Three months ago, I was in the midst of a “normal” emergence into spring. Spring always makes me think of new birth and new beginnings, but I was continuing the spring like most of the vernal arrivals of previous years. In other words, same old, same old. Nothing new, while something deep inside of me was yearning for something completely different. Yearning and doing, though, are very different things. How does thought get into action? How does a long dreamed for desire finally become the impetus for action, the “spiritual kick in the butt”?
From my mid-twenties into my mid-thirties I have lingered in a cocoon, not fully participating, but longing to emerge and fly. How does one finally wake up and begin again? How does one make a small change that might become permanent? How does one make real and lasting change, and not of the nickel and penny variety? How does one take long-talked-about and long-dreamed-for desires and make them newly-lived-for-actions? In my case, it’s about loving myself and returning to the actions that make me, me. Running and hiking and playing and doing. Yeah, it’s about weight loss and health, but it’s a lot more than that.
In fits and starts over the past few years, I have hiked and ran and wandered and played, but it never felt permanent. Soon I would return to a sedentary life of reading and watching and thinking. This spring, though, the seeds and desires were different. First steps can be easy, but what about second and third and fourth steps? What about the continuation of something that becomes a movement? When does something go from being a verb to a part of your soul? When do you begin to pick up the pieces of your heart and keep the ones that you need to thrive and discard the ones that have weighed you down?
Several things came together for me this spring.
1. Inspiration: Write it down. One Sunday afternoon, I copied down the plan for the 10 week “A 5K Training Plan For Beginners” on a big sheet of paper with calendar dates and all of the details of each workout, and taped it to a wall in my bedroom. There are a lot of “beginner” and “off the couch” plans that assume one can already run for 20-30 minutes. I like this plan, because it really does start at the beginning. There’s a pattern to the workouts that are soothing, with Sunday track workouts and midweek cross-training sessions and breaks on Fridays. There’s enough flexibility in the plan that I can switch a Tuesday workout to a Wednesday and not fall behind. The pattern and the workouts have given shape to endless work days and to my less structured summer.
Lessons learned: Writing it down with dates helps the goal become all the more real. Going through the whole training plan helps me to envision the pattern and path I am taking. On days when it’s hard to know where to start, look at the workout plan.
2. Motivation: Enlist the help of a friend. Out of the blue, in early April, I got a message via Facebook. It was from a new Facebook “friend,” who is just enough years older that it mattered in high school, but is blurred away in adulthood, who wanted to know how to get in touch with my mother. I responded with her phone number and then sent the obligatory we-should-catch-up-message. A flurry of messages followed later that day and we spoke on the phone. Do you ever have that instant connection with someone? It was the best combination of a new friend wrapped in old familiarity. We knew bits and pieces of each other’s lives, what has been chronicled through relatives and small town gossip, but caught up on a much deeper level. We flirted, we chatted, we laughed, we listened. When we reconnected, he talked of his recent first marathon and his transition from a full-time career to a summer of free time. He starts graduate school in the fall and new beginnings are his forte at the moment. I talked of my plan to finish massage therapy school while continuing to work in environmental education, and lamented wanting bigger and deeper changes. Almost four months later, he has become a good friend and something of a coach. We exchange text messages like mad men, but somehow, in our transition from strangers to long-distance friends, he is concerned about my food choices and exercise plans. With an informal agreement cementing us together, he receives my messages about what I ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and snacks. I send my plans for the swimming and running workouts and he follows up to see that I completed the work. He knows my weight and I have to think twice before eating something. Will I be embarrassed that I ate a Snickers bar and must text him the details? We both embarked on a bit of a “clean eating” campaign in the spring and it has helped me. He has a half marathon planned for August and one in November, while I target a mid-summer 5K and an October half marathon debut. It helps that he is far away and does not judge. Sometimes, though, I wish this friend, who lives more than a thousand miles away, was closer and that we could share an occasional meal or run together, instead of texts about said meals and running adventures. When I beat myself up about a greasy breakfast, he encourages me to make different choices for lunch. Congrats texts from him are as exciting as the low points on the scale and the new times I run in the mile. He seems to be in it for the long haul and talks about the six month point and new benchmarks for me to target. While this is a mostly solitary journey, it helps to have a friend right there along the way.
Lessons learned: Look for help in an unexpected place. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People like to share their expertise. Having a friend help means I don’t want to waste my time or his time. Now I have some built-in accountability.
3. Perspiration: Shut up and do the work. Except for the text messages to my friend, the big change was not talking about my plans, and instead just doing the workouts. The simplicity of running is helpful. Tie the laces and go. I usually run in the dark of early morning, cloaked in the anonymity of shadows and solitude, but it’s easy enough to make adjustments based on work schedules and weather. I find that if I go early, my myriad excuses do not hold any weight. I prefer to be up early and greet the day with exercise. I follow the day’s assignment (the workout on my wall) and supplement running with jumping rope, another childhood activity that, like running, I have again embraced fully, along with biking and swimming. I can slowly feel the difference as I run farther and gain stamina and strength. I like how sweat, after effort, feels clean and renewing. I like the monotony of track workouts and the scenery of my favorite lake trail run, but even a jaunt in the neighborhood makes me feel good. Granted, I am panting and puffing, like the wolf about to blow the little pig’s house down, but I love the effort and how it takes my whole body, including my mind and soul, to complete the run.
Lesson learned: I can feel my body getting stronger. I feel lighter on my feet as I lose weight. I feel lighter as I rediscover one of my life’s great loves, running. I like how it’s just me, a watch, and a path. Doing the work, rather than talking about it, is sometimes easier.
Like a braid needing three strands, for me, it takes all three: inspiration, motivation, perspiration. When all three are present, there is change. When all three are present, I can feel it going beyond the moment, to a lifetime. One step at a time, one sweat bead at a time, there is direction.