Just last week, I was thinking that it had been over two years since my last running-related injury, and that I was seeing the benefits of having been able to run continuously throughout that period, if not with the same intensity all the time. And then I was trotting along on my weekend long run, reminding myself as I battled against yet another strong headwind that pace is not what matters on those runs, when I had a sharp pain above my right ankle. I stopped, had a play around with my ankle, could feel where the pain was coming from, and decided it was too soon to give up. I’ve had pains come and go before and my made-up rule is to run for another two minutes and just pay attention. Am I moving some part of my body differently? Is there some imbalance I haven’t noticed? And what is the pain doing? In this case, it was coming and going. But after one minute, the coming was winning and the going was…well, going. At this point, I was glad that I had done a mini-loop at the beginning of the run to turn a 12 mile route into a 14 mile one. That meant I was still only a mile and a half from home. And I was walking back.
I’m pretty sure it’s a muscle rather than my Achille’s tendon. But I suspect I’m going to be out of action for a while now. This is not great. By the time I got home (it takes a lot longer to walk than run) I had calmed down from my initial emotional reaction. I was sure I hadn’t done anything I shouldn’t have, like up my mileage or intensity by too much too quickly, and that this was just one of those things that can happen. The only question was what I would do about it now.
I’m a big fan of Stephen Covey’s work. He’s probably best known for his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which remains a constant source of positive challenge to me when I try to be honest with myself about my own behaviours. The concept he taught which I think I have found most useful and most applicable to life is his circle of influence and circle of concern, and it was to this teaching that I returned on my walk back home today when I had to decide what I was going to do about this sudden change.
The two circles look like this:
Our circle of concern is all the things that concern us (the clue’s in the title). It’s very wide, we accumulate a lot of things that are of interest or concern. At its extreme, it might include world peace and alleviating poverty. The smaller circle in the middle is our circle of influence. It’s what we can do something about. Let me illustrate using my brand new injury.
It is most definitely in my circle of concern. It bothers me, it limits what I can do for a period of time, and it’s annoying.
So what is in my circle of influence? The obvious starting point is whether I let my body heal. If I do, it will get better, if I don’t, it will get worse. I could have carried on and run a few more miles when I first felt the pain, but then I would probably have needed carrying for a few months. I could have stayed firmly in my circle of concern and blamed myself for what had happened, blamed someone else (what, take personal responsibility?), sulked about it for days… the list goes on. Instead, I recognised that something had happened that I could no longer do anything about. The only question was, what now? Because that is my circle of influence.
By the time I got home, I had thought of some of the things I would be able to do if I were out of running-action for a while. Like reading more, going for walks, writing at lunchtime instead of running, going on photography walks… and I found it became a long list, more than I could possibly fit into the extra time I would have at my disposal. And that is the beauty of Covey’s concept of the circle of influence. If you spend you energy on your circle of concern, it just wears you down because you can’t do anything about it. But if you focus on what you can do something about – your circle of influence – it gets bigger. The only way to make any impact on your circle of concern is to focus on your circle of influence, which then gets a bit bigger:
So at the moment, I don’t know if I will be out of action for a week, a month or a year, but I do know that if I concentrate on what I can do rather than what I can’t do, it can end up being a positive experience. Just different from what I had originally planned. But then life is like that, isn’t it? We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we react.
I spent the rest of the day reading, writing and pulled out the Leica ready to take with me when I next see daylight. It turned into a great day. I’m going to make the most of whatever running-free time I have to take for the next while!