Sitting in the line of Sunday afternoon bike trail backup, waiting for the light to change so I could cross Maple Avenue and get on with my ride today, I overheard a couple of runners, jogging in place while the light changed, talking about running. She was expounding her experience of feeling very positive about some aspects of running, but very negative about other aspects. “When the bad feelings outweigh the good, I just want to stop doing it,” she said. He started to say something along the lines of fighting through the bad feelings so the good could come forth, when the light changed and their conversation drifted away behind me.
Ah, the Aristotelian Pleasure Principle! She was voicing that fundamental observation in her approach, and he was responding with something fairly idealistic and unrealistic. Aristotle argued that we tend to want to do things that make us feel good, and avoid things that make us feel bad. Not that such an idea makes us all into hedonists. We simply do not seek out negative experiences, physical, moral, or spiritual. Aristotle argues, among other things, that to a virtuous person, doing good deeds can create pleasure, even if doing so entails pain, physical or otherwise. If we want to do our bodies good, and strive after health, we may repress the urge for too many hedonistic pleasures, such as high calorie, high fat foods.
But the jogger was right; fighting through pain, exercising when your schedule’s jammed, leaving a warm bed to run or ride in a cold early dawn rain, they all are big negatives for most people most of the time. I myself am a relative motivational dilettante. I really don’t like riding in the rain. I don’t like low wind chills. I can’t ride in the heat, because my body reacts badly to that. I don’t like to go out unless I’m fairly certain I could be “rescued” fairly promptly if I had a mechanical problem.
But as for stress, exhaustion, and aches, I have a reasonable tolerance. One has to if one pursues an endurance sport such as cross-country running or cycling for exercise. Each of these negative factors, if pursued intensely enough, somewhat mysteriously reverses itself once you really “get inside” it. Stress, exhaustion, and aches are all in and of themselves good feelings when you push their envelopes. They feel good because you know they are temporary, but they are making it possible for you, the endurance athlete, to triumph, to revel in having survived. It’s the feeling I always have when I’ve racked up the bike, taken off the hydration pack, left the cycle computer on my desk, and stripped off the sweaty gear, from headband to socks. I did it; I did it again! And I am only remembering the joy of it. I could not have achieved that joy without encountering the negatives and reversing their meaning, their value, their elemental existential qualities.
So the joggers’ viewpoints are what I think of as “recreational,” and mine what I think of as “committed.” For the joggers, negative aspects are to be endured for the sake of the good aspects. For me there are no “negative” aspects; I never “want to stop.” Not that every ride gets me deep into stress, exhaustion, or aches. But to the extent that it does, or when it does so profoundly, I am ready for it. Stress. Exhaustion. Aches. I embrace them, because they bring me pleasure every time I ride.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011