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Out There: What’s Fair?

If everything was fair, it wouldn't be nearly as fun.

As I type these words, I’m sitting in the corner of my neighborhood coffee shop watching a kindergarten meltdown of epic proportions. I’m not sure what prompted this explosion of wails and snot, only that this tantrum-tastic girl has been wronged.

“NO!” she keeps screaming over and over, swinging an umbrella at the adults in her midst like a miniature Britney Spears, “It’s not fair! IT’S NOT FAAAAAAAIR!

Girl, I get that. I’ve done the exact same thing in my past. And by “my past,” I mean “sometime in the past week.”

The law of “fairness” is one that we enforce from an early age: Charlie got a bigger half of the cookie than I did! It’s not Jenny’s turn to sit in the front seat! We believe that fairness is a black-and-white issue, where everyone takes turns and gets an equal share of the pie.

“Life isn’t always fair,” our parents would sigh in response to our whines, and we pooh-poohed such a notion. If you do the work, you should get the reward. If it’s your turn, no one else can have it. If there are two people, the pie gets precisely sliced down the middle. It’s all so simple, really!

This mode of thinking doesn’t change much as we get older, by the way. We just get better at stifling the temper tantrums. The idea of fairness, though, still saturates our brains.

It’s particularly true of running. In this sport, we’re led to believe that if we work hard, we’ll reap the rewards. If a person runs consistently, they’ll get stronger. If someone does speed work, they’ll get faster. We’re told that if we want to get a PR or qualify for Boston or lose those 10 pounds, we just have to do the work. It’s all so simple, really!

Except that it’s not. Speed work sometimes leads to injuries, not PRs. Consistent running can sometimes lead to burnout, not glory. Some weeks, running can feel like pushing a rock up a hill until it rolls back down on you while some fresh-faced runner skips past while laughing and IT’S NOT FAAAAAAAAIR.

It’s not fair that _________________ (he got into Boston on the first try, she can run faster than me, spandex shorts don’t give her a muffin top, those shoes don’t give him blisters, he got a lottery spot to my favorite race, she recovers faster, she only has one chin in race photos, he never gets injured).

Tell me you’ve never once said that, not even in your head.

Riiiiiiiiight. I haven’t, either. (Wink. Nod. Air-gun.)

Except for every single time I’ve been injured. Or when a colleague of mine announced she scored a last-minute charity entry to Boston and would run it on zero training. Or this morning, when my husband took off his shirt and I realized he went from “winter weight” to “six-pack abs” overnight.

Hey! I’ve worked my ass off, too! How come I don’t get the same rewards? It’s not fair, you guys! Sure, I’m happy for my faster friends and my good-looking husband, but that doesn’t keep the green-eyed monster from popping up from time to time. The injustices we suffer make us want to throw ourselves onto the ground and wail.

Our parents were right: Life isn’t always fair. And maybe that’s a good thing.

You see, if everyone followed the same straightforward trajectory, there would be no big, scary goals; we would already know that X plus Y equals Z. It would all be so boring.

The alchemy of the human experience shows us there’s more than one way to succeed. These so-called injustices give us inspiring heroes, scrappy underdogs, and unexpected life lessons. We need those just as much as – if not more than – we need formulaic tales of triumph.

If you do the work, you get the reward. It may not be the reward you want right this second, but eventually you might see it’s what you need. So stop your temper tantrum, wipe your nose, and get cracking. There is something to be gained from pushing the rock up the hill.

It’s all so simple, really.

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About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). Susan lives and trains in Salt Lake City, Utah with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete husband. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke.