Monday, June 29, 2015

What I learned about mental resilience

This is a story about a girl who lost her mojo and learned how to run, notwithstanding: in other words, how can you run when life happens? I remember reading a book a long time ago, about a woman who lost her mojo and then found it after "letting go" and finding love. OK., fine. Then there was "Eat, Pray, Love" - not really about 'losing' mojo per say, but about a woman who lets go, goes to India, finds love, and consequently finds her mojo. I'm beginning to detect a theme here, a chronology of events. So what happened to the story about the girl who lost her mojo, had a regular job, and did not go to an exotic land? Well, that girl stayed in her job, and fluctuated between ups and downs. Mainly downs. The desire to run was never there, and it was a Herculean effort just to get out the door. She read countless blogs, googled the questions endlessly, and read "10 steps to get your running mojo back". The general advice seemed to recommend that she just 'get out there and run'. It seemed to imply that once you're out there running, you'd be overcome by the feel-good hormones, and your mojo would be back. I'm not saying it couldn't be like that. I'm saying, it wasn't like that for me. I had to slog through putting on weight, feeling really down about the situation, and then to crown it all, losing whatever speed I still had left, as my running life fell apart. I did Crossfit in an attempt to try something new and stop obsessing about running, and it worked, but after 9 months I needed to run, and ran 2 half marathons back to back - which I wrote about in 2013. Last year, 2014, was interesting. I sort of started running more often. Not regularly, just more times. It's hared to run if you're not feeling the love. It's a technical execution, and not a very good one at that. Some months were bette than others. Contrast disappointment in January at a slow 10K, to feeling that I was on the path to recovery in April when I ran the SF Rock n Roll half in my old time of ~2:30. But still I wasn't happy. I had such mixed, conflicting feelings: happy and grateful that I could go out and run, contrasting with feelings of extreme disappointment at what I had become - slower. And so it continued. Mechanical, laborious runs - always dreaming, always hearking back to the past, a past when "I could run xxx in xxx". But the past is a foreign country. You cannot change the past, only the present and thereby the future. My 2015 didn't have such a great start either. Running wise I was still on automatic - just getting the miles done. By that I mean, no running during the week, and then a race at the weekend. My body took a hammering. Having said that, I did some pretty cool races - the Key West half marathon, the SF Rock n Roll again, the San Luis Obisbo half, the Diva half, and quite a few trail races. It was all a huge effort - not so easy to run without training. But I just couldn't get it done. So I stopped thinking about it. I accepted that maybe it would have to be like this now. Maybe I didn't have it in me anymore. Sometimes it happens. So how did it change? 
It changed without me realizing it: In January I did a Ragnar challenge. Week 4's challenge was to try one new thing. After running a mile in my living room, I realized that was not quite a new thing. In a panic I rushed down to the gym and decided to take a class. It turned out to be zumba - and I loved it. The teacher, the spirit of the class, the energy - everything was just good. It made me feel happy in my soul. It wasn't easy 'getting' into zumba, because it's not quite me. Or so I thought. But the once a week class made me feel something deep in my soul, that put a spring in my step. Then I decided to do something that scared me to death - a relay. A few years ago I had been asked by Christina, Princess Buttercup to be on her Ragnar Relay team. I said yes, and then bailed, because I was so scared to being slow, of letting down the team. It was a bad decision - I should have done it, but I couldn't overcome my fear. And so I decided to face it, and do the relay with my colleagues - but that will be another post. Suffice it to say, that experience taught me a lot more about running and spirit than I ever expected. I also joined my running club at work, and started helping out with organizing the activities. Even if I couldn't run with desire, I could still encourage others to, right? And it is so true: what you think you're doing for someone else, you're really doing for yourself. And so it was. I have encouraged so many people at work to start running, to improve, to find joy in running, that suddenly, I began to think about those things too. I don't know how or when it happened -i.e. the turning point, but I remember someone posting something on my fb wall saying at your next race, try chasing someone or be chased. And just like that, I wanted to do it. It has been years since I've felt any real desire to run, let alone chase anyone, and here I was, thinking about chasing. And yesterday at my 10K, I had the perfect race. I was in the zone - and my mojo was back. I wanted to run, and I wanted to chase - or at least try to. I didn't think I'd manage, but I did - for more than half the race. Then I made a friend and we ran together. And it was awesome. So how did I know my mojo was back? I sprinted to the death over the last 200m. Like I used to before. I was dizzy and ready to throw up as I crossed the finish line. And then I knew, it was back. So, what's the connection with mental resilience? Well, all this has taught me how to turn off the voices in my head (yes voices, the emotions, the feelings, the sadness, the disappointment, the overwhelming sensation of loss, etc etc - in short, all the negative emotions). To run notwithstanding. It's not always possible to run with mojo, but if I can put all the voices in my head on hold, until after my run, I am golden. And the more I practise that, the easier it becomes. And then suddenly, you're thinking about the race, about running, about your next Ragnar, about running with Princess Buttercup, about meeting Dean Karnazes, about running a marathon in Italy, about being happy. Running with mojo= running happy. But that's not always possible. "Happy" is a feeling external to us, a feeling we cannot control. but I think it is possible to control how I will allow the voices to affect me. But the flame and memory of 'run happy' is always there - and it will blaze strongly again - you just need to make sure there's enough wood, enough running to hit that happy place again.

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