By Christopher Cudworth
We all like to think of running and riding as a magical fix for the emotional turmoil of life. That works for many people. What we’re forgetting is that we all start from somewhere to get where we’re going. That means there are a lot of tortured souls out there.
The respective sports of running and riding attract a host of personality types to the fold. There is no magical formula for who decides to run a marathon or ride a bike until their sit bones show through their ass cheeks.
But some of these personality types show up with some frequency in the world of running and riding. This unofficial Field Guide To Tortured Souls is based on 40 years of participation in the world of endurance sports. Learning to recognize what type of Tortured Soul you are can put you on the track to being a well-adjusted person. That is, if you torture yourself enough running and riding to feel better about life.
THE “NEED FOR APPROVAL” TORTURED SOUL
People who struggle through childhood, adolescence, teen years, college and beyond seeking to earn love and respect from parents and friends know that the Need For Approval is a torturous state of mind. The more you work at it, the more you feel exposed, and needy. Flow that state of mind into something like running and riding and every new workout or competition is a new measure of your self-worth. That can be a wicked cycle. Somewhere down the road all people need to realize that it’s how you feel about yourself that matters, and not every failed effort or triumph is an absolute measure of who you are. Running and riding can help you better understand the difference and make you less prone to seek approval all the time.
THE “WHY IS LIFE SO HARD?” TORTURED SOUL
If you’ve ever studied the philosophy of existentialism (and I have) you come to realize that life basically sucks. At least that’s what French philosophers such as Jean Paul Sartre might have us believe. Sartre said, “Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” He also said, “If you are lonely when you’re alone, you are in bad company.” That’s pretty funny. But this isn’t. “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” And that’s why life is so hard. Because we’re responsible for everything we do. Some people just can’t deal with that, and live with a tortured soul as a result. Running and riding are not easy. Which is why participating in those activities can actually train you up to realize that life, if it is going to be hard, might as well be really, really hard. So we go out and run or ride with the wind for 50% of the workout and slog back into the wind the rest of the way. When you get home, life seems relatively easy after that.
THE “EVERYONE ELSE HAS IT BETTER THAN ME” TORTURED SOUL
Envy, greed and avarice are just some of the 7 Deadly Sins. Each can make your life a tortuous experience if not recognized as problems. Envy is basically jealousy toward others. Greed is the eternal expression of dissatisfaction with what you have. Avarice is merely extreme greed to the point where you lose concern toward anything other than possessive, selfish behavior. You could argue there are a fair number of athletes who fall prey to all these sins. They always want the most expensive shoes, the radically costly bikes and can’t sit still when they see people with more “junk” and talent or anything else that seems like something they want. But the truth is simple: Even when you have the most expensive equipment in the world, it is your hard work and talent that makes it “go” somewhere. So stop your bitching and try to appreciate that no one has it “better” than you. You get better by working hard and being smarter tomorrow than you are today. So there’s nothing to be jealous about with anyone.
THE “I USED TO BE FASTER” TORTURED SOUL
There is nothing like age and experience to make you wiser. Yet some people get stupid about their past performances. Wishing you could stay young and fast forever is one of the most dangerous traps of psychology for those who run and ride. Instead of appreciating the daily process of improving yourself inside and out, it is easy to constantly compare yourself to past efforts and not think you’re doing well unless you set
a new personal record at some distance or event. But the “coulda shoulda woulda” mindset of never being as could as you “used to be” is neither accurate or true. For your age, you may actually be performing comparably better than you did at 23, or 33 or even 43. So give yourself some credit and don’t torture yourself all the time. Maybe just torture yourself enough to stick with the pack on the group ride. Or refuse to drop off the weekend long run because you’re a stubborn bitch or bastard who does not like to lose pace. That’s different than whining about how fast you once were. That’s living in the moment and appreciating it for all it’s worth. That’s a good way to go.
THE “I WISH I HAD MORE TALENT” TORTURED SOUL
Talent it not even dispersed in this world or we would not have the Olympics, the World Cup, the World Series or the last two rounds of Dancing With the Stars. If you ask any world class athlete, the first thing they will tell you is how hard it was to get past their own shortcomings in some way. No athlete is perfect. Not in the body. Not in the brain.
Only a tortured soul would think otherwise. Even world class athletes get injured. Quite frequently actually. Even world class athletes have bad days. Also quite frequently. Unless they’re on a roll of some sort, all athletes have ups and downs and it is not related to the level of talent they possess. It’s the application of talent that matters. When a young sculpting artist was once asked by his teacher what he was doing with a chunk of marble, the protege replied, “I’m working on my talent!” The teacher boomed back: “Talent is worthless! Get to work!” Or something like that. You get the point. If you wish you had more talent, work harder. That’s how you find out how good you really are.
THE “NO ONE UNDERSTANDS ME” TORTURED SOUL
One of the most difficult athletes to coach is the person who insists that everyone around them either refuses or fails to appreciate them. That tortured attitude is one of self-pity, revealing the character flaw known as selfishness. If a person thinks that no one understands them, it is far more likely they make little effort to understand others. If you are that person, you are engaged in a self-fulfilling prophecy that is not fulfilling at all.
The best way to get something is to be the first to give. Try it on the run or ride sometime. Help out someone else with a word of encouragement, a pull at the front of the pack into the wind on the bike or keeping the pace sane when it’s obvious the group is struggling. People will instantly understand you a lot better than if you simply bury them without a word of concern for others. The first option builds loyalty and friendship. The second option makes everyone simply think you’re jerk or jerkette.
THE “I CAN’T LET SOMEONE ELSE LEAD” TORTURED SOUL
You know the type. They ride or run at the front of the pack until someone passes them up. Then they react impetuously, as if to say, “How dare you! Can’t you see that I’m the leader here?” Or worse, they dominate training by virtue of their skill or fitness, guttering the echelon so that no one else can ride with them, or one-stepping everyone on the group run. Of all types of tortured souls, this is the hardest of all psychologies to sustain. If you never want to let anyone else lead, every run or ride is torture for the soul. It’s hard to find peace from your efforts that way. Yet if you learn to let someone else lead, especially in competition, you might just come out the winner you’d like to be in the end.