Suffer Better co-founders Bob Africa (left) and Peter Downing stop for a moment during a lunchtime trail run in Boulder, Colo. Photo: Mark Doolittle
Suffer Better co-founders Bob Africa (left) and Peter Downing stop for
a moment during a lunchtime trail run in Boulder, Colo. Photo: Mark Doolittle

Finishing a marathon, an ultra-distance race or an epic training run is never easy, no matter how skilled, experienced or lucky you might be. Between the starting and the finish line, it’s inevitable that everyone will suffer—sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

But that’s a good thing. Having the courage and tenacity to keep pushing through the hard patches in a race or in life—especially when you feel you just cannot go on—is what makes those types of challenges so rewarding.

So too does recognizing those who support you on your arduous journeys and paying your gratitude forward whenever possible. It’s about keeping a balanced perspective when you’re out there amid self-imposed suffering and recognizing you can help others who are suffering in other contexts. That’s the “give and give back” premise behind the grass-roots “Suffer Better” movement started by a group of Colorado endurance athletes in 2013.

The charitable organization encourages people to give their all in everything they do—training, racing, work, family—and embrace the challenges and adversity that come with it, and then on top of that to dig even deeper and give back to the community around them.

“‘Suffer better’ is a simple mantra by which so many of us strive to live,” says co-founder Peter Downing, a Denver ultrarunner. “We call it the 110: Giving everything you have and then making an extra effort aimed at giving back. You can’t give 110 percent in anything—that’s a cliché—but you can give it your all and give back in other areas.”

For example, Downing has volunteered at schools, lent a hand at community garden events and even cooked turkeys for needy immigrant families on Thanksgiving. Co-founder Bob Africa, winner of last year’s five-sport Leadman competition in Leadville, Colo., has served meals to the homeless and has guided blind and wheelchair-bound competitors in the Bolder Boulder 10K.

Africa says Suffer Better came to be when he and Downing were each dealing with life and work struggles apart from their athletic endeavors and found it gave greater context to everything they do. But, they say, it’s about the message, not about them. It has spawned a growing community of people, from all walks of life and across the globe, who have embraced its many layers of meaning, he says. “Some use it to give their all in sport,” he says, “while others embrace it to get through the challenges we all face at work, at home, in life.”

The organization sells “Suffer Better” T-shirts and hats to share its motivational message and contribute to causes such as The Wounded Warrior Project, The Special Olympics, Make a Wish Foundation and Bicycles for Humanity. Ten percent of monthly sales are donated to a specific charity and the rest goes back into building the community.

After earthquakes rocked Nepal in April, Suffer Better donated 10 percent of its May sales to dZi Foundation, which is helping rebuild the country’s schools. It teamed up with a fitness gym in the UK to raise money for Help for Heroes, a British organization that aids wounded soldiers. It has also developed a synergistic partnership with Race Across America, a 3,000-mile bike race across the U.S.

Suffer Better plans to add tech shirts and bike kits to its roster of gear, create inspirational talks (think “Ted Talks”), motivational presentations and other events to help spread its vibe.

“While finishing a race is very meaningful to each of us, it’s important to recognize that it’s bigger than just you,” Africa says. “The idea is that you give all you can in everything you do, and then give back to those who might not be as fortunate.”

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