One of the reasons I started this blog was as a focus for my efforts to get better at running. While I have a lofty ambition about running fast enough for a BMQ, let’s face it, that needs a level of training that’s way, way, way out of what I can do. For now. At the moment, I’m barely getting enough exercise to stay fit and in fact, I am going backwards.
A huge mental block has hit me this last year and it’s time to figure it the hell out. Pull up a chair and a bright light. Time to interrogate myself!
Am I afraid of the work?
Work is not really an issue, provided I get the motivation. I pulled an 18 hour stint preparing a report on Monday. I’ve done nightshifts, worked long hours, travelled all over the country and world for my job work. So, doing effort is something I know I can do.
I’ve also done seven marathons and the training and effort for those is immense. I’m not afraid of the work itself, but something is stopping my motivation.
Am I afraid because it’s become emotionally linked with all the other stuff in my head somehow?
Somehow, I think yes. How do I know? After writing the introduction, I got up from the computer and started tidying my house. Sure, the house needs it but I had planned to do it later today. Also, it’s 5am as I write this, which is too early to start making noise (I live in an apartment block which means it’s a bit rude to the neighbours to start bashing pots and pans this early).
This is what my old history teacher would call ‘a delay-avoidance’ tactic. And I nearly fell for my self-set booby trap!
Why has it become an emotional problem?
A heap of reasons I think:
- I started running to help my health because of a desire to improve from where I was (not a great space mentally or physically)
- My preference is to always look for a logical reason (not enough time, there’s an injury I need to watch out for, I have other priorities) which, while superficially true, are masking my feelings
- I always prefer not to deal with my feelings – it’s messy. Unlike the sweet, sweet clarity of logic (hello, I from an engineering background!)
- I have had a lot of feelings to deal with this last few years – especially since my disastrous attempt to re-boot myself in New Zealand
- Running has been one of the best self-care things I ever started (second only to stopping smoking) and initially I saw huge benefits
- Then they tapered off (see second bullet point) because I think I actually reached the limit of how much time I can devote to running
- Then I started falsely comparing myself to others and to where I should be – i.e. if that guy can run 50k a week and hold down a job and look after his family, I should be able to too!
- Then the other demands in my life meant exercise and healthy eating fell down the priority list
- And now I started slipping back into some of the destructive behaviours that got me started running in the first place
- and now I am really really guilty because I am beating myself up and it’s easier to avoid running then deal with the fact that, fitness wise, I am back to where I was three years ago i.e. not very
Phew…that was a big gush
That often happens when you start prodding a blockage – all the crap that’s built up comes gushing out the drain pipe!
Can you summarise all of that gush into one headline?
I guess so – my running has become the lightening rod for all of my suffering. The Big Suffer is done with, but there’s still all the little ones (stress, busy job, awkward travel, settling back into the UK etc etc).
Somehow, after sorting out the Big Suffer that’s been ever-present through most of my adult life, I’m still looking for a replacement. Like a smoker looking for a nicotine patch. This whole mess with running has become my suffer patch! Something I can still beat myself up over!
You’re a bit messed up there…
Yes. And no. The reasons behind it might be messed up, but I am not. I am a normal person with normal emotional issues.
Everyone has baggage. Everyone. At the moment, in the search for a new Big Suffer (see me, I’m a martyr! See me, I’m so busy and stressed I don’t have time to exercise! See me, I’m the big consultant who works loads of hours and then has a two-hour each way commute! See me…see me…see me…!) is also a normal reaction I reckon.
I miss it – in a weird way. It made me feel unique. Special. Forever cursed by the gods for past mis-deeds.
You’re differentiator is – you like to suffer more?
Ha! Yes. Or at least it used to be the case. Recently, I came to the conclusion that much of your luck in life is down to context – the time and place you were born. Which is the accident of birth. After about 16 years, much of your luck is then down to you – excepting of course, the outside agencies such as accidents etc
But part of ‘your luck is down to you’ thing is actually realising that this is so. If the context you are in has never shown you anything other then learned helplessness, then, on the basis that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ you never figure out you can sort your luck out. That you are in the driving seat – provided you put away the need to suffer.
Suffering is a need? What?
I’m not talking about truly horrible suffering – war, famine, death and all. But the self-imposed type.
The Big Suffer that I lived my life with to date was a good way of covering up something else; my fear. The Big Suffer gave me a self-deluding cover story that was self-justification for not trying to improve my lot in life. For letting fear rule me – instead of me ruling me.
Perhaps that is the true reason – by using the Big Suffer (and now it’s baby mini-suffer with my running), I could deny that I had given away my power over myself. I could deny that I was afraid for a very long time. I let it block my view of the truth – that I was very, very, very afraid for a very long time.
And can you come back to how this is stopping you running please? I’m getting lost!
The Big Suffer is gone. Lately, I’ve caught myself in quieter moments going ‘whoa! Life is much better now!’ and actually noticing the absence of the dread in my head and heart. The fear has gone.
But – and remember, I’m pretty normal – that dread was such a part of my life for so long, it had become part of my identity. Without the Big Suffer, who the hell am I?
Running is a hard, physical labour that does create a bit of suffering – aches, pains and such. However, the result of that is fantastic – health and fitness. Having never been healthy and fit, that’s not a core part of my identity but the Big Suffer was. This means that I’m sacrificing a non-identity activity for an identity activity – i.e. I’ve stopped doing the running so I can replace the misting part of my identity as the man with the Big Suffer.
And you say you are normal? What?!?
Yep! Accepting that I am normal – within the overall spectrum of humanity – was actually a key part of losing the Big Suffer. What wasn’t normal was how I dealt with my emotions in the past. That was what led to the Big Suffer. Which was normal reaction to abnormally ignoring my feelings for so long. As my counsellor last year said, you look for relief from what ails you somewhere – booze, fags, food (check, check, check). And the big suffer was such a part of me for so long, there was a lot to be relieving.
What’s that going to do with you’re running now?
Zen Habits has a good post about self-hugs. About compassion for yourself which means accepting what ails you. About giving yourself a break. Adding to that, it’s about accepting that why I have made a big mental block out of my running is because I have used it to get relief from all the other – perfectly normal – frustrations in my life.
But now I have had enough. The pain of staying the same is outweighed by the pain of change. I am getting fat again, I am eating too much crap, I am drinking too much beer. I am slipping back into a place I fought hard to escape and I’ve had enough. I feel like crap – not enough exercise (not even walking) means I ache.
There will be no marathons this year and I’ve accepted that. What there will be is a re-focus on running for it’s own sake. No grand plans, no plan of the week, just a bit of running. To go and change that part of my identity that likes to have a Big Suffer to one that likes to have a bit of a run.
It’s time to Keep on Going. Kogsy