Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Friday, March 21, 2014

Listening, and Setting the Bar

I'm writing this post because this week it seems I've been living in my role of "The Doctor is IN", and that's a natural role for me. It's a philosophical sort of post, so be patient.

In talking with people in general, just out in public, especially runners, sometimes I see themes repeat themselves within a short period of time and I'd like to send out a tongue-in-cheek mass e-mail to everyone involved saying, "Take THIS pill" and resolve it all.

I don't mean to be a snark-ass. In truth, I really don't feel like that about working with people, because I do enjoy helping them solve problems, but even more, I like watching them figure out their own solutions. Every situation is different, but it's amazing how many of the situations have similar solutions.

I talk with people about their health problems all the time, when they know you're a nurse they tend to ask, and believe me, physical and mental go together. Occasionally they'll get themselves in trouble because they bit off more than they could chew, set the bar too high, and tried to keep up with something that was beyond their physical capacity to handle.

It happens in endurance running a lot. When people haven't learned to listen to their bodies, they don't recognize the cues their bodies give when they are trying to say "stop!"

I've probably only run a hundred or so ultras in my life, and some people get into the sport and run that many in their first 5 years or less.

I wish I could impart my 30 years of running perspective to them and show them that a break in their 30s, even for a couple of years, is not going to end their running careers. But at the moment of injury that idea always seems like the end of the world.

I'm not a conservative, definitely not politically or socially, but when it comes to my own training, I would have to say right wing. I've never been a high mileage person, even though I can throw in some hefty running weeks here and there when the event calls for it. But I do only half the miles in an average year that many ultrarunners do, or at least claim to do.

On the other hand, despite my semi-conscious efforts to stay undertrained, both Wheaties Boy and Nick told me last week, that I was setting the bar too low. Just out of the blue, and not because I asked. They both happened to respond to two different things I said offhand, that were revealing of my underlying thought processes. It was like stripping down to my underwear in public. Twice in one week.(Sorry for the visual. You REALLY wouldn't want to see that.)

If you know Nick Clark or Shannon Price, and both of these guys are insane, but they are also extremely hard workers, they earn their excellent performances, and I respect them both immensely. Sometimes it's hard to hear things that are true and honest from the people who know you, and who know better, when they've caught you red-handed.

They're right, after I thought about it a while. I struggled physically and mentally for so long in my 30s that I learned to set very low expectations and goals for myself, in part to avoid setting myself back with fatigue, which is a huge fear for me. But also, in setting the bar low I can claim success, and mentally, that helps me. On the other hand, small increments of success could be hindering my ability to take big leaps.

As you get older, there is some loss of speed and there's a tradeoff, you do take longer to recover, and you don't bounce back like you used to. And there's something about time, as you get older, it shrinks, or goes faster, or something. Suddenly you wake up one day and realize it's getting away from you.

I struggled with active thyroid disease for a number of years, I didn't have control over that. I carried around a lot of weight for a lot of years as a result, and there were times when I ignored or neglected competition and hard training altogether, because I didn't want to be disappointed. But I can't use that as an excuse. My defunct thyroid has stopped acting up, I've been on the same dose of thyroid meds for the past 6 years, and my body is more predictable as a result. I've made upward adjustments to my training, and that's been a good thing.

I've also figured out what in my life makes me truly happy and minimizes my stress, and that is, working for myself. Removing the stressor of being a slave to someone or something else's vision has improved my health. Having lost a significant amount of weight after I struggled with my weight for so many years, and arriving at my 50 year old milestone at the same time, is allowing me to see possibilities I never imagined before. I could raise the bar!

When I think back to 20 years ago when I was running my best ultra times, I was running marathons for training runs in about 3:20 to 3:30. That was comfortable for me, and I wasn't racing. Now I would have to work hard to do that. But I think it's still possible to perform at the ultras without having the speed I used to have. And I haven't done any speedwork yet this year, other than some fartlek thrown into a few runs, and not very often.

Knowing when to back off and rest, when to push forward, is an art and a skill. My question for myself is, how fast can I go? How much can I achieve and stay healthy? Our bodies tell us, but we need to know how to listen.

Listening itself is an art and a skill. Some people go through difficult personal times because they do not know how to listen. They talk incessantly, a million miles an hour, about all their miniscule and gigantic concerns about their situation, but they never stop to examine how they might have contributed to the situation, or listen to what they truly want, or try to empathize with the other people they are struggling with.

They cannot see or hear themselves, having drowned out their inner voices with the noise they make in their compulsive talking, which is a manifestation of feeling unable to control the situation. Someone I knew for many years is like this, and eventually it became so toxic that I couldn't stand to be around them anymore, and I ended that friendship.

Sitting still, listening to your inner voice, not trying to control things. We can control some things, but not everything. Certainly when it comes to other people we can't control things. Why would you want to? We don't want to be controlled ourselves. We want to steer our own ships, and to the extent that we can, I think we should.

Learning to listen to someone, hearing the message that is really coming across, involves quieting the parts of your mind that want to control things, provide THE answers, solve the problem, and need to get their $.02 and more in.

I think men often have a harder time with this than women. I remember so many times when I tried to tell Dennis about some problem I was having and his first response was to try to solve the problem for me. But I wasn't looking to be rescued. I just needed to express what I was feeling.

The same goes for listening to your body. You want to believe that you're ready to do another hard workout, but if you listen carefully, your body will give you direction on what to do next.

I often plan my upcoming workouts during a workout. I can feel how my body is responding, so I know what's likely to happen if I push myself a short time later and how soon I'll be ready to do it again. For years I never got injured. The last few years I've been raising the bar some, and I've had some setbacks: a hamstring strain, chronic ankle problems, other muscle strains.

You can't focus on it too hard or you'll miss the message, but it's possible to be somewhat dissociated while paying careful attention, feeling what the different parts of your body are telling you and balancing that with the message your brain and ego give you. You have to quiet certain parts of your brain while listening to other parts. I can't explain that, it's what I do.

Figuring out where to set the bar, in your running, or your personal life, means listening to all the input from yourself, your environment, and the people who know you best. The people who know you best can offer great insight, even though you have to be prepared to hear things you might not like. And you need to accept those, not dismiss them, even if you disagree. They are things to meditate on, because other people's perceptions can have truth, even if you are unwilling to see them at first.

We drown out so much of the subtle input with our day to day activities and distractions. Our human brains are probably more stressed than they've ever been at any time in history. It's easy to forget about how to be alone and silent, but it is good practice for all of us.

I read people's posts on Facebook. I can see the positive bias, showing only the good side of people's lives. When people show the negatives they sometimes get backlash. People use words like "haters". I also see a lot of talk on social media about gratitude.

These memes get old, and it's important that when unfavorable things happen in our lives, we pay attention. It's part of our innate wiring to detect threats to our well-being. And the gratitude stuff, well, sometimes people don't feel like being thankful. Life has ups and downs, and it's okay to express negative sentiments too.

I know to some people the gratitude stuff sounds like a bunch of disingenuous fluff, and at times it sounds like that to me too. But in sitting silently with ourselves, expressing gratitude for what we do have is a good way to quiet the mind. Really, even when things seem awful, most of the time, it is not as bad as it seems. In your solitary silence, starting with consideration of the things you do have, is a good starting point for positive thinking and turning things around.

So I hope that the people I've spoken with lately can turn things around. And I hope we can all find the right place to put the bar. In any case, mine is moving up, a lot higher.

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