Are you comfortable?

I know I am: coffee sits steaming within my favorite mug, an air-conditioned breeze wafts against my legs as my daughter grins her way through a dance lesson, and I get to sit here and compose my thoughts, but this time last week, comfort abandoned me. I chose to run a 50k — 31 miles American — in 88 degree weather.

When selecting running clothes, the rule of thumb is to dress for weather 20 degrees warmer than the thermometer displays; therefore, it felt like 108. So hot, the heat from the pavement seeped through the soles of my shoes. So unbearably hot, we ran from one shady spot to another along the paved path on the Canadian side of the Niagara River. Me and my three running buddies traveled 6 hours, rented a cottage for two nights, and invested a three-day weekend to pay for this ultramarathon, going out of our way to risk dehydration or worse as we suffered through heat, physical pain, and mental exhaustion. This was not comfortable.

I grew up in a house where we squabbled over beanbag chairs and the La-Z-Boy before settling in for an evening of pizza and television where we’d watch sitcoms while awaiting a “good show” to come on, becoming champion channel flippers. I spent so much of my childhood being comfortable that I can still quote entire cereal or fruit snack commercials from 30 years ago. I quit t-ball and cub scouts due to lack of comfort along with choosing to home school in high school because it was easier. If choosing comfort over hardship was a major in college, I would’ve started my freshman year with enough credit to graduate as a senior by the time spring semester rolled around. I chose to sleep instead of going to work and left chores undone because I didn’t feel like doing them. I played hacky sack instead of revamping a script and walked away from multiple conversations knowing the tough remark I should have said instead of nodding dumbly in agreement.

Please don’t mistake this take on comfort as a condemnation of taking a rest. We all need to recharge; our brains wired to digest information as we sleep. Taking one day off per week equips us to face the challenges the following six days present with fresh eyes and a revitalized immune system.

Finding comfort is necessary, so why do I choose hardship? Am I making up for lost time? Is my running motivated by guilt, a sort of self-imposed self-flagellation for perceived failings?

No, I like meeting the challenge, staring it down, and exerting the effort to overcome. No matter how good binging on Doctor Who makes me feel for the moment, it doesn’t satisfy anywhere close to crossing the finish line of that 50k did. Pushing myself to the breaking point shows me I can push further than expected and each time I overcome an impossible challenge, daily challenges lose their fangs. Working through a conversation with a parent upset over their child’s grades for an hour holds less dread now that I’ve spent seven hours traversing 31 miles.

I’ve proven I’m not a pushover, that great accomplishments can be earned through hard work and consistent practice, and it’s through hard work and consistent practice that so many rise above their circumstances to become heroes — individuals who stand apart — demonstrating our capacity for greatness, but we’ve lost so many of late.

Bill Cosby wasn’t the husband and father we thought him to be. David Bowie and Prince, transcendent musicians, had their lights extinguished. Alan Rickman and Anton Yelchin, so large on screen, reminded us we’re all mortal, so we spend millions turning to talking fish or demigods to find hope, fictional characters who choose to do the hard things despite the risk. Risks we’re too comfortable to take.

Has Great Britain divided its kingdom and devalued the pound because leaving the European Union seemed easier than working through political and personal differences with foreigners? Are Hilary and Trump our de facto Presidential candidates because they’re familiar faces we’ve seen via media for the past several decades? Do we cry, “Guns, guns, guns!” when people die because it’s easier to arm ourselves or disarm others when the problem of hatred and fear is rooted within our own souls?

Meanwhile, Jesus of Nazareth ate with “tax collectors and sinners” and encouraged his followers to serve others in love, Lebron James showed us what’s possible when you give your all for the people of your hometown, and upon seeing we had a clog in our rain pipe, my friend Chad gave up going to a cookout so he could make use of his drain snake. You are unique in all the universe, for no other person shares your exact genetic make-up along with your specific set of experiences. A bowl of spaghetti sets off a sensory experience in you and awakens memories like no one else, so make something of yourself by bringing something new into this world. Choose to do what’s right despite the risk and invest in others.

Be the hero this world needs.

Weekend Plans

You know that feeling you get when you’re working up the nerve to ask someone out? Where you can feel the clockwork in your brain gearing from one function to another while the blood pumps through your hands at such a rate, it seems you could click your chopsticks together to find a housefly pinched between them recalling each of the faces of his 500 children before he heads to that great trash heap in the sky? I’ve got that, the feeling of near panic mixed with equal parts trepidation and glee where the brain recognizes the body’s about to endure an ordeal and has initiated a shot of adrenaline.

Don’t get anxious. I’m not facing any danger…yet. I’ve just finished packing my bags for a weekend trip to Niagara with the wife and a few friends. No, we’re not having an intervention. No, I’m not crossing the border to disappear into the Canadian wilderness. My friends and I are going for a run. A 50K. Thirty-one miles. On foot. In one go.

I teach eighth-grade English, so I’m used to people looking at me with incredulity seasoned with pity, and when I’ve shared my weekend plans, people’s reactions seem all too familiar.

“You’re going to do what?”

“How far?”

“I could do that. In my car!”

“Are you ready?”

That last question is the most pertinent as well as the most difficult to answer. I’ve run marathons before, including a marathon-distance training run just a few weeks ago, and the 50K is only five miles further than that, but I don’t know if I’m ready or not. This weekend will see me start my first ultramarathon, but I’m not certain I’ll finish.

Have I trained harder for this than any race I’ve done prior?


Have I been getting plenty of sleep and kept myself hydrated?


Is there a pain in my right foot, and did I experience a twinge in my left calf on a run not too long ago, hearkening back to injuries I suffered fours years ago that put me on crutches?

Why, yes. That’s an oddly specific question. You’re very perceptive.

That’s what’s got me nervous. Have I pushed my body too far, and instead of building it up for this race, have I pushed it to the point where it’s going to crumble beneath me?

I don’t know; no one does.

There’s only one way to find out.