Stress. It’s scary. It’s uncomfortable. It’s so much easier to avoid than confront. Last summer, after a nice trail run, I sat by myself on top of a mountain, watching clouds and thinking about the year ahead. It was going to be one of those years…tiring, stressful, emotional. Some years are like that, and if you’re lucky, you see them coming and have a little time to plan ahead. So I made a decision. I would eliminate every source of stress I had control over in my life, hoping that would make things easier. No volunteering, minimal work commitments, and no racing. None.
At first it was a relief, allowing myself to relax and withdraw from running. Not having to spend money, or make a training plan, or travel. Not having to feel tired or busy. I slept in a lot. The world did not come crashing down. In fact, no one really noticed. It felt very liberating. When stressful situations arose (which was unavoidable), I simply showed up, dealt with it, and put it back on the shelf. Then I got back to relaxing. I started meditating, and practiced not getting caught up in thoughts and worry. I tried to live in the present moment.
Funny thing, though. Once the tidal wave of stressful events finally passed, I was left with an uncomfortable stillness. Emptiness. Boredom. The present moment felt flat, undefined, unrewarding. I was working towards nothing. I wasn’t working at all. I made it about 6 months before I started to crave struggle and challenge again. I started to set small goals and plan. It was an irresistible feeling of positive momentum, watching my motivation slowly return. I started to exercise again. I had lost a lot of fitness, but gained a new perspective on stress.
I learned that stress can be positive, when it moves you toward something you value. Many sources of stress aren’t worthy of our attention, but positive stress is something to be embraced. The lessons and growth and sense of pride come from hard work. Success is just a brief moment and the end of something bigger and more meaningful, the struggle. That’s why I recently signed up for a fall marathon. I haven’t run a marathon in 3 years, and I haven’t trained properly for a marathon in almost 5 years. Why? Because it’s hard. It’s stressful. Just like every other accomplishment I’ve ever made that mattered. I want to work, and struggle, and earn it again. I finally feel ready.
I am running the Richmond Marathon on November 14, 2015, the day before my birthday. The finishers medal doesn’t matter so much to me this time. This year the gift to myself is my journey to the start.