Run in the Now

Unlike many of my fellow Rogues here, I’ve spent the last few years lost in the wilderness, trying to rediscover that spark, that drive which made running fun.  The thing that made me take that first step out of bed.  Whatever it was that sustained me through the workouts others might consider past the point of insane (the “Soulcrusher” comes to mind).  This search seemed particularly difficult because as you get older, you often have more responsibilities which compete for your time: work deadlines, school functions and kids’ sports, not to mention the mundane tasks of day-to-day life.  Balancing these with personal goals, such as running, is a challenging and unending task.Motivation is hardly a new problem for me.  I’ve always had an ebb and flow to my motivation, as does everyone.  This time, however, the low tide seemed to be dragging out longer than usual.  Worse yet, I was ready to take up the task again, but I couldn’t get any momentum going with training.  I was itching to race and setting myself goals, but making no progress on them.  I resolved to step back and let things take their natural course, thinking that beating myself up over my perceived failure to self-motivate was only worsening the situation.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

This period of disengagement allowed me to do some introspection.  It was then I was struck by a realization: it was all too easy to slip into measuring life on a race-to-race basis.  Focusing on a marathon every fall/spring made it feel like my life was clicking by in 6 month increments.  I was racing along through my life – and as much as I like races, I want my life to be a leisurely stroll.  Once I realized this, the next step was clear:  Stop it!  I shouldn’t treat the goals as the end, but rather as signposts on a longer journey.  I needed to focus on what I am doing today, not on some distant day.  Worry about today’s run, not the mileage for the week (or the tough workout coming up).  I needed to start running in the now.

Maybe to others this is no startling observation; perhaps it was once obvious to myself and I simply forgot it.  In any case, this simple shift in attitude re-energized me.  It didn’t take much longer for it to dawn on me that this idea can be applied more universally to running: not just to the process of training, but also to workouts and to the act of running itself.  (And once I did this, it all seemed so self-evident to me.  Why didn’t I see this before?)

“Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small.  A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

When running repeat workouts, I have always been good at keeping my mind on only the current repeat or set. Thinking about the full set can make it more daunting, more imposing than it truly is.  Narrowing the horizon leaves only a simple task to complete; thinking small yields approachable tasks.  Of course, this is made easier by the nature of the workout – by definition, it is a number of smaller discrete tasks.One can take this approach further and apply it to the race as well.  At some point, it is inevitable that my mind will start to fixate on the (supposed) immensity of the task ahead: how can I keep this pace up for the next 10, 6, or even 2 miles?  By shrinking my focus to just the next mile, or catching the next runner, or even to holding pace until the next streetlight, I can lighten the psychological burden.  And as I keep doing this, I get closer to the ultimate goal while building my confidence.  This applies the lesson of Lao Tzu: break the difficult into the easy, the great into the small and you will accomplish them.

Remaining focused on the now is so easy to state, but it is difficult to practice.  (Nor is it even new – this is essentially the key Buddhist practice of mindfulness.)  Yet even this simple change in viewpoint has restored my motivation.  It has even offered me a new way to approach my races.

All I have to do?  Just run in the now.

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