Mind over mind

I have just started week seven of the NHS Couch to 5k podcast.

Couch to 5k is a running plan for beginners, designed to get you running 5k from a couch-potato start. It begins with intervals – running then walking while you recover, then running again. As the weeks go by, the running bits get longer and the walking bits get shorter. Weeks five and six, as a friend warned me, step things up a gear. By the end of week six, you’re running 25 minutes non-stop.

Before this, I don’t think I had ever run 25 minutes non-stop in my life. I had a bad start with running.

Week seven of the plan involves the same run, done three times. A brisk walk for five minutes followed by 25 minutes running. I did my first run of week seven this morning.

I loved it. Not for the first time I managed to get into the space where, as tired as I was towards the end, continuing to run felt easier than stopping. I could not have run for 25 minutes seven weeks ago. Could not have physically done it. But now, running for 25 minutes doesn’t feel about physical endurance, at least not mainly about that. I start to feel tired after five minutes, but five minutes in I have just got into a rhythm. I’m feeling knackered halfway through, but I’m still running. My mind is telling me that I could stop at any point. Why not? Just stop running. My mind is telling me that this is boring. My mind is telling me I could just walk back home.

So I ignore my mind, and my legs keep moving. And I can run further next time, because the space between ignoring my mind and finishing the run is where I’m getting fitter.

I am reminded of the saying: the mind has a mind of its own. My mind and I don’t always see eye to eye. My mind likes to tell me I’m tired, speaking as a friend of course, I could just stop running. My mind likes to tell me that I don’t know enough. I’m not good enough. I shouldn’t try that. I shouldn’t apply for that. It won’t go well. I could fail and that would be worse. I should just save myself the embarrassment.

My mind is just trying to look after me, but it’s not always a good friend. It is one of those friends with not enough going on in their own lives who’d rather sit next to you in the pub and tell you they’re worried about you. A bit needy.

But it is a friend. So I do what I’d do with that friend. Grab them gently, rub my knuckles on their head and tell them softly to wind their neck in. Or if I’m running, keep running and tell them I’ll see them back at home.

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.
Marcus Aurelius

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I might give my inner critic a gentle noogie; Steve Chapman dances with his.

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