I'm wondering if anyone else feels this way.
I've noticed that a typical run can be divided into predictable, identifiable stages. The duration of each stage changes from run to run and depends on all kinds of factors, internal and external, but the stages themselves remain pretty consistent.
I was thinking about this as I ran the other day, and realized that the stages seemed oddly familiar...
And so, I hereby give to you the Five Stages of
Otherwise known as "The Honeymoon Period," all runs start out this way, although the length of this phase has changed dramatically since I first started running in March. During the Denial phase, there is no sweating or gasping or sharp, shooting pain. Your knees feel strong, your lungs feel calm, your cheeks have a light, healthy glow from your warm-up walk, your music hasn't had time to get boring yet.
The first few times I ran, this phase lasted about three steps.
At the height of my regular workouts, a mere 7-8 weeks later, it lasted closer to three minutes. These days, I'm back to about a minute and a half before my breathing begins to get a little labored and I start to really feel like I'm.. you know.. running. And that, as we all know, means that the honeymoon is over.
Shortly after the windedness begins, my knees start to assert themselves and I realize that I've only just begun and already I'm exhausted. Or at least, you know, slightly uncomfortable. This is when I start to change the game plan in my head: okay, this sucks, there is no way I'm going to make it to the 2-mile turnaround point, so I'll just make this one a 1.5 mile run.
And then: 1.5 miles is so arbitrary anyway. If I can make it to that tree up there, I can turn around then, and I'll do an extra short run tomorrow to make up for it.
And then: Maybe I'll just walk this one, just today, I'll just walk and do some stretches. That's still exercise, right? Walking! Walking is good! And I'll go all the way to the 2-mile turnaround.... although that would be really boring, so maybe I'll just go... to the grocery store! Yes! I can just go grocery shopping now and do the stretches later!
Or maybe, instead of stretches, I can play Wii! Yeah, yeah, there are yoga poses in there, and strength exercises... or I can do that obstacle course game... or the tightrope. Or that snowboarding game. Or tennis. Tennis! That's probably good too, right?
Man, I wish they had Tetris for Wii. That would be awesome. Tetris. I haven't played that in ages. I should play Tetris when I get home. I can play Wii later-- I'll find Tetris online and play that for just a little while.
Or Sudoku. Oh, I love Sudoku! Yeah, a little Sudoku right about now would be great. And then I can look for those shoes I wanted to get...
And so on. During this difficult stage, I never fail to bargain my way down from whatever lofty goal I set when I left my house to quitting immediately and couch-surfing for the rest of the day. Meanwhile, I've kept running. And running. And running. And it eventually dawns on me that I'm not going to do any of the above, but rather I'm going to finish what I've set out to do, and that thought delivers me right smack into Stage Three:
This is when I realize that I am already pretty far from home-- too far to turn around and save myself much effort-- and yet not quite halfway done with my run. Every step waiting to be taken between me and home taunts me from the sidewalk. I'm basically damned if I do and damned if I don't at this point.
Which pisses me off.
I keep running, and a good song comes on, and my mind begins to wander. I don't know it yet, but I am already entering Stage Four...
This is the most tenuously-connected stage, I admit. Most of the time it probably gets combined with Stage Three, in a sort of miserable one-two punch. But I've begun to experience a time after the hyper-awareness of Stage Three that I'm only aware of after it's passed, where I just sort of take myself out of the picture for a while and forget where I am and what I'm doing. It usually happens right around my turn-around point: I get lost in a train of thought, or get caught up in the song that's playing, and the running part becomes completely unconscious for a few minutes.
I'm fine with calling this the "Depression" phase, because while it is not necessarily negative in nature, in its own way it IS a lack of engagement; a checking-out. It lasts as long as it lasts-- a minute or two, the length of a song, whatever-- and then I realize I've been doing it, which breaks the spell... and I finally, blessedly, find myself in Stage Five.
Here I am. I'm on my way back-- home feels close at this point, even if it's still a good way off. My breathing has calmed and slowed and feels more fortifying than desperate now. I become aware of the warmth and ease in my body: my knees feel strong and flexible, my joints loose, my feet solid on the pavement. The rhythm of my steps follows the music in my headphones; the fluid movements of my arms and legs is organic and helps to propel me forward-- I'm not fighting my own progress anymore.
Stage Five is where I get to feel like a Runner.
It took me a while to get to this stage. Past the discomfort, past the mortification, past the anxiety and desperation and self-doubt, and approaching the edge-- maybe dipping my toe into the pool, as it were-- of the world where exercise makes you feel great, even while you are doing it!
I know a few people, newer to running than I, who haven't reached it yet. To them, I say: it will come! But the trick is, it's not just a physical thing. I mean, sure, you have get to a point where your body can relax and get into a groove without killing you, but you also have to get to a mental space where you can allow yourself to feel good while you're still running. That's a bit harder. I don't really know how it happened for me; it just did, one day. I think that's probably the way it works for most of us.
Just keep running, friends. It will come.
I guess that means that Stage Four is key to achieving this-- that point where you can actually unhook yourself from the immediacy of what's happening to your body and just let your mind wander. And I never really reach Stage Four without having been through Stage Three... and likewise for stages One and Two. Yep, it turns out that even through Stage Five is the goal and obviously the winner, each of the other stages are important in their own way and vital to the process. There's no Acceptance without Denial; there's no Anger without Bargaining.
For better AND for worse, a run just is what it is.
But for you other runners out there: identifying these stages really helps me, every time, because of their predictable, cyclical nature. I can make it past the Denial Stage because I KNOW I'll get to Acceptance eventually. I can last through Anger and Depression because I KNOW they won't be the way I feel forever. I know that calm, rhythmic, solid feeling is coming if I just push a little harder, a little longer, just a few more steps. And once I get past Bargaining, even THAT isn't so hard to do anymore.
It will come. I know it. It will come. And then? Who knows? I might be able to run forever.
So what about you, fellow runners? Do you recognize these stages? Do you experience something similar, or is it different for you? Any tips and tricks for those of us still new to the process, to help us reach the Acceptance Stage faster and get more enjoyment out of our runs?