On Wednesday night, I went out to play ultimate frisbee with one of my reporters and her friends. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, it can best be described as frisbee football. The rules are simple: the team in possession of the frisbee attempts to pass the disc to teammates until reaching the other team’s end zone to score a point. The the first team to five wins. The game starts with a “kick off” (really a “throw off”) and the game begins. The person who is throwing the frisbee can only take one step but must otherwise rotate on one foot (similar to basketball) and if the frisbee touches the ground, the other team takes possession.
The long and the short of it is that the game is a non-stop back and forth of running, throwing and catching. In my case it started that way but ended up with a lot of light jogging, panting and falling down. We started at 9 p.m. and for the first half hour or so I was fine ... but that was just the warm-up. Then we actually broke into teams and started playing. Adrenaline kept me going pretty well for a while and I tried to pace myself and slurp down some water from time to time to keep myself hydrated. In truth, I was doomed from the start.
First it was the shortness of breath, which I tried to alleviate by not running so hard. It helped, but it also helped the other team score points, which was fine because I was playing with a group of Mormons so everyone was ridiculously nice and non-competitive. Once I got my breathing under control, I got a really bad cramp in my side. At that point I thought my heart might literally tear its way out of my chest, flip me the bird and walk away.
That, too, passed, and I was able to go pretty well for a while. It felt great to be out running around and working my muscles, especially in a game at which I am pretty good. I have a history with that particular sport: In third grade, my class had a student teacher who played ultimate frisbee for his college team. He got our whole class into it and we’d play at recess. I discovered I had a knack for tossing a frisbee and it’s a skill that has stuck all my life. I won’t deny that it made me feel good when the people I played with on Wednesday noticed this and made sure to keep an eye on me during the game. This was especially nice since I have been a fantastic failure at every other sport I have ever played.
As the game went on I felt my legs start to get progressively weaker, but I trudged on. At every chance I would stretch to try and minimize the pain I knew I’d be feeling later. The breaking point came when every time I’d do anything more than walk briskly I’d lose my balance and fall. Fortunately, this usually happened when the frisbee was coming my way, so I could disguise it as either a diving catch or at least an attempted catch. Finally, at about 10:45 p.m. everyone else seemed pretty beat and we all let sweet gravity have its way with us. We were a mass of crumpled human exhaustion.
As I laid there on the grass, it occurred to me that it had been nearly a full decade since I had partaken of such physical exertion. In the spring of 1998, my last semester of college, I took weight lifting, physical conditioning and swimming classes — all in a row, twice a week. In the decade since, I have always done some exercising, but never to any kind of extreme. And, boy, was I sure feeling it.
As I got up to leave, the muscles at the tops of my legs were quivering. I had to literally lift my legs to get into my car. Even though I got home at 11:15 (way past my normal bed time) I went and sat in my hot tub to give my aching body a fighting chance. The moment I stepped into the hot water was the moment I got my money’s worth out of that hunk of fiberglass and wiring. Despite my soak, the next three days were pretty grueling. It wasn’t until Saturday that I could get up and down my stairs with any sense of normalcy.
The lactic acid had no doubt spilled from my muscles to my brain, but as it receded I got to thinking. Before I went and played I knew I was going to hurt the next day (or should I say days?) but I did it anyway. Why on earth would a rational person do that? Assuming I am a rational person, there must be some benefit to the pain. Maybe it’s like a molting snake, shedding its skin to make way for a fresh layer. For me, the pain has been physically unpleasant but mentally satisfying, serving as a good reminder that I need to let my muscles fly and my heart pound on a regular basis.
If this is the case with my body, what about emotional pain? Is it good to experience sadness and stress to build up inner strength? Maybe the psyche needs to get sore from time to time to build up a tolerance. I have always been one to avoid conflict and discomfort in my personal and work relationships. But maybe we need to feel the pain from time to time, not to become calloused but to toughen up a bit.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go work out.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.