Friday, July 25, 2014

The Vicious Cycle

I've developed a habit in the last few months, ever since I got a 2014 wall calendar for Christmas. The calendar features a pretty picture of Scotland for each month, as well as the days of the month, numbered, arranged in a grid system just below that picture. They even label holidays and the phases of the moon. Just in case werewolves needed a reminder, I guess.

I'm describing the calendar it in such detail because I don't think many people have bought or used a wall calendar since the advent of computers. I mean, why would you use a wall calendar when we get calendars pre-loaded on every piece of hardware that we buy? Digital calendars aren't even limited by year; they can go on for as long as you want to keep planning things.

Anyway, the habit I mentioned. I put an "X" on the date of any day that I run. It's gratifying to put a new X up, and it's also quite satisfying, if I've run a lot any given month, to see all those "X's" lined up in neat rows and columns just below a pretty picture of Scotland. But just this morning, as my pen was poised to X another date, I thought about what was the most challenging run out of all those "X's."

You might predict the last run in a long, unbroken string of X's was the hardest. And while yes, after several days of running, the runs get a little harder, I don't remember any spectacular difficulty during the final runs before a break. Likewise, I could not remember difficulty based on any one day's conditions; the burning hot, frigid cold, cloyingly humid, or swan-infested runs get lost in time soon after they're completed.

But you know what runs I do remember? Those X's that come after a day or two without running. I remember them because I remember the days preceding that run. There's almost never a good, happy reason to miss a run. I was sick, I was lazy, I was mildly injured - it's never something dramatic, but it's always something I remember.

Okay, one time it was something dramatic.

Filling in those X's following a break is the most difficult because removing running from my daily activities removes a huge source of confidence and validation. I know running doesn't serve the same function for everyone, but for me it's a sign that I'm moving forward in my life.

Also, though less symbolic, no running means no boost of happy, active endorphins on a daily basis. After enough days running, you might become so used to that chemical boost that you don't notice the good it does, but remove it for a couple of days and it can hit you hard.

Really hard

I begin to feel down without exercise, and that, in turn, makes it harder to get back on the horse and run again. It's the second worst cycle I have to watch out for as a runner, the first being a literal cyclist who seems to be playing a game with me called, "look at how close I can pass this runner without actually making contact."

He doesn't always win.

There is a silver lining to this vicious cycle, however. For as difficult as it is to get back on that horse and run after an extended break, there is nothing sweeter than actually doing it. For me, the flood of self-validation, self esteem, and sweet, sweet endorphins is actually at its height when I struggle to make myself run. I don't know what I'd do without it.

Okay, I might know what I'd do without it.

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