Words of Wellness: Enjoy the Journey

February 18, 2022 - Culture of Caring - Claudia Finkelstein

If you have been reading the Culture of Caring newsletters, you may be aware that in the pursuit of chasing away the winter doldrums, I signed up for two winter activities: the Groundhog Day half marathon and the Muskegon luge. The planning began in November when the days were short and cold. My mood was bleak. I was in search of things to help lift my mood. Now that the days are longer, and the two events have passed, I’d like to share with you what I learned.

First, the winter half marathon. Enrolling in this was immediately beneficial and the advantages  multi factorial. Since I’m somewhat resistant to going outside when it’s cold and wet and tend to enjoy languishing indoors, I chose something that would force me outside. Appreciating the power of a tangible goal (finishing the race) I set up a training schedule. The printed schedule on the fridge was a daily incentive to go outside no matter how cold or how snowy. Just being outdoors breathing fresh air and watching the ice form along the Grand River was highly therapeutic. The endorphins from running provided a definite boost.  Exercising also set off a virtuous cycle of wanting to eat healthier and ensuring good sleep. I loved running (also walking, panting, slipping) many miles for the many weeks before the race. I learned which combination of multiple layers was best for different temperature ranges and how Yaktrax help.

So although the day of the race was cold, and the track was pretty uneven and slippery, I felt I would be likely to finish. Watching the sun rise over the snow and the twinkling of the ice on the bare tree branches was stunning. Finding myself immersed in the natural beauty, and not being a great navigator, I got lost despite the orange cones marking the route and unintentionally added a mile to my trajectory! When I figured that out, I had a choice - to finish a longer slower race or to bag it. I chose to see how I felt lap by lap and ended up finishing. The lesson here was that by giving myself permission to see how things would go lap by lap took any pressure off and allowed me to continue to enjoy the run. So did the lowered expectations - my goal now being to finish rather than to make great time. The other moral is that the training was as great as the race itself. The main objectives, better mood and going outside, had been met.

The other anti-doldrum maneuver was a quest for joy at the luge in Muskegon. Looking for an opportunity to feel the embodied freedom of speed, I reserved a spot. I did very little research or preparation beyond “better wear snow pants and boots.” I was looking for quick and easy joy.

It turns out this was an entirely different lesson. Upon arrival, I was assigned to a group of other adventure seeking individuals and we were huddled into a semi-heated yurt where we were given helmets along with our sleds.  This is also where we were introduced to our incredibly fit and funny guide who instructed us to relax our knees, tighten our grips, relax our shoulders, tighten our abs, steer with our heads, shoulders, legs, etc. Then fully outfitted in snow gear and sporting  bobble-head helmets, she directed us and our heavy sleds up icy wooden stairs to the starting line. As our turn came, we dropped our sleds and lay down on them (face up) one by one at the top of the hill. She checked our position and reminded us of what to tense and what to relax and pushed us off.

By the time I almost figured out my proper luge position, the short, terrifying ride was over. I felt out of control the whole time but dutifully carried my sled up the hill, confident that this time my body would just “get” what to do. Again, it went by in a blur - too fast for the thrill to set in but definitely slow enough for the racing thoughts to emerge (“I’m going to die”; “this isn’t going to end well” and so on). The third time, still not quite getting it, as my sled flew down the luge, I bumped hard against the icy wall. By the time that registered, I had finished my run. Here is where the growth happened for me in this activity. I carried the sled back up to the top, but noticing my sore arm and wobbly state, I chose not to take the fourth and final run. This is in contrast to another woman, who having fallen twice, decided to give it one more chance. She not only stayed on, but she  came in first with the fastest time.

My lessons were many and included that the “right” choice varies by individual and circumstance, that knowing what you’re getting into is useful, and given that the experience races by in a blur, it may be better to enjoy the adventure while it lasts rather than worry about getting every part just right.

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Photo by unknown author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC