U IS FOR UNDERSTANDING
Elaine Doll-Dunn, Psy.D.

When I was a novice runner and couldn’t count the day unless I had run, I became seriously addicted to the sport and to myself. I talked running; I thought running, I breathed running. I obsessed about distance, about time; about workouts…the focus of every day was THE RUN. I had a young family, and I think now how incredibly understanding and forgiving they were. We lived on a ranch 4.6 miles (See what I mean?) from town, and one day I said, “I’m going to run into town and get some bread.” My seven-year-old seriously asked, “Are you takin’ the car?” It made sense to him that I would “run” into town for a loaf of bread! That’s when I began to realize that running owned me, and that my family had a runner who mothered instead of a mother who ran. That’s when I decided to take a look at my reasons, my rationales, and my responsibilities. (I did, I tried a Twelve Step Program, but it just led to thirteen….kidding!) It took a while, but I have moderated at least my fanaticism. The world won’t end if I don’t get to my workout, I won’t get fat overnight, and I will remember how to run when I get to it.
So understanding is a key word in the running community. Understanding yourself, understanding running, understanding a spouse or child’s resentment of the time and energy devoted to a seemingly futile exercise in repetition. (Those miles don’t stay ‘run’, there’s a definite hamster component to the sport).

Learn what you can about this activity if you’re going to be a serious runner. (And if you have begun a running program you will very soon be a serious runner). Then learn more about yourself; physically and emotionally. (And if you have begun a running program you have already discovered some interesting, perhaps disturbing, things about yourself). Then learn more about your family, your significant other, and your friends. (And if you have begun a running program, you are learning LOTS about all of the above.)

Starting with the sport, I recommend reading Runner’s World, Running Times, or Marathon and Beyond. The first two have tips, suggestions, race schedules, and training advice; Marathon and Beyond is mostly stories about runners, but motivational and interesting reading. None of them is really geared to the older runner, but good information transfers.

Talking with people who run is always edifying; I learn something every time I run with someone. We all come at things differently and process the same information in light of our own experience. The sharing of that on-the-road-talk is a productive coaching process. Sometimes I’m only reinforcing what I know or thought I knew, but it’s still learning and understanding.
Another great way to gain information is to connect with one of the on-line coaching programs. Jeff Galloway has a good one, and I’ll have mine on my web-site soon; (at least you’ll recognize the running venues). These are convenient and comfortable ways to expand your running knowledge base.

Then about yourself; have the courage to explore the physical and the emotional aspects of your own person. Not always comfortable, it might be a revelation to realize that you have either an elevated or depressed image of what and who you really are. I have always thought that we run ‘for’ or we run ‘from’. It’s interesting to explore your own real reasons for running, I began on a dare and found---when I finally faced the issue---that I was actually running ‘from’. Not that the revelation changed anything, but it did explain to me my need. Dr. Ken Cooper, the inventor of the term “aerobics” said, “If you’re running more that 20 minutes a day for three days a week, you’re running for something besides fitness.” Think about it.

Measure yourself against like runners, expand your comfort zone physically and mentally, and don’t be intimidated by distance, speed, or people. There weren’t many of us women“on the road” when I began running, and at forty years old it was close to scandalous. I pioneered running tights AND the sports bra; you think radical! There will always be kind souls who have a better idea for your life; be true to you.

Understanding the critical “others” in your life is perhaps the most difficult. It involves ‘living in their skin’ as the relationship refers to you. When your spouse gets cross, pouty, or negative, the temptation is to put the blame entirely on him/her, when in truth it could be a reaction to a new you, a change in the relationship, and maybe even a loss of companionship physically and emotionally. Addicted runners are not the best company in the world. Your friends, especially those who don’t run, are not going to understand that a run takes priority and that you’ll get around to spending time with them when you’ve finished your workout. Notice I said ‘understand’, not ‘change’, all we can ask for and really all we want is for people to understand. Okay, so if they will just tolerate…not everyone can celebrate a friend’s commitment.

Along the way you may just entice another person to run and enjoy the high of feeling great and of being in charge. That’s the plus. You gain a new running buddy and are exonerated for your neglect of the friendship! Be patient with the process and UNDERSTAND…it may take a while. Spread the word.

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