A Plateau is defined as “a period or state of little or no growth or decline.” I believe that in life, when people hit a plateau, it brings about a sort of life crises. Some would define “crisis” as a dramatic upheaval in one’s life. By crisis; however, I mean “a turning point.” This is a turning point of sorts for me. I am nearing my 40th birthday, and this milestone birthday, coupled with the comfortable plateau I am currently snuggled into, has given me cause for some self-reflection.
Distance running is a godsend for a person who needs a bit more self-reflection. When I am out on a good, long run my attention drifts and my imagination thrives. It is as if I am in the wilderness, my mind wandering, and this frees up my creativity. I am somewhat aimless, enjoying solitude, discovery, detachment, and introspection. How many first drafts have I written on long runs? Countless drafts. The solitude, coupled with the rhythmic movement, create a completely cathartic experience. I think of many things on my long run and I also think about nothing. Often I think about some pretty dumb things. Silly things. Things that people have said that have made me laugh. Funny things that I have said. The witty comeback that I wish I had uttered in that perfect moment to get a laugh. Often I think about my family. I think about how I don’t deserve my husband and daughters, my loving parents, my coworkers and friends. Do I show them enough how much they all mean to me? Definitely not. I think a lot about how I need to fix this. At some point during the long run I think about how much running consumes me. Every single part of my body is active and engaged while running. There is virtually no body part that is not activated. This makes me feel strong and beautiful. If that feeling could be bottled up I would make millions of dollars. I truly believe that something happens to me on a long run. I believe I am changed a little. The running affords me a feeling of danger and the physical exertion brings out my alter ego. Suddenly I am transformed into a risk taker, seeking adventure and enjoying the feel of adrenaline. I am throwing out comfort in favor of testing my physical limits. I feel wild, free, and fierce. As trite as this will sound, running truly is my therapy. Running relieves my tension. Running improves my overall mood. Running helps me put things into perspective. Running forces me to put everything away and to focus on nothing but examining myself. It is my time to give careful consideration to my conduct, my motives, my priorities, and my blessings.
There’s definitely more to running than just the opportunity to self-reflect, though. Running is also a form of escape for me. I would venture to say that this is true for many of us. It is a way to escape without packing our bags, leaving our families, and heading for the hills. We are bored. The daily life routine has gotten very, well routine. Realizing this, it’s really no surprise that many of us threw ourselves into running later in life. We get to a point where we look around and say, “wait … this is what life is? This is being a grownup?” As I sit here reading this back I realize how depressing that sounds, but it is just a natural, honest reaction that we all have. Running is a way to hold the reigns and take charge of our lives. We won’t just let our lives pass us by, conversely, we will hit the ground running. We will go after what we want and we will feel satiated. We know that by constantly upping the bar for ourselves we might very well be getting in over our heads, but we don’t care. The thrill of giving into our urges is electric and unwavering. In life, when I’m grappling with a difficult situation, I find that I choose to think about my running instead. I know that with trial and error I can improve my running. I know this because I keep improving. Likewise, when I’m on a run, I’ll think about my difficult situations, but I’ll know that at that particular moment in time, I can’t do anything about them. At that point in time, all I have to do is keep running. One foot in front of the other. I may slow my pace, but I must keep going forward. Additionally, running, unlike life, is a puzzle that begs to be solved. The goal of a marathon, for instance, is concrete. The goal is a measured, methodical, matter-of-fact entity: it is a finish time. Achieving that concrete goal is entirely up to us. We have a race date that serves as our deadline and it is up to us to do the things that we need to do to put us in the very best position we can be come race day. All of the training leading up to race day is what we thrive on. We may fail. Success is not guaranteed. We have wonderful plans, but there are many variables at work that could derail our best laid plans. We are always close to burnout, injury, and weakness, but just like in life, we struggle in running and we must work hard to keep going. Perhaps it isn’t a running escape we go on, that seems to have a negative connotation; like we are escaping our wonderful families and visiting an asylum. Perhaps it is a running retreat we continue to go on. It is our refuge. We are reenergized and restored, ready to be better versions of ourselves for others.
Human beings, by nature, seek routine. Routines make us feel safe and secure. All of the things genuinely worth having in life are not just temporary gratifications, and they come with resistance and sacrifice. However, I find it somewhat ironic that the daily routine of life becomes cumbersome for us, but we rather enjoy the ritual of the long run. This seems to be a huge contradiction: we are bored by our life routine, but the routine of the long run intrigues us? Why is it that daily life rituals are stressful and annoying, but weekly long run rituals are exciting? I haven’t quite figured this little conundrum out yet. I think it must go back to the fact that the long run affords us time with ourselves for self-reflection. We need to somewhat abuse ourselves with our long runs in order to heal whatever it is that needs healing. Distance running is a healthy coping mechanism for us. The exercise releases endorphins, reduces stress and anxiety, increases bone mass, muscles, and endurance. Not only that, distance running helps us create self-awareness and confidence through the clarity with which we are able to think. While the physical benefits of running are many, for me, it is the outlet running creates that keeps me coming back for more. I am not afraid to admit it … I am quite a mess, and running helps center me and keep me on the right track. I treasure running. It is an absolute gift. Running makes me feel incredibly strong, and I remind myself of this feeling of strength when I feel weak. There is certainly a connection between mind and body with running. Running has taught me that once I push through the pain, it all becomes so much easier. It has taught me to cope with discomfort and pain. Let’s face it, pain and discomfort in life isn’t going anywhere, right? We all experience pain, it is not a unique experience. We all have our tough stuff with which we must deal. Running better equips me with the tools I need to deal with life’s discomfort. Instead of running from difficulties and discomfort, I will run towards them, head on, and deal with them. Often this will hurt, but I am strong enough to deal with the hurt. So maybe the long run is that part of our life routine where we allow ourselves to hurt and to struggle and to consequently feel the extreme gratification of overcoming such obstacles.
So, this plateau I mentioned is not a bad thing. It’s actually a great thing. I am doing a lot of things in my life well. I am comfortable. I have an amazing family and job. I have wonderful friends and a very fulfilling hobby. While my husband and I are certainly not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, we live a comfortable life and are afforded many luxuries not everyone gets to experience. I am happy. Running makes me realize that I am driven and dedicated and if I want to push myself to achieve more I should. I want more running success. I am committed to pushing myself more. I appreciate all of the gains I’ve already made, running and otherwise, but I have reached a plateau of sorts. It’s time for me to start climbing until I reach the next proverbial precipice.