The other day Brian reminded me that Daylight Saving Time is this weekend, and that it would be getting dark earlier. I said, “Good, I need to hibernate for a while.” My body’s actually been telling me that it’s time for a break since shortly after the Hutchinson Island half-ironman, when I took a week off and then tried to ease myself back into working out, only to find that I felt sluggish and slow, even though I wasn’t really trying to push myself all that much. And then my emo knee started whining and I got sick for a full week, and since then I’ve just been like, “Fuck it.” I did the 1/3 Great Floridian Triathlon last weekend and then I haven’t touched a sports bra since.
I’ve pushed myself pretty damn hard over the past year or so – not just in training but in everything – and it’s time to rest, to sleep in and eat the stuff I don’t normally eat and spend time on the couch doing nothing. This is a good thing, something that it will benefit me as an athlete, as a human being and as a creature of biology. But I’m not going to lie – it’s been a challenge for me. I’ve been thinking about why this is, because I don’t think I’m alone in doing what Brian calls “shoulding on myself.”
1. I have a chronic case of existential FOMO.
A couple of years ago, I wrote briefly about this embarrasing incident in a Publix where I choked on a piece of steak and had to run around the store and wordlessly get a stranger to give me the Heimlich maneuver. The whole thing took about thirty seconds but felt like for-fucking-ever, and when it was over I felt like every single atom in my body had been shaken violently.
Those thirty seconds ended up changing me in this really profound way, because I became acutely aware that my life is finite, and that it could end at any time. I’m not guaranteed old age, or even middle age, or even the next day. And when that awareness slapped me in the face, it really prioritized things for me. I started pursuing goals I wanted instead of putting them off until a mythical Some Day, and I let go of a lot of the pointless bullshit that was causing me to put limits on myself.
Sadly there’s only so much you can do in a given day, but damn if I have not tried to do as much as I can.
2. I’m incredibly competitive.
I know that when people talk about competition in the context of women, it’s always about being the skinniest or the prettiest or the one who can command the most male attention. Well, to hell with all that. I’m competitive in that I want to see just how fast and far I can go, and I want to beat as many people as I possibly can when I race. Sometimes I even try to win.
I use the presence of other people to draw the best possible performances out of myself. A friend who did a triathlon with me once said that every time she saw me out on the course, I was all, “Eye of the tiger.” I’m not a particularly intense person but that changes when it comes to training and racing.
I love this about myself, by the way. I love the way my focus narrows until it is little more than a hot, white point of intensity. What I’m now trying to learn is how to manage it so it doesn’t burn me.
3. I expect a lot out of myself – perhaps too much.
Another friend posted this essay by Elizabeth Gilbert the other day and I was shocked by how much of this I could relate to, mainly because I’d never quite thought of myself that way before. I was a chronic underachiever as a kid and a teenager – you know, the typical plight of the gifted child who learns way too early in life that it’s possible to coast by with minimal effort. I spent most of my twenties sucking on a bong. And now I’m not like any of those earlier iterations of myself but the self-image persists, and I always feel like I can and should do more.
I suspect these feelings are heightened by my age, as I’m at that stage of life where it feels as though everyone around me is having babies. (Actually, strike that – everyone around me is having babies.) I’m not anticipating having any of my own, but I can’t deny that I feel a little guilty about my relatively stress-free life when it seems like all of the women I know are barely holding it together due to their new roles as mothers. Like, I’m tired because I had a six-hour training weekend, where they’re tired because the baby is teething. It’s not the same.
So maybe I take on more as a way of compensating for that? It wouldn’t be out of the question. After all, not only do I live in a society that is obsessed with women’s reproductive choices, but I was also raised in a subculture where we were encouraged to start having babies as young as possible, and to have as many of them as possible, because that was our primary value as human beings. Maybe I’ve internalized the belief that my life and choices are somehow worth less because I don’t have kids, and I feel the need to make up for it by doing more.
4. I have high standards for myself.
Like I mentioned earlier, I used to be into coasting with minimal effort but as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to really understand and appreciate the value of working hard and doing my best. Coasting was all about making me seem as though I had it all together, but that kind of mindset prioritizes the way I look to others and not how I actually am.
Now I find intrinsic value in looking at something and knowing I worked hard to make it happen. Sure, I like praise for my work, but the ultimate reward comes from within and knowing, honestly and sincerely, that I did the best I could do.
For me, my high personal standards have to do with self-respect. I like the way Joan Didion puts it in her essay “On Self Respect,” how she writes about being “unable to escape the devastatingly well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself.” I may be able to trick others into thinking certain things about me, but I will always know the truth about myself, and in the end that’s the only thing that matters.
Again, I consider this to be one of my better qualities, but without being tempered by perspective, it can become all-consuming and even damaging.
When I worked this all out, I came to realize that the very qualities I like best about myself – ones I’ve worked hard to develop – are also the ones that sometimes need to be put away for a little while, at least while I recharge my brain and my body for a little bit and think about how I’d like to proceed in the coming year.
By the way, part of thinking about how I’d like to proceed has to do with this blog. I’ve had this blog for four and a half years, and while I have no intention of shutting it down, I do think I’m suffering from what commenter Grace called “beat fatigue.” It’s hard for me to care about the latest Photoshop outrage, or the newest kind of shaming, or whatever body part has been gifted with a ridiculously twee name. (I still don’t know what the fuck a “thigh brow” is.)
And while the major feminist media is generally silent on the matters of women’s sports and fitness, I know I can count on them to pipe up whenever something super-offensive happens, so no need for me to write about those things, especially when I can just post links to those posts on the Fit and Feminist Facebook page.
It’s more than just “beat fatigue,” though, and it’s more than just the natural life-span of a blog running its course. These days I’m less interested in criticism – in any aspect of my life, not just this blog – and more interested in figuring out what can be done to fix things. (Mind you, this is not to say that there isn’t value to be found in critique, just that I’m not really all that interested in being the one who makes the critique anymore.)
So I’m thinking a lot about that, about how I’d like to proceed with that in mind. I’m sure it will lose readers and page views, because if there’s one thing I know for sure it’s that outrage is the currency of the Internet, but I don’t think I care too much about that anymore. What I do care about is being engaged in my work, feeling like I’m doing something positive in the world and continuing to connect with people who read this blog, and so whatever happens next with the blog, those will be my priorities.
I’ve enjoyed reading for the last four years because it’s been like reliving my 30s, right down to the choking thing (I choked on a hotball, of all things, in a fellow administrators office in a high school and had to convince her I needed the heimlich.) while we diverge at (accidental) babies, we converge on competitiveness. Frankly, I’m not sure what I’ll do when I’m don’t get an AG award in my few local races. I also agree that outrage is tiring. Finding some likeminded people, acting like our view is standard and coaxing/conning people to join us is just an extension on the competition. I hope to read more from you soon!!
Thanks for posting – just read your link to the Elizabeth Gilbert’s article – really helped. I’ve woken up at 3am and layn awake wondering if I’ve Failed In Life.
Regarding the choking thing – I was eating some cake a work colleague/rival had brought in and was trying to talk at the same time. Big mistake, I choked (not seriously but embarrassing enough) and she laughingly said “Maybe that’s one way of getting rid of you!”
Great post, I really related to it. Good luck in whatever you decided to do with the blog.
Oh man, I am sorry to say I know that feeling, and I’m also sorry that you’ve been experiencing that. I suspect it’s part of where we our in our life cycles as early adults (at least I’m assuming that you’re my gneral age). I talk about this stuff with my husband, who is 18 years older than me, and he says he went through this when he was my age but that by the time he got to his late 40s and early 50s, everything had kind of settled on that front. So here’s hoping that holds true for us.
It sounds like you deserve a break! Good luck with everything.
Thanks! Everything will be fine, and in fact it already is. The funny thing is that I’m already thinking about things I’d like to do once my self-imposed rest-and-recovery period comes to an end. I just love doing stuff, I guess. 😀
Glad to hear it! Good luck!
When I get worried about taking time off, I remember what the world’s greatest athletes do. Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton, take 3 months(!!) off after their decathlon and heptathlon season. As you know, Chrissie Wellington would take 6 weeks off after her triathlon seasons. Shalane Flanagan recently tweeted she couldn’t see her abs anymore after her break because she ate so many doughnuts, and she’s got the Olympic Trials in February.
It used to be hard for me to take time off; I felt like I wasn’t myself. But I’ve realized in the past few years that I have an identity outside of running. For a long time, I didn’t. I’ve realized I need to unplug my self-worth from the clock and the miles. That made it a lot easier for me to take the necessary time off. I typically take 2 weeks after a season where I do not run at all, but walk and do yoga for exercise. In November and December, I run, but it’s not in full training. It’s running for the sake of running. Whatever I want to do on the day, I do. Fast or slow, short or long. No pressure. I’ve come to love each time of year. It’s fun for me now to go to happy hour on those precious two weeks off and eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch and enjoy every frickin’ bite. Then, I get back to the simple joy of running for six weeks before I get back to the grind. And when I get back to it in January, I’m stronger every single year.
Enjoy the couch time while you’ve got it and get strong for 2016!
Thanks for this comment – I needed the reminder that this is an important part of life as an athlete. I was telling a friend the other day that I often find myself caught up in the “go hard or go home” mentality that’s portrayed by a lot of people on social media, and I have to consciously step back and remind myself that those images are not reality.
I hope you are taking some time off as well.
You are most certainly not alone in the way you feel. This hits me on a regular basis; probably at least twice a year. Like you, I push myself hard in every aspect of my life. I work hard, train hard, want the best, work harder than most and feel guilty if I stop for some sofa time but that is exactly what is sometimes needed. I did this a few weeks ago when I felt really dreadful and it paid off.
The dark evenings don’t help things much. It’s dark shortly after 4 now and that seems to cut the day in half.
I have my ups and downs with my blog; question why I’m doing it and if I should continue. I question what it is that I’m trying to achieve and wonder if I actually know the answer to that and I don’t think I do.
Whatever you do, continue to be amazing and be kind to yourself.
Yep, I go through this on a semi-regular basis as well. Usually it just takes a little bit of downtime before I’m ready to get after it again. In fact, I’m already feeling a little antsy, but I’m trying to force myself to stay cool and channel that energy into doing other projects.
And yep, the dark evenings – which we are just now getting – really don’t help things at all. I end up hibernating even if I don’t want to, lol.
It’s time to bring out my SAD light as climbing into my jim jams at 4pm is not nice. I agree wholeheartedly, lots of being kind to oneself and listening to the mind and body. I spent a couple of hours watching The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie, enforced rest with an acute attack of DOMS that has left my ass cheeks wishing they’d stayed at home yesterday.
I think if you stopped posting I would miss your race reports and training stuff the most, so there’s at least one person who’s not here for the outrage, and many more I’m sure!
I think I’m feeling the opposite of you right now. I’ve been having health issues (not serious) since mid-July, culminating most recently in a sprained foot that has lasted almost three weeks now and taken away the last form of exercise I could do. So I’ve been forced to take a break, some parts of me obviously need the break, but I don’t want one, I want to get back at it before I lose any semblance of good weather. I should take a lesson from your post and internalize the fact that exercise will still be here when I’m ready to get off the couch. Even though I might have to do it in the snow. And the darkness.
That’s where I am, too. The outrage — meh; but I would miss the race reports.
Thanks for this. I appreciate the reassurance that I’m not going off half-cocked here. 🙂
I’m really sorry to hear about your sprained food. That has to be hugely frustrating. It’s one thing to choose to take a break but it’s another to have it forced upon you. That said, it’s better to take the time to recover than to force your way through it and just make things worse.
Also I appreciate you saying that you’d miss my race reports and training updates. I’m thinking about going mostly in that direction, sort of for my own enjoyment but also as a way of encouraging others to take up their own athletic pursuits, so hearing that makes me feel like maybe it won’t be a disastrous choice after all. 😀
Hell, I’m impressed with what you’ve done.
And I get that competitiveness: I miss going full out to see how far you can go. In fact, the reason why I don’t swim during pregnancy (yes, me too) is because I get bored if there’s not some challenge to it. I tried it once, swum till I was cold and couldn’t make myself go back to the pool. But I am going to enjoy using the pool to get fit after pregnancy!
A thigh brow? You mean like not shaving a strip of hair somewhere?
You sound like you need some recovery time. Perhaps a challenge in some other aspect of life, I don’t know, creativity?
Don’t feel guilty about no children. Saying it’s even biblical that our worth is the children we bear is a lie: even the Bible mentions living a full life without them. Or a man, for that matter. You just rock on.
I appreciate that! It’s funny – I know in my brain that not having children is just as valid a life choice as having them, but there’s some part of my lizard brain that has trouble shaking 18 years of Mormon-girl upbringing.
re: “thigh brow” – I can’t even tell you what it is. It’s just dumb.
Good luck with your pregnancy! I hope everything goes smoothly, and that after your baby arrives you are able to get back to enjoying the pool, and also being competitive. You’ve probably noticed what I’ve noticed, which is that there seems to be something about having a baby that makes women come back to endurance sports with a fierceness. It’s like now that they’ve pushed a baby out of their bodies, the pain of going long on the course seems like nothing in comparison. I kind of love it. 😀
God, yes, THIS: “I was a chronic underachiever as a kid and a teenager – you know, the typical plight of the gifted child who learns way too early in life that it’s possible to coast by with minimal effort.”
This haunts me, too, and makes me feel like I have so much to make up for now! Between being a gifted kid, the onset of clinical depression as a preteen/teen, and being an Aquarius rising (yes, it is very relevant, at least as far as I’m concerned), I definitely dropped out for a good decade of my life between the ages of 15 and 25. I try not to succumb to that kind of “I’ve missed out on/failed at so much!” thinking, but it sneaks up on me… So anyway, I feel you there. And I pretty much love whatever you do with this blog. I love your training updates and race reports as much as (if not more than!) feminist critique type stuff.
wow, alot to chew on here. agree with so much of what you wrote. something that my friend said years ago comes back to me. he’s a poet and he had made a pact with a fellow poet to work on writing more “world building” poems because they were tired of just writing critical, attacking poems. i just had another friend write about the draining work of racial equity. it’s mind-numbing and soul-crushing, and there’s self-care that needs to be balanced. do what you need to do to care of yourself and find what nourishes your soul without strangling it (but is still in line with your beliefs about how the world should be).
Thanks for this post! Like you, I have high standards for myself. Sometimes I feel like this makes my life needlessly difficult and busy. When I complain about havig too many things to do, even I know that that is my own doing. Maybe I should hibernate a little bit, too.
Now is a good time to hibernate a bit! Almost all of the kick-ass women I know are taking a couple of weeks – if not the next two months – to chill out and recharge. That way we’ll all be ready to come back and get some shit done in the new year. 🙂
That sounds like the best strategy!
1. You know that’s why they call it a racing season. It’s just that – the whole idea is you take time off in between to rest and reflect.
2. Having said that, there were days during pregnancy that I couldn’t bring myself to run or get out the door, because I was like, I’m not getting any fitter, I’m not getting any faster, it’s not even pleasant, what’s the point?
3. A six-hour training weekend and a teething baby are both equally valid reasons to be exhausted. Once you get into the life choices comparison game, it’s all over; you just have to own your life choices. (Aside: I would love to go for a two-hour run or a long bike ride. The weather is beautiful and perfect. And it’s not happening. Instead I’m pushing 30lbs of stroller and baby for three very slow miles on six months of accumulated sleep debt… it is what it is! And you know what’s hardest? Every. Single. Day on that three-mile slog, I see the big Citgo sign and think of all the things that might never be.)
4. About the blog: blog about that. Blog about trying to fix things, getting frustrated at the state and apparent unfixability of things, blog about keeping at it, blog about the joys and successes. I don’t think it’s just you. I’ve noticed it in popular media too – while there’s still that segment of Outraged Stories About Dumb Things People Do On Social Media, there’s the massive rise of sites like Upworthy and Buzzfeed’s investigative journalism section. We, the people, the consumers and creators of media, are getting tired of outrage, critique, and cynicism.