one thousand and one days ago

The Irish sky was black outside the window, which was fogging with condensation. The air outside was chill, though mild by the standards of a Canadian January. However, what Ireland has in more temperate temperatures, it makes up for with its complete lack of central heating. My tiny apartment was furnished with a wall heater in the kitchen, and that was it. So most nights you could find me, kitchen door closed, cuddled under a blanket on the couch or at the table, heater blasting for 30 to 60 minutes, making the room toasty warm before I felt compelled to shut it off and save energy (i.e. money). It was awful when I had to go to the bathroom; not only was the bathroom outside the nexus of heat, forcing me to escape into a horrible chill just to pee, but I had to open and close the kitchen door as quickly as possible, to prevent too much heat from escaping. But a bathroom trip meant an inevitable and quick decline from cosy nest to cold kitchen once more, at which point I would have to retreat to my bedroom and huddle under the covers.

It was in this atmosphere, accompanied by heart-crippling homesickness, one thousand and one days ago, that I sat down at my kitchen table across the ocean to craft a list of 101 goals. I didn’t achieve them all. But I certainly achieved a lot, and learned a lot, too, the biggest of which is this:

Goals should be suggestions, rather than commandments set in stone.

People grow and change. Their priorities grow and change with them. Clinging to a goal because it’s on the list, because it’s always been a goal, because I said I was going to do it instead of because it speaks to my soul, are really silly reasons to do anything. I’ve changed a lot over the past two years and eight months. I would go so far as to say I am a totally different person than I was then. Would it make sense, then, to cling blindly to the goals of that Past Me over the goals that make more sense for Present Me? Probably not.

And so that is what I took away from the 101 in 1001 challenge: allow yourself to grow and change. Be flexible. Be aware. Be ever present. Because when you are those things, you will always be self-correcting, and it will be easier to say, “No, this does not fit me anymore, I am going to let it go.” And then actually let it go.

I have a pretty decent fear of heights. It isn’t insanely debilitating; I can still ride in airplanes (though I can’t think about it too much while we’re 30 000 feet in the air), I can still walk across bridges and stand on balconies (though I do, on occasion, picture them collapsing beneath me), and I can still climb a ladder when necessary (one of my fondest memories is helping my stepfather put up Christmas lights and spending a few minutes just exploring the roof of our house). But heights have certainly been the cause of more than a few near-panic attacks and hurried footsteps to get a little closer to safety.

So for a long time, I had “bungee-jump” or “skydive” as a goal. Despite the fact that my whole body would go numb when I thought about doing either of these things, I felt like it was really important that I face my fear. That I should face my fear (uh oh, should is never a good sign).

But then I started thinking, Okay, but why? Will jumping off a 400 foot platform suspended in the middle of a canyon really do anything for me besides give me bragging rights? The thing is…I am okay with my fear of heights. I push it a little bit when necessary. It doesn’t stop me from living my life the way that I want. And so I said to myself, “I think I am going to let this one go.”

So I am not too perturbed by the fact that “skydive” sits forlornly on my list, uncrossed off and ignored. Sorry, Skydive, but you won’t be on the next list.

My list was a great way to stay focused on some of the things that truly mattered to me: finding a job that I genuinely love, becoming debt-free, and injecting a little more whimsy and fun into my life by doing things like watching a movie in a drive-in theatre, taking a surf lesson, and hosting an old-fashioned slumber party. These were all things that I wanted to do, but I might not have put the energy into actually doing if they weren’t on my list. Which would have been a shame, because they were all great fun!

It has been a long journey, from sitting at that table in my freezing cold kitchen in Cork, Ireland, dreaming of the things that I would accomplish over the next three years, to sitting at this table in my cozy apartment in Edmonton, dreaming of all the things that I will accomplish over the next three years.

They’re going to be great ones. I can feel it.

How did your 101 in 1001 journey turn out? What did you learn? What was your favorite goal that you checked off?

 

one thousand and one days ago

Lessons from a Half-Marathon

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This past weekend, I did one of the hardest things that I have ever done: ran 21.1 straight kilometres. As my feet pounded the pavement over and over, and I continually wondered what on earth I had gotten myself into, I had a lot of time to think, about anything and everything, including the road that brought me to the half-marathon that chilly Sunday morning.

I have never considered myself an athletic person. I have always considered myself a “chubby, non-athletic” kind of girl, who no one expected to be good at sports. I always preferred more solo activities over team endeavours: I did gymnastics for 12 years (yet somehow didn’t consider myself athletic?), did kickboxing, bellydancing, and numerous other things where I could be around people but not have to work with them. (I don’t play well with others, apparently.) So it seems inevitable that I would eventually find my way to running. I started up in high school, casually and sporadically, with zero commitment, determination, or schedule. I still approached physical fitness with consternation and the conviction that I would inevitably fail at it.

In my fifth year of university, one of my best friends introduced me to Shaun T and the Insanity workout. Those 60 days changed how I viewed myself and my physical ability. I learned that I was capable of far more than I had ever given myself credit for, and that my body would do a lot of things for me, if only I would ask it to. I started getting into fitness in a more real way, trying out yoga (which I love), and getting deeper into running, actually participating in a few organized races. This year, I decided to commit even more, and do something that I never thought I would be capable of doing: run a half-marathon. And I did. So here are some lessons that I learned along the way.

1. My body is stronger than I think it is.

While doing the Insanity workout, there were many times that I wanted to quit. Many times that I was dripping sweat onto the floor and thinking, “There is absolutely no way that I could ever possibly do another one of these.” But then I did. And then I did another. And maybe sometimes – okay, often – it wasn’t as many as they were doing on screen, but it was more than I had thought I could do. That taught me that I can push myself past the point where I want to stop, and that has come in incredibly handy while training for distance running. There is a difference between needing to stop because you are in pain and wanting to stop because you are uncomfortable. As Hayley likes to say, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” It will happen a lot as you are pushing yourself to new heights.

2. My brain is the one that wants to quit.

Distance running is a mental game for me. My brain starts saying, “Okay, I’m done,” a lot sooner than my body does. While I was running on Sunday, I was breathing fine, and my heart rate was good, my legs were feeling strong, and yet, my brain kept saying, “I’d like to stop please. I’d like to stop please. I’d like to stop please.” It’s exhausting to keep saying no to yourself that way, and so there were a few times when I gave in. I was not as mentally prepared for the race as I could have been, in large part because I fell off the training wagon for the three weeks leading up to it (due to our Portland trip and a nasty throat infection). Even so, knowing that my brain was being a big wuss helped me get through the last 5 km without taking nearly as many breaks as I wanted to (though there were still a lot, trust me).

3. Even though you might be running in what you usually run in, they might betray you over 21.1 km.

For the race, I ran in the clothes that I always run in: my Under Armour compression pants, a lulu lemon sports bra and running top, an exercise sweater, and my Vibrams. I have done all of my runs in all of these clothes save the sweater which only comes out when it is chilly, and yet, around the 10 km mark, I found that there was an unbelievable amount of chafing going on, all over my body. In retrospect, I would not have worn the sweater even though it was chilly to begin with; I warmed up quite quickly (duh) and ended up having to struggle to take it off while running. As well, it chafed my arm and caused me to sweat far more than I should have, losing more water than was necessary. On top of that, while I love my Vibrams dearly and have done all of my runs in them, I am not sure that it was the smartest move for me to wear them during the race. By the last 5 km, my legs and feet were so sore and tired that every step was torture. And that’s the last 25% of the race! So consider your running gear SUPER carefully. It can mean the difference between a challenging but manageable race, and a torturefest.

4. Crossing that finish line is amazing.

There was no rush of euphoria or anything like that, but crossing that finish line – and finding Bryan standing right there, ready to take a picture and give me a high five – was quietly incredible. My body slowly realized that it could stop running, and my brain quickly caught on that this was it: I had done it. I had run for 3 hours straight (my time was 2:57:29 to be exact), over 21.1 km, and come out alive on the other side, with just a few blisters, chafes, and pains to show for it. I set a goal that I secretly thought was a little absurd, and I made it happen. I sat down at my computer one day back in February and said, “I am going to do this.” And I did. So there is no reason to think that I can’t reach my other goals. That I can’t cross those finish lines too.

5. Some forms of torture are addictive.

Like tattoos. And distance running. I’m already planning on running the half-marathon next year with my little sister. (All while my knee and quads are still yelling, loudly, at me for yesterday!)

 

What is the biggest goal that you have achieved that you previously thought was unachievable, even laughable? Tell me about it in the comments!

Lessons from a Half-Marathon