Going the distance: Marysville Half-Marathon and Further

The last few weeks I’ve been trying to gradually up the distance I’m running.  I got myself a big, gnarly goal of a 50km run in May 2013, but the shorter term goal is a half-marathon happening seventeen days from now up in a little town called Marysville, about two hours drive from Melbourne.  Marysville was basically burned down in the terrible bushfires of 2009 and the race is a great way to draw people back to the area.  As a fellow Australian told me recently, you don’t have to worry about fires if a place has recently burnt down here — it won’t have the fuel to burn again for some time.  So that’s a relief.

But what a roller-coaster ride the training is!  Having spent years as a personal trainer, been a runner for thirty years, and done countless races, you’d think this upping the distance would be easy. The trouble is, before this, I’ve always chosen races that I could simply fit around my everyday activities.  My husband says I have a short attention span; I like to think I am highly flexible.  So a typical workout week would involve a couple of runs, several BodyPump classes, a heavy day of weights in the gym, some cycling, maybe a BodyAttack class.  I’d never just run and run.  And run.

But that’s what I’ve been doing.  And I am so glad I’ve been a personal trainer, and that I’ve spent a long time studying physiology and stretching.  So when a new ache appears, I think, oh, that’s piriformis.  My back aches: quadratus lumborum.  Hip?  Gluteus medius (again!).  I love the real names for the muscles.  They roll off my tongue.  The stretches I’ve learned in workshops and classes, as part of personal training — they are like lollies to me.  I pull them out of my toolkit at the oddest moments, dropping down onto the grass while my kids are doing Little Athletics, getting odd looks from other parents.  The runners understand though.  They know what I’m doing.  And what delight when the stretches work!  And when I can share them with my friends.

So here’s my catalog of muscles for the week that have been hit a tiny bit too hard: left achilles (probably soleus); right hamstring (semimembranous); lower back (quadratus lumborum).  I bet I’ve spelled some of them wrong.  Too sore to get up and check in my physiology books and the cat has just settled on my lap.  So please forgive me.

In any case, I’m learning lots about my body, about what it needs to eat, how far it wants to go, how my mind sometimes thinks 20km is a long way, and sometimes eats up those km’s for breakfast.

Within all of this increased distance, I’m also transitioning to minimalist/barefoot running.  Very, very slowly.  It has taken me twenty months to run 7km in my Teva Five Fingers.  It hurt at first, every step.  Now, I feel better in the Teva’s than my Asics.  Trouble is, I can’t run 20km in Teva’s yet (don’t know if I ever will) and I’ll need a lower-slung cushioned shoe soon.  The ones called zero-drop are what I am aiming for, but my shoe cupboard is rather full of rejected runners, and I hesitate to add to the pile.  But my hips start to ache the minute I put the Asics on now.  I can’t imagine what the higher-heeled model must have been doing to me.

I had an interesting talk with a gym member today — she was wearing the same model of runners I’d worn for the last fifteen years, and just recently started to suffer from hip pain.  She was sure it wasn’t the shoes, until I told her the heel had risen in the shoe over the last few years.  I kept buying new pairs, thinking my hip pain was due to worn runners.  It wasn’t until I stopped wearing that model that the pain went away.

So, the journey to longer distances continues.  The pains are just an indication of things I need to do differently, of my body adjusting to a changing demand.  So next week, instead of going for a 10% increase, I’m dropping it back to 5%.  That’s what my body wants; that’s what I shall give it.

And lots and lots of stretching!

Teaching BodyPump

Tonight, as I was teaching BodyPump to a full class of about 25 women, my mind drifted back to the beginning of this long journey.  I remember the first instructor workshop:  I had never worn a microphone; I didn’t know what a beat was, or how to count one; I didn’t know about choreography or how to lift a room, or how to use the various tones of my voice to change the atmosphere.  All I knew was I was drawn to this program, because it had changed my life.  I had walked into an aerobics studio in 1997 as a Human Resource Consultant with a PhD in Organisational Psychology.  Then I did first BodyPump class.

It was more of a re-awakening.  I was on the wrong path that day, and BodyPump delivered me back to the right one.  The path where physical and psychological collide; the place where change happens.  From there, I left my suit behind, my heels, and re-found the clothes that hang right on me, the gym clothes, the runners, the bright, peacock-coloured clothes that are worn for function rather than form.

Tonight as I taught, as I lifted that room, as I helped people surpass their limits, I gave a nod to that self who was brave enough, way back in 1997, to attempt what felt impossible.  I knew so little that I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.

And tonight, there was a woman who had gone as far as she could.  We were nearing the end of the shoulder track.  She had nearly made it.  I caught her eye.  I said, “We are going to finish this together.  Just you and me.”  The rest of the room disappeared as we powered through those last eight repetitions.  When she made it, I cheered aloud, and saw a look in her eyes that will stay with me.  She had just learned she could do it.  She will keep that knowledge.

BodyPump.  It changes lives.  And it enables me to change lives.

Biggest Strength

“For the icebreaker activity, find a partner, and try to discover their biggest strength.”

Heaven help me. I’m here in the city, tongue-tied, at a meeting of the College of Organisational Psychologists. The theme is Coaching Skills. I’ve been a coach for twelve years, I tell myself in my head. I am a registered psychologist.  So how come, when Martin and I begin talking, I blurt out, “My biggest strength is I can do lots of push-ups.” I want to sink into the floor.
“How many?” he asks.
I pause. “I don’t know. I’ve not tested myself lately. Fifty, maybe?”
Where do we go from here? I wonder.
He says he’s not going to enter a push-up contest with me. We both smile.
I ask him of his work as an organisational psychologist, and I ponder the path I left in 1999. All around me, there is talk of selection tests, performance management, leadership. It is my world, yet it is not my world.

When the time comes for Martin to introduce me to the group, the first thing he mentions is I teach BodyPump. Heads turn, a murmur fills the room. They are surprised too. I smile and nod.

What I am really thinking is: I don’t belong here. Just like at the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychologists meeting in Montreal when I was still in graduate school, pursuing a Ph.D. My claim to fame at that event was not my research, but the fact that I won the women’s 5k race. There weren’t many women psychologists who ran.

At this event here in Melbourne, I shift uncomfortably in my seat. How do I explain who I am, what I do, to this group? I stumble over the words in my head. I am an inspirer, my Facebook Page says. I’ve written books. I coach. I speak. And yes, I teach BodyPump, three times this week in fact. Because BodyPump allows me to say what I came here to say: you are more than you think you are. And I can prove it to you. Come, lift this barbell, do this push-up, yes, on your toes, prove it to yourself. This is not theory. This is not talking about exercise adherence or motivation. This is front-line stuff, sweat and guts and tears. How do I explain about adventure racing and the woods, and how they informed my writing, how my books take people into the dark to show them the way back to the light?

We sit in the room on Queens Street in Melbourne, and talk about motivation theory. Self-determination. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The speakers are passionate but their words don’t resonate in me. Not like the words scapular retraction and rotator cuff. Not like the words mountain biking, trail run, boogie board.  I listen, and wait, reflect on similar lectures back in New York City a lifetime ago.

Then we come to the coaching section, where I coach, with another participant observing. This frightens me, being observed. What if I am awful? What if I’ve forgotten how to coach? But when we begin, the person I am coaching somehow opens. The observer is there, but I’ve forgotten him. I become absolutely involved in this woman’s problem, in hearing her, in searching for the threads of her speech which contain her answer. She is effusive, hands waving, voice lifted, eyes shining. At one point, I stop her. “So this new work, this is like your dream, then?” Our eyes meet. I see tears in hers. “Yes, it is my dream.”

In that moment, I know I am in the right room, the right profession. Theory informs; I am here simply to gain some extra theory to underpin my work, to provide an extra scaffold on which to hang my questions.

But beneath that, I am here to remind myself who I am, what I do. Someone asks me later if I’ll be drawn more into work as an organisational psychologist. I look away. I will always be a maverick, wearing more than one hat, shifting and changing, hard to still. “No, I don’t think so”, I reply, after a long pause.  In my head, I’m realising that I’ve carved out an ideal path, the path that lines up perfectly with who I am.

At the end of the workshop, I tell the woman I have coached I’d like to continue to ponder her problem – it bothers me that we haven’t had time to fully address it tonight. She looks surprised. “You do this because you really love it.”
“Yes,” I say. “I do.”