Examining Epictetus #18: Winter Training

Dachau, Germany. It was a hot July day with the temperature in the middle nineties. I spent the morning touring the concentration camp. From there, I took a train to the town of Dachau to run a 10k race. I was dehydrated and nursing a strained calf muscle. Therefore, it was one the hardest races I have ever run.

After the race, I took the train back to Munich. On the ride, I enjoyed a conversation  with another runner. We spoke of the running scene in Germany and soon our conversation turned to winter running. Training in the winter plays an integral role in the runner’s year. As I listened, I thought of the mild winters in Western North Carolina where temperatures rarely go below the twenties. The thought of running in a German winter was less than appealing.

Six months later, I got a first-hand experience of a Bavarian winter. The temperature hovered near zero, snow covered the ground creating hazardous footing, and a brisk wind blew down the River Isar. The act of running suddenly became arduous. I had to wear more clothes, spend more time warming up, and even more time convincing myself to walk out the door and into the sunless afternoon. As I ran, I remembered the conversation on the train. If I wanted to improve my summer running, then the winter is where I would separate myself from the runner I used to be.

We must endure a winter training, and can’t be dashing into situations for which we aren’t yet prepared.

Discourses 1.2.32

It is in the winter where progress is made. It is the time to prepare for the upcoming season. Everything is more difficult. Progress is exceedingly slow. Yet, here is where courage is developed, discipline is solidified, and weakness is pushed away. To find success in the summer, one must train in the winter.

‘But if we are endowed by nature with the potential for greatness, why do only some of us achieve it?’ Well, do all horses become stallions? Are all dogs greyhounds?

Discourses 1.2.34

We all have the potential for greatness. But as Epictetus states, not all of us will achieve it. Only a few will be a Roger Bannister running a mile in under four minutes, a Michael Jordan dominating the court, or a Michael Phelps swimming laps around the competition. So many of us dream of greatness, yet so few of us will ever get there. As frustrating as it is, this is reality. Should it be a deterrent, knowing the odds are not in our favor?

In short, we do not abandon any discipline, for despair of ever being the best in it.

Discourses 1.2.37

We may never become the best, but we can become good. We can find success in any endeavor we undertake if we are willing to do the work. This should be enough reason even if we never reach an elite level.

Right now, at this moment, I am in the winter of my life. It is cold, dark, and often lonely. Frustration is knocking at the door hoping to bring the cold inside. But this is the time when I am also finding out who I really am and who I will become in the future. Someday, the season may change. I may find myself coming into my summer where things become easier. However, I cannot look at someday. Today is where my focus needs to be. It is winter, and I must train.


Words in italics from Discourses 1.2 by Epictetus

Feature photo by Andrew Krueger on Unsplash

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