Small Bites of the Apple

Atlanta-based food and product photographer Angie Webb

This year’s birthday echoes the sounds of the last few— unremarkable, shoved in between various obligations and activities, and another reminder of the ever-accelerating nature of time. I think that when I look back on the topography of my life, the last few years will be represented by lots of bumps, chasms, murky waters, and the kind of wild, unhinged landscapes you only see in the wild wild west. 

I’ve continued to try to get my feet back underneath me after the wild shift that is going from average woman person to mother, responsible for life, well being, and doing her best to feed, potty, and hydrate others–least of all, herself. Recently, in an effort to revisit a past version of myself, I misguidedly decided to train for a 5K. I am not a runner and never have been, but there was a brief period of time in my late 20’s where I decided to run some 5Ks. Mostly for dog-related charities and mostly because I wanted the T-shirt. In a particularly fitness-centric season of this time, I even broke a PR, and boy did it feel good. 

What doesn’t feel good is trying to run after pretty much not running for four years. With a pandemic, a baby, and an overall lack of any attention to my fitness or well-being standing between me and this newfound goal, let’s just say it wasn’t cute. 

But nevertheless she persisted.

Because she is a Virgo and an Enneagram 6 and frankly doesn’t really know how to leave well enough alone. 

I decided this time around, my own cobbled together version of “training” was not going to work, so I enlisted my trusty Peloton App and found an audio outdoor running program that promised to get my lungs and legs into the shape required to not hyperventilate and die midway through the race.*

The first day of my pseudo training came and I enthusiastically popped in my earbuds and took it to a fast walking warm up. The trainer told me that we were going to rate our level of exertion on a scale of 1 to 10, and that today we would not be going beyond a 7. Great. Easy.

After a few minutes, I was politely told in a very cute Australian accent to begin a slow jog. I watched the screen as my pace shot down from a 17 minute mile to a 10 minute mile. Within about 30 seconds, I was no longer cruising along. I could barely keep up my breath. I probably looked like I was wrapping up an uphill finish on a marathon and we were 0.3 miles in. 

I shamefully began to walk. I know the Peloton lady couldn’t see me, but in my mind her brow was furrowed and the weight of her unspoken disappointment added to my feelings of worthlessness. My downfall wasn’t in the fact that I was out of shape, it was that I burned myself out. 

I tried again a few days later. This time I really tried to listen to the Peloton lady. When she said give me a 6 effort out of 10, I took that seriously. Trust, I was not going fast, but I was paying attention to how every increase in pace felt in my lungs. At the end of the 30 minutes, I hadn’t gone nearly as far as I thought I could, but I also wasn’t blacking out on the sidewalk. Win

I’ve since had several other running sessions with the Australian lady, and I’ve learned two things: 

  1. I have no business running in a 5K race right now. The pace just isn’t there and my body just isn’t equipped to do it. Sometimes being honest with yourself is the hardest and best thing. 
  2. Left to my own devices, my natural tendency is not to pay attention to my body and maintain a sustainable pace, but to burn out quickly and dramatically, thereby losing motivation and drive to ultimately continue at all. 

The more I thought about my second revelation, the more I realized how much this tendency to burn too bright too quickly was a theme in my life. Life is fast, time is short, there’s so much to see and do, so many goals to achieve, so many people to love. It’s easy to get caught up in the momentum of it all and completely forget about the fact that there has to be a you there to do it. Not just broken pieces of a warn down version of yourself that became an innocent bystander of your overwhelming motivations. 

And trust me, I love a good overwhelming motivation. But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the marked difference between time management and energy management. Just because my calendar says I have the time, does not mean I have the energy to take on something else. The same is true in running as is in life, parenting, relationships, work, learning, and spiritual formation: measured pace will get  you further than an all-out sprint.

And that’s so hard for someone like me, my best friend calls it “small bites of the apple.” But I don’t want small bites, I want to stuff apples into my gullet until I hate not only apples but all tree-grown fruits and disown the entire food group completely. Then and only then, can I walk away saying. “I tried apples, wasn’t for me.” I get off Scott free because I did the thing, I have the proof, but did I really do it right? Did I really try it in the best way

What I’m learning is real success comes not from the nose-to-the-grindstone style of discipline that asks you to block out everything and everyone and just go as hard and as long as you can stand it, and then some. It comes from measured, marked, careful consideration of the resources you have and how to best spend them. Maybe sometimes that means running at a sprint, but most of the time it’s a slow, steady, and deliberate pace.

Do I want to burn, or glow? 

It’s a daily question to ask and a decision to make. To strap on the shoes, tighten the laces, and to decide this is not my default posture, but this way will get me there. Step by step, stride by stride.  

*I recognize that to serious runners this feels pathetic to be waxing and waning about 3.1 freeeeaaking miles. But hear me out. My entire innards are comprised of cheese, wine, and chocolate, and I have the competitive edge of a high school goth.