Friday, February 26, 2016

EATING DISORDER AWARENESS

Let’s bring up the elephant in the room for a second: EATING DISORDERS SUCK AND ARE SUPER PREVALENT AND NEED TO BE TALKED ABOUT. And most of us are scared to talk about it. I personally am scared because I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, and I feel like I don’t have the authority to talk about it, and I honestly don’t know how to even talk about it. 

But we need to talk about it. Because an eating disorder inherently protect itself by hiding. So the only way to productively handle this beast is to expose it. And this beast is everywhere in the running world. So let’s talk about it! 

This is going to be a 3-part blog: 

1. How eating disorders attack a person. Most people say “she developed an eating disorder.” But I don’t like how that is framed. No one wants an eating disorder. No one consciously chooses to develop an eating disorder. 
“Develop” has too much of a good connotation to be used with “eating disorder.” Instead, I like to think that an eating disorder attacks a personour friend or teammate. Learning how it attacks a person is important so we can learn how to recognize it and not be scared to address it. 

2. The Stories. All the stories are remarkably similar. The fact that so many wonderful athletes fall into the same trap says something about how poorly we all handle the problem. The solution: share the stories. Look for patterns. See what helps and what doesn’t help and what we could do differently. 

3. How to be a good teammate--Both before AND after the eating disorder is addressed. Addressing an eating disorder is only a small part of the recovery process. The recovery process is long and emotionally draining, and a lot of times, the person is abandoned. Well, as teammates, it is our job to never abandon another teammate. 

PART 1: HOW EATING DISORDERS ATTACK


Eating disorders are sneaky things. They infiltrate a person’s mind and slowly take over without anyone really noticing. They are contagious. They provide almost instant (and addictive) results. And they are dangerous. Compared to other addictions, an eating disorder might be the trickiest to navigate. It’s like it has a super stealthy arsenal to attack a person from the inside out. 


Weapons of eating disorders: 
1. It’s stealthy
It breaks in without anyone noticing. It’s not like people wake up one day and think, “Oh heck! I have an eating disorder now!” It is much more stealthy than that.  In fact, it poses as a good thing at first. It starts off as a nutrition goal. It makes the person feel good. It provides immediate results, and it is easy to correlate these results to the food. It hooks them in by appearing to be beneficial. 

2. It hides
After it gets in, it slowly grows from “nutrition conscious” to “nutrition obsessive” to “full blown addiction.” Day by day, it slowly shifts the person’s idea of “normal” farther to the extreme. There is a metaphor called the boiling frog problem: If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will jump right out. If you put a frog in a pot of warm water and slowly heat it up, it will boil to death because it doesn't perceive danger. The onset is too gradual for the frog to notice a problem. An eating disorder is a boiling frog problem. (obesity, global warming, and most other catastrophic problems are usually boiling frog problems). 

It is easy for it to hide—there’s no evidence until there are symptoms.  You can't take a blood test and it come back positive. There's no needles or pipes or pills, there's no casino. There's not really a noticeable trigger. Nothing. The evidence is literally nothing—eating nothing. Once there are symptoms, the disorder is too big for the person to control. I think of it like termites. You don’t notice termites until they’ve done so much damage that the structural integrity of the house is unstable. 

This is an insensitive analogy, but in a microbiology class one time we were talking about "successful" viruses—viruses that are most prolific. The most successful are the ones that 1. Hide from the host and 2. Don’t kill the host. There it can go undetected while it spreads. So Ebola is an in-your-face virus. You know if you are infected. It is apparent there is a problem. You can quarantine and try to fix yourself. If there were a mass outbreak, eventually everyone would die and thus would the virus. HIV on the other hand, is sneaky. You don’t know when you get it. There aren’t noticeable symptoms. It spreads without you knowing, and by the time you know you have a problem, game over. 

Eating disorders are the master chess players like HIV. That's exactly what this thing does. It hides and slowly takes over the person without the person noticing. It manages to do just enough. 

3. It protects itself with the person's identity. 
As the eating disorder becomes a bigger problem, it becomes harder to hide. But it has a defense mechanism for this: it protects itself with the person’s identity. It takes over the person’s thoughts. The disorder dictates what they eat, when they eat, if they can eat out, how much anxiety they have, who their friends are, what their body looks like. It becomes the loudest voice. It is hard to separate the person’s voice and identity from the identity of the eating disorder. 

The disorder makes the person feel shame. Shame is powerful. It makes the person submit to the voice of the disorder. The disorder has one mission: protect itself. It doesn’t care about relationships or friends or being happy. It only cares about not getting exposed. It will burn relationships in a heartbeat to keep itself a secret. HOT DAMN THIS THING IS A BASTARD.This is why a lot of times the person struggling isolates themselves from the group. Being around others feels vulnerable, and feeling vulnerable means feeling shame. 

This is why no one wants to attack thing. Attacking the thing almost feels like attacking the person.  It gets intertwined in the identity of the person affected by it--not only does it affect the mind, it affects the body--that's kind of a whole being. It's hard to separate the person from the disorder. This protects it. Because to expose it puts the person's identity in a vulnerable position. 


4. It becomes the identity of the person. Sometimes the eating disorder becomes such a huge part of the person, that there isn’t much left of the person at all. It reminds me of Star Wars. Anakin Skywalker was attracted to the dark side of the force because it made him feel powerful. This power was an illusion. Anakin never had the power. The power overtook Anakin.  Darth Vader became the loudest voice in Anakin’s head. Anakin Skywalker was essentially dead. And (SPOILER ALERT!) it took A WHOLE LOTTA LOVE to get Anakin to wake up! YEAH! LOVE! 


So those are the weapons of the disorder: It breaks in with no evidence. It hides. It takes over. It protects itself with the identity of the person. It becomes the identity of the person.

This addiction in a lot of ways is harder to address than a heroin or drug addiction. Think about a heroin addiction: There's evidence. Something concrete where I can say, "I don't like that needle going into your body. I don't like how it makes you act for the following hours." But with a food issue, there is no equivalent. I can't be all, "Hey Teammate. I don't like how you act all the time." There's nothing external to demonize to be the fall guy.

We've got to expose the weapons and make people aware that there is a difference between an eating disorder and a person. And then we have to love the ever living heck out of the person and help them be strong enough to fight the disorder.


Monday, February 1, 2016

The Art of Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing.


 Runners are great at being perfectionists.  It's what makes us good. We have such attention to detail.  But there is a fine line between paying attention to details (which is good!) and getting lost in the details (bad! bad!). The devil is in the details, remember?  

We’ve all heard the advice: “It’s about the little things,” they say, “Do the 1%” they say.

Well, this is kind of misleading advice. There, I said it. Because focusing on the 99% is probably going to get you farther than focusing on the 1%. That’s math. Or common sense? Sometimes, we get too zoomed in and can’t see the forest through the trees. This is a problem. It is good to take care of the little things, as long as the little things don’t become the main things.

Let’s talk for a second about the things that aren’t the main things:

What you ate pre-race.
If you got a cup of coffee.
If you got a massage.
What spikes you are wearing.
How you felt in your pre race workout
What your weight is.
What the pace is supposed to be.
Doing too many strides.
Doing too little strides.
Doing too fast strides.
How much you hydrated.
Talking about all the race plans.
How much you were on your feet yesterday.
How much you slept last night.
The workout your competitor tweeted about.
How fast you did your warm up.
What lane number you are.
And
That damn weather!


Let’s talk about the main things that are the main things:


1. The work you put in over the last few months.
2. Your mindset.


THAT’S IT.
It is actually kind of hard to mess up your race the day of—You’d have to do extreme weightlifting and sprint a mile during your warm-up. Or maybe join fight club and not talk about it. Or maybe join cross fit and talk about it. And that still wouldn’t affect your race as much as you’d think.

The problem is it is so so tempting to get stuck on the details.

Reasons why the details are easy to focus on:

1. Details help you take the pressure off. It’s like a defense mechanism. It resolves you from responsibility of your race. If you don’t race well, it is a nice excuse to fall back on. “Well, I would have raced well, except…”
I personally use/love/hate the “I would have raced well except I had bad positioning” too often.

It’s really scary to try and lose and have to be like, “Well. I’m not as fit as I’d like.” Or “I didn’t try as hard as I wanted to.”
That makes you feel bad on the inside. Where if you raced badly because of that Chicken Phad Thai spicy level 4 stomach issue, then it’s not really your fault!

2. Details allow you to zoom in so much that you don’t have to think about the race or the outcome. It is scary to line up and have no clue if you are going to win. It is stressful. One Phoebe tested (and unapproved) way to deal with stress: not think about the stressful situation whatsoever! (I call this “compartmentalizing”) Instead! Think about minor stressful situations that you can fix, and then feel that sweet, sweet since of relief when you fix them. NOTE: This is a terrible problem solving method.

3. Details allow you to feel like the race result is predetermined. If you take care of all the details, then it is the universe’s way of saying, “Don’t worry, Phe, all the evidence suggests that you have already won this race.”

Being a slave to the details is a terrible habit. It puts the fate of your race into the environment. And the environment is fickle. So don’t do it! And when you do it even though I just told you not to do it, these self-talk phrases can help talk you back to reality:

If ____________ ruins your race, your race wasn’t going to be jack shit anyway.

______________ is nothing compared to all the work you did leading up to this.

Weather affects the whole field, remember?

You never worry about this at practice.

You have run well before when this happened.

Just try hard. That’s all you have to do. Literally.

Bottom line: Don’t be a perfectionist. Be an ADAPTABLE perfectionist.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Silver Linings!

Why the sport of track is still awesome.

The IAAF shit show had me asking, “What’s the purpose of running?”
The question started as code for “I want to complain about everything and care about nothing. Because I can. I’ve been wronged! I’m having a crisis.”
What do runners do when they have a crisis? Half of us—the weirder half—go out and hammer a long run in silence while trying to cope with feelings. The other half (Like me!) talk to any runner and every runner (plus non runners and/or pets) who will listen or not listen! By the end, I was asking “What’s my purpose for running?”

All month, I’ve been talking to different runners and listening to their stories. Every single runner ended up talking about his or her purpose for running. Funny thing, no one’s purpose was money or fame (HAHA! FAME IN TRACK! JOKE OF THE YEAR. Except you, Usain Bolt. But you had to race a cheetah and be, you know, the fastest man ever of all time ever to get fame).
From my observation, professional runners get into the sport because (drumroll please!): we are better than most at it. This is not a sexy of a reason to like something, but it really is self-esteem boosting being objectively better than average at anything.

What is sexy is why we stay in the sport.

“I get a lot of self worth from trying to master a skill.”

“This is a journey of self-discovery: What are you made of?”

 “I’ve been given the time, some funds, and people who want to help. Not many people get that in anything they care about.”

“14 years in the sport and I still learn something new every day.”

“It’s exciting to devote your life to something and not be sure it will work out. It feels so sweet when it comes together. Kind of like love?”

“Running has taught me more than anything else about life.”

“I love my teammates. Being with them and celebrating their successes and supporting them though the losses is a bond that is hard to find elsewhere.”

“I like putting all my energy and emotion into something because I’m passionate about it.”

"We run to challenge ourselves and to truly see how good we can be and to find our limits. There aren't many professions where you actually find where your limits are and where you rank among your peers."

(not to mention:
“I like candy. And the more I run the more candy I can eat guilt free.”
“I like being able to fart without people judging me.”
“I like new running shoes.”
“I like sports, and this is the one I’m good at.”
But those are more superficial reasons and do not belong in this serious blog.)

Even though the corrupt people at the top are being terrible, they do not have much authority. We runners run because we like self-improvement, and we like company of other people who also like self-improvement. And dopers or money or IAAF nonsense doesn’t take it away.

And for the fans,
Still be fans.
Track is one of the few sports where the average joes and superstars are going through the same struggles. Our stories prove that humans can become superstars. And that superstars are human. These stories connect people. And then make people into better people.

And that’s why I still love track.

(If you want me to add your reason to the list, let me know, and I’ll add it to this blog.)

Friday, January 15, 2016

THE IAAF SHIT SHOW

Quick thoughts on the IAAF Scandal.

SUMMARY:
Previous IAAF President hires his family and friends.
Seb Coe is Vice President. And is conveniently blind and deaf to corruption?
IAAF President and staff (aka: friends and family) take bribes to cover up positive doping test. Staff parties in Monaco, probably.
The entire state of Russia (plus probably Kenya, Morocco, and Turkey) were all cheating (No surprise there).
Seb Coe becomes IAAF President and inherits a shit storm.
SHIT STORM HAPPENS—the IAAF can apparently be bought/track is a joke
Seb says (paraphrased):
            “This sport is in a good state.”
            “These allegations are false.”
            “I never knew about the corruption.”
            "I have been fighting the corruption I didn't know about since my first day as president."
            “Ok. I know. We have a failed organization.”
“These are the darkest days for the sport.”
            “I am the man to fix this sport!”

You can find the detailed story HERE and HERE

THOUGHTS FROM AN ATHLETE:
We all knew there was massive doping. We thought it was because athletes/coaches knew how to cheat the test. We thought the IAAF was partly corrupt, but for the most part was working with WADA to help protect clean athletes. The IAAF’s job is literally to protect athletes and the integrity of the sport. Did it cross my mind that the IAAF could be the ringleader of a doping scandal? No. I feel like a butt of a horrible, horrible joke. I feel stupid for trying so hard during my professional career. I kind of imaging the Diack family watching the meets, cheersing and laughing at all of us that are, you know, devoting our lives to an almost hopeless cause.
The IAAF has lost all trust. All of it.  The system as it stands should be burned to the ground and rebuilt.

Should Seb Coe be President?
Seb was not the problem, and Seb will not be the solution. He does field questions like a true politician, and has some public support, so sure, I don’t mind if he stays president—as long as he does not have a blatant conflict of interest i.e: being paid by a sponsor invested in the sport. Because that would be ridiculous.  
Blaming Coe for the downfall of the sport is the easy out. That is not a good solution. Right now, at least he is obligated to make change, and he has the spotlight on him to keep him in check.

What was the problem?
The system rewards corruption and cheating.

The IAAF creates an event—an athletics meeting. They pay the big names in athletics to participate. This draws in fans. Sponsors fund the events in exchange for exposure at said events.

What makes these events popular? The rivalries and the superstars.
What is the easiest way to make a superstar? Cheat.
Now the sport of track and field has become a freak show. The once-in-a-lifetime talents and drug cheats are the stars of the show. They draw in fans. These fans make the advertising space more valuable. Therefore the IAAF gets paid more.

Cheats are good for the IAAF’s pocketbook. Plus, the officials of the IAAF get a nice little Christmas bonus when the cheats get caught! The cheats bribe the IAAF officials and the IAAF gets to keep the main attraction alive.

For those who didn’t follow, the money goes like this: Sponsorsà IAAFà Cheatersà IAAF. The IAAF is sitting pretty. No where does the cash flow go towards the majority of athletes. 

Possible solutions?
     1.     Do the sponsors support dopers? Let’s hope not. If they value a clean sport, they should be privy to the knowledge of positive tests. The sponsors could issue a fine for meets that support dopers. The financial incentive to have cheaters is too high, and this is the only way I can think of to hit the IAAF where it hurts—swift kick to the wallet. (This could be bad for the athletes, though. No sponsor money=no sport. We must be careful.)


     2.     Make the public aware of all positive tests. WADA proves someone is doping? BOOM, that person is outed to the media. Ruining an image is powerful. If a meet director puts in a convicted doper, shame on them. The IAAF can’t afford that public shaming at the moment.


     3.     Create a system of checks and balances—WADAs tests were working. Which is actually encouraging.  WADA also had no authority. Which is discouraging. The IAAF paying more to WADA probably won’t help much, considering WADA wasn’t the problem. But it does help the public image of the IAAF, which is valuable to the IAAF at the moment. The IAAF has to give some power to WADA. IAAF cannot hold the IAAF accountable.

      4.     Harsher penalties for drug cheats. This could possibly deter cheating from the athlete side.

5. Burn the entire system down. Create a new system from scratch with more athlete involvement.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

800ers' Thoughts During XC

In honor of championship cross-country season, I am going to take this moment and
             1.     Enlighten all of you to what it is like on the XC battle field for an 800m runner
and
2. Make the 800m runners feel a little better about their struggles. Or at least possibly more understood.

Prerace

While all the distancers skip along on prerace chatting about their day, and goals, and boyfriends, and “How great is this course!?” 800ers are at the back of the pack wishing that an easy 7:30 pace was, in fact, easy. Newsflash distance freaks of nature! When your heart rate is 80 bpm on a tempo run, ours is 150 just walking to the locker room. Even the simplest movement revs up that anaerobic system.

It is a slight mind trip struggling to run 7:30 pace when you know you are going to have to drop sub 6 minuters the next day. But good news! 800ers do better at faster paces. Running a few minutes at 6 minute pace is in a lot of ways easier than running a few minutes at 8 minute pace! (Now, the rest of the minutes after the first “few minutes” in the race are a bit of a struggle.)
Plus! 800ers thrive under pressure. An easy run has zero pressure and zero reward. They don’t like to run just for the heck of it! 800ers want to see the fruits of their labor! This makes them much better racers compared to preracers. No guts not glory. 
Or for 800ers: No glory? No guts.

Warm up

During the warm up the distancers like to start out at a slow pace and go much longer than the prescribed 2 miles. I guess to make sure their body is good and warm.
800ers can’t go long because we will be good and tired. Plus, 800ers are ready to roll out the gate. The anxiety about the future inevitable pain is high. And anxious people run accidentally fast. Like a high school kid sprinting the first lap of a mile!

We’d prefer to run a few minutes hard until we get a little winded, do some drills, stride once, tie our shoes 3 times, do one more stride, pee, check for wardrobe malfunctions, and call it warmed up!


The Start Line

Distanters look so light on the start line—like gazelles. And they have high ponytails with ribbons. It’s like a fashion show for very dainty, very fit people.

An 800er’s thought: Why do I look like a linebacker? Am I gaining muscle? How am I going to get all this muscle 6k to the finish line?! I look like a cross dresser with my ribbon. Please let my buns stay on. Why are they doing so many strides?!

What an 800er feels like on the start line:













The Start

Distancers try hard to get to the front to avoid the hundreds of other distance runners also trying to get to the front.

800ers do not try to get to the front but accidentally do anyway. This is followed by panic and a “HOW THE F DID I GET UP HERE?!”

The Middle of the Race

This is where distancers are zoning out and trying to be patient. They are harnessing their excitement of the possibility of winning/PRing/making other people hurt. Plus they go wizzing past the dying 800ers. This gives them motivation and confidence.  

This is also where 800er surrender to hurt. They question a lot of things: Why am I out here? Why aren’t we done yet? Why did I go out so fast? Are they really picking up the pace right now?! How can I get off this course without my teammates and coach knowing?

My college coach always said: 2 miles is where you should wake up and start picking off people.
I honestly have no clue what he is talking about. I was thinking more along the lines of “Coach says this is where everyone besides me wakes up and picks me off. Don’t get picked off!”

The End of the Race

Distancers get faster at the end of the race. It’s like the harder they breathe and the more lactic acid-y they are, the faster they can go.

At the end of a race 800ers think: OK! Half a mile left! I can run a half-mile faster than anyone out here! This is my time to shine.

And that is enough to motivate the 800er for approximately 150m. The next 600m are an all out shit show. Form goes to pieces. And there are thoughts of “WHOEVER SAID THAT FASTER PEOPLE HAVE A BETTER KICK IS A LIAR!”

That last 50m though, No one has a chance!

Post Race

Distancers are quick to cool down for hours and talk about how fun that race was!


800ers have blood completely of acid. They are dizzy and hate anyone trying to make them do anything other than curl up in the fetal position. I’m looking at you race volunteer ushers. 800ers don’t even have the energy or focus to untie their shoes. No they do not want to cool down with you. They don’t want to cool down. Period.


MY ADVICE TO 800ERS: 

Don't feel sorry for yourself. No one cares that you are an 800er, and that you are trying considerably harder than most people, and that you are wheezing, and that you went out too fast. Don't give yourself that excuse to give up. 

Always remember your team. That is the single most powerful motivating factor. This isn't about you. It's about helping your teammates who desperately need you.  

Embrace the hurt. It is going to hurt. You are going to feel terrible the last mile. Luckily how you feel doesn't determine how fast you run. You are tough. Prove it. 

Cool downs. Go cool down. Your hamstrings will hate you if you don't cool down and then sit on the bus for a few hours. 

Team bonding occurs in the XC practice van. Even if you can't keep up on workouts and runs, you are still a huge part of the team. Most team bonding occurs on the team van anyway.