Don’t mind me, but I’m in the middle of a protest.
There are all sorts of things to hate on in this world, any number of issues around which to form your metaphorical picket line. High gas prices. Bedbugs. Airport security. Nicki Minaj. Income tax. Traffic. Nicki Minaj.
I have chosen the Segway.
The Segway lets you (and I quote) “see more with less effort.” This is excellent, of course, because the greatest scourge of modern society is all the effort we have to put into seeing things. The Segway is a popsicle stick on wheels that, for a small fee and the slight ignominy of wearing a helmet, you can drive around parks and city centers via guided tours. The Segway is the Holy Grail for ambitious people who have both a desire to conquer the world and an extreme case of lethargy. The Segway is the eight-mile-an-hour answer to the question, “How can I get from here to there just by leaning forward three inches?”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a hater. The science and engineering behind the Segway is extraordinary. And I’m sure there is a time and place for its unique virtues. (Paul Blart: Mall Cop, anyone?) In fact, in the spirit of friendly competition, I made a bet with my training buddy that I’d PR my marathon or be punished by way of a Segway tour of Forest Park (his cruel idea, not mine). The gamble provided great motivation and jocularity over several months of training—until, of course, my race nosedived at mile eighteen, and I started walking and limping and cursing the jocularity of the previous months. Then all I could think was, “Keep… running… mustn’t… ride… Segway.” Needless to say, I did not PR, and the Segway tour is soon to be scheduled. (It’s a sore subject.)
At any rate, my issue isn’t with the Segway itself, but with what it represents. Namely, the mentality that led to the creation of the Forever Lazy and yogurt in a tube. It is the mentality that powers Publisher’s Clearing House and miracle diet pills. It is the mentality that says the best effort is the least effort.
The problem is, anything worth doing requires effort.
I often give my immediate feelings too much credit. For some reason, I let them have more sway over my actions than they should. I may know I need to do something, but if I don’t feel like it… eh… I procrastinate. Or, worse, I fabricate excuses justifying why I can neglect doing it at all. Every runner has faced the temptation to hit the snooze button just one more time, fully knowing that doing so will eliminate the possibility of squeezing in a run before work. We’ve all engaged in strenuous end-of-day negotiations with ourselves, carefully articulating why we are too tired, too hungry, too fill-in-the-blank to work out before dinner. We’ve all had stare-downs with our running shoes and gnashed our teeth at the impending miles for no other reason than we simply didn’t feel like running.
But you see, our feelings are often nothing more than bullies trying to rob us of some of life’s greatest joys. Our feelings use scare tactics (“You’re tired! It’ll hurt! It’s inconvenient!”) to keep us from doing great things. Our feelings are the evil dictators in an axis of power—including but not limited to the couch, inclement weather, the refrigerator, YouTube, and reruns on TBS—created specifically to thwart us in the pursuit of our goals. Our feelings woo us against our better judgment, coaxing us with gentle flattery and wily indulgence. “You don’t really need to run today,” they coo. “You’ve worked so hard. What’s the point in punishing yourself further? Doesn’t a quart of ice cream and a few harmless episodes of Full House sound nice?”
Of course, the only way to respond in this situation is to declare (as loudly as you can) the words of Elf: “You sit on a throne of lies!” Then head out for a run.
C.S. Lewis once said, “It is silly to say good people don’t know what temptation means. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.” The application of this axiom extends to both great and small areas of life, including that of running. Only those who have set their alarms for a 4:30am run know how strong is the urge to stay in bed. Only those who have chalked off twenty-mile training runs know how alluring is the option to stop. Only those who have finished the race know how powerful is the desire to quit.
Yes, it takes effort to fend off contrary feelings, but running is a mental discipline as much as it is a physical one. There is no such thing as an easy effort. Effort itself is defined as “a vigorous or determined attempt; strenuous physical or mental exertion.” So, no, it’s not easy working up the motivation to do something we don’t feel like doing, but it’s always worth it.
Brandon Flowers, the lead singer for The Killers, was interviewed shortly after their hit album Day and Age was released. Talking about writing of one of the album’s biggest songs, Spaceman, he said that the band had been working hours upon hours in the studio, trying to write something—anything—but to no avail. Exhausted and suffering from a severe case of writer’s block, the band was about to give up when Brandon demanded everyone stay in the room and keep working a little bit longer. Begrudgingly, they did. A few hours later, Spaceman was born.
Looking back on the evening, Flowers recalled how easy it would have been to call it a day. No one felt inspired. No one felt like working. No one felt like staying in that room any longer. He reflected on how close they came to never writing one of their biggest hits. All because they didn’t feel like it.
More often than not, our feelings (as in, what we feel or don’t feel like doing) are overrated. Looming so large before the action, they dissolve into air in the midst of it, and we often find ourselves wondering what the holdup was in the first place. It’s frightening to think of all the adventures and life-changing moments we’d miss if every time we didn’t feel like doing something, we didn’t. Because we are much stronger than we give ourselves credit for. And our feelings are much weaker.
Yes, I am in the middle of a protest. I am protesting the misrepresentation of effort as a bad thing. I am protesting giving in to feelings that exist for no other purpose than to keep us from reaching our goals. It is a personal protest, one I declare every time I lace up my shoes or strap a headlamp to my forehead. No, I’m not occupying Wall Street. I’m just occupying the street. On foot. At tempo pace.
So join me, nonconformists, in the anti-Segway protest! Pull on your spandex and your split shorts! Gird you waists with hydration belts! May your heads bear lightweight, reflective visors and vented sunglasses! May your feet be fitted with swift technical running shoes! And may you always run, even when you don’t feel like it!
Oh… and if you happen to see a certain ponytail-and-helmeted girl on a Segway cruising around Forest Park… pretend like you have no idea who she is and just keep running.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014.