I was running with a client a few weeks ago. This client is fairly new to running and certainly new to enjoying it. She’s at the stage where every long run is further than she’s ever run before and, now that she’s getting more used to it, she’s loving how strong this new habit is making her feel. I love running with people in this phase. It makes me realise that while I often consider myself a rookie, I have been at this thing for nearly 12 years now and I’m at a different stage in my running development.
One things she said really stuck in my brain though. About how running was helping her work so much through in her life and how it was, in so many ways, a metaphor for her life. I have often thought this myself. Doing something physically – pushing yourself further, harder, faster than you’ve done before, for example – can be a way of practising doing things mentally. It seems trite, but it really works that way. Finding the courage to try something you’ve never done before – run far, run a sub 7 minute mile interval – can help you find the courage to try something else – write, sing, go up to someone and talk to them – that you are lacking the courage for.
But a flipside to this, for me, is that running finds you out. I can’t lie when I’m running. Sometimes running shows me that I am afraid, that I am struggling. Or that I’m not being honest with myself. I wrote a month ago about how I was finding my mojo again, and how I had, indeed, found it again. Well – it slipped away from me again. I found myself putting off tempo runs, and putting myself through interval workouts (note how I phrased that) which felt like absolute torture. I couldn’t hit the paces, I stopped in the middle of intervals, and when I finished them I felt broken. One Saturday morning, nearly 3 weeks ago, I was out on what was meant to be an 18 mile run. I was 8 miles into it and all was going fine. No injury, no issues. Except – I did not want to be there. I felt it so strongly. I had felt for weeks that I did not want to be training for the marathon but I had persisted. After all, I had no other goals. And I did not want to appear a quitter. Plenty of other people desperately wanted a place in the marathon and didn’t get it. Plus – my coach had put time and effort into coaching me for this race and believed I could do well. But as I ran that day I realised I was running for all the wrong reasons. I was running – mainly – out of guilt. Towards other people (my coach, my friends who I’d told I would be running it). Because I could, I felt I should. And that’s just not a good reason to be out there. I jogged back to my car, got in and went home and spent the weekend hanging out with my kids. I wrote my coach an email, thanking him for his efforts and telling him my heart was not in it.
And for the past few weeks, I’ve been telling friends and clients. And the most interesting thing about this is that almost everyone has said to me “I understand. You have nothing to prove anymore”. Which makes me wonder about my motivation for the past decade or so. Did I ever have something to prove? And I think I did. My running life started in my 30s – I had spent my childhood, teens and early adult years doing everything except committing to sport. And in the way that all of us have fears about ourselves which nag away at us and drive us, I have always been afraid of being a quitter. And so – I haven’t quit. I have run through my 30s. I have run marathons, half marathons, done triathlons and even (had you forgotten?) an Ironman. And no – I did not do all that to prove I was not a quitter. I’ve loved all those races and all those events and training for them has brought me so much insight, pleasure and friendship. Blogging about it has brought even more friends into my life, many of whom I now treasure dearly and feel very close to. But as someone who was not athletic, I can’t deny that the medals proved something to me. They proved I was not a quitter. That I could achieve something worthwhile. There was an element of proving something to myself in doing it all – and I did prove it.
But now I have proved it. For the longest time, I was worried that without a goal, I’d stop running. That without setting myself ever-increasing challenges, I would go back to being the person I was before I started running. And, with letting go of my London marathon this year, I have come to realise that is not true. What running has actually proved to me is that change is possible. That I could set my mind to something new and do it, and do it well and in such a way that it became an enrichment to my life many times over.
For me, at least, training for the marathon this year was almost taking a step backwards. It’s something I can do, it’s something I could possibly do well. But this training season I was not opening myself up for change – I was actually doing the same thing again. So instead I’m going to face the fear of who I will be without a marathon goal, or medal. Instead, I will try to focus more on gaining strength from my own cues and approval, rather than external cues. What is I want to do?
The first thing I did was run a race. Not because it was fast, or flat, or part of training. But because it was near a friend I wanted to see and catch up with, because it’s in a beautiful part of the country and because I could travel there and back with my husband and get to spend some time with him.
I loved it – can’t you tell? It was hard and fun and cold and beautiful. I even stopped at some point close to where this photo was taken to just take a minute to let the gorgeous view sink in. Needless to say, I didn’t come close to a PB. But that was absolutely fine. That IS absolutely fine. For now – this is how I want to run. To experience what’s around me, to see what’s next. Running has changed me and has saved me, over and over again. I am open to whatever is next.