On Fitness

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Photo by Seth McCauley

A few years ago, I stopped running with music. I know many people who cannot fathom attempting this, but I’ve come to love it. I originally stopped because N & I started training & running together more. It’s nicer to chat with him than running together in silence. (& it seems silly to run with someone if you ignore each other in favour of your iPod anyway.) Eventually, this became a habit on any run, & now running gives me a chance to think – to unplug & really listen to my body. In addition to the opportunity for self-reflection, I find myself more in tune with how my run is going, a perk I didn’t anticipate. I find I’m no longer trying to mindlessly power through my runs; I’m an active participant.

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Photo by Colin Hill

I was struggling through one of my shorter training runs recently (this half marathon is gonna hurt, big time) when I started thinking about perception. I’ve spent my entire life involved in sports to some capacity. As a kid, I tried every sport available to me (ballet, gymnastics, figure skating, track, baseball, soccer…).  Competitive swimming wound up being the one that stuck.

I swam with the University of Calgary Swim Club for eight years before retiring. At my peak, I was swimming laps with some of the best athletes in the country (usually desperately trying to keep up). I’d reached a level I’d mostly thought was unattainable. & even then, I will always remember thinking, “this is hard.”

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Photo by Colin Hill

I find there’s a perception that once you reach a certain level, it gets easier. Things fall into place & suddenly everything clicks. In reality, it doesn’t. You can make something a habit, like running, so that it’s easier to get out the door. & if you were to continue to train at the same level, it would take less effort to get them same result. Improvement is uncomfortable though. If you remain in that effortless zone, you’re unlikely to improve. In order to get better at something, you have to push past the arbitrary limit in your mind. It’s human nature to want to be better, faster, smarter, or stronger than we were before. Personally, I get frustrated when my progress stalls.

I notice that when someone believes that you’re fit or that you excel at something, they often attribute that skill to ease. I’ve said this countless times about my husband’s running. He’s naturally built for running & makes it look easy. Whenever I hit the pool, I get comments on the effortless look of my strokes. Great athletes make their sport look easy. That’s not to say there isn’t a level of talent involved – I’ve just found that doesn’t lessen the demands.

I discovered running from a desire to find a more versatile workout. You can run anywhere! All you need are a pair of shoes! This was hugely appealing to me after years of long hours in the pool. There was just one problem small problem: I wasn’t a terribly “good” runner. I could manage maybe ten miserable minutes at a time, & I hated every minute of it. But I’m stubborn – stubborn & determined – so I stuck with it. & eventually, I got faster. I could run for longer periods of time & I didn’t look like I was going to die the whole time. In that sense, it got “easier”. I ran 10 km. & then I ran a half marathon. I was hooked.

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That took a long time though, & I still frequently have what I like to call “character building runs”. The difference now is that I have a lot more confidence in my abilities & am better at coping with the mental game.

As we head into race weekend for the Calgary Half Marathon, I’m trying to keep that mental game in check. While my training has been far from stellar, I’m a smarter, more seasoned athlete, & I’m hoping that gets me across that finish line. I’m trying to remember I’m not running to beat a time (& I’m going to do my best not to let my competitive nature get the best of me).

The conclusion I came to on that difficult run was that this struggle is normal. Even when you think you’re at the top of your game, you’re going to have bad days. The more experience you have, the less it shows, but it never really goes away.

Keep that in mind next time you think you can’t. You can. Get out there & find something you want to get better at & do it. You may not be a natural on your first attempt, but we learn by doing, & sometimes by failing. It won’t be easy, but I think someone once said, “nothing worth doing is easy”.

All that will certainly be on my mind Sunday morning.

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