Flipping the Switch

This post is 90% about running, 9% about figuring out the workings of our brains, and 1% about going back to school. Come for the 1%, stay for the rest!

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So I’ve started running. I’ve tried running before. I’ve probably made the attempt to “be a runner” between five and ten times in my adult life. It’s been physically difficult, mentally painful and overall a spectacular failure. I’m just not built for running. I am fit, I love to lift weights, I have what appear to be muscular, runner’s legs, but they are not. At least they never have been.

I’ve gotten all kinds of advice from all kinds of people. Run slower. Run faster. Breathe in on your left stride. Breathe in on your right stride. Lean forward. Lean backward. Land on your toes. Land flat on your feet. I’ve tried everything. Many times. Doesn’t work. Thinking hard about any aspect of my running only serves to make things worse. My face gets very red. I get terrible side stitches that feel like someone is twisting a knife under my ribs. Sometimes my right butt cheek feels like it is going numb. The farthest I’d ever run in my entire life, after months of effort, training, blood, sweat and tears, was a couple of 5Ks – 3.1 mile races. And I almost died each time.

Photo courtesy of Katie Harris's photostream on Flickr.com

Photo courtesy of Katie Harris’s photostream on Flickr.com

Then three weeks ago, on one of the first beautiful days of spring, I just kind of felt like going for a run. I threw on some shorts, clipped on my iPod and headed out. I started running. I felt pretty good. I kept running. And running. And running. When I got back I mapped my run online – 3.7 miles. More than half a mile further than the farthest run I’d ever done. What?

I headed out the following weekend with a 5 mile route mapped. I knew I wouldn’t be able to run the whole thing, but I wanted to know what 5 miles felt like. I ran, and ran, and ran. I never stopped running. I finished the route. A week later I ran 5.6 miles. I don’t know how to explain this. I’ve been doing some cardio work at the gym over the winter that I believe has really increased my endurance, but I’m not sure that’s the whole explanation.

Last time I tried to “be a runner” was two years ago when I injured my shoulder at the gym. I was in physical therapy and was really unable to do any upper body weight lifting at all. I was depressed and frustrated. I decided I should train for a 10K. I tried. I got side stitches. I got out of breath. My right butt cheek went numb. I wasn’t having any fun. I didn’t want to run. I just wanted to lift weights.

I think what’s working this time is that I’m not running because I “have to” run or because I feel like I “should” run. I’m running because it sounded fun one day. So I went out and did it. And it was fun. And I wanted to do it more. A switch got flipped. I got excited. I said, Steph, if you can run 3.7 miles you can run 5. If you can run 5, you can run a 10K. And if you can do that, hell, maybe you can run a half marathon.

Sometimes, I just get to a place in my head where I decide something is going to happen and I’m not going to stop until it does. It’s like tunnel vision. There is no other option than to finish. During my most recent run, I never thought – this is getting rough, maybe I’ll stop. All I kept hearing in my head was “keep going, keep going, keep going.” This has never happened to me with running before. Why did it happen? This kind of tunnel vision has happened before. It happened when I decided to go back to school. It happened when I decided to write this blog. It has happened every time I’ve decided to make a big change in my life or take on a challenge. The thing is, I don’t feel like I have any control over it. The switch gets flipped. But I don’t know who’s flipping it. Can we control the switch flipping?

Photo courtesy of Kelly Sikkema's photostream on Flickr.com

Photo courtesy of Kelly Sikkema’s photostream on Flickr.com

I suspect it’s partially subconscious thoughts that have been churning just below the surface…partially circumstances happening around us…partially our interactions with friends, family and colleagues. There are probably ways of tapping into this place in our heads, of being more aware. I’m not going to get all spritual-zen-dream-catcher here, but being more in touch with that “switch” could be a powerful tool. I’d love to learn how. If anyone has any thoughts or advice from their own experience, please comment.

In the meantime…I’ll be running.

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3 thoughts on “Flipping the Switch

  1. You are definitely one to flip the switch—I have seen (and admired) it several times before. And you’re right, it comes when it’s ready. How very weird. It’s an interesting idea that it’s something we can tune in to. Hopefully that’s true, because it would be a fascinating phenomenon to observe over time. I’ve flipped a few switches, too, but they don’t feel as discrete and clean as yours seem to me. Maybe we’re just different, or maybe they just look different when they’re not one’s own. I’m trying to think of what I could say to someone who is frustrated, waiting for their switch to flip . . . I’ve certainly been there, but it’s never really felt under my control—which stinks when I’m waiting for it, but is fabulous when it happens. Something I do feel I have a little control of, or at least insight into, is when I’m trying to cram in activities that just don’t really fit. If something isn’t quite working, I can usually trace it back to some resistance. But I don’t know how/why that resistance disappears.

    • I do think it probably looks different in others than it does in ourselves. It definitely seems like things don’t go well when something inside is just resisting or feeling “off” about it…but how do we find the thing that is right and just takes off? I’d love to know. 😉

      • Maybe with hard-core meditation, and avoidance of caffeine, sugar, and alcohol, we’d be in touch with that. Ha.

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