Mr. Rogers usually knows the right thing to say.
I took my first injury-free running workshop yesterday. I planned to rush home when it was done to write a post about it, but those plans changed very quickly. About halfway through the workshop, a woman in our group heard about the Boston attack and told the class. Suffice it to say, the mood dropped.
Since this was a workshop for runners, the tragedy hit close to the heart (although any news of a terrorist attack would be difficult to wrap your head around, marathon or not). We were there learning how to run properly, and I think it's safe to assume that many of the students—myself included—have the goal of entering races and/or marathons. And now, the epic Boston race is suddenly stained by some anonymous person or group's hateful ideology.
This was the first year that I've been truly excited about the Boston Marathon. I had a long drive to Portland for the workshop and I waited to leave until I saw the winners of the women's and men's divisions (Rita Jetpoo from Kenya and Lelisa Desisa from Ethiopia). I quickly posted their names and photos on Facebook before rushing out the door, then held their images in mind during the trip.
Desisa and Jeptoo, the overshadowed winners.
I kept thinking about how amazing it must have been for them to finish such a famous and challenging race with the whole world watching, and I fantasized about the day I'll finish my first marathon. I had hoped to enter the Corvallis Half Marathon, which occurred only the day before, but cancelled that plan weeks ago due to an ankle injury. Now I was getting back into practice, taking it slow to do it right and letting myself become inspired and motivated by all things running. Running became an escape from stress, a purpose to drive toward and, most important of all, something that just felt great for no reason whatsoever. And then, in a matter of seconds, that all turned upside-down.
Now there was this sense of vulnerability, of intrusion. That thought that I could be doing something on my own that I love and am passionate about, and suddenly what I love is ripped away from me because some strangers decided to express their political views in a ridiculous and violent way.
I was saddened to hear about the three people who died from the attack, especially when I found out one of them was only a child, but what really haunted me was learning that ten people had limbs amputated. That's the news bit that got under my skin. Running has come to mean so much to me over the past year, and the idea of losing a leg so easily seems crippling in more than just the obvious physical way. I mean, it takes running away. It takes away that relief, that purpose, that feeling. It's easy to dwell on this dreadful idea and to tell the stories over and over and let my mind spiral out of control into this mindset of vulnerability and hopelessness...
Yeah, that's the feeling.
But then I stop. And I step back. And I tell myself I need to break that cycle of automatic thoughts.
Automatic negative thoughts are those habitual ways of thinking in which we dig ourselves into a deep hole just by letting our minds rant in a perpetually negative cycle. These kinds of thoughts range from assuming the worst case scenario to black-and-white thinking to convincing yourself that everything should be taken personally. They lead to and perpetuate depression, anxiety and fear. They suck, and they can be deadly if they go unchecked. And if you're human then you've probably experienced them.
There's a whole field of psychology called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that deals with this concept of automatic thoughts and the process of changing them. I'm very familiar with it, as CBT has helped me get out of more than one rut in my life (keep reading this blog and you'll realize how open of a person I am). This isn't a post about psychology, though. It's a post about Boston and about running. And despite the agony that surrounds Boston right now, I'm not going to let myself wallow in misery. Living with a burdening sense of vulnerability isn't living, and I can choose to change that thought.
This isn't to say I don't react. People are suffering and they have my empathy and support. But running hasn't changed. Running still relieves stress, it still gives purpose and it still feels awesome. I'm going to keep running and I'm going to complete a marathon someday. The Boston Marathon will go on and the people who are suffering will go on, albeit with challenges. And we live in an innovative world that provides opportunities for overcoming obstacles that were once impossible. In a sense, that's right at the core of running: you just keep going.
I'll post about the running workshop later in the week, as well as my related encounter with Michael Sandler. Boston is still on my mind right now, and it will be while all of this is still processing. If you have any interest in contributing help, I encourage you to check out onefundboston.org. I made my donation today.