August 16, 2012

Musings about underperformance... and setting appropriate athletic goals

Yesterday I had my yearly physical.  I came away feeling very blessed for this healthy body.  Not that I'm in shape-- I clearly can improve there.  In fact, I got the doctor's clearance to do just that.  I was told I can do anything I want to get in shape!  My doctor even gave her approval for the way I am trying to eat-- mostly vegetables, no dairy, little meat, whole grains and beans.  She encouraged me to add eggs for protein, since I don't have any cholesterol issues. 

After watching two weeks of ultra performers in the Olympics-- toned healthy individuals doing amazing things with their fit bodies-- I want to improve.  I'm tired of underperforming physically.  I know that it's crazy to compare myself with an Olympic athlete, one who spends all day training.  I am raising a family and supporting a very busy husband.  I won't be able to take too much time away from those core roles.  I suppose I could, but the cost to the family is too high.

When I think of this choice-- to limit the time I spend on physical exercise-- I think I am being cautious about upsetting the balance in our home.  But am I?  Am I really modeling ‘underperforming’ with that as an excuse?  Could I step up my exercise and still perform my role as wife and mother?  Probably…

I get upset when I see the potential in my children, and I know they aren’t even trying to reach it.  I have musically gifted children who won’t practice the piano.  Years of piano lessons haven’t produced the performances I know are possible because the kids underperform.  Is it that they can’t really see themselves as a great musician?  They can’t see themselves performing a hymn in Sacrament meeting at church?  Or is it that they are content in the mediocrity?  Is it the delusion that one day they will wake up and just ‘know’ how to play the piano perfectly?  

Then I think of my underperformance in exercise and see a correlation.  Several years ago I decided I wanted to learn how to run.  In High School I was on the swim team and tried out for the Volleyball team (just missed the last cut.)  I have never enjoyed running.  But my daughter told me she and her husband were going to train for a local 5k race and asked if I would consider running in it.  I mentioned it to my husband and he immediately started training.  As a former High School Cross Country runner, he knew exactly what to do.  I was at a loss—even if I wanted to, would I hurt myself trying?

I was already doing the Core Performance  program, a Jack LaLanne style program of stretching and weight training.  My husband and I had worked up to level 3.  It was helping with flexibility, balance and muscle tone, but needed cardio training to complete it.  

My husband told me to just run a mile and see how it felt, and how long it took.  That was even too much to ask me to do.  Instead, I ran one minute, then walked one minute.  I did this for 10 minutes the first day and I didn’t die!  It seems like such a small thing, but it was ALL that I felt confident enough to do.  Every day I lengthened out the time I walked/ran until I was at it for 20 minutes, then I started to run for 2 minutes to each one minute of walking.

As my confidence grew, I ran more and more until I was running a mile without stopping.  Over the next few months, winter settled in.  I had to overcome the fears that winter brought.  I was afraid to run when the weather was too cold, so I wouldn’t run if it was below 40 degrees Fahrenheit outside.  That seems silly to some, but I was unsure of my abilities in the cold.  That slowed my training some, but didn’t stop it.  

As spring rolled in, my efforts increased again and I ran my first 3 miles just a month or two before the scheduled 5k race.  My husband and I ran the 5k together, with really slow times, just to finish.  Our goal was to keep running and finish, which we did.  Over the next few years I shaved ten minutes off of that first 5k time running the same race.  It was great to set goals and reach them.  I was never fast enough to brag on my time—I can’t even remember it.  But it was the best I had ever done.  One year I won second place for women in my age bracket.  That felt great!  I had won a medal!  I guess I was finally really a runner…

Running took so much effort, though.  I had to either skip breakfast or wait too long into my day (when my food would be digested) to start.  I hated the sick feeling I got when I ran with food in my stomach.  I didn’t want to get up super early either, since I had a schedule with kids in the morning that went from 7 am to about 9 am.  So it was either to run at 6 am in the dark or 9 am, when exercising starts crowding my day.  Eventually, I let it go.  I stopped running about 3 years ago.  

Oh, I used the reasoning that running is hard on my knees.  We had moved to a hilly neighborhood and I didn’t think like running uphill, and running downhill hurt.  I told people that I just didn’t like to run really, I tried it and I didn’t really like it.  Why do something every day that you don’t like to do?  We even got a high-quality treadmill, which I didn’t like.  I felt woozy when I tried to walk on the ground again afterward.  

It didn’t help that there was some envy going on too.  I hated to watch my husband, who started running at the same time I did, lose 50 pounds by just running.  He didn’t change anything about his diet, he just added running like I did.  I didn’t lose even one pound!  That was disappointing.  I really only had about 10 pounds to lose.  I know I toned up and built muscle.  I felt great and can’t say I suffered any health problems because I was running.  And there was a certain pride when I would casually say to people, ‘Well, after my run, if I hurry, I can meet you by 10…”  Here I was in my mid forties and I was a runner!  It did feel good.

So to be completely honest, I think I ran for the wrong reasons.  I ran to lose weight.  There were other reasons:  I wanted to try something new.  But when I didn't lose weight, I became discouraged.  I knew I needed to bring it up a notch to move forward but I hadn't lost weight.  I ignored how good I felt and how healthy I had become.  I expected to look like an Olympic athlete without putting in the effort that they did.  If I expected to really slim down and be THAT fit, I needed to do much more than run 3 days a week 2 -3 miles each time, alternated with Core Performance training.  That’s less than 10 miles a week of running, not nearly enough to master something.  I was modeling underperformance!  I was doing 'just enough' to qualify as a runner, not enough to really succeed.  Just like my kids, who do 'just enough' to keep the piano teacher from dropping them from lessons, but not enough to really master the piano.

Now that I have a clean bill of health and can do anything I want, physically, what should I do?  Do I continue to walk 7 miles 3 days a week with a friend?  Do I start running again after taking about 3 years off?  I clearly need to make it a priority and set reasonable goals this time.  Perhaps my current good health has it’s roots in my past running experiences… and that weight loss should not even be on the table.  How can I model proper performance this time?

Next year I turn 50—and I need to conquer something.  I feel blessed to know that my body can do anything with training.  My husband wanted to conquer Half Dome at Yosemite-- three weeks ago we climbed it together.  He has offered to support me this year when I turn 50 in conquering something.  I just need to decide what it is… then really perform in my training.  Then it will be FUN!
I am going to go lift some weights.  Let the training begin!

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