2013: The Year of Giving Up

It’s taken me over a month of reflection to feel like I have any real insight into what 2013 was like for me. Even now, in the middle of February, I don’t think I’ve got the full picture. But that’s life. Can you ever really make lasting sense of it?

Looking back, 2013 seems a little bit empty. It wasn’t a bad year and it wasn’t a good year, it was just sort of there, you know? I didn’t race much, I didn’t run much, I didn’t really do anything big or significant. 2013 doesn’t have any distinguishing features…except that I kind of gave up on stuff.

I don't normally go for these quote memes, but this one seemed appropriate

I don’t normally go for these quote memes, but this one seemed appropriate

Giving up has such a negative sound to it, like you’re just kind of accepting that you can’t win and walking away. There’s resignation, and maybe even some resentment, involved. The giving up I’m talking about wasn’t all bad. I mean, it wasn’t meant to be. It was actually meant to be positive, more letting go than giving up: letting go of things that I thought were holding me back, of things that were too much, of things that were damaging. But at some point, I think I lost track of the things I was shedding, and now I feel a little bit naked.

If life is a balance of holding on and letting go, how do we decide which is more appropriate at any given time? I think my biggest fault this past year was telling myself that giving things up would be healthy and helpful, when in reality all I was doing in some cases was justifying the fact that I was throwing in the towel and no longer making an effort for the wrong reasons. Sometimes, the healthy part comes from the effort, while the act of giving up ends up being more damaging. At other times, it really is time to give yourself a break and try to connect with doing less in order to get more out of something.

I find myself thinking about this balance a lot. I don’t want 2014 to be a repeat of 2013. Instead, I want to push myself while still respecting and understanding my limits. I want to do new things without beating myself up if I fail or fumble. I don’t want to give up just to avoid the discomfort that might come from an imperfect outcome, but I don’t want to keep holding on when I no longer stand to gain anything positive from a situation, either.

I guess that as in all cases that require some kind of balance, finding what works will take a lot of trial and error. Maybe that’s what 2014 will be for.

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There’s Something about the Brooklyn Half

This Wednesday, the 22nd, is sure to be a big day for the New York Road Runners website, as it’s the day that registration for the Brooklyn Half-Marathon opens. In a NYRR email I got, the organization warned that the race is sure to sell out in a matter of hours (as it’s done in the past), so if you want to register, you’d better be ready.

Image via NYRR.org

Image via NYRR.org

I’d really like to run the Brooklyn Half this year, but it makes me really anxious when a race gets so big that you have to set an alarm to remind you to register the minute it opens or risk losing your opportunity to get a spot. For one thing, it turns the simple process of registering for a race into a stressful ordeal, and for another, I feel like it plays right into this endless cycle in which the race gets popular, then gets hyped up because it gets close to selling out, and then gets more popular because it sells out so quickly, and on and on. The organizers expand the field so that more runners can have a chance to run, and then you end up with a race that’s bigger than it can really afford to be, and because it’s become something of a monster, it just keeps growing and growing. Between the NYC Half and the Marathon, NYRR’s got enough high-profile, lottery-only events. If the Brooklyn hype train keeps up, is it headed for the same destiny?

When I first started running NYRR races, which was probably back around 2008 or 2009, the Brooklyn Half was one of the five races in the 5-Borough Half-Marathon Series. As the name suggests, there was a half-marathon in each of the five boroughs that collectively make up New York City. I ran the one in Manhattan, the one in Brooklyn, and the one in the Bronx. If you ran four out of five in one year, you got something, and if you ran all five, you got something else. For a while I wanted to run all five, and then I came back to planet Earth and admitted to myself that if I was being honest, I just wasn’t going to get up at the crack of dawn to take public transportation to Staten Island, run a half-marathon, and then take public transportation back home. As the kids say, eff that ess.

At any rate, over the years the races in the series, and the nature of the series itself, have changed. The Manhattan race is now the NYC Half, which uses a qualification and lottery system instead of open registration, and the only other half is the one in Brooklyn. It’s kind of sad, because it used to be that if you wanted to run a half-marathon in NYC, you could always find one pretty easily because of the 5-Borough series. Now, they’re just kind of races like all the others, a 10k here and another unremarkable distance there, E-I-E-I-O. Also weird is the fact that of the five races, people only really talk about two: the BK half and the NYC half (which really no one talked about when it was the Manhattan Half, a different race with an entirely different course that now also has a different name).

And what I want to know is WHY? Why is it that the Brooklyn Half took off while the others languished? Is it because there was that one year where they didn’t open registration for a long time because they were having problems finalizing the course or something, so everyone started thinking there was something really exclusive and important about the race and they would be like members of a special club if they managed to get in? Why is it that Brooklyn has now gotten so popular that it’s become an Event that has its own Pre-Party? When did it turn into a Thing? And will it ever not be a Thing?

All I’m saying is that I want to run a $55 half-marathon in May that starts like half a mile from my house without having to worry about whether I will be able to register or not. So, if everyone could just make sure to leave a spot for me, that would be great.

Weather Humor?

This evening before I went running I checked the weather. I’ve gotten into the habit of doing this now that we’re in thunderstorm season; I have no problem running in the rain, but I draw the line at running in lightning. Since my routine check showed that the skies would stay clear for the duration of my run, I headed out without worrying all that much.

What the widget said when I checked it five minutes ago.

What the widget said when I checked it five minutes ago.

As I started the third mile of my run, it started raining. I’d been hoping to do at least four miles, but I cut my run short because I didn’t want to get caught in a thunderstorm. Not too long after I got home, I heard thunder. At least I made the right decision.

I’m still confused, though, about the weather forecast. Weather.com explicitly stated in a little sidebar widget that I should “expect dry conditions over the next six hours”. I should have known better than to trust that stupid thing, but for some reason, I believed it and confidently threw on a white t-shirt and light gray sports bra and headed out the door. Boy did I regret that move half an hour later.

I’ve been misled by that “expect dry conditions” message so many times that this evening when I got in, it occurred to me that it must be a joke. It probably never changes, and the Weather Channel people just put it there to screw with your head! It’s some sort of commentary on how dependent we’ve become on our technology and computers and apps and widgets, when we could just look out the window or step outside to see what the weather’s like! It’s meteorological humor, right? It has to be! But then when I checked it again recently, the message was entirely different, as the image above shows.

So, it’s not a joke. It’s just…an inability to provide accurate information on what the weather is going to be like. You’ve been warned! And remember: don’t wear a white shirt unless you are 100% sure you won’t get stuck in the rain.

Running Streak: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

As I write this, I’m sitting on my couch trying to work up the energy to go for a run. It’s not just the physical energy, it’s the mental energy that I’m lacking. Today is day 19 of the Runner’s World Summer Run Streak, which started on Memorial Day and ends on July 4. I’ve run at least one mile (often more than one) every day for the last 18 days, and this week I’ve hit a wall.

Badge via Pavementrunner.com

Badge via Pavementrunner.com

I started the streak on a bit of a whim. My running had been so inconsistent, and I wanted a new way to get motivated. A couple days after I decided I’d do it, I asked a few friends if they wanted to join in as well. This quickly turned into a bet between one of said friends and me: whoever ran fewer miles would treat the other to brunch when everything was all said and done. My friend has been an avid runner for a little over a year now, and I knew going into the bet that I was going to be the one paying for brunch. But that was fine (and still is)–again, I just wanted something to keep me motivated.

The streak started out hard both mentally and physically. I felt tired and dragged a bit through most of the first week. But after about four days, I felt like I’d broken through a wall and my running felt free and easy. I’d never been a big proponent of running streaks before beginning my own, and all of a sudden I wanted to tell everyone how great an idea it was. ‘Why doesn’t everyone do this?’ I found myself wondering. ‘This is the most amazing thing! I can’t imagine ever taking a day off of running again!’ All the worrying I’d been doing a few weeks earlier when my running schedule was erratic and fraught with anxiety disappeared, as it was no longer a question of whether or not I should run. Knowing that I’d be running no matter what took the edge off of some of the things about running that had gotten so difficult for me and had been holding me back for months. I ran through a nasty cough, in torrential downpours, and through some horrible humidity, all the while feeling alive and undaunted. The experience was exhilarating! This feeling of elation lasted a while–up until the beginning of this past week, in fact.

After day 15, things changed, and the past few days have felt more like a chore than anything else. I haven’t run more than 2.5 miles at a time since Monday; I haven’t had the energy or the desire to go much further than that. I’ve had to buy more running socks because I don’t have enough pairs to keep up with the rate at which we do our laundry, and I’ve started wearing some of my running tops and sports bras more than once between washings. I’ve found myself getting annoyed with the fact that the constant humidity has also got me feeling like I’m constantly sweating, and like my sweaty running clothes will never be completely dry again, no matter how long I hang them up to air out in the bathroom. I’ve noticed that almost every time I go running, I get some sort of comment from the people I pass on the sidewalk on my way to the park–“Hey gorgeous”, “Oh, hellooo…”, or just a simple but lascivious, “Niiiiice” as I run by. Maybe this stuff was happening all along, and I just didn’t notice because I wasn’t running as frequently. Who knows? Needless to say, it’s dampened my enthusiasm for going out. Yesterday, feeling both exhausted and physically sick, I delayed for a long time before finally putting my running shoes on and doing a quick 1.2 miles. Under normal circumstances, I would have let myself off the hook for an upset stomach. But with a running streak comes an obsessive need to keep going no matter what. My stomach hurt, sure, but why should that stop me from running a mile? Surely I could get through a mile. If I didn’t, I was throwing away 17 days of hard work.

It was while in the throes of this obsessive thinking that I realized that maybe this streaking stuff wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. If I missed one day, did that really discount 17 days of running? Or any of the other runs that had come before this one? Would the running be less meaningful if I didn’t manage to do it for 39 days straight? Even I, with all my anxiety and perfectionism, could see how potentially unhealthy this could be. And sure, 39 straight days of running is great, but enjoying the time you spend on your feet is even better.

So the upside of all this is that once I publish this post, I’ll get up, put on my running shoes, and head out the door. I’m feeling a bit low energy today, but I think being able to work through this sort of inertia is more healthy than it is unhealthy when it comes to running. Still, though, I’m not sure that once I’ve gotten through day 39 that I’ll keep going through days 40, 41, 42, and on and on. In fact, I’m thinking instead that day 40 might be a perfect day for a massage and some rest. I’m pretty sure that in my case, a running streak is going to be a simple accomplishment, and not a way of life.

 

A Day for Depression

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I woke up yesterday at 10:00 am (don’t judge me) feeling like I’d just come out of a coma. I don’t like sleeping late, it always makes me feel like I’ve started the day off on the wrong foot. I also find that I am much more susceptible to feeling crummy on days when I sleep in, although maybe there’s a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy involved there. Who can say? All I know is that by the time 2:00 pm hit, I’d already had a minor breakdown and decided I just wanted to spend the day in bed. I felt overwhelmed–the day was far from ideal, and I’d lost all sense of how to turn it around. I was beating myself up for not being able to establish what I might want to do over the course of the day, and for failing to accomplish anything other than sitting around my apartment staring at my laptop screen. No morning run, no yoga, no breakfast…the more time passed, the worse I felt, and eventually I just gave up and gave in.

It’s been a while since I’ve been hit hard by a wave of depression like this, and it really took me by surprise. Things have been going well, and I’ve been feeling good. It used to be that I could attribute feeling down and hopeless to something going on in my life, like disliking my job, being stressed out about money…something. Even if what I had identified as the root cause of the depression wasn’t actually responsible in any way for what I was feeling, it was somehow comforting to know that I could point to some event or set of circumstances and say, “It’s because of this.” It just made me feel less flawed, I guess. If nothing else, I could at least establish that the problem wasn’t just that there was something inherently wrong with me.

And that’s what made yesterday so hard. Out of what felt like nowhere, this huge wave swelled up and overtook me, and I felt powerless to do anything about it. Instead, I just let it swallow me up. I learned not only that depression can come out of nowhere, but also that when it does, you can’t necessarily just remind yourself of the good stuff you have going on and make it disappear. Nor can you necessarily rally and get yourself out the door for a run, or sit down to meditate, or even find some way to take yourself out of your head for just five minutes. It’s scary, and it makes you wonder if all the progress you’d thought you’d made over the past several months was just illusory.

Meditation has taught me the value of accepting things as they come, whether they are events entirely outside my control or emotional states that I feel I ought to have power over. It’s also taught me how much of everything we do in life is an on-going process of practice and mindful effort. But when I thought yesterday of trying to sit with the feelings of hopelessness, indifference, and sadness that I was experiencing, the idea just aggravated the frustration and anger I was already dealing with. So while I could have accepted the depression with a non-judgmental curiosity, I didn’t. I plunged headlong into all the negativity it brought with it, including the harsh and destructive emotions it made me feel toward myself. There’s something so cruel about the whole thing.

Today I woke up much earlier, but I know I’ve already reached a point in the day where it’s going to be really hard for me to make a conscious decision to turn toward activity and mindfulness. I can already feel the anger toward myself bubbling up. As much as I hate it, the desire to just give up on the day, crawl into bed, and become the person I’ve worked so hard not to be is really strong. Who knows? Maybe with the insight I gained after yesterday will make it just a little bit easier to live with the depression in a compassionate, mindful way. It won’t necessarily mean I’m any less depressed, but there’s a possibility that bringing that accepting perspective to what I’m feeling will help to clear out some of the more insidious negative emotions. I don’t want it to be another day for depression, but at the same time I can’t really deny it the space that it occupies as part of who I am. I guess the real trick is accepting that while it is there, it’s not all there is.

YogaVibes Class Review: Exhale Flow Focus on the Hamstrings

Yoga Class at a Gym

Yoga Class at a Gym (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every time I do a yoga class through YogaVibes I find myself thinking I should review it–you know, keep track of which classes I’ve done, what they were like, and whether or not I liked them. I lose track pretty easily, and sometimes find myself going back to one I’ve already done, not realizing until I’m five or ten minutes in that it seems a bit too familiar to be entirely new…and that I didn’t like it when I did it before. Today, I’m turning thought into reality! I just finished Exhale Slow Yoga: Focus on the Hamstrings, what better time to write a review?

I’m not really sure why I chose this class. While browsing, I picked out a different practice, and was all set to do that one. At the last minute, I changed my mind. That Forrest yoga will have to wait for another time! I’ve had a chest cold for the past few days, so I was looking for something that wouldn’t be too strenuous, but I was also in the mood for something that would challenge me a little bit. As it turns out, this Exhale class was a good fit in that regard. It’s an hour long slow flow class, and I managed to get pretty sweaty. Stefanie Eris, the teacher, gets right into things and structures the class around a few sun salutation variations that open up into poses like warrior III, parsvottanasana (which, translated, is something like intense side stretch–very catchy), and what seems to be yoga’s pose-of-the-moment, hanumanasana. She also manages to work standing splits, crow, and whatever complicated name you want to call this pose. So it’s not a practice for the lighthearted. Although, I have to admit that it wasn’t until I started looking through the guide on the ‘Yoga Journal‘ website that I realized how many pretty solid poses were in this practice. I mean, the experience didn’t scar me or anything. I realized at the time that it was challenging, but I guess looking back on it I’m now realizing *how* challenging. It wasn’t something that I got hung up on during the practice–that’s a good thing in my book! Also, I think it’s important that you know that when I do those poses, I look exactly like the ‘Yoga Journal’ models. In fact, I’m not sure why they haven’t contacted me to do some modeling for them. (By the way, ‘Yoga Journal’ people: my rates are very reasonable.)

Although my overall feeling about this class is a positive one, there were a few things that I could have done without. First of all, Stefanie Eris definitely has a Yoga Teacher Voice, and the combination of that and the wireless mic that she used throughout the class were a bit much for me. I don’t know, am I the only one who doesn’t really like the microphone thing? I get it–your class is big, projecting can be draining, etc. But…meh. There’s just something about the mic–the inevitable popping and cracking? the amplified breathing? the fact that it makes me feel like I’m in the congregation of a mega-church?–that bugs me. Occasionally, the teacher would move the mic aside to talk to a student she was adjusting, but the sound would still be picked up, and she was speaking totally normally. I think I would have preferred that over the loooong draaaaawn ouuuuut vooooowel sooooouuuuunds (okay, I’m exaggerating…a little) of the Yoga Teacher Voice that she used while addressing the entire group.

Ultimately, though, the practice was well structured and had a good flow and rhythm to it. I feel really good having done it, and the positive things about it far outweigh the negative things. Would I do this one again? Yep!

The take-away:

pros: challenging practice, good length, logical flow from one pose to another, and good variety of poses

cons: Yoga Teacher Voice, megachurch microphones, occasional confusion about what pose I should be in (this might have had more to do with my chest cold-induced brain fog, though)

This Seems Unreasonable

English: The western ramp and pylon of Brookly...

English: The western ramp and pylon of Brooklyn Bridge, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m thinking of joining a running club. This isn’t the first time–I had a brief flirtation with the Dashing Whippets a couple years ago, and I’m a member of Team LUNA Chix NYC Run (but we only meet from May-October)–and it probably won’t be the last. This go-round is brought to you by a running rut. It’s starting to feel like I’m just always in one. But that’s another story for another time. Anyway, while I was looking at some Brooklyn-based club possibilities, I came across this little gem, about increased security at races throughout the city:

PPTC’s very own Steve Lastoe, the founder and driving force behind NYCRUNS, the organizer of the Verrazano Festival, urged runners not to bring bags to the races, if at all possible. Organizers are “reserving the right to search bags (and will search oversize [sic] bags) and throw unattended baggage into the river,” he said in an email interview. [emphasis mine]

I understand security concerns. I’m sure most people do. But I’m not sure how this qualifies as increased security…it sounds to me like it’s just littering. And as such, it’s unnecessary, damaging, lazy, and irresponsible.

Yes, unattended and unclaimed bags are a concern. (And technically any runner’s bag is going to count as unattended while they’re running the race, so I’m not sure if this means that bag check will just be on a big boat and that once the timer starts volunteers will just throwing things overboard or something.) But rivers aren’t your trashcan. And I don’t understand what justification anyone could have for just dumping a bunch of stuff into a river–the stuff doesn’t disappear once it flots out of sight. But I guess that once “race organizers” can no longer see it, they stop caring. I don’t think we need a floating garbage patch in any NYC-area river–we’ve got more than enough of them in other parts of the world already.

Is there really no better way of disposing of unclaimed baggage?