Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Don't waste your time on guilt

I overheard two people talking earlier today.

One asked the other if she had gone running yesterday. The woman replied with an elaborate story about how she'd had to do a bunch of errands, giving excruciating detail about each errand. She said that by the time she got to the park to run, it was cold and dark, and - with much hand-wringing - decided not to run.

The only reason I can think of that her reply was anything other than a simple "no" is that she felt guilty about not having run.

Guilt is utterly pointless.

My friend Vadim asked me recently why guilt existed if it was such a useless emotion. It's an evolutionary trait. Guilt, and other negative emotions, helped our ancestors survive. When they did something that helped their survival, like eating food, they felt good. When they did something that hurt their survival, they felt bad.

Of course, back then, pretty much everything was a matter of survival. If you were lucky, you got to do a little procreating too (ahem). Today, survival is mostly a given. We don't run to help us evade sabertooth tigers. And if we flake on a run, we can get the good feelings we crave in other ways. We can get validation from our "friends" online, who tell us, "oh hunny, don't run in the dark. That's scary!" Or we just eat a giant chocolate cake and go to bed.

Running is a hobby. It's a great hobby, and a very healthful one. But we don't have to run. We can just take a bunch of pills for our diabetes and go about our day. We feel guilty for not exercising, but then we get our "fix" by complaining to our friends while eating chicken wings.

Don't waste your time on guilt. Either do something, or don't do it. That's it.

Don't get derailed by guilt.... Get it? Har har.

If you believe that running is good for you, then run. If you can't run, because you're injured or your car exploded, then don't run. If you want to run but don't feel like it, then run anyway. Don't rely on guilt to swoop in for the rescue. Don't rely on pizza and beer to take the emotional pain away.

I mean, I love pizza and beer. But to me it's a reward for hard work.

If you're thinking, "well running in a park after dark actually is dangerous," you're missing the point. She could have run on a treadmill. "What if she doesn't have a gym membership, you fool?" You ask. She could have run in her neighborhood, or somewhere else. "But what about the vicious dogs?" You gasp. Ummmm, okay.

I've run in place before, in my bathrobe. The point is that there's always an option other than flaking out.

Refusing to surrender to guilt is liberating. Guilt is stressful. It sucks. And I don't mean that you should just do (or not do) whatever you want and just not ever feel bad. What I mean is that you should always do the things that matter to you. Just do them. And then you won't ever feel bad. You'll feel super great instead.

I love feeling super great.

But it takes a while to shift into that mindset. Guilt is a reflex. Most of us are used to feeling guilty. We just take it for granted. And we have all sorts of mechanisms for dealing with it. Television, social media, food, booze, puppies, whatever.

In the beginning you have to acknowledge the guilt. You have to catch yourself every time you fall into that old pattern. It takes active work to break a habit and build a new one. You have to be conscientious of it, and hold yourself accountable for how you feel. When you feel guilty, don't go for the substitute fixes.

For example if you slept in late and missed your morning run, don't reach for the dopamine-glazed doughnut. Instead, pack your gear and run at lunch during work. Or tell your SO to make dinner for the kids, because you're going to need an hour after work to run. Or run in place in your bathrobe while watching Jessica Jones before bed.

Once you ditch the guilt, your life becomes one of action. You make goals for yourself, and you achieve them. Failing is no longer an option.

"Life of action. That's me."

Many of us feel like victims of guilt, and other negativity. We feel that it's not something you control. You try something, you fail, and then you feel bad. We think that's just how it works.

It doesn't.

You can learn from those mistakes. You can acknowledge that they happened, but not dwell on them. You just make a different plan. If you make a plan to lift weights every morning, but it starts to affect your work or sleep or something, don't just give up. I was lifting every morning before work during my Deadlift Challenge. After I finished the challenge I intended to continue lifting every morning.

But for a combination of reasons I wasn't able to. I was running more in preparation for my spring marathon. The winter months were cold and dark and it affected my energy. Daylight Savings time really screwed me. And I've been sick for almost a month straight. As you can see I have a ton of excuses.

But I chose not to feel guilty about it. I did get negative feelings. I acknowledged that I felt them. But I wasn't interested in wallowing in them. I wanted to get back to a healthy and positive place. So I changed my plan. I still get up every day before 6am. But now I alternate between lifting, and doing an online Udemy course. And that's been working. And I feel good about moving towards my goals.

If I had simply given up, it would have been easy to get into a negative pattern. My goals would have started to seem less attainable. I would have gotten discouraged. And my routine would have suffered. It would have been easy to get into a downward spiral.

But I chose to stay on the upward spiral. To ever greater success.

Aaaah. Feel that success.
Photo Cr. Pixie

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Be Your Own Critic

I often see folks asking for advice online. They get burned out on running, and ask for tips on how to stay motivated. This usually goes a few ways.

Sometimes they will shoot down the responses with various excuses.

"Crosstraining? I don't like bicycling, or swimming, or lifting, or anything else."

"New music won't help. I can only run to Metallica, and they haven't come out with a new album in years."

"I can't run before work. Or after work. Or during work. Can you suggest any other time I can run?"

Sometimes they'll just say, "thanks for all the advice!" And then not do anything.

In both of these cases, they feel guilty, and are just posting so they can feel like they're doing something, even though they're not. At all. They're just wasting people's time.

On rare occasion, they'll ask for advice and then actually follow it. Maybe they have an injury, or some other legitimate reason they can't run, and need suggestions to work around it. They read the responses and then follow what works best. This is great, but doesn't happen too often.

"Get up and do something? I'm totally
going to do that.... later."
For the folks who actually do follow through, they had been intending to do so the whole time. Even though they may have asked for advice, their drive came from within. Nobody else made them run. And here's the crux.

You have to be your own worst critic.

When you ask for help from others, you're asking them to be your critic. You can't push yourself, so you're hoping someone else will be able to push you. But no amount of astute observations, pointed advice, or inspirational words will get you off the couch. Not permanently anyway.

I don't allow myself excuses. If I don't "feel" like running, because I'm tired, or sore, or don't have a lot of time, or whatever, I immediately acknowledge that the real reason is that I'm lazy. I don't allow myself guilt, because that's a cop out. People feel guilty in lieu of action. Guilt makes you feel good, in a perverse sort of way.

There is only doing it, or not doing it. Everything else is just fluff. If you don't run, it doesn't matter what you say. That fact is you're not running. Period. You can try to make yourself feel better about it. But no matter how justified you feel about not getting out the door, the fact remains that you're not getting yourself out the door.

Maybe you just need incentive.
You have to ignore the excuses, the justifications, the guilt and all the other junk that fills up your mind. Instead you have to be critical of yourself. What is the real reason I'm not willing to run? Or lift. Or go to class. Is it a good reason? No? Well then I just have to go and do it.

And that's hard. Doing something when you really don't want to is hard. And that's why you have to be such a harsh critic. You have to see through your own bullshit. You can't wait for someone else to come look at your bullshit and then tell you that it's bullshit. Nobody cares. If you want to be strong, healthy, happy, or successful, you have to do it for yourself.

It requires brutal honesty. All the time. It requires that you not allow yourself to quit. Ever. It requires that you push through all the lame excuses and just force yourself to work, no matter how trashed you feel. It requires you to be better than you are.

That's what a critic does. A critic points out all the flaws, ostensibly so you can fix them. Some critics are just a$$holes, and only want to cut things down. Don't be that kind of critic. Be the kind of critic who's harsh on yourself because you want to be better. And that's the goal.

Just treat yourself like a heavybag.

Be careful not to get into the trap of constantly abusing yourself without actually accomplishing anything. This is similar to guilt. Some folks will beat themselves up in order to make themselves feel better. This is just a recipe for low self-esteem. If you're criticizing yourself, but it's not helping your work harder, then you're not doing it right.

Being a good critic means giving honest and meaningful feedback. If I have the time to run, but I'm just tired, then that's not a good excuse to not run. I'll kick myself in the butt and get myself out the door. But if I pull a muscle and need a couple days to heal, then criticizing myself won't help. It'll just make me feel shitty. If I need to rest and heal, then that's OK. If I'm able to lift instead, that's even better.

Be your own worst critic. But also be your own best critic.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Sobriety Makes Me Slow

I'm actually going to write about two different things today. If the first half is boring, you can skip to the second thing. Or you can skip to the second thing, decide it's boring, and then go back to the beginning. Or you can just print out my blog, have your dog poop on it, then burn it. Just do that a safe distance from your nostrils.

Near the beginning of February I decided I was going to take a three week break from drinking. My problem was that because I was running so much, I felt I needed to make up for the calorie deficit (and carb load!) with booze. But then when I drank, I felt like I had to run more to make up for those calories.

This created an endless spiral of drinking and running.

I was drinking more because I was running. And then running more because I was drinking more. And so on. It was ridiculous. Either my liver was going to explode, or my legs. Or both. And that would have been extra messy.

I picked three weeks, because that would go right up until my half marathon in Hyannis, MA (spoiler alert for the second half of this post!). And I was totally committed to having a boozathon before the race.

Now, you may expect me to say that taking a break made me clear-headed, made me sleep better, and totally made me feel super healthy.

None of that happened.

Instead what happened is that my body suddenly had no carbs. Oh I ate. I ate a lot. And it wasn't all cauliflower and kale either. I about tripled my intake of epic desserts (which was amazing, FYI). But it wasn't enough. My body was totally sapped of glycogen. And my runs suddenly felt like I was swimming through molasses.

Apparently this makes me run faster.

And I didn't really notice any other appreciable difference, other than I didn't sleep as well. Something I realize was that I was exercising so much that I was pretty much cancelling out the ill effects of whatever trash I put in my body. For better or worse.

It DID help me run less, which was good, because I needed to taper for the half (which didn't help at all - more spoiler alert!). I'm glad I took the break. I needed to hit that reset switch. Plus I can actually enjoy drinking again. Being a two-beer-queer is a good thing.

Going forward I'm going to compromise. I have a plan that will have me drinking less, which will keep my mileage reasonable. But will still allow me to drown my sorrows a couple nights a week. That first night of beer in Hyannis, I told Geoffrey and his sexy-lady-runner-friend: "Holy heck I'm happy again!" And they were like, "thank gawd." Apparently I'd been really miserable the past three weeks.

Yes, I realize I've just thrown half a dozen warning signs of alcoholism at you. Throw me an intervention. Just bring a keg. And yes, I know I'm a terrible role model. That's why I don't write articles like, "5 ways to be extra fast and healthy!" Because I don't know shit. But, you know, maybe reading this will make you feel less bad about your life. Ahem.

So, second part. The Hyannis half marathon. I tapered... mostly. I swam and biked 3 days before the race, but that's low impact, right? I was going to carpool with Geoffrey, but the douche left a day early. It's over a 6 hour drive, and I hate driving. I listened to This American Life podcast. Maybe they should do an episode about masochists.

"Welcome to wherever. You're still hours from your destination."
I rewarded my survival of the trip with the most ludicrously massive "carb loading" dinner I've ever had. Actually, we had to wait for Geoffrey's lady friend to get home, so I pre-carb-loaded with a bunch of super hoppy beers. Which was genius. And then I ate about a Thanksgiving meal and a Christmas meal combined. We ordered 5 pizzas for us 3 adults and the thousand or so kids (I think 5, but I lose count past 1). There was a bag of mini donuts I promised myself I wouldn't touch. I ate almost the entire bag. I had two bowls each of - I believe - four different ice creams. Including some that apparently were 2 years old. Urp.

All told I ate about 5000 calories that night.

The next day (Saturday) we ran 3 easy miles. Then we went to Hyannis. We checked into our room (singular, wink wink). We went to the expo and got our bibs. We ate more food. The bill was over $160 for the 3 of us. High class! But delicious. Then we went to the pasta dinner. I only had beer and salad.

As if this makes ANY difference at this point.
But the whole point of the dinner was to hear some former Boston marathon champs speak: Bill Rodgers and Jacqueline Hansen. It was nice to see that despite all my running, I would (probably) live to at least 60. And of course Geoffrey and I got pics with Bill. What a great guy.

We will never ever be as fast as this guy.

Then Geoffrey and I stayed up way too late drinking Miller Lite. Usually a few beers the night before is exactly what I need, but this time...

Leading up to the race, I had been telling my friends that I was totally going to bomb. I do this so that if I do run badly, I can say, "see? told ya so." And then if I run well, I can say, "wow, what a surprise!" And then enjoy their scathing looks. Actually, I do this in many areas of my life, and have been told that it's a super obnoxious habit.

As the starting time approached, I actually began to get excited. The weather was great. It was going to be windy, but I thought, "bah, that's just air.... moving." I had a banana, put on my kilt, and was ready to nuke the race. My goal was to run it in under 1:30. My previous half marathon PR was 1:32. Easy, right?

The crowd of runners at the starting line was huge. I got into the 7 minute/mile corral, because everyone behind me had to see my kilt. And we were off! The first 3 miles I averaged 6:45 per mile and thought, "yessss, I'm totally going to do this."

Then the wheels fell off.

They didn't just fall off. They got blown into the ocean. Then eaten by a shark.

When I still thought I was doing well.

At 3 miles I turned into the wind. It was like trying to run through a glob of cheese (I already used the molasses simile). At the same time, my hamstring - which has been bothering me for a month (which booze totally would have healed, I'm sure) - began hurting abominably. My gait got really wonky. Every mile after those first three got significantly slower.

It was torture. I had never had such a bad half marathon (even worse than this one: I had an Awful Race and that's OK). I honestly thought my legs would break permanently. And considering that I'm typing this in bed because I had to take work off, that's not even that far off. For 95% of the race, I was committed to being a miserable asshole the rest of the day. But right at the end, for some reason, I decided, "screw it, I'm going to be cheerful." It was pretty arbitrary actually.

On the plus side, I did hear a lot of salacious comments about my kilt minus shirt combo. Maybe my ego got stoked enough to put me in a better mood. I felt like death but at least I looked good. Vanity wins in the end.

Apparently everyone had a slow race that day because of the wind. And comparing this race to my first half marathon from last year, it was faster. Bill Rodgers had said that the first race after the winter was always rough. Maybe my legs just needed this reminder that I intend to batter them for the rest of the year. But first, I'm going to lie in bed and eat my mom's cookies.

"Is this my medal for lounging
around all day? Thanks!"