Friday, March 28, 2008

On becoming who we are

It's not often that I write a post that is a response to another post, but sometimes the topic warrants it. Karen wrote a post on labels and what it means to be a runner, a marathoner, etc. Her post was a response to Once a runner by Jon.

I had an interesting thing happen to me yesterday. As many of you know, about three years ago I set out on a journey to change my life. I started going to the gym and over the course of several months, lost more than 70 lbs.

I had to learn to deal with people asking me questions about how I did it, and in a few cases, if I'd had surgery. I found excessive compliments embarrassing. And I almost decked the guy who asked, "So is it all real? The weight loss? The boobs? I mean, you must have had surgery, right?"

The answers were simple - and very UNsexy. No surgery. No diets. Sensible eating. (The Canada Food Guide, to be exact. It's pretty boring - and it works.) And lots of physical activity. I have stretch marks and extra skin that are, as I like to put it, the price I paid for freedom.

There were numerous times when people I hadn't seen in a long time expressed shock or simply walked past without recognizing me. It felt strange.

I've more or less maintained my weight for a couple of years now. This "new" me is no longer new, but is a person I've grown into. I understand that there are no guarantees that I won't gain all the weight back. I've been big before and I can be big again.

Somewhere in that process I became a runner. I also remember accepting the title with reluctance, telling people "I'm a wanna be runner... not really a runner." Or "I run, but I'm not a runner" or worse "I'm a plodder." At some point I accepted that I am a runner... and I grew into that, too.

Yesterday I was at a retirement party for a lady I used to work with. I left the job several years ago and haven't seen many of the people who were there for a long time. A few of them showered me in the same compliments that were more numerous a few years ago. I still felt uncomfortable with the attention, but have tried to learn to be gracious about it. I say thank you and then turn the conversation back to them, asking how they are or what they've been up to.

Then a puzzling, shocking thing happened. I saw a girl that worked with us, in our little office of four people. We both left the department in the same year. She moved thousands of miles away, back to her home province and we lost touch. She had flown in especially for the retirement party.

She walked by me and I called her name, greeting her with a big smile, saying, "What are you doing here? Great to see you!"

She looked at me in a searching way and finally said, "I know you... I know that I know you, but I'm sorry, I don't really remember..."

I was baffled. We worked together for four years. And there were only four people in our department - one of whom was the person whose retirement we were all there to celebrate! How could she not remember?

I said, "It's Sarah."

She put her hand over her mouth and said, "Oh my God. I didn't recognize you! I can't believe it. I even asked (so-and-so) if you were going to be here. I was looking for you, but I... I'm so sorry. How are you?!" She was visibily embarrassed, stammering and awkward.

We both quickly recouped and had a good visit, eventually exchanging e-mail addresses and promises to stay in touch.

I recounted this story to a friend who's known me for a decade now. I was a bit dumbfounded that someone I'd worked with in such a small setting for so long wouldn't recognize me. Not even by voice!

My friend said she understood how it could happen. "You've changed so much," she said. "You forget. Those of us who see you all the time, we all forget, too. But, I can see how that could happen."

Hhhmmm... It got me thinking about identity... who we are.... how we see ourselves. When we change, are we still the same?

I have a couple of friends who have become born-again Christians. In one case, the girl was a total party animal in university. The change was drastic and seemed sudden to many of us, though she says it was a long time in the making. I remember her being so stinking drunk at parties she couldn't stand up. Now she doesn't touch a drop of liquor. She married within her faith and has two great kids who are being raised by very strict moral rules. She is very, very adament about her new way of life... And seems sincerely happy with it, too. Which is the "real" her? The party animal or the convert? I still have a hard time reconciling the two. Essentially, she has always been a good person, so I try to just accept her and not judge what I don't understand.

This post is a little disjointed, but I guess the main question I wanted to throw out there is in addition to labels, what does identity mean to you? If you look back in time, is the person you are today the one you expected yourself to be?

"It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are."- e.e. cummings

Friday, March 21, 2008

Running the talk

One of the blogs I like to visit is Olga's Run more, talk less. The title of today's post made me thing of the title of her blog, just because of the wording. (I hope you don't feel like I'm poaching, Olga!)

I always had the idea that the title of her blog meant something along the lines of "Just get on with it! Run!" I like that idea.

I have never had a lot of patience with people who yip on about what they're going to do "one day". They talk big and do nothing.

I am coming to realize that some people need to talk things through to make themselves feel accountable. It makes it real for them and then they feel motivated to go out and make it happen.

Others really are "just talk".

Whatever is behind it, it's their journey. Part of my little experiment of late has been to listen without judgement, not necessarily believing everything I hear, but not discounting it either. If there's one thing I am learning it's that humans are complex creatures. Most of them are far beyond my comprehension. And really, one shouldn't judge what one doesn't understand, right?

My return to running has been slow, but good. The foot issue was declared "resolved" yesterday by the dermatologist. There's one teeny little spot there, but it doesn't look like wart tissue, so we'll see what the doctor says next time I see her. Basically, the little buggers scabbed over and fell off. Yup, you read that right. They fell off - all on their own! The trick was to keep them dry enough that scabs formed, resisting the temptation to scratch them when they got itchy and just leave them be to heal. And they did.

The human body is an amazing thing.

I know those were gruesome details, but I also know that the runners out there truly did want to know!

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to a pedicure soon. :-)

So, I've been trying to build up my base again, slowly, so as not to get injured by doing too much, too soon. I celebrate each week that I was able to do a little bit more than the week before.

I'm also trying a new approach - heart rate training. For my long runs (which is a relative term; they are not nearly as long as they used to be, but I'll get there), I am trying to keep my heart rate in the 130s or less. This is pitifully slow, but from everything I've read and been told, heart rate training is very effective for distance athletes. (If anyone has any info on this, I'd love to read more, by the way!)

So far, the results have been good. Better recovery, no tummy grumpiness and no blisters - not even one! I also tried eLoad caps today for the first time, as recommended by my sports nutritionist. My preliminary evaluation is that they work well for me, but I'll test them again on other long runs.

But back to heart rate training... The physical results, for me at least, are undeniable. The tough part is grappling with my own ego. I know I can go faster. I want to go faster. I feel like I am somehow less worthy as a runner if I don't go at a certain pace.

Today I ran past a girl I'm friendly with at my gym. We chat often and she's one of my favorite people who works there. But when it comes to running, we are in different leagues. She's basically an elite track athlete and her warm up pace is faster than my speed work.

We said hi to each other as we passed. My first reaction was embarrassment. I thought, "Oh my God. I'm going so slowly! What is she going to think?"

Then I put myself in check. "Actually, she's likely focussed on her own run and doesn't give a flying leap what you're doing. Besides, who cares what anyone else thinks? It's your run. Enjoy it!"

And so, I grapple with my own ego as I waver between soaking in the beautiful view and clean, crisp air and my own desire to want more. I realize that before I can truly stop judging others, I must train my brain and my heart to stop judging myself.

This has become part of my training. I strive to find the balance between challenging myself, but not so much that it is harmful (blisters, vomiting, infections... morale!)

When I got home, I saw that a friend had posted this video on her Facebook page. I thought it was good. Though it redirects at the end to ask if you want to sign up for a newsletter, it is otherwise worth watching:

Walk the Talk

So, instead of "walking the talk", my mission is to "run the talk". Training the body, the heart, and the mind... all at once.

One step at a time.

PS: Robb will appreciate this. It was just around the freezing point when I started out and went up a couple of degrees during my run. I wore shorts.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


One of the necessities (and joys) of being a grad student is that you read. A lot. You become a human consumer of philosophy, theory and academic articles like you've never been before.

I think I mentioned in a previous blog post that I was struggling with the theoretical framework for my thesis. This is fairly major because you can't write a thesis without one. And not only do you have to believe in it, you need to have read as much as possible about it. You need to know "the big names" inside and out; when they lived, who influenced them, who they influenced, what they wrote, when they wrote and so on.

This becomes not only about the reading, but about who you are as a person. Your thesis becomes a public document. Though it will most likely collect dust in a library, it might not. And you need to be darned sure that you believe in what you're writing about.

Telling you about the academic reading I'm doing would bore you. But I'm going to throw some questions out there that have come to the foreground of my mind and see what you make of them. (It's OK if you decide I'm looney bin.)

The big question is this:

What if we were able to focus on and appreciate each others' strengths as humans and truly look beyond faults?

I'm not talking about ignoring faults or pretending they don't exist. I think it's what some people might call forgiveness, but I'm not particularly relgious, so I'll use different language to describe the same idea.

I mean, what would happen to the world, to humanity, if we could do that? If we CHOSE to do that? All of us. En masse.

What would happen?

I've thought about this. I've even been experimenting with doing it. And I'll tell ya. It's hard. People love to gripe and complain about others - whether they love them, like them or don't even know them. (I'm also speaking as someone who lives in a place where a provincial election just happened a few days ago. Trust me, you heard lots of nasty griping - about every political flavour out there.)

Makes me wonder if we are even capable of not grumbling about what we don't like or how others tick us off, or are somehow less than we think they could or should be - or are somehow less than we think we are. In my deepest core, I think we are capable, but... but...

Here is where I get a bit lost... One question leads to another and I get all caught up in the headiness of it all.

On a practical level, I've been experimenting with this as a way of thinking and living - without being so Polly Anna that I lose all my friends! Most days I fail at least once. But I figure that there's value in the trying, anyway.

By the way, for all you runners who've been itching for an update, you'll be relieved and delighted to know that I have been pondering these questions on my recent runs - short (5 km) and glorious runs. I am taking it easy, and it feels good.