My biggest fear – slotted somewhere between death, hospitals, and tucking the back of my skirt into my underwear after visiting the ladies’ room – is being overwhelmed. Any situation I can imagine where my knee-jerk instinct is to control everything so that nothing changes or happens can be reduced to my fear of feeling overwhelmed.
When I feel overwhelmed, nothing is rational and anything (tragic, scary, or painful) can happen.
And I am feeling anxious lately. I’m going to say it’s because I have a half-marathon race coming up (in a few weeks). It’s a lot of sleeps away. Still, I’m using it as my focal point and am nervous about my training runs leading up to it.
A friend asked how things were going with my new run coach and how my anxiety levels have been in my races so far this year. My running anxiety is vastly improved, but I still feel it. Each race I am given another opportunity to face deeper levels of my fears.
Will I be fast enough? Will I run as fast as I want to? What if I run too fast? What happens if it starts to hurt? Will I beat my previous time?
I made the biggest shift of my running career recently: I want to Run Happy. I know that the feeling I have after a race is far more significant to me than the time on the clock. I can suffer through the whole run and run faster than some, but still feel dejected and overwhelmed when I’m done. That is not happy.
Earlier this year I watched two friends run a race. It was just after New Year’s day – when most of us are still basking in late nights, rum balls, and over-enjoying baked goods, and no one is ready to really run races. They were very fast and ran really well. I expected them to complain about how much they suffered and how much they hated the level of exertion it took to run as fast as they did. When I caught up to them as they were munching on cookies, I asked how the race went. “It was fun!” said one of them. My overwhelmed-self wanted to punch my good friend in disbelief. FUN? Seriously?!
I didn’t understand. I drove home thinking that she was happy with her time. If I ran as fast as she did, would my race be fun? I thought of the mammoth effort of training it would take me to run as fast as she did. If I was faster than her, would that give me bragging rights? Not once has anyone EVER said to me that they ran faster than I did in a race: it’s simply irrelevant. We are not professionals or elite athletes or Olympians. No one will be following our results in tomorrow’s newspaper.
Lately, I think I’m figuring it out. She ran happy. She may have overcome some pain in the run, she may have pushed herself more than she expected to, she may have run the distance faster than she ever had before – and those would all have been nice perks. But the way she felt about what she was doing was happy.
I’ve been running for a few years: compulsively, determined, stubbornly, and at times to my detriment (over-training, anemic). I like/enjoy it in equal parts to the amount of stress is causes me. I have always thought that if I could get to an end result – be it a certain time, placing, or running faster than whomever I happened to see that day – I would feel immense relief and be a changed person. It hasn’t happened and I’m slowly learning, like it’s rocket science, that it won’t happen. I am running for myself, for fitness and enjoyment and to be outdoors and be part of the community – I am not running for a finish line. I am going out to run happy every time I put on my shoes.