Self-AwarenessPaul McAleer

The Qualitative Self

Self-AwarenessPaul McAleer
The Qualitative Self

In July, I ran a tremendous amount (for me). I ran the most miles ever in a month, the most miles outside in a month, and the longest distance I ever ran in a month. It was fantastic. At the end of July I felt amazing. I felt great. I felt proud of what my body could do. I had spent some time scheduling out when I would run, and also kept it a little loose so if I missed a day, I would do it the next day.

After my great July, I decided to take a break. "I'll give myself a week," I said. A week went by, and hot weather returned. "I don't want to run in the heat," I told myself (which has always been true, and I don't have a treadmill.) Soon, I looked at the calendar and it was the end of August. I had not run for an entire month.

I noticed that I felt really bad about this, like I had done something wrong. I wasn't noticing how my body felt through not moving as much; rather, I was noticing how my mind interpreted my actions. I felt guilty, bad, and shamed about it. And then other parts of me chimed in and soon, I had put myself into a bad place with exercise again: feeling that I needed to do it… or else!

About that relationship

I started running about 4 years ago. Part of what has fueled this path is the fact that I've been tracking my runs with Nike+. It's a fantastic app, and it has definitely kept me encouraged along the way. I've felt stronger and better because of it, and I know I feel really good when I look at my numbers at the end of the run and make a few comments on my progress.

But in recent weeks, I realized something: all of this tracking, all of this quantitative work, had taken a lot of the fun out of running for me. I started to see it more as a chore and more as a thing that I had to do and, well, I tend to not enjoy things I have to do as much. (Working on that.)

It put me in a difficult place because, here I was, feeling really good about my own physical activity and my body. And yet, any time I wasn't running I started to feel bad about my physical activity and my body. Any time! And that's a lot of times. I got in my own head, as they say.

The new approach

I'm not walking away completely from the idea of tracking my runs. But I'm trying something new during September: I'm running on a very loose schedule and I'm not tracking my runs.

Yep. I'm not tracking them. Nothing goes in the Nike+ app. I listen to music, and that's it.

Based on my runs so far, I've noticed something: I feel way less pressure. It feels more spur-of-the-moment, and I notice that the guilt component is falling away. I notice that I do enjoy the runs a little bit more. I'm not tracking distance, pace, time, or any of that. When I feel I'm done, I'm done. And I work to forgive myself if my internal critic says, "YEAH BUT YOU RAN A 5K AT THE END OF JULY! GO GO GO!" When I'm done, I'm done, and when I can push myself, I will push myself.

It's a new aspect to the relationship, in other words: rediscovering the fun in it, and not just relying on the numbers to tell me I'm enjoying it.

I trust there will be a time when I track things again; I'm still strongly considering doing a "real" 5K in November. And at that point, yeah, I'll want to focus on improving things a bit more. But for now, just enjoying physical activity is a healthy place for me to be.