Tales of a Slacker

Back in grade school, my classmates and I got to pick an instrument we wanted to learn and play in the school band. I chose the flute because I thought it looked the most delicate and pretty. The sounds it made as I was learning how to play? Not so delicate or pretty. I was expected to practice at home, but I hardly ever did. Well, my parents had something to say about that.

One day after school I was SO excited to watch the special Valentine’s Day episode of Family Matters (I have an uncanny talent for remembering very specific things), but my parents clicked off the TV and said “no more!” until I practiced the flute. Oh, the horror! Well, it turned out that one can actually get better at something if they practice. My breathy, squeaky efforts over time turned into clear, full, beautiful notes. By eighth grade, I was soloist and first chair. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

My main instrument has always been piano. I started playing when I was seven years old and continued to study through college. Throughout my earlier years playing, I practiced, but usually the minimum 30 minutes or so per day. I got by just fine and was happy with my progress, earning blue ribbons and high marks in local piano festivals and the Piano Guild. Then just after I turned 14, I started high school at a brand new school with all new classmates. One of these classmates turned out to be a very good pianist. I stumbled upon him casually playing a Burgmuller piece at blitzing speed for a small crowd of students and I think my jaw dropped. Piano was my thing! From then on, I was highly motivated to practice. A lot. While my motives initially came from a competitive standpoint, I began to move through repertoire more quickly and started learning more advanced works. I discovered my love for Beethoven’s Appassionata and Brahms’ Rhapsodies. I think it was then that I truly blossomed as a pianist.

That same initial period of time, when I was 14 and fresh into high school, I joined the cross country team for fun. I enjoyed it, but did the bare minimum at practice and definitely didn’t run over the weekends and the off season. My 5K times were stagnant from my freshman to junior year. I didn’t like finishing in the back of the pack, but I wasn’t really doing anything to change that. My senior year, fueled by some inner motivation and encouragement from my coach to set a better example for incoming freshman athletes, I actually tried in practice and finished my races without walking or DNF’ing. I also ran on weekends and even some mornings before school. Surprise, surprise- my times started dropping! My 5K personal record dropped to 21:15. If you had asked me three years earlier, I would have considered that an unattainable superhero time.

The theme through all of these stories is a pretty simple one. Put forth some effort, even just a little, and you will see results. Put forth even more effort, and you’ll see even greater results. But what comes after that?

I’ve been dedicated to running for years and years. I am very good at running- to a point. When I look at other aspects of myself as a fit, healthy human in general.. ehhh. Ask me to max out on push ups and I might reach ten. Ask me what I ate for breakfast and I’ll probably tell you I had the most delicious morning bun from the local bakery. I can suck at push ups and eat as many pastries as I want and pull off being a decent runner. But hold up- I want to be a great runner!

So in a way, I’m going back to basics. Like a true New Year’s Resolutionist, I decided to take up yoga in the beginning of the year to become more well-rounded in my core strength and flexibility. I’ve tried it in the past and thought, “yeahhh that’s not for me,” as I was terrible at it! When I went to sign up for classes at my local studio, my user history showed I had attended exactly one class. In 2011. I’m a little over a month in now and have gone to 13 classes. I’ve never been more aware of my physical limits. I am wound up tight and there are moments when I feel like I will never uncoil. The other day in class I couldn’t keep my balance, I couldn’t hold a plank, and my back would not bend. It made me wonder if it was all futile and wondered if I should throw in the towel (or in this case the yoga mat). Then something amazing happened during my next class. The instructor had us sit with our legs straight out with our sit bones on the mat, lift up using our breath and our backs, and reach forward. Not only could I touch my toes- I could reach beyond my toes! I definitely, definitely don’t remember the last time I’ve been able to do that. It was the smallest of victories, but significant enough to give me affirmation that this isn’t a lost cause.

On the nutritional side of things-I know enough to understand what I generally should and shouldn’t be eating, but I’m not above asking for help and accountability- which is exactly what I’m doing. This week I began working with Lottie Bildirici of Running On Veggies with the aim of developing better and hopefully sustainable, lifelong habits. So far I love Lottie’s whole food/plant based recipes. They’re super easy and not time consuming to make (this quinoa pizza crust is a winner). However, the struggle is super real when it comes to my cravings for a post-meal sweet treat. I hope it gets easier, though I’m not sure that it will!

In the same way that one mastering an instrument can add nuance on top of technical proficiency, my hope is that caring for my overall wellness will allow me the freedom to become a better runner. Or if anything, just a better human.

9 responses to “Tales of a Slacker”

  1. Rachel Foxhoven Avatar

    Have you read ‘Outliers’ by Malcom Gladwell? Every time I hear it referenced I think of his 10,000 hours of practice rule and you ;) (And then I think, “how can I be more like Liz?!”) http://www.wisdomgroup.com/blog/10000-hours-of-practice/

    1. Liz Avatar

      Oh this is so interesting! Thank you for sharing! I love the bit about “natural talent” not emerging- every single elite had put in more than double the hours of the less capable performers. “The psychologists found a direct statistical relationship between hours of practice and achievement. No shortcuts. No naturals.”

  2. Carley Avatar

    What’s fascinating to me is that you are at the very top of my list when I think of friends who are discliplined and multi-talented. I have actually talked about you specifically on multiple occasions about this very topic. You’re already my inspiration Liz!! :)

    1. Liz Avatar

      Well you just made my day! Thank you, Carley!<3

  3. Joel Avatar

    Hey Liz, this was inspiring. I’ve hit a plateau in my running so it’s nice to hear someone else share a story about getting over those hurdles. I don’t believe a 21:15 5k is anywhere in my near future, but I guess I can dream :)
    See you running around Portland!
    ps-We have common friends: Kit and Beth from STL…they’re awesome.

    1. Liz Avatar

      Thank you, Joel! Wherever you’re at, the most important thing is to keep putting the work in and doing your best. (Kit and Beth rock!)

      1. Joel Winn Avatar
        Joel Winn

        Thanks for the kind words, Liz. I just hit the 100 mile mark for the year yesterday. Looking to make 2016 my biggest (and fastest) year yet. Cheers!

    2. Liz Avatar

      Nice work!! Great way to kick off the year. Keep it up!


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Who is Mercury?

Liz Derstine, trail name “Mercury”, is a distance runner, endurance hiker, writer, and musician residing in Boston, MA. She holds fastest known times for women on the Appalachian Trail (supported, northbound), Long Trail (self-supported), and Pinhoti Trail (self-supported).

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