I was going to give you a Thanksgiving recipe roundup post today for the benefit of my US friends celebrating later this week, but scrapped that plan while driving home, deep in thought yesterday afternoon. Today’s post isn’t a recipe, nutrition nuggets, a playlist or workout. It’s a quick one that gives you a peek into the inner workings of my brain – or at least, what’s going on in there right now. Apologies in advance for the lack of photos and very text-heavy post. I’ve got delicious food for you on Wednesday, I promise.
For all of us out there who do any sort of racing or competing, we know that professional athletes take the offseason seriously. They know it’s a necessity if they want to race strong the next year, and as a result, they go on to set records, win championships, and dominate at the highest levels.
On the other hand, many amateur athletes have trouble wrapping their heads round the idea of taking more than one rest day, let alone multiple days and weeks off. As a result, they maintain a decent level of fitness year-round, but are also more prone to injury and burn-out. Pros are pros and amateurs are amateurs for a reason!
As much as I adore sweat, sport, and the massive role that this plays in my life, I have no intention of achieving pro status. Admittedly, I have been one of those type-A athletes that secretly trains through the offseason for fear of losing fitness. (Note to younger self: that’s the point.) But that’s changing.
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how many people tell you something, or even how many times you say you’re going to do it. You have to personally experience consequences in order for the true meaning and value to sink in. In my case, all this has been happening recently with regards to my definition of fitness and health.
If you’ve been reading for a few months, you know that at the beginning of September I somehow managed to make one of my adductor muscles really angry while doing treadmill sprints. I went to my physio (who is awesome) for 2 months to get it back to normal, and a couple of weeks ago, she cleared me to do short run-walk intervals. I was obedient and didn’t even try to run more than twice per week. I still felt a very minor dull pain in the muscle and didn’t like it. Instead, I stuck with cross training and strength training.
Had this happened a year or two ago, I’d have been back to running the second I could. I’d have been working to get back to my previous workout intensity as quickly as my body would physically allow – even if it left me sore after. The dull pain is almost undetectable, but interestingly, my comeback to the the treadmill has been voluntarily slow.
So what’s changed?
Throughout the time that I couldn’t run or cycle, I became well-acquainted with all sorts of cross training cardio machines, weights, resistance bands, kettlebells, and bodyweight exercises – all stuff I previously valued, but viewed as secondary to running. In the process, I’ve grown far more in tune and curious about what makes my body feel good. For years I was convinced that running was THE thing that made me feel amazing. The intensity, the sweat, the heavy breathing, the pushing in the last mile to finish a workout or race strong. But I never tried anything else for long enough to realize that it could make me feel just as great – maybe even better, as I do now.
I’m realizing that what makes my 28-year-old body feel its best is very different from that of 20-year-old me. (Or perhaps it’s just that I wasn’t smart enough to listen back then.) In retrospect, I think the races I did this year were done because it meant I still fell into the category of being a runner and endurance athlete. Running was becoming something I did on autopilot, even though my body threw the occasional flag to indicate it wasn’t on board. Labels are a powerful part of identity, especially when we’ve used them to define ourselves for so long.
Health is about a whole lot more than how we sweat and what we eat. Rest and relaxation are things we all say we want to do, yet seldom prioritize. As someone who has had trouble with both, I think it’s because they don’t feel productive, and in a society where everyone is always ‘busy’ and ‘never has enough time’, productivity is often the goal. Nobody’s ever won awards for consistently getting 8 hours of sleep every night, and spending half an hour doing light stretching isn’t going to get you a shredded physique like half an hour of high-intensity intervals. Or will it?
I’m sure you’ve heard about how stress – especially the chronic kind – can be just as harmful to us as eating unhealthy foods, over-training, or being completely sedentary. Our bodies are complex machines with hormones coursing around every second of every day, and an always-on lifestyle can throw all of that out of whack. Studies on sleep, meditation and social connection are showing remarkable improvements in human health, and while these things might not feel productive, I think we’d be silly to ignore them.
Right now, I’m not training for any races. (I’m registered for Seawheeze next summer, but that’s different – it’s more of a party than a race.) Thinking about this year winding down and 2017 ahead, I’ve started a project of making myself the strongest and healthiest I’ve ever been. Sweating (including some running) is part of this of course, but what makes it different from anything I’ve ever done in the past is the mind-body piece that I’ve preached but never truly practiced on a consistent basis. So far, I feel freaking awesome.
For those of you who read Eat Spin Run Repeat for Friday workouts, don’t worry – there’s plenty more coming down the pipe. My love for physical fitness challenges is still very much alive, so you can rest assured this blog will still cover plenty of that! But long story short, I’m anticipating that this new season of life is going to be one led far more by intuition than before. From early morning treadmill sprints to totally unproductive unplugged weekends – everything in moderation. ?