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My Post-Athlete Excerise Mindset

As a child I was a swimmer. I competed at the most elite levels, was always ranked top 10 in the state, and eventually swam for a NCAA Division I school. By the end of my sophomore year of college I no longer felt the sport gave me as much as I had given so I quit. It was the first time i'd quit anything. Along with swimming I had 11 year so classical piano under my belt and another 8 years playing brass in the school band. After quitting I had to relearn how to view myself.

I had never participated in anything "for fun" or because it was good for me. I found winning fun, being great at something was the endgame and the work it took to get there may not have been fun, but I reasoned that it was well worth it. All of a sudden, I had landed myself in a world where any time I raised my heartrate, it would be for a different reason than I'd ever exercised before.

It goes without saying, then, that this was a struggle. For six months I didn't exercise at all. So in the fall of the next year, I signed up for dance classes. At least I could reason with myself that I had to go to class. Of course, with my previous outlook on fitness, I dove into Modern I head first. I'd go to class and envision myself in the American Ballet Theatre, As absurd as it seems now, there were moments when I was ready to drop and everything and go pro. Throughout college I took class after class and exceled, but I hadn't changed my mindset or relationship to exercise.

Well, I graduated college, and couldn't afford/didn't prioritize workout classes in my budget. For years I'd run for a week get angry with myself for having lost the level of fitness that once defined me in many ways. My internal monologue for the entire run would be "You used to be able to run a mile 4 minutes faster." "Why don't you stick with anything anymore?" On kinder days it would be "when's the next marathon." But going from zero to marathon training would overwhelm me and I'd quickly fall off the regimen and the process would begin again. Feeling dejected, I'd repeatedly chose not exercising over beating myself up.

Finally to the unintended learning. I can be so hard on myself that is has the opposite effect. Eventually (nearly three years out of college and five years since quitting my college team), I began to treat myself with the kindness I display to others and expect from the people around me. It wasn't a one-day fix, but I taught myself to be forgiving of my current abilities and have a healthy outlook. Last spring I would run to a timer and instead of a distance. The rule was simple: 15 minutes of running and once the timer goes off, you're done. I didn't track the distance I celebrated not walking and I went home content with, and even proud of, myself.

Now, nearly a year later, I’ve joined an organization that pairs adults with middle and high schools for city-wide road races. This is far more motivating to me than for my health, so it's tricked me into being more dedicated to regularly running. I went from struggling to run two miles to easily running six. I'll be running a half marathon in less than a month, but what I'm most proud of is the personal growth. I'm happy with myself if I run twice a week, but it's not the end of the world if I don't run at all that week.

 

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