I’m not gonna harp on how weird quarantine was, because we all lived through it, we all know it was weird. But that spring, 2020, stands out in my memory. If you break quarantine into phases, it was the very beginning, the three months that were supposed to be like two weeks. None of us really knew what was going on, and we had our uncanny valley school experience, and during all of that, I was running. Winters gave us a schedule for the first two weeks, and hilariously, traumatically, funny in the sense that you can only laugh because any real response would be too much to think about, that two week schedule just expanded and expanded. It was all pretty standard. Every week there was a workout on Wednesday, and a long run on Saturday, and easy runs filled the rest of the days. The easy runs and long runs I did with my dad, and that’s a whole different story that I could talk about - the first time I ran ten miles was during that time.
But in this post I want to talk about the Wednesdays that spring, specifically the Wednesdays every other week, when we had hill workouts. I did all of them on Cromby hill, which, if you don’t know, is this big hill on the North side. If you go through town on Hobo, the Schuylkill River Trail, and then cross Mowere Road and run up a little hill, you end up at the top of Cromby. So, every other week I’d run over to Cromby as my warm up, do a hill workout, and then run home to cool down.
Cromby is a brutal hill. It’s like 100 feet of elevation in a quarter mile. It’s pretty amazing for doing hills. I’d always try to figure out which part of it hurt the most during the workouts. Maybe it was really just aerobic pain. Or maybe it was all in my upper legs. Retrospectively I think they both hurt the most. But in a spring with a lot of unfair pain, Covid and police violence especially, Cromby taught me how to deal with the simple, logical pain of running. There was nothing unfair about Cromby. I wanted to run up the hill, and that required a fair bit of uncomfortable exertion, and if I really wanted to run up the hill, I’d have to get comfortable with that discomfort.
In Finland, they call that sisu. It roughly translates to “guts”, but a better definition is the skill of being comfortable with being uncomfortable. There are some things this doesn’t apply to, I guess - the unfair pain I was talking about earlier. We aren’t comfortable with Covid killing people, and therefore we ought to do our best to make sure it doesn’t. But to an extent that includes being comfortable with discomfort too, like the discomfort of wearing masks and lockdowns, and so does the idea of fighting racism, which includes some uncomfortable reckonings and realizations. I think if sisu applies at all to those complicated, unfair pains, it surely applies to the completely explicable pain we feel in running. Running faster than you ever have before is uncomfortable. As exhilarating as racing can be, it includes a lot of feelings that really suck. That’s a whole mythology of team storytelling. Declan calls the spot by the finish line on the track the graveyard, since people lay on the ground, exhausted, after racing. But if you apply the logic of sisu, that pain isn’t for nothing. If you want to run faster than you ever have before, you’re going to have to get comfortable with discomfort. Discomfort is required to do something you thought you couldn’t do, and the process of training is a process of preparing your skill of being comfortable with that, your sisu. It’s a mental muscle, and every time you push through discomfort you strengthen it.
Running up Cromby however many times every two weeks for however many weeks was a sisu building process. I credit that spring and summer directly with my evolution from “just on the team because I always have been” to really being invested, and Cromby was a big part of that. Right now, I’m dealing with a more abstract Cromby. My arms are broken. I’m uncomfortable. It sucks. Dramatically. Still though, I know that I have sisu. That didn’t go away. And if it doesn’t go away after breaking multiple bones, I imagine it doesn’t go away after a bad race or a bad workout.
Keep building your sisu,