“Each day the run has a different context. The weather is different, the day before was different, the distance is different… Although my body appears to be the same as yesterday, it is in fact quite different and its difference partakes of the almost infinite number of variations in this new day’s run.” — David Shainberg
This morning I went for what turned out to be a fantastic run at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area near where I live here in Atlanta, finishing 3.3 miles in just over 29 minutes.
The river was flowing by, the trees were lush with leaves, and there were tons of people out on the trails running alongside me.
But it sure didn’t feel fantastic when I was in the middle of it.
I’m not sure why, because even though I had motivated myself to put on my shoes and get out there, and had U2 songs playing in my ear as I ran, I wanted nothing more than to pack it in throughout most of the run.
It was a little warm — and it was really humid — and I must admit that part of the reason I kept at it and finished is because I knew I’d be writing this letter to you all later in the day!
The reason I found it relevant to the things we talk about is that I’ve been reading a wonderful book lately by the sports psychologist Mackenzie Havey, titled “Mindful Running.”
I’m only a few chapters in, but I’m learning some really powerful things about the capacity running has to help us deal with the things that trouble us, from simple, annoying things like me not wanting to run this morning to the far more serious curveballs life can throw us.
In the book, Havey talks about meeting a man named Timothy Olson, who today is an accomplished ultra-runner — the 34-year-old won the legendary Western States Endurance Run in 2012 and 2013, and set the course record for the 100-mile run with 14 hours, 46 minutes and 44 seconds.
But his path to Western States included years battling drugs and alcohol in the mid-2000s, as well as despair that even when he knew he needed to clean up his life, he feared he’d never be able to survive without the chemical high they provided.
Olson experienced a shift when he was introduced to the idea of mindfulness in 2009, when he says he was able to begin noticing the way he felt — without fighting it.
As the 2000s turned into the 2010s, he began getting better and better results in his races, telling Havey what he found:
“It’s about being in the present moment on a run, connecting with your breath and your senses and enjoying movement not based on results, times or feelings. I focus on my breath and the rising and falling of my body and let thoughts, feelings and emotions arise, but I don’t try to get rid of them. I stay curious and practice being at ease with them. It’s as simple as that."
Persisting when we don’t want to keep going isn’t easy. And I don’t think Olson is trying to suggest it’s easy when he says what he says above. It is simple, however.
That’s why I find it fascinating that he describes it as a practice — that this isn’t a goal, something with an accomplishable end date. Olson doesn’t say he is at ease with them, he says he practices being at ease with them. There’s a difference.
This is something he’ll keep doing as long as he runs, because the negative thoughts and feelings are going to come and go — they’re a part of being human. But if we get out there and run as consistently as we can, each run gives us the opportunity to practice being more at ease with whatever is troubling us.
(Again, this isn’t a promise that we will overcome it. Rather, what I think he’s saying is that we’ll learn how to live with those thoughts and feelings without them overcoming us.)
If I’d given up on myself this morning, I wouldn’t have had the chance to make this connection — my mind would have flitted on like a butterfly to something else. But taking the time, finishing what I started (as simple and small as it seems) allowed me the chance to learn a little more about what Olson is telling us.
I hope you’re having a great week and it’s not too hot where you are — I’d love to hear how your running is going. Feel free to drop me a line or reply back to this email, or to share your thoughts in the Comments below.
Have a great week and weekend — talk with you soon!
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