Thursday, October 6, 2011

Running Lessons: It's amazing what you don't know about yourself

This is going to sound strange but I only discovered in the past couple of years that I have curly hair.  I don't mean wavy hair. I mean honest-to-goodness curly hair. You'd think I'd have known that my hair had big loopy curls, but I didn't. I didn't because I'd never had a hairstyle with long layers that let the curls happen. Now, on days when I let my hair dry naturally, I catch glimpses of myself and am astonished by those curls. Who is that woman with the big hair?

I've had other similar realizations recently. For instance, it turns out I'm an introvert.  An introvert who has a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, who can strike up a conversation with pretty much anyone, and who has been known to dance on tables in her time (though not recently) - but an introvert all the same.  Practically speaking, what it means is that, though I genuinely enjoy connecting with people and grew up in a family of mostly extroverts so learned early to function in that mode, when it's time to recharge my batteries, the thing I need most is to be alone and quiet.

I also only recently learned that I'm an INFJ - not an INTJ.  For the uninitiated, I'm referring to the personality typology known as Myers-Briggs. There are various versions but essentially they categorize one's personality through the application of four dichotomies that describe preferred ways of thinking and being in the world:
Intuition(N)/Sensing (S)
Judging(J)/Perceiving (P)

Some day I'd like write a post on what it means to be an INFJ - but, for now, let me just say that this revelation came as something of a surprise. However, when I started looking into it, I had to admit that descriptions of  typical INFJ attitudes, behaviours and responses sounded remarkably familiar. Here's an excerpt from one I found on-line this week:
Because the INFJ has such strong intuitive capabilities, they trust their own instincts above all else. This may result in an INFJ stubborness and tendency to ignore other people's opinions. They believe that they're right. On the other hand, INFJ is a perfectionist who doubts that they are living up to their full potential. INFJs are rarely at complete peace with themselves - there's always something else they should be doing to improve themselves and the world around them. They believe in constant growth, and don't often take time to revel in their accomplishments. They have strong value systems, and need to live their lives in accordance with what they feel is right. In deference to the Feeling aspect of their personalities, INFJs are in some ways gentle and easy going. Conversely, they have very high expectations of themselves, and frequently of their families. They don't believe in compromising their ideals.
Hmmm. As I said, familiar.

Okay, so what does any of this have to do with running?  Well, as I write this, I feel sick to my stomach at the thought of running a marathon in San Francisco next weekend. Rationally, there's no reason to be so nervous. My training has gone well and, so far at least, I've managed to avoid becoming sick with a cold or flu despite the fact that everyone around me is ill. I've previously run five marathons - including one earlier this year - and in many way I'm readier than I ever have been to tackle a marathon.

But the thing is - I don't know if I can run this marathon.  The course is a challenging one with lots of long steep hills. I'm worried that my knee will lock up as it did in New Glasgow in June and in Chicago in 2009, and I'm not sure I'm strong enough to run through the pain again if that happens. And I'm skinnier than I've been in a long time - which may be good since it means my legs will have less to carry up and over the hills - but will more likely be bad if it means I don't have the reserves needed to carry me through 42.2kms.

And then there are all the other things that could go wrong - heat exhaustion, muscle cramps, nausea, for example - things that have never been problems for me in the past but could be this time.

So I'm wondering what this marathon is going to teach me about myself. Will I uncover new vulnerabilities or new strengths? Will I stumble on happy surprises (like naturally curly - albeit quickly greying - locks) - or will I unearth some new aspect of myself - physical, emotional or psychological - that challenges me to think differently about my life...myself?

Fortunately, it won't be much longer until I find out. 


  1. So, is it about the time or is it about finishing. My old knee, the one that had spurs and muniscal spelling? tears and incomplete acl or none at all, used to lock until it totally froze some years ago and before surgery. I could choose to do things differently going down hill, change my speed. Is there a choice for you because I believe you will finish?

  2. Good luck, Janice - with all the training you've done, I'm sure you'll be fine (I'd worry too with those steep hills). Remember to breathe and enjoy the journey (the fellow participants, the spectators and the fun-loving, motivating volunteers).

    Just popped over to your other blog and see that you're thinking of doing an ultra next year - I've recently decided to do a 50K (would love to do a 50 mile, but am realistic enough to know better) on my 50th in 2013. I look forward to following you on your journey if you decide to do it :)

    Again, good luck - have a fabulous run. Can't wait to read the race report when you get back.

  3. Cindy, it's really just about finishing. The trouble is I really don't know what triggered my knee. It's never happened in training - only when I race. My plan is to start more slowly than usual and hope that helps.

    Thanks, Janet. It's exciting that you're planning to do a 50k as well. I'll look forward to hearing how it goes!