Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Run? Who? Me?

I've caught the running bug. I have. It's contagious, but for better distribution of the infection, I'm writing a post that I hope will be its carrier. Be patient, and do not dismiss this as yet-another-athlete-who-runs-magically telling me to run. If you need an equivalent synopsis, it's "someone-who-huffs-and-puffs-just-like-me". Trust me, it is a positive message :)

First, to truly connect with this, let's start with my background. Let me know if you can relate to any of the following, either for yourself or someone you care for.

  • Love/Hate Live-with/Hate relationship with weight issues for most part of my life.
  • Little to no exercise for months at a stretch. 
  • Inconsistent attempts at joining the gyms and aerobics classes
  • Bordering-on-social-disorder shyness to step out and attempt to run. (I had multiple issues: more on that below.)
  • Inability to run for more than about 60 seconds (3 minutes if I'm in those bouts where I've been exercising a bit)

Those of you who know me personally, know that I ran a 10K in 2011. Of course, it was awesome. But I'd like to clarify, that I didn't run the whole distance. I did a run/walk - with more run than walk. I had been learning to run before that with a group of wonderful people and raised funds for more wonderful people. If not for them, even if I'd managed to sign up for a 10K, breaking free from the shyness, there would be a lot more walk than run.

So why shy about running? The gist for the purposes of this post is that I feel odd, I am abnormally wary of men staring (very common in a place like India) and I would fear meeting people I'm supposed to have been introduced to and can't remember their names, no matter what! Ideally I would have liked to run early in the morning when it's still dark, when no one can see me and I can see none.  I started writing about this with the intention of keeping it brief, but it turned out there was so much I wanted to say, so I've shifted this to a whole new post (link to come soon).

So how did I shed those inhibitions? I ran with a group, and I ran inside Cubbon Park, Bangalore, to begin with, where everyone else was also either running/walking/exercising. So you don't feel odd when everyone's doing the same thing as you are.  Even later on, when I would step out on my own, at any of those nearby parks in India, where there are running tracks, there were always other people walking/running. Of course, if you're a girl,  you're going to get an extra look or two, but it seems safe. In fact, you'll be surprised to see elderly 'aunties' doing uncommon exercises as well! Make sure there are enough people and there is enough daylight. Of course, this is an India-specific safety concern. Runs in the US have been very comfortable.

Also, don't wake up early if you don't want to! Do it in the evenings if you're not a morning person. One less excuse to make to yourself.

How about feeling conscious about my ability? Well you have to understand that you aren't the same as other people, and if they are already fitter to begin with, they are going to have a headstart. So you have to quit comparisons of any sort, and race with yourself like the recently mentioned sunscreen song says:
Sometimes you are ahead, sometimes you are behind. The race is long, and in the end, it's only with yourself.
(I hear groaning, enough with the "sunscreen song" already! I hear you!)
After a while of huffing behind other people in the group, I didn't care about that anymore. I had my personal targets and worked on them.

The key is to start small, but don't stay small. Last year, I started small, trying to improve my running-at-a-stretch time, but didn't improve as much as I would have liked to, mainly because it was such a rough self-goal that I had given myself. Something like "little more than last time." (And I wouldn't even remember how much 'last time' was.)

This year, I came across this plan from another blog:- the NHS C25K nine week plan. It's the Couch to 5K plan, or more accurately, How to go from being a couch potato to running 30 minutes at a stretch. They assume you'll be running 5K in those 30 minutes, but that's a stretch for us newbies. And in fact, from the community for this plan, I found that I was not alone. There were plenty of people running - running alone - running slowly - but they were doing it.

The plan spans nine weeks, where you will go from running 60 seconds at a time to 30 minutes at a stretch by the ninth week. It comes with ready to download MP3's that you can play while you're running. The audio is timed to tell you when to start running, when to stop and walk to recover and when to start running again. And it's not some set of mechanical Start-Stop-Start commands. They've made it very 'human'. A person called Laura speaks to you like she's running along with you, giving you running tips, encouraging you and of course, timing you. Each week's plan has three runs with a rest day between each run. This works because you start off so small you just can't give up! This works because it feels like you're taking a personal trainer along with you! Each week I built over the last and ran. Although it starts small, in time, you are trusted to make the bigger leaps. It makes sure you don't underestimate yourself.  Not having run in almost a year did have its consequences, but the structure of the program worked. Time and again, from the community, I found people who had done the jump from one week to the next, so I knew that I could do it. That's one way of plowing through the mental blocks.

The other thing I did was to remove the weight-loss goal from this endeavor. Weight loss and fitness goals are different from each other. There may be some overlap, but the two can be very different. I wanted to run this time, just to be able to run better. I wanted to run, to be fitter. I think that took off a lot of the pressure. A lot of people attempt running and give up when they see there's no change on the weighing scale. That's not to say you won't lose weight. If you eat carefully, you probably will. A lot of difference will not be on the weighing scale but on that measuring tape. But if you want to run, you should do it just for the sake of running. Feel that sense of achievement when you go further, longer than the last time. Sometimes people advise me on how to make my running 'more effective' (ie, how to lose weight). But I know what I want - I want to hit the next milestone!

To summarize, if you want to catch this running bug too, here are a few of my suggestions:
  • I highly recommend a structured plan like NHS Couch to 5K to get started 
  • Try to run with a group
  • Separate the weight loss goal from your running target. Start running just to RUN.
  • Don't compare yourself with others. Your best sense of achievement will come against your own personal targets.
Happy running!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Validate me!

Hello friends! Today I am going to talk to you about a very important topic for human beings. It is the primary driving force behind most actions, and many reactions. It is (wait for..) the need for ( validation! Oh the title already gave it away. Repeating it, since it's likely all those brackets and unnecessary what-nots distracted you: The Need for Validation.

Everyone wants to be praised, to be appreciated, to be acknowledged for the things they do, the things they create, the way they do. Someone puts up a link/photo/factoid about self on facebook, they want it to be acknowledged, they want it to be liked. I write a blog post, I hope for wait for dream about some comments and hopefully some appreciation (in case you didn't get it, that was a big bold HINT - wink wink?) A child wants you to tell them how good a drawing they made, a wife wants you to tell her you're proud of an achievement, a husband wants you to praise the food he made lovingly for you. See what I did there? :) Ha!

Of course, this varies from person to person. Some people keep telling the world what they did, and the world, for the most part, duly acknowledges, fueling the circle. Then I think there is a category of people that try for appreciation, but give up at some point and adopt a devil-may-care attitude. Some people are born with that attitude. I get it, some of you don't care! But face it, where we want or seek validation may differ, but we do tend to want it. It may be from the workplace, home, social circle, anything. Maybe you want people to think you're funny, maybe that you're awesome at programming, maybe you make a mean gajar halwa!

Deep down, I think most of us are  a bunch of love-hungry attention-starved humans. And sometimes we forget that we're not the only ones, so we forget to give before we can get.

How about stepping out today, and telling someone what you appreciate about them?

Sunday, September 09, 2012


I support homosexuality and homosexuals and their right to marriage and all other regular constitutional and human liberties. I feel I have to say this out loud, because, I have had conversations where people have argued that it is not natural, therefore not normal. I suppose the definition of natural for them would be a union that produces offspring and contributes to the evolution of the species.

I don't know the physiology behind homosexuality. Feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph if you aren't interested in the history/evolution of homosexuality. I've read that recent research suggests that it there may in fact be a 'gay gene.' It's interesting how that goes against the standard perception of evolution that only a quality that may directly promote reproduction will survive evolution. There have been a few other theories to support evolution in this light, some not-so-convincing. For example, there is the kin theory, that suggests that homosexuals may have focused on the survival of their nieces/nephews (ie, kin with their gene). This is unconvincing to me mainly because I think evolution is selfish - a result of a fierce protection of the self. Other theories are that homosexuals have been primarily bisexual or that they have some other unspecified quality that is needed for survival.

Back to what I was saying - I support them. In theory. I say in theory because I have never had the exposure to them. Maybe I have known closet gays. But now that people across the world are coming out, I'm afraid that I may be a victim of my limited zero exposure and may be just as biased as so many people who are anti-gay. In fact, you see it even with supporters of homosexuals. 'He's so gay' is a negative comment as of this day.

I feel that to truly support a person that is different from you, you must make them feel no different from  you. When my turn comes one day (and it will) to personally know someone who is gay, I don't want these biases to come in my way. I don't want to become one of those close-minded people I dislike. The ultimate goal is that one's sexual orientation should have nothing to do with one's non-romantic relationships and should either be not considered at all or not known, and definitely not be anyone's business but your own (and your partner's), but today, society is structured on relationships. Relationships are a critical part of today's society and define you to a large extent. What I hope is that my life is enriched by my knowing as many wonderful people as I possibly can.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Now What?

I'm sure most of you have heard the sunscreen song which found its way around the internet as a commencement speech at MIT. You'll find the history and information about the original author (Mary Schmich) and the lyrics here. If you haven't heard it already, please go listen to it. It is a very feel-good piece, with some stellar bits of advice, or more accurately, retrospective insights on life.

Well, what reminded me about this song of late was the line:
Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.
..because (you guessed it) I find myself quite in the same predicament. It's all very well, Ms. Schmich, that you find these people interesting. But are they satisfied with their lives? Are they happy at 40, not knowing what to do and still interesting?

I am doing something in life, but is this what I want to do with my life? Hint: Probably not. I sort of went with the flow for a lot of choices I took along the way. Mostly it was the path of least resistance and lesser churn. But of course that isn't the path of most satisfaction. Or is it, if I try a different approach/work harder? Or is there something altogether different I should take on? Sigh. Is there some NON-trial-and-error approach that people are taking that tells them what they should invest their next few years in? Who are those people? Wave if you know.

Anyway, so the point is: now what?