The only thing worse than having a contrary, stressed leaving cert student in a house at the minute is living with a cantankerous leaving cert teacher who’s trying to predict the students grades! I’m married to a teacher. The hopes and dreams of so many lie in the hands of their former allies, their teachers, and the responsibility weighs heavily on them. We all crave certainty, the doubt of the unknown is more stressful than knowing that something bad is definitely going to happen (de Berker et al., 2016). We embrace the predictability of routines, we like knowing what’s coming, because with certainty comes comfort. Most will resist it and try to control it but the reality is that one of the only constants in life is the unpredictability of it. People, circumstances and things change. It can be small, big, subtle or sudden and its usually a consequence rather than a choice. New realities are smothered by complacency, inertia and fear. But the capability to accept this loss of control is critical, it is crucial not only in order to progress but to survive. Just like in life, in running, allowing the status quo to linger untested causes stagnation, boredom and possibly even injury.
It’s important we don’t confuse predictability with routine, we all need some monotony. A routine is something that is done so often that it is automatic, we don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s something that’s moulded into our lives, it creates structure and order and a feeling of calm. Not all routines are bad – brushing teeth, eating breakfast are good healthy routines and for me a nice morning coffee is a lovely routine that I have no intention of ever changing.
But what we have done, pre corona virus, is we have packed our schedules to the hilt, we know exactly what we are doing, who we are doing it with and for how long, and because of this we’ve left no room for unpredictability. We have removed as much of the this uncertainty as possible from our lives because there’s no room for it, it generally takes time to sort it out, to fix and to problem solve and we’re too busy for that. We have to be at the next appointment, the next activity, the next event, go, go, go. Even our running can become too habitual. We only have a certain window, a small gap in the fence to get out. It can grow to be overly tedious, and repetitive training causes recurring stress and as a result boredom and even injuries. But doing the same things every day creates a feeling of frustration and stagnation, even if the tolerance for routine is quite high. The reality is the sport that we enjoy is very repetitive; It’s the same movement a thousand – or tens of thousands – of times, with the result that the risk of overuse injuries skyrockets. To make it worse: most recreational runners wear the same shoes, run at the same pace over the same distance on the same routes, with or without the same people every day – we can be slow to vary or change our routine……. We are too predictable. All of these factors increases the stresses experienced by the body when running, but all of these risks can be manipulated.
It may be worth getting rid of some of these routines, turn left rather than right, go up the hill rather than around it, run faster, go for a stroll, don’t wear your GPS watch …… Maybe don’t go to those extremes, but lean into the “not knowing” of the unpredictable, welcoming in the discomfort that comes with it, allow it to trigger the motivation and resourcefulness needed to deal with it. The results might surprise you!
de Berker, A. O., Rutledge, R. B., Mathys, C., Marshall, L., Cross, G. F., Dolan, R. J. and Bestmann, S. (2016) ‘Computations of uncertainty mediate acute stress responses in humans’, Nat Commun, 7, pp. 10996.