Saturday, August 18, 2007

The innate human capacity for self-deception

Stuart Stevens has a wonderfully appealing piece in the Times about the lure of endurance sports. Really I am such a total novice that it is purely speculative, but for at least half of this piece (not so much the part where he wants to punch people!) he is totally taking the words out of my mouth, he explains the appeal of the whole business remarkably well, it is exactly what I think!

Hmmm ... interesting... I do not live in a part of the country where it would be practical to take up Nordic skiing, but as he says, really triathlon is the way to go:
Even though I was mediocre on my best days, my obsession with cross-country skiing gave me an entirely new perspective on life and self.

Then, when the season was over, I told myself it was time to grow up and get serious about pursuits worthy of an adult. Reluctantly, I moved on, working as a writer and as a political consultant, which, if nothing else, served as an outlet for my violent tendencies. But it didn’t take long to realize that my taste of the endurance life had created a hunger that normal life didn’t come close to satisfying.

Endurance sports brought order to my days. In an ever-confusing and chaotic world in which truth seems elusive, a serious training session or race made it inescapable. Truth, often ugly and disappointing but honest, was impossible to deny.

But as you get older and life becomes more complicated, it’s easy to start questioning the value of spending huge chunks of your days going in what amounts to glorified circles. One morning you wake up and it suddenly hits you — all the things you could be doing with an extra 15 to 25 hours a week. It’s an entirely rational epiphany and one that must, of course, be crushed immediately.

The key is to reassure yourself that what you are doing is perfectly normal and worthwhile and that it’s all those other people who clearly don’t understand the true meaning of life. I’m sure that’s how Jim Jones or David Koresh kept wavering disciples from leaving the cult — What are you, crazy? We have everything figured out. Here, drink some of this.

My personal garden of Gethsemane came after an encounter between my bike and a cement truck about a month before an Ironman race. Almost inevitably, I’d fallen into a triathlon stage, a near mandatory passage for someone like me — middle-aged, unaccomplished at any specific sport, afflicted with an equipment fetish and in desperate need of new ways to underperform. Why be good at one sport when you can be unimpressive at three?


  1. He sure does nail one of the prevalent outlooks!

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this link. Thanks Jenny!

  3. Thanks for this link, and the earlier one on triathlons from the FT. I enjoy your writing.