Trusting the Process

Like any Goddard College student, there are three words that have a sort of mystical presence in my life:

Trust the process.

This little sentence is given to new students who are struggling to come to terms with a way of learning that requires them to write an extensive study plan, rather than taking classes and being graded. During my first residency someone found me in tears and at the point of hitchhiking from Vermont back to Nevada, and gave me a hug, patted my back and told me to “trust the process.”

To me, trusting the process means taking the next few steps, even though you don’t have a clear picture of where you’re going.

The photo at the top of this post is of three friends walking along the path at Goddard from the main campus to the library. I’m behind them, because I couldn’t keep up. It had nothing to do with my weight and everything to do with the fact that for the last several years the most exercise I’ve gotten was walking around the grocery store once a week.

Yesterday I took my fourth weekly outdoor walk. And like the other three, it sucked donkey balls. It was not fun. It was not joyful. It was cold and windy and hard and miserable. I had to coax myself, ten steps at a time, to finish the first mile–which is always uphill and for some reason always with the wind blowing directly into my face. My legs felt like two huge lead pipes, heavy and inflexible. And the worst part of the walk is on the highway, where dozens of cars full people drive by and see me struggling. Some stop to make sure I don’t need help.

I had to fight this kind of panicky feeling that I was wasting my time. If a mile–one single mile–is this hard, how can I ever do the things I want to do?

At the end of the mile I can see the dirt road up ahead that is 1.6 miles from my house. If I walk there and then back home, I’ll walk an outdoor 5K. It would be not so hard. It’s straight downhill. But then I think about having to walk back up again and nearly breakdown.

I turned around to come home instead. The second mile is always easier. It’s downhill with the wind at my back. But I’m exhausted by time I start it and I just want to be home. So imagine my joy when I see Kevin turning in our car down a side street a hundred yards ahead of me. He’d picked up Ruby from school and gone the long way home so that they could see me on my walk. He’ll drive me home! A mile was enough for today. There is zero doubt in my mind that I’ll get in the car. I can feel the relief in my legs already. I waved. He didn’t see me.

I’d gone further than he expected me to, and he didn’t look in the rear view mirror for me. So I walk home.

And realize that I just walked 2 miles in 39 minutes. Slightly faster than 3 mph. Definitely faster than any walk I’ve taken thus far. It took me 45 minutes to walk 2 miles at the gym earlier this week. On the treadmill I slow down long before I feel the way I do on my outdoor walks.

I take off my coat and open a window because I’m so hot now I feel like I’m burning up.  I feel the pings in my leg muscles that mean that I’ve worked them just right. I love those pings. They are one of the things I miss the most from my younger, very athletic days. I also miss the feeling of knowing that I’d worked as hard as I could, physically. And reaching a personal best time? Euphoric. Those are the rewards for the misery during the actual work.

It’s hard not to let how difficult it is to walk 2 miles off of a treadmill (much harder than even walking a 5K on a treadmill) get me down. The voice is hard to shut up. It says, not even quietly, what are you doing? You shouldn’t be doing this. You’re never going to be comfortable doing this. I reminded myself that my first outdoor walk, I could only go about half a mile before I had to turn around and literally limp home wishing I had my phone so I could call Kevin to come get me. This time it didn’t start to suck until about 3/4 of a mile in and I didn’t limp at all. While most of the walk was not fun, it also didn’t hurt the way that the other three did. That helped.

As I was trying to focus myself to get through my walk yesterday, I thought about how this was my process. That taking a crappy, horrible, awful walk once a week is what I have to go through to get stronger. And that if I trust that the walks will get easier as I get stronger, then these first several are worth it.

I’ve had this process before. I can still remember my first few serious swimming workouts. Two straight hours of swimming laps. It took me months to be able to do it without feeling like I was going to die. My coach let me leave early the first day and told me it wouldn’t happen again. I had to decide to return the next day knowing that I would be expected to finish that day’s work, even though it would not be fun.

It got easier, and pushing harder to get faster was never as difficult as going from zero to being able to comfortably swim for two straight hours.

I’m still figuring all this stuff out. And I’m still working on decoupling exercise from weight loss. Most of the time I do well with it. Most of the time, when I move it feels amazing and I know that I want to do it, even if I never lose a pound. But once a week, I push harder–past the point of pure fun–and those are the times when I have to sort through my head and decide why pushing hard to get stronger is different from punishing my body for being fat.

Those are the moments when I have to have a little bit of blind trust of the process. I have to believe that in the end, it is different. Because I don’t think there is any other way from here to triathlons or roller derby or hikes at Lake Tahoe or any of the other things I really want to do.  I have to train myself to be able to exercise outdoors, to be able to work as hard as I can for an hour or so at a time,  and I have to trust that the training to do that is not the same as beating myself up to lose weight.

Here’s the difference, maybe: I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to push myself to the point of muscle pings and knowing I’ve worked as hard as I could. I could do much less and still improve my health. I could even choose not to improve my health.

And another difference: when I walk outside, on those weekly awful walks, I’m not thinking about size 10 jeans to motivate myself. I’m hearing a different voice, one that says, “Shaunta Alburger, you are an Ironwoman.”

I have permission from myself to turn around and go home. Or call my husband to come get me. I don’t, because I’m an athlete. And I’m an athlete because I want to be. I’m willing to go through the process involved with being one.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Trusting the Process

  1. I first heard this concept at a keynote speech at a conference. The gentleman had an accent, so in my mind it became “it’s a pwocess”. And those three little words have helped me through many situations.
    To remind myself that results will not always (or usually) be instantaneous.
    Yay rad fatty athletes!

  2. Laura

    I just adore this. You put into words all of my feelings! You are so courageous!

  3. Patsy Nevins

    You did a great job. Congratulations. There is nothing that feels better than getting back inside to have something to drink & rest, knowing that you finished a difficult, exhausting, & maybe painful walk, & being incredibly glad that it is OVER but also glad that you did it. I have experienced it many times & am experiencing it some this Spring as I am able to get back to daily walks outside after a long, hard, icy winter when it would have been suicidal for me to walk outside. Each year is more difficult, each year my legs are more wobbly, threaten more often to collapse under me, & each year I am more aware that someday I will likely be using an electric wheelchair or motorized scooter, but NOT YET. I will walk under my own power & hold on to my mobility & my independence as long as possible.

    And, no matter how dedicated you are to fat acceptance & self-acceptance, it is SOO hard to divorce exercise from losing weight */or ‘resculpting’ your body. My last bout of compulsive exercise, which ended nearly 8 years ago & involved working out intensely four hours daily for nearly four years before my body flat-out refused to do that much anymore, was on some level disappointing to me because I lost 18 pounds in almost 4 years. In the years since, as I have aged into my 60’s & completed menopause, & still remained more active than necessary for health or than the average able-bodied person, I have regained around 50 pounds. My body has sent the message loud & clear that exercise is supposed to be moderate, not too painful, not courting a serious injury, & it is not going to result in a ‘thinner’ body. I am able to hear it these days & know that that is okay.

  4. Exercise-weight loss/exercise-weight loss. The words keep dancing in our heads, often driving us crazy, because any sane person (and even some relatively sane medical people like Dr. Arya Sharma at the Obesity Network) knows that ELMM (eat less, move more) is the “Nightmare on ELMM Street”. In other words, it’s just not that simple and actually doesn’t work for most people.

    But there are good reasons to be physically active. I think that it’s widely accepted that physical activity has a beneficial effect on both the body and the mind (and the soul). And that’s what we have to remember. Of course, it’s a personal decision, but it’s a pretty cool decision and all the more so when you move your body to do yourself good, not to try in vain to reach a number on the scale.

    As someone who is mildly handicapped, it’s a constant struggle for me to find something that I can do without harming myself. I’ve found that my best choice is walking, which I try to do as often as possible. (No, I can’t even swim without screwing things up.)

    Your walk sounds gruelling but it’s wonderful to hear you describe the pride you feel with that walk under your belt (and your improved time!).

    Go, rad fat athlete!

  5. charliesdaughter

    I really love these posts. I had a personal best at the gym today. I ran a mile on the treadmill at .5 mph faster than I’ve ever run one before. And I mean ever; as a child I was always a terrible runner and remember every single dispiriting timed mile I was forced to run in school.
    So I should have been feeling pretty good, right? Except for the hobgoblin on my shoulder who felt obliged to point out that the girl beside me had been killing it at a much faster pace for the last half an hour, and that real runners ran five- and six-minute miles.
    Well, screw that little hobgoblin and the unicorn he rode in on. I might not have been able to keep to that damn Couch-to-5K thing that everyone goes on about (because in week five you jump from jogging 3/4 of a mile to 2 miles in a single step…..really?) but I am steadily improving.
    And these posts just give me a ton of inspiration when I find my self plodding away at the Y next to Brooklyn’s answer FloJo. In short, you rock.

    • I am totally going to think of the voice on my shoulder as a hobgoblin and send him off on his unicorn for the rest of my life.

      I did a mile in my fastest time today, too. A little more than 3 mph. Two months ago I could only walk five minutes at 3 mph. I could have used that unicorn when the lady next to me did 3.6 mph at an 8 incline the entire time I was walking.

      Yay for personal bests!

  6. charliesdaughter

    Damn, sometimes I do an eight incline on the hill interval program, but it only lasts a minute or two. Anything in that neighborhood takes real effort.
    Another thing that really resonated with me: why is exercising outside so much harder? I decided to jog to Brooklyn Bridge Park the other day, which is well within my personal-best distance record on the treadmill, and got basically nowhere. I was so much more wheezy and tired, it didn’t make any sense. And this is in the city: no hills or anything really. It’s frustrating.

  7. I like to hike. Well sort of. At the beginning of almost every hike I have ever been on I think WHY THE HELL AM I DOING THIS TO MYSELF?? For fun no less. However after a while I get into a good walking rhythm, my muscles stop protesting so loudly and I can breathe again.

    Reading this I think maybe I need to warm up before I start or something, but anyway, I have loved all of the hikes I have ever been on.. by the end of them :p except maybe this one that ended up involving hundreds (seriously like 3 or 4 hundred) of stairs in the pouring rain (rain makes stairs into waterfalls) (Also guess what I was fat while I was not enjoying this one)

    I’m rambling but what I mean to say is I view my hikes as a micro version of what you are going through, and the journey is always worth it 🙂

  8. I just discovered your website and am very happy I did. This post in particular really put into words a lot of what I go through when I once again embark on an exercise routine. Thanks for writing!

  9. Nessie

    Dear Shaunta,

    YaY! I love this post. I am so happy for you that you’re doing something that makes you feel good about yourself, even if it hurts sometimes. I am also learning that “Trust the process” can and does apply to more than Goddard. You go, girl!
    I love you, wonderful friend 🙂
    Nessie.

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