I ran across this post on FB memories–it was posted to the now-inactive Sabbath in the Suburbs blog four years ago. Enjoy!
My view from this morning’s run. Lake Anne Plaza, Reston.
I’ve been running for some 18 months now. Somewhere along the way, I transitioned from being someone who runs to being a runner. I now read about running, strategize my routes, have strong opinions about my footwear, blah blah blah.
I also seek inspiration from running and its connections to life, and even to the spiritual practice of taking time for rest and sabbath. See if you agree about the power of these connections in a quote I ran across recently:
For some messed-up reason, our athletic egos still feel that we only get faster as we pedal harder, run quicker and swim stronger. It’s athlete psychology—all of our confidence is built around the times that we actually destroy our bodies. But it’s only the rest afterward that makes our bodies stronger.
Because of this psychological dichotomy, when and how long to rest is the hardest decision to make as an athlete. It takes a level of confidence above even the level necessary to push your body to the limit. You don’t get the endorphin release, the feeling of accomplishment, and the external and internal praise and satisfaction. All you get are feelings of losing your edge, getting out of shape and nervous anticipation.
So the next time you need to rest, whether it be for a mid-season break, post-big race, or just an easy day or two between training blocks, remember that it takes confidence to rest. Remember that it is just insecurity and a lack of endorphin release that makes you feel like you’re getting out of shape. Know that when you decide to rest, you’re making the right call—the better, smarter decision. Feel good and confident about it. You’ve done yourself a favor—you have literally just made yourself a better athlete.
It’s all book-writing and marathon-training here at the Blue Room. (Note to self–don’t have those things coincide in the future, mmm-kay?) Once those are both behind me I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled public rumination.
Kadey’s book is divided into Before, During, and After, with each section’s recipes formulated for that phase of exercise. Before features light, healthy, carb-fortified foods; During has stuff that’s easily portable (including your own gels!); After focuses on the right protein/carb ratio to replenish muscles and energy.
These Mini Mediterranean muffins came from the During section, but they’re excellent to snack on anytime. I used them on my last 20 miler, and it was so nice to have something savory to offset the gels and chews I rely on heavily.
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup finely ground cornmeal (I used regular cornmeal and it seemed finely ground enough)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons low-fat milk
1/3 cup olive oil
zest of 1 lemon (optional)
2 ounces finely chopped feta cheese (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup drained and finely chopped roasted red peppers
1/3 cup pitted, finely chopped Kalamata olives
Preheat oven to 350 and prepare 24 mini muffin cups with paper liners or cooking spray.
In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients (flour through salt).
In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, milk, oil, and lemon zest.
Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until just blended.
Fold in cheese, peppers and olives.
Divide into muffin cups and bake for 15 minutes or until toothpick comes out mostly clean. Cool on rack.
Keep chilled for up to 5 days and transport in small ziploc bags. (I have frozen a bunch for The Big Day.)
Note: I wrote this for my email subscribers a few weeks ago and am just now getting around to posting it here. If you want to receive similar stuff in your inbox 1-2 times a month, click here.
And boy, is August here with a vengeance in Northern Virginia. When I stepped outside to run early this morning, the humidity was 97%. Sixteen miles later, I felt every bit of it.
Many of you know I’m training for my second marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, here in DC in October. This is my grudge match—I had to defer last year’s entry due to injury. I’m excited for this hometown race, known for being well-run with lots of cheering crowds. The only downside is the timing—race in October means long runs in July, August and September. I keep telling myself that these hot, humid, hilly miles are building mental toughness, but in all honesty, every time I step outside into air that feels like it’s already been breathed, I want to cry. (Come on, my people are from Northern Europe. I’m built for permafrost.)
I was running recently on one of those hot and humid days when I passed a man in his 70s. We exchanged a quick greeting and as he shuffled by he said, “Beautiful morning.” At first I was dumbfounded: Beautiful? I can literally wring out my shirt right now. But then I decided to get outside myself and really take a look around. And it was beautiful. The sun was still low in the sky and casting lengthy shadows. The birds were singing. The green on the trees was rich and deep.
This weekend I was in North Carolina for a family reunion, and again I went for a morning run—later than I’d hoped, so the sun was beating down on me from the first step. Again it was humid and gross, and I found myself longing for crisp November, or even frigid February. But this time I remembered my running buddy from the week before, and I let myself really look at the deserted country road, the soft blue sky, and the meadow fuzzy with mature grass:
I realized how often I get trapped inside my own experience—how easy it is to be stuck there without considering other perspectives. To put it in religious language, this is perhaps a foundational human sin or shortcoming—to see our own narrative as the only valid one. Much of our consumer culture is designed to feed this individualistic focus—marketing, social media, even news sites serve up targeted messages designed just for us: our preferences, our prejudices, and our longings. This sunny, soupy day was bearing down on me with its oppressive heat, so how could it also be beautiful? Yet it was. (Not to mention the gratitude that comes from being able to put one foot in front of the other, breathe clean air into lungs, and move slowly but relentlessly forward.)
Recently when I wrote to you, I shared a story from the wonderful book The Art of Possibility. Permit me to share one more tidbit from that book. The authors, Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, talk about shifting our perspective such that we see ourselves not as a pawn in a game, nor as the strategist of the game, pulling all the strings, but as the game board itself, “the framework for the game of life around you”:
The purpose of naming yourself as the board, or as the context in which life occurs to you, is to give yourself the power to transform your experience of any unwanted condition into one in which you care to live. We said your *experience*, not the condition itself. But of course once you do transform your experience and see things differently, other changes occur.
When you identify yourself as a single chess piece—and by analogy, as an individual in a particular role—you can only react to, complain about, or resist the moves that interrupted your plans. But if you name yourself as the board itself, you can turn all your attention to what you want to see happen, with none paid to what you need to win or fight or fix. …One by one, you bring everything you have been resisting into the fold. You, as the board, make room for all the moves, for the capture of the knight *and* the sacrifice of your bishop… for your miserable childhood *and* the circumstances of your parents’ lives… Why? Because that is what is there. It is the way things are.
On a superficial level, seeing yourself as the game board can seem narcissistic. But as I’ve considered this analogy, I find it provides an expansive space for me to receive life in all its complexity, not denying the unpleasant things, but also not letting them be the sum total of the experience.
Of course, things happen to us in life that are much more grave than a scheduled run on a humid day. This shift in perspective is very difficult work—lifetime work. But on a humid day in, with sweat rolling down my back, I got a startling and lovely glimpse that it was possible.
James is doing a running challenge with me, in which we’re running 26.2 miles over the next 8 weeks. It’s been astounding how dedicated he’s been to this task.
Thanks to Facebook memories, I’m recalling that three years ago, I took the girls through Couch to 5K, two years after going through it myself. Since then, each girl has participated in Girls on the Run and assorted races here and there.
Robert also runs, although he’s currently sidelined with a cranky Achilles.
Somehow, over time, we became a family of runners.
I’m tempted sometimes to enroll my kids in club running activities–recreational track or cross country or somesuch. It’s startling how easily that thought jumps into my head. My kids enjoy this, therefore they should do it in an organized way. It’s what we do as parents. A kid’s interested in the guitar? We get them private lessons. They like to do art? Sign them up for pottery camp. They want to learn tennis? We find a league to join. At least where I live, that’s an implicit or explicit responsibility of a parent. We nurture through providing opportunities. And as the mother of a kid on the swim team told me a few years ago, it’s never too early to think about a child’s college application. (Her kids were in elementary school.)
Certainly there are benefits to team sports–a good coach can be one of those inspiring childhood influences that impacts a person’s whole life. And while running is an activity that we most of us learn to do naturally as children, there’s always stuff to learn. Still, I’m trying to resist the impulse to formalize this interest of theirs. Kids today are continually evaluated, graded, scantronned, judged and compared. Not with this. This is our limit.
Part of that comes down to money and time–there’s only so many enrollment fees we can handle, and only so much carting around we’re willing to do. (I have a friend who calls this phase of parenting “Carpool.”) But on a broader level, I want my kids to have something they can do purely for the joy of it. They can set goals, or not. They can strive to improve, or not. It’s entirely up to them.
And they’re teaching me a lot. I realize, as I continue to claw my way back from last fall’s injury, how easily I’d fallen into a mode of improvement and incessant goal-setting. This is painful to admit about myself, though will surprise nobody who knows me. (My friend J took a personality inventory that suggested she stop thinking about life as one big self-improvement project, and she was incredulous: “What else would it be???” Oh, my sister.)
And so, this is a new touchstone for me:
My hopes and dreams are to be able to run for my entire life, to stay healthy and injury-free, to get an occasional PR through smart training, and to have a spirit of adventure in what I do.
When James runs, he says, “Look how fast I am!!!” I suspect if he joined a kids’ running team he would discover that, comparatively speaking, he isn’t fast. That’s the McKibben/Dana genetic lottery at work, and there’s only so much you can do to overcome that.
But at the end of our runs together, when the house is in sight, he turns to me, waiting for the signal. I say, “Now, James, turn on the gas!” and he does, leaving his mother in the dust… busting through whatever 8-year-old hopes and dreams he has, scattering them like leaves in the wind.
One of my life lessons is this: the hard thing is the easier thing.
I’ve written about this before, but the idea is that doing the harder thing often benefits you in the long run, because cutting corners almost always costs you more than just doing it well the first time.
Major disclaimer: the fact that this is a life lesson doesn’t mean I pull it off all that well. In fact, it’s the times I’ve gotten it wrong that drive home how true it is. It requires a major hacking of your brain to pull it off, because most of us will trade future misery for present comfort.
I really hate menu planning and grocery shopping, for example. It’s tedious, and for a family of five, unrelenting. Some weeks I just can’t face it. So I’ve blown off going to the store, which later forces me to cobble together a decent meal with, like, frozen pearl onions and ranch dressing. And guess what? That’s even harder, and makes us all grumpy. So I realize, once again, I should have just gone to the dang store.
The hard thing is the easier thing.
This axiom is especially true in areas of fitness and exercise. People wonder how I can get up early to run. Where do you get the discipline? they want to know. It’s a hard thing, getting up when the alarm clock has a 4 in it. I’ll admit that. But it’s sooooo much easier than trying to shoehorn in a run once I’m in a groove at work, or right before the kids get home, or after they’re in bed. That requires way more willpower than I have. I know it sounds crazy, but when I run early, it’s not because I’m disciplined. It’s because I’m lazy.
I’m currently facing the consequences of the easier thing. I lost 40 pounds a few years ago, then watched it creep up a bit and stay there. I was OK with that–my body seemed to be telling me where its ideal weight was. But now it’s crept up again, to the point that I don’t feel healthy. My clothes don’t fit as well. I’m sluggish when I run.
I know I’m fighting age here. But I also know I haven’t been mindful about what I eat, how much, and when. So I need to fire up MyFitnessPal again and see what happens.
Maintaining a weight loss is a very hard thing. Know what’s even harder? Losing it again. And that’s what I get to do. Sigh. Wish me luck.
Have you seen this dynamic at work in your life? Would love to hear about it.