. This begs the question: What’s the point? Why do hard things at all?

clay heads at the Crochet Museum
From the Crochet Museum in Joshua Tree

To that I say, Because I can! And you can too! There’s also compelling reasons to do seek out painful adventures.

Occasionally doing something vastly more challenging than you’re used to can be a great teacher. It can show you something about your physical and mental edges. You can’t see where an edge is from afar. You need to get close to it. And in getting close, that edge can expand, changing what you can do from then on . . .

And this isn’t psychobabble. Research shows many of our limits are largely regulated by our thoughts and emotions. The Central Governor Theory, for example, suggests that our brain uses “the unpleasant but illusory sensations of fatigue” to convince us to stop or slow down physical effort before we’re close to true exhaustion. Our brain tells us our tank is empty when it’s still half full.

Michael Easter, author of The Comfort Crisis

Marathon training is another way for us to get ready for winter in Alaska. The more 18-mile training runs we do, the more confidence we have to push the limits of our own comfort zones.

WANTED: More Role Models to Break Out of My Comfort Zone!

To stay motivated for the race, I look up YouTube videos of people older than 50 doing extraordinary physical things, like running 100 miles, or weight training, swimming long distances, and other mind-blowing physical feats. Sometimes all we need is to talk to some of the FOY super seniors.

Other times I scroll YouTube. I’m in awe of people like Joan MacDonald.

I also look to my awesomely brave, funny friend TC, leader of the Odaroloc Sled Dogs.

Odaroloc sled dog meet-up in Colorado
Blame Alaska on the middle two characters!

When Jim hears me raving about people doing hard things like they do, he says “You either have it, or you don’t.” But I’m not too sure about that. Everyone has it in them to push themselves a litter harder than the day before. But being uncomfortable is not something most people are willing to endure. And with good reason. Hard work sucks when you’re doing it!

The problem with staying within your comfort zone is that sticking to the familiar is limiting. You never really know what you are capable of until you reach a little further, walk a little longer, stretch a little higher.

I Never Wanted to Break Out of My Comfort Zone Either

Weakies Cereal box illustrationW
Weakies Cereal, from Wacky Packages

Going outside the limits of my comfort zone did not come naturally to me. For instance, public speaking used to scare the hell out of me.

But the day came when I had to confront that fear. My fear of public speaking was holding me back in business, and life in general. I knew I was capable of more. Then one of our business mentors said something that changed my perspective:

If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Lena West

Life is filled with many places and things I want to get. And because I was afraid of public speaking, I was limiting the opportunities to have them.

So I signed up with Toastmasters, the public speaking organization. In a friendly, non-competitive way the group helped me overcome the terror of opening my mouth in front of strangers.

Do I enjoy public speaking to large groups now? Or pitching my services to companies? Not really. But I do it when I want something bad enough. Instead of running from fear, I run to fear. And this has made all the difference in life.

Choosing to do hard things like wintering in Alaska is the next step in my personal evolution.

Rosie the RIveter RV at Fountain of Youth

I’m done saying “I’m not a winter person. I hate snow. I hate cold.”

It’s time to do something I never dreamed of doing, but deep down know that it needs to be done to feel like a complete person. Thankfully my incredible partner in crime is willing to do this with me.

Our adventure won’t be easy. But in the end it will make us stronger people who live their lives with more intention and perseverance than they ever imagined.

4 thoughts on “Why Do Hard Things (Like Running or Wintering in Alaska)?”

  1. I grew up in northern MN which many Alaskans say is very much like Alaska weather wise. I enjoyed winter when I lived there. Yeah, it’s cold but if you dress right you will hardly notice. Alaska in the winter will be wonderful. You’ll have a great time. Especially the dog sledding!

  2. And you might see an amazing aurora borealis like happened recently. I know you will end up having a great experience. Its all about attitude and yours is always great.


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