I’ve been a runner since 2005. I love that I learned how to run in Eugene, Oregon, which is known as “Track Town, USA”.
I learned how to run in a PE Jog/Run class during my grad student days which was taught by a man named Joe Henderson. Joe has all of the qualities of a great coach: wisdom, a simple, tried-and-tested and easy-to-follow plan, light-heartedness, patience, and celebration. To this day, he spectates most races in Eugene and it’s not uncommon to see him cheering his runners along the route. Whenever I see him, I yell: “HI JOE!” and it makes my day to get a congratulatory hug from him mid-race. He’s a gem of a human in many ways, but maybe most notably because he never recoils at my sweatiness during a mid-race hug. Put that on your list of must-have qualities for a coach: “won’t recoil when I give them a sweaty, congratulatory hug”. It will serve your search well.
Our class met two days a week for fifty minutes. The class format was simple: a friendly greeting, a short review of the distance from last class, a moment of celebration and a small prize awarded to the person who had the most improved time from the previous class. Then he gave a short preview of our workout and a route for the day, informed us how the workout would help us build endurance or speed, and then sent us on our way. The majority of class time was spent running. We would always start, finish, and celebrate together. Joe’s plan was simple, social, and attainable, and thusly perfectly geared towards non-runners and experienced runners alike.
This was 2005 and before the age of smartphones and GPS watches that track the distance you run, so Joe taught us how to pace ourselves by estimating our time. At the start of the term, we timed ourselves running a mile and estimated our distance for the rest of the term based on that time. He had a Ziplock gallon plastic bag of wrist watches that we could borrow, but he also kept time on a stopwatch and recorded our progress on a clipboard. Being the slower runner that I’ve always been, my first mile times were likely somewhere from 11-13 minutes. So, I knew that if I went on a run for 22 to 25 minutes, that I had likely covered approximately 2 miles. But no matter what our finish time was, we were always celebrated and congratulated for finishing the class on any given day.
As a newbie to running, this jog/run class blew my mind wide open as to what was possible. I remember the day that we ran one mile, I felt like I had done the impossible. My previous track record (pun intended) with running was sprinting for my track and field team in high school and most previous running as a young adult was done on a treadmill (which mark my words: I will never step on again unless I’m doing V02 max training or living in Antarctica. Give me fresh air and things to see!) I was doing what I never thought was possible: I was running! It was as if I was having an out-of-body experience, watching my previously held beliefs about what I could and could not do dissolve before my very eyes.
It was one of the first times in my life that I can look back on and point to my own resourcefulness and abilities. I showed up every day, kept an open mind, listened to my coach, did the work, and surprised myself by changing stories in my head about what I could and couldn’t do. Learning to run outdoors rearranged my molecules. It made me realize that all previously held limited beliefs about what I was and wasn’t capable of doing weren’t always true. And I realized that they were capable of holding me and others back from our greatest realized potential.
I had never thought that I could be a distance runner. Running never felt good or natural before. All that I had learned about running before was “run fast”, so I ran fast. Running fast hurt me, so I didn’t enjoy it. I felt that I never had the right kind of sports bra for running and that caused me pain and I thought that women with larger breasts like me weren’t cut out for running. The sides of my knees would also hurt a lot when I ran. I learned later in this class that these parts of my body on the outside lateral sides of my knees are called IT (iliotibial) bands and they are common causes of discomfort for runners.
But the advice that Joe gave me and everyone else sticks in my head to this day. It is a solid mantra for me and is one of the most valuable and simple pieces of wisdom about running (and life) I’ve ever received. That advice was:
Most injuries in running occur from running too fast or too far. If you find this is true for you, slow down. Reduce your distance or time. Build back up gradually. Listen to your body to tell you when you’re ready to increase again.
Slow down. Reduce. Build back gradually. Stretch. Listen.
Why is this advice so valuable? Because interrupts negative storytelling and beliefs. It points you to your own resourcefulness and brings attention to where you might be overdoing it or trying too hard. This mantra illuminated the relationship between the body and the brain and that the line of communication between them can be used for productive and supportive loving kindness or passive aggressive vicious insult-slinging and shit-talking. This mantra helped me understand that there is wisdom in the body that ought to be listened and heeded to if I didn’t want to be in pain and if I wanted to keep running and being active. This mantra laid the groundwork for me to rewire the conversation around self-motivation and how I had options: I could talk to myself like a good friend, or the worst enemy imaginable.
Thanks to Joe, his wisdom, and the company of my running partners, I finished the Jog/Run class, went on to the 5K class (OMG I ran 3.1 miles!), then the 10K class (OMG I ran 6.1 miles!) and progressed into his marathon training program (OMG I ran 13.1 and then 26.2 miles!) I had never dreamed that I would be or could be a runner, and thanks to him, my whole world opened up to physical and mental possibility. There are tons of other things I learned while running which I’ll save for other blog posts. Running isn’t always easy or enjoyable, but it was through running that was I was made aware of limiting beliefs that I was telling myself sub-consciously and began to learn the power of interrupting and reframing the negative stories my inner critic was telling me to something that is growth-oriented.
This kind of redirected thinking can be learned cultivated and it helps us interrupt negative thinking and into a more growth and forward-oriented mindset. Let’s take a common example of the IT bands hurting while running. Let’s say you go on a 2-mile run and when you come back, and the sides of your knees hurt as if they might seize up at any moment (mine have it and it’s so uncomfortable). You can think to yourself: “Well crap, my knees hurt, I guess I won’t run anymore. I knew it wasn’t possible for me. I’m not a runner.” Or you can think: “Well crap, my knees hurt. Perhaps I went too far or too fast today. I’ll do some stretching and take it easy on my next running day. I’ll run slower, or for a shorter distance. I’m listening to the wisdom what my body is capable of today.” See the difference? The first way of talking is rooted in limiting beliefs. The second way is rooted in self-compassion and acceptance of what is, and allows you to make a plan for moving forward.
This mantra of “slow down” is so simple. It’s so easy to remember and so easily digestible. It’s so easy that one might think that it’s impossible to forget, right?
Remember the part above where I said this any skills can be learned and cultivated. Undoing the practice of negative storytelling can sometimes be a lifelong practice. This past week I had to remind myself of the value of my running mantra again, thirteen years later after learning it and using it in running and life on a regular basis.
Here’s how it showed up: my partner decided that he wanted to challenge himself to run 3.5 miles every day for the first 7 days of 2018 and invited me to join him. I was so excited for the challenge that he set for himself and I wanted to run with him, but I said at first: “I don’t think I can. I haven’t been running regularly for a few weeks and I’m afraid that I’ll hurt myself if I run 3.5 miles for 7 consecutive days. But I’ll see if I can run some of it with you.” He was thrilled. Let’s again point to the value of having people in your life who support and celebrate you right where you are, sweaty hugs and all. Those people are solid gold and you should surround yourself with them and only them whenever possible.
On the first day of 2018, I ran a short 2.5 mile loop route from my house. The plan was to do the 2.5-mile loop, then pick up a package at home to be mailed on New Year’s Day and run it to the post office which isn’t “too far away”.
While I was running the 2.5-mile loop from my house on New Year’s Day, my inner critic showed up on the trail and said: “This route again? You just ran this two days ago. It’s tiny. It’s nothing. It’s not very impressive. Remember when we learned some time ago in the past that any cardiovascular exercise isn’t really worth your time unless you can do it for 30 minutes? Well, I guess that’s good for you because it’s going to take you almost 30 minutes to run these 2.5 miles at this pace. Too bad you’re legs hurt and you can’t run 3.5 miles with your partner for this 7-day challenge. You really need to focus on running more often every week so I can join you on these runs and talk shit about your progress while you’re running.”
At the promise of the inner critic showing up again, I grabbed the mic and told my inner critic: “Doing this little 2.5-mile route seven days in a row is something I can do right now. I think my body can do it every day for 7 days and if it tells me otherwise, I’ll run a shorter distance, but I’ll still participate in the running challenge with my partner. That’s what I’m going to do. Thanks for the clarity and motivation. Now get out.”
Then I proceeded to run home and then to the post office. Including my trip to mail the package, I accidentally logged a 4-mile run, which was more than double what I intended to run on New Year’s Day. Haha, oops!
I did end up running every day for the first seven days of 2018 and this past week, I ran 17 miles total. More importantly, remember when we talked about Core Desired Feelings last week? I feel oxygenated, stable, flexible, and confident as a result of running a short distance every day. Those are just some of the ways that I desire to feel and running every day helped me feel that way. Delicious.
I almost let my inner critic and wisdom tell me a story that I wasn’t doing enough to count and I almost missed an opportunity to participate in an activity with one of my people. By remembering my mantra “slow down”, I was able to feel the way I want to feel.
These days I’m happy to report that the shitty stories that my inner critic tells me are short-lived in comparison to the multi-day/week/month/year beatdowns that I would put myself through and endure in the name of bettering myself. This simple mantra of “slow down” opened the doors to a kinder, gentler way of thinking, doing physical activities that I never imagined were possible, and a better relationship between my mind and body.
I’d love to hear if you ambitious people out there have any mantras that are tantamount to “slow down”. What are your favorite mantras? What strategies work for you for managing your inner critic? And what amazing things have you accomplished by surprise or through careful and strategic planning? I’d love to hear about in the comments.
Joy and patience to you!