I’ve heard this chirpy slogan used to console (and ineptly encourage) people struggling with the difficulties of sport. It’s that time-worn classic scenario; one weekend warrior wanting to learn mountain biking teams up with a buddy, an obsessive exerciser who supplements her daily three hour rides with a few morning hours on the trainer, and heads out for a ride to get a few pointers. The obsessive naturally demolishes her pal, and the weekend warrior quickly loses heart (and interest) the fifth time she has to struggle to crest a hill her companion sprinted up with ease. As she staggers to the crest and observes her friend sitting on her top tube waiting, sipping at some energy drink concoction and not even having broken a sweat, she feels inept and says, “this is too hard.”
“No!” gasps the obsessive. “Don’t think for a second it’s not just as hard for people who are better at it. It doesn’t get easier, you just get faster.”
Somehow this is meant to make beginners take heart, to think that their more experienced partners are having just as rough a time but are somehow mentally tougher or just used to feeling like crap, which explains why they’re having a great time and the beginner is not. The beginner naively believes that everyone is feeling terrible and that must be part of the sport, that her friends currently disappearing into the distance on their bikes must be in as much pain as she. Thus begins the cycle of the beginner feeling compelled to convince herself she’s having fun even when she’s not, and launching a career of outdoors misery which she convinces herself is enjoyable.
It’s utter nonsense. OF COURSE it gets easier as you get better at it. That is the entire point of getting better at something. If it stays as difficult as it is at the beginning, no one would ever keep going. Deep down inside, EVERYONE can see that this phrase is completely false. Clearly it is easier for an experienced cyclist to climb a hill than it is for a newbie.
Do the users of this statement really believe what comes out of their mouths? Do they honestly think they aren’t having an easier time than their beginner partner? With a little examination one can readily see that this phrase is a falsehood; for example many bike rides begin with a period of discomfort as the leg muscles protest at the effort, yet we all keep going because we know that feeling will subside and it will – yes – get easier very shortly. I think the people who use this phrase are leaning on false modesty (or in millennial slang, “humblebragging”) to call attention to their superior fitness and to promote this idea of their having superhuman mental toughness, as if they are Army Rangers on wheels (they’re not. If you don’t believe me, go visit an aid station or finish line at any race and observe the dramatics therein).
How do I know with such clarity? I’m currently coming back from a severe injury. I’ve been out for about a year. And everything – everything! – I used to do with such ease is hard as hell at first. The only reason I know to keep going is that I know that it gets easier. I remember how easy it used to be. Now most things are a struggle at first, but I know that feeling is temporary. Fitness returns and rust flakes off long-neglected skill sets. Ease is just around the corner.
So, newbies, take heart. It DOES get easier. Do yourself a favor and dump your partners who want to tell you otherwise. Your outdoors journey will be a lot more enjoyable without that crowd. It doesn’t really matter if you get faster; and I suppose it doesn’t really matter if it even gets a lot easier. What matters is that you start to have more fun.