Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Turning it around

I mentioned to one of my friends today that I feel like my Instagram posts have been really preachy/emotional lately and asked her if she thought it was weird. As much as I try to just post what inspires me and what I feel moved to share, I sometimes get self conscious about what I post. One of the reasons that I post things there and here, is because I love looking back at my evolution and I use the posts as a way to track my own progress and look back. Both my physical progress and my mental progress with training, body image, goals, etc. and my evolution as a runner.

This morning I also spent time talking to a different friend and giving her advice on her first half marathon. It's getting to a point for me where I have to stop and put myself back in the place of being a beginner runner as I know I have evolved so much over the years. I love the fact that I have that documented. And I love the fact that years into this journey, I am still learning and evolving and growing mentally through a physical sport.

This past weekend was one where I felt like I learned a lot and was as much a challenge mentally for me as it was physically. I finished the weekend feeling really proud of myself, not for the paces or speeds that I had on my run or bike ride, but for some of the mental aspects of my weekend of training.

First, on Saturday, I joined the ITL group bike ride in the morning which was taking place at Stone Mountain. This is literally, as the name describes, a stone mountain about 30 minutes from Atlanta that I have been to a few times - a couple times to go up to the top and once to run around the mountain on a 5-mile loop around. I had never been there to ride my bike there before, but I was not particularly looking forward to the ride for a couple reasons.

First, because I knew that it would just consist of a bunch of 5-mile loops. And on a day where I was planning more than 40 miles, that didn't seem too exciting to me. Second, the weather dropped back to being cooler in the mornings and after being spoiled with warm weather rides in shorts the past couple weeks, it was back down to the 30s for the start of the ride. In addition, a number of the people whom I have come to expect to see at the rides I knew wouldn't be there since lots of people were out of town this weekend. When I arrived, I grumbled a bit to myself even more having to pay to park. Which in reality, isn't a huge deal, but I was just in a bad mind space already and almost just looking for things to complain about since I did not want to be there and riding that morning.

We started at 9:00 a.m. and all went out as a group on the first loop. Quickly, I was in the back and then lost the group all together as it takes me a while to warm up, especially on hills, which I am not super strong at to begin with. And the loop around Stone Mountain is hilly all around. After the first loop around, the group turned and reversed the other way so I was able to see the group pass and wave, and one person who was not too far ahead of me waited for me before turning herself. But then I dropped behind her pretty quick again.

And for the next hour, I was riding by myself. I've gotten used to having some company on the ITL rides, which I really enjoy, so as I did these 3 loops around and around, I found myself in a really bad mental state. I found myself mentally complaining about everything and couldn't get out of my mind that I just didn't want to be there doing what I was doing. I was too warm when I was climbing and then too cold when I was going downhill. My toes were numb. There were too many walkers/runners in the bike path. The path was covered in these weird hard spiky things from the trees that I had to avoid. It was hilly. It was repetitive. There were bumps in the road. Everything was annoying to me and I was just not having it.

However, at some point I recognized this and I remember some of what I have been learning about mindfulness. I have been working really hard lately learning and practicing mindfulness and living in the moment. People who live in the moment and practice mindfulness tend to be happier because they are not living with anxiety and worry over the future or stress and regret over the past. Time is spent appreciating the exact moment you are living in in the world and not wishing your time away. And a key elements to mindfulness is recognizing that you are in control of your thoughts and how you react/respond to the world around you. I know all this may sound a little more hokey than I usually am, but it is something that I have been studying and practicing a lot over the past few months and it really resonates with me.

I've even been using it while in traffic! Instead of wishing I was whereever I am trying to get to, I focus on the music, the sky, the lights and colors around me, the peace inside my car, the forced slow down in an otherwise busy life, etc. And believe it or not, it actually works and I feel happier rather than getting angry and everything around me.

So I recognized I was in a bad mental space and decided I needed to turn it around. I flipped a switch for myself and decided to apply this lesson to my bike ride.

I focused on the feeling of the cold air on me as I went downhill, the noises of the people walking and running, the views of the trees and the lake, the feel of the sunshine on my body, and I focused on appreciating that I have the means and ability to be out exercising. That I am healthy and able to be active and have the funds/means to be spending my Saturday mornings out riding.

I stopped thinking about the fact my speed or how much further I had to go but thought about all of these things and focused on being in the moment and enjoying it for what it was. I also decided to turn around literally as well and looped backwards to try and run into some of the other riders in my group. I came across two of the women who I usually am around the same pace with, and turned back around when I crossed them, to try and hang behind them for a little bit. Riding with friends makes such a difference to me in terms of enjoyment and I also usually push myself a bit harder having someone to chase.

And you know what? Making these changes made all of the difference in my ride. The second half of the bike ride was so much more enjoyable and although my pace was the slowest it has been in a while, I was so proud of myself when I finished. It was a big accomplishment for me and not just my triathlon training but in my mindfulness practice to be able to recognize and reverse this mindset, truly turning it completely around mid-ride.

The mental victories during training continued into Sunday, when I had a 90 minute run on the trails at Kennesaw Mountain scheduled. I had run on the trails for the first time the weekend before and was so nervous to go back this week because I now had the awareness of how hard it was! The week before I finished the run feeling totally beaten up and exhausted. It was really tough to run at the mountain and it caught me by surprise a bit. Although I had been nervous going for the first time, it was because I didn't know what to expect. Now I was nervous because I knew to expect a tough run!

So, I decided to change my mindset about the run. I decided not to make it about my pace or time and totally drop any ego or expectations I had there. I made the goal to just enjoy the workout and feel good during the run, so also decided to pay extra attention to the details such as nutrition. The week before I had eaten a smaller pre-run breakfast than what I normally do, so I went back to my traditional breakfast of cereal. I also hadn't brought any water or Gu Chews with me the week before, so I was sure to bring my hydration belt with water, Gatorade and my nutrition-of-choice, Gu Chews.

I also applied the reminder I had from the day before of how much more enjoyable things are when I exercise with someone and stuck with one of the other girls whose pace was similar to mine. I didn't look at my watch the whole time, just enjoyed the conversation and ran at a pace where we could chat and converse easily. I had a great time and the first half of my run where we stuck together went by so fast. We had different workout plans so I turned back earlier than she did and I already knew that I was feeling so much better than I was the week before at this point.

On the way back I enjoyed the solitude. I worked to keep my HR and breathing under control. I paid attention to the colors and the sounds and how I was feeling. I ate my nutrition and I drank my water. I took off a layer when I started to feel too warm. I felt strong and I felt energized and I felt thrilled that I felt both of those ways! I finished the run feeling literally 100 times better than the week before. I felt like I could have kept going and was tempted to do so, but stopped at what my coach had advised me to do. I was so happy though at how good I felt and was amazed at what a difference it was from the week before.

My pace was slower than it has been lately on both the bike and the run. But I felt so proud of my weekend. As a runner and an athlete, a lot of what we do is based off of time - always wanting to go faster or harder and chasing PRs and average paces, etc. I always advise others just starting out not to worry about pace - to slow down - focus on the basics - drop your ego - etc. But I sometimes forget that in my own running as I work towards a goal and want to be able to measure progress.

I was reminded this weekend that sometimes progress doesn't come in the form of numbers. I was reminded how much it matters to have proper nutrition before and during (as well as after) a workout. I was reminded of what got me hooked on running regularly and made training fun for me - which was doing it with friends. And how enjoyable it is to run/ride and get to know someone at the same time, and how much easier words seem to flow while exercising. I was reminded that just because something scares you doesn't mean that you shouldn't do it or try it again if it was hard the first time. And of course, I was reminded of just how much you control your own mindset and the thoughts in your own head.

On Saturday I was more tempted than I have been in a while to just give up on the ride and call it quits, figuring "This is good enough for today!"

I really wanted to. But I didn't.

Instead I turned it around. Literally and figuratively. And I am really proud of myself for that.

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