Thursday, July 26, 2018

In front of the table

Monday morning, my alarm went off and I was already an hour into my run. I'd woken up super early, full of energy for some reason (that reason was probably that I fell asleep well before the sun set on Sunday). I was running some solo miles at Cobbs Hill and the lights encircling the reservoir gave me two shadows, a lighter one and a darker one. It struck me as funny, like I was being shadowed by past versions of me. I've been running Cobbs since high school cross country (in the 90s! For real, I am that old). Every apartment or house I've lived in as an adult has been within running distance of the park. There are so many past versions of me running countless miles and countless hill repeats there. Alone. With friends. At all hours of the day and night. But the version of me I'm always seeking when I go there is the one that's an unstoppable force. It's this underlying force of grit and determination and stubbornness. But it's also a force of optimism and love and infinite gratitude. I never knew where it came from, I just knew it was always there, whenever I needed it. As my feet and mind wandered around and around, up and down, I was thinking about some of the low points in my life and I realized those were the times that led me to the high points, and especially to the all the very best people.

Then on the RIO radio show Monday night, we were talking about running an aid station and Eric said the difference between a good aid station and a great aid station is that at a great aid station, the volunteers are out in front of the table instead of behind it. They're not waiting for the runners to come up to them, they're out greeting runners as they come in, taking their water bottles to fill and asking what they need. It really resonated with me, because looking back on my life, I've been extremely fortunate to know so many in-front-of-the-table people. Parents, friends, strangers, dogs (dogs are actually beyond in-front-of-the-table - they're at jumping-all-over-you-like-you're-the-best-thing-they've-ever-seen level). In the ultra of my life, all the aid stations I stumbled into, tired and starving and achy and crying, were filled with all these amazing people who asked what I needed, or just knew what I needed even when I didn't know myself. And Eric's words resonated with me because that's the kind of person I want to be. I want to tap into that unstoppable force and be filled with so much happiness and gratitude and love of life that I can spend as much time as possible out in front of the table, passing it on. I want to be better so that I have more to give back. If you run enough, if you live enough, you will hit low points. You will face struggles and pain and you will wonder if you have what it takes to go on. You do. You most definitely do. Here, come into this aid station. You look great, you can do this. Here's some water, here's some snacks, here's a high five. What do you need?

Lyric of the moment: "Sometimes a bolt of light comes through the sadness. That there is a reason for the madness. And somehow it stirs a joy within me. And I understand that the root of pain is beauty...In my dreams you are alive and breathing..." ~Youth Group "In My Dreams"

Monday, July 9, 2018

Unconventional training methods

I'm not a strict planner. Because I'm just here to run and live and those things rarely go as planned. So instead of making rigid plans, I've focused on becoming more comfortable with uncertainty, more flexible and friendlier towards failure. It's also my natural inclination to do things little by little, consistently (ok, relentlessly) so if there are changes I want to make in my running or my life, I start taking little steps in that direction, trying and failing and readjusting until I get where I want to be (or somewhere totally unexpected that turns out to be most excellent). Since I don't care about things like distances and times, conventional training plans don't really appeal to me. Sure, I want to become a better runner, just like I want to become a better partner/friend/human. It's just that to me "better" doesn't mean I need to achieve a certain time or distance goal, it means growing stronger, wiser, and especially kinder. It means being able to run (and bike and chin-up and stilt walk) but also being able to rest. It means working hard and playing hard, and getting plenty of nutrients and sleep. It means doing what is right for my body and brain (sometimes that differs from what other people are doing). It means racing when I feel like it but also volunteering/banana-ing. And there's no training plan for that. So I've sort of made my own. It's not really a plan per se, more like little challenges to push myself out of my comfort zone and in the general direction of increased awesomeness.

Some of my unconditional training methods are:

Dancing. At home. At the Silent Disco. Wherever. I'm a terrible dancer, but if I like the music, I don't care what anyone else thinks about my severe lack of dancing ability. I just get out there and do my terrible dance moves and have a great time. And to think all it took was enduring several decades of extreme awkwardness and self-consciousness! Seriously though, in time I learned how to care about people without caring what people think about me. I also recommend owning toucan shorts, a banana costume and a giant giraffe. Or whatever it is that you're into. The truth is, when you embrace the things that bring you joy, you'll be too busy enjoying yourself to worry if other people think it's weird/wrong/a horrible, terrible fashion mistake.

Going to the dreaded spin class. There's this one spin class at the gym that I really dislike. I dislike the music. I dislike that the instructor yells into the microphone. (It's a tiny room, you have a microphone - the sole purpose of which is to amplify your voice. You don't need to yell). I dislike that the instructor says a lot of diet-mentality things. But I go to this class occasionally and practice tuning out all the noise (the literal noise and the figurative noise of "wellness" "advice" that is basically just eating disorder behavior wearing a shitty disguise). I practice doing my own thing, going my own speed and deliberately not following the instructions. When it feels uncomfortable (or when my brain is all maybe the instructor is upset that you're not doing what she says or maybe other people in the class think you're weak and out of shape), I just let it pass. There is so much noise out there. Listening to it made me sad. Trying to obey it made me miserable. Realizing that most of it was lies and bullshit and letting it go made me happy (and also healthy, so there's that). The more I practice seeing the noise for what it is and following my own path instead, the easier it gets.

Doing other things besides running. Yes, running is the best. No, nothing else makes me feel the way that running does. But the purpose of this is to cultivate a life outside of running so that my identity doesn't depend on being a runner. As a bonus, it gets me to do a lot of new things and not worry about being terrible at them (not that I'm not terrible at running, but after 20+ years I'm slightly less terrible at it now than when I first started running). There's a lot of freedom in being a beginner (or starting an old thing anew). There's no pressure or expectation at succeeding so I'm more likely to take risks and less likely to feel embarrassed or self-conscious. And honestly, that space is where most of the magic in life happens.

Climbing the Jacobs Ladder (this machine at the gym that is basically a neverending ladder to nowhere). I love it. I don't know why exactly, it's kind of meditative in a way. Or maybe I just really like climbing on things. So about once a week, I climb to nowhere for however long I want. Some days that's 20 minutes. Some day it's about 68 minutes, which is how long it takes me to get to 5280 ft (and about how long I can go before the ladder rungs get sweaty/slippery. I know, so hawt). I don't think this is providing me with any running-specific fitness gains but it's fun to put in my headphones and just climb to nowhere. One time I turned my head to wipe sweat that was about to go in my eye off on my arm (so classy) and I happened to catch my reflection in the gym window. My calves looked legit jacked and I thought cool. My arms looked almost like they were actually partially composed of muscles and I thought cool. My thighs looked all cellulite-y and I was like cool cool cool. Ok, so I had been watching a lot of Community reruns at the time. But still. I was having such a good time climbing and listening to my jams that I totally did not care whether my body failed to live up to someone else's beauty standards. And suddenly I realized I can do this all the time. Cellulite? Cool. Bruises? Scratches? Cool cool cool. Poison ivy rash? Damnit! Not cool. Not cool at all. Well, it's a work in progress. One rung at a time I guess.

Other weirdness, I mean 'training': Tree climbing, lawn mowing, lion taming,
Vitamin D making with George

Lyric of the moment: "At seventeen, I started to starve myself. I thought that love was a kind of emptiness. And at least I understood then the hunger I felt. And I didn't have to call it loneliness. We all have a hunger...Don't let it get you down, you're the best thing I've seen..." ~Florence And The Machine "Hunger"