The Hard is What Makes it Great

An essay about the benefits of choosing to do hard things.

By on July 13, 2018 | Comments

AJW's TaproomIn one of my all-time favorite sports films, “A League of Their Own,” Tom Hanks plays Jimmy, a battle-tested baseball manager charged with the task of coaching a team in the women’s major leagues during World War II. Opposite Jimmy is Dottie, played with tortured passion by Geena Davis, the reluctant star player on the team and the lynchpin of the fledgling league. After a particularly challenging stretch of games and just before the championships, Dottie tells Jimmy that she’s had enough and is quitting.

Jimmy, in a fit of frustration, gives Dottie a piece of his mind, “Sneaking out like this… quitting… you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up. You can’t deny that.”

Dottie doesn’t pause, and with tears in her eyes she says, “It just got too hard.”

Jimmy’s response is poignant and priceless, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

Over the past month or so, I have thought often of Jimmy’s wise words, the ideas that if it wasn’t hard everyone would do it and that the hard is what makes it great. No matter who we are and where we are in life, we inevitably have to face up to life’s hard times. We all, at times, are confronted with Dottie’s frustration and the accompanying desire to just quit and walk away, both in running and in life.

I know, at least for me, that running, like baseball for Dottie, has gotten inside of me and lit me up. As such, even at its lowest point, it is not so easy to quit. When it becomes its hardest–when motivation wanes, injuries flare up, or life gets in the way–I often think it would be quite a bit more comfortable and a lot easier to simply step away and move on. Yet each time I face such an option, I return to what makes it meaningful and purposeful, what has made it get inside of me.

And that is that it’s hard.

Sure, like many, I have enjoyed those times in my life when my running, and the rest of life for that matter, have come easily. But those times have been, frankly, few and far between. The truth is, most times the struggle to work hard, to soldier through, and to find a way to move on takes deliberate effort, repetitive discipline, and hard-headed resolve. Running, I like to think, has given me the tools to face up to the difficult times, take solace, and perhaps even revel in that which makes it so hard.

Dottie was quite fortunate in “A League of Their Own” as she had the grizzled, old coach who knew better than to let her just get by. Jimmy knew, perhaps as a result of his own experiences, that quitting would give Dottie an easy way out and that, ultimately, along with that would come a deep sense of regret. Facing up to the hard times, staring down that which challenges us and stretches us, even as we age, gives us a place and a space to grow and in that growth we can find satisfaction and perhaps even greatness, in spite of it all.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This past week I had the privilege, for the fourth-consecutive year, of attending Rob Krar’s Ultra Camp in his hometown of Flagstaff, Arizona. While there, Rob hosted a barbecue at a wonderful, little craft brewery, now six years old, called Wanderlust Brewing Company. Known for their small-batch Belgian Style Ales, Wanderlust makes a wonderfully accessible Belgian Ale called Petite Finale. Responding to growing demand, Wanderlust has begun bottling Petite Finale, allowing those of us outside the immediate Flagstaff area to enjoy this wonderfully balanced, crisp, and full-bodied ale done up in true Belgian style.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • How much does the difficulty of trail and ultrarunning keep you doing it? Are you attracted to that which is difficult?
  • What about in life? Do you seek out hard things in work, with your other hobbies, or among your family and friends?
  • If you intentionally choose that which is hard, why? Can you put words to it?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.