Advertising surrounds us and comes at us from every angle. We are inundated all day by interesting/annoying messages designed to tug at our emotions and coax us into purchasing something. Take holiday and fitness advertising. More often than not, both are concocted of contrived platitudes wrapped in a seductively sincere candy coating. I don’t mean to be a grinch or overly negative, but rather I’m trying to see through the haze of flimsey, manipulative nonsense.
Christmas ads for diamonds (aka shiny dirt) and gift-wrapped luxury cars suggest in serious tones that these trinkets are the ultimate expressions of love and devotion. The message: “If you really love her/him, you’ll spend lots of money on this thing that sits there.”
Materialism disguised as love.
Fitness-related messages are similarly emotional and ubiquitous. From running to weights to yoga, pilates, and obstacle races, social media feeds are chock-full with soaring inspirational messages to Just Do It, Find Your Bliss, Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body and all sorts of sappy garbage that I try to ignore—because unicorns, fairy tales, and magic happy miracles aren’t real!
Let me calm down… If you thrive on messages like this then fine.
These messages don’t run to my taste because I find them shallow and dishonest. They imply a quick-fix approach to fitness and health. We are a short-attention-span, soundbite culture that rejects the long-term, patient view of the steady hard work that’s crucial for excellence. My role as a trainer and writer is to dispel some of the misinformation that’s out there and speak honestly about health and fitness.
With all that in mind, two recent articles are worth a look.
Running Sucks Sometimes—And That’s OK comes from running coach David Roche. David and his wife Megan are both successful, experienced runners and coaches. They know of what they speak. David discusses the idealized social media version of running:
“Let’s start this article with an assignment: open Instagram and click on the ‘Search’ button. What do you see? To start, you probably see at least a few mostly naked people. It is the internet, after all.
In addition, if the almighty algorithms think you are a runner, you’ll probably get photos and videos of people running with glorious form, on glorious trails, with gloriously big smiles. The captions? You guessed it . . . glorious.
“The perfect day…”
“Running is amazing…”
“I owe it all to [insert brand here]…”
“If we programmed a computer to use machine learning to understand running via social media, it’d probably think running was a mostly perfect, amazing activity. #brand #brandmotto. I am guilty, too—it’s just how social media works. No one wants to hear about your heavy legs and sore feet. It’s a highlight reel by design.”
Roche observes the ugly truth of running, something that every runner both new and old has experienced: Running ain’t always a bag of fried rainbows.
“Even if you do everything right, training consistently and intelligently for years on end, running will still suck sometimes. I’d guess 10 percent of my runs feel rather unpleasant, down from 30 percent when I had been running for a few years (and 100 percent when I first started). Not only is that okay, it’s an essential part of the adaptation process.
“If you felt perfect all the time, you’d probably be selling yourself short in training, not pushing your limits at all. So embrace the suck. It’s something we all share, even if we don’t always share it on Instagram.”
The article normalizes the reality of running and points out that even the best runners don’t always love it. (BTW, you could sub the word “running” for cycling, swimming, weights, or any number of athletic and non-athletic activities.) Roche gives practical advice on adopting the right mindset when the going gets tough. I most appreciate his discussion on how to mentally process the discomfort of a hard run. We can change our perception of pain and exertion.
“Solution: aim to perceive discomfort as a neutral observer. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but no, you don’t have to stop. And when you let yourself document it, running-induced discomfort actually isn’t that bad at all.”
Alex Hutchinson makes similar observations in this Wall St. Journal article titled The Mental Tricks of Endurance Performance. This process of perception is a crucial component of endurance performance. I use this process in my own workouts and it makes a difference. Definitely, read both articles if you want to change your relationship with exertion.
The second article is titled What Lies Behind Every “Breakthrough” Performance. It’s from Brad Stulberg at Outsideonline.com. He examines the underpinnings of sudden breakthrough performances. The reality is that sudden breakthroughs are built on consistent hard work and gradual progress.
Stulberg quotes habit researcher and writer James Clear:
“Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change,” says Clear, who researches and runs workshops on habit development. The problem: “People make a few small changes, fail to see a tangible result, and decide to stop. Once this kind of thinking takes over, it’s easy to let good habits fall by the wayside.”
The message here isn’t just applicable to athletics. It applies to any type of work from writing, to music, to painting—probably to preparing taxes.
“A similar path to progress happens in other endeavors. A recent study published in the journal Nature found that while most people have a ‘hot streak’ in their career—‘a specific period during which an individual’s performance is substantially better than his or her typical performance,’ the timing is somewhat unpredictable. ‘The hot streak emerges randomly within an individual’s sequence of works, is temporally localized, and is not associated with any detectable change in productivity,’ the authors write. But one thing just about every hot streak has in common? They rest on a foundation of prior work, during which observable improvement was much less substantial.”
Essentially, the article extols the virtues and necessity of punch-the-clock work, work that isn’t transcendent or worthy of soaring language. The bread of performance is buttered with these types of workouts.