MinimalisMay 3: Running

I’m doing a series of posts this month documenting my journey to start exploring a minimalist lifestyle. MinimalisMay will explore what minimalism means to me and how I’m incorporating it into my life. And it’s all from a novice’s perspective, so there will be a lot of learning as I go!

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Is there anything more in tune with minimalism than the act of running? Moving through the world around me in harmonized rhythm, letting my thoughts float away and my mind become calm, being disconnected from the passage of time and letting “life as usual” disappear for a while – no clutter, no to-do lists, no demands, just the pitter patter of my feet on the trail and the fresh air in my lungs? This thing I do provides me with a haven of breathtaking purity and simplicity.

So then…why is the rest of my life such a hot mess?

How is it possible that I’m still disorganized, struggle to keep my house clean, have really terrible time management and discipline, and don’t always make the best eating choices? How come the magic of running didn’t swoop in to fix all these things?

You always hear these stories of people who picked up running and their lives have never been the same. They started eating healthier, got their debt under control, made new friends, gained self esteem, and became more productive at work.

Why is it that for some, running is strong enough to have a ripple effect, spilling in to create change in the rest of their lives…

…and for others, like me, running is great but nothing else in our lives really changes that much from it?

It has to be noted that I first came up with this post idea and these thoughts when I was in the thick of marathon training and I felt like I was hanging on to the rest of my life by a thread. I mean I was really a mess. I had constant “brain fog” at work (thanks Pippa for this term and for letting me know I’m not the only one, ha!), our apartment was disgusting, and I felt like I was trapped in running prison, wondering what all those normal people “on the outside” did with their lives.

But in spite of all that, I still always felt great when I was running. So I have to wonder: why the disconnect?

Well, weeks later I can say that things have gotten much better now that I’m not training anymore, so I can now confirm that the stress of training and corresponding lack of energy played a big role in the “disconnect”. But still, I don’t really feel like running has given me a new lease on life or anything like that. It is an undoubtedly positive influence and I could never go back to not running, but I’m still the same person. It’s been three years, why hasn’t running transformed me into this super outdoorsy type who has a ravenous zest for life and just cannot bear to sit still?

I’ve cranked out 11 half marathons and 3 fulls and have enough running fitness to up and run 5 miles at the drop of a hat if I needed to. But no one who knows me would ever say I have trouble sitting still or slowing down. On the contrary. Settling in with a good book or a pen and paper, binge-watching my favorite old sitcoms, and sleeping in late are some of my greatest pleasures in life.

Similarly, why didn’t running’s remarkable simplicity inspire me from my first lace-up to purge my life of distraction and clutter and, like, go live in a tiny house with all of my worldly possessions fitting into a sack so I can be more in touch with the world around me? The fact that I’m doing this MinimalisMay series is proof that the beautiful, pure simplicity of running has been no help there.

Maybe what all of this really speaks to is how completely, beautifully egalitarian running is. It really does take all kinds, and the beauty is that there is no “running type”. Young and old, experienced and new, adventurers and homebodies, people who run for fitness and people who run for competition and people like me who, for some inexplicable reason, just…like to run. Running has a place in all of our lives. Some of us will be more changed by it than others, but, that’s like with anything else in life.

I’m going to break my MinimalisMay rule today and come to some sort of conclusion here. And that conclusion is that when it comes to making over the parts of my life, I can’t just expect one of them to do all the work. Anything worth doing is worth doing right, and perhaps the lesson here is that the other challenges in my life – getting more productive at work, having a neater and more comfortable home, reinvesting in my writing, getting out more and making more effort to live life to the fullest – are their own journeys and need their own individual attention. It’s okay that, in my case, running isn’t life-changing and “magical”. It’s enough that I get that time to move through the world around me, exercise my body, and disconnect from life-as-usual for a while.

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8 thoughts on “MinimalisMay 3: Running

  1. It’s really true that running enabled some people to do things like get out of debt and be more productive at work?! I never knew that. I can see the connection between running, diet, and self-esteem, and even making friends through running. But I guess I’m in the category of running not having much other effect, like helping me keep the house clean, which is always a struggle whether I’m training or not. I agree that I’m fine with running not being the everything; it’s a lot if things though, and that’s enough for me.

    1. Yeah, those stories happen. Runners World and the like frequently have stories about people using running to come back from rock-bottom type scenarios. Maybe the case for people like you and me is that running didn’t change us as much because there wasn’t much that needed changing. While running has never really helped my productivity in the domestic or the work sphere, maybe the reason it has that effect for some people is because they feel a little more energetic from the increased activity, and because the structure of training or running with a group helps them with time management. Then again, neither of those things has helped me become productive, so who really knows.

    2. And in full disclosure I kind of made up that example, but I feel like I pulled all of those things from somewhere.

  2. Your conclusion was so interesting to me. At certain times in my life, running is a lynchpin that keeps me grounded and helps me to survive. At other times, running is just something I enjoy – not magical, just there. When I’m in the midst of training, I do let other things fall by the wayside because priorities have to shift. There’s only so much time in the day (or weekend…or week) to get everything done, and running dozens of miles a week takes time, especially for a slow runner like me.

    I think it’s good that running CAN be magical and life-altering, but I think it’s also good when it’s just a nice thing to do for yourself, a quiet constant. The right balance with running can, I think, give us the energy and focus to rejoin the world and get our lives in order; it’s when running is harmful to that balance (over a long period of time, not just one training cycle) that I think people have hit the over-training threshold and need to step back.

    1. That’s interesting that for you, it changes depending on the time in your life. Running has never felt like a lynchpin for me, and I’ve never felt like it’s the only thing keeping me sane or grounded. Why is that? I honestly don’t know. Maybe it’s because the other areas of my life have – knock on wood – all been pretty solid so far so my need for an outlet isn’t as great. Or maybe I just don’t love it as much as others.

      I agree about the over-training threshold. People tend to take a flippant attitude toward the idea of exercise addiction, but like any other addiction it can have ugly consequences.

  3. Interesting post. What running does for me is make me more balanced. When I don’t run, my anxiety really surfaces. Then I go for a run, and sometimes I can’t even remember what I was so anxious about anymore! (usually it just clears my head and calms me down). However, it can also be a source of stress (hello, marathon training…).
    I think it is an example for me of discipline. The work you put in to it, you get out of it. If I WANTED to put that much work into other areas which could use a bit of discipline (eating, for example) I could, but I think I don’t want it enough–
    I don’t think that human nature is one of strict discipline, and there are laws of nature working against us (entropy). So, I think the answer is one of BALANCE.

  4. I think those stories in Runner’s World, etc are more rare than you think (that’s why they’re in a magazine) and probably a bit exaggerated. I think – like you conclude – it’s unrealistic to expect any one thing to be a “magic pill.” And while running can be very simple, it is also sometimes the exact opposite – between watches and shoes and magazines and races and running blogs and gear and … that’s not simple. I think that asking running to be the thing that spurs you on to be more productive or keep a neater home is setting yourself up for failure. Instead, may I suggest that you embrace running as a part of your life, as a part of many things that you do and come up with some strategies (maybe while running!) for productivity, a cleaner house (I suggest investing in a maid service – I’m seriously committing to doing this at least once a month!), etc. 🙂

  5. Thanks for the shoutout! I feel pretty much the same- running has helped me massively get my shit together in some aspects of my life, but I’m certainly not hyper-organized and I still feel like a lost 20 something at heart! Like yes, sometimes i go out and run 13 miles for training even when I don’t feel like it, but then (and probably as a result) I forget to water my plants and I can go weeks without doing laundry. All about balance tho…right?

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