The river is running strong in this rainy season, its rapids gushing, and its movement is so enviable, something I crave. How refreshing would it be, I wonder, if our daily energy and movement were so rampant and wild?
We cannot literally have rivers running within us, as reviving as it would be. Yet that is the kind of momentum we need. And we especially need it in the face of that certain inertia that rises like a wall when spring arrives, as the cold air dissolves and is replaced by too kneejerk of a warming, of a humid overlay.
When everything seems stagnant, how do you find it? How do you choose the movement that works for you? I mean this physically, but also emotionally, and maybe even spiritually, too.
Recently, I started to more deeply re-engage with running, my movement of choice, after an injury forced me to cut back. I sort of forced myself to get back into the swing of it by ponying up for two race registration fees. The shame of getting dropped by the fasties in a 5K is that traumatic.
(Also, aforementioned fees are ridiculously expensive lately! That happened while I wasn’t looking.)
We’re in an interesting place, running and I. For a long time our relationship was somewhat forceful/codependent, i.e. I was the codependent one who needed it, and tried to make something special happen. If you are a runner reading this, perhaps you understand. And you probably also know that all of this is entirely unintuitive considering that, typically, we first start running because it is exhilarating. Because love is really what leads to speed.
Running fast offers something not unlike the sense of power—of autonomy—that comes with the relief of outside air—there is a freedom there.
It does not come as much from recklessness, though, as it does from balance, and from paying attention to momentum and inertia. A body in motion stays in motion. A body at rest tends to stay at rest.
Lately, when it comes to running, pushing myself to the extremes I did before has been, shall we say, unrealistic. But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that something in me doesn’t want to go there right now. Being extreme is cool, but unsustainable: it’s something we should definitely do, but more so in moments.
There is a strange freedom in going out in the morning to “bound” (jog?) rather than run. Or maybe, in clearer terms, to be out there and simply run instead of race myself. It’s an embrace of that old sense of effort-meets-ease. If it’s still running, it’s for different reasons.
That’s not to say it was easy to get there.
When I was in college and running was more about competition for me, I was like many an athlete in picking up a few unhealthy habits—though mine were more internal. You can get obsessed—borderline addicted—quite easily. This did not crop up immediately; it was gradual, and always mixed in with the more positive side of the sport, so it was tricky to pinpoint what exactly was going on. But I developed this constant vigilance, this layer of stress that wouldn’t go away, rooted in the idea that maybe I was not ever doing enough. Rather than acting on this idea by running too much, I did so by running too hard, and not resting enough—and overall by thinking about it way too much.
That kind of stress can affect your performance as much as physically overdoing it can. You can’t, I believe, always gauge whether someone is overtraining by how she looks, or how many miles she runs per week. If running is a mostly mental sport—90% mental, as one of my coaches put it—then how, and how much, you think about your training matters. And when those thoughts are tainted by anxiety and fear, it’s more than a little bit of a detriment.
These fears were mostly of inertia. I was a sure that, if I did not stay in motion, I would prefer entirely to rest. That if I did not run with as much intensity as my body could handle, I would turn the other way and become unable to pick myself up and go. I couldn’t take a day off unless the calendar said to. I couldn’t take training out of the forefront of my mind, because that would mean I was being lazy. I could not include people in this pursuit of so-called “greatness” and make it fun, because that would mean I was not working.
These beliefs came into full bloom during the tail end of my four years of college track, and it’s easy to see, in retrospect, the emerging pattern: that is, one of need.
I needed it. I couldn’t let it go. You could probably call that an addiction.
When I graduated, this turned into trying to grip my “career” (a term I use rather loosely) with both hands—else it would lose its meaning, and so would I. I fully intended to try and keep racing on my own terms. But in having this intention, I failed to comprehend the strength of the support that had surrounded me before. Nor, I suppose, had I wanted to, because all of this came down to avoidance. Something in me needed to avoid the truth: that I was—am—weak.
By this I mean, when we are human, we are weak. That’s it. When we do anything in an honest or vulnerable way, we show our weaknesses. And this is good. It’s necessary, but it’s certainly not easy.
Sinking into inertia is easy, though. Or at least, it happens easily. It starts with a week of late mornings where your body and mind definitely need the extra sleep, and morphs soon thereafter into two or three additional weeks of, “well, this is still happening, so that must mean I still need it. Right?”
(Rationalization is quick to respond with, “Right-o, my good fellow!”)
But the thing is, falling prey to inertia is about fear, too.
Fear that, maybe, control would slip away again if I started to constantly move again. That injury or imbalance would rear its ugly head again. Or that I would get too attached to movement and be unable, once again, to let go.
That reversal came with its own set of unintended consequences, because, though rest is important, it can also turn into less of a springboard, and more of a trap, or mire.
That’s when I had to wake up, and realize: it’s time to learn to move again. No: to move in a new way.
Not an easy lesson, by any stretch. Fear and old habits are potent. But facing down fear, thank goodness, is even more so. Because the thing is, I do truly love to run, and I am finding that there is more than one way to show it.
Sometimes you find that new sense of movement, and of vitality, by clambering through stupidly wide mud pits at an outdoors festival. Other times, it’s by admitting on the Internet or in counseling that you were once, in simplest terms, an exercise addict. And other, other times, it’s by giving yourself permission to enjoy yourself, and accept yourself, rather than try to be the best at every single thing in every single moment.
No one ever said giving up control was safe, or simple. But I’ve heard it’s worthwhile. And I’m counting on it.