My Running and Its Impact

woman with a ponytail and leggings wearing and armband and running
Woman running wearing armband by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

I appreciate the feedback I receive about my writing. Responses come from unexpected places – this week, I met with a friend I haven’t seen in over a year, and she mentioned my blog. I told her a bit about what I have written and what I want to do with my writing; I mentioned in passing what I have pending in my drafts folder. My plan was to delete this post, but it’s earned a reprieve, owing to her encouragement. Her words also offered inspiration for rounding out my scattered thoughts.

This post doesn’t have #MyResearch tagged to it, but running and research work symbiotically. Some have asked me how I keep on task academically; a large part is being organized, but I couldn’t do what I do without running. It has shaped me.

Running came at me somewhat recently; my son wanted to run cross country and was too young to go out on his own. To my horror, I found 250 metres my upper limit for endurance. I was slowing him down. Determined to get better, I went out every day in between outings with him. I can recollect the physical memory of how difficult it was. I hated it. I got a running app, listened to Cat Stevens and tried to ignore the stitch in my side. Unbelievably, one song did not equal much more than 300 metres. I was sure the app was defective. I would have quit were it not for the horror of denying my first-born the opportunity to run. Each time I ran, I gave myself a goal – one more section of sidewalk, one more driveway, one more property; this time, to the fire hydrant at the end of the block. Ugh.

I hadn’t even reached a kilometre of nonstop running by the time my son ran his event. He often went ahead and circled back to run along with me. It looked easy when he did it. “So glad that’s over,” I thought, and believed my running was too, unless he tried out for the team the following year.

Except there was this voice. “You should go run.” No one else could hear it but me. I ignored that voice; it persisted. Eventually, I listened. I went for a run. I still couldn’t run a kilometre, so I ran what I could, then turned around and walked home. I reached the same house each time. When I stopped in front of that house one day, I thought, “Huh. I could have run further.” My distance increased, so so slowly, but I noticed that breathing was easier, and I liked how I felt after I ran. I stopped focusing on what my body was doing, and I let my mind wander on my runs. Running forces me to confront thoughts that I’ve pushed aside – they aren’t always pleasant ones. All sorts of ideas pop into my head when I run, too; I have learned to listen to the ideas, because they never come back.

One of those ideas came to me on the road pictured at the top of my blog. I ran past my previous best distance, and I kept going. Eventually, I stopped and thought, “Could I run a marathon?”

Anna at the finish line of the Paris marathon, April 2017
Paris, April 2017 by Anna Bartosik

My colleague Mirjana put this photo up on the wall, along with a congratulatory announcement, when I returned to work. I was so chuffed; it’s at my desk now.

The process taught me how to pay attention to pacing. I hate the first kilometre I run. But I don’t let it decide my run for me. I never know how poorly/well things will go – my pace in the first k is sometimes an indication of how the rest of my run will be, but how I feel in the first k is not a true indicator of that run’s success. Sometimes the only thing propelling me forward is that my neighbours will see me return home quickly and so I push on. Accountability to someone, even nosy neighbours, is helpful. The splits on my running app I analysed while training don’t get studied anymore because I don’t care now, but when I trained, I looked at those splits to make me aware of where I was most likely to slow down or walk, and I used that information to run longer distances. I started walking before I wanted to walk; I can now accurately mark 100 metres ahead of me. I walked 100 metres, ran one kilometre, and one day, I made it all the way to the Polish Consulate and knew I would be able to get home. I even ran 4 kilometres past my house and clocked my first 32 kilometres. That was an exhausting and happy sunny day, I remember.

I don’t like to run through pain; I also don’t like pain – It makes me quit before I want to, and it is the most difficult hurdle for me to overcome mentally. I’ve been told to take the time before I run to stretch my calves and do some alternating heel-toe walking, but when I want to run, I run, and then complain afterwards, or stop to walk when the burning starts. The stretching beforehand is not what I want to do, and I don’t want to ignore my internal friend who tells me to run; she never tells me to stretch. It’s a work in progress.

For a very long time I kept silent about my running; I saw it as a solitary endeavour, and my only competition was my mental state. I remember the first time I told someone that I ran; it was in a text. I remember being nervous about my confession because they were a good runner, and I wasn’t. To my surprise, they offered encouraging words. Others, especially on Twitter, also offered great support and advice. That wasn’t the case each time I talked about running, however; it is still painful to recall all the people who told me I should find another form of activity, and who tried to discourage me from running a marathon. Nothing hurt more than the unsolicited confessions when I returned from Paris: “I didn’t think you would be able to do it.”

When I need to get away from my work in order to push past some negative thinking, I run. I listen to the same playlist I always listen to – it’s comforting to know what comes next and I’ll know to skip a song if the beat isn’t something I want to hear, reaching across with my left hand to my right ear (right-sided earbuds in my left-handed world). Anything with a Latin beat will make me move faster and better – I suddenly become aware of form, and a burst of energy I didn’t know I had hits. Then there are the “background songs” as I call them. I don’t notice them at all and they let my mind wander – it’s these songs that help me piece difficult concepts together, inspire ideas, and even produce titles for presentations or menu plans.

I can’t agree with @earlyest about running to Leonard Cohen (too emotional) or podcasts (no beat), but because he’s talked me into trying it, I left Cohen on my running track and I didn’t skip over him yesterday when I was running – it inspired another blog post in the drafts folder.

You can substitute the word “research” or “write” for “run” in this post and the process is still the same. It is emotional, challenging, and my head and discouraging voices affect me negatively at times. I’ve found it better if I go at it alone, but I talk about it openly now, because others feel the same.

I’m not a fast runner, and the writing process is slow. I’m a better researcher than I am a runner – I am resisting the urge to push forward before I have things ready to start.

Right now though, I’d like to do it faster.

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