I’ve been reading an illuminating book by Ashton Applewhite: This Chair Rocks - A Manifesto Against Ageism (highly recommend), which points out the stat that people are happiest at the beginnings and ends of their lives, and that “chronological age is an increasingly unreliable benchmark of pretty much anything about a person.” I’ve been challenging myself to apply Ashton’s concepts to the journey of running, and focus on conscious contentment as a goal.
One necessary tool on this journey? Ultimate flexibility. I’m not talking about the muscle/ tendon kind of flexibility - that can help, although strength is probably more important - I’m talking about true mental flexibility that is practiced by the minute, hour, day, month, and year.
The athlete trope of goal-setting followed by a hard “stick to the plan and grind” mentality is of limited utility to athletes in their 20’s and 30’s and even less utility over the age of 40. Athlete strength is nurtured by the use of intuition and following body cues, which over time will lead to greater health, strength, and more positive experiences. How does this work in practice? It’s tricky! Goals are good...but inflexible goals are not.
I’ve heard privately from a remarkable number of athletes (training for everything from the Olympic Trials to their first 5K) that they felt a sense of relief at the lack of races this year. Athletes valued the removal of an external-pressure timeline, so they could advance their training at their own sustainable pace.
WHY AREN’T WE ALL FOLLOWING THAT PRINCIPLE AT ALL TIMES??
I felt that relief myself. In my selfish head bubble, I was personally relieved when Boston was delayed in April and again in September. I was going to force myself to run it, with the thought that I might never get another chance. But my body was 100% not ready. On reflection, I was operating with a true scarcity mindset.
This May, with another injury flare-up, generalized fatigue, and low motivation, I stopped running. I switched to walking - with the goal to get outside on my feet for at least an hour a day. I figured if the urge to run never came back, I should listen to myself and be done! After about 6 weeks or so, and increasing my time outside to 90 minutes, I found myself spontaneously bounding up the 350 steps on the hill behind my house. And breaking into a run when I was on a certain soft shady trail. I started running only when I “felt like it” during these walks - not timing it separately or recording minutes. That usually meant running only on the downhill portions - that’s a pretty fun way to run!
I’ve felt more and more like running - and when I run I really want to, so I greatly enjoy it! During the Womxn Run the Vote week (ok, who else went overboard?!?) I was overcome with team-inspired motivation and covered over 60 miles. A lot of those miles were walking - I don’t specify in my logs, but I was able to cover 10 running miles straight with Bob and Sally on a beautifully soft, gravel, tree-covered route. And paradoxically, my body feels stronger and more fit. From walking, from slowing down.
A few weeks ago, I set out on an adventure route outside Bend I’ve been wanting to do. I gave myself enough time for hiking only and just rolled with how I felt. That day, I was able to run the entire last 5 miles (downhill - it was glorious). Soaking my feet in the creek after the 12+ miles, I had a wild thought: “maybe another time I’ll do a second lap - if I want to try a challenge.” !!!! Taking what the day gives...which interestingly causes greater contentment and greater imagination for infinite possibilities via living in the moment.
Although I was forced to this athletic practice of ultimate flexibility (and people seem to need to learn their own lessons), I recommend trying it! Flexibility is not just for masters either. When racing comes back, try to maintain a looser hold on the “shoulds” - shoulds often drive bad decisions. When you’re flexible, you will do less some days, but on some days you’ll do much more than you could have imagined.
Switching from scarcity to an abundance mindset - really, anything is possible if you’re flexible.
Lesko (age 51, but what difference does that make?)
PS: Race registration processes also create bad decision-making. How many people can afford to drop $150+ on a race and truly not care if they race or not? I’d love for races to develop a flexible masters registration option and buddy up with other races: register for [Richmond, CIM, Houston, Big Sur, Eugene package] and you can only race one of them - whichever works out. (Race directors, I’ve thought about this a lot! Hit me up to talk details!)