The In­ner Run­ner


Athletics Weekly - - Content -

IN NEARLY ev­ery way, in­clud­ing my re­la­tion­ship with the bath­room, my life has been de­fined by run­ning. Ev­ery as­pect of it is some­how in­flu­enced by be­ing a run­ner. When I speak, when I write, when I coach, and, of course, when I run. Every­thing I do, how I carry my­self, is all in­flu­enced by run­ning. Not run­ning means not be­ing me. It’s re­mark­able that mil­lions of other run­ners feel the same way. Here are some of the rea­sons why:

It height­ens self-ef­fi­cacy

Run­ning strength­ens our be­lief in our­selves and what we can do. It fills the hole cre­ated by in­se­cu­rity. How many peo­ple do you know who run a marathon and then think they can do any­thing? How peo­ple feel about them­selves and their ca­pa­bil­i­ties is ar­guably the most im­por­tant fac­tor in de­ter­min­ing what ac­tions and di­rec­tions peo­ple take in their lives. And it de­ter­mines how suc­cess­ful they are. Re­search on ath­letes has shown that the higher their self-ef­fi­cacy, the bet­ter they per­form. In­deed, ath­letes use self-ef­fi­cacy state­ments more than any other strat­egy when try­ing to psych them­selves up for com­pe­ti­tion. We are not just what we think; we are what we think we are.

Rac­ing brings com­po­sure

Run­ning, and es­pe­cially rac­ing, teaches you com­po­sure. There are lots of things that can hap­pen dur­ing a race that can take you out of your game plan. Some of those things may have noth­ing to do with the race it­self. It may be rain­ing. You may have eaten too much pasta the night be­fore. A rel­a­tive may have re­cently died. Some of the dis­tract­ing things may be di­rectly re­lated to the race. Run­ners may be bet­ter than you, or they may start the race at too fast of a pace, or they may box you in when you race on the track, or you may get stuck be­hind a large crowd in a road race with lit­tle room to run your pace. Your train­ing may not have gone the way you liked lead­ing up to the race. You may have a cold. You may even feel in the mid­dle of a race like you have to take the big­gest dump you’ve ever had to take. It hap­pens.

But what­ever hap­pens, you have to main­tain your com­po­sure and fo­cus on the task in front of you to earn the out­come you want. You have to fo­cus on the rea­son you woke up early that morn­ing and went to the start­ing line. That’s part of be­ing an ath­lete. That’s part of be­ing the bet­ter per­son you’re aim­ing, through run­ning, to be.

It helps you deal with dis­com­fort

Steve Pre­fontaine, who held the Amer­i­can record in seven dif­fer­ent track events— from the 2000m to the 10,000m—be­fore his death at the young age of 24, once re­marked, “A lot of peo­ple run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can pun­ish him­self into ex­haust­ing pace, and then at the end, pun­ish him­self even more.”

What is to be learned from all this pun­ish­ment? Why do run­ners will­ingly in­flict this dis­com­fort upon them­selves? Are we masochists who take plea­sure in pain? Some run­ners, like Steve Pre­fontaine, are in­deed of the masochis­tic va­ri­ety, in that they truly get plea­sure from the pain they feel dur­ing a hard work­out or race. I ad­mit,

dur­ing some work­outs, I push my­self just a lit­tle harder to test the lim­its of what I can han­dle. I in­ter­nalise the pain, try to thrive on it, and let the ef­fort be its own re­ward. It’s not easy to do this. It goes against the hu­man na­ture to pre­serve our com­fort. We like to be com­fort­able. But I do it any­way.

Most of us, on some level, think the pain is good for us. Some­how we think that the dis­ci­pline and willpower to never quit, the will­ing­ness to give the ef­fort of every­thing we have, leads to self-em­pow­er­ment. If you can get through the dif­fi­cult, and at times painful, runs and races, it em­pow­ers you, and that em­pow­er­ment car­ries over to ev­ery as­pect of your life. We rise above the pain, in run­ning and in life. When you be­lieve that you can ac­com­plish any­thing, that is true per­sonal free­dom. You are no longer timid or scared of pur­su­ing some­thing, be­cause your run­ning has em­pow­ered you to be bolder.

Its ef­fects are trans­fer­able

Com­mit­ting to run­ning cre­ates a habit, not only of run­ning, but of all the traits that it takes to be suc­cess­ful in all ar­eas of your life, in­clud­ing dis­ci­pline, de­vo­tion, and at­ti­tude. It takes a lot of dis­ci­pline and de­vo­tion to get out the door to run, de­spite the weather or your mood or your kids or your sched­ule. And then do it again to­mor­row. And to­mor­row. And to­mor­row. When you de­velop those traits, you can ap­ply them to any other area of your life— your job, your fam­ily, your re­la­tion­ships.

When you throw your­self into run­ning fully and clear of the doubts that hold you back, the pay­off is ex­tra­or­di­nary, no mat­ter what the time reads on your stop­watch. Just as run­ning makes your mus­cle fi­bres more re­silient to fa­tigue and in­creases their abil­ity to en­dure a faster pace, so too does it in­crease your phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal abil­ity to en­dure.

Dr Ja­son Karp is one of Amer­ica’s fore­most run­ning ex­perts who has had re­search pub­lished in the sci­en­tific

jour­nals Medicine & Sci­ence in Sports & Ex­er­cise, In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of Sport Nu­tri­tion and Ex­er­cise

Me­tab­o­lism, and In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of Sports Phys­i­ol­ogy and Per­for­mance. At age 24, he be­came one of the youngest US col­lege head coaches and has been a com­pet­i­tive run­ner since 11. He is the au­thor of The In­ner

Run­ner (Sky­horse Pub­lish­ing, £11.99)

“It takes a lot of dis­ci­pline and de­vo­tion to get out the door to run, de­spite the weather or your mood or the kids or your sched­ule. And then do it again to­mor­row”

Steve Pre­fontaine: an ad­vo­cate of im­prove­ment through self­pun­ish­ment

Traits learned through train­ing can be suc­cess­fully ap­plied to life, says Karp

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