Remembering why I run

After eight hours at work, I came home, changed into my running kit and headed out the door into the brisk cold. Freedom!

Now, I’m drinking hot chocolate feeling fuzzy inside and writing this blog post to you.

In an earlier post, I talked about my intention to complete RED January. Well, I’m entering the final straight. There are eight days left and all at once I feel a sense of achievement, yet it’s also given me pause to reflect. Pull up a pew, let me share my thoughts with you.

My running has usually been about big goals. Run a marathon, get a PB, that kind of thing. Or it’s been about running to manage feelings or slow down my thinking.

But RED January wasn’t motivated towards escaping any feelings in particular, nor has it been to apply the brakes to racing thoughts. It hasn’t been about getting quicker, clocking faster times or mile splits. It wasn’t about doing it with friends or setting up a public fundraising page.

So what has it been about?

It really is about a personal commitment to run every day. Not swim, not walk, not yoga. Run, and run with freedom.

Yet, almost unknowingly and certainly not consciously, RED January has given me a fresher perspective on my physical health and mental resilience.

Therein lies the strange paradox.

From the outset, I established some basic principles. What I didn’t do (which is what I have a habit of doing) was put unrealistic demands on myself other than one foot in front the other. I did not set myself a minimum distance to run, or a certain pace, nor even a set amount of time. I just committed to running when I could, what I felt I could manage or what time allowed.

I fashioned a money box from an old tin can wrapped in red paper (natch), placed in the hallway and popped money in after every run. I made myself accountable to me.

In choosing an alcohol-free lifestyle I’ve learnt to ‘play to forward’; that is, think a few steps ahead. ‘How will I feel after my run? How will I feel if I don’t do it?’ It’s a really good tool to propel you in the right direction. (And if you’re anything like me, you’ll avoid waking that inner critic. The fear of that is more than enough to get me into the Lycra).

One day was spent in back-to-back meetings and appointments from 8am until 9pm. It was a relentless day and I find it incredibly easy to duck out of things if I am tired. ‘Oh, I’ll go for a run tomorrow instead’, I say. I mean, it was 9.30pm, dark and it’s January for god’s sake.

Earlier in the day I had taken the time to plan ahead, figure out when I could do it and write it into my daily journal. It was there in black and white, a kind of appointment with myself. I arrived home, pulled on my clobber and headed out the door for a jog around the block. As I ran, I could feel the tension of the day falling away. And I was out for a maximum of 10-minutes. That’s all.

In my previous blog I told you about the startling reality of my phone’s weekly screen time reports. It was honestly a wake-up call. I have told myself that time running is less time scrolling through newsfeeds, fewer minutes watching videos of, say, penguins playing on a water slide. I figure the penguins will still be there when I get back and if they’re not perhaps there will be a baby koala bear sneezing instead.

It’s really hard to let go though. Just last weekend I did a 10k race on Sunday and was slightly disappointed with my time. I momentarily forgot I had not trained for it and it was not a target, busying myself instead with a focus on what I’ve achieved in the past. Oh, hi there ego! You may recognise this in yourself too. In those moments, that voice in your head needs to be firmly told about the bigger picture.

Like many things in life, it’s about good planning, forming new habits and sometimes making yourself accountable to no one but yourself.

The bigger picture for me in January is freedom from big goals, big distances, big numbers on a Garmin or race chip time.

It’s freedom to run.

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I'm a writer, journalist and communications officer based in the South West of England. I write about wellbeing, the outdoors and life in a rural playground.

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