“Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being — a call that asks who they are …”
– David Blaikie

Friday, September 1, 2017

Thought Storms and Running

Recently, we have seen the horrific damage that Hurricane Harvey inflicted upon our beloved Houston.  We cannot control Mother Nature and her wrath.  We have the scientific rationale of warm waters and conditions that create higher potential for hurricane activity; throw in the Texas coastline having a major city that, in fact, is at and below sea-level and we have major destruction.  With the elements of the coastline and warm waters - it makes these tragedies highly likely, but nonetheless, they are unimaginable and we cannot do anything to stop the actual hurricane.  People can prepare for the worst - but, again, cannot stop what nature generates.

When it comes to negative thinking, many people believe that, like Mother Nature, the thoughts cannot be controlled.  Defeating the negative thoughts, as a great friend of mine posted recently, .."is extremely hard, but not impossible."  For me, negative thoughts are triggered by the lack of taking care of myself.  They filter into my mind when I am hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (the concept of H.A.L.T.).  The first and last letters of H.A.L.T. (Hungry and Tired) are actually what will cause the Anger or the feeling of Loneliness.  So, as long as I am nourished and am getting adequate sleep, I am good to go.

Did I know this about myself three years ago?  Absolutely not.  I had to diligently, rationally, and logically break down every single thought and figure out if it was a destructive or a constructive thought.  There were many times I reached out to a supportive and trusted person and asked, "Hey, is what I'm thinking a thought or a fact/truth?"  Most times, it was an irrational or illogical thought due to being hangry (hanger is actually past the point of hunger and merging in with the "A" for "anger" in H.A.L.T.) and/or tired.  Hell hath no fury like a Robyn who goes to bed too late on an empty stomach!

Just like hurricanes have patterns and trends that are studied by scientists to better prepare for the next storms, the thought storms in the mind can also be examined through patterns and trends.  YOU have the power to do this.  As I had mentioned, I know, now, what my trends tend to be that may instigate the negative thoughts to infiltrate.  I have even taken it deeper in that I know exactly what behaviors or familiar coping mechanisms may arise when a certain negative feeling or emotion strikes.  For example, when I am feeling slightly anxious, I will fidget - usually tapping my foot on the ground or sway if I am standing.  Movement, for me, eases anxiety.  This exertion is not destructive, therefore I utilize movement during those low anxiety times.  On the other end of the spectrum, I know that if I am in fight-or-flight-anxiety-mode due to thoughts (not actual danger, although my body often dumps adrenaline in a state of perceived danger), then I know that my past patterns and trend of taking off running, in order to numb the anxiety or just get it under control, will be the first line of defense.  Why is this the first line of defense in very high stress situations?  Because it is the most familiar.  The problem with utilizing that old familiar coping mechanism is that it just numbs and temporarily alleviates the high anxiety - and it will, ultimately, be destructive: We cannot outrun negative thoughts.

So here comes the analogy: Think of a road or highway on which you travel to work or to school everyday.  You take the same roads, often see the same cars with their weird stick family (or bragging rights bumper stickers), see the same street signs, same billboards, etc.  This is the most familiar path from point A (your house) to point B (your workplace or school).  Most people can attest to the fact that they go into "autopilot" when hitting the road and driving to the same daily destination. Have you ever been so lost in thought that when you get to where you are going, you forget how you got there? You think, Wow - that seemed fast - I don't even remember sitting at any red lights today... when in reality, you sat through two red lights and may or may not have ran a stop sign just to get on that familiar highway.

Your thoughts and, in turn, actions can either take that familiar pathway or you are going to have to work hard to build a detour and teach yourself to think (drive) on a different set of roads to get to where you are going.  My mind didn't just have a few roads and a highway. Over 21+ years, my mind had created a superhighway system with a bullet train and I was not paying any attention to notice if there were any other pathways to take.   For most of my life, there were no other pathways for my thoughts to travel.  I had to start building...brick by brick, layer by layer: Familiarity is comfortable and can be destructive if not acknowledged mindfully. Change is uncomfortable but can be liberating and constructive - and change is inevitable.  

What I must do now, in order to keep my healthy pattern construction in place, is the opposite of what my old patterns would have dictated.  At first, it was awful.  I would wake up in the morning in fight-or-flight mode and physically crave hitting the hills and running to get my heart rate even higher in order to bring 'her' back down!  The negative voices would start to scream at me like a demonic drill sergeant, Get the heck out of bed, you lazy sloth! Or, even worse, the voice of negativity would disguise itself as a competitor in a death race, You know if you don't get up and run, then that is a wasted day and someone else out there is better than you...you are never enough and never going to be enough, so just run yourself into the ground - you are worthless. Instead of giving in to that pressure, I sat in my bed, heart racing, body shaking.  I was introduced to TRE, which stands for Trauma Release Exercises (click link to learn more).  This helped me work through the need to cope by moving.  I realized that by doing the opposite of what I wanted to do, I was able to actually work though those negative thoughts in a different way - creating that new neuro-highway for my thoughts to travel.  I realized that there are other ways to deal with negative and destructive thoughts other than taking something that is supposed to be healthy and abusing it.  Many other ways.

After the destruction of Hurricane Harvey, Houston will rebuild, but it will never be the same again.  As a Texan, I have faith that it will be built stronger.  Many of the highways will have detours and a few uncompleted access roads during this time. There will be brand new pathways created, safer for the citizens to travel. 

If you can relate to this post and have experienced negative thoughts that have you using and abusing running as a destructive punishment, rather than a constructive privilege, please take some time to take inventory of why you run (or exercise, drink, use, or whatever your familiar, yet destructive, coping device may be).  If you find that you have to run in order to keep negative thoughts away, I challenge you to challenge yourself by doing the opposite. As I mentioned before, it is very hard and takes time, but it is not impossible.  This is the perfect moment to start rebuilding a new pathway of thought. Examine your old patterns and trends and decide if they are helping you or hindering you.  Create new patterns - write them down. YOU have the power to rebuild yourself stronger and indomitable, just like Houston will.

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