Sonia O’Sullivan: Outrunning the negative reaper in your head

Sometimes you have to take a few steps backwards to appreciate all you have

The Running Reaper symbolises the negative voice that stops you in your tracks, or slows you down.

The Running Reaper symbolises the negative voice that stops you in your tracks, or slows you down.

 

Oh my life is changing everyday
In every possible way
And oh my dreams
It’s never quite as it seems
Never quite as it seems

– ‘Dreams’ by The Cranberries

Most days just run into the next, each one simply following on and then leading to the next. We fall into routines and habits, sometimes good and sometimes not so good. 

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, be that good or bad. And it can take a bit more than 21 days to break that habit. That’s by the time you run through all the options, make up your mind to do something to make a difference, and then get started.

There are some days when you just roll out of bed and fall into the day’s activities, without a thought or a worry in the world. 

Then there are those days when, for what seems like no reason at all, you just can’t do what comes so naturally on all those other days. 

There’s always a trigger for these off-days, although it’s not always clear what or why it can throw the mind into disarray. Or when the body just doesn’t want to co-operate. 

Then the guilt sets in and before you know it half the day is gone and you’ve been unable to generate the energy you need to get out the door and face the day. 

I know there are some people out there that continue to push on regardless, those that tick the boxes every day. Then there are those who, just like me, every now and then find themselves lost in a cloud, wondering just how they got in there. And more importantly how to possibly find the way out. 

As a competitive athlete, these days were easily marked. Injury or illness could stop you in your tracks, forcing you to address that situation, sometimes by learning new habits. 

These days it’s not so easy. When the slightest ache or pain rears its head and demands attention, or when things are just not perfect, that big red stop sign still appears before me. 

It’s now two weeks into the New Year and all those fresh starts and new promises are beginning to ask questions, that voice in your head that just won’t shut up and let the days roll on. 

Last weekend I came across a caricature while scrolling through my phone, The Running Reaper – and I couldn’t stop thinking about this image as I started to question myself, the why and the how and the where? 

Negative voice

The picture made sense to me, something I’ve never seen before, but could immediately relate to. The Running Reaper is a simple caricature of a runner being blinded by an angry reaper climbing on his back and holding him back during a run. The Running Reaper is actually the face of a company in the UK that works in the area of mental performance coaching. 

The Running Reaper symbolises the negative voice that stops you in your tracks, or slows you down. It’s not always easy to manage or control. But at least if you know it’s there you can accept it, negotiate, and move on. 

All this can sound a little silly or trivial but I’ve been there many times throughout my running career. And I still get those days. The interesting thing about the image I saw last week is what so often happens when you fight the negative voice and find the positive while out running. 

Things are not always as they seem. That’s where I think the conflict arises and a negative trigger in the mind can halt the physical activities 

On the way home you are flying, as if it’s all downhill and you are back in charge, and you feel the strength and power return as you take back control of your mind. There is no denying the mental strength and positive energy dividends once you embrace any physical activity. 

It made me think about how strong the mind can be; in sport, in fitness, in health, in everything we do in life each day. 

I always try to see the positive in each day, yet some days the triggers that set you off are even harder to control. 

All our lives are changing everyday and even as we try to maintain some consistency, often things are not always as they seem. That’s where I think the conflict arises and a negative trigger in the mind can halt the physical activities. 

It’s not just running, but even a walk with the dog can feel like an effort. You play a game and set a destination but the energy levels are low as you mull over the blockage in your head. 

It may just be that you know you have a big event coming up, that you need to prepare for something at home or at work. It can seem out of reach when actually it’s right there in front of you. 

If only each time this happens you could quickly take out a pen and paper and write things down, see the reality, and share it. There is no denying the fact a problem shared is halved. Do this a few times and you feel the weight lift from your mind and the lightness return. 

Parameters change

Sometimes you have to take a few steps backwards to appreciate all you have, to allow yourself to get back on track again and moving forward. 

We all have our own little markers to measure what we are doing. It doesn’t matter if you are training for the Olympics or the local fun run: if the feedback isn’t positive, it can play all kinds of tricks with your mind. 

Then the self analysis begins: am I eating enough, sleeping enough, training too hard, or working too hard? 

The parameters change all the time too, so often it is a guessing game. Often you have to factor in the emotional triggers as well, the private personal things that can rock the boat. And all the time the everyday reaper is waiting to enter your head and weigh you down to question all the things that make you happy. 

Once we realise that the perfect day is not every day, these off days can be managed so much better. The perfect days are easy; the curve balls are the ones that test your strength of mind and body, the days where sometimes you might need to overachieve, to rise above what seems impossible to reach, whether that’s to win a race or meet a deadline. 

When you don’t need to be at the high level, accepting a lower level can be so much better than no level at all. 

I believe we all have our own natural rhythm, that each of us is in tune with. If it wavers away from how we like to be perceived this can be taken as some sort of failure. We are the hardest critics of ourselves, and oftentimes what looks and feels bad may not be all that bad at all. Changing everyday is never quite as it seems.

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!) and Get Healthy for 2018. 
First, pick the programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: This programme is an eight-week course that will take you from inactivity to being able to run 30 minutes non-stop.
- Stay On Track: The second programme is an eight-week course for those of you who can squeeze in a 30- to 40-minute run three times a week.
- 10km Course: This is an eight-week course designed for those who can comfortably run for 30 minutes and want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!

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