This article orginally appeared in our Jul/Aug 2015 magazine issue.
Are perceptions more important than reality?
The only moment is the present moment, so at any given instant, a runner is a wizard of mindfulness and acutely aware of his own reality. To be honed into such tangibles as foot strike, breathing, muscle tightness, fatigue, lactic acid levels, etc., harriers must always be aware of real-time. But therein lies the dichotomy: this real information is ostensibly measured by our own perceptions. Do we not skew real-time data so that it favors us in some way? I say yes and it’s usually in hopes of lessening some burden (That hill isn’t that steep or Come on, you still have plenty in the tank for the final kick). But is this alteration of actuality feasible, and if so, is it effectual? We may think we’re fit enough for our goals but is this only in our hope-clouded minds?
Buddhists have a unique view of this problem. Essentially, they see reality as a form of projections. These projections are considered illusory but not in the sense of fantasy or make-believe. The thinking is that our perceptions and preconditions can mislead us.
Now, let’s connect this to running. The Buddhist viewpoint begs the question: are a runner’s shortcomings due to he can’t or he thinks he can’t? Or better yet, is a runner’s success due to he can or he thinks he can? Failure and success may be due to our perceptions of our real abilities.
A parable: Runner X trained on a treadmill once a week. The run was always a workout: tempo, progression, mile repeats. X always nailed the workout, often exceeding expectations. X entered races with tremendous confidence. X achieved PR’s. Years later, X learned the treadmill was miscalibrated. Those workouts weren’t quite as good as she thought. Turns out it didn’t matter; the miscalibration gave her the mindset she needed to set the PR. Her PR led to the PR.
So again, which is more important: perception or reality? As renners, should our perceptions shape our reality or should our reality shape our perceptions? Although it may be a bitter pill to swallow, we must accept that reality is what ultimately is. Our estimation of that reality is simply how our run-addled minds perceive said existence, which, by the way varies hugely from person to person, renner to renner. It is quite helpful and awesomely impressive that competitive athletes are able to manipulate perception into a temporary reality to get a particular job done. Perhaps in that moment of intense competition and supreme concentration reality is even suspended.
Yet at the end of the day, run, or race, perceptions must fizzle out. When they do, all we are left with is reality, knowledge, certainty, truths—as humbling as they may be. Sure we can think and will ourselves toward success in running, but all that positive mumbo jumbo will not allow us to attain it. Only smart, focused, disciplined training along with sweat and discomfort will do that. Consider this message a motivational one: you will improve if you put in the hard work. Too many people try to motivate through positive, “soft” talk. Reality is the ultimate motivator.
We do not create our own realities except through hard efforts and smart training. Our thoughts do not create our reality. All of the positive thinking, vision boarding, thinking outside of the box is not going to shape our running reality. Perceptions simply formulate our experience of our reality.
Alas, we can simply keep running, continue to monitor, and honestly self-assess our abilities and shortcomings. A win is a win, a failure is a failure. Accept both and be honest. Train smart, monitor the pain and perceive, openly and objectively, how much “fun” it is. Ω
Muddy is a seeker of PRs and rational, LVL objectivity.
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