Endurance activities have long held a certain mystique, curiosity and interest for me. About five years ago I ran my first (and to date, only) marathon. Running long distances has been my main source of exercise for most of my adult life. More than the physical benefits, running provides time alone to pray, breathe, and connection with the moment. Running is such a source of peace and joy!
I also love to swim, but the pandemic has kept me out of the pool for a while now. So, it was really engaging to read Diana Nyad’s memoir Find a Way: The Inspiring Story of One Woman’s Pursuit of a Lifelong Dream recently. As you may recall, Diana Nyad finally accomplished her dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida in the fall of 2013. Her miraculous swim (without a shark tank) took nearly 54 hours of continuous swimming!
It was so interesting to learn about the challenges and nuances of marathon swimming. Issues to manage include sleep deprivation, salt water chaffing, seasickness, sharks and jellyfish, to name a few. Navigating the Gulf Stream was a huge challenge to the crossing as navigators have to consider winds and the direction of the jet stream to ensure proper landfall.
But, the most fascinating part of her story is the mental strength Diana cultivated through years of swimming for long durations. Her training swims would routinely last 15-20 hours! She would mentally do counting progressions of different increments (and in four languages!) as well as sing songs in her mind during the many hours of isolation. Passing the time without dwelling on how much longer she had to go seemed to be the biggest challenge.
I felt so inspired by this story! Truly, Diana cultivated an ability to persevere through extreme pain for prolonged periods of time. Relating to some of Diana’s insights into the nature of endurance activities lit a fire in me to enjoy longer runs the past few weeks. Especially her comments about the journey being more important than the destination or goal. Although she did eventually achieve her goal (on her fifth try!) and felt such fulfillment in accomplishing it, Diana ultimately learned that all the work she put in training for the swim was worthwhile and important, even if she’d never made it.
I’ve thought a lot about enjoying the process, showing up and engaging in life as I learned to be present in the moment and let go of control. It can be easy to focus on goals and outcomes for motivation, but that mindset tends to pull me into controlling thinking patterns and away from the joy of connection to the moment. For example, when I read book with the goal of getting through it versus enjoying the process of reading. Or, when I set out to run with a set mileage or time in mind versus going for a run to enjoy the process of running.
This past week I ran 12 miles at Lake Miramar and really felt present and engaged in the act of running. As I was checking my phone for messages before getting into the car, a fellow runner asked me, “How’d you like your time?” assuming that I was checking my running pace. This gentleman is in his 60s and clearly an experienced runner (he’d passed me on the second lap a little while ago).
“Oh, I’m actually not tracking my pace. Trying to just enjoy the process of running,” I replied with a smile.
“Good for you!” he said. “Well, you look good out there, very smooth.”
“Oh, thanks!” I exclaimed. “Have a good day!”
This little exchange was so delightful! To have a seasoned runner affirm the virtue of running without tracking my time made me feel seen. Also, I felt like I hit a really strong and steady rhythm in the run, which is what I think he noticed when he said my running looked smooth out there.
Have you intentionally experienced an activity while deemphasizing the outcome or result? How did it feel? What did you learn?