When I was sick earlier this summer, I had to take 6 weeks off from running–the longest break I’ve taken in years. I was concerned about how soon I could get back into shape, but happily, within two weeks I was back to running 60-70 minutes comfortably.
Runners often talk about building a base. By running a minimum distance every week, your body makes adaptations and the long distances eventually feel less long. When you take time off, it’s easier to get back to running long distances again than it would be for a new runner because you’ve already taught your body some important things about running. Things like: no, we’re not stopping, so quit grumbling and get on with it and yes, you can make it up that hill because you have before.
Each run makes the base a little stronger, a little deeper. Over the years, all those miles create a sort of long-term physical memory. Aerobic conditioning is a big part of being able to run for an hour or two or four, but the act of having done it before is the difference between this will be hard and this is impossible.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
I used to think this meant that surviving difficult things makes you tougher. Which it does. But tougher is not the only way to be stronger.
Surviving difficult things makes you fear less.
Not fearless, but less fearful.
Fears that loomed on the horizon, dark and ominous in those early years of adulthood, have lost their power over me. Because the possibility of them happening has passed me by. Because I’ve experienced them and survived. Because my priorities have changed.
Every experience that I have adds to my base. Slowly, steadily, I’ve learned important things about life. Things like: no, we’re not stopping so quit grumbling and get on with it and yes, you can make it up that hill because you have before.
Being on the other side of forty feels like a luxury. It feels like a place of strength. My base is broad and deep in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I was younger.
Most of my twenties were spent in survival mode. Self-awareness was a foreign concept. Staving off self-destruction was a more realistic goal.
When I see people in their twenties who know that they’re autistic, I’m a little jealous. What could I have done with that knowledge? Then again, maybe I wasn’t ready. Maybe it was too soon.
I was fragile back then. Easily wounded in spite of a tough exterior.
When I started running, I alternated between running three minutes and walking one minute. I’d read that it was an easy way to build up to longer running times.
What I didn’t know back then is that the first ten minutes of running are hard. My body resists. It seems certain that if it resists strenuously enough, I’ll give up and go home. But somewhere around the twelve-minute mark, it surrenders. After that, thirty minutes, fifty, seventy . . . it’s all the same.
So I ignore my body in those first ten minutes. I know it’s going to be hard and uncomfortable, but I also know what comes next.
I know that there will be good runs and bad runs, that some days I’ll run three miles with a stitch in my side and others I’ll feel like I could run forever. I know that I’ll trip and fall and I’ll get up and keep running.
I know that some days it will rain and there is a good kind of rain for running in and a bad kind. I know that the seasons will steadily, relentlessly change, year after year; there will be sleet and snow and eighty-percent humidity. I also know that there will be days so perfect–days that smell like spring, days where every leaf and pine needle glistens with a coating of ice, days that are as crisp and bright as fall itself–the kind of days that will make me forget all the hard miles I’ve run to reach them.
The more you run, the more confident you become in your ability to run. Last spring, I got lost on a new trail. What I thought was going to be a six-mile loop turned into a ten-mile out-and-back run. I hadn’t run ten miles in a long time, but I knew that I could because I’d done it before. My body remembered.
And I think life is like that, as you get older. The hard stuff feels a little less hard because you’ve done it before and you know how it turned out.
Maybe your base is bigger. Maybe you just have the benefit of taking the long view.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but looking back, you realize that everything makes you stronger. The hard times, yes, but the good times too. The times you got lost and the times you thought you knew exactly what you were doing but it turned out you had no idea and even the moments that were so small and insignificant that they’re forever lost.
Memories are tricky bastards. A few win out, silencing the rest, and spinning themselves into that patchwork that becomes your past. But your base is deeper and wider and broader than your past. Your base is about where you’ve been, not the snapshots you took along the way.
59 thoughts on “Building a Base”
I wonder if I feel that same resistance to being vulnerable? My whole personality seems to reject it. But maybe if I just kept going for 10 minutes… Maybe I should ignore my instincts in that matter.
Perhaps. I feel like I’ve been learning how to be vulnerable these past two years. It’s a slow process but it does get easier with practice. Writing helps a lot! 🙂
As someone in my 20s-I think I was just really lucky to have a family where the majority of the people did not enjoy loud noises or talking for the most part and were able to strike a fine balance between having quiet time and socializing with others. High school, for me, was the equivalent of the first 10 minutes of any exercise. I was practically forced to try to come up with something to say on the spot at any given moment! While I still hate high school, the experience has actually helped me learn to interact with others. Which is ironic.
See, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! 🙂 High school wasn’t my favorite time but it was better than middle school. My twenties were . . . well, I admire people like you who sound so together.
If it’s any consolation, my twenties were a mess! 😉
Aw, thanks. It wasn’t the best of times, but at least it’s quite far in the past now.
Let me applaud you in being able to run for that amount of time… I think I’m a hero when I walk the dogs for 45 mins. 🙂
My stepmother was always a runner (until her mid 50’s). She would organize the family to participate in various 5k’s. As child and adolescent I loved to run, it was so exhilarating. I kind of miss it (not distance running, but any running. There seems to be a lack of need to run the older a person gets). My son, 26, has been running the Carlsbad 5000 since he was about 12. Though the rest of the family has pretty much outgrown it, he still looks forward to it.
About being in your forties, I have to agree… though everyone’s experience is different, I’m finding it to be far less stressful than when I was in my twenties or thirties. I wonder if having an ’empty nest’ has anything to do with the stress levels going down. 🙂
The empty nest definitely helps. I like having more control over my space and living with just one other person who is an independent adult means a lot less juggling of schedules and needs.
The Carlsbad 5000 looks like a giant 5k. I haven’t run a race in a few years though I’d like to get back to it. My husband and I used to run a 4.7 mile race every Thanksgiving that involved thousands of people from world class runners to people in costumes and the guys who ran carrying six packs of beer and stopped to serenade people along the way.
I’m a runner too. Loved this. Really beautiful.
Thank you! 🙂
This was awesome in every way! And so, so true! I am definitely NOT a runner, but I am a survivor. I call my twenties my “decade of self-destruction.” I had no boundaries, but was always desperately seeking them. I am still very stubborn and willful, and I always need to work things out for myself. I have a core strength that, like you described as a runner’s base, is always there, even when I feel like I am falling apart. Really truly, this is a great piece of writing! I experienced it at a gut level!
Thank you! It was fun to write. That core strength is exactly what I was getting at. Now I wish I’d taken a photo of the poster that hangs over my desk to use with this post. It’s a photo of a winter scene in the woods with the Camus quote, “In the midst of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”
It’s a good feeling to know that you’re a survivor, isn’t it?
I think those words of yours, that core of inner strength, is what prompted me to comment about my vulnerability, because everyone always says I’m so strong and I do feel strong most of the time but that also makes it so, so hard to admit that sometimes I’m not strong enough. But I know that I can survive. I’m just worried about what it will do to me to keep on surviving. I guess that was where I was coming from.
I’m rambling a bit, but I’m fairly sure that’s ok. 🙂
That’s quite okay. I have something I wrote that I’m posting next week that kind of speaks to this idea of being strong and in my case being in control of things as a way of being/appearing strong. I’ve been thinking a lot late about vulnerability because I’m reading one of the shame books rec’d on my shame post and vulnerability and shame being two sides of the same coin is one of the major themes.
Yes, it does feel good. Looking back, it is purely miraculous that I survived. And, as I continue to face challenges (that life seems so eager to provide), I feel that God gives me new opportunities to grow. My therapist suggested that I think of these as new skills for my “survival toolbox.” By this point, I am pretty sure that my toolbox is one of those great big red ones…you know, the kind with all the drawers?! When you talked about being on the other side of forty, I could not agree more. For me, there is a freedom from caring about what others think. I am more secure, but I think it is a result of all those hard-earned tools. I don’t know if this makes sense, but I don’t necessarily feel any smarter, but I do feel I have gained wisdom.
Oh I LOVE that kind of toolbox! I’ve asked one for my birthday for the past 3 years but I don’t think anyone takes me seriously. 😛
Everything you say here makes perfect sense. It’s what I was trying to convey in this piece and I think it’s a hard thing to explain because it’s very much one of those “you know it when you see it” things.
The toolbox is a great analogy. I feel like I have one of those all purpose tools that you can snap the various heads on to do different jobs. I used to loooovve playing with that thing when my dad took out his toolbox. 🙂
I found this inspiring — thank you!
Looking back on my 20’s I made some bad life choices, things I’ve learned a lot from. I put myself in situations that were beyond my comprehension; beyond my ability to cope with, and stubbornly kept going long past the point at which any reasonable person would have thrown in the towel. I never understood why I couldn’t manage those things that my peers seemed to do with little effort.
These days as I approach 40 I understand much better what I am capable of, and how quickly and how far I can push myself to expand those limits safely, without causing myself the kind of harm I used to suffer — mentally much more than physically. So yes, in some respects I have built a base from which I am able to reach further than I ever could before. It’s not running in my case but what you wrote is equally applicable to any field where one strives for self-improvement.
Oh, I feel you on those questions of “why is this so easy for everyone else?” I pushed myself really hard when I was younger and paid emotionally and mentally for it. I was very driven, Type A, etc. By most people’s standards I probably still am, but comparatively speaking I’ve really mellowed out. 🙂 As we get older, it becomes less possible to push ourselves, I think, so we’re forced to be come wiser. The alternative isn’t very attractive.
I like that you got the idea of a base as the thing we stand on to reach further. I wasn’t sure if that came through.
I’ve never been conventionally ambitious — I don’t get motivated by the usual things like financial reward or promotion. Instead it’s more about the acquisition of skills and knowledge. I’ve always tended to follow my interests and the long hours don’t feel like work because of the pleasure I gain. But I am aware that I seek praise from my peers: that’s one way I derive pleasure from what I do, and if I’m honest that’s probably what ultimately drives me to succeed a lot of the time.
I’ve gotten quite good at analogies over the years (it helps a lot with one of my hobbies, cryptic crosswords) so thinking about base outside the context in your post comes quite easily. On the other hand I often struggle with metaphor because I’m too literal.
By praise do you mean recognition (like awards) or more of a “great job” personal admiration type of praise? I ask because I find both fairly uncomfortable but I do like the latter kind more than the former, especially from someone I respect.
Oh definitely not awards – that sort of thing makes me cringe and doesn’t have any value to me. It’s feedback like “That’s good” or “Well done” that means a lot to me: makes me feel that I am valued. It’s strange (compared to most people I know) but I’d rather be respected for my abilities than liked in a “friend” kind of way. If that makes sense.
I totally understand. It feels good to be respected for something you’re good at – maybe it feels more solid than simply being liked for ambiguous quality that’s harder to identify?
I feel the exact same way about being complimented on a skill. It might be a control issue. I can figure out what my abilities are and how I can be appreciated for them. For something nebulous like friendship? Too unreliable. One moment you’re in someone’s good graces, the next you’re being shunned. And there’s no saying which of my qualities will attract people at any given moment. So that might be a factor?
I think it ties in with my perfectionism. It’s an affirmation — validation if you like — that suppresses my self-doubt, my insecurities. With friendship as you say it’s nebulous: there are so many variables and I find that what people say is less reliable as a guide to their real feelings because of social conventions like politeness. “I’ll be nice to X because I don’t want to upset her but I don’t really like her.” Whereas a compliment for a job well done is not something where people are nearly so inclined to lie.
That was a perfect and inspiring post.
Thank you! 🙂
Lovely and very inspiring post! both the metaphorical/general meaning about building a base of strength through life – and the specific about running. I can relate to the 20s VS 40s difference in base very much,as you already know.
Now to something else: running has been part of my everyday start of day for many years – to reinforce my strength to face the day solidly grounded, sort of calling up my body’s memory of strength and endurance and just my physical integration I guess. I also start the day with a little (easy) exercise routine for the same reason. I can’t start the day without any physical “grounding” first, then I’ll feel confused and disconnected throughout the day.
However, my morning runs are no longer a stable routine for a variety of reasons. I can no longer push myself through “the wall” (like your ten minutes) due to physical weaknesses (knees, breathing/asthma, plus my heart sometimes start to play up if I pressure myself), but most of all the reason is the dogs! I could of course run without them and just run on-road but the plan with the dogs was to be my running buddies and they get very disappointed if left home… and I need to give them their good long daily walk anyway at that time. I do attempt to run with them every day, but they are very slow and don’t run for more than maybe 5 – 10 minutes in one stretch (it is particularly one of them that refuses any regular exercise, but they are both slow).
The running buddy thing hasn’t worked out with my previous dogs either, the last one had a chronic leg injury, otherwise she was very lively so I think could have worked out. However, as it was she was ok to run towards interesting places (like a lake with ducks or the metro station) but when we turned home then she would just lay down on the ground, and I just had to wait and sometimes had to carry her home (a Labrador mix… it looked ridiculous). One of my current dogs does the same thing, just opposites… She stops like a donkey or lay down on the ground and is moveable (36 kg+ and very sturdy) in the planned direction, but she is OK to walk home. She does as soon as she gets tired, which is usually before having run for 10 minutes.
So to recap, poor dog stamina and dog speed and lack of dog motivation to run persistently (as in, more than 5 – 10 minutes at the time) quite hamper my running routine at this stage… and I am too stubborn to give up on having the dogs with me. Plus my husband wants me to take them and can’t stand their crying and restlessness if I go running (or walking) without them… he works from home.
Now to a few questions:
Do you run with your dog, and can she run 60 – 70 minutes? (then I am very, very impressed)
And if so, can she run reasonable fast for a longish period of time? … like as fast as you want to run?
If so, was the dog’s stamina and speed never an issue?
“is moveable”… I meant the opposite: “immoveable”; can not be moved.
With asking about your dog I am of course fishing to see it may be something I do or don’t do that causes the “problem” (well, only a problem in my eyes not the dogs’…) … or if one just has to be really lucky to end up with a “runner” dog. All the dogs I’ve attempted to build a running buddy routine with so far (5-6 in total – 3 which were my own) have tended to be either quite slow, or have insufficient stamina, been demotivated or very distractable, or had physical issues that obstructed the “work’ – or several or all of these obstacles at once…
Ps. My apology for the typos, missing letters et.c… Please feel free to correct errors that annoy you.
I don’t know if you have time for this… but maybe you’re asking your typewriter to be a calculator as well. Erm, what I mean is, maybe you should separate the two tasks instead of trying to achieve them with one action. So take the dogs for a leisurely walk first, then bring them home and go for your own run. Treat the walk as a warm-up and don’t go as far as you normally do. Might that be an idea? Otherwise, from the sound of it, you’re not doing what you want to do and neither are the dogs!
The time is a bit of an issue… it already takes a long time to start my day, but otherwise I agree with you. The dogs don’t want to trade their day’s main walk for a run… running past all the interesting stuff, no way! When I’d had time in the mornings, then I have sometimes walked the dogs first then returned the dog that tends to play donkey and taken a run with the second dog. That worked well for me and that dog and was fun, albeit a bit slow. Unfortunately my husband was unhappy about that strategy, because the second dog cried (she is a very vocal dog!) and sat and starred heartbrokenly out of the window, and he feels that he has to take care of it (he has a very soft spot for that dog) so he felt he had to take a break from his work to go bush walking with her…
Another aspect is that part of the reason for running with big dog/s is safety. It is a bit of a rogue region down here, and when I run alone in the bush or other desolate places (I prefer to run where there are no people, nature & soft underlay) I feel much safer with the dog by my side. She notices everything in the surroundings and looks “dangerous”, has an impressive bark et.c. so she is a good bodyguard. It is also fun to run with a dog… when it works. They both walk well on the leash – meaning they don’t pull forward or something like that, they sit down when we come to a kerb et.c. When I run with just one I use a belt she is attached to with a light leash, and she pretty much just follow me like a shadow by my side or just behind me. That’s excellent, a bit slower than my preference but she does a nice job. Different story with 2 dogs… they constantly distract each other and it is like trying to run with a kindergarden…
And a last detail is that I’m stubborn… The dogs need exercise and I do too, being running buddies is part of their “job description” and I just can not resign to exercising myself and the dogs separately, that feels silly and like a big failure.
Anyway… I didn’t mean to high jack the discussion. Dogs as running buddies was not the point of the post.
Tangents are where the ideas come from!
You are right:-)
I have just aided and abetted your hijacking in a big way. 🙂 This is the no apology zone, remember?
The dog as bodyguard is something I really like too. I mostly run in the woods, on bike or hiking trails and often get quite far out so having my “early warning system” with me makes me feel safer. She’s not very big but she is very protective of me and people seem intimidated by her. Once I was out running and had a loose border collie come running up and try to “herd” us. When Emma and I didn’t cooperate and tried to keep going, the collie lunged at my shins and Emma nipped him on the nose even though he outweighed her by at about 20 pounds. He went running off back into his yard with his tail between his legs.
“trying to run with a kindergarden”
I can picture this perfectly! It sounds much more challenging running with two dogs than with one and I know what you mean about wanting to get them exercised. Perhaps you just have to love them as they are? It’s not the ideal situation but you sound more committed to getting in some kind of exercise with the dogs that to running per se. You also sound like a really good dog owner who wants to meet the dogs’ needs and not push them too hard. I’ve seen people running with dogs who obviously don’t want to run and it’s sad. I was going to say “dogs are people too!” but, uh, they’re not.
Yes, and thank you very much:-) I enjoyed very much reading your great replies this morning.
I am trying to imagine a giant border collie. It is not easy;-)
Loving the dogs as they are, that is the best advice:-) I do actually… and my husband does too. They are very popular and loved creatures in this house (with high entertainment value too). However, sometimes I forget when they don’t comply with my agenda … that’s that all running is: my agenda, not their agenda, and they are just as good dogs anyway. And that running is not some sort of pre-installed software the dogs ought to have:-) How I initially envisioned dogs as running buddies was pretty unrealistic, I forgot to factor in how dogs actually are.
I hope we’ll end up with a good compromise. And you are right, I don’t want to pressure the dogs and risk damaging their joints et.c. and maybe give them health problems later on… it is not that important.
I’m not sure it was a giant border collie. Emma only weighs 35 pounds. So it was probably a fairly regular size collie. 🙂
Too bad the dogs aren’t like kids where you could say “if you want to come along, you have to do X or I’m leaving you home.” It tends to take a lot more creative approaches to get them to do what you want them to.
That is right! And what I would love them to understand: “if you can trust that you won’t run off and won’t harass other dogs or people and come every time I call, then you can be off leash!” Man how I wish they could understand that… That would be so much more fun for them & relaxing for me.
I am not sure how much 25 pounds is, have to look that up… My dogs are 32+ kgs and 36+ kgs.
Oops… It should be “if I can trust that you won’t run off”… grrrr, sorry…
Emma is about 16 kg. so much smaller than your two 🙂
Thank you for clarifying:-) I think I got tricked a bit by the photo in your post about Emma… She looks a bit like one of our dog, so even though you said she is not big, that can be a lot of different sizes…
Thank you for sharing your dog-jogging experiences.
Actually the vet also said about my dog that she has the heart of an athlete (the dog I sometimes run with by herself). She is in an amazing shape and looks fantastic when she runs off leash, but she runs quite slow when jogging. I think it might be just her personality: she is cautious, and probably wants to run no faster than she has time to scout the area ahead of us before we get there to ensure that it is safe:-)
That is a good point… “running time isn’t sniff every bush and plant time”. That is part of the problem. I think the problem source is that I’ve been trying to combine walk & run. That will never work because the dogs don’t want to miss out on their daily sniffing time. That would be like if someone tried to take the Internet away from me:-)
It probably is a much better idea to try to keep it separate and let the morning walk be just a walk, and then try to fit in a daily run with just the athletic dog at some other time. The other dog will bother my husband though, because she cries and is very vocally unhappy when missing out on anything, but I don’t think she actually likes running at all. I’m suspecting she might have a physical problem with it. She has a great personality and is very smart, but has never been physically fit and maybe that’s just how she is (that is what the vet said anyway…). After all we did pick the calmest puppy in the batch when we took her. Anyway maybe I should just leave it to my husband to comfort her and sort it out. Maybe if I just start and do it regularly (that the other dog) then it will sort itself out in the long run. Something like that:-)
I like your expression that running is more business like! Time to get something done, not sniffing around like a butterfly all the time … It also fits very well with the post:-)
It was interesting & useful to read. Thank you:-)
(that the other dog) should have been (run with the other dog). Just another brain circuit jam in the writing department I think.
Do you ever walk in the evening? We walk every evening (especially now that we’re in an apartment) so even on running days, Emma gets her sniffing time it. I think that might be helpful in getting her to “work” while we run.
It sounds like it might be hard on your husband to have to comfort the dog that’s left behind. Dogs are such pack animals. Then again, maybe if you stick with it, she’ll eventually resign herself to being left at home and stop whining.
I tried running in the evening for a while, that was no good. This is a suburb with very few footpaths and lots of dogs in backyards (most of which, I suspect, never get walks) and someone running past the houses in darkness freaks them out and starts a chain reaction of hysterical barks, which stresses both me and my dogs (and produces a trail of noise through the neighbourhood). Also, looking out for the cars all the time is stressing, especially when it is dark and they have lights on (blinding, overwhelming every time a car passes + there is the traffic safety issue and late afternoon/sunset is the “peak hours” where most people come home from work. Running in the bush in darkness or close to darkness is no good – one needs to look out for the snakes and other hostile Australian creatures. As an immigrant from a country without dangerous wildlife I may be a bit paranoid… but really, there are brown snakes in this area which is the world’s third deadliest land snake, and I have seen several snakes close… although I don’t know if they were brown snakes, they were more blackish…. Anyway, the point is that the bush is off limit after dark. And lastly, I often have interview appointments in the evening, which would make it an unreliable routine anyway…
Yes it stresses my husband out when the dog cries and is unhappy. He is very empathetic and has a very soft spot for that dog (his first dog ever). Another option is that he could work it into his routine to talk the dog with him for his morning coffee/planning the day routine in the bakery after the morning walk and while I take dog 2 with me for a run. He does it sometimes. It may not suit him to do it always. Problem solving still in progress!
I couldn’t run in the evening. I would just put it off until bedtime and then not go. 🙂 But I do enjoy walking in the evening, though when we lived out in the country, it was always an adventure. There’s nothing quite like having the dog refuse to go forward and then shining the flashlight on a pair of eyes staring back in the dark.
Your divide and conquer plan sounds like a good one. It works with kids!
Thank you! I do run with my dog and she’s fine running 60-70 minutes a few times a week. Sometimes we’ll run 30 or 45 or 50 minutes. It all depends on the weather and how I’m feeling. She’d actually run faster if she could, especially for the first 20 minutes, so generally I’m the one holding up the process! 😀 Our vet said she has an athlete’s heart (literally, while listening to Emma’s heart with the stethoscope).
She’s still fairly young and has a lot of energy. All I have to say is “jogging” and she’ll start running in circles and wimpering with excitement until I get the leash. There was a period when I had to leave her home because she was limping and I thought maybe we were doing too many miles. It turned out that she has a hip injury from her days on the streets and our trips to the dog park were too strenuous, causing pain and stiffness that led to the limp. The vet said that lots of on leash exercise is good for her hip (movement lubricates the joint) but off leash stuff like roughhousing with other dogs and chasing balls is bad. Once we stopped doing the bad stuff, the limping cleared up and we were good to go again. I know there will be a day when she can’t run long distances any more and that makes me sad. She’s also the sort who will stand at the door and barking and whining the whole time I’m going if she knows I went to run without her.
The only time she tries to lie down along the way is if it’s too hot. In the summer I try to run in places where there is water so she can get in the creek/stream/pond every couple of miles to cool off before we run some more. I know that heat can be really stressful for dogs so I’m careful to heed her needs in this area, even when I feel like I could run more.
I think temperament and perhaps breed play a role in how eager a dog is to run. I had a beagle that wasn’t a good running partner and eventually developed a thyroid condition which made her resistant to even going on walks until we got her on medication. It sounds like you’ve just had bad luck? The only thing I’ve really done in terms of training with Emma is to let her know that running time isn’t sniff every bush and plant time. She’s on the leash, so I can pretty easily move her along as needed, though I do let her sniff once in a while to be fair. When we walk, she gets in lots of investigating but running time is more businesslike.
And, uh, thank you for giving me the chance to infodump! That was fun. 🙂
Hmm, This concept of challenging oneself is something I can’t seem to grasp. I’ve never felt the urge/desire to run faster, climb higher, jump further or to build a better castle than someone else or than I have done before. I am envious of those who seem to derive great pleasure out of achieving a goal they have set for themselves. It seems the more difficult the goal, the more pleasure they get.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m lazy, I Have tried goal setting in the past, but I didn’t do anything for me. Take for example when I was into cross country running. After running for a few months I could see the enthusiastic joy that many of the other runners got from improving their placing week by week. I wanted some of that too, so I set about identifying the top runners – something I hadn’t bothered with before. Then over the next few months I improved my placings from being in the middle of the pack to being in the first four or five to finish. My efforts were noticed and I was being congratulated on my success, but I didn’t feel any different than when I finished further down the rankings or when I was unable to finish at all (I have a few other health issues that tend to get in the way from time to time). I still felt I was missing something that the others were getting, so I doubled my efforts until I was selected as one of two runners to represent our city at an intercity competition. Though I was getting congratulations from so many people, I was disappointed. Where was that buzz, I was supposed to get at achieving my goal? I certainly wasn’t enjoying the running as I had originally. There was no time to enjoy the scenery or to feel the wind on my face. There seemed to be a lot of effort, pain and loss of pleasure for what? There was just no reward for me.
This has always been the pattern for me. That buzz/high/sense of achievement that so many people get is something I have yet to experience. So my question to all those who get a kick out of achieving goals is: How do I get what you’re getting?
Just out of curiosity: do you get a buzz from other things like indulging in a hobby or special interest, eating a favourite food, or (apologies if this is too personal) sexual activities? Because it sounds from your description that sports, at least, don’t activate your reward centre at all. And I’m really interested in the role of dopamine in some of the things that I personally struggle with, like making eye contact and anxiety and executive function. Hence my questions!
I don’t really have an urge to run faster, etc. either. I love running for the sake of it, I guess. I’ve never run competitively. I took it up in my early thirties after wrecking my knee so I had little hope of being any good in a competitive sense. Although I’ve run some road races, I’m always just happy to finish and am a very middle of the pack runner. If running had goals, I don’t think it would be fun anymore.
It sounds like you’re an intrinsically motivated, process oriented person, which is how I’d describe myself as well. The few times that I’ve ever won anything I tend to have a feeling of “well that’s nice” and the award or whatever goes into a drawer and is soon forgotten about. I get a strong sense of reward out of doing things I enjoy and have little patience for or interest in things I don’t enjoy.
Oh yes, I have so much trouble motivating myself to do anything that I have no interest in. If I’m forced to do it I tend not to do a very good job — I’ve no pride in the outcome and don’t really care how it turns out as long as I get it over with.
Oh I just read a FASCINATING article about intrinsic rewards in ADHD people and how they simply operate according to a different “manual” than most people. And I found myself thinking at nearly every point “Yep yep yep, same for autistic people, you’re not alone guys!” Need to find the link and post it here if anyone’s interested (camping out in tangent land).
Wow, what an interesting read! Thank you for sharing. It’s good to see a professional who focuses on supporting the strengths rather than forcing square pegs into round, neurotypical holes.
I guess the short answer is I get pleasure out of doing, not out of achieving. I suppose you could say I enjoy the journey rather than the destination. Does that make sense? As a child I would climb a tree to see what was on the other side of a fence, but the concept of climbing a tree just to see if it was possible, or to see if I could climb further than a sibling just never occurred to me. But it’s not just with physical activity. At school I was near the top of the class in subjects I enjoyed, but near the bottom in the others. At maths, physics, chemistry and accounting I was consistently in the top 2 or 3. Not because I worked at it, but because it was a side effect of my interest in those subjects. I wasn’t interested in what my grades were like. The connection between cause and effect is not always apparent to me. I was considered what would now be termed a nerd.
I know my executive functions are well below normal – I can handle one task at a time with ease. But give me two or more and the result is chaos. Eye contact is something I still haven’t got right (I’m 64 years old), I’m told I’m of very high intelligence, good at problem solving (one problem at a time), exceptionally rational, logical and level headed, but I am definitely not goal orientated at all.
Sex: Yes it’s getting a little too personal. Let’s put it this way: I enjoy the intimacy but not the passion. I enjoy the cuddling and touching, but often feel disappointed when it’s all over.
I suppose dopamine might play a role in this. I do know that I have unusual brain wave patterns. For example most people exhibit alpha waves (between 8 and 13 Hz), when in a relaxed state. I have a frequency of 3.9 Hz. If I close my eyes, the frequency drops instead of rising like it should do. Also apparently my levels of serotonin and melatonin do not fluctuate in a normal manner.
I recognise so much in your description! Thank you for taking the time to give more details. The alpha waves are fascinating too! I was personally suspecting dopamine because during my diagnosis, they kept asking me if I had any trouble making eye contact, and I said not particularly, doesn’t make me uncomfortable although I do look away if I have to think about something. And then I stopped taking my quit-smoking pills which still stimulated my nicotine receptors. Whoops. No more eye contact. It hurt to look people in the eye. I can’t explain it. And once I started taking the pills again, the problem was alleviated. Also, I’ll stop now because Musings’ post wasn’t about this at all. Tangent brain, sorry! But thanks again for everything, Barry. 🙂
I’m currently training for the Chicago Marathon in October, so this makes a lot of sense. What would you say to a an adult with autism who may be holding things together their entire life, but then stressful random events conspire to cause it to all fall apart later in life? Sometimes the base needs to rebuilt, I’m supposing. Or constructed on an entirely new foundation?
Maybe the foundation was weak? I think there’s a difference between a patchwork of coping mechanisms/holding things together by brute force and having a solid base. I’m not quite sure how to describe it, except that I can tell the difference within myself.
October is soon. I hope the training is going well. I’ve always wanted to run a marathon but I don’t think my reconstructed knee would be up to the amount of training required.