What Do The Numbers Mean?

IMG_1277by Jodi R. Galin, Ph.D.

When I was in college, more than 25 years ago, I played a varsity D3 fall sport.  Each summer I was given a recommended training schedule so that I would be ready for competition by the time I arrived at school.  One requirement was running two miles in 16 minutes.  This was a challenge for me that I worked diligently to achieve.

Those of you who read my previous blog, “Am I Running or Am I Standing Still?” know that “the number one reason that I run is that I feel good inside when I am finished.”  I do not like to measure anything or use devices to monitor my progress.  However, I have been tested by numbers lately especially given that I remember my speed when I was in a much younger body.  

While I have continued to periodically run for pleasure since college, my body has aged and I struggle with issues such as Achilles’ tendinitis.  Crossing the threshold of 50 years (another number that can be measured), I have been challenged to really listen to what my body needs in new ways as aches and pains set in and my recovery time is slower.  There are long periods of time when I cannot run outside and need to care for my body in alternative ways including physical therapy.  

This past year I have had the opportunity to use a Zero Runner, a machine that allows one to replicate the running motion without the impact of normal pounding on pavement.  I was delighted to be able to have that feeling deep inside my lungs again.  Additionally my body and mind seemed to welcome the aerobic activity and my Achilles did not complain.  

However, my thoughts got side-tracked.  The machine monitors such statistics as speed, distance, and time.  My first reaction was shock and dismay at how slowly I ran and for how little time.  As I used the machine more over the course of many months, my time and distance improved which filled me with pride and gave me pleasure.  Uh oh.  This could easily be a slippery slope.  In my years working as a psychologist, I have observed how easily people can disconnect from internal body experiences, especially when confronted with their own thoughts of achievement and/or perfectionism needs.  Knowing the allure of my own achievement orientation, I asked myself to refocus on my internal experience, not the numbers.  “How did I feel in my lungs?”  “What happened with my energy level, mood, muscles, tendonitis…?”

Despite their temptations, these numbers – time, distance, speed – as monitored by the machine do not measure the internal calm that running brings to me.  Nor do they measure improvements in my mood, heart and bone health, or sleep.  My renewed commitment to myself is to continue moving my body in ways that feel good internally and to be aware of how my competitive, achievement-oriented thoughts (which I likely will continue experiencing) take me away from being present and feeling good in the moment.