I’m not a Control Freak! Just call me a Preparation Enthusiast.

Okay, yes, I may be splitting hairs on that one.   But it is a significant shift in attitude, no?

After all, I’m pretty sure that exactly nobody wants to be thought of as a freak (especially a female controlling one).  On the other hand, enthusiasts sound great to hang out with!  Fun!  Energetic!  Yep, that’s me.   As long as you meet me at the time we agreed on in our emails and don’t show up with three additional people I didn’t know were coming.  I’m enthusiastic about sticking to my plans!  Yay!

I was thinking this morning about how I became this person who needs to be organized and ready for anything, who feels that a list and a stock of supplies can help any problem seem easier to get through.  And then I realized:  it was the mise en place.

I went through culinary school when I was in my twenties, and aside from teaching me that there is a proper way to cut an onion, make a clear stock, and whisk a smooth hollandaise, it taught me how to greatly decrease potential screw-ups by using Mise En Place.   

Mise en place (pronounced [miz on plas], literally “putting in place”) is a French phrase defined by the Culinary Institute of America as “everything in place”, as in set up. It is used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients (e.g., cuts of meat, relishes, sauces, par-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components) that a cook will require for the menu items that he or she expects to prepare during his/her shift.[1]

  – The never ending source of knowledge: Wikipedia

I realize that I'm probably alone on this one, but this looks exciting to me. Ready for battle!

At first, I thought it was all just nit-picky fussbudget stuff, another  way for people to make things more complicated than they needed to be.  Just make your food!  Don’t get so wound up about it!  I thought.  And I did.  Then I worked my first night on the main line of a restaurant I was training in, and I found out what a cluster-you-know-what it is when you aren’t ready for the uphill climb ahead of you. When you have hungry customers waiting on you to push through the busy dinner hour and give them the food they ordered, they really don’t give a shit that you didn’t prep enough grated parmesan for the fifty extra people who weren’t expected to come in that night.   All the customers can see is that you are holding up their dinner; all you can see is that this stress and friction is happening because you ignored the power of the mise en place.  I learned that by making sure I was prepared for anything, it decreased my anxiety about the hard work ahead by preparing for all worst-case scenarios: what if I drop my knife on the dirty floor?  Have a back up knife nearby.  I only have a handful of thyme, what if I run out?  Prep what you have and then prep some parsley as a backup.  What if I don’t have enough time to take my break?  You won’t.  It’s going to be so busy you’re going to have sweat running into your eyes and you won’t remember the last time you sat down.  Have a huge bottle of water stashed nearby, and two towels – one for the food, one for your sweat.  Don’t mix up the two.

This kind of order makes me really happy 🙂 Disturbing? Maybe.

It was freeing, actually.  I had everything in front of me that I would possibly need for my upcoming battle, and all that was left was to use my own strength to push forward and get it done.  Nothing felt so good as to emerge from a tough night of working on the line, sweaty and tired, but satisfied that I had worked without any major screw-ups that could have been prevented by using the principles of mise en place.  It has seriously changed the way I prepare for and handle almost all the things in my life that have the potential for becoming stressful.   Camping, taking the kids to the zoo, multiple family holiday run-arounds, it all falls into the I better get my mise together category.

And now, of course, running has been pulled into the realm of things that preparation makes better!  For those short runs, 4 miles or less, I can usually keep the need to compulsively prepare in check.  My equipment needs are pretty minimal for those days  (water and music would be nice but not super necessary), so my OCD about having things ready and in place can be dialed back a bit.  On long run days or race days, however, don’t mess with my Mise.

I'm pretty sure this shirt was made for people like me.

My route needs to be mapped out the night before, with a mileage check done on a couple of different map sites.  I do a supply check and set everything out on the table so there are no early morning run-around-in-a-crazed-panic moments.  Hydration belt (find the water bottle!), gel, MP3 player (charged) and headphones, phone (charged), ID bracelet, running clothes, socks that I trust to keep me blister-free (and that match each other), hair binder, headband.  And that’s just the long run day list.  Race day prep adds so much more…

I know it sounds like I’m adding pressure to myself, that I’m making things more intense than they need to be on a day that’s already going to be kind of taxing.  But really, once everything is laid out, thought over, and prepared, I can go to bed and sleep well.  I know that in the morning, I am free to wake up and do what it is I really want to do – run.  I can rest easy in the knowledge that my prep will support me through the whole thing, and I can make it back home happy that I gave it my strongest effort.  My pace will reflect my actual work extended, not the slow-down that comes from the mistake of forgetting to bring enough water, or not having enough time in the morning to pick out the right clothes that I feel the best in, or misplacing the gels I thought I had in the pantry and going on without them.

For me, the mental work of running is totally equal to the physical work of running.  If I can bolster myself up by setting up my running mise en place, then I’m all over it.  It only takes a little doubt, or self-criticism, or jolt to my expectations to set my run off at an uneven place.  So I happily embrace my need to organize, and if it’s going to help me reach my goals in a happier state, then it’s always welcome on my runs.

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