Sunday, March 13, 2011

You are now leaving your Comfort Zone.

I was in the UK for work last week and spent a good deal of it doing a reasonable imitation of the old John Candy/Steve Martin movie “Planes, trains and automobiles”. Throw in a few subways, a number of buses and a lot of walking and you pretty much the picture. I travel a fair bit so the idea of finding my way around the mass transit systems and navigating the labyrinth of city streets is not overly intimidating; especially in a country that kind of speaks English. But it does take you out of your comfort zone the first time and can be overwhelming if you are in a situation where you don’t speak the language.

I had this happen to me in Japan one time. I was taking the subway to do a bit of exploring and found myself standing in the middle of a station with no idea which direction to go and totally befuddle by a map only in Kanji (not that being befuddle is new to me). Around me hundreds of people rushed by, heads down and intent on wherever they were headed. One poor unfortunate woman made the mistake of looking up as she approached and I stepped into her path and asked her if she could help. From the look on her face you would have thought I had asked her to hand over her purse or maybe her first born. In fact she probably would have gladly done either if it would have gotten her on her way, except it’s a Japanese custom that if someone asks you for help that you are obliged to either help them or pass them on to someone who can. Turns out she didn’t understand English and most of my Japanese was only appropriate in a bar or singing karaoke. Now both of us are outside our comfort zone. After a couple of attempts that left us staring blankly at each other she turned and grabbed a passing business man. He spoke English but didn’t know how to get to where I was headed. I now had two people who were indebted to me. Over the next few minutes these people in turn grabbed other people and before long I had collected a small crowd of people around me energetically pointing and arguing in Japanese about the right directions. The resulting situation would have made a great You Tube posting.

While somewhat humorous (at least to me), some of you may be asking “What does this have to do with the marathon?”. I’m glad you asked. A few weeks back I pulled a stupid rookie move and changed shoes. It’s normal to get a new pair of shoes a couple of months before the marathon to have time to break them in, but the rule of thumb is to stick with the model you are currently wearing. It’s the old…If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…approach. I had been running in the new style minimalist shoes (more on this and the book that inspired it (Born to Run by Christopher McDougall) in the next blog), and I couldn’t find the model I had been wearing. In addition I was worried that when I got up to the higher mileage I would need the padding of the old style “big heel” running shoes. I was out of my comfort zone and in a moment of complete insanity I switched back to regular running shoes. Big mistake. Within a week I couldn’t run more than a mile without the sensation of someone driving nails into my leg. I tried switching back but the damage was done and two weeks later it was no better.

Anyone who has read my blogs over the last 5 years know that it is not unusual for me to be whining about some injury or ache at this point in my training. The difference this time; it was not healing and no amount of icing, heating, stretching or resting was helping. I pretty much gave up on the idea I would be able to run the marathon this year (unless they would let me move to the wheelchair division). I was totally crushed. This was the first year of running for Help in the Nick of Time and I’m a wash out.

As my colleague Eric and I were racing between subways, trains and buses last week I realized that I was doing quite a bit of walking without nearly the pain I faced when trying to run. Recognizing my grasp on sanity ebbs and flows (kind of like Charlie Sheen) when it comes to running, I decided I’d try training by walking. For years I’ve heard about walk-run programs to help people get started running and potentially work their way up to a 10K or half marathon. If that is what it takes for me to get to the starting line and make it to the finish line in Boston, then sign me up.

I’m now totally outside my comfort zone and I have no idea where this going to take me, but for now I’m moving again and have some hope. It’s pretty much the same with the Help in the Nick of Time foundation. But on that front the outpouring of support and kind words makes success much more likely.

Stay tuned…it should be an interesting 5 weeks.

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