It’s been 9 weeks now since I ran a single kilometre. Some kind of achilles tendon issue, which I’ve been unable to resolve, has kept me off the roads. A corticosteroid injection this afternoon will mark the latest in a string of interventions.
Since that last outing, I’ve been mainly frustrated at being “off games” – as we used to say at school – and quickly realised the need for new goals and focus.
We purchased a juicer (to help keep the carbs down) and I’ve spent more time than usual contemplating other things. I’ve had a steady slew of trips and, whilst home, Issy and me have kept up the routine of work, spending time with the girls, socializing, planning holidays, and indulging in those divine moments of quiet, when the house is still and you have no commitments or reasons to be anywhere else.
Overall, not running has meant I’ve read more, written more, and thought more about the future.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m very keen to start exercising properly again. I wonder, however, to what extent my once regular 60+kms week was providing me with the space to think, or the space to feel dis-connected from the humdrum of the “day-to-day”? I think it was.
I wrote, whilst up in Sapa last year, on the eve of participating in a big race there, about the aspect of running that I find motivating. Back then, I described the “exquisite solitude” of it, and I do believe there is definitely (maybe) a presumption that the act of running can momentarily help you press pause on your day and immerse, instead, in some kind of vacuumed portal of time and space, representing something different to (in my case) continuing to sit at a desk sending emails.
Obviously, endorphins help stimulate the sensations which make regular running quite an addictive past-time. And, true, a lot of my sweaty kilometres around Saigon have been with friends and, in that way, could be argued to be a reframed way of socializing.
Without running in my life, for these past months, I’m left torn (much like my tendon) as to whether what I miss more is not the exercise itself, but that vacuum?
What I think I do appreciate, increasingly, is the mental health benefits that come from both these components – the physical workout and the space to think.
Playing a game of football might tick the first box, but probably not the second. Running, for me at least, ticks both.
As a footnote, a friend here, Marco, lost 85% of his eye-sight a year ago, and under-went an extended period of stress in order to get better. His vision is now about 85% back to normal and he jokes that, as it’s his left eye which is still impaired, he is “fine” provided someone is walking on that side of him when he’s trying to cross the busy streets of Saigon.
When I caught up with Marco recently, what struck me was his re-telling of this episode as “the best thing that’s ever happened to me”. And he meant it. He’d re-evaluated his work-life balance, spent more time with his children, and more time thinking. Really thinking.
Sadly (for us) Marco and his family have decided to return to South America, and say farewell to their “ex-pat” life in Vietnam. They couldn’t be happier. And, their decision to ‘pivot’ is mostly down to how this incident last year created the ultimate “press pause” moment for Marco, puncturing the wheels of his everyday life, and forcing him to blow air into a brand new set.
‘Mental health’ is a complex topic for me to write about here, but I’m very heartened by the way in which many organisations are helping surface the importance of it – unearthing some of the symptoms, causes and preventions (since posting this I also discovered, coincidentally, that we’re in the midst of mental health awareness week as I read a blog of a good friend of mine, writing about the links between numeracy, financial literacy and wellbeing. Check it out here!)
For this post, however, it simply occurs to me that there is no other component to a human which needs to be ‘healthier’.
Recognising that is, perhaps, in itself a healthy start.
And, whilst our individual requirements for a “positive mental outlook” will be various, and adjusted throughout our lives, the good news, for a large percentage of people, is that the options are boundless for ways to exercise the muscles of the brain, and create enabling conditions to “train”.
I would, however, counsel to any other (middle) ageing runners out there, to take good care of your achilles tendons in the process.