competition · cycling · fitness · running · swimming · triathalon

Love what you do, yes, but it might take awhile and it might take work

Tracy and I have written a lot on this blog about loving what you do. We’ve written about it so often that we gathered all of our posts about it in one place, here.

We were talking about “loving what you do” again yesterday in the course of working on the first draft of our book. We both think that’s an important part of sticking with fitness plans. Exercise shouldn’t be this joyless thing that you force yourself to do. But we’re less certain about the kind of enjoyment you need to take in your physical activity.

What does it mean to love what you do?

We’re philosophers so we like to critically analyze concepts and ideas. We’re not just over thinkers. We’re professional over thinkers!

Tracy and I were chatting yesterday about Ragen Chastain’s IRONMAN training. We weren’t chatting about her ability to do it. Of that we have no doubt. But why? Doesn’t she hate running and swimming?

A lifelong dancer, Ragen’s motivation comes from deliberating getting outside her comfort zone and trying to do something really hard.

On her FAQ page she addresses the IM motivation question and writes:

Why in god’s name would you do that?

Well, when you cross the finish line they give you a medal and a guy named Mike Reilly yells “[YOUR NAME] YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”

No, seriously.  Why?

The medal/Mike Reilly thing is a big part of it, I’m not gonna lie.  This is also an extension of a project that I started a couple of years ago.  I’ve done a lot of athletic things in my life including sports and dance, but always stuff at which I have natural talent.  I decided that I wanted to push outside of my comfort zone and do things at which I seem to have absolutely no natural ability. I did a marathon and I sucked pretty bad at that, so I basically thought – what could I suck at that’s even more terrible than a marathon – and this is what I arrived at.”

And in an interview with Today Magazine she says, “I’ve always been terrible at distance running, so training for the marathon was an attempt to push myself past my comfort zone and see what lessons there were in doing something I wasn’t good at….I spent a lot of my life dieting and waiting for another body to show up so I could do the things I want to do,” she says. “This is the body I have, so I decided to take it out for a spin.”

So maybe you don’t have to love what you do if you care enough about the goal. There’s also a wide range in the types of enjoyment we can take in different activities.As philosophers who study human happiness like to point out there’s not much that the pleasure of solving a tough math problem and the pleasure of eating a cold ice cream on a hot day have in common, other than that they’re mental states people who choose to have them want. There’s no intrinsic feature they have in common that makes both experiences pleasurable, except that they’re experiences that people who find them pleasurable want to have.

All of this is just to say that yes, do what you love. But that love can take lots of different forms, including the really tough kind of love, like love of solving hard math problems. It’s not all ice cream on a hot day.

Ragen has a great motivation page on Pinterest. Here’s a sample:

What can I say, I'm an overachiever!

I think it varies for different people. Some people are super determined and tough it out, either because they expect to come to love the thing or because they love some overall activity of which the unloved thing is part. I’m thinking here of Caitlin of Fit and Feminist fame and cycling. She was nervous about her road bike all the while competing in triathlons.

Now she’s over her fear but it took lots of not liking it, not being very comfortable for her to get there.

I asked Caitlin about her process and here’s what she had to say,

“I had to feel comfortable riding before I actually started liking it, and that took several months, especially once I switched to the clipless pedals. Probably the biggest thing that helped me was riding on my own, at my own pace. I actually found that riding with my husband – who is more confident and experienced on the bike than I am – was stressing me out because I felt like I had to ride at a level I just wasn’t capable of riding at, so when I made the decision to stop riding with him and to just explore biking on my own without that extra pressure, I was able to find moments of enjoyment and pleasure. Then over time I’ve found that those moments have turned into long stretches, and now I have to say I really like my time on the bike. This last weekend, when I rode more than 50 miles on a rural recreational trail, was very, very fun for me (until the end, when it mostly hurt), and it’s because I’ve finally gotten comfortable with my bike skills.

The other part of it is that I found I really liked racing bikes during triathlon. There’s something about racing that makes me kind of fearless, and I found racing on my bike – especially on courses that have a lot of turns – to be really thrilling and exciting. So because I want to be better at racing, I find I have extra motivation to spend more time on the bike.

My relationship with swimming has followed a similar trajectory. I was terrified at first but I wanted to learn how to do it, so I took baby steps at my own pace (but always making sure to push a little out of my comfort zone when possible) and over time I’ve eventually become comfortable swimming solid distances in the ocean and in lakes.

So I guess I would summarize my process as:

– Identifying that I really wanted to learn how to do something
– Giving myself time and space to do it
– Forcing myself out of my comfort zone a little at a time
– Focusing on the aspects of the activity I enjoy.”

She ended with the following observation,”It’s interesting to me to think of how many things I do that I now love that I would have never had done if I hadn’t kept at it for a while.”

How long do you give it? Again that varies person to person. I’m super patient with slow progress. See all of my Aikido posts! And it’s not easy for me.

I don’t know how patient I’d be if I didn’t like something.

But there’s also different kinds of loves. My love of road cycling was love at first sight/ride love. And riding a bike still makes me feel like a child again.  Whee! Zoom! See How does it make you feel?

I’ve always been a cyclist but it wasn’t until I got my first road bike, the year I turned 40, that I really fell in love with cycling.

I commuted for years, through some of undergrad, grad school, and as a tenure track faculty member. When I started running, as I approached 40, road cycling academic colleagues joked that it was time I got a “real bike.”

When running led to triathlon, I did just that. It turned out I was a much faster cyclist than a runner from the very first time out. I was surprised to find myself passing many of the people from my triathlon clinic who I rarely saw when we were out there running, they were so far ahead. What I hadn’t realized is that I’d been “training” for years, riding a bike to and from work, and later towing a trailer full of babies and toddlers.

And I hadn’t quite appreciated, as a larger runner, how much harder I was working than the little people I ran with. At the same speed, I was working a lot harder than them. Put me on a bike, on a course without hills, and I just flew. Take away my weight as a limiting factor and I was a lot faster. That’s why I think more larger women ought to take up cycling. Speed! See Big women on bikes.

Tracy has the same sort of love for swimming. See her post On Doing What Makes Us Feel Like Kids Again.

But not all loves are like that. If cycling is my head over heels excited kind of love, learning to like running took awhile. Running and I have a much more complicated relationship. Short version: I love it but it doesn’t love me back.

Lately I’ve been thinking of getting back into the pool. Why? Well, I can’t run as far as I like and I like multi sport events. The easier answer to minimize running is to add swimming. Maybe I’ll be a triathlete after all.

We’ll see!


5 thoughts on “Love what you do, yes, but it might take awhile and it might take work

  1. What an interesting post! As I’m trying out running again (really, for the first time doing it right), the questions “do I want this?” and “do I love/like this?” come up. As a philosopher, this question of what it means to say I love some sport is fascinating. It can reveal a lot about what a sport is (whatever that might mean), and also a lot about personal identity too– I love the adrenaline rush of a fast downhill but don’t love the monumental effort of a long climb (in part because I’m a larger woman on a bike). More blog fodder here for sure! Will read some of your other posts on this…

  2. Great post. Of course it makes me reflect further on my poor track record with cycling. Still trying to weigh the merits of hating the bike but continuing to pursue triathlon. Will I turn a corner one day and start to hate the bike less, and then (hope against hope) maybe even start to like it. I’ve heard the arguments about indoor training. And though it’s fun for a few months, I’m not sure I can love it all year round. The fact is, when summer comes, I do prefer to be outside. Anyway, Caitlin’s story inspires me. Thanks for including it. I also like what Ragan has to say — not caring if you’re “good” at something can be so liberating. But of course our definition of “good” can also be subject to scrutiny.

  3. I can definitely relate to this! I recently hiked into Havasu Canyon and on to Mooney Falls which involved some scary ass chains and ladders! I absolutely hated every bit of the climb down to Mooney Falls (and back up), but I felt incredibly accomplished and got to see some amazing falls and cascades, so it was worth it! Additionally, it gave me content for my blog. Double bonus.

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