Up at 3:40 AM this morning to tend to an Eric who called out after a bad dream, I cuddled him for twenty minutes before my alarm came due. After settling him, reading a news article or two, scrolling through my newsfeed, and dressing in layers, I went out into the darkness, the forty-two degree cold, and laid down my morning base miles for the day (“base miles” for me usually means anything between four and five miles, knowing I will run again later either for speed work or distance). By 5:33 AM, I was three minutes late to the opening of the pool, peeling off sweats and parka in the icy air, and getting into the water.

Particularly on Tuesday mornings, it seems, there are thoughts of “I don’t feel like doing this right now” that I work to push out of my head as I drag my body to the front door. Those thoughts appear again in the CRC parking lot, knowing that the cold air hitting my cheeks will soon scold my entire body right before I jump into the water…and that it will take me at least four six lengths of the pool before my core starts to kick back in. And on Tuesdays, I know, no matter how much work I put into my goals in the morning, I still have to keep my game face and game mind ready for harder work at the end of the day. A day in which I have taught two young children ten different subjects (accounting for skill levels) all day. And cooked and cleaned and picked up.

This morning I had a sigh in my chest as I walked from my car to the pool gate. My keys always jingle in my hand ever since Eric put a bell on the ring to help me find them—I am forever losing them, often in my purse. The bell has helped. I wish I were in bed right now, I think. But not really. I know I want this life more than I want my bed. Just get in there. The hour will pass you no matter how you use it, so you might as well use it moving through the water.

The time will pass anyway. Might as well be taking care of my business. The thing is, I really love swimming and I really love running, during and especially after. I rarely love either right before I start. How to stay motivated?

I did go through a period right when Bill took over my training and enforced rest days in which I wanted to crawl out of my skin and couldn’t WAIT to run. My discovery has been this, though: when I work myself over well enough during my training days, I actually look forward to Saturday, my rest day. I have come to look forward to waking up without an alarm (still usually during the 6:00-hour) and getting to stay warm!

So this morning as I headed toward that water, I fell back to the scripts I run in my head when the little imp on my shoulder starts whispering words of temptation (Don’t you want to be warm? Don’t you want to go back to sleep? Wouldn’t you rather be reading?) in my ear. The time will pass anyway. Might as well be moving. And then: After your 2500 yards, you get a shower with your favorite shampoo in the hottest water you can stand.

My favorite shampoo in hot, hot water.

It really is that simple, sometimes.

And it got me thinking about rewards, the importance of rewards. How do we reward ourselves? When do we reward ourselves?

Used to be that I rewarded myself in all the wrong ways and at all the wrong times. Got up today? How about baking some cookies for that accomplishment? Made it through another day of motherhood? How about sleeping in, missing sending your husband off with a kiss, and overdoing breakfast by about 500 calories? Made it through some stress? How about a comfort meal? Take it easy, spend hours unwinding surfing the Internet, have no real schedule.

How we reward ourselves and with what and when: that can say quite a bit about how much we value ourselves. How do we balance future and immediate pleasures? What do we deny ourselves, and what do we give ourselves in return? What is the nature of difference between eudaemonia and hedonism? How we dole out pleasure to ourselves invites judgment from a modes of thinking that seek to ascribe moral value to pleasure for the sake of control and gain of power. Pleasure is not wrong, but it can cripple us when we take too much of a short term view (versus a long term view) of what constitutes happiness.

Short term rewards, though, have been essential to making progress on my journey. An impossible journey without a sense of very long term objectives and the awareness that true happiness comes through challenge to body and mind…but we can’t short change the role of those short term pleasures. I think willpower feeds on the balance of two questions: “What am I working for far, far down the line?” and “What will this action give me right now?

Sometimes the action gives me the right to use a shampoo I keep only in my swim bag. I bought some lotion, too, that I get to use only after a swim. Those little carrots. Of course, the act of swimming itself must be rewarding or I wouldn’t keep it up so arduously over the long term. Indeed, once in the water and going I enter a meditative zone, which is a self-reinforcing pleasure. It’s more abstract and long term, though, and admittedly that zen zone isn’t always the first carrot that comes to mind when it’s freezing and every cell rebels.

Running is so ingrained in me right now that I often look at long term goals first when ushering myself out the door. Upcoming races. Shaking out my legs. The fact that I am a runner and I am not willing to abdicate my self identity. A promise to myself that I will never let myself out of getting out there. Weight maintenance. The neurochemicals that bathe my brain in contentment.

But it used to be: a new song or two on my iPod (when I trained with music). Even now, when I am trying to psych up the night before, I think of which route sounds the best and I actually think of my run as a process of “checking up to see how some of my favorite places are doing.” Sometimes I feel like I am running to make sure all is well along my favorite paths, like a Keeper of Things.

On Sunday I had a long run scheduled (10+ miles). That’s always daunting on Saturday night, even though I take a long run (usually between 9 and 12 miles) every Sunday morning. Sometimes I try new routes or find something cozy about old ones that gives me something to grip onto. This past Sunday, I had an easy task. Last week on our family date to the Rose Haven, I encountered some of the most deliciously scented roses I’ve ever encountered. They’d been on my mind all week:

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So I decided to run to the Rose Haven specifically to smell these roses right here. It was a long way to go just to find a certain rose, but it’s truly the simple beauties in life that mean the most. People have done crazier things for love and beauty. Life needs to be lived as poetry writ large. I stopped the Garmin and wandered the Haven, greeting the early morning, smelling these, feeling the slight raindrops on my face that morning. Let myself be breathless in the wonder of it…then hit the road again.  Short term reward, made forever a part of my person.

For weights? (My least favorite training activity, and one I just realized I have been short shrifting this week). I allow myself to watch those coveted TED talks only while lifting. I set up my laptop, or I stream to Apple TV so the kiddos can partake more easily. I don’t allow myself to watch a talk—however intriguing it looks—unless I am lifting. Gotta dangle something… I think the key is to know ourselves well enough to admit we need the dangle sometimes and go right for the heart of it.

Okay, and sometimes, I still dangle the promise of food. But this time around I think of it as healthy fuel. I put all that work in: what can I eat that will complement all that effort? And help to fortify me properly for the next effort?
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Current favorite (indulgent) breakfast on a big training day: 1 frozen acai packet, half a banana, fresh berries, raw unsweetened coconut, a dash of PB2, goji berries, a couple of medjool dates, bee pollen, and some of my “quick granola.” (I often make proper big batches of granola slowly in the oven, but when I want to have just a quick bit of it, I dry toast oats with cinnamon and a scant bit of agave or honey). This is good stuff right here. I had it today, in fact.

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Lunch from another day last week: dry toast with mashed avocado and topped with a boiled egg from our girls. Salt, pepper, no mayo or butter or anything like that. A 0% Greek lemon yogurt. A bowl of pickled beets, so tangy and sweet at the same time. And a cranberry kombucha.

Those are two of my favorite meals right now, I have to say.

All day I have been trying to think of how else I reward myself. I do love a new pair of running socks right before a race. Occasionally I treat myself (like this week) to some new running clothes, or my favorite sweat pants for use right after swimming.

I’d like to say I am motivated solely by the newfound energy I have with, and for, my children and my husband. Or that I am powered simply by the overarching goals of bettering myself each day. Those motivations are there, but they don’t always get a person out the door.

Amelia Earhart once correctly observed that:

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure , the process is its own reward.”

TRUE! This is completely accurate, I’ve discovered. But we can give our tenacity a boost.

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A day at Disneyland is often one of my favorite boosts!

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And tonight: I got to try out the new all-weather track at TVHS. That track is so, so, so sweet. I looked forward to this experience all day, to the extent that I was even excited for the ladders Bill had planned (I knew he would do the ladder today, but I didn’t find out for sure until he came home. That’s another trick, by the way: I have learned not to ask my interval assignment, which always comes with target times over target distances, until right beforehand. That way, I don’t fret all day about performing it correctly).

What short term rewards give you a boost? What do you to reward yourself as you pursue your most challenging goals?

Until next time,

Sarah

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