Archive for September, 2012

(It’s a good thing) Old Habits Die Hard

Posted on September 28, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Last week I fell into the black hole of despair. My fitness routine fell in right after me. You may know how it is.  First you skip a day or two of workouts to a lie in bed and think. Then you start eating all the wrong things. Which, of course, makes you feel terrible when you wake up in the morning, so you shut off your alarm and go back to bed for another hour.  Or two.  Before you know it, a week’s gone by and you haven’t done anything healthy for yourself.

But one morning you notice the empty family size bag of Julio’s in the trash (which would be fine, if you had a family).  And, maybe worse, you notice something sparkly on your shoelaces when you accidentally kick a lone running shoe that got wedged under the couch—and the sparkle is not a diamond but the intricate web of a spider that’s taken over your shoe.

OK, you tell yourself.  Crawl out of the hole. It’s time to run.

This week, I got back into the swing of things.  My goals were small:

  1. Do NOT hit snooze. Get up at the usual time:  5 am.
  2. Do something strenuous every morning.  Moving the party size vat of ice cream from one freezer shelf to another does not count as strenuous.  Either run or strength train.
  3. Remind yourself why you make healthy choices in the first place. Because it feels good.  I promise.

The hardest part about resuming a habit is in the mind.  It takes more effort to convince myself to move than it does to actually move.  Mentally, I have to argue with myself every morning, find the right argument to ignite the chain of events that become exercise.  Physically, my body knows what to do. I just have to set it in motion, and it goes.  The force of habit propels my joints, muscles, limbs to perform familiar actions.

Thank God for muscle memory, for the pattern of movement we build into our bodies.  If my feet didn’t know their way down the road, I’d likely still be lying in bed.

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The Worm of Doubt

Posted on September 21, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

This morning we lost Jingle Ball in a freak incident.

My dogs and I were trying to get back into our usual routine:  Wake up, pour coffee, sit on floor, throw Jingle Ball across the almost-empty dining room, through the kitchen and against the far wall.  Sip coffee while one of the dogs runs back with the ball, the other following.

Jingle Ball is not exactly aptly named. It is my dogs’ first ball, turning 11 years old this month.  It’s more like a half moon than a ball, the once bright green rubber faded mostly to a dingy brown, its surface dented and scratched.  The jingle bell for which it’s named disappeared years ago.  Still, my dogs love it; it’s the first and often only toy they choose from their overflowing box any time they want to play.

This morning it disappeared into a hole underneath a cupboard.  Not a visible hole, but a hole I didn’t even know existed.  Part of the design where two cupboards meet in a corner.  You can’t even see it until you’re lying flat on your back staring above the molding along the floor. I threw the ball straight and hard, but rather than going straight, it bounced sideways on its jagged half moon edge and disappeared through the phantom hole.

It took a few moments to comprehend what happened.  Once I understood, I panicked.  How were we going to get a ball out of a space whose entry I could barely get my arm through?  We had to get it. So I shoved my arm through the hole up to the elbow, twisted and turned it in an attempt to feel around.  When that didn’t work I opened drawers and closets to find whatever tool might help.  A wire hanger. Salad tongs.

Fruitless. After 40 minutes of trying, I was overcome with despair and I sat on the floor and cried.

Despair has pervaded my life over the past couple of weeks. I’ve been penetrated by that insidious worm of doubt that bores holes through the good in life and renders it unstable.

I can’t really say what initiated it, but I can see its effect.  I’ve stopped writing.  Have taken to lying in bed most mornings staring at the ceiling, willing myself to get up.  Wondering what my purpose truly is and if what I am doing really makes a dent in the world.

This week, I even stopped running.

I should have seen that coming. Writing and running are so alike. The principles that apply to one apply to the other.

It sneaks up on you, this worm of self-doubt. Others don’t really know it’s there. To them, you appear a shiny apple on the outside. But they can’t see what’s eating you.  Often, neither can you.  It wasn’t until my boyfriend called one morning that I really noticed how much it affected me, and that I had stopped running.  When he asked how my run was I told him it wasn’t, I had decided to lie in bed instead. Couldn’t think of a good enough reason to get out.  He was silent for a moment and said, But isn’t that why you run? To give you purpose and make everything clear?

Today I attended a volunteer fair at a local university.   I smiled and chatted and took down lots of names.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about Jingle Ball, stuck there in a dark corner I hadn’t even known existed.  I worried that I wouldn’t get it out. That my dogs would be sad.  That it would be stuck in a deep, dark hole, just out of reach, forever.

A woman at the fair asked how Girls on the Run started, and I launched into the organization’s history.  I told her about the founder, Molly Barker—how even though she had done extraordinary things with her life she struggled with self-doubt, but one day while out running something clicked.  She saw with great clarity the relationship between running and self-confidence and Girls on the Run was born.

Midway through, I teared up.  I suddenly saw where I was:  Stuck in a hole I had no idea existed.

I left the fair a little early and came straight home, determined to find Jingle Ball, not for my dogs but for me.  I lay flat on my back on the floor, grabbed a pair of salad tongs, and stuck my arm in the hole as far as it would go.  I closed my eyes and felt around the space, leading my hand not by sight but by faith.  After nearly half an hour and a bruised and scratched arm, I found Jingle Ball, guided it safely to the entry, and gently eased it out of the hole.

My dogs and I danced around the kitchen in celebration, their half moon, jagged-edged, dirty, pock-marked ball returned.  Their ball, my hope.

Tomorrow I will cover the hole with duct tape.  And then I will run.

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When Running Isn’t Enough

Posted on September 14, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Running is the only thing I have to look forward to right now.

That’s what a friend of mine told me over coffee this week.

If I can make it out the door, she said, and run the 3 or 5 or 7 miles on my plan, I know I can do anything.  It gives me strength.  Purpose.

I nodded intently over the heart-shaped foam skimming the top of my cappuccino.  Yes, I reassured her, I understand.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been there. If I can just get out of bed and lace up my shoes.  If I can only make it to that Stop sign.  At least I will know that I can set a goal and reach it.  I’ll know that if I can do this, I can do anything.

It’s that feeling of accomplishment and strength that keeps many runners motivated.  Reaching the point of self-motivation—the muscle memory (body and brain) of the calm and happiness that lies on the sweaty and alert side of the run—takes time to cultivate.  Even though I’ve been there for a number of years, I still have those stretches of life where I need motivation from without.  I need someone else’s words to help me find my strength and purpose.

Often, for me, that person is Henry Thoreau.  I won’t go into all the reasons why; this isn’t a blog on literature or botany or limnology or natural history.  It’s a blog on running.  And more.  But I thought I’d share with you a couple of Thoreau’s quotes that have helped move me when running wasn’t enough.

 

Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed.   Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders. (“The Dispersion of Seeds,” Faith in a Seed)


 

Jan. 5. P. M. A man receives only what he is ready to receive, whether physically or intellectually or morally, as animals conceive at certain seasons their kind only. We hear and apprehend only what we already half know. If there is something which does not concern me, which is out of my line, which by experience or by genius my attention is not drawn to, however novel and remarkable it may be, if it is spoken, we hear it not, if it is written, we read it not, or if we read it, it does not detain us. Every man thus tracks himself through life, in all his hearing and reading and observation and traveling. His observations make a chain. The phenomenon or fact that cannot in any wise be linked with the rest which he has observed, he does not observe. By and by we may be ready to receive what we cannot receive now.  (Journal 13, December 1859 – July 1860)

 

Strange passages to find comfort in, I know.  Nevertheless, I do.  Are there certain authors or quotes that get you motivated?

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The Wonder Wall: or, I wonder why I hit that wall

Posted on September 7, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

There you are one early morning, in the pool swimming laps, on your bike cruising down country roads, or out for a long run through the backstreets. You had a plan, you set your distance, knew your route and were off. But half way through your workout, your arms stopped rotating like a windmill, your legs resembled the rubber chicken sitting on the corner of your desk, and your body slumped into something you liken to the compost pile in your backyard.

It’s happened. You’ve hit the wall.

This can be dismaying, to say the least, especially when you thought you were doing fine and felt like you were in great shape to be out there rolling.

What causes us to hit the wall and what can we do to prevent hitting it?  It seems to me there are three important factors athletes—yes, even amateur athletes like most of us—need to consider before we hit the dawn running.

Nutrition

If your body was like Janet Jackson, it might sing you a song: What have you done for me lately?  (And if your mind is like mine, you get a song stuck in your head whose words you either don’t like or can’t remember, but you sing it to yourself anyway, making up different words to suit your situation. Like what did you eat for me lately?)

The question is a serious one. What did you fuel your body with before your workout?  Before, in my mind, is not only the 30 to 60 minutes before you head out the door, but the long stretch of hours that lead into your workout, the night before if you work out in the morning or the entire day if you work out in the afternoon or evening.

I work out first thing in the morning.  I always eat a small meal 30 minutes or so before my workout, but I am also cognizant of what I eat the night before.  If I am doing cardio in the morning, I make sure I eat complex carbs with dinner.  And if I’m hungry before I go to bed, I eat.  Your body needs the right balance of proteins, fats, and carbs, complex as well as simple, to function at its best. Don’t deny it what it needs.

Hydration

If you feel thirsty, it’s already too late. You’re dehydrated.  What do you do?  Drink, drink, drink!  Drink before you go to bed, drink before and after your workout. Drink always, all day long.

Notice I didn’t include the middle of your workout as a time to drink. That depends on what you’re doing and how long you’re doing it.  I always have water with me when I bike, swim, and weight train. I drink frequently during all of these activities. But I don’t take water with me when I run unless I plan to be out there more than 60 minutes. I know there are some people who would say, so what? Take water anyway!  For me this is simply a personal preference. I don’t like holding things in my hands or feeling extra weight hanging on my hips when I run.

What do you drink?  Water. Lots of it.  Sports drinks are unnecessary for most people, unless you’re out there sweating profusely for long periods of time. If you’re training for a marathon or a triathlon, especially in summer in Texas, that’s a different story.  Kind of.  I prefer coconut water over sports drinks because sports drinks have a lot of sugar in them. Coconut water has none. It’s a great way to keep hydrated or to rehydrate.

Muscle fatigue

It could be that you hit a wall because your body is just plain tired.  Have you slept enough?  Have you over trained?  Does your body need rest for a few days? Should you stop what you’re doing at the moment, or should you push through?

That depends.

The way you get to know your own strength, to find out what you’re made of, and to improve your endurance is to push yourself beyond what you think are your limitations.  Sure, I can stop when my knees get wobbly or turn into lead pipes.  I may even have to stop. But at what point do I make this determination?

Ask Socrates. He’d probably say Know Thyself.  Part of training hard and pushing yourself to be better, stronger, faster than you were before (like the Six Million Dollar Man) is knowing your body well enough to understand what it’s trying to tell you and to respect it enough to listen. There’s a fine line between breaking through the wall and breaking your body.  The first is exhilarating. The second excruciating. Unfortunately, sometimes we learn to recognize our body’s queues through trial and error. When we err, it hurts.

Inevitably, at some point in training, you’ll hit a wall.  If you pay attention to your body, it will let you know why you hit it and what to do about it.  Listen to it.  Your body knows best. Almost like your mother.

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