Energy Is Not Inexhaustible

30 Jun

It felt as if he’d asked me to sell my firstborn child, disown my parents and swear off sweet potato fries. As soon as he said it, I felt defensive. I was “doing too much and had to choose?” How could he, a guy who consistently trained at not one but two gyms on a daily basis and was often referred to as the “Beast” think that I was doing too much? Even worse, I sensed some disappointment in his tone – that my stadium running that morning had tired me out and I wasn’t able to fully throw myself into the workout. And I don’t like disappointing people.

It didn’t help that our conversation had an audience. We had been paired up for one of the classic Crossfit workouts, one in which speed is imperative. My partner was one of the four guys in a class of 7 with the same name. He was happy when I suggested he do the workout first while I counted reps and cheered him on. And I did…count reps…coax him into breathing…then jumping back into the intensity. But it was when we switched places, and he counted reps and yelled at me, repeatedly (in the good sense – egging me on) that I started to feel I had let him down by not treating him similarly. It’s bad enough to be the only girl in the class…and to feel bad for the guy stuck judging/cheering on the only girl…but to realize I had coaxed and cheered while he had yelled and pushed (and we probably both thrived better with yelling and pushing) made me feel bad. Like a disappointment.

And then we were sent out to run. Nothing clears my head and helps me decompress like a run. I’m a decent runner, especially when in a group of non-runners, and I easily outpaced the guys. Which meant I arrived back at the gym alone, with a few minutes to spare. If I’d talked to the coach before the run, I would have been frustrated. I would have detailed how I’ve cut back on exercise by at least half, how I don’t overtrain, how I should be able to lift what he thinks I should but sometimes, for inexplicable reasons, some days I am weaker than others. Maybe the truth. Maybe excuses. But post run, my tone was different. I thanked him for his concern and then said “But I don’t want to stop running or biking or swimming” and I must have looked particularly sad because he turned around quickly and said “I didn’t mean you are doing too much in general and have to choose to cut stuff out. I’ve been in the same place as you – I used to run endurance events. I mean, you need to choose, on a day to day basis, where your energy is going to be used. You can do both but not every day without feeling frustrated and losing ground.”

* * *

Fast forward a few weeks later and we were back in class. Back lifting heavy things. After instructing everyone else in the class, he made his way over to me. “How’s it going, Liz?” he asked. “Fine.” I said. “Show me” he responded. Ugh. Am I the only person who respects the need to be watched for good form but resents having someone else watch me lift heavy things? It’s a constant battle with me. I worry that others will think I am rejecting sound advice, thinking I don’t need a coach. When the truth is simply that I am used to lifting without an audience, used to being alone in my exercise and this adjustment is taking time.

And we talk about form and stretching to help with hip mobility (mine grows better and better from Monday until Thursday, until I can squat as low as anyone else while hoisting weighted barbells and then, the weekend of extra cardio reduces my squat to that of a sedentary octagenarian). And his comments make sense because they are wrapped around the premise that “he has been in my position and knows what he is talking about.” And then he smiles and winks and says “Every minute we spend talking is a minute you spend not lifting. Now stop thinking. You think too much. Get on it.” And I do.

* * *

Saturday night, I find myself with a free evening until 11pm and a concerning weather report for Sunday. I decide that I may as well do my training run (9-15 miles) in the cool of the early evening rather than waiting for Sunday morning, hoping the expected rain doesn’t appear. To be clear – I don’t really want to run. I want to sit on my couch and do nothing but I also know that won’t leave me feeling very good. Whenever I get into this mood, I know that either I need rest or change. In this case, I’d taken an early afternoon nap for 1 1/2 hours. So I knew I needed change. An unplanned route, an unplanned pace, just me and my headphones and my apt key. I didn’t even bring water.

And it was perfect. I stuck to well-lit well-traveled streets crowded with dinner dates and birthday party-goers and I saw parts of my city that I’d never seen before. And as I ran, I thought back on my week and where I’d chosen to expend energy: welcoming the new hires into my company; a fit of apartment cleaning before my relatives visited, a friend stayed the night and I hosted a vodka-drinking, going-away, MBA-surviving hangout; running stadium steps; holding babies and writing snail mail and listening to a friend who felt inadequate in a new job; tackling an outstanding work project; squealing in horror while watching Travis Pastrana’s Nitro Circus on Netflix with friends; attending Bible study and work meetings and responding to emails and throwing weighted medicine balls back and forth with a friend at the gym.

It’s easy to dwell on the things that didn’t get energy this week: the half hour I listlessly sat at work unwilling to start a new project, the veggies and fruit I meant to eat but the yogurt I grabbed instead, the jury duty paperwork I haven’t filled out because there isn’t a single black pen in my home (I searched), the passport renewal photos I still haven’t taken and the wetsuit I should be training in but haven’t purchased yet.

Energy is not inexhaustible. We are human. Which means we are not superhuman. We need to eat and sleep and relax and shower and cry and laugh and change clothes and blow our noses and look before we cross streets. Each day we are given a daily dose of energy to match our daily dose of time and when its used up, its gone. Some days, I invest more energy in work, others in friends, others in workouts. Life is a constant juggling with pressing needs rising to the top and the list of “what I should do but haven’t” always drowning out the list of “what I’ve managed to accomplish.”

We are told to do more. Have more. Be more. Want more. Look better. Eat better. Sleep better. Love better. Work better. Relax better.

But when I run, it all falls away. I can look back at what I did well in the week, and what I did not. I can think back on conversations I had and if apologies need to be made. I can weigh where my week was out of balance and make sure the next week, I concentrate more on whatever was lacking. Some people do this while driving, or out loud with a spouse, or while showering. I analyze myself and my life and the channels I’m exerting energy in while running.

And then…when I often realize I’m too hard on myself, I remember “Stop thinking. You think too much. Get on it.” And I ease back into my run, shocked to see how many miles have clicked past, pleased to see how steady my pace has been, relieved that the aches and pains have worked their way out and I feel light. And then I enjoy the rest of my run, stopping myself when I try to think, concentrating only on each foot as it lands lightly, each arm as it swings, each breath as it pushes out. Grateful that sometimes the energy you expend produces more energy.

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