It can be rocket science

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.


Race start: what do you think about?

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.


Running girls: fast, fabulous, and happy.

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.


17 thoughts on “It can be rocket science

  1. I had a friend say to me right before my first marathon to “Enjoy it. You aren’t gonna win!” (Sounds harsh but it is true) Enjoy the surroundings, breath it all in and just realize that by getting to the starting line you have accomplished so much. “Have fun and run happy!!!

    • I like your friend’s advice. It’s so true that getting to the finish line (healthy, uninjured, trained) is an accomplishment in itself. I’m reminding myself about this more often now as I go out for my runs. It’s all part of the process. “Winning” is about getting out the door and doing your best.
      Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Jen,
      Your comment made me laugh when I first read it: why indeed do I run when most of the time I talk about the angst it causes me? Fitness and habit are two of the quick answers. My body craves exercise so if I didn’t run I would be doing something else physical. And that “something else” would result in meets or competitions of some sort because I am a competitive person. But I run because it has been an ongoing metaphor for my life – how I view myself, the world, and my relationship to myself. It has helped me get through so much and learn so much about myself. My therapist once told me to stop running to give myself a break – but it’s not so simple. My processing and over-thinking continues and if I didn’t run it would manifest itself in something else – even an eating disorder. And the endorphins on a good run are worth every step it takes to get there.

      • Really interesting! Running is the least fun workout I can think of, mostly because my brain works so quickly and I get bored easily. Hiking, biking, snowboarding…basically things that I could potentially kill myself doing…require me to concentrate, and quiet my mind.

        I totally get the “it would manifest into something else” mentality. I think a lot of us do that in some way, and you’ve just found what works for you.

  2. Well, maybe you have to run for different reasons than than running for ‘happy’ – and maybe accepting that will result in less anxiety? I need to exercise too for a lot of mental reasons – so I totally get that.

    Well wishes for you on your up and coming run-a-thon – don’t for get to breathe , my friend!

  3. It’s taken me most of my 51 years ( I started running when I was 11) to get to the point where I start a race thinking, “I am going to run whatever time my body will allow.” And with that, I want to finish feeling strong, happy and as pain-free as possible. Everyone is on their own journey, battling their own injuries, inner conflicts, etc. So, I try not to compare myself to anyone else. The competitive side of me is not pleased with that sometimes, but I tell that diva to shut up so that I can carry on and have a fun run! 🙂

    • It’s so true that we are each on our own journey. I find it amusing how my mind is “selectively” competitive – I never imagine all the people that I actually pass in a race. It seems irrelevant somehow (as it should). But it’s true that if we can run strong and happy the whole journey is better. And that is a relative state for each person.

  4. Running happy is the only way to do it. Think of last summer’s long runs in the morning sun. When the going gets tough, I think about those fun runs; it makes me smile and even the worst run is made worthwhile.

    • Those runs in the sun are pretty special and magical. So is good company and feeling like your feet can move at high speeds without effort. Not an everyday occurrence but definitely something to savour when it happens. Thanks for the setting an example that my rocket science mind is finally starting to accept.

  5. Nothing beats a great, fun race, one that has you smiling and makes you feel invinceable. It’s what keeps me training through the long, hot summers that seem like they’ll never come to an end. I truly believe in “train hard, race easy.”

    • This is all so true. Drawing on the moments of pure exhilaration and strength and joy can really make us know our strengths. I am also so partial to the “train hard, race easy” mantra. I especially like it when the hard runs turn into easy races a few months later. That’s a huge sense of accomplishment in itself.
      How is your running going?

      • Slowly coming back from the broken foot. My plantar fasciitis has also gotten progressively worse, to the point that it probably caused me to adapt my gait which has led to some calf tightness. Ergh. I’m running again, but it’s tough!

      • So sorry to hear this. PF can be a long hard slog to heal. And just when you feel okay to run, then it hurts to walk again. Hope your body is adjusting well and you are doing okay. Any pain is a pain! (and a broken foot can’t be much fun either).

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