Tuning our personal narratives

Afterthoughts: Figuring by Maria Popova

The allure of the Ironman

Dark Light

This idea of a personal narrative –– the story we tell ourselves about the things we do –– has been playing front of mind recently. I have been reminded of how powerful force it can be in calibrating one’s outlook on the world.

The particular context in which I began thinking about this was in my running journey. At the outset, the narrative was firmly on getting on top of my health and weight in particular. Not too long ago, I reached a point where all that came under control and the narrative I told myself became redundant almost overnight. I knew that I wanted to continue running because, health benefits aside, I grew to love it.

This type of values transformation I have experience a few times before, most prominently, around live music experiences. Up until 2017, I had attended a total of 0 concerts. What persuaded me to go to the first one was an immense love and admiration for a particular artist. I thought that attending the concert was the best way I could support them. Long-story short, I ended up loving the live music experience and went on to go to 40 more gigs / concerts / festivals since then. The story I told myself changed from “wanting to support the artist” to “connecting with those who appreciate the artist as much as I do”. It made the calculus of deciding whether or not to go to a concert redundant. So long as I enjoyed their discography, I bought a ticket no-questions-asked. It’s one of those things that makes life so exciting and worth living.

What then would be the narrative I tell myself around running? Running for health was no longer compelling enough. I spent a lot of time scouring the internet which eventually led me to this idea of a sub-elite runner. Elite runners were professionals and got paid to run, while the sub-elite category were the best of the rest, the cream from the field who ran on top of work, life, and everything in between. There are countless stories of people who picked up running later in life and over the course of years improved to a point where they could be considered sub-elite marathon runners –– generally this is a time of 2:15 – 2:39 depending on who you ask. The more I looked into it, the more I was inspired and captivated by the journey and process. Many marathoners peak in their mid-to-late thirties and stay competitive in their 40s and even 50s. Doing some maths, that would give me over a decade before I could expect myself to peak. 10+ years of building my fitness to a level where I could be considered sub-elite. No one has ever accused me of being meek when it comes to ambition and so as outlandish and ludicrous the goal seems now, it makes me so beyond excited to be on this path.

In the few weeks since arriving at this narrative, I am already seeing the results. I directed all my newfound energy into researching how to best prepare myself for this 10 year journey of building fitness. Running everyday? Check. Yoga most days? Check. Foam rolling most days? Check. Strength training a few times a week? Check. While I know it’s not a race to get faster, I have stacked the deck in my favour as much as is possible, and now the only thing left for me is to enjoy the process and watch my progress tick along. It’s oh so exciting when I realise I have.

I could have just continued running without focussing too much on why I was doing it, I mean I enjoyed it, wasn’t that enough? It can be, but now that I have this new narrative, in addition to the excitement factor, it forces me to be deliberate and take a long-term view on my running habits. If I didn’t have this goal of becoming sub-elite, I wouldn’t have been so focussed on approaching running from a more holistic lens with the strength, flexibility, and mobility being as important as the actual time of feet. It has helped me good habits around this, and I am sure that I will thank myself more and more as time passes.

Whatever the story we tell ourselves, there is always an opportunity to tune further.

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