Monday, 3 February 2014

Running To The End Of The Rainbow

The other day I was introduced to a veteran runner. Our initial conversation was about running but pretty soon it progressed to other aspects of our lives. The veteran runner visits people with dementia and talks to them for two hours. He told me they are often in care homes and receive no visitors and his visit may be the only conversation they have all week outside of professional nurses and care workers giving them instructions.

He then told me two things about his visits that I think might hold the answer as to what I am trying to achieve with my running. First of all the conversations with the people suffering with dementia often “go nowhere” they are full of non-sequesters, random thoughts and streams of consciousness. Second, while the conversations may last up to two hours, invariably fifteen minutes after the conversation has ended the person will not even remember they happened.

By the way we usually measure achievement my fellow runner’s visits and conversations do not seem to achieve anything; a conversation that often makes no sense that is almost instantly forgotten. He told me this “lack” of achievement is possibly the hardest aspect of his work. 

But what he has grown to realise is that for two hours in the week the dementia sufferer is connecting to another person and feels engaged in the world. If he didn’t visit them they would either be sat in front of a TV or possibly even in their beds starring at the ceiling trapped in their own minds.

I’m not sure if my conversation with the veteran runner “achieved” anything but it did make me think.

As a runner least once a month I ask myself some form of the the following questions:

“What’s the point or my running?”

“Why do I subject myself to the ordeal of running?”

“Why do I regularly get up at 6am on a weekend and run for two to three hours?”

“Why do I regularly forego some of the more fun aspects of life?”

“Why am I punishing myself?”

At the root of these questions is one simple question - What on earth am I trying to achieve?

I am in my forties, I’m reasonably good but I will never be a great runner. I will never be an Olympian. I doubt I will even ever win a race for my age range. Running will never bring me a source of income. It will not help my career in anyway. If I was doing it for health benefits I could reap all the same benefits by running half the amount I do. And finally if I was trying to lose weight I suspect I should concentrate a little more on my diet and a lot less on my split times.

Every other activity I undertake with this level of intensity and commitment I have a clear goal in mind to somehow better my life. So what exactly am I trying to achieve by running all the time? 

The fact is at its best running is like the conversations my veteran running friend has with the dementia patients. My best runs are not trying to achieve anything. My best runs are not when I am trying to achieve a certain time or working towards an upcoming race. My best runs are when I am simply running to run. 

The achievement is the run itself and when the run is done the achievement and goal is over. Just how the dementia conversation’s value is in the act of the conversation itself and when the conversation is over the achievement is over. 

All too often the achievements I am pursuing are like the illusionary pot of gold at the end of a rainbow that I am constantly chasing but will never reach.

What running and my veteran running friend’s experience teaches me is often the achievements, purpose and happiness we seek are with us right now if only we learn to live more in the moment.

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