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Why My 'Worst' Run Is the One I'm Most Proud Of

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Six weeks ago I took up running. I am not a runner. The last time I did anything more than a run to the bathroom or a run to get out of the pouring rain was probably about five years ago. What I’m trying to say is, as it goes, I was pretty unfit.

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As a result, my first outing — as you can imagine — was not the definition of pleasant. Far from it. Just before embarking, I panicked I wouldn’t have enough energy so made the “tactical decision” to hastily stuff my face with a chocolate bar. Better late than never, I thought. I definitely walked more than ran, but this didn’t stop me retching essence of chocolate the majority of the way round.

I went out again a couple of days later (this time minus the chocolate bar), then again and again. On average I’ve been going out three to four times each week, and I’ve been tracking my progress through the “Jogger” app. It’s been encouraging. Little by little I can see my improvements, longer distances and a quickening pace. It becomes very easy to then get sucked into the feeling a run is only good if is completed to a certain standard, length or pace.

I felt proud of myself when I chose to run instead of nap.

I felt proud of myself when I completed my first “race” event (I even got a finishers medal).

I felt proud of myself when I didn’t have to stop and walk.

This week — my seventh week of training — has been emotionally and physically hard. I have already been out on two runs and although I finished them at a faster-than-average pace, I had had to push myself above and beyond to get there. I have another race event this weekend so I am feeling the pressure.

This morning I went on what would be my last run before the race. As soon as I set out, I felt my body groan — not the usual “oh man exercise” type of groan, but an “I am not up to this and I need time to recover” type of groan.

I asked myself, “Is this groan just a groan of self-doubt? And should I press on and push myself regardless, or is this groan something I should be paying attention to?”

I pressed on for the first mile, but at the top of the first hill out of my village I faltered, slowed and dissolved into a walk — something which I have not had to do for weeks. Then entered the inner self-critic: “What the hell are you doing? You don’t need to stop. You’ve got a long run on Sunday, what on earth do you think you’re doing? Get a grip. You’re a failure. You’re going to fail. You always fail. You’re shit! You deserve to be treated like shit.”

Yup — it gets real dark, real quick. You can understand why people don’t try in the first place when they have a loud inner critic. Running becomes about a lot more than simply putting one foot in front of the other; it becomes inner critic versus self-compassion. Often for people with a diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), as well as other mental illnesses, the inner critic is strong and there is a distinct lack of self-compassion. I think of it like those cartoons that have a devil and angel on either shoulder, whispering in each ear. It is only recently I’ve made space on my shoulder for the angel of self-compassion to stand.

Self-compassion would say: “Wow, this is your third run in four days! You are so much fitter than six weeks ago. You are so much faster than you were six weeks ago. You made it up the hill. Just because you’re walking doesn’t mean you won’t be able to run on Sunday. You are still covering the same distance. You are still moving in the right direction. Well done you for getting up early this morning. Maybe this is what your body needs? A bit more rest time. You’re looking after yourself.”

So I’ve got to the top of the first hill and I’m no longer running, I’m walking. In fact, I walked for a good length of time after that. I actually walked until I got to the home straight downhill and I broke into a comfortable jog, averaging a pace similar to the pace I achieved when I first started training. And do you know what? I have never been so proud of myself. Not only had I been mindful that my inner critic was kicking off, not only had I made a space for self-compassion, not only had I been able to hear the positives … I actually responded in a way which was kind to myself and I was happy with. I decided to walk, and that walking the running route was perfectly OK and that my race on Sunday was going to be fine too.

Self-compassion 1-0 Inner critic.

Game on.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

Unsplash photo via Jenny Hill

Originally published: May 2, 2017
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