Tomorrow I’m hoping to run a sub 27 minute 5k parkrun in Marlay Park – that beautiful park at the foot of the Dublin mountains. I’ve done sub 27’s before but this year i’m only now coming out of a winter’s bad health – stress related mainly. The irony is that running keeps me healthy but if my health slips i get too sick to run – ay, there’s the rub – and then its difficult to come back.
So tomorrow is a little challenge – to help keep me on my way, to encourage me to get fitter and, hopefully, a small marker on the way to my ultimate 5k aim this year – a sub 23 minute run.
So there i am, a philosophical minded runner who gets sick for about half the year from stress – where’s the wisdom in that? My doctor reassured me that the stress causers in my life were real and that i shouldn’t worry about it too much – don’t worry about suffering from stress – i guess i have a philosophical doctor. That cheered me up, my stress is caused by external factors outside my control so i’m OK – the stress is not just in my mind.
That’s not OK though when you think about it – everybody who suffers from stress has similar symptoms. In fact, if the stress is caused by outside factors, rather than occurring just in one’s mind, it should be easier to deal with, easier to learn to cope with. There are no excuses.
But I’m struggling.
Keeping stress at bay is like running twenty four hours a day, seven days a week and I’m no ultra-runner. Stress will always creep up on you again no matter how often you banish it to the furthest corners of your mind.
And maybe that’s the answer.
You don’t banish stress like some Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, you must learn to live with it.
Embrace it even – be aware of it – pull it out into the spotlight and examine it. Figure out what triggers you feeling stressed – because whether its caused externally or internally it is always present but there is usually a trigger, or two, which makes you feel stressed. It sounds like an exercise in mindfulness – and it may well be. Be aware also of how it makes you behave, the anger or sadness that it arouses in you – the frustration or hopelessness – put a name on those feelings – admit to them but remember you are not your feelings – you just feel them – that’s the difference.
I’ll be a little extra stressed in the morning – worrying about whether i’ll run a good time or not – but that’s OK, its only superficial – i know i’ll enjoy it no matter how i run, no matter how my body feels. I’ll think about all those who would love to be running and just can’t. I’ll look around me at my fellow runners, all so determined, at the volunteers – that wonderful subspecies of superhumans, at the beauty of the park and of the morning and all will be well. The endorphins help too of course.
If i can’t be wise enough to banish all stress from my life i’d like to be wise enough to live with it – relatively peacefully, but i’m not there yet. Ten years ago, twenty even, i thought i was smart and wise – actually very smart and very wise, now i know better. Is that progress? Was Adam and Eve’s forced exit from the Garden of Eden progress? Would i have been better off living my life as a fool, thinking i was wise and not bothering about getting any wiser? That’s one of life’s ultimate questions isn’t – where do you stop? At what lay-by do you pull over and say – that’s it, that’s far enough for me. We see people pulling over all the time, don’t we. It not like giving up, people who give up usually have extreme reasons for doing so. No, its a mixture of complacency and laziness – we’ve gone far enough – lets rest now. Its like pulling into that motorway service station and saying, “Lets forget about the trip – we’ll just stay here – its quite pleasant”.
When you are running, or rather when i am running, i get the urge to give up all the time, to pull over to the grass verge and just stop. i’ve spoken about this in previous blogs. That’s one of the reasons i run – to challenge myself not to stop, not to pull over. To push myself in the little things in life so that i’ll be more equipped for dealing with the bigger things – like what am i going to be when i grow up!
What mark will i leave on the world?
Being a runner, all things being equal, you get to finish. That doesn’t happen too often in ordinary life and i’m not sure if the buzz of finishing life itself will be anything like the buzz of finishing a race or a run. Time will answer that one i guess.
Another, philosophical, thing about running is that it pulls you away from your everyday life, from work, from family, from chores and worries. It gives you that space to lead your life differently, to make choices for yourself and to reap the rewards of your actions – in my case i’m hoping two spinning classes this week will add up to a reduction in at least 30 seconds in my time – i’ll let you know via my twitter account how i get on.
It simplifies things too. And running makes you aware of your body, of your mortality – this is something highly approved of by Buddhists. Meditate on death to appreciate life. Remember Morrie in ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’, and the little bird he imagined on his shoulder. Every morning he asked it, “Is today the day, is today the day i am going to die”.
Meditate on death to appreciate your life and appreciating it, live it to the full.
If that involves embracing stress or depression or any other painful or unhelpful feelings or experiences, then lets try it and see how we get on. Lets keep on motoring; no lay-by for us.
Travel safely my friends