Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Fairy tales don't tell children that dragons exist... Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be slain."

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 115:

Today's WOD was entirely mental, BlogLand.

It all began at 6:00am. Yes, that was the first part of the WOD, as 6:00am is *never* a pleasant time for me, particularly on a Saturday morning. Sometimes getting your feet out of bed, on the floor, and in sneakers IS the tough part of the challenge.

I was (despite my reluctance to leave my warm, comfy bed) determined to greet this morning with a positive, open mind, rather than the bit of apprehension and reluctance that had begun to slither into my tired brain last night.

Why would I ever be reluctant and apprehensive, you ask? Well, because I had a Guest GT ("Guru Trainer" for those of you new to my blog) training time scheduled for this morning. Not just ANY Guest GT, either - Todd Sedlak, of Spartan Race fame. Little did I know that Todd only lives about a half an hour or so drive from me, when I friended him on FB with wanton abandon. Not only did I friend him, but I asked for help; I'd heard Todd had some extensive running knowledge and experience, and I needed advice to break through a plateau. Advice and experience he had in bounds... and guess what? He also had some time at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning. Oh shit.

The apprehension that was creeping into my brain was the same one that crept in at the thought of walking into a CrossFit gym for the first time, or the first time I thought about running with an experienced runner, or entering my first 5k: we'll call it, Out-Of-Shape-Fat-Chick-Syndrome. This is when my Old Self peeks out and wonders WTF I think I'm doing, putting myself in situations with all these athletes and super fit people and people that look good in spandex. It's the I Don't Belong Here complex... the one that tries to tell me that I'm NOT an athlete, I can't possibly get to where they are, that they're going to look at me and roll their eyes and wonder, "What is SHE doing here?"

That is a hard complex to break out of, my friends. Especially when you've spend 29 years believing it. Changing your perception of yourself is a gradual, difficult process. I will freely admit that when I look in the mirror these days, I'd say a solid 25% of the time I still see the person that was 68 pounds heavier, couldn't do a single push-up, ran 20 seconds and was winded, and had grown to accept that I'd always be the one that'd kick your ass at trivia, not the one that'd smoke you at an obstacle race.

That said, about a year an a half ago, I decided to needed to make a change. I didn't want to get to 30 years old and still be that person. I didn't like that person. I didn't like the self-imposed, and physically-imposed limits that were pressing down on my life. I never wanted to be the person that had to say "I can't" to things, because I was too heavy or out of shape. Thus I began the mental war, that continues to rage on. If you're reading this, you can probably identify in some way... so this is where I'm here to tell you that it gets better. It may never go away... but the little battles, that make up the war, become easier and easier to win... Most Days.

Today was one of those slightly more challenging battles. I suddenly was stricken with the fear that maybe I had misrepresented myself to Todd... I had said that I "ran" regularly, but did he understand that it was not pretty, or easy, or graceful.... and that I wasn't going to be some skinny runner-chick that just needed some refining tips? Did he realize that he was going to be working with someone who still has to push hard to get to a slow 3 miles?!

Immediately upon seeing Todd cruise up (sporting his Storm Chasers logo!), I knew he didn't care. At all. For real.

I was greeted with a big smile and pleasant chatter (both things I consider an amazing feat at 6:30 in the morning), details of what we had on tab for today's session - the usual chatter between friends getting ready to go and do some training together. But we'd never met before. We'd chatted for a bit on FB that one time, but it seems that was really irrelevant... there seems to be a sort of instant kinship between people who are committed to a cause, and have agreed to give it 110%, to themselves, and also to the person running (or even huffing and puffing) along beside them. (As an aside, this instant kinship of like-minded/equally committed individuals is what I believes makes Spartan Race such an infectious phenomenon.)

I did feel a little bit more of the Doubt Monster creeping in, as we wandered over to the local track... You just can't fake what you can do. Either I was going to be able to get through Todd's planned WOD, or... I wasn't. Although, Todd spoke about it all so matter-of-factly, positively, and without any doubt or questions, that it was hard to do anything but get on board with the plan. Thus, it began, The WOD:

After establishing that neither of us were "stretchers", we set off for an easy warm-up lap (400m) around the track, as Todd explained the specifics of what we were about to do. It seemed simple enough - sprint the long sides of the track, and "float" (sort of like a long strided, easy pace) the curved sides..... and we were going to do that around the whole track 4 times (8 sprints), to make the total of a mile. He began to explain to me at this point the ins and outs of mind over matter... thinking about it in short segments (Just ONE 100m sprint, for instance), and being excited for those sprints, rather than dreading the difficulty. The biggest thing: NO WALKING. I have a tendency to "need" to drop into a walk during my runs, and Todd had a mission to break me of that. Therefore, during this exercise, there would be no walking. I could float-jog the curved sides as slow as I needed to, but there was to be no walking.

Having never concertedly run on a track before, I had absolutely no base line for what I could do in an exercise like this; probably a good thing. In my mind, I was just going to lay it all out there, and what would be would be. Todd busted out his stopwatch, gave me a countdown, and off we went for my first sprint. It felt awesome to just open up, and bust down that track. First sprint, Check! No problemo. HA! It was a nice little confidence boost when Todd even commented that I was "faster than [he] expected." Maybe (just maybe), this would be okay. I had a nice float recovery jog (you're right, Todd, it does feel like "rest" after you sprint!), and set off on Sprint #2... didn't have quite the power of the initial sprint, but a solid performance, nonetheless. I'd go as far to say that even Sprint #3 was pretty solid. And then.... I swear to you, BlogLand, those recovery distances were getting shorter. That track was morphing somehow, right underneath my feet, into longer sprints and shorter curves. Then the real mental game was afoot.

I am reminded, at this point, of the quote:
"Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone." That's where I suddenly found myself. Definitely ensconced in uncomfortable. I was feeling the feeling that, during my regular solitary run, causes me to drop to a walk. But Todd said No Walk. Todd (with his 50 mile long gazelle strides...) was right beside me, supplying me the tools I needed to get away from the Walk Monster: technical running tips (head down! lean forward! concentrate on your turnover! BREATHE!), as well as the possibly more important mental ones (GO!! PUSH HARD! Just this sprint! almost to the end! It's right there! and my personal  You can "stand on your head in a bucket of shit for 10 seconds!"). And so we pushed on. I latched onto his words like a lifeline, dragging me through the unpleasantness of the situation... because let me tell you, BlogLand, by Sprint #7 I didn't feel like I had a sprint in me. At all. But now, Todd was running in front of me a bit (when it only takes you 6 strides to get around the whole track, this is bound to happen), and was telling me to really let it fly, I could do this (I was almost done!), and that I had it in me - I just had to push a little harder.

So, I pushed, I dug deep, I summoned my inner Spartan, or whatever other euphemism you'd like to use... but the net was that I did it - I found just a *little bit* more to get through those last few sprints. Now, it's true, those last few sprints probably took me 2x as long as the first one... but the key thing was that they were still sprints - a pace faster than I was 'comfortable' going at that point.

As I pretty ungracefully shifted out of the last sprint, feeling like my lungs were going to explode, into my "float", Todd reminded me that this was the last one, and were were _THIS_ close to a 10 minute mile - a ridiculous improvement over some of my PR mile times - but I had to run the last float to make it. I ran. Or, I told my body that was what needed to happen. I was willing every last muscle fiber and molecule of oxygen in my body to get on board with this. I WANTED this. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I'm certain it was an ugly finish, and no where near as fast a section as I wanted it to be, but it was okay... As I crossed the last line, Todd triumphantly held up his stopwatch and congratulated me on my accomplishment: a 10:11 min/mi.
Yes, friends, that is a WHOLE MINUTE faster than my previous best mile time. More importantly - there was no walking. At all. I had probably just won one of the biggest battles in this particular challenge; I'd proven myself that I *could* run that whole mile, without walking - and at a respectable pace, to boot! HA! AROO! Now, whenever I go for my run (thinking about it one mile at a time), I *KNOW* for certain that physically I can run the whole mile. I have felt what it feels like to be at the edge of the walk abyss and sprint through it. If I walk during my next run, I will know that I can do better. That knowledge will definitely help keep me pushing. Contrary to my originally thought, apparently, my body will run me a whole mile, now that I got my mind out of the way and let it.

Fresh off (and by "fresh" I mean red-faced and hands-on knees panting) that triumph, and feeling pretty damn good, Todd asks if I've ever heard of Plyo exercises. Yeah, you thought it was over. It wasn't. But, hey, I'd just laid waste to a really big mental wall... how hard could this be? Turns out, not too bad. Todd's indomitable positivity is pretty infectious. We went through a series of 10 Plyo exercises, with 30 second breaks in between. Everything from jumping up and down over a pretend jump rope, to jumping up the bleacher steps, to jogging 'mule kicks' (think really exaggerated drum major), to burpee-ish (!!!) "cobras". I will admit to chuckling in my head, while I had a mini-Rocky moment hopping up the bleachers. Despite my tired muscles, and my constant struggle with two-footed up-jumps (seriously, left foot?! Wtf?), I completed them all. Still felt good. Damn. Who knew? Not me.

Despite my initial prediction, Todd didn't kill me. Wow.

Wrapping up, and discussing some techniques for going forward from here, I felt more confident. Looks like, although I am still in the beginning stages, I can do these things. This is not to say the internal-war is over... but now I am freshly-armed with some pretty powerful  ammunition. 10:11 min/mi, no walks. It can be done, and I can do it. I just need to embrace the feeling of discomfort and burst through it - there IS still power in my legs at the other side of that. I learned that today. Self-Doubt, take that. WAHA.

I have to say, I think the Cosmos are on board with this big plan of mine. I said to the Universe that I wanted these things, and I needed help... and help has been unfailing in appearing. When I began this journey, a close friend stepped up to be my long-distance GT and show me how to structure a progressing workout program to take me from the couch to the finish line of a Spartan Race. When I got stuck on a weight/nutrition plateau and was feeling super defeated, Carrie Adams appeared and imparted "No Bread" upon me (DOWN 2.5 pounds this week! WOOT!). When my GT was feeling particularly far away, and I was needing up in my face help over this running thing, *poof* Sergeant Sedlak.

Just goes to show you, BlogLand... If you want it bad enough, the way shall appear.

How bad do you want it?

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