Friday, November 26, 2010

Giving thanks

I am thankful every day, not just on Thanksgiving, for my many blessings. I appreciate all that I have and I try not to "want" for things.

A yoga instructor I once practiced with led a discussion on wants and needs:

Instead of thinking in terms of "Want" = Don't Have, which creates "Lack" = stress, chaos, turmoil, try thinking: "I've had everything I've ever needed." = abundance, comfort, peace and protection.

I am a firm believer in this positive line of thinking. But this is what has been happening to me lately: I want to blog, and I currently don't have enough time in my day, and therefore I lack enough time with my family, which is creating stress.

Because my days are overscheduled, I've been waiting until night time to blog, which has been pushing my night-owl tendencies to the extreme. At this rate, I will soon just be settling down to sleep when my family is rising to start their day! The current schedule is not creating harmony, comfort or peace so it's time for me to reprioritize and make some changes.

That said, I'd like to take a moment to say "thanks" to anyone who has been reading this blog regularly. It's hard for me to determine who you are and how many of you are out there, because you don't have to follow to read. But, whoever you are, thank you so much for your support and interest in Triathlon Mom.

I will continue to write when time allows during the day, and my goal is to post at least 2-3 updates each week. So, if you have enjoyed reading, I hope you will plan to check in with Triathlon Mom at least once each week to read the latest entries on fitness and nutrition and how it all coincides with everyday family life as I continue on my journey to the Iron Man. Maybe Triathlon Mom can become part of your Monday morning ritual over a cuppa! :)

Thanks again for reading (and I would love to read any comments you have when you do read!)


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Master plan

I am a competitive person--competitive with myself and competitive with others. When I'm out running or on my bike and I see another runner or cyclist up ahead, I shift into predator mode. My main objective is to overtake my prey. I stalk, strategize, and then strike!

But there are plenty of times when I am the prey, the one being conquered. As an endurance athlete, speed is not my strength. So, on the rare occasions when I am leading the pack, I cling to the feeling and milk it for all it's worth because it rarely lasts.

When I first started swimming on a master's team more than a decade ago, I was easily one of the slowest swimmers in the pool. I was regularly lapped by just about everyone, including the grandpas and the senior ladies from aqua aerobics. I'd arrive at the wall, gasping for breath, hoping for a short break, but all of the swimmers in my lane would have already headed out for the next set. So, it was push off and try to catch up or be lapped once more. It was demoralizing.

But I didn't give up and after a year on the team I'd actually moved up to a speedier lane--which was a good thing, except I had to start all over at the bottom of the food chain again, becoming prey once more--the little fish swimming with a new group of sharks.

Flash forward to the present and, while I'm not setting any speed records, I've become a decent swimmer; no longer a fish out of water gasping for breath at the wall. I do not practice with a masters team but I regularly participate in a swim fit class at my local YMCA, which is run very much like a master's team and is led by the Y's swim team coach.

To my surprise and delight, I am one of the faster swimmers in the pool and it feels so good and is such an ego boost. And if the instructor says to do ten laps, I can usually do 14. If she says we can use fins, I leave mine on the deck and can still keep up with the interval.

Today my ego was knocked down a few pegs. This has happened on several other occasions when a far more accomplished swimmer has shown up for class. It's a good reminder of how small I really am in the great big sea. But today, it wasn't another swimmer who left me in their wake; today I was eating my own bubbles.

We were given a backstroke drill using the pull buoy. The instructor warned us to take it easy because the buoy would force our shoulders to work harder than usual, that we might feel a "pulling" sensation as a result and should consider doing only one lap on our backs instead of all six.

Pshaw. One lap in and a I was feeling great, so I did another and another, until I'd done the whole set on my back. I was the only one who did and I was the first one back to the wall. By the time I'd gotten to the showers, I realized I was the only fool in the pool.

My shoulder was sore and tight. For most of the day, it hurt to lift it beyond ninety degrees. And something became abundantly clear to me as never before--I may not be swimming on a master's team, but I am within months of officially becoming a masters athlete so maybe I'd better start behaving like one!

In triathlon, a masters athlete is anyone age 40 or older. At some point, I've got to realize that pushing my body the way I did in my 20s may now result in injury instead of a bump up to the speedier lane. There were no awards today for who could swim the fastest or the longest, so the only person I was competing with was myself. I'd become my own prey.

As I move toward my masters years, maybe it is okay to not always be the predator. Maybe slow and steady is what it will take to win the race.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A time to rest?

I was feeling guilty for skipping a few workouts this week when my husband said, "It's okay. This is when you're supposed to recover and rest."

Rest? Really?? As if that were an option.

Because if I did take a sabbatical from working out, then I'd also have to take a sabbatical from the many foods I love and embark on a major diet! (And, D-i-e-t, four-letter word that it is, is something I've never done.)

Sometimes I eat so I can workout, properly fueling my body for the task at hand.

But most of the time, I workout because of what I ate. Take today, for instance, when there was no doubt that I'd have a serving of cardio on my plate after I scarfed Thai food last night and pancakes this morning. I enjoyed envisioning those would-be pounds melting away as I pushed the pedals of my bike over 25 miles of rolling terrain.

I'd think my husband would understand where I'm coming from on this because, while his metabolism certainly zips along at a much faster clip than mine, it is not cranking away at such a speed that he can eat several sleeves of Oreos each night and not think twice about it. (One of the many ways in which we are well-matched.)

Then again, society, for some unknown reason, is much more forgiving to men when it comes to gray hair, wrinkles and those ten extra pounds. Which may explain why he was looking at me like I was a little crazy when I balked at the notion of "rest."

If my husband puts ten pounds on his 6'2" frame, he may look a little stockier or stronger. But me? Those pounds would immediately set up residence on my thighs making me, not the bird, looked like the stuffed turkey at the table. I swear, I just breathe fattening food and wake up with it on my hips the next day.

There was a commercial on TV that I just loved--a fit woman in a cute little skirt walks up to a street vendor, buys a pastry and starts eating it. When she walks away her backside morphs into two cinnamon rolls. It's a cautionary tale. "That's me!" I thought when I saw that ad. Someone out there knew exactly where I was coming from and I felt vindicated!

So, needless to say, the idea of taking a "rest" from exercising does not even cross my mind. Downscale the intensity of in-season training? Yes, definitely. But rest, for the next few months? (Or for the next week, even?) No way!

I am a firm believer in Newton's law that "objects in motion stay in motion, and objects at rest stay at rest." While I might savor a little rest here and there, I panic a bit at the thought of remaining that way and quickly get moving again.

Exercising is just part of who I am. With rare exception, I find ways to include it in my daily routine, always planning the night before what I will do for exercise the next day.

For instance, I already know I will swim tomorrow and on Wednesday I will run and lift. On Thursday, I may take a short morning run in preparation for the day's feast, and would be thrilled if there's an opportunity for a post-meal walk. If not, I'll enjoy the holiday and the temporary "rest" it brings, content in the knowledge that I will be back in motion by Friday.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

No need for alarm

I am absolutely giddy when I get to turn off my alarm clock.

You see, I am not a morning girl. I do not rise and shine. And I am fiercely protective of my sleep. I need all the beauty rest I can get!

That said, I am a night owl. It is part of who I am. In the same way that I am 5'5'' tall and have blue eyes, my body's circadian rhythm just naturally swings toward the evening hours. At night I am more productive--more alert, more focused, more energetic.

Unfortunately, the night-owl lifestyle does not coincide neatly with family life. For the past nine years, I have been fighting against type and trying my best to be an early riser. But it just isn't my strong suit.

To make matters worse, I am at my best with nine hours of sleep. No matter what time I go to bed, my body naturally wakes after nine hours and I feel refreshed and ready to take on the day. However, with three young children and a jam-packed schedule, nine hours a night is a luxury not easily obtained and I usually end up logging only six or seven hours instead. By the end of the week, that puts me at roughly a 21-hour sleep deficit. I'd need an entire extra day to just sleep in order to catch up on all the z's I missed during the week.

On the rare occasion that our children come into our room at night or early in the morning, they know, intuitively, to go to daddy's side of the bed. My husband loves to say, "Some mornings I wake up grumpy; other days, I let her sleep."

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Well, I admit, it's a bit true. Unless it's been nine hours--otherwise, look out!

Which brings me back to my giddiness. There are few sounds more satisfying than the "click" my alarm clock makes when I switch it to the "off" mode. I snuggle into my bed, regardless of the time, and know (or at least hope) that I will be able to sleep until I wake up. On my own. When I am rested and ready. And what a difference it makes!

After being so exhausted the last two days and skipping my workouts in favor or some much-needed extra rest, I topped it off with a glorious sleep-in this morning and woke up feeling like Snow White--happy and smiling, with the sun shining and the birds chirping. My family probably didn't recognize me.

But it's just what my body needed. I felt like a new woman. A little breakfast and I was ready to go --no caffeine required. Thirty minutes in the gym, followed by a four-mile run and fifteen minutes of stretching.

After a good night's sleep and a satisfactory workout, not only did I feel well-rested today, but I also felt a lot less guilty about eating that yummy ice cream cone at South Mountain Creamery.
Now, if only I didn't have to set my alarm tomorrow . . .

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Doing battle

It just wasn't happening for me on Friday.

Two hours of volunteering at the school turned into three hours--the third hour being the one in which I'd planned to run and lift. By the time I got home an hour late, I was starving and instead of changing into running clothes I scarfed a cup of tuna, a bowl of cashew-carrot-ginger soup and a small plate of chips-n-cheese. Eating trumped working out. And then food buzz set in. My arms and legs got so heavy I felt like I couldn't move. My eyelids began to droop. The couch was calling to me, and I answered.

"Just a quick 30-minute power nap," I thought, and I'd still have time to get my run in.

Ninety minutes later I woke up, groggy and disoriented, and still tired. My body also ached from head to hips and this time, not as a result of burning muscles but rather, burning skin. Literally.

You see, for the past 20 years, I have been doing battle--fighting off psoriasis, an autoimmune disorder that affects my skin. In the beginning, the disease began a slow march--winning little victories here and there, claiming small territories of epidermal real estate. I began to fight back with topical potions and creams, creating a stalemate, if not a truce, between the battling armies. Then, in recent years, the enemy began to stage small, stealthy attacks that I hardly noticed--until one day I did notice and realized I was losing the war.

So, now, after several retreats and failed strategies, I am fighting back with a vengeance and I am now the one claiming victories, but it comes with a price.

You see, I am not generally a fan of western medicine (though I believe it does have it's place and has been know to perform miracles) favoring, instead, eastern/alternative/homeopathic remedies to treat what ails. I am against using a serious cancer drug, Embrel, to battle my enemy so, as an alternative, I have chosen phototherapy, a method of channeling "sunlight" (UVB rays) via laser, and aiming it directly at my foe (sparing the allied troops).

And I am thrilled to be seeing results so quickly. Now I am the one pushing the enemy back but, as I said, it is not without cost. There are many casualties along the way as my path to healing requires setting fire to the enemy troops on the battlefield.

In plain English, this means I am suffering burns over multiple parts of my body and anyone who has ever had a sunburn can relate to the feeling--the warm, burnt, swollen skin throbbing and blistering as it attempts to heal. Once it does heal, it leaves healthy, yet delicate new skin in it's wake.

It is now, when I'm in the burning/healing phase that I suffer. My skin is sore and tender to the touch and, as a dear friend of mine pointed out, this explains my exhaustion--as my immune system goes into overdrive to heal the battle wounds.

So I did not exercise yesterday--I planned to postpone until today. And now today is here and I am still exhausted and not feeling 100%, both because of my skin and otherwise. I am trying to sign a peace treaty with myself--giving myself permission to rest yet another day without guilt. I think I will compromise by taking my dog for a long, leisurely walk instead.

This way, my immune system can stay focused on fighting the enemy instead of fighting itself.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hurt so good

Every muscle hurts today. I don't know if it's from my return to the pool on Tuesday or the intense cardiyoga yesterday, but as soon as I tried to move this morning my body lit up like a switchboard, a symphony of lights and sound.

But this hurt is the good kind of hurt; not the sick and achy kind, not the heavy and fatigued kind from lack of sleep, not even the I-had-too-much-too-drink kind that makes you feel like you've been hit by a truck, but the kind that makes you feel alive and aware of every muscle in your body, muscles you didn't even know you had!

It's also the kind of hurt that feels better once you start moving again--the muscles stretch out and warm up as the blood begins to flow, the stiffness ebbing away bit by bit.

Swimming was exactly what I needed today to really work out the kinks in a non-impact, weightless kind of way. Unlike Tuesday's speedy interval workout, today's focus was on endurance and kicking, thankfully giving my sore arms and shoulders a break. In the afternoon, I kept the blood flowing with a brisk one-mile walk.

The human body, amazing machine that it is, has the ability to adapt to new routines over a period of time, and fitness gains plateau. This is never more apparent than when you embark on a new athletic endeavor. Never mind that I've been practicing yoga regularly, running 15 miles a week and lifting weights every other day. All it took was one hour back in the pool to realize how many muscles I'd been neglecting with my regular routines. It reminded me how important and necessary it is to keep things fresh--to shock the body by shaking up the routines and adding new challenges.

As the day winds down and I have been still for longer periods of time, the tension is starting to creep back in, my muscles tightening as they repair and rebuild. But I welcome the feeling. It is a reward for my hard work, the results of my effort and a reminder not to become too complacent. Because fitness is never finished--it is a continuous work in progress.

And as the saying goes, if there's no pain, there's no gain.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I love Wednesdays. Wednesday is yoga day.

I have been teaching group fitness classes since 1992 but, for the past six years, I've been teaching yoga classes exclusively.

Gone are the days of choreographing and teaching aerobics and step aerobics classes, when, back in the day, women would show up wearing leg warmers and tights and leotards (thong-style, even!).
When I taught in college, my students were more interested in big hair, bold make up and sweating it out in the tanning bed after class than they were in breaking a sweat in class.
Gone, also, are my days of teaching crazy, upbeat, kickboxing and body bar classes, though I did enjoy the powerful feel of a side kick and uppercut, and struggling through one more set with the body bar.

Now I get my cardio blast from more solitary and less flashy pursuits, such as swimming, cycling, running and walking, and I find my power (and my peace of mind) in yoga.
But, cardio in yoga? When you think of yoga you may envision a earthy person sitting quietly and meditating. However, the practice of yoga can be interpreted in many ways and, yes, can even be done in a cardio way.

Cardiovascular exercise is typically defined as exercise that raises your heart rate and keeps it elevated over a period of time. Though meditation, centering and savasana are the most beneficial aspects of yoga, realizing this benefit takes practice, patience and dedication.

Most of my students extract themselves from the busy whirlwind of their lives to practice yoga with me for 60-90 minutes each week. They may be hoping for a slice of peace and tranquility for dessert, but for the main course, many are still seeking a workout.

In our western society, a workout often involves pushing our bodies to exhaustion, pounding on them and even injuring them, until we are sweaty and hurting, until we feel we have worked.

Ironically, trying to reach a deep level of meditation and mind-body connection is some of the hardest work out there. One yogi I practiced with suggested that, in addition to healthy eating habits, regular yoga and five miles of daily walking was all anyone needed to stay fit.

But I aim to please, and since neither my students or I have the luxury of living and practicing in an ashram, where full meditation nirvana may actually be possible (think: Eat, Pray, Love), I try to offer my class as a full-course yoga experience complete with the cardio cherry on top.

We center and stretch, breath and balance. We practice plank push ups, warriors and sun salutations. Then we up the ante by adding hand weights for extra strength training and flowing quickly through several vinyasas to up the cardio rate and sweat factor. At the end of a successful practice we are sweaty, and we have elevated heart rates and limbs made of jelly. And then we rest. We sink into savasana and those 15-minutes of relaxation can be more therapeutic and rejuvenating for some students than a full nights' sleep.

So, I look forward to Wednesdays--to sharing an incredible practice with an even more incredible and inspiring group of women. And, thankfully, there hasn't been one thong leotard yet!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Back in the swim of things

It has been almost exactly two months since I took my last stroke. Getting back in the pool today was like saying hello to an old friend. I thought I would struggle and thrash around, trying to relocate my lost technique, but my strokes were smooth and I quickly settled into a rhythm. Within the first 100 yards my triceps were burning but it was a welcome sensation. It felt so good to be back in the swim of things.

The swim instructor at my local YMCA is excellent. She is also a swim team coach and she puts us through the paces--speed drills, pull drills, kick drills, anaerobic exercises, you name it! In no time, my heart was pounding and I was struggling to catch my breath before the next interval began. I was tired, but after the initial burn, nothing hurt. I marveled at the cardio workout I was getting without pounding on my body. The fins, however, were another story . . .

While a valuable and necessary tool for certain drills, the fins press on my Achilles tendon and as I left the pool deck the tendon was sore. I am trying to be a better listener--to pay closer attention when my body is trying to tell me something. As I mentioned in yesterday's post about the soreness on the top of my foot after a barefoot run: I consider myself warned.

I can't wait to get back in the pool again on Thursday, but I think I'll leave the fins at home.

PS--While I thrived in a pool-full of water today, a tiny puddle on my kitchen floor nearly took me out as I went slipping and sliding across the tile, torquing my ankle and knee on the way. Slippery when wet? Total understatement! Perhaps I can put the fins to better use in the kitchen?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Making trades

Sometimes I feel like I'm bargaining with myself the way someone would at a yard sale or bazaar: I'll take the box of books and the lamp for $10. Or, if you throw in some yams in exchange for the parsnips, then you have a deal.

My bargaining sounds like this: I'll downgrade my three mile run to two miles in exchange for 30 minutes in the gym. Or, if I do my short barefoot run today, than I can switch my long run to Thursday; that way I'll still have time to take the dog for a walk.

And that's pretty much what the day was like. I had a three mile run and 30 minutes in the gym on my calendar for today. But, after two hours at a morning appointment, to be followed by an afternoon meeting and the kids coming home early from school, Enjoli Mom was not going to have time to do it all today. Plus, the weekend was so busy that dog has been neglected and to show her displeasure, she recently went dumpster (trash can) diving and shoe shopping (chewing). So I'd hoped to add a walk to my schedule too.

So, instead of the three mile run, I decided to take the dog out for a round of Frisbee and a one-mile walk in my Vibrams to warm up my feet for a one-mile Vibram run, followed by a two-miler in the Kenvaras. But then, I might not have time to lift. Conundrum.

Running in the Vibrams felt so good that instead of one mile, I did two, and traded the Kenvara run for gym time. All-in-all, not so bad. Except . . . immediately after the run, the top of my left foot felt a little sore. Right in the same spot where I had the stress fracture in July.

Maybe not such a good trade after all. I'll consider myself warned . . .

Sunday, November 14, 2010

High heels are the devil

I totally took the day off yesterday from all my usual habits--no exercise, no blogging, no healthy foods.

That's not to say I had the day off. It was the last day of soccer season for my three girls and they had games at 8:30 AM, 10:30 AM and 1:30 PM. The 1:30 game was followed by a team party. So, basically, we were on the soccer fields all day and food was the grab-and-go variety.

At 7 PM, we had a neighborhood party to attend. I wore a pair of cute heels--something I rarely do but thought I would fancy up a bit for the get-together.

Totally regret it!

My body was wrecked today and not from something fun or festive like jammin' on the dance floor or knocking back libations. Oh, no. My discomfort was caused by standing for three hours straight in 3" heels! So. not. worth. it!

Here I shall list my grievances: lower back pain, hip pain, knee pain, ankle pain and general foot and fascia pain. I have finally recovered enough from my running injuries that I'm back up to 15 pain-free miles a week. And, to think I flirted with a set back over wearing a pair of heels! What was I thinking?

Over the years, I have learned to embrace my flat shoes and the benefit of no shoes at all, so I will try to remember what I've learned the next time the frivolous footwear calls to me from the depths of my closet. High heels are the devil!

Running and lifting was on my schedule for today. Fortunately, the balmy temps and availability of a sitter were smiling upon me and, instead, my husband and I were able to enjoy a 30-mile ride together. Heaven! Plus, after spending half the morning in rag doll trying to ease my aches and pains, it was cycling that finally put my body right again.

Which leads to another bonus . . . I won't need to sweat it out at the spin class tomorrow. (Dreaded indoor spinning--a necessary off-season evil). Instead, I have rescheduled my run for tomorrow and will again enjoy the outdoors on another beautiful fall day.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I can fly

My workout almost ended up in Neverland today.

This morning, I spent two hours at a consignment shop selling bits of my childrens' babyhood--the double stroller, the saucer, the toy rocking horse, the cute little blue snowsuit . . . the act of "cleaning house" should have left me feeling lighter; instead, I felt heavy-hearted. The reserved and uppity owner of the store didn't help matters any, the way she pawed through the items that were so precious to me, declaring them "out of date" or "not what we're looking for" and "not clean enough," though everything had been freshly laundered and you would have needed a magnifying glass to find the small stain or tiny pull she detected. I understand the woman has a business to run but, sheesh, a little humanity please!
So, I drove home with a big case of the blues, not yet ready to face the formidable task of doing the grocery shopping, and detoured back to my house for lunch (leftover three mushroom risotto) and to organize my shopping list and coupons.
Two hours and two full shopping carts later, I was finally heading home for the second time. The temperature had climbed to 70 degrees--in November!--and the sun was shining in the bright blue sky. I had a car full of groceries and exactly one hour and counting before my kids got home from school. You have never seen a woman unload the groceries so quickly! (Effectively becoming my pre-run warm up.)
If it wouldn't spoil or melt, it was left on the kitchen counter to be dealt with later. After unloading in record time, I dashed upstairs, peeling off clothes as I went--the errand-running, grocery shopping, domestic mommy uniform of jeans, long-sleeve T, zip up fleece and Keens being swapped for the athletic mommy uniform of running shorts, wicking T, industrial strength sport top and trusty Kenvaras.
30 minutes left. I'd downgraded my run from the hoped for 4-5 miles today to a short 3-miler, and even that was pushing it. I had no choice--I'd have to sprint. The whole way. Or, for as much of it as I could. And for a slow-trodding, negative-split, endurance runner like myself, sprinting is about as appealing as liver and onions. Blech!
It was a miserable run, but I dug into it--channeling the sadness and frustration I'd felt at the consignment store and the domestic doldrums of the grocery store, and tried to convert that negative energy into positive output.
I rounded the corner into my neighborhood and onto my street at the same time as the school bus. My kids got a kick out of seeing me running alongside the bus and were smiling and waving to me from the windows.
Three miles. 26 minutes. At just over 8.5 minutes per mile that is lightening speed for me. And, boy did I ever hate and curse every one of those wind-sucking minutes. But I did it, and I'm proud of myself for getting it done even when it would have been so much easier to skip it today.

The small lift I got from that run was short-lived as I walked back in to the house to face the wreckage I'd left in my wake--food and grocery bags covering every surface of my kitchen, now embellished with my kids' backpacks and lunchboxes and school papers.
What's a girl to do?
Ignore it, of course, and head down to the gym to put in those 2o minutes of strength training I'd also hoped for. So I can say I did it all today. I'm the Enjoli woman. "I can bring home the groceries, run as fast as I can . . . destroy the kitchen and put weights in my hands. . . "
Okay. Clearly, I am starting to lose it now so I will wind it up with this: After my gym time I was once again staring down a one-hour window. In that hour I shoved the still-bagged groceries aside and made homemade pizzas, took a quick shower, fed the fam and had us all out the door in time to see the school play we had tickets for.
It was Peter Pan and he could fly. Peter Pan's got nothing on me.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hit me baby one more time

Every post-Savage bike ride I've had I think will be my last, so I'm thrilled that it's mid-November and I'm still able to get out there and crank out a 50-mile ride once every two weeks. Today was sunny and 58 degrees with light winds and the availability of a primo pit stop--doesn't get much better than that, especially this time of year!

Though, I must admit, it gets a little harder each time. It's one thing to pull 50+ miles when I'm riding regularly, but gritting one out every 14 days or so is a bigger challenge. My first 25-mile leg was strong, but on the return trip my quads were crying out around mile 15. With seven miles left to go, my back, neck and shoulders joined the party. But, I welcome it as a sign of a good effort and an effective workout, the "hurts so good" kind of hurt. What doesn't kill me makes me stronger, right?

I wonder, though: will this be my last ride of the year?

Well, I'm too tired to write much more today (which is actually already tomorrow) so I will close with a big thank you to our military men and women for their service to our great country--a country where I am free to go out and ride by myself, anywhere I want to go, anytime, wearing shorts even! (imagine!) and I don't fear for my safety; I am not breaking any laws. I don't take it for granted that there are many women in this world who do not have this freedom. I hope that someday any woman, anywhere in this world, can hop on a bike at will, choose her own path and just ride.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Let it flow

Let it flow, let yourself go, slow and low that is the tempo--Beastie Boys

This is the song that is playing in my head when I reflect on today's workout: one hour of yoga and 30 minutes of walking.

I used to be a cardio junkie. If it wasn't heart-pumping, music-thumping, sweat running, then it wasn't a workout.

Eight years ago I used to teach step aerobics and kickboxing classes at a health club. My class was followed by a yoga class and curiosity got the best of me. I was pregnant with my second daughter and thought it might be good for me to give yoga a try--relaxing, calming, stretching--all good things for a pregnant gal, right?

Well, as much as I hate to admit this, the only word that can describe how I felt about that first yoga class is: B-o-r-i-n-g!

Flash forward eight years and I am a certified advanced yoga instructor and have been teaching (I prefer to use the word "guiding") yoga classes (practices) for six years. I can't imagine not having yoga in my life.

Aside from "boring," there are several other things I experienced in that first class: sore wrists, mild headache, and a few dangerous moments where I flirted with inappropriate laughter. People respond in different ways when they are out of their comfort zone. I either blush to a shade of deep scarlet or suppress the urge (often unsuccessfully) to laugh. Even now, when I attend Bikram yoga, I'm startled by the loud breathing that kicks off the class. It is a group setting I'm still so unfamiliar with that my first impulse, before settling in, is to giggle.

But, despite my feelings after that first yoga class, I stuck with it. My wrists adapted, my head got used to the pressure experienced when inverted, and I started to enjoy yoga and appreciate what it had to offer in the way of strength, endurance, balance, flexibility, concentration and mind-body connection. I was hooked. After a full year of practicing, I knew that yoga would forever be a part of my life and I wanted to share the practice with others, so I became a student of yoga, and then a teacher.

One yoga instructor I practiced with said that, in addition to wholesome and balanced nutrition, the only thing you need in life to stay healthy and fit is yoga and five miles of walking each day. And I believe it.

But there is still a part of me that craves a good, long run or a challenging bike ride. For me, I find balance in having both the extroverted cardio experience and the introverted yoga experience. Taking my dog for daily walks is one of the best things I can do for her, and for myself, but losing myself to endless laps in the pool, conquering steep hills on my bike or sprinting that last mile of a run is an endorphin cocktail that I can't live without.

So, I've learned to find balance in my fitness life. And, though I will always crave the heart-pumping, music thumping, sweat running cardio workouts, I also value days like today when I can just let it flow, let myself go, slow and low that is the tempo.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Git R Done

Though I hate to admit it, I thrive on stress.

The less time I have, the more I get done. The more time I have, the more I procrastinate--and I am an excellent procrastinator!

Unlike yesterday, when a flexible schedule allowed me to keep putting off my workout, which was only 30 mins of strength training (what I call "gym time") for goodness sake, today's schedule gave me no choice but to get up and get to it.

On days like today, I put my workout clothes on the floor next to my bed so the minute the alarm goes off I can hop into those clothes and be ready to go.

As soon as the kids were on the bus, I was off and running--five miles, to be exact. Though it might have been nice to wait until it warmed up a bit (read: procrastinate), or until I'd had a chance to eat breakfast or pump a little caffeine into my veins, it was nice knowing that I was out there getting it done.

The run was followed by a 1-mile walk to cool down and give my dog a chance to catch up on the day's news. 9:45 AM and I'd already pounded six miles of pavement. Nice!

Gitn' R Done is a great way to start the day!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Put one foot in front of the other

This is one of those days where I keep procrastinating, even though today's workout is not terribly involved or time consuming. Maybe that is the problem. Changing my clothes and dragging myself into the gym for a 30-minute session between checking my kids' homework and making dinner is not very inspiring.

Today is the day I want to curl up on the couch, read a book, sip my chai and not do much of anything else.

Today was a beautiful day. So after a morning of errands and appointments, I decided to skip the grocery store in favor of going home and taking my dog for a walk.

Though my cupboards are bare and I had to settle for All Bran cereal and almonds for lunch, and have no idea what I'll make for dinner, I do not regret skipping the store in favor of that walk.

Likewise, I will not regret getting those 30 minutes of lifting. I just have to decide what I will skip (another load of laundry? 15 more minutes online?) to get myself moving toward those hand weights. Left foot, right foot . . .

Doing crunches and squats and bicep curls is the easy part. It's the steps that come before that--putting one foot in front of the other--that is the challenge.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Too much of a good thing?

I am so happy to be running again that each week I am upping my mileage. And, as a friend pointed out, I am also upping my caffeine intake again. I should probably think twice about both.

Since this is considered post-season, or off-season, for me, I should be using the time to rest, relax and maintain a moderate level of fitness. The next race is not until May so I have almost four months before I have to start training again. Instead, I am constantly thinking about training and dreaming about the races I still want to do . . . a Rock-N-Roll Half Marathon, The Outer Banks Marathon, the Savage Half Iron Man, Chesapeake Man or Eagle Man, the Iron Man . . . the list goes on.
Since returning to running in September, I have been steadily increasing my mileage. What I can't figure out is why. Probably, in part, because I can, partly because it's fun, and partly because it allows me to continue eating the foods I love. So, where do I stop? Five miles? Six? My husband, my fellow triathlete and training partner, suggests I aim for two or three runs a week, ranging from three to six miles each, plus a third or fourth short run in the Vibrams. I wonder if this will be enough to satisfy my craving--for running and for coffee, since the two seem to go hand-in-hand these days.
I didn't always drink coffee. There was a time when I didn't even like it, didn't even own a coffee pot. Then there was a trip to Seattle, right before my first child was born, when my husband and I visited the original Starbucks and Seattle's Best Coffee and I was able to sample good coffee. After that, I began drinking coffee socially--after holiday dinners, when friends or family would visit, on special occasions. I had a strict "one cup a day" rule and would plan my day around that cup in the same way that dieters limit calories at lunch if they plan to splurge at dinner. A coffee drinker was born! Before long, I was drinking my "one cup" daily, which soon became two cups or three cups. The caffeine didn't even affect me anymore and coffee became a habit--a problem! I had to have that cuppa; couldn't go anywhere without it. When it became too expensive to buy Starbucks regularly, I started brewing my own at home. I was a coffee junkie. I felt like coffee was ruling my life!
Then, last February, after nearly nine years (gasp!) as a coffee drinker, I embarked on a nutrition program that had a strict no caffeine rule. There were other things I had to give up too, but coffee was one of the hardest to part with. The program did allow for one cup of black decaf per day. ?? And, junkie or no, that was a deal breaker. I couldn't figure out the point of decaf and I couldn't stomach the taste of black coffee--I'd always had mine spiced and frothed and sprinkled--so I could honestly say that if it had to be black decaf, then I'd rather not have it at all.
And I didn't. For almost six months, I didn't have any--not a single cup. I switched to green tea, which was simply unsatisfying and first, but I eventually began to enjoy it and appreciate the extra health benefits I was getting from it. (Well, that was my pep talk and I'm sticking to it!)
After six months on the nutrition program and not getting the results I'd hoped for, I slowly let some of the forbidden items back into my life, like shellfish and chocolate and, yes, coffee. And the first full cup of leaded rocked my world! I was shaking, stammering, having heart palpitations . . . it was eye-opening to see how my body reacted to caffeine after it had been out of my system for so long.
And I realized I could harness that energy! What a great weapon to add to my training and racing arsenal! So, that's what I did. Now, before any long workout, and definitely before a race, I brew a pot, pour a cup, suck it down, and wait for the performance-enhancing effects to kick in. Awesome! I won't race without it.
But my friend has a point--if I start drinking it too much, will I start to lose that kick? Will the effects start to diminish?
In the name of coffee and of running I ask myself . . . how much is too much?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The one that (almost) got away

Today was one of those days that kept slipping through my fingers and I wasn't sure if I'd get a workout in or not, even though I'd only planned to lift since I ran two days in a row--a first since the fracture in July.

I spent the morning freezing on the soccer fields watching my girls play and, afterward, all I wanted to do was warm up (and eat). Of course, the fastest way to warm up would have been to workout, but instead I had lunch, then a half caf cuppa with my husband (once again looking for that motivation in a mug) and maybe I am building some immunity to the caffeine in such low doses because all I wanted to do was sleep. But I didn't. I'm not sure what I did, but an hour slipped by, then two, then three and then . . . my dog! She needed to get out and that is finally what spurred me into action. I swear, owning a dog really is one of the best ways to make sure you stay fit. There is a great saying that I love: "If your dog is overweight, then you are not getting enough exercise." So true!

So off we went, my dog getting to read the newspaper (ie, sniff the ground) and me getting to (increase my heart rate and) marvel at the sun filtering through the clouds, creating a beautiful silver ring around each one, its rays illuminating the leaves on the trees bringing the colors to life--a view I wouldn't have gotten from my couch.

The lift I got from that walk carried me through to the gym wear I enjoyed a lift of a different kind--the kind that includes hand weights and crunches.

So, the day almost got away from me, but I'm grabbed hold of it just in time. Which reminds me of another saying I love: "You'll never regret the workouts you get, only the ones you let get away."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Choose sanity

Daily exercise is usually what keeps me sane.

Lately, though, I return from a run only to have my stress levels skyrocket again as I'm met by the stacks of paperwork on my desk and the piles of laundry all over my house.

So, today, I erased lifting and running from my "to do" list and chose sanity in a different form. I put my kids on the bus, steeped some white-green tea and tucked myself away in my office, not to emerge for three hours.

And it felt great! Though my shoulders were knotted from sitting at a desk and my eyes were tired of staring at the computer screen, my mind was unusually free. Clearing the clutter from my desk simultaneously cleared the clutter from my mind; my life.

By afternoon I decided I'd done enough to deserve a brisk walk around the neighborhood before digging in again. My dog, Luna, deserved a brisk walk around the neighborhood, too.

But the minute I stepped outside and started moving, the endorphins began to flow, the usual drive returning in a rush, the insanity taking hold: Must. Get. Exercise. It must be what a shopaholic feels like when she stumbles across a great purse or the perfect pair of shoes on sale: you just have to have it!

For me, exercise is my addiction and once the urge hits, I am powerless to stop it from taking over. There was no way I was going back into my office before I'd spent some time with an elevated heart rate. That would be insane!

So Luna and I picked up the pace and walked at a good clip for 40 minutes. Afterward, I dropped Luna off at home, panting and satisfied from her walk, and did a quick gear change because, unlike Luna, I was not satisfied with just a walk. Instead, I set out for a quick 1.5 mile loop in my Vibrams; an important part of my training and rehabilitation right now--to make sure barefoot-style running accounts for 10 percent of my weekly mileage.

Feeling better and even more accomplished than I had with merely a clean desktop, I headed home energized and took three steps into my house before turning around and heading right back out the door. The air inside my heated home suddenly felt still and stifling compared to the cool fall air outside. Plus, I needed to stretch. Stretching is the most neglected part of my fitness routine. I once read that if you don't have time to stretch after a run, then you shouldn't run at all. Or, at a minimum, you should shorten your run enough to leave time for stretching afterward. Especially as you enter your "master athlete" years (that is, age 40 and older).

So I stretched in my front yard while I cooled down, and my house was much more inviting upon my return the second time.

It would have been insane to stay inside on such a beautiful day.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bring on the rain

I think I've forgotten how to relax.

I've been so busy for so long, on such a "tight schedule," as my daughter would say, that my new-found freedom, and the flexibility that comes with it, is proving to be a challenge for me.

Maybe I'm more type-A than I thought I was, but apparently I need a schedule in order to function properly. That, and a cup of coffee.

I still run a tight ship when the girls are home--our school mornings are planned to the minute--but as soon as they're on the bus, the day is mostly mine and I often find myself wondering what to do first. Run now, work later? Shower, run errands, then run? But then I'll have to shower again. Work first, drink some coffee and wait for the caffeine to jolt me out the door?

I know, I know. It really is a privilege to have such worries. But it's still stressful to the uninitiated.

This morning it was raining and cold. The forecast predicted lighter rain and slightly warmer temps in the afternoon, so I decided errands first, run later.

While I was out and about, I treated myself to a Caribou Coffee Caramel High Rise and did my best imitation of a writer sitting in a cafe, outlining ideas for a new project. I'm not sure I was very convincing with my pen and pad of paper, magazine at the ready should I lose my writing mojo. But the coffee part was effective. By the time I got home I felt like I was going to have a heart attack! Despite the fact that I wimped out at the last minute and only ordered a half caf (I know, not very hard core creative type), that 16 oz drink still had a full shot of leaded and it sent me over the moon.

Rain? What rain? I love running in the rain! Not one to let a good java buzz go to waste, I dashed into the nearest phone both and came charging back out with my cape flying behind me. Faster than a speeding bullet I ran those 4.5 miles, loving every splashing step. Seriously, the rain felt amazing. After running from the rain all day, if felt liberating to be running in it.

It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's triathlon mom! On caffeine. So, bring on the rain! I'll schedule some time to relax later.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Looking the part

With no races on the horizon, I'm spending some of my down time clearing out my inbox--which includes emails from sports photographers who have taken pictures during this years' race season.

As a rule, I do not like pictures of myself. I am not photogenic. Sometimes I get lucky and have a decent shot but, for the most part, the camera most-definitely doesn't love me. Or, at least, the image I often see of myself on film is not the image I see of myself in my head or in my mirror. It's kind of like hearing your own voice on a recording . . . it never sounds like you think it should. In photographs, I never look like I wish I would!

So, after intensely training for triathlons for seven months and being in the best shape of my life, I am scrolling through pictures of myself at one of the races and the only word that comes to mind is "chunk!" Seriously, my legs just look like big tree trunks. I appear huge on that small, streamlined bike. And for all the compression my cycling shorts provide, they are definitely not minimizing! Where are the pictures that showcase the rippling quads and bulging biceps that I imagine, the ones I wish for and work so hard for? (Note: The picture posted in this blog is not one of the "chunk" shots I am complaining about. The picture I posted is one of the few I actually like!)

I have a friend who has, on several occasions now, been told, to her delight, that she looks like a runner. And it's true. She does look like a runner. She is fit and cut and, to use her own words, she has "learned to embrace her boy body." And I am so envious! Because I know it is not likely I will ever hear a comment like that from a stranger or a passerby, who has no idea that I'm a triathlete and that I train year-round and work out five or six days a week. I may dress the part, but I do not "look" like a runner.

When I mentioned this to another friend, she did not disagree. Instead, she said I look "strong." What, exactly, does that mean? What does strong look like? Trees look strong. Buildings look strong. An ox looks strong. But I sure don't want to be likened to any of those!

I guess I have not fully learned to embrace my "womanly body." Because, really, that's what I have. My face, nose, neck, arms and torso are long and lean. But the long and lean stops there. My legs are short and not particularly shapely; the rest of my body is curvy--the classic hourglass. I have a small waist and a flat stomach (never mind that is less so since having children) and the balcony is full--so much so that it's hard to find my bra size in the store. And let's not forget the good ol' "child-bearin' hips." In fact, I come from a long line of hippy-chick women. When I gain any weight at all I suddenly have a side order of saddlebags.
But having a shapely figure is great most of the time--except when I'm running. Or trying to find the appropriate, supportive triathlon gear that can take me from the swim to the run. (Let me tell you: it doesn't exist!) Or when the camera is busy adding ten pounds (and it's not ten pounds of muscle, either!)

Speaking of muscles, when I lift weights, I have the ability to add muscle mass like crazy. However, the effect is just bulky so I tend to stick to lighter weights and higher reps. Because, believe me, there is a huge difference between bulky muscles and cut muscles. And, frankly, I just carry too much body fat to ever look cut. When I was in college, I gave some thought to continuing as a cheerleader. At one of the practices, the coach decided to torture us with those fat calipers, or whatever they are--those huge, metal pinchers--and after she finished pinching inches all over me--on my upper arms, stomach, hips and thighs--she announced that I had too much body fat. Huh? That was a first, but maybe it was somewhat true.

During one memorable lifeguard training course, I was paired with my brother and we had to practice rescuing a drowning victim and towing that person to shore. My brother got the easy end of that deal because, while he sinks like a rock, I float like a Macy's Day Parade balloon!

But that's just me; it's just the way I'm built. Despite the fact that I'm at the ideal weight for my height, that I'm at peak fitness, that I have the heart rate and blood pressure of a teenager, and that I eat super-healthy (well, most of the time), I will never be thin, cut or petite. And I will probably never be called a "runner."

But that's okay. My husband recently caught me sorting through a pile of laundry, trying to find the least-smelly shirt to wear for a run. He laughed and said, "you're an athlete." And those were the best three words I could have heard that day.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rest is relative

Today was a "rest" day. Some of these are by choice, others are forced by the schedule. Today was a bit of both.

Since I lifted and ran on Saturday, I did not plan a workout for today, though if the kids had not been off school for election day, I probably would have tried to cross-train with an easy walk or hike. My muscles, especially my quads, are sore from my new lifting workout which included lunges with weights.

But "rest" is a relative word. I did not break a sweat or raise my heart rate as the result of a workout. Instead, I carpooled kids to playdates and birthday parties and doctor appointments, cleaned the house, did a couple loads of laundry, started dismantling Halloween, went to the grocery store to pick up produce and prescriptions, went to vote, made those mind-numbing, time consuming phone calls to insurance companies and doctors offices, canceled subscriptions and made appointments.

Finally, it was time to make dinner--homemade spinach pesto on whole wheat pasta--and pack lunches for school tomorrow. And, oh yeah, empty the dishwasher (again) and clean the kitchen (again).

If this is considered a "rest" day, I'll take a hard, heart-pounding, sweat-inducing workout any day of the week!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Legal drugs

When my hands started shaking so badly I could barely tie my shoes, I knew it was time for my run--and it would be a good one!

After taking a 6-month break from caffeine, the boost I get from it now is amazing. Even green tea will give me a kick. So, each day, I assess my caffeine needs based on what I have to accomplish and how motivated I am. I mean, really, the stuff is awesome--such a performance enhancer, and it's legal!

Today was one of those days where I had too much to do in too little time and I wasn't feeling particularly peppy. It would have been so easy to blow off my workout and an afternoon appointment to stay home and dig in. Instead, I dialed up my caffeine requirement to max, brewed a pot of full-test, and before long I was quivering in my slippers.

While I waited for the caffeine to kick in, I dragged myself to the gym for a 30-minute lifting session. I really didn't want to, but I kept repeating the phrase "just do it, just do it" because it really is as simple as that. Nike struck gold with that slogan.

A few squats later I was warmed up, caffeine moving through my veins, and then it was run time. I got my first stitch in ages, which could have been from not focusing on my breath, from running so fast, or from my lungs not being prepared to inhale 43 degree air. (I'm putting my money on running fast--haha!) Luckily, it didn't last long and I logged 4.5 miles in just under 40 minutes--not bad after being benched for so long.

Hopefully I ran fast enough to burn the chips & cheese and three mini candy bars I scarfed tonight.