Archive for March, 2012

In Decision

Posted on March 30, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

If I could make up my mind the way housekeeping makes up hotel beds, I would be in pretty good shape.  Perfectly tucked and creased.  Lumps in all the right places.

Unfortunately, my decision-making ability isn’t always quite that smooth.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  When it comes to deciding between, say, Tagalongs or Thin Mints, the decision is easy.  Both.  And therein lies my problem.

There’s a sprint tri coming up in June that I really want to enter.  It will be my first tri in almost two years, and I know what I need to do to train for it.  I’ve done it before.   However, for me, training for a race means I need to eat clean, stop wining, and stick diligently to the training schedule hanging on my fridge.

I have what’s called a competing commitment.  I am committed to entering this race (and, once I’m out there, to placing).  And I am also committed to Tagalongs and merlot.  I can’t have both.

Fortunately, our minds are remarkable things.  This is fortunate, that is, once we understand how they work, especially in terms of decision-making.  About 90% of our decisions are already made for us—by our subconscious mind.  The beliefs we have about ourselves and the world are “programmed” in us when we’re young by our families, culture, education, geographic location, etc.  Are these beliefs right or wrong?  That depends.  How are they serving you?

Take me, for instance.  I grew up with the belief that I was shy and non-athletic.  I believed I was made to read books, draw pictures, hang out alone.  Most of my circumstances supported this belief and when I tried to participate in an activity contrary to it, I usually failed.

Fast forward 20 or so years.  A little voice inside me tells me there are things I want do. Like teach and public speak.  Swim and run and ride my bike really fast.  But these things aren’t “me.”  I can’t see myself doing them—until I change my mind.

Once I decide I can do these things, I start honoring that voice.  I see me doing what I want to do, and I start doing it.   If my subconscious can be programmed by others when I’m young, it can be reprogrammed by me when I’m old(er).  I can retrain my mind to think about me in a different way.

I became a teacher.  A public speaker (however big or small the audience).  A runner, biker, swimmer.   I changed the way I saw myself.  I decided I could do it.  And I did.

So why has it been so hard for me to commit to training for the June tri?  Until this week, I hadn’t fully resolved to do it.  My mind wasn’t all in.  It was still drawn to the boxes of Girl Scout cookies hidden in my freezer behind a wall of frozen vegetables and chicken.

Now that I reached the first step, I can take the second.  The first act of deciding is in the mind.  The follow through is in the body.  Both require action.  I’m finally in.

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A Trying Time

Posted on March 23, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

I once read that it took Thomas Edison 10,000 attempts to make the light bulb before he finally got it right.  10,000. Can you imagine?

If you are near a mirror, take a look at your eyebrows.  I’ll wait.

Can you count the number of hairs in just one?  Seems like too many to count, at least in one sitting, doesn’t it?  There are about 450.  Edison failed more than 22 times that number.  Nevertheless, he didn’t give up.

Think you could try—and fail—at something more times than you really want to count?

I thought about this the other day when my alarm went off way before dawn on sprint day.  Now sprints, I just love sprints.  Really I do.  But I haven’t yet reached my goal speed.  I’ve tried.  And failed.  And tried again.  Once a week, for months.  Sometimes I think that instead of trying yet again, I should revise my goal, make it easier.

So when my eyes shot open (the alarm volume is set to fear-raising) and I remembered that it was sprint day, my stomach was not pleased.  It turned back over on its own. Geez, I thought, it’s so early and I’m so tired and it’s going to be so hard. Do I really even want to try?

But when I flicked on my lamp I remembered Edison and his 10,000 attempts.  Not failures, he said, only 10,000 ways that didn’t work.  I rolled myself and my stomach out of bed.

Edison was a pretty smart man and maybe one of the hardest working men in history.  As I climbed on the treadmill that morning, I thought about something else he said:  “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

And so I ran.

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Ask and You Shall Receive

Posted on March 16, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

The other day I walked into a conversation that seemed to be about the adage “you have not because you ask not.”  The gist of the conversation was this.  Most of us don’t ask for help when we need it because we have all kinds of (wrong) ideas about what it means to need help.   In refusing to ask for help, we not only hurt ourselves, but we also hurt our potential helpers.

Many things keep us from asking for help.  Pride (I already know what the answer is).  Fear (If they only knew, they would reject me).  Our perceived inadequacies (If they find out I don’t know, they’ll think I’m a fraud).  Inconvenience to others (I don’t want them to go out of their way just for me).  We don’t want to be selfish, a taker.

Many of us were taught as kids that to ask for too much was simply too much.  How many times did we hear an adult say stop pestering me or ask me again and you’ll get nothing?  Socialization (family, education, geography, gender) taught us that we should be quietly content with what we have.  Or that only brown noses, weaklings, etc. ask for help.  The rest of us do it ourselves.

Did I mention that the ideas we have about asking for help are likely wrong?  In addition to hurting ourselves when we don’t ask for help, we hurt others by depriving them of the opportunity to give.  To help others is part of our basic humanity.  It’s how we find common ground.  It’s how we connect.

It took a couple of days for me to fully process this conversation.  I thought of all the hundreds of times I have not asked for help when I needed it, and, as a result, all the harm I’ve caused myself.  I thought too about all the times I’ve offered my help and been rejected, and how it gave me a bit of a hollow feeling inside, even if the offer was as simple as carrying a heavy load for a complete stranger.

Inevitably, I thought about running. How many times have I wondered why other runners train or eat a certain way.  Where they learned a particular technique.  How they do what they do.  But I haven’t asked.  Even when I’ve been in physical pain and their knowledge could have helped me.

Why?  Since hearing this conversation, I can’t think of one good reason.

What do you do when you need help?

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Posted on March 9, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , |

I’ve been asked to speak to an elementary school next month about perseverance.  This school works hard to develop character in their students.  Each month is dedicated to a different character trait; the school holds an assembly to award those students who have demonstrated the characteristic, and then someone gives a short talk.

April is perseverance month.  Running, the thinking goes, takes perseverance.

For months I’ve been wondering what to say to a group of K through 8th graders about the relationship between running and perseverance.  Do most of them even like to run?  What is running, really, for kids?  From what I have observed, most kids do the sprint-walk.  That is, they run all out as far as they can until they virtually collapse, and then they stagger into a walk, sucking in air like a turbojet.

Many of the adults I’ve seen who’ve tried to run with these kids have a hard time keeping up.  Maybe they should get an award for perseverance.

I thought about talking to the kids about Wilma Rudolph, a remarkable woman who overcame tremendous hardship to run.  Not only did she excel at running, but her efforts broke down some racial barriers in the segregated south.  A true role model, in my opinion, not only as a runner but as a human being.  Rudolph inspires me, but would she hold the kids’ interest?

What do kids know about perseverance anyway?  To persevere is to not give up.  To keep going in the face of all adversity, even when you feel like quitting. It means that obstacles cannot be obstacles; they can be hurdles or hills.  Maybe even mountains.  But you know that if you keep going you will find a way over.  So you keep going.

How do you relate that to a kid’s world?  What is it that Sponge Bob perseveres at, or Puss in Boots?  I have known kids who have demonstrated perseverance without necessarily knowing it.  Some have fought hard to stay in school when their parents have wanted to pull them out to work or help with childcare.  Others have lived through debilitating illnesses or undergone painful surgeries, only to smile and encourage their caregivers through the whole ordeal.

And I have known kids with incredible dreams who have had no support from the adults in their world.  They have been scoffed at and belittled, chastised to the point where many adults would fold and say enough, I give.  But not them.  They become artists and doctors, entrepreneurs and writers.

Some become runners.

To persevere implies that a goal has been set, that there is some end a person is working toward.  Goal setting may be the starting point of perseverance.  Maybe getting kids to run, to set goals—even small ones of just a few more yards or, maybe, eventually, a 5K—is the starting point to develop perseverance.

I don’t know if perseverance is learned or innate.  Maybe it is a bit of both.  Those of us who run know how good it feels to reach the goal we’ve set for ourselves. It makes us want to work even harder, to extend ourselves beyond what we believe to be our capabilities.

When we fail to reach our goal, that too can make us work harder yet.  We run through rain and sleet and snow.  Bitter cold and blistering heat.  Up hills that seem more like cliffs.  Through physical pain, illness, family issues.  We persevere.   Do we get scoffed at?  Maybe.  But in the end, who cares?

I suppose that this is what to tell the kids.  It doesn’t matter what other people think.  It doesn’t even matter so much what they do or say.  Figure out what you love to do, and then set a goal to do it.  Work hard to get there, because if you love it, work won’t feel like work.  And falling down won’t hurt as much as staying down.  In fact, you may come to feel like a Weeble.

If you haven’t yet figured out what you love to do, take up running.  Somewhere in the midst of the sprint-walk you might just hear that still, small voice that speaks to most runners.  It will set you straight.  And it may keep you running.

What would the rest of you runners say to kids about perseverance?


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The Joy of Sprinting

Posted on March 2, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , |

Wednesdays used to be Prince spaghetti days. Now they’re sprint days.

For years I avoided doing sprints. Although I had read article after article about the benefits of sprints—how they boost metabolism, strengthen the cardiovascular system, strengthen muscle, increase endurance, increase human growth hormone…do I need to go on?—I talked myself out of doing them.  Why?  Fear.

I watched other runners sprint.  Saw how fast they ran, how easy they made it look, how lean they were, and I did what I knew I shouldn’t.  I compared myself to them.  I could never do that, I told myself, never be like them.   Never, ever run that fast without breaking a bone or falling flat on my face.

Then just over two years ago I was invited to the Beach to Bay Relay in Corpus Christi, Texas, a marathon length relay race divided into 6 legs.  I was to be part of a team.  Leg 6.

No pressure.  Just the one to pick up any slack the rest of the team might have dropped.  The one to cross the finish line—on behalf of a team.

For the first time since I’d started running, I would be running not for myself, but for others.  In my mind, I couldn’t let them down.  So I decided to incorporate into my training the one tool I had been too afraid to use.  Sprints.

When I first started them, I hated it.  It hurt physically and mentally.  Running sprints forced me to confront all my self-doubt.  Who was I really, and why was I doing this? What was I made of—and was it good enough?

The more I stretched my self-imposed limitations, the more I began to enjoy sprinting.  It reinforced what I already sort of knew—the human body is remarkable and can do pretty much anything.  Provided the mind allows it to.

Running sprints also helped me to get a handle on one of the reasons I took up running—the need to see how far I could push my body until it broke.  I hadn’t been putting all my effort into running, and until I did, I wouldn’t know my true limitations, physical and mental.

I still find it fascinating to learn how my body works.  I have learned, for instance, that on the treadmill I cannot go from a full out sprint to a stop for water because my blood pressure can drop too quickly, say from 164 to 86, which is not conducive to standing.

I find it even more fascinating to learn how my mind works.  I have let my gut take over when I run.  My rational mind used to make a plan that looked like this:  Start sprints on the treadmill at a safe speed (not faster than last week), run four incrementally faster sprints, cycle back down four, then stop.  Very safe. Very rational.  But not very effective at exceeding those boundaries.

Now I don’t worry so much about a plan.  I do sprints on Wednesdays. That’s the plan.  Start at a speed higher than last week and run as many incrementally higher sprints as I can until my legs turn to noodles.  Then I run one more.

Now I love running sprints.  And I suppose Wednesdays can still be Prince spaghetti days.  Maybe for breakfast.  After sprints.

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