The Disappointment Muscle

AJWs TaproomWhile midsummer is often a time for those of us in the ultrarunning world to celebrate the successes of the season, for many who fall short of their goals or who battle through failure, this can be a very disappointing time of year. I was reminded of this when I was recently skimming through an old school newsletter in which I wrote the following article. While the focus of the article is on kids and teaching it is perhaps relevant to our running as well:

Developing The Disappointment Muscle

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to re-connect with an old friend and colleague Erik Weihenmayer. Erik and I had worked together in the late nineties at Phoenix Country Day School and had parted ways in 1999. I had gone on to work at The Head-Royce School in California and Erik left the school to pursue his dream to climb the Seven Summits–the highest peak on each of the seven continents. This is, of course, an incredible triumph, what makes it even more amazing is that Erik Weihenmayer is completely blind.

On the day he stood atop Mount Everest, Erik became the first blind climber to ever climb to the ‘top of the world.’ As one might expect, that accomplishment did not come easily. In the early weeks of the expedition, Erik and his team worked their way up and down the mountain establishing base camps and rehearsing their climb. On many occasions during this training phase Erik and his team became frustrated and concerned. On their first attempt to cross the infamous Khumbu Icefall Erik required 13 hours for the crossing. Most teams manage to cross the icefall in six or seven hours. They were in trouble. Confronting the tallest mountain in the world they were worried, anxious, and increasingly disappointed.

At this point Erik did what he had done since going blind at the age of 13, he turned his disappointment into success. Erik refused to let the fact that he was blind and, therefore, slow, deter him. In fact, the adversity motivated him. On the day that his team began their final assault on the mountain they crossed the Khumbu Icefall in an incredible five hours and a few days later they stood atop the world’s highest mountain.

Through hard work, discipline, and the tremendous desire to turn disappointment into success, Erik and his team overcame the early frustration inherent in their situation and found the strength and fortitude to make it to the top. In the process, they made history.

By embracing his blindness and seeking out difficult challenges Erik developed a strong ‘disappointment muscle.’ A psychologist friend of mine has spoken about this ‘muscle’ and suggests that too many of us have poorly developed disappointment muscles as a result of too many years of being shielded and protected from adversity in an attempt to stay happy and content. As parents and teachers we must be aware that our kids need disappointment and adversity in order to find ultimate success.

Only through building resilience and courage was Erik able to climb the Seven Summits. By building the strongest disappointment muscle he could, he found his way to the ‘top of the world.’ In that story, there is a lesson for us all.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Stone Brewing Company Ruination 2.0This week’s Beer of the Week comes from a Taproom favorite, Stone Brewing Company in San Diego, California. Recently on tap at my local watering hole, I had a couple pints of their Ruination 2.0, an updated version of their award-winning Double IPA Ruination. To be honest, I didn’t think they could top the original but they did. If you have a chance to get one of these, especially on draft, I encourage you to compare it to the best DIPAs out there as it certainly did not disappoint.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you experienced disappointment in reaching toward one of your 2015 running goals? If so, can you explain what happened and how it made you feel?
  • What have you found to be the best way to tangibly exercise your ‘disappointment muscle,’ as AJW calls it, to accept the problems you encounter and work your way through them? How do you do this in life? In your running?

There is one comment

  1. felizecat

    Thank you for sharing this extraordinary feat of your friend. Very inspiring!

    I faced disappointment last weekend, during a 50km/1800m D+ trail run near Quebec City. 14 km in the run, I fell on my right side and learned a few days ago that I broke a rib doing so. As I was still evaluating the effect of the injury on the remaining distance, it became clearer that I was exposing myself to potential disaster with the aggravating pain. I also had to keep in mind that I had another 50 km bicycle ride, with 30 pounds of stock to drag to a train station, then another 25km to get home, and with too little cash to rest in a hotel. So I abandoned the race, and pursued the project of getting home with that injury. I quit, because the race, and the whole project, was going to be unpleasant.
    I am not concerned about winning, but I am about doing my best. My best requires that I enjoy the challenge, even if painful, but not to the point of risking the possibility of not being able to run or bike for a long time.
    The 'Disappointment Muscle', as you name it, is actually the entertainment of the idea of the enjoyment of the challenge, and I learned it the hard way 5 years ago during Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1200km bicycle race in France. I did it, as a challenge, on a fixed gear bike, only one speed, and obligation to pedal all the time. For 87 hours and 20 some minutes, the little voice inside was telling me to quit, abandon, and any opportunity to evade the challenge was used by that tiny little voice. The butt pain from the long, extended periods on the saddle made it even worse, as I was imagining my most tender parts degrading into bad meat. After some introspection, I figured that what was actually dragging me down to depression during the challenge was that I had no fun at all, no enjoyment of participating… Once I understood that, the coming years were to about training for the pleasure, and enjoyment of whatever I do.
    Today, me and my broken rib, we walk 20 km a day, and entertain ideas of running very soon, with some bouldering, cycling, and deep, satisfying breathing facing this beautiful world surrounding me.

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