Friday, August 21, 2009

What a difference a day makes!

I don't know whether to chalk it up to the weather or my commitment to keeping a clear mind, but yesterday's run was the best I've ever done since I started this whole fitness pursuit. I ran 6 miles easily (though thanks to the Seattle area hills there was even some hiking!) and could have kept going for another hour. I reached that elusive runner's high I've heard so much about.

That will give me the courage to face Sunday's 10K. So was it the lack of humidity? The crisp fall-like breeze that always gives me energy? The decision to turn off the brain and just enjoy the run? Here's hoping more runs go like this.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The hazards of clearing a mind

I've been getting ready for this Sunday's 10K and am a little concerned that I haven't been able to pull over a 5.5 mile run yet. Some people say it's the heat and humidity and that I should be gentle with myself. I think I've found another challenge.

I have always read that running can help a person work through problems, get a clear mind etc. but I have found that, just like in any other part of my life, if my head is full of junk I can't perform as well. I've been ruminating while I run and I think the weight of my thoughts has slowed my run. In fact a few times I've been brought to a complete stop as my thoughts, about something else entirely from the run, have been "I just can't do it", and my legs just respond.

I suppose the answer is to enter more of a meditative state when running and rather than chase after an answer, listen to the quiet until it presents itself. It's similar to making the distance run. When I'm focused on what mile marker I'm nearing, I feel the fatigue of the run, but when I focus on breathing, the finish line just appears. Huh. I think I already knew that, wonder why I wasn't listening.

When I'm swimming, there's so much to think about just to move through the pool, I have to be absolutely in the present, that nothing else can interrupt me. It's that kind of presence I'm going to work to achieve in my runs this week if I hope to get across that finish line on Sunday. And if I hope to have sound answers to my other larger questions.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Zen Day: Greed, Anxiety, Fear and CO2

I love my Sunday runs for a couple reasons. First, that's usually the day I add distance to my run and don't worry so much about time or pace. It becomes a lesson in endurance. Second, generally my run follows my Saturday yoga class and Sunday's church service. I always start my Sunday run with a head full of new ideas to work through.

Saturday's yoga class was about fear. Through the practice of arm balances and deep stretches and back bends I examined fear. The fear of landing on my head or not being able to support my weight keeps me stuck on the ground. I know this to be true because one class I got up into crow pose and felt a momentary elatedness before I crashed to the floor and haven't been able to get both feet up in the air again (yet).

Today, in church, we learned about Buddhism and how dwelling on things, trying to control them or hold on to them only breeds anxiety and suffering and how Greed is one emotional reaction to the things that life presents us with.

I rolled these two days into one as I ran to contemplate where in my life am I Greedy, Fearful and Anxious and how does it relate to my physical training. In the swimming, I am afraid that I will take in water and drown. This causes me to tense up, lose my breathing and of course, suck up a lung full of pool water. My Friday morning drill was floating on my back with my head nearly submerged and I went into a low level panic. For a few successful moments though, when I let go of the fear of submerging my head and was able to press back into the water, my legs rose effortlessly. When we push down against a fear, something new can rise.

I wasn't sure what to think about running at first. I'm not afraid I won't breathe or even that I'll hurt myself or exhaust myself so what could be holding me back (today was not my strongest run)? Sadly, I realized it was Greed. I am greedy for how comfortable it feels to just walk, not have to breathe hard, to stay comfortable. Of course, when I push through the initial or reoccuring discomfort, the endorphins kick in and I feel terrific. It's just another matter of recognizing that nothing is permanent, even the discomfort of running. I can wait, acknowledge that yes, it is uncomfortable right now but soon it won't be again.

This led me to thing about breathing. As I am told, the signal I get that I need a breath is really my body's chemical reaction to needing to expel carbon dioxide. As badly as I feel I want to breathe in, what really needs to happen is to breathe out. The intake is really there to help expel the waste. And here's where I make my final leap for the weekend. If I am anxious about a situation, it is generally because I am fearful of what an outcome might be. If I try and control the situation, I falsely believe I will be able to direct its outcome and soon all joy of the current state is lost to me in the anxiety I feel over its uncertainty.

Things are never static. They will always change. They will always bring the potential for suffering. The suffering is driven by our own greed, anxiety and fears. We tend to focus on the inhale, the fresh new breath the things that feel good, easy, comfortable and predictable when our need for this breath may just be our bodies screaming for the chance to expel the toxins we are creating as we shuffle through our lives.

I can't float if I'm fighting the water. I can't run if I'm attached to how good it feels to stop. I can't do an arm balance if I don't take my feet off the floor. And I can't love if I am fearful that I may not be loved in return.

Now, time to hit the shower because I can't sit with myself and ponder any longer if I don't get clean!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Humbling or Humiliating

I suppose a thing is only humiliating if you give a toot about what the people around you are thinking.

Today was my first day attempting to swim laps. I got to the local pool by 6:30 this morning and the lanes were already dotted with people who seemed to be able to get themselves back and forth across the pool along the top of the water.

I have gotten pretty confident in running. What I lack in speed I make up for with a steady pace and I know I can complete a race and still be able to laugh and joke right after. Today I had to go back and remember what that first 15 minute run felt like. When I thought I would never make it and thought maybe I'd never be a runner.

I got in the pool and it was as if I had never been swimming before. I clunked along from end to end, drinking water, panicking and having to pause at every length, not so much from physical exhaustion as from everything you have to remember as you're moving along that line. I thought how on earth am I going to be able to do this in a triathlon? Well, I recognize that feeling, I had it getting ready for the 5K. So, I'll be back at the pool in another couple of days and again after that and again after that and someday I'm pretty sure I won't look like an octopus trying to put on a sweater.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It had to happen sooner or later

Today was the first really rotten workout/run I've had since I started this journey. Really it was just one of those days all around. But what surprised me was how much I learned from a terrible run.

In the past, if I had a crummy run, well, if I had a crummy start to a run, I'd just stop. Then I'd beat myself up for a few days about how hard it had been and sometimes it would be enough to derail me for several weeks.

This morning started with my finding every possible reason why I could skip my run: My son was too tired to wake up and take to the sitter's; I stayed up too late the night before; my period just started so what would one day of rest really hurt. But as I lay there and tried to figure out how I'd make up for the lost day later in the week I realized I had to get up and run.

The humidity was already at 90% by 7:30. I started running and I felt like I was trying to breath water (this would be a useful thing to master as I am learning to swim of course). My legs each had to weigh 75 pounds and my back was out of whack. My breathing was out of synch and I just never fully got to that zen place of just loving the run.

But I completed the run (and increased my speed) and here's what I learned. All the aches and pains actually helped me focus on my posture, my pacing, and my breathing. Though I never got them all pulled together this run, I think I learned more about their importance by having them all so out of whack. When things are flowing right (which I love MUCH better), I don't even notice what I'm doing but today I was forced to notice what wasn't right so that I can appreciate and hone what works for the next run.

Let's think that through again. When things feel completely out of control, out of synch with who I usually am, it is a chance to examine each crooked piece and make note of what needs to be set right again so I can perform at my best and strongest. Hmmm. The next run (literal and metaphorical) can be a chance to test my ability to make corrections and keep pressing forward.

That's some good stuff there. Guess the morning wasn't a complete waste.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Who's gonna stop this girl??

Ah yes, where did we last leave our hero? Funny, but after the two races, it just didn't seem so remarkable anymore that I run. In fact, I guess I am now a runner, though it feels odd to say it. I run 3 to 4 times a week. I'm getting ready for a 10K in Seattle. When I signed up for it, I barely blinked at the distance, knowing that I'd be able to complete it. Funny when I consider how terrified I was only a couple weeks ago at the 5K. I've had to start looking for new challenges - but more about that in a minute.

The 10K. I lived in Seattle for 15 years. The highest points in my life so far were in Seattle (striking out on my own in a strange city with only $1000 and a suitcase full of paint, 3000 miles from home and, much later, giving birth to the most amazing boy in my life). It was also in Seattle where my marriage ended, I became a single parent and where I was living when my mother died. Though I lived less than half my life there, those years from the mid 20's to 40 are much of what I think shaped who I have become. When I left, it was because I just knew it was time.

As I planned this summer's visit back to friends and family, the first thing I looked for was a race. I was hoping for a 5k but all I could find that fit with my schedule was the 10. I knew I wanted to go back and make a run. How perfect that it be the next step in my increasing challenges to myself.

The course of the race will take me through the very first neighborhood I lived in when I moved there, past the houseboat I shared with my ex-husband before we were married and skirts the lake I kayaked in the day I learned of my mother's death. When I cross the finish line (in under an hour I'm hoping) I will be stronger than I ever have been. All of these things, all of these places and so many other stories make up the muscles and the breath that will carry me over the course.

And about the other challenges

I have to admit that I have never really been one to be too content with things the way they are. I'm always looking for the next hill. A friend once wrote of me "To love Sarah is to love motion". So I guess it shouldn't be too much of a surprise to myself that with the 10K only a couple weeks away and so clearly now something I can do, that I have started to move down my list of "Things That Scare the Crap Out of Me".

It was really only a matter of time before I would have to come back to my dear friend's suggestion of a triathlon. I knew I would the first time I so quickly said "Oh no, that's really your thing. I can't do that." That always sets my gremlins in motion. I imagine one of them to be a small black woman going cobra on me every time I say "I can't" : "Oh no she didn't!".

So this Saturday found me in the pool trying not to panic as I re-remembered how to breathe OUT when my face is in the water and IN when it's in the air. This turns out to be an extremely important distinction to make.

I have no fear about the run portion of a sprint triathlon, I've already done it. I can make it through a bike ride, though I have some serious work to do on my endurance, but the thought of the swim, especially without the comfort of the thick black lane lines and a bottom I can reach with my toes, is the stuff of some great reoccurring nightmares. And so of course, into the water I go.

It can't be any stupider than the time I went skydiving, can it? I'll keep you posted.