Here in CT, our spring weather is either chilly or scorching, which I have learned after being here for 16 years – and as I moved forward over what ended up being six miles, I thought about how good it felt to be running on a hot day (by then it was somewhere in the 80s). Running in a tank top and shorts, my skin and hair thirstily absorbing the vitamin D, I joyfully watched the cardinals, blue jays, chipmunks, and butterflies as I ran past farms, along the dirt road. This was my idea of heaven.
Meanwhile, next to me, my dear friend Marni ran along, and in her head, this situation pretty much sucked. Marni hates running in heat. In fact, she has about 3 degrees of comfort, and one degree above or below that comfort window is intolerable for her. But we had a lot to catch up on, and she knows that I am a sucker for a run (I don’t think we have ever met for lunch or coffee unless I was meeting her near her office), so being the good friend she is, she hung in for three miles as we chatted.
I decided to turn around and do another loop after dropping her at her car – because it just felt so good, and the landscape was so serene. And as I ran, I chuckled as I thought of Marni’s zig-zagging across the farm road, as she chased any shady spot under trees. I began thinking about how different we all are – our sensitivities, what we enjoy, what we find intolerable, what motivates us. How differently we are all designed, physically, emotionally, mentally, either from the moment of conception, or because of the lived experiences that have shaped us into the people we are today. In particular, I was thinking about this when it comes to exercise.
A few days ago, a friend was bemoaning the fact that she hasn’t felt very motivated to run, and when she does run (on her gym treadmill), she feels blah. She was wondering why this is, and how can she improve her running? I get this sort of question all the time. “I feel like I’m losing my mojo. What’s going on?” “I had such a great run last week, and today I ran again and it sucked. Was my great run a fluke?” “I am training for my first half marathon and I am getting tired of running” or “I feel some aches I never felt before.”
When I first moved to this town, I rarely saw anyone outside on foot, and now, it’s rare that I don’t see someone out running no matter what time of the day. It’s really cool – I love how this town has become such an active, fit community, even hosting several 5k’s every year. Each year, a few people from our area participate in the Boston Marathon, because they are fast enough to qualify. With Lake Quasapaug nearby, and its top-rated triathlons (Pat Griskus and Rev3), we really do live in New England’s version of Boulder, CO, in my opinion. So cool!
The downside, though, is that it’s really easy to get caught up in the belief that if we aren’t doing it too, then we are lesser than. When I first started participating in running races, I didn’t have a single friend who did it. Also, there was no Facebook or other form of social media, so I was just doing my thing, with no one the wiser. I had no one to compare myself to.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
When I started doing triathlons, back in 2005, I did not know another triathlete. I trained alone, picked my races on my own, went to them alone. Back then, it was what I needed. My kids were young (i.e. very needy) and I got my much-needed sensory break during solo training sessions. I preferred my training sessions to the actual races, which I found (and still find) stressful – in part, because of all of the chatter among triathletes about how unprepared they are (which is generally total bullshit, by the way). Yes, even people who train like it’s a part-time job still feel it’s “never enough.”
Today, everyone and their grandmother is doing a marathon or half Ironman or longer. And I don’t think this is a good thing. I have written before about intuitive eating, where we learn to tune into our bodies to give them what they need in terms of food and liquids. Too often, our signals have gotten crossed or hijacked because of what we have been brainwashed to believe is the “right” way for us to look, which is supposedly a direct result of what we consume. The same has happened with exercise. We are designed to move often, throughout the day, every day. That is what is best for our physical, mental and emotional health. And yet, rather than think of exercise that way, we replace intuitive movement with exercise gimmicks and gadgets that are basically a huge industry that while often well-intentioned, really ends up leading to our feeling inadequate, and often, injured.
If you read my blog, Facebook and Instagram posts, or know me personally, you know that self-care is basically the 11th Commandment in my “religion.” Thou Shalt Self-Care is as important as Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor. So, we embrace whatever exercise program or activity we choose. After all, that is self-caring, right? But the thing is, at some point what started off as a healthy habit, can become another source of stress, addiction, dysfunction. Sometimes we picked the wrong type of exercise for us, because it’s what our friends are all doing or we want those Pinterest abs, or it’s what we did 20 years ago so surely we can work out way back to where we left off. Sometimes, we picked the right type of exercise – we enjoy it, or at least enjoy how we feel afterwards – but then we start to feel like a fraud because our friends are doing it longer, faster, lifting heavier weights, got accepted to Cirque de Soleil, qualified for Boston Marathon, etc. Meanwhile, we are forked after three miles, or can’t do tree pose without holding onto the wall for dear life. So now our Self-Care either becomes Self-Torture as we force ourselves to “push through the discomfort” because surely we aren’t trying hard enough, or it becomes Self-Disgust because the bitch in the attic is having a field day with our “failure.” This is not kind. Self-care is about self-compassion, so when our "healthy" habits start to feel more like yet another way to bully ourselves, something has gotten out of whack. And our body, in all of its wisdom, is telling us so.
Every summer since 2010, I have had the privilege of coaching kids ages 5-13 to become triathletes, at the Race4Chase Youth Triathlon summer program. It’s not only a privilege, it is downright awesome. I love coaching these kids, because they remind me of what we adults lose as we get older and become more inhibited, self-conscious, governed by the messages around us rather than from within us. When a kid has had enough, s/he will stop, slow to a walk, or take a break and try again. They generally do not really care so much about split times, about what they “should” be doing, about following The Plan. They really are coming from an intuitive place. Don’t get me wrong - it is often trying of a coach’s patience, as I find myself challenged by what I perceive as whining or an unhealthy intolerance for discomfort (“suck it up, buttercup!” does apply to certain situations). But I find their innocence and self-acceptance so refreshing and a great reminder of how important it is to achieve some sort of balance in this area.
So, as I set out yesterday, on the second half of my run, I thought about how much I respect Marni for knowing her limits and for being unapologetic for her lack of wanting to run longer, and I checked in with my body to see how it was feeling (great) and with my intentions (a desire to spend a bit longer in a space of gratitude for the beauty around me, and the good health and strength within me). I thought about smilepacing, the philosophy I made up back when I started doing triathlons. My fellow triathletes would have strategies and metrics, but this was all too anal for me – I just wanted to keep going forward, as fast as I could while still smiling. I paced myself based on feeling joy, gratitude, and playing with that edge of pushing myself while honoring where I am today. I kept running - smilepacing.
If your workouts are feeling blah, or you don’t feel like signing up for an event, or showing up to it, ask yourself – could your body maybe be fatigued from over-training, from doing the wrong kind of exercise for your body type or fitness level or personality or lifestyle? If you are running longer distances (eg longer than 3 miles), could you maybe benefit from sticking to shorter spurts of higher intensity, or maybe doing walk-run workouts such as those recommended by Jeff Galloway? Maybe you are comparing your chapter 2 to your friend's chapter 10? If you “know” that yoga would be really good for you, but you are “not flexible enough” or “too hyper” have you tried different yoga classes (taking a yoga class and deciding "yoga isn't for me" is the same as trying chocolate ice cream and not liking it and deciding "I don't like ice cream" based on one flavor)? Or, maybe the right type of exercise for you right now is actually not a program or plan or membership of any kind. Maybe you just need to move more throughout the day. Maybe you need to be outside more, and feel the wonders of nature on and around you. Maybe today’s self care means letting go – of plans, comparisons, expectations. Maybe you need to figure out, what can you do to smilepace today? (Unless you are sponsored by NIKE and your family is supported by your athletic career – then this may not be the blog for you- yet).
The world needs more kindness and compassion. Let us start at home - in the one home that will be with us for the rest of our lives - our beautiful, resilient, patient, wise, strong, healthy, perfectly imperfect body.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.