(Original post March 2012. Still 100% relevant)
The last couple weeks I stumbled upon a certain realization about running, maybe even about life. Whether you are a runner or not, take heart, because you might see some parallels in your own world.
There are days when I feel invincible. The miles, the hours, the hills I put in week after week, make me feel strong. They build me up, encourage me to push the envelope a little further. They give me the confidence to reach a little higher.
And there are days when I feel beaten down. The miles, the hours and hills, they cut right through my strength, they make me feel weak. They break me down, entice me to give up. They take away my passion to persevere through the challenges I face.
It’s not like this is a big epiphany. Maybe the opposite, kind of an unwritten rule that we store in the back of our mind and don’t pay attention to. A rule that says don’t get too comfortable when you feel you’re on top of the world, because it won’t be long until you will feel the world on your shoulders.
I suppose it’s as simple as the yin and yang. Opposing states, like any contrary forces in the natural world, are not only interdependent, they need each other to exist. Hot and cold, fire and water, female and male. Strong and weak. Can I feel strong if I have not felt weak? Can I be strong if I am never weak?
Training is a big part of being a runner. At its core training breaks you down, then it builds you back up, stronger than before. Week after week, month after month. The cycle continues. Some people naturally wonder, why submit yourself to such a rigor? Isn’t there more to life? Sometimes I ask myself that question, usually when I feel broken down.
In writing this I’m reminded of a lecture Master Kan gave his young disciple in the television series Kung Fu. Addressing the young student, the master explains the purpose of the hardship the student must endure to be a Shaolin priest.
"You must prepare yourself for what lies ahead
in your chosen role as priest.
The nature of wind, and fire, and ice.
The frailty of the human condition in hunger, and thirst and fatigue.
The predatory instincts of living things.
The greed and vanity buried in the hearts of men.
You must be prepared to survive through all of this.
These graceful movements you now perform,
along with all the rigors and disciplines your masters impose upon you,
will help you develop the inner strength, that which we call Chi.
And when you come to meet your greatest test, your highest challenges,
when you call upon your chi, it will not desert you."
The more I learn, the more I’ve come to realize that running through the ups and downs is, in itself, the ultimate test of endurance, the real challenge that stands between me and inner strength.