I am a girl who loves mountains, changing seasons, running, true backpacking, strong coffee, and knitting with high quality yarn.

When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Define "normal self"?

"How you are seen by others becomes the mirror that tells you what you are like and who you are. You need others to give you a sense of self, and if you live in a culture that to a large extent equates self-worth with how much and what you have, if you cannot look through this collective delusion, you will be condemned to chasing after things for the rest of your life in the vain hope of finding your worth and completion of your sense of self there." ~ Eckhart Tolle

After a 6-hr stint at volunteering at Tejas Trail’s last night race in the summer series (10k, 30k, 60k starting at 7pm), I had the following email exchange.

C: Hey Olga, you didn't seem quite like your normal self the other nights. Just wanted to see how you were doing?
I: Define "normal self". Why say?
C: Well your "normal" self is hard to define.:-) I guess you seemed a bit more subdued then I am use to seeing you but I may be wrong.
I: I think I am actually coming to my true normal as opposed to what people expect to see of me. You know, not as afraid to be myself? Happy about it too. Right place in life to finally not to pretend? And thanks for noticing.
C: I totally get what you are saying. Happy for you that you reached that point. Sometimes it’s hard to be ourselves.

It was a perfect timing. I have surely being thinking a lot. The truth is, I had been thinking all my life a lot, maybe that’s my problem.  As long as I remember I’ve been trying “to fit in”. Well, most of us do, nothing special here. In middle school you’re trying to find friends because they become more important than your parents are. In high school the struggle continues on a much higher level. You are a straight “A” student yet hoping to be “popular” in a wrong crowd, since being a nerd is not really an admirable thing back in Soviets (where is it, though?), and on top of it you are kind of wild inside…just not the crowd person. The combination of not fitting in anywhere: quietly wild or wildly quiet?  So, you hung with wrong kids and read books at night under the blanket with a flash light. You make a lot of mistakes and tried to overcome your shyness (introvert-ness as you learn) by often being loud. And every time you moved somewhere or entered a new relationship, you promised yourself to be, well, yourself.

But years were passing, and struggles to find “self” continued. The reputation (not a bad one, mind you, just different) preceded the arrival of a real person, and ties to the past were always there and hard to break. You leave fun times of late teens behind and date to get married – but the friends are still around since you’re still in the same university and remember what you’re supposed to be like. You have a child, but live in the same city. You leave to another country – you think, NOW, really, when is the better time? – but the fears of unknown, the “old ways” to overcome to survive and stand out to not be stepped on “save” you from drowning, yet delaying the process. You manage to surround yourself with people from old country – and thus, again, the old ways.

Then you break through and start running. Like, not jogging around the park for 20 min to lose weight, something you’d been doing since 10 years old, but entering races, and not stopping at a holly grail of a marathon even for a smidgen of time. To move on, to overcome the resistance of “old world” you employ the “old ways” – force to be “loud”. You’re trying to survive with this new thing of yours, kicking and screaming! And you manage to be not bad at it too, so between “loud” (and having a heavy accent and a straight-forward way of communication by heritage) and that “not bad” thing, you get noticed, and reputations keeps on building.

Years pass. You move across this new country and think: now, new friends, new work, new life, real me. But life hasn’t taught you new survival skills! And you fall back – running, working, laughing your way through, reading books under the blanket cover and still thinking too much. Stuff gets thrown at you – only nephew dies, older son gets in serious trouble, marriage shakes and falls…and you survive using the only skills you know. You’re getting closer to the “real normal” though now, quieter, but as soon as get in the “old” situations, people have expectations, you know, you can’t not deliver…

Serving AS at Tejas Trail night race, photo courtesy of Henry Hobbs
You move across the country one more time. New relationship, new friends, new job. A little calmer, although still living in old ways more times than you want. Habits are hard to die, but even they do one by one. It took a lifetime to build – it takes a lifetime to break. It’s give and take. Loose a little, gain a bit. Somehow, even here though, that reputation ran ahead, who would have thought. That doesn’t help to break free, so you make small steps, and often nobody even notices.

Why would they? In the worlds where it’s all about survival, carrying about someone else’s soul is but a fleeting thought. Besides, things change, and this could be a helpful tool in that changing game.
The sport that defined you for over decade is same yet different. Or maybe because you are different, you see it from another angle, with glasses that are not pink. More hype – and on both ends: with faster folks demanding fame and money and regular people simply jumping in because it’s a “thing to do”. You should be glad of the latter one – fewer sitting at home eating chips (they’re eating it now as they run/walk through an AS and right after crossing the finish line), more healthier people, physically and emotionally (one would hope anyway). But part of you joined because it was so personal and small and almost intimate back dozen years ago. Crowds are not your thing. 

So you get quieter. You have an injury, what in retrospect is almost a God-send, because it throws you from a cycle of “train-race-repeat” into more thinking. And you know you LOVE thinking! 

"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have." ~ Frederick Keonig

The injury eventually clears itself, after many months, but the thinking stays. You get through one more cycle, and at the finish line of it you stare at the enormity of life itself – and ask the BIG question: where from here?

And there you are. Not moving in knowing direction, but moving somewhere, hoping as you go, you’ll figure it out. You seek some help, you think some more. And you get quieter. It scares some, surprises others. Apparently, it gets noticed. So, carrying for someone else’s soul is not a fleeting thought after all? Makes you all fuzzy and gives hope to keep on moving, even if the final destination is still not defined. 

Life is an amazing thing. We often can’t grasp the moment that the change begins to happen, and then get surprised – or at least surprise others, because deep inside we knew something is odd, off, not “normal”. It can be triggered by something big or nothing at all. It can be overwhelming and scary, or calm and peaceful. Mostly, it is all of the above.

Nothing is happening to a naked eye view. I am running and training and still loving it - even if without "final destination". Still waver on the scale and pray to see numbers I never will anymore. I may not be picking up races to sign up like crazy - after over a 100 of the long ones and double that of short jaunts, not much left in terms of discovering thyself or pushing the limits. And when there is (discovering and pushing), as you get older, you are made aware of more choices: family or trip to a 50M where you hardly know 5 people and already seeing these trails? A house project or an extra run in a neighborhood? A 100M race where you get through a text-book experiences and a necessary depression time between miles 70 and 85 and then be shot emotionally and adrenal for a week, or that very week spent with someone you care for (and who truly cares for you) in some new wild places (and may be even not so wild)? 

It’s still not defined. Neither am I. And maybe it’s the way it should be. After all, who wants to have predictable life to a final “t”?
A perfect full moon over the lake at Tejas Trail night race, photo courtesy of Henry Hobbs


Danni said...

You definitely have to live your own life and do what's right for you. Though I have a difficult time believing you're really an introvert. I'll take your word for it of course. Sometimes we just aren't into the stuff we used to be into and our mind is elsewhere. It happens.

Backofpack said...

Good thoughts, Olga. I miss the small crowds of the old days, too, back when it seemed like we knew everyone and everyone knew us. It felt more caring back then...though here in the PNW, I can still get that feeling with old friends. It wasn't an injury that pulled me away, but going back to school. Now I'm having doubts about re-entering the fray. I've signed up for two marathons and two 25Ks that I love for the courses and the people, so I'll see how that goes. I'm glad that you are finding your real self again! Or maybe "finding" isn't right,because you always knew it was there, maybe "sharing" your real self is more accurate...

Jill Homer said...

I entered the world of endurance sports through a very small and new community — snow cyclists — and moved through another that was nearly as tight-knit and small — ultra-distance bikepacking. So I understand what you mean about the more intimate connections sparked by low-key events and personal communications among the tribe. It's funny, because for me, ultra-running represented a larger, better established community with more diverse events, and that in large part is why I started to get involved. I do understand why the "old-timers" feel like they are being trampled on by all the growth. I still wonder when I'm going to get all curmudgeonly about the damn kids with their tricked-out fat bikes, how much easier they have it than I did in 2006, and how they're crowding out my favorite events (not that I'm accusing you of being curmudgeonly, only trying to relate as one of those newcomers in the ultra-running world.)

I don't know you personally and therefore have no preconceptions about you, but I've enjoyed following your journey. I appreciate that more introverts are embracing this side of themselves. Introversion doesn't have to mean we're not social, and it doesn't prevent us from forming lots of meaningful relationships. It just means a person is drained by social interactions rather than recharged. I have friends who essentially can't stand to be alone, and this baffles me. I would become mentally unstable without regular alone time, which is what I need to "recharge." I effectively had a minor nervous breakdown during the week I had to spend 16 hours a day socializing and schmoozing at Interbike in Las Vegas. It was only two years ago, but that was a turning point for me in embracing my own introversion.

Anyway, thanks for recording your thoughts.

Olga King said...


Olga King said...

Jill, your definition is right on - I linked an article to reply to Danni.
Thank you for following along, I, too, love your adventures and live vicariously through many of them.

Olga King said...

I love that -"sharing"...yep, I am here, take t or leave it or not pay attention at all:) I miss all my dear peeps from PNW, Michelle. Say hi to Rob and Steve and, of course, Eric...

ALM said...

Yes, define "normal self"....it changes all the time as we travel our journey of life, especially if you are a thinker! As a likewise introvert, I find it easier to process and connect with the ever present changes we experience throughout the various stages in our lives. And often the subdued-ness that comes with it is just a product of welcoming and adjusting to a transistion. Glad you are able to appreciate and ride the waves as they come to you. Great post!

Jenny said...

Thank you for sharing your personal insight. I'm at a crossroad in my running; the answers are right here in my "normal self". Like you say, normal evolves as life changes. My running goals need to adjust to me. I'm not the brand new runner I was last year, and not yet the ultradistance runner I'd hoped to be by now. There is much to learn!

Anonymous said...

Olga, I've followed your blog for quite a while now and have thoroughly enjoyed it. My husband and I were at the race on Saturday (he ran the 60k, I did the 30k) and I thought I recognized you! I almost went up to introduce myself, but my own shyness got the better of me. Plus, I didn't want to be the creepy stalker-chick that made you rethink your entire blog's existence. =)

Thank you so much for volunteering (I LOVE volunteering at races, don't you?) and I hope I have the chance to see you at another race.


Dale Jamieson said...

Olga, I dare say you'll have worked this out by now but I'm in the same boat; I too am a classic introvert. In essence, deeply misunderstood. However, I'm at a stage where I really don't give a sh** about what many people think because the fact is the majority of them are fake. I'd rather be me than them.

Thomas Bussiere said...

Appreciate where you came from with all the trials and errors life has thrown at you, and use it to better serve your ever changing normal. What is normal!!! If it is being like everyone else then I don't want to be normal. I like myself just the way I am. Approval not required, just respect for not all being the same.
Run forward Olga.

Carilyn said...

As always, I love your posts where you share what you are feeling. I'm not so good at it, so I find a lot of comfort in reading what you have to say.

Anonymous said...

Love the post and totally agree on how things have changed! I miss the days of small races, and seeing lots of familiar faces. I feel so anonymous now if I race. Oh well, change is inevitable. We just have to try and find the positive in it.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Olga, i truly loved. Y

Olga King said...

It is interesting to be viewing ones own transitions while being quiet. Is it wedding day yet for you?

Olga King said...

You can always come up to me! I'll be at CR100 and likely at Wild Hare, Bandera and Nueces.

Olga King said...

I never wanted to be like everyone else, even as I tried to fit in:)

Olga King said...

Anonymous is a good description to it. I don't feel quite as one, but as a visitor from the past nevertheless. I also get too overwhelmed with too many people.

Ronda said...

That was such a great post. So sad I didn't get around to reading it earlier. I find it so funny and interesting how perceptions and reality can be so different. The expectations we can't fulfill and shouldn't have to but we try to anyway. Silly. I love changes and evolving. It's what we do when we keep trying. you can't help yourself....you become more at peace.

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