Saturday, March 12, 2011

Baby's First Bikram Yoga

Let's Hang Out. Oops, nope. I have to go to yoga. Oh, Bikram yoga. For most of my life, I have avoided you because:
(basically me and my new friends)

1. I don’t like to stretch.
2. I have a hard time thinking you can do anything proactive in your life while just wiggling around in place.
3. My hips don’t move. Or they move just as well as a middle schooler in gym class when you’re coerced into square-dancing and don’t want to interact with the boy you were assigned to, so you just wobble around and barely let him touch your hands during promenade. Life-long trauma. (This is why I can never be BeyoncĂ©.)
4. If we were supposed to be upside-down doing toe-touches all the time, we would have our faces upside-down on our heads, so we could still ward off predators.
(I found this on google images. Thanks, America, for being so weird that you saved me the time of having to transpose a face upside-down on a head.)

5. Yoga reminds me of fermented bacteria. Probably because it sounds like yogurt. Ohhhh. Okay. I just figured that out. Oh, my gosh. Breakthrough.

But everybody keeps talking about it. Yoga-doers (yogis? yogurts?) are evangelists for their sport. I mean it. They just talk about its virtues all the time until you believe them. And then you are struck with such profound cognitive dissonance because you believe yoga is the best thing in the whole world and yet have never actually done it. So you start doing yoga in your room using the online yoga channel. But the online yogi definitely enjoys listening to his own voice and keeps talking and talking so that it becomes obvious why it’s free, and then you catch yourself checking your email during the dead body pose. It’s all over then because you’re supposed to NEVER check your email during yoga. Rule number one, they say: Never check your email. Rule two: No snot rockets.

You're welcome, trail runners. (My mom hates when I write the words “snot rockets,” so I try to include that in every entry. Teenage rebellion, I guess, except I never rebelled in my teens. Wayyyy too busy doing homework.)

Then, one day, a Groupon arrives in your inbox saying you can do Bikram yoga for a whole month for $30. (This is unreal.) So you do it.

At my first class, I sat right next to the heater because somebody had to sit there. I’d rather I be the one having the biggest suffer fest to maximize edification. Plus, I wish all of life were held in a sauna.

Then the yoga instructor got us into this pose-thing [a technical term] and said, “This is bringing rapid oxidation to your brain. It’s going to make you smarter.” And well, I’m already smart enough to know that her statement was false because it was during a slow twitch posture—lots of mitochondria and myoglobin, therefore slow oxidation—but still, that’s the most seductive thing she could have said about Bikram, and maybe I’ll stay for life. Seductive. This is the first and the last time I will ever use that word in my blog. Why? It's rarely applicable.

So anyway, the room was full of Yalies who perked up just then, drooling about increasing their brain efficiency. The yoga instructor definitely knew her audience. And I held that pose for an extra couple seconds because I am competitive and wanted the biggest brain. The girl to my left did the same thing; I watched her. And she watched me. Brain envy. This is real.

Thinking about your own brain is a little nuts. Once you start analyzing its processes, you stop thinking and start thinking about thinking (meta-cognition), like Hegel—when you turn your lens in on itself. It’s like when you tell yourself not to look at your nose, and then all you can see is your nose, everywhere you look. And now I’m looking at my nose. Awesome. And now I’m thinking about my brain. Terrific.
(Savasana--Dead Man Pose. I naturally assume this posture after a 24-hour run. Does that make me a yoga expert? Probably.)

I had several other reservations about yoga. It is only held at awkward times in the day, and it requires so much stuff! You have to get a mat, bring two towels, a water bottle, and clothes for after. And you do Bikram in short-shorts and a sports bra! So I was like, "Heck no am I going to wear that to yoga. It's so revealing. I will save those clothes for the privacy of my own..............long runs in the forest and sprinting through traffic, while dodging pedestrians." You have to draw the line somewhere.

In conclusion, I think we all learned something here today. Yoga is related to yogurt not at all, or at least only to the extent that pilates pertains to pirates.

But this is a new journey that I’m on. I think yoga will make me stronger and less likely to get injured as I add training volume. I would love to hear your opinions on this. Is yoga actually good for running, or is it all in everybody’s heads? In reality, I find that the thing that most improves my running is...wait for it...wait for it...RUNNING. I will keep you updated. I will be a yoga spy runner.

(This has nothing to do with yoga, but I'm going home to New Jersey next week to go run, hike, and camp. Furthermore, I'm going to be an artist if Philosophy doesn't work out. Here is my first artistic sample to share with the world. More to come.)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

2011 USA 50 km Championships: Caumsett

The 50K National Championship was held at Caumsett State Park in Lloyd Harbor, NY. It was beautiful. The course looked like Holmdel Park—-for all the NJ XC runners out there—-except it was flatter. So if Holmdel were made of butter and somebody took a blow dryer to it for half an hour so that it melted a little, then that’s what the course looked like. It was all pavement, ten 5K repeats. The day started at about 50 degrees with the promise of rain, and IT KEPT ITS PROMISE. My clothes clung to me like Saran Wrap to raw chicken.

Hold on, I need to brush my teeth.

Okay, go.

So the past two weeks have been nuts with schoolwork. I was so mentally exhausted that I decided it would be better to disengage, to pick a pace and cruise control, and to fill my head with somebody else’s thoughts, namely Plato’s. So I sat under a tree the hour before the race and read Ashbaugh’s “A Study of the Cosmological Account in the Timaeus.” Mental exhaustion is a terrible way to run. Because you’re not strong enough to push through the rough moments. The whole morning, I was a bottom-dweller, a suckerfish, a detritivore, pond scum with personhood.
We lined up at the start. I felt like such an imposter among the spider-legged speedsters. Imposter Syndrome is real. I see it in my peers at Yale. It’s the thing that drives my Cognitive Science classmates to present their credentials before answering every question. Oh, so you worked in a chimp lab for 4.5 years while living in a military base on the moon? Cool, because if it had been only 3.5 years, I would have doubted your ability to meaningfully contribute to this conversation.
the race start
Anyway, I have a short, choppy turnover, characteristic of technical trail running. My greatest trail virtue is my worst road vice. I’m a worm gear, you guys. I’m great on mountains and last a long time, but I love road running, too, because I don't want to be a one-trick pony who only runs trails. So off we went, their legs flipping at altitudes above my rib cage. I felt like the stocky mutt, trotting multi-step, having the best time ever, silently coaxing my legs to grow. Then the rains came. And it suited my mood.
I started to think about the psychology of ultrarunners, which is decidedly immoderate, at least by Aristotelian standards. Among competitive endurance athletes (many, not all), there’s an all-or-nothing mentality. Like neurons, they fire in binaries, ones or zeros. They either go out in record-shattering performances, or they DNF. They either run 20+ milers, or why bother leaving the house? I am trying to get to the place where it’s okay to do okay, to disengage from that mentality. Because even if you don’t win, there is dignity in completion.

There is an old western movie that my dad made me watch called The Searchers. It is TERRIBLE, (but I loved spending time with you, Dad). And in the movie one of the guys asks John Wayne if they should just quit. And John says, “That’ll be the day.” He casts a sanctimonious glare at the other guy and furrows his leathery brow.
(J.W. and me, hanging out and not quitting)

Sometimes I think about that when I feel weak. Should I quit? "That’ll be the day." But, whatever. I’m unimpressed. That pansy rode a horse.

One of my goals for this race was to work on my hydration strategy. Because usually the week after a race, I am marked by lingering desiccation, indicative of a poor job of balancing my electrolytes with water. Today, I gulped some fluids every 2.5K. Because I like my water pure and unadulterated, I chewed my Nuun tablets. They fizzed and felt sharp and sugary. Totally awesome. I also drank some Gatorade and soda, kind of. I mean I actually just poured them down my shirt because I didn’t want to slow down, so my sports bra was about a 1.5 molar solution of sugar-water, which decreased as the great deluge soaked me through. Basically, had it been a warmer and drier day, I would have been a hummingbird’s saccharine dream girl.
Furthermore, you can replicate my experience at home! To simulate my race, do this: For two weeks, do homework—-a hecka ton of studying. Then, somebody will scoop you up and put you on a treadmill in a shower and turn the water to ice cold. Then they'll lock you in and say, “I’ll come back and get you in 4 hours. Your performance will be linked to your name on the internet forever.”

No, hold up. When I was conceiving it in my mind, it sounded more fun. It was definitely a great day. General rule: If somebody ever explains an ultramarathon and it doesn’t sound like the best time ever, they’re probably explaining it wrong.

I finished the race with my homeboy, Mike Lynch. He looked at my feet. Blood and guts. Everybody has foot guts, Mike. Just usually they’re on the inside of the feet. At one point, I thought I felt a rock slip into my shoe, and I guess it did. It traced a line along the inside of my arch, leaving a blood trail across my new shoes.

The finish line attendant gave me a high-five and suggested I celebrate my day with a beer. “That’ll be the day,” I answered, just like John Wayne. I changed out of my spandex, into some other spandex, and out of my Inov-8s into some other Inov-8s.
Race over. 50Ks done. 100-mile training starts this week. I am pumped.