The Psychic Economics of Running

Once you’re out there, striding, puffing, getting into a rhythm, you realize that resources are limited. You must marshal the assets in your mind.

The running economy is a free market economy. But no matter who your competitors are, there is no regulation necessary. On the track or in the field, no matter who is in the next lane or at the starting line, the real competition is yourself. That goes for everyone, plodder to speeder, Usain Bolt to Insane Dolt.

The running I do just sneaks into the definition of the word. At times it’s a jog, other times a true shuffle-footed plod, and still other times something approaching the glide I used to feel when I was younger. Still, no matter how well I might be running at any given moment, there are economic decisions to be made.

For instance, I have two refusals. Refusals are the mental “No” that I deliver when my body says, “Hey. This is getting uncomfortable. Let’s stop and walk.” The body doesn’t always share the mind’s goals, and it allows itself to be distracted. It is vain and self-involved, so it doesn’t really have the ability to look away from its discomfort, even for a good purpose. It dwells on its discomfort instead.

I am allowed to refuse my body twice. By the third general complaint, the body has a better chance of being right in its assessment of our joint strength. It is unwise to completely ignore one’s body. When the body bitches for the third time, I stop, even if I am short of my goal. I have broken this rule a number of times, sometimes with injury and sometimes without. But I can never tell whether I will get away with it or not.

I have the ability to concentrate on my stride length. Many times, this keeps a run from being a death shuffle. If I can break down my stride into a push-off from the back foot and a slide forward with the front to a mid-foot strike, I can sometimes forget the respiratory maelstrom that’s going on in my lungs. I can go faster without really pushing. Instead, I’m taking bigger steps. This can work late in a run to keep my mind from focusing on my body.

I can look up unlimited times. By fighting head-hang, I can change the view, unhitch the neck muscles, distract myself, even hum a little. This a great help.

I can remember. Often I remember when it was harder than this. That makes me more buoyant, at least for a little while.

Then there are the unpredictable resources, the ones with no solid measurement index. Chief among these is the ability to resist Evil Gravity. Evil Gravity is the insidious force that beats psychic inertia. Remember, inertia is the law that says a body at rest tends to remain at rest, or a body in motion tends to remain in motion, until it is acted upon by some force.

Evil Gravity is the force that makes you stop running. If it didn’t exist, I would have been running for years. I’m not talking about injury breaks or the once-in-20-chances sleep-in. I’m talking about just stopping and not starting again, and all of a sudden two years have gone by. EG is mysterious, and it goes by many names: busy-at-work, low self-esteem, too-results-focused. But whatever you call it, EG’s pull can immobilize you if you let it.

EG is one of the reasons Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan grew from a mere ad campaign into a mantra. It happens to be true. It’s the only way to beat Evil Gravity; it requires forging ahead with a minimum of analysis. But I never know how much EG resistance I’m actually going to have on hand. One thing I do know: resistance to EG breeds more. So I try to cultivate it. But whenever I find some, I use it.

Like any economy, the psychic market of running has its ups, its downs, its spreadsheets of soreness and dividends of delight. And just as with trends in the money economy, if you can be patient, it all evens out.

And just keeps going. — Adam Barr

Copyright 2012 Adam Barr

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2 thoughts on “The Psychic Economics of Running

  1. Jim Teague says:

    Excellent! I have decided to join the fight against Evil Gravity: (I have recently encountered three dastardly henchmen: Shorter Days, NFL on TV and The Neighbor’s Dog Is Laughing At Me).

  2. […] weary of the fight. My oldest and dearest friend recently posted an entry on his own blog about “Evil Gravity” and its¬†never-ending efforts to stop us from getting in motion and getting fit. He is right on, […]

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