January 19, 2012

The Things That We Learn, The Stories We Tell

The Things That We Learn, The Stories We Tell

All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am
~ Brandi Carlile

I am a doctor by training. Like most of my colleagues, I graduated from medical school thinking I had already learned about the body and now I was just going to get to go about fixing it. It only takes one day practicing medicine to learn you are wrong about that. Even if you are not a physician, you only have to follow medical headlines for a week to see that even the top level thinkers in medicine often don’t agree about what’s going on in the body.

We have a lot to learn.

When it comes to bodies, you would think you would know your own best – but mine still manages to surprise me.

When I started running, I never assumed it would come naturally. Past experience had already taught me that to some degree. A thing I had not anticipated, however, was that in learning a new physical skill, I might be called upon to reassess some of my previously held notions of what this particular body is (or is not) capable of.

Here are a few:

  1. I can build muscle in my legs – I had it once when I was training heavily in martial arts, but I sort of assumed that I had to train 12 hours a week to get it and I had some idea that at my current over-40 age that it just might be a more of an uphill battle than I was capable of. Now i am wishing I had before pictures. I found myself wanting to shorten a dress the other day because I wanted to show my legs.
  2. I can’t stretch before I run – maybe other people already know this? In every physical endeavor I have ever done stretching seems to be a good thing before I start. Plus, I am a long-time student of yoga, so I have often just assumed it’s a good way to warm up. For me, for running, not so much. In fact, it seems to make me feel more sluggish and less coordinated. I have no idea why (maybe someone can enlighten me?) but now I stretch after a run if at all.
  3. My muscles can hurt for days – hurt might be too big of a word here – let’s go with ache. I think this one IS age.
  4. Running is a core strengthening exercise –  I had no idea. Is it this way for everyone? I am putting this into the category of “bonus benefits of running”
  5. I get hungry when I exercise – sometimes really hungry. I don’t rememebr this happening when I was young, but if I watch the way my kids eat around sports, it is not really that surprising. It has just be eye-opening for me to notice how hungry I can get on the days I run. I have had to find new strategies for managing this so that I don’t over eat. This is clearly part of why exercise alone is not an effective strategy for weight management.

But the most important thing I seem to learn over and over these days:

So much of what I believe about my body is really in my head.

I think one truth is that throughout our lives we create stories about ourselves – about who we are and what we are and what we are and are not good at. These stories give us a sense of self and identity and I think they are important. But they can also be tools of limitation.

I have spent years (decades?) saying that I can’t run, that I am not good at running, that I don’t like running. And while that is still the story I most strongly identify with, I have to undo bits of it all the time now.

What does my story become – how does it change who I am if I CAN run – if I can get good at running – if it changes and benefits my body and my life and who I am?

What do I do if and when running changes not just my body but the core story of who I am?

I have to remind myself, that at 42, the story of my life is not written. It’s a work in progress, open to editing, still being created each and every day. If we see our story as fixed we can’t fully benefit from what we learn – and we can’t really change who we are. Fundamentally, our story is not just about who we are – it is about who we are becoming.



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  1. Wendy
    January 23, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

    Love the last paragraph- so true.