As a young lad my dad would drag me out walking and when I was tired, or I’d stubbed my toe, or I’d skinned my knee, or I’d tripped up and fallen on my face, or anything that generally hurt he’d comfort me by saying “pain proves you’re alive son!”. I used to find that no comfort at all of course because I was quite the wuss when I was a kid. When you’re young and something hurts, you stop doing it. There’s no concept of pushing through the pain barrier, you just burst into tears and wait for mummy to come to the rescue.
But when I got older I found that pain is really just a state of mind. One thing I learned with the Marines was that even when you’re absolutely knackered and feel like you’re going to collapse in heap on the ground, if you put your mind to it you can keep going well past what you thought your limits were. Once you’ve pushed yourself beyond your perceived limits you realise you can do it again whenever you want to.
The trouble is I’m one of these people who likes pushing myself for the sense of achievement afterwards. It’s one of the reasons I like climbing mountains, mountain biking and running. If something is easy it just doesn’t seem as worthwhile to me when I’ve done it. And when I look back at all the things I remember that I’m proud of, most are the ones where I’ve had to graft and dig deep. For me it’s not a competition against anyone else – plenty of people climb more mountains in a much more hardcore way than me, loads of people are faster and more crazy on a mountain bike than me and a boatload of people are faster runners than me. But that doesn’t matter, it’s just me pushing myself – me against my will.
Over the last couple of years I’ve been doing these sorts of things less and less and it’s only since I started hiking again that I’ve remembered the sense of achievement I get from pushing my body and keeping going when I’m knackered and just want to stop. My good lady isn’t like that at all and can’t understand why I actually like making myself suffer. I guess our brains are just wired up differently. I always like to jest that “I’m the risk taker, she’s the home-maker”!
I just think that a life without ever taking any risks, without pushing yourself is a life without highlights. I wouldn’t want to look back on my life from my deathbed and think of all the hours I spent watching Eastenders and sitting in the comfort zone while the world outside the door passed me by. In the words of the great 20th century philosopher Ferris Bueller: “Life goes by pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”.