I have enjoyed regular runs for nearly thirty years. What I take from each run is different every time and has changed over the years. Now, in my (early!) sixties I have a regular run 4k across the beach to the pier and back. Not far enough to tire me but perfect for clearing my head and stimulating creativity. When I started out running it was about protecting my time and making a commitment to run, then pushing myself to run further. This is what running has taught me.
When I was in my early thirties, I was the mother of an under five, worked full-time in a high-powered job, and was studying part-time for a master’s degree. To eke out even thirty minutes for a run felt impossible. I was unfit and couldn’t run for a bus without gasping for breath. I lived in the countryside then and set myself a challenge of walking and running for a mile or so across fields and lanes. I enjoyed the fresh air, and time to myself but it was exhausting and it would have been easy to find excuses not to run. I committed to run twice a week and with great effort and determination managed to do so at least once a week, most weeks. This was an important lesson for me. If something is worth doing, if you want to reap the rewards, then you have to find the time.
I have applied this lesson to writing, meditation, and yoga. Find the time. Show up no matter what. It is not always fun. Sometimes you have to make yourself, but it is always worth it and over time you will see big changes.
Setting achievable goals
The furthest I have run is a half-marathon 13 miles or 21 k. When I set that goal, I was running 7 or 8 miles regularly but that was a stretch. When I was training and felt I couldn’t run any further I told myself, just run to the next lamppost and then you can rest/walk. When I reached the lamppost, I always felt I could just about run to the next one. Little by little I completed the run – just one lamppost at a time.
How often are we dissuaded from having a go because we are overwhelmed by the size of the challenge? I would never have believed I could write a novel – 90k words is huge when the most you have written is a 5k assignment. That was how my first novel started. A creative writing tutor asked us to write a 5k story and to share instalments over four classes. That 5k story became the outline for my first novel. Every task can be broken down. Just focus on one short-term goal, then the next. One lamppost at a time.
Resilience and determination
Keep going, when the going gets tough. A steep hill, or running against a strong wind, can really challenge a runner’s resilience. I often run towards the pier with the wind behind me but when I turn around and feel its force it’s a struggle to run back. My younger brother taught me a chant which I say in my head, ‘the wind is my friend it makes me strong.’ It works. I repeat this and gradually I believe it. And it is true, trials and tribulations strengthen our character and make us more resilient.
I take this feeling of determination and resilience to my life as a writer. Creatives experience many knockbacks and rejections. When writers express disappointment after receiving a rejection on social media I remind them that a successful author receives on average 200 rejections. Every rejection is one step closer to success. We have to learn from adversity, use it to grow stronger. The wind is your friend.
Although I have been running for many years, there were three years when I didn’t run at all. I was in my fifties and although I could easily run 5k or more, my hips hurt when I bent down to remove my trainers. The morning after a run I had discomfort in my hips and knees. Around this time, I sustained an injury (not from running) that resulted in a frozen shoulder. I visited a Chinese doctor, for a consultation on freeing my shoulder, and mentioned my stiff and aching hips. When I explained that they hurt after a run he laughed and said, ‘You are too old to run.’
I took this to heart. I bought a bike and thought my running days were behind me. A few years later, a fitness instructor told me that the reason I got pain in my joints after a run was because I didn’t warm up properly or cooldown by stretching fully. I took her advice and now I prepare for every run with ten minutes of yoga, and my mat is waiting for me on my return for a ten-minute cool down. I never experience any pain in my joints.
The lessons I took from this are:
You are never too old to do the things that you enjoy. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Listen to your body. You know better than anyone how your body, and mind work. Tune in to what is going on and then fix it. This means giving yourself time. Being compassionate. Don’t push on ignoring your body.
Three weeks ago, I went for my usual Sunday run, despite having had my second jab the day before. I thought I felt fine and set off at a pace. The truth was, I hadn’t taken time to truly tune in and listen to my body. I had almost completed my run when I felt a little light-headed. A few seconds later, I had an almighty fall on a rail crossing. My injuries have healed but it has knocked my confidence. I’ll get back out there this week but will be more mindful in the future.
Stilling the mind.
Every Sunday morning, I go for a run by the sea, and by the time I get home I know exactly what to write in my blog. I have come to have absolute faith in this process and do not fret in the days before my Sunday deadline. I run and then I write.
Running is a bit like meditation. The steady rhythm of placing one foot in front of the other, attention to breathing, and the flow of energy, induce a calm state of mind. It takes me five minutes to reach the sea, and then I am pounding across the sand as I head for the pier. Ten minutes into my run, the chatter in my head reviewing what has gone before and what is to come quietens. The hush of gently lapping waves, seagull cries, the salty scent of seaweed, and the glitter of light on water fill my senses. My mind is open and ready to receive. It has been said that prayer is talking to God and meditation listening. You just have to still your mind and the answers come to you.
Meditation does not have to be sitting in silence. A walk in the woods can be meditative. Focusing on nature, filling our lungs with fresh air, ground us and calm the mind. If you are not a runner and find it hard to meditate, try walking in nature.
Live your life mindfully, as every activity brings new learning and awareness.