PUNISHMENT VS DISCIPLINE (how do you really feel about running?)

Someone told me the other day that I’m trashing my body. It bothered me because I know exactly what it means to trash your body, and I’m most definitely not doing that anymore. Then I spent 35 miles thinking about the difference between destroying your body and making it stronger.

35 miles is a good long time to think through serious issues...and fucking gorgeous also

35 miles is a good long time to think through serious issues…and fucking gorgeous also

I started running competitively in 8th grade. The only thing I remember from my first year on the cross country team is that throwing up during practice or a meet is a badge of honor. During subsequent years I discovered that so is running through an injury, and also if you’re still standing after you crossed the finish line then you didn’t go hard enough. Our coach used to say “pain is temporary, pride is forever” and I thought about that constantly then and for many years after. The summer before 10th grade I was running twice a day every day. The greatest running buddy I ever had was during that time; we were perfect together because we were evenly matched and we hated each other. Nobody has ever made me train harder.

I took a break during my first year of college, then started running again the summer after my freshman year. I honestly thought it was good for me. I ran around campus by myself and trained intervals on the track. I still believed more pain more gain; I’d run sprints until I’d collapse on the finish line, and if I threw up then I knew I’d worked hard enough. I started racing again, short distances, always obsessively hoping to break my personal best times from high school. Have you ever read Once a Runner? Let loose your demons and wail on.

I was destroying my body and I knew it and I glorified it. I think in a lot of ways our culture supports that mentality. I stopped running when I started practicing yoga seriously and I finally realized how valuable my body is and how important it is to take care of it (and how very much I wasn’t taking care of it). I believed then that it was the running that was the culprit and I demonized it.

Years later, I realized that as good of shape that I thought I was in from a daily yoga practice, I could barely make it up to my third floor walk up without getting out of breath. I decided I would start running again, but barely. Feeling the way I did about running, I considered it a punishment and I forced myself out the door every day. I made a deal with myself that I would run one whole mile every day, but that was all I had to do. One mile on the trail around Cheesman Park. I had a friend that was just starting to get into running and we’d hike together sometimes. Somewhere along the way we started running together, and at some point we started running trails. I was tentative to get back into what I considered to be such a cruel sport, my mind was resistant to change. But something miraculous happened, and it was that nothing bad happened. I got stronger but my knees weren’t hurting and I wasn’t getting stress fractures. Where I’m from, a cross country race might include one “hill” that takes a couple of a minutes to get up. Here in Colorado, you can spend hours ascending and I fell madly in love with that challenge. On my first fourteener hike, I remember barely dragging my ass up it when a woman ran right past me. I thought about that woman a lot, and it was why the first fourteener I ran up was Gray’s. I especially could not believe that people RUN DOWN mountains, but after I started it just takes a little bit of practice and you start to feel this amazing flow-picking your route, placing your feet, feeling the rocks.

This was one of those days I didn't feel like going out...but once I did I felt so good.  Getting out there that day was discipline, NOT punishment.

This was one of those days I didn’t feel like going out…but once I did I felt so good. Getting out there that day was discipline, NOT punishment.

My view of running has fundamentally changed. It’s an incredible challenge, but it doesn’t hurt me anymore. I won’t let it. Anything can be punishment if that’s the way you see it. Just like anything can be an opportunity for freedom. Anyone can run themselves into the ground, it’s much harder to take good care of yourself. I don’t always want to run; sometimes it’s really hard to drag myself out there. I used to tell my students to go deeper, to stay longer, not because I told them to, and not because they think they should. But because they want to, because it feels good. And let me tell you, it always feels good. Even when it’s hard or I’m sore or the weather isn’t good. Several of the best moments of my life happened running in the mountains. Some of the worst, too, but I will not let those break me. This world that we live in gives us few opportunities to feel the full spectrum of human emotion. I feel bad for those that aren’t willing to suffer, to feel the lowest of lows, because there is nothing like the highest of highs. I run mountains because it makes me feel strong, powerful, and free.

Breakdancing & Ashtanga (what you learn when you’re not good at things)

So I was practicing my breakdancing moves in my living room, trying really hard to not kick my dog in the head and making a lot of weird noises, when I thought “man. I am really not good at this. Not at all. Not even a little bit.” But I didn’t feel discouraged. I just said “meh” and kept working. How often do we do things we’re not good at? For me, it’s been a while. When I learned how to snowboard, I was good at it right away (epic yoga balance and stability crossed with a background in figure skating). That was the last actually new thing I tried.

It’s the same for me with Ashtanga Primary Series. After 8 years of practicing yoga, I’m still not flexible. That’s okay, that’s my body, and it’s for a combination of reasons (1. my body is not naturally flexible, it never has been, even when I was a figure skating pre-teen (ooh double parentheses: my physical therapists used to make fun of me for my lack of flexibility. While they were helping me recover from injuries. Assholes) 2. I ride bikes for hours every day, not to mention running. My daily life makes my hips and hamstrings even tighter). The binds and forward folds in primary series kill me. I’ve been practicing for what, weeks now? And I’m no closer to kurmasana.

Yep.  That's still what it looks like.  Awkward facial expression and all.

Yep. That’s still what it looks like. Awkward facial expression and all.

Initially, regarding breakdancing and ashtanga I thought MAN, I am TERRIBLE at this, but it will get better if I keep working on it. But guess what? I’m really not getting better at any of it. And I don’t care at all. Practice for the privilege of practice, and not for the end result. It feels good and weird and hard and I like it, and I’m going to keep doing all of it. And one of these days, I’m going to videotape my breakdancing practice, because everybody deserves a good hard laugh once in a while.

Long distance running & Ashtanga (DISCIPLINE)(I don’t have it)

Here are some ways to find out you have no self discipline:

1. You finally choose to pack for your trip instead of getting in the last 9 mile run before
2. The moment you start on a long run, you start justifying why you’ve cut your run short
3. When you get texts, you stop running to respond to them immediately (because, obv, you did not turn your ringer off)
4. You clean your house instead of doing ashtanga primary series. Then, you create yourself a hulu account so you can watch tv instead of doing ashtanga primary series (because you canceled your Netflix account so you’d stop watching tv)
5. When you’re doing ashtanga primary series, you somehow end up working on handstands. This is like if a mouse eats a cookie. Then, you start working on handstand transitions and pretty soon you’re trying to figure out how to footlessly transition out of astavakrasana and you’ve forgotten that you were ever doing primary series in the first place.

Needless to say, I’ve been struggling on both counts. In fact, I haven’t been on a run since I went to Vermont (more on adventures in Vermont to come!), nor have I practice ashtanga primary series. So. Now we get back on the horse.

How do we conquer lack of self discipline? Friends help. I’ve also imposed a new post rule: 1 bagel for every 3 miles. The third bagel really makes the difference between 7 and 9 miles. Actually, this system isn’t a bad idea. Any suggestions on ideas for a post-primary series bribe? I’m going for a long run. With a friend. And bagels!