First of all, if you haven’t seen Pixar’s latest film Inside Out, I highly recommend it. Bring tissues.
I’ll avoid spoiling specifics from the movie, but if your concerns extend to thematic spoilers, you may want to skip this post for now. Consider yourselves warned.
I’d already been planning a post along these lines ever since the Peachtree Road Race over July 4th weekend, but frankly that was just the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. I got an extra boost in this direction after reading Megan’s post: taking mid-year stock of one’s running goals.
Here’s the punchline: I’m not happy with where I am right now. In fact, I’m downright upset to the point of being angry.
Peachtree mile splits.
The Peachtree started off well enough–until we hit the first uphill. Then it was like my mind + body just threw in the towel; I couldn’t recover, even once the elevation leveled off. If Peachtree was the only time this happened, I’d simply write it off as a bad day. But I feel like this has been the story of my races of late: start off at a pace that’s brisk but still [seemingly!] safely slower than PR pace, and blow up anyway halfway through. Add to that the lack of motivation I’ve been feeling lately, and you have my current state of mind.
It’s not like I’m out of shape, either. I’m certainly not in PR form right now–breaking a 42:45 10K PR is going to be a beast under the best of conditions, to say nothing of a humid and rainy race morning on a course I didn’t hardly remember–but I nonetheless didn’t expect a breakdown this bad:
Cadence goes WAY down.
It’s basically a tale of two races.
Now, you might be wondering where Inside Out comes in. The Lady and I saw the movie recently, and…well, it hit a nerve. That, along with this lovely Ask Polly article posted by a separate friend of mine, triggered one or two brain cells.
One of the many things I love about running is the variety of reasons people do it. But I’d also have to argue that, to some extent, everyone who runs does so because it’s fun. It may not be one’s primary motive–mine is food, thanks–but if it’s “zero fun sir” then I find it difficult to believe any other motivation would be sufficient. And in all that fun-having, there’s zero downside, right?
Well sure, we’ll readily admit we’re crazy: we run in bad weather (Peachtree), we run super early in the mornings, we run crazy miles, etc etc. But actually admitting that a run legitimately wasn’t fun? Go ahead: say out loud that your last run wasn’t fun.
Not easy. Especially for me, a lifetime people-pleaser. When someone asks how my run went, I love to tell them how great it was and how much I love running and that I can’t wait for my next race and… you get the idea. Plus, when someone asks “oh how is X” where X is someone or something you devote a significant amount of time to, I sincerely doubt anyone wants to respond with “yeah it blows right now.”
But then I read that NY Mag article (emphasis mine):
[Y]our life sounds compromised and constrained to me. Someone told you to improve your attitude and color within the lines and you listened, and now all of the powerful emotions swirling around inside you have been stilled and muted and you can’t access them anymore.
That’s pretty much what I do: run a bad race, get upset with myself for it, but bury it deep down and “find the positives” in it whenever I have an audience.
And then I watched Inside Out, the Pixar tale of “emotions with emotions,” following the inner monologue of a young girl whose world is flipped upside down when her family moves across the country. The NY Times wrote a great article on the science behind the movie, and two main points stood out (emphasis mine):
First, emotions organize — rather than disrupt — rational thinking. Traditionally, in the history of Western thought, the prevailing view has been that emotions are enemies of rationality and disruptive of cooperative social relations. But the truth is that emotions guide our perceptions of the world, our memories of the past and even our moral judgments of right and wrong, most typically in ways that enable effective responses to the current situation.
Second, emotions organize — rather than disrupt — our social lives. Studies have found, for example, that emotions structure (not just color) such disparate social interactions as attachment between parents and children, sibling conflicts, flirtations between young courters and negotiations between rivals.
So to rephrase my original punchline in the context of these revelations: it’s ok to be upset, disappointed, and even angry! Furthermore, it’s ok to express that outwardly!
Running is personal. Running is emotional. Runners have a great deal of passion for what they do; running is certainly central to who I am. It’s challenging, it’s rewarding, and it’s responsible for a lot of physical, mental, and emotional growth. How on earth could one possibly convince themselves that any kind of negative emotion toward running is, in any sense, “incorrect”?
And yet, that’s precisely what I’ve done, and in so doing have directly created the lack of motivation I cited before. After all, if running is supposed to make me happy, and I can’t admit to myself that I’m having a difficult time with it right now, it would seem to follow that I’d start avoiding running, therefore avoiding disappointment.
BUT. That’s not how running works, or really anything that’s deeply meaningful. Sometimes it’s Sadness who has to save the day.
In that vein, I’m admitting to myself (and, therefore, everyone else) that I’m frustrated with my running. I feel stuck. I feel like I’m not getting any faster, and I’m tired of feeling tired all the time. I feel like every workout sucks and I just don’t have the mental toughness to push through it. I want a sub-4-hour full; I want a sub-1:40 half; I want a sub-40-minute 10K and a sub-20-minute 5K. I want to go on tempo runs and track workouts and kick their asses. Not necessarily come out feeling like I could run another 10 miles, but come out knowing I put everything I had into that workout. I miss knocking out 5×1600 with straight 6:20s; I miss crushing 9-mile tempo runs at a consistent 6:50 pace; I miss cruising at 7:45s for 12 miles and then unleashing hell at mile 13 with a 7:15 mile.
I miss all that and I want to get back there. To do that, I’m not ignoring my disappointment anymore; rather, I’m staring it down. I’m accepting that it’s part of being a passionate runner in love with the sport. Most of all, I’m allowing myself to feel the range of emotions that come with that passion, whether or not I think I’m “supposed” to feel that way.
To use the vernacular from the Ask Polly article (emphasis mine):
You have to dig. You have to get down on your hands and knees and let go of your pride and you have to dig, with every ounce of your strength. You’re young, and you haven’t done this before. Do it now! If you commit to nothing else, commit to figuring out what makes you happy, and what makes you unhappy. But to do that, you have to accept that you DO have preferences. Stop trying to be good and stop trying to have a good attitude.
And when a motherfucker comes by and tells you you’re doing it wrong, laugh out loud. No one knows better than you how to do this. Trust your instincts. You can cry and be grumpy and be angry and be happy and hate street fairs and have a great attitude and have a shitty attitude and work hard and be lazy, all at the same time. Follow your heart. Don’t give up. Laugh out loud, and get back to digging.
I don’t know when I’ll get back there. Marathon training is just around the corner, so it’s possible it’ll happen sooner rather than later. I’ve already been making strides in strength training; my bench press has risen considerably from a very difficult 1-2 reps at 185lbs to an almost-comfortable 3-4 reps at 205lbs, and my general upper body strength has been noticeably improving. I threw down a very consistent ladder workout (400/800/1200/800/400 at 5K pace [6:35] with 400 rests in between) earlier this week; it was definitely difficult but I kept my focus, even without any music. My foot/toe knuckle inflammation seems to be going steadily down; I’m conscious of it less and less and it’s not impacting my running.
Ladder workout pace (top) and cadence (bottom).
Most importantly: I’m enjoying running more. I’m feeling fired up (and a little nervous!) for these harder workouts. I’m feeling the passion creep back in, even though I know disappointment from a crash-and-burn could still be right around the corner. But it’s that openness to all emotions, that reckless abandon–damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead!–that is where my runner’s high really comes from.
That, and chewy chocolate chip cookies. Omnomnom.