Running, Racing, and Life

Why, as a reasonably slow adult, would I choose to participte in competitive running events? I pay money, run when I don’t feel like running, make a trip to whatever running shop to pick up my bib and tshirt, get up at some ungodly hour of the morning, wait in line for a porta-potty in the freezing cold, and then run so hard I feel a little sick, only to finish in the middle of the pack, eat an underripe banana, go home, and go back to whatever the rest of my life holds that day.

Sounds a little crazy, I guess, when I try to explain it.

But competitive running events are immensely popular among adults who aren’t, and never were, elite athletes. I know some people do it for the social aspect, some people do it because they need some external accountability (interesting thoughts on this re: Gretchen Ruben’s 4 tendancies— stay tuned). Some people are just really competitive and they get a buzz from that. I get a little satisfaction from these aspects, but not a lot. I’m an introvert. I’m pretty self-motivated. So why?

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getting after it.

While I was getting ready for the 10k I ran this morning, I thought about it. I think a major draw for me is the ability to decide I want to do something that seems daunting, and then find that I can, in fact, do it. I can run 6.2 miles faster than I did last time. I can complete the loop at Saguaro National Park without a break. I can run to the top of that hill that looks like Mt. Everest from the bottom. Yes, I can, I will, I did. And if I can do that, then, well. . .I know. Cheese city. But I think this is the magic for me, and I can access it in other parts of my life that are a struggle for me. It’s a message to send myself: you thought this seemed hard. It was hard, and you freakin’ did it, no problem. Therefore, you can do other things that seem hard— like presenting at that conference, like networking with those people you ought to know, like having that difficult conversation. Yes, you can do this, since you’ve already proven that you’re a badass. Running races has taught me that I can do all kinds of shit that has nothing to do with running.

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bunch of m-f’in champions right there.

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Happiness: When Thinking Fast Steers Us Wrong

I read a lot of books last year— among them The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis, which led me to Thinking Fast and Slow, by the behavioral psychologist Daniel Kahneman. In Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman proposes that the “fast” system of thinking, or system 1, is the efficient and rapid way of processing information and taking action— it’s a heuristic-reliant process and always looks for the shortest path to an answer. It’s helpful, unless it isn’t. System 1 makes mistakes— and one of them is answering the wrong question. Politicians are aces at this one— answer the question you have the ready answer for, and hope the questioner doesn’t notice. And in the brain, often, it doesn’t.
What does this have to do with happiness or goal-setting?
We might ask ourselves “what do I want?”. There are lots of ways to answer that question, and the answer we’re after is sometimes complicated. It might be scary to admit, it might freak us out that there’s no clear way to achieve it, it might look like an insurmountable amount of work to get there, we might think it’s silly. We might be subconsiously blocking the real question for these reasons. Or we might not have really figured out how to listen to ourselves. So when we ask ourselves what we want, sometimes we get a system-one sleight-of-hand. What would make me comfortable right now? What do others expect of me? What would be easiest? What do I already know how to do? What would impress people? And system 1 will answer that question for us before we realize that it’s not really what we wanted to know.
Where does that leave us? I believe that self-reflection is a necessarily slow process. That’s not to say that we can’t have bursts of insight that hit like lightnening and change everything, but those aren’t enough on their own. We hear a lot about goal setting this time of year, and there’s a booming business for planners, self-help books, journals, programs, and “goal getter” t-shirts. All of this is fine, but none of it is going to help us unless we can take dedicated time thinking slow about what we want.

dealing with death.

 

In Tucson each November, there is an event called the All Souls’ Procession. It’s a relative of the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, but it’s a distinct and unique experience. People come together and walk through the city with floats, puppets, photos, banners. They dance, chant, drum. They paint their faces and wear costumes. There’s a giant urn. There’s a celbratory aspect, but also a solemnity. There’s a shared sense of loss and solidarity. It’s moving and remarkable.

In most of America, anxiety around death is rampant. There are huge silicon valley projects dedicated to promoting longevity. We talk about “not giving up” and “fighting.” We put 85-year-old people with failing organs on ventilators and tube feeds at great expense, both in finances and in human suffering. We use euphamisms like “passed on”.  We generally don’t think and talk about the fact that death is a presupposition of life— the thing that, by oppostion, defines it, and the place that it ends. Life and death are in this way inseperable. It’s a strain on our society, I think, to stick our fingers in our ears and ignore this.

Of course there are people who resist this tendancy to avoid thee idea death. Continue reading

on chasing two rabbits

She who chases two rabbits catches neither one– and I’m a compulsive rabbit-chaser. As soon as that sucker takes off, I want to go after it. I want to catch all the rabbits!

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Syllabus of bad-assery

I’m training for a krag maga level 1 test. That means lots of technique, lots of intensity, and lots of anaerobic conditioning and strength (burpees! more burpees!). That’s a different beast from my usual trail running antics. Yikes.

But when my sweet friend (hi Robin!) asked who wanted to train for a fall half marathon with her, my heart said “ME! I DO!” but then my brain woke up and said “girl, you’re crazy. You need to chill.” Good call, brain.

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maybe next year?

Yes, it’s good to be well-rounded and versitile, and yes, fitness and athleticism are, to some degree, transferrable. but training for a big goal takes focus. the body can adapt, but it will happen better and faster if the demands build consistently along one axis. Otherwise, it starts to be a problem of competing demands: I have an hour before work. Do I run, or do conditioning circuits? Should I go to the running group or the krav calss this evening? Should I do a long, slow run or try to do some sprint intervals to help my conditioning? And then I’d wind up overworked overall, but under-committed to each of my goals. Oops.

This isn’t a new problem for me. I’m the one who decided to do my clinical doctorate and my research doctorate at the same time. I got it done, but I felt a constant tension between the two. I felt like I had my two feet planted on two different platforms and they were moving independently of each other. I would have probably benefitted from some better long-range planning to align the two better.

So, I didn’t sign up for the half marathon this year. Maybe that’s progress? It’s on my “things I want to do, and soon” list, but I’m saving it for a time when it aligns better with my other goals. And I have to tell myself, a lot, that I had a reason. that saying no was really actually saying yes to something else. and i’m going to kick ass on that krav test! (I’ll keep you posted).

So if you’re prone to chasing every rabbit that catches your eye, maybe a little reflection and focus is just what the doctor ordered.

Why patients clash with doctors

I’ve seen several loved ones frustrated by interactions with the medical system lately, and after my initial knee-jerk reaction of “how dare they mess with one of my people” and “we have a shitty system, and we probably always will,” I got to thinking more about it. Why do people who are seeking help from a medical professional so often walk away feeling demoralized and disrespected, in addition to whatever problem brought them in in the first place?

Generally speaking, people choose careers in medicine because they want to connect with and help others. Medical school is grueling, and expensive, and people generally don’t do it if they don’t have some inclination towards service of others. Likewise, people seek out care from physicians because they want to feel better. Something isn’t right, and physicians are there to tell you what it is and how to fix it. They’re not stupid or lazy, just sick. By and large, this all lines up. So where do things go wrong? Let’s check out this handy chart:

Medical Visit

 

A few thoughts:

  • Doctors expect to be able to fix any “real” problem. This is how they’re trained— “true disease declares itself” is a common mindset.
  • Patients expect doctors to be able to fix any problem. All problems are “real.”
  • Some problems are well defined and understood within the structure of allopathic medicine.
  • Some problems are not well defined and understood within the structure of allopathic medicine. But they are not less real!
  • When patients present to doctors with problems from column b, things can go bad. Patients feel like they are not being listened to, taken seriously, or understood. Doctors feel like patients are being non-compliant, have unreasonable expectations, or are hypochondriacs. Everyone thinks everyone else is a jerk.

So what’s the root of this mess?

Continue reading

take care of your basic needs.

I know a lot of folks who are feeling stressed right now. World events, personal issues, work (always work). What’s going on here?

Stress.

stress
stres/
noun
  1. 1.
    pressure or tension exerted on a material object.
    “the distribution of stress is uniform across the bar”
    synonyms: pressuretensionstrain

    “the stress is uniform across the bar”
  2. 2.
    a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.
    “he’s obviously under a lot of stress
    synonyms: strainpressure, (nervous) tension, worryanxietytroubledifficulty;

    informalhassle
    “he’s under a lot of stress”

A little stress can be a good thing– it spurs us into action, motivates us, challenges us. think about exercise– you apply stress to your body, your body adapts. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen.

This stress response can go haywire, though. Sometimes it’s because of the duration and severity of the stressor (toxic stress, trauma). Sometimes it’s because something has gone wrong in our body’s or brain’s mechanisms for handling stress. And sometimes, it’s because we haven’t paid attention to or prioritized our basic needs.

3XtRvMany are familiar with Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.” But how many times have you sacrificed something from that crucial bottom rung of the pyramid– physiological needs– for something external, like a work deadline? Everyone has done this– but when it’s the rule rather than the exception, it will start to impact your ability to cope with stress.  Skipping meals, shorting on sleep, forgetting to hydrate, neglecting to move around, going days without setting foot outside, even forgoing sex with your partner– these behaviors chip away at our resilience. The hierarchy of needs is built on a base of physiologic needs, safety, and social connection– the peak of the pyramid, self-actualization, is built on these less glamorous but critical parts.

Think about a toddler having a meltdown in the middle of Target. The kid’s mom probably said no, you can’t have that toy. Is the full-on tantrum that ensues for the next twenty minutes entirely about that plastic ninja turtle? Or is the kid probably overdue for a nap, crashing from a soda earlier, hungry, and antsy from sitting in the car? We’re not that different from the screaming toddler when we get stressed out.

So next time you feel overwhelmed and stressed out and unable to cope, ask yourself this question: “have I attended to my basic needs?” Before you enter full-on freak-out mode and quit your job and move to a commune, try a quick audit:

  • When did I last eat? When did I last eat fresh, healthy, and tasty food?
  • Do I have to go to the bathroom?
  • Did I shower recently?
  • Have I had a glass of water today?
  • Did I sleep for a reasonable amount of time last night?
  • Does my partner remember what I look like?
  • When was the last time I went outside and moved my body?

If you spot a deficit, fix it. Don’t make excuses. Don’t put anything else first (you’re the one who gets to decide– even if it doesn’t always feel like it). And remember that you are responsible for your own well-being.