Dirt in your skirt blog

Notes From a Recovering Competitive Athlete: The Reward Paradox

Posted on June 20, 2018 by Margaret Schlachter

Notes from a recovering competitive athlete series are the revelations that occur as I continue to move away from the competitive athlete identity and into just a balanced human who likes to get out and move. 

A few weeks ago I posted on Instagram and Facebook my initial proclamation of learning to love running probably for the first time ever really. This spring I have been reconnecting with the trails for the first time in years. But for the first time, I am just out there to be out there.

It’s weird and at almost feel like a recovering addict in a way. I have to rewire all my neural pathways from this is training to… this is fun. There is no goal, no one is watching, and the only motivation is that intrinsic lust to be outside and out on the trails. I can bring a GPS watch if I want or just leave it home. I can stop and literally smell the flowers and who cares. 

For many, you may be thinking – duhhh – that is the point. But for me, I wired into my brain at a young age if I was doing something active it had to be training. There is nothing wrong with training and going after goals are incredible. However, after probably 30 or more years of “training” for me it’s time to just have fun.

Today’s Lesson – The Reward Paradox

I found a 2-hour window in my day where I could slip out to the mountains for a hike/run. I have been home and not moving much recently and my body craved some trail time. I pulled up to the trailhead knowing I won’t be able to make the whole trail but gave myself a 45-minute window to hike/jog up and then whatever time it took to run home. Simple enough, go as far as I get and then turn around and go home.

As I was power hiking up the trail, feeling good with some tunes in one ear, I passed an older couple who were resting on the side of the trail. They asked me where I was going to and I mentioned however far I get in about 45 minutes.

In my brain, I was thinking, “this trudge up is the work for the reward of getting to run down the trail.”

Then as I continued on I got caught in one of those mind rabbit holes that can only happen on the trail. I realized I had unconsciously clicked back into “training mode” and out of “fun mode“.

I realized that the well worn neural pathways of the past were creeping into my present outing. I sat with the thought and realized the whole adventure of being out on the trails in the middle of the day was the reward in and of itself. I was outside, alone with my thoughts, out of cell service, and on a shady high mountain trail. Seriously, that is a reward in itself and privilege.

So as I ran down the mountain trying to recapture that letting go I once felt prior to my 2013 injury I settled on the reward that was the whole experience and hopefully started to grand down that old paradigm – training mode – and create new neural pathways enforcing the – fun mode – way of being.

It only took me nearly 35 years to see the whole experience as the reward not just the 15 minutes bombing down the mountain trail.