Staying Sane in a World Gone Crazy

06/25/2014 - 18:27

By Carolyn Mather, RN PhD.

As many of my readers know I decided to celebrate my 65th birthday by running a marathon a month. I am halfway done and have begun to wonder where this crazy idea originated. Fortunately this got me to thinking and as I deliberated during my many miles, I came up with some interesting insights and the idea for this column. Let me also state at this point that I am not a normal 65-year-old woman -- whatever that may be. I have endless energy and can outlast most folks half my age. I still run 120- mile plus weeks as I have for over 30 years. I manage to stay healthy even though I rarely take a day off. I manage to maintain some speed given my age although I must say being age challenged is not for the weak of heart and fast is a very relative term now.

Given these considerations I must say that running is still my foundation and how I believe I maintain my sanity in a world gone mad. In 36 years of running I have only raced twice. That is part of the magic of my running. I obviously have a gift for running but I hate to race. My husband will confirm that he has only seen me push myself to my absolute limits in two races (a mile and a four mile both several decades ago). I will also admit that my training is much faster than any racing I have ever done. Racing for me is primarily a social event as I get to see my friends and have fun. Training is a very serious thing for me and I do the majority of it alone. Perhaps that is part of the reason that running maintains my sanity.

I realize that many of you may not be able to identify with me as I am 65 but hopefully you will one day be there and you will remember what I had to say. To me running is where I get all my energy and I believe solve or at least deal with the majority of my concerns and problems. I started running because I was bored and needed something to fill my time. That is and of itself another article which I wrote years ago. But I instantly found running to be a peaceful endeavor where I was alone and could ponder life. I did the majority of my PhD dissertation while running. I have gotten through many tough times running. To this day if I am feeling down or have a concern I go for a run. It always works.

Now let me talk about the world that I think has gone crazy. Smart phones, GPS watches, heart rate monitors, fitness wristbands, headphones, music, virtual coach apps, fanny packs, gels, etc accompany most runners on most runs. I realize I choose to live in a world free of most of these "enhancements" but I think it might be a good idea to think about why you run and perhaps ditch a few of these things and get back to running as it was intended. Living in the moment without technology filtering, recording and sharing your steps will help you enjoy your running. Listening to your breathing and communicating with your body without an outside force monitoring your every move will actually improve your performance over time. Your hobby that is intended to reduce stress has become more stressful with all the gadgets. You are not getting tranquility but more stress. You are taking this crazy world with you on your run and not enjoying running for what it is.

Okay you can now call me anti-technology and say I am living in the dark ages. I actually do have a computer and a Facebook page and an "emergency only" cell phone which thankfully does not work at my house. I think running with music blaring not only endangers your safety but damages your hearing if you listen to it as loudly as most seem to do. I also realize that I will NEVER win that battle as many cannot live without their tunes or so they tell me. You really should get the feel of running and you cannot get that pure simplicity without unplugging.

One of the best runners I have ever known never wears a watch even though she has had a sponsor for decades. I recently reported on Bizunesh Deba who ran close to 5:30 a mile for the entire ING New York City Marathon without a watch. She can feel her pace and does not have to depend on a watch to tell her what she is doing. Shalane Flanagan never looked at her watch on her way to the 15K American record and did not even know her time when she finished. But I am willing to bet she knew her pace and how she felt each and every step.

I know none of you plan to be elite athletes. It will never be your job. But running is a natural activity. How many animals do you see running and wearing headphones, checking a watch or checking their pace? Kids enjoying playing do not have technology to record every move. They are having fun. You should do the same.

Consider disconnecting for a week or a month or even a few days. Make running your time. Don't block the messages your body sends you constantly during your run. Listen to your body and assess all the subtle feedback you will receive when you learn to listen. Take back the simplicity of just lacing up your shoes and hitting the road or trails without any "help."

I actually bought a GPS watch. I wore it twice and it made me crazy! I figured if I let the watch dictate my pace and training effort I would probably be injured in a few weeks. It now resides in the box it arrived in and I see it occasionally to remind me of how blessed I am to want to keep it in the box. I am an expert in monitoring my body and pushing myself and letting myself enjoy the serenity of nature. I mainly wear a watch so I get home in time so my husband will not worry. I can monitor my own heart and am more in touch with every part of me. I return from my daily runs refreshed, calm and ready to take on the day. I am filled with energy to take on a world slowly losing touch. And guess what? I can run huge mileage and rarely get injured. I think there is a connection there.

I know this is a different world from the one in which I grew up. It is not necessarily better from my perspective but I am spoiled with real books, a phone (or watch) that does not need charging, water that comes from a spring, home cooked meals, a magnificent wine cellar, friends who still know how to talk not text and write real letters in cursive. I suspect that is one of the reasons we moved to the mountains where I have trails, little traffic, and neighbors who think I must be an Olympian because I run so much. The simple life is still my preference but technology has made some things easier and some much more difficult. Make your running simple so it can preserve your sanity in a world gone crazy!

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