Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Post-Olympic Revelations

The grace, speed, flexibility, and skill of the athletes at this year's London Olympics were insanely inspirational! Some of these athletes have muscles bulging out of places I always thought impossible to sculpt! Even more impressive was the time they put into preparing and the sheer will and look of determination emanating from their whole beings, from facial expressions to flexed muscles right before competing--extraordinary!

Now, a layman can do one of two things while watching these incredible athletes: 1) cry at the thought of never being able to achieve such superhuman abilities, or 2) jump up off the sofa and spring into action towards becoming a better version of herself! Of course, there may be that third options of complete indifference, but my scenario works better with the two ideas presented...

On the final day of the Olympics, my husband and I were scheduled to run a 5 km race through Toronto's beautiful Distillery District. Well, not so much through as on the roads surrounding it, but the fact remains, a 5 km race was to be run! I got a bit busy (lazy? distracted? insert appropriate adjective here depending on the day!) after our last race in April. I still ran, but no where near as much as I should have to continue improving. So, come race day I didn't have grandiose ideas of chiselling tons of time off my previous race time. It'd be great if I could at least be on par with it, actually.

I've always loved running, and I've always done it recreationally. I was on the cross country team in high school, and while I was no where near the top of the pack, I always enjoyed it. I never ran to beat anyone else, I just loved how strong I felt. Over the years, I haven't been as consistent with it. I've been more of a cyclist than a runner, but even then, the cycling was more of a mode of transportation to and from work and farmers' markets rather than through beautiful trails and parks. The truth of it is, I've always been somewhat afraid of competition. By nature, the stars peg me as super competitive (Scorpios are supposed to be tough and want to win win WIN!). But I was always more comfortable just getting lost in the rest of the crowds, being an average runner, swimmer, basketball player, softball player, etc. I was never really comfortable with the attention it all garnered. I'm not going to psycho-analyze here, I'm just saying that it is what it is. In fact, the fear of competing actually led me to faking an ankle injury one dumb and youthful year in grade nine at a cross country meet. I actually panicked at how many people showed up to watch people run! What was that about? The facial expressions of runners are not the most attractive! Sweat and smells aside, there are wrinkled foreheads, squinted eyes, massive whale-like exhalations, and so much more! It just freaked me out! I'm embarrassed by it, but I was 14 and have no excuse except that I WAS 14!

As ashamed as I am to even admit that I did that, I think it's more important to own the fear as an adult. I think so much of what we shy away from as adults are from patterns we became comfortable with as kids, and the only way to break out of those bad patterns is to own them as choices from a former, younger, inexperienced self and to just move on. Listening to so many of the stories from Olympic athletes and knowing that some of them (a lot of them!) had such crazy obstacles and fear but still pushed on made them so much more human (although I believe that many of them have some superhero qualities!), and it made me want to be so much better at the things I love doing.

So, on race day, when the gun sounded, I took off and just felt immense gratitude for each part of my body and mind that allowed me to be fully present and able to run. During one run with my husband while we were training, I found myself unable to control the urge and yelled out, "Come on lungs!" And then we found ourselves laughing. Steve followed that with "Come on legs!" and the laughter continued (he had some running injuries that he was trying to work through). On race day, I silently thanked my body and remembered to have fun with it, and I reminded myself that no one was there to watch me specifically, so the pressure was off to impress anyone but ME.

A few days prior to this race, one of the Olympic athletes had run a 5 km in 13 minutes. Thirteen minutes!!! I laughed as this thought crossed my mind while I ran, and when my time came in at 36 (37? I can't remember exactly) minutes, I was just grateful that my legs carried me through.

Now that the fear is (almost) gone, I find that I'm suddenly training every day. The only person I'm competing against is myself. I'm aiming for 35 minutes or less for the next race, and then 30 minutes, and so on, but in the interim, I'm just having a great time feeling present and at peace after forgiving my younger self's inadequacies. Eventually, I'll run 10 km, and then a half marathon. A friend of mine just did the Tough Mudder competition and rocked it! As hard as it was, she went in knowing her strengths and weaknesses and played to those, and came through it feeling it was an experience to be treasured. I'm not sure I'm there, but my options are definitely expanding with every run I do.

So, thank you Olympic athletes and athletes everywhere for helping me release the fear! Whether it's a 5 km, a marathon, the Warrior Dash or Tough Mudder, I realize now that some fear is normal. To quote the amazing gramma from PARANORMAN:

 "It's alright to be scared, as long as it doesn't change who you are."