Lately I've been trying to get back into shape with my running, and it's reminding me how much discipline it takes to get back in shape with anything, violin included.
Let me start with a nice success story: last year my daughter invited me to run a 10K with her -- the Bolder Boulder in Colorado, and naturally I said, "Of course! Yes!" I was just excited she asked me. Then I realized, I've never run farther than 5K. Hmmm. This run is at altitude, too. And, I'll be running with a 20-year-old.
Feeling the pressure, I trained. I ran nearly every day, built up to four miles, over the course of several months. When we did the run last spring, I felt fantastic: good training and good luck came together, and I had a great day and made it to the end. Not only that, but the whole process made me feel strong and fit.
I went home, feeling strong and fit. I got busy with work, and didn't really run as much. Winter came, and running became inconvenient in the cold. The less I ran, the less it seemed very appealing. I still felt pretty good, but the feeling was fading.
Then one day I realized that I had not run in quite some time. The weather was nice again, I should run again! So I ran three miles without stopping, as has been my routine for many years. Except, I had not been doing it routinely of late. The day after my exuberant efforts, the pain arrived. Somehow I seemed to hurt all over. I couldn't sleep, even. Why does it hurt so much? I'm a lifelong runner, I've been doing this since I was a kid! I must be out of shape! But is there any hope for getting back into shape? Was running just going to make me injure myself now?
At a rehearsal, I asked my dear violist friend Carrie Holzman-Little for advice. Carrie also happens to be my hero, when it comes to running -- she did her first race just before her 50th birthday, and now in her 60s she regularly does long races and even Ironman races. (Read this blog if you want to be inspired!)
"I'm trying to get back in shape with running, and get my muscles strong again. But the pain is so bad, I wonder if I'm just injuring myself. What can I do?" I said to her.
"Well keep running," she said. Ah yes, the more the pain, the more the gain. Surely that is what she was about to tell me.
But she didn't.
"Run for two minutes, then walk for three minutes," she said. "Do your whole run that way, for about two weeks."
Wait, what? Two minutes running, three minutes walking? That sounds like more resting than running! Is that really going to "count"?
"It might drive you a little crazy, doing it that way," she said. "But you'll get your muscles back and you won't feel so sore."
So I tried it. It did drive me crazy. It's much easier to just put everything on auto-pilot and run than it is to stop and start a zillion times. But it worked. I'm continuing to do it, and I'm in a lot less pain. I'm also feeling stronger.
But let me get this straight: in order to get stronger, to go farther, to do better, to improve -- I actually need to rest more?
It looks like I can't just hit the auto-pilot button and expect results. I have to be more devoted, to carve out time to "practice" on a regular basis, without taking long blocks of time off. And within that practice, I have to disciplined, to consciously do spurts of intense work, followed by less intense, until I'm strong enough to handle more.
Does this sound familiar?
Applied to the violin, it means practicing regularly -- not suddenly practicing one day for six hours. It means accepting limitations: making reasonable goals and working within them. And it means accepting that yesterday's achievements are not going to count for today's practice. Nothing is going to run very well on auto-pilot.
In the end, it involves a lot of persistence and devotion for results that happen little by little. But those results -- they do add up.
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