Suffering is Optional

Suffering is Optional
Image by Kody Kohlman


As the popular Buddhist saying goes “suffering is optional”


In a year full of uncertainty and unprecedented challenges, I keep coming back to this saying to help me stay grounded. I am sure I am not alone when I say that 2020 has been the year of finding silver linings. With canceled races and a lot of lonely solo runs, motivation and passion has been extremely hard to come by. 


In the past I have used competition and races to define and shape my running career. Positive race results and increasing fitness fired me up and motivated me to keep pushing for more. Races were challenges on the horizon that I could hook myself into and focus on. I was anchored to visions of success and kept coming back to them during hard workout sessions and challenging days. I used these visions to remind myself of the strong foundation that I was building with my hard work and the heights to which that work could take me.

But 2020 was the wind that blew those dream clouds away and suddenly, with no races on the calendar, I found myself with nothing to anchor to. I found myself floating around aimlessly, throwing my metaphorical motivation hook at anything I could find in the hopes that I would soon find a motivating path forward.

I tried hooking to time trials, solo PRs. FKTs, and other grand ideas in the hopes that with them I would reel in some renewed passion and motivation. But alas, all of these novel ideas dissolved just as quickly as they had come and I was again left wandering. I was lost. This lasted until about July or August of this year at which point I decided that I had had enough. 


Taking heed of that valuable Buddhist saying, I decided to try and find the joy and motivation from what I could do this year instead of relying on future goals and successes to keep me motivated. We all have the power to choose our suffering. We can choose to see a year of cancelled races and feelings of being lost as our suffering or we can choose to learn from those situations and look at them as opportunities to grow.


In my growth, I have realized that what I thought was a very healthy relationship with running was in fact very results oriented and extrinsically based. To overcome this, I am trying to look at training from a different perspective. Adding in cross-training has been a way to break down my relationship with training and expand it to include more forms of activity. Also, while this year was devoid of almost any races, it has been the longest continuous training block I have ever had. That is not a sexy race result but it is a PR of sorts, and it will set me up for success in the years to come. 


Running many solo miles has been mentally draining as well. While some group running has returned, it is not quite what it used to be (really missing those post long-run brunch stops or group pancake breakfasts!). Normally I appreciate a good amount of solo training days but this year, with the decreased social interaction on all fronts, it has been especially hard. But now I am choosing to see this challenge as a really great tool that I am developing for my running toolkit. A superpower, if you will. Running long runs alone and showing up and getting big workouts done solo has taught me a lot about my own resolve. I am learning to show up for myself when no one else can be there. I am learning that I owe it to myself to give it my all even if no one is there to validate me. I am enough and I am all I need. 


Even though this means I haven’t run any crazy PRs in time trials this year or any fancy FKTs, I have had the chance to hone in a new superpower! So when racing does return, I might not have any sexy new numbers or accolades next to my name but I have learned how to show up for myself and how to do hard things alone and I’d argue that that’s even more valuable. 


Whatever you have been challenged with this year, I hope you can find your silver linings. I hope that you can choose not to suffer and hone in your own superpowers. We can see this year as a big ‘L’ or we can see it as an opportunity to grow, it’s all up to you, you can choose!

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