Who Are You Running Against?

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It has been so long since I have written a post that my blog page fell off my commonly clicked sites. Hmm…Time to write. My lack of writing has not meant lack of living, thinking, or cooking. Just distracted with new developments.

Recently we discovered that I am pregnant…again with our now third child. This has been an exciting curveball, as I also signed up for my first half marathon. My swollen feet will be lined up at the starting line in just 2 weeks, 6 days, 22 hours…etc. This is not how I imagined things would be happening, but here we are. It has been a real challenge to keep up my regimen for training. Honestly it has dwindled down to a few strength and agility exercises here and there, along with the occasional run. Never have I felt more disappointed in my efforts. What only helps is when my eyes pass over a story about a 9-month pregnant rock star who runs a marathon and delivers a few hours later. What human strength and perseverance!

Then something occurred to me. A new perspective was brought about after a recent 5k. The crowd was huge and people of all sorts of fitness levels came out for the fun run, but for me I pay to compete with myself. Or so I thought. All this time of training and years of hitting the pavement I have been comparing myself to the best I know. Their performances push me to achieve as good a performance. When I fall short of whatever unrealistic expectation I set, the belt tightens and more rigorous guidelines apply. Perfection has kind of always been something I knew I could never be. I’m too ____(You name it)___. However, I somehow deceived myself into thinking that if I were only ___(You name it)___ I would be able to meet these ridiculous goals.

Before you get worried that I am a highly demanding person, you have to know that I am only this way with myself. When it comes to others my eyes are pretty accurate and I tend to extend others far more grace. My husband says that when I look at myself it is like looking into a fun house mirror. The races I have been running up to this point have been races against myself by comparing myself to unrealistic expectations. For this race I decided to change my mentality. This race I accepted that I am pregnant and haven’t been at my best. The race I run needs to be against the self I am now and not the person I wish I could be.

Crossing the finish line of the 5k, an amazing feeling swept over me. My eyes glanced at the timer and it said a time of 23 minutes. This was not my fastest time, but somehow it was acceptable. The old me would reprimand myself all the way home and come up with a solution to fix it for next time. This time being healthy and carrying a baby was success enough.The other runners began to fade from my concern and being strong in the moment became at the forefront of my mind during the run.

One friend reminded me in a conversation recently that you never know how you will feel on race day, and that feeling is a big indicator of your time and performance. Sometimes training your mind is an important factor forgotten in race prep. To be healthfully competitive, you have to race against who you are today. Maybe in a session you had a 5:30 min/mile, but the day before the race you sprained a muscle or became ill. Is it fair to beat yourself up for not performing as well as your best training time? Think of the successful races as a reward for your training and not just what you run for.

No matter if you are running a race, striving for weight loss, or are working on other health-behavior changes, we all need to cut ourselves some realistic slack. When we beat ourselves up, we are not helping, but hurting progress. We all have a bad day or fail a meal (or several). It is not about where you messed up, fell short or even if you won. The important factor is how you ran towards your goal. So, be strong in the moment and hold on the best you can. Let less than perfect be okay. Each moment is a new opportunity to improve and enjoy the journey you are on. The end result will take care of itself.

Performance v. Health

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As children we grow up with athletes projected as the ideal picture of health. We grudgingly eat our vegetables to grow up and be strong like the athlete we admire so. What we are not told, is how unhealthy some of the rigorous training can be. An athlete is trained to handle these rigorous activities and lifestyle habits, via progression over years. However rigorous training on that scale poses many safety concerns for the average American looking to get fit and healthy. In America we look for fast results, as fast results are demanded of us. We assume those who drop weight fast are on the right track to health. While discipline is certainly a worthwhile characteristic to strive toward, when it becomes a controlling force bleeding into other aspects of life (relationships, jobs, etc.) it can be negative. Health is about balance and well-being. When you push your body to do too much too soon, you can end up with injury, illness, and sometimes even death. Don’t freak out because of the “D” word. I have reassurance for you ahead.

Health to me, is defined as the state of overall physical condition and well-being, and is influenced by many factors. Factors influencing health and wellness can include psychological, physiological, emotional, social, spiritual, environmental, occupational, and more. Health has become the target many Americans aim for as preventable diseases have grown in prevalence and been uncovered. So much information is available out there and at the tip of our hands. Too much information. It is easy to get overwhelmed and confused by the excess. It can be frustrating and hard to achieve the results you want. When extreme products/programs/services are offered we jump at the chance to make up for lost time. We are willing to make extreme sacrifices on our bodies for the sake of “health.” All the while we are damaging our bodies, esteem, and future capacity.

When a product or program throws around fancy terms like “performance,” “metabolic,” “fitness,” (the list goes on…and on) we get a moment of excitement. I could become like the athlete I admired as a child in just 20 minutes a day. Maybe I can look just like the model who graced the cover of my favorite teen magazine; I could be the next cover model on Vogue or Shape with the purchase of this product..and become wealthy and find perfection. Suddenly everything looks sunny and even your dog is perfectly dressed and children pristine. It is important to be realistic when setting goals. We all know that many of the people gracing the cover of products are photo-shopped and still secretly hold the image as realistic, even expected. Stop it! Where have I heard that before? 😉

Any change worth the emotional, financial, time efforts we throw at it should be effective and a step towards something better. Our expectations need to be readjusted. Be willing to take the path less traveled. It only seems daunting because we choose to see it that way. What about enjoying the ride? Remember as a child how you dreamed of being grown up and in a profession you loved. Now there are days, where at least I wish I could be 5 again at Grandma’s. Sometimes there is fulfillment and adventure in the journey to a healthier you. You discover you have more guts than you thought you did. You can do that pretzel yoga move. It is not impossible for you. Yes, YOU! It may take time to work out bugs and navigate barriers, but it is worth it. In the end you will build confidence, reduce stress, have more energy, and find new things you enjoy and can enjoy for life. These are benefits you cannot accomplish by racing to get to the finished product. You will either get burnt out, injured, or bored. Don’t rush through even a workout. Take time and think about your form and progress. Calm your mind from all the racing it has done. You can maybe work through one problem as you are working out, but remember this should be a time to relieve stress.

Some workouts push you to your true max and provide for great strength gains. Those workouts are not healthy to do every day. You have to build a foundation of health and grow from there. A strong sturdy building has an excellent foundation. True health should not mean injury after injury. Anything we do poses risks for injury, but there are things you can do to mitigate them. When you have a good foundation of strength you can then move on to more complicated moves. The progression continues as you challenge your body in new ways. When your muscles are not all being trained equally, your risk for injury or worse goes up drastically.

It may not be flashy, but slow and steady wins the race. Why did our grandparents share the tale of the tortoise and the hare? There is a reason flashes are impressive and die quickly. Be a growing fire that burns for good. Enjoy the journey to getting healthy and don’t be afraid of taking baby steps or reasonable leaps. Speak with a professional and see what is right for you. Bring a friend along and take the road together and spread the word: It’s okay if I am not Alex Morgan or Michael Phelps. I am me. No one else can do what I am here to do, and I can be fit and healthy one day at a time.