Running from the Demons
Training for a race was meant to be an outlet for stress and anxiety. I needed a goal to focus on. I longed for something to take my mind off of the worries, if only for a couple of minutes. A close friend suggested that I sign up for a half marathon. It had helped them when they were going through something similar. So I did.
I started training, and it was brutal. Every run I went on felt like torture. Not physically, but emotionally.
I hoped that each step would be the hammer that beat out my anxiety for good, so I would try to run as fast as I could. Maybe, I thought, this would be the run when I finally outran the demons.
But I couldn’t. They were inside me.
I rarely finished a run without dry heaving or stopping because the thoughts in my head were moving too fast for my physical body to keep on.
Over Thanksgiving, while on a training run, my headphones stopped working just as I turned to exit the neighborhood. For an average person, this may have been a mere nuisance, but for me, at that moment, it was a defeat.
As I finished the run, all five miles of it, my anger came to a tipping point. Disgusted at my phone, I smashed it on the ground.
Broken. Like me.
I kept training though. I was not going to quit. No matter how much it sucked, I was going to finish what I started. Not in a heroic way, but in an if-I-don’t-do-this-I-don’t-know-what-I’ll-do kind of way.
I was a disheveled bag of bones, but a moving one.
Each run brought its battles. Each run was no easier than the last. Instead of feeling runners high, I felt drained.
Me after the my first race; moments after realizing the anxiety was still here.
I thought I had so much on the line. If I could just go a bit faster or work a bit harder, maybe I would finally be able to get away.
I envisioned myself running through the finish line, filled with an ecstasy so great that it shattered my anxiety. A story I could tell the grandkids one day of how I triumphed over my anxiety by working through the pain to finish the race. How great that would be.
Of course, that didn’t happen.
The race came and went. The feeling of accomplishment lasted about five minutes until it was diminished by a profound sense of failure when I realized that my anxiety was still here.
At the time, I thought it was running that caused me to feel worse, but what I found out, later on, was that it wasn’t the running, but something entirely different.
I have found that those who enjoy the journey end up being the most fulfilled when they get there.
Embracing the Demons
After moving to New York City and starting to take ownership of my circumstances, an opportunity came up.
It was Thursday, and my company had two extra bibs for the Brooklyn half marathon that Saturday. I had not run in over three months, but wanting to continue my growth, I took them.
“Let’s make a game out of it and just have fun,” I told my unsuspecting fiancée when I arrived home with the news. I had just finished reading Jane McGonigal’s book Super Better, which discusses the psychological power of playing games, so I came up with a game that we could play throughout the race to make it more enjoyable.
The game: Count the number of Donald Trump posters you see in the audience.
Simple, not much to it, but it would require our attention to be focused on something other than running for the duration of the race. Plus, this was New York in 2016; so I figured there would be plenty of things to see. By the end of the race, we had counted 13 signs, including a sex doll with a Trump face taped to it.
We had a blast, and by the end of the race, we had more energy than when we started. We were amped and ready for more, rather than frustrated and wanting to die. We assumed our race time was terrible, but we didn’t care.
However, when I checked our times on the way home, I saw that we had barely missed our personal records, with zero training.
How could that be? I thought. We had not run in over three months, and yet we finished at almost the exact same time as a race that required three months of strict training.
That’s the power of mindset, specifically a playful one.
That experience made me rethink how I was approaching everything. Work, exercise, anxiety, etc.
Maybe it wasn’t necessary to “white-knuckle” it all and try so hard to get the result I wanted. Maybe if I just relaxed a bit and made a game out of life, I could achieve the same result and have a much more enjoyable ride?
What race are you currently running?
If you are anything like I was when I started running, I urge you to try to have a little more fun with your journey. Make a game of the race.
Whether your race is making a career move, starting a business, or developing a relationship, I have found that those who enjoy the journey end up being the most fulfilled when they get there.
Even though it may not seem like it, each step is moving you closer to the result you want. You get to choose if you arrive depressed, and tired or fulfilled, and energize.
Stop and smell the roses people, they are the point.
Are you ready to wake up, get more focused, and find more happiness in your life?
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