I always say there are two things that get in the way of my running that are both winding internal organs that start with the letter B.
I’ve already talked a fair amount about my Bowels. (Although may I just briefly say… more of you than I previously understood are concerned about the behavior of your bowels. Since my last post several people have confessed related issues or at least fears. My trainer said, “Welcome to the world of running.” Someone else made the remark, “At least you have an excuse.” And when I told my colonoscopist (that’s a profession, spellcheck) that I was running again, he demonstrated the concerned mom face and said, “Oh, do you get a little diarrhea afterwards?” Just to be kinda dainty (because I still get that way sometimes) I asked, “Well, would that be normal?” and he put both hands on my shoulder and said, “Very normal.” So I’m feeling reassured that despite the fact that we’re all trying to make it look on Facebook that we have totally lovely, delightful lives a hundred percent of the time, this is just one of the challenges of being human. I do believe that you have lovely, delightful lives part of the time – so keep a’posting.)
Anyway. You may have guessed that the second significant Bother is my Brain. To demonstrate how my Brain gets in the way of my running, I have transcribed below an actual conversation I had with my brain last weekend before doing the eight mile run.
At least a full day before attempting that distance, this is what my brain said to me:
Brain: You know, life is just pretty hard and sad and there really isn’t a lot of relief, don’t you find?
Me: I think you are scared to go run eight miles Saturday.
Brain: Well. That. I am not going to be able to do that, and that’ll be where it all falls apart and I fail and everyone will know. But it’s so much bigger than that, it’s my house and my work and I am getting older and it’s the disappearing middle class and Donald Trump and rampant development threatening historic homes and neighborhoods…”
Me: Nope. You are scared to go run eight miles Saturday. Let’s narrow in on that.
Brain: Well, if you really think we can ignore all that other stuff, then the hard reality about running eight miles Saturday is that I’m not going to be able to do it.
Me: But why not? We ran seven miles last Saturday!
Brain: That was different.
Brain: That was just a good day. You aren’t going to get many good days. John went with you and that’s entirely different. Without John, you’ll have to drive yourself and you will probably get lost and there could be, you know, scary guys or something out there or a dog or something. What if I have a true medical emergency? But I don’t want to run with anyone else because that WorstThing will probably happen and even without that, I’ll probably just be really slow and struggling to breath and just bad at the running. I think it’s going to be especially hot and humid. [This went on for quite some time.]
Me: Oh, you know that none of that stuff -
Brain: I’m thinking about not doing it this time.
Me: Well, you’ve said that a few times before and you’ve always done the training and you’re almost there now!
Brain: Really thinking that I won’t do this particular one. Probably won’t.
And that conversation lasted a couple days.
Because of that kind of thing, it is necessary to trick your brain with something called a Strategy.
Just before I did my first public 5K since cancer at the Blandford Nature Center last month, I happened to be chatting with the event’s emcee, Shelley Irwin, who runs a marathon twice a week and does a triathlon once a week (it’s something like that anyway) and I mentioned that it was my first public 5K since cancer and she looked at me and said, “What’s your strategy?”
If someone had asked me that back when we started our training, I wouldn’t have understood the question. I mean, isn’t the strategy always the same. You go when someone says to, and you run around the path until you see a sign that says “Finish” and you try to continue breathing and remain on your feet until then and as long afterward as anyone is looking.
But I’ve learned so much during my training, including about Strategy. And again, Strategy is just simply how you outsmart your Brain.
For one thing, when I do an out and back, my brain thinks I’m only running half the distance. It thinks we can definitely run four miles followed immediately by another four for the return. I mean, once you’re halfway you just have to do the thing you just did one more time. But going out and running a straight eight miles would be much, much harder – it would be twice as long. None of this makes sense but my Brain thinks it does.
My Brain is also very concerned with location. A trail, please. A trail is flat, often shaded and provides the aforementioned out and back. A trail also has a memory. It can access past positive experiences and then simulate them (really). And trails are pretty and give you something nice to look at when it’s just you and your hard working body for a period of about an hour and a half.
Another important aspect of my Strategy is a little thing called a Reward. My Brain is rather fixated on the Latte Reward, and I try to be a good Brain Mother and indulge this need. The Reward is why even a long Saturday run feels better than a short week day run. Saturdays are a Reward in and of themselves and I can take as much time as I want and act like running is a big deal, the main event of the day. During the work week, I have to just go to work afterwards or make dinner, and act the opposite, like running is no big deal. That causes my brain to threaten a temper tantrum. My Brain wants a latte and to be told it has just accomplished a big deal.
(So, yes, Strategy is a cool sounding word for treating your own internal organs like a three year old.)
When I set out the morning of the eight, I told the two Bs that they could take it easy, but they had to finish. I told them they could run slowly and even stop to rest if they wanted so long as they ultimately covered the distance. That is Strategy too.
Despite that, my Brain was not on board for the eight.
My Brain often balks but this was more serious. It actually escalated to the passive resistance technique of going limp. All I could do was move around the house overthinking and second guessing my Strategy. Should I go to a different trail? Should I actually really postpone? But I also started packing. I filled a water bottle. I put my emergency repair kit and a Lara Bar in a bag. And I got dressed. And I got in the car.
Yes, I effectively kidnapped my Brain.
During the whole car ride to the trail, my Brain kept insisting it wasn’t going to run eight miles. There was even some crying. But when I parked and got out, reality set in and bargaining began. I had already demonstrated an amenability to bargaining. ”There is a bathroom along the route, we can stop if we need to…”.
Then I was moving despite the fact that the discussion and bargaining continued and then the miles passed. When it gets hard, I tell myself, “Put your feet Down. Fast. Down, Down, Down. Fast, Fast, Fast. Put them on the Earth where they rest (in order to do that you have to pull them forward). And then I was back to the car. And not only had I run eight miles without a medical emergency, I made good time (for me) including having what is probably my fastest post-cancer mile.
So I said to my Brain: Now, see what we just did there?
Brain: I guess it wasn’t that bad.
Me: Not bad? You did great!
Brain: Yes! YES!! I’m actually a phenomenal athlete!
Me: Well. Whoa. That’s a bit of an overshoot (but honestly, I like the part when you’re saying things like this so go ahead, carry on for a little while…).
Brain: Here it comes, then, Ima brag it up like I’m the Queen of Running – until the very next time I have to run any distance at all.