Last weekend I wandered away from my usual running haunts of Richmond, Twickenham and Kew to do my first half marathon in six years in Walton on Thames. The snow had melted away the day before and the race was on. Yet an early clue to my attitude was the partial hope I had that it would be cancelled due to the weather.

It was cold, but not as cold as it had been lately. I was running with a friend of mine and it was his first half marathon ever. As I was waiting for him to arrive I stood around observing all the runners around me – all looking fitter than me, all looking confident.
I hadn’t run for a week. I had decided that it would be a good idea to run the actual distance beforehand to make sure I could actually do it and so just over a week ago I had set out on my own. I managed it. I was also completely exhausted, my left foot hurt by the end of it and I didn’t find it fun at all. It took me two hours and seven minutes. So I decided that I wouldn’t run again until the race so that I could rest my foot. I also started dreading the event. It wasn’t going to be fun, it wasn’t going to be easy, it was going to a struggle, I wouldn’t be as fast as my friend. And here I was about to prove it all.

I ran the race. It was hard. I didn’t enjoy it. My foot did hurt by the end of it, and my right knee too. I had been telling myself that the last 3.1 miles would be the real killer and sure enough they were. I really found those last miles particularly hard. We crossed the finish line together, both happy to have finished. A medal was placed over my head and a bag given to me. We sat down, both eating and drinking what we found in the bag. Before we couldn’t move at all we decided to part ways. I walked back to the car and started going through the race. For the rest of the day I thought about why I had found it so hard. I have run a marathon before – yes, it was six years ago, but I hadn’t found that twice as hard as today. In fact I’m fairly certain that it felt fine. A lot of effort of course, but I had managed it.

When I went back over the last few weeks or so, I suddenly realised that I had been priming myself for it to be exactly as it had turned out! I had created a narrative about what was going to happen and then allowed that narrative to be the story of the race – and it wasn’t a helpful one.

As a therapist I know all too well that we do this in so many situations. We tell ourselves a story about how something is going to be, when the truth is we don’t actually know and we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to discover that it could be something completely different. We are so focused on already believing it will be something that we make it so – irrespective of what it could have been instead. It was a very valuable reminder about the power of the stories I can tell myself and how I’ll live up to (or down to) that story.

I had decided after the run that I wouldn’t run another one. But now I realise that I want to – this time with an open mind, with a different story. One where I enjoy the exertion and effort, where I am surprised to find just how quick my pace is and how easy it is to maintain that pace.  And where my feet are light and respond easily and well to the route. Perhaps I’ll be surprised at how quickly I recover from the run, how excited I was to finish it and that running with a friend was a joy. Who knows?

It’s not only in running that we tell ourselves stories about what might happen. Perhaps you’re telling yourself a story that isn’t priming you for happiness or success? Why not try telling yourself a different story and discover what might happen as a result? And if you can’t do that, then maybe there’s something else that needs to be dealt with.

But it’s a good first step.