What You Can Control

It hurts!  I’ve had a leg injury for about two months now.  It’s not as though I am not familiar with the aches and pains that come with increasing my running mileage and talking myself through it.  I have intimate knowledge that making long runs, well…longer, over the weeks of training causes a good amount of physical and mental discomfort.  But there’s something else.  Something a little more insidious lingering around me at the moment causing an unfamiliar anxiousness.  You see, I’m signed up to attempt a hundred-mile race come November (not naming it, because I don’t want to jinx it :), and, for the first time doing any of these races, I’m uncertain about whether or not the race will actually take place. 

I realize with everything that’s been happening with COVID-19 we all are all experiencing more than our fair share of the new anxiety-fueled game called ‘wait and see’.  I also know that, for many, the stakes are much higher than a race date. Their anxiety could be around whether or not they have a job for another month. For some kids it’s whether or not their schools are going to open and if they’re going to get to see their friends.  For others who may have a cold for two or three days, it could be waiting to see if it’s actually something worse.  Regardless of the ‘why’, this uncertainty causes a feeling of powerlessness in our lives. 

Powerlessness causes fear.   

When we know what our target is, it’s much easier to find the motivation to pick up your bow, draw back your string, and fire.  I believe a lot of runners would tell you that, without a race to shoot for, it’s definitely harder to lace up their shoes for a 30- or 40-mile run and head out the door.  I know I feel this in just about every area in my life, and, when I’m at my best, I remember to check in with myself and see what it is that I actually can control.  

When I’m talking about control I’m not talking about some kind of militant way of making things outside of us bend to our will.  I’m talking about nurturing the things inside of us that can help us grow and thrive regardless of what’s going on around us.  I know I have no control over whether or not COVID gets worse or when it lets up.  I also know that I have no real say, if I’m being honest, about most things in my life that are outside of me.  What I can control is whether or not I attempt to run one hundred miles this November. 

Can I control whether it’s going to happen at the race I’ve entered?  Nope.  Wish I could.  Would it be much easier, if that’s the right word to use, to have aid stations, positive energy from crew-people, hardened runners suffering beside me while I run those last 30 miles?  Absolutely. Would the lure of a big, shiny belt buckle at the end of my slightly less-than-civil distance be motivating?  Yes (even though I’m not a huge fan of oversized belt buckles). But I do know that none of that is in my control.  But here’s what is:

How I choose to think, what I choose to focus on, and the actions I choose to take.

The things that are out of our control or just that…out of our wheelhouse of choice.  We don’t have to be happy about it.  But we don’t have to dwell on it either.  One thing we can do to keep a ‘round’ of fear from lasting longer than it should is to focus on the ways we think and behave that support our greater happiness.  Now, when I talk about happiness, I’m not talking about zoning out, shopping binges, and pounds of candy (although I do like my Jujyfruits :).  I’m talking about the true joy that comes from knowing that we have control over how we’re going to think and feel about a situation, and the actions we’re going to take.

When we give over our responsibility for the things we can control to external circumstances, we give away our power to create our lives.  The power to decide our own emotional state.  The power to choose how we’re going to motivate ourselves to take those actions that we have the power to take.  The power to stay in the present moment, focus on the task at hand, and not get caught by the ‘unknown’ that we can’t do anything about.  

So, here’s what I can control: until this leg injury let’s up, I’ll be managing my pace and terrain choosing to go a bit slower and flatter; and, if my race doesn’t happen, I’ll create three possible courses right here in my own backyard (I don’t have a hundred miles worth of backyard, but it’ll be in Vermont :).  By having these courses ‘on the ready’, I’ll have lessened my anxiety and fear when it comes time to run the one hundred miles this November…or at least give my very best effort to do so. That I can control!

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