Culture

Making Running a Solace, Not a Stress

When life has enough challenge, we don’t need big running goals—but we still need running.

Last Sunday morning found me five miles from home with the sun still low over the horizon and the day thinking about warming up. I had just passed that point where the rhythm of the run finally overwhelmed my incessant internal chatter. My watch vibrated the mile split, but I didn’t look at the pace. What mattered was the taste of the wind blowing in from the south and the soothing crunch of my footfalls on the dirt road.

I was in a similar place two weeks ago, but my reason for the morning long run had changed, as had my attitude.

Two weeks ago I was in the early stages of a marathon build-up and feeling stressed that I wasn’t going far enough and wasn’t yet fit enough. This week I was going long because it is the best way I know of escaping from and dealing with the stress of deadlines, change and uncertainty. In the interim, I had decided that this was not the right time in my life for another marathon; that I needed to reclaim running as a stress reliever, not a source of additional angst.

Life’s pace ebbs and flows like the tide. Many times running has provided a welcome challenge when other aspects of life left me bored and listless. A looming marathon is always big and inspiring enough to provide a reason to get up in the morning, map out training plans, read the latest on carbo-loading, speed workouts and progression runs—and go to bed honorably tired.

At other times, however, I’m doing as much as I can to make it to the end of the day, nearly overwhelmed by the demands of work, relationships, life changes, threats of a global pandemic… At those times, the last thing I need is more complexity and urgency, something else to be behind on and worried about.

The decision wasn’t easy: I love racing, and I had a goal that was meaningful to me and hard to walk away from. I know, however, that sooner or later the tide of life will change, and there will be another time when I’ll need the structure and challenge of the marathon and have the time and mental bandwidth to do it well and feel good about it.

Having thrown the switch, the time I spend running is not much different right now. I still need to run often to stay healthy and sane; it is one of the few times in my day when I can step away and sort out the voices and demands. I’m still getting out six days a week, still doing one or two doubles, still going relatively long on Sunday morning. But each run is now something chosen and stolen from the busy schedule, a bonus to be cherished—not another item checked off the list of things to do, one that is not really enough if I’m going to succeed at the marathon.

While I may take my fitness out for a spin in shorter races come spring, for the moment I’ll enjoy running simply for its own sake—and appreciate its ability to always be what I need, no matter what my life is like at the time.