“If you were a boat, my darling, a boat, my darling…”
My alarm-song goes off, the tune forever ruined by my self-subliminal associations with waking up. 5:17am.
I roll over, my fuzzy brown blanket entwined around my legs, and root for the switch for the lamp. I give a groan as lamplight floods through the dark room. I throw myself out of bed before the snooze button can defeat me and pull the covers taunt, signaling a start to the day.
I wiggle into Emilie Forsberg–my new trail shoes–and tighten a bandana around my frizzy morning curls. Fill up the water bottle; get the house key; switch the watch on; last minute pee-opportunity.
I’m out the door.
I take off along the loose gravel at a slow pace, allowing my body to loosen itself up as it goes. To shake off the dregs of motionless sleep and to create challenges for my sleepy brain. I wait for my hips to relax and my stride to lengthen, for my calf muscles to stretch against the uneven ground and my feet to pulse up and down. I wait for my shoulders to relax, my arms to swing evenly, my core to engage.
A mile…two miles.
More miles pass.
More, more, more.
Suddenly, I’m back at the apartment an hour later and the only difference is that I’m a bit sticky and it’s a tad lighter out. Otherwise, I feel no significant amounts of gain, as if I had been in this extended warm-up for the whole run.
It’s as if my body can’t obey my pleas for it to go faster, for it to relax, for it to get itself together and show some damn improvement, please, we’ve got races to run!
It doesn’t matter that I went to bed an hour earlier. That I ate a well balanced meal of carbs:protein the night before. That I stretched thoroughly and did a short ab workout before in order to engage muscle groups.
None of those things matter, obviously, because I’m still slow and tight.
So I go inside the apartment, chuck myself in for a cold refreshing shower to minimize inflammation–if any of that could even have happened–pat myself dry and snuggle into my favorite Patagonia hoodie.
I take to the kitchen, brew some french press coffee, craft some oatmeal with chia, flax, honey and peanut butter; backtrack into my room to sit up next to my oak desk and pull out the keyboard.
Writing. Mind palace. Discovery center.
I start this day’s blank page with a definitive “WHY”.
Not a why me?, or a TELL ME WHY, or a bu-bu-buh why, George, why?, kind of sniffly, aggressive, I’m-not-responsible kind of manner. Just a simple, inquisitory “WHY
Okay, Jos. This has been a trend for the past week. This symptom of unambitious, rather disinterested lazy running. And this is what it is: it’s a symptom. So why? Why is it there? Why the lethargy?
So I talk myself through the steps:
Acknowledgement Number 1:
Performance is dictated by behavior.
This makes sense, right? How we behave is indicative of how we will perform. If I behave like a child in my classes, then the resulting performance will be that my teachers will not take me seriously.
Same with running: running performance and success is based in part on running behavior. If I were to “behave” with bad, sloppy form, then my running performance will be founded upon that.
But my form is fine, I’m conscious of that part. Conscious to do strides and to do calisthenics to make sure neural connections are activated. So it’s something deeper.
And we proceed:
Acknowledgement Number 2:
Behavior is dictated by thoughts.
Our behavior–how we act–is coming from what we are thinking. If I think that Sally is an idiot, it is going to be all too easy for me to treat her like that. To talk more passive-aggressively, to be more aggravating within our conversation.
With running: form and eating habits and stretching–all behaviors of running–are indicated by thoughts. How do I think about running? Do I like it? Because if I do, I’m going to run like I like it. I’m going to run with grace and pride and intentionality, because that’s what I think about it. And therefore my form and habits will be graceful and intentional.
I mean, my form is not the most graceful. But I do really, really love running. So that’s not the issue, either.
So we proceed:
Acknowledgement Number 3:
Thoughts are dictated by feelings.
Many lump “thoughts and feelings” on equal terms, but I soundly believe that feelings are going to be a deeper substance in oneself than a thought is. You may think that, logically speaking, a food is good for you and healthy for you and you should just consume the damn thing and then you’re going to be perfectly fine.
But if it makes you feel wretched, there is a strong chance you will kick it to the garbage.
Running: I can think that I like it for ages and ages, but if I don’t let myself actually feel like I like it, than it loses it’s power. And that impacts behavior, which impacts performance.
On this note, I sincerely believe you can think yourself to things. That you can think, over and over again: “I LOVE RUNNING”, and if you stick with that thought and reinforce it, it’s going to happen for you.
And then it all becomes this nice little intrinsic package of glory and wonder, and running life becomes easier to stick with after that.
So thoughts and feelings have to be interconnect: but I love running and I also FEEL that I love it. Not the problem.
Acknowledgement Number 4:
Feelings are dictated by emotions.
Vhut?!, as the Germans would exclaim. How are feelings different from emotions?
Feelings are the actions of emotions; the body has registered the emotions and has put that energy into motion (hence e-motion) to form a feeling.
For example: anticipation is an emotion. Optimism could be the resulting feeling.
Concerning running: if our feeling is “I love what I am doing right now”, the emotion upon which that feeling is based could be energy, or confidence.
But I feel energetic enough…kind of. And less confidence than normal, but still I have running self-efficacy. So…close to the problem, but that’s not the root source.
Acknowledgement Number 5:
Emotions are dictated by physiology.
The heart rate increases, the blood pressure rises, the pupils dilate: that is the physiological basis for the emotion of fear. Pretty typical example.
The pulse increases, the breathing deepens, the mouth gets dry: that is a physiological foundation for the emotion of attraction.
Concerning running: the emotion of energy is based on all neural activity firing properly, my metabolism working well enough to supply me calorically for my task. My muscles working properly and balancing well enough to promote running economy.
That’s where the issue is. I don’t feel physiologically capable to go faster.
A lot of people say that; “I can’t go on, I simply can’t!” And they end up being wrong because no, actually, the problem wasn’t all the way at the root of physiology, it was because you weren’t enjoying what you were doing and your success terminated at “feeling”.
Or because you kept reinforcing for yourself the thought that “I can’t go on, stop making me”, so naturally your behavior-and-then-performance gave you the A-Okay to just give up.
Sometimes it is all the way to the root of it, though. And that’s okay: because even though all of those inner workings seem complicated and vastly out of my own realm of knowledge as a 21-year-old English major, there is something I can do.
Into this autonomous system of ours–heart rate, blood pressure, pupil dilation, sweat regulation–we have a small button at our disposal specifically designed for our own control.
This is something that can easily switch from autonomous to conscious in a mindful second. And that’s what it takes: a mindful second.
Not just some phony, little mind-diddie. I’m talking about the pure, raw, beautiful control that we have over our breathing. This is our ticket into changing and manipulating our physiology, in order to start a chain effect to reach performance.
Dr. Alan Watkins approaches the twelve different ways to manipulate the breath for the body in his Ted Talk titled “How to be Brillant Every Day”; but he highlights the role of specifically three to have profound impact.
This is in-for-five-and-out-for-five, not in-for-three-out-for-two-deep-breath-in-for-one-out-for-three disorganization. Rhythmic breathing aligns your system. When people are telling you to “just breathe deeply” in order to calm you down, what they really should be saying is “breathe rhythmically”.
Jerky breathing is disorganized, and allots you no permanent hold over your breathing pattern. Smooth, even, long, beautiful strokes of rhythmic air movement.
Third: directed towards the heart.
The heart is a powerhouse of electricity; sending purposeful breath to this area of the body promotes the powerhouse. You do this by just placing awareness and attention on your chest as you breathe in and out. In-in-in-and-out-out-out. Slow and smooth and steady.
So after I get to the bare bones of my issue, I do this: I breathe in the manner of the three, mindful and slow and rhythmic and even. It adjusts my blood pressure, it regulates my heart beat, it relaxes my muscles because of increase in oxygen.
I’m breathing now from the chest, and my emotions are similarly turning more positive: there is a reason why we say “I love him with all of my heart” over “I love him with all of my brain”: the chest yields positive, happy emotions.
My emotions, based on a properly functioning mindful physiology, are becoming positive, which in turn promotes healthy feelings. Those feelings turn into productive thoughts which turn into useful behaviors which turn into successful performance.
Peace and Blessings,