Was yesterday's poor run caused by my lousy night's sleep the night prior? What about two nights prior? Are my shoes breaking down? Maybe I shouldn't have run so hard those first two miles ...
Contrary to its alleged simplicity -- if it were difficult, toddlers wouldn't be able to do it, right? -- running is a sort of multi-variable calculus employing co-dependent factors that are damn near impossible to parse. The intricacies and co-dependence of many of these possible contributors to a run cause everyone nightmares at times. Unless we eat/drink/sleep/poop on the exact same schedule every day, it's incredibly difficult to ensure a controlled methodology by which we can control single variables and figure out how to deconvolute the equation.
I wonder what would had have happened if I hadn't gotten stuck at that traffic light. Could it have something to do with the dinner that I ate yesterday, or the few drinks that I had last night?
Once one comes to the realization that running is an involved puzzle made from multiple moving parts, there are three obvious responses. The first is giving up, which may be easiest but surely is the least rewarding. The second option is attempting to solve the puzzle quickly by brute force, shoving the pieces together to form a best approximation of the solution with no regard for the long-term ramifications of such an approach. This manifests itself most often as quickly starting a training plan without proper build-up, or running a race without proper training. Often times, this approach results in injury.
Was my mood abnormal when I left the house? Should I have ditched the iPod? What about the GPS? Should I listen to rap, rock, folk, or a podcast? Maybe I'm tired because I didn't get lunch until three o' clock yesterday.
The third option is a sort of long play -- one that involves far more patience and attention -- aimed at understanding the individual variables and their interaction with one another. To begin to understand the many variables involved with running (a small number of which are interspersed in this text), one must run.
To really understand, one must run a lot. The end goal of this approach may not really be to solve the puzzle per se, but to realize that the puzzle is so complex that it may not really be solvable. Instead, by taking this approach we try our best to understand, learn, mitigate, and iteratively improve our chances of getting the puzzle as close to solved as possible.
Maybe the fact that it's 85 degrees with 80% humidity at 5:30 a.m. contributed to my poor performance. Maybe I should have brought a water bottle. Maybe I should have tried to poop before I headed out the door.
Rather than fixating on specific issues, be aware of them and then let them go -- the crippling self-doubt that arises from obsessing over negatives can grind even the best runner to a halt. By accepting the fact that running's puzzle may never truly be solvable, it becomes possible to more freely explore where running may take you. Beyond general fitness, or that fifteen pounds, or that six-minute mile that we're all striving for on the surface, it's this exploration (and the self-realization that arises from it) that can be one of the most rewarding aspects of running.