As as toddler I’m not sure I ever “learned” to run. I was walking and then, like most kids, I was running. I’ve returned to this concept quite a bit the past few weeks, telling myself that running is easy - toddlers do it, but it sure feels like I’m learning to run again.
I have been running, with a few breaks, for almost 20 years. My relationship with running has been one of my most committed, most stable, and healthiest relationships I’ve ever had. I’ve said it time and time again, the lessons I’ve learned out on the trail or along some back country road have undoubtedly shaped my relationships with my friends, co-workers, and loved ones. But I’ve found the reverse is true over the past few weeks - the lessons I’ve learned from my relationships with others have been critical to reigniting my love affair with running. Here are three ways how:
While there is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of marriage (and to all my married folks out there making it work👏👏), I’ve known for a while that it is not for me. There are a number of reasons I prefer to stay legally single, but one of the biggest is the complacency that often comes with a legally binding relationship. While I can’t speak from experience, many of my married friends will attest to this. For some, staying in the relationship becomes a default rather than an active choice. For me, I prefer a relationship where we have to choose, every day to stay together.
There’s nothing legally binding me to running. Each morning, or hot Beaufort afternoon, when I drag myself out to the road, I’m making an active choice, that’s what learning to run again requires, not just a one-time commitment, but a choice every day to work on the relationship. Sure it becomes a habit, and thus the choice is easy to make (and if I wake up early enough I can start running before my conscious brain is fully awake), but it’s a choice to stick with it.
Anyone who has been in a relationship more than a month will tell you that communication is key. It’s important to clearly communicate our wants, thoughts, and feelings, but we often forget the other half of communicating - listening. Learning to run again has tested my ability to listen to my body, to try and understand if my lungs and legs are really telling me to slow down or if they’re just working hard. Each run is a balance between pushing forward and pulling back. It’s about being patient with my pace, steady through the tough parts and careful not to blow up when I catch a second wind.
Each mile brings on a new conversation with myself. On most days I have to remind myself how much joy running brings. Sometimes I need to listen to my body when it says it needs a break. Other times I have to call bullshit when my body tries to lie and say it’s too tired to make it that last mile. When I’m frustrated and confused by my lack of progress, when mile 2 doesn’t feel any better than mile 1, when I can’t settle in for whatever reason - I have to remind myself that confusion is just the state of things sometimes, and that I can’t know everything all the time. I can’t force something out of sheer will, running gets a vote and my body gets a vote, and they’re allowed to keep their mysteries until they’re ready to release them.
Deep Work and Flow
Most of all, learning to run again reminds me that all work (and I think we can all agree that relationships are work) alternates between deep work and flow. Cal Newport wrote a whole book on deep work - that type of work that happens when the brain is singularly focused on the task at hand, ignoring all other distractions or competing priorities. Flow, on the other hand is described as trance-like work, where the mind shuts off and the work comes naturally without focus and with little perceived effort. In running that sounds a lot like runner’s high. Historically, my running has occurred in the flow stage much more than the deep work phase. Running has been an outlet, a hobby for me. Sure there have been runs that have been a lot of hard work (ahem all last summer), but I know that runner’s high is just over the next peak or around the next turn.
But this time, this comeback has been all about deep work, and that’s ok, deep work is part of a relationship. A relationship in flow is fun, but it’s not sustainable. Deep work is where you get growth, where you determine if the relationship is worth it, and where you remind yourself of why you’re in it in at all. Deep work is where you recommit.
So each run I tell myself that I’m not only rebuilding my relationship with running, step by literal step, but I’m also practicing my relationship skills. For a woman who spent the first decade of her adult life fiercely single, I could use the practice.