24 Hours With My Thoughts

A week ago I gave you the spiel about how I use physical adventures to show up for life. It’s true. I do. Every single time I learn. It’s hardly ever just one thing. Sometimes I learn basic, superficial things like, I need to eat more calories. (I am still learning that one)

This time, though, I experienced the truth of something I read last year. During 2020’s Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra, Lazarus Lake posted about how early in a race we will experience physical signs of fatigue or just basic discomfort and it causes us to panic. It’s too early in the race to feel these sensations. We begin to tell ourselves a story that the situation is going awry. 

But it’s not true. On every single training run we encounter discomfort, for most of us in the first mile. We simply are used to it. We don’t give it our attention. We don’t give it meaning. We know first miles are like first pancakes: trash.

But on race day every single moment, twinge, niggle, hiccups means something. We are sure of it. This time, I made a point of remembering this even on my last few training runs of 8-10 miles.. These were not too long but long enough to have my attention and Laz is right. If I was out for an 8-mile run, I feel all kinds of things that are akin to fatigue, aches, pain, winces, and woes. All of which, given a breath or a moment, pass as quickly as they came.

On race day, when I was four hours deep into a 24-hour commitment and my hamstrings were beginning to tug after 17 trips up the same hill, and 17 sails down the same downhill I felt that familiar woosh of panic through my mind/body, “Oh no, it’s too soon.” This race is still young. Before my mental lament could pick up too much momentum, this little gem from Laz came rolling into my consciousness and allowed a gentle pumping of the brakes. 

Instead of, “Oh, no, it’s too soon,”  I realized it was, “Oh yes, right on time.” I have felt this same feeling on countless days running. I am sure of it. I didn’t give it any more of my mental attention than that. I’d love to tell you that was the moment that I was set free and the remaining 20 hours were blissful, but that would make this a Disney movie.

For the next 20 hours, I did my best to witness all the thoughts I had without becoming too attached to them. I can sum that up to tell you that my mind is like Velcro. It picks up a million crazy thoughts, ideas, and worries and is loathe to release any of them. The more ridiculous the worry or idea the more I wanted to be reeled in by it and was sure it was true. 

To give you a brief snippet of the thousands of bizarre and mundane thoughts that went tripping through my mind, here is a sampling:

I can’t do this for 24 hours.
I am bored.
Why am I doing this?
This is dumb.
Do you think that John would be mad if we just went home and I ate a pizza?
A hot bath sounds so good.
Do you think you can hit 100 miles?
Ooh wait I think I can get to 80 miles.
I am hungry.
Oh god, it’s time to eat AGAIN??
My knee hurts. Wait my other knee hurts.
Who is wearing cologne out here?
Do I even like running?
Water bottles are dumb.
Runners are stupid.
How long have I been out here? 
Oooh look that was a fast mile.
That is a cute dog!
I am totally running faster than him. I just lapped him… or wait, did he lap me last time?
I am doing great! Exhale. I am doing terrible.

I could go on but I will stop myself here. This is the mental chatter that drones on and on and on. It would be easy to say that this means I hate running. What it really means is my mind is undisciplined. Daniel Goleman, who made the concept of Emotional Intelligence famous, commented about monkey mind on the podcast Armchair Expert. He said, we think that monkey mind happens when we meditate. But the truth is that meditation just forces us to witness the often utterly useless chatter that babbles on all day long for all of us. So for the “I can’t meditate my mind is too busy” group, this means: Your mind is ALWAYS too busy, that’s why you should meditate to figure out what the hell is going on up there and why someone is always stomping on the floor.

Speaking of monkey mind…tangent.

Running is meditation. I don’t mean running is like meditation. It is meditation. It forces us to be with ourselves and all our idiosyncrasies. It gives us a front-row seat to just how knee-jerk, reactive, chaotic, conflicting, hysterical, and malcontent we are in our own heads. I mean, no wonder we do nearly everything we possibly can to get away from that nutbar… until you realize you ARE the nutbar. It’s you. You’re it.

What also is true is that our thoughts are highly transitory. They come and they go, not unlike ocean waves on the shore. On Saturday and into Sunday morning, with lots of help from my crew chief and husband, John, I learned to keep putting down the thoughts that weren’t going to lead me to my goal. This is part of the challenge, continuing to learn how to manage the mental game. In life and in running, mindset is everything. It’s not about being suffocatingly positive or tragically pessimistic it’s about recognizing that it’s all of those thoughts and the millions of less dramatic ones in between. In this 24-hour period in May, it was about choosing to embrace the thoughts that would lead me to finish more than the thoughts that would lead me to fear.

And by morning on Sunday, I was able to accumulate 74 miles. This is what happens when we show up. If all goes well, we end up with an outcome we desire. If it goes differently, sometimes we end up with the outcome that will teach us.

Sunshine & Sarcasm,
Lowi & G

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