By Christopher Cudworth
As you make plans for your next long run, ride, or swim, it might be wise to consider how thankful you should be for the ability (and time) to do your favorite activities.
Plenty of times in life during conversations at a party or some other social occasion we hear people say, “I’m not built for running” or “Running bores me” or “I don’t have time for long bike rides.”
Some of these statements are self-fulfilling prophecy. But some people legitimately are not built for running or riding.
People with physical limitations still do get out there and run and ride. They don’t let their shortcomings stop them from putting in miles to help their minds, hearts and their bodies. The gifts we get back from running and riding usually exceed the pain and suffering.
And when they don’t, we call it character building.
Grateful or ungrateful talent
Perhaps you’ve met a truly talented athlete who does not seem to appreciate the physical and mental gift they’ve been given. Athletic achievement comes so naturally to them it is hard to conceive that others struggle to do the same sport at all.
At one point in his career, successful marathoner Bill Rodgers called the efforts of mid-pack runners “graceless striving.” And he is right. From an aesthetic point of view, there are plenty of non-professional athletes who lack grace in their chosen sports. Later in his career as he evolved into an icon for the sport, Rodgers mingled with regular runners much more and even had some humbling efforts as he aged. He grew wiser for the experience.
Grace and gratitude
What Rodgers may have missed early on, and what he discovered later in life as he entered the status of a running guru for millions of wannabe marathoners, there’s another kind of grace at work in the lives of most people. It’s not all about being the prettiest or the fastest runner on the planet.
Instead, grace comes through working with your limitations–as well as through them–to discover who you really are. That produces a grateful attitude about your running and riding that actually deepen your appreciation not only for the sports you do, but everything else in life.
What Bill Rodgers missed in branding the efforts of less talented runners “graceless striving” was that grace in a spiritual sense is a gift freely given and there’s nothing you can really do to earn it.
Grace does not fall to you through the compliments of others or from winning a contest. Grace does not come your way out of earnestness or a desire to be loved. It essentially pre-exists all our human emotions.
If we understand grace sufficiently, it is the most humbling of all emotional connections and also the most uplifting expression of acceptance and love you can imagine. It is a tarsnake in that respect, a confusing and somewhat ethereal dimension of being that not everyone has an easy time appreciating.
Take a look at the definition of grace and you find it has three manifestations in the English language.
1. Simple elegance or refinement of movement
2. (in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
3. To do honor or credit to (someone or something) by one’s presence.
Grace beyond reason
Should you be disinclined to religious definitions of grace as described in #2 (or here, on my blog The Genesis Fix) you can still understand operative grace apart from God.
In fact Bill Rodgers once noted while competing in the New York City Marathon that he was overcome with a need and desire to do the race with utmost respect, even to the point where the manner in which he held his hands was important. He was calling himself to an alignment with the grace of the moment. Doing something well for its own sake and out of respect for the situation you are in is a combination of grace and gratitude, or grace appreciated.
Moving in grace
If you have ever experienced that level of immersion in the act of moving, you appreciate the emotions that go with those sensations and feelings of grace that proceed from trying to do something that well. It’s called being thankful for the opportunity.
So while Rodgers might have been harsh toward other runners in his original dismissal of runners less talented than he, it may be true that athletes at that level do experience something unique, and it is therefore hard to bridge the gap between their own experiences and those of others.
In the other direction, it may be the reason why we admire the most graceful skaters, dancers, cyclists and runners or swimmers. Like Michael Phelps. Chris Froome (although not graceful, he can ride…).
Their grace in action symbolizes something rare and difficult to attain. Whether they appreciate their own transcendence is a question for the ages. It is apparent that some athletes do, but some don’t. That only proves they’re human.
At the far extreme of cynicism, a world devoid of grace gratitude is an embittered place, in which we are distanced by an inability to make connections of any kind.
We all know people who suffer from ingratitude, and that can seem hard to understand. But when the core emotions of gratitude are cut to pieces by some deep or painful life experience or circumstance, people tend to turn inward to a life of dissatisfaction with everything they encounter.
That is the opposite of gratitude, and it can be one of the most difficult things of all to overcome, a barrier you must cross to happiness, a hurdle to jump or a wall around which some people can never manage even to approach.
Ingratitude really is a form of death, if you must know.
That is why we run and ride in the opposite direction if we know what’s good for us. The journey never really ends, but the daily beginnings are what count toward appreciation of grace and its pursuant attitude of gratitude.
Here are the ways that gratitude can take you a long way toward that which you most want to achieve:
- Feeling gratitude is wise. It means you are enthused for your best efforts and accepting of your failures, which keeps your running and riding in perspective. It also transfers to other aspects of life.
- Expressing gratitude is positive. Being grateful creates a loop of continual positive feedback, and that affirms motivation.
- Gratitude is purpose-focused. Mental gratitude helps you remember why you’re doing something as well as how.
- Finding gratitude is enlightening. Grace and gratitude open your mind to the value of current activities and the potential of those to come.
- Gratitude is practical. Being grateful for the important things helps you release distractions and simplify your life. That is zen, in a nutshell.
- Being grateful is sustaining. Gratitude helps you overcome adversity.
- Seeing gratitude builds comraderie. You will be naturally and expressively drawn to others who share your grateful perspective in life.
- Gratitude deepens satisfaction in what you’re doing. There is no need to rationalize workouts of race efforts when you are grateful for all that you can do, or have done.
- Gratitude shakes up the world. Voicing your gratitude can shift conversations and change lives, including your own.
- Choosing gratitude is good use of free will. A grateful attitude going into races or workouts strengthens your resolve that what you are doing is possible and beneficial. That’s a good use of what we call free will.
Be grateful for your next run or ride. Or swim! And keep that grateful attitude going. It can sustain you in all aspects of your life.