Showing Persistance

I’m a runner. Correction, I’m attempting to get my running legs back, and my body is resisting. Over the winter, I have a hard time maintaining my routine because I hate treadmills, and the weather can be too frigid for my lungs. I’m at the point where I’m running very long two-milers. Having been at this point before, I know that with time and practice, I’ll get back into form. Hopefully it will be in time for the half-marathon I want to run at the end of summer.

This situation has me thinking about persistence. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that our ability to perform it has improved.” (courtesy of The Quotations Page) Some people are natural-born runners. Others wouldn’t run for anything. Then, there’s runners like me: people who persist in running because they enjoy it, not because they are particularly good at it.

I recent post on running at Hackzine points out an interesting presentation by Harvard Anthropology Professor Daniel Lieberman. (link)

Lieberman presented his theories of the importance of running to ancestral humans to explain why we’re the only species that voluntarily runs extraordinarily long distances, such as the 26.2 miles in the marathon. While more than a million humans run marathons voluntarily each year, most animals we consider excellent runners — antelopes and cheetahs, for example — are built for speed, not endurance. Even nature’s best animal distance runners — such as horses and dogs — will run similar distances only if forced to do so, and the startling evidence is that humans are better at it, Lieberman said.

Sometimes, when I’m plowing through mileage in preparation for a race, I question my sanity. Then, I complete my run, and I’m filled with this amazing amount of satisfaction. It’s comparable to the satisfaction I feel when one of my ideas takes off. I’ve wondered how a physical activity can generate the same sense of accomplishment as a mental activity.

I think it comes from a sense that I’m pushing myself, that I’m running/thinking in circumstances not comfortable for all people. I’m succeeding in spite of the odds against me finishing the run or gaining acceptance of my ideas. As Lieberman points out, I can take the heat:

…it is our ability to run in the heat that Lieberman said may have made the real difference in our ability to procure game.

“We can run in conditions that no other animal can run in,” Lieberman said.

This last quote in particular sums things up nicely. I believe we can run and think in conditions that others can’t due to physical ability and a willingness to persist. Some of the best ideas have come about due to equal measures of resistance matched by persistence.

Fighting the Civil War, voting rights for women, civil rights for African-Americans—none of these bold battles for change happened over night. They all required persistence. And the people involved had the mental strength to operate in conditions that would have stopped others. Their “ability to perform,” to resist the opposition, didn’t just happen. How would you measure your ability to perform? Are you persisting or quitting? It’s a good question to ask when it seems like nothing is happening.

Please excuse me. My running shoes are calling.



2 Responses to “Showing Persistance”

  1. May 5, 2007 at 8:46 am

    Neat. Resistence-Persistence-Completion-Success is a cycle that seems to wired into our brains. It reminds me also of what I’ve read about muscle development. Maybe we develop in thin layers of achievement.

  2. 2 Britt
    May 6, 2007 at 7:31 pm

    Cool concept…thin layers of achievement reminds me how I learn a new piano piece. Usually three or four measures at a time, sometimes one hand at a time. Eventually, I can put all the measures together for one big achievement, but I still take pleasure in learning the individual measures.

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May 2007
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