Sunday, January 29, 2012

Big Lessons From Small Gains...

I've had a lot of sub-par runs in my life.  But somedays (and these are rare days for me), everything "clicks" and I can finally see and feel the improvements of the countless miles I've invested into my running.  Today was one of those days.  The sun was shining, and I decided to run the perimeter of Lake Chabot, opposite of the clockwise route I normally do.  I focused on a quick stride, and keeping my upper body relaxed.

Running has never come easy to me.  In elementary school, the only limiting factor almost preventing me from getting my National Physical Fitness award was THE MILE.  I am capitalizing it because this was how huge of an obstacle it was for me mentally and physically.  I set records in the sit-and-reach, pullups, situps, but THE MILE was the one thing I always struggled with.  Whether it was my flat feet or how my feet are prone to blistering, I think I could barely get under 12 minutes.  I remember rounding the final lap of that mile, seeing my P.E. teacher in the distance, and feeling the lactic acid in my legs and my lungs burning.  I don't think I've ever felt so awful in my life.  I still remember the feeling of wanting to vomit.  Perhaps this has haunted me as an athlete, but even in triathlon, I dread the run.

I've embraced running much more now, and actually enjoy it as I feel stronger and faster (for me).  Today I was noticing how much easier it was to hold a steady pace and still maintain a faster leg turnover.  I couldn't help but smile.  I passed hikers and and walkers coming towards me, and I had this amazing grin on my face.  Recently, I've been able to move past grudges and forgive, and this has lifted a huge weight from my shoulders.  Being angry doesn't help the situation.  It makes you stuck- stuck in your bitterness like a muddy trail.  With each step, the mud accumulates on your shoes until your feet are so heavy you can't lift them any longer.  Perhaps the lightness I felt on this run was symbolic of me being able to finally let go and move forward.

After running up and down the hills, I finished the 9th mile in under 9 minutes.  For me, that was huge. It  was a tangible reminder that with time, things get easier.  It may not be instant, but with perseverance and the right attitude, the body and soul get stronger.

I headed to the pool afterwards for a 4000m recovery swim.  I love the water, and especially when it's sunny, this is my happy place.  Even though I was tired from my run, I was able to consistently come in on the 1:10 for my fast 100s.  In high school, I thought that I had reached my fastest potential as a swimmer, but I have only gotten stronger and faster with time.  I know that always pushing the envelope a little in swimbikerun has only improved my capability as an athlete.  If we always train at a comfortable pace, we can never truly realize what we can accomplish.  The motto of today was- "You are stronger than you think you are."

Faster running and swimming times mean nothing if those same lessons can't be applied to real life.  Needless to say, I am taking this motto and allowing it to permeate into other areas of my life.  We all have potential, and we are all stronger than we think we are.  Like running, I know it will take time and perseverance.  There will no Garmin to track progress, but I will be able to look back one day and see how far I've come.  And this brings a huge smile to my face.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Swimming through it...

As soon as I push off of the wall and feel the water envelop my body, I enter another state of mind.  A calmness comes over me, and the underwater silence helps to quiet the thoughts in my head.  I feel my arms reach and pull my body through the water.  I focus on the rhythmic strokes of my arms and notice the subtle rotation of my core and hips as I breathe from side to side. 

I discovered this form of "motion therapy" at the beginning of my freshman year in college- swimming laps helped me deal with the stress of living far away from home and gave me an outlet for my unsure career path and my introvert personality.  I naturally gravitate to the pool during all transitional and stressful times in my life-I swam through graduate school, multiple moves, breakups, new relationships and job changes.  It is comforting to follow the straight black line at the bottom of the pool during times when the direction of my real life seems to be confusing and ambiguous.

The other day, it was pouring rain outside.  For most, swimming outside in the rain is absurd.  However, for the small subculture of true swimmers, rainy days in the pool are magical.  Outside of the pool, it is wet, wickedly windy and cold.  However, the view from below is spectacular...the tiny specks of raindrops dance upon the surface of the pool water and the warmer temperature of the pool keeps my body comfortable.  Underneath the water, I am surrounded with serenity and calmness of mind.  The safety I feel underneath the water is completely opposite from the chaos happening above the water.  It is ironic how the same medium- water- can evoke two polar opposites, depending on the perspective.

The end of 2011 was rough for me.  There were some days when I felt like I was being whipped by the cold, rainy wind and getting miserably soaked from the rain.  However, with each passing day, I am learning to view life and love from an underwater that allows me to recognize how I am surrounded by the passionate and unconditional love of family and friends.  Here underneath the water, I feel my body glide effortlessly forward, and always forward- symbolizing the newfound strength in my soul as I learn to appreciate the artistry of the rain from above. 

Really, it is all about perspective.