It may surprise you to learn that I can be a wee bit competitive. (Shall I give you a moment to recover from the shock before we move on?)
Last January I started running, determined finally to finish that 5K I've been talking about for the last 5 years or so. And in March, I did it -- but did I stop there? No ...
Because by then, I had induced a friend to start running, too. And then it became a thing. On the one hand, it was a great motivator to have a running partner. On the other hand, I admit becoming a little obsessed with keeping up with my far-more-athletically-inclined buddy. If she ran 3 miles, I wanted to run 4. If she ran 6 mph, I wanted to ... well ... I definitely wanted to try to keep up, because I am not very fast.
At the height of this, on 4th of July last year, I decided to run a 5-mile course on my 4-mile (at best) legs ... and to the surprise of no one but myself, I injured my knee.
But I acted quickly! I iced! I rested! I elevated! I compressed! For at least 3 days! And then I ran again. And ... yep ... it hurt again.
You are, I am sure, catching on to this pattern much more quickly than I did. Because I kept it up for months.
Until finally and reluctantly, I admitted my way wasn't working and went to see a physical therapist. Because sometimes, I'm learning, you just gotta turn it over to the experts.
Early last year, I had a trainer who was all about the quads. We did lots of big, impressive exercises at the gym -- like jumping up on benches and down from benches and moving a lot of heavy weights around -- and my quads got bigger and stronger, and for a while I could run better. But it turns out those impressively large quads (if you like that sort of thing) were getting out of control. They were running around grabbing work from the littler muscles just to prove how strong they were. Until they ended up doing far more than they were designed to do, trying to control things they had no business controlling, and eventually ... ouch.
So now I am back at the gym. But this time my PT is finding all of these little, weak muscles I didn't realize I needed, and he's assigning me lots of tiny, unimpressive exercises (seriously? they look like I'm not moving at all, and they are so hard!) to SLOWLY make them stronger. In the meantime, we have cut my mileage WAY back, starting at 1 mile and building from there -- but in a balanced way this time, and one that will with any luck take me further in the long ... well ... run.
Is it frustrating? You bet. Does it hack off my competitive self? To no end. Am I going to be a stronger, better runner for it in the end? I believe I will.
And it occurs to me that I have created some other overdeveloped "muscles" in my adult life. My Crossing-Things-Off-Lists muscle would make those big boys at the gym weep with admiration. Judgment? Self-criticism? If they were biceps, I'd be kissing them in the mirror and exhorting passers-by to "check out these guns!"
And yes, those muscles were getting me through the day. I was functioning at work, keeping things together at home, no one the wiser, until ... ouch.
This sabbatical is about cutting back my mileage in more ways than one. It's about doing less, and doing it all a little more slowly. At the end of most days, what I've accomplished is nothing close to what I'm used to.
Is it frustrating sometimes? You bet. Does my competitive self need to take a time out every so often? Absolutely.
The payoff, I hope, will come in finding and strengthening those less-developed muscles (like acceptance, patience, having fun ...) that were getting pushed aside by the bigger, stronger ones. To create more balance for whatever lies ahead.