The pursuit of pleasure at the expense of pain, known as hedonism, is often considered the philosophy of the wreckless. Live for today, at the expense of tomorrow. The trouble is that tomorrow usually comes and the pursuit must begin again or the pain returns. If you’ve already conjured up images of alcohol, drugs, parties or netflix binges, let me introduce you to the hedonism that was my Saturday morning. I wasn’t falling out of a night-club, more bounding home from run training. Normally by this time (11am), I’d have run 16-kilometres with at least 10 of those kilometres at high intensity. Endorphins would be pulsating through my veins while I prepared a well-earned breakfast. Who knew that intense exercise could be hedonistic and that breakfast had to be earned? The tattoo on the back of my right calf translates as ‘in the pursuit of excellence‘, Saturday mornings were in the pursuit of hedonism.
Peeling the Layers of an Onion or Letting Go of the Armour
I ceased competitive running at the end of November last year. I continued to train almost as normal until March, partly because I wasn’t sure what else to do. By then, I was hoping to have found a new goal or more accurately, the motivation to pursue one e.g. a marathon. During the same period, I met a woman. She was a good runner. A combination of not wanting to let go of a former lover (running) and the excitement of a romance meant I continued to mix running and romance during this period. In reality, I was using this combination to put off dealing with myself and confronting the pain associated with developing a new identity (preferably one based around me!). The romance came to an end and the motivation to continue to run – never came. It was as though my body knew that my mind was ready to move on and so it began to shut down. I was walking around as though there was a clamp attached to both of my achilles – running was no longer an option.
I’ve become a self-help junkie in the past year (prepare for a series of clichés that it turns out are actually true) and although I wasn’t feeling great about life, I saw it as an opportunity for growth. In many respects, it was 10-years of failure and pain that eventually saw me flourish as an athlete. I would remind myself of this in the choppy waters ahead.
For most of the last 10-years, I’ve always had a crutch that has enabled me to avoid confronting myself. It has usually involved some combination of running and romance. In the absence of one or both, I have usually been able to find meaning in achievement e.g. the pursuit of my PhD. It could be argued that this is simply part of the journey of growing up. This may be true in part but it is also a product of toxic perfectionism which has it’s roots in shame. [in understanding this and how to overcome it (we all have it to some extent), Brené Brown has become a hero of mine].
At 32, I decided I would finally throw away the crutches and have a go at just putting up with myself. It’s described in the self-help world as akin to peeling away the layers of an onion. I can confirm it is very painful and just like the onion, it made me cry. Painful as it is, there is a certain satisfaction in the fact that I am no longer taking the painkillers (using external factors to maintain happiness). In other words, you feel the pain but as the pain subsides you know that’s real too (ironically, learning to run and manage pain without painkillers is a smart strategy too). There were many things I didn’t know about myself. Many of which are not pleasant. Confronting this was painful but eventually it has allowed me to become more compassionate toward myself and subsequently, others. [this blog originally started out as a blog on the superficial realities of life after running, but got deep and I ran with it].
Life after Running
The practicalities of not being a runner, stretch far beyond running. For the guts of 17-years, the way I ate, slept, drank and planned my life sort of led back to when I was next running. Even during times I was not running, I was still a runner (i.e. living in the hope of one day returning). This time, I decided that no matter how good my legs felt, I would not run. Instead, I would try to adopt a healthy lifestyle of good food and daily exercise.
On an inter-personal level, I consciously tried to become less self-sufficient. Running is an individual sport and outside of sport, I am in a number of leadership roles (which I enjoy). I came to realise (with 11-months help from an extremely skilled counselor, thanks Richard!) that I had isolated myself emotionally by always being the runner or the leader. I have worked at expressing more vulnerability, clumsily at first, but I am gradually becoming more sophisticated and guess what, I have subsequently received more support [so simple, yet so difficult].
How does it work out?
I would love to say it’s all perfectly wonderful now but it doesn’t really work like that. I am no longer bathing in a sea of endorphins. Instead, I’m still in bed writing this whilst thinking I used to be fitter, have a more defined 6-pack etc. [I really need to finish this and hit the gym to appease that part of myself]. But equally, I’m not subject to the same roller-coaster of emotions that tend to happen when you are dependent on external factors. I have more time and freedom to socialise and explore other things (mainly myself at the moment). I try to pay attention to what excites me and follow that without trying to control the outcome.
I think that becoming aware of your limitations and mortality is important. It helps you pay attention to your passion whilst also trying to stay in the now. It has helped me to cultivate an appreciation for everything (& everyone) around me. It also helps to reduce time spent living a fear based life. Fear is where the magic lies. In recent months, I have actively sought it out e.g. playing full contact rugby or doing a full somersault on a trampoline (no small matters ha!)
Where to from here?
The worst part of this process was being thrust into chaos initially. The chaos of being uncertain about who you are. It made me feel like a fraud and not know what parts of me were / were not real. To some extent I needed to abandon some parts of me to see if they were real e.g. the runner.
I am leaving UK to take up a lecturing position back home in Ireland. I’ve got some broad areas (rather than definitive ends) I want to explore as they align with my interests and values.
The good news for readers of this blog is that I will finish the book ‘Running from Injury. Why Do Runners Get Injured and How Do We Stop It?’. My recent personal journey has helped me to see how much knowledge I gained in relation to running through the pain and suffering of injury. The next blog will be an outline of the book chapters, to put a little pressure on myself to crack on with it. I will also return to some running, as it will enhance the book. It is almost as though I need to get back to overcoming the limitations of my body (not as competitively) to finish the book in the best way I can.
Other things I’m excited about
- Human Potential. I have interests in leadership, the broad ideals of higher education and male mental health, to mention a few. I want to write more, speak more and do more in relation to these topics alongside my work in science and running injury.
In the words of a runner I once met “progress Peter, not perfection…”. The running blogs will return in September as normal. See you all then #runningfrominjury