My whole life I’ve been what you might call “strong-willed.”
My parents had one child before me. My older brother was a sweet baby, simple to take care of, and easy to parent. They always asked each other, “why do people think parenting is so hard? This is a breeze!”
And then I was born. I tested their patience all throughout my childhood, and forced my will until I got my way. Needless to say, I was their second and last child.
I’ve since learned how bratty I was, now that my strong will has been evolving and maturing into something a little more productive and less malicious. I like to think that my will serves to my benefit these days. I’m learning how to harness it so that it submits to the opinions and will of those with more experience or wisdom.
There are still times when it gets me in trouble, and causes extensive problems that last well into my future.
A perfect example of what I’m talking about is the period of my life during which I trained to run a half marathon.
See, I got it into my head that in order for me to be a strong, independent human, I needed to train for a half marathon all by myself. I found a great training plan that I decided would be challenging, but possible, and I started running.
My daily routine looked like this: I would go to work in the morning, sit at a desk all day, and then run for at least an hour every night. Sometimes the training plan called for cross-training, so I’d do yoga.
If you know anything about functional movement, you probably know what’s coming next.
I was in almost constant pain. My knees and hips would start hurting in the late morning, and that would continue on until the run. It would usually ease up during the run, and then I’d end up going to bed in agony. If I stretched out really well after each run, it would alleviate the pain for a little while, but it never completely went away. I took at least one ibuprofen pill every day just to focus on my work.
Even though I was in pain, I still loved running. I loved the power and independence I’d feel every time I pushed my body past its limits. I thought I could only be considered a true athlete if I ignored the signals my body sent, and forced my muscles to obey my mind, instead.
I ran the half marathon without stopping. My time wasn’t anything to be impressed about, but I was proud that I finished it at all.
I stopped running altogether a few months after my race. Every time I tried to run, I’d push my body to the point of exhaustion (like always), and my hips and knees hurt so badly for days after. Without to goal of completing a half-marathon to keep me moving, it finally occurred to me that constant pain probably wasn’t a good thing. I took up strength training (with an emphasis on healthy, functional movement) so that I had some form of exercise regimen, and loved the feeling of power it brought. But I still missed running. It took me at least six months, but I finally admitted to myself that maybe running wasn’t for me. Maybe I just don’t have the body type for it.
One day I was listening to a podcast I heard about from my husband called “The Art of Manliness.” (As a woman, you’d think I’d hate this podcast, but I absolutely love it.) In this episode, Brett McKay was interviewing a competitive runner and running coach named Jason Fitzgerald. Jason explained that running gets a really bad reputation- and it can be bad for you, and cause extended periods of pain, but it doesn’t have to. If you focus on proper muscle building and functional movement exercises, you can run long distances without any pain.
I instantly made an exercise plan for myself implementing his principles. I started using proper running warm-ups and cool-downs, something I previously considered to be a waste of time. I also still emphasize functional strength-training in my regular workouts, so that my body gets great cross-training.
By using these principals, I’ve been able to start running again, with no pain!
What I’ve learned from this experience is this:
Some things in life can be very good for you, or very bad for you, depending on how you approach them
For me, this “thing” was running. I was pushing myself and not listening to my body when it was communicating that it needed a break. But this same principle can carry over to other parts of life, too- focusing too much on work, on our children, on our spouses- and sacrificing our own well-being.
Aiming to run long distances is certainly not a bad thing, but the way I was going about it was all wrong. I wasn’t investing in strengthening my muscles, or resting well. I wasn’t learning about proper stride, pacing techniques, or cross-training workouts.
In the same way, without being concerned about proper pacing or self-care, people can go about attaining their goals in a way that can ultimately be detrimental.
Planning well is just as important as choosing a great destination
I’m obviously as guilty of this mistake as the next person, if not moreso.
My typical strategy is to pick a goal, and then meticulously plan how to get there. I always assume that I’m going to be able to work hard at attaining my goal, 7 days a weeks, with no rest. Rest is for babies, right?
Then, by the time I’m just a couple weeks into my goal, I end up exhausted, frustrated, and usually sick.
It’s so important to plan for rest. Give yourself some margin to ensure that you’re taking care of yourself. Along these same lines, give yourself time to improve slowly. For example, with my new training plan, I started out running half a mile. Every three weeks, I add another half mile. It took me a very long time to build up a distance close to what I used to run. But no matter how short my run, I had to remember this: being able to run pain free- that’s the real mark of success.
When you’re setting your goals, and trying to figure out how to reach them, make sure you’re not sacrificing your health or sanity to attain them. Setting goals is great. Throwing your life out of balance to reach that goal is what makes the good goal turn bad.
Are you like me? Do you have this same struggle? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section!