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The Age-Old Battle: Stubborn Vs. Good?

man with beard

Rick Baraff
Adventure Athlete

This question goes back to the day humans first decided to compete in anything. Is it better to be Stubborn (a.k.a. hard-working) or Good (a.k.a. talented, gifted, a ‘natural’)?

This past weekend, I ran another trail race. At 28 kilometers (approximately 17 1/2 miles), most would consider this a long race. Why the odd distance? It was a trail running race inside a state park on a trail system that was only so big, and so the race directors plotted a loop out what was available. It’s just a trail runner thing. We’re an odd lot. We did 4 laps of this roughly 4 1/2 mile loop. Moving on… I won!

Man holding medal

Yes, I won the race outright. Not my age group. Not some side category for heavy breathers who sweat a lot. While I’m proud of my performance for a few reasons I’ll get into, that age-old question popped up again during most of the race. And I’ll tell you the answer: Stubborn won this race.

Let’s back up. I used to be Good. Well, I used to be a lot better at running and many physical things. I’m not saying that I’m gonna use my age as an excuse. I’m going to say that — as they often do — things in Life throw objects in your path that force you to re-prioritize or put aside things you’re passionate about for more practical or necessary things. I’m not complaining, it’s just how Life happens. We all get it. And so, if you’ve read some of my other posts, I haven’t been able to really pursue my passion for sports and the outdoors with young kiddos and some other health issues in the family. And work. And pandemics.

Anyway, these days, I’m reduced to relying on my Stubbornness to get through many endeavors, especially and including running races. (Note: I’m also writing this at 4:00am when I can get a small bit of work done) Back in my prime racing days, I was known as a rather stubborn competitor for sure. But I also trained hard and had a natural gift for sports. So I was slightly more Good that Stubborn. Though the latter helped a lot with ultra endurance events that I competed in.

These days, my longest training runs are maybe 10 miles (about 16-17 km) and I don’t run that often. So the most I run is a little over half the distance of the race I just did. And I live in a city where there aren’t really trails or hills like in most trail races. So if I sign up for a 17 1/2 mile race, I’ll have to use my stubbornness to simply finish. So how did I WIN?

Going back to being proud of my performance, I mentally mixed together my vast reserves of Stubborn with my fleeting muscle memories of being Good. What’s that mean? Well, you’ve heard me say that the mind is much more powerful than any of your muscles. You can push your physical body well beyond what you think you can. And if you train at anything, you understand that there is such a thing as ‘muscle memory’ which is what allows you to continue building muscle as you add weight or distance or technical aspects to your fitness regiment.

So I have a solid muscle memory of what it’s like to push beyond perceived boundaries AND a lot of experience with figuring out the edge of where I can push myself. And that came into play here because I decided on the last lap that I wasn’t going to give in this time to not having trained enough. And NOT give in to being comfortable with simply finishing while others passed me because I didn’t want to go into the “pain cave”. Yes, I’ve gotten to the place where I’m comfortable NOT pushing myself because, well, it hurts! And, at 50 years of age, I guess I don’t really need to prove anything. What I really have to do is just be alive afterwards to see my kids and wife!

But this time, I pushed the Stubborn button on the internal burners. I was determined to ‘give it everything’ (a.k.a. what little I had left after losing copious amounts of fluids in a hot, muggy race). If someone passed me it wasn’t going to be because I was NOT giving what I had left. And you know, I actually ended up putting a little gap on the racers behind me! I wasn’t going ‘fast’ but when I could, I pushed myself harder. And I felt truly proud and excited to cross the finish line first.

The point is that hard work – being Stubborn in a good way – can appear to make you “a natural” at something. But as we all know, there’s no athlete or businessperson or artist or worker who just woke up one day ‘good’ at something. There’s always a curve and there’s always a lot of work to put in. Now, some folks are lucky enough to have good genes or maybe have family members in a certain field that can make the curve less steep.

Man celebrating with kids

I’m lucky enough to have learned that Stubborn isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you put it in context. I’ve often fallen back on Good and been okay with not giving my all because I would tell myself ‘oh you used to be Good, so now it’s okay to just be decent’. But it left a lot of ‘What ifs…’ in my mind. As they say ‘Pain is temporary, victory is forever.’ So I plugged this into my thinking. And I’ll now be happy forever that Stubborn is the way to go. It means I out-worked everyone else out there!

The moral: Like the age-old tortoise and the hare story, it’s often the hard worker — the stubborn guy — who crosses the line first because he has the better mindset.

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