I ran 14 miles this morning. I got past 13.1 (half a marathon) in less than half of my desired marathon time. Three things came out of this run. First, my watch rubbed the skin off a small area of my wrist. Second, my body ached within minutes after I finished running – normally I feel fine until the next day after a long run. Third, I began to think about what it means to physically push ourselves to our limits.
I don’t really think I pushed myself to the limit today, but I certainly came closer than I have for a long time if ever. As I considered this though, two ideas struck me: our limits are personal and subject to change over time and our ancestors pushed themselves much more than we usually do. That second idea seemed more profound to me than the first, perhaps because I think we should be a little more like them. I’m not sure that the security of basic necessities that we generally face in this country makes us better or stronger.
Our ancestors worked so hard because they knew that if they slackened their efforts they ran the very real risk of coming up short on their basic needs. If you plant too late in spring you might not have enough crops to last you through winter. If you stayed in your warm house all winter you would have no ice to use in the summer. Not only did they have to work hard, but they had to work smart and plan ahead.
I will not argue that their life was better than ours overall, but I am confident that there are things we could learn and apply in our lives that they just lived even if they did not consciously know those principles that we have now largely lost.