Tag Archives: motivation

I Don’t Fit the Box

Running, I am slow. After moving to a new region, I find I am slower still. New surroundings, more road, still adjusting.

I miss my home.

To be sure, there are wonderful things about this move.

I have my family, including two dogs, for whom this move was made. I have neighbors who all seem to be terrific people. I once again have a yard to putter around in. The area around my home is also very pretty.

But.

There is no wild.

My spaces are limited; tamed trails trapped by property and roadways, with nothing to fear except humans, whom I rarely encountered before. Oddly, I fear them more than wild dogs, rock slides, and boar (can you blame me?).

Without the element of wild, there’s a beauty missing.

I don’t feel I belong here. I am trying but I do not yet feel connected.

The same goes for my professional life.

There, in my former home, I was connected. It was hard work: intellectually, emotionally, and sometimes even physically challenging. 

My life’s history had meaning there. People saw it and connected.

Here, people see the history and don’t connect. They can’t fit me into the right boxes.

Overqualified here, title not quite right there. Certified, yes, but not exactly in this state’s way or with that exact stamp.

Interviews happen with comments like “Impressive,” and “Well, you certainly have a lot of experience.” These, I have come to realize, are code for “You don’t fit.”

Perhaps the only box I fit is the one labeled “Other”?

Maybe so. Maybe so.

The loss I feel…

The loss, I feel…

…is theirs.

(as you may have guessed, I’ve moved. Same country, new continent. It has not yet been a month.)

What’s Your Best?

Every track practice, I get nervous. Butterflies, trips to the bathroom and such. I know it’s going to be hard, and I’m scared. We train hard. I push, trying to follow the coach’s instructions and advice to the letter. I worry, what if I can’t do it? I do it anyway.

I have never been on a track team before. Why am I doing it now? I am hardly doing it for competition – I run with kids who are nearly 40 years younger than I. And honestly, I have never been a competitive person.

It hit me today why I am doing this. I have never been one who has wanted to be “the best.” I am, however, one who wants to be “my best.”

I know there is more in me that I cannot seem to pull out on my own. I’m thankful to have a found a group that challenges me. I want to find out what “my best” is. I challenge you to find that too, in running or whatever your passion is.

(I run with a community track team that allows “noncompetitive” members to train with competitive athletes. These athletes just happen to be members of the middle and high school track and other sports teams. I have never run track in my life. Not a problem.)

Pushing the Boundaries, MY Boundaries

I am not a celebrated runner. Heck, I don’t even race much. Ever since I was a kid, however, running through the woods behind my elementary school and hopping rocks and running paths in parks around suburban Philadelphia, I’ve been a trail runner. Even when years of debilitating migraines kept me from running, my joy was always to be out in the woods or on a prairie path, walking. After turning my life around by changing my lifestyle, In my late thirties I found I was able to run again. What a joy of rediscovery that was, and what an empowering experience to know that my physical ailments did not have to rule my life.

When I started running again, I didn’t have many trails to run. I was living in a foreign country, in the city of Hiroshima, Japan. While in Japan, I was keenly aware of my position as an outsider, a female, and a mother. There were behaviors that I perceived to be the norm for those roles, and running was not one of them. At the time, in that city, women just did not exercise outdoors. Especially women my age, and certainly not foreigners. I was intimidated by custom and my perception of social expectations. I did manage to find some paths to plod, running along the river or in the Shukkeien Garden near my home. When it came to being in real wilderness, however, I never ran, and never went alone. Always, I was with family.

After that came our move to China, and that is where my running became a more serious endeavor. There was a lot of treadmill running at the start, as the city where we lived, Chongqing, is pretty polluted. Still, in a place surrounded by mountains and mist, how could I not explore? I started by running the city, exploring side streets, then running through a sports park where people would watch me through the fences, as you had to pay 2 yuan to get in. Next came Pipa Shan, a small peak right in the middle of the city, filled with old men playing their erhus or playing chess while their birds sang in cages, and grandmothers walking with their grand babies or carrying their washing or whatever they shopped for on their backs. There were the trails in the park behind the university I attended, where I met a family who showed me how to catch, fry and eat cicadas, and another small mountain as well, a supposed botanical park, on the top of which was a small makeshift village. I would run through that and people would laugh and smile and point, commenting loudly about the white woman running down the dirt street. They were always polite and I loved stopping to chat now and again.

Gradually, as my running expanded, my experiences with people and myself expanded as well. In each new place I visited, each new country I lived, I started with something small, a circle or straight distance that was well-defined, safe, and predictable. Even on vacation, I’d start that way. Walk the city and decide, “okay, tomorrow I’ll just run here,” but then the next day, push the distance even further. Read the maps and envision. Settle the butterflies and decide to go just a few blocks more.

I think back on these times and am filled with wonder at the places my running has taken me. There are other countries and other paths, from cities to mountains to beaches. The wonder is not so much about where I ran, however, as it is that I managed to do it at all. You see, I was not a very outgoing or confident person. I was really quite shy, unsure of myself, and downright afraid of doing something new on my own. I still am in some ways, but I am nowhere near where I used to be. Running changed that for me.

I reminisce because a few weeks ago, a woman posted a question on a Facebook running forum I subscribe to. How do people get over there fear to run trails alone? She wanted to desperately, but couldn’t figure out how to conquer her fear. People posted helpful advice, the most common of which was, “just run.” That’s all fine and dandy, but when you are as timid as I was, and possibly living in a new place, “just run” is advice that doesn’t cut it. The fear paralyzes a person. It paralyzed me. It took a lot of effort and soul searching and thinking about what to do before I could break through the wall that kept me bound.

As I read that woman’s post, I thought about how to answer. What could I tell her about my experience? For me, learning to run alone is about a gradual expansion of boundaries, from running what is close and familiar to taking a new turn one day and sticking with it for a few weeks, then taking another and adding that to the mix. Little by little, the familiar ground widens, and every little trial on that ground helps boost my confidence that I can overcome similar situations in new territory.

When I thought about my answer to her, I realized that this advice did not only reflect my experience on the trail, but it reflected an experience I was having with myself. Each bout of butterflies in my stomach and the subsequent joy that came from setting those butterflies free made me more sure of myself, more confident in my own judgment. I could do this, because I’d proven mile by mile – sometimes just half-mile by half-mile – that I had faced my fear and succeeded before. Surely a half-mile more wouldn’t be so bad. Little by little, the half-mile becomes 2, then 5, then 10. And I discover there is more in me of courage and strength than I realized.

I know there are others who would look at my runs and think they were nothing compared to the amazing adventures and distances they’ve explored. I know there are others who would see the pace of my self-expansion as way too slow for them. For me, however, it’s perfect. Whether it’s my own hometown or one of the many places I’ve been to around the world, taking the time to expand my physical boundaries has helped me to broaden the limits even within myself.

I say to you, woman, go at your pace, add inches or miles, but move forward. You will find so much more than distance.

What Now? The Motivating Endurance Question

This post is based on the podcast http://www.richroll.com/podcast/james-lawrence/

I’ve been listening to an interview with a guy, James Lawrence, who is going to attempt 50 Iron Man races in 50 days. Both he and his wife and five kids are totally into the project. While that sounds like an utterly extreme and crazy goal, I was struck by his humble and balanced nature.

I love that a good number of endurance athletes are incredibly humble.  They view their goals, not as ‘hunt down/chase down/fight and succeed” type challenges, but instead as challenges that are more like the culmination of steps in a process of change and development.  They believe that what they are doing may seem incredible, but truly, anyone could do the same, if the goal is pursued with patience and done one step at a time.  For Lawrence, the drive is not to be “the best.”  At his core, I believe, Lawrence’s drive is personal and motivated by something that is, in essence, very simple: curiosity.  When asked (I’m paraphrasing here), “on a personal level, why are you doing this,” his response was to talk about his journey, beginning with the question, “why can’t I run 4 miles?  I should be able to run 4 miles,” to now asking, “I want to find out where my breaking point is and, when I get there, ask myself, ‘okay, what are you going to do now?'”

Ting!  Lawrence’s words struck a chord with me.  His drive is not competition; his drive is based on a pure and natural curiosity about himself.  His question is a good one.  It represents a motivation I can understand.  I am not competitive.  I even feel uncomfortable saying what many runners say, that “I am really just competitive with myself.”  That phrase does not exactly hit the mark for me.  I don’t feel the fight to be #1; I don’t understand the fire or aggression some believe must be in a competitor’s heart; I don’t even understand, really, the idea of ‘pursuing’ a goal, as if it is to be hunted down.  What I do understand is this curiosity.  I do comprehend, down to my deepest inner self, the drive to explore the what are the limits to which I can go, and when I reach them, I want to ask the question, “what now?”

Inspired by the podcast, I put the same question out to the universe during my meditation today.  I like this question.  I like the purity of it, the simple truth of it.  It’s my question, and it is the spark that will keep me moving, I believe, when I attempt to run 69 miles in June.  When I hit a point that I feel I can go no further, I will ask myself, “is this my breaking point?”  I know the answer will be “no.”  I will keep running, and  I will run until I reach the next point, when I will ask the question again.

This question will carry me through my race, and lead me to where I want to go.

My Big and Where I Am

Since I’ve moved and begun exploring my training routine, seeing where I am mentally and physically, I’ve harbored a feeling deep inside – I am a crap runner. Honestly. I have a goal to run a 111km race next year, and I stink. I proved that yesterday, when I ran a 10k race as part of the Moscow Marathon event. Too slow. Too unwilling to push. Too out of shape to keep it strong for even just 6 miles.

That’s okay. It was a stressful summer, preparing to move here. I even crashed my car because I was so exhausted. It’s time, however, to move out of recovery and into training. I have found a good plan for myself, I think. It includes a day of speed and hill work, plus one or two long runs, plus cross training (kundalini yoga and cycling) and, of course, shorter runs. I have been doing the routine for a few weeks and it feels good, but I’ve been too comfortable. Time to move that routine into a higher gear and begin pushing a bit more.

At the same time, I also need to remember that training is a process, and for it to have lasting impact, the advances I make need to be small ones. Patience is key, as is humility. I cannot let my ego take over; I have to accept where I am and move forward methodically but, as Bryon Powell puts it, relentlessly (by the way, if you have not read Powell’s book, Relentless Forward Progress, and you are interested in ultra running, get on it! The advice there is invaluable). I sometimes think that is why some people tend to fail at a task they have chosen: they are not so willing to accept where they are and are equally unwilling to pursue the process step-by-step. Lacking the humility to take the process one step at a time leads to failure, I think. I struggle with this aspect of training, but I am learning.

Patience, humility, and determination. Plus a little more courage to push myself further.

I will do this. I am not a professional; I am not anything special. I am just ordinary. But even ordinary can dream big and push for it. To some, what my big is, is nothing special. To me, however, it is. I will run this race, and I will run it strong. Not just finish. I will run strong.

What’ s your big?

Aha. Insight.

I think I just had an “aha” moment.

I’ve been reading the book,

    Running With the Mind of Meditation

, by Sakyong Mipham. I am only on Chapter Four, which is about motivation. It just so happens that I had also started a guided meditation program using the app, Headspace. Number Four comes into play there too, as today is my fourth day in a ten-day program.

Funny.

I purchased the book because as I prepare to move to Russia, I have been thinking a lot about my running. My thoughts are not so much about why I run, but how am I going to run while I live there. There are the logistics, of course – will the trail be safe or will I have to stick to the neighborhood and gym (please, God, no), when will be a good time for me to go, how on earth am I going to handle the winter, etc. – but there is also the training process. Do I continue with heart rate, or do I step up the intensity? Why worry about it anyway? Why should I even be concerned about training? Do I have to? Well, personally speaking, yes. I’ll explain that in a minute. For what will I train? I am not yet sure. I know what I would like to train for – a particular mountain race – but so far I am not getting much support on that at the family end, so perhaps I need to set my sights on something smaller, something seemingly less daunting in my family’s eyes. Or whatever. Why should it matter which race I pick? The race matters because, whatever my goal is will establish my training plan. If I set my goal to simply focus on the 5ks put on by a group called ParkRunMoscow, for example, my training will look a lot different than a program to prepare for a mountain marathon or ultra.

Here’s where the “why do I have to train?” question comes in. As a runner who has been solo for virtually her entire running life, I often poo-pooed the apparent hyper enthusiasm for racing in our (or any) running sport. Why should I want to race? I don’t really care for buckles and medallions anyway. I am not all that competitive. I just want to run. Why do I need a race to motivate me? I am not so much a goal-oriented person; I’m a process-oriented person. Why should the purpose of running be to compete in a race? Seems so egotistical and narrow-minded.

That is what I used to think. My mind is changing now.

Before I ran my 50k in May, I never really trained or paid attention to strategies or running plans. I sort of followed plans for my two half-marathons, but not really. To follow a specific plan seemed so driven and ambitious. I don’t like to think of myself as an ambitious person (even though, trust me, if I’m passionate about something, I can be doggedly relentless). For the 50k, however, I did train. Not rigidly – I like to say I was more focused rather than disciplined – but I did try to follow a general schedule, paid close attention to advice about heart rate, pace, eating, breathing, etc., and developed a few mantras to guide me when the going got tough. I found that, over time, I began to thoroughly enjoy training for the race goal. It wasn’t the goal so much that made me enjoy it, it simply was the process. My goal was merely the motivator to get me to train. Running the race successfully made me appreciate the training process even more.

Since I finished my race, I’ve been floundering. I am running, of course, but I am not running with the same focus or intensity as I had while preparing for the 50k. I find myself desperately wanting a race to set my sights on so that I can have a purpose to my training.

The race itself, however, is not the purpose. It is just a motivator and a helper.

Does that make sense?

I see a need within myself to race, not because I need it as a purpose to define myself as a runner, or as a purpose because I feel the need to compete, but because I see the value of racing as a helper to what I view as the real purpose of my running: training.

Setting a goal is not the end-all; crossing that finish line is not really what I am about. Developing the strength and fortitude to get out of bed to run, spin, do yoga and strength workouts, and push – that’s what I am about. I am finding that, in order to get the most out of all that, I need a goal to reach for. Why? Because that goal will at least partially dictate how I will train. I can visualize my goal and then visualize how I will go about achieving that goal. I can work to make the visualization reality and, in the process, I can exert myself so that, as I work, I can be transformed.

It’s the transformation that goes on while preparing for a race that is my purpose; not the race itself.

Aha.