A few days ago as I was run-commuting home from work, I happened upon an old episode of the Dirt Bag Diaries, Fun Divided by Three. Let me just be clear: out on the trail, in the mountains, I would never attempt to distract myself with music or a podcast. Running home from work on the street, it suddenly becomes a necessary diversion from the traffic. Judge me if you will.
Anyway, there I am running along the Pacific Coast Highway, staring longingly up at the mountains to my immediate left, when Fitz Cahall starts talking about the different types of fun.
According to Fitz, all the “fun” experiences you have fit into one of three distinct categories. I’d like to think there’s a little more grey area in there but essentially Fitz describes this sort of (reverse) correlative scale between how much fun something is during the planning and execution stages and how much fun it is to talk about afterward. I was intrigued. I kept listening.
At the bottom of the scale you’ve got the type of fun that sounds like a good time during planning, is a good time in actuality, and is fun to talk about afterward for fifteen minutes or so (i.e. a leisurely four-mile hike you planned with your significant other along an idyllic single track as the sun sinks low on the horizon, culminating in a summit/sunset picnic and a bottle of expensive Malbec). Just regular old fun.
Then about halfway up the scale you’re getting into the fun that sounds like fun when you’re drawing it up, is mostly fun while you’re doing it but definitely includes pain, moments of sincere regret and a lot of expletives, and makes a great story to tell over a beer for the next couple years (i.e. a 20-mile mountain run you plan with your buddies for a sunny Saturday morning that ends up being 35 miles because you got lost, were almost hit by lightning and forced to cross multiple chest-high rivers while possibly being stalked by a cougar. Oh, and the dude who was supposed to bring the S! Caps forgot them in the car).
Then all the way at the top, you’ve got the type of fun that isn’t really fun at all until it’s over. The type of fun that sounds miserable while you’re planning, you’re lucky to make it out with all limbs intact, and makes for one of the best stories you’ll tell for the rest of your life. Fitz says something about post-holing at 25,000 feet through four feet of fresh powder when he’s describing this top of the scale or “type three fun”.
If you’re an ultra runner, a trail runner or even someone who spends time in the mountains, you likely have your own version of type three fun. We all have those experiences. Running along the beach that day, my mind started to wander to my first 50 miler… or that time that Parker and I decided to run the 14-mile trail to the summit of Mt. Timpanagos the day after we ran the Skyline Mountain Marathon (and two days after I flew to Utah and left my sea-level apartment) with nothing but a couple of 20oz handheld bottles and two Larabars (apparently all the vomiting the day before didn’t fully hammer home the need for some basic acclimatization).
I love telling the stories from those experiences. There were serious moments of doubt. Serious moments of pain. For a while, I didn’t think I would finish that first 50 miler. It hurt more than anything I had ever done up to that point. And there were times when I didn’t think I would ever make it off Mt. Timp (and I may not have if it wasn’t for Parker). There were definitely times when sitting down and giving up sounded like the most reasonable option. So why do these experiences, the hardest and most trying times, become the best memories and stories later?
In my opinion, these raw, visceral experiences are the only thing that makes us feel truly alive. Our daily lives aren’t doing it. How alive have you ever felt staring a TV or computer screen? Without pushing ourselves to find our limits, we can never know who we truly are. It’s in these times of self-doubt—where we find ourselves stripped of all pretense—that we discover who we are and what were capable of.
We accept challenges and we conquer them. We push ourselves to those deep, dark places we thought we were never capable of getting out of. And then we get out. And we can’t wait to talk about it over a beer.