Running

Measuring progress with various yardsticks

As all runners know, there are good runs and bad runs. And then there are terrible runs. On good runs, you feel strong, you run as fast/long as you set out to, and when you finish, you feel refreshed. Heck, you may even go the proverbial extra mile. The Rocky soundtrack is playing in your mind as you cross the mental finish line.

On bad runs, you don’t make it to 100%, for whatever reason (snow, fatigue, injury… you name it). You start off with a particular goal in mind; two steps in, you start having doubts that you’ll meet it, two minutes in you argue/bargain with yourself, two kilometres in, if you make it so far, you start believing that it was a complete mistake to get out of bed.

The Ninja Turtle had a terrible run on Monday morning. Nothing is a bigger kick up the backside than seeing the scales move in the wrong direction after a super indulgent weekend. (Although neither the Ninja Turtle nor GodzillaPin are “overweight” in the clinical sense, they like to keep an eye on body fat percentage, which is a far better measure of health.) Feeling well rested and recharged from a few days away, her motivation was high and she was keen to return to routine. So despite the grey skies, she knew it was imperative to get off her backside and out the door.

Despite starting out strong, she soon fatigued. Too soon, in fact. In the span of ten minutes, she was finding it difficult to breathe, which in and of itself isn’t exactly alarming, except she’s asthmatic. There was nothing to do but slow down, and slow down she did, that it added an extra ten minutes to her usual 4.5-mile circuit. It was frustrating, it was demoralizing, and it was raining. Her face betrayed the effort of the run, but oddly enough, her clothes were almost dry by the time she reached home, thanks to wind speeds that reached 60kph.

The GPS tracking gave a frankly disappointing report. She had intended to cover six miles, and only managed 75% of it. She set off with a specific pace in mind (her tempo run pace), and fell short by a good deal. Basically, it was blah. For someone who’s starting to take her running seriously, it was cause for concern.

Until… until. Although runners are generally aware that running in high altitude is much tougher, this runner wasn’t completely familiar with the reason why. Turns out in higher altitudes, the air is thinner (lower barometric pressure), which means one is basically gasping “air! air!” as there is less available oxygen to be absorbed into the blood. This makes running hard. It was only very recently that the Ninja Turtle started looking at barometric pressure on the weather page, in addition to noting temperature, wind speed and cloud cover. She’s not so good at converting mb to mmhg – heck, she can’t even tell you what it means but she can tell you that at 1024mb she runs great, and on Monday when it registered 991mb, she wasn’t feeling all that flash.

So, the conclusion out of all this is that there are certain variables beyond one’s control, and these things do impact on the outcome of whatever it is we are doing. Choosing to look at the GPS report on that one particular run alone is taking it out of context (weather, slippery roads, etc). Without the context, it is very easy to conclude that performance is backsliding when in fact, that is not true (the Ninja Turtle ran again today and her performance was back to what she expected).

Our behaviours, motivation and thoughts have an impact on one another, which is why it is very important to maintain the right attitude. Countless times people have lost heart because they did not see an expected outcome, and how often is it because of things beyond one’s control? Take the classic example of weight loss – not seeing the scales budge can, and do, lead people into a spiral of what’s-the-point-I-see-no-change, and then the next step is often self-sabotaging behavior that sets them back. It’s a shame to give up just because gravity is a bit stronger than you liked today. Likewise, it wasn’t worth spending a whole day moping over one lousy run.

It helps to maintain a positive attitude when one is armed with more than one yardstick when trying to measure progress or change. It becomes so easy to fall into the trap of reductionism, and one quickly becomes tunnel-visioned. People who wish to acquire wealth, look up from your financial statements and balance sheets, and take stock of other measures – your health, your sanity, your friends and family. Think about the true legacy you want to leave behind (trust us, it’s definitely not a stack of dollar bills). People who want to lose weight, ask yourself if it’s the number you wish to change, or your entire approach to living and how you take care of yourself. The weighing scale cannot measure the sense of physical and mental wellbeing after sharing a nutritious and balanced meal in the company of friends, nor the joy of playing in the autumn sunshine with your children.

In the spirit of measuring progress differently, here are some yardsticks the Ninja Turtle have come up with to measure her progress as a runner.

Running is such an integral part of her life, she runs while on holiday. It's never a chore, but an immense pleasure. It's a great way to go sightseeing.

Running is such an integral part of her life, she runs while on holiday. It’s never a chore, but an immense pleasure. It’s a great way to go sightseeing.

She trained her partner for a semi-marathon, and by sharing her passion, the relationship became stronger.

She trained her partner for a semi-marathon, and by sharing her passion, their relationship became stronger for it.

And oh, when she sees cars slowly accelerating as the lights turn green, she’s always filled with a strong impulse to race the car. Sometimes, she does it, and no doubt looks ridiculous.

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