May 24, 2018

Running Past Our Limits Update (Part 2): Denial

rhodesLast summer I wrote a series on lessons learned from marathon training. (You can find it in the archives.) People sometimes ask for an update, and this is it. Before I start this installment, I want to mention that the results of the Colorado lawyer satisfaction survey came out last week. I’m going to blog about it after I finish this series as promised. In the meantime, you can check it out at

When it comes to achieving goals and making changes, the inner game matters. In fact, it might be the only game that matters. Our thoughts and feelings create psychological and physiological states inside us that help or hinder. We can either work with that to our benefit, or not.

I got a major review course in this last February, when three huge things happened to my training:  (1) I broke the “impossible” two-hour marathon mark, not once but twice; (2) during a speed workout, I “ran” a 3:34 mile that would have set a new world mile run record; and (3) I was diagnosed with MS.

Odd, isn’t it, how getting tagged with a couple letters like “MS” affect us? There’s an energy to them; they instantly reshape our current reality and project out a future for us. And even though February had been a record-breaking month, those two letters threatened to trash my whole training regime.

So what did I do? I went straight into denial. Let me explain. My first step was a “terms of engagement” email to friends and family. I told them the diagnosis and then laid down some ground rules:  don’t offer sympathy, don’t tell me about people you know who have MS, don’t tell me about the drugs I can take, and don’t tell me to join a support group. I’m sure it seemed rude, but those kinds of responses weren’t going to help me, and I needed to head them off.

That done, I dove back into training. For the first few weeks, the diagnosis often came to mind during my workouts – usually in the form of “OMG, I have MS!” The mere thought of it sucked the energy right out of me. That just wasn’t going to work, so I created a patter to recite in response. Instead of “I have MS,” I changed it to “A neurologist has concluded that certain conditions in my body satisfy a diagnosis of MS.” My patter was factual, but the sting was gone. Whenever the MS thought came up, I’d repeat my patter to myself until the need went away. Maybe I “had” MS on some level, but I sure wasn’t going to let it have me.

No, that’s not Pollyannaish or positive thinking; it’s actually good neurology, and was founded on medical advice. There’s plenty of research to show that “fake it till you make it” has real oomph to it, plus my neurologist had said that, for a variety of reasons, drugs couldn’t help, and the best treatment for me was exercise. I laughed out loud. “I can DO that!” I said. Remember, the whole premise of my training was to fool my body into doing what it didn’t think it could do. The only thing the diagnosis changed was that now I had a bigger fool to fool.

I eventually got further reinforcement for my denial approach, but not before a powerful new training assistant showed up one day.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice who’s on a mission to help people love their work and their lives. He leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at

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