In our mainstream culture, we are what we DO. Often, what we do for income. Sometimes what we do to feed our passions, what we do because we have to, or what we do to serve others.
This blog’s focus is no exception. Much of it is a journal of what I’ve done as a marathoner, yoga instructor and practitioner, and wellness educator. By nature blogs record their blogkeepers’ achievements, pastimes, and instructions for how to DO things. (In the case of mine in 2010, the lack of regular updates may also imply how engaging and high-octane non-virtual life is lately. )
A big “I DID IT!” and the topic of my previous post, April’s Glass City Marathon, seems much longer than about two months ago. Glancing back through my athletic and wellness pursuits since that PR day in Toledo, the mental highlights reel plays out as a montage of what I Did NOT:
A month after Glass City, Lloyd and I went to Madison, Wisc., to serve as pace group leaders in that city’s marathon. It would be my first official pacing job, but I was confident thanks to practicing the very relaxed pace I would keep and to coaching from my more experienced husband. We also love Madison, one of my childhood homes, and were excited to spend a few days hanging out on the UW’s lakefront campus and seeing some local friends.
The forecast, on the other hand, was nowhere near as friendly: We would be running under full sun and 80-plus temperatures. Out on the course I coped as best I could, guiding my group to every water stop and any available shade, but even at two minutes per mile slower than my race pace the sun blazing down and radiating back up off the road was grueling. Ironically, just as we reached Mile 22’s breezy, cooler lakefront section, race officials began shutting down the course due to a heat index over 100 degrees and countless distressed runners. Disappointed and confused, I opted to jog the mile back to our hotel rather than board the buses race officials told me were being dispatched, stopping to aid another pacer’s distressed and disoriented runner along the way.
My second marathon DNF (Did NOT Finish) reminded me how badly unfinished business stings. Though I felt I did the right thing by following race officials’ instructions and by aiding a distressed runner, I kept thinking about the three remaining women still hanging on with me, running on, trusting me to get them to the Finish as their pain and effort increased after Mile 20. We were moving forward collectively at that point, not as four separate bodies. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d let them down. It took a little while to feel better about that. Talking about it with our pace team captain Jim and more experienced pacers helped.
Although it had a low note with the race interruptus, our Madison trip completed a happy and busy month of celebrating birthdays and PRs, the end-of-semester madness that still doesn’t feel routine after six years, and two fun road trips that took us from North Carolina’s Atlantic surf through the Blue Ridge Parkway’s watercolor skyline to Chicago’s striking architectural profile.
I welcome adventure but thrive best with routine, and could barely lift my arm to wave hello to June after May’s happy mayhem. Seeking my own renewable energy source, I decided to DO another cleanse. Last year’s 11-Day Nutrition and Yoga detox gave me a major recharge of vigor and joy, so I figured the 21-Day Cleanse Oprah popularized would be no less than (organic, vegan) blissful rocket fuel. I bought and read the book, planned a menu, contributed substantially to Whole Foods Market’s bottom line and waited to radiate inner peace as I dined on gluten-free, sugar-free, animal-free, alcohol-free meals. (You are supposed to eliminate caffeine too, but this die-hard coffee addict compromised by cutting back to one cup of organic brew a day.)
Cleanse author Kathy Freston cautions that the detox process can cause unpleasant side effects, flu-like symptoms or emotional releases. Seismic stomach, check. (Though that could have been the vegan diet’s high bean content.) Scratchy throat, check. Moodiness, check. And also: a side of joylessness and deprivation with most meals, rather than the empowering feeling of self-care I’d had during the less restrictive 11-Day cleanse.
I was surprised. I’ve been curious about full-tilt veganism. I often prepare and enjoy vegan dishes because they are nutritious and just plain tasty. I share many of veganism’s values: humane treatment of other beings, sustainable planetary practices, opting out of our mainstream culture’s less-than-mindful status quo. I envisioned I would feel ultra-pure, uber-compassionate, and positively peaceful as a vegan.
Instead I was gassy and cranky. I had resentful thoughts about poor Kathy Freston, who comes across as a perfectly lovely and mindful person. And then, despite meticulous meal planning and smart supplementation, my energy plummeted in the cleanse’s third week. The shining eyes and glowing skin of last year’s cleanse were dark undereye circles and breakouts this year. Worst of all, I had never felt so weak during runs. After feeling like I was on the verge of collapsing for 10 miles, I surrendered.
Except for one wedding reception, I lasted a total of 16 days on the 21-day cleanse. While not especially physically rejuvenating for me, the experience did clarify some things in my mind:
- While I will enjoy vegan food regularly, I can’t go 24/7. Every individual’s physiology has unique and different nutrient composition needs throughout life, and my activities now demand a higher percentage of protein. The only way I could physically consume the tissue-supporting protein I need to feel and perform like a strong athlete would involve more beans than my poor gastrointestinal tract can deal with, or more quantities of highly-processed, likely genetically modified soy foods than I am comfortable with consuming. Many endurance athletes excel on meatless and high-carb eating plans, but the vegan diet’s higher carbohydrate content wasn’t supportive for me.
- This cleanse did eliminate cravings for foods with added sweeteners (sugar or otherwise), which I can be prone to when stressed. I’m an occasional light drinker, but also felt the break from alcohol was beneficial.
- I ate more processed foods (brown rice cakes, gluten-free waffles, energy bars, etc.) on this cleanse than my normal whole foods omnivore eating. That didn’t feel cleansing to me.
- It was fun to find and try new cooking techniques and recipes. Dry-frying tofu, for instance, makes it firm and golden-brown. Here’s a curry recipe I will be making again.
- I spent a lot of time thinking about the global impact of food sources. For instance, does consuming more industrially processed, packaged, and long-distance shipped soy for protein really make less of an impact on our Earth’s resources than buying organic, grass-fed meats directly from a local family farmer? While doing this cleanse I read Barbara Kingsolver’s delightful and thought-provoking “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and it spoke to me as more authentic, connected, and yes, joyful take on sustainable, nutritious food sourcing. Obviously this is a complex issue with no one conclusion that feels right to all people, and this is just my take at this point in my own exploration.
Chalk up DNF No. 2, though a worthwhile and enlightening one.
The endurance athlete’s standard DNF consolation is so common it’s cliche, “A DNF is better than a DNS (Did Not Start).” Well, I logged one of those too. Last weekend our town hosted its first 5K race. I selected the Brecksville Home Days 5K as an early summer fitness test and looked forward to having home course advantage, though the course features a mean climb for most of Mile 2.
This time my body wasn’t its usual cooperative self. Slight hamstring tightness I’d barely acknowledged seized up my left leg two days before race day. Attempting a set of strides after a tentative warm-up jog was all the data I needed to make the smart decision. I Did NOT Start; instead I cheered on competitors and felt grateful my aggravated leg still let me run at easy pace and maintain aerobic fitness. A week later 90% of the pain and stiffness is gone, and I’m penciling in another 5K. Yes, another DO.
I can’t do everything I put my mind or body to, though as a classic overachiever I come close. Applying perspective, the Did NOT’s of June and July are balancing, even complementing, the DID’s of April and May. Instead of just checking off a list of accomplishments and events, I can remain open to the lapses when the pendulum redirects, when a body can use some rest, when a mind needs to think — or when the weather’s simply not cooperating.
I can’t finish everything I start and I can’t always start, even when I plan on it.
Just don’t remind me this next time I am on a Start line and healthy, OK?