Tag Archives: fitness

60 Days of Yoga

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 So, basically the shortest post ever, but I just wanted to write this so there’s concrete evidence that I’m committing to doing yoga every day for the next 60 days. According to Google, 60 days takes me to 19th July. The only thing I’m mildly apprehensive about (other than, of course, my ability to actually do this) is that I’m going to Budapest for 3 days in June. But I’m sure I can manage to bust out some sun salutations in the park. I’m also going to allow myself to take a leaf from Bikram yoga 30- or 60-day challenges, where if you miss a day, then you can double-up on sessions the next day.

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Walking on sunshine

Summer finally seems to have arrived in London. Yesterday when I left work, it was so hot and such a beautiful afternoon, I decided to walk home through Hyde Park after catching the train to Victoria Station. As I was walking through the park, I was really starting to overheat, lugging my heavy laptop bag in the sun. I decided to take off my shoes and walk barefoot through the park. I realised when I did that, it was the first time in a long time that I could really remember walking around barefoot in the grass. The last time I can remember doing it for any length of time was when I did a yoga class in Regents Park, as the lock on the studio was broken and we couldn’t get inside. But even then, that was more staying in the confines of one small area.

It’s amazing to me how sometimes little things like this can be so revealing about our nature. While there was a nice sense of freedom I felt wandering around in the grass, I noticed myself looking at the ground constantly to make sure I wouldn’t step on any bees, as there were a few of them about, instead of trusting that they were instinctive creatures and would not want to get stepped on. As I was walking and looking at the ground I noticed more ‘hazards’, like the odd prickle for instance. I noticed that I was hyperaware of these possible risks and was focusing intently on looking out for them, rather than actually just accepting the ‘risk’ (I could get a prickle in my foot or stung by a bee) and moving on and trusting that if it eventuated, it would not be the end of the world. When I finally realised this and looked up, I saw the most amazing view of the sunlight streaming across the pond, with the view stretching to Kensington Palace and beautiful church spires reaching up into the blue sky.

It was a small moment in my dad and they were insignificant risks, but it made me wonder how much else I might be missing out on and might not be seeing in my life because I’m too focused on the risks and what could go wrong. I went to a yoga workshop recently about developing a home practice, and the teacher said it was useful to have an idea or intention to meditate on or to form the basis of your practice, which can change from month to month. I think my intention for the coming month is to practice letting go. While I can acknowledge the risks in life, I don’t need to focus on them. I’m hoping this month I can let go of some of my fears and experience more freedom in all I do, and really open my eyes to the beauty and positivity around me.

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The more things change…

So it’s been almost a year since I last updated this blog. I only realised it the other day when I started to think about maybe getting back into writing, and noticed that my last post was about Melbourne, which I visited in January 2010. It was somewhat horrifying  to realise that somehow a year had passed in which I didn’t manage to find the time to write anything (or at least to post anything. I had a few failed attempts littered here and there.)

It got me thinking about how easily time passes and slips away, and that it’s not even necessarily about what you prioritise, or at least what you want to prioritise. I know I managed to keep updated with whether RPattz and KStew are actually dating, and I carved out time to watch X Factor. When it comes down to it, is that what is more important to me than writing? I also only managed to read a handful of books last year, but I read my fair share of trashy magazines. I suppose sometimes it’s just easier to be lazy. It certainly takes less effort to watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians than to write a blog post.

The one good thing, or at least enlightening thing, about how I have not posted in almost a year, means that the ‘new year’ posts are close to the top. I was reading over one in which I lamented that my ‘just do it’ philosophy was obviously not being heeded to, that I needed to keep a diary, that I needed to be more organized, that I had started the 100 push-ups programme.

I was hit by how crushingly similar my aspirations are this year. I spent the 2nd of January scouring book and stationary shops in an attempt to find the perfect diary that would somehow manage to transform my life into one of efficiency and achievement; I had downloaded the 100 push-ups app onto my iPhone; I had tried to stop putting things off and just do them when I thought of it.

A lot of things have changed for me in the past year.  I’ve planned trips that I didn’t go on, and gone on ones that I didn’t plan, I’ve dabbled with cancer, I’ve been to a psychotherapist, I’ve said goodbye to my first proper job and wondered if I would ever find anything that suited me so well, I’ve managed to get a new job which has opened my eyes to a side of life that I never experienced and I’ve moved to the other side of the world.

And yet when the new year rolled around, I was still battling with the same issues I always was – that I’m not achieving my potential, that my body is not as thin as it should be, my hair not as long, my skin not as clear, that I still don’t have an idea of what it is I want my ‘career’ to be and that I’m still apparently unable to use a diary for more than a week at a time.

My hopes and dreams for a new year all seemed a bit futile in the face of such overwhelming evidence that my weaknesses remain the same, that my ability to overcome them is limited. Part of me wonders if maybe I should just throw away the diary and accept that, like a friend said to me recently, if something is important, you’ll do it. But at the same time, I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, and maybe it’s just in my nature to take the easy way out, to be a bit lazy, and maybe it’s also in my nature to want to struggle against that. I know in some ways I’m setting myself up to fail. That I will stop using that diary, that I will somehow end up watching a re-run of Everwood rather than going to the gym.

I went to a shambhala meditation group some time ago, (a component of my ideal self is that I would meditate daily, without my thoughts drifting off to consider whether I need a new pair of shoes). The teacher discussed the problematic nature of the idea of self-improvement and progress. I found this quite a difficult idea to wrestle with, as if we don’t want to improve or progress, then it seemed like giving up. But the teacher explained that what they were meaning was to interrogate the impulses behind that improvement. Is it negative or positive? Who are you trying to improve for and what are the true benefits?

While I don’t think I could just let go of feeling like I need to improve, I do think I probably need to switch my focus to what it is I have done right, what it is I have achieved, rather than focusing on what I haven’t, and how I need to do more. Maybe it’s about enhancing what is already there, rather than thinking about what I’m lacking or not doing right.

I may never change in the way I have strived to. In fact, I wonder if I would be recognizable to myself if I did. If I suddenly woke up tomorrow at 6am and meditated and went to the gym t and then practiced yoga and chatted easily to acquaintances and held the gaze of strangers and dressed my lithe body in fabulously minimalist chic attire, read some literary classic on the tube on the way to my as-yet-undetermined perfect job that is enjoyable, but also makes a difference to people’s lives, had cocktails with friends after work, a delicious meal with an intelligent man, who I was not intimidated by, and we have deep and meaningful conversation, I order the salmon, because healthy food is just so delicious and I don’t have dessert, because I’m not much of a sweet tooth, and I was on time for all my appointments and was not indecisive once.

Anyway, back to reality. Who knows whether life would be more satisfying if we were living out our perfect selves? That fantasy is just that, and in the end my weaknesses are as much a part of who I am as my strengths. And when I think of the good people I have in my life, and accept me for who I am (and maybe because of who I am) it serves as a reminder that maybe I’m OK if I never change.

Chances are, I’m 28, and this is what I’m like, but I think maybe I need to start enjoying the attempt at change, and to take pleasure in simple victories, like how I actually sat down and wrote this, rather than thinking about doing it, but reading my Twitter feed instead.

Rather than the goal of unattainable perfection, I think my goal for this year is just to live consciously, the exact meaning of which I’m still trying to work out, but it’s a phrase that keeps coming back to me when I think about this year and what I want it to be and how I want me to be, but that’s another blog post (hopefully!).

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Push it real good

I assume the lack of posts on the blog lately are a big indicator that I’m not doing so well with my ‘just do it’ resolution. Although I suppose it could have been that I was just far too busy ‘just doing’ a whole bunch of other stuff. I’m going to try to blame my recent holiday in Melbourne for falling off the wagon as far as my commitment to being a more organised, efficient person this year. I need to try to get back into keeping my diary regularly as well. Am really sucking at that at the moment.

Anyway, I was in a bit of a post-holiday funk after Melbourne. I think it may have been that since it was a short holiday (away for six days), you don’t have that feeling where you’re happy to come home that you have after a longer holiday, where you’re pleased to have some home comforts and not live out of a suitcase and know exactly where to go if you need to buy Band-Aids, for instance.

Luckily we had a three-day weekend here in Auckland last weekend, so having some time to just relax and chill out was good. I’m now trying to throw myself back into the ‘being organised, eating healthy and exercising’ lifestyle I was trying to live in the first few weeks of January (I can’t believe one month of 2010 is over already!)

So one of the things I’ve decided to do in that regard is the one hundred push-ups challenge. Push ups are something I’ve always struggled with. I’ve only ever done the ‘girly’ push-ups, but would love to be able to do proper ones. I don’t know about doing 100 of them, but 20 would be nice. I started on the lowest level, and so my first day involved five sets, doing anything from two (yes, two) to five push ups. A pretty pathetic start, but it can only get better from here, surely! The challenge doesn’t take much time out of your day, and if I end up getting nicely toned arms as a result of it, that’s an awesome bonus.

Some people live their life by the mantra ‘What would Jesus do?’ but I think ‘What would Michelle Obama or Rafael Nadal do?’ is more my style. And by the look of both their arms, I think they would do push-ups. So here’s hoping that in the coming weeks I can report some positive progress.

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A Fresh Start

I love the feeling of a new year. It always feels like you’re starting again somehow, like the world is ripe with possibilities, and that you’re able to reinvent yourself, or write yourself, in some new kind of way.

I’ve mostly managed to avoid the usual excesses of the festive season this year. Sure, there was the obligatory overeating on Christmas Day, and the few days after that involved far too much trifle, and a rather large amount of Pimms, but I think I did pretty well in not completely falling off the bandwagon of the healthy lifestyle I’ve tried to build for myself. This is quite a big achievement, as I was always victim of the snowball effect of eating at Christmas, where I’d eat too much at one meal, and so there was no point trying to be healthy the rest of the day, as it was already too far gone, but then that would linger on into the next day, until you’ve suddenly had a month of overeating and no exercise and you have to start all over again.

But this year has thankfully been different, which gives me hope for my New Year’s resolutions, one of which is to maintain my healthy lifestyle. Another one, which is totally stolen from a friend (thanks, Kim!) is the mantra ‘Just do it’. (Yeah, I think she may have stolen it from somewhere too.) I can’t speak too much as to what it means for her, but in my life, the way I’ve been trying to use it is to stop myself procrastinating.

I always knew I was a good procrastinator when it came to doing uni work. If nothing else, I certainly mastered the art of procrastination while attempting to finish my MA. But it wasn’t until this year that it actually dawned on me how procrastination seems to permeate so many facets of my life, from putting off writing blog posts, (sorry, faithful readers – all three of you) to the stack of bank statements dating back to June that I still hadn’t gotten around to filing, to even taking my vitamins in the morning. Everything for me is something I’m going to get onto soon, rather than now.

I was working over New Year’s, so didn’t go away, but it meant I had a few days off afterwards with few distractions, and I used that time to try to get onto stuff that I had been meaning to do for months, or sometimes years. I filed those bank statements, I got that coat dry-cleaned, I got the tips replaced on my high heels, I backed-up my computer, I went through my iTunes library and deleted the music I didn’t like. I cannot begin to tell you how great all this made me feel. I was accomplishing stuff. I was ticking it off. My whole world felt lighter. I was less burdened by crap that I didn’t even realise was weighing me down.

It’s something that I totally need to work at. I still catch myself thinking, ‘Oh, I should take my vitamins,’ or ‘I must pay my phone bill,’ without any real intention of getting on to it right then. But more and more I think, ‘Just do it’. And unless I’m in the middle of something really important, I do it. It’s done. I forget about it. I’m also trying to keep a diary, as part of this new-and-improved me. I still often forget to look at it until the day is almost over, but I hope that I can use it to make me more efficient at utilising my time.

The results of all this, I’m just starting to see. I finally finished a book that I’ve been reading since July. I’ve started another book, The Book Thief, which I bought probably a year and a half ago. I’ve been meaning to read it, but I just wasn’t in the reading zone in 2009. I felt like I didn’t have the attention span. I suddenly feel like I’ve got it back and that I can enjoy reading again, and that feels like such a gift.  I’ve not only cleared space on my desk, I’ve cleared space in my mind and in my life.

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Delayed gratification: marshmallows and mind control

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One such morning last week I listened to a podcast of Kim Hill’s interview with psychologist Professor Walter Mischel of Columbia University on Radio New Zealand National.

Mischel is a distinguished researcher in the area of personality. In the 1960s he was one of the originators of what is often referred to as ‘the marshmallow test’. Children aged about four years old had one marshmallow (or some similarly delectable confection of their choice) placed in front of them and were told that they could either eat that one marshmallow straight away or they could wait to eat it, usually about 15 minutes, in which case they would be given another marshmallow.

The point of all this was to examine the children’s ability to delay gratification for a bigger reward. Mischel continued to study the children into adulthood, and discovered that those children who could delay gratification, waiting the 15 minutes so they could have two marshmallows, instead of immediately having one, have generally become more successful than those who couldn’t.

Now, Generation Y tends to be all about instant gratification. We don’t expect to have to wait for anything, be it a reply to an email, a promotion at work, or a new dress. We want it all and we want it now.

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So this idea of waiting for something, of not taking that instant gratification that is right in front of you, is something that is quite foreign for many of us.

It’s a skill I think that I was never particularly good at. I always remember as a child being given I would eat all my Easter eggs in one day. It would often shock me when I would go to a friend’s house and in, say, June, she would still have a half-eaten Easter egg in the fridge.

Or when I was flatting at university, one of my flatmates would buy a packet of Toffee Pops and it would last her weeks. She would just have one occasionally. I would sometimes try to imitate her, and it would go well for maybe a day, or maybe an hour, and then I would mow through half the packet.

That these examples are to do with food is pertinent, but it’s certainly not the only area in which I have sometimes showed a lack of self-control. Some things I like to chalk up to experience, such as with my student loan – you could get a maximum of $1000 to spend on books or study accessories, and I would always get the maximum as a boost to my spending money, as $1000 right now was far more appealing than that delayed gratification of smaller loan in a few years’ time.

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Self-control, will power, self-discipline, delayed gratification, whatever moniker you like to give it, is something I have been working hard at trying to develop, and over the past year I have definitely managed to become better in regard to both money and food.

In August last year, around the time of my uncle’s funeral, I had something of a watershed moment and realised that I really needed to get serious about losing weight. I have struggled with my weight my entire life, and I’m only now fully comprehending that I always will – it’s a lifelong battle for me in the way that sobriety is for an alcoholic. I had spent many months indulging in home baking and pastries from the caff at work, and this, combined with a very sedentary job, resulted in me packing even more kilos on to my already well-endowed frame.

It is now over a year since that time, and I have lost 16 kilos (it was 17, but through a lack of that much vaunted self-control, I’m now back up one kilo). While there are many elements that go into weight loss – just as there are many for weight gain – there is a necessarily strong emphasis on delayed gratification.

I always think of my auntie’s mantra of ‘minutes on the lips, months on the hips’. You can either have that instant gratification of eating that brownie, or those hot chips or that Danish pastry, or you can resist it for the bigger reward, some time in the future, of losing weight, fitting into your skinny jeans, being healthier, living longer, feeling better about yourself.

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I’ve also managed to develop some self-control with regard to my spending. I’ve always been someone who loves shopping, loves spending, loves the finer things in life. Saving was something I only did for a very specific, short-term goal, like going on holiday

When I decided to move to London, I knew I would need to save for a considerable length of time, and that required further developing of that self-control. In the end, I didn’t end up moving to London, but I have continued saving. The original reason for saving may have disappeared or changed, but that self-control I developed hasn’t.

In the National Radio interview, Prof Mischel explains that delayed gratification is something that can be learned or developed with the right strategies and help.

Mischel used the example of retesting some children who had initially been bad at delayed gratification, but that if those same children were given a strategy to help them – such as the researcher suggesting that they visualise the marshmallow inside a picture frame – they would often be far better at delaying. When asked why they didn’t eat the marshmallow in the retest, the children would say, ‘Well, you can’t eat a picture.’ Mischel explains that those people who manage to delay gratification in the marshmallow test did so by the simple art of distraction.

I think there’s a lot to take from this for my own struggles with self-control. So much of it is about trying to strategise, to visualise, to keep yourself distracted from temptation.

And it’s also something that, like most things, the more you do it, the better you get. It’s like with saving – when you first start, it’s so difficult, because you’re used to getting that instant gratification. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes. In fact, it can even get to the point where it becomes difficult to spend money, even when you need to. I now weigh-up decisions a lot more carefully before I spend money or before I eat something indulgent, this has benefits, but it can become mentally taxing.

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There are some days when I decide that I’m going to get a piece of cake or something from the caff, but when I get there, I think about it so long that the desire passes – the moment for instant gratification has been and gone. Although I think the caff ladies must thing I’m slightly nutty, standing in front of the food cabinet silently deliberating the merits of a chocolate croissant.

I think developing my ability to delay gratification is definitely something that will help me with all aspects of my life. It just makes me slightly more contemplative about what my reasons are for doing something, for indulging, in whatever it may be. And that’s not to say I don’t indulge when it’s right (and sometimes when it’s wrong) like today I bought a $200 swimsuit. Gosh, writing that does make it seem indulgent. But I figured I deserved it. And I resisted buying a whole lot of other stuff, so we’ll call it even.

While I think the difference between how my weight loss in particular has gone is that other times I’ve tried to lose weight, it’s always been something that I’ve thought about being done over a short period of time – I just need an iron will for a few weeks or months and then I would get to where I want to be.

But that’s not really effecting change within my personality as I have done now. By doing it over a long period of time, I have actually changed my desires, changed my essential make-up, I think. So today when I decided that I should buy a chocolate bar, I ended up going into the dairy and looking at them, but really thought about whether I needed it, how I would feel without it, and I realised that I was fine without it. And so I walked home and tried on my bathing suit instead.

I’ve still got five kilos to lose to get to my goal weight, and still I think, ‘If I’m just really disciplined for the next few weeks or months, it will happen’ but it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t know if I’ll find that discipline to really make it, as the last few kilos are the hardest, but I do feel like I have changed my relationship with food, and with money, and that I have more faith in my ability to ensure a better future for myself, because being able to practise delayed gratification has wide ramifications.

In fact, in an article on the marshmallow test in the New Yorker, Mischel explains, “What we’re really measuring with the marshmallows isn’t will power or self-control. It’s much more important than that. This task forces kids to find a way to make the situation work for them. They want the second marshmallow, but how can they get it? We can’t control the world, but we can control how we think about it.”

The value of that goes beyond the ability to lose weight, to save money – it’s really about giving you control over your own reality.

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All it takes is all you got

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This time last week, my mum and I headed down to Tamaki Drive to watch the Auckland Marathon. I thought we would maybe stay there for about a quarter of an hour, see some struggling bodies run past us and leave to get on with the day.

Hours later, we finally left the finish line, walking back to our car and still buzzing with excitement, discussing how I would do the New York Marathon and my mum would come along as support crew. I think it’s safe to say we were a bit high on life right then.

Watching the marathon actually ended up being an exciting and inspiring event. After staying at Tamaki Drive for about an hour and a half, we went to Victoria Park to view the finish line. While it was nice to be there to cheer people on as they finished, it lacked the intimacy that we had felt at Tamaki Drive, which was about the 38km or 24km mark, depending on what way you were running.

The people at the finish didn’t need your cheering. They had the end in sight, and after running for five hours, they knew they were going to make it.

It amazed me the different people who were all heading for that finish line, and not just that there such a range of old and young, men and women, fit and not-so-fit, but that they were all there at around the same time. How was it that these young fit people were crossing the line at the same time as the running wounded?

At Tamaki Drive there was a real connection with the people who were running. It was a great vantage point, because they were on a loop at this point, so we would see people running towards the finish line, with about 3km to go, but you would also see the people who were just heading into the loop, and had about 18km left. Wow, just writing ‘18km left’ makes me realise how incredibly far a marathon is. These people had already run 24km and still they were just over halfway.

Watching the runners made you feel part of a community. I felt like I was getting a glimpse of the best of people, not just those running the marathon, but also those people who were just standing on the side of the street cheering people on as they made it to the top of the hill, or the people who would jump out of the crowd and run alongside a friend or family member for a while to encourage them.

Yelling, ‘You can do it! You’re doing so well!’ as I clapped my freezing hands furiously, I felt a sense of camaraderie and that I might have helped someone get through the next 500m or so.

Some people would gasp out a thank you to us for cheering, which I felt bad about – don’t waste any of your breath or energy on thanking us! The rangesof facial expressions were wonderful. Some would give you look, like, ‘What the hell did I get myself into this for?’ What was I thinking?!’ while others would give a resigned look of thanks, some would ignore us completely, just focused on putting one foot in front of the other, others still would manage to smile and joke and banter with us, all this after running for at least three hours.

I realised that there’s something different about watching a marathon compared to most other sporting events. Watching a tennis match, for example, I’m in awe of the skill on display, but there’s also a certain removal from it, because I know that I will never be within that sphere. I will never be able to play tennis well enough to compete in an event on the world stage. Yet the marathon is different, or at least in its current incarnation it is.

The marathon manages to mix both the elite and the amateur, the pinnacle of human sporting ability and the bare minimum in a way no other sport does.

There’s been debate about how the marathon has suffered from the increasing field of competitors who now enter in marathons as a personal challenge, as opposed to those who are in it for the race against others. Writing for Salon.com in 2007, Edward McClellan asked ‘Has Oprah ruined the marathon?’ in an article of the same name.

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McClellan and others have bemoaned the fact that more and more people started to think, ‘Well, if Oprah can run a marathon, then maybe I can’ after Winfrey ran the Marine Corps marathon in 1994. This explosion of participation in marathons resulted in the average marathon times increasing markedly. The number of people competing is increasing, but the overall talent of the field is decreasing.

There’s good and bad things about the Oprah effect. While I can see the difficulties faced by elite runners and the feeling that there has been a lowering of the bar, it does smack of elitism, but I think maybe that’s understandable from the people who are elite.

If suddenly other sports were opened up for people of little or no ability, if I could compete in the WTA Tour tournament as long as I could manage to hit a ball (sadly going by the state of that tour at the moment, maybe that would be enough), or if people dressed up in mascot costumes started playing football alongside Premier League players, I could see how the elite players would feel insulted – how is that person in the same race as me?

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But the modern marathon is something different. Over 40,000 people ran in the New York Marathon this year, and thousands more applied. I can’t argue against something that is helping people get out there and go running and explore the world around them and do something which requires so much mental toughness and many of these people are often running for charity. But there has to be a balance between encouraging participation and retaining a sense of value of what it means to run a marathon – someone who stops halfway for lunch should not be competing, or even participating, in a marathon.

I like the idea of running a marathon. I think just like a PhD, it probably fits in with the idea of myself that I have – that it would be something meaningful to achieve.  Ah, the delusions of grandeur. For me, it’s probably the one major sporting event that I feel like I could do. It doesn’t require much in the way of coordination. At its most basic, it’s just putting one foot in front of the other. It requires mental toughness as much as physical toughness. I love the idea of running in one of the big marathons of the world – New York or Boston or London or Berlin. It feels as close to some kind of sporting glory that I could ever hope achieve.

But while I was always thinking about the mental and physical toughness required for the event – for running 42.195km – after talking to a few people running a marathon and doing more investigation into it, I’ve come to realise that it’s not really the race that you need mental toughness for. If you make it that far, chances are, barring injury or severe cramp, you will make it. It’s the mental toughness required to train for six months, to get up early and go running for hours on end, even when it’s raining, even when it’s cold, even when you would rather stay in bed and watch Gossip Girl.

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It’s that, I’ve decided, which is really scary to me – making that commitment. I’m sure I’d be enthusiastic for the first two weeks, and then after that, just the monotony would become suffocating.

The little things in running start to wear on you, literally. What do you think of when you’re running for three hours? Particularly when you’ve already been for other long runs during the week. You can wear an iPod, but then your ears will probably get sore after three hours. I noticed men in the Auckland marathon who had bleeding nipples, as it was a cold day and their T-shirts must have chaffed them. It’s little things like that which amount up to pain.

But that’s also where the marathon is such a great metaphor for life. We often don’t think of the little things in life as mattering much, but over time, the things that we do constantly is what makes us who we are, it’s what makes our life, and small things can have a huge effect, built up over time.  Just as a T-shirt chaffing for four hours can draw blood, looking in the mirror every morning and thinking ‘I’m fat’ will bleed your self-esteem dry over time. Life is built up of small moments. It’s not the race day that matters, but the preparation. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

 

 

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