This post is written by Doug Hay of Rock Creek Runner.
Have you ever had one of those conversations that just sticks with you? Where someone makes a comment you can’t let go?
It happened to me last summer, the day after I ran a 50-mile ultramarathon. I was sitting in my 93-year-old grandmother’s house telling her about the race, and I’ll never forget her reaction.
It wasn’t one of joy or amazement.
It was sadness.
Not sadness about the race itself — I’m sure she was proud of my accomplishment — but sadness about what I was doing.
She looked right at me and said, “I’m just so worried you’re taking it too far and will regret this one day.”
That’s not something you want to hear from your grandmother after a big race. Especially when it was only a training race for the main event: a 100-miler just a month later.
But that’s the way most people look at ultrarunning, or endurance running in general. They respond to your long run miles with:
“Aren’t you taking this a little too far?”
“You know that’s bad for you, right?”
“What’s wrong with you, man?”
Beware the Status Quo
As a society, we overwhelmingly stick to the status quo. It’s more comfortable when your actions don’t stand out as abnormal. No one questions your decisions, no one labels you an outcast.
It’s why we follow fashion trends, and why we all know at least a few Tay Swift songs.
This symmetry is all well and good until it starts to hold you back …
Without breaking free of societal norms, The Beatles would have never released their first album, or started growing their hair long. Albert Einstein would have never developed the theory of general relativity. And Matt Frazier would have never started this blog.
Yes, I just lumped Matt in with The Beatles and Einstein. You’re welcome, buddy.
When we’re too scared to do something that sets us apart, we resist growth and progress, and instead fall for the great moderation hoax … that everything is better in moderation.
If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you already know this.
By simply eliminating meat or animal products from your diet, you’ve broken the norm, and have to live with both the benefits and consequences.
So congratulations, you’re an outcast! And a better person because of it.
But are Social Norms Really Meant to Be Broken?
On the flip side, norms are set in place for a reason. Most often because they work. They keep us healthy, safe, and functioning as a society.
So should we always be pushing the boundaries? Probably not. Instead, there are good times and bad times to push.
Placing your entire retirement savings on a single risky bet? That’s bad.
Standing up for something you know to be right? That’s good.
See the difference?
When to Take It ‘Too Far’
Unfortunately things aren’t always as black or white as the two examples above, and you have to ask yourself if that goal or change is really worth it. Oftentimes the answer is yes.
When you need to prove something — either to others or yourself — it’s worth it.
There are times when you need to push boundaries in order to prove that something can be done. Take these, for example:
- Completing 50 Ironmans in 50 days in 50 states
- Being the first female finisher of the Boston Marathon (even when it wasn’t official)
- Sailing around the world, by yourself, at the age of 14
All examples of doing something big in the face of doubters, and learning, growing, and inspiring others in return.
When you need a reset, it’s worth it.
Sometimes the only way to get back on track is by first going to the extreme. You see people doing this all the time through things like juice cleanses, extended breaks from TV, or an alcohol detox.
They’re giving the body or mind a break in an attempt to push the ol’ reset button.
When finding your new normal, it’s worth it.
Around the same time I was chatting with my grandmother, Matt was traveling home from the Woodstock Fruit Festival. When I saw him a week later, he was still eating almost entirely raw fruits and vegetables, and felt completely reinvigorated about his diet.
I’m not going to lie, for me the Fruitarian diet is a bit out there, and even Matt isn’t convinced it’s good for the long term.
But it was just what he needed at the time. Even though he has moved on from only eating raw fruit today, that experience has shaped the sustainable habits that now make up his normal.
Sometimes it requires exploring new boundaries in order to know what works best for you.
And when there’s no other option, it’s worth it.
In some situations, breaking the norm and taking things to the perceived extreme will feel like your only option. For many vegans, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
We’ve seen history made, and can credit many advances in our society to someone putting their foot down and declaring that enough is enough. That the alternative — the norm — would no longer work for them.
Is it Time for You to Take Something to the Extreme?
You could sit around your whole life waiting for a guarantee. You could hold yourself back and never follow your dreams, just because of how it might look to others, or fear of what could happen.
But I say it’s time to go out on a limb, take a risk, and do something so wild, it makes a statement and shatters the social norm.
Quit prancing around whatever goal you have and do something big. You could:
- Get serious about running and commit to a marathon, triathlon, or ultramarathon
- Ignore the critics and proudly make your art
- Finally take those steps to go vegan
- Quit the job you hate and follow your passion
- Sell off everything but 100 necessary items
- Move to the city of your dreams, even if it’s halfway around the world
- Write that book you’ve had in your head for years
… or scratch whatever epic itch you just can’t seem to ignore. And remember, just because you try it out, nobody’s saying you have to do it forever.
What My Grandmother Will Never Understand
That conversation with my grandmother has stuck with me because I know that in some ways she is right. The distance may take its toll, and one day I may regret pushing my body so hard.
But what I know that she may never understand, is that without 100-mile goals or epic trail runs, I wouldn’t be motivated to run at all, and I wouldn’t have the fulfilling life I’m privileged to live.
I know that because I took a chance and signed up for that ultramarathon. Because I did something extreme, something at which I might have failed.
What might feel like “too far” to her, is just what I need.
Are you ready to take a chance and defy the norm?