Our current viewpoints shape our past and our hindsight; our outlook is artificially molded by our beliefs. Experience can be a motherfucker, as it guides us forward but it also lends to the disregarding of the truth, or even worse creates our own truths. Six-months ago a conversation erupted about the effects of different efforts. Short vs. Long and the condemnation of one or the other. Argument, in general is enjoyable, even if I agree; I believe the fire of it elicits new paths… if you are open to it. I started in this manner fighting with what I concurred. For the last decade I would have battled vehemently in the corner of “Long efforts” being superior to experience and exceptional for mental fortitude. That’s because my history would speak for me, I could only recall the truths that I knew. The slow methodical grind gives time to brew, time to decide whether or not to continue. Intensity, true intensity eluded me, sure I lifted “heavy”, I sprinted, I did “all-out” minutes, I hurt myself with physical trial. And so my experience shaped, err forced my opinion, as we can only know what we know. I fought back this idea to maybe prod or poke, to give way to a conversation, after all sitting in a room where everyone nods in agreement holds very little interest for me, even if that involves faking a stance.
The easy resolution is to promote and experience both, as most who come to training by way of GPP (general physical preparedness) sometimes do. This was not the point as the exchange was based on the emotional or psychological revelation exhibited by those who plunge deep into the time barrier of effort. This seems intuitively correct as watching the finish to a stage in LeTour is heartbreakingly wrought with emotion. Paradoxically the chest-thumping conclusion to a 100m sprint or the lion-like roar of a successful world record Deadlift looks masked with machismo and on the surface lacks mental evolution. How much could you possibly change in less than 10seconds or less than a second for that matter? Sure, the chemicals flowing through these very different athletes are dissimilar by nature, and not just the exogenous variety as they are both profoundly riddled with them, but the neuro-chemical pathways and hormonal profile are just organically different. Maybe. This was my intuition speaking, as I’ve read countless memoirs from endurance athletes whose poetic prose and description of sport has been able to elicit emotions and evolution in myself. I’ve also felt the transformative experience of a 10hr+ effort on a bike, the way it makes you examine and take inventory all in the dust of your own collapse. Conversely watching Bolt fly through in unbelievable speed to win gold, although impressive lacks personal inspiration. My opposing side with which I stood was looking bleak, as I was losing grounds in my argument. The added punch on the subject of risk involved in ultra-long efforts was icing, as the contrived comfort of an artificial battleground cannot possibly compare to the dwindling discomfort and lack of control a mountain range offers the astute adventurer. As much as I like the process of debate, I also despise losing, as these points were starting to look infinitesimally better than my own. I walked away, tail between my legs, but I didn’t give in, I had to think and evaluate, something about the notion of single sided superiority irked me, even if an hour previous I would have been the one nodding along..
Free will, opinion, choices, that which defines our consciousness, are merely illusions in most cases. Dozens of Nuero-scientists have now effectively published extensive proof that not only do we not really decide our own beliefs or actions, but also we confabulate our history, excuse our decisions, and most importantly in this scenario opinionate what we deem as fact and teach it as gospel. It’s tough to sift through empirical research that basically takes away what most think distinguish us from other animals. Being aware of our own existence necessitates little else. If this is correct, why are we in search for the truth, at least the truth of our experience? Is it so hard to fathom that our experience was individually correct and also universally wrong? Is it damning to know we are not responsible for our drive, our decisions, that motivation and opinion are substantiated by an illusive passive thought? All of this must be considered when “taking a side”, and for that matter remaining on a side. Whatever side you choose in any situation, you will be congratulated, specifically by those who made the same choice. This will feel good, to have the troops rally around you so to speak, we depend on tribalism, our brains depend on social groups and hierarchy. Most at the lower end would take their position of bottom-feeder rather then to be expelled from a social group. Walking down the middle of a line is not celebrated, as perhaps it should be, it is a lonesome endeavor, as people love to be decisively black and white, it is easier to see in stark contrast. But the positives for walking a line do exist. Avoiding self-delusion is one that comes to mind, not avoidable completely, but dodging the ever-sticky trap of becoming the indoctrinated subordinate is. Essentially this debate put me in the middle, it cast me away from those that welcomed me before, and in doing so I questioned the merit. It is a simple removal from social status story without the dullness of a church or the danger of a suicide cult. There are many groups that claim “open source” and teach to be open-minded, but how many truly are, how many change when the information contradicts their way or more importantly their income?
I was not a good spokes-person, for my journey with short effort was even shorter. Experience drew a line through what I was yet to comprehend. A few years trying my hand at weightlifting didn’t earn me much, as my commitment was shallower than my argument against it. How can it possibly be right that only one type of effort leads to very specific development? In my experience the world has never been so cut and dry. And there in lies the problem, MY experience.
My view has evolved, I’ve remained open enough about things that I don’t quite understand, and through this, revelation strikes. I think it’s in part what leads to good teaching, even if it is only teaching myself. Perhaps my evolution didn’t exactly come from the short effort but the long commute to discovering it. Along the way I participated in weightlifting, and still do. I separate this from competing as I was not a contender, and with that mindset is what I find the link between efforts becomes. You must contend, reach for something that pushes your known boundary, you must apply risk of some sort to reap a spiritual benefit. Why short hard efforts don’t seem to develop athletes similarly to their longer counterpart might just be because the interpretation while looking from afar. If the guy who wins/loses doesn’t break down into tears it can’t possibly define development, or does it? At least for us spectators, to show us that something was on the line. Matthias Steiner’s story exonerated my stance. In preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympic weightlifting event, Matthias was hit with the unfortunate death of his wife in a car accident. Weightlifting from a “long” point of view seems lazy and the athletes grotesquely “fat”, the event lasts about a second, the training for which is sitting and waiting for the next lift. There is no bad weather to deal with in the air-conditioned comfort of the gym. What isn’t realized is that volume and psychological stress is insurmountable. It is a daily process most often multiple times a day, where you must contend with a piece of metal that does not want you to win, the “rest” is to sit and confront the contempt you feel for it. The battle of attrition then is rarely seen, as the glory is the only aspect celebrated. My view is that long efforts develop the mind during, and the shorter are developed in preparation for. The mental platisicity to train for a series of 6 lifts inside sometimes a decade of training is anything but “short”.
Risk? If your experience with weightlifting is 150lb squat then I would agree, risk is not helping you experience mental acuity, but because of your lack of ability not because the experience is not available to you. I would argue the same in the opposite manner, if your scope of length is within an hour you are not participating in what we describe. Most endurance types cannot afford the time requirement involved to “feel” short effort realization, at least at the “elite” level. It might be worth noting the satisfaction of dedicating yourself specifically comes at the cost of other experiences. Those that dedicate the better half of their lives to putting 440+lbs directly overhead or unracking a 1000lb squat, only to feel their ribs break not only have a chance at greater mental clarity but also risk greatly. With this in mind, Matthias had a decision to make, as the story goes he continued to train at a loss, most likely being unable to hold up his promise of gold to his deceased wife. Effort, risk, mental evolution, emotional grit are the by-products of competition not distance or time, the annuity owed to us by our dedication. As I might have articulated the thought of literary fortitude in favor of the endurance athlete before, I would have been wrong. The exposure of my experience left me without examples, as has now been corrected by reading the works of life long power-lifters and weightlifters. Their description and in-depth transformation brings about something similar, which is just change, transformation. Matthias pushed his loss outside of his scope and focused intently on gold. He overcame great odds, mental barriers and risked everything in order to best his own insecurity, with what could be called one of the greatest sporting performances of all-time, I would recommend watching the entire story linked above. His emotional response to winning counter acts what we might have thought about depth of character involved in just “lifting weights”. I would compare his evolution to any great feat of overcoming odds. His story will inspire thousands, something we should all charge to do, and is what may be at the foundation of sport, no matter the distance.
Learning to lift weights in a way that leads to evolution has taken me the better part of my life, it has been every bit as enlightening as the miles I flogged in order to seek clarity through that domain. To side strongly to any camp and argue superiority is a crime against the title of teacher, as it was in this case, I believe this specific exchange happened as a defense of the profession not the stance. Teaching should not be just proving the benefits of your own experience but helping others find their own, and to this I hold coaches and trainers more accountable than the athlete who “just does”. Perhaps there is comfort with the thought that we have just done things the right way, the one true way. It vindicates our experience, confabulates our life story. The one thing I fear above being wrong is perhaps being right with a previous thought, therefore my personal growth would lead me away from truth and towards mental degeneration. By raising the banner of our single experience we lose the ability to see past the crowd gathered at our feet, and by just going long for so long we may just fall short.