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.

Crisis Averted

WhenDoYouStop

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.

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.

An Admission

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Fear is a funny thing.

For some people, fear makes them lash out.  They will get angry, and aggressive, and attack.  It’s the flight or fight response.  These people fight…tooth and nail, to the death, with their words, their actions, and their behaviors.    For others, fear makes them shrink.  They ignore the problem or challenge or procrastinate until they can’t do that anymore.  They make excuses.  These are the people that want to hide under the covers, and hope that whatever it is, goes away.  When it comes to training, I am in the latter camp.

I literally don’t think about going out to run 3 miles anymore.  3 miles is easy, and it’s routine.  4 miles is longer, but it’s not actually hard.  4.5 miles is getting up there, but I know I can do it, because I’ve done it before.  I’m not saying I’m ready to run 4.5 miles every day, but I know I can go out and get it done.  At least once….maybe two days in a row.

In the next 4 days, my training plan calls for me to run 5 miles one day, 4 miles the next, 3.5 the next, and 7 miles on the fourth day.  I’m scared.

First of all, I will run further than I have ever run before at one time.  I believe I can do 5 miles.  However, I am honestly not sure if I can do 7 miles.  I just don’t know.  They say that anything more than 4 is a mind game.  Well…maybe it is, but I have a really vivid imagination!  7 miles is a long distance, and at the current moment, it seems impossible.  It seems like something that I don’t know how to do.  It seems like I am destined for failure.  (I don’t like failure.)

Second of all, I will run as much in the next four days as I have ever run in 7 days total.  I am taking this game to a whole new level.

So I am scared.  Because this is something that is so far outside of what I know, of what I have experienced, of what I can imagine….it is different.  And it is scary.  So I am looking for the excuse.  I am checking weather.com to see if it’s going to snow this weekend, or perhaps wonder if allergies are going to reek havoc on my training plan, or something equally benign and also worthy of creating an “excuse”.  I want to have a reason to explain why I didn’t get around to doing either 5 or 7 miles….  I want that excuse because I am scared….

Here’s the thing, I also want to be brave.

So I will admit to being scared, but I will go to work tomorrow, and I will fear what it is that I want to accomplish tomorrow evening when I get home, but I will do it because I know I can.  Running 5 miles is not truly hard for me now; it is just new.  But it is my bravery that will keep me going, it is being brave that will remind me to not quit.  It is bravery to remember all the people that have faith in me, and then it is brave to believe in myself.

It’s ok to be scared….it’s what I do with it that matters.

Fear

Park Swings

“What are you so afraid of?”  That’s a really good question.

I have never been scared of much, and certainly not the traditional things…even as a child, I relished the idea of going for hike in the woods at night.  Standing on the edge of a cliff looking over.  Monsters were made up and didn’t live in closets.  There wasn’t such a thing as driving too fast or flying too high.  Swings were made for sailing through the air when you reached the highest point.  Crossing the creek on a log and seeing the water swirl around below me was just fun.  Childhood was not a time to be afraid, it was a time to tackle the world with all the confidence of a performer taking the stage.

One of the many things on my personal bucket list to accomplish in my lifetime was to complete a triathlon, so last summer I decided to do the Sprint in Steamboat Springs.  I figured that if I was going to do this, I should at least pick a really pretty location.

About six weeks before the tri, I explained to a friend that the part of training I was most worried about, was the running.  Just for context, in a Sprint Tri, the running portion is a 5k, or a little over 3 miles.  I had grown up swimming competitively, so the notion of swimming a half-mile in open water didn’t even phase me.  In fact, I didn’t train for the swimming portion at all.  (Obviously, I was not trying to break any records.)  I’d gotten a road bike, and I was still a little concerned about using clips, especially when coming to stop signs, etc., but the 13 mile distance wasn’t hard to do.  Out of all three portions, it was the running that had me questioning my own sanity for signing up to do this thing.

So when he asked the question, I had to think about it for a minute.  Running is only doing something I’ve literally done my whole life…just faster.  It’s putting one foot in front of the other.  So why was I scared?  “I’m afraid I won’t be able to breathe,” I replied, and he just laughed at me.  It felt like a legitimate fear at the time!

I recalled this conversation as I got dressed this morning because I was afraid to go put my trainers on and step out the door.  “What are you so afraid of?” I asked myself.  I knew exactly what it was.  Today I was supposed to do a longer run than I have ever done in Colorado….and I wasn’t sure if I could do it.  I was afraid of failure.  I was afraid I’d have to start walking in the middle.  I was afraid of the unknown, of what I didn’t know.  I was afraid to leap off the swing for the first time.

There is something so refreshing about watching children who don’t know to be afraid.  I was that child once, and somewhere along the way, I grew up and apparently learned to be afraid.

Almost in spite of myself and to my surprise, I completed my run, I felt good, and I was even able to breathe the whole time.  I know that the next time I’m supposed to run a bit further than I did today, I’m going to be a little nervous, but I will be less afraid….because the first leap is always the hardest. I also know that it’s the most rewarding.

(Photo credit: Sierra Mae )

Are You Excited?

Optimist Quote

The day after I registered for my half marathon, I told a runner friend what I’d done.  Her first words were, “Ooooo!!  Are you so excited?”

Um,..hmmm.  Wow.  How to answer that.  “Well, uh,… yes?”

Actually, I’m terrified.  I am not a runner – I would barely consider myself a jogger.  A runner is an elite athlete.  A runner just keeps going and going, and they do it fast, and they have long legs and amazing breath control, and they do miles for fun.  These are people that talk about logging miles and keeping track of their splits and make plans for races they want to run in other states two years away.  Runners are hard core people…and I am just, well, me.

I read a book over the holidays about training for a full marathon, (Hansons Marathon Method by Luke Humphrey with Keith and Kevin Hanson) and by the end of the book, I was inspired!  I thought to myself, shoot, I can do this, especially if I’m only going to do half the amount.  The training was broken into reasonable chunks and I really liked the philosophy behind it all.  Intellectually, I grasped the idea that it is taking four months of my life to work towards a goal that I have no experience in, and it means running a lot.  I was inspired to think that I could actually follow a plan and be successful in completing 13.1 miles.  I was excited!  So I signed up.

The longest run I have ever done without stopping or walking was 4 miles, and that was at sea level, over the holidays visiting family while also reading Hansons – like I mentioned,  I was inspired.  I live in Colorado, and running here IS different than running there…less oxygen actually does make a difference.

So, now that I’m back in Colorado, now that I have had time to digest my decision…am I excited?  No!  I’m scared and nervous and think I might be crazy for ever thinking that I will be ready for this in May.  And then I stop and take a breath and remind myself that sometimes, the hardest part is the first step, which I already took by signing up.  So, I get excited and inspired again until I start to remember the enormity of the goal, and that gives way to some fear and trepidation leading to that certainty that I must be crazy.  I’m not sure if this cycle of emotions is normal or not….  I want to be excited.  I want to believe in myself.  I want to be that person that sets a time goal, and then can shatter it on the day of the race.  I want to be exceptional.  But I’m not going to lie, right now in this moment, I’m scared and pretty sure I must be crazy.

I’m also pragmatic and determined.  I already paid the race registration fee, so I’d better get out there, because I already committed.  It’s ok to be a little scared.  This is, after all, my big audacious goal for 2014.