“Sometimes there’s not a better way. Sometimes there’s only the hard way”. — Mary Pearson
I don’t know where that quote is from; some young adult novel, I think. But it nicely pins down a concept I’ve been thinking about a fair bit. It’s directly applicable to ultrarunning but like so many of the lessons from ultrarunning it’s a lesson of general applicability.
It’s not just that sometimes there’s only the hard way. It’s that sometimes the best way is hard, and part of the reason it’s the best way is that it’s hard. And some of the time, there’s just the one way, and it turns out to be really hard. And it stays hard. It never gets easy. It never even gets easier. It just stays hard all the time.
Training is like that. In order to force your body to adapt, you have to push against the limits of what you can do, and that’s pretty much always going to be hard. It has to be hard, or it doesn’t work. Making art is like that. You can build more fluency, you can build a body of work over time, but to make art that makes a difference to you or anyone else, you have to be operating out where you don’t quite know what you’re doing, and that’s hard.
“The view is worth the climb” is the aphorism this brings to mind for me. In some sense, the fact that you have to make the climb is what makes the value of the view. The view is the payoff for overcoming the difficult challenge. If it’s the climb that makes the view worthwhile, then at least for some things, the hard way is the better way. The easy way, that doesn’t generate any value.
It’s interesting to me that ultrarunning, which has been a nonstop stream of great lessons for me, is all about something where there’s just the hard way. No matter how clever you are with your training, no matter how much assistance you get from a coach or friends or crew or aid station volunteers, the bottom line is that it has to be your own feet that carry you every step of the distance. There is no easy way. Even some hypothetical better way will still be hard.