One summer when I was a child, my family rented a seaside cottage. The journey there took a few hours, the predictable pilgrimage of backseat arguments, toilet stops, traffic jams, travel sickness and unpacked items remembered too late. We arrived hot, tired and grumpy, hauling our suitcases about a twenty minute walk up a cobbled street, because the pretty coastal resort was far too picturesque to allow for on-road parking. Entering the large kitchen, we were greeted by a poster on the wall of a kitten hanging upside down with dismayed expression, and the caption read: “Are we having fun yet?”
This became our family holiday motto for years – it cracked everyone up, and reminded us that the holiday was supposed to be about winding down, not up. Cute kitten captions weren’t quite so prevalent back then – this was over thirty years ago – pre-Google / BuzzFeed / Pinterest etc; I guess it wouldn’t pack the same comic punch now. And I also don’t think the fun-calibration would be so apposite.
These days, we are used to getting exactly what we want, most of the time. Our world is increasingly one which designs in comfort and sensory satisfaction as standard. We sit down in our huge La-Z-Boy style armchairs and can command technology around us to feed our minds and stomachs. I guess we’re not used to suffering much.
That’s why physical training is so good for us – and that’s why it’s hard. Another common question from friends about running centres around enjoyment: do you actually like running? When did it start to feel good? When I tell people that in fact, a lot of the time, I don’t enjoy the run, they look extremely relieved!
For around the first six months of running at least, I don’t think I ever felt particularly good pounding the pavement. It hurt. My lungs burned. My legs felt heavy. Blisters. Sore hip, then a sore knee. If I ran too soon after eating I had terrible gut rot. If I ate the wrong stuff, even at the right time, I got a stitch. I was sweaty and smelly, and sometimes I’d get a rash on my upper arms where my clothing chafed. Occasionally I ran so hard I’d think I was going to be sick (although so far I’ve never actually thrown up).
I often enjoy my runs now, in real time. (A lot. I’m not crazy and I’m not a masochist – if you never love one single thing about it, maybe find another sport that works better for you.) But I still experience all of that stuff too. What keeps me going are the goals I’ve written about elsewhere, and crucially, how I feel after the run. The massive satisfaction in achievement, in pushing through an immediate negative to find a fulfilling positive is so affirming and encouraging that it’s worth the 20, 30, 50 minutes of mid-level torture that gets you there! (Not to mention the endorphins and the fact that you can eat an extra croissant.)
Not everything you choose to do has to feel fabulous right in the middle of when you do it. Running long and running regularly can be boring and tiring. The novelty wears off and you need to know why you started. But when you stick at something, and you begin to see gradual improvement – even just a little bit – you can start to find something deeper and more fulfilling right inside of the moment.
And you start to have fun.