Mental Toughness: How Running Helps Me Through the Darkness

Live long enough through a day, week, month, or year and you'll find yourself on the emotional roller coaster of life.  Things will be chill and good, then the next moment you're screaming for your life.

You may blame yourself.  You may blame others.  You may tear others down just to feel "better" than someone else.  You may lash out and burn everything you know just to feel something.

You may even become your own demon and devour yourself, blaming yourself for others mistakes.  Tearing yourself apart just to feel alive through the continual pain.  At least you're controlling your destiny instead of some invisible hand.  Right?

Me?  Growing up as an only child, I retreat into a corner.  Embrace the isolation.  It's comfortable.  It's what I know.  So I push others away to deal with my own troubles.  Alone.  Ironically I can employ extrovert methods to shield myself from time-to-time.  Easy to get lost in a crowd of people. Irony, I know. 

A universal method to get through tough times is to avoid the reality of the darkness all together.  To sweep the darkness under the rug of positivity and bullshit.  Maybe the darkness will just "go away" through the miracle of positivity, without actively engaging in an exploration of the reason for the season of winter in our lives.

Just keep posting these positive quotes on Facebook and these pretty fake photos on IG, it'll all get better.  Right?

Wrong.

Enter running and strengthening mental resolve.

It is said Running is a mental sport.  I have a question for y'all, what sport isn't a mental sport?  Better yet, what goal doesn't require resolve and dedication of the mind?

But I digress, this is about running .

Mental toughness is defined as:
"...the ability to resist, manage and overcome doubts, worries, concerns and circumstances that prevent you from succeeding, or excelling at a task or towards an objective or a performance outcome that you set out to achieve." - Wiki-
Before we get too far in this, Psychologist have concluded that mental toughness and resilience, though have similar attributes, are two different characteristics.

Mental toughness in short can be considered a stubbornness related to the achievement of a goal.  - G sleeve -

Enter running when I was in bad shape.  You know the story.  Health concern scared the living shit out of me and I didn't know what else to do.  I knew I had to get my heart in shape, get the cardio up.  Or face incarceration of my inaction through medication or potentially an early demise.

My tortured inner self had manifested into a physical condition that forced me to action.

I decided I did not want to live my life on medications or die before 40 if I could do anything about it.  In short, I made my mind up to change, a goal, which lead to action.

The goal created focus.  A destination.  A purpose.  During a time, where I felt lost personally.  

I didn't know it at the moment, but everything would eventually come full circle.

I wanted to give up when I started running.  But my purpose.  My mind was made up.

I wanted to crawl into the corner of embarrassment and simply disappear because running was too difficult.  But my purpose.  My mind was made up.

I wanted the physical pain of my shin splints to cease.  The result of muscles not used being forced to develop through this new physical activity I picked up.  But my purpose.  My mind was made up.

I wanted to fall over and lay in the fetal position as my lungs burned with fire from jogging a few yards.  But my purpose.  My mind was made up.

I did give up running several times within minutes.  Numerous times I gave up within the span of a week.  But my purpose.  My mind was made up.  So I started again.  And again!  And again!

I still give up running from time to time.  But my purpose.  My mind is made up!

I did not know it then, but this exercise made me stronger.  Mentally.  My inner self was recovering and growing through this new mental toughness to reach this goal of a lower blood pressure number and eventually the desire to complete a marathon!

With my stubbornness / mental toughness on full blast to reach that initial goal of lowering the BP number and finishing that first marathon (something I thought impossible), I inadvertently began freeing myself from myself.

Remember all that darkness under the rug of avoidance?  Yeah, I kept sweeping ish under that rug.  It grew until the rug was no longer large enough to cover the darkness within.

The darkness was the result of me avoiding the problems in my life.  Retreating to a corner, while pushing others away.  Wondering why life was "doing" all this to me?  Haven't I "done" all the "right" requisite things to prevent all this craziness?

With any new thing you take up and become serious about.  You consume knowledge.  You learn everything you can about it.  How to run?  How not to run?  More importantly, how not to die?  How to breathe?  Can you breathe and run at the same time?  How to recover?  What to eat?  What not to eat?  How da fuck to eat while running?  Hot to overcome plateaus! And how to pick up those cups of water without stopping, maintaining pace, without getting yourself or the volunteer wet?  There's an art to it folks!

In short, you grow.  My mental toughness with running helped me through all the road blocks I faced, continue to face, and you will face with running.

The aches, the pains.  The feeling as if you're reached your peak.  The days of not wanting to train or run.  Not wanting to do things to benefit your running.  Changing eating habits.  Trying to make sure you sleep enough.  Trying supplements.  Feeling your body respond to all kind of external forces.  Dealing with unfavorable weather.  Unexpected physical aliments.  On oh the chaffing and blisters!  It's all part of the bucket!

You learn quickly there aren't a lot of things you can control in this running game, but there are a few things you can control.  Mainly your mental...

You can't control the weather on marathon morning.  It's raining.  So what?  You can byotch out or you can adjust.  Deal with the elements present.  Adjust your attack based on your attributes and skills.

You get an injury during training.  So what?  You can byotch out or you can adjust.  Deal with the results.  What can you do?  How can you change up the training to still meet the goal.  Oh yeah, by the way, what is the goal?  Oh just to be healthy and enjoy this ride?  Then suck it up buttercup and heal properly and start da fuck over!

Need to drop out of a run or race because you know to go on will be foolish and result in more damage physically than you're willing to pay?  Don't let pride hurt your future 5 - 10 years down the road.  

You stub your toe before your scheduled fast run?  Oh no!  That sucks!  Probably don't want to push the speed through that big toe.  Slow that ish down to run again another day. 

Is that frozen key lime pie with the whip cream? 

Fuck it, eat the pie!  This about mental toughness not torture.  Bring on a mug of cold milk with that homie.

Where was I?  Oh yeah.  Mental toughness. 

When you're out on a long run, there's a lot of time to pass.  A lot of time.  Time to think about how bad you feel.  How your legs are killing you.  How that one hair is rubbing against your sock.  Your mind has time to numb out and wander.

You will begin to notice things you never noticed before.  See things you never seen, despite running past that same spot hundreds of times before.  You will begin to think about the things under that carpet.

Enter life.   How bad do you want to live your life the way life has presented itself to you?

Instead of avoiding those things, applying the lessons of mental toughness to life's suckiest moments and actually facing them like a raining morning before a now muddy trail already titled "The North Face Endurance Challenge."  We can byotch about it, or we can embrace the suck, take on the challenge, and work through the challenges as they come, resulting in a story no one will believe when you share at the bar.   

"So they got us on this bus, taking us to the start where we are going to run across the Tam in this awful weather.  It's crazy muddy fam.  As soon as I get off the bus, within 10 feet the earth sucked my shoe off like a Dyson vacuum cleaner on a late night cable Home Shopping Show.  You know the ones where if you buy within 15 minutes they gonna throw in the ninja blender in for free?  Crazy!

So instead of thinking how pitiful I am that life has given me rain on this day, I'm able to focus on a) I'm at a race few get into because of it's popularity; b) how fortunate I am for me to be working nearby to be able to even participate despite no training for this event; c) I've never been on any of these trails; d) yeah, this is going to suck, but make the best of it.

A majority of life I can't control, but we can take advantage of the fucked up situation we've found ourselves in.  #StoryofMyLife. 

I now have a place to explore my darkness.  To examine the darkness.  To stare into the darkness.  To embrace the darkness.  To learn to use the darkness to fuel my momentum to a resolution to the darkness instead of avoiding it all together.

Notice the progression.  Examine > Stare > Embrace > Use > Move > Resolve.

That's my normal pattern.  That's how I get down.  That's how I move.  My progression is mine and not yours.

When life comes at me hard with difficult moments.  I see the clouds gathering most of the time.  Sometimes the storm of life shows up without notice.  But I take note.  I will get wet.  I will stand in the rain.  Sometimes sit.  I will go to my corner and embrace it.  Take myself lower sometimes.  Explore the depths of the darkness.

I will find a way to find fuel from this dark place to propel myself forward through the darkness, until something.  Just keep moving.  The situation or environment may not conform to my liking.  But eventually I will change as a result.  I will get stronger or develop the ability to see clearer in darkened areas.   There's something that will happen with me, that I can control. 

I'm not saying to conform to others expectations or to change yourself to make others happy or comfortable.  Nope.  Haven't said any of that.  Doing so is akin to hiding more shit under the carpet of lies.

I'm saying take inventory of yourself.  What can you do about the situation to make the situation better for yourself?  What can you do today to make tomorrow easier?  What sacrifices do yo NEED to make today to pay dividends to YOU in the future?

And this isn't some selfish rant either.  We all have responsibilities which we feel obligated to attend to and there are responsibilities you HAVE to attend to.  I simply go back to a simple statement, in order to support those I care about, I have to first take care of myself. And if those I care about can't understand, they don't deserve my care.

Nor do they understand the fundamentals of footings under a foundation.  Everyone talks about foundations but everyone forgets about the footings under the foundation.  And so many of you have haven't paid attention to your footings and wording why your foundation keeps falling apart. 

You will find me before every race in my own head for a moment.  Earphones in, listening to one of several songs to take myself back to my reason.  Exploring the darkness.  Removing expectations.

I may have a time goal, but life.

I may have an experience goal, but life.

I may have a physical expectation of my body, but life.

I may find myself along this running journey to stop.  To give up.  To quit.  Remember to self assess.  Is this an injury or simply my body complaining?  If it's an injury, can we adjust and continue?  If the pain isn't an injury, did you think there would be no pain on this journey?  LOL!  You stupid, now keep going.

Remember your body is more capable than you can dream.  It's your mind setting the limits.  

While the music plays I allow my mind to fall.  I will wander off to myself, even if it's just for a few moments.  To go to that place where my angels and demons fellowship at the table of me.  Where my dark dogs dwell.  Remembering my purpose.  Getting my mind right.

Life is going to happen.  Today.  Right now.  No matter what I or you do.  Enjoy the run, embrace the darkness, and more importantly respect the trail of life and all the unexpected moments that come with it.

Oh look it's dark outside.  Great time for a run!  #developingmentaltoughness



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