... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Friday, June 14, 2013

Accepting Discomfort

This is my most recent piece for Hawaii Sport Magazine, which I wanted to share on here given my recovery process. The acceptance of discomfort has been integral in my not going crazy while disabled.

In this age of iPods, computers, and technology, we are always on the hunt for something faster, easier, or more convenient. Many people spend their entire lives attempting to avoid anything that might be difficult or unfamiliar -- we have been conditioned to hate feeling uncomfortable and to associate discomfort with negativity, when in fact it can be a tool in the process of self-improvement.

As athletes, overcoming this mindset is of the utmost importance because discomfort is a necessary part of training. It means that you are pushing beyond your previous boundaries and discovering new levels of possibility for your body and mind. Each time you take your workouts to a new level, you stretch both your physical and mental capabilities, and although it may be uncomfortable, acceptance of that discomfort opens up many doors throughout your life.

I learned this lesson firsthand when I started training for my first triathlon. I had spent the previous fifteen years of my life actively avoiding running, and I agonized over how much I hated it. Running hurt, it burned, and it made me feel like I weighed a thousand pounds and my lungs were made of cement. The swim strikes fear into the heart of many a triathlete, but I knew from the beginning that the run would be my greatest nemesis. For the first few weeks of training, I spent most of the time during my run workouts wondering why on earth so many people put themselves through this torture on a daily basis, glancing around occasionally to half-heartedly enjoy my gorgeous Hawaii surroundings. I slowed to a walk every time I got too uncomfortable, telling myself -- as I had been conditioned too -- that so much exertion and even pain could not possibly be healthy or productive.

Then one day, a miraculous thing happened. The usual pain came, my chest tightened, my legs got heavy, but I decided to see what happened if I kept pushing. After five minutes of intense discomfort, the pain passed. I ran for forty-five minutes, almost twice as long as I had planned, and felt nothing but pure exhilaration when I made it home. I was tired, but invigorated.

It took this experience for me to make what has been the most profound and valuable discovery of my training journey: feeling uncomfortable is okay!

Once I realized this, everything became easier. Instead of fighting my feelings of discomfort, I accepted and even welcomed them as a sign that I was pushing myself and growing as an athlete, and it wasn't long before it became clear that I was growing as a person as well. When you stop running (no pun intended) away from anything that makes you uncomfortable, opportunities that had previously seemed impossible are suddenly within reach. Doors open. Everything seems clearer. The mindset of embracing difficulty as a necessary step toward improvement changed my entire outlook on life leaving me energized, positive, and ready to take on whatever came my way.

The physical benefits we reap as endurance athletes are many, but what I have learned is that the mental benefits are just as substantial. With each workout we have the chance to improve ourselves, to face our fears and our discomfort and decide that we can make it through. We find confidence in our willpower and we learn to harness the strength and inner toughness that few people have the opportunity to find within themselves. For this we have only one thing to thank: that moment when we don't think we can go any further, when we meet our previous boundary head on and then step beyond it. You can go further. Keep pushing.

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