The dark side of running

Yoda, Jedi Master of the famous Star Wars movies, once said, "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." This globally famous quote is very much applicable to runners and their training plan.

Runners enjoy the comfort and camaraderie of hundreds of other runners. It's never unusual to pass several runners while out for a morning, afternoon, or evening run. The unspoken bond of just seeing other people enjoying (or enduring) the same sport as you are, can be uplifting, encouraging and motivating.

But there's also a "dark side" to running in such communities. Especially for novice runners or those a bit less experienced in formal training. It's the temptation to do more, go further and over do it. It's the "fear" of being left behind, not meeting a goal, finishing last, or not "looking" like the other runners mingling about.

These are natural emotions, for sure. Uncertainty, doubt, and frustration all come naturally when you see this amazing woman, with a sculpted body, breeze by you in the twinkle of an eye with her pony tail slapping you in the face. If you're a woman, perhaps she discourages you. Perhaps your own figure pales in comparison and discouragement floods your limbs. Or maybe she simply makes it look so easy while you've been toiling away for months only to see minimal gains. If you're a man, it's possible your ego takes a punch in the mouth. Perhaps you're still stuck in the Stone Age and believe a guy should be faster than a girl. There you are hanging on for dear life and this perfectly toned woman, color coordinated apparel and all; destroys every shred of manhood you thought you had left in you.

Extreme examples, for sure, but make no mistake, every runner has fears. Those fears, if uncontrolled, can be dangerous to a runner. It can be the path to the dark side.

As Yoda explained, it can lead to anger. In that anger, runners deviate from their training. They push too hard or too far. Run when they should be resting. The training plan or coach says to do 6 miles, but you decide to go 8 miles. The coach says to rest Monday but you decide to sneak in a 5 miler. You also decide to ignore the pace in the plan and try keep up with another runner out along the course. A pace you are not quite ready for just yet in your training.

Yes, anger can be destructive. So then the hate spawns. The failure. It's the disappointment in oneself when regression begins to settle instead of progression. Results experienced are no longer the results expected. It complicates and corrupts the relationship with a coach. Devalues the credentials in a training plan. The trust is bastardized. All result of the fear and anger that led you to aspire, in error, and emulate a stranger during a run.

Finally, suffering completes the cycle. Injury becomes the conclusion. Injuries arising from improper training, over exertion, lack of proper rest and recovery. Depending on the severity, the suffering can be much more than physical. The mental anguish of missing the promised race or having to start all over again can haunt a person for months. Regret, remorse and loss of confidence. All of which, fester and swell, like a boil, until fear eats away all over again and repeats the cycle.

The reality of it all cannot be captured so simply by a Star Wars quote, beloved as it may be. Rather, the reality is the discipline of training.

Whether training for a 5k or a marathon, it's the discipline, faith and trust in the coach (or training plan) that is paramount. A runner must understand the only competition on the road is herself (himself). It's the understanding that the woman who flew by in a heartbeat could have been on mile 2 while you were recording mile 14. It's the understanding that running is an equal opportunity employer. Man or woman. Old or young. Black or white. You just never know who may be better, faster or stronger.

And that's just fine. While training, a runner's job is not to compete with the stranger ahead of you on Wednesday's morning run. It's to compete against yourself.

Understanding the science and knowledge of running is what will prevent you from falling to the dark side. Rest, patience, discipline; faith in the reasons for the paces, distances and variations a coach directs; all will equip the runner with the tools to be successful and meet goals.

Trust in your coach and training plan. Believe in it and stay the course... "for once you start down the dark path; forever will it dominate your destiny".

Credits - would like to thank for the permission to reprint the article "Stars Wars can teach runners" by Jordan Turhan.

Since September 7, 2007 - © Aerostato, Seattle - All Rights Reserved.

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