Something I struggle with - and see it mirrored in my patients - is comparison with my past self. Whether it be race times, training volume, how my body feels, or otherwise, I seem to always have this false impression that things should always be as they were. I think we acknowledge that our bodies change over time, but fight tooth and nail to avoid accepting it.
I’ve been thinking about this topic nonstop since listening to an episode of Ali On The Run with Emily Saul, a sports psychology coach based out of Boston. The conversation was primarily directed toward women returning to running postpartum, but I think this is actually a common theme for most of us on our running journey.
I remember how exciting the early years of running were, frequently running personal bests and tackling distances I never have before. There comes a point where the PR’s are few and far between and the work to run them gets harder and harder, both physically and mentally. For the competitive athlete, working toward a goal is important both in motivation and satisfaction in sport. Those goals and the rationale for choosing them is largely contextual, and, you guessed it - that context changes over time.
What do we do when our fastest days may be behind us? How do we adjust when our priorities shuffle? Can we find our North Star when it shifts?
Emily had a great philosophy on this, and I’ll be thinking about it for a while. Again, she was speaking to someone’s first marathon post-baby, but I really think it applies to everyone.
“You’re running your first marathon as the person you are now….
Every experience is a once in a lifetime experience.”
Every marathon is 26.2 miles, but that is about where the similarities end between races. The course, weather, and competition are all different. Maybe this time you have a new baby, a new significant other, a new dog, or a new job. Maybe this time you’ve lost something or someone. Maybe you have managed and overcome health challenges.
Even in the most stable of times, our cells turnover at a rate such that all of the cells in the body are replaced every 7-10 years. Whether we realize it or not, we are always becoming a new person, and I think that is one of the most amazing wonders of the world.
She also covered the topic of the seemingly inextricable tie between outcomes and success:
“How do we feel really good about ourselves? How can we still feel strong, and confident, and excited, and curious about what we can do when how we can express ourselves in the growth ways that we are capable of [is different], without only pairing it to times?”
This is why shifting the mindset from measuring up to our past selves to fully living as our current self is so important. If we look at every race as our first race, maybe we can tap into that child-like curiosity and wonder that we had when we first started running. The question becomes, “What can I do today?”, instead of “How am I possibly going to measure up?”.
This idea always takes me back to my very first 12 mile run. I was maybe 15 or 16 at the time, and I set off entirely too late in the morning. It was the middle of the Florida summer, and I stopped at a water fountain at my turnaround point on the Dunedin Causeway. I gulped the water as if I had never tasted such delicious water before, and wondered how on earth I was going to make it 6 miles home. I didn’t have a cell phone at the time, so I made it home, as you do when you have no other choice. I collapsed into a cold bathtub, hot and exhausted, but proud and already thinking of the next time.
After that day I would conquer that run, from my house to the end of the causeway, dozens of times. Sometimes I would time it just right to see the sun sink into the water and then race the fading daylight home. Those were my favorite runs. I loved running because it was the first of my endeavors to transform hard work into a direct result. In the beginning, the allure of better, faster, stronger was not only everything, but the only thing.
Since then I’m reminded over and over that there is a whole other side of running that I enjoy, perhaps even more than the results: the places I see, the air I breathe, the incredible ability of my body to even run at all.
Let’s run and race like it’s the first time.
Keep going, you got this!
Dr. Kacy Seynders, PT, DPT