Thursday, July 19, 2012

Modern-day Enjoli woman?

A friend of mine shared an article from the Wall Street Journal titled: "Don't Hate Her for Being Fit;
More Moms Squeeze in Workouts as 'Me' Time; Playground Pilates, 'To Fro' Dresses" 

It's an interesting article (Thanks, Katie, for sharing). But reading it definitely raised a few points of contention and caused me, one of the so-called "happy crazy" moms being generalized in this article, to bristle. Yes, I admit that much of it rings very true and I do fit, mostly, into this category. With a few exceptions:

1) I do still crave "me" time that doesn't involve exercising--like reading or spending time with friends.

2) I do still seek escape via a bottle of red and some dark chocolate. I'm most definitely not above that!

3) Despite being lumped in with a growing demographic that advertisers are salivating over, I refuse to be a target. (This being helped along by the fact that I hate to shop!) But also because I am secure in my sense of what I need (vs what I want) and what works for me--I value my own opinion, based on my own experiences, over that of some ad exec who's simply trying to fill the company coffers. Take energy bars, for instance. Yes, I do keep a stash of Lara bars that I buy in bulk to carry around with me "just in case," exactly as described in the article. Guilty as charged. However, I do not rely on this as a diet staple, but something to be used in a pinch. A piece of toasted whole grain with almond butter and honey is just as portable and healthy as a pre-packaged bar, provides the quick energy and sustenance I need, and is definitely less expensive and, sans the wrapper and packaging, more earth-friendly.

4) Speaking of less expensive, while I admire the active lifestyle being promoted and supported by companies such as Athleta and Title 9, I don't appreciate the price tag. These clothes are not cheap! And, as also noted in this article, my income is that of a part-time "happy crazy" mom and therefore must be budgeted and spent wisely. I surely don't have $98 to spend on some halter dress! Well, maybe if it could do the laundry for me . . . 

5) And, don't get me wrong, I do really like Athleta (I just don't buy their stuff unless it's on sale or I have a gift card) but I don't like the subtle pressure being put on women with their whole "Power to the She" campaign. It's like a modern-day twist on the old "Enjoli woman," who has to work (bring home the bacon), cook and care for her family and her home (fry it up in a pan) and look good while doing it! 


I say, if you want to do it all, and you can do it all, and it does makes you "happy crazy" to do so, then, by all means, do it! (Happy being the operative word). But, if you need a break from being everything to and for everyone (including yourself) and simply want to hunker down in a nice bath with a good book, a bottle of wine and a bar of Godiva, then all the more "power to the she." 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Swimming offers fitness for a lifetime

From my fitness column, "For the Fun of Fit":

                                      Swimming offers fitness for a lifetime

It’s that time of year again—no more pencils, no more books, but plenty of sunscreen and time spent at our local pool, where we've been members for seven years; and, it’s not the idyllic setting of the pool and lazy days in the sun that keeps us coming back. It’s the swim team.

I was not a swim team kid. In fact, I spent my childhood summers on the diving team and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to just swim back and forth, back and forth. The repetition seemed horribly tedious and boring, especially when compared to the dynamic and explosive flips, turns and twists we got to execute off the diving boards.

But, while my diving days fizzled by the time I reached college, many of my swim team counterparts continued swimming, back and forth, back and forth, and are now shaming me in the water at triathlons. 

You see, swimming, along with other low-impact sports such as golf, cycling and bowling, are lifetime sports, unlike diving, gymnastics, and football, which don’t have a particularly long shelf life. I guarantee you won’t soon see a seventy-year-old doing back handsprings, but there are plenty of seniors gracing the lap lanes of any swimming pool.

In addition to being a lifetime sport, knowing how to swim also is a matter of safety, which is how it all began for our family. I grew up boating and skiing on the Chesapeake Bay and I knew my kids would spend time on the water too, so learning to swim was not optional.

 At our swim club, swim lessons for members are $40 for ten thirty minute sessions; a bargain compared to other programs we’d participated in. Eventually, I began to take notice of the throngs of young swimmers who were exiting the water as we entered for lessons—the swim team. I soon discovered that the registration fee to join the Serpents swim team was $65 per child with discounted rates for siblings. For this fee, my children would swim for 75 minutes every day over two months instead of only 30 minutes a day for two weeks. Not only would my children learn to swim, but they would learn to swim well, while getting daily exercise and gaining confidence in the water. We were in.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about the swim team culture and the various pros and cons of the sport. While I don’t particularly relish getting up early and packing lunches six days a week during the summer, I do enjoy that our whole family is together for meets and not running in different directions. I also appreciate the positive atmosphere created by the swim team’s spirit activities and that it is both a team sport as well as an individual sport.
Mostly, I no longer view the swimmers in the water as simply going back and forth, back and forth, but realize that they’re on to something good—creating a foundation for a lifetime of fitness. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

How to identify, treat ITBS

From my fitness column:

Q: “What do you do to get over ITBS problems? My sister-in-law had it while training for the Marine Corps Marathon.”-- Susan A.

A: First and foremost, the one word athletes loathe to hear: RICE  (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation)

No, not this kind of rice.

My first experience with ITBS (Iliotibial Band Syndrome) was roughly 14 years ago, though, at the time, I had no idea what was causing the extreme pain at the side of my knee and left me nearly unable to climb the stairs after a run. But then I had three kids in five years and running was put on hold, allowing the band to heal.


When I resumed running several years later, the pain returned. I’d start off feeling great and then, like clockwork, I’d hit the two mile mark and the side of my knee would begin to ache. Sometimes I could run through it; other times, the pain got worse with each step and, every time, my knee was left feeling stiff and sore afterward. Scouring the internet, I found that my symptoms exactly matched those associated with ITBS. My father-in-law, who was working as a Physical Therapist Assistant, agreed with my self-diagnosis and recommended several stretches to loosen my Iliotibial (IT) Band. After a period of rest and, subsequently, following a strict stretching regimen, I've had no further problems with ITBS, which, according to, is the most common cause of pain on the outside of the knee in runners.

ITB Stretch
The IT band, which stabilizes the knee, is a thick band of fibrous tissue that extends from the outer edge of the pelvis, crosses the hip, and inserts just below the knee. According to, the irritation usually occurs over the outside of the knee joint at the lateral epicondyle, where the femur bone ends. At this point, the IT Band crosses over bone and muscle, and a thin bursa, or fluid-filled sac, located between these two structures, is designed to reduce friction and facilitate a smooth gliding motion. However, when the band becomes inflamed from the repetitive motion and continual extension and flexion of the knee during running, it does not glide easily, resulting in pain at the outer edge of the knee and sometimes a stinging sensation along the entire length of the band.


ITBS can be caused by a number of things, including running on banked surfaces, inadequate warm-ups or cool downs, excessive hill running, a sudden increase in mileage or intensity, high or low arches, supination of the foot, over-pronation, uneven leg length, a tight IT band, weak hip abductor muscles and worn-out shoes.

In addition to RICE, stretching and anti-inflammatory medications can be used to treat ITBS, as well as foam rollers to loosen the IT band. Taping and wrapping the knee, which provides support and compression, also are effective treatments. Consulting a physician, physical therapist or massage therapist, especially one with experience treating sports-related injuries, is always a good idea.   

Once the acute symptoms of ITBS have been addressed, it’s important to continue building strength and flexibility of the hip and knee as well as including cross-training in your workouts. Be sure to change your running shoes every 300 to 500 miles and to slowly increase running mileage and intensity. Most importantly, be sure to cool down and stretch thoroughly after each workout. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Don't sweat it

If you're looking for an inspirational, motivational post that supports the adage: "The only workouts you'll regret are the ones you skip," this is not that post.

I have been training for triathlons for six years, the schedule increasing in duration and intensity year after year and culminating in my first Ironman race last November, and I can  honestly say I have never regretted a workout. Never!

Until yesterday.

I've had workout sessions in all kinds of weather--extreme heat, extreme cold, extreme thunderstorms--but I've always been glad that I "got 'er done."

Last year, training for IM Cozumel was extreme. A relentless schedule of 11 grueling workouts a week. And it wasn't just about the workouts--there was also a meticulous focus on getting enough sleep, staying healthy, eating well, and drinking and socializing very little. Believe me, it was all worth it--every minute!--but the effort took its toll and so, my husband and I declared this year an "off" year, meaning we would be less intense, less focused and allow more room in our schedules for things other than work, triathlon and parenting. 

But, it's been easier said then done. It really has been hard to let go and has left me wondering when the line is crossed from triathlon being something you "do" and becoming something you "are." Being a triathlete is a huge part of my identity and without doing the thing that makes up part of who I "am," I'm sometimes left feeling a little lost. This, however, is another post entirely, but I wanted to set the backdrop for yesterday's mental state and decision making. 

Yesterday was a "bike" day. These workouts are put on the calendar, in ink, and babysitters are scheduled as needed. We go whenever time and sitters permit, squeezing in time for our own workouts in and around the busy schedules of our three active daughters. It didn't matter that the afternoon temp was forecast to be 100 degrees plus humidity--It was bike day.  
But first, there was the swim meet, where we sat sweltering (I mean, acclimating) for five hours before heading home to prepare for our ride. I was already grumpy and agitated from hours spent in the heat and was beginning to gauge the absurdity of what we were about to undertake--biking almost 40 miles with a heat index of about 105-107. 

Last summer, while training for the IM, we had a ride under similar, but not quite as brutal, conditions, and it was awful. Last summer, however, workouts did not seem "optional" and I didn't really know any better, having never attempted such a workout in that type of heat. I remember being pretty miserable, but also that, like every other time, I was glad I'd done it. I clung to this notion while preparing for yesterday's suffer-fest. 

With little time to recover from the morning spent in triple-digit temps, we were out the door again. By mile 10, I knew it was a mistake. I crested the top of a challenging hill and stopped to rest and cool my body by dousing it with water, though I hated to use a single drop that was meant for drinking. 

My skin was smothering under a layer of sunscreen, and the wicking shirt, while doing its job of lifting the sweat from my body, left no moisture to evaporate from and, hence, cool, my skin. I couldn't breathe, and even cycling in granny gears was a major effort. I announced to my husband that I was going to turn back and seek a shadier, flatter route home. He, who is normally way more heat-sensitive than I, seemed to be doing fine and was confused and surprised by this and, though he would have supported whatever decision I made, inadvertently made me feel like a total wimp for even thinking of quitting. And so, I gathered my resolve to push on, knowing that some of the worst climbs were still ahead. 

In hindsight, if we were so determined to go forward with this ride, we should have at least deferred until evening when the sun's decreasing angle might have created some shadows on the pavement. As it was, the sun was high and bright in the sky and there wasn't a speck of shade to be found, nor a single cloud to cast the tiniest veil over its searing rays. I thought of High Noon in Texas. 

My husband lapped me repeatedly, issuing words of support and encouragement. My words in return were not nearly as kind and I spit out that I'd rather he refrain from speaking to me at all. I'd soured to the point of feeling like Queen Bee in my daughter's book "I Hate Everyone" as the words I uttered to myself had morphed from positive things like "You can do this," "You did Ironman," "Chrissie rides in the lava fields of Hawaii," to "I hate this," "This is way hotter than Cozumel," "I hate my bike, I hate this ride, I hate the sun, I hate that my water is as refreshing as sipping from a hot tub!" 

Front Cover

Crossing the half-way point around mile 18, the wind shifted and suddenly teased goose bumps from my hot skin--the little peaks of flesh straining to reach any puff of air. Uh oh. Not good. It's never a good thing to get the chills on a 100-degree day.

I was averaging a pace as slow as what I'd clocked while riding in the mountains of Garrett County last September. With bronchitis. With 10 miles to go, I realized I was out of water. My lips were so dry they were sticking together. Fortunately, our local swim club sits on one of the main roads home and as I crested yet another hill, there it was, shimmering like an oasis in the desert.Without delay, I pedaled my pitiful, sopping self into the club, stripped off my helmet and shoes, and jumped into the deep end. Chills coursed through my body, my head began to pound, my neck ached, and my mind went a little fuzzy. I climbed out, black spots swimming before my eyes, and walked on wobbly legs to the snack bar, where I begged two bottles of ice water. Exiting the pool, I gave one of the bottles to my husband where he sat mending a flat tire. I finished my own bottle within minutes.

Finally, we were home. I literally felt cooked, like the old "brain on drugs" commercial, and was thoroughly depleted. Nausea began to set in and I found it hard to get my recovery drink down. Instead of being a relief, the air-conditioned house chilled me to the bone, so I sought my recovery outside on the covered deck, lying beneath the gentle breeze of the fan with my legs elevated on a chair. It was in this position that I slept, my body fighting to recover and restore its equilibrium.

It was after a shower and finally being able to stomach a full meal that I began to ask myself "why?" Why did I go? For what purpose? What did I gain?

Was I glad I went? No. I was mildly shocked to realize this was probably the first workout I've ever regretted.

It was also a prime example of when, in this self-declared "off" year, it would have been fine--wise, even--to have skipped a workout. I believe the cost was far greater than the gain.

I don't know exactly when my tolerance for heat began to slip, but I think it was sometime around my second or third pregnancy, when the little heaters humming and growing within me seemed to permanently, if ever so slightly, raise my core body temperature. Certainly heat was a non-issue for me in my teens and twenties, when basking in the hot summer sun, and under the tropical South Florida rays, was pure bliss.  But not anymore.


Today was the first day I've truly lived the principle of an "off" year. I was scheduled for a 7 mile run. Though getting up early would have allowed for marginally cooler temps, it would have spared me nothing in terms of humidity--and I really needed the sleep. So I slept. At 10 AM, the temp was 88, but the heat index was 97. I fretted for 30 minutes over what to do, as visions of yesterday's ride pierced my brain, the mere memory making me feel ill and causing sweat to pop out on my forehead. What would I gain by putting myself through that again today? Nothing. Why would I be doing it? I wasn't sure--my next race is still a month away and the run is only a 10K. So I opted out and suffered from feelings of guilt for the next hour, before finally settling into a productive, yet restful day at home.

Besides, said my addicted little mind, you're not "skipping" the workout, but merely postponing it until tomorrow . . .