Saturday, February 27, 2010

Little Pieces

Wrapped tightly in my cocoon of warmth and darkness, was I really prepared to face the harsh elements of this post-snowstorm morning? After 24 hours of complete seclusion, I was anxiously looking forward to feeling some signs of life on my skin. My block was an interesting study in snow-removal techniques. Someone (thankfully not me) ploughed the sidewalks East to West, and the roads were, after two days of neglect, clean. The parked cars did not fare so well. Mountains nearly three feet tall enveloped most of them, with one or two lucky ones parked under partial sunlight having the advantage of auto-car clean-up as large chunks of snow fell in sheets off of them. As I walked up the street, I was thankful for no longer being a car owner. Entering Central Park, I discovered the hill I walk up to start my runs was unshovelled. That surprised me, as the maintenance of this park is so consistently thorough. As I approached my running route, I was relieved to see that it was snow-free. I thought about the pedestrian who was killed in the park this week by a falling limb. There weren't as many people as normal for a weekend, and I was able to really appreciate the views of the park. The temperature was a bit warmer than normal without those frigid winds to ruin your mood. I felt like I was running in the midst of a fairy tale setting- all the trees were rimmed with glimmering white snow outlining their delicate branches. A huge pile of snow fell inches in front of me. Then a hard ball of ice grazed my temple. That hurt! I thought about the penny my friend dropped out of our second story apartment building when we were in middle school. The guy it hit didn't believe it was a penny. He said 'OW!' loud enough for us to know he would be running up our stairs and banging on our door in the next minute. Thanks to that incident, I was now preparing to defend myself from the gravitational properties of these falling chunks of ice from above. Every time I passed an overhanging branch, I put my hand over my head. I figured a broken hand is preferable to a cracked skull. My commitment to this uncomfortable maneuver was pretty low, as I knew that if I was to get hit by a chunk of ice, it would undoubtedly occur when I was too lazy to guard myself. I looked up at the sound of children playing in a huge fort made out of snow. Someone had created a portrait of snow on a tree. It looked like a man climbing a rope, only the rope portion that was between his legs had melted in intermittent stretches, giving the appearance that the man had a bad case of the runs. I saw a tall couple ahead of me running. They were passing a horse and carriage. The woman was waving her hand in front of her face as she turned to her man. It looked like she was teasing him about having bad breath. As I passed them, I said it wasn't his breath, it was the horse. She laughed, appreciating that I understood what she was miming. I then told her to be nice to the guy, as good running partners are hard to come by. She thanked me, but I'm not too sure she understood what I said. Then I passed two older gentleman shuffling along in comfortable looking clothes. I overheard one say to the other, 'One little slip, and I just want to turn around and go home.' I could relate. Then a couple passed me running, and the woman called out 'Hi, Tamar!' I said a staccato 'hi', turning around and realizing I had no clue who she was. She solved the mystery and said 'Susan!' I'm always so impressed people can figure out what's going through your mind and accommodate your confusion, all while running in the opposite direction. Maybe it's me, but I'm really kind of amazed with that kind of talent. Then I look over, and see this Blue Heeler with a big stick in his mouth, running ecstatically through very deep snow. I got caught up in his heroicism, and heard the soundtrack to 'Chariots of Fire' playing in my head. I ran through a sunny patch of road and CRACK! A chunk of ice whacked me on the head. It didn't hurt, but the crack was so loud, I knew that either the ice ball or the skull had to have permanent structural damage. I guess I have a hard head, because I didn't think about it again during the run. I finished my loop, and anticipated a slow time, since my legs felt very tight, and everyone seemed to have passed me today. To my surprise, my time was decent. I walked home, surveying the crosswalks to avoid plunging my feet into deceptively deep puddles of slush. I passed by my favorite cafe, and imagined an old friend enjoying a cup of coffee, and then spying me pass by, run out and surprise me. A few blocks later I arrived on my block. A car parked on the corner had a bumper sticker of a picture of a native American. Then another that said 'Official Vehicle of the Native Americans', and a last one saying 'Native Americans-We're Still Here'. Not all in that Toyota RAV4, I hoped. As I took out my key, I thought it was really nice to share little pieces of people, and maybe we get greedy when we think we need big chunks of them.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Setting the Bar Beyond Your Grasp

How high are your expectations? Of yourself? Your friends? Your family? If you set up goals for yourself that you know you will not reach, is it less of a failure? It's a great idea, when you think about it. If I am never really fully vested in a goal in the first place, perhaps because I knew it was unrealistic to expect success in it, how can I possibly blame myself for not reaching it? For me, my unrealistic goal (the main one, as I have numerous pseudo goals), has always been associated with running. When I first started running after leaving Israel, I loved it. I loved the fact that despite being a little overweight, I could still experience the physical high of athletic movement. My very first goal was not to complete a mile, since I was still not there yet. It was not to run a 10 minute mile, since I was still only capable of 11 minute miles. It was not to lose weight, or even enter a local 5k race. My first goal back then was to be the fastest woman in the world. I wanted to be accountable for this goal too, so I went public. My sister published a school yearbook for inhabitants of Woodstock, NY. Under my 2x2 photo was my life's ambition: To be the first woman to break 30 minutes in the 10k. Now over 10,000 people would know that I was serious. How serious is it to run a 30 minute 10k? Well, it means that you have to run a mile in less than 5 minutes. And then do six of them back to back, and then kick a little more until it's all over. Several Olympics have passed since that goal, and I still have yet to break 40 minutes for a 10k, let alone 30 minutes. But this goal has served me well. It has ensured that I will dedicate myself to the sport, and strive to get the maximum gains that my body is capable of in any given day. It has required a fierce dedication and passion, that has yielded great improvements in my athletic abilities. But it would have been just as easy on that first day on the track in Berkeley, for me to say, 'I am no good at this, I'm too fat, and I feel like I'm going to pass out. Running is not for me.' What is the deciding factor between quitting and persevering? I don't have the answer to that question, but I think it is more important to look at the act of motion. We often engage our brains so much that we rationalize getting out and doing anything at all. Don't think. Just move. Do it. Move it. Live it.
Prenatal brain development shows us that we might be doomed if our parents didn't love us enough. Or neglected us, or abused us. What happens is, the connections in our brains are developing for only experiences that are present. If nurturing is absent, we don't have any response to it when it appears in later life. What does this have to do with unrealistic goals? A lot. If your brain is in survivor mode, it needs to set up 'feel good' situations for its host (you). There's a great comfort in setting yourself the task of becoming the next American Idol, because you likely are older than 28 and can't sing very well (in others' opinions), thus the disappointment of not being able to fulfill this goal can be easily justified. But sometimes you really do want certain goals, and despite being presented with multiple barriers to obtaining them, you somehow find the strength to continue pursuing them. When these barriers are internal, the pursuit can be trickier. And to trick a trickster, you have to implement the element of surprise. Don't let your brain be a bully and dictate what you can and can't achieve. You know what you want. Don't let some faulty wiring come between you and your dreams.