By Beau Seegmiller
It is raining outside. The cold, wet weather on the other side of my window reminds me of a drive less than two months ago late on a Friday night to get to Pettit Lake campground in the Sawtooth Mountains. I had spent the day teaching followed by coaching my middle school cross country team. I was tired and it was raining with a forecast for snow. I was traveling to complete the Alice-Toxaway Loop run the next morning. This spectacular 18.6 mile loop through some of the most stunning scenery in Idaho presented some significant challenges. The trails, far from smooth, are rocky and ascend to 9,000 feet over Snowyside pass. Snow would not prove helpful. I was uncomfortable with what the weather presented.
I do not think it an overstatement to say that we do not like to feel uncomfortable. Most of the technological developments over the last two centuries have focused on maximizing comfort while eliminating discomfort. This natural development is understandable since discomfort and pain usually indicate some very real problems that can even be life-threatening. Ironically, I have discovered that there are certain discomforts, uncomfortable moments, that are actually wondrous passageways to awe-inspiring moments that cannot be realized or experienced otherwise.
It was in a coaching seminar that I learned about the clear relationship between feeling uncomfortable and athletic performance from Joe Vigil, the famed Adams State Cross Country coach. Vigil said that most people live in a comfort zone. They seek out a state of always being comfortable and satisfied. They do not take risks. They also fail to stand out in the pursuits or tasks in which they engage.
He continued by describing the next level up the pyramid of performance. This group of people are willing to make commitments. They have aims and objectives for which they are willing to get occasionally uncomfortable in order to achieve.
The next level involves high performers who are more willing to take risks and get uncomfortable in order to reach their goals. Vigil stated that this group approach being uncomfortable more often than they are comfortable.
The top level performers, the peak on this pyramid, are constantly pushing the envelope beyond being uncomfortable. In Vigil’s words they actually become comfortable being uncomfortable.
The olympic cyclist, Kristin Armstrong reflects Vigil’s words when she said, “I want to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable. I want to get more confident being uncertain. I don’t want to shrink back just because it isn’t easy. I want to push back, and make more room in the area between I can’t and I can.”
I drove on in the rain that night, eventually arriving to the campground where my lovely girlfriend, Sara, had a warm meal ready for me, the tent set up, and my down sleeping bag laid out. I slept very comfortably that night and woke up to cool, clear weather. The foreboding forecast of snow never materialized and I ran along streams and lakes in the brilliant morning sun. The light in the mountain air lit up the stunning granite peaks. As I breathed in the clean, crisp air, I reflected on how ideal the conditions were for such a run. My run that day proved to be a profound experience of awe and replenishment that sustained me for weeks. In the end, for this weekend, the only discomfort I experienced had been in the anticipations of a worried mind.
Looking out the window at the rain still falling, I know that with the turning of the seasons uncomfortable weather will be inevitable and unavoidable. The question in my mind is where will I be on the performance pyramid. Can I become more comfortable with being uncomfortable? Will I be able to discover the awesome on the other side?
See you out on a run!