Thursday, November 5, 2009

Slowing Down

I started running when I was fifteen, motivated by a group of interesting people in my tiny hometown.  They were professionals, mostly in their thirties, and I looked at them as the kind of people I hoped to someday become.  But I didn't have a lot of confidence in my athletic ability.  I'd been the tiny girl picked last in gym for dodgeball, volleyball and pretty much every other game.  So I started running after school in November, and used the early dark (yes, where I grew up the sky grows black around 4 as winter approaches) to pick up the habit without embarassing myself. 

That spring I ran my first 10K race, and felt like I'd found something I could do.  It didn't involve coordination or strength, just determination.  I lost weight and got plenty of compliments, but for me the real thrill came from feeling like I was tougher than most people: I could go out and run eight or ten miles when it was twenty below.  Okay, so maybe I was a little crazy, but it was where I first understood the warm glow of smug superiority, not to mention how great an endorphin high feels.  I put my head down and went as hard as I could (was there another way?) and ended up with a persistent stress fracture in my first year at university.  I had a bone removed from my foot, and decided I wasn't destined to be an athlete after all. 

Maybe because I grew up in a place where there wasn't a gym, I shied away from joining one.  I became a mom and a walker, and it kept me fit enough.  Then my son decided to run a 5K with his school team, and I thought, for this, maybe I can run again. It felt amazing to propel my body forward at speed again.  But after a couple of months, my Achilles tendon bothered me quite a lot and, long story short, has continued to do so for over a year. In an effort to keep up a serious level of fitness, I broke down and joined a gym, got on the dreaded machines, and then discovered through my facility I could access treatment for my injury as well.

What did I learn from my physiotherapy sessions?  That I needed to do all those core moves I'd avoided forever.  But most important, I must be mindful about my form--in putting my head down and going as hard as I could, I wasn't thinking about using the major muscles that keep our bodies stable--to keep from getting hurt.  So going like hell without thinking about it isn't going to take me where I want to go, which is to be fit until the end of my life. 

This life I live like a race.  So many of us do, and yet we never feel like we get to the finishline.  Last weekend I ran a very slow six miles, but I did so paying attention to my posture and my breathing.  It was really hard work.  Not physical pain, because using the proper form means I can run fairly fast without killing myself.  But the idea that I have to slow down and think is really, really difficult.  This seems to be a lesson I must learn again and again.  But when I got home?  No pain. 

Now I am intrigued by the idea that slow get me back to a serious level of fitness, at least as base training. In today's Globe and Mail, there is the first Article in a series by reporter David Ebner, where he learns that training slow might eventually pay off.  He is two months away from a backcountry ski trip that will last six days.  Translation from Canadian:  he will basically climb Whistler Mountain in a week.  If he thinks slow works, maybe I need to tell my Type A brain to give it a rest, too. 

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