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Focus. Just focus.

I’ve said it to myself countless times during a race–slowly and calmly–before the voice digresses further.

Maybe you should just slow down now. Why do you want to run this anyway? It’s just a race, who cares, slow down! It’s uncomfortable. … Let’s get back to comfortable. 

If I wanted to be comfortable, why did I choose the very sport in which success relies directly on my ability to handle discomfort?

And why, then, did I continue to line up at races only to walk away upset with myself for holding back, for giving up, for seeking comfort?

Well.

I needed to learn to suffer. And running was primed and ready to teach me. I just wasn’t listening.

After a particularly miserable sulk following a particularly miserable race, I was on my back, draped over a bolster with my knees splayed out (my most favorite yoga pose in the world; it’s verrry comfortable), contemplating my running history up until that moment.

 

Ashley out for a run in Rochester.

 

Ugh! It was riddled with stops and starts and all-over-the-place training that seemed to lead into a confusing and directionless cyclone. It all seemed so haphazard. So, um noncommittal.

I started writing down my training and sending it to a coach–somebody had to hold me accountable! I remember sending him one particular good week (or so I thought). I proudly wrote up a little ditty about how that week was so great, and I was so proud of my progress, etc., etc. The response? One line: “Your training is all over the place.”

What!?

How could it be? Could my most focused week truly be an indication of how off kilter the rest of my running life had been?

Turns out, yes, yes it can.

I’d vehemently justified my casual approach to what I thought was dedicated training by pointing out my diversified interests. I prided myself on my ability to live in the moment with playful spontaneity.  And yet, my spontaneity was nothing more than a lack of dedication to the here and now. It was a brazen denial of being in the moment of the very thing I needed to work on: pushing myself through the mental and physical pain running creates.

More than that, though, I was spread too thin. I was wishy-washy. I lacked focus. Ah, I lacked discipline.

I’d traversed discipline, I thought. I used to be 92 pounds and microscopically tuned into my every step and bite. I didn’t want to go back. Discipline was lonely. Discipline was miserable.

 

Out for stroll in search of waterfalls.

 

In truth, my definition of discipline was more like all-consuming madness all dressed up like discipline.

Real, get-shit-done discipline has invigorating bouts of freedom. In fact, a far wiser friend than me recently said: “There is so much freedom in discipline.”

Think about that. Feels like a nice, cool, breeze of fresh air, right? It feels like an open sky with big, bright sunshine.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Discipline is hard. It takes effort. And consistency. And some amount of pillowy softness with yourself to have forgiveness when you mess up. Because you will mess up. And how you handle that mess up, well that’s discipline, too!

Because let’s face it. Life is hard. But recognizing that life is hard doesn’t mean that it’s not simultaneously unbelievable. Just like running.

And nothing worth doing is easy.

Just like nothing truly deep-down-in-the-soul freeing comes without discipline.

 

Post race photo with Ginna, Kate, and Ashley.

 

When I dig deep, when I really except what I have chosen to do–run a race, push hard in a workout, complete a training plan, even fully soak up a day off without regret–the suffering subsides a little bit, and the view opens. And then running, like life, feels easier.

Acceptance makes it easier.

Focus makes it tolerable.

Discipline makes it happen.

All the uncomfortable obstacles we face along the way are just us facing ourselves. And isn’t that everything in life–a reflection of what we need to learn? And running turns out is the perfect mirror. After all, it’s only us looking back in at ourselves mile after mile.

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