My latest “Storm Survival” post has to do with the life lessons I learned from my running shoes. We can often “over cushion” our lives (numbing – especially during hard seasons) and not allow ourselves to truly feel the ground we are running on. This cushion can give us a false sense of reality…can cause us to run in unnatural ways…and can just be unnecessary weight. Removing that cushion was freeing but meant changing the way I ran.
I have gotten more into running these past few years – Probably because I live in the flat FLAT Netherlands and the largest incline I need to navigate is a bridge over the highway. 🙂 I prefer longer, slower distances. I’m not a sprinter. The initial endurance/distance increase can be rough but once I establish a routine I find running to be almost meditative. I can clear my head and let my body fall into an easy rhythm. But like most runners I have had my share of injuries. I spent several months in 2011 rehabbing an IT band issue after the Amsterdam 1/2 marathon.
If you are around running you are probably aware of the barefoot or “minimalist” trend that has been gaining momentum. (Please bear with me if the very thought of running sends chills up your spine 🙂 )The idea is that humans really were designed to run…just differently than most people do it today. The theory is that we used to out run our dinner because we are able to use oxygen better and would literally run the animal to death. We were running before Nike existed so it meant we were barefoot. A major shift happened when the running shoe was invented and we put a cushion in between our foot and the ground. We changed from our natural bio mechanics absorbing the impact to the shoe. This cushion allowed us to change our running style (not for the better) and may be contributing to the increase in injuries that runners experience. I can’t go into all the science behind it but if you are interested there is a great resource here.
After I finished chemo and was rebuilding my mileage base I decided to change from my clunky Asics to a much more streamlined, minimal Adidas shoe. This change has made a huge difference for me. When I first started running I went to a proper store and had my stride evaluated…they decided I needed a shoe that would stabilize my foot when I ran along with a custom insole for my high arch. It was comfortable enough and I used this set up for years but I never felt like my foot landed “completely” correct. It always felt forced into a certain orientation. When I switched to the Adidas I felt more free and lighter…there was no arch support and only some slight padding…so I needed to make some adjustments to compensate for losing the cushion. Here are the major ones:
- You need to change the way you run – smaller faster steps reduce the force and landing on your forefoot helps you to absorb the impact
- You need to build up your miles SLOWLY. Can’t make this change and immediately expect to run the same distance. It’s similar to starting over. You are using different muscles/tendons and need to train them
- It takes a lot of focus in the beginning but eventually becomes more natural
- Accept that you may not be able to run as fast but you are (hopefully 🙂 ) running better
OK, that’s quite a back story…how did this change teach me about life? As I have been processing through my own storm season I began noticing all the ways I was tempted to compensate for my emotions rather than experience them. I would avoid them with TV. I might numb them with some wine. I would hold on to anger and resentment without facing the fear of letting go that existed underneath. These things were the cushion I wrapped around my life which allowed me to keep moving forward but I wasn’t living as free as I could. I wasn’t living how I was designed. I was relying too much on the padding and it was weighing me down.
But here is where the running analogy comes in. I know people who have wanted to make changes in their life and tried to dramatically overhaul everything. New goals, new way of living only to have the enthusiasm burn out because they did too much too fast. Then they get injured or frustrated and just stop. It takes time to retrain yourself and often we don’t have the patience.
Here are my practical suggestions based on the running lessons I learned:
- First you need to decide what you want to change and how. Much like changing your running stride it takes a decision. example: I realize I am using TV to distract myself from sitting with and processing through difficult emotions. I want to change that.
- Second, start slow. If you are removing a cushion and changing how you’re living you need to rely on something else to compensate. Partly, you might need to absorb more impact with your body. I think we are designed to experience more pain than we usually allow ourselves – it isn’t nice but with God’s grace it’s how we evolve and grow.
- You might need to strengthen other muscles…again slowly. You want to eat more healthy? Start with one meal a week. Exercise your planning and self control muscles. Build up from there. You want to stop avoiding things with work or TV? Try meditating/praying for 5 minutes everyday. Pretty soon that will seem easier…increase it to 10…etc. You are building up your “letting go” and trust muscles.
- Making changes takes focus and determination. Don’t expect it to be easy initially but it will get easier.
- Accept that you can’t start out where you ultimately want to be but with time you can get there. Trust God and give yourself grace in the process.
Til next week…happy surviving and running,
Why is taking the first step the hardest? The following steps somehow seem easier.
I am writing this because I find myself in the ironic situation of…I was in much better shape in the middle of chemo than I am now. It’s crazy. My motivation for exercise has evaporated. I’m sure it is partly due to the Dutch winter weather and that I no longer have the structured “chemo-cise” program. It is difficult to remember where I was a year ago and realize what I need to recover. Some days it feels almost impossible to get myself up and moving. Almost.
I have been trying to be more disciplined and can feel my fitness level improve (which helps my motivation). But the biggest hurdle I need to overcome every time is just changing into my running gear. Somehow the thought of changing makes me sink deeper into the couch that I am sitting on. Facebook becomes more interesting or I remember that “one thing” I need to look up. It takes a conscious choice to move the computer and take the first step. There are days when my desire and determination win and there are days when it doesn’t. But I always feel so much better when I run.
These decisions to move aren’t limited to exercise. The first step is the hardest in almost every process. Especially the ones where we can’t see the full path. Are there changes you want to make? Do you want to learn to cook? Are there habits you want to form or break? Does not seeing the the full path keep you from starting? Identify the first step and just start…because without that first step you will always stay where you’ve always been.
I want to thank everyone who has been thinking and praying for us as I finish up this last cycle of chemo. I have been asked “What did you do to celebrate?” quite a few times and the honest answer to that is: nothing…yet. There is definitely a nice dinner and bottle of wine in my future but I am not currently in a place where I can fully enjoy it. Mentally it is nice to know that I wont have to go back in for another flush of chemicals but physically I am still riding out the side effects of the infusion. And truthfully I’m not riding them out very well. It was easier for me to give my body the rest it needed when I knew I had more chemo in my future. I wanted to recover my energy and strength before getting kicked by another round. Now that the last one is behind me I want to slam the book closed on the “chemo chapter” of my life as fast as possible. I am beyond ready to begin reclaiming my life from being a chemo puddle. This feeling of “getting on with it” is so consuming and unless you’ve personally had the giant cancer/chemo pause button hit on your life…is impossible to understand.
A little crass…and I do feel patience is a virtue. But somehow it fits. 🙂
However, I have learned that my body doesn’t go from 4 months of
poison chemo –> normal activity in a week. Shocked? I’m not either but I desperately wanted it to be true. Yesterday, the weather was great and I had been gradually feeling better…so (1 week after my final infusion) I went for a 6 km run/walk around the city, stopped in on a friend with a new baby…came home showered and ate lunch quickly…hopped on my bike for a 12km round trip ride to my physical therapist…stopped by a cafe on my way home and read for 2 hrs…did some shopping and then made dinner. Today, my body told me that that was too much too soon and I earned a little extra couch time. OK, fine. I give.
Anyone who knows me well is probably rolling their eyes and shaking their head because, honestly, it’s not surprising…please resist the urge to tell me to take care of myself. I REALLY do get it and promise will be more conscious of giving myself grace and attempting to be more accepting of the process. 🙂 I am just so ready to feel like myself again…
Well folks the time has come…number 6. I have my last heavy duty chemo infusion in my treatment plan tomorrow. It has managed to come fast and slow at the same time and, to be honest, I have mixed feelings about it. Don’t get me wrong I am SO excited to not have poison pumped through my body every three weeks. I am ready to de fog my brain and re grow my hair :-). But it is odd to get to the end and wonder if I accomplished anything with this challenging process. Emotionally and spiritually I have grown in profound ways but I will never know if the chemo actually did anything. I just get to the end, walk out the door and wait…hopefully wait years without any sign of the cancer returning.
When I started on this cancer journey it seemed like running a half marathon/marathon was a good metaphor for the process. I would be tested physically and mentally and would have to rely on mental fortitude to push to the finish. There are many similarities but where the comparison breaks down for me is at the “finish”. Tomorrow I will be done (minus the side effects) with the tough chemo but my journey with cancer will continue in a different capacity. There is not an “I made it” moment and now I get to leave this all behind me. I get to leave this particular physical challenge behind me but the race is not done. I am now thinking a better metaphor is a long distance hike and I have just crested a summit but the trail continues before me. There will be times that are more physically demanding and others I get to stroll along enjoying the scenery. However, I am now on a cancer path and it will forever influence me.
But, that wont stop me from having one heck of a celebration after cresting this “chemo peak”. After all this I’ve learned you have to party whenever you have an excuse. 🙂
I’ve had many people use the word inspiration in relation to me and this process. I guess the thing I should say is thank you, but it’s still an adjective that I have a hard time accepting for myself. Stubborn, yep that one works. Strong, that one is also a bit easier for me to see. Fighter…absolutely. But inspiration is still a funny one. I suppose I’ll work on it. 🙂
I’ve talked about this before, but the hardest thing for me about this cancer thing and the treatment process is feeling like your life is no longer in your control. I have a mile long list of medicine and appointments. I am stuck crossing my fingers after a chemo infusion wondering which side effects are going to roll through my body. I can’t make plans very far in advance because I never know how I’m going to feel. It seems like everything right now is just happening to me and I fight to maintain who I am as a person through it all. This is where the stubborn-ness comes in quite handy because I won’t give up.
I am a runner but I haven’t really done any running since I started chemo. Obviously. I have my chemo-exercise program to help maintain my fitness level but for the last 3 months I’d only run once…1.5 weeks ago right before my last infusion. I made a decision that (as much as I am able) I am going to keep running during chemo. It’s what I like to do. So…inspired by all my family and friends supporting me in various “Race for the Cures”, I signed up for the Ladies Run Groningen. This is an event that supports the Pink Ribbon Foundation for breast cancer resources and research. Perfect. It was a beautiful day and I had 2 lovely friends join me for a 5k jog around the city. I ran slow, but I ran the whole way and finished strong. I was pretty happy after not running for a few months, but hopefully I will be able to make it a more regular event. I really think that exercise and keeping my body strong helps to minimize the side effects of chemo. Even if it doesn’t it helps keep me from going crazy which is always a positive. Here’s some photos from the event thanks to my wonderful husband Jonathan:
Me with my support crew Lucy and Meirav
At the start
After the first 2.5K
At the finish. Had to ditch the head scarf because it was too warm. Bald and Proud. 🙂
All the festivities