During my late 20’s I took up competitive running. I joined a local running club and trained twice a week with the club, adding 3 or 4 sessions at home. Depending on what I was training for, I would run up to 60km per week.
I sometimes enjoyed my training but I always enjoyed when the weekends came and I could compete in races. I would enter races from 5km up to 50km and also hill races.
My plan would always be the same – I would start far back in the field and push forward from the very start of the race. I would see my fellow runners as opponents whom I had to beat and my tactic was to overtake them one by one, seeing each of these as a mini triumph.
I used to feel nervous before a race – my stomach felt strange, often hard and bloated and the only thing that seemed to numb my awareness of this would be to eat just before I ran, thus I usually ran on a full stomach.
Zooming forward a few years and to my pregnancy. I tried running in the early months of my pregnancy but felt this was uncomfortable, so changed to swimming. I felt I could keep my fitness up this way and get back to running again as soon as my baby was born.
I put the same effort into swimming as I had into running and made it my goal to swim 6 or 7km a week, regardless of how my body was feeling. The day before my son was born, I recall I swam a mile and felt very proud of myself.
When my son was 8 days old, I entered a 10km road race. I had read somewhere that a local runner and Olympic medallist had gone straight back to running after giving birth so I decided that I could too.
I recall sitting by the start line breastfeeding my son when the starter’s pistol fired. I quickly took him off my breast, handed him to his Dad to be winded, and sprinted after the group, wondering if I could catch up. My body ached and, as I had only breastfed on one side, my other breast was extremely heavy, tender and sore.
I remember wondering to myself for just a moment why I had chosen to do this, how strange and wrong it felt to have stopped breastfeeding and immediately jump up to run. And what was I doing to my body? After all, it was only 8 days since I had given birth.
I quickly overrode those feelings. I knew some of the marshals on the route and many of the competitors, and I received much encouragement along the way. Any reservations about running were soon forgotten and I finished the course in a very respectable time.
Due to sleepless nights, exhaustion and mastitis, the regular running quickly fell away and it wasn’t until about 6 years later (long after having our second son) that I competed again. It felt strange to be running again, although I was reasonably fit from lots of walking and swimming. I stuck to my tried and tested game plan, staying far back in the field – it might have been a fun run but I was still determined to do my best. The starter’s pistol fired and we were off…
Except something had changed. As I ran I could feel that my body was not enjoying this at all. It was not to do with fitness, it was to do with how I felt. I found I did not want to compete, I did not want to overtake anyone and I did not want to push my body into doing something it clearly did not want to do.
I tried to override these feelings, focussing my attention on the mini battle I was having with a woman who was running on my right. For over a mile we battled it out, she overtaking me and pulling away, then me overtaking her.
Whilst this outer battle was taking place I could feel an inner war going on which felt far greater. My body was shouting at me to stop and feel what I was doing to myself.
I could no longer ignore it and instead I slowed right down whilst watching my opponent disappear into the distance. Dozens of competitors streamed past me following in her footsteps. I felt no urge to push my body, keep up or overtake anyone. Instead I felt a sudden and deep sadness. I completed the race at a very gentle pace, puzzled about how I was feeling, but knowing that my relationship to competition had changed.
I gave up running that day. Since then, I have chosen to exercise more and more gently. I enjoy swimming, walking and gentle strengthening and stretching exercises.
I enjoy how my body feels as I exercise and, on the very odd occasion when I feel the familiar push to be competitive again, I simply stop and connect to how lovely it is to exercise gently and that need to compete melts away.
Looking back now I can see why I had chosen to join the running club, why I had chosen to race and why I had a game plan. I could also see why, for so long I had been competitive.
I was constantly looking outside myself for validation. I never felt I was good enough just as I was, so each time I passed a fellow runner I experienced a moment of success, each time I improved on my times, I felt I had achieved something, and each time I crossed the finish line and got my medal, I gained recognition.
So why the sudden and deep sadness felt during my last 5km race?
That day I got to feel that, deep down, all of that trying and pushing of my body never changed anything. No matter how much faster I ran, how many people I passed and how many medals I won, only to toss them in a drawer, it did not change who I was.
I could feel that running did not feel good in my body, that by competing I was keeping myself separate and in comparison to everyone else, and that while I was running, my focus became very narrowed so I could not truly enjoy my body or the beauty in nature around me.
I realised everything I was doing was to gain a sense of:
What I really needed to do was to stop and connect to the real me – who I was inside – with no need for validation through achievement or recognition, just simply feeling the loveliness of me.
Over the past 8 years I have been learning to listen more to my body and to its constant communication with me. I deeply appreciate my body, how all the different parts work together to allow it to move and express itself.
I have discovered that exercise can be light, playful, fun and something I can enjoy on my own, or in the company of others. Exercise has become an integral part of my life, not simply something tagged onto my day if and when I have time.
I have learned that exercise is about connection first and if I exercise in connection to myself, not only does it feel amazing, that same quality of connection remains with me long after I finish my exercise. It is what I take into the rest of my day.
I am deepening my appreciation of exercise and how much it supports not just my body, but my whole life. No longer do I need to exercise for validation, self-worth or recognition, for how would I need these things when I can feel the fullness of me? My enjoyment of exercising in connection far outweighs any of the buzz I got when I used to compete.
With deepest thanks and immense gratitude to Serge Benhayon and other Universal Medicine practitioners, whose love and dedication to service has supported me in finding my way back to a deeper connection with my body and myself.
By Jane Torvaney, Physiotherapist, Scotland
Gentle Exercise – A New Approach to Fitness And Exercise
What is Exercising in Connection?
Sports Competition – The Pursuit of (Feelings of) Emptiness
Sport, Competition, and Fiery Debate