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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Off the Grid: The trust-building exercise of exercise

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

For about five months out of every year, I cannot have friends. It isn’t that I don’t want them, but rather that they find me so boorishly intolerable, that the survival of our relationship depends on me flying solo for a period of time.

I call that period of time “Training Season.”

During Training Season, the entire focus of my personal growth and free time is dedicated to the strategic and methodical execution of a training plan for some particular event or six.

If it’s not Training Season, I’m dedicated to Recovery Season, which looks exactly the same only I eat more pie and experience more guilt. Somehow I assume that resonates with my social circle more.

I track my mileage, keep charts on my effort and pace, log elevation gains and fuel consumed and heart rate and sleep patterns and my menstrual cycle. I keep databases of so much data, I often don’t even know how I feel until I collate all the information and spit out an assessment.

“Sleep score was low last night,” I’ll tell my husband after checking my latest technological doohickey of impressive functionality and questionable applicability.

“But how do you feel?” he asks.

“It doesn’t matter,” I say. “Only the data matters. The data says I should feel tired, so I am tired.”

When you’re a precision racing machine, these minuscule details become the foundation of a successful training plan and athletic performance. They are what separate a few elites from the pack, the pros from the amateurs, the winners from the weekend warriors.

The problem is, last time I won anything it was a chocolate cake at a raffle. Had there been a cake eating contest subsequently, I would have won that, too. So yeah, maybe I’m a precision cake-plate-cleaning machine.

What I am is a Type A, research-driven, data-collecting, trauma-surviving neurotic who needs proof for everything. It’s exhausting.

When I signed up for this year’s 50-mile event, I announced it to my family as casually as I could. It isn’t just the hours I am gone training, but the hours I spend talking about training, recovering from training, and snarling at anyone who thinks about taking the last cookie. It is that my world morphs into a ceaseless conversation about the minutia of a topic that has almost no meaning to them but provides a necessary structure to my experience.

If the bizarre collection of information is not going to win me any prize beyond fewer toenails, why am I trying so hard to understand it? For that matter, why do we seek to understand anything? This is for any of you with a Garmin or a memory of their fastest mile time or married people or anyone who has failed or improved at anything.

Not surprisingly, the answer struck me like a leg cramp somewhere around mile 14 on a frost-bitten day. Actually, it was a leg cramp. And no matter what I had eaten or what my heart rate monitor said, it was undeniable.

The answer was connection.

I grew up in a way that taught me, like many victims of abuse, how to disconnect. I learned that what I felt or thought I felt was probably not reliable. From “that didn’t happen” to “you didn’t feel that way” to “it was your fault, anyway.” I was taught that I could not trust myself (but ought to trust others). I learned I was deceitful and eccentric. But I couldn’t gaslight my way out of that leg cramp.

My fidelity to data is about my mistrust of self and rebuilding connection to my own body. It’s about listening and learning to trust it. My elevated heart rate confirms that it felt hard because it was hard.

My fatigue at the end of a 50-mile week (actually, 54.6 miles) is valid and all the reasons why are in a color-coded spreadsheet. That spreadsheet says it’s OK for me to take a nap. My feelings are indisputable truth. And should I, or anyone else, want to dispute them, prepare for a litany of supportive facts.

My friends and family don’t need the list, though, which is why Training Season is likely a burden on them. They take my need for rest or scones at face value. It’s like a sweet salve of unquestioning acceptance, sometimes referred to as “love.”

While I still struggle to validate whether or not I had a good run if my raw numbers don’t say so, I am getting better at believing my body, mind and spirit when it tells me something. Now it doesn’t have to scream so loud or justify or earn or wait. We’re developing a kind of mutual respect, an interdependence, a connection.

Someday, I might not even need the data. I might not even need the miles. Until then, I’ll see training as a trust-building exercise and listen carefully.

Ammi Midstokke can be reached at ammimarie@gmail.com

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