“The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude.” — William James
Have you ever felt that you’re just not quite up to the challenge of a running goal, whether it’s 13.1 miles, 26.2 miles or something bigger?
Feeling 100% ready to tackle a goal like that has been a struggle for me since the time I started running more than two decades ago, as I’m never quite sure how I’m going to handle a longer distance when I get to the starting line.
Over the years since then, both from observing others and my own thoughts and feelings around this, I’ve reached the conclusion that few of us possess an innate confidence when it comes to our athletic abilities.
It’s something we have to earn with ourselves, to show our minds that our bodies are in fact capable of doing what seems like an impossible thing when we first set out to do it.
Now I don’t want to be too maudlin here — training and staying consistent with my running has given me experiences I’ll never forget, including the exhilaration of “I can’t believe I actually did that!” But an extended layoff from running usually brings me back mentally to where I started all those years ago.
That’s why it was so interesting to see this article this morning in the New York Times, which details the results of a new study that found how you felt about gym class when you were a kid often predicts how you feel about exercising now.
It’s probably not hard to understand that the memories people have of their first experiences with fitness and exercise color how they feel about it later. What’s remarkable, the study’s researchers found, was how enduring those memories are:
“It was a bit surprising just how strong people’s memories were” of their P.E. classes, says Matthew Ladwig, a graduate student at Iowa State University who conducted the study with Panteleimon Ekkekakis and Spyridoula Vazou.
“For some of them, the classes were two or three decades in the past, but they had not forgotten,” he says, and their memories apparently continued to color their attitudes toward exercise today.
Everything from fitness tests to being chosen last for teams to changing clothes in a locker room into P.E. outfits — remember those? — were the strongest memories that stood out for many of the more than 1,000 people who responded to the survey.
What the survey results point to, the researchers found, is that we should look to design school fitness programs that encourage students to see exercise as something they’ll enjoy, and hopefully adopt as a lifelong habit long after they’ve graduated.
I think the reason this article and this topic hits home for me is that I’ve just started coaching my 4-year-old son’s pre-K soccer team. We had our first practice last weekend, and I could see the reticence of many of the kids to even walk onto the field.
Sure, some were already skilled players and very confident in their abilities — one boy scored 3 goals in just the first few minutes of our scrimmage — but for most of them, this was a totally new thing.
I want them to see this as something fun, where they get out to have a great time running around and (hopefully!) learning a few basic soccer skills. The last thing I want is for them to see it as drudgery, or for the competition in the games to take over everything.
That goes for all of our running too, I think. It’s so easy to focus too closely on goals like a finishing time or a mileage number, when really we should just take it slow and enjoy the feeling of getting out for a run, just the rush of being able to move.
Because that’s where the confidence comes from, I think. From focusing on the basics — whether it’s practicing how to dribble a soccer ball or getting your training miles in — and then discovering that you can do it. Putting the goal aside, and simply focusing on the activity in front of you.
That’s where I am today, anyway. I’d love to hear your thoughts too, and to know how your running/life is going.
As always, keep in touch — your friend,
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Looking for a race you’ll never forget? Try one of these half marathons across the U.S., from New York’s Adirondack Mountains to the towering mesas of Utah’s Monument Valley.
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Run “where the streets have no name” in one of the most beautiful countries on the planet, a lush, green island where you can take in your 13.1 miles on the bustling streets of Dublin or places as rural and far away from the crowds as the southern tip of Ireland.
“I’ve come to realize that knowing you’re not alone—that other people go through similar experiences—and building a support network are two of the more powerful things you can do if you’re dealing with something like anxiety, depression, or OCD.”
— From the always insightful Brad Stulberg at Outside Magazine, this piece tells the story of five elite athletes who also happen to have experienced sometimes severe anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges during their careers. What’s so fascinating about their stories isn’t that they rose above their illness, but that they continue to battle it in several cases, and try to learn to live with it.
“Stretching has been hotly debated in recent years. There is no evidence that static stretching— attempting to lengthen muscles and tendons to increase flexibility by holding one position—prevents injury or improves performance, experts now say. In fact there’s some evidence that it can hurt.”
— Really good Runner’s World piece about the virtues of dynamic stretching, which means basically “active movements that stretch your muscles without staying in one position for too long.” Great food for thought as we train this fall.
“Between now and Thanksgiving, you’re going to hear about marathons. A lot... You might well start to feel more like a shamed sloth than a runner if you’re not doing a marathon this fall. I’m realizing lately that you shouldn’t feel that way.”
— Another great piece in Runner’s World last week was this one by Scott Douglas, who recently released the book “Running Is My Therapy,” about why it’s just fine to not always try to reach for the stars with your running, and that the shorter distances are just fine (in fact great) as goals.
“There’s no shame in walking a little. It means I’ll be able to continue running later in life.”
— This delightful Wall Street Journal story tells the fitness journey of a man named Jim Miller, who ran five marathons in his younger days (including one in just under 3 hours back in 1984) and still gets up every day before 6:00 a.m. to go for a run with his wife near their Gulf Coast home. It hasn’t been easy to make the transition to the limitations of age 70, he says, but he’s found a way to keep running today.