It doesn’t get easier, you just get ______(insert “tougher,” “stronger,” “faster,” “better” “smarter,” here).

I’ve heard variations of this adage (yeah, I’m going to consider it an adage) countless times from runners and at November Project, but I never really understood it…until yesterday. I’d always just assumed that the super speedy and strong people asserting this were being humble, or maybe I kept kidding myself into thinking it all HAD to get easier.

It’s been nearly 3 years since I first ran the stadium with November Project, and Wednesday really did seem to feel just as hard as it did on Day 1.

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My first day at the stadium. November 2013

Granted, I finished a full tour on Wednesday (as opposed to that half tour on Day 1), but it just felt so…hard. Since it quickly became clear that I was going to have to take this one slow, I had some time for thinking as I worked my way around those concrete seats.

Why is this still so hard? 

But don’t workouts get easier? Especially when you’re consistent?

Some people look so strong and calm at the stadium and the hills – does it really feel as hard to them as it does to me? Or to a newbie?

If it never gets easier, won’t I burn out at some point? 

Doesn’t “It never gets easier” sound super discouraging?

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Who are these babies? Over-exposed first full tour photo. 2014.

Phew. That’s a lot of questions to throw out there. Now for the thoughts that popped up as I pushed through the sections this week:

Why is this still so hard? 

The stadium is always hard because I’m always adjusting my goals. Over the past 3 years, my stadium goals have included:

  • 19 sections
  • A full tour
  • 40 sections
  • 50 sections
  • A full tour in under 40 minutes
  • A full tour in under 35 minutes

If I came every week and kept running 19 sections, it probably would feel easier over time. But I keep pushing, like everyone else, because it’s fun and exciting and challenging to set and reach a new speed or number of sections. Achieving new goals keeps me engaged and curious about about what else might be possible.

The stadium workout is also just. plain. tough. If you don’t go consistently, your muscles take notice and those steps just seem enormous. And maybe even when we’re working hard consistently and developing strength, the effort it takes to tackle a tough workout like the stadium never leaves us feeling like it was easy per se. If it’s feeling at all ‘easy,’ that’s probably when we instinctively kick it into gear and see if we can push a bit harder.

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Photo: Bojan Mandaric. 2014.

But don’t workouts get easier? Especially when you’re consistent?

This is where the wording of this adage gets interesting to me. My first reaction was that even if you are continuing to push yourself and set new goals, I think running and other activities can feel easier over time in certain ways.The more I run, the more knowledge I have about pacing, hydration, fueling, recovery, etc. This knowledge eliminates some of my nerves and doubts, and can leave me feeling more at ease during my runs.

So maybe the point is that it can become easier, but never becomes easy. This cool website I found called Google says that easy means ‘without difficulty or effort.’ Well, most workouts I take on are rarely achieved without some level of effort. Even skiing, which seemed impossible to me at first and is now become something I love, still involves effort. I still need to remind myself to bring my weight forward, bend my knees, and actually use my poles every day on the mountain. I certainly approach skiing with much less effort than I did at first, but it’s far from effortless. Yoga is the same way. I experience less struggle in yoga the more I practice, but there are times when the first Down Dog feels so hard and I think, ‘Why can’t my arms just handle this every time at this point?!’ For skiing and yoga, I find that while they’re not exactly easy, they do feel like they’ve gotten easier.

I think what’s different about running and stadiums is that these activities are typically more competitive than yoga and recreational skiing. If you’re approaching them competitively, you’re less likely to have many moments of “Wow, this is getting easier!” and a lot more moments of “Wow, I’m getting faster! But damn, this is so hard!” This is at the heart of what the adage is telling us. The more I push myself, the more true it feels. On PR (or race) day, I never feel anything close to ease: I’m working as hard as I can and just as hard as I did last month (if not harder), and I just (hopefully) end up with a faster time.

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I strove for originality in my summer PR photos (below). Some turned out more awkward than others…

Some people look so strong and calm at the stadium and the hills – does it really feel as hard to them as it does to me? Or to a newbie?

I love thinking about this because while more experienced or skilled runners are obviously moving faster than most newbies, the effort level can be the same for everyone. That’s the magic of PR day at the stadium or the hills: As long as no one’s sandbagging, everyone is giving it their all at the same time. The speeds are all different, but everyone is going all out and trying their best and encouraging each other, and that is some seriously powerful stuff.

This concept really hit home at the end of my half marathon. I was talking with some super speedy friends and they shared how they were frustrated by not being able to see the finish and by the constant turns in the last mile. Those things had been bothering me during the race, but for some reason it shocked me that such challenges could impact the winner of a race. Of course this makes sense – everyone is running under the same hot sun and has to make it up the same hills – but I had just assumed that athletes at that level were pretty impervious to most of the things I found challenging about a race. This conversation made me realize that in more ways than one, we truly were all running the same race. *Note: If it’s just plain true, I’m allowed to say cheesy AF stuff. 

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You can tell it’s only Section 33 because I’m not yet a hot mess. Photo: Harry Mattison

If it never gets easier, won’t I burn out at some point? 

This is why consistent rest and recovery are so important. If you bail on your rest days and you’re always going all out, it’s going to catch up with you one way or another. Funny how something so lovely and physically easy – rest – can seem like a challenge.

Sometimes easy is good – training plans call for “easy miles” for a reason, namely that you do want to slow down, be consistent, and let some runs feel fun and almost effortless. But I also try to recognize how good it can feel to push myself, throw down, and lay it all out there.

Doesn’t the phrase “it never gets easier” sound super discouraging?

I think the reason I used to be turned off by this phrase is that I found it to be discouraging. What?! It never gets easier?  Why am I working so hard if I’m not magically going to be amazing at this at some point? Sounds like I should bail now!

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On the other hand, this phrase could be seen as extremely encouraging and downright comforting. As I’ve become a more consistent runner and NPer, I’ve realized that not much has changed in terms of how much effort I need to put into each workout. I still have to gear myself up on many nights when I just don’t feel like working hard the next morning, and tell myself that I’m always glad I went.

Around Section 4 (yes I’m still making my way around the stadium with these thoughts spinning), I realized that while these nuances and different mindsets were interesting to me, there was an overarching point: Easy shouldn’t be the goal. Feeling strong, increasing speed, staying positive – those are better goals. It’s okay that it’s not easy. It’s good that it’s not easy. It means that I’m working. I’m not here to make it easier; I’m here to keep exploring what my body and mind are capable of and experience new challenges. This adage is saying that pushing yourself is never easy for anyone, no matter your fitness level. The beauty of group fitness is that this is what each and every one of us has in common: We all want to work hard together.

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Deeeeeep breaths. Photo: Ryan Komaiko

Turns out Daft Punk was right: The harder you work, the better, faster, stronger you get. Nothing in there about it being easy.

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She’s a beauty, isn’t she? Photo: Scott Goldstein

 

I think I raised more questions than I  answered in this post, so I’d love to hear your thoughts. What does this phrase mean to you? Does it give you comfort that everyone is out there working hard – even the people that appear to be having an easier time? Or do you find it discouraging? Is there a different way to phrase this that might be more meaningful to you?

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