Mindfulness and Running…Among Other Things

I spent most of my morning rather exhausted and asleep, not so much from any particularly strenuous physical activity but from mostly the electrical activity in between my ears. Although I’ve been in relatively high spirits as of late — not to mention, relaxed (as my friend kept saying yesterday, over and over) — I’ve been really hung up on my swimming lately.

When I’m not really sure what I’m doing, I have a tendency to sit back and observe. It’s something I do quite well actually — observe and mimic. And, what I’ve noticed is that there are really two types of swimmers at the gym: there are super hardcore swimmers (people who know what they’re doing and can shoot off walls like torpedoes) and then people who spend a LOT of energy with their heads above water and essentially swimming at a 45 degree angle (people like me!). After watching what makes swimmers efficient — staying as parallel as they can with the surface of the water, coming up for air on every third/fourth stroke, exhaling and making room for air in the water instead of outside of it — I tried to mimic it as best I can. Once I did that (last night, as a matter of fact), I had enough air to actually make it to one side of the pool instead of halfway.

Seems like a really silly thing to be down on, but I think in the face of something difficult we all question our abilities a bit. If I can just learn to enjoy it and be in the moment, and to learn from others instead of comparing myself to them, I’m sure I’ll be a much happier camper. I think I was also down on myself a bit since I didn’t make it in to practice on the loose schedule I committed to — twice a week. I think instead of giving myself such leeway I should really just designate days so that I can’t trip up or give myself any excuses.

At some point I think I can be in the moment. With running, I think I feel comfortable enough with it now that I’m not too focused on being tired, hot, sweaty, etc., and I just run. Yesterday, on my 6-mile run, I didn’t break through until mile 3, but when I did it felt great. The last three miles of my run was a complete breeze. I barely noticed the time going by. I was even sad that the run was over! (I suppose I could’ve just kept going.) ¬†However, biking and swimming still requires a lot of concentration for me since I don’t yet feel that I am proficient at it. I am sure when I jump these mental and physical hurdles it’ll be great.

In the meantime, I came across two posts that really inspired me to think about being more mindful while training for the triathlon and less negative. Check them out! The first one is about the Buddhist philosophy on meditation and mindfulness, and a Tibetan lama speaks to how running mindfully can help you improve the mind-body connection. The second one is a blog post by Ryan Hall, a professional runner, and he speaks to the most athletic year of his life in an effort to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.

I know that I do a lot better when I stop listening to myself. Self deprecation is such an easy way out. It’s much harder to challenge yourself and break through. Here’s to less worrying and plan-paralysis and more doing.

 

 

 

Back in the Saddle, Back in the Water

This was definitely a week of firsts!

 

I got on my bike three days this week — and if you count the two roundtrip courses I had to do, it was five! Even though I am still relearning a lot of the basics I thought that I’d manipulate myself into riding it a bit more seriously — so, I decided that I would ride to work on those few occasions. It was a bit tough — one of the locations I work at is only a mile or so from my apartment and the roads are relatively smooth, so the ride was fantastic. The sidewalks were wide open, there weren’t very many cars on the road, and overall it was a relatively simple ride. There is even a private lot that I get to park in so I don’t have to worry about locking it up. The other place, unfortunately, is in downtown Hollywood…and the ride there is incredibly intimidating, not to mention bumpy. The roads are poorly maintained, the drivers are pretty much insane, and pedestrians are slow, so I feel bottlenecked everywhere. I have to chain the bike to a fence on the ground level and my office is on the 9th floor, so every so often I’d have to peek out of the window to check to see if my bike was still there.

Overall I feel a little more comfortable on it. I still get pretty scared if a car gets too close to comfort. I have my instances where I just get off of my bike and walk it. Bumps in the sidewalk and street seem a little less insurmountable now that I’ve gone over them quite a few times. The starting and stopping is definitely getting better too, and I’m finally getting the hang of my handbrakes. (Thanks for the tip, Gabe!) Both days I was nervous (not to mention sweaty and icky!) as heck but in both instances I made it back safe and sound. This week I also bought a helmet and a bike pump. My next purchase will probably be a bell (although a fog horn would be pretty fun)…I’m noticing that people aren’t really getting out of the way, mainly because they don’t see or hear me…and frankly, I’d feel a bit rude saying “Hey! Get out of my way!” I’m definitely a bit sore so I stayed off my bike today, but hopefully my body will adapt to it as I ride a bit more and stay off those bumpy Hollywood streets. (It probably didn’t help that I biked in leggings on both days!)

As for swimming, it was also my first time back in the pool for awhile. A few months ago I did a late night swim with Shant but that was leisurely, so I don’t really count that. I’m trying to get over my dislike of water in my face…and up my nostrils…and into my goggles. Timing my breathing has been difficult and I seem to be gasping for air with every stroke, which I’ve calculated tires me out 3 times faster than the average person who is swimming in the pool with me at any given time. Today I was lucky enough to eavesdrop on a private swim instruction a few lanes down, so as the swimmer was being coached, I was trying to pick up on it and implement it at the same time while remaining cognizant of my abilities. For instance, today I began breathing out INTO the water…a start, I suppose.¬†Since swimming seems to be my weakest link I think I may consider a class at UCLA, LACC, or SMC to help me become more proficient and confident. Then I can progress comfortably to open water swimming. Despite all of that, I still made it in the water twice this week so it’s a victory which ever way you slice it.

Adding bicycling and swimming to my routine has been quite interesting. Running seems so easy compared to these other two sports. In running, all I have to do is put one foot in front of the other. It requires very little official training, equipment, variables, and constraints. It seems natural. I feel like these other two are pulling me in different directions. I overthink every action and I’m slow as heck because of it! The more I concentrate on it, the less confident I become. But, the more I practice, the more comfortable I feel with my progression.

It’s interesting switching from one sport to the next — and although I haven’t done them in rapid sequence or anything — I can feel the muscle fatigue hit me like a ton of bricks. One day this week I ran 4 miles before work, biked 4 miles to/from work, and then did a 0.2 mile swim at the gym. After my run, I felt energetic. After my first ride, I felt confident but a little tired. After my second ride I felt great but a little tense. Then, during the swim, I felt like I had weights tied to all of my extremities as I was flopping about in the water. I am sure it gets better with time and practice.

Relearning a lot of these basic skills has been an interesting journey thus far. I feel giddy every time I sharpen yet another skill set that helps me feel more comfortable on my bike or in the water. I’m trying to make it a point to switch up my routine a bit from all running to include these other sports so that I exercise all of the parts of me that’ll be needed for the triathlon. With all of the hurdles I’ve jumped through — and all of the future ones I’ll be dealing with — this is going to be one of the most challenging tasks I take on yet. In comparison to the Athens marathon I feel that the triathlon will be a lot harder, since it’s testing not only endurance but multiple skill sets and the transitions thereof. Eek!

For my marathon training class tomorrow, I have a 13 mile run that I’ve dutifully plotted this evening. I try to set courses with as little turns as possible since I tend to forget. I hate listening to instructions and most of the time I have my earphones in — bad, I know — but I am notorious for missing turns on my runs. This one is simple enough and the only road diversion I’ll have to deal with is turning south on Cloverdale in Santa Monica. It won’t be too hard to forget since it’s one of the major streets that stick out in my mind. (I think it’s because it’s the street I can take to get to my acupuncturist’s office…)

I’m still feeling relatively enthusiastic about everything. I’m definitely a smidge tired, but a few days ago I bought a foam roller and have been using it on my legs and my back. It’s been helping with loosening up any tension and keeping me relaxed and out of the acupressurist’s office. Those usually run me about $40 a session with tip included, so this has definitely helped me save some money. That, and I don’t have to do any of the travel! For those of you who are curious about the types of massages I’ve been doing, here’s a video I watched to help guide me.

All in all, the alone time has been great. It’s been nice being able to focus on something outside of my silly worries, insecurities, school, business, etc. Everything feels so cathartic. Just a few months ago I was wondering how, at the age of 27, I could ever feel so low, sluggish, chained, and drained. Now I feel like a completely different person — happier, energetic, and a ton more sociable. To you I might be the same Amara, but in between these ears is a completely new environment. I love it!

More news soon…I’ve got to get some rest for my long run tomorrow. Broke in my new shoes this morning so I’m excited to do away with sore legs and feet for the second time. (Does anyone know where to recycle running shoes?)

Setting My Sights on Athens Marathon, LA Triathlon

This week marked a number of momentous occasions for me personally.

I finally had the guts to commit to a marathon…the Athens marathon, nonetheless. I’ve registered for the event and I’ve booked my flight. I will be in Greece for 10 days and in Turkey for 1. I have a 24-hour layover that will permit me to leave the airport so I am excited to get to enter another country during my stay. If things work out I might try to add Cairo or Alexandria via ferry during my time there.

I also made the decision to begin training for the LA Triathlon in September. I finally bought some swim gear as well as a bike today, so I’m super stoked to get this show on the road! The last time I rode a bike I was only able to make it one block before falling down. Today was a little different…I made it five blocks (not consecutively) but I didn’t fall down. Apparently when you lower the seat far enough you can still stop with your feet on the ground.

For those of you who don’t follow my tweets or don’t know me very well, I haven’t been able to bike for longer than a city block at a time and I dislike water in my face when swimming…so yeah, this is going to be pretty challenging!

* * *

It took me a long time to get to this point. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately as to why I’ve been on this weird health/wellness kick for the past few months. As with most things in life, there has been a number of things that have happened to me that’s affected me more than I thought it would and patterns in behavior that, in hindsight, are clear.

I used to be a pretty decent swimmer as a child. I took classes at the local YMCA and competed a little bit. I can remember the last time I swam as a child…it was some sort of final round of something related to my swim class, and our test was to jump off of the high board, dive into the pool, and swim to the other end. It seemed simple enough, but as I climbed up that ladder all alone as a wee child I tried to keep my cool. I’d been training for an entire summer for this moment. For some reason I froze on the dive board, petrified of the height and my swim-mates, my instructor, and the pressure of having to perform up to some external expectation rather than just enjoying swimming. (Strange concept, right?) I figured that it was my time to spend anyhow so I took my time getting up the ladder, and took my time getting across the dive board. I stood there for a bit just taking the moment in but apparently that was a bit too slow for my instructor, because it was at that moment that I was ready to dive that she took it upon herself to push me in. Feeling rather demoralized and shocked, not to mention scared, I quit swimming and didn’t start again until I got accepted into the Coast Guard Academy. I’ve since gone swimming here and there with no real consistency. As with the bike riding, I really only rode in circles in my backyard and in my driveway. Plenty of negative reinforcements were there to ensure that I stayed on my bike — cacti in the backyard, a rather steep hill and T intersection near my driveway. I rode for a summer or two and stopped because I outgrew my bike but my parents really couldn’t afford to get me another one.

After dropping out of grad school a few months ago I fell into a pretty bad spell of self-doubt and disappointment. It was a lifelong goal for me to go to grad school and I practically set myself up for failure by packing my schedule and making it impossible for me to complete any of the work. Despite all of the roadblocks I faced — difficult classmates, tedious assignments — there are a lot of things I could’ve done differently. Academia never came easy to me, and juggling my own business with another startup business and a crumbling personal relationship didn’t help. I’m hoping to go back in the near future and finish strong. But for now, I’ve decided to take up these new goals — finishing a marathon and a triathlon — hoping to convince myself that I still have the drive in me to set goals and to see them all the way through.

Here’s to a second wind!