How to Run Like a Stoic
Jeff asked me if I would mind writing a guest post for his blog, and of course I agreed. I mean, why not? How hard could it be? I write all kinds of drivel in various online forums, so this won’t be difficult at all.
Lemme tell ya, I was wrong. I struggled for a week or so, and threw out several variants. It didn’t help that I really had no starting point. Unfortunately for me, I need something more concrete than “write about running.” Who knew?
A couple weeks ago, a common topic popped up online: Recommend some good running-related books to read. Of course the usual selections were given: Dr. Daniels’ book, Pfitzinger, Once a Runner, yadda yadda yadda. I cannot deny that those are good books for running (mostly because I haven’t read most of them). My recommendations were Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and Enchiridion by Epictetus. For those who have not read either book, neither mentions running specifically.
So why the recommendations? At first, I was doing it to be obtuse; I do take a perverse pleasure in throwing something out to see what sort of conversation gets generated without providing a full reason behind the initial statement.
But really, there was more to it, and I had to really think about what I was trying to accomplish--especially since no one even acknowledged my recommendations, the Philistines!! After some soul-searching and contemplation, I’ve come to the conclusion that the general idea behind those books is at the core of how I approach training.
The books are based on the ancient philosophy of Stoicism. Most people have heard the term “stoic” before and take it to mean suffering through without displaying emotion. Unfortunately, that misses the real heart of Stoicism. It’s not that there is no emotion; it’s that you understand the nature and purpose of things. The goal of the ancient Stoics was to live a life free from the undue influence of externals. This goal was accomplished by recognizing that we are responsible solely for ourselves, and when we get upset, or jealous, or anything else, we are letting others control our emotions and our actions.
(Note, I am not a professional philosopher, so this is my take on things. Don’t agree? Deal with it.)
What does that have to do with running and training?
Once we get past all the numbers, the break down of cycles, the daily workout schedules, etc., what is left? There are a few core principles that I think are relevant to any runner, no matter age or ability. First, everything you do should have purpose. If your goal is to stay fit and healthy, then all of your training should be directed towards that goal. Every session has a reason for being, and you need to understand, accept, and follow that purpose. Ignoring the purpose of a workout leads to problems in training. The idea that most people go too easy on hard days and too hard on easy days highlights nicely the idea of purpose.
Second, no one else is you, and you need to spend time examining and understanding yourself. To me, this is one of the greatest benefits of running, particularly running alone. You get a chance to get inside your head, to spend some quality time with yourself. You need this time to improve both your training and the other aspects of your life. I have worked through more issues while out on the roads than in any other single place. By spending this quality time, you get to the heart of your motivations. Understanding these motivations is the key to determining purpose. Additionally, it gives you a chance to see how you respond to different things. Do you do better with more volume, or less? How many intervals are too many? All of the questions you see being asked on message boards are probably better answered by oneself, not by a bunch of random people who happened to read your question that day. The answers you receive give you a starting place, but you need to do the work and evaluate your response to it.
|Marcus Aurelius was an emperor and a soldier. This was no ivory-tower theoretician, but a man whose need to think came directly out of his living responsibilities.|
Third, you need patience.
wasn’t built in a day, and neither was your body. You have to give yourself time. Having goals is a fundamental aspect of this point. With the right goals, you can always go back to them to understand why you are running easy today or why you shouldn’t do that really great-sounding marathon next week. Goals lend themselves to tempering your responses, and that’s what patience is. You need to realize that you have to take time to step back, evaluate, and understand. Rome
Finally, and this point is probably hardest to grasp, you are responsible for you. Not your shoes, not your watch, not anything else. Those are tools, to be used with the requisite understanding, but they do not take away your responsibility to yourself. You cannot blame shoes when you don’t pay attention to your body. You cannot abdicate your race performance to a watch. None of these things assures or prevents success. The only factor in all of this is you, the individual. You have to take responsibility for determining your goals, for examining your motivations, for listening to your body, and for having the patience to make it all come together.
Ultimately, the thing that makes you a better runner has nothing to do with the types of workouts, the number of miles, or the method you use to monitor effort. The answer is much simpler than that. You have to align your training with your goals, understand the motivation behind the goals, build your training in a fashion that matches those goals and yourself, give yourself time, and take responsibility for your training. You need to be honest about the purpose of your training and whether you’ve been true to that purpose or not.
In the end, the real message is that we have to be true to ourselves. Don’t get caught up in all the little things, missing the forest for the trees. Find a purpose to your training, and use that purpose to make yourself a better runner, if not a better person.