"Attention Away from Distress" on a Marathon Scale

This is a report on the most sustained and successful counseling decision I've ever made. Last June my son Danny was training for his Bar Mitzvah, scheduled for October 25th. I became aware that I was becoming massively restimulated. The feelings were very intense. I was concerned that I would not be able to think well about him during his studies nor function well during the ceremony.

I had noticed that I feel better and think more clearly when I exercise. However, it was my running partner, who is knowledgeable about Co-Counseling, who suggested that we train for and run the Chicago Marathon on October 19th.

Stephanie had her own reasons for making this suggestion, but I knew immediately that taking on this challenge would be a perfect way for me to contradict my distress. It was an audacious challenge. Neither of us had ever run more than five miles without stopping. Neither of us had even competed in a race before. So to take on a run of 26.2 miles in only fourteen weeks would require all our attention.

That was the point, of course! I decided to place my full attention on training for the marathon. Stephanie plotted out a training schedule for us and we went to it, each with our own set of distresses and expectations, running an average of forty miles a week. It was wonderful to have a running partner who could listen to me when things got scary, as they often did at the beginning. We cried and laughed during runs and afterwards. I found myself getting closer to her in ways that I never expected. The quality of trust that developed between us was unlike anything I have ever experienced.

As the training progressed, I noticed significant changes in my physical and mental activities. On the physical side, besides shedding weight and feeling very fit, I lost interest in addictions such as sweets and masturbation. I went to sleep earlier and arose earlier. On the mental side, I relaxed; discharge came easier to me, both in and out of session.

My creativity and productivity at work increased. And something I never expected: I came to see the training as part of my spiritual journey. I entered into a dialogue with God, and as the training progressed, I shed my grievances and disappointments.

While Danny prepared for his big day, I prepared for mine. I noticed that I could listen to him and assist him. I could plan the festivities and have fun doing so. I found the help I needed to clear up some of my issues. I'm convinced that the key factor in all this was my sustained decision to place my attention on a goal that was outside my distress.

As the day of the marathon approached, I noticed the feelings that were coming up. The race brought up fear of failure and humiliation, and chronic feelings related to my power. It was great to discharge these feelings. There's no better way to contradict feelings of powerlessness than to run eighteen, twenty, or twenty-two miles with someone you trust. Stephanie and I agreed that we would stick together no matter what. We would finish together, or we wouldn't finish at all.

On October 19th, Chicago offered a picture-perfect day for 20,000 runners to run the marathon. Stephanie and I took our places, confident that we were well-trained and fearful that some obstacle would prevent us from finishing. I felt I had a lot riding on the outcome. Such a feeling was counterproductive. Her direction for me was, "I have nothing to prove and nothing to complain about."

Here's the upshot. We finished the marathon in our goal of five hours.

While it was taxing, at no point was I in any difficulty. I remember moments of great joy and exhilaration as well as panic. We both cried a few times. When we crossed that finish line together, it was one of the sweetest, purest moments of satisfaction I have ever experienced.

Danny's Bar Mitzvah the next week was a complete success. Everyone noticed how relaxed I was, how proud I looked, and how serene I seemed when my son was called to the Torah.

Here's what I learned: I'm sure there are other counseling strategies I could have used in this situation. However, I can't imagine anything more successful than focusing my attention away from the distress and on a major goal, in concert with a Co-Counselor committed to the same goal.

I've been in RC twenty-five years and things have never lined up for me like this before. I'm sure glad they did this summer.

John Kador
Geneva, Illinois, USA

(Present Time No. 110, January 1998)

Last modified: 2016-08-22 09:11:22+00