One of the things I love about running long distances is the epiphanies I tend to get. I roll current worries and concerns, or past experiences around in my head and look at them from different perspectives, and sometimes a new truth is revealed. The other day I had two. The first is that “runpiphany” is a totally great word that should exist. The second was that enjoying being good at an activity, and enjoyment of the activity itself, can be two very different things.
I started playing trombone in 5th grade, and quickly found I had a knack for it. I kept it up all the way through high school, and branched out to the other low brass instruments of euphonium and tuba, played sousaphone in marching band, and bass trombone in jazz band. I hardly ever practiced, but was naturally good enough and could sight-read well enough that it usually didn’t matter. My parents even spent a couple years worth of tutoring money on private trombone lessons (I think in junior high?), because I was supposedly good enough to maybe have a shot at scholarship money or making a career of it. Once I was out of high school, I stopped playing.
It’s bugged me ever since that I spent seven years half-assedly working on a skill that I apparently didn’t have that much interest in after all. On my run the other day, I finally figured out how to reconcile it all. I enjoyed the social aspects of playing in a band, and the praise I received for being good at it, but I didn’t actually enjoy the activity itself. I liked it enough to reach that 80% of mastery threshold, but not enough for the last 20%. I was even first chair in the tuba for my last two years of high school, despite the other tuba player being WAY more dedicated and technically skilled. She practiced constantly. I’d always assumed that I kept first chair because I was just naturally better than she was, but now I’m wondering if the teacher was just sexist. That definitely would make more sense. Shit. Sorry MK.
I’ve found my plunge into triathlon and ultra running to be the total opposite experience. I do OK, but I’ve never won anything, or come anywhere even close, really. I’ve been pretty solidly mid-to-back-of-the-pack in every race I’ve ever done. I even came in dead last once. But I don’t care! I love the struggle, I love to push myself and see what I can do.
So now I’m enjoying the activity far more than my limited ability would warrant, and I feel like that’s the best combination. If I was naturally skilled, I wouldn’t struggle so much, and might get bored, which I think is why I stopped playing trombone after high school. Without the accolades and socialization, there wasn’t any point. I wish I could go back and tell that kid to find something he’s actually passionate about doing (hint hint: triathlon), but oh well. At least I can still read bass clef.