Feet First

People in recovery often talk about having “sober feet”. The idea is that especially in early sobriety–but even later on–you’ve got to train your feet to be disciplined, to steer you in the right direction even when your head isn’t quite there yet. There’s so much stuff that flows through our minds on a daily basis–some of it is useful, some of it’s garbage. I remember just a month or two after I got sober a bunch of friends that I used to party with asked me to go out with them. They insisted no one was going to pressure me to drink, they just missed me and wanted to catch up. I knew they were being sincere. All morning and afternoon I thought about whether I would go. In the early AM, the answer was ‘No’, I knew it was a bad idea. Good intentions or not, if I was hanging out at a bar with these people, I would want to drink. By mid afternoon though, several hours of complaining customers and an empty belly had me sure a night out with friends was just what I needed. I compromised. I would stick to my routine. I would go to the meeting I had been going to every Thursday and maybe chat with someone there about my plans. If afterward it still felt like the right decision, I would go.

If you guessed that I never made it to the bar that night, you’d be correct. After getting some food in my stomach and chatting with a sober friend, it was suddenly clear that going out with those people was a horrible idea. In that clarity, I was stunned to recall how harmless my plan seemed just a few hours earlier. It was one of the first times I began to understand that I couldn’t always rely on what my mind was telling me–that sometimes I might have to act based on discipline and prior experiences. Feet first. Head to follow.

It occurred to me a couple days ago, as I struggled to complete a hill repeat workout, that this concept is still key to almost everything I do in life. I really hadn’t wanted to run at all that day, much less push myself. I’ve only recently started doing hill repeat workouts. Unlike mile repeats and tempos, which are still tough but I’ve grown more used to, hill repeats remain torturous. When I got out of bed that morning the run seemed impossible. My head was telling me that I was tired, that maybe I needed a rest day instead. Then I did a bit of surveying. My legs felt fine. I had done yoga the day before. I had a planned rest day two days later. I made a decision. Instead of reacting to my current feelings, I would act based on prior experiences of remaining disciplined and running when I didn’t want to.

I told myself I only had to complete the two mile warm-up to the park. If I still wasn’t feeling it, I could turn around and jog slowly home. Easy breezy. By the time I got there my attitude hadn’t really improved. In fact my legs, which had felt fine before, were now decidedly exhausted. Still, somehow, my feet carried my objecting head a quarter of a mile down the hill. I set my watch and busted my ass all the way back up. It was horrible. At about 1/10 of a mile, my legs were on fire. I decided this was going to be it–one and done today. Basically my head was like, fuck this. But then something else happened when I reached the quarter mile mark at the top of the hill. Instead of exiting the park, I turned around and jogged back down for the next repeat. I did this over and over again till the workout was complete. Each time while making my way up the hill my head convinced me that I should quit. But my feet–they were like trained soldiers. They had no connection to my feelings, they were working off of discipline and the memory of all the other times they had completed work when my head told them they couldn’t.

Sometimes when I finish a workout like this I’m elated, I feel like Superwoman. Yesterday was not one of those days. I felt kind of wiped. All I wanted to do was eat and lie on the couch. Still, I knew it was a victory, one that rippled through the rest of my day. While physically I felt tired, my head felt clear–it had finally caught up to my feet. I showered, I ate something healthy and nourishing, I lied on sofa for a bit, then I got to work studying and writing.

Of course it’s important that we listen to ourselves–that we take a rest day when we need it or even play hooky sometimes to have a bit of fun. But I also find it valuable to remember that my feelings are not always facts, and it almost never serves me to follow them blindly. Every time I get a workout in like yesterday’s, it gets added to my body memory and strengthens my discipline. I hear people asking other people who run and stay fit and eat healthily all the time how they do it–how they motivate themselves to get out there and put the work in and how they keep their diet consistently clean. The truth is–there’s no secret to it. Motivation comes and goes in everyone–it’s not something we can always rely upon. It’s also not something that comes from inaction. If you lie on the couch all day, you’ll want to lie on the couch all day. If you start going to the gym, you’ll start wanting to go to the gym. We’d all prefer the desire to come before the action. Unfortunately, it rarely works that way. But if we can get our feet out there first, regardless of our feelings–if we can just do it, our minds will inevitably follow.





header: gaelle marcel

35 thoughts on “Feet First

  1. So many heavy legs runs 😂 they hate me for the first mile and then resign themselves. I think you’re right about the feet, they just keep going, like your Dad dragging you to the shops. You scream and cry but they just keep going and eventually you start to keep up.

    I keep having a mental block with the bike at the moment. But as soon as I’m out on it I love it again. I almost convince myself I’m going to hate it even before I’ve got the bike out if the garage! But the stubborn side if me knows I need to do it and that I will enjoy it once I’m hitting the tarmac.

    Swimming is a none starter at the mo, but I really need to get pushing on that one. Want to hit some triathlons next year 💪. Keep going chick, you inspire constantly x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. richrexblog

    “Feet first. Head to follow.” I love that and may steal it. Hope you don’t mind?
    We have a saying in our humble household to motivate each other: “Energy begets energy.”
    Basically if you lay around you feel lethargic and weary. Get up off your ass and do something (in my case running) and you’ll feel so much better you’ll tackle more.
    We also embrace “good pain”, which is the ache of muscles well used for work or exercise. Good pain makes for guilt-free relaxation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Steal away! So glad something here resonated with you. Your “energy begets energy” is so spot on and I feel directly in line with what I am was trying to get to here. My hubs always says, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” It’s so true–each action inspires the next and that energy carries over!
      Started my “good pain” day with mile repeats this morning, now carrying that energy into writing all day–cheer to “good pain”! Thanks Rich! x

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve had a tricky relationship with the sea…I live on an island so I’m always surrounded by the sea. I would go swimming and suddenly I would panic and rush out of the water. Started snorkelling to get more comfortable in the water but when I wasn’t wearing the mask I would still panic. One hot summer I was looking for a way to workout without dying of heat stroke and I came upon Paddleboarding. Tried it, panicked and decided it was perfect for me. I could get an excellent workout done and work on my fear of the sea at the same time. 4 years later I’m still paddleboarding and my panic attacks are no more. I feel confident on the water because I’ve learned to “read it” and I know my strengths and limitations. Having the board feels safe but I can also swim in the sea without panicking.

    About “feet first”, today I tricked myself into the water. My mind was screaming “it’s madness! It’s rough and cold and you’re sooo tired” all the way to the beach and kept it up the first 5 minutes in the water. But then the endorphins kicked in and it was bliss. Sweaty bliss, it was rough and windy but my body totally needed to work hard. Aaaaww the feeling when body and mind click and focus on getting the work done! Now I’m off for a healthy lunch and I know I’ll sleep like a baby tonight. Feet first! Oh yeah.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is so amazing that you have found paddleboarding and it has become this incredible thing in your life not only physically, but mentally and spiritually as well! I’d say generally I am pretty fearful of the sea–I didn’t grow up near it and I’m just overall pretty intimidated by it!

      So glad you got that amazing workout in yesterday. I love when your body needs to work and when you get that work in despite the lies your mind is telling you! And exactly, it carries out through the rest of your day–you’ll eat better, you’ll sleep better. Such an impact!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Jodi! You’re so right–there’s definitely a mode of automatic thinking that is so easy to fall into–if we can push against that I think we can build just as strong habits in the other more positive direction!
      thanks so much for reading, happy to have you here!


    1. So exciting that you are starting your marathon plan next week Alex, that is awesome! I have to say I agree 100%–“feet first” or “just do it” is so freaking key for marathon training. It’s so long and grueling and there are so many days that your mind is going to tell you “no thanks”. Pushing past that and just getting out there will make all the difference. For me, storing those runs when I pushed past those feelings in my memory bank was so key to race day–I needed to pull from that strength often! Good luck lady, I will definitely follow along and be rooting for you! x

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: coincidence and cats – Joseph E Bird

  5. Your discipline is an inspiration. This post is a great and personal exposition of those important links between thoughts, feelings and behaviour. While they are all important, just starting to do something (overcoming inertia) is often the key to making changes in our thoughts and feelings. “Feet first” is a neat way of encapsulating this in a mantra.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Derek! I have to say I get a great deal out of your comments. I think your psychology background really gives you a way of framing things that is so clear and spot on–your reflection of what I’ve wrote expands my understanding and encourages me to dig a little deeper. thank you for that!
      “Overcoming inertia”. YES.


      1. Thank you Cat, I’m pleased my little insights are helpful. Having a framework sure is helpful, but sometimes it can restrict our view of things – putting it aside for a bit, or experimenting with new ones, would probably be healthy for me. That’s why it is so great to hear other people’s stories. Look forward to your next post!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know how many runners I turn off and away by talking about sobriety first! But so often I feel like different subjects really go hand in hand–my running and my yoga–they are my teachers. The lessons I learn in them I use in my real life–and vice versa!
      Thanks for getting it Joseph! x

      Liked by 1 person

  6. charliesbird

    I needed to be reminded of this today – I have set my alarm for an early morning run every morning this week, and only made it out twice – admittedly one morning it was raining; and I did get into the gym later on another of those days. This morning I had every intention of staying in bed (it’s winter here, cold and dark!), but 5 minutes after I switched my alarm off, I realised I needed to pull myself towards myself, no more excuses and went out. The run was tough, but I ran faster than I had in weeks, so I am super chuffed I got out there! Best antidepressant in the world!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, I love that you got out there for that run and it was faster than you had gone in weeks–that’s the best! I agree about the antidepressant thing as well–I know a lot of people on medication who don’t exercise at all and I wish they would give it a shot! Makes a world of difference!
      PS-It’s so crazy how big the world is–how you are experiencing winter ad we experience summer–it amazes me a little ;).


    1. Totally! This reminds me of one time that I got half way to the gym and then really realized “No Cat, you are exhausted, you really need a rest day, and that’s really the right thing to do, and it will be good, it will work out well in the schedule for the rest of the week.” I had the feelings when I woke up but my routine is SO strong that I was dressed and out the door and wouldn’t listen to them at all, lol. (But every once in a while for me, my body and my mind shout and are like “no really! we need a rest!)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Carla

    “Feelings are not facts” – that is pure gold. This can show up in any area of your life. My “feet first” experiences have moreso been tied to my behavioral patterns in my relationships with others. I’ve been reprogramming how I react to negative/difficult situations or how to navigate difficult conversations. Instead of fight or flight, I’ve had to learn how to take a pause, evaluate the situation with a level head before reacting, and keep my cool during the resolution. The old me would have just avoided conflict at all costs. “Nope. Don’t want to feel uncomfortable. See ya.” … It always feels better in the end to just suck it up and have the difficult conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so right Carla that this can (and does) show up in any area of our lives.
      That’s amazing that you have been reprogramming how you react to difficult situations. I know just what you are talking about with the fight or flight response. I actually learned a lot about being able to pause and respond rather than just react from doing yoga. They often remind us to always only breathe in and out through our noses. I do Bikram so there is heat, and if you breathe in and out through your mouth, it really elicits that fight or flight response–you want to either sit out of the posture or change it to make it easier, or even leave the room–you start to panic. But keeping calm and breathing in and out through your nose tells your body that everything is ok. That has helped me so much in the real world–just that understanding that just because something “bad” or not ideal is happening, I have a choice as to how I react to it and how it actually affects my life. I am not a victim of everything happening around me.
      So awesome you have found this have well and have been getting more comfortable in that discomfort! It’s a pretty freeing place to get to I think!
      Thanks so much for sharing! x


    1. I look forward to it the day before. I dread it right before I begin it. I hate it when I start it. Love it in the middle and end once I’ve warmed and gotten into it and then finished. But that’s more mile repeats and intervals. Still not really there with hill repeats–they kill me!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What you said at the end was my motto the first time I started running…”just do it” I’d the best motto because it’s true. Stop making excuses and just go out there and exercise! I am a teacher currently on summer break and in years past, the idea of getting up early to exercise was insane—isn’t vacation about sleeping in every day? But I have been getting up and getting out there almost every day and I am so proud of myself for that! It really sets a good tone for the rest of the day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For me, those two mottos are synonymous with each other–“feet first” and “just do it”-I’ve got them both in my head all the time.
      I love your comment so much–it’s exactly what I am talking about. You hear your head telling you all this crap but you’ve just gone and done what you need to do anyway–and you never regret it afterward, you’re so glad you did it! If we can push past those feelings it’s pretty incredible what we can accomplish. So glad this is working for you as well! x


  9. So funny how we trick ourselves into doing something we don’t want to do (like your hill repeats)! I do the same thing. All the time. I have hill repeats on my training schedule every third week, and I usually dread them but feel good after they are completed.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. My running plan has me alternating hill repeats, track workouts, and tempo runs. I do one of the three workouts each Tuesday. I sometimes do another tempo run later in the week too.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s