When I’m not running, I spend a lot of my time thinking about running – I guess that’s one of the reasons I started this blog. One of the things that I struggle most with running is the psychological aspect. There are times when my head just isn’t in it and I find that it’s a struggle to run a mile, let alone a half or full marathon. Recently, I’ve started to think about applying some of the models and theories used within clinical psychology to running. One particular psychological model that is of interest is called Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT for short). This model has a number of different aspects, but the one that I’m most interested in as I write this is related to what ACT practitioners would refer to as value-guided action.
Basically, ACT suggests that if we can identify our true values, and then act in accordance with those values, then we tend to have a more meaningful experience. So, if I have a value that’s based around health and fitness, and I get out running 5 days a week, then I tend to be more content and feel more fulfilled – at least as far as my value of health and fitness is concerned. Make sense? The flipside would also be true. If I have a value around health and fitness, but am not able to get out running, then I may start to feel frustrated, tense, and maybe a whole range of emotions related to that. An important point here is to know what our values behind running are… this sounds simple, but might be something that we easily lose track of and may benefit from tuning into every so often.
So, let’s try and relate this specifically to running. If my value concerning running is to be as fast as I can be, then I will tend to feel more content and fulfilled if I am running speed sessions, getting my long runs in and steadily improving my times towards a chosen goal (actions that move me towards my value). However, if my values related to running are around making friends, socialising, losing weight or just getting a bit fitter, then I might not necessarily get the same sense of purpose from speed sessions, long miles and time-related goals. In fact, the aforementioned aspects of running might actually interfere with my running-based values. The connotation would be that if I get hooked up in trying to get faster, run further and all that, but my running related values are about friendships, then I might actually get put off running because I may no longer be acting according to my values. I might get more out of running slower, supporting others, and focusing on relating to other runners/club members while running.
In considering these ideas I’m perhaps being a bit looser with some of the concepts of ACT than I would be if considering it from a more scientific perspective, but I find it useful to think about our running related values in this way – to help us keep in touch with why we run and how we can best approach our training and club runs to get the most out of them. We don’t need to be fast or run far…we’re still runners and we may have different values related to running.
Of course, it’s not always as simple as that. We might have different values related to why we run- we might want to be faster and make friends or improve our mental health for example. But, so long as we are aware of which values is guiding each running session and train accordingly, the theory would suggest that we will enjoy our running more and get more out of it.
A Case in Point – Omagh Half Marathon
So I recently ran the Omagh Half Marathon here in Northern Ireland in a time of 1:56 and so many seconds. My PB for the half marathon distance is 1:47:25. I’d been getting hooked up recently with trying to improve my times and have been struggling with running. To be honest, there have been times recently when I’ve considered just giving it up. My theory is that this is related to the points above. I’d become caught up in values related to speed and performance and lost sight of values related to other important areas of running – friendships, feeling connected and self-care. At some point during the Omagh Half Marathon I managed to reconnect with some of these and really enjoyed the run. I had the same time as a half marathon I had run two weeks beforehand, and which I had hated, but had experienced a different type of run. I felt much more present in Omagh and “in the moment”. I used more mindfulness and let go of the vice like grip that trying to attain a particular target can bring with it. My favourite parts of the Omagh Marathon were when I was supporting others, and allowing myself to be supported in return. I still have my targets, but I’ll also be keeping an eye towards other, maybe more important, values of running.
PS- I’m new to this blogging thingy and I’d love any thoughts/suggestions- so please feel free to make a comment.