I’ve been reading The Passion Paradox by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. It’s not a long book – 164 pages – but it’s packed with practical ideas and analogies. Not a quick read. In fact, after reading it once and putting it down for a few weeks, I picked it back up and am reading it again. Am seeing more the second time through for sure! That’s often the case with good books. For the record, the authors are accomplished runners and coaches. Magness ran a 4:01 mile in high school. I’ve heard conversations with each of them on The Morning Shakeout Podcast with Mario Fraioli. Both really solid, thoughtful guys, which led me to buying the book.
The essence of the book is that passion can be the fuel to do great things. It can also lead us off a cliff. Rather than seeking a balanced life, when we are driven by passion things can be great – we’re focused and full of energy – things get done – but we need to watch for signs we’re approaching the cliff. One of the dangers of passion is it is often results oriented: “I do this so I can accomplish that.” And it may happen, but it may not. They use an example of Brenda Martinez leading the 800-meter Rio Olympics Trials with 100 meters to go being tripped and not placing. Rather than moping, she put her energies into the 1,500 four days later, which she had not planned to run. While not her best event, she placed third and went to Rio. The authors suggest she was focused on the process of preparing for the Trials, to be as ready as possible, rather than on the outcome of qualifying. Thus, she didn’t let her disappointment with the 800 deter her from giving it her all in the 1,500.
Suffice it to say, very few of us will have this type of opportunity! But we all face challenges in our daily lives, things we might consider failures or disappointments, even after putting 110% into them. Here’s a quote from the book: “Focusing on the process creates daily opportunities for little victories…that serve as waypoints on the path of mastery, helping to sustain our motivation over the long haul. Process spurs progress, and progress, on a deep neurochemical level, primes us to persist.” In a sense, this is the story of our lives, be it running or otherwise. Pro-cess has two parts: “Pro” is being for something and “cess” among other things means contribution. Thus, by staying with the process we are concerned with contributing towards some larger goal. When we’re on a path, we know it, we feel it. Even when a spur in that path leads us astray for a time, we collect ourselves, and get back on the path.
Running as a senior is like this. There was a time in our 30s, 40s, and maybe our 50s perhaps, when we could stake out target races, train for them and show up on race day primed to perform. But as the years pass, certainty of performance wanes. The passion may be there, but the hamstring or Achilles may be holding us back, maybe even keeping us from training. We all know runners in our cohort that have dropped out of the sport. There are many reasons for sure. But I suspect a key one is focusing on the outcome: showing up at races and doing well – rather than the process: allowing for whatever is disrupting our training and doing the things we can to stay fit while we recover. It’s frankly not very exciting to do pool running and StairMaster – although I’ve found that a great time to catch up on podcasts. But that is the price, the process, required to get us back on the roads and training at a high level. If we can master the process, we have the best chance of moving towards our goal of regular racing. Or as Stulberg and Magness suggest, “helping to sustain our motivation over the long haul.”