It occurred to me the other day, in the middle of yet another intense & sweaty session at one of my favorite studios, that as separate as each of us are, however unique and talented we each may be in different ways … we all possess the same demon – which can be the most limiting and self -defeating if left unchecked. One of the smallest words yet one of the largest handicaps when we let it take over – “Ego”.
Awhile back I had an unsettling experience I had never had before. About 2 years ago, at the same studio where I had done hundreds of workouts - I was running on the treadmill and all of a sudden – I couldn’t. Its not that my legs wouldn’t move – it’s just that something in my mind was telling them not to. I was listening to the instructor, hearing the music, feeling the tread whir under me, and very aware of the runners on either side. My heart started pounding and I needed to slow. Taking my speed from a 9 to an 8, then to a 7, and finally a 5. The instructor came over to me – “Are you okay? What’s happening? Are you injured?”. “No I’m okay”. I was mortified … embarrassed. What was happening? He cued recovery and in the 30 seconds I had some water and looked at myself in the mirror – okay you got this next run. But this time it was even worse. I couldn’t psych myself to run faster than a 7. It was as if all of the senses around me in the room were more acute than normal. The beat of the music, the lights, the microphone, the woman’s water bottle jiggling in its holder to my right. I had no idea what was happening – I never had a panic attack before, but I feel like this would be the workout version of one. Happily switching to the floor, I decided to stay there for the next round.
What resulted over the next two years was stops and starts on the treadmill for a few months, and then ultimately doing exclusively Double Floor for my workouts. I could run outdoors no issue, and I could also run on my own on a tread, but away from other people. I tried to figure out the cause, and friends and others had all sorts of theories. Maybe it was a weird inner ear thing? Something in my balance – vertigo? All I knew was that I had to give up one of my favorite and rewarding ways to workout because in my mind, I just couldn’t anymore.
So I switched up my cardio, and amped up my weight training – I loved it and became stronger, but something was missing. I was always a “runner” –– and combined with HIIT and weights it is my absolute favorite way to train. Doing the two separately was fine. I missed the combo; but I had resolved myself to this “new normal” – as ridiculous as it sounded.
One day over the summer a new instructor asked me why I never run on the tread in his class. I explained the situation. He looked at me and said – okay but why not just try running slower? “You don’t understand – I can’t sprint anymore. I was doing 12.5s on incline for years – I can’t even get above a 7.” “So what. Just get back up and try it. If you need to walk the whole class – you will walk. I think you’re ready.” I thanked him politely and left – no way was I doing that – it wouldn’t be the same! How could I go from my old way of running to this – it just wasn’t congruous with my personality of pushing myself to the max, or with what I had been used to. But his words stuck with me for a couple days – why couldn’t I try it? I realized that the only thing that was keeping me from getting back up there was a little bit of fear, but mostly ego. I thought I was better than that. And if I was running at a 7 while those around me were pulling double digits – I would feel less than… embarrassed even? I’m not sure. But I did know I owed it to myself to try especially if it meant getting back the thing I loved.
So I did. I started experiencing the same issues, heart pounding, acute sense of everything around me, but I fought through them. Determined to finish, focusing on my breath and the music … and never went above a 7 the entire time. At the end of class I literally felt like I had won the lottery –so proud of what I had accomplished. I’ve been running in class ever since, my max 7 has become a 9 and I use incline for sprints – (that way it doesn’t seem like the tread is moving so fast). I’m not trying to get back to a 12.5. I am happy exactly where I am for now. And when everyone is being called out for 12s and 13s in class I smile to myself about my single digit sprints. I know how hard it was to get back here for me. I still need a tread on the end, and still have the same crazy issues in many classes, but I’ve learned how to manage them. That same instructor has a saying that “Its not a number, it’s a feeling.” I love that saying – because it takes the ego out of it all. Jog, run, and sprint – only you know how much you are pushing yourself. And the benefits of reaching some of those crazy numbers on the treads are purely for ego – not much else.
We can surely inspire others by our successes and by our strengths- but real growth comes out of the struggle. It comes out of being vulnerable, exposed, and owning our weaknesses. Not letting them limit us rather, using them for doing even greater things. Lasting satisfaction and true pride come from not feeding, but conquering our ego - so that we can let the other more magnificent part of ourself to shine – the human one.