No one made you do this.

A few thoughts on the hell we've made for ourselves here.

I’m a runner. Well, sometimes I am. 

It goes in cycles. I’ve found, through trial and error over the years, that the only way I’ll ever be consistent with an exercise plan is to pick a large event — a marathon, a triathlon — train like hell for it for six or eight months, finish it, then immediately cease all activity and gain thirty pounds or so over the next two years until I decide to repeat the cycle.

At the peak of one of these cycles, in 2011, I ran the New York City Marathon. It’s one of the world’s great sporting events, passing through all five boroughs of New York City, with millions of people lining the streets along the way. Crossing the finish line there is a cherished memory. 

It’s also a giant pain in the ass. 

Obviously, there’s the training itself — a lot of early mornings and grueling long runs where you’d rather be in bed. There’s the hurdles for qualifying for the race itself — for a slow stomper like me who’ll never meet a time qualifier, that meant running nine shorter races (and giving the New York Road Runners a lot of money to do so). The day of the race is a logistical nightmare — taking an early morning train to cram onto an overcrowded ferry to get to a park in Staten Island before dawn — and then wait there for four hours or so until the race starts. 

You get running, and you’re full of energy, and it’s great. Four hours later, you’re questioning every decision you’ve made in your life. 

Your feet hurt like hell, your nipples might be bleeding (it’s a thing!), salt is dripping into your eyes, an optimistically-planned-for goal time is seeming less and less likely, and the cheering crowds have started to thin and head onto brunch. It’s miserable, and there’s no way out except to keep going, to gut it out no matter how much it sucks.

Soon after I entered Central Park, around Mile 23 — the last leg of the race but still a long way from my dreams of a port-a-john, a cheeseburger, a shower and a beer (not all at once, but I’ll judge no one in that position) — I passed a woman holding a hand-lettered sign that cracked me up and has stayed with me ever since.

“NO ONE MADE YOU DO THIS.”

She was right. It was a lonely, miserable, worn-out place I found myself in, but it was one entirely of my own making. No asked me to do it; no one would have cared if I didn’t do it. It was simply something I had decided was important to me, and then I threw myself into it like a pit full of spikes.

That’s what sports are like for me. I can try to pass on blame if I want — my parents moved to Cleveland before I was born, and they took me to Browns, Indians and Cavs games. They didn’t force me to care, though — and they certainly didn’t make me keep caring for 30 years after that. (My brother had the same upbringing as I did, and he doesn’t give a single shit about sports.) No, I went to those games, I looked at those teams, and I made a decision to embrace them as something that mattered to me, something that would embed itself as a fundamental fact about me; the kind of thing that ends up in your Twitter bio. Husband. Father. Future boat owner. Cubs fan. Retweets are not my employer’s opinions. Go Blue.

Every indignity, every moment of pain sports has brought me — the 1997 World Series, the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals, The Decision, the Browns’ continued existence — have been the product of a choice made of my own free will. Have there been good times? Sure. The 2016 NBA Finals Game 7 will go down as the greatest sporting joy of my life. If the Browns win eight games this year, I’ll be ecstatic. The Indians have really improved their in-stadium concessions. But mostly, it’s been a hell of my own making.

That’s where we’re going with this pod, and with this accompanying newsletter. We each make our own personal hell out of sports, whether we’re a Cleveland fan waiting 52 years for a title or a Boston fan who can’t get enough after 12 titles in 18 years. We’ll hear from people from all over, fans of teams of all sorts of different levels of success, and I think we’ll find we all find ways to make ourselves suffer.

No one made us do this.

— Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)