Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Loving myself for Lent

Last week:

Mon:    Run 5.14mi      46:09
        Yoga            40:00
Tue:    Run 3.38mi      30:29
        Yoga            25:00
Wed:    Run 7.00mi      1:04:00
        Yoga            30:00
Thu:    Run 5.04mi      46:30
        Bike 9.11mi     48:33
Fri:    Run 3.03mi      27:30
Sat:    Yoga            1:00:00
Sun:    Run 10.13mi     1:43:41
        Yoga            20:00

One of my Lenten practices is to love myself. I cannot say that I have clear idea of what that means, I am in an inquiry. I could probably tell *you* a lot easier what it means (or should mean) for *you* to love *yourself* than I can say what it means for me to love myself. That, I think, has a lot to do with why my Spiritual Director suggested this practice to me for Lent.

At the moment, I am mostly noticing how much I don't love myself -- not as in a feeling I have towards myself but rather as the way I act towards myself. I am becoming increasingly aware of how much of my "self-talk" is crtical and just how critical it is. Particularly when I run, there's this voice inside my head that is always "pushing."

Sunday I was not even sure if I would run at all. I did not do a long run on Saturday because I needed to go to a meeting in Bamenda in the morning and Sunday morning I was preaching in church. After church, though, I was feeling a bit stiff and somewhat energetic, so I thought, "okay, let's go for a run." I started out with no set distance in mind, then I settled on going as far as the tarmac, which would be about 6 miles, but I'd see how I felt. Feeling pretty good, I thought, "maybe I'll go see where Finge is." Finge is a village down the tarmac and on the other side. I've only seen the sign from the road. When I got to the sign, I'd gone about 4.3 miles, so I decided I'd go until I either reached Finge or 5 miles, whichever was sooner. Of course, right after I made that decision, I went barrelling down a hill (uh, oh, what goes down must come up. . .), turned a corner and had to crane my neck to see (what I thought/hoped was) the top of an even steeper hill. That was not the top, but simply a curve that led to another incline.

Most of this time, of course, I have the rather constant "push" critical chatter going on in my head (I'll spare you the soundtrack). But when I rounded that corner and could see the *real* top of the hill, I thought, "ya know, I'm gonna make it up there and then I'm gonna stop and enjoy the view." And I did just that. And it was a heckuva view. Really nice. (I'm a view kinda gal.) I stopped my watch and just stood there for as long as I felt like. On the way back, I noticed the voice that wanted to criticize me for not going *at least* 12 miles and I decided to squash it. "10 miles is still a long run, and much longer than I planned to go when I started out. Besides I know my weekly mileage is already over 30 miles, so shhh."

I think when I was younger, I thought I could silence the critical chatter by giving it nothing to be critical about. So I've done a *lot* of "self-improvement" stuff. But now I think maybe I need to just stop the conversation. Not sure how to do that, but that's what I'm thinking at the moment. Somehow that seems the more loving thing to do.

Monday, February 19, 2007

35.5 mph downhill makes the uphill grind worth it!

Went for a long bike ride today. I almost made it to Big Babanki, but I didn't know how many more hills I'd have to climb (I didn't pay that much attention when I was in the car!), so when I got to 10 miles, I turned around. And woo hoo! More than once I went down a beautiful long hill at speeds up to 35.5 mph (this is on a mountain bike, God only knows how fast I could have gone on a road bike)!!! That was awesome. Totally awesome fun. Fun to the nth degree. Definitely have to do that again! Again I am reminded of just how much fun I have riding a bike. Sheer, pure, unadulterated fun. And I really, really needed that today, so I am very happy that I went out and rode. I thought I would take some photos, but I was much more inspired by the experience of riding the bike than the scenery (it's the end of the dry season and well, everything looks an awful lot like No. California in the summer. . .)

This week:

Mon:    Run     3.19mi  29:20   Bafoussam       (Nat'l Youth Day -- a holiday here)
Tue:    Run     4.02mi  37:11
        Yoga    25min
Wed:                    letting the thighs rest
Thu:    Run     6.41mi  59:08
        Yoga    60min
Fri:    Run     3.00mi  26:53
        Yoga    60min
Sat.    Run     7.51mi  1:17:43
Sun:    Cycle   22.98mi 2:14:43

Thought I'd go much long on Saturday, but within moments of starting out, my upper thighs felt really tired and weak and the feeling never went away. I’m pretty sure it is my psoas muscles. They tightened up a bit on the bike ride today, but they didn't go all weak like yesterday.

Earlier this week, I was reflecting on the Gospel reading for the day which was the "great commandment" -- love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. I realized that, for me, loving God with all my heart really was a call to be happy, to do the work that it takes to be happy (which has a lot to do with creating happiness within me, creating the right frame of mind). Although at times I can be quite content, I do not think I am by nature a happy person. Either that or it's just that I have built up a lifetime of the bad habit of negative thinking. At any rate, I tend to not do very often those things that make me happy. But today I did. Screaming down those hills, I was really, really happy. I need to pay attention to experiences like that, acknowledge them, and engage in them much more often. When I am happy like that, the world is a perfect place and I am filled with gratitude and love for God and humans.

Today I am grateful for the people at Cannondate who manufactured my bicycle. I am grateful for God and the earth that created those awesome hills, even if it meant I had to climb them before I could descend! I am grateful for the British (and Germans I think) who paved that road. I am grateful for all the Cameroonians in the area who were at home with their families or hanging around their neighborhoods so that the road was almost completely empty. I am grateful for sunshine and a perfect breeze. And I am grateful for the Horizon Chicken Shack in Bambui that had a nice cold Djino to quench my thirst and get some sugar back into my system and then had fufu-corn and njama njama to replenish me and a nice cold Amstel beer to finish things off perfectly.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

I miss racing

Just wanted to say that I miss being able to run in races. Not that I was every competitive or anything (although I placed 3rd in my age group in last year's Palo Alto Weekly 10k -- woo hoo! -- it's great being a Masters runner in a small town!). But I miss the cameraderie; I miss having a goal to work toward; I miss having a "test" to gauge myself.

There are at least a few races here in Cameroon, but so far none I've ever seen in Bamenda. The problem is that, if there is any advanced notice about them, I am totally out of the loop. I only hear about them when they are on the news after the fact. There was a half-marathon (my favorite distance) in Yaoundé in the fall that I saw on the news. And this weekend is the Mt. Cameroon race -- something which I knew about, but the only information you can ever get is that it is run at the end of January/beginning of February (of course, it's now solidly the *middle* of February, but we'll just take that as "African time"). I actually tried, several times, to find out about how to register for this, but was unsuccessful. Maybe next year. Although I'm pretty sure I want to be on a relay team -- the race is 32km -- 16km up the mountain and 16km down the mountain. I know I could do 32km if I trained for it, but the hills, altitude and snow would be a bit rough.

I've always thought that I was a solitary runner, and definitely for training I'd always much rather run by myself. But you take the opportunity to race with others for granted when you live in California and there are multiple races to choose from almost every single weekend of the year. Just another one of the ways I miss having a social life.

I feel like, in a way, this period of being in Africa is a sort of monastic experience. I have plenty of time to reflect and much less opportunity to distract myself and avoid it. So far, I am mostly just observing and learning about myself -- learning about what is important to me and observing my feelings.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Scarcity and gluttony

This past week:

Wed:    Run 4.02mi      35:57
        Yoga 25min.
Thu:    Run 5.05mi      46:23
Fri:    Run 3.39mi      30:31
Sun:    Run 12.48mi     2:04:13

Did my long run in Bafoussam because I was over there visiting another VSO volunteer. Ran the road that goes north to Foumban, which is very hilly -- mostly long (1/2 to 1 mile), sloping hills. And now my thighs are killing me. I ran Monday and Tuesday of this week, thinking it would be better to keep them stretched, but last night after doing some yoga I applied arnica oil and today I'm taking a rest day in the hopes I will be able to go down stairs without wincing.

Today is market day, so I'll need to ride my bike to Bambui to buy food (9mi round trip, 6 of which are on our rough dirt road). I figure that will either kill me or feel good.

Lent is approaching and I've been contemplating how I intend to mark the season. Since this has been on my mind, I noticed a recent reaction of mine which I found interesting and thought I'd share.

We are several months into the dry season and food is getting a bit more scarce, even here in the "breadbasket" of Cameroon. Also, I've not been able to shop for food in Bamenda (where there is more selection) as easily as I have before. So, I was having constant thoughts that I could not get enough to eat. The form of the thought was not really about the present moment as it was about some potential future. This set up a reaction in me where I started to overeat. When I had the opportunity to eat, I ate more than I needed or even particularly wanted. Or I would eat sufficiently and then remain unsatisfied and start to hunt around for something more. It also had me eat things I am not supposed to eat because of food intolerances (particularly wheat) and my reaction to wheat tends to reinforce this eating behavior.

Not unsurprisingly, this caused me to gain about 6lbs which was just enough to have me not feel good.

How easily the *thought* of insufficiency, even when it is out of sync with the reality, leads me to behave as if the *thought* were true, despite all evidence to the contrary.

I want my Lenten practice to remind me that I have enough, I am enough, there is enough or even more, far more, than enough--gratefulness and great fullness.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Running keeps me sane

This week's stats:

Mon:    Yoga 50min
Tue:    Run 5.04mi      46:43
Thu:    Run 6.49mi      57:50
Fri:    Run 3.1mi       30.07
Sat:    Run 10.5mi      1:44:29
Sun:    Bike 11mi       57:02

Tuesday night I has a work-related dinner in Bamenda and ate way too much. I haven't done that in a very long time and it had the same effect on me as if I had drunk too much. I felt awful. Wednesday morning, I still didin't feel very good and certainly not up for going to a run in strange territory (stayed overnight in Bamenda), so I didn't. Thursday morning, for some bizarre reason, I believed my mind when it said that I could just turn on the computer and let it do the work of downloading e-mails and then come back and look at them later (sometimes it takes a long time to download e-mails because I have a very, very slow connection--through my cellphone). But as always, always happens when I sit in front of the computer, I became transfixed and it was midday before I could unglue myself. The worst part of this was that my experience with the computer (with the Internet connection specifically) was one of complete and utter frustration.

So I learned a few things about myself. One is that even when utterly frustrated, there is some other part of me that is doggedly persistent, blindly optimistic. I can't let go. I can't just drop it and come back later. (Hmmm, this sounds sooo like some arguments with my spouse. . .) The second thing I learned is that I really, really, really need to go running. I was so much more sane after I finally got out and ran. Much calmer and much more able to walk away from utter frustration and go, "I don't need this right now."

"Action removes the doubt that theory cannot solve."

That saying comes to mind so often these days.