Last Saturday morning, I did my first 20 mile run. It was fun, hard, exhausting, and motivating! Once again, I found myself reflecting on how long distance running is a great metaphor for life.
Although it’s natural to be optimistic and runners always hope to feel good on their long runs, the truth is that sometime during those many miles, you’re going to be in pain. You’re going to want to stop running. It’s going to be a mental struggle to keep going. But, then you’ll start to feel better, stronger. You may run a few miles that feel great, even effortless. However, discomfort and exhaustion are likely just around the corner.
I can’t overstate how much running has helped me to practice and adapt to being “in the moment.” That said, I still spend a fair amount of time thinking ahead or trying to anticipate how I’m going to feel on, say mile 14, when I’m back running mile 3. But, I’m aware of it, and often can get myself to refocus on my footfalls, my breathing, the scenery around me, so that I can experience (and hopefully enjoy) mile 3 while I’m there. I often have a mantra running through my head that reminds me: “Run that stretch when you get there”.
Setting out for a long run feels like an embrace of living life to the fullest. I spend time praying and listening to music that evokes varied feelings of melancholy, joy, excitement, and even rage (Eminem is oddly motivating in his anger!). Not knowing how I’m going to feel throughout the run is part of the allure. Suspecting that discomfort will inevitably arise and I’ll have to overcome the desire to stop running at some point, I am able to feel those feelings and remember that they will pass.
Certain songs will motivate me to run faster or bring a smile to my face when they evoke memories of my husband or kids. I’ve run through many Spanish ranchero, disco, and Tom Petty songs out of loving devotion to my husband. Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” reminds me of Sienna, as it instantly calmed her as a baby. Right now, Teo is obsessed with Sara Barellies’s song “Brave”, so when it played during my 20 miler, I smiled and thought of him singing at the top of his lungs.
Long distance running involves a constant ebb and flow of physical, mental, and emotional states. Whatever you’re feeling at any given moment is likely fleeting, so you can’t get attached to that euphoric feeling of effortless running or caught up in the pain of a hill that seems endless. You’ll reach the peak. There will be a downhill to recover. And, then the cycle will begin again.
And that’s how running is a metaphor for life. Our thoughts and feelings are constantly changing. All we really have is the “now” – the moment we’re actually living. By staying focused on the moment, you are in the best position to act to improve your life or reach your goals. Worrying about the future literally robs us of the energy and focus to perform well in the present.