Stay Out

2I was leading a small group through one of the local parks that I know well. We were running the trails on a grim morning, the temperature under 20 F when we started.

I felt pressure – of being the one to lead, of being one who has run ultras and perhaps had a reputation of being strong. But I was tired, and my breathing was bothering me.

(I’m not sure why my breathing has been a struggle more this year. It’s worrisome. I have an inhaler to use before running to combat exercise-induced asthma, but I learned that this medicine increases your heartrate, and I struggle with a high heartrate anyway. To be honest, I’m not sure it did much of anything anyway. The doctor tells me there are no other options for inhalers.)

I took advantage of a small road stretch to walk. After a bit, the guy in the back said something about “why are we walking?” I was trying to slow my breath down, so I just indicated my asthma had problems. “You don’t have asthma,” he said.

I pushed the comment off at the time and pushed myself to pick up the pace again. But later I thought about what he said and the way he said it, and I started to fume. Why am I running with people who care only about their own pace, who belittle you rather than empathize with you? Do I want to run trails with people who are going to push you to run when you’re not comfortable doing so? Do I even want to be around people who make me fume like this?

I thought about running, a mostly solitary sport at its essence, and how it never became really fun to me until I learned how social the activity could be. In the winter, I need the companionship (the shared misery) to get myself outside running through snow and slush and harsh temperatures. But maybe I was better off running alone rather than go with people like this, I thought.

It always comes back to that for me. Never an outgoing person at any point in my life, I have withdrawn into a tight little ball of introverted discomfort and anxiety. It’s harder to interact with people the carefree way that others seem to do it. I churn over things I said that I shouldn’t or things they said that hurt me.

I think about how much better it would be to be a monk, a solitary person who stays quiet and still and lets others drift by. If I build a wall big enough and thick enough, they won’t be able to impact me in any way. I can stay in my warm ball of unhappiness in all its familiar comfort.

At some point last night, I thought about the other option. Letting the things that people say slide off my back. The reality is that this person did not mean to hurt me with the comment. No one does, really. To hurt another person requires some type of caring about that person, and people don’t care about other people these days. He wasn’t thinking about me at all, I suspect. A minute down the trail, he probably couldn’t even recall that he said it. The statement only had power because I let it in and let it churn and grow and nag at those triggered little synapses of my brain that tell me I’m not good enough.

This isn’t a real insight. There are a million other posts from people telling you this exact thing. You can’t let people hurt you, and you can’t keep them out. You only are truly impacted by those who care about you enough to think of you, say things meaningful to you. (We are most hurt by those we most love, after all.)

But it was a little insight for me. And I suppose that’s a tiny accomplishment.

Sure, I’ll run with these people again. And next time they want to run faster when I’m uncomfortable, I’ll laugh. I will tell them to go on without me and get lost or suck it up and deal. And then I will try to forget I said it, because I have no power over them either.

I want to do something I enjoy without suffering (any more than running leads to the normal amount of suffering, anyway). I don’t need your comments or your jibes or your ignorance or your pettiness, any more than you need me fuming over it and thinking of similarly hurtful comebacks. I just need to run and appreciate a shared experience.

But still, the tiny part of me that thinks too much just wishes people would think before speaking. I wish that people did care about other people. Our society and our world would be a much better place.