Why I Pushed ‘Too Far’ (and Will Never Regret It)

No U-Turn traffic sign in Bangkok, Thailand

This post is written by Doug Hay of Rock Creek Runner.

Have you ever had one of those conversations that just sticks with you? Where someone makes a comment you can’t let go?

It happened to me last summer, the day after I ran a 50-mile ultramarathon. I was sitting in my 93-year-old grandmother’s house telling her about the race, and I’ll never forget her reaction.

It wasn’t one of joy or amazement.

It was sadness.

Not sadness about the race itself — I’m sure she was proud of my accomplishment — but sadness about what I was doing.

She looked right at me and said, “I’m just so worried you’re taking it too far and will regret this one day.”

That’s not something you want to hear from your grandmother after a big race. Especially when it was only a training race for the main event: a 100-miler just a month later.

But that’s the way most people look at ultrarunning, or endurance running in general. They respond to your long run miles with:

“Aren’t you taking this a little too far?”

“You know that’s bad for you, right?”

“What’s wrong with you, man?”

Beware the Status Quo

As a society, we overwhelmingly stick to the status quo. It’s more comfortable when your actions don’t stand out as abnormal. No one questions your decisions, no one labels you an outcast.

It’s why we follow fashion trends, and why we all know at least a few Tay Swift songs.

This symmetry is all well and good until it starts to hold you back …

Without breaking free of societal norms, The Beatles would have never released their first album, or started growing their hair long. Albert Einstein would have never developed the theory of general relativity. And Matt Frazier would have never started this blog.

Yes, I just lumped Matt in with The Beatles and Einstein. You’re welcome, buddy.

When we’re too scared to do something that sets us apart, we resist growth and progress, and instead fall for the great moderation hoax … that everything is better in moderation.

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you already know this.

By simply eliminating meat or animal products from your diet, you’ve broken the norm, and have to live with both the benefits and consequences.

So congratulations, you’re an outcast! And a better person because of it.

But are Social Norms Really Meant to Be Broken?

On the flip side, norms are set in place for a reason. Most often because they work. They keep us healthy, safe, and functioning as a society.

So should we always be pushing the boundaries? Probably not. Instead, there are good times and bad times to push.

Placing your entire retirement savings on a single risky bet? That’s bad.

Standing up for something you know to be right? That’s good.

See the difference?

When to Take It ‘Too Far’

Unfortunately things aren’t always as black or white as the two examples above, and you have to ask yourself if that goal or change is really worth it. Oftentimes the answer is yes.

When you need to prove something — either to others or yourself — it’s worth it.

There are times when you need to push boundaries in order to prove that something can be done. Take these, for example:

All examples of doing something big in the face of doubters, and learning, growing, and inspiring others in return.

When you need a reset, it’s worth it.

Sometimes the only way to get back on track is by first going to the extreme. You see people doing this all the time through things like juice cleanses, extended breaks from TV, or an alcohol detox.

They’re giving the body or mind a break in an attempt to push the ol’ reset button.

When finding your new normal, it’s worth it.

Around the same time I was chatting with my grandmother, Matt was traveling home from the Woodstock Fruit Festival. When I saw him a week later, he was still eating almost entirely raw fruits and vegetables, and felt completely reinvigorated about his diet.

I’m not going to lie, for me the Fruitarian diet is a bit out there, and even Matt isn’t convinced it’s good for the long term.

But it was just what he needed at the time. Even though he has moved on from only eating raw fruit today, that experience has shaped the sustainable habits that now make up his normal.

Sometimes it requires exploring new boundaries in order to know what works best for you.

And when there’s no other option, it’s worth it.

In some situations, breaking the norm and taking things to the perceived extreme will feel like your only option. For many vegans, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

We’ve seen history made, and can credit many advances in our society to someone putting their foot down and declaring that enough is enough. That the alternative — the norm — would no longer work for them.

Is it Time for You to Take Something to the Extreme?

You could sit around your whole life waiting for a guarantee. You could hold yourself back and never follow your dreams, just because of how it might look to others, or fear of what could happen.

But I say it’s time to go out on a limb, take a risk, and do something so wild, it makes a statement and shatters the social norm.

Quit prancing around whatever goal you have and do something big. You could:

  • Get serious about running and commit to a marathon, triathlon, or ultramarathon
  • Ignore the critics and proudly make your art
  • Finally take those steps to go vegan
  • Quit the job you hate and follow your passion
  • Sell off everything but 100 necessary items
  • Move to the city of your dreams, even if it’s halfway around the world
  • Write that book you’ve had in your head for years

… or scratch whatever epic itch you just can’t seem to ignore. And remember, just because you try it out, nobody’s saying you have to do it forever.

What My Grandmother Will Never Understand

That conversation with my grandmother has stuck with me because I know that in some ways she is right. The distance may take its toll, and one day I may regret pushing my body so hard.

But what I know that she may never understand, is that without 100-mile goals or epic trail runs, I wouldn’t be motivated to run at all, and I wouldn’t have the fulfilling life I’m privileged to live.

I know that because I took a chance and signed up for that ultramarathon. Because I did something extreme, something at which I might have failed.

What might feel like “too far” to her, is just what I need.

Are you ready to take a chance and defy the norm?

About the Author: When it comes to running, Doug Hay is all about defying the norm. Join in on the madness through his free eBook, Why Every Runner Should Be a Trail Runner, or follow him on his blog, Rock Creek Runner.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for this post, Doug. I really needed to hear some words of affirmation! I’ve been vegan for about three years, much to the dismay of my parents and other family. I’ve also found myself a runner and very into fitness. Last week I spent a few days with my parents and had to endure many negative comments about the choices I make. And I also had to hear one comment that will probably stick with me for a while. My dad said to me, “You know you are just going to get fat. You can’t sustain this forever. You are going to get old and you just can’t do it.” We weren’t even discussing my life choices, fitness, or diet at the time, but it was exactly what he was referring to and I realized that my choices must be something he thinks about often. It is a bummer when your closest relatives cannot accept or even try to understand your own attempt at a healthy lifestyle (especially when those people could use a make-over themselves). I have learned that doing what is best for me will some times go against what others think I need and I am learning to be OK with that.

    • Hey Lisa,
      That ‘s really tough. It’s discouraging when your parents or loved ones aren’t fully supportive (or maybe just don’t understand). Keep focusing on those benefits, and over time they’ll start seeing them too. Keep it up!

    • Lost 100 pound eating right and running and now I run marathons and ultra marathons…not to keep the weight off, although it certainly helps, but because I love it. Yeah, I’m dealing with PF right now but it’s more because I played with my shoes than because I run too much. I’m still running and my PT says I’m healing ahead of schedule. Just decided to eliminate meat from my diet and I’m feeling good about that decision for me personally, and for the earth.

      The bottom line is, it’s okay if they don’t understand your choices because that’s what they are, YOUR choices. One of the blessings running has brought me is a new set of friends who are much like family to me. When my brain exploded (subarachnoid hemorrhage 3.5 years ago) they were there for me (so was my real family). They are still with me though I’ve slowed down. I’m older and still running. I know people much OLDER than I am, who are still running and they are my mentors! Your Dad doesn’t have to get it, that’s okay. He just has to love you. My parents didn’t get it at first either, but they’ve come to accept it over the last 13 years, which is how long I’ve kept my weight off and my running going. He’ll get there too and you will find others who love you as a runner and have the same mania you do!

  2. Richard Sullivan says:

    It’s just possible that some people are better physically equipped to handle long, long runs. I seriously doubt that most people can or should do this, or even make it a long-term goal. I do find it a little annoying when ultramarathoners and the like say stuff like “I ran a hundred miles, and so can you!”

    If running crazy long distances worked for you, that’s great. But I think that just because others don’t, or can’t, that doesn’t mean we just haven’t lived up to our fill potential or whatever.

    And I’ve learned that it’s a good idea to be skeptical about gurus of various sorts. Often they’re just trying to sell you something.

    • Hey Richard, thanks for your comments.

      I agree that not everyone could or should run 100 miles. I’m not sure if you read the full post, but it’s not about ultrarunning, or running in general. It’s about taking a risk and doing the thing you’ve always dreamed of doing. Regardless of how it looks to others.

      For some that may be an ultramarathon. For many others, it will not.

  3. My in-laws always use the phrase “everything in moderation” when talking about food, exercise, hobbies, or just about everything else. It bugs the heck out of me. My immediate thought whenever I hear that phrase is that if you do everything in moderation you will never have a passion for anything.

    • You got that right! I hate hearing that phrase as well.

    • Yes my parents are the same. Especially when we talk (argue) about veganism and exercise. I just hate it. Another thing that comes up is “you are just too extreme” when I said I want to train for a marathon and be vegan. It’s very frustrating…

  4. I’m really struggling at being content with who I am, how I look, and how fit I am, while at the same time wanting to improve myself by doing something big. I think I’m depleting all my energy/willpower just being content (I hope/trust this is a worthy state in and of itself) with nothing left over to even exercise. Help, please?!?

    • I think it’s okay to learn to love yourself for who you are, Marc. However, there’s nothing wrong while doing that with setting a goal. It can be a fitness goal. That’s what gets you out there…knowing you have something coming up that requires you to be ready for it.

      It doesn’t have to be huge. My very first race was a one miler. I came in dead last! You know what, though? I did it and I had fun and I met my biggest fear all at the same time. I did not die coming in last (nor from the running) and had the racing bug. Two years later I ran the 5k and came in first in my age group which shocked me and a former student who heard my name and couldn’t find me because I was 100 pounds lighter. So what if you looked for a turkey trot and decided you were going to walk it and started towards that?

      By the way, my very first steps to losing 100 pounds was to learn to love myself exactly as I was. I read a comment on a success story the other day from a woman who said “I realized I could not hate myself thin” and that hit home so hard. Yeah, you are great just the way you are, but once I hit that self acceptance point, I realized that part of being happy and treating myself with respect, was treating my body with the respect of feeding it healthy food and moving it at least a little every day. The rest, as they say, is history.

  5. Doug,
    Thank you for sharing! I couldn’t agree more. I still dream of doing my first 100 miler and I am nit sure if it will ever happen, but I never want to stop reaching. I have a tendency to overreach, but I think if you don’t stretch yourself how will you know what you are capable of….

  6. I’m afraid that Steven Hawking didn’t develop the theory of General Relativity. That would be Albert Einstein.

  7. Gill Ewing says:

    I love this piece – know you are right and hope we can all benefit and go for something big. For me it’s run/walking 50K, getting back to full vegan diet, writing that book 🙂

  8. Please swap Einstein for Hawking in this post…

  9. Really inspiring post Doug. I’ve done a few things that buck the status quo in recent years (resigned from my 9-5 consulting job in London, flitted off to Thailand am now living a location independent life writing and freelancing – with a hammock). And it’s felt pretty stretching, explaining myself over and over.

    In terms of being veggie, it’s been 22 years, so most of the time I forget that it’s not the norm, it’s only when someone asks me that dreaded question ‘so why are you a vegetarian’ that I remember everyone else isn’t. I think it’s a healthy idea to examine our own thinking regularly to check in as to what we think is ‘normal’ versus what everyone else thinks is normal, as we can sometimes get it wrong and not even realise how out there we are (though maybe that’s no bad thing 😉 ). Thanks for sharing your experience.

  10. Nice Post Doug. This is something I struggle with from my family members as well – especially parents, aunts/uncles, and grandparents. I always find it disappointing when they don’t see the accomplishment in the same way I do. Or they’re leery of what I do day-in-and-day-out, thinking it’s detrimental as opposed to an ultimate accomplishment and something less than one percent of the population could ever do. I guess we just have to remember, we’re not doing it for them, we’re doing it for ourselves and others that actually understand what it takes and why we put ourselves through it. Keep going! You’re inspirational to many.

  11. Gigi Podador says:

    This is very inspiring. I’m on my first steps to leaving my comfort zone and following my dreams. It’s not easy but definitely doable. Keep it up!

  12. Everything in moderation is not a recipe for mediocrity, unless it makes YOU feel mediocre. There is nothing inherently wrong with seeking balance in life, just as there is nothing inherently wrong with seeking ‘the epic’ in life — as long as what you are seeking fulfills YOU specifically, without regard to what other people think or feel or do. There are 80-year-olds in my neighborhood who get out and walk about 1 or 2 miles every single morning, and have been doing so since their 40s. They never ran or walked a marathon because they never *wanted* to, not when they were young and not now, either. But they enjoy very much their walking, that’s for sure. My father, on the other hand, regularly wins his age group at local races and still runs marathons and he is in his 70s. That’s what he wants to do. I know people who don’t run or walk at all (*gasp*) because they find tremendous satisfaction in painting, or reading, or playing music. You don’t need to rationalize your choices as measured against someone else’s choices or approach to life. When you don’t CARE at all what the “norm” is, you feel less driven to make some sort of statement by shattering it. 🙂

  13. Happy to say I do not know one Taylor Swift song, and I love, love LOVE The Beatles 😀 Great post!

  14. I’m reminded of my grandmother suggesting I try some broccoli as I turned my nose up, telling me if I didn’t try it I’d never know if I liked it!

    Not quite as adventurous as a 100-miler I know Doug, and bravo to you. But the point remains and I like what you say about scratching the itch (and it needn’t be epic). And as the old saying goes don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits.

    Great and thoughtful post. 🙂

  15. Great post! I get stuck in that cycle of needing approval from my family members, so the story of your grandmother really resonates with me. Have to keep working on pushing through those boundaries to have the future that’s right for me!

  16. Hey Doug – just go for it! People will never understand, unless they try it and then they’ll understand or have a psychotic episode:). Don’t know about running but in cycling have done 24 hour ‘races’ and trips of 20,000+ miles and it was just what I needed – the thing I really didn’t need was to stop!

  17. This is sooo true. Since I started running long distances, my family and my girlfriend’s family have become legitimately worried about me. “Is that safe?” “Your body isn’t meant to run for that long!” “You’re crazy. No really. You are.” “You ran how much?! There’s no way that’s good for your body.” The list of comments can go on and on, but I’ll spare you all. What’s funny but also not funny is that all of these people mean well and care for my well-being, yet they judge my long distance running when they either smoke, don’t watch what they eat, and/or live rather sedentary lives. Aren’t those daily habits and lifestyles more of a concern than long distance, ultra running? But at least I find comfort in that they care enough to speak up. Oh family.

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