Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gobble Gobble

11/25/2010 6th Annual LARS Turkey Trot 5K
Official time: 39:01

I should confess up front that I'm still in a bit of an exercise funk and have not become reacquainted yet with my motivation. But I'm still trying!

Thanksgiving morning was cold and rainy. I'd been up late the night before, preparing food in advance. I got up early in the morning, after not nearly enough sleep, to prepare still more food. The thought of bailing on the race under those conditions was mighty tempting!!!

At the last possible second, I decided that I really did want to run the race after all. I threw on my clothes and rushed to the starting line with less than 10 minutes to spare. My expectations were spectacularly low: with only 2 runs under my belt since my 10K, and such gross weather conditions, I fully expected to struggle just to finish in a vertical position.

Luckily, the atmosphere was festive and my fellow racers were cheerful and friendly, which helped offset the cold and rain. I also rather enjoyed the novelty of running through the town where I live for a change - the course took us through downtown, along the river, and even near my church and past the field where my son played soccer this fall! There was one brutal hill that I'd planned in advance to walk, and walk I did. I knew if I tried to run it in my current shape, I'd probably be toast for the rest of the race after that! Walking up the hill and catching my breath afterwards allowed me to run the rest of the race in good form!

Overall, I'm pleased with the experience and I'm glad I didn't let the weather and lack of energy keep me away. I didn't stress about the race and just ran for the enjoyment of running! I walked when I needed to and still finished with a respectable (for me) time. Running on Thanksgiving morning really was a blast, and I plan to do more Turkey Trots in the future! Maybe next year I can drag my whole family out...there were a bunch of kids in this race (and most of them beat me...hahaha).

It was back to laziness for me for the rest of Thanksgiving weekend, but then I managed to get up and run yesterday. It was a short run, and a bad one, but I'm glad that I ran at all. It looks like I'll be doing mostly treadmill running now that the days are getting so short, so I'll have to readjust to that. I still hope to get outside on the weekends though!

I still have not managed to drag my butt back to the pool. It's getting harder now that it's cold in the mornings. Getting out of my nice warm bed to go outside where it's cold and then swim in a cold pool sounds thoroughly unappealing. I don't even know how to talk myself into it. Maybe I need to bribe myself with some kind of treat after I swim. Hey, bribery works on my kids...why not me too? :)

Tomorrow is another run day, and then Friday maybe I'll finally make it to the pool. Or not. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Old Habits

Just like I lost a lot of the fitness I'd built up during my weeks away from exercise due to illness, so too did I lose the good habits I'd worked so long and hard to develop. I had gotten really good about getting up before dawn nearly every day to go for a swim or a run. Then I spent a couple of weeks stealing every extra minute of rest I could get, and stopped setting my alarm completely. Now I'm setting the alarm again, but I can't seem to make myself obey it.

You see, I'm chronically overtired. I never get enough sleep, and there's not much I can do about it. There just aren't enough hours in the day for me to be the mother, wife, and employee I expect myself to be.

Part of the reason I let my weight get so out of control is that I never made exercise enough of a priority that I could work it into my schedule. And isn't that one of the most common excuses not to work out? "I just don't have the time." But if you don't find the time to take care of yourself now, then later you may run out of time in your life too soon! So I finally started MAKING the time to get in shape. It wasn't an easy process, training myself to get up early every day. I am NOT a morning person, and I never will be. But eventually I made early morning workouts a habit, a routine, a natural part of my life.

And now all that has unraveled. I'd forgotten how delicious a soft pillow feels under a tired head, or how cozy the blankets are on a chilly morning. I forgot how good an extra hour of sleep could feel to someone trying to function on a deficit. Right now, sleep is kicking exercise's butt in the battle of my mornings.

I think I have just temporarily lost my focus. Now that winter is approaching and the racing season is winding down, all my major goals are further out on the horizon, so I don't have anything to be pushing myself for at the moment. I'm not feeling any serious motivation to break out of these old habits into which I have re-settled. I don't know why it has to be one extreme or the other for me. What I'd like is to find some happy medium...the drive to keep exercising several days a week even if the workouts are not too challenging. I'd like to maintain some reasonable measure of fitness through the holidays before I start training again for spring events.

So that's my struggle right now. Hopefully soon I'll have a positive update about how I've found my motivation again and eased back into regular exercise!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Catching My Breath

Well, the cold I mentioned in previous entries, which I'd been fighting for about two weeks, ultimately morphed into bronchitis. I missed four days of work and finally dragged myself to a doctor last Friday. After a round of antibiotics, I'm finally feeling like a human being again, and I can BREATHE!!!!

The bronchitis was a surreal experience. I'm in probably the best cardiovascular health I've been in as an adult. I ran an entire 10K without ever getting so winded that breathing was a struggle. And then, just a few days later, I found myself out of breath just from walking into the next room of my house! I've been slowly getting better all week, but haven't attempted running again yet because I just can't imagine being able to breathe well enough.

While I've been out of commission, I've had time to ponder my goals. Achieving my goal of running a complete 10K on the first try was so unexpected that it really threw me for a loop...almost as much as failing at my first 5K goal did! I had planned on running another 10K in December, and expected THAT to be the first one I'd run all the way through. Now I technically don't need to run that race, so I'm thinking of skipping it to save some money and just resume racing again in the spring. On the other hand, without an event to keep training for, it might be easy to lose my motivation as I get caught up in the hustle and bustle (and eating!) of the holiday season.

As of now, I'm still undecided on the 10K, but I'm sticking with my plan to run a 5K Turkey Trot race on Thanksgiving morning. After two weeks off from running, I have no idea what kind of shape I'll be in, but I'm going to do my best. I might try to get out for a short jog tomorrow morning, but if I don't make it, I will definitely run again this Sunday. Wish me luck and a set of healthy lungs!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

So Good, It's SCARY

10/31/2010 Marine Corps Marathon 10K
Official Time: 1:16:50 (RAN THE WHOLE WAY!!!!)


Sorry for the delayed race report...my cold has been kicking my butt, and I've also been waiting to assemble all the pictures. This will probably get a little long...please bear with me!

As I mentioned in my last entry, on Saturday I went to the race expo to pick up my packet. The energy there was amazing, and I couldn't help but take a few pictures. I love the spooky Halloween design on the t-shirt and bib!



I awoke before dawn on Halloween morning...so far before dawn, in fact, that I got dressed, drove to the metro, rode the metro all the way into DC, emerged from the metro to find it....still TOTALLY dark outside! I wasn't completely awake yet at 5am, but I tried to look alert for a pre-reace photo at home.

Here are the symbols I wore to represent Jack. I thought if I drew them on, they might come off with sweat, so I used foam stickers. I loved having them on my hands because everytime I looked down for any reason, I saw them and thought of Jack some more. He was definitely with me throughout the race!


This is the starting line for the 10K. I knew I wouldn't be lined up anywhere near it for the actual race, so I had to get my photo ahead of time. As you can see, it was still very very dark.

For you ladies who enjoy a man in uniform, this race had two preferences covered in one spot: Marines and UPS men! Dropping off my bag was one of the highlights of my morning. Heehee.


The pre-race atmosphere was fantastic! I just walked around for a while, checking out people's costumes (I don't know how some of them could run in their costumes, but they managed!), and taking pictures. There was a very positive, fun energy everywhere and I soaked it all in. Finally it was time to stretch, jog a little to warm up, and find my way to the start.

I lined up in the 1:20-1:29 corral, and that was perfect because the clock time of my finish was 1:24. We were so far back that we could just barely hear the national anthem being sung, but we sure heard whatever they shot to start to race! I'm thinking it was a cannon... When we finally got up to the start line, there was music playing and an announcer saying all kinds of encouraging things. The song switched to "Bad Romance" right before I crossed the starting line, and it was the perfect final burst of energy to get me going. I'm a big Lady Gaga fan, and my 5-year-old son sings "Bad Romance" all the time. So I started running feeling happy and excited!

The first mile felt like it went by really quickly even though I was running my usual pace. It was a challenge to dodge all the people who started walking early on, but I managed not to trip or run into anyone. I started out without using my ipod, but turned the music on sometime while I was crossing the 14th St. bridge. I ended up pausing the music several times throughout the race, anytime there were spectators cheering or other music playing, but in between I did rely on some inspirational songs to keep me going.

I'm glad I set my goals so low for this race, because I think the lack of pressure was what helped me keep going the whole time. All along I kept thinking "I can walk at any time if I need to and it's fine," but at the same time I realized that I didn't truly need to walk yet. I hit 2 miles, and then 3, and realized I was very close to my reach goal. As I approached the 4-mile marker, I knew I'd almost achieved everything I hoped to in this race, but I also thought about how I had completed a 5-mile run just two weeks before, and so i decided to keep going one more mile. I was so excited about completing 5 miles that I managed to take a photo with my phone and post it to Facebook, complete with the caption "Still running." Yes, I know, I run really slowly, or else that wouldn't have been possible. LOL


As I passed the mile 5 marker, I considered taking a walk break to conserve some energy for the big hill that I knew was coming at the end. But my ipod was blasting "Don't Stop Believin'" and all I could think was that I had just a little over a mile left to go...so why not just keep going? So I did! I was really tired at this point, but also really motivated. I stopped thinking "I can walk at any time" and started thinking "I am going to FINISH THIS THING!!" Soon I didn't need my ipod anymore because there was loud music playing along the course. When I passed the mile 6 marker, I started to get emotional, realizing I was actually going to run the whole race. I think I would have cried a little if I hadn't been both exhausted and dehydrated. At the base of the scary hill was a Marine shouting encouraging things like "You're not finished until you get up that hill!!" Can you imagine any better motivation to charge up the hill just like a Marine? I went at it with all the strength I had left. It was insanely steep but thankfully very short. I think the hills I run regularly in my neighborhood had me well-prepared for this moment. And even if that were not true, there were throngs of cheering spectators, as well a wheelchair racer completing the marathon right next to me. It was a finish right out of a movie or something...and a truly amazing moment for me.

Unfortunately my kids chose to have one of their uncooperative mornings on Sunday, so my family didn't make it to the finish line in time to see me cross. Therefore the only running photos that exist were taken by the MarathonFoto people. Below are proofs of their shots of me approaching and then crossing the finish line.



Once I finished, I sort of wandered around in a daze for a while. I missed the medals at first because I was confused by all the crowds and didn't know where to go. I walked along where Marines were handing out Powerade, water, and bags of food, and almost kept going beyond there when I realized that a lot of people were wearing their medals. I found my way back to where they were being handed out, and an adorable Marine put one on me. Then I went and posed for the official "finisher's photo" in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial.


I was still somewhat in a daze at this point, so I just sat down on the ground and started eating a bagel. I took this opportunity for a self-portrait with my medal, which I posted to Facebook along with the exciting news that I had run the whole race!


Once I finally met up with my family and picked up my bag, we made our way back to the finish line area so they could see it. By then the marathon had already been won, but we watched a few other finishers cross. My husband took this picture of me with the finish line in the background.


Then we all took the shuttle to Crystal City and hung out in the "Crystal Run" area for a while. The kids took advantage of the snacks and fun family activities, while I stood on the side of the road and cheered on marathoners until I nearly lost my voice. That was almost as fun as running my own race! It felt great to see the appreciative looks on their faces when they'd thank us for our support. If you ever have the chance to be a volunteer or spectator for a marathon, you really should do it! It's an incredibly gratifying, not to mention inspirational, experience.

Overall, I'd say my race experience was 100% positive, and not just because I so far exceeded my expectations. It was just a great event to be part of, and I can't wait to do it again! There are so many people who run in memory of a lost loved one killed in action, or in honor of a brave soul currently deployed. As I ran, I thought of Jack and my own race dedication, but also offered a prayer for every loved one I saw pictured or named on someone's shirt. It's great to participate in an event that is about fitness and athletic competition, but has a deeper meaning also.

So my running time was 1:16:50, which is a 12:22 pace. My treadmill runs are generally at a 12:00 pace, and my outdoor runs tend to be about the same. I'm slow, but at least I'm consistent. And to quote a great shirt I saw on a fellow runner, "Slow mileage is better than No mileage." If you got this far, thanks for reading. I'm going to enjoy my feeling of accomplishment for a little while before I set another large goal. I hope to kick my cold soon so I can get back to running. As always, I'll keep you posted.

Semper Fi, everyone!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rejecting Sanity

Today while throngs of people gathered on the Mall to rally to "restore sanity," I decided to reject sanity completely. You see, my cold is back, with a vengeance. So far the symptoms remain mostly above the neck, but they are fierce, including a nasty sore throat. But I'm running tomorrow anyway.

I'm sure my runner friends are now thinking "Well DUH, of course you're running tomorrow. Why wouldn't you?" But anyone who understands me, or has ever been anything like me, would realize that usually a bad cold is a legitimate excuse to stop everything in my world. Taking on my first 10K under these conditions is going against my habits and instincts. I'm so out of my element at the moment that I feel a little insane!!!!

I know that running with a cold is not THAT huge a deal in the grand scheme of things, but it feels significant to me. It is a sign to myself of my commitment to this sport. I'm not running tomorrow out of a sense of obligation, or just to prove something to myself. I'm running tomorrow because I've been preparing for this and looking forward to it and I'm just really really excited about the event!! Going to the expo today to pick up my race packet today was so much FUN!!! I'm completely in love with runner culture and I'm so proud to be a part of it. The expo even had me thinking I might actually want to run a marathon someday.....even though I know I really don't. So see....I've caught some of the crazy. :)

Anyway, if I'm going to be functional at all tomorrow, I'm going to need a decent night's sleep, so I need to wrap this up. I just want to state my goals, and then make a dedication for tomorrow's race.

I'm taking the three-pronged approach to goals that my friend Tyler uses: a reach goal, a realistic goal, and an easy goal. I've adjusted my expectations to reflect rounds 1 and 2 of my cold. For this race, my reach goal is to run the first four miles before needing a walk break. My realistic goal is just to run more than half of the total distance, no matter how many walk breaks it takes. My easy goal is just to cross the finish line upright and uninjured. :)

As for my dedication...I'm not sure how often I will dedicate races to particular individuals or causes, but I'm doing it this time because the race happens to fall on a very significant day. Two years ago tomorrow, my dear friend Amy lost her precious son Jack to severe congenital heart defects, just two weeks before his third birthday. Jack was an incredibly special little boy, who touched a lot of people in a profound way in his short life. I will never forget him, and especially not on Halloween. My thoughts and prayers will be with Amy and her family tomorrow, and it just makes sense to dedicate my run to them and to Jack. I will wear a red t-shirt in his honor, and will also wear some of his favorite symbols: a star, and a cross. The cross is of particular significance, because he had the deepest faith perhaps of anyone I've ever known...and it was his faith that brought me back to mine after a few months of personal spiritual crisis. In gratitude, in grief, and in love, I will remember Jack tomorrow.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Photographic Evidence

As promised, I am finally sharing some pictures from my second (and first successful) 5K. Consider this proof that I really did run the race and I'm not just making all this up. :)

See? Look at the joy on my face! :) This is my friend Jack and me after we finished the race.


Here we are just getting started...



And here we are approaching the finish line!!!



My hero! Thanks again, Jack! I couldn't have done this without you, and I appreciate your true friendship!!


So there you have it. I really did complete a 5K like I told you!! I hope I have some similarly triumphant pictures after this weekend's 10K, no matter how the run actually goes. :)

As far as my training goes, I did get out and run 35 minutes this morning. Breathing was still a little strained, and I had a lot of coughing after the run was over, but I can definitely tell that my cold is mostly gone. I feel reasonably ready for Sunday...I at least feel ready to give it my all and have a good time! Tomorrow or Saturday I will post some last-minute thoughts and my goals for the race. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Neck Rule

Last Thursday I missed my run because I was coming down with a cold. It has only gotten worse since then. I tried to do my scheduled five-mile run on Sunday, but it didn't go well at all. I was winded almost immediately and had trouble breathing throughout. I took a couple of walk breaks and only completed three miles. At that point I decided not to push it too far and just walked one last mile to get home.

It was only after I got home that I did a bit of internet research and discovered the "neck rule," which basically states that if your symptoms of illness are all above the neck (nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, headache) it's safe to exercise, but if your symptoms are below the neck, it's probably better to rest. Most of my symptoms were above the neck, but I did have some chest congestion which worsened after my run.

Under ordinary circumstances, none of this would be any big deal, but with my first 10K coming up this Sunday, I'm taking it more seriously. I understand I'll need to adjust my expectations for the race, and that's fine. I was only ever attempting it just to finish in the first place. But I do want to be well enough to at least do that, so I'm taking it easy for a few days until I can breathe more easily. I skipped my swim today and have already decided to skip my run in the morning. I don't know yet about Wednesday's swim, and I'm hoping to be able to do a short, easy run on Thursday. I'm also trying to get a little more sleep than usual.

I'd be lying if I said I'm not disappointed at this turn of events. The timing stinks. I really felt like I was on a roll after my successful five-mile run a week ago, and I thought I had a good chance of being able to run most of the 10K, with only a few short walk breaks. But the big picture is what is most important to me. I know I'll get back into the swing of things once I'm well, and I'll continue to make progress in the future. So I'm trying to stay positive and just focus on getting better so I can enjoy my experience on Sunday no matter what happens!

A side note: I finally have my photos from the Semper Fi 5K, and I will post them later this week!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Leveling Up

DISCLAIMER: I have no scientific evidence to back up what I'm about to say. This is simply my interpretation of what my body is currently experiencing. If you can prove me wrong and have a better explanation, feel free to share and I will not mind. :)

Fitness is like a video game. There are different levels, and each time you reach a new level, some tasks suddenly get much easier, and you can start developing some new skills.

I feel like I reached a new level sometime in the past couple of weeks. My second 5K was much easier than my first, and the week before that I ran nearly 4 miles. Yesterday I completed a 5-mile run, and it felt amazing! I only had trouble breathing during the 3 challenging hills, and I did not feel like dying at the end.

It seems like just yesterday when running 30 minutes straight was a real struggle. Now 30 minutes is an easy run, and twice that is more challenging than painful. Although my overall progress has been taking place over a period of many months, it seems like the change in the way I feel has happened rather suddenly, and thus my theory of fitness levels was born.

Please do not worry - this does not mean I am going to take my current level for granted. I do not expect every run to go perfectly now, even the shorter ones. In a video game, you can still be felled by an obstacle you've beaten a thousand times if you're not paying enough attention, or something has happened to throw you off your game. Likewise, I could easily tank a short 2-mile run on a random bad day. The difference is just that now my perception of what is an "easy" workout has been adjusted upwards, and goals that once seemed out of reach are now just barely beyond my grasp!

You can probably ascertain from this post that my 10K training continues to go well. I still do not expect to run the whole 6.2 miles the first time out, but what I do expect is to enjoy whatever portion I am able to complete. I truly am addicted to running now, and I'm having so much fun with it! It's amazing how much more enjoyable it is once you "level up" and get to a point where running a few miles is pretty easy. I look forward to improving my distance and time as I work towards the next level!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sweet Success!

10/9/2010 Semper Fi 5K
Official Time: 35:28 (Ran the WHOLE WAY!!)

Sorry it has taken me so long to write this recap! I've been super busy and mentally preoccupied, but now I'm ready to share my triumph!

After my long run last week, I felt somewhat confident going into this race, but my knee issues concerned me a little. Then I stayed up really late watching an exciting playoff baseball game on Friday night, which probably wasn't the best idea but couldn't be helped. I love baseball more than I love running. :) Anyway, I was not as well rested as I should have been on Saturday morning, and wasn't sure how that would affect my performance.

The physical conditions of the race were perfect. The weather was a comfortable temperature, and the course was super flat. We ran around Hains Point in East Potomac Park (Washington, DC), and the views over the water were simply gorgeous. It was a very small event (being held for the first time), so it had a nice friendly feel to it.

Speaking of "friendly," the best part of this race experience was having a running buddy, my good friend and former roommate, Jack, who agreed to do this even though he was only in town for two nights for a wedding. I really think he is the reason I got through the race! I might have been able to finish on my own, but my time definitely would not have been as good. He was a constant source of encouragement...and distraction! We basically chatted through the whole race, which made the time and the miles just fly by. Right towards the end it got rough and I was too winded to talk anymore, but Jack just kept encouraging me, and he got me to speed up, pass a few people, and finish strong!

I had dreamed of maybe finishing in under 38 minutes, and managed to do it in under 36! When I saw the clock at the end, with the time starting with "35," I was amazed and overjoyed! After hugging and jumping up and down and hootin' and hollerin' in celebration, Jack and I hung around for the awards ceremony. We applauded all the winners, and were impressed/ashamed by their times. A 72-year-old man won his age category with a time about 9 minutes faster than ours. Good for him!!! And WOW, I still have a long way to go to really be in shape, even at 40 years younger.

If you're wondering how my knee held up, it was perfectly fine. It bothered me a tiny bit at the beginning of the race and then I didn't notice it again the rest of the time. In fact, it only just barely hurt a couple more times throughout the entire weekend. I think whatever issue there was has just worked itself out, and I'm grateful. It will be interesting to see if the same pain returns again in the future, though.

I had a few other ordinary aches after dancing the night away at the wedding Saturday night, but stayed active anyway, going apple picking with my family on Sunday. It was a pretty physical weekend, and I love that I'm in good enough shape to do all those things without getting too worn out! I did decide to take an extra rest day from running, just to play it safe. So my next run will be tomorrow, and then another on Friday, and then I'll be attempting 5 miles this Sunday!

Now that I've conquered the 5K, I'm surging forward with my 10K training. My race is in 2.5 weeks, and I'm hoping to be able to run at least 2/3 of it, maybe even a little more. After that, I will continue with 10K training, for another race possibly in December? And I will be on the lookout for another 5K or two. I can't believe I thought racing wasn't for me just because my first experience went so badly. This race was so much fun and I'm totally hooked! I imagine it will always be more fun to have a buddy than to go it alone, but I think I'll even enjoy running by myself now that I'm more comfortable with the whole experience.

By the way, the reason there are no photos with this post is that we have misplaced our camera. I hope we will find it soon, but if not, I will try to get at least one of Jack's photos of the two of us after the race! I've seen the official race photos and there are some good ones of us, but I don't know how to post those or if I'm even allowed to post them. If and when I get some photos, I will be sure to share them.

THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART for your continued support! I have accomplished one significant goal, but it is only the first of many! With you behind me, there is no telling how far I will go! THANKS!!!!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Silent Anticipation

I've been uncharacteristically quiet this week, unlike the week before my first 5K attempt. There have been a thousand thoughts swirling around in my head, but I've been wary of putting them into words and sharing them with you, for fear of over thinking things, or jinxing myself.

So I will keep today's post simple and just update you on my progress. Last Sunday I set out on a 4-mile run, expecting to have to walk some of it. The chill in the air sparked a spring in my step, and I surprised myself by running the whole thing! I felt great almost the whole time, except when I was tackling some rough hills, and finished strong, feeling like I could have gone longer if necessary.

It seemed impossible that I could have just completed four whole miles, so I compared my route on mapmyrun.com and gmap-pedometer.com. The former measured my distance as four miles, while the latter had it closer to 3.75. Either way, it was the longest distance I had ever run, and I'm very proud of it!

I really needed a win like that to boost my recently shattered confidence. Each day is its own, and each run is its own, and there are no guarantees. Running nearly four miles last week with ease does not mean my 5K race this week will be a breeze. I understand that. Just the same, I'm now going into this race with more confidence in myself than I would have had without that successful run.

One cause for concern right now is my right knee. Since my long run, I've had some mild pain in it off and on. It didn't bother me much during my shorter run on Tuesday, but has been getting worse and more frequent since then. It is a new sort of pain for me and I'm having trouble identifying the cause. This morning I overslept, and instead of just shortening my run, I chose to skip it completely and let my knee rest. I really hope it won't give me any trouble on Saturday!

Aside from the knee pain, I truly feel ready for this race. I will have my music, a running buddy, my own water, and a good attitude. My primary goal is to run the entire distance without walking, but in the event that I cannot achieve that, my secondary goal is to beat my previous time. I am certain that I will accomplish at least one of my goals, as long as I don't hurt myself!

I hope to report my results as soon as I get home on Saturday, but it's going to be a very busy day for me, so you may be in suspense until Sunday. If you are my friend on Facebook, you'll probably see at least a brief report as soon as the race is over! Please keep me in your thoughts on Saturday morning, and as always I am incredibly grateful for your support!

Friday, October 1, 2010

I Love the '80's

It's been nearly five months since I "owned my number" and celebrated dropping below 200 lbs. All summer long, my weight remained in the 190's, mostly fluctuating between 193 and 196. Today I finally broke through the 190 barrier and got back into the 180's!

I know five months is a long time to lose 10 lbs, but I'm actually fine with my rate of progress. Although losing weight is part of the big picture for me, it is usually not my main focus. I'm not willing to go to extremes to lose weight quickly, because I don't want to employ any methods that I cannot maintain long-term.

My approach to eating is all about balance and moderation. I do not diet. I just try to make mostly good choices, most of the time. When I indulge in foods that I know are not good for me, I don't call it "cheating." The psychology of that kind of language bothers me. To me, cheating is about dishonesty and breaking rules. I'm not trying to force my eating habits into strict rules, and I'm not lying to myself or anyone else about what I'm eating, so the word "cheating" just doesn't apply.

For me, the honesty is the key part. I don't delude myself into thinking I'm eating healthy all the time even when I'm not. I know when I eat a cupcake that it's not the best fuel for my body, and that I will likely see the results on the scale and feel them in my clothes. Being honest with myself about what I'm eating helps me to be aware when the indulgences start to get out of hand, and the bad choices start to outweigh the good. That's when I either have to accept that my weight loss is going to stall for a while, or start exercising more self-control to get my eating back on track.

Clearly the summer was one of those stalling periods (lots of cupcakes...and boy, were they good!), and now I'm back on track with the self-control. I'm happy to be back in the 180's again, and hope to go down another clothing size before too long. It would be nice to make a good chunk of progress with the weight loss before getting engulfed in the holiday season...it's much harder to make good choices at that time of year!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday Tips: Measuring Distance

How do most people measure the distance they run outside?

This is a new problem for me. I spent most of my early months running on my treadmill, and even once I started running outside, most of my workouts were measured in time, not distance. Now only my weekday runs are specific amounts of time; on the weekends I'm supposed to run a specific number of miles.

I do have a pedometer but it's not working for me. It's nothing too fancy, but you can enter the length of your stride in order to make the measurements more accurate. The problem is if I measure a walking stride, then it's not accurate when I run, and if I measure a running stride, it won't be accurate for my warm-up and walking breaks. And there is no way to toggle between the two.

My budget is very tight right now so I can't go out and buy some nifty new gadget (though I may put one on my birthday or Christmas wish list!). In the meantime, I don't know whether to stick to my treadmill to make sure I'm running the right distance, or run outside and just hope that I'm maintaining close to my indoor pace, and run what would be the right amount of time to cover the distance.

Or is there another inexpensive solution I'm just missing? I don't have access to a track (that I know of), and there is a nearby park with a path in it that I frequently run on...the loop is just under a mile, but there is a short detour around the end of the block so it's probably a little more than a mile now. I suppose I could just pretend it's a mile even...or is that just dumb?

If you run outside, please let me know how you measure your distance, and share any relevant tips! Thanks!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Take Two

One thing I learned from my years of actual horseback riding is the sooner you get back on the horse, the better. The longer you wait, the more time there is for fear to creep in, and fear can be crippling.

I successfully "got right back on the horse" of running in general, and have stuck to my training, but the "horse" of racing has yet to be remounted.

A part of me would like to wait a long, long time before attempting to run another 5K. It would be nice to have run 3.1 miles so many times that I could do it in my sleep, such that there would be no question about whether I could finish without walking. At the same time, I know that if I wait too long, the head games will start all over again and I'll have a big wall of fear standing between me and running a complete race. I need to get back on this horse as soon as I can.

To that end, today I registered for the Semper Fi Fund 5K which will be held two weeks from tomorrow. It benefits a worthy charity, and a dear friend who will be visiting from out-of-town is going to run it with me.

The one drawback of this race is that I will be attending a wedding rehearsal and dinner the night before, and thus may not get to bed too early. I pretty much never get a full night's sleep anyway, and though I'm sure I would perform better with more sleep than I currently get, at least my body is accustomed to exercise while tired.

I promise not to freak out this time if I don't manage to run the whole race. Completing the distance without walking is still my goal, but to be honest, I'm no longer that confident that I can do it. I'm going into it this time accepting that I might fall short of my goal. The difference this time is that any failure will be a physical one, not a mental one. If I take a walk break, it will be because I literally HAVE to, not because I'm giving up when things get tough. And you can bet I'll start running again and finish STRONG no matter what happens!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday Tips: Food as Fuel

On my family outing to Costco this past weekend, I sampled two flavors of Clif bars for the first time. They were quite tasty and I considered buying a box, but decided to wait until I figure out whether I really need them.

So once again I turn to my personal panel of experts, all of my wonderful friends and readers who are runners or active in some other way! Do you eat energy bars? If so, how often and when? Do you eat them before every workout, or just the longest or most strenuous ones? Or do you eat them after you work out?

If you don't eat energy bars, do you eat anything at all before you work out? I currently do not. I drag myself out of bed around 5:45am, or sometime soon after...or something after that. :) There is really no time to eat and I'm usually not hungry yet anyway. I just take a few sips from my water bottle as I'm warming up, and then I'm on my way. I eat breakfast soon after I come home.

Sometimes I start to feel really hungry in the middle of my swims, but I don't usually notice hunger during my runs. Soon I will be running for longer stretches though, and I'm wondering whether I ought to eat a little something to help boost my energy. As always, any and all tips are welcome!

In case you are wondering, my training is back on track and going well. Some runs have been difficult, but I'm hanging in there and building my endurance. I will attempt three miles this weekend...wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Back on the Damned Horse

The very first advice I got after announcing my failure was from my good friend Jimmy, who said "Stand up, brush yourself off, and get back on the damned horse." What seemed impossible in the immediate aftermath has become reality over the past few days. I've done some standing and some brushing (and a lot of thinking, OVER-thinking, and looping back around to rational thinking), and this morning I got back on the horse.

It was just a leisurely 25-minute jog, but it was a start. I've backtracked on my training a little bit. There had been quite a few weeks of overlap between my 5K training program and my 10K training program, but I backed up about a month on the 10K training, to repeat some really manageable runs and rebuild my confidence. I never expected to be ready to run the whole 10K on Oct. 31st anyway, so it should work out just fine.

I feel good about my recovery time. I ended up taking off only as many days as I'd originally planned to take. Considering how badly this whole experience threw me for a loop, I'm proud of how quickly I've been able to fight my way back. I wish I could have orchestrated a similar rebound during the stupid race, but better late than never. As always, I have to thank all of you for your support! It's amazing to see that so many people care. And several of you really got what I was going through in my head...I thank you most of all for helping me see that I'm not completely crazy, just mostly crazy. ;-)

Now I can answer the question "where do I go from here?" The answer is "FORWARD." And despite how I closed out an earlier entry, I do hope you will come along for the ride. I've decided to "Cowboy Up" at the suggestion of my friend Maria (thanks for that, by the way...it made me smile!), and I'll be registering soon for another 5K. Details on that will be coming soon, so stay tuned!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Head Games

Well I've spent all day up inside my head, sorting through the junk that is there and have come to the conclusion that what I really need is to stay OUT of my head. :)

Before I share the other insights I discovered today, I'd like to take a minute to thank everyone for your support! I've received a variety of feedback (mostly on Facebook) over the past few days, and I'm taking it all to heart. Some of you I will try to respond to individually, but in case I take a long time to do that, I wanted to make sure all of you know how much I appreciate your concern! You could easily roll your eyes at my silliness and just go on with your lives, so the fact that you've taken the time to respond to me is touching, and is absolutely appreciated!

Today I managed to move on past the idea of failure. My darling husband, who is my biggest fan, conceded the point that I did in fact fail at this race. Regardless of what anyone else thought my goals should have been, my stated goal was always to complete my first 5K without walking, and I failed to do that. However, I in turn conceded the point that one failure, however huge it felt at the moment, does not make me a failure in general. You win some; you lose some. I lost this one but I might still earn a winning record before the season of my life is done.

Once I removed the "big fat failure" label from my head, I spent the better part of the day ruminating on quitting. I'm not a failure, but I absolutely am a quitter. I've earned that label on more than one occasion, and like I mentioned yesterday, this is a tendency I've been struggling with all along. Quitting is a gross betrayal of self, and it's hard to cope with the aftermath because the enemy at whom my anger is directed...is me. There was no outside force responsible, not even a vague one like chance or bad luck. Quitting is always a choice.

What's killing me most in retrospect is not that I initially slowed to a walk, but that once I quit, I embraced that status wholeheartedly and refused to try to start running again. I think part of the problem was that I've focused completely on preventing that urge to stop in the first place, and never bothered to develop mental strategies for getting started again after a stop. Maybe what I need is to accept that the tendency to want to quit will always be with me, and just work harder at starting again, and maybe decrease the amount of time between the stops and starts. If I can do that, then I'm never really quitting - I'm just taking breaks!

“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.” --Lance Armstrong

I found this quote today and it really spoke to me. I think I will classify what I've been going through the past few days as mental "pain," but what happened Saturday will not ultimately be quitting because it will NOT last forever. I have to run again. I've invested too much time, energy, and money into it just to stop now. I've got expensive shoes with a lot of wear left in them. I've got a 10K in October for which I've already paid. You could say I'm "pot committed" at this point, and I have no choice but to go all in.

So I'll be taking one more mental health and physical rest day, and then Wednesday morning I will rise before dawn, lace up my Asics, slip in my earbuds, and hit the road. I'm a little apprehensive because everything feels different now that I'm operating so far outside of my original plan. I might still be stuck all up in my head and will psyche myself out of a decent run. Even so, the road will still be there on Friday.

I'd like to close on a lighter note...some more thoughts from Lance Armstrong that I found particularly poignant today:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Anatomy of a Failure

9/11/2010 Arlington 9/11 Memorial 5K
Official time: 43:07 (ran a little over 2 miles, walked the final mile)

I feel like I owe it to all of you to explain what went wrong yesterday, even though I don't fully understand it myself.

I can pinpoint a few decisions I made that may have contributed to my miserable experience and thus my failure, but there's no way of knowing for certain if the outcome would have been different had I made better choices.

Here are my key mistakes:
1. I did not wear sunglasses. It didn't even occur to me that I might need them until I noticed some other runners wearing them but at that point it was too late.
2. I did not carry water with me. I assumed there would be 2 or 3 water stations along the course, but there was only 1 and that turned out not to be enough. Though I hydrated well before the race, once it started I was immediately parched and that bothered me immensely.
3. I decided at the last minute not to take my ipod. I foolishly allowed myself to be swayed by friends who suggested that I "take in the sounds of the race" even though I knew it wasn't smart to make any major changes like that the day of the race. You don't wear new shoes or new clothes on race day, and you really shouldn't suddenly stop running with music when you have trained with music all along. I was not mentally prepared to push through rough spots without the aid of music, and I really should have known better than to make that change at the last minute.

The race started out fine but then immediately I started to feel incredibly nervous. It probably took a good half mile for the butterflies in my stomach to settle. Meanwhile I did manage to find a comfortable pace pretty easily and finished the first mile just about 30 seconds faster than my usual pace. I already felt awful by the first mile marker though, and couldn't believe there were still more than 2 miles to go. Then I reached the water station, and my small drink was so refreshing! I felt briefly re-energized but it didn't last long because I was quickly parched again.

As we headed over toward the Pentagon, I was utterly miserable and desperate to hit the second mile marker. I thought that once I got to where there was only about a mile left, I'd be able to push through and keep going. Not so, unfortunately. The route through the Pentagon parking lot was ever so slightly uphill, and the sun was directly in my eyes, so I had my head down staring at the ground, barely able to breathe and wanting with every step just to quit. I tried to tell myself that quitting was not an option, tried reminding myself of what I was capable of, tried reminding myself of what I was running for and what the event was all about. Nothing worked. I quit. I slowed to a walk and it was all over. I could have started running again once I caught my breath, but I didn't see the point. I had already failed and given up. Honestly, the only reason I walked all the way to the finish line was because I HAD to go back to the hotel where I had checked my bag. If I could have gone straight to my car and driven away instead, I probably would have.

I take no pride in just finishing the race. To me, I did not finish. From the very beginning, my goal has always been to run a 5K without walking. It's a perfectly reasonable and attainable goal when you put in as many months of training as I have. I even completed the distance on my treadmill last weekend, so I knew I was capable. I fell very very short of my only goal...I cannot classify that as anything other than failure. I'm not making any excuses, and I have no one to blame but myself. My body did not let me down...my mind did. Throughout this journey one of the biggest things I've been battling is my tendency to give up when the going gets tough. I thought I was overcoming it, but at the critical time, when it mattered the most, the going got tough and I gave up. I refuse to take any pride in that.

So now the question is "where do I go from here?" I honestly do not know. I'm left with nothing but negative feelings from my first race experience. The truth is, I wasn't having fun even before I quit. From the moment I got there, I felt very alone and out of place, like I didn't really belong. The start of the race was sort of exciting, but that feeling didn't last long at all. Perhaps I assumed too much when I expected to like the world of running races. Right now I have no desire to run another race. I actually have no desire to run at all just yet. I was supposed to take a couple of days off and resume training on Wednesday...we'll see if that actually happens. I'm not going to make some melodramatic statement about being done with running forever, because I just don't know right now. Maybe the negative feelings will fade. Maybe my goals will change. Maybe I'll fall back in love with running, but at this moment the romance is over.

I don't know where to go from here in the rest of my life either. It's not a good feeling to look deep down inside yourself and discover a quitter. My confidence has been obliterated and I'm questioning everything I do, every decision I make. We all dream of improving our lives, but maybe my dreams are pointless if I can't trust myself to persevere through challenges. It's easy for people to say encouraging words about how I have to just keep going now and blah blah blah. But I just don't know if I have any fight in me anymore. I worked so hard at this one thing, focused so much time and energy on it. When I ran out of energy to run, I think I ran out of energy to do anything at all. It might help to take a break from running and focus on other things for a while, but I kind of don't want to focus on anything. I wish it were possible to take a break from life, and just pick up where you left off when you're ready. Spoken like a true quitter, huh?

If you don't feel like following my journey anymore, I don't blame you. I probably wouldn't follow me either. I'm sorry I led you to believe I was someone tougher, stronger, better than I turned out to be. But thanks for believing in me just the same.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Today's the Day!!

My outlook is definitely different today than it was yesterday. I didn't conquer my demons or silence the negative self-talk; I simply shifted the focus from ME ME ME to the reasons I chose this race on this day in that place.

The Arlington 9/11 Memorial 5K is about something much larger than my little fitness journey, and if I keep that in mind, I should have all the motivation I need to push through and finish. If I stop running before the finish line, the terrorists win! Okay, that's a little melodramatic, but I do believe I will prevail today because of the deeper meaning behind the race. I've spent the morning reflecting on that tragic day 9 years ago - it's amazing how many details I still can recall - and now I'm ready to take the shock, fear, sadness, and anger and turn them all into triumph, albeit on a small scale.

Now it's time to stop reflecting and start getting pumped up! The weather in Arlington is currently 75 degrees and partly cloudy - beautiful! I need to make a final decision on attire (I wasn't able to buy a new shirt after all and was planning to go with my running tank, but this morning started thinking that maybe I should wear an American flag shirt....aaaahhh why is this so difficult? LOL) , do some light stretching, and then hop in the car for the long drive around the Beltway. I hope to post the results, along with some photos, tonight, or tomorrow night at the latest.

Thanks again for all of your support through the past several months! I hope I don't let any of you down today! :)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cold Feet

Why did this have to happen today? I had a horrible run this morning, and it has destroyed my confidence for the race.

It wasn't even supposed to be difficult...I was just going to jog a slow 2 miles, no more, since the race is tomorrow evening and I didn't want to overdo it. Well, I had zero energy, and my legs felt like they weighed a ton, and there was no spring in my step, and I had this nagging ache deep in my right thigh the whole time...every minute was miserable. I finished the amount of time I wanted to run, but I know I didn't come anywhere near a full 2 miles. Most of the time, my pace was barely above a swift walk.

This is not what I needed today. There are several things causing me frustration and stress in my life right now, and what I needed this morning was to have a great run and feel strong and powerful afterwards! Now I feel overwhelmed by life AND running. If I feel like this tomorrow evening, I don't know if I will be able to finish the race.

I understand that bad runs happen, but I'm feeling particularly upset that this one had to happen today of all days. Now instead of just relaxing and being excited for the race, I'm spending all my energy fighting off the negative self-talk that keeps ringing through my mind. Running my first race was already enough of a challenge. It didn't need to be made more difficult, and yet here I am.

Now what I'm trying to do is convince myself that running is just like theatre...a bad dress rehearsal leads to a fantastic opening night, right???? Please God, let it be so!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tuesday Tips: Advice for Race Day

Perhaps you've heard...my first 5K is this coming Saturday!!! I am equal parts excited and nervous, and I have a bunch of questions. Please share your insights!

Music: I always run with my ipod, and I'd thought about making a play list specifically to get me through the race. However, I've also found that when I run outside, I rely a lot less on the music to keep me going. Should I stick with what I've been doing all along, or leave the ipod at home and just take in all the sounds of the race as part of the experience?

Food: The race is at 6pm. What time should I eat beforehand, and what? Is it necessary to load up on carbs before a race this short? Is it better not to eat too much, so that nerves won't cause an upset stomach?

Packet Pick-Up: I don't anticipate being able to get down to Arlington any other time this week, so I'm just going to pick up my packet as soon as I get there on Saturday, probably about an hour before race time. Does that sound reasonable, or should I make an effort to get there even earlier?

Warm up: What is the best way to warm up before a race? I usually stretch a little and then walk five minutes before running...should I try to replicate that right before the start of the race? I just have no idea what to expect so I don't know what is feasible.

Is there anything else I'm missing, some detail I have overlooked? Please give me all the tips you normally give first-time racers!!! Thanks!!!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mountains Out of Molehills

Do you ever assign to one part of your life way more importance than it deserves? I do this with my running. When I have a good run, I feel invincible, like anything is possible. When I have a bad run, I feel like a complete failure at life.

Luckily, I haven't had a truly bad run in a really long time. Even the more difficult ones have ended well, leaving me with a good feeling of success. Today's run was a lot like that, except that it felt so rough throughout that I was left feeling a little discouraged even though I pushed through and completed my time.

Logic would tell me to score this one as a win: I struggled, persevered, and achieved my goal. The fact that it was a tough win should make me feel more accomplished, not less. Instead, this morning's run left me discouraged and doubtful that I'll be able to complete my 10K on Halloween. (I still feel okay about the 5K, though not quite as confident.)

I'm frustrated with myself for the negativity. In my head I hear Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally: "I'm not saying it didn't mean anything. I'm just saying why does it have to mean everything?" Of course, he wasn't talking about running...:) Still, this is what I'm saying to myself because I know no good can come from blowing one difficult run out of proportion! One run, good or bad, isn't everything!!!

Are there things in your life that you place too much importance on? If so, what do you tell yourself to help keep it all in perspective? I fear this run may haunt me next time if I don't convince myself that it doesn't have to mean everything.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

One Goal Down...

I don't mean to brag, but I can now run 30 straight minutes without walking, and without feeling like I'm about to die at the end!! Okay, so I'm still running at a pretty slow pace and have more time/distance to cover before I can complete a 5K, so if I am bragging, I really shouldn't be! :)

Still, the 30-minute run is a goal that has eluded me for many years now, and I feel pretty terrific for finally accomplishing it! I've even done it twice already, so the first time clearly wasn't just a fluke!

As amazing as I feel, there is no time to rest on my laurels, because I have so many larger goals still looming on the horizon. I still need to stretch my 2.5 miles into 3.1 and actually finish my first 5K race. Once that is complete, I will immediately begin training for my first 10K which I'll run on October 31st!

After that, I have a few other races in mind, plus my triathlon training for next year, so there is always something for which to prepare. I like having goal after goal ahead of me, because it motivates me to keep going and getting more fit and healthy. To anyone who struggles to stick with an exercise program, I highly recommend setting specific goals, such as completing races or improving performance - it's so much more fun than just trying to force yourself to spend "x" amount of time in the gym every day!

I want to take a moment to thank you, my readers and supporters. Your encouragement has helped to push me through the rough spots and I am so grateful! There have been a few times during difficult runs when I thought about quitting, but then realized how disappointed in me you all would be, and so I kept going. You have truly become part of my journey and I hope that I am making you proud! Please know that you will be in my thoughts throughout my first race in just A WEEK AND A HALF! I hope you will be thinking of me too. :)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tuesday Tips: Cross Training

I could use a little advice regarding cross training the weeks before and after my first race.

As you probably know, I swim on the days I don't run. This Friday will be my last swim for a while, because my pool is shutting down for three weeks for its annual maintenance. The staff handed out a list of other county pools that accept our passes, but I don't think any of them are close enough for me to use without majorly disrupting our family's daily routine.

I have some fitness DVD's that I was thinking of using, for fun and a change of pace (some dance, some Billy Blanks boot camp, whatever torture Jillian Michaels thought up before she created the 30 Day Shred, etc.), but I'm concerned about doing anything too different with my legs the week before my race. Is this a silly concern, or a legitimate one? If it's legitimate, would you recommend just resting on my off days leading up to the race and maybe a couple of days after, or would it be better to do some walking to keep the muscles loose and warm?

Thanks for any advice you can share!!

In other news, I hit a major milestone with my running on Sunday evening, and I've been eager to blog about it, but my brain has been preoccupied with my oldest son's first day of kindergarten, which was today. Tomorrow I hope to be back to "normal," whatever that is, and will post my thoughts then! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tuesday Tips: Race Day Attire

With my first race less than three weeks away now, I'm starting to think about the details of the big day so I can be fully prepared. One detail I'm pondering is what to wear!

I'm no fashionista and I really don't care whether I look stylish or cute even when I'm not running! My main concern is what would be most comfortable and appropriate for the race environment.

Part of my clothing challenge is covering my not-quite-fit-yet body. No matter how hot it is, I will not be running in short shorts and just a sports bra! Nobody needs to see all that...trust me. :)

I'll probably wear a pair of exercise pants that come just below the knee, but the shirt is a little trickier to figure out. I have a running tank top with a built-in bra that would certainly be cool to wear if the temperature is high. Unfortunately, it tends to ride up while I run, so I'm constantly tugging at the bottom, pulling it back down over my stomach and hips. My other option is to wear a baggy t-shirt that will not require constant maintenance but could get insanely heavy with sweat over the course of 3.1 miles.

A third option would be to find some time to go shop for a new shirt that would not have the problems of the other two. I know I would need to do that ASAP so I can practice in the new shirt before race day.

What do you think? If you run races, what do you usually wear? Do you think what you wear affects your performance at all?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Head First

Well, my fitness journey took a real nosedive today...literally! And it's a good thing! No, scratch that...it's a GREAT thing!

You may recall from my earlier posts that my childhood progress through swimming lessons came to an abrupt halt when I could not learn to dive. I simply could not do it. There was some enormous mental block between the top of my head and surface of the water. I tried and I tried, and people tried to teach me using every strategy imaginable. No matter what, I always managed to turn upright at the last possible second and slip some other body part under me to enter the water before my head.

At some point I gave up, and accepted my inability to dive as just a part of life. I never had any problems jumping into water, even deep water, feet first (as long as I had my nose squeezed closed between my fingers, that is), so not being able to dive was sort of a non-issue. But in a way it always haunted me deep down inside as this basic skill that most everyone could do...except me.

Some time after I started overcoming my face-in-the-water issues and became comfortable swimming like a normal person, I started to ponder whether I might actually be able to dive someday. While I was on vacation at the beach, I played around with "diving" headfirst into some waves in the ocean, and found it rather easy to do. Diving downward would be more difficult than diving straight forwards, but I thought I might give it a shot.

Last week one morning, I was sitting on the side of the pool with my legs dangling in, and decided to tip over with my hands in a diving position to get the rest of me into the water. It wasn't a true dive, since part of me was already in the water, but it felt good and there was no hesitation or fear.

So my plan was to try it from a squatting position this week, but I actually forgot about the whole plan until I was nearly at the pool this morning. When I remembered, I decided to abandon the plan and just go for it. I have a tendency to over think things, and rarely does any good come of that. When fear is involved, over thinking just gives the fear more time to creep in and take control. So I walked to my lane, put on my swim cap and goggles, bent over, and just DOVE RIGHT IN!

It felt so incredible! The water has never felt so smooth or refreshing! In one fell swoop I washed away an entire lifetime of fear and anxiety! And now I feel like I can conquer the world. If I can overcome a lifelong fear just like that, there are truly no limits to what I can do!

Now, it's worth noting that it was not a good dive, per se. I did not become Greg Louganis in an instant. Hahaha! My form was poor, but most important is that my hands entered the water first, followed by my head. My thighs might have been next to hit, which is less than ideal, but I'll take it because they came AFTER my HEAD! :) :) :)

Life is funny. If I'd never gotten a stress fracture, I might not have fallen in love with swimming, and thus might never have had the opportunity to overcome one of the biggest fears of my life. The Lord works in mysterious ways, and I am grateful.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

An Uphill Battle

Today I encountered a challenge running outside in my neighborhood that was not an issue at all along the flat coast of South Carolina: HILLS!

My own street has an incredibly steep hill, but since I went down that at the beginning of my run, I thought I was in the clear. I figured I'd go back up the hill during my walking cool down, and all would be right with the world.

What I didn't realize was that one of the other main roads in the neighborhood was just one long (though less steep) hill, and I had to run up the entire thing on the route that I chose! I don't know exactly how long the hill was, but I'm pretty sure it was at least 500 miles. My struggle must have been a comical sight, as I believe I was "running" at a pace slower than my 1-year-old toddles.

Halfway up the street, I came the closest to quitting in the middle of a run than I have since before my stress fracture. I don't really know how I managed to keep going, even as my thighs and hips were burning with every step. The pain subsided once I reached level ground again, and I was still able to finish my run strong, so I guess in the battle of me vs. hill, I won! But next time I run outside, I think I'll plan my route more carefully to avoid long uphill stretches.

Eventually I'll want to do some hill training on purpose, but right now I'm still just trying to survive my runs without dying. Baby steps!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Great Outdoors

My last post got a little heavy on the introspection, so I figured I'd save some of the more practical reflections for another day.

Running outside went really well last week, heat and humidity notwithstanding. I found that the time passed fairly quickly, and I didn't have to rely on my ipod as much to keep me going. The pavement felt great under my feet! I'm sure my speed slipped a little as I got tired, but I never finished a run feeling completely spent, so maybe slowing down isn't such a bad thing to do.

I haven't run outside since I've been home (I overslept yesterday and it had already started getting hot, so I decided it would be a treadmill day!), but I'm optimistic about how I will progress once I do.

The other new experience from my vacation was open water swimming! I mostly was playing around in the ocean, "diving" into the occasional wave, and having a good time, but I did try a little actual swimming and noticed how very different it was from pool swimming! Obviously I knew it would be different, but it's one thing to have a fact lodged in your brain and another to feel the truth of it with your body. Next year, when I begin my actual triathlon training, I'll need to work some open water swims in there somehow. I just hope I can find some water as pleasantly warm as the ocean off of South Carolina in August!

Now that I'm home, I'm settling into my new routine of morning workouts and focusing most of my energy on my running. For now, the swimming is just a cross training tool for my non-running days and I won't give it much more thought for a couple of months.

COUNTDOWN TO 5K: 3.5 weeks!!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Where It All Began

Last week I returned to my roots in more ways than one.

I spent the week on beautiful Edisto Beach, SC, the little slice of heaven where as a child I vacationed with my family and as a college student I lived a few summers with my parents who had retired to their home there. It was during one of those college summers when I first fell in love with running.

The pace of life is slow on Edisto, in a way that I find refreshing now, but found a little boring in my youth. This one particular summer I was working in a restaurant to earn tuition money, but didn't really have much else going on. I decided to spend all my extra time enjoying the beach, and getting into shape!

Though I was already somewhat internet-savvy in those days, I don't think websites with free walk/run training programs even existed, so I devised my own plan for gradually increasing my run times. My goal was to be able to run 30 minutes at a time 3 to 5 days per week, and by the end of the summer I was doing just that.

Running in the miserable SC heat/humidity was not the easiest way to pick up a new hobby, but the "runner's high" experience made every bead of sweat worthwhile. I felt amazing, powerful, and even a little attractive. I wish I had continued running regularly when I went back to school in the fall, but I guess life just got in the way.

Going back to where I first started running was interesting, and a little cathartic. Physically, it was much as I remembered: the air so wet it was difficult to breathe without gills; the intoxicating smells of salt water, sand, and marshes; the extreme friendliness of everyone I met..I could go on and on. Though the houses have grown, the restaurants have changed owners and locations, and the town has entered the modern era with its own website and Facebook page...Edisto is still Edisto, and always will be. Running through my old neighborhood last week was like spending time with a dear old friend.

The catharsis came about by reflecting on my mental state. I ran for different reasons when I was 20 years old, and my world had not yet been touched by grief, real stress, or hardship. Completing a tough run was a challenge all in its own, never a metaphor for overcoming difficulties. Now I run with the burdens of an adult life on my shoulders. I run to survive. I run to escape. I run to forget. I run to prove something, but I don't always know what.

Last week I ran on vacation because I have a race to be ready for very soon, and also because I want to prove to myself that I'm in control of my health and not using any available excuse to slip back into laziness. But I also ran so I could connect with my younger self and how it felt to be so free. And I ran so I could connect with the island, this place that my parents loved so dearly and where I feel their presence more than anywhere else.

My life as a runner came full circle, and in some ways my grief did too. Prior to this vacation, the last time I visited Edisto was right after my mother died, when several of us brought some of the funeral flowers out to the beach to scatter in the waves during a gorgeous Edisto sunset. I'm a different person than I was 5.5 years ago, and for once I'm confident my parents would be proud to see me now...so I hope they did see me frolicking in the surf with my boys, and huffing and puffing through a few good runs down the street where they lived.

I'll save the rest of my fitness reflections from vacation for another post, another day. :)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Night and Day

Today I made a significant change in my workout routine. Up until now, I had been running late in the evenings, usually around 9:00pm. This morning, for the first time in a long time, I ran in the morning.

I'd been planning to make this change for quite some time, but didn't get around to doing it until it became necessary. When my oldest son starts kindergarten in a few weeks, we have to really streamline our schedule to keep him on a good routine and keep our busy family functioning. This means only one workout per day, first thing in the morning.

Most weeks, my new routine will be as follows:
Monday: Swim
Tuesday: Run
Wednesday: Swim
Thursday: Run
Friday: Swim
Saturday: Rest
Sunday: Run

This should get me through the next few months. I might add some yoga in the evenings occasionally, and I'll throw in some other workouts in place of the swims from time to time as well.

Running first thing in the morning definitely had a different feel today...it took longer than usual to fully warm up and settle into my stride. But the run still felt good and I'm pleased with how it went.

Next week I'll be on vacation and I will add another new element to my running: the great outdoors! I have not run outside since I got my treadmill last November. As my runs get longer, it gets harder to keep staring at the same old walls, so I'm looking forward to the change of scenery. I'll still use my treadmill in bad weather, or when I need to get a better idea of my speed. I will report next week how my transition to outdoor running goes...let's just hope I don't face plant into concrete like I did a year ago!

Countdown to 5K: 5 weeks today!!!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tuesday Tips: Speed or Time?

I have a dilemma and I could use some help sorting it out.

When I finish my walk/run training program one week before my 5K, I will be running 30 minutes straight through with no walk breaks. However, I currently run at 5mph, or a 12-minute-mile pace, so at 30 minutes I will not have completed 3.1 miles.

My goal for my first race is to complete the entire distance without walking, so it's time to figure out what I need to do to make that happen. I see three main options, but I'm also open to other suggestions.

Option A: Change nothing. Complete the remainder of my training program at the same speed. Try to add a few extra minutes to my last two runs before the race, and then just rely on race-day adrenaline to get me through the whole 3.1 miles.

Option B: Keep my speed the same but deviate from the times in my scheduled runs. Start adding on a couple more minutes to each one so that by the end of the program I'm actually running about 38 minutes.

Option C: Keep my times the same but start gradually increasing my speed, so that by the end of the program I can complete 3.1 miles in 30 minutes or close to it.

I'm a tiny bit wary of pushing myself too hard, because it was when the runs got a lot longer and I increased my speed a bit that I ended up with the stress fracture last winter. Maybe neither of those factors was truly to blame for the injury, but I don't know for sure and thus I'm nervous. I also don't know whether speed or time/distance is safer to increase at this point. Please share any wisdom or knowledge you may have on this topic! Thanks!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Running to Remember

Barring any unforeseen injuries, I'll be running my first 5K race six weeks from tomorrow!

(Yes, I'm totally knocking on wood right now, after the injury reference. I'm not terribly superstitious, but...oh, who am I kidding? I'm a baseball fan! Of COURSE I'm superstitious!)

The race I've chosen is incredibly meaningful to me. It's the Arlington 9-11 Memorial 5K Run, and you can read its history at www.arlington911race.com.

My 9/11 story is nothing special - I didn't lose a loved one, or witness the horrific events as they unfolded. But I was in DC that day, just a few blocks from the Capitol and scared out of my mind. The experience had a profound effect on me, and not in a positive way.

Everyone I know seemed to recover from 9/11 and go back to their normal lives with little difficulty, but the terror and overwhelming sadness caused me to lose any skills I once had for coping with stressful situations. I don't know why it all affected me so deeply; all I know is that I never was the same after that day.

Losing the ability to handle stress definitely had an impact on my weight and fitness, as I became much more prone to emotional eating. I'd been in great shape leading up to my wedding just 10 days before the terror attacks, but lost the drive to exercise when it felt like the world was ending.

From then on, every major challenge I faced in my life, from my mother's deteriorating health to my struggles in finding a permanent job, etc., led me further down the road to poor health. Without good coping skills, I drowned my sorrows and stress in junk food and laziness over and over and over again.

I think the reason the pattern kept repeating so easily was that I didn't even recognize what was happening. Only in the past couple of years have I been able to look back with clarity and pinpoint all of the problems and how they built upon one another. September 11th didn't make me fat, but I realize now that if I had dealt with my own emotional reactions to that day in a more constructive way, I might not have developed such unhealthy habits in the aftermath. It's my own fault for letting things get so bad, but at least I'm finally doing something about it now!

When I run around the Pentagon on September 11, 2010, I will remember the poor innocent souls who perished there nine years before. I will pray for their families and loved ones and hope that they're living well today. And with each step I will release the fear, sorrow, and anger I've carried for far too long, and hopefully start getting back some semblance of my pre-9/11 self.

Not to put too much pressure on my very first race or anything, but it sort of feels like I'll literally be running for my life. :)

Monday, July 26, 2010

When You Least Expect

It would be a tad too optimistic to claim that my recent slump is over, but I have made an unexpected breakthrough!

Saturday's "excessive heat warning" joined forces with severe nasal/sinus congestion to leave me feeling more beat down than ever yesterday. I was dreading my evening run, convinced it could only go poorly.

As I laced up my fancy sneakers, my racing dreams seemed worlds away. I tried to give myself a pep talk, but the best I could conjure was a list of cliches: "Fake it 'till you make it;" "Go through the motions;" "Just do it."

My expectations were low when I stepped onto the treadmill. The plan was to run my 21 minutes in two blocks with 3 minutes of walking in the middle. I wanted the first run to be at least 11 minutes long so the second run would be shorter than the first. The farther I got past 11, the better...but in truth I doubted my ability to complete the 21 minutes with only one walking break.

As soon as I started running, something just clicked in my head. Without any drama or fanfare, I said to myself, "I'm just going to run the whole thing straight through. I don't think I CAN do it...but I just WILL." It was as simple as that decision. And I did it. I DID.

Now, I know that running 21 minutes at 5mph is no great athletic feat. The true victory for me last night was mental. My body was clearly capable of completing the run, but what had been suffering in recent weeks was my mind. I hope this breakthrough gives me enough momentum to get back on track. I have until August 3rd to register for the 5K I want to do before the price goes up, so this is the week when I need to be mentally strong enough to commit.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dog Days of Summer

I'm having major motivation issues right now. I thought I was back on track after a week or two of laziness and excuses. I thought I'd gotten my head back in the game.

Not so, it would seem. I feel myself disengaging mentally. Where I used to look forward to my runs all day long, now I dread them. Where I used to enjoy every lap of my swims, now I'm back to feeling like I did in the beginning, pushing myself just to get through the workout so it can be over.

My inner lazy slug is trying to take over again, and I don't know why. It's not that my goals are any less interesting to me...I still want to run a 5K, and then a 10K, and then start training for a triathlon. I still want to lose weight and improve my overall health and live an active lifestyle. I just don't feel like working hard at it right now.

Could it be just a phase? That's what I'm hoping. It has been a long, hot summer, and I'm feeling a little worn out, burned out, beat down. Maybe what I need is cooler temperatures and the fresh-start feeling that autumn always brings. Unfortunately summer is still in full swing, and autumn is way off on the horizon.

I need to find a way to recharge my batteries NOW. I do have a beach vacation coming up in a couple of weeks, and hopefully that will help. I hope to get in 2-3 runs while on vacation, but otherwise I will spend my time relaxing, playing with my kids, enjoying my relatives and friends, and not worrying about the scale or the treadmill.

Until then I guess I will "fake it 'till I make it." I'll keep pushing forward physically and hope that sticking with the exercise will eventually get my brain to re-engage and my motivation to return. If anyone wants to give me a pep talk, feel free! And thanks! :)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

I'm starting to think my unhealthiest habit isn't my love affair with cake or my lengthy list of excuses not to work out. The worst thing I do to my body is fail to get enough sleep on a regular basis.

I've always been much more of a night owl than a morning person, and it wasn't hard to get away with that sort of schedule when I could balance my late nights with sleeping in later than most people do. I still used to average 6-7 hours of sleep per night, never 8, but I functioned reasonably well.

Ever since I started getting up at 6am to swim most mornings, I've been operating on even less sleep, because I haven't balanced that out with an earlier bedtime. I generally go to bed sometime between 12 and 1, which means I'm getting 5-6 hours of sleep most nights, and it's just not enough. It's a vicious cycle that self-perpetuates and gets worse and worse. I'm not getting enough sleep, so I'm tired all day and not working or performing other tasks efficiently. This leads to having to stay up later to get enough work hours in or find time to get other things done....and then I'm even MORE tired the next day. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Recently I've read that lack of sleep impedes weight loss, and it's easy to see how this is true. Sometimes when I'm sleepy I turn to sugary treats to give me a little pick-me-up. And some mornings I am just too exhausted to get up and swim. I believe there are also physiological explanations of how sleep deprivation impedes weight loss but I can't recall them offhand. All I know for sure is that I'm tired, and I don't know how to fix it.

I love the idea of having enough energy every day to be able to do everything I need to do in a timely fashion. I just don't know how to reverse the cycle in which I'm currently stuck. How do I force myself to go to bed at a reasonable time every night, especially if that hour arrives and I still have things I need to do? How do I adjust my thinking to make sleep a higher priority?

Maybe I should have saved this post for a "Tuesday Tips" entry, since what I need is some advice on how to get more sleep so I can be healthier. But I'm really sleepy today after staying up way too late the last 3 nights (and most nights last week as well) and I feel like I'm close to a breaking point. Please help if you can! And please forgive me if this post is not well-written...I'm definitely not as good with words when I'm overtired. So see, it's in your best interests as a reader of my blog to help me get more sleep so that what you read makes sense. :) Thanks!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Meet Me Halfway

Once again I have let time slip past without updating this blog. You really shouldn't be surprised, if you know me at all. :)

For the last week or so, I have really been off my game. I've had a lot going on, and when my focus shifted to other aspects of my life, my fitness motivation lapsed a bit. My diet has been heavy on cupcakes and my mornings have been light on trips to the pool. I even missed another week of running due to treadmill issues, scheduling issues, and major laziness issues. I'm sure you can guess the biggest culprit among those three!

The good news is that this week I am back on track! After Sunday's run I am officially halfway through my walk/run program and will now shift from mostly walking to mostly running! I opted to do my last run (15 minutes) nonstop, saving the walking for the end, and it went great! My leg is holding up well...only the slightest bit of pain, and it actually seems to be lessening. I don't know for sure if the new shoes made the difference; I'm just grateful the difference was made regardless!

If my running continues to go well, I think I'll be ready in the next few weeks to select a target 5K. I actually have a race in mind, and I ought to be ready just in time, but I want to wait a little longer before I say anything, lest I jinx it. I had just registered for my first race back in the winter when my leg pain got unbearable and I realized I needed to see a doctor and stop running for a while. I don't want to officially choose and register for another race until I'm a little more certain that I'll actually be able to run it this time!

Swimming continues to go well. My flip turns are getting smoother, though they're still more turn than flip. I guess it doesn't really matter how they look as long as they get the job done, right? As I get more comfortable doing them, my whole workout gets a little easier. I think I'll be looking for a new challenge in the pool soon, just to keep things interesting. A friend sent me a pool workout she read about, so I might give that a try.

I'm off to start week 9, running 18 minutes and only walking 12...wish me luck!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Saturday Shopper - Swimsuits

Either my pool has the scariest concentration of chemicals in the world, or else I'm just buying bad swimsuits. I'm now on my third one that has started just to disintegrate until there is so little fabric left that it's nearly transparent!

They are Speedo suits, but purchased at Costco. I know they're not the top of the Speedo line, but I never expected them just to fall apart like this. The first time it happened, I assumed it was due to my own mistakes, such as not rinsing it out well after every use, and also washing it in the washing machine a couple of times. I have taken much better care of my last two, only to see them fall apart in the same way as the first.

So far, I haven't wanted to invest the money in a really good swimsuit because I'm still losing weight and have quite a bit more left to lose. Ideally I'll be down another size in a couple of months, so I'll need another suit then anyway. Once I'm at a healthy weight, then I certainly won't mind shelling out a little more money for a couple of great swimsuits that will last me a while.

For now, please tell me where I can buy an affordable suit that won't disintegrate after a month!! Thanks!

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Heart of a Winner

"The most readily identifiable quality of a total winner is an overall attitude of personal optimism and enthusiasm. They know life is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Things don't "just happen" in their lives; they make life happen by choosing a goal or destination worthy of their effort and commit to reaching it....Winners make commitments. Losers make excuses." (an excerpt from Built to Win, by John Schuerholz, baseball's winningest GM)

I love inspiration. I love to be moved so deeply that I feel empowered to take on the world and invincible against failure. This week, the sporting world has provided me with a great deal of inspiration.

First, there was the U.S. team in World Cup soccer. That game against Algeria was intense! Everything was on the line for Team USA, and after one goal was disallowed on a bad offside call, the players' spirits easily could have been crushed. They already had been robbed of one win by lousy officiating and seemed poised to suffer the same fate again. Often in sports, when a team is psychologically beaten down in a high-pressure situation, you see them just unravel until they barely even can play the game anymore. Not so with this team! They never gave up! They kept their wits about them and remained calm and focused. Over and over again they just kept trying, kept pushing, kept bouncing back from every near miss until finally their tenacity was rewarded with a goal and a win in the extra time at the end!

The U.S. team might not win the World Cup, but on Wednesday they proved that they are winners.

My next source of inspiration was the marathon Wimbledon tennis match played by John Isner of the U.S. and Nicolas Mahut of France. As an American, I'm thrilled that Isner ultimately won, but as just a human and a sports fan, I am humbled and amazed by both of them. Their physical endurance is impressive enough, but it's their mental stamina that truly blows me away. Rarely in my life I have seen such a great lesson in never giving up, never quitting. For 11 hours and 5 minutes, spread out over three days, these two men kept playing as hard and as well as they could, never once giving in to exhaustion. What makes it even more remarkable to me is that this was just a first-round match, and between two barely-known players (Mahut is only ranked 148th in the world!). We might expect this level of passion and endurance from two champions, fighting it out for another Grand Slam title; from these two guys it was nothing short of amazing.

John Isner might not win Wimbledon, and Nicolas Mahut might not in the future either, but on Tuesday, Wednesday, AND Thursday, they proved that they are winners.

Also from Built to Win: "Life for winners is not about making outs. It's about scoring runs. It's about having opportunities and people believing in you. It's about making progress and never quitting."

I've learned some lessons this week on what it means to be a winner, and I am applying them to my own life. I probably will never win a 5K race, or do any better than just survive a triathlon, but every time I fight back from an injury, or overcome a fear, or push through pain, exhaustion or my own overwhelming laziness, I will prove that I am a winner too.