The danger in running away from ourselves

Still don’t know what I was waitin’ for
And my time was runnin’ wild
A million dead end streets and
Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse of
How the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test
–David Bowie, Changes
Walking to SchoolPerhaps you’ve gone for a run or a ride in a strange neighborhood or even a foreign town and wound up in a cul de sac or a dead end street. It’s a strange sensation in many ways. You know you need to retrace your steps but something in you wants to keep going the direction you were already headed. To the point of near insanity, some of us choose to pursue a singular path over being willing to change directions for any reason at all. Our determination exceeds our common sense.
Sometimes our friends see that path and try to counsel us: That’s not a good way to go. Yet we fake ourselves into thinking it’s the best course (a marathon when we’re already injured…)  because we’ve put so much effort into getting to that point that going back feels like giving up. It’s an admission of sorts that we’ve failed in some way.
I wrote an as-yet unpublished novel back in my twenties titled Admissions. It uses the paradigm of the college admissions process to explain that the best thing most of us can do in life is to admit our flaws first, then find the right course of action. Think about it. If instead of listing all our best attributes on a college application or a resume, we were instead motivated to place all our worst flaws on paper first., and set out to fix them.
“I suck at details,” we might write, or “I hate long meetings” could go a long way toward helping us make changes beneficial to our faulty natures. That would be a lot more helpful than trying to bolster little egos with statements such as “I excel at innovation and creative solutions.” Ask any Human Resources associate. The cliches outnumber the truths.
Not that painting a negative picture would get you the job. But it might help you prevent those flaws from showing through in ways you never intended. There’s a lot of things in life like that…
Great lengths to avoid embarrassment
photo (6)We go to great lengths to create this “person” that does all sorts of things for us. It’s our “personal brand” or so it goes.
But in many ways this personal brand we create is sometimes running away from the part of us that truly needs fixing. Because none of us is perfect. You can prove that fact with religion of with harsh secular rationality, but the same holds true. Our flaws hold us back from success.
Look at the way you run, ride and swim. The whole enterprise is about fixing things that don’t work and overcoming flaws. This coming week I’m going to embark on a winterlong mission to become a better swimmer. I’ve got decent swimming form I’ve been told. Yet the breathing part holds me back. I exhale through my nose and gape with my mouth but somehow I’m still not getting enough air. After two decent laps the whole thing starts to bog down. I run out of breath. That weird panic of losing air shuts me down and bam, I’ve stopped cold. Dead in the water, so to speak.
What I really fear is embarrassment at stopping all the time while others swim back and forth for 45 minutes. We don’t like to admit that we’re not as good as others at something we’re trying to do.
Negatives and positives
This isn’t negativity ruling the psyche. As athletes most of us learn the power of positive thinking or else we quit. It’s that simple. You can’t do a marathon, half marathon, triathlon, Ironman, 5K, 10K or open water swim without some degree of confidence that you can finish. You tell yourself you can do it, and you do it. Nothing complex there.
Doubt enters the picture in more subtle ways. We may prepare ourselves for an event and yet get to the line with questions.
“Have I done enough mileage?”
“Can I hold the pace?”
This is both healthy and a drawback. It’s one of the tarsnakes of endurance sports that the caution we need to apply holds us back, yet throwing that caution to the wind can cause us to blow up, drop out or hit the wall. Which means that despite all our preparations there’s always a part of us that feels like we’re “faking it.” We try to run away from those emotions and as time goes by we might actually become confident enough to believe that we are no longer simply faking it. We’re actually as good as we claim ourselves to be.
Life changes
DecorahNightNothing lasts forever. So we engage and embark on test after test, pushing ourselves to find out if we’ve still “got it” in one way or another. Are we still as fast or faster than we used to be? And if that isn’t possible, we stave off the inevitable with age group efforts knowing that the people we’re racing face the same shit as the rest of us.
Jealousy enters in when competitors seem to transcend all that. They don’t seem to be running away from anything. They not only complete their races and workouts, but seem to fly through them.
Again the perilous pit of comparative reasoning draws us down.
It’s like this:
Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet…
Because even success can leave us feeling vacuous and empty. There is often a feeling of a letdown after a major race or goal is accomplished. Your body and brain cry out for new objectives. “What now? Who am I? Where do I go?”
Answering questions
It is far better to take a moment to stand there and answer those questions than it is to run away from ourselves with a head full of unresolved questions about why we do what we do. The risk is finding ourselves among a bunch of other people similarly disengaged from perspective and reason about our choices, or absorbed in unrelenting focus on the ego of a thing.
photo (7)We lose ourselves in that process at times. Then the changes that come our way are sometimes not by choice. Our sport becomes our self-image, and we find ourselves running away from ourselves.
There’s more to all of us than that. Yes, it’s good to be disciplined and driven when we set our goals. As John Irving once projected through a coach character in the novel Hotel New Hampshire, “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.”
But the fact of the matter (even in the novel sense) is that obsession is just one tool for self discovery. It is not the entirety of any of us. That’s true whether you run, ride, swim or do all three. Our sports can change us in very good ways, but it is important that we do not fake ourselves out in the process. We all tend to be good at that. We don’t want others to see the faker, and we’re much to fast to take that test.
Changes inside and out
It’s okay. It feels so good at times to be in control of our health and fitness that it can take control of our entire being. The danger is when you lose that sense of control through injury, illness or other life circumstances. Then the real you is forced to take over once again. That’s the person that exists whether you run or ride or swim or not. Don’t forget that person exists. They’re pretty important in times of crisis or during those periods when our avocations necessarily take a back seat. There’s a person in there that loves and marries and keeps track of the kids. Who gardens and walks the dog and actually goes out to make a living.
Life is full of changes. It requires that we look outside ourselves for feedback, and to understand who we really are. Yet the ultimate process is one of self-examination.
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse of
How the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test
Run, but don’t run away from yourself. Ride, but don’t ride until you’re out of touch with reality. Swim, but don’t drown in your own ego about what all this really means.
It’s about self-discovery, and nothing more. Your running, riding and swimming are not in fact the whole you. That’s always going to change depending on what life throws at you. You can’t really run away from that.

About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @genesisfix07 and blogs at, and Online portfolio:
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2 Responses to The danger in running away from ourselves

  1. Jesse Oropesa says:

    Fantastic post!


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