07 Feb Re-Setting the Bar
Several weeks ago, I went on one of those surprising and glorious January runs. The air was crisp and clean and not freezing, and the ground had none of the icy patches on it that can usually keep me inside and on the treadmill for months at a time. I didn’t even have to wear too many layers, and as yet another bonus I had recently downloaded a few new songs onto my iPod that I had yet to get sick of. In short, the conditions were ideal. As I started off I was thrilled to be outside, and only vaguely aware of something, somewhere sort of gnawing away at my enjoyment and pleasure. As I ran, the gnawing got a little louder and a little more insistent. About a mile or so in, I recognized that the vague sense of disequilibrium had morphed into more of a sense of foreboding and it was then that I recognized the experience. I was remembering, on a physical and visceral level, that at the end of this particular run, I need to climb a fairly intimidating hill, particularly so since I hadn’t been running outside (or really inside either if the truth be told) in any kind of regular way for months. Like so many others, my exercise routines had sort of fallen by the wayside in the transition from summer to fall (because of course we are just so busy!) and had taken even more of a hit at the end of the year (the holidays! the holidays!). The hill, and more specifically the last section of it, had taken on a power . . . a power to intimidate me, and a power to infuse what was otherwise a glorious celebratory run, into something to be feared and dreaded. I know for myself that when dread and avoidance start to creep in to a run or into my exercise routine in general, then I am at a tipping point. It becomes easy in those moments to let go of the whole enterprise and suddenly see myself as too busy, or too stressed, or too frustrated to push through. Or, we can push through those obstacles, gaining strength, confidence, and pride in our willingness to do the “heavy lifting” or heavy running and power up the hill.
Last week I did something different. I decided to give myself permission to stop running at a point three quarters up the hill (there is a driveway there which provides a great marker). I allowed myself the room to define “top of the hill” in a new way; a way that reflects my current level of fitness, my current level of energy and my current level of commitment to exercise. Rather than white knuckle my way up to the top of the hill, I realized that with a small tweak, I could get all of the pleasure from the run, the lions share of the exercise benefit from the run and avoid the pit- in- the- stomach-I-don’t-want-to-do-this feeling. Small tweak, big reward. That is my kind of formula!
It may be that come the spring I re-assess again. It may be that by then I find myself enjoying the satisfaction of pushing through to the top of the hill. What I have learned about exercise, and diet too, is that when we give ourselves permission to ease up just a bit, we often find ourselves really engaging in whatever it is that we are setting out to do. When we allow ourselves the wiggle room to really be where we are on a given day, or even a given season, we circumvent the rigidity that often derails us from reaching our goals. In a word, we allow ourselves more room to have fun. So cut yourself some slack, re-write the rules as you see fit, and go enjoy the run!