My son had his track meet the other day. He loves to run and for the last few weeks, we’ve had to brave the early morning chill to go to the running club practices before school started. Grades 1-6 would practice in cold, rain and sunshine, learning the skills and timing required for the annual school area race. Parents, coffee mugs in hand, would huddle and yak while the kids did their laps and stretches. I took the youngest with me and I would play on my phone or just sit and watch the kids lapping around the track, rubber on cement, crackling through dry coloured leaves.
At the track meet, schools from all over descended upon one of our beaches. It’s a familiar place, as I tend to do a lot of my runs there. School bus after school bus poured in with children dressed up in different school colours, buzzing with excitement. The type of energy that if harnessed, could power a small town. And as the races loomed, I watched the adults get concerned with matters of importance (wrangling kids, getting schedules, etc) while the kids played. In our area, all the kids built sandcastles and tugged away on each other, almost oblivious that there were races to be had.
And raced they did. Grade 1 girls, then grade 1 boys and so on. Our son raced his heart out, big smile on his face, enjoying it. I watched many of the races, always suppressing the the sudden need to tear up. Why I tear up at these things, I don’t know. I just do. Even the races where my son isn’t running. It think there is something about the innocence of it all, the running for the sheer joy of running, no looking at GPS watches, no worrying about place, no fussing over footwear and product placement. Even the last place children ran with gusto, with energy, with grins. And even when they walked, the crowd of parents and schoolmates cheered them on, exhibiting an honourable and sweet sportsmanship that seems to erode and dissipate as we get older…and more serious.
The idea that these kids ran without attachment to outcome was refreshing to me. That they could move through the act of doing, rather than foreseeing and banking their emotional health on a net result was something I needed to see with my own eyes. And perhaps that is why my own eyes got wet watching them. Lost in the idea that I am moving through a journey with no intended result other than just the journey itself. And that is a big, heartbreaking, yet liberating shift for me.
When I was active in my drinking, everything I did had a purpose and I had an outcome in mind – top dog. We are all familiar with the old “I won’t do it unless I am perfect at it” type mentality that many of us coveted and played out in many ways. I never would have been able to run like I do now because I would have set myself up for spectacular failure. Not only would I have had to win my first ever marathon, ignoring the fact that only elite of the elite actually win them, but I would have to decimate the field. Or, failing that, get my Boston Qualifier in at the very least (for the non-runners here, you need to qualify time-wise, to run the Boston Marathon – the most prestigious marathon in the world). The idea of “competing against myself” was as alien as it was to just have one or two beers. Preposterous.
Relieving myself of any outcome is foreign territory to me, but I have made strides in it. I know because in my own running, I have let go of any sort of preconceived notions of what I “should” be doing and how I should be doing it. Or how fast I should be doing it. If I were in my own head of old, I would have stopped running a long time ago. The Superego would have told me I was worthless and useless and why bother when you can’t make it around the block without getting winded? Nothing short of perfection would not have been tolerated and I would have punished myself with some over-the-top beatings.
Running now is an exercise both for body, mind and spirit. My mind gets to let go of those thoughts of where I am supposed to be not only in my pace, gait and breathing, but in this whole scheme of things. My running is a mirror to where I am at emotionally and mentally. When I am down and out, and practising self-pity, I notice that I scrutinize my own results or compare them to those much stronger than I. When I am in a more centered place, just the act of running alone is enough to keep me satisfied.
While I have my Garmin GPS watch to give me the cold hard facts of my timing, it can’t detail how the running conditions are – is it raining, slippery, windy? Am I undernourished or had too much coffee? Am I just not feeling it that day? Same with things in my life, my recovery, my place on earth – I might have the cold hard fact of money, status and all those other things that are supposed barometers to my overall “success” but they don’t take into account my connection with Creator that day, or how I have been approaching my thinking, or how is my spiritual health in that moment? In the end, I have to go by feel, by instinct, by my conscious contact with a Higher Power to let me know where I really stand, not according to some scale or digital device strapped to my wrist.
Of course I do have certain things I need to achieve when training for this marathon, but I don’t get hung up on the days when things don’t go according to plan. I trust the process. I have had to cut short long runs because of fatigue, or because my knees acted up or what not. I have also had incredible runs where I didn’t want to stop. I have endured sweltering days, storm-like winds, rain, ice, snow, etc. in my training. I have adapted and overcome. And sometimes succumbed. And that’s okay. One run or even two does not a season break. And I have to keep that in mind for myself too. I am not going to be perfect in any way, shape or form. Practice for me is just that – practice. It doesn’t make me perfect, but it does bring me to the idea that it’s the journey that matters, not the destination. In all my affairs.
But here’s the kicker – when I let go of where I want to be, and focus on the now, I ease up on myself and actually get stronger in many ways. Letting go and surrendering brings me victory in many ways. Letting go of what my recovery should look like brings me better recovery. Letting go of what my running should look like brings me stronger running. Letting go of what my life in general should look like brings me brighter clarity.
So in less than two weeks, when I run my first full marathon, I will keep this in mind. Whether I finish last or surpass my 4:45 or 5:00 hr expected finish, it won’t matter. Just doing it will. Being able to be a part of it, and getting out of my comfort zone is the deal. I will think of those kids on the boardwalk there, enjoying themselves, smiling for cameras, being in the moment…that’s what I want and hope for myself. I just have to get myself out of the way.