Monday, October 8, 2012

On Training and Discipline

Image courtesy of Dirty Girl Facebook
In 19 days I will join the exhausted, muddied ranks of women participating in the Dirty Girl mud run.  It's a 5k obstacle course, involving mud pits and climbing walls and any number of unexpected booby traps, and it's also not the kind of event that my 15 yr old self would ever have imagined that I would willingly sign up to complete.

Five years ago (!) I entered my first ever "sporty event".  Having been a dedicated non-athlete for my entire life, I, being of sound mind and body, actually chose to sign up for a sprint triathlon (500 yard swim, 6 mile bike, and 2 mile run).  After my initial panic attack, I settled into the daily workout routine created for me by my personal trainer-slash-awesome husband.  I won't bore you with the details, but ultimately I learned how to train in timed intervals, increasing the amount of time on my feet while simultaneously gaining in speed on days with a shorter run.  It was methodical and soothing, and difficult enough to keep me at my edge.  It was also unlike any form of discipline I had ever known.

Having spent my entire adolescence holed up in various dark corners in pursuit of becoming an author, I am hardwired for working at a frenetic and haphazard pace.  Days of down time followed by all-night writing binges, hours filled with plot structure and verse and character development that end abruptly, until ready to strike again, are a natural part of my DNA.  I spent all of my college, and the majority of my post-graduate, years pushing up against deadlines, working until the wee hours to get a project completed on time.  It was always a bit of an adrenaline rush piled onto a creative high.  Like drinking red bulls and vodka (am I dating myself here?) on top of multiple double macchiatos.

Apparently, you can't work that way when it comes to performing amazing feats of physical prowess.  I'm not teaching you anything new when I tell you that the body needs to build muscle slowly, one tiny fiber at a time.  Gaining strength, like staying healthy, is all about the process and not so much the product. 

For three and a half months I slugged through my training schedule, unaccustomed to the prolonged accumulation of endurance and control.  (Mostly I listened to Haruki Murakami's "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" on my iPod.  No joke.  Best running book, ever.)  Although I understood that I was accomplishing something, I didn't really understand the magnitude of this type of training until the week of my event.  Two days before the triathlon, I was ordered to go to yoga.  The day before, I was to do nothing (nothing!) and be off of my feet by 4 p.m.  Looking at the schedule in advance, I certainly had no complaints.

Except, I was a wreck.  Edgy and restless, I kept asking what else I needed to do to prepare.  I knew I couldn't just sit there and let all that perfectly good time go to waste.  I had to cram! 

Nothing could take away the uneasy feeling of not being ready.  (Although, being forced to lay on the couch with a magazine while my sweetie cooked me an unnecessarily carb-heavy meal was a great start.)  And nothing could prepare me for how it felt the next morning when I dove into the freezing Pacific Ocean at 7 a.m.  My body was completely ready.  I was completely ready.

It's a lesson that I vowed to take with me into the future.  I promised myself from that point on, I would approach my writing, my creative projects, and my life as an endurance sport.  No more last minute cram sessions, or acceptable bouts of non-activity.  I was going to learn the basic act of daily maintenance.

Of course, one loses a bit of that bright-eyed veneer after five years.  The edge has gone, along with the majority of my "free" time.  After recognizing that my power drive seems to have settled into a bit of a cruise, I've decided another event is in order to restore that urge. 

This time, when I run, I think about a comment spoken to me by one of the senior writing teachers in my graduate program.  We were meeting during office hours, and she was critiquing my work.  Almost as an aside, clearly without much intent, she gave me the best piece of advice I learned from the entire two years of study:

"It's clear that you have an innate sense of language.  You never seem like you have to try very hard to make it work.  Which is a large part of the problem.  You don't have any discipline in your writing."

True, but I'm in training.

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