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Contentment – iRunFar

I keep in mind ending my first mountain 100 miler. The ultimate few miles included a rocky, technical descent on drained legs that required a substantial amount of focus to keep away from falling, and I had two targets — (i) end as shortly as I may, and (ii) end in possession of all of my tooth, in correct order, nonetheless in my mouth.

Once I crossed the end line, I felt aid for positive, in addition to completely satisfied, unhappy, rueful, and proud. I had particular regrets I may title — similar to sections of the course I didn’t push as laborious as I ought to have, and small moments after I was fickle or irresolute. I needed to re-run the race to repair these issues. I additionally felt some extent of satisfaction for having accomplished the occasion, since working 100 miles is a problem — one thing I knew solely theoretically earlier than the occasion, and by expertise after. I used to be completely satisfied to be achieved and unhappy that it was over. I felt plenty of issues, however I’m sure that I didn’t really feel content material.

Sabrina Little - 2018 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile champion

Sabrina Little on her approach to profitable the 2018 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile, a decade on from ending her first 100 miler. Picture: USATF Mountain Extremely Path Council/Richard Bolt

The Panorama of Publish-Race Feelings

There may be an expression within the working world: “Feelings can prepare dinner your meals or set your kitchen on hearth.” The concept is that the feelings you expertise in a race — irritation, frustration, pleasure, gratitude, offense, boredom, and in any other case — could be a nice supply of energy if rightly directed, however they will trigger your undoing if not.

For instance, in case you are annoyed by a miscommunication along with your crew and dwell on it, this could be a distraction and an power price. However for those who let it go, or — even higher — redirect your frustrations into your effort, this could be a supply of energy. Pleasure could make you’re feeling bulletproof and energized, however for those who don’t handle pleasure effectively, you’ll figuratively “set your kitchen on hearth” by beginning the race too shortly. A considerable a part of racing effectively is studying how you can superintend feelings.

By racing, I’ve discovered so much about emotion administration. I’ve discovered that, for those who really feel notably unhealthy or notably good, simply wait a number of miles; feelings typically regress to the imply. I’ve discovered that feelings shout at you if you end up drained. And I’ve discovered that there’s a distinction between “feeling unhealthy” and “feeling unhealthy for your self.” The latter imperils extra races than the previous.

However the panorama of feelings post-race is one thing I’m nonetheless studying how you can handle. Particularly, I’m studying how you can be content material. Even the very best races are full of massive and little failures, and when these are nonetheless contemporary in your thoughts, it may be a problem to guide with gratitude and appreciation, slightly than with remorse and an incessant want to enhance. Frankly, I’ve had so many unhealthy races at this level that, if I don’t determine this out, I’ll have sufficient chips on my shoulder to feed a complete Superbowl occasion.

So, how can I study to be content material?

The Idea

To be content material is, “to understand the great in a single’s current situation (1).” It’s a advantage that consists of “realizing when sufficient is sufficient, of being correctly glad, and of not wanting greater than is required for a very good life (2).”

Contentment counters the acquisitive nature of our tradition — a tradition fueled by greed that all the time desires extra as a substitute of appreciating what one already has. It counters the industriousness and workaholicism that compel us to maintain working with none clear imaginative and prescient of what we’re working for, and with none gratitude for what now we have already achieved.

It additionally counters the insatiable striving of the space runner, struggling to reconcile current satisfaction in a single’s present talents with the will to enhance. This can be a troublesome steadiness — main with appreciation and gratitude whereas additionally eager to be higher — and there are numerous fashionable misconceptions about what contentment entails. In what follows, I make clear the character of contentment in distance working.

Matt Cecill - Running Emotions and Journey - post-race hugs

Working on emotion. Picture: Matt Cecill

Contentment Is Not Complacency

Oftentimes, we converse this fashion — that if we’re actually content material with our performances, this implies we don’t aspire to something higher. We converse as if contentment means we stop to be pushed to enhance. However contentment is just not at odds with enchancment. In actual fact, it provides a sturdier floor for enchancment than an absence of contentment does as a result of there may be relaxation and safety in contentment, as a substitute of emotions of inadequacy or loss. It’s troublesome to maintain enchancment, long-term, pushed by a way of inadequacy. Feeling insufficient is exhausting.

Thinker David McPherson clarifies, “[Contentment] doesn’t deny that we ought in some ways to hunt enchancment, but it surely acknowledges … that we have to discover a approach to be at dwelling within the given world amid imperfection. This requires that we domesticate a grateful or appreciative orientation to the world (3).”

You Can Be Content material With the Flawed Issues

To be clear, there are occasions once we ought not be content material. For instance, in case your life is oriented towards empty issues — like a quest for reputation or consideration — then it’s acceptable that we don’t discover satisfaction in these targets. If we expertise unease whereas in pursuit of this stuff, then it is a signal that we must always re-evaluate our targets, slightly than work more durable to domesticate contentment towards the mistaken objects.

Philippa Foot factors out that “a person is harmed if he’s taught to be content material with small pleasures and made unfit for enterprises requiring daring and independence (4).” A wealthy human life consists of greater than the striving for trivial, empty issues.

Arrival Is a Fallacy

Shortly after crossing the ending line of one of many greatest races of my life, I assumed, That is what I’ve been ready so lengthy for, … adopted by a query: THIS is what I’ve been ready so lengthy for?!

There’s a frequent false impression that after we accomplish some large objective, then we can have arrived, and this can considerably change one thing about us or our place on the planet. That is simply not true. There are all the time new occasions to register for and new mountains to summit. And, as quickly as you full your large objective, somebody will, virtually instantly, ask you what your subsequent race is.

Achievement is sort of a trick escalator that by no means arrives at its vacation spot. So, in case you are withholding contentment till the massive day if you accomplish no matter grand goal you have got set out as the last word objective in your life, you can be sorely disillusioned if you by no means arrive. It’s essential discover contentment right here, now, or you’ll by no means be content material in any respect.

Ultimate Ideas

There may be all the time a peculiar combination of feelings if you cross a end line. You might be aggravated along with your frailties and moments of weak spot, relieved to be achieved, unhappy about missed alternatives to push more durable, and eager for the subsequent race to show your self. It’s troublesome to be content material in these moments. However I typically look again at what have been nice races in my profession, and want — looking back — that I celebrated these moments extra.

Contentment is a troublesome advantage for pushed individuals, which distance runners typically are. However it’s a advantage price pursuing — to satisfy the world with appreciation and gratitude — as a result of the choice — inadequacy-driven despair — is just not a sustainable approach to be an athlete or a posture that helps a flourishing life.

Tim Tollefson finished strong in 5th place after steadily moving up all day.

Tim Tollefson on the end of the 2021 Western States 100, having positioned fifth. Picture: iRunFar/Alex Potter

Name for Feedback

  • How have you ever felt on the end line of a much-anticipated race?
  • Was it the way you anticipated to really feel?


  1. Cheshire Calhoun (2017). On Being Content material with Imperfection. Ethics 127(2): 327-352.
  2. David McPherson (2022). The Virtues of Limits. Oxford College Press, 35.
  3. David McPherson (2022). The Virtues of Limits. Oxford College Press, 3.
  4. Philippa Foot (1978). Virtues and Vices and Different Essays in Ethical Philosophy. College of California Press, 93.


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