How tough are you?

Unlike many writers and bloggers on the outdoor scene, Brendan Leonard is not famous for his outdoor exploits- you won’t see his name in the list of top finishers in a bouldering competition, or read about his bold solo summit of a Himalayan peak.

He writes, “I’m probably a lot like you. I like rock climbing, but start to flail when it gets vertical. I like bicycles, but not racing against other people on them. I like running and trail running, but I probably like ice cream more. I mostly avoid avalanches by not being a good enough skier to get on slopes steep enough to slide. But I sure like to get out there.”

However, unlike most of us, Brendan is sponsored, by Outdoor Research.  It’s easy for me to understand why- he’s a great writer, and I read his blog Semi-rad religiously.  I particularly enjoyed one of his recent posts, so I’m posting a fragment of it here in hopes that you’ll check out his blog to read the rest.

How Tough Are You?

Photo by Lee Smith

There are many good strategies to use when running the New York City Marathon. Throwing up at the start is probably not one of them. My friend Syd was in for a long day after he puked early in the 2011 race last November. He never got back the nutrients and water he’d lost, but kept running until Mile 18, around 96th Street on the course, when he felt like a bag of garbage. Then he started walking. It wasn’t his first marathon – it was his sixth, interspersed with 23 half-marathons – but it was maybe the hardest.

Syd’s dad, in his 70s, met him with a cold, wet towel, and they walked together, to mile 19. It was a 14-minute mile. After mile 19, he told his dad he’d see him at mile 22, and then he started running 11-minute miles. I know this because I was sitting in a coffee shop in Monterey, California, tracking him and texting his wife Debi updates every time he hit another mile marker, remembering how he had said he was worried about the race in the weeks leading up to it. Debi texted back, “His calf injury is killing him.”

When we had talked on the phone a couple weeks earlier, I said to Syd, The thing I like about all this stuff we do – running, climbing, mountaineering, cycling, all this suffer-filled, sometimes painful stuff – is that it’s just a way of repeatedly asking ourselves the question, “Am I tough enough?” And the answer is almost always yes.

I think what I like about toughness is that it’s not quantifiable, other than in the form of a story. Lots of people can have a faster race time, climb a couple letter- or number-grades harder than you, stand on the next-higher place on the podium. But nobody has a measurement system for toughness. Usually, when you talk about how tough someone is, you start out with,

“This one time …”

and then you tell a story.

To read the rest of this post, please check out Brendan’s blog here.

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