Becoming Comfortable with Discomfort

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

Haruki Murakami, author, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

I lined up with the nearly 40,000 others on Columbus Drive with butterflies in my stomach. I had spent the previous five months training for something that, until just recently, had been unthinkable. Just five years before, I was overweight and couldn’t even run to the end of the (short) block. And now, I was bouncing up and down with nervous energy, waiting for the starting horn of the 2012 Chicago Marathon.

I can run long, but not fast. More than five hours of nonstop running lay ahead of me, and despite having trained religiously, I still wasn’t sure if I could do it. My training had only taken me up to 20 miles, and it was really difficult to imagine tacking on another six…err…rather, 6.2. (Anyone who’s ever run Chicago knows that last .2 mile is up the only hill in the city of Chicago, known by marathoners not-so-lovingly as Mount Roosevelt. It’s a punishing finale to the otherwise flat course.)

My coaches had told me over and over to trust my training. Over the summer, I started chalking up my longest distances ever. After every one, I’d say to my coach, “OK, that was 14. How am I going to run two more next week?” And my coach would always say, “ just will.” And she was right. I just did. Week after week of adding on just a little more than the week before helped condition not just my body, but also my brain to believe that I’d just run whatever was required of me.

So it was October 7, 2012, and there I was, former fat girl about to become first-time marathoner, if I could only muster up what was required to finish those unknown 6.2 miles.

I didn’t know if I could finish. But one thing I knew for sure: I was not going to finish a marathon if I never started a marathon. And once I started, I wasn’t about to let some pain and discomfort get in my way of finishing.

I recall something a fellow runner said during training that stuck with me: “If you run marathons, you get really comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Think about some of your biggest accomplishments. How many (if any) of them came to you easily? What went through your brain as you contemplated taking the steps needed to accomplish this thing? What did you do when things got uncomfortable? What was special about that situation that made you push through and finish it?

A lot of us have big dreams and ideas. But we often let doubt, fear or complacency get in the way of actually achieving them. We allow discomfort to take our eyes off the finish line, giving up when things get tough.

But discomfort is a part of life. It serves a purpose, teaching us something every step of the course. And, just like running a marathon, pushing through that discomfort to achieve something that once seemed impossible delivers the most incredible feeling of accomplishment. Why do you think people run marathons over and over?