At many points over the past three years, my mind has felt like an episode of Hoarders. Thoughts, goals, fears, intentions, ideas, laments all piled up in great debilitating piles of rubbish, blocking the doorway to a peaceful, creative life. Throughout, two things in particular helped me sort out the mess: physically demanding exercise and writing sh*t down.
At times, the exercise involved as much basketball as I could find. I believe I peaked at 6 days in row of intense pickup games (in addition to a handful of 3 mile runs and chasing my little one around the playground). On over 50 legs, that’s the equivalent of LeBron playing back-to-back triple overtime games then chasing a cat up the stairs at the Empire State Building).
At one point, I sent away for the P90X exercise program and did the weight exercises in my basement fairly religiously, 4 or 5 days a week. I then moved on to exercise classes at the gym– TRX, dumbells, butts and guts, even the occasional Zumba class. Anything that I could put on my calendar and make it a point to attend and have an instructor shout at me to work harder.
I think you can see how a regimen like that would help clear the mind, basically by wearing out the body. It also helped me lose 19 pounds, which I have put back on, taken off and put back, taken off and put on again, leaving me basically where I started.
Yet even though my weight has cycled as my exercise imperatives wax and wane depending on whether I’m currently signed up for a specific race, the other mind-clearer of mine has continued to progress in a more progressively linear growth.
The gentler, more refined method I used to keep my mind clear, I still practice regularly– writing. It doesn’t burn any calories or trim my love handles, but enables me to give voice to all the fears, doubts and challenges of the day. Writing is something I can do in solitude while resting, where I can be emotionally naked and just let it flow out as way to flush my system of all the toxins that had built up. Basically like taking an emotional crap and crying helvetica tears.
I was never one to keep a running log or food diary. To coin a phrase, I just did it. Why waste time writing about training, when I could just be training. I could care less to know later what I did or didn’t do. My body will tell me that. The scale will tell me that. My fat pants and skinny jeans would fight it out and tell each other to go to hell as they vied for my belt.
Yet when I intensified my training for the big races, I found that I was learning so much about my body so quickly that my head was spinning constantly– and I needed to write to sort out the trinkets from the treasure. In trying to cut seconds off my fastest mile time, or to run my first cross country race in 35 years (look for the story in the September Issue of Runners World), I realized I could leave nothing to chance.
What I found was counter-intuitive to me. The more I wrote, the more I ran. The writing didn’t take away the time from running– it freed up the mental energy that I needed to keep going when the training got more difficult.
By writing stuff down, I could let go of the thoughts and doubts and pain and not carry it around with on my runs any more. Plus my writing gave me a magnifying glass to look at the little details of my life and a telescope to see the big picture— to gradually become aware of what was really going on inside me, as I recorded my thoughts when I got back from runs. I even sometimes use a dictation app to capture the thoughts as I stand, dripping sweat on my patio– too much of a human sprinkler to walk in my house and leak all over my computer.
One way or the other, whether through exhaustion or exposition, and when my life is working best, both, it helps me to clean out my closet of emotions and lighten the load that can weigh me down.
So I can go faster when I need to, and slower when I want to.
[basketball photo credit: Thom Hogan]