Working with my running group today, we were really struck by important it is to accept how we are feeling in the moment. This means both emotionally and physically. Some days are just harder than others, while some are just great, and others start out one way and end another. It can be dangerous to make a judgment on a day's run in the first half based on how things are in that portion, even if that assumption ends up being correct.
When managing a run there are many possibilities- indeed as many as there are in life. The variety of states we will find ourselves in is pretty immense, and its important to remember that the states aren't really that important.
How we relate to the state is the key.
Let me repeat that, because this is really important.
How we relate to where we are is the key.
For example, a run can start out poorly and our minds can instantly be making judgments and projections into the future based on both real data and imagined reactions. A run that starts out poorly could have us deciding that the entire run is going to suck, and even that we suck. Or it can have us getting demoralized and just wanting to quit. These are all based on assuming that we will continue being in whatever state we are in the moment.
But that is what's known as a cognitive distortion. This is a popular term in psychology that refers to any thought pattern that is essentially illogical. When we assume any state to be permanent and then make judgments and projections based on that, then we are entering into a cognitive distortion. Nothing is permanent and both our internal and external situation is in constant flux.
Sometimes some of the best runs I have had were runs that started out terribly. I tried and tried to get myself into some sort of flow state, trying to work myself into the zone. But I just wasn't feeling it and all I felt was frustration and difficulty. And at last, out of sheer disgust and irritation I would give up trying and just run out the rest of the run without caring. Ironically, I would find myself in a flow state running exactly how I had been trying to run all along.
That's one scenario, which is only one out of many possibilities of course. So what happens if the run just sucks all the way through?
This is when a judgment call needs to be made. My process is to first determine if there is in fact something physically wrong. Perhaps I am more than just tired. Maybe I am fatigued and overtraining. Or perhaps there is an area or two of my body that is in pain. The key here is to distinguish between good pain and bad pain. Bad pain is my body telling me I am injured or close to injury. Good pain is a much lower degree of pain, such as tight or sore muscles needing some time to warm up and get looser. If there is an injury acting up or the slightest possibility of injury then I stop running. If I am dealing with fatigue and not just tiredness then I either stop running or plan a shorter run.
If it is ok to continue running, then I accept that its just not an on day. These are the days I pay particular attention to the clouds, trees, and any natural beauty around me. Knowing I am not quite as capable as enjoying the run as I might otherwise be, I try to appreciate my surroundings and use that to ground me.
I also try to find that part of me within that loves with heartbreaking gentleness and treat myself as a parent would tenderly treat their child during the softest most loving moment imaginable. This approach may not resolve a run feeling physically mediocre, but it certainly helps on the psychological side. If you want help doing that, check out this article I wrote on running from the heart.
So next time you have a tough start for your run, watch out for those automatic thoughts projecting your current state into the future. Know that sometimes it can shift and open up, and even if it doesn't that affords its own special opportunities too. Running is as varied as life, and as such it can be used as a valuable experience to bring greater awareness, equanimity and flow into the rest of your life.
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