Coming Back to the Mat

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During a yoga class this week, my instructor said, “Everybody has a reason to come the first time, but what brings you back to the mat? Why,” he paused, “do you keep…showing up?”

It’s a powerful question that I have been pondering for several days now. People come the first time for a variety of reasons – because they got a Groupon or Living Social deal, for fitness or flexibility, for the social aspect or because a friend asked them, because of curiosity…. I have had guy friends tell me they went to see the girls in the cute little yoga outfits, sticking their booties up in the air, and girlfriends tell me they go because of the cute yoga instructor up front. I went mostly kicking and screaming, with great skepticism and trepidation.

In my mind, yoga was for the people who already knew how to do yoga, because if you didn’t already know the Sanskrit words for the different poses, if you didn’t know how to do the different movements, if you couldn’t keep up, then they would look down on you in distain. In short, it was a special club, that you either already belonged to, or you weren’t invited to join.

Last summer, I ran a marathon on an injury, and when the event was done, my team of coaches and trainers all told me that if I wanted to be able to keep running long term, I couldn’t run for a minimum of two months to really let my body heal. After two weeks I was stir crazy for something active to do. The only thing they agreed that I could do without further injury, was yoga, and only if I promised to do it at 50-60%.

So no one was more surprised than me, when I realized that I still wanted to show up regardless of injury. It went from being the only “allowed” exercise, to realizing that it was fun to see what crazy poses I was able to do. Then that changed to something even deeper, which is learning that it is less about perfecting poses (although I do like to strive towards looking pretty), and more about just being. It is the challenge of accepting myself in whatever condition I come to the mat, and choosing to be present for that hour or so. It is remembering the wonder that comes with doing things I had no idea I could do.

Anything worth doing in life usually takes some effort, and unless you find a deeper reason than what you started with, chances are that you will give up on it. This is true in relationships, diets or lifestyles changes, exercise, work patterns, and yoga. Eventually, the Groupon expires, the novelty wears off, it’s a lot easier to look at a yoga magazine than to show up and do the hard work in class if you want to see pretty people, and injuries do heal.

Yoga may have started out as an end unto itself for me, but it became about reflecting and finding inner peace and breathing. It became about the mat itself, letting that be my own space, where there is no judgment, except the judgment I bring to it. It is the smiling at myself, and giving myself grace, and listening to my body, and challenging my mind, and laughing when I fall, and choosing to get back up again. I come back to the mat because the mat will always meet me wherever I am.

It Takes A Village

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It’s easy to think that you just train, you put in miles, you get up, you tell yourself you don’t hurt as much as you do, and then you do it again. But it is so much more than that. It is the entire community of people around me that has gotten me to where I am today. When I stop to think about all the people that have influenced me, encouraged me, kicked me, and prodded me, I am overwhelmed.

I had people cook for me, give me tools, give me gear, help me set up my Garmin watch, set up the Garmin connect on my computer, set up the tracking device. I had people email me asking when the race was, and encourage me, literally every step of the way. I had, and still have, individuals who inspired me to keep going, and in turn, I was told that I inspire others. It is a beautiful cycle.

I had a team of people that have kept my body in tip top shape – massaging muscles, making sure my spine was in alignment, showing me specific running stretches, stretching with me, reminding me when I need to rest, and giving me advice to keep me from injuring myself.

Even though I didn’t have a coach, and I made up my own training plan based on some pretty good guesses and something I read in a book, I had a whole team of trainers working with me. They challenged me to do the long runs, and then the longer runs. They explained the importance of speed and strength work. They told me not to skimp on core work and keep up with my plan. They reviewed my chart, my progress and told me where I was trying to do too much and when I needed to push harder. They affirmed my plan, and gave me options. They told me about different ways to approach running from the “run/walk” method to heart monitor training. At the end of the day, no one method is perfect, but part of my joy has been to try many things and see what works for me.

 

And then it was the day of the race. There were moments that I vividly remember….

I remember hitting the 1-mile marker and thinking simultaneously, “I wish these people would all get out of my way, they are slowing me down! And wow, I just have 12 more to go.” At the 4-mile marker, I realized I was almost a third of the way done. When I hit 5 miles, my hip started to hurt and I thought, “meh…give it two more miles and see how it feels.” At somewhere around mile 7, they were handing out gels and I had some because I knew I needed it, but oh, it was gross. Just before mile 8, I ran through a fire department and under two great flags – the Colorado state flag and Old Glory…. I jumped up to try to touch the flag, but missed by at least a foot. Somewhere around mile 11, another fire department was out in their fire fighting pants and boots (no shirts), giving us high fives. Upon reflection, it seems that I might have preferred them back at mile 4 when I might have been able to remember what they all looked like!

And I was humbled, oh so very humbled at the end.  I was somewhere around mile 12.5, and it was all I could do to keep putting one foot in front of another.  I kept seeing these people pass me, young people with their pony tails bobbing, still looking perky and talking to their friends, and older people with silver hair and skinny chicken legs…and all I could think of was that I hoped I could grow up to be that old person someday.  It was inspiring.

I remember crossing the 13 mile mark and thinking to myself, I’m almost there – I couldn’t quite see the finish line yet because it was around a curve, but somehow I was able to pull out the last of my reserves and I picked up my pace one more time…I was determined to finish strong, with a smile on my face and my arms up in the air.  And then I was over the line, and I realized I’d done it – that thing I’d set out to do, it was done.  My legs felt like rubber, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted something to drink or to just fall over.  But it was humbling to realize that I am part of an elite group now – I can never say that I’m not a runner again, and that is humbling in and of itself.

You learn a lot about yourself when you put yourself beyond your comfort zone and then push yourself even harder. In January, this seemed like an impossible thing to attempt. I did it, but I didn’t do it alone…it took a village.

Cramming For The Exam

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There are a lot of things you can cram for – that driver’s written test when you’re sixteen.  That history exam that covers 400 years and is worth 60% of the grade.  A speech you’re supposed to give to a hundred people.  Packing your suitcase 20 minutes before you have to leave for the airport.  I’m not saying that cramming is necessarily the most effective way to accomplish any of these things; I’m just suggesting that it’s possible.

 

It is not possible to cram for a Half Marathon.

 

You have either put in the time, the miles, the stretching, the effort or you haven’t.  It’s hard to believe that my race is a week from tomorrow.  When I think back to the day I signed up to run, I couldn’t visualize getting to where I am now.  Now that I’m here, I realize that it was the culmination of all the time and energy I put in to the process.  I ran when it was cold, rainy, windy, hot, or snowy.  I ran when I hadn’t had enough to eat and times when I’d been paying attention and was raring to go.  I ran because I had a goal, I ran because I liked it, I ran on days when I was pumped up, and I ran sometimes when I didn’t feel like it.

I have tried new foods and fuel and gone back to what I know works for me.  I have gotten up early, missed parties, said no to happy hours, rearranged my schedule, chosen running over other things…  I have massaged sore muscles and asked for advice from seasoned runners.  I have read articles, bought gear, talked about running, written about running, bought more gear, dreamed about running, and then got out there and ran again.

I have had moments of doubt and I have had moments of sheer exhilaration when I thought I could conquer anything.  It is strange and exciting, and I’m still a little nervous, but in my heart, I know I’m ready.  I still have one week of tapering left, but if my race was tomorrow, I’d be ok.  I don’t have to cram for the exam – I have put in the time, one foot after another, mile after mile, minute over minute, day after day.  It’s time.

Crisis Averted

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Sometimes working through a crisis of confidence means staring it in the face and deciding to meet that demon head on. I set out to run 10 miles today, not because it was on my training plan, (my plan actually said to run 8 today), but because at this point, it is a mind game. My crisis of confidence was in my head, not in my training or in my body; physically, I could probably run 13 miles right now. Today’s run was about getting my head back in the game.

When I started training back in January, a great friend said to me, “Do you know when to stop?” I thought it was a trick question. In reality, it has become my inner battle cry when I’m out there pounding the pavement. “You don’t stop when you’re tired, you stop when you’re done.”

That’s it – so simple. You stop when you’re done. The trick is deciding up front when “done” is going to be so that you don’t compromise later. For me, sometimes done happens in 3 miles, and other times, done happens in more miles. Today, Done happened a little over 10 miles. I knew I was getting close to my ten mile mark, so in my head, I decided I was going to keep going until I hit a particular street. That last block felt so good because I was smiling, I knew I had accomplished what I set out to do, and I didn’t stop until I was done. I finished today well.

I am still nervous, and 13 miles is still 3 more miles than 10, but I have more confidence now than I had a couple days ago. What’s more, I set out to run a half marathon because in my mind, it was a big, hairy, audacious goal – if I wasn’t just a little bit scared, I obviously didn’t dream big enough.

Crisis of Confidence

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I started running 3 months, 2 weeks and 5 days ago.

My race is in 25 days. I am terrified.

In these last few months, I have already accomplished more than I truly thought possible, but suddenly, it doesn’t seem like enough. I am having a crisis of confidence on the level of pure, unadulterated panic.   The kind of panic that paralyzes you, and makes you forget everything you’ve been done thus far, because the fear is so real and in your face and in the moment now. It’s the kind of paralyzing fear that has kept me from writing because I type 7 words and then stare at my screen for an hour, wondering what to say.

I am so afraid that even though I have been working hard, I don’t have enough time left to make sure that I will be able to finish what I set out to do. I have never run further than 8.25 miles and that was at sea level when I was visiting friends. I have never gotten to “double digits” in my runs, never mind getting to 13+ miles. Crisis of confidence.

 

I have been told all kinds of things that are supposed to be reassuring.

“If you follow your plan, you will be fine.”

“If you are able to run double the distance of what your race distance is in one week, you are good to go. You can split it up any way you want. Just be able to run 26 miles in a week.”

“You have run more than 8 miles? Oh, you are good to go!”

“On race day, you will have so much adrenaline and the crowd will pump you up, you are going to be fine!”

And my personal favorite, “Remember, you can always walk.”

 

My goal is to run 13 miles, not just finish 13 miles! Walking isn’t an option. (I mean, I know technically it is, but I don’t want it to be an option.) I feel like I have worked too hard to compromise myself at the very end. And that’s what it would feel like to me – a compromise. Crisis of confidence.

But this crisis of confidence is real, and it’s scary, and it’s staring me in the face today. I’m not sure I can do this anymore, and the really crazy part is knowing that I won’t actually experience doing 13 miles until race day. That means that no matter how much confidence I can find for myself in the next 3 weeks, I still won’t actually know, as in, have person history and experience of knowing, until it’s over! Crisis of confidence.

In the last month, I have gotten sick twice, which required me to take time off from running. I still have a cough that is kicking my tooshie, I’m fighting with seasonal allergies which adds a whole new level to not being able to breathe while running, and apparently I didn’t know how to stretch one of my muscles correctly, so I had to take a couple days off to let a pulled muscle heal. All of these things, in and of themselves, are probably a pretty normal part of the cycle of training – everyone deals with these things once in awhile. But I have just been having it all handed to me on a silver platter without any reprieve. Crisis of confidence.

I have people in my life that believe in me, that encourage me in so many ways, that have literally walked and run beside me along my journey.  I haven’t given up, and I’m not positive that I won’t find an overwhelming sense of peace and confidence before May 18th rolls around, but today…in this moment…I am having a crisis of confidence, and I don’t want to let those people down.  Even more, I don’t want to let myself down.  But I have to tell you, it’s really hard to believe that it will all be ok when you are in the middle of a crisis of confidence.

#IRun4

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Once upon a time, there was a boy who had bilateral hip dysplasia.  It hurt, and he had to stay in bed.  This boy had a friend who liked to go running.  “You can run for me anytime!” the boy said to his friend.  That simple phrase sparked a movement, and Irun4 was born.

Today, this organization has approximately 10,000 members in 24 countries, and it pairs up athletes (who are normal folks), with people who have disabilities or diseases that prohibit them from running or being active.  The athletes can dedicate their runs, workouts, or races to their buddy who can’t be out there.

I have two very special people in my life who inspire me on a daily basis; Kevin and Daryl are both my cousins, from opposite sides of the family, so even though they don’t know each other, they are sort of cousins, too.  For different reasons, neither one can run anymore, so when I’m out there, and when I start to get tired, I remember these two amazing guys who would trade places with me in a heartbeat, and just that thought makes it a little easier to push through.

When Kevin was 12, the summer after his 6th grade year, he was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy.  MD is a genetic born disease where the muscle cell walls break down and don’t grow.  He described it to me this way, “Imagine a balloon with little holes – the balloon can’t hold in air with the holes.”  There are nine major groups of the muscular dystrophies – he has the one called Facioscapulohumeral MD (FSHD), and it initially affects muscles of the face (facio), shoulders (scapulo), and upper arms (humera) with progressive weakness.  Kevin’s is the third most common form of MD, and while some forms of MD are life threatening, his is not.  He does not live in pain, but because his 12 year old muscles are supporting a full grown man’s body now, it is safer and better for him to be in a wheelchair all the time now.

I remember being in college and, as college students do, a group of us (including Kevin) were sitting around talking about whatever.  The topic turned to the dreams we have when we sleep, and somebody asked, “what’s your favorite dream?” and we all took turns answering.  When it was Kev’s turn, he said, “It’s when I dream I’m running.  When it feels so real.”   That statement has always stuck with me because he dreams about something that I just take for granted.  The last time he was able to run was in junior high….

Daryl has been a runner his whole life – fun runs, runs with family members, cross country in school, track, etc.  When Daryl was in college, he was road-tripping home for Thanksgiving with some friends, and enroute from Grand Rapids, MI to Loveland, CO, they were in a car accident.  Daryl was thrown from the vehicle, and when he woke up, he was a paraplegic.  Today, he is an accomplished musician, writer, and teacher.  Recently he told me he is getting back into Hand Cycling, which sounds pretty hard core to me.

These guys inspire me because they would love to run, even though they aren’t able to anymore.  More than that though, they inspire me with their amazing attitudes every day.  These are not the guys that sit on the sideline – they are out there living!  They are out there in their communities, at work, sharing with family and friends, living courageous and joy filled lives.  It is my honor to dedicate my runs to these two extraordinary men – they inspire me to go further, push harder, and challenge myself when I think I’m done.

#IRun4KevNDaryl.    #WhoDoYouRun4?

 

If you are interested in learning more about IR4, donating, or being matched up as an athlete or a buddy, please check out their site here.

 

 

Your Gas Tank

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Food matters, what you put into your body matters.  It’s like gasoline for your car.  It might still get you from Point A to Point B on regular unleaded, but your car like premium unleaded better.  Your body is no different.

When you are training for an event, a race, or just generally stressing your body, you need more calories than you do in an “off season”.  What I have discovered for myself is that I can run when I’ve been eating crap – any calories is better than no calories when I’m 4 miles into a 7 mile run….but…  But!  Absolutely, there is a but.  If I have healthy and clean calories that my body is burning, I feel so much better!  If I must run on a scone and coffee, fine, but I struggle.  If I am running on free range eggs, spinach, a piece of fruit and some homemade carnitas, I don’t find the run as hard.

It also has to do with toxin build up.  Even things that could be generally considered “good” for me have toxins in one shape or another.  Even though I believe that red wine has some incredible properties, and I enjoy the taste of red wine, drinking in excess will lead to toxin build up.  For me, that happens in my hip joints.    For others, diary or gluten can be a trigger, even if that person is not allergic to either one for example.

When I did a paleo cleanse in January, I did myself a real service, and I didn’t even know it – in essence, I gave myself an oil change.  I reset my body, and in the process, I set myself up for more success.  For one month, I removed sugar, alcohol, gluten, grains, corn, legumes, and dairy.  I am not advocating that everyone should live this way – I certainly don’t.  But after my one month “reset”, I have to admit, my joints are happy.  I am running.  I am not having hip issues, (which I have struggled with for many years.)  I attribute this to having a fairly “clean” diet while I continue to train.

This is not to say that I deny myself now that I am not on the cleanse – I had bread, wine, cheese and sugar last night…and it all tasted great.  But I don’t eat like that every day.  For the most part, I am still eating in a quasi paleo format, mostly because that is what my body responds well to.  I have found that if I listen to my body, my cravings, when I am hungry and when I am full, I actually fill myself up with what I need rather than what I think I should need.

Yesterday I had an appointment with my kinesiologist who is basically a “body mechanic” and he gave me a tune up.  Before I left he looked at me and said, “I’m really impressed with how you have done your training.  I have to tell you, when you told me that you were planning on running a half in May, I thought you were headed for a lot of hurt and pain and I was really worried about your ability to finish and accomplish your goal because of all the hip issues you’ve had.  I think that when you did that cleanse in January, you really set yourself up for success…without even realizing it!”

Way to go, me!  Listen to your gut – sometimes you know way more than you realize.

High Five

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There is a camaraderie that I’ve noticed among runners, and it doesn’t really matter how long you have been categorized that way.  There are those that have been running for years, those that are just starting out, those that are “seasonal runners”, or those that get out there and are trying for the first time.  There are the serious runners, the ones that are wearing gear that is weathered and potentially wearing out, they move in a lynx-like fashion down the path, their heads high, their stride smooth, their shoulders back and their jaw loose.  I strive to look like that some day…  And then there’s the rest of us, in varying degrees of Not-Looking-Like-That.

I remembered when I first started….  I couldn’t run more than a mile, and I was SLOW.  Painfully slow.  I planned out where I would run based on how much “traffic” I thought I would encounter, cars as well as people – I certainly wouldn’t run on a busy street, no matter how many lights I could avoid or in a popular park, no matter how smooth the path would be, I thought I was too slow, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself.  I kept hoping that someday I would get good enough that I could run on the “busy” streets or in the pretty parks.

I made excuses to friends when they asked me how I was doing, how far I’d gone or how quickly I’d finished, saying things like “It was a good run, but it was still so slow – I’m not going to tell you how long it took – I don’t want you to laugh at me.”  And one day, I remember a friend responding with, “I would never laugh at you – you still got out there.  You went further and faster than any other person who sat at home on their couch.”  That was encouraging, but it didn’t make me faster.

When I first started, I struggled profusely, and I kept my head down whenever I passed one of the “real runners”.  I’d sneak a glance at them, and hope that I could look so cool one day.  They were always so focused, and damn it, they just looked good.

It turns out though, that when you run almost every day, you get better, stronger and faster.  You have to push yourself, don’t get me wrong.  I kept running when I thought I needed to slow down or walk, I made my feet move faster when I thought I couldn’t go any faster, I ignored the searing pain in my chest when it seemed like I couldn’t get enough oxygen, and then one day, I realized I had improved enough that I could run on the busy streets now.  Most of the time, I still choose to run through the quiet neighborhoods because I like looking at the houses, see the trees, and the way the sun makes interesting shadows on the street.

I still don’t think I’m a real runner, but when I was out there this morning, I saw the woman I used to be.  She was coming towards me, slowly, and obviously struggling to just keep going.  She glanced up and immediately looked away.  I knew that look.  I’d done it at least a hundred times on this same street.  It was the look of shame, of not being good enough or fast enough or polished enough.  It was the “I’m so sorry that I’m out on this same street with you – I don’t deserve to be here.  You’re the one that is the runner.”  As she came closer, I said, “Hey, high five!” and I held my hand up.  “Way to go us – we got out here this morning!”  And suddenly her face lit up like a Christmas tree, she grinned and walked a little bit taller.  We high-fived and as we went on our separate ways, I ran a little bit stronger because today, her grin was the thing that encouraged me.

The Turning Point

Believe In Yourself

This week has been the turning point for me – I have gotten to the place where I truly believe I will run 13.1 miles, without stopping.  My phrasing here is important, so I will say it again, it’s not just that I will be able to run 13.1 miles, it is that I WILL run 13.1 miles.  In the last seven days, I have consistently done more than I thought possible, and by continuing to surprise myself, and continuing to press on, and continuing to beat my last distance, time, pace, etc., I have received the most amazing gift – I truly believe in myself.

A week ago, I was scared of what I was facing in my training plan because it seemed like such a huge lift.  In a matter of 4 days, I would run more mileage than I’d ever done in 8 straight days.  I also jumped from 5 miles to 7 miles in one go, and while I wanted to believe in the plan, I also wondered if the plan was actually meant for a “real athlete”…not me.  Self perception has an amazing impact on self belief.

Growing up, my brother and sister were the athletes in my family.  I was the artsy one, the actress – I spent my time in rehearsals, building sets, memorizing lines, being on stage.  At best, I could claim that I wasn’t terribly clumsy, and say that I loved to watch sports.  However, watching sports does not an athlete make!  It takes the experience of actually getting out there, putting in the time, the sweat, the pain, the triumphs, the disappointments, being challenged a little bit more than you are comfortable with….  That right there, that experience which I did not have, is why running a half marathon was a Big Audacious Goal for me – it was outside my comfort zone, and while I wanted to believe in myself, I had no experience that it was really possible.

On Sunday I was running my 7 miles, and somewhere around 5 miles, I was getting tired, but I knew out of determination I was going to keep pressing on.  Around 5.5 miles, I realized that I knew the rest of the route home, and it wasn’t really that far.  By mile 6, I realized that I had already gone further than I had expected of myself, and I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  By mile 6.5, I was finding another second wind, and when I reached 7 miles, I knew I was ready to be done with this run, but I also knew that if I hadn’t already been home, I could have kept going.  I knew that when my plan says to run 8 miles in a couple weeks, I’m not going to be nearly so scared, because I believe in my heart that I can do it now.

It was in that moment, I realized that if I can do 8 miles, I can definitely do 10 miles.  I will probably be tired at 10 miles, and I might feel like I am starting to hit “my wall”, but if I push through that wall, and get to 11 miles, then I will be home free.  Because after all the training I have done, 2.1 miles is nothing now.  My perception has changed.

So suddenly in this one week, I went from being scared that I had signed myself up for too much, to being supremely confident that I will absolutely complete my goal of running 13. 1 miles on May 18th.