The (Re)Assessment Bureau

Bodies are amazing. We can ask our bodies to perform any number of tasks in the physical realm or we can quiet movement to spend time on a cerebral plain. The trouble starts when we ask and the body does not respond.

Certainly, my body is responding to my joyful return to running (the one foot in front of the other is working). I’m happily fitter than I was 4 weeks ago and already making plans to continue coaching if they will keep me. So, I was shocked this week when my body responded with a giant “nope”. This came in the inexplicable need to lay down. I don’t mean that facetiously; I literally needed to lay down, and for much longer than I thought I would need. Besides getting, cough cough, older, I really don’t have a great reason to come home from a normal work day and completely disengage by slipping into near coma status for a period of 2 hours. It was shocking in my body’s need for rest. It caused me to contact my partner in crime and ask her to take out our running group for the 8km because I knew that while I could push myself to do it, I shouldn’t. Furthermore, my husband’s response of  ‘good for you’ made me realize he has watched me in years past push myself too far and too hard. It made me feel like I had learned something; amazing what a marital pat on the back can do. It was simple acknowledgement that something inside me changed my outward behaviour. My response wasn’t to immediately pour over every detail of my running and food and force myself to run anyway, but to just take a breather and a long, overdue nap. It was to take the time my body needed instead of forcing my body do what my mind wanted. How novel!

For those of you reading who don’t have the express joy of having had a full on body-functioning-crash-that-flips-your-life-upside-down to learn from….read on! I have done the hard part for you and can say, with the utmost authority, this is a non-exclusive amateur list of questions and ramblings to ask yourself to see if you are on the right path:

  1. How far into your training are you? If you are in the first 3 weeks, it’s going to be rough. It will take the average beginner about those first agonizing 3 weeks of discomfort to get used to the activity. The more of a beginner you are in the activity (and no, ability in one area does not automatically make you good at the other) the greater the challenge. If you have a really good trainer / coach, the discomfort should return after every 4 weeks. (yeah, yeah, I know. You only get one week of feeling good…that’s how we get you!) If you are self-training, and things are difficult at first, but your body never gets challenged again, you have probably plateaued and need to increase intensity in some way. This is usually duration or distance of workout or type such as hill or tempo training for runners. Lo and behold, I am in the 5th week of my run coaching! Clue number one.
  2. What’s your water intake? Water is an important, in fact critical, piece of the recovery puzzle. Muscles that are dehydrated just won’t recover as well as their supple brethren. Without enough water, muscles become inflexible over time, and as you begin to make your body move in ways it hasn’t moved in before, you become prone to injury. Think about uncooked spaghetti (go with me here), it is brittle and inflexible. Add hot water and time, that noodle gets oodles of movement. On a supremely basic level, it’s the same thing for our muscles. There are many, many articles written on how much water the runner needs, but it is just safe to say that if you exist on AM coffees followed by PM coffees and finish off with post-run beer, you are probably dehydrated and want to start increasing your water intake. (I will not confirm nor deny that some, if not many, of my days has liquid intake close to what I have described.)
  3. What kind of food do you eat? And, by kind, I mean macros. Right. The stuff that food is made up with and serious athletes can obsess over. We are talking fat, carbohydrate, and protein. More to the point, we are thinking about ratios. If we all ate a diet that included 50% fat, we would start to expand in ways that might not be wanted. Right? But, I don’t want to get into what macro percentages are best because, honestly, it is different for everyone and every athletic goal that we might imagine. What you need in each sport can be very different in terms of the percentages and even in terms when you might be eating which of the percentages. However, if you are moderately active runner averaging 3-4 times a week, for a period between 30-60mins at a time, it might be time to consider what we are asking our bodies to do and if we are appropriately fueling. Yes. Adding fuel to the tank. Food is fuel when you start asking the body to do athletic things it wasn’t doing before. Knowing what to eat before running and what to avoid can be the difference between being hungry on a run or throwing your guts up on the side of the road (ps, I have experienced both.) The best way to know what to have is to invest some time in reading things written by people who are doing the same activity as you, and then testing things out. That is the cheap and time consuming (pun intended) option. You will read a variety of food trends and food choices and how they impacted a particular person’s ability to perform. This does not make them right. If I was to say that I am a vegan (which I am) and that you should all be vegan runners, you might think that was extreme on my part, and you would be right. So, be very, very, careful about what people are telling you because often, they are not telling they are selling. No one product will make the difference for everyone. We are too unique and complex to buy into a processed food item that will become the reason we will increase our athletic ability or lose weight or be more awesome. Don’t buy into that unless you really want to and you feel your research has validated what is being sold. But, I digress. The quick and not so cheap way is to pay someone to figure out your macros for you. Your decision to go either route depends on your goals and how determined you are to meet them. Self research will carry you along…to a point. When your body stops improving, and you are at the end of your knowledge to reach the final step(s) of your goal and you want to be at the top of your game, whatever that game might be, you need to consult an expert. It’s that simple.

On the most basic level, when training, and the body reacts in an unanticipated way, it is time to reassess. For me, this means looking at what I have done so far and what I hope to achieve in the coming weeks. Those three items help me do that. I sit and think where have I done what was necessary and where can I improve. Heading back into the classroom over the past two weeks have placed time and energy demands on top of my running schedule. Assessing what I have done in the past few weeks to end up needing  copious naps brings a realization, cough cough, admission that I need to reassess. For example, I consciously slept in last Friday and then tried to exist on two pre-packaged protein bars before being able to leave work and get food. I was desperately hungry. My body was in panic mode.

While last Friday isn’t the norm but the anomaly, it indicates how precarious my planning happens to be. Hitting the snooze button shouldn’t throw off an entire day. Further, it shows that maybe the plan isn’t that great and that while my desire to avoid obsessing over the food part is healthy for my mindset and emotional well-being, it isn’t smart for my body. There is a balance to be struck which I haven’t really found it in the past. Yet, avoiding exploring how to train and meet my athletic goals for fear of slipping back into a eating disorder isn’t what I want either. It’s simply not smart and it devalues how far I have come. I know better. I love being a coach, I am tied to my group, and I really want to be supportive of my group’s goals without being detrimental to my own. So, I think I’m going to do that.


Sometimes looking backwards is looking forwards.

It’s weird how that can happen. I realize this as I spent much of this morning pouring over old sketch books and looking at art class notes from over 10 years ago. Each of these books have sat, ignored, for enough time that looking at them provoked quite a bit of nostalgia on my part. This term, I enrolled in an illustration class for no better reason than I want to devote time to the arts. Every so often, I crave the ability to learn something new and usually, that new thing is of an artsy crafty type. I took art classes to fulfil part of my degree electives side-stepping other, suggested courses, have attended drawing classes and this fall I wanted to take a natural dye class at the Anna Templeton Centre. It seems that artistic pursuits pop up again and again in my life even though I haven’t really set myself about being more ‘artistically organized’ (have I broken some art covenant by typing that?).

I think the grander goal is to work towards a textiles / fabric based program. I’m an educator who just can’t settle on being finished school or seeing what I have done as the end. Where does the illustration class fit in? Well, right now the textile classes don’t fit my schedule. But, the illustration class is on campus AND is not just for interest but maybe a method of me being able to translate the crazy ideas in my head into actual patterns that I can print on fabric! OR I could design my own knitting patterns! OR I could learn to make images and print them on shirts and canvas bags and tea towels and ALL THE FABRIC! You can see how this gets out of control. Luckily, I have no particular timeline and can dabble here and there in the courses. The goal is to finish Illustration I this term and II (clearly) next term.

So, while the main focus of this blog is running (I have to head out after this post and complete a hill training session!), know that every once and awhile, there is something artsy going to pop up. Who knows? Maybe I will share a picture of my homework 😉

Mending Fences

In my mind, ten years ago when running was to become a regular part of my life, running was what really fit people did for fun (HA!) and because they could, and we lesser people (this included me) had to sit on the sidelines and watch. Not the greatest description of running but it was where my brain lived for a bit. I’m not entirely sure why these thoughts are tumbling through my head today and making it terribly difficult to think of anything else, but hey, I’m going with it. And while I’m at this, I seem to be thinking about a time when running wasn’t really the healthiest part of my life. How I started running and why I started running doesn’t seem to be a new topic to share. But. Here I am. Thinking about the runner who framed much of the first few years of my run training. Who was that person? A multiple Boston finisher and a damned fine runner. He was a coworker at a small town college here in Newfoundland. I worked with this guy for a year and gleaned many a running tip from him, some of which I still profess to my running groups. What a year that was. A fateful year, as it were, because that was the year I was both at my most insecure and at the cusp of falling in love with running.

See, I was getting married in a few months and I wanted to look good in my dress. Ah, the dress. Doesn’t that dress make use do some silly things? Well, I was more worried about the pictures of me in my dress, but that’s besides the point. Somehow I got it in my mind that running was the best way to lose weight. I wanted that sleek body runners in magazines had. I had started ‘running’ off and on throughout the previous year. I had some small successes (aka. I actually ran). But, it was the Boston finisher (who was all compact and sinewy) who had a rigorous training schedule that helped me see running as something different. You could train on a schedule to get predictable results. Whoa. Hold on. I could predict what the outcome would be if I did xyz?! He had a lean body, strong legs and bright eyes. I wanted that. That would look good in wedding photos, well, the female version. And, even though I am a curvy lady, I was happy to believe that running would lengthen my body in ways nature never intended. I started a training schedule and I set my sights on sleek and tight and looking good in my dress. Off I went with a training schedule that looked like it fit what I was looking for. (Side note, I had no good reason for picking the training plan I picked and am super lucky I didn’t really hurt myself; consult experienced people before picking up running, folks!). I followed the training plan like it was gospel and I adopted a strength training schedule too. Know what? I lost weight. I was proud of myself. I looked great in my dress and I thought, dangerously, I can do better. Why dangerous, you ask? What I didn’t realize was that I would spend the next few years caught in a guilt-love relationship with exercise where I replaced binge eating with binge exercising. I read recently that extremes are easy, balance is hard. I’d like to punch that person in the face. Extremes are not easy. Extremes are scary.

But, here I am. 10 years later and still a runner. I have different reasons for running now. Close friends still worry that I will slip into old habits (I love you girlie, but I think I’m ok xx). I know things about running that I didn’t know before. Running is hard. I know I’m not supposed to say that. I’m supposed to say that it is joyous and freeing and empowering and some other hipster fitness (fitspo) speak. But, know what? It is hard. I’ve been running for 10 years and it is just plain hard work. Waking up at 6:30 on a Sunday to run with a group of people is hard. Getting in the kms on a Tuesday evening and then being silly tired at your favourite blues night downtown–hard. Dealing with sneaky injuries and setbacks, you guessed it, hard. The hardest of all might be the point where you realize running will not change the structure of your body and give you what you think you want. At least that realization came for me. I am still curvy: muscular legs, some junk in the trunk, and a smaller waist. ‘Sleek’ is not a word to describe me. Letting go of that idea was maybe the hardest of all because I had to accept and love the body that I am in rather than wish to live in someone else’s body. And, yes. I thought that for a long time. I would piece together the bodies of other women, choosing a set of legs from that women, flat tummy from another, and on and on until I made a frankenstein body to plop my head on top of (of course, that body was a happy, confident body). For those of us that know the pain of disordered eating and body image, I think struggling with insecurity and body shaming is always present…just tucked away in a corner of your mind. For most of the time, they stay dormant. Stress, fear, feeling out of control, these emotions bring back the need to take control in any way possible. I know my warning signs.

What may have prompted this particular ramble is that I have heard people in my running groups who have similar notions in their mind on what running can give them. Yes. Running will take care of extra pounds. Run enough and you will lose weight; it’s fairly simple. But no amount of running will change a body into something it isn’t. Even more concerning is when I see and hear behaviour in my running groups that is along the vein of what I went through in my early days of healing my eating disorder (side note: I have coached about 10 groups over the past 3 years and I am not necessarily speaking about a current group). I want to reach out. I want to say that I know what it feels like. I feel a certain sadness for the me that wanted to be anyone else and seeing that in someone else’s eyes is horrible. I want to tell them that it gets better. That somehow, even though running started out as another manifestation of control issues born of an eating disorder for me, it became a method of healing. I want to tell them that there’s an honesty in running; a forced acceptance of what your body can and cannot do. That if you stick with it, the run will become a place of solace instead of a place to feed anxiety. I want to say that the physical results may never come but that you what you will gain for your spirit is worth more. I want to say that each step might have started out with desperation to become someone else, yet my mind and body began to really jive and for the first time in my life, I *lived* in my body and maybe someday you will live in yours too.

Robert Frost’s poem ‘Mending Wall’ has a line in it that has always stuck in my mind “good fences make good neighbours”. I’ve struggled to make my body and my mind good neighbours most of my life, and over the years and certainly since returning to regularly scheduled training I’ve spent some time mending fences. I have put my body image and control issues in a place where they belong. I’m no longer running to chase the sleek body in the magazines, rather, I run to reduce stress, to feel the power in my legs push me forward, to share a casual conversation with a running buddy. I have built a fence around my insecurities, not to forget them or lock them away, but to acknowledge that they have a place in my life as part of a bigger narrative. My story does not end that way. I can see them over the fence and only by choice, I can slowly walk through the experiences that caused them when I feel secure and strong and able to deal with the crap, but they do not spill out into every aspect of my life anymore. I’ve got a good fence, you see.

So, while I run with my group, I share my experiences openly. I talk body issues without shame and without judgement and with an attempt at humour that may border on self-deprecating but is at the heart of it good natured. I tell stories about my first training plans and how I was inspired by a Boston finisher. I share pieces of my narrative with those people I think might need to know they are not in it alone. I make my shared running time a space to be honest about what we run for and why we push ourselves. I listen. I encourage. And, ultimately, I help myself and others continue to mend fences to make good neighbours of mind and body.