13 of 42 Back to School–Giving Your Brain a Break!

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I am using writing this blog post as an avoidance and calming technique. I am in a wee bit of a panic. You see, I have done something crazy. At 42 I have decided to go back to school FULL TIME. What am I thinking? Right at this moment I have no idea; which is mildly amusing since I am returning to school to study psychology.

I have been a part-time student at Wilfred Laurier University for over a year…and have  managed to eke out 5 classes. At that rate it was going to take me years and years to finish my degree and I really want to be done with this undergrad so I can get on with the master’s degree and this fall I am taking the plunge to just.get.it.done.

My children all left the house this morning EXCITED for school to being–even the teens! This was a lovely thing to witness. They are all looking forward to being in a new grade and are feeling confident and positive; even my one who had some very negative experiences with bullying last year strode onto the playground with happy anticipation. Me? I am having nightmares about forgetting my lines in a play and getting panic attacks at the pool worrying over which lane to swim in. What is up?

It would seem that I am having a perfectly normal and predictable experience. I, like most of human kind, do not adapt quickly to change and when the change involves a rather large dose of the unknown it is daunting. We human beings are creatures of habit–literally and figuratively. Our brains create protocols  so we don’t have to actively think about how to drive a car or any other task that we do on a routine basis. When we throw a completely  new thing our brain’s way it, well, it gets a little panicky until a new protocol is established to deal with it. So my brain is not sure how to handle 5, YES FIVE, classes this semester and all that goes along with being a full-time 42 yr old student because I have never been a full-time university student as a 42-year-old before. It probably had a protocol to handle this-ahem-twenty odd years ago, but that was in a different province at a different university studying different subjects and at a very different time in my life. Realizing that I simply must go and do before I can feel comfortable is somehow very comforting.

Do you ever worry about having to do something that you haven’t done before? I know, silly question, but have you ever wondered why you worry? We attribute the anxiety to the THING we must do, but actually it may not be the thing at all. What if all the time we spend worrying and over preparing for and imaging all the things that could go wrong is truly for naught? Could it be that the feelings of anxiety, discomfort and paralyzing fear are simply our brain’s inability to assign a protocol (or habit as I wrote about here) to a task that we have never done before? It changes the whole way we interpret the anxiety. Am I feeling this way because I am ill prepared and am going to do a bad job or simply because it is a new experience that my brain cannot yet catalogue and establish a response for? The more I consider this, the more I believe it is the latter.

When I first started speaking professionally, I would become completely undone before my talk: sweating, breathing fast, sick to my stomach and not able to eat for hours beforehand. I would question why on earth I agreed to do it. Then as hundreds of face looked expectantly at me I would simply have to begin and find my way through it. After a few such exhausting experiences, my anxiety prior to a talk lessened and continued to decrease until now I only have a few momentary jitters and I look forward to the time I get to speak. Is it because I got better at it? Yes, but the thing that improved the most was the detailed protocol that my brain established for public speaking. It recognized the fast heart rate and the stomach ache as normal precursors to the event and did not react with an increased flight or fight response and these feelings went away. My brain even developed protocols for what to do when the sound or the Powerpoint failed or it seemed like I wasn’t connecting with the audience. So now when I speak, I have multiple layers of protocol and very few things that my brain doesn’t know how to process. Now when unexpected events do happen there are so many protocols in place running automatically that my brain has lots of cells left to fire up the executive functioning part and figure out what the heck to do with the heckler (or the tornado warning as happened when I was the keynote at a conference in Iowa).

What if we started trusting that our brain will figure these things out if we simply give it enough exposure to an event? Why is it that we think we should be perfect the first time we do something or that “nerves” are bad? If we reframe our feelings about the unknown it may actually help us cope better. Yes, the job interview tomorrow makes you quake in your boots. Of course it does! Your brain doesn’t have a protocol for “job interview with company x”. That is okay. My wonderful friend, David, once told me: “feelings are for feeling”. I think what he meant was that it is okay to feel anyway you feel; feeling are real, but they don’t dictate your reality or how you will perform in any new experience. Of course be aware that if your brain has a readily accessible script for how to freak out in any new situation, then that may be the protocol that it attempts to access first, but you can establish a new script for such events! So enter the new experience giving yourself (and your brain) permission to not know how to do something that you have never done before–allow yourself to simply take in your surrounding without expectation of performance. I will tell you a little secret: this in itself will reduce your stress level and anxiety a great deal. All the brain function that is not spent on freaking out about why you feel so nervous or questioning why you don’t know the exactly the right thing to say will be spent on listening  and considering and thinking about the best way to respond to the situation and creating a positive protocol to deal with new and unknown things.

This doesn’t only apply to the big-ticket items. I made reference to how I got all nervous about picking a lane to swim in this morning. Why? Well, my beloved YMCA is cleaning the pool so I can’t swim there this week. This morning I went to the Waterloo Rec Centre to swim. My brain doesn’t have a protocol for how strict this pool is with their labeled lanes of “fast, medium and leisure” nor does it know whether or not the swimmers in these lanes are regulars with established etiquette for who swims there. Since  at 6:40 am I hadn’t developed this theory of brain function yet (oh how I love how the process of writing forces me to be concrete in my thinking) I did not recognize the fact that by walking onto an unfamiliar pool deck I had thrust my brain into a situation that it did not have any protocol or script for…my poor brain reacted by having my stand on the pool deck unsure of which lane to pick as it madly scanned its files for a protocol to deal with this unfamiliar situation. I felt like the kid during  gym class that stands there while every body else is called for the team. Ugh! At the YMCA I know which lane I am in and I recognize the swimmers so my brain doesn’t need to fret and automatically initiates the script that says, “go to lane x and start swimming”. I tell you when your brain doesn’t have that pre-established protocol it can be exhausting. I actually changed lanes 3 times before I settled down and did my workout. I think what saved me was after I swam a few laps in one lane my brain switched to the “swim work out one” protocol and knew what it was doing!

Be ready for the new thing that you will encounter this week. It is okay if you don’t know how to deal with it–simply experience it. By doing that, you will allow your brain to create a protocol for how to deal with “new experience a”. I am going to do this next Monday morning at 10:30 when I enter the first class of my new full-time university experience. I can tell you right now that I will most assuredly by the oldest student in the class, but other than that I have no idea how it will go–and I don’t have to know that right now. I will experience it on Monday and learn about it. Just writing these thoughts down has lessened my anxiety. I cannot expect my brain to have a protocol for something it has never experience and you cannot expect your brain to either. Cut the poor 100 billion neuron, 3 lbs of brain matter some slack–and the rest of you while you are at it! Albert Einstein said, “the only source of knowledge is experience” and I do believe he was bang on! Our brains need experience to create protocol or “how to scripts”and we can’t expect our brains, and thus ourselves, to know how to do this without going through that first experience. The first experience is actually they key to feeling competent. Simply allow yourself to go through it. I declare this “Give your brain a break week!”

What will be new for you this week? I challenge you to simply allow yourself to experience it without expectation!

What are you going to do to celebrate “Give Your Brain a Break Week?”

Reset Buttons and Mute Switches

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Today my family will return after 7 days away. I sit uninterrupted in front of the computer sipping coffee. It is quiet. That will soon all change and I can’t wait. It has been a wonderful week and I do believe I feel more rested and relaxed than if I had gone to an all-inclusive resort and I am ready for the return of reality.

I have had updates on how much fun the kids have been having and I can’t wait to hear their stories (although I am dreading the dirty laundry). I miss sitting down to dinner and hearing all about everybody’s day. In fact one of the things that was a challenge this week was remembering to eat; without any little ones asking for snacks or what’s for dinner, I continually forgot to prepare food!

Reviewing the list of things I wanted to do this week has shown me that I did not get a lot of them done, but that is just fine with me. The focus of this week was to relax and refocus to prepare for the fall. I definitely felt I have done that–I just may need a little more time to get the physical tasked done.

Here is a report on how I made out with my to do list:

  • Finish all contract work I got this all done by noon on Monday! I cannot believe how much work I can get done when uninterrupted. I am considering finding a quiet spot out of the house to do my work from now on.
  • clean out the junk room sun room and convert to office for me Uhm, if I get the house cleaned before the family arrives I will start on this!
  • clean the house! Well, I cleaned the parts that my friends would see when they came over on Tuesday night! Now the rest today before the dirty, campy-stinky kids get home
  • go to a movie with my friend I did! My friend and I saw “Moonrise Kingdom” on Monday night. It is a strange little indie film. These kinds of films always make me feel like I am not getting some really cerebral point that I am not smart enough to get, but it was so weird that I got lost in it and stopped thinking about my life for 90 minutes and that was nice.
  • start my new strength-focused training plan 3x Oh Yeah! Three times!!! It is super hard and super awesome.
  • go for a long bike ride Yup, Philosopher and I went for a 40km ride on which I had my 3rd flat of the week!. It was still great
  • swim x 2 Yup. I love swimming and got to try a new work out that involves speed work. My breast stroke has improved from laughable to just horrible.
  • go to physio Twice. The second time when the tape came off I found I could walk without pain and that the swelling had all but disappeared. My physio did not seem to take my request to start running seriously–in fact she wacked me and said “NO!!!”.  Sheeesh.
  • ice my foot 3 x a day I did this at least twice every day. It made me sit down and relax which was very nice.
  • get the dog groomed Let’s change this one to “make an appointment to get the dog groomed” Booked until September, really???
  • find the missing library item Uh, no.  
  • have a glass of wine with friends on the front porch (any takers?) The highlight of my week. Friends congregated on the front porch and we had a wonderful evening.
  • get a handle on my schedule for the fall I think I am getting a handle on my schedule. At least I have figured out where my training will fit in (6am every morning–yawn). I will be in charge of taking the kids to school everyday and pick up Tuesday & Thursday. My husband will do pick up the other days. Just getting this sorted has actually reduced my stress level quite a bit!
  • sit quietly and not be interrupted Heaven. I did this multiple times
  • talk on the phone and not be interrupted Well, for the most part. There was the one time that someone knocked on the door when I was on a conference call and the dog started barking and I shushed her and talked to my friend at the door and realized AFTER that the mute switch on my phone did not work. Embarrassed!!!! I should know better from my life as an emergency dispatcher–never trust your mute button!
  • go to the bathroom and not have any one needing to ask me questions that simply CANNOT wait until I am done. 🙂
  • eat well Ahem, well….when I remembered to eat I did eat well. I made a conscious effort to have super healthy smoothies before my workouts; however, I did not spend hours preparing organic, vegan meals for myself. On Thursday night when I realized that I needed to eat now!!!! I had soft-boiled eggs, toast and tomatoes from a friend’s garden. Then last night I went out for a burger all by myself and ended up having dinner with a friend from my Triathlon group–nice surprise.
  • go to bed early For the most part I failed miserably at this one; the is something to enticing about a quiet house at night. I did go to be at 8:30 on Thursday in preparation for my 5am wake up to bike up to the Y and it was wonderful!
  • organize my iTunes library Uh, no. but I did read a couple of articles on it.

This week home alone was such a gift. I really feel like I was able to hit the reset button and get myself in a good organized state in all sorts of areas. One of the best things I did was not worry about the things I did not get done although as soon as I finished this blog post I am going to bust my butt and get this house sparkling clean before the dirty hoards descent–at least I will have a clean base from which to deal with that! Then it is on to hit the ground running to prepare for fall!

What would you do with a week to yourself at home?

3 for 3

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Well it has been an eventful and very enjoyable three days of solitude.
On Monday I finished all my work for the week by noon. I cannot believe how much work I am able to get done without any kiddos or husband to interrupt me. I adore my family and do not want to change anything about them, but I would like to change my work location. The bedroom simply does not convey the sense of professionalism that would encourage the children to resist the urge to interrupt me to tattle on each other!
So in the afternoon after my physiotherapy appointment, I biked up to the YMCA and did my first strength training workout. I braved the free weight section where all the sweaty teenage boys and men like to congregate and did a full body workout. I will admit that I was quite nervous to brave this part of the Y. My favourite trainer, Martin, had given me an intro session last week, so at least I sorta knew how to do the exercises. I put on my headphones and tried to ignore everyone else and not feel self conscious about how much weight I was lifting. I actually got right into it–except for the bench press; I didn’t try to press anything. When the work out was done I headed out to bike home, only to find a flat front tire…and no spare! Stupid rookie mistake! I used my “phone a friend” option and was rescued by KT (you know you have a true friend when she is willing to schlep her baby across town to rescue you!)

Tuesday I had the novel experience of sleeping until I woke up. Usually it is an alarm clock or a small child that wakes me up. Tuesday morning, I woke up all on my own. Unless you have experience daily wakings at a far too early hour, you may not appreciate the absolute luxury of rolling over and realizing that you can go back to sleep for an hour. Such a treat! Then I got myself up, got my tire fixed (I had no spare tube at home) and biked back to the YMCA for my swim workout. As I turned into the entrance of the Y my back tire blew! Seriously???? I had a spare so I decided not to worry about it until after my swim as there wasn’t a lot of time left in the lane swim

I don’t like swimming in the afternoon. There are too many bathers in the lanes. I don’t mean to sound snotty, but there are four marked lanes: leisure, slow, medium and fast. All fours lane each have one person doing a leisurely stroke. I get it and I am actually totally supportive. I think everyone should get out there and move as much as they can. My issue is that i get all concerned and worried about the person I am sharing a lane with–I don’t want them to feel bad when I pass them. I actually appreciate the practice, but I also hate getting lapped so I don’t like to inflict this annoyance on others, but I do! I only got in 45 minute swim as they closed the lanes early to let all the Y camper kids swim.

So out I strode ready to take on my flat. I got the wheel off, the tube out, check the rim for foreign objects, the new tube partially inflated and was threading it onto the rim until I realized that there seemed to be more tube than rim. Ugh, the shop gave me the wrong sized tube!  Grrrr! There was no way I was going to interrupt KT at baby nap time so I used my second phone a friend option and was driven home by T who lived around the corner and whom I had  not seen all summer. We had a great catch up while she dispatched me to my house.

I had a wonderful evening sharing a few glasses of wine with friends on my front porch. My front porch is one of my favourite spot in the world.

I adore sitting here in the morning sipping coffee and in the evening sipping wine. It is such a peaceful spot to sit and look out at the neighbourhood. My dear friends from the neighbourhood joint me for a ladies only evening on my front porch. It was fabulous. I put tea lights in mason jars and lined the railing with them. It is an inexpensive and really pretty way to use candles outside. It worlds very well because the mason jar protects the flame from any wind and wax does not get on the wood! We talk and laughed and drank and ate until the ripe hour of 10:30–it was a Tuesday evening after all!

Wednesday morning arrived and I attempted to repair flat #2. It was the first flat I had repaired. Once done there was still a weird wobble in it that I couldn’t sort out. Off I pushed my bike to King Street Cycle. I love this shop. The staff are always very helpful and never make me feel dumb when I ask dumb questions! I felt a bit better when they couldn’t sort out the wobble either. The owner had a go with it and discovered that the actual tire was shredded on the inside. So a new tire and tube later I was off to bike to the Y. I once again braved the free weight room at the gym. This time I even did the bench press. I am finding the weight training workout hard, but do-able. It is completely different from all the running, biking and swimming I have been doing all year. I am hopeful that it will make me faster on my triathlon and keep me injury free! I came out to find two fully inflated tires and biked home without incident.

The morning’s tire repair meant that my work out was in the early afternoon instead of the morning. I had a scheduled 90 minute bike ride at 3 pm with my friend from Philosopher’s Run (don’t worry I didn’t have to go to Germany for it, he has returned and will update his blog soon!). Luckily it was supposed to be a low heart rate bike for him because I really felt like my legs were done and I had only 45 minutes rest. About 20 km in I got my 3 for 3. My rear tube popped while I was riding. Ack! I had the wheel off and tube sort-of on by the time Philosopher’s Walk turned around and came back. I hate being slower and feeling like I am altering my riding mate’s pace and I really hate making someone stop while I do repair. The new tire was a bit tricky to get back on, but between the two of us we got to it done! I will admit that I appreciated the break and actually downed a Gu. We had an uneventful ride back.

I then did something I haven’t done since my half marathon training days:

I had an ice bath.

My calves have been killing me all week. I think it is because I have been biking every day everywhere I go. I have been focusing on keeping my heals down and doing a full circle on my pedal. The wonderful benefit of this is that I have excruciating pain at the top of my calves. I am actually having trouble walking, so after my 40 km bike I decided that it was time for serious measures! 15 minutes in the ice bath. I am hopeful that I will be able to bike to the Y in the am. We will see!

12 of 42 Creatures of Habit

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Starting at 12:45 this (Sunday) afternoon I have the next 7 (that’s SEVEN) days alone in my home. My children and husband are off to camp until late Saturday night. In 21+ years of marriage and 17+ years of mothering I have never been alone in my own home for more than a coupe of days, if that.

Initially I was going to accompany the crew to the camp, but my foot injury requires physiotherapy three times a week and I have a great deal of work to get caught up on and, truthfully, I just really need some downtime. I have a significant life change coming up in September (which I will soon write about) and I am feeling like this requires both mental and physical preparation.

So what to do with 168 hours to myself? I have started a list that is already at 150 hours at least!

          • Finish all contract work
          • clean out the junk room sun room and convert to office for me
          • clean the house!
          • go to a movie with my friend
          • start my new strength-focused training plan 3x
          • go for a long bike ride
          • swim x 2
          • go to physio
          • ice my foot 3 x a day
          • get the dog groomed
          • find the missing library item
          • have a glass of wine with friends on the front porch (any takers?)
          • get a handle on my schedule for the fall
          • sit quietly and not be interrupted
          • talk on the phone and not be interrupted
          • go to the bathroom and not have any one needing to ask me questions that simply CANNOT wait until I am done.
          • eat well
          • go to bed early
          • organize my iTunes library

There are a lot of things on this list, but all of them are things that will make me feel happy and more grounded and prepared for the fall. I am going to have a completely different type of schedule and I need to lay the ground work to form habits that will keep me on track. There are new routines that need to be established and some old ones that need to be broken (like staying up way to late!)

To be a  “creature of habit” is really to be a “responder to cues”;
habits are simply our brain’s way of chunking information into a process, making it an unconscious act so that less brain focus is required to complete it. Think about when you learned how to drive: remember how awkward it was and how much mental effort it took? Now, have you in the last year ended up missing a turn off or headed towards the office when you meant to go somewhere else? This is because some specific cue (like heading down a road that leads to the office) triggered the mental process your brain uses every time you go down that road to get to work. So instead of consciously thinking about the direction, you have time to mull over what needs to get done or listen to the radio or figure out what you are going to have for lunch. The key is to figure out what the cue is and if you don’t actually need to go to work that day, then disrupt the cue. This can be as simple as saying out loud, “I am going to drive up 6th ave to go to the mall and not up 8th ave to go to work”.

Figuring out what cues are already established can help you to break habits that you don’t want. If you always start eating junk food at 9:30 at night take a step back and look at what else you are doing at that time. Do you walk through the kitchen into the family room and turn on the TV? This could be the cue that sends the message to your brain that it is time to eat junk food. So simply deciding to use willpower to keep from eating while watching TV may not be successful. If you really want to stop eating junk food at night change the cue; don’t walk through the kitchen to the family room and turn on the TV. Instead go into the sitting room and read for a few minutes or have a bath or call a friend. If you take away the cue then the automatic program your brain has for eating junk food at 9:30 pm never gets activated.

I have an automatic program that I want to disrupt. When my alarm sounds in the morning, I turn it off and roll over and wish I had more time to sleep. I am never able to actually fall asleep so I am not benefitting at all from lying in bed longer and it is actually quite negative because I lose valuable time that I could be getting something done. I am going to do an experiment this week. I can’t change the cue of needing being woken up at a certain time, but I am going to change the type of cue. I have an app called Sleep Cycle that I have not used in quite a while. Instead of a specific alarm ring, it had a gentle vibration and soothing chime that gets progressively louder. It uses a 30 minute window and is activated by movement (signalling a lighter sleep phase) I am going to see if I can form a more healthy habit of getting up as soon as my (new) alarm goes off instead of immediately rolling over and wishing for more sleep.

I am going to write out a calendar this week of when I am going to do each of my work outs and when I am going to do my office work and my goal is to follow it. To do the workout at the prescribed time and to sit down and do my work from x hour to x hour and then stop. I am guilty of often waiting until I “feel” like doing something and sometimes I don’t ever feel like it and so I miss a work out or work piles up and then I have to do a marathon session to get caught up.

I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts on Friday: Stuff You Should Know. Josh and Chuck, the hosts of the podcast, were talking about goals and whether or not goals are helpful.  I found a lot in it that related to habits as many habits are created due to  a desire to achieve a goal. Chuck and Josh brought up a really interesting side note that resonated with me. Many times goals are not successful due to procrastination–people can get overwhelmed about the thought of starting the process of achieving a goal and never begin.  It is important not to get overwhelmed by the whole huge process and thus paralyzed–just start doing something. As Josh said, “Just dive in..somewhere…anywhere”. Once a person starts a task she is much more likely to keep going to complete it. This seems rather obvious on the surface, but so many people fail to achieve their goals or to create a new habit because they never begin the process. So this week I am going to begin things when the calendar says to begin in the hopes of avoiding being paralyzed by procrastination. I am going to work when I am supposed to work and not wait for inspiration. I don’t actually need inspiration or to feel like it–the work can get done with me not feeling like doing it, but it certainly can’t get done without me starting it! Am I the only one that things like this? It seems so well, “d’uh” when I write it down, but I fail to start things all the time! This week I am going to “just do it” to steal a phrase and in the process form cues that will trigger good habits!

What habits do you want to break?

Is there something I should be doing during this week alone that I haven’t thought of???

Do you want to join me on my porch for a glass of wine this week?

What cues have you identified that lead to your good or bad habits?

(example good: I pack my work out bag the night before and have my clothes on my chair. As soon as I get up I put on those clothes. example bad: I open up my lap top to check email one last time at 9:45 and then the next thing I know it is midnight!)

Note: something is definitely different in a quiet house. This is the first blog post I have EVER WRITTEN in one sitting! Maybe I shall try and write one every day this week.

Identity Theft

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It has been a rough few weeks. Three weeks ago I hurt my foot running, well specifically, while jumping over a snake. I made casual mention of it in this blog post. It has been swollen and bothering me ever since so last Friday I broke down and went to see my sports doctor. I recounted the specifics of how I incurred this injury and he LAUGHED at me and said, “I’ve never heard that one before”. He took a look at my swollen sole and pronounced it a text-book example of a plantar fascia tear.

Then he said, “No running for 6 weeks”. I really don’t like this fellow; every time I see him he tells me not to run. He explained that if I don’t let it heal properly the fascia will develop scar tissue and that could lead to chronic plantar fasciitis and then I really won’t be able to run for a long long time. So this means that I have to pull out of my final two triathlon of the season. To put it mildly, I am crushed.

My good friend from the blog Philosophers Run had just written my a kick a$$ training plan for August that would get me into great form for my final triathlon in September. I was even considering doing the Olympic distance instead of the Sprint–all revved up to keep those age grouper ladies from passing me on the run! Now there will be no running for quite a while.

In this picture it seems so innocuous; it is only a golf ball sized area that has a slight swelling. It doesn’t hurt unless I put pressure on it (which I guess I do whenever I walk) but if I wear my race-recovery rider sandals it feels alright. Not being able to run totally disrupts my schedule not to mention my brain. I guess this wouldn’t seem like such a big deal on the surface–the doctor said I can still bike and swim–but not being able to run (again) has left me a bit rattled.

Upon consideration, I think I have identified the reason. I don’t get to be the 42-year-old mom who races triathlon, now I am just the 42-year-old mom who is injured and doesn’t race anything. There is a difference and I feel it; I don’t get to self identify as the recreational athlete who races triathlon. In reality there was no money or fame or recognition invested in triathlon for me. It is all emotion and self-confidence and motivation and now, I realize, identity. This is a bit hilarious because I am really not that good, but it makes me happy and if you remember, one of my goals this year is to choose to do things that make me happy–and now I can’t!

I certainly don’t have career-altering ramifications weighing on me like Simon Whitfield. I have been thinking about him a lot since I watched him crash out of the Olympic Triathlon. It was heart breaking to see and I know that he could have medaled.For him a medal–or even a good race–would have provided an open door to endorsement contracts that would have considerable financial reward. I have no such heavy weight if I don’t race; in fact, I shall have a net gain for not racing (race fees, supplies, travel), but I am not in this for financial reward. I will state right now that Simon Whitfield STILL has great worth as an endorser: 4 Olympics, first ever gold in triathlon, plus accomplishments too numerous to list here. He is one of the most amazing athletes I have ever seen (all of which makes me think that he MUST have a pretty awesome wife). Personally I will buy whatever he is hawking and I am currently saving up to purchase one of his “Relentless Pursuit” jerseys. To be blunt: Simon ROCKS and he will take this very difficult end to his Olympic career and turn it into a great thing because he is a true Olympian and an incredible athlete. He has inspired a nation and will continue to inspire those of us who love Triathlon.

One thing I have learned about myself is I have a high motivation for success and a much lower motivation to avoid failure. While I greatly fear being in the bottom half of a race, that doesn’t stop me from racing. I have this strong, almost irrational desire, for success (even when the chances are slim) and that greatly outweighs my fear of failure–maybe it is just the way I define failure! You see, we all have some form of need for achievement (nACH) whether it be high or low and this can be further broken down and defined as a need to succeed or a need to avoid failure. So the best scenario for someone with a high need to achieve is an event that is challenging, but not un-doable; so there is a hope of success (whatever the race goal is), but no guarantee that it will be successful. Most, if not all, athletes have a high need to succeed. People that are motivated by a need to avoid failure are not usually athletes or competitive and they will put themselves in situations that are either way too easy or way to hard for them. Why? They are guaranteed to avoid failure if the task is very easy and they are guaranteed an excuse for the failure if it is too hard to humanly accomplished.

All very interesting stuff which makes me think of Paula Findlay. That girl is one amazing chick! She is a professional athlete, so we can assume that she has a high need  for success. I don’t know any of the details so I shall not comment on her very trying year leading up to the Olympics, but she went to the start of her Olympic Triathlon with performance and outcome goals. The girl was gunning for a medal; then, disaster. From what I have read she just didn’t have the legs. For whatever reason she knew that this race was not going to be good–and then she got lapped on the run and really knew it wasn’t going to be good. Her race changed from one where she had a challenging, but achievable, goal in mind into one in which she was NOT going to reach any of her goals. (I, for one, think it is incredible to just BE in an Olympic race so do not think for one second that there is a critical tone in what I write). Paula knew she was going to be last. She could have dropped out (as we saw some, ahem, american marathoners do) and thus avoid the failure by saying it was her hip injury. But. she. didn’t. What Paula did was WAY harder than dropping out of a race or, I think, winning the race; she finished the race knowing she would be last.  This woman, who is driven by a need for achievement and success, continued on when there was no way she could succeed. I got up at 3am to watched her race and when she approached the finish line in tears, apologizing, I was in tears shouting at the television telling her it was alright, that she didn’t need to apologize to anyone. My God, she was last IN THE OLYMPICS!!! Most humans on this planet never get anywhere near being in the Olympics. It is a great testament to her drive and her dedication to Triathlon that she crossed that finish line at all. Well played Paula Findlay! I will be watching when you race in Rio…and hopefully in a lot more local races before hand.

If this seems like a bunch or disparate thoughts–well, it kind of is. I am trying to process what it means to be injured and not be able to do what I really love to do. I also really needed to write something about two athletes that I have been following for quite a while who have very different outcomes to their races than I (and I am sure they) had anticipated. In a way I am grieving all of it. I would love to sit down with a beer or a glass of red wine and have a chat with S & P and hear how athletes come to terms with outcomes that are far below their performance goals, but that isn’t likely. For me, I realize that it is just one aspect of my life, but you know what? Sport is the part of my existence that challenges me and makes me happy. I am never going to win an Olympic medal or compete in an event of any significance and I had really put my hopes in my fellow Canadians to realize their dreams with me along for the ride, shouting encouragement at the TV, but the outcome we desire is never guaranteed.

We will all get better: my foot will heal, Simon will do awesome things as an ambassador of Triathlon (and maybe become an Ironman???), Paula will get back to winning races (and finish her degree). It will all be good (didja notice how I put myself and Simon Whitfield and Paula Findlay in the same sentence??? The only time THAT will ever happen is when I write it on my own blog!) But for now it is okay for some things to suck. This too shall pass.

As I sit here typing and icing my stupid torn plantar fascia, I have decided that I am going to take back my identity; I am going to redefine success.  I shall be a recreational triathlete working on my goals for next season. I was planning on focusing on strength training in the fall, so I am just going to start that a bit early. I am going to work on my run so that those damn age grouper women stop passing me! I am going to continue to work on my swim so I get so far ahead of them they won’t be able to catch up with me. I am going to figure out how the hell to ride a bike properly! And I am going to continue to follow Paula and Simon’s careers and look forward to all of the remarkable things they have yet to do! It is all good and there is much to look forward to.

Are you motivated by a need for success or a need to avoid failure?

Does anything i have written resonate with a struggle you have experience?

What is your performance goal for this fall?

Treating Adults Like Toddlers

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Today as I was walking into my local Starbucks I saw a joyful interacting between a some adults and a toddler. I have no idea what the toddler did, but as I walked up three adults burst into applause and exclamations of encouragement. The little girl beamed. I mean, she looked right chuffed with the response to whatever she had done: big smile on her face; clapping her hands in imitation of the adults; little squeals of delight. It was a wonderful sight to behold. Now, I am sure that this little one didn’t do anything all that miraculous. Perhaps she said a new word or the mother shared a story about a new accomplishment, but whatever it was, the little girl was showered with appreciation.

This got me thinking. Why do we freely give all sort of positive affirmation to little children, but then withhold it from older children and adults? Do we suddenly stop needed it as we grow older? I don’t think so. I think that little children receive praise and affirmation better than older people; they take it a face value and feel good getting it. Somewhere along the line they are taught–let’s be clear we all teach them–that they should not bask in the enthusiastic comments of others, but should rather push back compliments and respond with self-effacing platitudes. Somewhere along the line we learn that one shouldn’t show appreciation for the little things; that they are just to be expected as the routines of every day life.

Somewhere along the line we learn that to be worthy of praise or to get excited it has to be something BIG. Some great accomplishment. Why? We get all giddy if a toddler can tell you that the colour of the sun is “lellow”. Yet, if a teen comes home at the time they said they would it is “expected”; if a friend keeps a confidence it is because they “are supposed to”; if a spouse makes the bed it is because “it is their turn”. All these things are true, but does that make them exempt from being valued and commented on and even praised? Now I can picture my 17-year-old son’s face if I started jumping up and down and applauding him when he comes home on time, but perhaps it is the delivery method that should be adjusted and not the acknowledgement denied.

I don’t really know where I am going with this one except to say that there are many opportunities each day where we can celebrate the little things. Life is full of little victories. Somehow this is clearer and easier to acknowledge with toddlers than with anyone else. Maybe we know that we won’t be judged or disparaged by them for our praise or maybe their gleeful acceptance of our offering encourages us to offer more. Whatever it is–what if we treated the adults in our lives like toddlers? What if we celebrated the small victories with them: the coffee brewing, the bed making, the re-capping of the toothpaste tube? Not to be trite, or manipulative, but simply because we recognize that life is short and we are all muddling through as best we can. How different would our daily path be?

Plato is often quoted as saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”. This is so true, and maybe, just maybe, the biggest feat–the  greatest kindness–is to offer a smile instead of a criticism or a thank you for a towel picked up off the floor instead of silent expectation, a word of encouragement even while fearing being rebuffed, to be thrilled when someone acts as you hoped (and expected) they would.

What have we got to lose?

Have you been surprised with a kind word or gesture recently?

Have you offered someone encouragement or given them praise for the little things?

If not, why not? What can you do today to treat an adult you know like a toddler?

10 and 11 of 42

I am on holidays with my family in British Columbia and have had very few opportunities to blog so I am going to combine a couple of firsts in this post.

10-Monday morning I went for a run with my brother in law for the first time ever. This was a very cool experience because for most of the twenty plus years we have know each other neither of us have been runners. Today we did a forty-five minute run along the canal in Penticton. About 10 minutes in we happened upon a wild mare and her foal. They were just hanging out on the side of the trail. As we ran by they just looked at us–probably thinking, “those two-leggers sure are slow”.

A few minutes later a snake slithered across the trail right in front of me. Granted it was a wee baby snake, but I once had a rather disconcerting experience with a snake appearing in an unexpected place (which I will one day blog about) and seeing this one right in front of me caused me to screech and leap into the air. I didn’t get a really good look at it, but I was sure it must have been a rattle snake…or possibly it was a gopher snake. Either way, I experienced a stabbing pain on the bottom of my foot when I landed on the other side of the snake (no it didn’t bite me!). It eased up somewhat after a few minutes as I continued the run. It continued to hurt after the run and about an hour later I was finding it a challenge to weight bare. Upon close examination, my right foot had a golf ball sized swelling below the inside ankle bone and directly in front of the heal. It continued to be painful and I was a trifle concerned. It was still swollen and hurt to walk the next morning so I called up my doctor friend and had a phone consultation. The diagnosis we came up with was Peroneal Tendonitis–an inflammation of the tendon that runs down the inside of the leg and under the foot. Apparently it doesn’t like snakes either. So the treatment plan is to ice it three times today, elevate it as much as possible and take ibuprofen. I am currently on the third ice-ing an it is still quite swollen and I can only walk on the outside of my foot.

[I have been so busy that I have not completed this blog post in one sitting. On Thursday the swelling was down and pain had markedly lessened].

11-On Tuesday afternoon I did something that I have wanted to do ever since I was a little girl camping with my family in the Okanagan; I swam across Lake Okanagan! My husband and daughter rented a kayak and they accompanied me. It was a great swim: the weather was sunny, the water was cool and the rest of my family was on the beach waiting for me to finish.

It was 2:00 pm when we set out from the Kayak rental place at the Lake City Casino. (The Pink Arrow) The swim was 1.46 km and I swam without a wet suit (didn’t’ think to pack that on my holiday!). Sighting was very easy with the bright yellow kayak always on my left. I felt a bit nervous swimming in a lake with motor boat traffic, but the only contact I had was with the waves from the wake. It took me about 25 minutes to finish. The time is not exact and I benefitted from a current that felt like it was pulling me along. I enjoyed every minute of it!

On Wednesday we went on a wine tour and visited a number of wineries on the Naramata Bench.                                                                                                                     This was the view from Poplar Grove Winery. We tasted some fabulous wines.  

In the first photo you can see my swim route. The building and trees that are jutting out  from the middle left of the picture is the hotel and kayak rental where we started out.

Here is my husband, Chris and me before our first wine tasting. I am NOT posting any further pictures of this event. It was great fun and involved stops at 5 wineries, 3 or 4 art galleries and a lavender farm. We tasted some lovely pinot gris (I bought a bottle from 3 Mile) and some really interesting local blends. We picked up one of these called “Red Stiletto” at Ruby Blues winery. This was our last stop and my S-I-L and I ended up getting kicked out of this wine shop for laughing and talking too loud while our spouses were at the counter paying for the wine. Harumph!

That is it for now! I have been so busy that it has taken me five days to get this post up. I shall chronicle the other event of the trip as soon as I can.

Race In Review

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It is finished; and I survived! Actually, more than survived, I had fun. I really enjoyed going to this one with friends. It makes all the difference to have other people to commiserate with and to help keep you calm before the race. (Thanks Tricia and Paul)
This race was a destination race in that since we had to attend a mandatory orientation yesterday we stayed the night in Toronto. So we went to the briefing and the expo and then the three of us went to Milestones for dinner. Nothing like walking around Toronto with a race number inked on your arm and you age on your calf. Oh yeah, I am 42 years sexy and I want you to know it–brutal.

We stayed in a very swanky hotel downtown and it was very comfortable, but I have one regret: I wish we had a different room. Whenever I travel for business I always ask for a room that is away from the elevators and the ice machine. I wasn’t in my regular business travel mind-set (I walked up to check-in with my bike!) and I forgot to ask. Of course, the room we got was right beside the elevator. So Tricia and I had the lovely experience of being awakened (twice!) by 6 very drunk young ladies having a VERY loud conversation just outside the elevator–which was 5 feet from our door. Aaaarg!

In the morning we headed down to the course in time to see Simon Whitfield and Paula Findlay Race. There was some miscommunication about what they were doing. What happened was Simon and Paula did the sprint distance, but they raced BEFORE the Olympic distance and duathlon start. That meant that I didn’t actually get to be in the same race as Simon Whitfield and Paula Findaly, but the upside is that I got to watch them swim and transition onto the bike! Their transition times were crazy fast!

Simon Whitfield

Paula Findlay (second splash)

Then as I was doing a last-minute check of my bike before I left transition, I almost ran into Paula as she ran down the back stretch at the end of her run. I am not sure why she was running at the rear of the sprint transition, but I am very glad that I didn’t crash into the olympian! I had images of angry headlines flash through my brain.

“Age grouper takes out Canada’s hope for a gold medal in women’s triathlon”

Dodge that bullet!

The swim course was right in the marina near Ontario Place. I was a tad concerned about the water quality–there were still boats moored there–but at least it didn’t taste like petrol!

View of the last straight-away on the swim course.

The exit from the swim.

I really enjoyed the swim. It as an in-water start which I found much easier than a run-in start. The swim is my strongest part of the tri and I was able to shave a minute and fifteen seconds off my time. The exit (above) was very steep and required a helping hand from some very strong volunteers.

So to the stats:

Compared to my first tri:  swim was faster, my bike was faster and both my transitions were faster and my run SUCKED! My overall time was 3 minutes faster.

SWIM
I enjoy everything about the swim. Thanks to all that practice in a pool with my tri group, I am very comfortable at the start powering through all the arms and legs and bubbles to get out to a comfortable space. I settle into a rhythm quickly and LOVE passing people! I took special joy in passing women wearing Team Canada suits 🙂 I don’ have any trouble with my breathing or sighting and seem to stay on a very direct course. I found it challenging to not have been able to swim the course before because I didn’t know how it felt to swim to the different markers. I should have just pushed it harder, but I find it a bit disorienting not to know how long each stretch to the next buoy will feel.

BIKE
The bike was fun once I got past the mount point. The run out of transition was straight up a steep narrow hill onto a bridge.  I decided to hold my bike shoes while I ran up to it and put them on at the mount point. This was a good decision on my part; the hill was very slippery and my shoes have a rather pronounced cleat on the bottom. I left them on when I dis-mounted and ran down the hill and it was very hard not to slide and fall down!  It course was a nice wide route–along the closed Gardiner Express Way no less! I was less intimidated than I was in my last race and I felt more confident in my biking skills; although I am well aware that I need a lot more practice to become a good technical rider. I was a bit freaked out before the race about the penalties for drafting, but while riding I found that this inspired me to quickly pass people. And I did pass a lot of people! There were a couple of other women that I took turns passing and being passed by, but for the most part I felt like I held my own and even gained a bit of ground of the bike. I had the added incentive of knowing that my friend Tricia was going to smoke me on the run, so I really wanted to keep ahead of her until that part of the race 😉 I was able to maintain a 30km+ for the better part of the bike route. I want this to be faster in the future, but I am happy with it for this race

RUN
I ran at a 6:45 pace and really didn’t feel like I had a thing left to give it. The km markers where off and so it was hard to gauge where I was in the run: just after the 1km mark there was a 3km marker and then at the turn around point a volunteer announced “you are at the 2.5 km mark–half way there”when it was not even at the 2 km point. I felt quite awful on the run. Tricia passed me almost immediately and I then watched many others pass me. I really hated it when someone in my age group or above passed me. Mentally this was really hard to take and I ended up just concentrating on not walking and trying to let go of the fact that I had been so far ahead in the swim and now everyone was catching up and passing me. I wish the swim was the last event! I feel like I could really pull it out if I had a change to run on fresh legs and then swim at the end, but nobody else seems to think that this is a good idea. I am really not sure if I could have run any faster if I had been able to get myself out of my mental funk. I really did feel pretty cooked. At one point when I really felt like stopping I remembered a tweet from SW yesterday that said something like, you might feel like you are going to die, but you won’t. So I kept running.

Once thing I really would like to obtain in the near future is a gps watch.
I have a really hard time gauging my pace. I just have no idea how fast or slow I am running if I don’t have some sort of GPS-Oracle telling me. These devices are quite pricey, so I don’t think one is in my near future, but I think I will ask for a communal Christmas gift this year and then I will be set up for next race season. Of course, the one I want is the most expensive one: Garmin 910, but it is the only one that has a swim component built into it. I always forget how many laps I have done, so that part would be really helpful, plus it will map open water swim routes. Oh yeah, and it will tell me my run pace; I have a really hard time gauging my pace. I just have no idea how fast or slow I am running if I don’t have some sort of GPS-Oracle-thing telling me. These devices are quite pricey, so I don’t think one is in my near future, but I think I will ask for a communal Christmas gift this year and then I will be set up for next race season. Of course, the one I want is the most expensive one: Garmin 910, but it is the only one that has a swim component built into it. I always forget how many laps I have done, so that part would be really helpful, plus it will map open water swim routes. Oh yeah, and tell me my run pace which is what would have been really helpful in this race.   Maybe if I had could see how far I had to go and what my pace was I would have been able to manage my run better.

Upon consultation with my Tri coach Vy it would seem that some speed work is in order. Uh oh, that sounds hard, but I totally want to have a respectable run time. My swim was the second fastest in my age group and my bike was in the top ten. My run needs some work, but I am willing to put that in. I would be thrilled to get a top 10 age group finish in a race!

So here is the run down:

Sadly, Simon was whisked away at the end of his race and I did not succeed in my goal of having him sign my race shirt. So Simon, if you are reading this I am happy to drive down to Hamilton and buy you a beer and get you to sign my shirt! Get your people to call my people!

At every race I am so inspired by the people at triathlon events: people of all ages, shapes sizes and life stories compete. One fellow was doing his first race since his cardiac arrest at a tri in 2010 and while the paramedic in my was a trifle nervous for him, if that doesn’t put things into perspective I don’t know what will!

A big THANK YOU to all of the volunteers (especially the very small and very strong woman who hauled me out of the water!). They show up early and stay late and we often forget or are too fatigued to thank them during the race, but without the volunteers I would have been stuck in the water, not known which way to turn and been very thirsty so THANK YOU ALL.

I have to give a special shout out to the group holding signs on the run. These two made me laugh even though I felt miserable:

Have a three way every weekend: swim, bike, run!

My pace or yours?

Before a race I always question my sanity and wonder why I put myself through this stress and then after the race is over I am immediately thinking about my strategy for the next one. In fact, after I finish writing this post I am going to go look for my next race! All I need is a little hill training, a little speed work and some good friends to race with! Triathlon is not for the weak of heart, but it is certainly for those full of heart!

Race well my friends!

 

Do you get pre-race jitters?

Have you ever regretted a race?

What inspires you along the course?

Butterflies

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Butterflies….that is how some people describe that pre-race feeling.

Sounds so much more manageable and understandable and containable than impending doom and overwhelming sense of dread and pparalyzing self-doubt, doesn’t it? Wish it truly was butterflies I felt.

You see, I am racing in a triathlon on Sunday, the Toronto Triathlon Festival, so every time someone mentioned it this week I go this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Right there in the far corner where I tuck all my fear and anxiety and self doubt. It sloshes around and churns up all sorts of unpleasant feelings and generally causes me to question my sanity. Why did I sign up for this race? Why I am willing putting myself out there to be judged where anyone with a computer will be able to log and view my lack of finesse and speed. Ack!

It always seems like such a good idea at the time I sign up for a race. I am full of optimism and enthusiasm. I had to be really creative to figure out a way to get into this race and now with a little over 2 days ’till race time I am so nervous. Why do I do this to myself????

I really do enjoy the training aspect and I am thrilled when I see improvement in aspects of my performance, but then to have to show up and be confronted with all these people who are actually athletes. I mean, they might find out my secret. You know that I am not really one of them.

Well, if I wasn’t so concerned about what everyone else is thinking I could actually enjoy racing. Once again it is all in my head, this I know. I get all hyper and find it difficult to focus on specific tasks in the days before a race. Sheesh. I need to channel all the frenetic energy into my race pace! So that is what I am going to focus on–using the butterflies because once the race starts I don’t really think about anything other than the race. I race against myself. I do have goals: top 25% of my age group, specific times I want to get, how tired I want to be at the end of it all, oh yeah and meeting Simon Whitfield. Yes, Simon Whitfield, Canadian 2012 Olympic Team flag bearer and gold medalist in the Triathlon is racing in the same race as me.  Swoon.

It is my goal to get him to sign my race shirt, so I will let you know how that goes. It is not often that you get to watch athletes of his calibre race, let alone be in the same race. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Oh my, the butterflies just got worse.

Race. Soon.  Ack!  I shall just have to let the butterflies carry me through this one. Maybe they can help me swim and bike and run faster–that is preferable to having them cause me to vomit!

I won’t be posting until after the race. I will give you a full play by play on Sunday night or Monday morning. For now I am going to think of butterflies swirling into a powerful, strong, fast force and get my gear together. Tomorrow my race mates and I head into Toronto for our course orientation and hotel check in. I am looking forward to wandering around the expo. I love looking at all the great gear that I wish I could buy! See you on the other side of the race!

Do you get pre-race anxiety? How do you deal with it? What are thing items that you must have at your races?

For those of you keeping track.

Friday Update: I lost 1.1lbs. Totally don’t deserve it on the eating front, but I did do a lot of training this week, so that must have made up for the volume of food I ate!

10 lb Challenge Update

Here is a very quick update as I have 3 deadlines to meet today.  I would much prefer to spend my morning blogging, but my aforementioned Triathlon habit (and other little things like 4 kids who seem to expect me to feed and clothe them) encourage me to take advantage of every bill-able hour I can get!

So–drum roll…….

I lost 2.2 lbs since last Friday!!!!

What I did differently:

  • increased my training hours (read got back to normal). I have started recording these  again in the Training Log tab
  • Got back in the fuelling instead of eating mindset. When I need to fuel my body I pay close attention to what I put in my mouth and make better choices.
  • decreased my wine consumption (this one is always a huge factor for me as I “forget” to count these calories) So no evening relaxing glass of wine except on weekends. I also find that I eat more when I have that glass of wine so eliminating this on weeknights probably saves me 300-400 calories five days a week!  That is crazy and unnecessary!
  • I didn’t cut out coffee, but I only had one cup and I drank that AFTER I had my protein smoothie breakfast.
  • I did have 2 coke zeros this week–and both times they made me feel crappy. I think the answer there is to get it out of the fridge and out of the house.  I don’t even think about it unless I see that black can looking all cold and refreshing in the fridge.
  • I drank more water
  • When I felt restless and hungry in the evening I went to bed instead of searching through the cupboards. When I feel tired my first impulse is to eat something to give me energy, but at 9pm I don’t need energy, I need sleep!
  • When i was tempted to eat potato chips or have a glass of wine I thought of having to write this blog post!  That you all; you are my inspiration!

Are you taking the 10 lb challenge? How did you do? Please let me know.  If not and you want to, it is never too late to start. Jump on board!