Lent: In the Archers, it’s complaining. A few friends have flirted with Veganuary this year, so for them, it may continue to be animal products. One of my six year old son’s classmates valiantly told me this morning he was going to cut down on his X Box time.
Hot, syrupy, fat dripping Pancake Day often reminds me of this time twelve years ago. For me, it was the beginning of a slow but radical transformation process, in which I discovered the authority I had over my own body—fuelling it properly and treating it right, so it could do amazing things, and serve me better in my thirties and forties than ever it did in my first two decades.
In early 2006, seemingly out of the blue, I decided to give up drinking alcohol for Lent (the full story is in an earlier post, Run For Your Life), and this simple choice kickstarted a chain of thinking about myself that led, over the next decade, to becoming fitter, stronger, and physically able to do some really tough things. It’s also created an internal resilience, confidence and discipline which has allowed me to take on challenges in my personal life and my career that I would never have believed I could embrace.
The patterns which began to be formed back in February ’06 have developed and matured, and they are part of the way I live now: not that I never have a glass of wine, or eat chips (especially after a long run)! But the recognition that my spirit has mastery over the impulses of my body is profound, and it creates enormous leverage to get stuff done. Without that simple, tiny act of self-denial twelve years ago, I just wouldn’t have seen that it was possible.
And I’ve found that whatever I ‘give up’, I always receive so much more in its place.
So, a super busy Sunday full of church and family time and the kids’ homework and prep for the coming week—I wake up early and head out for a short rest run, and find that I get the sunrise, birdsong, and half a mile or so chatting with a couple of other runners who are setting off for their long run, exchanging race tips and joking around. Not exactly a sacrifice.
After learning about the impact of a Western diet on health and the environment, I begin to reduce the meat, dairy and eggs I eat—and find that my plate is heaving with a rainbow of veggies, beans, grains, nuts; tastes that I haven’t even noticed in forty years of eating are zinging around my mouth, and I’m full and satisfied and feeling stronger than ever. Pretty good trade.
My long run falls on a day of freezing sleet, dull grey skies and a biting wind—and I listen to two hours of brilliant journalism from Radiolab and This American Life, lung-burstingly funny comedy on Radio 4, and still get time to quietly reflect and think whilst I run round my route. A total privilege.
Our lives are all different, and I have, like, a million blessings in mine which mean I can orchestrate my schedule so I can run every day, enjoy my job and have a lot of time for my family. I’m really, really grateful for that. But whatever hand we were dealt, it is up to each of us to design a life we want to live, which builds us up and those around us. And contrary to instinct, that won’t always mean doing things which are comfortable, easy or familiar.
So, if the opportunity comes along to stretch yourself a bit, to do something new, or difficult, or even—shriek—to give something up for a while… I would suggest that you try it. There’s no knowing where it may lead you. And I’m pretty sure you’ll get more back than you give out.
Running streak total today is 411 days, 1637 miles. #runeveryday