If you can finish a dissertation

When I was in graduate school, there were a couple of students in my department who ran marathons. They were a few years ahead of me in the program, and I remember distinctly the advice one of them received from their advisor: “If you can finish a marathon, you can finish your dissertation.”

I’m set to run my first marathon tomorrow (the Publix Atlanta Marathon), and I’m going to use the converse of that statement as a mantra during my run: “if you can finish your dissertation, you can finish this marathon.”

Obviously the marathon requires it’s own set of prep work which I’ve done through training. I’ve followed a plan that’s given me a sense of how tough it’s going to be physically and mentally to finish 26.2 miles. I’ve gathered my gear and put together a racing strategy. When people ask me if I’m ready, I answer affirmatively. But I have doubts.

There was an occasion when I definitely wasn’t ready for the physical task at hand–during my first year of grad school when I went running with the marathoners. At the time, my regular running routine consisted of a mile or two in the flatter sections of Berkeley near the bay. I ran with the marathoners in the opposite direction–up into the hills behind Berkeley’s campus.

Less than a quarter mile into the run, I was already finding it difficult. I’d overdressed and was having trouble talking while the rest of them chatted comfortably. The incline grew steeper, and about a mile or so in, we came to a hill that looked like a wall. I excused myself while the rest of the group ventured forward on the trail.

I jogged back down to the department humiliated. I never tried to go running with the marathoners again although I continued to admire them from afar as they ran their marathons and finished their dissertations. I hoped to be like them one day, and perhaps tomorrow I will.

Wrapping up Whole30

I posted back in August at the start of my third attempt at Whole30. Good news. I finished it! And I learned a lot from the process, some of which I’ll recap here.

My biggest takeaway was that preparation pays off, and this preparation takes a variety of forms. First, it was important for me to understand how Whole30 works and to be clear on my motivations before I began. Second, I had to set aside time every week to go to the grocery store and prep meals so that I could stick to Whole30. Packing compliant meals when I would spend longer than a few hours away from home was absolutely key for me. The few times I struggled to keep to the rules were when I forgot or didn’t have time to bring food with me. I liked the intentionality of being prepared and hope to continue this with my meal planning and prep in the future even as I loosen the restrictions on my diet.

Regarding restrictions, one major function of the Whole30 is to eliminate certain food items from your diet for a long enough period that when you reintroduce them you can assess the impact of that type of food on your body. I spent a couple of weeks reintroducing food items slowly and didn’t observe any changes in my body that would indicate I was especially sensitive to peanuts, beans, soy, dairy, or gluten. I did notice, however, that restricting added sugars led to more sustained energy levels throughout the day and fewer cravings so I’m going to keep this in mind for the future.

I found the elimination aspect of the diet to be a fun challenge in some ways. Growing up Catholic, I was a champion at sacrificing things I loved during Lent, and this process gave me the same sense of accomplishment. Following my Whole30 success, I’m attempting a new elimination challenge–eating a pescatarian diet from now until Thanksgiving. My Whole30 happened to coincide with the release of the UN report on Climate Change, which made me super aware of all of the meat I was eating and the potential ecological consequences of this consumption. Since my Whole30 experience didn’t indicate a sensitivity to soy, beans, or gluten, I’m more willing to rely on these now for my meals.

Finally, by focusing on quality sources of nutrition and eating enough at every meal, and pairing these with strength training at gym, completing the Whole30 made me stronger physically. I embarked on this challenge in preparation for playing the roughest and toughest character in a group of adventurous men in the Yard Dogs Ensemble’s production of Men on Boats at The Robert Mello Studio. After my performance this past Sunday, one of the audience members remarked that I looked ripped. So my motivation was satisfied and my Whole30 achievement unlocked!

Whole30 – Take 3

The first time I tried to do Whole30, about a year ago, I failed because of lack of preparation. I didn’t understand how the program worked and found myself the first few days saying again and again, “Wait. You can’t eat that on Whole30?” Eventually, I threw in the towel unwilling to give up peanut butter and bacon (which generally contains added sugars).

I’ve been wanting to have another go at it, especially to test the effect of eliminating added sugars in my diet, but holidays, travel, etc. kept me from taking the plunge until about two weeks ago when I embarked on Whole30 again.

My second go around was a much better start. I bought the book. I prepped my meals. The first few days felt great. But then we were called out of town unexpectedly for a family emergency. I didn’t want to have to explain to my family members, who were dealing with enough stuff, why I wasn’t eating cheese or bread or beans or peanut butter or anything containing added sugars. So I dropped Whole30 and ate a cannoli parfait (which it turns out is the perfect way to eat a cannoli because it’s in a cup and there’s extra cannoli cream).

Ah, memories. Anyway, fast forward to today where I’m back home and now on Day 2 of Whole30. I really want to make it work this time. In the five days I was on the program before my trip, I could feel the benefit of regulating my sugar intake. My mood felt much more stable, and I stayed full longer. One of my major goals right now is gaining strength, and planning and prepping my meals is going to help me eat regularly and boost my protein intake–both necessary for achieving my goal.

One of the steps you’re supposed to take before starting Whole30 is announcing your intention publicly. I’m a little late to the game on this, but I’m about to go to a party with cookies and lemonade. So I wanted some accountability from the Internet. Thank you for being my witness.

Falling Forward in Improv

“Fall, then figure out what to do on the way down.” – Del Close

This is an improv note that I’ve been given in workshops and classes, and in turn, one that I’ve given to my students and teams. This past Sunday I had the opportunity to have the literal experience this quote describes. It was quite a rush!

My husband had the car for the weekend so I decided to run home after teaching my improv class–Atlantic Station to Decatur–about 10 miles. Around a mile into my run when I was on 17th Street in front of the Atlantic Station commercial district, I tripped and started falling. My body stayed in motion as I fell forward, a physics experiment gone awry: mass * acceleration = eating concrete.

My first thought was this is going to hurt. My second thought was this is going to be embarrassing because all the people around me are going to witness it. My third thought was don’t collide with anyone. My fourth thought was this is going to mess up my run dammit. My fifth thought was I hope I don’t sustain any long term injury. My sixth thought was how have I not hit the ground yet?

In my mind, I heard “Fall! Fall! Fall!” on repeat but my feet kept moving, hurtling me even faster into what I assumed was an inevitable tumble. I charged forward off balance, looking like I would fall over any moment for like a quarter of a block, but I never hit the ground.

When I finally recovered my balance, I kept running resisting the urge to throw my hands over my head Rocky Balboa style. I tried to make eye contact with the next few people I passed, but they avoided me–presumably because they didn’t want to embarrass me by acknowledging my ungraceful careen down the sidewalk.

I wasn’t embarrassed, though. Quite the opposite–I was proud I’d made it through the trip unscathed. Finally a guy I was passing did look at me and said, “that was really something.”

“Yes. It was amazing!” I told him.

It was a rush. Losing control. Running faster even though I was falling. Coming so close to hitting the ground but then pulling out of it.

Before this experience, whenever I heard the quote “fall, then figure out what to do on the way down” I’ve pictured someone jumping out a window or off a cliff. But an improv scene doesn’t go downward (one hopes). It moves forward. So my close encounter with the Atlantic Station sidewalk is perhaps a better visual representation.

Because the quote is not about falling and losing control completely, it’s about taking risks and figuring out what to do when you’re falling. Sure, sometimes you’ll hit the pavement. But other times you’ll be stunned by the brilliance of your mind (and body) to pull through challenging circumstances. The trick is not giving up even when hitting the ground seems imminent.

Earth Day

Earth Day usually sneaks up on me, but this year I remembered it was coming. I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week. I find the vastness of space terrifying and overwhelming. The enormity of the Earth scares me too but my fear scales down proportionally. What alarms me is not space or the Earth themselves but how much smaller I am in comparison to them and how little control I have over large scale things.

I’m grateful for running and how it connects me to the Earth. I love #crushingit in the gym but outside I’m like a fitness explorer. Running leads to discovery. When I travel to new cities, I run to learn more about the area. I run to see people. Running reminds me that I’m small too, but in a way that isn’t terrifying because it connects me to others. I always nod at other runners and walkers if they look at me when we pass each other. “We’re in this together,” I like to think we’re saying with our nods.

I started my Earth Day celebrations early last night with an 8.5 mile run through some of my favorite spots around Decatur. Captured a glimpse of the Earth’s beauty lakeside. I call this shot Monet-ish.

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You’ve got this, Sarah

But do I? Do I really?

I hit the gym early this morning–Monday 7am–because I have a lot to do this week. I have a lot I want to do in life.

I was tired and felt weary during the first portion of the workout–a strength training exercise. As I struggled to push press two kettlebells above my head, my trainer called from across the room, “You’ve got this, Sarah.”

I finished another rep and doubled over, struggling not to cry. Like a great improv scene, the moment had become about more than my ability to lift kettlebells.

There’s so much I want to do–write, act, improvise, teach, coach, lead, read, support other artists, spend time with friends and family, exercise, etc. There’s also some stuff I’m struggling to get through so I can be happier–behavior patterns I’m trying to modify.

Later in the workout, I was attempting to lift a single kettlebell from a kneeling position. My trainer was beside me.

“This feels impossible right now,” I told him.

“You can always scale back,” he responded. “This is about building strength.”

But can I? Can I really? I know I can’t have everything I want or do everything I want to do effectively, but I hate limiting possibilities for myself. Even though I know creativity thrives under constraints.

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