Running And The Small Stuff

AJWs TaproomThe other day, while waiting in line at the grocery store, I was leafing through a magazine and came across a nice article about life’s little annoyances and why some people have tremendous trouble dealing with them while others seem to just go with the flow. The majority of the article focused on temperament and those traits that we are genetically stuck with in relation to these little annoyances but the most interesting part of the article shared ideas and theories about how we can train our minds to be more receptive to life’s little hurdles and what kinds of strategies we can use to deal with them.

It was in this context that I began to make what was, to me, the obvious connection to running. While I have no empirical data to back this up, I think distance runners are able to go with the flow better than the general populace. In my experience, distance runners are less stressed and less prone to drama, paranoia, and neurasthenia. Certainly, there are exceptions to this rule but, in general. I have to admit the idea made me curious. And, it made me want to pursue answers to a few simple questions:

  • Does running make me more stable?
  • Does running give me tools to handle life’s little annoyances?
  • Does running equip me to not sweat the small stuff?

After thinking about the article for a couple days I asked my wife, Shelly, “What do you think it is it about running that makes me calm?”

“Well,” she said, “when you run the rest of the world slips away. How can that not make you more calm?”

“But, c’mon, I am the Head of a Quaker school, I have time for quiet reflection every week. Heck, I settle into silence in every meeting I have.” I countered.

“Yeah, I know,” Shelly responded, “but when you run, your reflection time is all yours. It’s not shared. It’s not something with any other needs, wants, or cares. It’s all yours! That’s why it makes you easy going. That’s why you’re such a pain in our necks when you don’t run. It’s a brutal paradox, but spending time alone running makes you better when you’re with all of us.”

This conversation and the theme of the magazine article stuck with me and ground away at me a bit on subsequent runs this week. It left me to admit that I know running is a selfish and self-absorbed endeavor and I know that it can be perceived by many as frivolous, but I was also left to wonder if maybe it makes me a better person.

Maybe, while it’s self-absorbed in the moment, it also allows me to be more present for others when I need to be as it blocks out my tendency to be annoyed and obstructed by the small stuff. Maybe, just maybe, running every day makes the small stuff less stressful, less cumbersome, less important and, ultimately, along this long, winding trail of life, it just might make life, and living, more meaningful.

Bottoms up!

 AJW’s Beer of the Week
Oskar Blues Deviant Dale's IPA
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Oskar Blues in Longmont, Colorado and Brevard, North Carolina. Deviant Dale’s IPA, in 16-ounce cans, is perhaps the most drinkable 8.5% beer I’ve had. And, like everything from Oskar Blues, it’s eminently accessible.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

In addition to the questions AJW poses above:

  • Do distance runners “go with the flow” better than the general population? Have you seen it in action?
  • Do you sweat the small stuff sometimes? Does running as a filter of those negative details?

There is one comment

  1. Andy

    The metaphors for running and life are endless. As trail and ultra-runners, we not only "don't sweat the small stuff" (e.g., rocks, roots, hills, streams) but embrace them as part of the challenge and adventure. We are present with our environment and revel in it, rather than fear it or stress over it.

    One of the grandfather's of cognitive psychology, Richard Lazarus, noted that when we "appraise" things as challenges rather than threats, we de-stress and excel at "going with the flow." Not sure if running makes us better people, but if we can apply the trail and ultra mentality to life it certainly enhances coping with and enjoying life immensely.

    If we can stay upright while flying down a scree slope with 50 miles in our legs, surely running must help us stay more "stable" in navigating the rocks and roots of everyday life.

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