Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trying to be a marshmallow runner

This week's column:
B eing a mom and psychology major, I always enjoy reading about child development. An interesting study was recently published based on the Stanford Marshmallow Study done in 1960s. Researchers put a hungry 4-year old child in a room and gave him one large marshmallow. They told the child he could eat the marshmallow immediately after they left, or he could wait for the researchers to return and eat it then. If he waited he would receive an additional marshmallow.
About a third of the children ate it right away, another third played with it, looked at it, but eventually ate it before the researchers returned. The remaining 33 percent waited and received two. The study has followed these kids since then and found that those that were able to have self-control and delayed gratification were happier, did better in school, and were more successful in life regardless of socio-economic factors.
Ultimately, the study stresses that self-control is not innate, but much like a muscle, can be trained and improved over time. I guess you could say running is my marshmallow. Though I didn't begin competing until high school, it became my passion, my drive, my discipline. It was what taught me to set goals and work toward them, hoping to be rewarded for my efforts later. And reaching the Olympics — that was the mother of all marshmallows. A trip to an exotic place, the atmosphere, the excitement, the pride I felt when wearing the Olympic uniform are all unforgettable. It’s the Olympics after all, and the entire world was watching.
Getting to the Olympics meant making a few sacrifices along the way. Once I got more into running in high school, my poor sister was nice enough to wait for me to get a run in before we opened presents and had Christmas breakfast. Now, that is love. In college when most of my friends were gearing up for Friday night, I was in early because I had Saturday morning practice. If I did go out, I was generally nursing a pitcher of water, not a pitcher of beer. Not a bad way to hydrate while having fun. For the last 15 years, vacations for my entire family have revolved around my racing schedule, which I appreciate tremendously. If a workout falls on a holiday, I still do the workout, though with Quin understanding more and more about birthdays and Christmas, that won’t last much longer. Even planning a family had to be specifically timed and additions are on hold for the moment though I feel that tug.
I like to think I would would have been one of the children that waited. When Quin gets a little older, I might try my own marshmallow test, and I wonder what he will do? I hope I will be able to instill some discipline and drive into Quin. I think he already understands that exercise is important. As I went to pick him up from the park after a run, his babysitter told me he must have run 20 laps around the park. Right now he is learning through play. Occasionally, he falls into a pile crying when he misses a basketball goal. My husband or I am always there with a, “Keep practicing. It’s hard to make every basket, buddy.” I am sure we will face bigger challenges soon.
My coach, Bob Sevene, always talks about how running reflects life, and he actually prefers the term “teacher” to “coach” because he says he is not just coaching the body, he’s using athletics to develop the whole person. Pushing your mind and your body to the limits in training and in races is character development at its finest. There are occasional days where I have trouble getting out the door, but I have learned that to get what I want, I have to be willing to put in the time. I have also found that it’s hard to get into a good routine, but once I am there I enjoy it more and more. Discipline seems to breed discipline. I want more marshmallows, so I will keep flexing my self-discipline muscle.
I might even try and resist the donuts the size of my head at Pavel’s in Pacific Grove, maybe.

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