What running is teaching me about working

After my husband completed a 100 km run a few weeks ago, he told me the key to finishing it was taking things slowly. Not barrelling along or racing against time. It is more important to get out there and to finish than to exhaust yourself trying to do it quickly.

I’ve kept this approach in mind as I begin to re-introduce my body to running, after a year or so away from it. I have been running more slowly than I used to and ignoring the time as I go. I’ve also decided not to push myself, running only about 3 or 4 km each time over the past few weeks. But this past Tuesday, with my take-it-slow mantra in mind, I tried my old 6 km route. It’s been a long time but I enjoyed the familiarity; my body just sort of fell into step, as though it remembered exactly where every crack was, where every dip or hill was.

It’s a beautiful run, winding along in the sunshine beside Ottawa’s Rideau Canal. I looked around, enjoying the view of the meandering water, the reflection of the sky, the stately trees and lush gardens, the few leaves that are starting to turn red. I lost myself in my music. I experienced that wonderful feeling that I used to love, the feeling of floating along effortlessly, as though my mind had separated from my body.

Not only did I finish it but I felt like I could have kept going. Every time I felt myself speeding up or thinking about getting to my destination, I forced myself to slow down and think only of the moment.

It made everything feel easy.

And that’s what I’m thinking I should be doing as I reintegrate into the office.

Yesterday was my first full day at work. By lunchtime, I was looking for the exit, wondering how on earth I would ever complete the day, never mind the full three days I’m supposed to spend there next week.

I had been asked to write an urgent (everything is urgent) page and a half of speaking points for our Deputy Minister to use in an upcoming meeting. There were a number of frustrating issues about the task – the fact that no one had actually requested it, the fact that the speaking points already existed in another document being sent to the same Deputy Minister, the fact that I didn’t have access to any pre-existing files from which I would be pulling the information – but I did it, sent it off and then felt like crawling away quietly to hide.

I can’t really explain why this little burst of work took so much out of me. Though I never heard back from my boss, who I think sensed I was a bit overwhelmed, I don’t think I did a bad job on the task. Perhaps it was because it was the first time I had delved into all the places I had forced my mind to abandon over the past 15 months. Or the shock of writing for work instead of as creative expression. Or that I had only just regained access to my computer and had 15 months of emails staring at me.

I knew I needed a break from the office if I was going to make it to the end of the day. So I went for a walk. I found a welcoming corner in the shadow of one of the many monuments in our city, took off my shoes so I could put my feet in the grass, and sat there, watching the sky and emptying my mind of all thoughts.

It was then that the correlation between returning to running and returning to work hit me. If I’m going to make it through this adjustment process, I’m going to have to move slowly, avoid pushing myself too hard, stay in the moment, stop thinking about the destination, be it the destination of the day’s end or of the point in the future at which I will be working full time again, and I’m going to have to recalibrate when I notice I’ve stopped doing all these things.

When I returned to the office, instead of continuing to panic about making it to the end of the day or how I would ever survive working three full days next week, I spent the afternoon slowly going through tasks, small tasks, thinking of nothing beyond what I was doing in the moment.

And look at that. I made it to the end of the day. I made it to today, with its familiar comforts of my kitchen, my coffee, my time to myself, my writing.

There will be times that I panic. But at those times, I hope I will learn to take a deep breath, pull myself back, slow down and be in the moment.

For now, though, I’m off to do another slow run.

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7 thoughts on “What running is teaching me about working

  1. Looking past the triteness of “one minute at a time”, or “one step at a time”, it really does have value in getting through a difficult time. I’m glad you have a tangible comparison, I’m sure it will be of service to you.

  2. A great way of dealing with the more difficult times in the work day – get absorbed in the moment, and then the next, and then the next …… the tasks will just drop off your “to do” list and before you know it – an empty desk/inbox!!

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