Control What You Can Control

An essay about controlling the controllables and letting the rest go in running and life.

By on August 28, 2020 | 1 comment

AJW's TaproomOne of the earliest pieces of ultrarunning advice I received was from Tim Twietmeyer, 25-time finisher of the Western States 100. Early in my running career, I asked Tim what he thought was the key component of his ultrarunning success. He said, “I try to focus on controlling what I can control and not worry too much about the rest.”

For whatever reason, this advice has stuck with me more than most over the years and, in recent times, it has resonated with me not only with respect to ultrarunning but to other parts of my life, as well. Certainly, as far as ultrarunning goes, this is essential. While we can’t control the weather, the course markings, or whether an aid station runs out of food, we can control how we react to those things and how they impact us. Additionally, for those things we can control like what shoes we wear, how much water we carry, and how fast or slow we run, paying astute attention to detail can pave the way toward success.

In recent months, as the world has confronted the COVID-19 pandemic in myriad ways, many of the circumstances have been out of everyone’s control. And, as a result, many have suffered from fear and anxiety in the midst of the confusion. This is where Twiet’s advice from all those years ago comes into play. In the midst of troubling and uncertain times, we must cling to those things that we can control and for me I have focused on three things during this period and will likely continue to do so in the months and years ahead. They may seem like obvious things to many, but maintaining a sense of consistency and control has allowed me to maintain an even keel most of the time.

First and foremost, I can control my exercise, which for me is my daily run. Throughout the nearly six-month period of this pandemic, I have made this daily run my first priority every single day. In the context of control, I get to decide where, for how long, and how fast or slow I run. I can take the opportunity to be outdoors by myself and sort out the rest of what’s going on in my life and in the world. Upon returning from the run, I find myself better equipped to handle whatever comes my way that day, much of which will be out of my control.

Secondly, I can control my diet. While it has been the case for many that the stress and anxiety of the pandemic can cause people to love controlling their diets, I have found that the structure that comes from daily dietary discipline promotes a sense of confidence. It allows me to make decisions about what and when I eat that foster a general feeling of positivity. This positivity, in turn, extends to other parts of my life and other decisions I make.

Third, I can focus on getting ample, quality sleep. Certainly, there are times when the stress of the situation keeps me up at night or shocks me into an early wake-up, but remaining cognizant of the importance of sleep and establishing a consistent routine with a regular bedtime and wake time has served the purpose of building structure around my daily life and led to a general feeling of well-being in the midst of these immensely challenging times.

As we continue to navigate our lives in the midst of this pandemic, controlling the controllables can be a helpful mantra. The three controllables I have chosen to focus on–running, eating, and sleeping–are, to me, some of the most basic. But, there are many others out there for the taking and the comfort and sense of equilibrium that the controllables can provide in the midst of uncertainty go a long way toward keeping us centered and healthy.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Wild Acre Brewing Company in Fort Worth, Texas. Texas Blonde, Wild Acre’s signature blonde ale, is deceptively bold. While it is, on the surface, a simple, crisp, classic blonde ale, it has a fruitiness that is surprising and refreshing and it has a bit more body than your typical blonde ale. This is a beer that is good with just about anything!

Call for Comments

  • Does Tim Twietmeyer’s advice resonate with you either in life or running? Has it evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • What in your life and running are you controlling, and what are you letting go of during the pandemic?
Andy Jones-Wilkins
Andy Jones-Wilkins finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.