Day 13: On Giving Up a Run

This post is inspired by todays Write and Run 31 prompt (I’ve ignored almost all of the prompts so far), which is about finding the difference between knowing when something is too hard or if you’re being lazy.

In my few years of inconsistent running, I’ve given up on my fair share of runs.

Some for legitimate reasons (recently that’s been pain in my plantar fascia), and early on–some not so legitimate reasons.

As my earlier post about quitting a lot would imply here, I don’t believe in pushing though everything and anything. Actually, that’s quite stupid. A few days ago, a member of the Trail and Ultra Running Facebook group described how I feel very well:

“Push when your mind says to stop,
Stop when your body says to stop.”

At the core of pushing through when your mind says to stop is the meditative concept of the two minds–the thinking and the observing mind.

A very quick explanation for those who don’t know:
The thinking mind thinks constantly. Literally all the time. It basically never stops. It’s what makes meditation so hard–you’re trying to focus on the breath and there’s this nonstop chatter in the background. That’s the thinking mind.

The observing mind is the one that simply notices things. We know it exists because while meditating you can notice that your mind isn’t shutting up without stopping the chatter.

The concept here is that the thinking mind may be going on and on about how you can’t possibly ever run another minute and you have to stop right now.

When this starts happening, the observing mind can just watch it happen. The thinking mind can chatter on for miles and miles about how the body has to stop moving this very instant.

This is very similar to picking an arbitrary physical landmark and saying, “I’ll just run to that mailbox over there.” Then, when you get to the mailbox, you pick another mailbox. The beauty of this concept and approach is the body has kept running while the thinking mind has been trying to stop. So clearly, the body didn’t need to stop.

At this point you may be asking, Matt, if the body can keep running through the thinking mind telling it to stop for so long, why does the thinking mind keep telling it to stop? It’s clearly not accomplishing anything.

I honestly wish I knew the answer to that question. I do, however, have a guess.

My understanding is that the brain is wired to expend the least amount of energy as possible. This goes way back to hunter-gatherer times when it was never certain whether or not there would be a next meal. This combined with the primal flight-or-fight reaction–this is to say that when you’re running for conditioning, you aren’t running from anything (no flight reaction)–means that the thinking mind doesn’t see a reason why you should be expending so much energy.

If you’ve ever felt an extreme surge of emotion and went for a run, you know the converse is true as well. When the flight reaction is evoked–you may be running away from someone who makes you angry, running away from your feelings, from yourself, etc.–there’s very little chatter telling you to stop.

Now, to the second part of the original quote.

If you’re in a position where you might hurt yourself, please stop running.

Two weeks ago I was on what was supposed to be a four mile run. I cut it short at a mile and a half. I figured that if my plantar fascia hurt that much after twenty minutes of running, there was probably something wrong I needed to fix. I took a week off, iced it, did some rehab work, etc. It’s all good now.

While I concede that there are both good pains and bad pains–I won’t get into the difference here–obviously stop running if you have bad pain. Duh. It just makes sense.

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