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Enjoying shades of gray

One of my favorite lyrics goes something like this: There are a thousand shades of gray. I know it's true. How about you?

The idea of shades of gray, or less poetically put the ability to look at things in different ways from different angles, has been important to me lately. I remember from my grad school days the concept being explained as binary thinking: things (or life) is either-or. Either it's this or it's that. But there are what's called "third spaces" in which there are other possibilities. I'd say there are third, fourth, fifth .... infinite number of possibilities that exist in our lives. We just don't always see them.

And so two people helped point that out to me this week.

First came in the pool at master's swim practice. We had crowded lanes on Thursday and even swimming with my zoomers on I had trouble keeping up with some of the others in my lane (although I made each time interval given to us by the coach). I let a few people go ahead of me and commented that I'm pretty slow.

"You're not slow," one of the guys said. "You just need to swim with more enthusiasm."

Hmmm. Not a bad thought. Instead of being worried about my form or my speed (or lack thereof) I could just swim with gusto and see what it got me. I don't know if I swam faster after that, but the rest of practice certainly was a bit more enjoyable.

I again offered an apology for my slowness to Sue while we were running on Friday morning as we trotted along during a cold, but thankfully windless, morning.

"You don't run slow," Sue told me. "You run smart."

Her philosophy -- that you can't do every run fast. That running fast all the time won't get you faster and that your body needs slow runs.

Also, well, we were looking out for ice. And it was dark. And 6 a.m. And so cold my hair froze.

Those different perspectives didn't just give me another way to look at my swimming or my running. Those perspectives helped pull me out of the negative and into positive thinking. It's not about fast, it's about enthusiasm. It's about smart.

It's about enjoying the journey, doing your best and letting everything else fall into place.

Today, I run the Reindeer Run 5K at Medaille under strict instructions from my coach: I am not to wear any watch or heart rate monitor but I am required to wear a Santa hat.

Yet another perspective to try on.

On frozen hair and pro bike racing

This morning, my base training workout called for a 45-minute easy run. I did what I do many Friday mornings -- I went for a run with my friend Sue. Yes, it was only about 22-degrees outside, but I was dressed appropriately and there was no wind, and after the first few minutes, I felt pretty good.

We ended up running a tad bit longer than scheduled and when we walked the final half block I noticed something. My hair, well, strand of it were frozen.

Yup. Frozen.

I had some strands that were basically icicles framing my face.

Apparently the sweat I produced hit the air, and, well, froze on my head.

This I found funny and somehow a badge of honor. Perhaps I've become a runner after all.

What I probably won't be is a cyclo-cross rider. I came across this article in the Dallas Morning News about cyclo-cross racing and though I've heard a bit about the sport, I can say for sure, it's not for me. It mixes road cycling with mountain biking and while I respect mountain bikers, I prefer the road and triathlon courses, thank you very much. For me, there is too much thinking in mountain biking and if I then have to negotiate a course that has mud pits, money pits and stairs, well, that's really too much thinking for me. I barely have the one-foot-in-front-of-another strategy down.

Also in the news is the beginning of training for professional bike teams, including Astana. Apparently on Thursday Lance Armstrong said he would be fine with a support role playing second-fiddle if you will to team leader Alberto Contador. There is still plenty of time for that drama to add some twists and turns before the July Tour de France.

Going back to bed

I woke up a full 30 minutes before my alarm was set to go off. And considering I was already planning on getting up at what would be considered an ungodly hour of the morning, this was practically the middle of the night.

My plan had been to go to master's swim, grab something light to eat then go to yoga class.

But in the early morning, my stomach just didn't feel right. I was slightly nauseous, but dry toast seemed to help. Then a bowl of cereal. I knew I had a bad dream during the night that made me feel anxious -- something about having to a do a stand-up comedy routine with no preparation and a lot riding on it (This, apparently, is what happens when you go to bed early and don't turn off your cell phone. My friend Stu, a comic, likes to text message his test jokes. One of them woke up me up from a good sleep. I'm convinced that's what gave me the nightmares.)

So it could have been the bad dream, or not eating enough the day before or simply eating something that didn't agree with me. But I was not in a good place. I kept wondering what would happen if I went to swim at least. Could I make it through? But what if i really did have to throw up? That wouldn't be pretty.

What to do?

I emailed my coach then decided to go back to bed.

I slept for another two hours, woke up on my own, and felt ... great.

This was yet another lesson in listening to my body.

Tuesday was my day off (since I'll be covering basketball all weekend) so I had plenty of time to get things done. They didn't have to all be accomplished before 8 a.m.

The extra sleep must have been what I needed because I was filled with energy. Thank goodness I listened to my body. And it cost me ... nothing. Well, I did not make yoga class, but that's OK. I did get in 3,000 yards at the pool and my hour-long endurance bike ride on the trainer in the basement.

And I did accomplish one of the things on my list of goals for the week by cleaning my kitchen. Heck, I even did some cyber Christmas shopping.

My coach had told, and always tells me, there is no training when you are sick. It doesn't do any good and will only set you back.

One of my goals for the year is to reduce my negative self-talk and not sweat the small stuff (and as a popular book once told us, it's all small stuff). Nothing hinges on one thing. One missed workout is not going to keep me from achieving my marathon and Muskoka goals.

There are many times when pushing and controlling makes getting to those goals even harder. Instead, you have to listen to your body. It will tell you when it needs to rest and when you can push it further, if you let your brain stop overpowering you with messages of "can" or "can't" and "should" or "shouldn't."

There are times when you just need to go with the flow.

Or back to bed.

Time for some hot yoga

Yoga is one of those things always on my list to do.

And it always seems the first to get cut out or pushed back or even totally forgotten.

It's not that I don't want to do yoga. I just seem to have trouble making it a priority in my training routine.

But yoga has been on mind a lot lately -- partly for the physical benefits of stretching, flexibility and strength and partly because I know that my mind and soul could use the focus and relaxation.

I was steered to Bikram Yoga Williamsville by two friends -- Mark, a fellow triathlete who thought the yoga was toughest workout he's ever done, and Vince, one of my hockey friends.

Both were there when I tried the class on Sunday. While I had done yoga based in the Hatha tradition (I'm a sun salutation type of girl) the Bikram class was completely different. It's hot yoga -- done in a studio that is 105 degrees and humid. While it's cardiovascular, it's not like you're doing jumping jacks in heat.

This is a tough 90-minute workout. The poses are challenging (and you don't have to be flexible to do the poses or to get the benefits of the workout) but even more, I find my mind being challenged as much as my body.

The first thing I noticed is how often I mentally think that I can't do something, mostly for a stupid reason. Oh, I can't hold my leg in that position because I'm sweating and my hands keep slipping. Well, actually, yes I can hold that pose, despite the sweat and slipping grip. And if I fall out of the pose? I laugh and get back into it.

The more frustrated you get, the more you force, the easier it is to fall.

The more you focus on your breathing, focus on a point ahead of you, the easier it is to push yourself further in the pose than you thought possible. In fact, it's better to not think about it -- just to do it.

There are multiple ways this can show up in my training -- heck in my life. But I'm just two classes in and know that I've only scratched the surface.

So it's time to get out my daily schedule and make room for Bikram yoga. It has the potential to make a big impact, on my training and my life.

Michael Phelps, "Superstar"

It's the most viewed story on People Magazine's website this week -- the fact that Michael Phelps introduced his girlfriend to his mom on Thanksgiving in Baltimore.

Yes. You know you've entered the celebrity lexicon when websites are reporting when you introduced your significant other to the family.

In last night's 60 Minutes interview with Phelps Anderson Cooper likened the whirlwind publicity tour as a kind of victory lap across America that has Phelps pretty tired (the montage of yawns was priceless) and over 200 pounds for the first time in his life.

The interview didn't break a whole lot of new ground. Phelps is pretty unassuming. But it did give a glimpse into the 23-year-old kid who currently holds the "greatest swimmer ever" title.

For instance, he doesn't eat 12,000 calories a day when he's training (only 8,000 to 10,000) and that for about five years he he never missed a day of practice. Ever. Even on Christmas. Oh, and he did double workouts on his birthdays.

And that's the lesson that Phelps brings us.

The power of consistency.

Granted, I could swim every single day for the next five years and not be able to win a race against my friends let alone qualify for the Olympics.

The stage is not the point.

The work ethic is.

Whether it's training, school, work, or even friendships and family relationships -- consistency is the key to achieving your best, to getting what you want. It's really not all that exciting to talk about. Sure, Phelps did a 10,000-meter all-out swim during a workout (which meant swimming as hard as he could for about 2-hours) which pushed him to his limits and taught him what he could handle. But he couldn't get to that lesson if he first didn't show up. Every day. To the best of his ability.

Not only is consistency a bit boring, it also fails to give us instant results.

Those eight gold medals of Phelps? They weren't earned those two weeks in Beijing. They were earned during those five years of preparation.

There are things that are important about the way you show up day after day -- your attitude and your focus for starters -- but at the beginning, the important thing is to just keep showing up.

You never know what kind of gold awaits at the other end.

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