Every physical activity we participate in is chock full of lessons that we can apply to various aspects of our lives. I can honestly say that I’d credit at least half of my emotional development the past ten years to the physical challenges that I have put myself through.
I can’t remember the last time I didn’t learn something about myself in a yoga class. In yesterday morning’s sweaty ninety minute session, I realized that I can really sell myself short if I allow myself to project my expectations over something, rather than just doing my best and seeing where that takes me. As many of you know I was out of commission for almost ten days with a serious flu. This past week was all about just getting back to moving again. Seeing that in the week prior, all I could keep down was broth, I was really lacking in energy and completing my normal workouts was out of the question. It was a good opportunity for me to have some compassion for myself, which is not something I’m always able to do. I was grateful to get in two three-mile interval runs during the week. They were tough and also slower than normal, but it felt great to sweat and exert myself. Saturday was my first yoga class in almost two weeks. I walked in super cautious and honestly expecting to have to sit out of some postures. Something happened though when we started the second set of our first breathing exercise–I realized that although I did feel fatigued, I also felt like I could keep going. I ended up not sitting out of any postures and I ended class feeling stronger than when I walked in. It was a pretty cool feeling. Especially considering there are times when I walk in feeling healthy and full of energy, and leave feeling whooped. It really is all about taking one day–even one hour, at a time.
Running has been the other activity that’s always been full of lessons for me. Training for the marathon last year really changed me forever. I’m in awe of people who train for marathons all the time cause for me the emotional drain might outweigh even the physical one. The process is just not one I could live through year-round.
That being said, being so sick recently has had me thinking about marathon training a lot. More specifically, it’s had me reminiscing about the race itself. Those of you that have been following along with me for a while might remember that after my race I called bullshit on all those people who told me at the end of training, “the hard part is over, it’s all downhill from here!” I found running the actual marathon, really fucking hard. I had trained well. I was prepared. And still–26.2 miles remained, and they were brutal.
When I was sick this time I fell into a brief but deep depression. I had a fever that lasted five days. After day three, a feeling of hopelessness that I couldn’t shake set in. I was taking and doing all the things that were supposed to make me better, but nothing was working. I felt so weak that getting up to go to the bathroom became this monstrous physical feat. That made me feel crazy. I realized that physicality and the ability to move is such an integral part of my life. I started to get some pretty grave thoughts–like if I ever had cancer, I decided I wouldn’t be able to handle chemo. The thought of feeling that sick and that weak for such a long time sounded impossible. I started to consider that maybe there was something that survivors have in them that I don’t. I had always thought that I was strong–but in the thick of my illness, I called my own bullshit. My strength wasn’t legit if I could only employ it when I felt it.
Days after my flu the fog lifted and I began to contemplate all of these thoughts that had gone through my head when I was under the weather. I had to work through them. Finally back at work I told more than one co-worker my chemo predicament, and how I had decided that cancer was a death sentence for me. Some tried to act understanding. All of them voiced how crazy they thought I was. I listened as a few who knew me well declared that they weren’t convinced–that they were sure I would fight to stay alive if I had to. They thought I was strong.
With all of this swirling around in my head, those 26.2 miles came roaring back. And when I recalled the last 6.2 miles, that’s when I remembered the stuff that I’m really made of. You see I feel like no one ever really accurately describes those last miles. How can they? They may be different for everyone. What they were for me was a combination of physical and mental anguish that I never knew existed. You see running is something that has always made me feel strong. For years I never ran more than the half marathon–and at the distance, I can train to be at a place where at the end, even if I have struggled, I can dig deep, and push out faster miles than when I started. The marathon distance was a completely different beast for me. And I didn’t know it until I was there. My 20 miler in training was kick-ass. I was sure I would breeze through the last six miles, no problem. But when I got to that point in the race, I felt like I had entered a torture chamber. Gone was any semblance of feeling of strength. I felt weak, and tired, and my body was screaming, what the fuck are you doing, STOP! Inside my head was even worse. I thought I was so mentally prepared–but I was not ready for my mind to feel so schizophrenic. My desire to detach from reality and escape was stronger than it had ever been since I’d been sober; all I wanted was to not be where I was.
It wasn’t like I thought it would be. That feeling of digging deep I was used to was not the same–because when I reached down, there was nothing for me to hold on to. I was empty. I scrounged around inside myself–desperate for anything that I could use to get me through the hell that I had been stupid enough to voluntarily sign up for (that thought killed me those last 6 miles!). In the end, I don’t know that I had anything except for one thought: The only way out is forward. Sure I thought of my family, and my friends, and all the years I had waited to fulfill this dream. But honestly, all of that is what got me to the starting line, and the first twenty miles. Those last steps were taken on stuff I didn’t know that I had–and that I am still not sure what to call. Whatever it was though, is what I’m quite sure would have me fighting if I ever really got sick. It’s some sort of knowledge that the only thing I can do is put one foot in front of the other. It’s the knowing that despite the absence of the strength I think is required to get where I want to go, I do have the might for just one more step, and then maybe another.
I’m one of those obnoxious people who never thinks anything is a coincidence; I am always sure that everything is happening for a reason. I spend a lot of time trying to identify what those reasons are, attempting to learn from whatever life is throwing at me at the time. Being sick sucked, big time. But in the weeks before it, I was feeling like Super Woman. I was getting stronger in the weight room and was having some really powerful, short, fast, and fun runs. I’ve even been working closer with one of my yoga teachers on tweaking some of my postures and have been feeling gains in areas I wasn’t even really attuned to before. I was feeling strength in all the ways that I’m accustomed to–all the ways that I prefer. Getting sick was a great reminder that strength can look and feel a lot of different ways. I keep thinking of that Nelson Mandela quote about fear:
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it…”
Similarly, I think strength is not the absence of weakness–but the will to conquer it, no matter how long and arduous the battle.
I walked into that yoga class yesterday thinking I was beat before I even got started. I walked out feeling like a champ. Four months ago I felt like I had nothing in the last miles of that marathon. Then I crossed the finish line, and I had everything.
Stick with it. I guess that’s my lesson. Don’t quit before the miracle happens. Just don’t. x
header cred: brannon naito