Tag Archives: nervousness

Here Come The Butterflies

12 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Two weeks and one day from now, I will be lining up for my first half-marathon of the season, the Toronto Womens Half-Marathon. I am looking forward to this race immensely. Not only for the chocolate station. And shallow and all as I am, not only for the aid stations manned by shirtless firefighters who douse you with water.

I am excited about the challenge of it. With the help of my friend and coach Phaedra, I have really been pushing the boundaries in my training this season. I have managed to survive some fair significant disruptions, like unexpected travel to South Africa and a couple of bouts of illness.

The two races that I have done this year – the Good Friday Ten-Miler and the Toronto Yonge Street 10K – have both yielded PB’s (personal best times). I am eager to see if I can repeat the performance over a longer distance.

I just have to get through the final phase of training, which is referred to by many runners as Taper Madness. While tapering is an essential part of training, it can be a period fraught with anxiety and mild (or not-so-mild) paranoia.

The science behind tapering is this: you spend twelve or fourteen weeks training intensively for this event, putting in your mileage and your speed work, having a battle of wits with hills, and spending entire Sunday mornings out on the road. You build your stamina and your strength, and you get used to spending long periods of time on your feet.

The training is a long process that should be properly planned and carefully executed. And if you’re not physically capable of running the distance of a half-marathon two weeks prior to the race, chances are that you won’t be ready on race-day either. The last two weeks don’t really have any value in terms of building your fitness level or your strength, so you are better off cutting back your mileage and giving your muscles time to rebuild in time for the big day.

Because you are reducing your mileage, you have more of a build-up of energy, so you get jittery and anxious, and you start imagining that the twinge in your ankle means it’s broken, or that the little pimple on your chin means you have smallpox.

Some runners can get through the tapering period without incident. They are cool, calm and collected, and don’t suffer from any attacks of nerves. “Butterflies? What butterflies?” they ask with infuriating serenity, when you question them about whether they are nervous about their upcoming race.

Other runners cannot sit still. They pace around restlessly, talk a mile a minute and fidget incessantly. They turn into hypochondriacs, anxiously assessing every little ache and every occasion on which they need to clear their throats. Because they stop sleeping, they advance seventy-two levels in Farmville in a two-week period.

Guess which category I fall into? I’ll give you a hint: I’m sitting here typing this at 4:12 in the morning.

Technically, my taper hasn’t even started yet. It will start after my long run tomorrow. But I tend to start feeling the jitters right before that last long run. I feel that there’s a lot riding on the run. If it goes well, I will go into Race Day with confidence, but I will be worried about whether I can repeat the performance. If it goes badly, I will be obsessing about whether I’m ready for the race.

So the butterflies have shown up, right on schedule. No matter what tomorrow’s long run is like, I am going to spend the next two weeks driving my family nuts and breaking out into occasional bouts of maniacal laughter. At night I will be banished to the sofabed because my incessant fidgeting will keep the husband awake. I will constantly bug the children, who will indulge me by playing with me for a while before my six-year-old gets exasperated and goes, “Momm-meeeee. You don’t play the gamethat way.”

Right now, the butterflies are not obeying any air traffic rules. They are flying around in chaos. But it is my hope that when the starting siren goes off on the day of the race, the butterflies will reconfigure themselves, arrange themselves into beautiful patterns, and fly in formation.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilker/287399328/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Advertisements

Taming the Butterflies

23 Nov

Sometimes I wonder how I stayed sane before I started running again.  The answer, of course, is that I probably didn’t.  Several years ago things got kind of hectic in my life.  I left my job in a whirl of negativity on the same day that my Dad, on the other side of the world, started chemotherapy. Six weeks later he died, and my guilt about not having made it home in time to see him alive plunged me into depression.  A year later, my second son was born, and I learned the hard way that post-partum depression does, in fact, exist, no matter what nonsense Tom Cruise may have been spouting at the time. A year or so after that, we were hit with George’s autism diagnosis.

So for a period of three years or so, we were very unsettled.  As soon as we came to grips with one thing, something else would crop up and derail us again. And in those days, I didn’t have running. I had no means of escape, no way of letting off steam.  Anger, despair, and sadness reigned supreme in my household.

Several years on, I look back at those days and wonder how on earth I got through it all. How did I endure the stress, the confusion, and the absolute lack of self-esteem without blowing a gasket?  My life now is so different.  I have a job that I enjoy. I love being Mom to my two beautiful boys.  I am getting married next year (the day after the Royal Wedding, no less!) to the man who has been by my side for the last ten years.  I have rediscovered running.  I am, for the most part, happy.

For the last little while, though, a certain level of anxiety and nervousness has been creeping in.  It’s not all bad – it is attributable to the fact that I have been making decisions to make some changes in my life, to make things better, and to confront ghosts from the past. The destination that I am aiming for is positive, but the journey to get there is somewhat unnerving.

What this means is that I have entire herds of butterflies constantly jiving around in my belly. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind them being there.  Butterflies are lovely, and every healthy belly needs a few of them from time to time.  I just wish they weren’t breeding like rabbits, and I wish the little buggers would all dance to the same tune.  And I wish they were waltzing instead of breakdancing.

I get relief from this state of astonished nervousness when I run.  I am very focused as a runner.  When I’m on the road, I do not think about what’s going on in my life.  I think about what’s going on in my run.  How is my pace? Is my heart rate within range?  Does my body feel good enough for me to kick it up a notch or do I need to hold back?  Am I hydrated enough?  Do I need to take a gel?  And so on and so forth.  From time to time my thoughts drift into non-running-related territory, but they always come back to the running.

When all of this is going on, the butterflies don’t get much airtime.  They probably realize that no-one’s watching their manic performance, so they lie down and take a nap.  For whatever reason, when I am running, the butterflies are still.  I feel a sense of calm that is almost surreal. I always know that as soon as I stop running, the butterflies will wake up again, but in the moment, the lack of nervous agitation is a beautiful thing.

At the end of the day, though, I find that I have to embrace the nervousness, because it is symbolic of positive change. To cross the finish line, you have to run the race, even if the road you travel on takes you past places you weren’t sure you wanted to go.