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A Few Thoughts on The Examined Run

I’ve been slowly working my way through The Examined Run, by Sabrina Little. Slowly because it’s a dense text that requires some reflection along the way, and I don’t want to shortchange. The author is a philosophy professor and ultrarunner, and she uses her philosophical background to talk about character development through sport. There have been a lot of great sections in the book so far, but I wanted to pull out two that particularly resonate with me. 

…Just because I feel something does not mean my feelings are fitting or adequately represent reality.

This comes from a section discussing emotions and virtue, but it made me think a lot about How Bad Do You Want It?, by Matt Fitzgerald. He has a section discussing the two layers of perceived effort, with the first layer being how the athlete feels and the second being how the athlete feels about how she feels. Both of these draw a distinction between an emotional response and what can be definitely determined as true (e.g., you are not actually dying, you just feel like it). When you’re training or racing and giving your best effort, it is really helpful to be able to mentally separate these two things, but it gets harder the more effort you’re putting into running. What I clearly understand while sitting calmly on my couch is much harder to comprehend while on the fourth mile of a 10k. Giving yourself opportunities to practice separating your feelings from your physical reality in workouts or in tune up races can go a long way towards making sure you don’t sabotage yourself while in a goal race. (Fitzgerald has a lot of good content in this vein - it’s worth a read!).

It also offers practice in being the kind of person I want to be outside of sport - someone who holds fast to the commitments in my life that really matter, even when doing so is challenging.

In my own running, I take mental failure much more seriously than physical failure, and this quote really illuminates why. When I experience a failure in persistence or in managing my emotions while running, I start to worry that this will translate to the rest of my life. Realistically, I should listen to Little as she makes the point that sport is a low stakes place to practice these qualities. Having a bad experience with persistence on a run is truly low stakes in my world, but it does provide an opportunity to reflect on how I can prepare and manage things better next time - which ultimately can only serve me in other domains. 

I’ve still got about half the book to get through, so more reflections to come, I’m sure! If you’ve read The Examined Run, I’d love to hear what you think!

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