Thursday, March 13, 2014

Invisible Battles and Unseen transformations:Observations and Confessions

I take pleasure in my transformations. I look quiet and consistent, but few know how many women there are in me.” ~   Anaïs Nin
After Lauren Fleshman published Keeping It Real, the female running interweb groups were abuzz with discussions and debates and similar 'let's keep it real' posts with photos that some might deem less than perfect. This then led to some self effacing comments from women runners sheepishly posting their 'Bad' photos while other women criticized them for their self-critical judgements. Oy!!! The strange and vicious circles we run around and around and around in...We are so very confused.

So what is our deal??? What are our obsessions and complexes. What do we find motivating and inspiring, and what do we secretly (or not so secretly) hate and resent and hold against people - even as we make nice with them??? I think it's time we recognize that we are ALL flawed beings, and though you may not see the flaws obviously in front of your eyes, it's best not to assume that you know more about someone than you think you know...

So here's MY observations AND my confessions...

First, My Observations:

Everyday we are inundated with remarkable weight loss transformation stories - They are EVERYWHERE, and if you haven't gained a lot of weight and then lost a lot of weight, well, we don't want to hear about it.  And then there are the self professed 'balanced' and 'healthy' plump souls who profess that no one would ever want to be 'skinny' if that means giving up pastries, because healthy food is just so gross. It's better to be fat and happy than thin and in need of a creme filled donut. And then there are those who argue, adamantly, that being anywhere within any 'target weight' calculation would result in their being ugly and emaciated.

On the other side are the skinny-mini, uber fit women telling all other women that they're just lazy if they aren't equally honed and ripped. Or the crazed endurance fiend who is forever going on about her amazing achievements because she has taken the risks and made the commitments that you just can't seem to muster.

There's just so much bloviating everywhere!! Is this doing anything for anyone?? Does this inspire, empower, motivate ANYONE??? We all have taken a different path to get to where we are today. We all have our own paths to find, to make - to dig out of the thick mess of weeds and seemingly impenetrable stones and rock hard dirt.

So here's my issue and perhaps I am alone on this - there are transformations and silent battles that people wage everyday that go unnoticed and unseen. We judge people's lives based on how they look from the outside and jump to conclusions, often erroneous conclusions, in doing so.

Recently I've had a number of experiences, and some personal attacks, that have hit hard in sensitive places.

Case in point: A discussion in a women's running group...
Question posed: I am trying to lose weight but my goal is higher then the recommendation for my height/frame. I think I would look awful being so skinny. Does anyone else feel this way? Will I be unhealthy at a weight 20lbs higher? I just think there's no way I can be healthy at the recommended weight.

What followed are about 150 or so comments all supporting the questioner's position - All defending the view that anyone who falls within those guidelines looks god-awful. Well, how lovely. Technically I'm probably below most of those recommendations, so I feel the urge to change my FB profile picture to something less revealing. Ewwwww. Am I that god-awful hideous. This discussion goes on and on, and yes, I could just go elsewhere, but I'm a curious sort. SO I listen - and even chime in, about how we should try to tune into where we feel the best - not on some number on the scale.

Yet, the support and camaraderie was clear - being soooooo 'thin' is just ugly and unhealthy and unrealistic.

Perhaps I'm be hyper-sensitive, but a lot of people don't think that others have these sensitive places if they don't SEE them. I would NEVER discuss another person's weight, but they have NO qualms commenting on mine. Why??? Because I'm 'thin' and so, that seems to give everyone the right to go on and on about how thin I am, and how I should eat more. At parties if I don't eat a ton, people comment - "No wonder you're so thin. You need to eat. We need to fatten you up!"  Would I ever say to someone, "Woooo there. Maybe you've had enough." No. Because I don't care!!!

SO here's the thing that everyone seems to be missing - We are MORE than our bodies!!! I am more than my bleeping-body! But what people don't get is that there are often stories no one knows about.

Yes. I know everyone is saying - 'Ohhh boo-hoo for you', but I have to say, I've had enough. NO ONE KNOWS WHERE I'VE been. I don't wear it for all to see. I don't advertise my battles and trials. But you better believe - I've had them. And I always assume that others have similar personal trials and tribulations.

Now: My Confessions: Don't assume you understand something you simply do not understand.

As a child: The only thing anyone ever notices about me is that I am 'skinny' - not smart, not cute, not beautiful, not talented, etc - just skinny. I am painfully shy and quiet - so what else can they say, right? But, you take a small girl, who's a perfectionist (My father once told me that I would only try things I believed I'd be able to do well!), who only gets attention for being skinny, and well, sh*t happens in her head.

So, move on into adolescence, and that dreaded female maturity crap - you know, hips and boobs and all that good curvy stuff - and being a late bloomer (smaller, thinner, flatter than the other girls) and I'm still the 'skinny' one - and I run - and I barely eat - because I need to be skinny, or who am I??? I learn to hide food away from my mother so she thinks I'm eating. You have to be fairly cleaver to get away with it all and I do get away with it. I need to be a skinny runner because that's what everyone expects. At some point, I'm around 15 or 16 years old, and at 5'5'' I'm at about 90 pounds. I'm lying on the beach with my boyfriend and marvel at how far my hip bones stick out! My parents are oblivious, as far as I can tell, to the whole thing, until they sit me down and say, "You need to gain weight or we're putting you in the hospital". I guess that's all I need at that time - and I gain some weight - but, always under my control!

During college, I keep running but I also smoke and drink too much at times. I eat horribly - living on Tab and cigarettes and running - and I guess you can get away with that kind of abuse when you're young.

But once I get out of college, running becomes my saving grace. But first things go bad.

I start to run road races, mostly 10ks. My first experiences are encouraging. I win or place high in some small local races around Ithaca NY where I live. My times start to drop quickly, and with that my goals grow more ambitious, and my weight drops. I move to Maine and get faster, and race more and more. And then I get completely, totally burned-out. I can't take the pressure anymore. I start to hate racing, and I'm down to 90 pounds again and running 70 miles a week.

But no one really sees what's going on beneath the surface because I still run. I still have energy. And I've always been thin. But THIS thin? No ever notices that something is wrong. Well, my mother does and every time I go home to visit her, she pushes food on me. The second I walk in the door from running..."Would you like me to make you some eggs?"  Blech. No. I'm FINE!

But that can only last for so long and I hit the skids. I quit road racing, cold turkey. It may or may not have help that I am also going through a difficult relationship break up at this point - but everything seems to just fall apart at the same time. I listen to a lot of Sinead O'Connor these days ;) Turns out it may be the best thing that could have happened to me. I quit racing, though I keep running, and for the next 19 years I run and I put things to rights for me and my life.

I've never really been into food. I don't get excited about most food - never have - though I have an ice cream weakness - and so it was really pretty easy NOT to eat. But now I see that food is the fuel I must have to do the things I want to do. At 50 I can't get away with what I used to. AND I don't want to be that skinny little girl anymore - I want to be as strong and as fast as I can be and, most importantly, I want to be able to continue doing this. The only way to do that is to make peace with my body and love it for it allows me to do amazing things. But most of all, I just want to be happy - in the Aristotelian 'flourishing' sense of happy, where things are the way they should be and I am deeply content with myself. And now I eat heartily (ask anyone who spent the week at the Olympic Training Center with me!) and happily and healthy because I need it and I want it because I need it. And believe it or not, I LOVE a huge plate of steamed veggies and brown rice. I know. Weird.

And the fact is, that someone can live a happy life and not be so into food! I realize that some don't get that, but it's true. I don't like donuts. I mean, I actually don't like them. it's not some issue of denying myself something that's pleasurable. The fat/happy, thin/miserable dichotomy is FALSE. Period.

So, while I know that the transformation stories, from overweight to healthy are motivating, I believe that there are many out there like me - and this story is important as well. But, because it is easier to hide, there seems to be more shame attached to it. And that is why I need to say all of this. AND I have never said most of this to anyone EVER.

I am, at last, happy with myself...Most of myself, most of the time.

And yet the chinks in the armor are still there if you want to find them, and I can be easily poked in those painful spots. And they are actually pretty dang exposed and being a woman in a culture obsessed with the superficial is a hard place for me to live. I want more. I want people to look more deeply. I wish people wouldn't judge based on looks, but rather on actions. But that's not how it is.

And I need to let other people's issues go if they use them to hurt me. I am so tempted to press the delete button on this one - but then perhaps one other person out there will understand my purpose.

Be charitable, be compassionate - I have yet to meet a person who isn't fighting SOME battle. Understanding that that can mean a world of difference, and perhaps - dream of dream - a different world.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Sad Truth: Me, and the Treadmill

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
I walk into the YMCA. I'm meeting Cecilia who is pounding out the tempo miles on the treadmill on an uber windy morning. I've just finished up a pleasant, albeit windy, 5 mile easy recovery run at Teller Farms and will now embark on the strength training segment of the morning - this, I have just reintroduced after a couple decade's break (scary!! Something, ummmm, different). I'm attempting to do what I say, not what I do...

I rest between sets of lat pull-downs and watch the runners on the treadmills, neatly lined up along the windowed wall. They're all in their own worlds. They're all running their own paces. Different cadences, different idiosyncratic gaits, different shapes and sizes. Some are glued to the TV screen in front of them. Others are listening to music. A few are just running. They are all running to nowhere, like we all are when we end up where we started.
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
Read more at walk into the YMCA where I plan to find Cecilia, pounding out the tempo miles on the treadmill. I've just run an easy 5 miles on the Teller Farm trail, and now I'm here to add on some strength stuff, which I've just started doing after too many years away from it (doing something newish - s-c-a-r-y).I sit, resting between lat-pull-down sets, and watch all the runners lined up across the wall of windows, running to nowhere, off in their own little worlds, running smoothly on the treadmill. Each at a different pace and cadence. Each with their own idiosyncratic gait. Some watch shows on the screen in front of them. Some listen to music. Some just run.

I do another set of lat pull-downs. And then I sit and watch and think.

This has been a very rough winter for running. All over the country (and apparently the US has been hit by one of the worst winters while the rest of the hemisphere has enjoyed a mild winter), runners have been dealing with tests of will, tenacity, commitment, toughness and stupidity of one sort or another. Here, in Colorado, it's been ice and snow and heinous winds, and several frigid spells of sub-zero highs. All but ONE day, I have run outside and I haven't missed a single day of training.  The one day I ran inside consisted of running around the Y's track (11 laps to a mile) for at least 10 miles (I lost count from time to time but always erred on the low count side as runners always do). I did this because of my ongoing tweaky foot issues - and on that day, running inside was more prudent, for my physical well being and my Boston aspirations, than running outside.

But there were many days this winter that I pined for an indoor option other than the track. This track is not, for instance, the most suitable for tempo runs - tight turns and too many other runners makes it difficult to maintain a steady pace - AND the Garmin doesn't work there - SO, arrrgggg, I ran outside on some days that running inside would have been smarter - as in, my TRAINING would have benefited.

And then it hits me, as I sit there, about to pull-down again...

I'm afraid to run on a treadmill!!

Every other runner in the world...

...and me...
mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa
Yup. That's what I said. It's true. I'm 50 years old. At this age you start getting all set in your stupid ways, and well, I'm set in mine. This can be a good thing when habit overcomes reluctance and you head out the door to run even when you don't really feel like it for the simple reason that that is just 'what you do'. But the bad side of this is the fear that maybe you just can't do that thing you've never done before. Okay. I did run on a TM once, when I was 25, and doing a research project on myself for a sports physiology class I was taking at the University of Southern Maine. But that was the first and last time.

For a lot of you, I'm sure you can't fathom such nonsense. I mean, how lame! This is basic stuff. I have the same response when someone says they're afraid to run by themselves - not due to safety issues but just because. I don't get that, so I'm sure most won't get my little problem.

We are creatures of habit and we tend to like what we've always done - what WE are comfortable with. For me, running outside is where I'm comfortable. Doing what we KNOW is comfortable. Doing something different??? Not so comfortable.  But what we've always done may be, well, stupid. And this is the thought I find myself with at the moment.

But then I think...This is not just me. Or is it.

Do you just opt for the option that feels the most comfortable?? I know many women, for instance, who are nervous about running outside, in public, seen by others, by themselves - or others who just find the treadmill 'easier' - No hassle. No stress. No route to choose. No traffic to deal with. And it's just what they do - and so, even on a beautiful spring day, those treadmills are running, all day.

While I will always choose running outside over running inside when that makes sense, the fact is that there are good reasons to hit the TM. I always joke with people that I 'can't' run on a treadmill. That I'd probably kill myself. But it dawned on me that I actually may believe that. Everyone else can do it, but not me. My jokes are a pathetic cover - and they're not even really jokes!!

So, there you have it. People seem to think I have an elitist attitude about treadmills and that I'm somehow trying to prove something by running outside in ALL weather. But the fact is that I'm just plain, simple, stupid scared.

Perhaps 'scared' is too strong. Let's say, 'uneasy'. And the fact is, that in most cases it really doesn't matter to me - but, on those occasions it does, well, there's the rub. And so, now I know.

Now, be nice and don't make fun!
“I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. I know I can.” ~ The Little Engine That Could
Most of us tend to prefer what we know and are comfortable with - that may be outside running, TM running, running with a group, always running routes in the same direction, running at the same time of day, running with a dog...etc. but I've been making an attempt to expand my horizon. I did it when I started swimming a little over a year ago after a 20 year break from it. I'm doing it now with the strength stuff. Will I do it with the treadmill. Time will tell and spring is almost here...I may get a reprieve. 

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