The joy of suffering

Training daily is hard, and I think it gets progressively harder each year past 40. It takes a lot of motivation to run, swim or bike each day when you’re not up for it. And if you train hard, it takes a few days to recover. Of course, all of this would be made a lot easier on the juice. But the juice is not for me.

While out today on my usual long Saturday morning run (this time, a 15km slog through Hamburg’s harbour), I got to thinking about suffering. Because after the first 30 minutes, I really started to suffer. My pace slowed, my breathing was laboured and my thighs burned. I enjoyed the run a lot, but it was tough.

As I suffered, I recalled some things Greg LeMond said when he was interviewed in the excellent Australian documentary Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story. When commenting on how Armstrong, at the height of his (fraudulent) dominance, was powering up the hills during the Tour de France and leaving a trail of cyclists in his wake, LeMond made the observation that Armstrong wasn’t suffering. It was easy. Armstrong was incredibly fast and he was barely breaking a sweat.

I’ve seen this in a lot of triathlons, where some of the participants seem able to excel far beyond their age, body type, and perceived athletic ability to post amazing times and results. And they do it all without suffering. I’ve seen these guys at the finish line, fresh and seemingly ready to do the whole race again. They’re on the juice. There’s no doubt in mind. At the finish line, I almost always collapse on the my back, unable to move, and smile broadly. I’ve suffered and survived and I’m happy.

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That’s me in green. Happy and with nothing left in the tank.

Armstrong was a professional athlete determined to be the best in the world, and there was a lot of money that came with his success. I can understand why he and other athletes got on the juice in order to compete, succeed and earn the money. I fail to understand why some amateur middle-aged triathlete pumps his or her body with performance-enhancing drugs just to do well at some small town race on a Sunday morning. I also fail to understand how they can do that and feel proud of themselves. There’s absolutely nothing at stake. It’s cheating, and it’s shameful. They should be suffering along with the rest of us.

While I’ll refrain from quoting the Bible, I do think there is joy in suffering, especially when it comes to sports, and not just during the race but through all the training as well. The suffering leads to happiness: the runner’s high at the end of a long run, the euphoric feeling of hitting the line in a race, the pride of doing your best, regardless of the result. For me, all of that would be tarnished if it was chemically driven, at which point the drugs were achieving the results, not me.

Armstrong ended up going through a very public downfall. His name is tarnished and he lives in shame. To all the amateur triathletes out there using performance-enhancing drugs, you should be ashamed of yourselves. To me, you’re a thousand times worse than Armstrong.

 

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