Learning from each Mile- Embracing Change
It’s amazing how fast the summer flies by when you aren’t looking, isn’t it? As a society, we focus a lot of our energy on the summer months as a time for vacations, relaxation, and a change of pace. I’m struck by how much this falls in contrast with many other parts of the world, where life goes on as normal year-round, and vacations of a sort aren’t limited quite as much. Nevertheless, this time of year marks a point of transition in my little slice of the world, although it’s a much more subtle note of transition when compared to previous years. For almost two decades, this time of year has been a “new year” of sorts for me as the academic calendar kicked back into full swing for the fall semester. However, I’m not teaching this semester so I’m left to observe the new beginnings of friends around the country and reflect on the many twists and turns that my life has taken as of late.
It’s been a busy month, despite not pouring over syllabi and getting my lesson plans in a row, but I certainly miss the excitement and energy that comes with the first day of class. There’s just something about the promise and potential of meaningful conversations, growth, and learning that is forever a part of my DNA and will always materialize this time of year. I have no doubt that at this time next year, life will have changed even more significantly and if all goes well, I’ll be back in the classroom where I belong. In the meantime, I’m left to plan for other life experiences, and continue to live each day as fully as possible and not take for granted this time I have to reflect and pursue other projects, interests, and ideas that constantly fill my mind with wonder.
I’m a firm believer in pushing the mind to explore those fleeting thoughts that linger on the edges, fade as you awake, and briskly pop in and out of our minds throughout the day. The world is such a fascinating place that there is truly no reason or excuse for boredom unless you succumb to the depressing reality that you are a boring person. This desire for information, answers, and the expression of creativity keeps me moving forward, both in my life as a whole, and in my running. When I lace up my running shoes and strap on my Garmin, I’m not only heading out for a workout, but I’m embarking on a small adventure with infinite possibilities. They exist all around me, and in my mind, expanding with each mile I travel.
I’ve always thrived on organization and planning, but have realized over the past few months that there is power and potential in the unknown. My summer training has been fairly abstract, and I’ve avoided any sort of organized training calendar. In part, this has been a de facto result of the most ambiguous and transitional months I’ve experienced in my adult life. However, I’d like to think that this has also been the result of a quest for mental strength. It’s easy to get caught up in the routine of a training plan. You target a particular race, and work your way backwards, confident that as long as you hit all of your distance and time benchmarks along the way, then you’ll have a successful race. The reality, of course, is far more chaotic. There’s no way to accurately account for the seemingly endless list of random scenarios that can alter your training and ultimately your race day performance. At the end of the day, running isn’t about training for a particular race. It’s about engaging fully with each run and keeping your senses alert to the plethora of new information to be gained from that run. Change is inevitable, and what’s left once you accept that is the importance of finding yourself in the moment and enjoying each run. The big picture will come together on its own, but I’d rather take advantage of the opportunity to listen to my body and stimulate my mind with each passing mile. They all have something to teach us as long as we can let go of expecting to know what the lesson is on any given day.
This notion of letting go, of course, is no small task. I’ve seen this on countless occasions as I watched student wrestle with the reality that what they thought to be the simple truth was in fact much more complex. I’ve seen folks enter the classroom expecting to learn one thing only to leave at the end of the semester having grown in ways they couldn’t even have fathomed months earlier. Information can be a powerful tool or a dangerous weapon, not only on a large-scale, but for us as individuals. We have unprecedented access to information at our fingertips, and can instantly gather enough “data” to provide us with what we assume is a pretty good analysis of what to expect. However, the moment we make up our minds about what to expect, we close every door that doesn’t lead to that conclusion. Of course, this happens subconsciously so controlling it is no easy matter. Many scientists would like to think they can do so, can be purely objective, but the reality is that we make countless subjective decisions before we ever begin an experiment…or a training plan. What would happen if we were able to free ourselves from those conclusions, and simply act? How would our lives be different is we had the power to simply go run? Setting aside any notions of fitness gains, time goals, target paces, or “A races” may very well change the act of running for us.
Clearly, I’m as guilty of thinking about those goals and gains as anyone else. I track my miles, monitor my pace, and keep track of PR’s for each of my races. These past months have taught me how limiting that can be, though. I moved from the flat lands of Iowa to the hilly and humid mid-Atlantic, and gave no real though to how those metrics might change. I naively expected my pace and volume to remain steady. I wasn’t ready to embrace the change around me, in part because I wanted to hold onto some aspect of the familiar. Now, I’ve managed to maintain my training volume, but unsurprisingly, my pace hasn’t been quite at the level that it was when I left Iowa. It’s amazing how heat, humidity, and hills can sneak up you, eh? Did I really expect my performance to remain consistent despite significantly different climate conditions and 10 times more elevation gain in every run? It took me all summer, coupled with a significant case of runner’s knee and an IT band that hates me, but I’m finally listening. I’m finally ready to embrace the change and listen to each mile. Even the miles with a 15% grade.