Running:  leaving my comfort zone

The last time I left my comfort zone was this morning at 05:30.   Actually, that’s not quite true.  My alarm went off at 05:30 as usual.  And as usual, I wondered whether I had the will and motivation to act on its implied command to get out of bed and start the day.  My bed is my comfort zone.   I have great difficulty leaving it.   And yet, I do leave it pretty much every day.  When I don’t it’s because I have some ailment.  

Yet getting out of bed is not easy, I’m reminded of the essay my mother used to enjoy, written by Rose Macaulay.  It’s in her book Personal Pleasures.  The essay is in 2 parts:  Part 1 Bed, Getting Into It, and Part 2 Bed, Not Getting Out of It.   In part 2 she advises, ‘Going to bed is a nocturnal pleasure; but not getting out of it is a journal one, to be enjoyed with all the innocent ardours and relish of the day.  Slug then in sloth, and languish in delights, while the day breaks and shadows flee away.’

Mostly I allow myself a maximum of 10 minutes sloth and then force myself out of bed.  Immediately, I put on my running kit.  I put out my kit before I go to bed. It’s a repeated tip from places like Runner’s World – to put out your kit the night before and then get out of bed and put it on.    I don’t sleep in my running kit, which is what one runner suggests.

I am a morning runner.  I run as soon as I get up, almost every day.  I’m definitely not in any comfort zone as I leave the house on a dark, cold, winter morning, kitted out with flashing armbands and a high viz ‘wind stopper’.   Summer is better but there’s still that hesitation of ‘do I really want to run?’

I am not a lifelong runner.  I took it up when I was 43.   

My husband died suddenly in August – just after my 43rd birthday.   In October, that year – looking for something, other than what I was feeling – I saw a flyer on the local library’s noticeboard.  ‘Social running for women’, offered by a local running club.   With a great deal of telling myself it would be ok and I could always leave, I showed up as a total beginner and was welcomed by the group.

Over a few months I found a) I loved running, a complete surprise as I’d never run before  b) I was good at it – though that took a bit longer that the first few months. 

Now, nearly 30 years later, I’m still enjoying running, I’m still learning from running and I’m still good at it – my age graded result hovers around 83% – which more or less satisfies my competitive spirit, though I still aspire to getting to 85+%.

Once I’ve got out of the house for my daily morning run, I enter a different comfort zone.  My running comfort zone is a 6 km run at a comfortable pace, on a familiar route. I enjoy being outside moving through the air, feeling the wind, noticing small changes on the routes I run.   As I get going, I know that I do want to run:  it’s an energy boost. It’s a reflective time to think about the day ahead. It gives me a feeling of have done something before the day really begins, and I look forward to coffee and breakfast as I near home. 

On these comfort zone runs, I make the, usually unconscious, choice of doing what I think of as either an external or an internal run.   The external run is when I pay attention to the environment and notice what’s going on – trees coming into leaf, a flash of parakeets (London), some wildflowers in the pavement cracks, litter bins attacked by crows, etc.   The internal run is when I don’t pay attention to any of that sort of thing, because I’m mulling over a problem, working out how to do something, thinking about what the day might hold – all introspection and running the route on auto-pilot. 

But often I leave that type of comfort-zone run, for the discomfort zone of running training programmes.   Because I enter a lot of races, running seems to involve much getting out of my comfort zone – track training, race training over extended periods, and then the race itself.   I plan what races I am interested in for the coming year (all cancelled during 2020 and many in 2021!)  and follow a running training programme that will improve my time, help me get fitter, and build my strength and stamina. 

Even when I feel prepared, when I’m at the start with my running number pinned to my vest, I feel high anxiety.  It’s always nerve-wracking, though I’ve done it hundreds of times.  

People often ask me why I run, and am I thinking of giving up. (They don’t say ‘at your age’, but this is what I think they are sometimes getting at).  What is it that makes me continue to leave my comfort zone? 

There are so many recorded benefits of being outdoors and I feel them.  The days I don’t run I feel grouchy.  I find it an ongoing learning experience:  about running physiology – in my case, for older runners, about the technology available to support runners (not available when I started), about the wonderful and diverse community of runners – my local Park Run is a Saturday delight,  about my capacity to push myself, and about getting older and having to accept slower times than I’ve managed in the past.  

Walking is an ok substitute but not as good.  But when it’s raining (often this past December, unfortunately) I reluctantly walk instead.  I’ve learned to accept the fact that I no longer want to run in a downpour.  (Being dry is another of my comfort zones).   That works up to a point.  I’ve instituted a personal rule – if it’s not raining as I leave the house, I’ll run, even if rain is threatened.  Sometimes I get wet and sometimes the rain holds off. 

When and why do you leave your comfort zone?  Let me know.

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