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

Final Exam

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

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.

High Five

HighFive

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.

What Matters

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I ran a new personal best today, but that’s not what’s important.  It doesn’t matter how fast or far I ran yesterday.  It doesn’t matter how that compares with today.  It’s cool that I ran my new personal best, but that’s not what really matters.  It matters that I got my shoes on, laced up and got out there.  And tomorrow it’s not going to matter what I did today or how it compares….it will matter if I choose to do it again.

Every day is made up of a thousand choices – what to have for breakfast, whether I hit the snooze button or not, how to respond to someone at work, how to word that email, when to let something go….  Those are all choices.  And every afternoon, when I get home, I have the choice to go put on my shoes, or to “take the day off”.

Taking the day off is not necessarily a bad thing – our bodies need time to recover before we push ourselves further or faster or longer than we have done before.  Training is a journey, and rest is just as important as pushing.  The trick is knowing when.

But taking the day off because you can tell your body needs a recovery day is different than taking the day off because you just don’t feel like lacing up.  That is the choice that has to do with attitude, and that choice is one that I have every single day.

It’s great to have a goal and it’s wonderful to be able to compare my times, distances and splits to see how much I’ve improved.  It gives me confidence to see where I’ve come from, and it gives me motivation to keep going.  However, it’s even more important to me that I take that first step, every single time.  I had some friends who were debating about what the hardest part of a run was… “it’s the first half mile.”  “No, it’s definitely the last half mile.”  “No way, it’s the back half of the middle when you are already tired, but you can’t see the end yet.”

I think the hardest part of the run is usually the attitude that comes before you ever set foot outside.  It is making the decision in your head to get after it one more day, to set your mind to today’s goal, whether that is just getting the mileage done, or pushing yourself to go faster than you’ve done in the past, or going further, or facing rainy or cold conditions….  The hardest part is making the choice to begin with.  The part that matters is considering all of that and still choosing to put on the shoes, set your mind, and go.  First step.  Second step.  Find a rhythm.  Making the choice to run is what matters…today and every day.

74 Seconds

iPod Watch

The whole reason I started out on this crazy train to start a blog while getting ready to run a half marathon was because a friend said to me that I was going to want to remember the process, remember the good times and the hard times, and that I was going to really appreciate that I’d taken the time to record this for myself….later.

So I started out – writing a blog that I didn’t know how to write, and running, which I also didn’t know how to do.  But I kept writing then, and I keep writing now, and somehow my life and internal process shifted so that I think about what I want to write about every day…even if I don’t actually get something written….the thought process has become a part of me.

I started out running, slowly.  Literally, I was slow.  Actually, let’s be honest, I was doing slightly more than a fast walk disguised as a jog.  But I kept at it then, and I keep at it now….and I asked questions, and I read articles, and I talked to coaches and other runners and fitness experts, and I tried to hold on to the little nuggets of gold that I received from each of them.  I remembered some things, and I forgot a lot more things….and I keep learning.  And I keep running.

When I first started, before I talked to a single person, I carried two things with me, a watch (not a fancy one), and my iPod.  With my non-fancy watch, I figured out how to determine my pace.  (As previously mentioned, I was slow.)  My iPod was mostly dance music gone amuck.  I got a fancier watch, which I still don’t know how to use very well, and I still carry my iPod, which still plays dance music sometimes, but more often, I am listening to a novel.  (The novel doesn’t mess with my cadence as much.)  However, the one thing I knew I needed to figure out how to do with my new fancy watch was to see my pace…so that I would have one thing to compare over time.

8 seconds.  That’s how long you have to ride a bull for the ride to count.  9.58 seconds is the current world record for the 100 meter dash.  20 seconds – approximately how long I shake a martini.  30-45 seconds is how long I plank every day. 60 seconds is one minute.  74 seconds is how much time I’ve lost.

When I started, I could run a mile or two, and consistently, my pace would be 12:34 / mile.  Today I realized that I am consistently running a tempo pace of 11:20, and I can sustain it.  Today is the reason I’m keeping a log – to remember where I came from, to keep me moving forward.  I’m still not very fast, but I’m a lot faster than I was, and more importantly, I’m proud of the journey.

She was right….I’m glad that I’m keeping a record of this experience.