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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Resistance is Futile (and Extremely Counter-Productive)

Well folks, it finally happened. I knew it was only a matter of time and it turns out I was correct.  It happened last Monday, in all places, during a core-focused yoga session with my good friend and yoga instructor extraordinaire, Gina Nelson. If it weren't by some divine design, I would've thought it ironic.

The evening started a little rough. After dealing with some personal drama, I really wasn't in the mood to be around people.  I gave strong consideration to not going to class but I decided to go anyway.  When I got to class, I still wasn't feeling it and felt compelled to leave so I went back to my car and started the engine. Before putting the car in reverse, I paused for a second, just long enough to realize that all the reasons why I was leaving class were exactly the reasons why I desperately needed stay. So I returned to class, put my mat in the back of the room, and tried not to spread the funk.

Gina welcomed me back with a smile and started the session which, she explained, would be primarily focused on the core. Yogis believe that the core encompasses the first three chakras or energy centers in the body representing (among other things) physical and emotional grounding, acceptance, and individual power and purpose. (Whether you should subscribe to the idea of a chakra-centric approach to yoga or believe it's all a bunch of new-age, spiritual nonsense really isn't the point of this post so bear with me folks, you'll see where I'm going with this shortly.) Core-focused yoga is intended to help you feel more connected, solid, self-empowered, and less resistant.

I've heard it said that yoga postures help you identify where you are resisting your natural state. I think we all know (or could guess) what this means in the physical sense- the more you relax and release tension in your body, the easier the postures become, unlocking the body's full range of motion- but it also applies in the mental/emotional sense. Admittedly, I've got a thick skull sometimes (most of the time) so the non-physical application is WAY more difficult for me to grasp. Which brings me back to last Monday's class...there I was standing on a yoga block in a standing split, right foot wobbling uncontrollably, when I was struck by three realizations:

(1) I feel tentative and anxious, as if I've lost my grounding and become incredibly unbalanced.
(2) I've become stuck and am unable to move forward due to my inability to accept the things I can't change.
(3) I'm not in the driver's seat anymore because I don't listen to or trust my own instincts.

In short, I resist my natural emotional state. All. Day. Long. I've become a Master Resister. I spend an obscene amount of time and energy fighting my instincts, trying to convince myself that I "shouldn't feel this way", and failing to see my feelings as what they truly are- potential indicators that I'm on the wrong path. I ignore all the warning signs, leading me further and further away from my natural state and forcing me into a life that feels less and less like my own. I resist because of what I believe it would mean if I didn't. Perhaps if I made myself a priority today, I'd let someone I care about down; if I showed any signs of cracking under pressure or being human, I'd disappoint those who look up to me; or if in choosing to walk away from something that is toxic to me, I'd be a quitter.

As you can imagine, this resistance has been a tremendous source of internal conflict for me. I've let my desire to care for others keep me from paying attention to what my body and mind are trying to tell me...even when they are SCREAMING at me.  I very often hold on for too long because in order to let go I'd have to be willing to accept that I don't control the situation. Instead of just accepting that something isn't working for me, I cling to it tighter and try to find a way, any way, to make it work.

Only a day after my post about trail running, I couldn't fight it anymore. See, told you I could be thick sometimes (most of the time). So what exactly was my problem? Why couldn't I see what was right in front of my face?

My Aha Moment
Our society places a high value on determination and while I believe it's an extremely valuable quality (one that I love about myself because it's how I got where I am today), it can't be allowed to go unchecked. I fixate on "getting the job done" without taking even a second to consider whether the job is even worth doing or will actually give me the result I'm seeking. In my case, I think that my stubbornly steadfast determination has closed my mind to the possibility that the things I'm trying so desperately to fix actually should remain broken. Instead I view success as never giving up, EVER. It's clear to me now that I've been confusing acceptance for apathy. I've come to realize that there's a distinction to be made between feverishly treading water to keep yourself afloat and being too dense to realize that no matter how hard you try you'll drown if you've got a cinder-block tied to your foot.

I teared up during the session when I began to account for all the energy I'd wasted and the time I'd spent feeling disconnected and powerless. I felt a tremendous sense of loss and regret. It occurred to me that in order to "make it work", I've been forcing it and exhausting myself emotionally. The saddest part of it all was recognizing that it did me absolutely no good. All I've gained from my resistance was a bunch of hurt feelings and huge amount of disappointment. In that moment, I decided that I deserve better than that.

Those who know me will tell you that I move mountains daily.  I put far too much on my plate and then bite off way more than I can chew. At any given moment, I've got 100 balls in the air and I don't even know how to juggle.

See. Can't juggle.
But none of that is sustainable if I continue to waste my energy trying to change the way things play out and the actions of others. Rather than walk away from something or someone that is hurting me, I react by trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole. And I gotta tell ya, that doesn't make much sense when I really stop to think about it.

Conversely, if I were to simply accept the things I can't change, I'd be free to focus my efforts on the things I can change. By setting down the baggage that doesn't really belong to me, I'd have more strength to shoulder the load I do need to carry. It's time to streamline my efforts and take care of Alison so she can continue to move those mountains and inspire awesomeness in others.

Thanks Gina!! You truly are one in a million!
So as I said at the beginning of this post, it finally happened. What happened, you ask? Good question. The lesson I had to learn before I could call Promise No. 16 complete has finally sunk in to my thick skull: above all, reconnect with your own voice and no matter how much you may want the message to be different, you have to allow yourself to accept every word.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

21 Promises Status Update

This has officially been the most insane year ever!! I've been hit from every possible angle both personally and professionally.  Just the other day, I realized that October is over...WHAT?! It was January like yesterday and then I blinked and...POOF, just like that, it's mid-November!

So it's been quiet here on my blog page and I apologize profusely for the crickets. I'm now in the process of feverishly writing and posting all the race reports that are now (very) late but hey, better (very) late than never, right??? Stay tuned folks, blog posts are coming!!

Given that we're now less than two months from the end of 2014, it's probably a good idea to pause for a moment and take the pulse on my 21 Promises before the rest of the year gets away from me. 

really wish I  had a working one of these right about now!
So here we go...

21 Promises

1. Complete a very challenging trail half-marathon. STATUS: Completed!! North Face Endurance Challenge, June 8, 2014!!
2. Run a 1:48 half-marathon. STATUS: Ummmm...
stupid leg
3. Complete 15 road/trail/obstacle races. STATUS: Number of 2014 races completed to [stupid leg]. I've got four more races on my calendar. I'm no mathematician but it's not looking good for this one. Perhaps I could convince the judges that the DC Ragnar Relay should count as three races since I ran three different legs- but that still only leaves me at 13.

4. Set personal records in 4 distances. STATUS: Number of PRs achieved this [stupid leg].  BUT I did get my first two age group awards in June (1st Place Team- Female Friends Division, Reston Relay Sprint Triathlon) and July (1st Place Female Competitor- Brick Division, Down and Dirty Obstacle Race DC). How does that happen BTW?! I've been running for years and I don't place in my age group until this year when I've spent more than 7 months injured and unable to train- what sense does that make?! Anyway, I'll have to get creative with this one.

5. Research, select, and sign up for an ultra-marathon for 2015. STATUS: I've done the research, selected and signed up for the North Face Trail 50K in April 2015.  If I'm honest, the training schedule I put together for this one is a bit frightening...makes me wanna throw up a little then take a LOOONG nap.

6. Reach a body fat percentage of 17.5% . STATUS: Frankly, I don't want to know where I'm at on this one... okay, that's a lie, I got assessed this week and it's not close :( My injured leg combined with no sleep and mass quantities of stress have severely hampered my ability to make progress on this one. Gotta get refocused but with the holidays right around the corner, this is gonna be a challenge.  Oh wait, I have an idea...

What?! I COULD work. Plus, it's fast, easy and fun!
7. Get fitness assessment score of 450 by June 1st. STATUS: Done! I scored a 454 in January 2014 (right before I got injured...WHEW!)
8. Take 2 SUP classes & do 3 practice sessions. STATUS: Sadly, not going to happen this year.  I had one class and one practice session before the cold weather moved in. 
Not cool, Dr. Evil...
9. Complete 2 indoor rock climbing classes. STATUS: Must schedule classes ASAP!!!!
10. Complete a sprint-distance triathlon. STATUS: Completed June 1, 2014!!

11. Learn to swim (pool and open water). STATUS: I'm not sure you'd call it "swimming" per se, but I did travel for a full 400m while NOT drowning during my triathlon so I'll call this one partially complete! I have been swimming twice a week since the triathlon as well so I'll be a swimmer any day now.  As for open water, probably a little late in the year to try that one.  Perhaps if I wore a wetsuit...yeah, probably not.

12. 3 unassisted pull-ups (from a dead hang). STATUS: DONE!! 

13. Improve lifting technique and increase weight by 25% for snatch, front squat, and overhead squat. STATUS: Complete!! And I get bonus points for adding 100lb Clean and Press to this Promise, just sayin! Earlier in the year, I got a ton of great guidance on improving my lifting technique and despite the injury, I am proud to call this one is done!

14. Launch goRun in the Spring and grow it to more than 50 members. STATUS: Launch complete! Current membership number (not including me) stands at 37. Better get busy recruiting...

15. 20 blog posts. STATUS: know...I'm working on it.
16. Be nicer to Alison. STATUS: I've had a few significant setbacks but I've also made major improvements here.  I feel like I'm on the right track now and at this rate, the average (all things considered) should easily allow me to call this one complete by year end.
17. No more soda. STATUS: So far so good. 2014 has been soda-free to date!
18. Go to an amusement park. STATUS: DONE!!! Just barely squeezed this one in but I spent a day at Hersheypark in the Dark. Rode every roller coaster in the park and even won some new friends in the arcade. So. Much. Fun.

19. Get a coaching or fitness certification. STATUS: Done! RRCA-Certified as of June 2014! More certifications in process too!! YAY me!! Working on a few other certifications now.

20. Read 6 books. STATUS: Number of books read so far this year...two :(
21. Inspire someone else to do something awesome. STATUS: I've seen a number of people do some pretty awesome things this year; HOWEVER, I feel very strongly that I shouldn't be the judge of (a) whether something rises to the level of "awesome" and (b) whether I actually inspired said awesome thing. Therefore, I've decided to wait until the end of the year and poll everyone I know to see what their thoughts are on this one.  Stay tuned!!

So it would appear I've got some work to do- 11.5 Promises to get done and only 40 days to do it.  Fasten your seat belts kids, it's going to be a crazy six weeks!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

On Letting Go and Getting Lost

I had the opportunity to run my local natural surface trails twice this weekend with members of my running group.  I don't think that's ever happened before but I could totally get used to it because I absolutely LOVE trail running.

Our Saturday Group in Little Bennett Regional Park
Our Extra-Adventurous Sunday Group
 in Sugarloaf Mountain Natural Area
(Note: Cecilia in the aqua top on the left 
just started running earlier this month-

I didn't use to like it because well, it's "hard", but now I love it. In the beginning, trails can be very intimidating even to the most-seasoned road runners. The pace is much slower so it takes longer to cover the same distance. There's a high probability that you could trip on a tree root, roll your ankle or get lost. Your feet may get wet and your shoes will probably get muddy. Some stretches of trail are too precarious to run so you'll have to stop and walk a bit. So many things could go wrong and the slower pace coupled with more technically-difficult terrain can make you feel kinda weak and cause you to doubt your abilities as a runner. That's where we tend to lose a ton of runners- I mean, let's face it, who wants to keep doing something that makes them feel bad about themselves and their abilities. However, I don't think it has to be this way.

There is one universal truth in trail running: If you want to enjoy running trails, you have to be willing to let go A LOT; uptight runners will not have a pleasant experience.

Here I am
pulling grass out of my pants
after Saturday's run.
So, yes, your pace WILL be slow, you WILL have to walk some stretches, you WILL get muddy and wet, you WILL have to pay attention to every step you take, you MAY not get back home in time to get to your hair appointment, and although you go out armed with a trail map and a plan, the odds are that NOTHING will go according to that plan.

It's a fact folks. But if you know all of this going in to the woods, surrender to it and know that the only certainties out on the trails are uncertainty and adventure, then I promise you this: you will have the best time ever and learn a lot of life lessons in the process.

Don't believe me?? Allow me to share what I've learned on my trail running adventures:

1. You have to take the trails as they come. There may be a log in your way, loose rocks under your feet, or a stream running through your path. The trick with trails is to prepare yourself to face challenges and enjoy the ride. It's not about pace or distance, it's about taking whatever terrain or obstacle it throws at you in stride. Kinda sounds like a successful life strategy doesn't it?

We don't control the variables in life (traffic, in-laws, burnt toast, crazy TP-shredding cats, polar vortexes, etc.).  On the trails, as in life, you don't control the obstacles in your way but your experience hinges solely on how you react to those obstacles. We live most of our days on the rocky, mountainous trails of life not on the smooth and open highways. Trail runs are training for life- practice for the daily grind- they make you more adaptable and resilient. You learn that the only thing you control on these trails is your attitude and it can operate completely independently of everything else.

2. You have to surrender your bravado. Whatever image you project about yourself to the world is irrelevant, only what you truly are matters and you'll find it all out on the trails. There is no hiding or denying who you are on the trails. If you have any weaknesses, they will be exposed out here- weak ankles, inability to be alone, difficulty staying strong when you're struggling, lack of focus, tendency to get frustrated easily, arrogance- any flaw in your armor will not be a secret for very long. You'll have to walk, you'll be slower, and it will test you in all new ways but it doesn't stop there. When you do learn who you are, you can accept it, release the expectations and enjoy the ride or you can fight it, feel inadequate and frustrated. Your choice. It requires the same amount of energy to do either, but one option will make you miserable and the other will not.

So much time is spent, from our youth to adulthood, trying to squeeze into the mold of what we think we should be, rather than being proud of and projecting who we actually are. What would happen if we took a real look at ourselves and embraced everything we see- all our strengths and all our weaknesses- and recognize that each piece (good, bad, and ugly) adds up to the sum of who we are? Rather than hide or fight the bits we'd rather not admit to the world, maybe we'd be less anxious and stressed all the time if we stopped pretending to be perfect and simply acknowledge that we're human and there's room for improvement. Authenticity is the key to inner peace and you will learn this quickly on the trails or you will hate trail running.

3. It's about the journey, not the destination.  Many of us have a tendency, when the going gets rough, to put our heads down, trudge along and just pray for it to be over soon. This behavior closes our eyes to the positive things that surround us and exacerbates the feeling that the world is crashing down around us. But on the particularly difficult trails, if you were to you look up, you'd see that you're surrounded by breath-taking sights that often cannot be described. These moments serve as a reminder that, despite the treacherous roads ahead, the world is full of quiet beauty and even in your darkest moments, there truly is light all around you if you are willing to look up and find it.
Don't be so busy surviving that you forget to live.
4. The really good views are at the end of the most difficult roads. Sunday's run was a hard road with steep ups, insane downs, and we never felt like we had our footing for longer than 30 seconds but we pushed on and were rewarded with a view that many will never see and an experience that built incredibly strong bonds of friendship in only a few short hours.
We almost lost Mel over the White Rocks. Shhhh...don't tell anyone.
In a world where everything always seems to be out of our control, we still continuously struggle to regain control rather than letting go and taking life as it comes. We believe that getting off our plan is bad and a successful day ends exactly the way we'd predicted it would.  But, looking back, all the good things in my life have come about when the plan had gone out the window. If I had stayed on the course I'd laid out for my life, I would've missed so many wonderful things that enriched my world. Without letting go of the course we've set for ourselves, we may never stumble on gorgeous places, unexpected friendships, eye-opening moments of self-discovery, or very unlikely bonds.

At the end of the day, just because you THINK you know what's best for you, doesn't mean you actually do. The universe may have other (better) plans in mind for you. But if you don't let go and get a little lost every once in a while, you may end up at your pre-planned destination but you may have missed the right path for you. I mean, c'mon, who at the age of 19 or 20 had it figured out already. Sometimes, you just have to let it all go and have faith that you'll end up exactly where you are supposed to be and, who knows, the view may be even more breath-taking than you could've imagined.

Our lives should grow richer with each passing day, a process that only happens when we're willing to let go and allow ourselves to get lost.

And may you never lose your sense of adventure.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

RACE REPORT: Savage Race Team

At the beginning of the year, I was approached about assembling an obstacle race team for Savage Race Mid-Atlantic, an intense 5-7 mile muddy obstacle course.  Admittedly, it didn't take much to convince me to form the team and before I knew it, our team had begun to grow.  I was pumped about the number of first time obstacle racers who were eager to sign up; obstacle racing is intimidating for newbies and often it takes A LOT of convincing to get people to sign up. A few of the athletes wanted assurances that I was confident they could complete the race, but most accepted the challenge with enthusiasm.

A few months out from the race, I was asked to develop a training program for the athletes on the team. I was already doing an obstacle race training session once a week as part of goRun (the running club I launched in March) but my Savage Team was requesting a special session on Sunday mornings that would be a more advanced version of the Tuesday session. I was still very new to the world of fitness training- I'd never done anything like it before- but I was in love with the idea of it.  I've done my fair share of obstacle races and I'd always trained myself so I thought it would be fun to train an entire team.

So, the Sunday Savage training sessions were, well...brutal. Some days, while watching my team carry sandbags, flip tires, swing sledgehammers, and run 400m laps around the building, I would think to myself "wow, I wouldn't want to do this workout." But this crew showed up every Sunday and took whatever madness I dished out.  Truly impressive!!
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I clearly didn't consider his size when designing this workout! (Foreshadowing of things to come as Drew was stuck in the pipe obstacle for like 20 minutes.)
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 goSavage ladies, Jess and Lauren
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A few weeks out from the race, Emily, one of the athletes I coach who just started running in January during my beginner's 5K program, decide to join. She was a little behind the eight ball since the rest of the team had been training for weeks now but she wasn't deterred.  She held her own during the workouts but she only got to participate in a couple of them so I was a little concerned about whether she would be mentally prepared to tackle what would be a difficult course.
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Don't let the pigtails fool you...
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Emily tackling the trails of
Little Bennett Regional Park
Emily, Drew and Lauren having some "fun"

Savage Mobile
On race day, five of us piled into The Savage Mobile (aka Drew's Jeep) in the wee hours of the morning and headed to the course which was about a 2.5 hour drive.  The drive there was hilarious- great conversation, a coffee stop, and MANY bathroom stops (you learn a lot about people when you race with them, apparently half our team has "nervous bladder" syndrome). The rest of our team met us at the race site.  We picked up our packets and got some pre-race photos.

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Good looking bunch!
There was a ton of nervous energy among the team members. As we stood at the start line waiting for our wave to start, the newbies' anticipation had reached fever pitch. When the gun went off, our team took to the course like a stampede, equal parts excitement and fear. Prior to the race there was much discussion about which obstacle each person dreaded/feared the most; many citing the shock wires, high platform jump, and sawtooth monkey bars.  I, however, knew better.  By far, the worst obstacle on the course would be the dumpster full of ice water.

Now, I know what you're thinking. It's just ice water, how bad could it be. VERY BAD!! And guess which obstacle was first on the course...yeah. Perhaps it was better that the rest of my team didn't know what to expect on this one. They were so distracted by fear of later obstacles that they didn't see it coming...

Halfway across the dumpster, there was a 2"x8" board which forced every competitor under the water. When you came out on the other side, it felt like your chest was being crushed and to make it all even more fun, you very quickly realize that your nervous system is in complete shock and the signals traveling from your brain that tell your arms and legs to move are not being received by your muscles; but wait...there's more- every person in front of you is experiencing the exact same thing, rendering them practically physically incapable of getting out of the dumpster. And then there's you, stuck treading water in a dumpster full of ice, no way out, body not cooperating, in a terrified panic-stricken state.  Sorta like this...
No exaggeration!!
Even when you do manage to get out of the dumpster (and, don't worry, we all eventually did), your skin stings and every muscle in your body is frozen solid. So, yeah, kinda difficult to run.  Of course, the next half-mile after the dumpster was the only shady part of the course...
Given that I was injured and wasn't able to train, I was pretty impressed with my own performance on the course.  This was, after all, the first race of the year for me. I found Savage Race to be the most enjoyable obstacle race I've ever done; it was a fabulous mix of mental and physical challenges.Most notably, I was proud of myself for completing the Sawtooth Bars (no, I did NOT use my legs...I'm not a cheater).  This was something I'd never guessed I could do.  When I got across, I had to fight back the tears (captains don't cry). A close second, was getting up Colossus with no assistance.

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making it look easy
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I've titled this one: uncomfortable rope burn
Even earning myself a spot in Savage Race history on a promotional shot.

That's me on the far left
Overall, I have to say that I was very impressed with the entire team; however, one stood out above everyone else, Emily.

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The most remarkable things about that day- the two things that I'll remember above all else (including my own personal, previously-unimaginable, achievements)- is Emily and her endless bravery. It was no secret that Emily was not as fast or as strong as the rest of the team members (remember she JUST started running and she missed weeks of training for this race) but what she lacked in speed, strength, and overall preparation, she more than made up for in courage. It couldn't have been easy for Emily to be running behind the team for the second half of the course or knowing that they'd prepared 10 times as long as she had. These factors would have worn on most athletes, systematically tearing them down with every step they took...but not Emily. Nothing seemed to get into her head. She had no business thinking she could do this...  or this...  or even this...

But you know what? She did it anyway. One word: BRAVERY. Now, I'm not suggesting that she was fearless, far from it, in fact. Bravery is not the absence of fear; it's having fear and acting in spite of it. I've heard it said "Superman is not brave. You can't be brave when you're indestructible. It's every day people like you and me that are brave, knowing we could easily be defeated, but still continue forward." Emily is a very smart young woman, she knows she could fail. But she did it anyway and that's a very rare quality, one I admire more than athletic ability, or strength, or speed. Athletes can be trained to be strong and fast but bravery comes only from within the athlete and it usually can't be coached out of them. This one quality is more valuable than any physical ability because you can be the strongest and fastest person on the team and it means absolutely nothing if you are driven by fear and doubt.

Emily was my takeaway from Savage Race and I wasn't the only one who thought so. I will remember that day for as long as I live and I hope that one day I can be as brave as Emily.
You've earned it, Em!
Congratulations Team goSavage!! It was a pleasure to train you and race beside you.

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Special thanks to Josue for boosting me over that 8 foot wall!!
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