Monday, August 2, 2010

A Beginner (Again): Setting Goals and Starting Over

When I started Crave and Create, I set a goal for myself to post twice a week. Why? Well, I think that setting a specific, measurable goal will encourage me to set aside time to write, giving me something to look forward to. I know from experience that having a goal to work toward gives me a sense of direction and purpose, and helps me feel better about myself. And come on, who doesn't need more of that in their life?

So, I keep a list new recipes to cook, restaurants to visit, and other things I'd like to write about, and it's staring me in the face right now. The list started to form in my mind when I started reading blogs and thinking about writing my own, which was way before I started Crave and Create.

The problem is--and it's a great problem to have--everything I do brings new ideas, and the list is growing exponentially. At two posts a week, I'd have plenty to write about even if I didn't do a single interesting thing until December 31!

Sometimes, I have to stop and remind myself that it's OK to change my plans, and the world won't end if I can't check off everything on my to-do list by the end of the day. Does anyone else have to do this?

My Plan A for tonight was to recreate the shrimp tacos (deliciosos!) that I had the last time I was home visiting my parents. But I rode my bike about 16 miles this afternoon, and all I really want to do is languish on my behind and read Twilight for a little while. Of course, as soon as I sat down, something I've been thinking about all week long popped into my head, and here I am.

On Thursday, I went running for the first time since I ran the Flying Pig Half Marathon on May 2.

After the half marathon, I had to take some time off to recover from an ankle injury and some related leg "issues". I'm not going to go into great detail about that today--chances are, if you're reading this, you already know the whole story! That's right, I definitely did my fair share of analyzing, bitchin' and moanin', and maybe even a little kicking and screaming, because taking time off was hard.

Taking time off made me think--a lot--about the way I view myself and my body. I realized that I set very high--sometimes unrealistic--expectations for myself, and that I do a lot of negative self-talking when I don't meet or exceed them. It also made me realize that, for my health, that needs to change.

I'm writing this post as part of Change the Way You See, Not the Way You Look Week at I also plan to write a series of related posts on Crave and Create in the coming months.

Here's a little background about me:

Fitness has been a huge part of my life for the past four years. Not only does exercise help me maintain my weight and my physical health, it helps me maintain my emotional health. You've heard of all of those studies that show that exercise can help elevate our mood, increase our self-esteem, and have all kinds of positive carryover effects in other areas of our life? Well, in my experience, that's all true.

Training for and running the half marathon opened up a whole new world to me. I like structure, so I liked having a training plan to follow. I enjoyed the feeling of anticipation mixed with trepidation leading up to my long runs on the weekend, and I loved finishing each long run feeling like I'd accomplished something I wasn't sure I could do. I also loved rewarding myself for my efforts--a new top or headband here, an ice cream cone there.

Crossing the finish line was amazing--one of the best moments of my entire life. I had done something that, until recently, I had never believed I could do.

Here I am at home after the race (and a shower). I felt like a million-bazillion bucks!

Sometimes I laugh to myself, because one of my goals when I started training was not to "burn myself out" on running. I went one better than that...I got hooked!

So, yeah...going from running 13.1 miles to being able to do pretty much nada, for an indeterminate amount of time, sparked a bit of a personal crisis for me. Without the structure of my training plan and the big goal of my race to look forward to, I pretty much tanked for awhile. But even though I got caught up in negativity quite a few times, I also learned a lot about myself and my body during my time off.

These are a few of the things I learned:
  • Not being able to run, or even exercise at all for awhile, isn't going to kill me. When I didn't need to rush off to the gym or go for a run after a busy day at work, I had a lot of time to get things done at home, so I stressed less. I spent a lot more time doing other things I love to do--reading, cooking, hanging out with friends, and yes, even watching TV! As a result, my life felt more balanced. I enjoyed my free evenings and weekends. I had time to set goals in other areas of my life that I'd neglected during training.
  • I really have developed good, solid, healthy habits. At the beginning of my time off, I worried a lot about getting lazy. I was afraid my healthy habits would start to slip if I couldn't exercise, and that eventually I'd be right back where I started out five years ago. Well, that didn't happen. I kept eating healthfully, most of the time. I still went out, had fun, and enjoyed a treat now and then (just not as many as when I was running 15 or 20 miles a week!) I gained about 3 pounds in 2 1/2 months. All of my clothes still fit. The bottom line: I realize now that I've achieved some very big and important lifestyle changes that are going to be with me for a long time.
  • Running isn't the only way to get my fitness fix. I attended yoga and Pilates classes. I hauled out my old bike and started cycling. Pretty soon, I threw swimming into the mix. I even went to a few water aerobics classes at my gym, and--surprise!--discovered that I enjoyed the classes and the other women I met there.
  • Strength training is awesome. When one of the doctors I saw for my ankle told me to swear off all cardio and weight-bearing activity (yoga, etc.), I started doing core and upper body strength-training workouts just to keep up a routine. At first, I felt like a dork trying to figure out the weight machines, but once I found my groove I really started to enjoy strength training and the quick results that I saw. (Hellooo, shoulders! Woman cannot get abs of steel from running alone...and besides, strong is beautiful!)
  • It is really, really important to listen to your body. OK, this one's still a work in progress. But lately I've been thinking that (a little) pain is not a bad thing. It's our body's way of telling us we need to do something differently. It's when we ignore pain that we end up injured. It's OK to stop for the day and head home. It's OK to take an easy day or a day off, even if that's not what your training program says to do. It's OK. There is always tomorrow. My body is an amazing gift, and it deserves my respect.
I'm thrilled to be getting back on my feet right now. I'm grateful to my friends and my family, who've been patient and supportive (and who doled out the tough love when I needed it), because I've been an absolute pain in the rear.

It would be so easy to write this off as a waste of time. It's hard to resist the temptation to jump back into training like nothing ever happened, to push too hard and too fast to make up for the "lost" time. But that's how I got hurt in the first place. I got caught up in my enthusiasm, and made a lot of common beginners' mistakes--too much, too fast, everything, all the time. I didn't know better then, but now I do. So I'm going to take this opportunity to start all over again, and I'm going to set some new goals for myself right now.

Here are my goals for moving forward:
  • Keep cross-training and strength training. Out of the things that I've tried, I've really enjoyed cycling, yoga, and Pilates. There's a great Pilates instructor who teaches twice a week at my gym, and I think making Pilates part of my weekly plan would really help to strengthen my core and my legs (and hopefully help prevent future injuries).
  • Let myself be a beginner. Hard to do when you know there's a half-marathoner (and maybe more) lurking within! But the reality is that even though that potential is there, I haven't run in 2 1/2 months. I need to start over from the beginning, and train smartly, in order to stay healthy.
  • Listen to my body. Part of training smartly is learning to listen and respond to your body. I can tell you right now, this is the goal I'm going to have to work the hardest at! Instead of beating myself up if I need to cut my workout short or take an unplanned rest day, I'm going to try to congratulate myself for being a smart athlete who respects my body.
  • Focus on enjoying my workouts. Especially with running, I'm not going to get crazy about time, distance, and speed right now. I'm just going to work on building my strength and fitness. I'll set some basic goals, but I'm not going to get hung up on setting a strict timeline for meeting them.
  • Enjoy my rest days. I plan to take 2-3 rest days each week, and I'll use that time to do things I enjoy (or things I need to do). I hope this will help me keep a better sense of balance in other parts of my life, too.
  • Set mini-goals. During training, I learned something about the way I work. I like goals, plans, and structure, so I'm going to try to incorporate those into other areas of my life besides exercise.
I'm not saying I'll never make a mistake again. Sometimes we need to learn the same lesson more than once, and that's OK. It's just the way learning works. But when I think about all of the positive things I gained from this experience--a better understanding of myself and my body, increased awareness of my thought patterns (positive and negative), a renewed appreciation for the gift of movement--it's impossible to view it as a loss. And if I can use what I've learned to be a better person and a better athlete, then it wasn't a waste after all, was it?

Have you ever had a similar experience? How did you cope? What did you learn? Did it change your outlook or the way you do things now?

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