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Apr 02 2008

Adversity Makes Us Stronger

Published by at 1:59 pm under Running

It’s a catchphrase, a cliché, a figure of speech, but for us runners, it’s often a literal truth. Adversity in the form of weather conditions – hot, humid, icy, gale force winds & driving rain – sure, mentally and physically these forms of heavenly adversity make us stronger in some sense of the word.


Adversity in the form of competition makes us stronger too. We out kick a rival and we learn to doubt ourselves less. We lose a race to a young whippersnapper who blew past at the midpoint and we learn something about humility – and we strengthen our will to do better next time. We race to the very end against a proven equal and we can boast a new PR as a results – we are stronger than we were before the race, by the numbers.

But one of the most fascinating parts of running to me, has always been the way that unrelated adversity – complications in those ‘other’ parts of our lives – makes us better runners. Frustrations with a parent, spouse or boss are vented in the evening run – 5 miles become 10 and 8:00 pace into 6:30s. Irritation over a writer’s block, or an equation that won’t work out right translates into a killer hill workout. And worries about a relationship or a leaky bank account somehow melt away over the course of a longer than planned long run. Those problems? They’ll work themselves out another time. Right now, I’m running – and getting stronger.

Think back, has a stressful period at work been followed by a sparkly new PR a month later? Complete peace in our lives, our families and our communities is not required for our development as runners.

Indeed, for decades now, the top echelons of our sport have been dominated by practically anonymous athletes from some of the poorest corners of the earth. Bathed in adversity from the day they were born, we regularly see Kenyan teenagers spit out times on a track – at altitude – that top suburban-bred US elites can only dream about.

Recent war zones seem to breed strong distance runners in the same way vernal ponds breed spring peepers. How do those frogs GET there in the first place!? Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, Russia, the list goes on and on. Social, political and economic adversity seem to combine in a powerful way with the simplicity and accessibility of this sport and the human desire to improve one’s life.

Adversity of any kind seems to draw out the best in runners, and running often provides an ideal venue for us to release the mental results of adversity.

The key to using it is recognizing it, so let’s all take a moment to recognize the forces of adversity in our lives. Then let’s harness the activation energy contained within it and channel it to the betterment of ourselves (and our times), our club & our community.

2 responses so far


  • Dan Lehmann says:

    One of my favorite quotes, “There is a great advantage in training under unfavorable conditions”, Emil Zatopek legendary runner of the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. I am often reminded of this when caught out in the occaisional blizzard or freezing rain storm. But you are so correct Katie, adversity of any kind can draw out the best if you let.
    Enjoyed your perspective.

  • Gilbert Goh says:

    This is a very insightful article.

    I have placed it on my blog and given the proper accreditation.

    Keep up the good work!

    Gilbert Goh

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