Thursday, June 23, 2011

Running Lessons: Stories matter

I ran a marathon last weekend.  It wasn't pretty. Things went to pieces early in the race when my right knee seized up and I spent most of the next three and a half hours in considerable pain. It was disappointing because I'd spent nearly six months preparing for the race in hopes I'd finally manage to run a marathon in less than four and a half hours but, in the end, didn't improve on my personal best (PB) time at all. To make matters worse, because I was feeling so confident I was going to achieve a new PB, I'd been telling family and friends about it for weeks. So, needless to say, I was feeling more than a little disappointed, discouraged and embarrassed as I limped back to my apartment that evening.

Later, as I struggled to write a post about the experience for my other blog, It ain't about the Tiffany necklace, I was reminded of the importance of the stories we tell.  I wanted to be honest about what had happened but was also determined to try not to be too negative since many of my new TNT teammates are training to run their first marathons and the last thing I wanted to do was discourage them.  I also knew that the way in which I told the story would ultimately determine whether I remembered my fifth marathon as a mostly positive or negative experience.  In the end, I tried to tell a story about overcoming adversity, how lucky I was to be able to run at all, and how grateful I was to have friends and family who'd made it possible. (You can read the post here and decide for yourself whether I succeeded.)

In life, we constantly make choices (consciously or unconsciously) about the stories we tell - about ourselves and others, to ourselves and others. We can be positive or negative, hopeful or discouraged, generous or selfish, optimistic or pessimistic. We can cling to illusions about our own situations and other people's or we can open our eyes to reality and speak the truth as we see it.

Personally, I find the notion that I can choose the stories I tell about my life incredibly empowering.  It's easy to slip into believing that my emotional and psychological responses to life's challenges are somehow beyond my control. It may be that there are typical - even natural - responses to some situations and that it's often difficult to get enough perspective or exercise enough self-discipline to respond in other ways. But eventually - with enough time and distance - it's usually possible to tell different, more positive stories about the things that happen. After all, even the worst experiences have the benefit of teaching us lessons - as painful as they may sometimes be.

So, what did I learn from my experience this weekend?  I'm still working that out, but one part of the story has already changed. Immediately following the race, I seriously thought I might never attempt another full marathon. Four days later? Well, after a good (though short) run up the lake and back this morning, I've concluded I won't be giving up marathons just yet - which means I'll almost certainly join my TNT friends to run the San Francisco marathon in October. And between now and then?  Lots of training and fundraising, and maybe - just maybe - if my coaches say it's okay - one last attempt at a PB later this summer. I hear there's a very friendly little marathon in Barrington next month...  :-)

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