Thursday, July 21, 2011

Run, Sammy, Run

Forget sore legs or blistered feet, my biggest weakness when I started out running was my mind. In the wrong headspace, going for a run is dead boring, painful and tedious.

I’m not enjoying this. I could stop and walk. Why keep running? I can’t go much further, what difference will a few less metres make anyway? I could just walk. Fuck it, I’ll walk. Next time I’ll run further.

With every step thinking more and more about the path ahead, the challenge getting harder and harder. And why not stop the pain; shooting through legs, up into the mind. Think more, feel more; feel more, think more.

It is a great way to get into the right headspace though. In this busy world, it’s a good way to remove yourself from all the stresses and superficial distractions and even burn some frustration!

In April 2006 I did the Run for the Kids with a few workmates. Result: 4.5 kilometres in 49 minutes and 43 seconds.

Yeah, we walked most of it. I think we started out jogging but a little physical discomfort was all it took to be overwhelmed by the mental anguish of the road ahead and ease into a stroll.

If I had something to run to – something to focus on or a ball to chase – I’d go at it like a dog chasing a bus. But running for the sake of running … now why the hell would you do that?

Until 18 months ago I couldn’t get myself past that mindset.

Thinking 'oh shit, my knees are hurting'
On Sunday I ran my second official event, this time the 10km course in the Run Melbourne.

And – wait for it – I finished in 51 minutes and 16 seconds. Yeah! You’re excited too, right?! An extra 5.5km, only one and a half minutes longer!

Here’s another example of how far I’ve come – I love running. How stupid is that!?

Five years ago – heck, one year ago – I found the thought of a 10km run impossible. Same way I think now about doing a half marathon; maybe someday, but it’s a way off. And, no, I am unequivocally NEVER doing a full marathon. I love running; I am not a masochist.

Anyway, I don’t so much enjoy the act of running in itself; it’s not ‘fun’. What I do enjoy is the effect it has on me, helping me turn discomfort into relaxation.

My mind and legs can’t run at full speed at the same time. No jokes and walking and chewing gum. If I can hear myself think, I’m not running hard enough. Dealing with anxiety and OCD, I spent most of my life suppressing my thinking when it got messy. Running forces me to let go of my thinking, so thoughts come and go freely. In a good stride, thinking too much can actually makes me a little ill.

And some of the best ideas and solutions come from a relaxed mind, when thoughts aren’t forced. Sure, that can be a difficult situation when you don’t want to focus on them but want to remember them for elaboration later.

Wanky as it sounds, running also proved to me that I can achieve things I believed I couldn’t. When I started running regularly I’d walk 1.5km to the Tan, run a little over 1km up the Anderson Street hill and around the bend, walk another 1.5km around towards the Sydney Myer Music Bowl, run another kilometre or so back to Anderson Street and walk the last 1.5km home.

One of my 2010 new year’s resolutions was to run the full Tan track. A stranger told offered some good advice that I could do it if I just breathed properly. In the first couple of weeks of 2010 I passed my usual ‘stop-and-walk’ point and kept going, just to see how far I could make it. I focused on my breath, let my thoughts and expectations go and just ran. About a third the way around I realised I could probably finish. I did and, goddamnit, now I had to every time I went out there.

I used to see a basketball teammate who lives a little further from the Tan than I do, and ran there and back as well as around. Without modesty, I am fitter than him, so that surprised me and I just figured it was beyond me. Then one day I did it, increasing my 3.8km run to a 7km run. And again, once I knew I could do it I had to meet the new standard.

And now I’ve run 10km. Just twice, but I know I can. Other than finding a 10km route, and the extra time, there is no excuse not to continue at that distance. But I don’t have the route or the time, so there we go, 7km it shall stay for now.

I’d only run 10km once before, but I’d run 10km once before. I knew I could do it, and even though I ran without music, which helps channel my energy, I had a running mate. I think we were the only ones who talked during the run, but we were in our own space most of the time.

Early on a good looking, very fit girl ran past us. I upped my pace briefly but she broke away through the crowd. Soon after I noticed she was only about 20 metres ahead. ‘She’s my benchmark,’ I said to Rick. ‘I want to keep her in my sight.’ I think he thought I just wanted to keep an eye on hear arse. But I also wanted someone to keep up with. Sadly, we lost her at about the 6km mark. I figured she’d shot off, but as we emptied the tank sprinting to the finish line, I passed her with 50 metres to go. That was satisfying.

When I finished the run I felt great. I’d done a better time than I expected; I was up early, fresh and sober on a Sunday morning; I had pushed myself physically and mentally and succeeded; and I felt like a floodgate of endorphins were rushing through my brain. Physical discomfort came and went, but letting go of it and pushing on when you’d really rather stop is the most rewarding challenge of running.

That’s why I run. That’s why I love it.


  1. I started running about December last year. Prior to that, I hadn't really exercised in about 10 years. No shit. I sort of use it to get away, listen to music and think things through. GREAT for coming up with scenarios for writing too.

    I'm not a good runner, I walk just as much as I run, but I've lost weight and now seriously look forward to it.

    Well done on yours.


  2. yup, same experience when i started - never thought i'd become a regular runner. once you get into it though its SO much easier than you thought.

    closest thing i have to meditation outside yoga too..

    Walking is good to get away from distractions and just think.

    Good stuff!!