Friday, February 26, 2016

What Do You Mean, "Retired"?

I've had a couple of people ask me over the last months, when I spoke about taking a break, if I plan to keep running. I've been running for almost twenty years - of course I plan to keep running. And I have been running over the past four months, just not nearly as much as I had been before. A similar question after my last post has been, what do I mean when I say I'm "retiring" from running? It's not from marathons - since I'm hoping to do a trail marathon this fall. It's not from trying to get faster - since I'm training for a 5K right now, and while I don't hope to break my PR at this one, I do have a goal in mind, and will try to PR later this year.

It might be from trying to be fast at longer distances, anything over an hour (so over a 10K for me). Or of road marathons, since my feet and knees complain when I spend too much time on pavement. But I think it's mostly from the pressure I've felt in the past around running.

I do know I can't quit running. Not that I had any intent of doing so, but over the past few weeks I've also come to see that I can't quit the urge to push myself in it. What I suppose I am doing is redefining the terms under which I am willing to push myself, and quitting those aspects that don't serve me.

But I do need to push.

Mentally: Can I do this? I can do this. I can do this but only by applying X tactic or by asking for help or by analyzing my weaknesses or by trying something new or by trying again or by pulling back here so I can move forward there. Until, oh hey, I did this.

Physically: That sensation of pushing against myself, finding those edges of discomfort or what I think is possible and massaging those edges, looking to see how I might do more, find a way around, stretch the edges out. Or sometimes just stomp over them, unthinking, unfeeling, Murakami's running machine. Until at some point I look back and see, oh, that's where I was - but I'm not there anymore.

Sometimes it's from finding new resources of power. Swing those arms, drive yourself forward, up that hill or through that interval. Straighten that spine, lift your head, raise your gaze and feel breath enter you fully. Let the energy of the day - sun, wind, rain, ground - be your energy too. Or the energy of the music, or a mantra, or even just counting: one, two, three, four. Or double-time: one-and-two-and-...

Sometimes it's finding new sources of endurance/stamina. Lots of mind games here. (And why not "games"? Is this not all play?) Paying attention, fully, to what surrounds me: colors, people, places. Or letting my mind ride some thought elsewhere. Or reminding myself of what I can do. For this I sometimes think of being in labor. Either one will serve; D's was long, days-long, and there was nothing to do but keep moving forward, trying new things, making adjustments, until he finally turned and was ready to move out. G's was fast, out of all control, nothing soothed me, nothing eased, all I could do was roar him out. What's any one run, no matter how long or painful, held next to those? But we forget what power we hold.

I think what I'm retiring from (or said otherwise: letting go of) is any sense that my running has to be for anything more than myself. I know I need running (or other movement that is sometimes meditative, sometimes intense) to feel right in my body, to be settled. And I take better care of myself in all areas when I have that movement. I like to push myself in my running - and I'm still exploring what that desire is about - and having race goals helps me do that. But I think I'm retiring from serious attachment to those goals. My last two marathons I needed to detach from a particular outcome to be able to enjoy them - and I did, but only late in the game when that was my only good choice. My first time out I never let go of that pressure on myself and not only did I not enjoy myself but I barely remember any of it. And every time I remember thinking, what would it have been like to train without having that pressure? Can I even do that?

So I guess I'm practicing that this year. A trail marathon will be a new thing for me, and I know my approach will be different, has to be different. To take a page from the habit-change literature, I'm changing my environment to make it easier to change my behavior (or thinking in this case).

Of course another question, unanswered, is: What exactly is it that makes me want to run so long? I really don't know. Perhaps as I keep running I'll find out.

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer." ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
(I've quoted this here before but it's a good one.)

Yours in questioning,

1 comment:

  1. Oh, a trail marathon sounds like a great new adventure!

    I think being retirement is a state of mind, where running can become really about just enjoying it and not about proving anything. It doesn't mean you stop pushing yourself, but it maybe some of the gravity lessens. I think trying to escape some of the pressure is a good thing!