Friday, January 31, 2014

Lobotomy through endurance

Today marks the three year anniversary of my first visit to the gym, which was also the first day of my healthier life. While a lot has changed since, I thought this would be a great opportunity to focus on the unexpected changes that I didn't notice immediately, but has been just as rewarding, if not more so, than the physical changes.

I'm happy with who I am and who I've turned out to be. But I would be lying if I said there are no room for improvements. Generally, there are three area I need to work at. I'm notoriously impatient, I hate asking for help (so I don't) and I 'm unreasonably competitive. I've struggled with these three personality traits since I was a child. I've always been aware, but have never found good tools to modify these behaviors. Little did I know that one decision to change one thing in my life would have such a ripple effect that it would change what I thought was unchangeable. In the pursuit of a healthier life with a stronger heart, stronger lungs and weight-loss I decided to start running.

Endurance training is not an intuitive choice for an impatient person. Especially when the first slow jog got me about half a lap around a track (200m) before my lungs started burning. Let me tell you, going from 200m to running a full marathon was a sloooooow process. But I suspect that because running was so far out of my comfort zone, every mile added or second shaved felt like a victory, I got distracted by the fact that the process took forever. It wasn't until I decided to run a marathon I realized how patience and endurance go hand in hand. There is only one way to prepare for a marathon. Run. Run a lot. But thoughtfully. Not too fast and not too slow. Keep a steady pace and trust that you will eventually get where you need to go. Diligently and patiently. I'm pretty sure I don't need to explain how this lesson in patience applies to a lot of different aspects of life.

About one year into running, before the marathon and the lessons I learnt through the training, I lost momentum and got impatient. It only took one single impatient workout to bust my knee. In trying to find out what had happened and what I did wrong, I realized how little I knew about running and proper training. I started reading articles, subscribing to magazines and talking to others. I started to ask people for advice. I started to ask them for help. I didn't even realize it at the time, I was just talking to people about running. Then it dawned on me, maybe that is all asking for help really is, a conversation between people where knowledge and experiences are shared.

I'm not cured from all my ailments yet, but I'm seeing progress. The biggest improvement I've seen is with my competitiveness. Maybe because this has been my biggest issue and I've never found a good outlet for it. While being impatient has pushed me to work harder to get places faster and my unwillingness to ask for help has forced me at times to be self-sufficient, being competitive has brought me very little joy. I've been know to yell at people after a night of friendly bowling. I grew up treating board games like a full-contact sport and I still don't do game nights cause I can't trust my reactions.

But no matter how competitive I am, needless to say, I've never been under the illusion that I will win at an endurance event. Given my training background, I have always aimed at the middle of the pack, wanting to be an average runner. That, in it self, is a far cry from how I usually set my goals. On top of it all, I haven't always been successful at reaching my goal of mediocracy. Maybe I would have faired better if I stuck to one specifik distance, but instead I've been looking for new challenges and the bigger the challenge, the fiercer the competition. Which has brought me to where I am right now, three years into my new life.

Three month from now I'm registered to participate in Silicon Valley International Triathlon. A 1500 m (0.93 mi) swim followed by 40 km cycling (25 mi) finishing with a 10 km (6.2 mi) run. I feel relatively comfortable with the distances, and up until a few weeks ago, I didn't think much about the other participants. But one day, out of curiosity, I checked last year's results and quickly realized that I'm very likely to finish last in my age group. I'm not saying it to fish for encouragement or to downplay myself. It is the reality of things. I need to improve my personal best in all three disciplines in order to have a shot at anything else than finishing last. So that's my new goal. I'm training to not finish last. But if I indeed finish last, I will train to do so with the smallest margin possible. I feel that I can confidently say, I participate in endurance competitions to test my own abilities, not for the significance of winning.

When I started this journey three years ago, my goal was not to loose a lot of weight or to turn myself into an endurance athlete. I simply wanted to feel healthier, inside and out. So I stepped onto an elliptical, took a look at what I was eating and things slowly but surely moved along. I had no idea what consequences it would have. Good thing I didn't, cause I would have been impatient about getting to where I am today. Instead I will patiently await what lays ahead, meanwhile enjoy having meaningful conversations and for the first time truly understand that competitors come and go, while your own efforts and achievement are yours to keep forever.

PS. Got the results from my latest cholesterol and blood sugar tests. I did change, significantly, inside and out!

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