Saturday, March 5, 2011

Boundaries

Road trip, South Africa 2003. Going outside of my boundaries and outside of myself.

When I was little, I loved to be outdoors much like I do now. My sister and I spent a lot of time playing, running, riding, swinging and exploring on Capitol Hill where we grew up. In order to keep us safe, my mom gave us boundaries. These boundaries were physical locations, streets that we could not cross, but we were free to roam about within those bounds. They changed the older we got but I found that even when I earned another street or my territory expanded, my go-to locations stayed the same and I found a great deal of comfort in routine. When I deviated, I always felt like a rebel, even if I was still within those boundaries and no rules were being broken.

As I grew up, I didn't realize it but I internalized this framework. I developed boundaries for myself, safe routes, territory in which I was comfortable in. In high school, the boundaries were distance and the territory large, so I never really even noticed them. But looking back now, I can see them. Looking through all of my journeys and all of the places I have lived, I see now that it has been part of my strategy, part of how I frame a place, it is an instant framework that I setup whenever I arrive in a new location. 

Examining it now, I can clearly see this play out. I have somehow managed to be bold and adventurous but at the same time somehow managed to instill boundaries wherever I land. It has been an amazing coping mechanism to get myself oriented and settled wherever I have gone. I can be very spontaneous yes, but subconsciously, I think I am more a creature of habit than I ever real imagined. I can remember living in South Africa and a few of us deciding to go on a road trip to 4 different countries. We had a rental van and a map and I remember being reluctant to go because we had no plan, we had no route, we had no boundaries. I went and it was one of the best times of my life, but I can see now how my subconscious is ordered when it comes to adventure and spontaneity.  

Nothing better in life than exploring new routes and trails with friends.

Looking back it is amazingly evident to me, though I never really thought about it. When I lived in Fresno, South Africa, Pittsburgh, London, Atlanta and when I first moved to San Francisco, my first order of business was develop standard routes to the places I needed to go. I always felt better once I knew exactly how to get to the grocery store or pharmacy or my favorite place to eat. In running it seems even more evident. I am a route girl. I find a route and I set my boundaries and I develop permutations of the route to suit my distance needs. Deviating from those routes always makes me feel like I am on an adventure or being a rebel even if I am not one. 

It is very easy for me to become a creature of habit. I come by that honestly. When a lot of things in life are up in the air and I feel like I am really going outside of myself to do something hard and new and different (starting my own business and writing a cookbook), familiarity is my equilibrium. The boundaries give me comfort. Or so says my subconscious. A few days ago, I set out for a run and realized that perhaps the boundaries, the routes I was limiting myself to were not in fact comforting me, but deadening my senses, allowing me to check out and zone out instead of being present. Its almost like I was sitting in front of the tv, shutting my mind down and allowing myself mindless time. And not in a good way. On that run, I decided to run a new route, I decided to be different. I didn't have a specific workout or speed to go at, so I was free to just explore. It was amazingly refreshing to come to a fork in the road and decide which way to go. I was present in the moment instead of somewhere else or nowhere at all. There is a time and place for routes but I realized that I need to be conscious of how I balance the two things. I think they have gotten out of balance more since I have been training for fast road marathons since the focus is more on paces, splits and miles than when I trail run. I have *less* of this problem when I am out on the trails though I see its presence too. I finished up my run and though it was not remarkable in any way, it felt liberating. Variety is the spice of life and I realize that I need to check myself and keep in balance. Boundaries are not inherently bad, but you have to find a healthy equilibrium between staying within them and pushing past them.

It's really hard to take a picture of yourself splayed out on the ground post long run.

This week I have also been wrestling with boundaries in my training. I am tired. As I mentioned last week, I have been pushing myself really hard and burning very close to the edge. I realized that I had never really stopped pushing the training since December when I started training for Houston. I haven't really taken a step back since then. I raced Houston, took a token light week and was back to it. In my head, I compartmentalized my training for Houston and for LA and didn't see the big picture. The big picture being that I have run well over 90 miles a week with 3 hard workouts a week continually for nearly 3 months. Leading up to Houston, the cycle was so short I never did a cutback week, there was never time. I was doing the same for LA. The only cutback weeks were the taper for Houston, and week following Houston. Not much of a cutback to race a marathon in 2:50. No wonder this week I felt like I just needed to not press into the 100 mile range. I needed to respect my own personal boundaries or likely I would fall to pieces before I was even to the start line. 

Yesterday, though it was not easy for me to convince myself to do so, I decided to take it really easy.  It became a relative rest day, running only once in the morning with Nathan who is tapering for tomorrow's Napa Valley Marathon. I knew I had a long run planned for today but it still took me nearly two full hours in the afternoon to talk myself out of a second run and I even had to text my sister to tell me not to run. My body was spent, my mind reluctant and my glute/hip thing was not happy. Hello, obvious much! I decided to opt for an ice bath and a concurrent cocktail instead. I have been living an austere yet strict life for the better part of  3 months trying to achieve my goals and really, sometimes you absolutely need to remind yourself that life is too short to be so serious and that being constantly rigid will drive you mad (and make you wander around in your running clothes for 2 hours while anxiously trying to decide if you should run or not).  Respecting your physical and mental boundaries in training is essential and as I sat there in my ice bath, sipping a cocktail, I realized I was doing way more for my training by NOT running, by not being rigid and ridiculous, by not pushing myself too hard and by not giving into neurotic behaviour. 

When I woke up this morning, I was ready to run. I felt refreshed, my leg wasn't bothering me and I was ready to push hard in my 2 hour long run. Since I hadn't been able to do my tempo run during the week, I decided to incorporate some hard tempo intervals into my long run. While last week, I worked on relaxing and not forcing myself to run every long run at or near marathon pace, this week I decided to really push my limits and push outside my boundaries. It was a perfect morning, shorts and t-shirt weather. Sunny and pretty still. I did an out and back into Sausalito. I hit around 6:30 pace to warm-up then once on the bridge started doing 2 mile repeats at 6 min/mile pace or faster with 1 mile recovery at long run pace (between 6:30-7:30). It was hard but it was awesome. There were moments when I just wanted to stop during the intervals and instead, I pushed harder, found the next gear. I went outside of myself and dug deep. I didn't limit myself, I just pushed and burned. My 4th and final interval, nearly 15 miles into my run I was able to clock back to back 5:50s. It felt really really good. 

In the end, I realize that boundaries can mean a lot of things and can exist concurrently. They can provide comfort and security, they can provide a way to navigate the world. They can be limiting or protecting. They can be respected and broken. And they can be all of these things all at once, existing in perfect harmony and balance, if we let it.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the inner perspective. The struggle between achieving huge goals and not is just the mental journey you outline, right? Seems like your training for this amazing. Very few can achieve this. Sounds like you want to see if you can do this. This type of goal will take you to places of discovery that not many are willing to pursue. It's tough, hard, sometimes lonely, misunderstood but ultimately it's that dedication and continual get up and get it done approach that will get you the dream. That's what makes you different Devon. Mediocre is not who you are and passion has no balance. That IMO is the beautiful challenge.

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  2. I find it fascinating that you always run the same routes. Mainly because I don't have a single route that I follow religiously. Especially on recovery runs and long runs; I never know where I'm going until I'm done. I head out with a general idea, but often find myself in an opposite quadrant of town.

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  3. Great points Devon. Though I prefer to run different routes to keep things interesting, the rest of what you are saying really resonates. Thanks for the kick in the pants to get out of my comfort zone.

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