Running and Therapy
April is a truly beautiful time of the year to go walking or running. When I go out walking or running I enjoy connecting with the sound of birdsong. There are some sounds that are very special, like a woodpecker hammering a tree or the exciting sound of swans as they take flight. Trying to stay in tune with the songs that birds create helps me to develop a softer, more kindly, approach to my walking and running, because if I make too much noise then the bird that I am hearing or watching may depart. I become more mindful of taking a slow and steady step, not placing too much strain on my legs or too much vibration on the ground beneath me. I thank the birds for their beauty and I am in awe of the birds that I see diving and then floating upon invisible aerial waves, wishing that I had that ability.
Another dimension to my walking and running that I have discovered in April is the power of landscapes. The terrain where I walk and run is quite hilly and I enjoy reaching the top of a hill and then just cruising along its summit, as I survey the land around me. I notice the many different fields with their different colours – green, brown, yellow, grey. I see the hedgerows between the fields, creating a patchwork of boundaried sections. I notice how some fields are bathed in sunlight whilst others are dark and shadowed.
I have noticed that by looking at the landscape around me, and gaining a sense of perspective and distance regarding what I see, helps me in terms of gaining a perspective over my own life. Some parts of my life contain shadows, difficult periods when I have felt alone and in despair. Some parts of my life contain beautiful birdsong and colourful flowers, also joyful and sensitive creatures like hares or horses. By taking the time to walk or run and reflect upon the landscape I am better able to put the difficult and the joyful times to my life in perspective. My life is a patchwork of different terrain and different colour but the important thing is that I continue to walk or run, I continue to feel the sunshine on my face or the raindrops on my back. I am grounded, in the moment, not overwhelmed by any particular experience or life history. I can observe my life without getting stuck within any particular field; I can place a boundary over a challenging experience as a way of containing this.
In counselling we too can gain perspective over our lives, the challenges, the devastating experiences, alongside any joy. In this way we do not forget about times when we felt positive emotions, when we felt connected. We can draw boundaries over experiences we would rather forget, so that we can appreciate the here and now rather than getting bogged down. We can learn to draw attention to beauty, to be kind to ourselves and to let go of any anxiety, fear, shame, guilt or anger. Wisdom is there for us to behold.
Running during the cold, dark and sometimes wet Winter months can seem bleak and uninspiring. I like to be grateful as I run through these wintry months, and nature has its own ways of delivering beautiful gifts as I take one footstep at a time. When I step out into the chill it is like I immerse myself slowly into a wonderful and deep lake, so I take my time and do not place any pressure on my body, I simply sink into the here and now and I mindfully experience.
I like the whooping sound of Canadian geese as they fly towards me. As I run I feel connected to their flight, my own movements become synchronised with theirs. They fly over and above my head and I am part of that energy, its strength, vigour, its togetherness. I say thank you to the geese for choosing to take flight during my run and I feel excited because I can see the next grouping of geese getting ready to take flight from the water’s edge. Maybe they also will whoop over my head.
I then find myself entering the world of boats. I am now running past a boatyard and the wind is shaking the masts of the many different boats that are there. Every boat has a different and human name – Cecelia, Prospero, Natasha – and the clanging of the masts is like a group of bell ringers celebrating my run, enjoying this beautiful moment. I say thank you to the world of boats. My attention then becomes immediately focussed upon a robin red breast, who is standing on the edge of the path that I am jogging on. I think about how hard birds and animals have to work during Winter in order to be able to get the food that they need and this makes me grateful for the muesli I ate this morning. I am also compassionate to my own physical and psychological struggles during these short dark and cold days.
I say thank you to the snow under my feet. I like the crunching feel of the snow. I like that my joints are experiencing less of an impact because of the white carpet that nature has rolled out this morning. As I run under a tree a smattering of white tissue paper drops gently all around me, the melting snow crumbling from the branches and disappearing into the environment. I look up at the sky above me and I notice that I am on top of the World – I am running along the highest point of a steep hill, looking down on the valley below me. I breathe in the fresh unpolluted air and I am grateful for this pure form of molecular experience. I then smile as I run into a village because now something is thanking me. I see before me a speeding sign that registers that I am running at seven miles per hour. In capital green letters the sign reads Thank You. Now I am being thanked, simply for taking one footstep at a time. I ignore the inner critical voice that says to me ‘You should be running at eight miles per hour’. I ignore the inner critic that says ‘You are running too slow’. Instead I say thank you to my self for going out this morning and just experiencing, just simply being. This sense of acceptance is a perfect winter’s gift.
Compassion focussed therapy posits that there are three types of emotional regulatory systems in our minds and bodies: the drive/excite/vitality mode (wanting, pursuing achieving), the content/safe/connected mode (soothing), and the threat focussed mode (protection and safety seeking). Last week when I went for a run I think I experienced all three.
It was a breezy cold day with a wonderful blue sky. I had intended this run to be slow and long, to gently ease myself into the flow of running, to relax in the moment and to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells around me. Well, 40 minutes into the run my peace was shattered.
Another runner came out of her house at the exact moment that I was running past, and she began to run quickly behind me. I knew that there was only one direction for both of us to go because that was the most beautiful direction to go in. I could hear her footsteps behind me and I could see her shadow next to me, and at that moment my body went into threat focused mode. I felt that she had entered my personal space and I felt indignant that she didn’t wait and create more of a distance between us before moving off. I speeded up to a ridiculously fast pace given that I still had a long way to run, and I maintained this pace until I could no longer hear her steps or see her shadow. I had an enormous desire to out-run this lady, to be somewhere else away from her, and my brain temporarily shut down as I put all my efforts into running as quickly as possible. I guess looking back I can be grateful to experiencing my bodily threat focused mode, because this meant that I ran at a rate much faster than I thought I was ever capable of.
Then something changed. My mind and body switched from threat to drive and excitement mode. I began to enjoy the fast pace and the challenges to running quickly into a head-on wind that was blowing around 50 mph at times. I started to feel liberated and free, at one with the wild nature that engulfed me. I forgot about the female runner that was somewhere behind me and I just started to enjoy myself, no longer concerned about where she was or what pace she was doing. I appreciated being in this achieving mode, and could see all the benefits that come from this regulatory system that is about striving and drive. I felt excited when I came across the local Park Run, and smiled at the people standing on the finish line clapping the finishing runners. I was happy to weave in and around the runners, and decided to run all the way around an old church just for the fun of it.
Arriving back home, after having washed and changed, my body went into self-soothing mode. All these wonderful endorphins were released in my body and I felt content and secure. I felt like I did not need anything to be happy, that I could just be. This is the wonder of running, its effects on stimulating the safe mode in our minds and bodies. I felt content and at ease with myself, with other people and with the World around me despite the violence that exists on our chaotic planet. During this run I had experienced something much bigger than myself, an evolutionary bio-physical miracle dating back millennia.
I have no idea if I will be able to run the full 26 miles and 385 yards. The most I have done in my training is 18 miles; after that I shall be entering the Great Unknown. Have I eaten enough carbohydrates? Will my body cope with the stress of long-distance running? Will I hit the dreaded runners’ wall and collapse? Will I finish within 4 hours – the goal I have set myself? These are some of my thoughts as I stand close to the starting point of the hugely respected and much-loved event that is the London Marathon 2013.
While waiting for the race to begin, I find myself gravitationally pulled towards a secure base, as a way of coping with the demon doubts. Security for me is a wooden hut with benches running along all four of its sides. Sitting on these benches are predominantly the old timers, sunning themselves as they wait patiently for these final fifteen minutes to pass before the start of the Marathon. Like at a saloon, the older guys are sitting and rested, exchanging the odd story about previous marathons they have run. They remind me of hardy and toughened sheriffs of a frontier town. They have seen and experienced dozens of marathons between them and they knew how to prepare themselves. There is an air of quiet calm, the men chewing on the roots of what is to come, contemplating a distance that has to be travelled both mentally and physically.
With five minutes to go before the race begins, I enter the starting zone. After a minute’s silence to mark the horrific bombing attacks at the Boston Marathon a few days before, we set off. We stampede through the streets of London. No traffic: we were free to run riot and party on down. And boy, do Londoners know how to throw a Marathon party! ‘Welcome to Woolwich,’ a DJ cries out through the sound system he has set up outside his local pub, the theme music from Rocky playing in the background. There are brass bands and steel bands a-playing, and at one stage, as we run beneath a concrete bridge, it feels like we runners are the music, the maracas reverberating sound at 360 degrees. Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen makes me speed up; Benny Hill’s theme tune makes me laugh out loud. So as well as energy gels and drinks, sweets and water, we runners are running on emotional and psychological fuel.
My dad told me not to run any marathons. At home my dad has an article about how running is bad for your joints. My mum doesn’t like me doing anything really, because for her the world is a scary place. Understandable, I suppose, since my parents come from war zones. So, somewhere between my dad’s depression and my mum’s anxiety, I was created. I ran the London Marathon for me, for I needed proof that I am more than just the product of depression and anxiety. I am resilient, strong and self-compassionate. Having overtaken Runners World pacers and a guy I nicknamed Robocop for his amazingly steady and assured pace, his strong and upright torso, his dark sunglasses and black leather belt carrying water and other essentials, I could believe in myself. This was my emotional and psychological fuel.
Other runners at the London Marathon were propelled forward by bereavement, illness, loss, even change – I witnessed that from the running shirts they wore bearing the logos of various charities – action against leukaemia and other cancers, hospice care, mental health support, suicide prevention, action to prevent child cruelty, the list went on and on. This crowd of people taking part in the Marathon in central London was not engaged in any form of political protest, but they were there to express their existential dissent through the art of running! People ran with their own personal stories and sets of experiences; running can be a marvellous act of defiance, resistance even. Running is about embracing life and surpassing your own expectations, regardless of any pain you may be experiencing. There is no rationale behind running a marathon, and yet it is inherently meaningful to those who take part. We are rebelling, having fun in a troubled world. I high-fived the children who lined the route cheering us on. I want to say to the parents whose 8 year old son was killed in the Boston Marathon bombing, please, please, do not feel guilty. Your son was doing that day what hundreds and thousands of children do – they stand as close as they can to the Marathoners, smiling and waving them on. Children have such amazingly open hearts.
At mile 22 my training kicked in. Running past exhausted people who were walking or lying down because they could not continue, I knew at this stage that I had enough in me to get to the finish line. I began counting from 1 to 10 over and over again, even shouting it out loud at times. This helped me to stay focussed and keep my pace up. Four miles later and the finish line was irrelevant to me now. As I approached the end, I knew I could continue past it; I was ready to go on and on, and the steward even had to tell me to stop running as I crossed the white line. Tears were in my eyes, for at that moment I realised that I had become a MARATHONER! The 3 hours and 50 minutes journey had transformed me and how I viewed myself. An inner calm took hold. There was no triumphalism or competitiveness, no jealousy that other people had finished before me. I was simply a Marathon Runner, and I felt as though I had returned from a long meditative retreat. Interestingly, beyond the finishing line I felt no connection with the spectators. Unlike during the marathon itself, when the crowds were part of the carnival, after the finish line the crowds were mere onlookers and I had entered a different bio-physical realm. It did not matter to me that I was covered in sweat and grime, that my hair was a mess and that I had no make-up on, and it did not matter to me what the spectators thought about that either. There was nothing and nobody stopping me now, for the London Marathon had made me into a supersonic woman!
This morning when I went out for a run the rain was pouring down in buckets. A typical November morning: wet, windy, dark. As I ran along hilly wet tarmac something magical began to happen to me. Everyday thoughts about work, family, friends ran away from me, leaving behind my child self, ready to play with the gifts nature was throwing at me. At this time of year although we tend to think of endings, this run was transporting me back in time, to a time when I was young and freely engaging with the elements around me.
What did I see, smell, hear, feel during this run ? Mostly, water. It was raining so much that streams had formed on the edge of the roads I was running along, air bubbles bobbing along like pooh sticks through the water. I ran alongside these streams, sometimes feeling the cold water splash on my feet and legs as the streams turned to small lakes in places, with depths of muddy brown. On my glasses I could see droplets of rain, distorting my vision, but in an enchanting way. I could see creatures hidden inside the trees that were waving to me as I ran past, creatures that had a supportive presence to them, watching me go on my way. One tree creature was a giant cat, sitting still within a cascade of moving branches, I smiled as I ran past this cat.
Leaves of every kind of shape, size and hue were everywhere, on the road, on the grass, flying through the air before landing. I focussed on this foliage, noticing the softened ground beneath my feet as a result of a jigsaw puzzle of connected colourful leaves. I thanked the leaves for softening the impact on my knees and ankles. At one stage I could just about make out the sound of a bird before the strong breeze turned into a gale force and I found myself pushing through this invisible wall, feeling the strength of my upper body. Then, when I turned a corner the strong wind was behind me, pushing me like I had been gently pushed as a child whilst sitting on a swing. I accelerated down the hill, howling wind lifting my hair, tickling my ears. It was good to be free in this moment, nothing mattered because I had let go without realising. This run put me in a good place for the rest of this November day. How awesome !
The Leicester Marathon route is mostly flat and fast. Having completed a gruelling hilly Marathon the month before, I was expecting this one to be easier and more mundane. At the outset, things seemed to run fairly smoothly, us runners lining up at the start, the race beginning on time to cheers and waves. Other than it was a freezing cold morning, the weather was on our side – dry and bright.
This is why I enjoy running Marathons: every race is different and every time I put myself through one, I learn and experience something new. Running through Leicester’s Golden Mile, adorned with Diwali decorations, amazing, I noticed a runner with a photograph of a loved one on the back of her t-shirt, a much loved husband or partner who had died in middle age. I gained a sense of why she was running, in memory of her loved one. It was at this moment that I noticed quite a few runners around me with t-shirts that showed they were running for the memory of their loved ones also, people who had been traumatically taken from them. As a psychotherapist, I understood that in running with photos or names of their relatives on their backs, these runners were staying connected to the people that had died, whom they had loved. There is quite a lot of literature on bereavement that suggests that if a person can continue to feel a sense of connection with a lost loved one then they tend to cope better than people who try to push their dead relatives away. I pondered these thoughts as I ran behind these runners, tears in my eyes, emotionally moved by their grief and their coping strategies.
Soon, we had reached the stage of the race where Half Marathon runners went one way, and we Marathon runners went in another direction. I enjoyed this part of the race because I felt proud at this moment that I was placing myself in the crazy, tough nut, category. I was proud to have trained to this level, where I knew I could run non-stop for over 4 hours. I laughed when I began to get a small pain in my foot, telling myself that soon that pain would be insignificant compared to the overall body pain I would be experiencing. The miles cranked up as we ran through beautiful Leicestershire villages, and I felt excited by running along the roads I drive along to work, gaining a different perspective upon my surroundings. At mile 14 I watched a lady infront of me start to walk and my thoughts at that time were that she still has a long way to go, that this is going to be painful for her and that she has my full respect. Every village that we ran through had spectators, mums, dads, children who had come out of their homes to wave us on. I felt a warm welcome from each and every Leicestershire village, and enjoyed running past chocolate box houses and ancient churches.
Every time I run a Marathon, the worst miles for me are between mile 18 and mile 23, because at this stage I am really tired and my legs start to hurt, no matter how much training I have done. I cannot see an end to the race, I only see the pain ahead. It was during this stage of the race that I discovered aspects to myself that I can truly appreciate. I told myself that I was going to keep the pressure on, that this was the middle stage of the race and that it would not defeat me. I found an inner drive, a desire to keep up my pace, telling myself that I wanted to complete the Marathon in around 4 hours. I also made sure to smile at the race marshals and to thank them profusely as I ran past them, because without them there would be no race. I was exhausted, in pain, feeling a little sick, yet I was good natured with the people around me and compassionate towards myself. This Marathon had revealed these aspects about myself, perhaps more starkly than other things I do. These qualities I can take into my everyday life, and when I now remember this section of the race, I walk with my back a little straighter, my head held a little higher.
In the last two miles of the Marathon, I found myself running side by side with a male runner, similar age to myself. We started to talk. We laughed about how our legs now hurt running downhill, running uphill, running around corners, simply running. We spoke about the amazing support provided by the marshals, the energy drinks and gels that were handed out, how we were now only a couple of miles away from the finish. We spoke positively, despite being in significant pain, and this really helped to get those final two miles out of the way. At that stage it did not matter who would finish first, the fact is that we both knew we would complete the Leicester Marathon. My temporary running companion told me that I could run on ahead as he felt I had a sprint finish in me. I joked with him that my husband and brother were waiting for me on the finish line and so it would be good to have a faster pace then ! I do feel we shared an experience here together, this runner and I, and yet when I think back now I would not have a clue about what he looked like. We shared conversation running side by side together, and so never looked at each others’ faces. Funnily enough, in the last half mile or so I found myself becoming increasingly ecstatic at knowing the finish line was but a few breaths away, and I did find my pace picking up. One man shouted out, ‘You have run a Marathon this morning, what else are you going to do for the rest of the day ?’ I shouted back, ‘Sleep and watch Downton Abbey at 9pm’. The Leicester crowds were amazing and towards the end people were cheering us all on, because the last mile was all up a steep hill. I remember running past one male runner right near the end, who was shouting out and cursing, out of exhaustion and anger. Anger I could recognise in him because I myself have experienced anger in previous Marathons that I have run. Coming up to the finish line I saw my husband, we high fived as I ran past him, so delighted at my finish time of 4 hours and 3 minutes. Over the line I saw my brother with a huge smile on his face. Two years previously, he had been waiting for me in a similar place to finish the Leicester Half Marathon, along with my dad who had given me a massive hug, emotionally moved by what I had done, this tight hug coming from a man who rarely shared physical touch with others. My dad is now dead, and so having my brother on the finish line meant a lot to me.
When I got home I opened up the booty bag that I had been given. I took out my medal and saw, to my distress, that by mistake I had been given a Half Marathon medal ! I had pictured getting the Full Marathon medal during the entire race, so you can imagine how upset I was. Strangely, however, getting the wrong medal did not detract from my sense of completion and satisfaction, having run over 26 miles, courageously in the way that I had wanted to run. I guess I learned from this that I don’t run for the medals. Afterall, nothing really lasts. Yes, I like hanging the medals up on my wall and I like looking at them, but actually for me the Marathon is a journey, an emotional as well as physical one. I did contact the race organisers and they sent through the Full Marathon medal so I now have two medals for that day’s running. I am already planning my next Marathon – bring it on !
I find Autumn to be a difficult time of year, observing nature slowly decaying; leaves turning brown and falling off the trees, cloudy days with less sunshine to enjoy, the air turning cold. This is the time of year when I tend to think a lot about family and friends who have died, who have moved into a different dimension of being, lying beyond my own sensory perception.
Now that the days are getting shorter, running in the dark is becoming increasingly part of my everyday existence. When I first began to run in the dark, I was frightened. Images of giant rats scuttling across the road infront of me, of werewolves, vampires, other nocturnal monsters, ran through my mind, chasing me, potentially attacking me. I also dreaded the darkness, an overwhelming nothingness, bleakness, a sense of disconnection from the environment as I could no longer clearly see the landscapes surrounding me, that had comforted and inspired me on sunny days.
In fact, running in the dark is a vastly different experience from running in daylight. Familiar pathways can seem unfamiliar, and the rustling sounds of animals and birds can be disorientating and frightening. Despite these challenges, I persist in going out and running in the dark, building my experience slowly, strongly. I have found that by doing this I am able to overcome my fears, step by step, and to begin to develop a new appreciation of the darkness and of the nocturnal creatures that I am privileged to see or hear. I have started to look forward to seeing bats swooping above my head, to hearing the sound of owls coming out of nowhere, to see deer in the woodland scampering away from me, and to notice cats’ eyes glimmer in the dark, observing me.
I think that running in the dark is a bit like experiencing life after bereavement. Grief can be overwhelming, it can leave us frightened and disorientated. The World can be vastly different from the World as we experienced it before the loss of a loved one. Suddenly, we find that we no longer enjoy the small pleasures we used to enjoy, suddenly there can be feelings of pointlessness and doom. Our perceptions can become very sensitised so that the smallest thing can upset us. Perhaps we need to build small and strong steps within our journeys of bereavement as a coping strategy. Maybe we need to go out and experience the World in its transformed state, and to appreciate new things or old things in new ways. We may try to embrace our new sensations and perceptions, rather than being frightened of, or by, them. In this way we can slowly acquaint ourselves with the realities of bereavement and then gain a deeper connection to ourselves, others and the World around us.
Recently, I completed a ten-mile race. I followed a race plan that I had given some thought to. The plan was to begin the race at a warm-up pace so as to ease myself in, then gently pick up my speed by mile three, start running a medium pace by mile six, and use the last two to three miles to really go for it! I stuck to this plan, not really knowing whether it would provide me with the finishing time I wanted, and nor what physical state I would be in by the end of the race.
As it turned out, I completed the ten miles in 77 minutes and 10 seconds, placing me in the Gold category for my age group and only five minutes short of the top category, Diamond. I was pleased with this result because it was the nearest I had come to attaining my main goal of a Diamond finish time. Running stubborn is perhaps the best phrase I can use to describe what I saw and felt during the ten-mile race that Sunday. Running stubborn was there in oodles, awe-inspiring and thought-provoking. Perhaps the best example of running stubborn personified in a racing legend is that of John Tarrant, the man dubbed ‘the Ghost Runner’ by the media. Despite a series of significant set-backs in his life, such as being denied Amateur Athletics Association status, which meant he was not officially recognised at any races, John Tarrant continued to race, hiding from the officials until at the last moment sprinting away from the start line when no-one could intervene to stop him from running. Running stubborn is about bravery and dogged determination – never giving up.
Running stubborn is also about ordinary people going out to run a challenging distance, which is going to hurt, and completing the distance in whichever way they can – whether this involves race plans, energy gels, walking up the hills and running down them, keeping the same steady pace throughout the race or gradually speeding up towards the end. It is about runners drawing upon a bloody-mindedness that means they are not going to stop, no matter how challenging the race becomes. During the ten-mile race a club team member, a man 78 years of age, said to me, “Keep going lass, I don’t want to see you again in this race” as I overtook him. This runner has stubbornness written into his body, a body that is strong, muscular and fit, despite his advancing years. During the race I also witnessed another club team member doggedly pushing herself forward, determination emanating from her physique, and I knew that she was hurting at this stage because with three miles to go we were all hurting!
Running stubborn for me was the determination to stick to my race plan, even though this required a leap of faith because I didn’t know what the outcome of the plan would be. By mile eight I was exhausted, but absolutely firm in my resolve to keep to a medium to fast pace in order to get the best time I could. It was sheer will-power that kept me going at that speed. Towards the end of the race, I was running a few feet behind the runner in-front. I was absolutely determined to stick to his shoulder, to keep him on his toes and out of his comfort zone. I came to understand the importance of controlled aggression, the ability to draw on one’s inner strength to maintain a particular level of running intensity, to ensure that the person in-front is having to work as hard as they can.
I took my race experience to work the following week. At work there was an unsupportive, challenging, environment. Achievements and the effort people made were rarely acknowledged, yet any perceived oversights were handled in an unconstructive manner. Basically, if you didn’t do exactly what your boss wanted, then you were in trouble! To survive such an environment is even more challenging than running a long distance race. I have found controlled stubbornness to be a wonderful resource for dealing with a difficult work situation. Controlled stubbornness means not allowing yourself to act angrily and disrespectfully towards work colleagues who are trying to control you, who are playing into wider organisational politics, who want you to be part of their great race plan to become the next Chief Executive. Controlled stubbornness means sticking to your own race plan; staying on the shoulders of those who are trying to dominate you, keeping them out of their comfort zones.
So, I have drawn on my determination as a runner to create my own space of productivity within a very difficult work environment. Sticking to my core aims and outcomes, despite the challenges of dealing with difficult work colleagues, is similar to sticking to my own race plans. Supporting those colleagues who are also at the brunt of hostilities at work is something I also try to do, as in any race you find your running club team members offering you amazing and fantastic words of encouragement despite their own physical and mental pressures. Running stubborn is an approach that we can all apply to dealing with challenging situations in our lives. We can draw on our inner resources to create our own race plans, to lead the kind of life that we wish to lead. Come what may, we can survive, we can cross the finish line, our arms raised up in pride as we tell ourselves that we have done it, that we have helped to determine those aspects of our lives that are important to us out of the sheer will to do so. Running stubborn – perhaps this is the best that we can seek for our lives?
Last Sunday I completed the Rutland Marathon, a steep and tough course, probably the toughest one I have done so far. I had spent 3 months preparing for this experience, putting in regular miles each week. My training got me through to the finish line without injury, although every part of my body hurt like hell.
The Rutland Marathon was gruelling and it took me 4 hours and 28 minutes to complete, 28 minutes longer than any Marathon I had previously completed. What, if anything, did I gain from putting myself through this experience ? Did I learn anything new on this run ? Was the pain worth it ?
At mile 18 I ran past a young man who was walking because he was so tired. He told me he had no motivation to carry on. He tried running behind me and I could feel this man’s heaviness and lethargy, and somehow I had to make twice as big an effort just to carry on running myself. At mile 21 I ran past a runner who had 100 Marathons on their T-shirt, meaning they have completed at least 100 of these gruelling events. I overheard this runner say to her running partner, ‘I don’t really enjoy these Marathons anymore, I don’t know why I do them’.
Maybe I experienced three aspects to the race that I can take into my everyday life. Firstly, the value in having supportive people around you. The support I received from the crowds and from the race marshalls was amazing in terms of servings of lemon drizzle cake, chunks of banana, energy drinks, and water. At the last 300 metres of the race I remember a marshall saying to me,’you can smell the finish line’, which really helped spur me on. Secondly, the importance of self-compassion. I had to accept that my time was slower than any previous Marathon time I had done and not to judge myself through the narrow lens of timings and personal bests. Thirdly, I take from this race the importance of self-belief. I ran the race at my own pace, refusing to run too fast at the start, especially when I saw many others fellow runners dash off at the beginning at a pace that was unsustainable for me. I had to be true to my own inner pace, just like I have to be true to myself in life generally. I value running for the insights it brings that I can then apply to navigating through life.
Over the last forty years or so, running has increased in popularity in Britain, the US, Australia and other western societies. There is now a whole host of running events that people can take part in, like 5K and 10K races, half marathons, full marathons and even ultra marathons, which are anything over the 26 miles and 385 yards of a full marathon. Paralleling this rise in the general popularity of running is a growth in the number of books about running. The themes emerging from these texts include explorations of why it is that people run, what physical, psychological and emotional benefits they derive from running, and how running has helped them to cope with different life stresses such as bereavement, difficult family relationships, illness, drug addiction and so on.
In his book Eat & Run (2012), ultra marathon champion Scott Jurek tells us how long distance running helped him to cope with an upsetting upbringing as a result of his mother having multiple sclerosis. Billy Isherwood (2009), in Dead Man Running, writes about his struggles with alcoholism due to a brutal childhood at the hands of a violent father. Mark Rowlands (2013: xiv) testifies in his book Running with the Pack, ‘running is a way of understanding what is important or valuable in life’.
When I run this connects me with a deeper knowledge about life; about how to continue to live as well as possible while simultaneously experiencing the many and diverse challenges that life can throw at me and my loved ones. Running allows me to reflect. To reflect is to contemplate; to meditate. According to Haruki Murakami, an author and long distance runner, “If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog” (Murakami: 2009: 82-83).
Isherwood, B. (2009) Dead Man Running: from alcohol to Atacama Kennoway: Spiderwize
Jurek, S. With Steve Friedman (2012) Eat & Run London: Bloomsbury
Murakami, H. (2009) What I Talk about when I Talk about Running London: Vintage Books
Rowlands, M. (2013) Running with the Pack: thoughts from the road on meaning and mortality London: Grants Publications Ltd