Letting Go of the Numbers

My fixation with numbers has been leading me to some dark places recently. It started when last week I stepped on the scale and saw the number was higher than I tend to like it. At first I tried to blow it off as water weight or inflammation, but when I weighed myself again a couple of days later and my weight was still on the higher end of my weight range I continued to berate myself mentally with horrible self-deprecating thoughts.

My downward spiral continued when I went for my long-run last weekend. I set out to run 12 miles, which I did not think would be too difficult, considering I am training for a marathon. I started off okay, but as I climbed up into the hills I started to get tired and hot, my right hip and left knee started to ache, and I started taking some walk breaks. Half way through my run I ran out of water. As I climbed further up into the trail, it became overgrown and I started to worry about snakes. Some other runners warned me about poison ivy, so I found myself stopping frequently to examine the plants. Although I tried to look for poison ivy, the trail was so overgrown in places I couldn’t even tell what was growing in there. Eventually I gave up and turned around. Mentally I was alternating between appreciating the beauty around me and beating myself up. I felt old and slow and like my body was falling apart. I was frustrated that I wasn’t running faster and that things hurt. I kept looking at my watch and feeling like a failure. At the 10 mile mark, I burst into tears. It was taking me just as long to cover 12 miles as it had taken my coach (who is an elite runner) to run her marathon a few weeks earlier! I told myself that I had no business calling myself a runner or being on a running team and that I should give up immediately. With a combination of sweat and tears streaming down my face, I continued to run, but I also continued to say these horrible things to myself. Things I would never in a million years say to a friend or a running partner.

After that run I came home, refueled, took an ice bath, and tried to chalk the whole thing up to just a bad running day. But I’ve been in a little bit of a funk ever since. And I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my unnecessary focus on numbers: both the number on the scale and the number on the stop watch. What do they really mean? The number on the scale can be a measure of health (and I put can in italics because there are lots of other ways to measure health), but it does not define me. My body is so much more than that. And my worth and my value as a person has nothing at all to do with that number. So why would I let it impact my mood at all? Same with the number on the stop watch. Sure it is nice to run fast. It is gratifying to see just how much I can push my body sometimes. I love those endorphins, and I have race goals and love setting PRs just as much as the next guy. But why do I beat myself up if I don’t hit a time goal in a workout? Or if a race doesn’t go my way? This doesn’t define me. The stopwatch can’t tell me who I am. Isn’t it more important just to be out there and running, appreciating nature and the fact that my body can in fact move one foot in front of the other? Why rationally I understand this and in my heart I want to feel it, somewhere there is an emotional disconnect that too often forces me back to the numbers. Perhaps it is that I do not have sufficient self confidence coming from within, so I look to the external, definitive factors (ie, the number) for valuation.

But by letting the numbers define me I am robbing myself of the joy of the journey. For it is not really the number or the moment of the PR that I am striving for. I want to enjoy the process of getting there too. Scott Jurek stated it perfectly when he said, “The longer and farther I ran, the more I realized that what I was often chasing was a state of mind — a place where worries that seemed monumental melted away, where the beauty and timelessness of the universe, of the present moment, came into sharp focus.” This is essentially what I am chasing. The ability to run and to be in the present moment. Without worry or concern about numbers or about being something other than what I am. It is my hope that running can help me let go and find that peaceful and present state of mind.