I love to run in the bush. Yep, people find it strange but I love the feeling of running. My mind shuts up and my body takes over and we go exploring. I like to find trails that no one else knows about – parts where you need to bush bash your way through thick bushes and try and avoid getting scratched by blackberry bushes (whilst stealing some blackberries to eat and praying they haven’t been sprayed) and wading waist deep through river crossings. It brings me such joy. To get back to my car covered in dirt and sweat and peel off my shoes and socks and eat whatever treat I have left in the car for post run. Then a hot coffee and a drive home for a hot shower. Or, if I am really lucky I carry a tent in the bush and hike over a few nights, so post hike it’s a hot coffee and a warm sleeping bag, sans shower. I smile sadly, even whilst writing about it because I am currently, like millions of other Melbournians, going through lockdown #2. It’s so much harder this time around and on this morning’s run I think I worked out why I feel like that.
If I go out in the morning for a run and tell myself that I am going to run 20kms, then take a wrong turn and end up having to do an extra 5kms to get home those last 5kms are torture. In my mind I was doing 20kms and even if I am having the best run and feeling awesome, those extra km will always feel hard. However, if the following week, I tell myself that I am going out to run 100kms, despite it being 80kms more, I tick off the distance so much easier with less perceived effort.
I’ve often wondered why some days 5km can feel so hard, and some days 100kms can feel so good. Obviously there are a million other factors at play including stress levels, diet, fatigue etc but there is a thing call ‘perceived effort’ that I first read about in Matt Fitzgerald’s book, ‘How Bad do you want it’. In a nut shell, perceived effort is our brain’s perception of how much we are exerting. When I first read about perceived effort I wrote it on my fridge so that I see it when I leave for a run. I interpret it simply as ‘my brain controls how I feel on my run, not my body’. If I find myself struggling a little whilst running I ask my brain, how do I perceive my effort today and I change my mindset to what is good. If my legs feel heavy I focus on how good my lungs feel today, if my lungs are struggling in the cold air I focus on how my feet are falling, if everything feels like it’s falling apart I find a beautiful tree, or flower or bird to focus on. I tell my brain to see the good and this makes me enjoy every run.
I think lockdown #2 is harder because we thought we were going for a 20km run and suddenly there is a 50km diversion. Just when we thought we were at 19kms and nearing the finish, thinking about the food and coffee at the finish line we were told ‘oops – you have another 50km to go – maybe even a little further’. Add to that factor, you also find out that other runners on the course didn’t have to do the 50km diversion; because of the luck of the draw (ie what state they live in) they could stop at 20km. As you slog out your extra 50kms you’re watching them on the sidelines eating pizza and drinking the coffee. Some of them give you pitiful looks, some give sympathy but most just point and laugh at you.
Whilst you slog out the extra 50kms, wondering if it is only 50km or more like 350km, remember - you’re not alone. There are still runners out there with you. It appears that some are going faster than you, some are behind you, but you’re all out there. Ask your brain – why does this feel hard? How can I focus on what’s working. If the legs hurt, focus on the lungs. If the lungs hurt, focus on the legs.
Most of all – focus on the heart and always, always look for those little things that bring you joy.