This month, I’ve had a daily running partner, in my 11-year-old daughter😊. In September she will be starting secondary school, and over the summer her new teacher set her a few challenges to complete before term begins, including some fundraising. After watching #TeamRudolph slogging away all through July doing the Run Around the World event, she naturally (!) chose to run every day through August, raising money for Mind UK… (as one of my friends said, the apple doesn’t fall very from the tree😜)
This may seem like no big deal—until you try it. My daughter has asthma, which is both a very good reason to develop a habit of regular running, and a very significant obstacle to surmount in the process. And also, like lots of young people (or perhaps, just people in general??), her body is capable of doing way more than her mind and her emotions sometimes allow.
In fact, it’s been just like back when I used to walk our tiny ones a mile to nursery and school every morning and afternoon, always hoping that this would be one of those days when we saw sufficient numbers of butterflies/snails/interesting sticks en route, or that we joined up with some of their friends ambling in the same direction. I knew that the speed and happiness levels that would accompany our journey would be nothing to do with how physically hard their little legs found the trek, and everything to do with how they felt about it.
This girl has been brilliant. She’s determined, resilient, focused and disciplined.
That said, it hasn’t been easy. The sheer logistics of consistently fitting a run into every day can be a bit fiddly (many, many of my previous blogs will attest to that!), but doing it when everything around you tells you that this is a season for kicking back, eating ice cream and lazing about in the sunshine?
Your environment constantly tries to tell you who you are and how to be. You have to make decisions about how to interact with that, and how your priorities will dominate it where necessary.
And once you’ve figured out how to fit in a run between meals, social plans and chores, you may have to factor in other complexities, like being away on holiday, in unfamiliar territory with less than perfect facilities (camping showers and sharing one towel & washbag between six, anyone?).
But by far the biggest challenge is getting your head in the game. We’ve had some brilliant runs, where this amazing young woman has set a challenging pace, and she’s enjoyed trail or even fell running up and over rocks and across streams. She’s done laps of small towns, run before breakfast, and after dinner. I’ve been amazed by her grit and perseverance, running with a stitch, with blisters, and through mud and sand.
Just as often, though, she’s had those terrible runs—where you need to pause every other minute; runs where you complain all the way round, gripe about the pace, protest about your legs, your lungs, your stomach…
On those days, we have our mantra. We focus on form.
The almost overwhelming desire is to stop, to give up. I’ve personally found the only way through this is to isolate different parts of my physical process, and—instead of abandoning the run—I notice my breathing (slow long out-breaths), my posture (drop the shoulders, relax the frame, tip forward at the waist, leaning into the stride), my gait (keep the toes light).
Instead of worrying about the pace, or longing for the endpoint, I attempt to focus on what I can control right there, in the middle of the discomfort. I focus on my form, and find an element of rest right inside the pushing forwards to the finish.
And as I’ve been considering this during August, I’ve realised that this process isn’t just relevant to running.
The ‘summer holidays’ are wonderful in lots of ways, but there’s not always a great deal of relaxation to be found! All the jobs associated with parenting and running a home continue (and it’s messier than normal!), and suddenly I have to fit my work into the gaps between everything else.
I’ve noticed that my default position, as naturally a very task-oriented person, is to want to tick the jobs off my list. I tend to go through the day working hard, and counting down the To-Do list, aiming for that golden moment where I can collapse on the couch with a glass of wine and an episode of something. I’m very productive! But if something goes wrong—an unexpected item appears in the bagging area—I get stressed. I realised: I’m all about that finish point.
And that’s crazy. Because any runner will tell you—they don’t actually have to go for the run at all. There’s actually no need to run even one mile. Let alone three, or six, or 20. No one runs because they have to—we choose this!
The miles are the point. The process is the point.
If all the stuff in my life disappeared, and my To-Do list evaporated, would that make me happy, or peaceful? The ‘jobs’—laundry, dinner, homework supervision, completing a work project, buying a birthday gift, booking a hair appointment, cleaning a bathroom—these are the point. They are the stuff of family, friendship, meaningful work, relationships, life.
They’re sometimes exhausting, frustrating, and even overwhelming. Four children, caring in my extended family, and running my own business is hard work. Sometimes I get tired, and that’s acceptable. Some days, the run is hard. And I’m learning that this is when I focus on my form.
If you’d like to sponsor my wonderful girl as she runs her final week of RED August, you can find our Just Giving page here. All money goes to Mind UK. Thank you!
Running streak total today is 967 days, 3553 miles. #runeveryday