A Change in Perception, a Step in the Right Direction?

Just following graduation of last year I found myself in the midst of an organization nightmare. Like every other summer I’d returned home and with me hauled every piece of clothing item to my name, an inordinate amount of books that typically scatter themselves around my dorm room, and at least four pairs of sneakers that probably shouldn’t see another mile but still make their trek with me every year back and forth because I clearly have a problem with hoarding.

Per usual I spent the first day or so of being home organizing, decluttering, and repacking my things, putting the winter clothes and my kitchen utensils in the garage, attempting to part with old running shoes, getting rid of the valentines day cards from an ex’s over 10 years ago, the usual.

It was then while adding to the contents of one my storage boxes I found all my journals and diaries. I spent the next hour criss-cross-applesauce on the floor thumbing through the days, months, and years, grimacing at the fact my handwriting hasn’t improved since third grade and smiling that over the years I’ve managed to reach (most) of my goals, at least in relation to running, if not exceeding some.

I suddenly started wondering why I’d stopped writing down my thoughts, dreams, and ambitions? If I had time to fit in meditation every day, surely I had time in my day to jot down my day, my thoughts toward a goal, and whatever else came to me.

After moving the next week to Boston I started my journal. While it might not be the juiciest journal ever written it holds more value than I’d ever thought it would. In it, I tracked my mental frustrations with my booted leg, the journey back to fitness, and the realization that more than anything in this world, I do in fact want to continue running after college, something I’d never been fully confident to confide in anyone. Realizing this fact, I started to think about the logistics of the matter, namely whether or not this reality was actually attainable.

The next logical thing to me was to write down my goals for the coming year. As I put pen to paper I thought back on my former journals and the goals I’d written in them.

7th grade Michelle’s goals:

Goal                                                                                 Reality

Win a Palm Beach County Championship               I’ve won 4 (more if you count relays)

Break the school record in the 400                            I broke the record that year

Run in College                                                                look at my now

While setting goals is great, I needed to get out of the habit of making comfortable goals. It was at this point the light bulb went off in my head and everything became clear: I needed to change my perception of my abilities as an athlete and what was actually within my reach. As Dumbledore would say “it is not our abilities that define us, but our actions.” Regardless of how much talent or abilities I possess, if I don’t have the guts to perceive and act on them, then they’re wasted.

As I journaled throughout my cross country season I slowly began to realize the true power of perception as an athlete. I started finding my mind wandering on long runs and thinking to myself that 10 miles really isn’t that far or 17:30 for a 5k really isn’t that fast or that far out of reach. I’d started to journal down my expectations for a meet the night before, essentially giving my brain a pep talk and at night drift off thinking about the race, every step, turn, and hill. Through journaling, I found a way to channel positive self-talk, a new way to push the boundary and run better than I had before.

In How Bad Do You Want it? Matt Fitzgerald sums up the phenomenon I’d been encountering through my journaling. If you haven’t read this book, I’d recommend grabbing a copy and bunkering down with it because it stories accounts of mental toughness from some of the greatest runners in the world providing every reader with a healthy dose of motivation. Fitzgerald explains how perception is the dividing line between success and failure. It’s the perception of pain, of how hard it is to reach that time or jump that mark, how bad you want it vs the girl in the secound place. It’s a game of mind over matter, what separates the excellent from the average.

As anyone will tell you while it’s simple in theory, being optimistic and altering the way we view things isn’t all that easy. For years I’ve listened half-heartedly to my coach drone on about positive self-talk, but never really knew how I was supposed to change my mindset. Journaling has helped me develop and gain confidence through writing out my beliefs and having something tangible stating that whatever it is is possible. It’s helped me find a change in perception.

Rather than approach this last go around with nervousness and fear, I’m clawing at the line, ready to try and turn my new perceptions into realities.

With the new year setting in and track season here I challenge you to take action in changing your own perceptions, push the boundary of what you think is possible, and leave it all out there.

 

 

 

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Finding optimism in Failure

If you’ve ever tried extremely hard to achieve something and missed you know the feeling of “almost”. At some point or another, we all feel that deep sinking feeling that starts in your gut and works its way up bringing forth tears of disappointment and a mix of feelings from anger to shame to self pity as we try to analyze what went wrong and why. Rather than dwell on the what if’s I challenge you to find optimism in failure.

Yesterday, I competed in my very last (thank god) cross country championship. For the past three years, we a track oriented program through and through, have attempted to win our conference with runners who are not necessarily cross country runners in nature. We’ve improved each year, but in the end always seem to fall a bit short missing the coveted title.

The weather conditions this year, to say the least shit. It was all of 37 °F with a bit of wind and a persistent misty rain that kept the red clay of the course wet and slick allowing it to layer upon our shoes turning Nike’s into stylish platforms by the end of the warm up. Nonetheless, we were there to compete, sporting our white uniforms because as coach always says “winners wear white”.

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With conditions less than optimal, but a determination to win all six of us toed the line awaiting the guns signal to start our hunt for a team victory. Off we went trailing the lead pack that we knew would soon dissipate turning into a long stretch of lonely runners working their way toward the front or attempting to maintain their positioning until the finish. Everything was going according to plan. Like our coach had prophesied the runner’s in the top pack despite taking the race out at a faster pace were falling back to us, we were gaining on them, working our way up through the field.

Approaching a small bunny hill I started my little surge up it to pass a small group in front of me when I felt my right leg slide forward and my left buckle under as I slide knees first, elbows second into the red clay. Never had I ever fallen in a meet during a race. Those few seconds you’re on the ground feel like hours with thoughts zooming through you’re head at a million miles an hour. The most important of which is: what now? What now turned into me attempting to get up slipping once more in the process then slowly but surely working my way back up toward the pack I had been chasing.

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It wasn’t the race I wanted or had envisioned nor the race the majority of my teammates had planned for either. In the end, we lost by 5 points with first place taking home the win in 43 and us at 49 claiming third.

As we watched another team claim what we had hoped would be our trophy this year those feelings of disappointment began to surface as one teammate began to shed small tears spreading like butter to the rest us.

Then one freshman teammate turned to me and said: “don’t be sad, next year we’re going to win”. In my head, I laughed to myself a little, partially because this was my last go around there was no next year for me and partially because that’s what we say EVERY YEAR.

Every year we leave a bit disappointed with the overall result. We focus on the big picture for a moment forgetting where we came from. While we didn’t win we have a team full of optimists who by the time Fall rolls around next year are back on the wild goose hunt for a team title we know deep down may not come to us. We put in the miles, the workouts, and races to reattempt what we missed.

When you’re laying there on the ground after falling, stunned in disbelief saying to yourself “this can’t be happening right now” you have two choices:

1. you can stay there continuing to ask yourself why me? or analyzing everything little thing that could, should, or you wished would have happened

2. you can get back up off the ground and keep going forward. As Churchill put it so eloquently “ Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

We  have a team culture that embodies the later. We get back up, dust off the dirt and instead of analyzing the past , we ask “what’s next?” Finding optimism in failure rather than defeat because if we chose the former option we would never be able to use our failure to improve our future. So what if we lost again? We were closer than we were last year and we were closer last year than the year before that.

When you fall down in the dirt with the road burn stinging your knees and elbows and those thoughts of disappointment and doubt reign into your head surely with failure to follow stops and ask yourself will you be the optimist that gets back up?

 

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With the past behind us we’re shaking off the dirt and looking forward to the future- track season (it’s coming!)

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Rising back

It’s finally here. Cross country season is in full effect- watch tan lines, long miles, and mornings spent at xc meets.

While I personally haven’t “raced” a meet yet I am looking forward to our first real meet this coming Saturday after six months of nothing but training.

However, I wasn’t always excited for this meet to come.

Having spent the majority of my summer in a boot and the rest “attempting” to get in solid mileage, coming back for cross country my emotions ranged from stressed to excited to anxious and everything else in between imaginable. Why? Because day one of practice for us is a time trial.

To be clear I LOVE racing. I love competing, but I hate these time trials for cross country for three main reasons:

  1. Cross country is not my forte, I’ve always had trouble with it as it tends to leave me injured in some way or another
  2. I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself (sometimes for no reason) and overthink how much others expect of me, specifically my coach.
  3. These times dictate all our paces and workouts for the season leading up to race day so if you blow it, you can leave knowing you won’t be in the lead training group.

Needless to say coming back to campus for pre-season still nursing my almost healed leg I couldn’t help but look at all my teammates, seeing how well their training had gone over the summer and feel inadequate about what my performance would be like. The morning of the time trial I woke up early after a sleepless night, rolled out my legs, and kept replaying the same line in my head “this is going to be awful, I’m going to let coach down, everyone else is SO much better”.

Since running is a mental sport my self-prophesying came true. My time trial was shit. I went from being the second fastest last year to second slowest this year. While my legs actually felt okay-ish my mind was a big jumbled negative mess.

The next week of training I continued to lag behind my teammates at what felt like a grandma pace on runs that were supposed to be easy. The same runs that were easy for me last year were more difficult than ever and I struggled with my time trial results and mental outlook on the season.

Then I saw something. While perusing online as I often do at night I found this image.

 

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source: designbby.tumblr.com

 

It’s nothing special or paramount, just one word on a plain background and sometimes that’s all it takes.

This image reminded me that while I may be behind, struggling, and feeling weak I am still RISING.

Like everything else in life coming back takes time, sometimes even more than we feel is necessary. The patience and effort are beyond what’s usually required and above all else, a positive outlook on the future is necessary to move forward.

This meant not comparing my current fitness to others around me or even my former self, something I have a bad habit of doing in almost every aspect of my life having an almost stereotypical type-A personality.

This little image for me was that little reminder, that little boost of positivity I needed to help carry me back toward a less stressed, more accepting version of myself ready to take the steps needed to grow.

I am still rising, still growing, and still progressing.

I’m not failing at healing. I’m not failing during my runs, I’m not weak or slower than everyone else.

I’m just not there yet.

I didn’t know if I’m going to be able to have the season I wanted to or if I’d be able to run alongside my teammates the way I’d like to be able to.

In my heart, I know that this phase of my life is temporary, it is fleeting, it’s not forever. So while I’m here, while I’m rising I need to be patient and enjoy the process back.

Not comparing myself to others or myself, I’m improving. My legs feel good, my mileage is slowly increasing at my own rate, and I have a more optimistic outlook for the year.

I’m writing this because I know I’m not the only one rising, whether it’s coming back from injury, trying to improve general health, or just growing as a human being, everyone needs that little reminder to take a positive outlook on the growth process, hopefully, this is yours.

 

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are you ready to rise?

 

 

 

“But you have abs”, Why are you worried about your weight?

Just because someone may seem healthy on the outside that’s not always the case internally. Not all of us are blessed with perfect genetics or environments to support a healthy lifestyle. While some of us may look it, we face more than what meets the eye to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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I’ve often found myself sitting and attempting to catch a glimpse at the underneath of my thighs. Why you may ask? Because I am terrified of gaining weight and the small dimples of cellulite that line the thighs of their unsuspecting victims make themselves known when one sits in a chair.

So here I sit glimpsing at the underneath of my thighs and letting a sigh of relief out as I once again realize those small rolling holes I fear are still nowhere to be found.

Some might think I have a problem. I out of all people shouldn’t worry about gaining weight, the girl with 24/7 abs, that has never held a BMI over 15%, and was teased throughout Middle School for being “anorexic”.

Yet, my worst nightmares are the ones where I look down and see those small rounds of cellulite lining the inside of my skin or glimpse in the mirror and see a cartoonish ballooned version of myself.

So while many may laugh at me when I say I need to focus more on my weight, others look at me like I must have some sort of body image issue.

To understand where my fear comes from I think I should start by introducing my family:

 

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The Crisafulle’s minus me (I’m never home anymore, oops.)

 

The Crisafulle clan on my mother’s side specifically, are probably the founders of the term foodie. The men are all proud supporters of what’s been termed the “Crisafulle Belly” and have a penchant for tobacco products. The women are artists in the kitchen, practicing the same family held recipes handed down from generation to generation.

Food is the binding force in my family; It has the ability to bring us all together, share our lives, and remember the loved ones that are lost. 

Most Sunday nights of my childhood were spent at my grandparents, the adults gathered around her large dining room table eating antipastos awaiting the main course- pasta with shrimp or meatballs respectively. While myself and my cousins ran about the house jacked up on orange soda (our drink of choice), our right-hand fingers adorned with our pre-dinner ration of black pitted olives.

There was no “healthy option”.

No one counted calories or cared if they ended up over eating or whether the ate enough of a certain food group. After the main course dessert was served often featuring a diverse range of offerings from cookies to Italian ice accompanied by coffee of course. At the end of the night, my cousins and I would be given a soda for the road and perhaps a bag of chips.

After the main course dessert was served often featuring a diverse range of offerings from cookies to Italian ice accompanied by coffee of course. At the end of the night, my cousins and I would be given a soda for the road and perhaps a bag of chips.

Today we no longer have those weekly Sunday night dinners.

My grandparents and all of my biological Uncles face diet and genetic induced diseases notably including diabetes, high cholesterol, diverticulitis, heart disease, and high blood pressure. None of them have taken serious action toward weight loss or a healthy life style resulting in more issues, but their health is not the reason we stopped our family dinners.

Part of the reason we’ve stopped is my mother.

My mother measures out her portion sizes, counts her steps every day, and has been a Fitbit supporter since the technology’s rise in popularity. My mother works out five times a week at least and often spends her lunch breaks when she can climbing stairs or walking in the green space surrounding her office building. But, she wasn’t always this way.

But, she wasn’t always this way.

Prior to 2010, she was morbidly obese and she had been that way as far back as I could remember.

Like the rest of my family, she didn’t monitor her food or portion sizes and for her food was a coping mechanism for stress. While her size was a concern she made half-hearted attempts to lose weight. She’d join Weight Watchers for a month or so lose a few pounds and go right back into old habits. She was passively going through the movements to lose weight as many people do, never fully committing to leading the healthy lifestyle she needed to make a break through.

Then something clicked. I’m not sure the exact trigger, perhaps her doctors increased warnings and pressuring to get weight loss surgery or some combination of the two and other factors, but whatever it was it’s the point I believe changed the outcome of her life.

Through diet, weight lifting, and lots, I mean LOTS of work she became a completely different person. When I was 13 if you told me in 3 years my mother would be running over ten miles at once I would have laughed. Now she spends every Christmas morning on a long run, She managed fourteen miles last year, farther than I’ve ever cared to run at once.

Today she has shed over One Hundred pounds yet still faces the reality her former lifestyle may cost her in the long run.

Despite losing the weight every day is still a conscious effort to maintain a healthy life style. She worries about diabetes mostly as she watches the rest of her biological sibling’s struggle and my grandfather especially, who has literal sugar crashes after every meal because of his lack of caring to monitor his diet.

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Mom running hill repeats on her 50th birthday this past month

 

While my mother is the only one thus far to have dodged diabetes, she is also the only one who’s taking charge of her health. My uncles and grandfather don’t monitor their diets or take an active part in their health. Like my mother pre-2010 they passively go through the motions, the short-lived diets, and Weight Watcher memberships.

For me seeing my family members health in relation to their lifestyles has created a very real fear- a fear of learned behavior from my family and possible genetic predispositions for certain types of food notably sugary goods as well genetic diseases.

As I grow older, it’s become harder to ignore these facts.

I’ve got my grandfathers predisposition for sweets, my mother’s reaction to stress, and a growing fear that if I slip up too much I could easily find myself going down the rabbit hole.  I’ve also tested positive for antibodies associated with autoimmune diseases that run in my family and face a high likely hood of developing more gastrointestinal issues as I age.

Yet my mother remains as the living proof that health is a choice. A choice that can change the trajectory of one’s life, even if their environments encourage the opposite lifestyle and genetics predispose one toward a certain path.

So here I am, in a coffee shop sipping on my iced coffee (black) glimpsing at my thighs and once again letting out my sigh of relief that my mother made the choice to choose health over the norm in our family and pass down her positive lifestyle habits to my siblings and me.

Relief that even though my genetics are what they are I’m effectively leading the healthy lifestyle I need to keep in shape.

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The next time you look at someone that looks healthy and hear them voice their concerns don’t just blow them off. Just because they have abs, they look fit, or they lead a healthy life style doesn’t mean they’ve always been that way. It doesn’t mean they aren’t also working every day to maintain and monitor their health. You never know a person’s full history or what else is going on in their lives.

Be supportive, Be encouragings, and remember health is not a given, it’s a choice.