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 are 19 comments

  1. ToTheTrails

    Spot on AJW! I tend to be a wee bit on edge without a run exactly like your wife Shelly put it. We as runners can reflect. Our sort of place to meditate, work things out, and move on. Great piece for this weekend as I will be spending time with family. Better get a long run in:)

  2. oneunity2009

    This is so true AJW, I mean when running it is the only time in my life when I do not feel any outside distractions clouding my thoughts like I do when I am not able to run. it is as you say at this point when we are able to ponder our thoughts put right the wrongs and untangle the mess in our minds without interuptions.____Unless of course I am running intervals and then all i am thinking about is the next intake of breath before I raise the effort again :o)

  3. 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.

  4. Greg

    I’m not sure that I agree. I think that running, and specifically ultras, allow us to handle the big issues in life better, but I’m not sure if it really allows us to better handle the small stuff. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve witnessed runners turn seemingly small issues into the biggest problem in the world mid-race. I’ve seen runners angrily yell at their crews because they had the wrong flavor of gel; I’ve heard runners blame their DNFs on the fact that aid stations were actually 8 miles apart instead of 6; and I’ll admit to allowing not getting selected for WS to ruin an entire weekend once. These are all very, very small things in my opinion.

    As always, I really enjoyed this article. It is thought-provoking, too. I just think that we often want to view ourselves in a better light than we really should be. After all, we’re all human, whether we run or not.

  5. rfgordon2013

    Running is an oasis! I work full time, am a husband, a father of teenagers, a youth leader for middle schoolers, a worship guitarist and tube amp repair guy. I also do the cooking, spider killing, dog walking, stink bug flushing and toilet plunging in our house. Running and sleeping are just about the only times when nobody else is demanding something of me. It's like moving meditation.

  6. ClownRunner

    Top ten ways Running helps me not sweat the small stuff:

    (1) I stepped in puppy poop on our carpet at 3am the other morning. No big deal.
    (2) I stepped in puppy poop outside in the yard at 5am later that morning. No big deal.
    (3) My 5-year-old son hit me on my bad knee with a light saber the other morning. No big deal.
    (4) My 8-year-old daughter wants to watch Modern Family with my wife and I. No big deal.
    (5) My right achilles makes every step awkward, wincing and depressing. BIG DEAL!
    (6) Bills are overdue, appliances are breaking, weather is miserable. No big deal.
    (7) Holiday stress is over, but it was never a big deal. Big family = No annoyances.
    (8) Wife thinks I'm selfish, self-absorbed, not funny, not aware of the big picture. No big deal.
    (9) Can't find a missing running sock. BIG DEAL!
    (10) Favorite shoes are $5 off online. BIG DEAL!

  7. LGarten

    I agree until a point. The heavier my training load becomes the more tired and sleep deprived I sometimes get. This makes dealing with little stuff harder and harder.

  8. JaketheMince

    Just had Deviant Dale's IPA and Dale's Pale back to back yesterday. I think the IPA is actually a bit more drinkable, smooth and sweet, well balanced; definitely not what I expected after the hop-forward character of the pale. And you're right, AJW, the alcohol is hidden well in this brew. Great pick!

  9. nelsonprater

    What a great column! Running is especially good for the mind, the spirit, the soul. At least once a week, I encourage those I run with to leave the watch and headphones at home. Be in the present. Be silent, thankful. Listen. Allow the grace of running to wash over you. I have two heads when I say things like that. You would probably have an aura of light around you if they heard that from you.

  10. jstemple

    Sometimes before a run, I'm semi fretting about one thing or another, but once the endorphins kick in it's "negative persperation."

  11. dwrdsndr

    Somewhere along the line, running taught me the lesson, "This isn't hard, this just is." It's a perspective, really, that we have to accept things as they are and then make the best of them. Feet wet? That's just how they are now. Don't fret. They'll dry. Keep going. Wrong turn? The course just got a little longer for you, and slower people passed you. It's OK. It's still pretty amazing that you're able to do this. Get back on course. Keep going.

    But maybe more importantly, running teaches you what's really important in life. At mile 80 of a 100-mile race, material possessions don't matter. Your car, your clothes, your house doesn't matter. Your job doesn't matter. The thing you look forward to MOST in the ENTIRE world is seeing your people at that next aid station, those people that took work off and traveled to cheer you on, to help you, to share the experience with you. Everything else is a small, unimportant detail. You can't find real happiness is not your car, your job, your clothes, or your house. You find happiness in people, and sharing the experience of life.

    I mean, I could be wrong, but that's what I've taken away from this sport.

  12. markymoro

    In this aspect, running is just the icing on your cake. Having a wife and kids who know you so well and support your passion for running generally, and Statesmas specificly, has to be an incredible source of many wonderful things….including a calm – a sense of peace that can only come from being understood and appreciated by closest to you. I am sure you already know it, but you are blessed.

  13. vanessaruns

    Great post. Running long gives me the time I need to evaluate my goals and my relationships with others. When I'm not running, I can make those adjustments to become a better person.

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