Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dentists recommend 4 out of 5 triathlons

You know how when you learn a new word, you start seeing it everywhere? Or hear about a new movie and then suddenly everyone you know is talking about it. It seems that since I've started this venture I'm suddenly meeting all sorts of athletes or finding out that people I already knew are harboring a secret athletic life.

I have a couple theories for this. 1.) They were always out there but took one look at my decidedly UN-athletic frame and figured I wouldn't know my 10K from a turkey or 2.) Not only does my new interest put me naturally in the company of more athletes but perhaps causes me to seek them out, or encourage them to reveal that secret part of themselves to me due to some subconscious "likes attract" thing.

I'm not sure how I got on the track of triathlons with my dentist this week. He certainly has never brought them up before with me (See theory #1) but it turns out he's a champion triathlete - in his spare time. It was the best teeth cleaning I've had! Not only did I leave with a brand new toothbrush, floss and cute little tube of paste, but full of great advice for training - especially the dreaded cycling, which is his favorite and my LEAST favorite.

He seems to think it isn't enough that I've bookmarked the registration page for a July tri, but that I should go ahead and register now and, get this, sign up for another one for August. He says I'll work so hard to be ready for July that the let down will be pretty big if there's not another one on the horizon.

There was a time when I'd find that idea pretty hilarious. In fact the idea of my even bookmarking a triathlon is still a pretty good thigh-slapper in some of my circles but I remember what it felt like after I finished that first 5K. I was so thrilled that I did it that I ran a 4 miler two days later and a 10K the next month. Now I try to have a race on the calendar every month or I just don't really enjoy my running. So it doesn't seem so way out of there that I might experience the same after a tri.

Oh, and it's funny. I went from adamantly refusing to consider a tri, to saying I was considering one to now telling people I'm getting my base level of fitness set so I can begin serious training in the spring. OK - that one still makes me giggle. Base level of fitness.....Remember, I've been all about the "bass" level of fitness for years.

I wonder if I'll ever really feel comfortable with the term "athlete". I do feel athletic, but I think I'd have to draw the line there. Maybe if I'd choose a run over a good bottle of wine EVER, I'd think about the moniker. Maybe it's like being told you're pretty but all you ever see are your big thick glasses and lumpy nose.

Still, they're attached to some shoulders that are starting to show the hint of definition and that's pretty cool.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Resting has never been something that has come easy to me. In yoga, we practice Savasana, a resting pose, at the end of every session. It is as important, and often harder, than any of the active poses. It is a time to let the cells and muscles rejuvenate and to practice being present and still in our bodies.

My tendency, as I adopt this new lifestyle, is to forget to rest. This is no surprise as I tend to do everything to extreme. I am struggling to find the balance between making sure each day is spent doing something active and aerobic, and not doing so much that I forget to give my body time to recover. A few times this month I have not spaced my swims or runs far enough apart and then have struggled, only to correct it the following week and reach amazing distances and endurance.

And now, with this somatic reminder of the importance of resting muscles that have been torn, pushed, stretched to the edge of their capacity, I try to extend the same kindness to myself in matters of emotion and stress. I've been so conditioned to be strong, capable, handle everything that I can forget that the heart is a muscle too and after marathon-like demands on it's capacity to give and care, it too needs time to rest, pause, climb into Savasana and just be - to prepare for the next opportunity to beat stronger.

Maybe, the next long run, I'll turn over the work to the legs and let everything else just come along for the ride.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Where we are now

I don't want this blog to be a dreary update of how many miles I've run, laps I've swum - how much I can press but it seems necessary to document some changes if I'm going to try and convince my glee club buddies that they, too can be more fit than they ever thought possible so here's the dull stuff:

- When I started this thing late last spring, my primary exercise was walking my kid to school, one yoga class a week and the occasional exercise tape. I was pretty proud of that schedule.

- to get ready for the race, I had to add running 3-4 times a week, using a Couch to 5k training plan and slowly adding on the time and distance. I thought that once the race was over that would be enough for me and I could go back to my normal, lazy routine. But I didn't count on getting hooked.

- An earlier post will tell why I couldn't completely laugh off a friend's suggestion that I try a triathlon. I started flailing around in the pool and signed up to work with a personal trainer two times a week. I still thought the tri was a crazy dream, but I'd give the extra workouts a shot.

- Here we are in mid October. I am working on swimming a mile. This week I've done 1250 meters three times. I keep up with the running, now working on speed but I still lie about doing time on the bike. And the personal trainer? She's brutal. She has gotten me to do things I never thought my body could do. I can't really explain the pride I feel in myself when I've finished one of her crazy ideas, like the step aerobics routine that I did ON MY HANDS.

The fun part has been to see new muscles developing. The comments I get from other people don't stink either! But most rewarding is when someone tells me what they've dared to try after hearing me talk about what I've learned.

I'm not sure my original reasons for getting into this lifestyle are all that admirable - I wanted to prove something to myself, I liked the praise I got from friends, I might have even originally been trying to gain someone's attention....but whatever got me here, I feel great. I know now I'm doing it for myself: people really don't want to hear how great my run was and the "someone" has moved on but that tri is coming up, just around the corner and though I'll probably be there by myself, I will be cheering louder than any spectator when I cross that finish line because I will have fought a doubt and dug down to find a strength and confidence I didn't know I have.

And, my legs are pretty darn hot too!

This is new

Well this is new. I ran in the town race a couple weeks ago. A friendly little 5K and set as my goal to shave time off the first one I ran that started this whole new lifestyle. I was successful, though only a minute faster. Still, I beat the high school girls' lacrosse team who were complaining to each other that their legs hurt and they were tired. HAH! You don't even KNOW tired yet, ladies.

I've never cared about winning, I just like the thrill that I'm actually regularly racing. But as they called winner after winner I started to feel that familiar tug that I used to only feel about academics. I wanted a medal. Now, the race against my own psyche, my own age and my own ass is still my primary motivator - and being fit enough to complete a triathlon next summer is my key focus, but I've started to run just a little harder now. I've started to look at the finishers in my age group before running a race, just to see what I'd have to do. Me, the chubby little girl in the alto section. Hah.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Racing for Two

I don't know how long I (like so many other people) used the excuse "I don't have time" as an excuse for avoiding an exercise routine. This morning I was walking home from dropping off my son at school and remembered that only a year ago, less really, I accepted this 6 block walk as my daily fitness routine. It was all I could fit in, I told myself.

Now I have every allowable excuse you could have for not adopting a regular fitness routine. I am a single mom with full custody of a young child who can't be left at home alone. I have no family members nearby. I work full time at one job and have several smaller contracted jobs to make ends meet. I volunteer at church and the school and try to be active in my community. I am also now a soccer mom.

One of the songs on my I-Pod when I run is "Eat for Two" by 10,000 Maniacs. It's about a woman who is pregnant (a race I will DEFINITELY not be entering again!). It goes "I eat for two, walk for two, breathe for two, now." I think of my son as I chug along to these words and realize that I don't have a choice. I have to make my health a priority so I can be here for him.

Last night he was setting up a domino train on the table. When he had them all lined up he said "This is one of your running races, Mom. Here you are at the very front. All these people want to follow you". I realized what I am teaching him about living a healthy life and how it needs to be as big a priority as any of our other demands.

And so, every Sunday night I sift through the emails and commitments and plug in my daily workouts for the week. I ask for help. I suffer the guilt of taking time for me and I race for two, now.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What a difference a day makes!

I don't know whether to chalk it up to the weather or my commitment to keeping a clear mind, but yesterday's run was the best I've ever done since I started this whole fitness pursuit. I ran 6 miles easily (though thanks to the Seattle area hills there was even some hiking!) and could have kept going for another hour. I reached that elusive runner's high I've heard so much about.

That will give me the courage to face Sunday's 10K. So was it the lack of humidity? The crisp fall-like breeze that always gives me energy? The decision to turn off the brain and just enjoy the run? Here's hoping more runs go like this.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The hazards of clearing a mind

I've been getting ready for this Sunday's 10K and am a little concerned that I haven't been able to pull over a 5.5 mile run yet. Some people say it's the heat and humidity and that I should be gentle with myself. I think I've found another challenge.

I have always read that running can help a person work through problems, get a clear mind etc. but I have found that, just like in any other part of my life, if my head is full of junk I can't perform as well. I've been ruminating while I run and I think the weight of my thoughts has slowed my run. In fact a few times I've been brought to a complete stop as my thoughts, about something else entirely from the run, have been "I just can't do it", and my legs just respond.

I suppose the answer is to enter more of a meditative state when running and rather than chase after an answer, listen to the quiet until it presents itself. It's similar to making the distance run. When I'm focused on what mile marker I'm nearing, I feel the fatigue of the run, but when I focus on breathing, the finish line just appears. Huh. I think I already knew that, wonder why I wasn't listening.

When I'm swimming, there's so much to think about just to move through the pool, I have to be absolutely in the present, that nothing else can interrupt me. It's that kind of presence I'm going to work to achieve in my runs this week if I hope to get across that finish line on Sunday. And if I hope to have sound answers to my other larger questions.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Zen Day: Greed, Anxiety, Fear and CO2

I love my Sunday runs for a couple reasons. First, that's usually the day I add distance to my run and don't worry so much about time or pace. It becomes a lesson in endurance. Second, generally my run follows my Saturday yoga class and Sunday's church service. I always start my Sunday run with a head full of new ideas to work through.

Saturday's yoga class was about fear. Through the practice of arm balances and deep stretches and back bends I examined fear. The fear of landing on my head or not being able to support my weight keeps me stuck on the ground. I know this to be true because one class I got up into crow pose and felt a momentary elatedness before I crashed to the floor and haven't been able to get both feet up in the air again (yet).

Today, in church, we learned about Buddhism and how dwelling on things, trying to control them or hold on to them only breeds anxiety and suffering and how Greed is one emotional reaction to the things that life presents us with.

I rolled these two days into one as I ran to contemplate where in my life am I Greedy, Fearful and Anxious and how does it relate to my physical training. In the swimming, I am afraid that I will take in water and drown. This causes me to tense up, lose my breathing and of course, suck up a lung full of pool water. My Friday morning drill was floating on my back with my head nearly submerged and I went into a low level panic. For a few successful moments though, when I let go of the fear of submerging my head and was able to press back into the water, my legs rose effortlessly. When we push down against a fear, something new can rise.

I wasn't sure what to think about running at first. I'm not afraid I won't breathe or even that I'll hurt myself or exhaust myself so what could be holding me back (today was not my strongest run)? Sadly, I realized it was Greed. I am greedy for how comfortable it feels to just walk, not have to breathe hard, to stay comfortable. Of course, when I push through the initial or reoccuring discomfort, the endorphins kick in and I feel terrific. It's just another matter of recognizing that nothing is permanent, even the discomfort of running. I can wait, acknowledge that yes, it is uncomfortable right now but soon it won't be again.

This led me to thing about breathing. As I am told, the signal I get that I need a breath is really my body's chemical reaction to needing to expel carbon dioxide. As badly as I feel I want to breathe in, what really needs to happen is to breathe out. The intake is really there to help expel the waste. And here's where I make my final leap for the weekend. If I am anxious about a situation, it is generally because I am fearful of what an outcome might be. If I try and control the situation, I falsely believe I will be able to direct its outcome and soon all joy of the current state is lost to me in the anxiety I feel over its uncertainty.

Things are never static. They will always change. They will always bring the potential for suffering. The suffering is driven by our own greed, anxiety and fears. We tend to focus on the inhale, the fresh new breath the things that feel good, easy, comfortable and predictable when our need for this breath may just be our bodies screaming for the chance to expel the toxins we are creating as we shuffle through our lives.

I can't float if I'm fighting the water. I can't run if I'm attached to how good it feels to stop. I can't do an arm balance if I don't take my feet off the floor. And I can't love if I am fearful that I may not be loved in return.

Now, time to hit the shower because I can't sit with myself and ponder any longer if I don't get clean!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Humbling or Humiliating

I suppose a thing is only humiliating if you give a toot about what the people around you are thinking.

Today was my first day attempting to swim laps. I got to the local pool by 6:30 this morning and the lanes were already dotted with people who seemed to be able to get themselves back and forth across the pool along the top of the water.

I have gotten pretty confident in running. What I lack in speed I make up for with a steady pace and I know I can complete a race and still be able to laugh and joke right after. Today I had to go back and remember what that first 15 minute run felt like. When I thought I would never make it and thought maybe I'd never be a runner.

I got in the pool and it was as if I had never been swimming before. I clunked along from end to end, drinking water, panicking and having to pause at every length, not so much from physical exhaustion as from everything you have to remember as you're moving along that line. I thought how on earth am I going to be able to do this in a triathlon? Well, I recognize that feeling, I had it getting ready for the 5K. So, I'll be back at the pool in another couple of days and again after that and again after that and someday I'm pretty sure I won't look like an octopus trying to put on a sweater.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It had to happen sooner or later

Today was the first really rotten workout/run I've had since I started this journey. Really it was just one of those days all around. But what surprised me was how much I learned from a terrible run.

In the past, if I had a crummy run, well, if I had a crummy start to a run, I'd just stop. Then I'd beat myself up for a few days about how hard it had been and sometimes it would be enough to derail me for several weeks.

This morning started with my finding every possible reason why I could skip my run: My son was too tired to wake up and take to the sitter's; I stayed up too late the night before; my period just started so what would one day of rest really hurt. But as I lay there and tried to figure out how I'd make up for the lost day later in the week I realized I had to get up and run.

The humidity was already at 90% by 7:30. I started running and I felt like I was trying to breath water (this would be a useful thing to master as I am learning to swim of course). My legs each had to weigh 75 pounds and my back was out of whack. My breathing was out of synch and I just never fully got to that zen place of just loving the run.

But I completed the run (and increased my speed) and here's what I learned. All the aches and pains actually helped me focus on my posture, my pacing, and my breathing. Though I never got them all pulled together this run, I think I learned more about their importance by having them all so out of whack. When things are flowing right (which I love MUCH better), I don't even notice what I'm doing but today I was forced to notice what wasn't right so that I can appreciate and hone what works for the next run.

Let's think that through again. When things feel completely out of control, out of synch with who I usually am, it is a chance to examine each crooked piece and make note of what needs to be set right again so I can perform at my best and strongest. Hmmm. The next run (literal and metaphorical) can be a chance to test my ability to make corrections and keep pressing forward.

That's some good stuff there. Guess the morning wasn't a complete waste.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Who's gonna stop this girl??

Ah yes, where did we last leave our hero? Funny, but after the two races, it just didn't seem so remarkable anymore that I run. In fact, I guess I am now a runner, though it feels odd to say it. I run 3 to 4 times a week. I'm getting ready for a 10K in Seattle. When I signed up for it, I barely blinked at the distance, knowing that I'd be able to complete it. Funny when I consider how terrified I was only a couple weeks ago at the 5K. I've had to start looking for new challenges - but more about that in a minute.

The 10K. I lived in Seattle for 15 years. The highest points in my life so far were in Seattle (striking out on my own in a strange city with only $1000 and a suitcase full of paint, 3000 miles from home and, much later, giving birth to the most amazing boy in my life). It was also in Seattle where my marriage ended, I became a single parent and where I was living when my mother died. Though I lived less than half my life there, those years from the mid 20's to 40 are much of what I think shaped who I have become. When I left, it was because I just knew it was time.

As I planned this summer's visit back to friends and family, the first thing I looked for was a race. I was hoping for a 5k but all I could find that fit with my schedule was the 10. I knew I wanted to go back and make a run. How perfect that it be the next step in my increasing challenges to myself.

The course of the race will take me through the very first neighborhood I lived in when I moved there, past the houseboat I shared with my ex-husband before we were married and skirts the lake I kayaked in the day I learned of my mother's death. When I cross the finish line (in under an hour I'm hoping) I will be stronger than I ever have been. All of these things, all of these places and so many other stories make up the muscles and the breath that will carry me over the course.

And about the other challenges

I have to admit that I have never really been one to be too content with things the way they are. I'm always looking for the next hill. A friend once wrote of me "To love Sarah is to love motion". So I guess it shouldn't be too much of a surprise to myself that with the 10K only a couple weeks away and so clearly now something I can do, that I have started to move down my list of "Things That Scare the Crap Out of Me".

It was really only a matter of time before I would have to come back to my dear friend's suggestion of a triathlon. I knew I would the first time I so quickly said "Oh no, that's really your thing. I can't do that." That always sets my gremlins in motion. I imagine one of them to be a small black woman going cobra on me every time I say "I can't" : "Oh no she didn't!".

So this Saturday found me in the pool trying not to panic as I re-remembered how to breathe OUT when my face is in the water and IN when it's in the air. This turns out to be an extremely important distinction to make.

I have no fear about the run portion of a sprint triathlon, I've already done it. I can make it through a bike ride, though I have some serious work to do on my endurance, but the thought of the swim, especially without the comfort of the thick black lane lines and a bottom I can reach with my toes, is the stuff of some great reoccurring nightmares. And so of course, into the water I go.

It can't be any stupider than the time I went skydiving, can it? I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Today a lesson in second guessing myself

Tonight's race was a prediction race. I'm sure the organizers heard it all at registration as they didn't even nod when I predicted that I'd get wet (it was misting) but not get lost.

The race was 3.65 miles long, one loop around a local river park. I've done the loop several times but never without walking. I figured that since I did 3.1 in 34 minutes, and I was sure to need to walk during this longer run, I'd be safe to tack on another 10 minutes and then added another for good measure for a prediction of 45 minutes.

Well the victory was bittersweet. I did not make my predicted time. In fact, I was off by nearly 4 minutes. Four minutes UNDER. I never took a walk break and I felt fabulous the entire time. Well, that's not true. The first 5 minutes are always tough and today were worse than ever. Everything hurt immediately and all at once. I think I may have started out a little too fast, or it could have been the lifting I did the day before but I was surprised at how badly my shoulders and lungs were screaming right off the bat. But in about 8 minutes, I felt terrific and that feeling didn't go away for the rest of the night.

So my pace was still no faster than Saturday's - I think I can cut myself a little bit of slack here - but my endurance increased and now I have a new bar for the next race. And I did manage to come in nearly 10 full minutes before the 60 year old who is recovering from open heart surgery she had LESS THAN A YEAR AGO!!!!! I was beaten shamelessly by a 6 year old and an 8 year old. I take comfort in the fact that they were running with their parents and likely were just running away from them.

And so what will be the next challenge? I don't know about that triathalon, Counselor. I did one lap at the pool on Sunday using my very best dog-paddle / frog stroke and that was tough. I think I'd make a better bouy than a racer for now. I'll have to look into swim lessons and a place to practice. That sure would be a hell of a fish to seize.....

Monday, July 20, 2009

Quid Nunc?

What Next?

So I did it, did it well and had a great time and I'm pulling the memories out like a lovesick teenager replays a conversation from the lunch room (well OK, I'm still known to do that as well, but that's beside the point.).

The race was amazing and if you're at all thinking of getting into a fitness plan but shy away from competitive sports I highly recommend races. The most surprising part to me was the sense of community I found. My mother used to always scoff at me for being such a "joiner" but I always seek community, wherever I land, and the race did not disappoint. Everywhere I looked there were people running or walking with friends and family to encourage them along. I passed several pairs and groups of people with obvious experienced members running backwards or stopping and starting to keep their less-trained friends going. My own fan club sent a representative to the half-way point to cheer me on. I made it quite clear at the beginning that I did not want anyone to run along with me, this was my mountain to climb and I intended to do it on my own.

I suspected that I'd do better with people around but wasn't exactly sure. Having so many people to watch, to pace myself with made the run more interesting and the 2 mile point sneaked up on me. For the first time , I ran 34 minutes without stopping to walk once and I felt terrific at the end.

Perhaps only second to my own pride and sense of accomplishment was the thrill of having friends there to support me and my son to watch Mommy face something that was scary and do it anyway. That's a lesson I could never teach any other way.

I look at photos from the day and realize "I'm actually a runner. I'm in a race - with a number pinned to my chest." Unbelievable. More surprising are the other changes I am seeing. When I drive past runners or see them go by the house, I'm envious and want to jump up and go with them. In the past, they'd just be part of the scenery but now I feel like a part of what they're doing. I am also able to face other challenges, personal and athletic, with a little bit more patience. Everything has it's own endurance level, it's a matter of building up to it over time.

And so, what next? When I started this I thought it might be a lark. I'll do the race and add it to the list of challenges I've overcome, perhaps just under the skydiving and above the singing a solo to an audience. But now, I feel that this has become a part of my list of things I'll do for fun and I'm looking for the next chance to get out there and try to beat the 34. I found a local running club and tomorrow night I'll run 3.65 miles in a prediction race.

I'm predicting I'll love it.

(And finish in 44 minutes)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Closing in on the Prize

Sunday's training plan called for a 3.5 run which I am amazed to say I was actually looking forward to. I knew if I did that, then the 3.1 race would be shorter and more obtainable.

Funny how I've moved from having to trick myself to get out the door to actually craving a run. Yes, craving! Who knew?

I headed out into the full humidity that only South Jersey can deliver and brutal sun. I was starting much later than I like to for a run but didn't give myself a second to entertain postponing. The shuffle on my music list worked in my favor that morning and the first two songs had me feeling absolutely jubilant. Of course, I can't possibly remember what they are now but they made me feel accomplished and proud.

And so I finished the run. Yes, I had to walk a bit and yes, even make a pit stop (Note to self: Don't eat big plate of scrambled eggs on morning of race. Second note to self: Somebody else had damn well better be cooking for me that day.) but I finished the run. I did it. The race is almost secondary now. I never in my life thought I could really do this and I did.

And so I've begun to wonder how I will keep myself motivated without the carrot of a race and with the complication of the return to my full-time single parenting (Kid's dad lives out of the country and won't be back for at least 6 months). But I've made it this far and I'm just not going to let these things be excuses for me to slip back into my previous lazy state. OK, maybe not lazy, but certainly not as physically active.

Then today, at a pool party play date I actually found myself saying the most unbelievable thing out loud. "How many miles IS a 10 K anyway? That's like 6 miles, right? I could do that." And so it starts again. I found a local running club and joined up. I'm just going to assume that I'll figure out the childcare piece of it as I go along and I love being able, as a parent, to say to my son "What kind of exercise are we going to do today?".

By the way, my son tells me that when I finish the race I get my "Super Mom" cape and can enroll in his super hero training academy. Definitely sounds like a plan to me.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dear God, I'm becoming like a reformed smoker

First it's important to remember that 3 1/2 weeks ago I was nearly sedentary. Yes, I did yoga 3-5 times a week and some light aerobic workouts so I was no couch potato but pretty much really only enjoyed heavy breathing during one specific activity, and during that one I'm not usually the one doing the hardest work.

But it's been three weeks now since I started this campaign to make real cardio training a consistent part of my routine and I've had so many gradual and, what feel to me like monumental, successes that now I can't help but start to nag all of my friends to get up off the couch and give it a try.

Last Sunday I completed a 3 mile run in 38 minutes. I know it's no crazy racer's time but let's remember, I started week one running for 5 minutes and then walking for two. I know now that if I did nothing else for the remaining week and a half, I'd be able to finish the race. That felt like the hurdle I needed to reach. From here out it's about making it the best race I can do, not just trying not to die while trying a crazy stunt.

While I was running I passed a little girl in a stroller who called out to her mom "There goes a runner". I wanted to donate to her college fund except she forgot to say "There goes a single mom raising a kid on one income", so I settled for a smile and a wink.

This morning I did my run on a treadmill for the first time and I now understand my friend's comment about not "Half-assing" a workout. I was fiddling with the settings on the machine and plugging along (without tunes again, I think I might prefer this but I'm still holding on to them as a crutch for now) when I realized I'd been jogging at a steady pace for 30 minutes and never once needed to slow down or stop. While this is great, I also felt like I never really got my heart rate up there. Again, if you haven't been paying attention, 3 weeks ago a jog to the end of my street would have gotten me to my target heart rate.

I had to end my workout after the 30 mins to get to a meeting and I felt completely cheated and realized I had essentially wasted the half hour, the precious short time I had been able to set aside to do something entirely for myself and was going to spend the rest of the day wishing I could do more. See how annoying this must be to my non-exercising friends? I was always the one they could count on to say "Oh, we can work out tomorrow, let's just chill today". And now I'm trying to find more ways to sneak in more time to run???? Who is this nut?

I realize that pretty much I'm the only one who reads this blog, with the exception of some staunch supporters, but I want to go to every person who thinks that getting fit and strong is too hard, too much not like them, too silly a way to spend precious time and say c'mon, take my hand. We can do it together - even us. And it just might save our lives.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tunes or no tunes

I started taking music on my run because it helped me not focus so much on the messages my brain was trying to send to the rest of my body to stop. Tonight though, I wanted to see if I could run without it. I have been reading a lot by other runners who talk about experiencing some of their clearest ever thinking when they just let their mind wander on the course. I had a lot on my mind this evening. I knew that the physical exertion alone would leave me calmer but I wondered if I was cheating myself out of some of the other benefits of running by focusing on the music and not letting my mind go where it wanted. So out I went.

So I tuned in more to the conversations with myself that I have to have on every run. They go a lot like this:

Within first 5 minutes:
BRAIN: Oh, everything hurts! This is crazy, why are we doing this? You're not a runner and who's going to even care if you just go home? You're great at lots of other things, let's just leave this one alone.

ME: Oh, it's you again. Didn't you try this 3 times this week already? Chill out, in another 2 or 3 minutes the pain will go away and you'll be just fine. I don't want to hear another word out of you until we get to the end of the next bloc.

After about 10:
BRAIN: OK, I did what you asked, I kept quiet but have you noticed how heavy you're breathing? You should take a break and walk. You're getting pretty sweaty too and, if I may say so, pretty stinky.

ME: I know, I know. You told me you were going to die last time at this same point and I ran another 15 minutes so let's just keep going. Besides, once I slow down, you are absolutely no help in getting me to start up again.

BRAIN: heh heh, that's pretty true.

At about 12 minutes:
BRAIN: OK, how about a small break at 15 minutes? Just for one or two minutes. Really. I promise.

ME: You promise? We can walk and then start right back up again?

BRAIN: Scout's honor.

ME: OK, in 15.

At 17 minutes:

BRAIN: You know, there's really not a reason to run the rest of the way home. You've already done more than some people do all week. Let's just stroll home.

ME: You promised!

BRAIN: I know. Fine. Let's go. And I'll keep quiet until we get to the corner where our street is.

ME: Really?

BRAIN: Really. I'd rather work on a few of your other problems for a while, I've lost interest in this running thing, you seem to have it pretty well mastered and don't seem like you're going to give it up anytime soon. See you in a few.

At the corner:

BRAIN: Yoo-hoo, look where we are!!! And look at your watch. 27 minutes, that's 2 more than you set out to do. Can we stop now?

ME: OK, sure.

BRAIN: I think we deserve an ice cream cone.

ME: Brain!!!

BRAIN: Fine. Cold water it is. Can we be friends now?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When did my world get so small?

Lots of interesting things get jostled around in my head while I'm running, I've found. Today I was thinking about a painting I was working on last night. I studied painting in undergraduate school. Back then I made huge canvasses, one so large that I had to take the door off my apartment to get it into school for a grade (probably should have thought that through before building the frame INSIDE the house).

The painting I was working on last night is the second that I've done this year and both have been tiny, 5 X 8 pieces. I can't remember when I stopped painting, I guess it's like a lot of things, they just peter off gradually until you can't remember a time when you did them.

I realized, while I was running, that in my unhappy marriage I was getting smaller and smaller. Not literally of course, in fact before the divorce I was huge. I guess I made up in my body weight what I was losing in my soul. But I had become unsure, hesitant, dependent and cautious.

So, back to running, accomplishing this goal is like starting on the tiny canvasses. A few months ago I would never have imagined I could even run a complete mile. Today's 2.25 is no marathon, and the paintings are no mural, but I think they're the doorway back to my big, wonderful world.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The difference between 24 and 44

I learned a lot of valuable lessons this weekend. The most painful, literally, is that I can no longer stay out drinking until 3 AM and expect to enjoy a run at 7:30 in the morning. Still, I learned I CAN do it. I did complete a 2.5 run but have come to understand that it's a lot more enjoyable when you've had sleep and proper food before hand. I ran today with other people. I ran faster which is good, but I struggled more with my own thoughts of stopping than I seem to when I can zone out to the music. Next time I can tell people I'm running with what to say to me to keep me going when I want to quit.

Yesterday in yoga I met an amazing woman. First, she was the most beautiful woman I've ever seen and she was so strong! She was demonstrating how to "fall back" into a backbend from standing. As I watched her I thought, she must be a couple years older than me and look how incredibly fit she is. After class she told me she was 60 years old. It was amazing. She said she started yoga when she was 50 - more evidence that it's not too late for me to spend the second half of my life as a fit and healthy person. THere is time enough in this life for everything I want to accomplish. Amazing.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day 12!

In highschool I set a record for running the mile: 45 minutes.
The route went past a mall that had an ice cream shop in it. That seemed as good a place as any to spend my time taking the Presidential Fitness Test. To say I wasn't into fitness would be an understatement.

Today I did 2 miles in 2o minutes, what would that gym teacher say now? There are 3 weeks left until the race. I had been holding a time of 45 minutes in my head for the 5K (sort of a tribute to high school) but it looks like I could get in under that by then. I'm really more focused on finishing and not dying but there's always room for another goal.

Yesterday, as I was getting out of my car, a woman drove up to me and leaned out her window. "I'm not gay or anything, but those are some damn pretty legs!". Not too shabby a way to start the morning, I'd say!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

patience, patience

Well the good news is that I've been able to be consistent in working out. The runs are getting easier and I actually look forward to them. Today the 30 minutes on the stationary bike was doable, if not boring as hell. God awful boring. Did I mention dull? The cute little virtual bike tour of Washington State did nothing to convince me that I was enjoying a trip through Seattle.

I drink tons of water and think I've been eating very well but the weight just stays the same, up or down a pound. I've been doing this my whole life and I know all about water weight, muscle mass, blah blah blah focus more on the level of fitness but dammit the numbers will always mean something to me. I got a little lazy about counting calories, guess it's time to get out the old food scale again. Where is my magic wand???

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Well Crap!

It wasn't enough that I found I could make the entire 2 miles without stopping. Now my 15 minute morning run is a little too easy. I was thinking it was great that I could complete it without wanting to die or kill someone else. Then I checked my heart rate.

It seems I know have built up enough of a fitness level that I actually have to run a little faster to get my heart rate up there. Guess I'd better change the tunes on the phone - those Kate Wolf ballads just don't get me racing.

It is a little sad that I am old enough that ibuprofen is now a breakfast food.

This weekend's plan calls for a 2.5 mile run. I'm feeling pretty good about it. Trying not to pay attention to the fact that it's 7:00 AM and already warmer and more humid then I'd like. Can't imagine what that's going to feel like in mid-July at 8:30 when the race starts. They have EMTs at races, right??

Sunday, June 21, 2009

2 miles!! Amazing

So today's plan called for a 2 mile run. Let me be perfectly clear about this. That is longer and farther than I have ever run continuously in all my life. Ever. The day was looming at the end of my weekly calendar. I tried not to indulge too many moments of doubt but I really wasn't sure I'd make it.

My shoes are too small and not comfortable. - Got new shoes on Weds.
I have to take care of my son - dropped kid off with dad.
I need music to distract me - figured out how to load music onto my phone.
My running bra is dirty - did laundry
My knee hurts...it's too muggy..... I'll look old and sweaty......I'll just run a little bit and then let myself walk it out.....who's going to know if I don't finish anyway....this one run won't make a difference, I'm really just not the fitness type.....GOOD GOD GET OUT THE DOOR!!!

Well I'll be damned. I did it. The whole thing. And I didn't die. The music was a huge help. I picked things I could sing along too (in my head of course, I was way too busy panting to get any words out) and that kept me from thinking about how tired I was.

I used Mapmyrun.com to plot a 2 mile run through my neighborhood so I knew exactly where I was and how far it was back to my house. That let me set lots of little goals like "I won't think about walking again until I get to Garfield".

When I felt like my breathing was getting too heavy and I should stop I reminded myself that I was strengthening my heart and the longer I went the easier the next run or bike would be. I kept picturing what I would look and feel like when I crossed the finish line at the end of the race and how proud my son and friends would be. That is the woman that I wish I was.

And now I'm back from the run, completely cooled down. I didn't die. I feel great. I will be able to get up tomorrow and face my strength training routine easily because I made it through today's run. Unbelievable. I actually think I could get hooked on this.

Next Sunday's run is 2.5 miles. Well, I know I can do the 2, how hard could an extra half mile be???

Where we are so far

So some specifics to ground this story:

I decided to blog my journey through this challenge because I've done so many things in the past few years that I never thought I could and never really told the story. I'm hoping that, when I'm successful with this latest goal of running a 5K, some other woman who thinks she's too old, too fat, too busy, too whatever to do whatever thing SHE thinks better women do -she'll get up off the couch and Seize the Fish!

I should probably explain that. Carpe Diem sounds like it really should mean Seize the Fish and really, seizing a fish seems much more obtainable a goal than seizing an entire day, doesn't it?

So here are some painful but true confessions to make so that others who might find themselves in similar situations can see that I'm no ex high-school jock who's sad because she can only do a 15 minute mile. At one point I was a certified couch potato.

Six years ago I carried 210 pounds on my 5'3" frame. Wow. And that was before getting pregnant! My own father didn't recognize me at my sister's wedding. After my son was born and after a divorce I got that whittled down to about 185 where I stayed for a good many years. Last year, I took part in a weight-loss study and dropped another 20 pounds (without the use of drugs mind you - just good old fashioned eating less and moving more). I've kept that weight off for almost a year and have been practicing yoga for over a year now, feeling pretty great about my strength.

When I started talking about this race though, I had to face the fact that I have not really done much cardio training and have always given up when I started to pant or got too sweaty. There were a million reasons I could find for not being able to be a runner but I started to ask myself "What if I'm the only thing standing in the way of this goal? What would happen if I could really get fit, for good?"

Again, guided by some really sound advice: "If you half-ass your hour of working out, you'll have just wasted an hour" and "Your body tends to be conservative and overly dramatic. You are not likely going to die while training", I took on the challenge of a more vigorous workout routine with 4-5 days of cardio activity and 2-3 days of strength training a week. It's that journey I'm going to record here.

Oh by the way, I'll be 45 in January and it would really kick ass if I could get there in better shape then I ever was in my 20s.

If I can do it...

June 14, 2009

It occurred to me that, for a long time, I've been telling all my friends, and frankly anyone else who would listen, that they were capable of much more than they ever thought. "What would the person you wish you were do in this situation?" was my standard advice.

I have faced plenty of my own doubts and fears in the past few years - meeting some pretty dark times with successes like performing stand-up comedy, sky-diving, singing in front of an audience. Generally, if I thought it was something I'd like to do, I would find a way to give it a try.

It was in the midst of helping a certain bold Sicilian face her own fears of singing karaoke in a bar, that I started wondering what challenge I could take on next for myself. I'd already put in insulation under the porch, figured out how to cut trim for windows and laid sub-flooring by myself. What else did I truly think I couldn't accomplish?

A few weeks before I had gone to see a friend complete a triathalon. Now it should be stated here so there is no confusion - I am not an athlete. This will become very important later on in this story if you're still reading. I come from a long line of not-athletes. My parents held a certain disdain for anyone pursuing fitness or exercise, and we carry the physiques to prove it.

Anyway, back to the triathalon. As I watched women nearly twice my age and some with a good many pounds on me move from water to road to run I found it harder and harder to say with any conviction "Oh that's crazy, I could never do that."

Now I'm not contemplating a triathalon anytime in the near future - it seems like I should probably learn to swim before that happens, and perhaps not be terrified to bike in a group of other bikers, but I do know how to put one foot in front of the other. How hard could a running race be?

Once I've said an idea out loud to myself, I find it hard to put it down. I contacted the triathalon friend for some advice on training and finding a race, got myself signed up for a 5K in July and began the challenge of getting fit.