Monday, December 12, 2016

A Peek Inside My Head During A Half Marathon

I am less than one month away from embarking on my first full marathon and in honor of this upcoming momentous event, I thought I would let you, dear reader, take a peek inside my head and see what goes through my mind when I am running a road race. 

While I was running my last half marathon in May I was having all of these thoughts and feelings that swung back and forth from energized and happy to downright angry and frustrated. Running is a very emotional and physically taxing activity for me, so it is no surprise that my thoughts are all over the place when I am attempting to complete a long race. After that race I wondered what people would think if they could hear what goes on inside my head while I am running, so the excerpt below is basically a snapshot of that craziness. It's nothing if not entertaining.

This little stream of consciousness might make you question if I even enjoy running at all. Make no mistake, I absolutely love it, because even though it is really hard, it pushes me to be better - both physically and mentally. I have never been an athletic soul and I am not a fast runner - I won't be winning any awards any time soon (except for the finisher's medal they give out at most races to everyone who steps over the finish line) - but with each race I train for, I can feel myself getting stronger. Two years ago I was having a tough time training to run 5K races and now I am training to run 26.2 miles. Running will never come easily to me and during any given race (even the shorter ones), I will always have this emotional stream of consciousness, but somehow even through all the emotional and physical turmoil, I am somehow able to get it together and push through. And then after all the muscle soreness wears off, I sign up for the next race...  

Starting Line: I’m nervous but I’m pumped. I can totally do this. I’ve got this. Crap, can I do this? Double knot the sneakers. Stretching, stretching. Everyone else looks so relaxed and I am starting to freak out over here. I am the least athletic-looking person here. I totally got this, I have been training for months. I have done this before. I've got this! Okay here goes nothing.

Mile .5: Ugh why is it so hard for me to regulate my breathing when I first start?! Everyone else is flying by me and I feel like it’s my first time running over here. Why the hell do I sign up for these races? And do I have to pee already? Jesus Christ.

Mile 1-3: False alarm about having to pee. Okay, I am good. Really really good! The running app on my phone says I am going at a faster pace than normal, but I totally won’t burn out because I’m in a good groove. Feeling great! Just keep going. 

Mile 4: Time for another Gatorade chew to keep me fueled. These things are so awesome! Wow, this is a fantastic running mix. I should be a DJ for road races. That would be a really fun job! I could just play lots of fun 80s music on the sidelines and cheer on runners as they go by. Oh I love this song – yay, Guns N’ Roses! 

Mile 5: I need water. It’s been way too long sing I had water. Now water is all I can think about. I know it’s only been 1.5 miles since the last water station but I think I am dying of thirst over here. I am so thirsty I might tackle that girl over there and take her Camelbak.

Mile 5.5: Water water water water. Seriously, where is the damn water station?

Mile 6-8: I am feeling so awesome! I am more than half way through this race and I feel like I could run forever. Woo-hoo endorphins! Another Gatorade chew thingy and I am on my way! Finish line here I come! I am definitely going to do another half marathon.

Mile 9: Ugh. This must be that proverbial wall I have heard about and man did I just hit it hard. Ouch. You mean to tell me I have another 4.1 miles left of this shit? I can’t go on. I just can’t. Kill me now. I am never running again.

Mile 10-11: If I have to eat another frigging Gatorade chew I am going to vomit. And to the lady standing on the side of the road cheering on the runners, please do NOT say “you’re almost there” – I am NOT almost there. “Almost there” means I can see the finish line. Is there a finish line in sight? No. So knock it off. 

Mile 12: This is the longest race ever. I have 1.1 miles left and it might as well be 100 miles. Blisters, blisters everywhere.

Mile 12.5: Holy crap I am close. You must finish this race running. Time for the magic mile, baby. To hell with the blisters, let’s do this thing. Let's kick it up.

Mile 13: Why in God’s name is this race 13.1 miles? It should just end at 13. The remaining .1 is so ridiculous. If this race were just 13 miles I'd be done by now. Keep running, finish strong, baby. It's almost over.

Finish Line: Wow, I hurt. Am I going to vomit? No wait, no, I am fine. Keep walking and moving, don't want to cramp up. I need to find my family. And a banana. And water. That race was amazing. I kinda killed it. I am awesome. But I bet I can beat my time in the next half marathon… 

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Magic That Happens Outside of Your Comfort Zone

I was recently inspired to step outside of my comfort zone and the source of that inspiration came from none other than my 9 year old son. He is playing soccer this fall and normally my boy is less inclined to join team sports (he typically prefers to sit alone quietly while reading a book, just like his mom), but this year he actually asked his father and me to sign him up for soccer. I was surprised at this request; he has played team sports before and when he does it usually results in him saying, "I don't think I want to do that again next year". But he insisted he wanted to try soccer this fall, so we signed him up.

When I watch my son play soccer, I can see in his face that he is trying hard and that he is way outside of his comfort zone, and I am really proud of him for taking a risk and challenging himself in this way. And so began my own pursuit to challenge and push myself, just as my son is doing.

One of the reasons I love running is because it is a sport I can do by myself. I'm an introvert, so I often prefer to be by myself as a means of recharging and re-energizing. But admittedly I have also always been a little self-conscious about my athletic ability (or lack thereof), and therefore I tend to shy away from group sports. However, after seeing my 9 year old introverted, self-conscious son make an effort in group sports, I thought maybe I'd try something new. In fact, I tried two new things: 1) I joined a running group with some co-workers and 2) I participated in the November Project in Worcester, MA.

I decided to join a running group at work for two reasons: a) it would help hold me accountable as I am training for the full marathon I am running in January and b) it would help me get to know some of my colleagues in my new job. Socializing with strangers is always outside of my comfort zone, so joining a running group at work was definitely a challenge, but one I am glad I took on - when you train in a sport with other people, an organic camaraderie takes place and bonds you in a way that doesn't happen naturally when you are sitting in a cubicle inside the office. Our group ran some tough hills earlier this week and we all were high-fiving each other when we finished, laughing and talking about what was good and what was bad about our run.

In addition to socializing at work through sports and fitness, I decided to do the same outside of work. That's where the November Project comes in. You may be wondering what that is; I included a link to their website above if you want more information, but basically the November Project is a free grassroots fitness movement (originally founded in Boston) that has expanded to multiple cities across four time zones in North America. The people that meet for the November Project use the space around them to work out, and as I mentioned before, it costs nothing to join. In fact, the November Project's slogan is, "just show up".

In Worcester, the November Project "tribe members", as they are called, run up and down the stadium at the College of the Holy Cross every Wednesday morning just after sunrise. And if you are thinking, "How hard can it be to do that?", you clearly have never run up and down an entire stadium before. It's pretty freakin' hard. I can attest that it was one of the toughest workouts I have done since I took Barre last year. And I had to pay someone to kick my ass when I took Barre - the November Project ass-kicking was totally free, and totally awesome. But even though the workout was hard, anyone can join, all levels of ability are welcome and encouraged to participate. Members range from Olympian athletes to people who are just getting off the couch for the first time. Running up and down the stadium trains your body for endurance, and it also makes you realize how big a stadium really is. Ha, ha.

What makes the November Project most special, though, is the relationships between tribe members. There is hugging, laughing, and socializing that you won't see at your local gym. The members support one another and all they ask is that if you say you are going to show up, that you show up. Be accountable. But if you don't, you aren't yelled at or made to feel bad. The members will just say to you, "hey, we missed you" the next time they see you.

Joining the November Project for the first time was most definitely outside of my comfort zone. I am not used to socializing in this way and I felt intimidated at first by all of the "athletic-looking" people that surrounded me (side note: anyone in sneakers and running shorts looks "athletic" to me - except for me, of course). But everyone was very friendly and encouraging and I was told to basically just do my best, which is advice I give my children all the time, so for once I put away my insecurity and self-doubt and I gave it a shot. I am so glad I did, because I got the best workout of my life and it didn't cost me a penny. And I met some new people and made some friends.

Stepping outside of one's comfort zone can be downright scary. I personally prefer to be comfortable at all times. But not a whole lot of magic happens inside your comfort zone. Sure, you get stuff done, but you don't get to try anything new or test your limits. How else will you know what you're made of if you don't push yourself a little? When I stepped up to my new running partners at work and when I walked into that stadium with the November Project tribe at Holy Cross, I wanted to turn and run away. But then I remembered my 9 year old son running on the soccer field, pushing himself and trying hard at something new, and I went for it. I experienced firsthand the magic that happens outside of my comfort zone, and there's no looking back now.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11, A Personal Reflection on Love and Resilience

Today, fifteen years following one of the greatest tragedies ever to take place on our nation's soil, Americans everywhere reflected on what this day means to them. Whether you were in NYC, DC, or Pennsylvania on that day or if you were sitting on your couch watching the footage from the safety of your living room thousands of miles away, each and every one of us was affected by what occurred on 9/11/01.

Last October I finally visited the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City. It was as painful and beautiful as I expected it to be. Reliving the fear and sadness from that day brought back a flood of emotions that I had locked up for over fourteen years. Today, as I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed and saw all of the pictures and videos people were sharing in memory of those who died on 9/11/01, that same sadness and anxiety began to resurface.

I was twenty-three years old, working as a receptionist for a corporate real estate company in a high rise building in Boston. I was fresh out of college and new to adulthood. When the news of the terrorists attacks reached me, I opted to stay at work all day and help ease the fears of the hundreds of tenants in our office building (the company I worked for managed the office building in which we worked). We never ordered an evacuation but eventually every company that worked in our building left; the building was basically empty before 5 p.m. that day - I can assure you that never ever happened before or after that day. In fact, it seemed like the entire city of Boston was empty by 5 p.m. that day; when I got on the commuter train to head home at 5:30, the train car I sat in was completely empty except for me and the train conductor collecting tickets. If you have ever taken a commuter train from a city during rush hour on a work day, you know that getting a seat is a big deal because the train cars are always jam-packed, so an empty train car at 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday is completely bizarre. The empty building, empty city, and empty train felt surreal and apocalyptic.

September 11, 2001 was hands down the most terrifying day of my life. Hundreds of people were lighting up our switchboard at work, many screaming at me, demanding to know if we were in danger and if the building was going to be evacuated because they were afraid and didn't know if our city was in danger. I don't know how I did it but I managed to keep my cool for hours on end; I remained stoic and professional and I answered every single phone call that came in. My boss finally came over and told me to take a break and she insisted on covering the phones for me; when she relieved me of my duties, I went into the single stall bathroom in our suite, sat down on the floor, and cried hysterically. I cried so hard I couldn't breathe. I just kept thinking over and over again, "This is it, this is the end of the world". And at that moment in time, I truly believed that to be true.

The world as I know it changed forever that day. I have always been an anxious person, constantly worrying about things I can't control, but after 9/11/01, that anxiety became bigger and more forceful and it settled in my heart and my head permanently. The realization that I am not safe, that I could be killed on an airplane, or in an office building, or walking down the street, was startling. It was scary to know that my life is at risk every day. And that I just had to accept this and move on. I realize now that before 9/11, I was still a child who believed she was immortal. After that day fifteen years ago, my mortality became real, and whatever little bit of innocence I still had at that point in time, was abruptly snatched away...forever.

I watched the news every single day for about two years following that fateful day. I kept waiting for another terrorist attack. It was years before I felt secure again; but even though a lot of time has passed and I am not as terrified as I was fifteen years ago, I never went back to feeling as secure as I did before the attacks on 9/11. I don't think anyone did.

When I see photos and footage from 9/11 now, many years later, it feels as though it happened only yesterday, and the terrifying loss of innocence I experienced that day comes screaming back to me. But today I tried to take a different approach to remembering 9/11/01; instead of focusing on the pain and fear from that day, I tried to focus on the love. After that terrible day, our country came together in a way I had never seen before. Our nation proved that despite race, religion, social status, and political affiliation, above all else we are Americans, and we would not stand for anyone attacking our brothers and sisters. What happened on 9/11 was despicable and disgusting and we would not lie down and allow evil to overcome us. American flags were in every window, on every car, on every house. In fact, I remember that American flags were actually on backorder for months because people were buying them faster than they could be produced. The swell of love and togetherness was so powerful and overwhelming, you could almost feel it physically, even from across the country. Strangers were suddenly family, and the support was unending. In the face of tragedy we didn't turn on one another or blame one another, we came together and remained united.

I think it's important to remember the love and resilience that came out of 9/11/01. I think we owe it to the people who died that day to focus on that and not to allow the fear and anxiety to overcome us. I won't ever forget that day, but from now on I will try to keep the memory of that love and resilience in my heart - not just on the anniversary of 9/11 - but every single day.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

I Am A Runner: My Moment of When "Them" Became "Us"

I know the precise moment when I realized I was a runner. It wasn’t when I completed my first half marathon, or my second, or even my third. It wasn’t when I signed up for my very first full marathon. It was this morning, as I leisurely ran an easy 5 miles on a trail in the woods.

Allow me to provide a little history: I didn’t start running until about 10 years ago. Before then, I was not athletic at all. I used to joke that if anyone ever saw me running, they should run too because there was probably a serial killer chasing me. In gym class in high school my teacher would lovingly plead with me to run the fifty-yard dash or participate in floor hockey or whatever physical education requirement was on the agenda. I would begrudgingly oblige but I would make it known that I was only doing it because I was being forced to; I hated to break a sweat or be uncomfortable for even just a few seconds, never mind several minutes. It doesn’t help that I wasn’t very fast or very agile when it came to sports, so I spent the first 28 years of my life playing up to the “I suck therefore I sit” mantra. And I got away with it too, because if you say something enough times, people will start to believe it. I even had myself convinced.

And then it all changed in 2006; some friends of mine decided to train for a half marathon and they asked me to join. It didn’t hurt that the race we would be training for was going to be in Hawaii; I admit that the location of the race certainly sweetened the pot for me, but I also felt that running might be a great way to get into shape and as I was approaching 30 and was still not very athletic, I figured I needed the help. Although the idea of attempting to complete a half marathon terrified me, I was up for the challenge. Part of me just wanted to see if I could do it. And I did do it, with gusto.

I guess you can say I have been running ever since. I did take a couple of years off to have two babies, but essentially running became part of my life in the very moment I decided to train for that half marathon ten years ago. Yet, after countless road races and hundreds of miles of sweat and tears, I still did not consider myself a “real runner”. In my mind, a “real runner” was probably someone who ran track in college, someone who could run fast, someone who maybe didn’t sweat as much as I did when I ran, and someone who didn’t have to stop and walk sometimes during road races, like I did. I was full of reasons why I was unworthy of being considered a “real runner”, even after I completed my third half marathon as recently as a week ago.

I don’t know why I felt this way, but even after ten years of running, I continued to feel like an outsider in the running world.

A couple of years ago I was sitting in a class learning about Judaism. A fellow student asked the Rabbi who was teaching the class how someone who is converting to Judaism will know that the time is right to become Jewish. The Rabbi gave an answer I will never forget: he said a member of his synagogue who converted to Judaism once told him that she knew she was ready when “them” became “us”. When she stopped thinking of herself as an outsider, she knew she was already Jewish in her heart and was ready to convert; the word "them" was replaced by the word "us".

I had my own “them/us” moment this morning while running on a trail in my town. This was my first run after completing my last half marathon (six days prior) so the plan was to take it easy. I didn’t track my pace or my exact mileage (I estimate I did about 5 miles total) and I was thoroughly enjoying my easy run in the woods. Since it was a perfect near-summer day, the trail was full of people, many of which were running. Every time I passed a runner going in the opposite direction as me, I would smile and say “Good morning!” As I neared the end of the trail where I had to turn around and head back, the feeling suddenly washed over me, and it was as refreshing as leaping through a sprinkler on a hot day: I am a runner out on the trail with my fellow runners.

It didn’t happen while I was finishing a big race or getting a new PR. No one talked me into it. I was simply running in the bright morning sunshine and I just knew it was true: I was one of them. I am one of them.

After all this time, I am a real runner. It was true all along. But now I finally know it to be true in my heart.

I am a runner.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Fitbit Effect

I have seen some articles posted recently about Fitbits and why they aren't good for your health. These articles cover everything from the dangers of electromagnetic fields to the inaccuracy of the heart rate monitors within the Fitbit devices. I am not a scientist or a doctor so I cannot confirm or deny that a Fitbit is endangering people's physical health, but I thought I'd take some time to talk about the positive psychological effects I have experienced as a Fitbit owner. As is always the case with any health-related matters, consult with your doctor and do extensive research before purchasing and using any type of exercise equipment or device.

In recent years I have become something of a runner. I am often training for races and trying to beat my own best times. But when I am not running, I am desperately trying to make an effort to move around more during the day.

My job is sedentary; I literally sit in front of a computer for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Talk about an endangerment to my health! Doctors and scientists agree that prolonged sitting is a health hazard; here is a link to one article of thousands that discusses this very concern. As a result, I have to be very deliberate about getting up and moving several times a day.

Cue the Fitbit!

Now that I wear a Fitbit, I know exactly how much I am moving (or not moving) on a day-to-day basis. I have a goal set in my device to take 10,000 steps a day (it's actually harder than you think if you sit at a desk all day like me) and I have to ability to check how many steps I am taking by tapping my device (which I wear on my wrist) or opening the Fitbit application on my smart phone.

Before I got a Fitbit I didn't think a lot about how much I was moving if I wasn't actually at the gym doing cardio. I didn't think about how important it is to get up and walk every hour during the work day just to keep my blood circulating. I didn't think I was really that sedentary...but as soon as I started wearing my little bluetooth step tracker, I quickly realized how little I was moving around. Let's put it this way: if I don't go to the gym, and I don't intentionally schedule time to take a walk at lunch and get up every hour to walk around the office, I will only get about 3,000 steps in an 8 hour work day. Out of a 10,000 step goal, that is not much movement! My lack of movement on some days is scary, actually.

A funny thing happened once I started wearing a Fitbit and began noticing how little I was moving, I suddenly felt accountable. With Fitbit you can "friend" people you know who also have Fitbit profiles and you can see their average steps compared to your average steps. You can also engage your friends in challenges to see who can take the most steps. With so much visibility, I started to feel motivated to get more steps each day. I could see that my sister-in-law was taking an average of 15,000 steps a day and beating me in every challenge, so I decided I wanted to start taking 17,000 steps a day. Wearing a Fitbit lit a competitive fire in me that I am not accustomed to.

It made me want to move.

I found myself parking in the furthest spot in the lot at work. I would opt to take the stairs instead of the elevator. I started walking with co-workers every day at lunch instead of eating at my desk. When watching TV I started getting up and walking around the house during each commercial break. I began searching for opportunities to get more steps in during the day. That little device on my wrist started to have a positive psychological influence on me and I playfully call this influence The Fitbit Effect.

Just to be clear, I don't work for Fitbit and I am not receiving any incentive to promote their product.
I just happen to wear a Fitbit, but any bluetooth step tracker can have the same effect. I hear good things about Jawbone. If you are thinking about trying a bluetooth tracker, do some research and find one that works for you.

I know people who wear basic pedometers and wearing them doesn't really have the same kind of effect that a bluetooth tracker has. What works well with Fitbit and other bluetooth step trackers is your ability to compare your own movement to the movement of other people. That is what's missing with a basic pedometer. While a basic pedometer can definitely help make you more psychologically aware of your movement (or lack thereof), the social aspect is absent. There is something inexplicably motivating about seeing other people take more steps than you (or seeing you take more steps than other people) in a given day. I am not a competitive person by nature but I definitely feel competitive with my Fitbit friends. I take great satisfaction in winning step challenges and having people say, "Wow, you took 20,000 steps yesterday, how did you do that?!" It's like getting an A for exercising.

I know that for some people, competition can make them feel neurotic. Not everyone feels good about friendly rivalry, sometimes it makes people feel stressed out. I recommend giving it a try, though. You might be surprised at how motivating it is.

Maybe someday soon, you too will be feeling The Fitbit Effect. And if you "friend" me, just know I will always be trying to take more steps than you. :)

'Twas the Night Before my Half Marathon...

Tomorrow morning at 8:15 I will begin running my third half marathon in my lifetime (and my second half marathon this year). 

I won't lie, I'm feeling a bit intimidated by this upcoming race, mainly because I am putting some pressure on myself to finish with a better time than my previous half marathons. 

This is also the first half marathon I have ever run "alone" (meaning that I am not running this race with any friends, I signed up on my own with the intention to train and run by myself). Don't get me wrong, I have a cheering squad coming with me to make sure I stay motivated (I always come armed with cheerleaders), but this is the first time I ever trained for a half marathon without a pal to commiserate with. 

It's a little scary to be doing this by myself. But also very liberating.

I can't predict how it will go tomorrow but even if I don't get a PR, I will still be proud of myself for giving it a shot. And if I don't beat my previous finish times this weekend, there's always the next half marathon. Because of course there is a next half marathon. There always is.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Mindlessness vs. Mindfulness: The Battle Continues

Lately I have been making a serious attempt to try to be more mindful in my life. I am actively seeking inner peace (of course, who isn't?) and I have come to the conclusion that mindfulness is the cornerstone in achieving a more peaceful existence.

But in this quest I am quickly learning that being mindful can be quite challenging, especially for a chronic multi-tasker like myself. Some days I find mindfulness to be downright impossible. I spend a lot of time "trying to be efficient" and "making the best use of my time" and while all of this efficiency and time-saving is happening in my life, I am not paying attention to the beautiful world around me or the amazing people I am surrounded by.

I am a well-oiled machine. I get stuff done. I often get many things done at one time and I do them well. For this reason I am an excellent employee and I am great at managing my household. But I don't take a lot of time to smell the flowers or feel the sunshine. I don't even take a lunch break at work on most days.

Well, who has time with all of this efficiency going on?

Multi-tasking aside, there are also other ways that I go through life "mindlessly". How many times have you driven somewhere and then not remembered how you got there? Happens to me a lot. More times than not I allow my brain to "zone out" during routine tasks instead of being present in the moment. Doing the dishes, vacuuming the floor, folding laundry...these are all things I do while my brain goes into auto-pilot.

Every moment in life is precious, even those that are routine and boring. And quite honestly, life is too damn short to be "zoning out" and not paying attention to the world around me!

I have also noticed how mindlessness has actually become a habit for me. I have been having some issues with my iPhone this week. I won't get into the boring details but the issues I am experiencing are causing me to have to keep my phone switched off for a couple of days. In doing so, I have become acutely aware of how mindlessly and routinely I pick up my smart phone.

The first day I had my phone switched off, I think I reached for it about a half a dozen times before remembering that I couldn't use it. Sometimes I was reaching for it to deliberately send someone a text message or to check my e-mail, but mostly I was reaching for it without an actual purpose. I was literally picking up my phone without even thinking about it - several times in one day.

Interestingly enough, the technology that was designed to bring people closer together (social media, text messages, e-mail) has given people more opportunities to isolate and avoid those around them.

Technology has given me a tool to disengage.

I'll be honest: if I am in an awkward situation where I feel uncomfortable or if I am alone and feeling bored, I will use my smart phone as a source of comfort. I can browse Facebook, check to see if anyone has sent me a text message, flip through my photo album, catch up on e-mail, or just stare down at the blank screen if it suits me. Something about having that little device to focus on always seems to relieve me of mental discomfort.

I have used my smart phone for comfort so often in the last 5 years that now the mindless scrolling, browsing, and texting has become a habit. A bad habit. And it has gotten so bad that this mindlessness has seeped into every day life - if I am sitting in the car with my family or at a restaurant with my husband or even at the movies with a friend, I have to consciously stop myself from grabbing my iPhone. I am embarrassed to say that it actually takes effort for me to remain engaged most of the time.

Why does my brain want to disengage from my surroundings? Why is it so hard for me to remain present in the moment?

I am working on finding the answers to these questions. I am also working on finding new ways to be mindful and I am doing so in teeny tiny baby steps:

  • When driving in my car I sometimes drive in silence or take a different route to a familiar destination. I change up my routine a little and I have noticed that I pay more attention when I take away the opportunity to "zone out". 
  • When I arrive home from work I turn off my smart phone until I put my kids to bed. This gives me a chance to sit and have dinner with my family and to spend some quality time with my kids for a few hours without the temptation to be mindless. 
  • At work I have started taking a lunch break each day and when I do I go for a walk outside, even when it's cold. This gives me a break from my desk/workload, it gets me outside with nature, and removes the opportunity to mindlessly zone out on Facebook or something else online for an hour. Plus, by giving my brain a break from technology and allowing my body to get some fresh air, I return to work after lunch feeling refreshed and more energized.

I still have a long way to go in the battle of mindlessness versus mindfulness. But if I can spend a little time each day staying engaged and present in the moment, then I am that much closer to finding inner peace.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

There Just Aren't Enough Hours In The Day...

As I was racing from one job to the next the other day, I suddenly remembered that I needed to find an hour to work on homework for grad school at some point and I also needed to find time to take a 30 minute walk (which I try to do every evening before bed to clear my head). At that point in time, the remainder of my day was already booked up and I wasn't even sure what time I would be getting to bed, never mind squeezing in more activities. As I mentally tried to rearrange my schedule to insert a slot of time for my schoolwork and my evening exercise routine, I caught myself thinking, "there just aren't enough hours in the day". And then I cringed. I really hate that phrase..and sadly it is a phrase that has been crossing my mind a lot lately.

The truth is, I am completely overbooked on a pretty regular basis. It isn't that there's not enough time for me to live, it's that I am stacking too many priorities into each day. I think most people are probably like me: working too much, not sleeping enough, not spending enough time with family, and not making time for their health and wellness. I am definitely not a unique case.

In the last couple of months I have had a bit of an awakening with regards to my busy schedule. I always knew I was overbooked, but in the back of my mind I kept believing that if I could just multi-task better or be more efficient at my tasks, I could really do it all in one day. And by "do it all" I mean: be a fully engaged mom, a successful full time employee at one job, a successful part time employee at another job, a grad student with a 4.0 GPA, a volunteer, a runner, a loving and happy wife, and a healthy and happy me, all at the same time. Yikes, I got tired just writing that sentence!

I realize now that no normal human can really "do it all" and be successful at every task, it's just not physically possible. And if I am multi-tasking all day long, am I ever really putting 100% into anything? The answer is no.

So what is a busy gal to do?

I started by making a list of all of my daily priorities. My initial intention was to rank them in order of importance so I could figure out how to better prioritize my days. Sounds simple enough, right? But what I quickly discovered is that I truly treat each of my daily priorities as "the most important thing" - every single one of them. I struggled with ranking the items on my list because in my mind I had already placed a #1 next to each of them. So this is why I am so busy all the time and feel as though I don't even have time to sleep. Sleep wasn't even on my initial list of priorities!

I meditated on this list and my feelings about each of the items on the list for several days. I soon realized that sleep wasn't the only thing missing from my initial list. I also left off "time with friends" and "mental health". I have spent so much time trying to be the best at everything, taking on very time-consuming tasks in an effort to further my career and support my family, that I have stopped making time for peace, love, and happiness. For years I have felt a very strong imbalance in my soul, like my entire life is off-kilter, and I am just beginning to understand the cause of that imbalance.

When I search my heart and think about what I want or need to feel balanced, I can say with certainty that the one thing in my life that makes me feel very happy and very at peace is exercise. Yup, it's true. I spent a majority of my life being a couch potato - and during that time I also constantly felt depressed and anxious. Once I started moving my body, my mental health drastically improved. Running is my sport of choice and although I am not super fit or ultra fast (a ten minute mile can leave me feeling winded on a good day), I enjoy the challenge of beating my own best times, training for road races, and of course, the infamous runner's high. Running is my way of meditating and it keeps me feeling mentally well, even when my busy schedule is kicking my butt.

My health has become very important to me over the past year or so. By nature I am a worrier and one of the things I worry most about is about my physical health. In an effort to lessen the "what ifs" that keep me up at night, I decided to take control of what I could and begin living a healthy lifestyle, which means eating right (no more fad diets or weight loss plans - just straight up healthy eating: reading nutrition labels, incorporating fruits and vegetables into every meal, and ensuring my family and I are eating the appropriate/correct portions with every meal) and exercising regularly (no less than 60 minutes of some type of exercise every single day).

Yet, my health (daily trips to the gym, cooking healthy meals for me and my family, getting the appropriate amount of sleep every night) tends to be the first thing to suffer when my schedule gets busy. And when my healthy efforts drop by the wayside, everything else goes haywire.

Looking at my "list of priorities" right now as I type this, I am starting to see it in a new light. Taking a hard look at this piece of paper and forcing myself to choose, I can confidently say that my top priorities are family and wellness; everything else on the list is just "stuff". I don't mean to minimize the importance of my career or my volunteer work or my masters degree that I hope to attain later this year - all of that is important, but nothing is more important than my well-being and my family. Nothing. So I need to make time for what is truly important and then schedule all of the other "stuff" if there's time. And if there isn't enough time, then maybe I need to look at cutting out some of the less important "stuff". Because if I cut out my own mental and physical health from the list, there is no way I can do anything else.

We are all busy people, everyone I know has a figuratively full plate of priorities. Time and again I have heard friends, family, and co-workers say that they can't lose weight or can't exercise because they just don't have the time. I used to say this too. Now I realize that I just wasn't making it a priority in my life. If something is really important to you, you can make the time to do it. It may require some shifting in your list of priorities, but it can be done.

The next time you think to yourself, "there just aren't enough hours in the day", stop and make a list of your priorities, figure out what is most important to you. Maybe exercise and physical health are not on your list of top priorities. I am not here to judge, your priorities are your own. But before you say you don't have time to be healthy, think about what you are making time for. And ask yourself what's important to you.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

My Half Marathon Experience: Lessons Learned

Well, I did it! I completed the 2016 Disney Half Marathon in Orlando, Florida earlier this month. In hindsight I can say it was definitely a very rewarding, very exhausting experience - and I am so glad that I did it.

I learned a lot in my journey as I prepared for this half marathon. For one thing, I discovered that running is a form of therapy for me. It isn't just good for me physically, it has truly improved my mental health as well. Even on days when I have a bad run (and it happens, trust me), I walk away feeling happy. And when I complete a road race of any length - oh wow do I feel amazing inside and out. I have read countless articles about depression and anxiety and how exercise can help relieve symptoms of both, but until recently I didn't really believe that it could be true. I have battled depression and anxiety my entire life and now I finally feel like have a lifeline to help me through it.

I also discovered a strength in me that I did not know existed. I have mentioned before in previous posts about how running requires a lot of positive mental energy and how one negative thought can ruin a run. But there is a lot of push and pull between mental energy and physical strength when I am running; sometimes I start off feeling good mentally but physically I am not quite there and then as the run progresses I feel better physically but now my inner voice is telling me to quit. I have a lot of runs that go like this with a back and forth argument in my mind that I am forced to endure. When I first started training for the half marathon, I would often succumb to these arguments: "Fine body/brain, you win, I am done", and just like that, my run would be over. But over time I learned to push through the physical discomfort as well as the mental anguish and just keep running. I found that if I endured the inner turmoil long enough, it would eventually pass. As a person who despises physical and mental discomfort probably a little more than the average person, overcoming this problem while running was a huge feat for me.

In addition to the triumphant lessons learned during my training, I also learned a hard lesson about listening to your body when there is severe pain or discomfort and recognizing the distinct difference between "I need to push past this" and "Houston we have a problem". My foot doctor recently diagnosed me with a condition called Morton's Neuroma, and I have it in both feet. It can cause numbness and a lot of pain while walking or running. I estimate that the condition probably started in August or September this past year and I didn't see my doctor about it until oh, a week ago. Not smart. So basically I have been running and enduring sharp shooting pains in both feet for several months when I could have received some relief by getting my orthotics adjusted by my doctor (which is exactly what he did for me last week). For months leading up to the half marathon I assumed the pain I was feeling was because I needed more training and during the half marathon I thought the pain was evidence that I didn't train well enough for the race. I completed a half marathon where for about 6 miles I experienced intense pain in my feet and all the while I wrote it off as pain that I needed to push through. Wrong wrong wrong. Only after the race (when my toes remained numb for about a week following) did I realize that something might be wrong. That's when I saw my doctor and found out that the pain and numbness I had been trying to push through was basically pinched nerves in my feet and it was a real condition that required treatment (i.e., no amount of training was going to resolve the problem and not treating it can make it worse over time). This lesson was a big one for me: if you feel pain, especially new pain you never felt before, don't assume it's something that you need to push through, always get it checked out. It's never smart to risk doing damage to your body by ignoring a physical problem. Know the difference between needing more training and needing medical help. And if you don't know the difference, seek medical help just to be on the safe side.

I can say that I definitely learned a lot more from this half marathon experience than I did the last time I trained for and ran a half marathon (ten years ago). And in spite of it all, I have already started training for another half marathon. Am I crazy? Maybe. Stay tuned to find out more...