I am a “Runner”

I never identified as a “runner” until someone else named it for me. I described my weekly mileage, the feeling of invincibility, the restlessness I feel when I’m not running, and they named it – “you’re a runner.”

Over a year later, I still wasn’t convinced. My friend even explained to me, “You’re a runner. I’m just someone who runs.” The differentiation wasn’t clear to me. One seemed affiliated with an identity whereas the other was associated with a series of actions or behaviors. I’ve been grappling with being a runner (tossing around the hashtag (#runner) and seeing how I “stack up” among other people whom I consider to be “runners”) for the last fourteen weeks. I’ve lamented over long runs, skipped out on social plans to get up early and run, thrown tantrums during taper week, and logged several hundred miles.

I am a “runner”.

A year ago, I wrote that I didn’t care that I didn’t finish a half marathon. In the grand scheme of things, I didn’t. Today though, I completed my redemption run! I finished the race that got the best of me a year ago, and I got a PR! 

I told a friend who asked me about the race the following:

Well, it was perfect. I felt amazing. I was so strong and confident. I didn’t psych myself out at all! My mindset this time was so different for the training and everything – 3rd time’s a charm I guess! Hard to explain, but I learned a lot this time around. I am overall so much healthier than any other time. I like that feeling – it took a lot of work. I am really proud. I’m just excited to feel so great. It’s refreshing!

I never thought I’d talk about running like that! These days I rely on expected consequences of running like “runner’s highs” and the sense of camaraderie I feel when another runner nods at me when I’m out on my course. I talk about my workouts and training goals using lingo like “negative splits” and “form drills” because I know what those things mean! Settling into running as a hobby as opposed to a compulsion or as an act of punishment/retaliation has been a long, difficult journey. I’m so proud of where this journey has taken me!

It’s never easy to train for a race when you’re prone to compulsions, have a chronic physical illness, and have a history of regimented behaviors around food and exercise. This type of training took a special amount of conscientiousness. Trust me, intentional focus on my behaviors and my motivation, and a healthy relationship with food and exercise were essential to my success.

As I was reflecting on the past fourteen weeks of training and mental preparation, objectively there are several things that made a difference for me.

Here’s my recipe for success:

Ingredient Specifics Dosage
Food High Protein and Healthy Fats; No Carbo Load 3X Every Day
Water  Just Water. 12 oz.; 3X Every Day – Or More!
Caffeine Coffee w/ Truvia and Milk No More Than 2 Per Day; Not After 11 AM
Sleep White Noise Machine Allocate 8 Hours Per Night
Weighted Blanket Use When Sleeping Every Night
“Naked” Runs No Tracking, No Timing. Just Run! Once a Week
Amazing Grass Supergreens and Fiber Before Food or Coffee 1X Every Day
Alcohol Any None 2 Weeks Prior to Race

[ Note – Inevitably, different strategies will help others feel successful. This approach worked for me. Find what works for you and stick with it!]

Primarily I believe I was successful because I stayed committed to my training plan, forgave and forgot missed or bad workouts, and celebrated the small victories as well as the big ones. And also because… cross-training. I can’t stress this enough. Cross-training made ALL THE DIFFERENCE.
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A lot changed for me during this training season. For example, rather than simply thinking of food as a necessity after a long run to replenish lost calories, I started relying on a consistent strategy for meals so that I could feel nourished and energized for my workouts during the week. The mentalities, “calories in, calories out” and, ” I run so I can eat” were both replaced by the simple, yet sometimes hard to digest (pun intended), concept that food is fuel. I ate food that made my body feel good and strong. I used my bullet journal to keep track of my meals and sleeping patterns; this mindfulness strategy helped me stay accountable to my training goals.

While there were several concrete ingredients to my success, on a subjective level there were also critical connections, realizations, and mindset changes that helped me feel successful.

For example, during one of my more difficult runs rather than struggling through, trudging along, and wondering “Will I finish?”, somewhere along the way, I started to think, “I will finish!”. This epiphany hit me like a breath of fresh air; it felt light, crisp, and perfectly necessary. I can’t quite explain it, but this realization empowered my mind and my body. I finally knew I could do it; there was no doubt in my mind that I would finish the run even if it was incredibly challenging. From that moment on, my training felt lighter and less burdensome. A heavy hunch that I might fail was lifted from my mind, and I felt like I could trust myself and my body in a way I never experienced before.

In that moment, running no longer felt like an obligation. It felt like it was a part of me – like a feeling rather than a task. In that moment, mileage or minutes didn’t matter anymore. I learned that I don’t have to race every run and often I’ll be better in the long run (pun again) if I listen to my body and respect all the cues it’s giving me about how to feel and be my best.

That was the moment I became a “runner”.

Changing my thinking during that run granted me confidence. Moving forward, I knew I was capable of accomplishing whatever I set my mind to – as long as I was consistent and intentional. The plan mattered that’s undeniable, but it didn’t matter just and only because it was “the plan”. It mattered because it was the right combination of training, self-care, and confidence – it was my recipe for success.

I did not experience that kind of freedom when I prepared for or ran my other races. Now, rather than running to grasp a sense of control, or running out of compulsion, I run because I want to and because I believe in my own strength! I run because I can.

I no longer see running as just a test of endurance. It is also a test of my preparation and self-care, and I am always going to be up for that challenge!

 

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Reflecting on What’s Unsettled, Uncomfortable, Unfocused, and Uncertain – Thoughts for the Jewish New Year

During the Jewish month of Elul, the month preceding the Jewish New Year, we’re asked to welcome introspection. We’re invited to identify what unfinished business, what distractions, are keeping us from living in the moment. This practice compels us to have conversations with our self, grappling with feelings which are unsettled, uncomfortable, unfocused, and uncertain. So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting!

This reflective practice, prepares us for teshuvah. The practice of teshuvah, literally translated to mean “return”, and conventionally translated as “repentance”, helps shape how we experience the challenging truths of ourselves and our lives. After Elul, after identifying our missteps, and realizing where there is room for improvement, the practice of teshuvah compels us to turn outward. We look toward our community, our friends, and our family for their forgiveness and insight about how they experience us. Only then can we come full circle, return to ourselves, and identify how to put our best selves forward in the next year. By doing teshuvah, we make a choice to focus on our flaws, and find the strength, direction, energy, and support from those who are most important to us so we can grow and improve – so we can reunite out body, mind, and soul.

Rabbi Alan Lew, in his book “This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared”, reminds us that “everything we do is an expression of the entire truth of our lives.” He goes on to say that, “The present moment is the only place we experience ourselves as being alive, the only place we experience our lives at all”. In a very literal interpretation, I take this to mean that we must be present without any competing distractions to fully experience ourselves – our constantly, continuously becoming selves. Glennon Doyle Melton describes it this way; she says, “to be human is to be incomplete and constantly yearning for reunion.” I understand this concept to imply that we’re always yearning for reunification with ourselves, and that very often the representation of ourselves that we share with others is not our true, flawed, and imperfect selves.

And so this return, this reunification of body, mind, and soul, is incredibly difficult to achieve especially when I find myself battling so many unsettled, unfinished thoughts. The type of thoughts that creep up on me when I least expect it, and that push into my consciousness no matter what I do to avoid them. It’s much more comfortable to maintain some distance from myself. In fact, Rabbi Lew explains that, “we spend a great deal of time and energy… living at some distance from ourselves” typically because of fear of what we may learn, or perhaps because then the hard work of improvement and self-realization will be looming right in front of us – and that’s daunting. We maintain stories that are no longer relevant because we are terrified of acknowledging the truth of our lives – of our existence. Brene Brown also explains this idea in her work. She says, “There is a narrative that all of us hold on to that we have to retire at some point because it no longer serves our lives or our stories.” This choice, the challenge to either move forward and grow, or remain trapped in the fears and narratives that have limited us in the past, is the cornerstone of the Jewish High Holidays.

And so,  I’ve spent the month of Elul, a Jewish month of introspection considering, yet again, the importance of stories. I’ve asked myself “which stories are holding me back?”, “which stories, which truths, have impacted me in ways that, maybe, haven’t even fully revealed themselves yet?” I’ve considered, “what unfinished business is tearing [my] focus away from the present tense reality of our experience? From the present moment, the only place where we can really live our lives?” And, I’ve participated in Do You 10Q to help me discover more about myself, and make this gigantic task a bit more manageable.


Here are my answers to all 10 questions, in 3 sentences or less:

  1. Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you?

A year ago, I would have told you that I had to exclusively find and sustain strength inside myself, and be strong for my friends – even if it meant pretending (also see this).  Then, I experienced the incredible power of friendship when I was struggling and needed help. Now, I’d tell you I can’t be my best without the support my friends and family; they’re the ones who give me strength and energy – especially in the areas where I still have room to grow.

  1. Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year?

I wish I didn’t think I needed to go through all of life’s challenges on my own. I wish I understood the power in admitting I needed help earlier. I wish I didn’t waste so much energy pretending things were fine, and instead I put energy into doing everything I could to find strength, safety, and calm.

  1. Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?

This year, I earned my Master’s degree in Urban Education Policy. My education, passion, and experiences prepared me to step into my role as a Research Coordinator at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. I learned an incredible amount this year, and now I have a job that I absolutely love!

  1. Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?

One world: Orlando. Earlier this year I started writing about asexuality (among other things) on Ravishly. However, it wasn’t until Orlando that my identity within the queer community felt both salient and threatened; this event made me simultaneously want to be out, and reject any and all queer identities at the same time. [Side note: interestingly this year Yom Kippur coincides with National Coming Out Day!]

  1. Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year?

Read here. And here. I’m constantly craving spaces where the energy is contagious, and where I can be so present, confident, and welcomed that everything else fades away – for me this is often Shabbat.

  1. Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?

I want to be less fixated on food, and weight by this time next year. I realized this is really just a way to feign control when other things feel too hectic. It’s easy to let this line of thinking become an obsession, and get out of control.

  1. How would you like to improve yourself, your life, next year? Any advice you received that could help?

I want to work on being more emotionally intelligent, and giving more attention to how things make me feel. I’ve discovered that if I can identify how I’m feeling in a situation, and allow myself to authentically feel the entirety of my emotions in their context, right when they’re happening, I can be in charge of deciding how to react, and what steps I should take to alleviate the feeling or perpetuate it. My friends have reminded me that my feelings don’t have to feel out of control, and that other things will fall into place when I allow myself to feel whatever emotions are associated with anything I’m experiencing.

  1. Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully next year?

Since I’m a huge research nerd, I want to learn more about research methods, and what approaches resonate with me so I can make an informed choice when I pursue a PhD in a few years. I also want to learn multilevel modeling and longitudinal analysis techniques!

  1. What is a fear that you have & how has it limited you? How do you plan on overcoming it this year?

I am inexplicably afraid of stopping because I’m afraid of what I’ll learn about myself, and I’m afraid that the flooding will be too intense. This “go, go, go”,  do all the things mentality has been both an adaptive coping strategy, and has stifled my personal growth. As overwhelming as it may seem, I’m working to create space to learn more about myself, and let myself know it’s okay to stop.

  1. When you get your answers to your 10Q questions next year, what do you hope will be different about you?

I hope I am able to be more honest with myself both about my strengths, and the areas where I can improve. I hope I’m still relentlessly passionate and aggressive in my pursuit of my goals, but that I’m able to supplement my professional life with a healthy balance of socializing and other activities that bring me joy.

Those are my answers! What are yours?


גמר חתימה טובה – May you be sealed (in the book of life) for good.

Things I Say to Children

Two cliche, not new assertions and three scenarios are the motivation for this post:

The assertions:

  1. Sometimes hindsight is 20/20.
  2. Most things are easier said than done.

The scenarios:

  1. I’m standing in the kitchen debating with a nine year old what’s worse: having ice cream for dinner or having no dinner at all.
  2. Later that week, I’m fighting with a six year old because his throat hurts and he is refusing to eat breakfast. This time, I’m standing in the kitchen refusing to send him to school without breakfast. He had to eat something!
  3. Most recently, I’m picking a fight with a nine year old about why a Chewy granola bar isn’t the best choice for breakfast. 

Here we go!

In the midst of these disputes I calmly and directly present common knowledge about nutrition and bodies in stylized child-friendly language as the foundation for my perspective. I say things like:

  1. Your body needs calories. So, if you’re choosing not to have dinner or to eat ice cream for dinner, pick ice cream. Calories are energy and after a hard day working and learning you need to refuel your body to get ready for the next day. I also share that some types of energy are more sustaining to your body. I explain that while ice cream has dairy it also has a lot of sugar. It could give you energy in the short run but make you hungry or needing more energy in a few hours. 
  2. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You can’t go to school without breakfast because your brain won’t be ready to learn. You need to eat a healthy breakfast to tell your brain and body it’s time to start the day. [I then go on to encourage some healthy breakfast options such as eggs, cereal, fruit, etc. Which, brings me to the granola bar argument…]
  3. Chewy granola bars are processed foods, I say. Your body can process foods all on its own, but it prefers whole and natural foods. You can tell if something you’re eating has natural ingredients by looking at its label. If there are words/foods you can’t recognize on the label it’s likely your body can’t recognize them either, and it’s going to be difficult for you to digest. Which means, your body cannot get the nutrition as quickly or completely.  [And then, we’re back to them importance of eating breakfast…]

I say these things and I believe them wholeheartedly – just apparently they don’t apply to me! My perception of my body and what my body needs is so distorted right now. I know my brain and body need nutrients and energy. I realize some foods are easier to digest than others, and protein gives you more sustained energy than sugar. I contend 100% that breakfast is important. Yet, I’m struggling to eat at least 700 calories a day, and it’s shockingly, incredibly easy for me to justify and rationalize this! These morning spats have become my daily reality check – my conscience is screaming “listen! just listen and take notes.” I’m standing there insisting they eat a healthy, hearty breakfast yet I finished my second run of the day at 10 PM the night before (only 9 hours after my first run) and didn’t eat anything before I got to their house. I’m firmly convinced that coffee is food, and it’s the only type of energy I need.

Sill, I firmly persist on my pursuit of serving a nutritional breakfast each day.

I know I should take my own advice!

Here’s the thing, the brain is wickedly deceptive. Most days, I truly think I’m absolutely fine. There are even moments (ex. when I’m researching or running) where I feel absolutely unstoppable – invincible even. I feel purposeful, diligent, excited – I feel alive! In those fleeting moments, I can’t believe the other frenetic days/feelings were real. I can’t believe I felt/was/am that out of control. And in hindsight, I realize those are the moments I’m MOST out of control. I’d like to be able to discern between real control and what’s so terrifyingly out of control it feels good – maybe even calm.

I realized how hard it is for me to practice what I preach, when I acknowledged how crippling it feels to do things that are “good for my body”*. Hence, most things are easier said than done.


 

*this is meant in the most literal sense. I’m not food shaming, dispelling bouts of “fitspo”, or claiming to understand nutritional science. Also, all bodies and all bodies’ needs are different.