Posted tagged ‘fitness’

Leap of Faith

March 1, 2011

I registered for the Twin Lights Half Marathon last week.  I know the route.  It begins at Good Harbor Beach and follows along route 127A right through downtown Rockport to Phillip’s Ave., looping there and returning along the same route, ending back at Good Harbor.  I run much of this route almost every day.  And I have run longer than 13.1 miles many times.  Yet, since the moment I started to fill out the application online, I have felt the flutter of butterflies in my stomach.  Well, maybe not butterflies, maybe more like the pounding of elephants charging through the jungle as they are chased by a pride of lions.  Each tap of each key of my computer laid the foundation for this unlikely terror.  When I listed my emergency contacts, it was the cement between the bricks.  By the time I typed in my credit card number, I was shaking.  I was also grinning, so don’t worry too much about me although…

I am filled with doubt.  Every twinge of a muscle reminds me that I am 47 years old.  Every ache seems it might be the start of something much worse.  I wonder how many runners will be there.  I wonder if the weather will be just so—cool, dry, filtered sunlight, precisely the way I like it.  Will all my winter training pay off?  Will all those miles logged in freezing rain and snow, in motion-stopping, icy ocean winds and bitter cold darkness give me the strength I need to finish strong?  Or will I have exhausted my middle-aged self, collapsing before I reach the finish line, straggling in like either a baby or an old woman, aching, sobbing, or, worse yet, picked up by EMTs and driven through an ogling crowd?

I know.  This does not sound like me at all.  I, mighty runner of many miles, woman who can finally do pull-ups and hold plank for more minutes than I’m willing to admit, crazy weight lifter and relentless personal trainer, am never in doubt of my abilities.  I jump into everything with both feet, never looking back (or ahead!).  I have only ever participated in one race, and it was just a 10K.  Piece of cake.  I experienced no pre-race jitters and ran the whole thing like it was any other day, except for the excitement of being surrounded by dozens of other runners.  I loved it!  I even came in first in my age category.  (Oops.  Is that a humble brag?  Nope. It’s a real one!)

Any other day, it’s one foot in front of the other.  That’s pretty much how I run.  Some days rock!  The legs, the lungs, the mind—they all meld into one and I go and go and go, surprised that an hour or two have passed and I’m already strolling through my front door.  I’m sweaty, happy and standing on top of the world.  On the not so good days, I still manage to run at least six miles, even if I’m slower than usual, a little winded on the sprints, or caught up in untangling a clingy worry.  So here I am, writing this, clearly with the sole purpose of giving myself a pep talk.  Here we go:

The race isn’t until May.  There’s plenty of time to rest, cut back on the miles, the weights, and even get in a little cross-training and rest.  Hmm.  I have time to work on speed drills, with or without my running partner, depending on her mood and availability.  I bet I can talk my hubby into coming to the high school track with the stop watch for a few mile repeats.  I can take one long run each week, even run the entire course a few times, just to let my body know what’s coming.  I can eat more, maybe gain a couple of pounds. Fries?  Cookies?  Coconut-milk ice cream?  (It’s not going to happen with leafy greens, that’s been proven…)  I can back off for a couple of weeks before the event, letting my body absorb the training and some extra rest, just to be sure.  Make the leap.  I know I can do it, and do it they way I envision it for me.

I have been writing fitness rules for more than a year, encouraging my readers and clients to adopt them into their fitness plans.   I want them to incorporate my fitness rules into their visions for how they can change their lives by making a few simple changes in attitude and behavior.   I think it’s time to write one for me.

Fitness Rule #18:  Take a leap of faith.  It’s the only way to uncover the truth of what I am capable of  in my life right now.


What’s Up, Doc?

November 21, 2010

I’ve been writing this blog for almost a year, beginning with writing mostly about running, then adding in recipes that have evolved in my experimental kitchen over the years.  I started adding in my fitness rules, some that I have figured out on my own, others that I have learned in the process of obtaining my personal trainer certification.  Somehow I overlooked writing about the most important fitness rule of all:  Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise or fitness program.

If you hire a personal trainer, that trainer will ask you to see your doctor for a note clearing you to begin a fitness program.  You should expect to have a full blood work up and physical, tell your doctor you are about to begin working with a trainer, and then give the trainer the note from your doctor.  The note should include any health concerns and activity restrictions.  The trainer will keep that letter on file as a safeguard to protect him or herself should anything unexpected happen during the duration of your training relationship.

Without a trainer, it’s easy to forget to see your doctor and get clearance to begin exercising.  What could happen if you are just walking a couple of miles a day, or lifting free weights, doing an aerobics video, or some core work in the middle of your living room?

The answer is—- you don’t know.  Anyone can have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a blocked artery, a subtle heart arrhythmia, or Type II diabetes and not know it, putting them at risk for a serious adverse reaction to a fitness program.  Although the side effects of exercise are almost always positive (weight loss, increase in strength, endurance, flexibility, improved mood, improved energy, to name a few), without being aware of the health risks that increase with certain medical conditions, exercise can have side effects you do not want, sometimes effects that place your overall health at risk.

Your doctor will let you know what is safe for you.  Your doctor will be happy you want to start to exercise because you are  actively seeking to work on your own health, and because patients who work on their fitness tend to be healthier overall, making the doctor’s  job easier in the long run.

So, although this is technically my 15th fitness rule, it is really Fitness Rule #1— Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

The reason today seems like the perfect day to add this fitness rule is that the first of the big holidays is Thanksgiving, just a few days away.  Then Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s come tumbling right behind being thankful, and before you know it, you are making another New Year’s resolution about fitness.  If you take the time to squeeze in your check up before you make that resolution, you can begin right away on January 1st— and feel confident that your body is as ready as your dream of improving your health.

Fitness Rule #14: Break It Up

October 5, 2010

The holidays are approaching quickly, and many of us are starting to think about how we are going to maintain our fitness through all the preparations and parties that fill our autumn and winter months.  It’s time for a fitness rule to support all of us wondering how we are going to squeeze in those early morning workouts, after-work gym time, or into that little black dress we bought last year.  Today’s rule addresses staying on track through a goal-oriented approach.

The first thing I ask my clients when they hire me to train them is about their goals.  I ask them to prepare for our first meeting by coming up with three goals they would like to achieve with a personal trainer.  What do they want to get from training?  Are they interested in being fit?  Do they want to lose weight?  Both?  Do they want to feel/look better in their clothes?   Are their goals around lowering their blood pressure or cholesterol?   Sometimes it’s as basic as maintaining their current level of mobility and improving it a bit.  Many times, a new client doesn’t have a concrete answer to my question at all.  They simply know they need support to get their bodies moving.  Jumping in without a plan can be overwhelming.  Part of my job is to support a client to decide what they really want, then to help them find the path that works  for them.

When we meet, we sit down and talk about the different aspects of fitness.  I help them turn their goals into measurable goals, a fitness rule I have already written about.  Measurable goals are ones that have a start marker and an end marker.  A simple example:  a client can walk a mile.  They would really like to do a 5k walk to raise money for a cause.  Or they might want to lose some weight in time for a special event.  We set the big goal— 5k or 25 pounds, write it down, and then make little goals to support the big one.  So how do I break up big goals into smaller ones?

I work with each client to determine a time line.  If they want to be able to walk a 5k event, I break up the time frame into weeks, planning a fitness program designed to support it by lengthening their walking distance each week, and by including some intervals to build speed and endurance.  Each week, we examine their personal fitness goals and when a goal is met, we create a new one based on their current level of fitness and the time frame of their big goal.  If the goal is to lose weight, we examine their level of fitness and their diet, look at changes to support their goal, choose a reasonable time frame for achieving the goal, then note what is working each week.  There is lots of tweaking— the individuality of each client is taken into account; what works for one person might not for another.  The one thing that seems to be  consistent from person to person is breaking the big goal into smaller goals that support attaining the big one.

Fitness Rule #14: Break It Up.

Breaking up big goals into little pieces has great advantages.  The feeling of success comes much earlier when a small goal is achieved and checked off.  We made it to the gym.  We didn’t walk the 5K— we ran it!  We can fit into our favorite old jeans again.  That feeling carries over into the next goal or set of goals, urging us to continue to move forward and stay on track.  The big goal suddenly becomes manageable.  When we maintain our fitness logs, food journals, or use whatever tool we have chosen to monitor our behaviors and celebrate our successes, the big picture takes form and becomes real.

Break it up can be applied to other areas of our lives—  work, home, garden, even relationships can benefit from us looking at the big picture, writing down a long-term goal, and figuring out how to break that goal into smaller pieces.  Sitting around thinking about the work and preparation it takes to run a marathon, lose 50 pounds, give a Power Point presentation, or clean the whole house in one day can consume every ounce of our energy, leaving us none for the actual doing.  Preparing ourselves for success by reaching our goals one step at a time helps keep us from that stuck ‘thinking about it, how will I ever get there’ place to a place of action. Checking off a list of accomplishments increases self-efficacy.  It leads to strength, confidence and success in all aspects of our lives.  It leads us to the place where our dreams come true.

Sub 6

April 23, 2010

I hit a new PR yesterday— a 5:56 min/mile.  I suppose if I take a hard look at my training lately, I would have to admit that I have earned it.  It feels selfish and almost crazy to be this excited, but these days, with all the medical emergencies my family has been dealing with and the emotional strain it has placed on me, it’s a relief to have something to celebrate, even if I’m popping a metaphorical cork all by myself.  Part of me thinks it’s possible that my basic urge to run away and knowing that’s not a choice has been redirected.  Either way, I am bordering on shock and an embarrassing amount of pride in making this goal.

Running has been the one aspect of my life I have not neglected for the past weeks, but attaining my second goal has been on the back burner.  I have been aiming for a 6.5 min/mile, but not actively pursuing it.   There have been days I have run nice long loops, doing sprints here and there, and working through the worries that have made a prickly nest for themselves in my mind.  But there was something different about yesterday.

I warmed up by jogging alongside a neighbor who was taking her morning walk.  We chatted through the first song in my mix and when we had finished catching up, she waved me off.  The slow warm up paid off.  I picked up my pace easily, and decided to go for an 8 miler.  I let my quads do the work on the steep hill down to Pebble Beach, then as the road leveled off,   I ran softly in the sand.

I left the south end of town and took the long loop back along Marmion Way, not really paying much attention to the run, but moving along comfortably and at a good clip.  Belle and Sebastian’s lyrics had me in a groove.  “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying” awakened in me the knowledge that no matter how hard things get, I’m in it for the long haul.  The inner strength that is propelling me through all the necessary obligations combined with a new strength I have been experiencing during my runs and that I’m chalking it up to all the P90-X explosive jumping on my cross-training days.

I pressed up the hill on Old Garden Road and headed downtown.  A sudden, strong urge to really run came over me.  Not to run at my regular pace, not to sprint with an end in plain sight, but the kind of run that’s a mixture of adrenaline, desire, and surrender.  An instinctive will to move as fast as I could.  So I let loose and pushed hard.  The result?  A mile in 5 minutes 56 seconds.  That’s high school fast!  10 mph!  It was wonderful to feel that kind of success on a day when I expected nothing more than the ordinary from myself.

Measuring Up

April 15, 2010

I love to know how far I run every day.  I also enjoy discovering that I have increased my speed.  It’s not really something I am able to guess, though.  Before my sister bought me the Nike+iPod last Christmas, I used  to burst into my house at the end of a run and head right to the computer to Google Maps and trace my route that day.  I had to remember every turn I took, and to find my pace, I had to keep track of the  minutes on my watch.  Not really a big deal, probably not all that accurate, but I always felt a certain satisfaction in knowing how my progress was coming along.  There were plenty of days when I spaced out on my run and could not remember what time I left my house.  There were even a few times,  (I hate to admit this) that I forgot the exact roads I chose and could only guess my distance.

I do know, because I wrote it down in a fitness journal, that my first run was about 2.5 miles, and that it took me about 32 minutes.  Because I measured and kept track, I have been able to see my progress. I now know that my time and speed have increased considerably.  I am now running at a speed of about 8 mph and have been able to run more than 13 miles in one run.  I also know that I have lost about 20 pounds since I began to run.  I wrote that down, too.   I fell in love with running and the calories burned one day at a time.

I didn’t start running to lose weight.  I did it to exhaust myself so that I could fall asleep at night— to keep the nightmares associated with my father-in-law’s death at bay.  It seemed important to write it all down— the running, the distance, the time, my weight— and so I was able to really see what happened.  After a few weeks, I decided to measure my hips and waist, and since then, my waist is only about an inch smaller, but I lost seven inches from my hips.  Although exercise was only about stress relief and trying to sleep better, it became a big enough focus in my life that I went back to school to become a personal trainer.  I feel better than I ever have before in my life!  I wanted to learn how to share that with other people.

Fitness rule for today:  measure and keep track.

This is another one of those double-meaning fitness rules.  The first aspect is about taking measurements at the start of a fitness and/or weight loss program.  Without taking specific measurements, like body weight, waist, hip, arm, calf, and thigh circumferences, body mass index, or any combination of these, it is impossible to measure and assess progress.  Sure, there might be a little bit more room in your pants after you have been watching what you eat and exercising, but knowing exactly how far you have come is an intrinsic reward that cannot be either matched or assumed without having a starting point to go by.  Saying “I lost 10 pounds!” or “My waist measure two inches less than it did a month ago!” feels much more concrete than “I think I may have lost some weight” or “I think I might need to wear a belt with these jeans.”

The other meaning is about measuring food to get a general idea of calorie consumption.  I attempted to explain measuring to one of my clients the other day.  She is pretty resistant to measuring anything.  I made an analogy to money.  When in a store,  let’s say what you want to buy an item that costs $15. You hand the clerk a hundred dollar bill.  The clerk gives you your change.  You count your change.  You want the right amount back.  $85 is a lot of money!  You also have more shopping to do, and you need to plan how you are going to spend what is left.  You need to make sure you have enough to get what you need.  (No, there are no credit cards in this analogy!)  Maybe if you had a couple of pennies coming back you might not be so careful, but when it comes to dollars, knowing what you have spent and what you have left to spend makes or breaks your shopping trip.

That’s how I think about calories.  I don’t believe in measuring everything consumed— in fact, I think of vegetables and fruits as pennies.  But unless you know whether you ate a serving of rice— that’s a 1/2 cup cooked— you just remember that you ate rice.  You could easily consume a double portion.  “So what”, says my client, who wants to lose twenty pounds.  “It’s whole grain.  It’s good for me.  I like it.”   It’s just like counting your change.   1 lb. is equal to 3500 calories.  If you want to lose that pound, you must create a deficit of 3500 calories.  Easily done— eat less or burn them.  A combination of each is most efficient.  But, you will never know how many calories you have “spent” unless you pay attention to them and figure out how many you have left over for later.

I don’t think anyone should go around every day of their life measuring each morsel they are going to pop into their mouth.   I do believe, though, that measuring cereal, rice, pasta, oils, and meat, fish or nuts for a few days will give a good general idea of what a serving actually looks like.  Seeing one cup of cereal in a bowl for a few days lets your eye get the idea.  Soon, pouring the right amount becomes second nature.  Everything we buy at the grocery store has a portion size and calorie count.  It’s a simple step.  Look at the package.  Pay attention to how much you eat.

There are all kinds of little tips for assessing amounts.  A palmful of nuts is a serving.  A piece of meat or fish the size of your palm is about one serving.  (3-4 ounces.)  A cup is about the size of a tennis ball.  2 tablespoons of peanut butter is about the size of a ping-pong ball.  After just a few days, you will be able to eyeball a serving and know how many calories are in that portion.  When you add up your calories and deduct the number you have burned during exercise, you can closely estimate how long it will take to lose a couple of pounds, or twenty.


April 2, 2010

I did it!  Today I ran a half-marathon distance.

It’s Friday, April 2.  I grudgingly rolled out of bed as soon as the alarm went off this morning, taking a turn at fetching the morning coffee.  Hubby had a turn staying warm and cozy.  I stumbled down the hall and made my way downstairs, careful to be quiet so our daughter could sleep in this morning.  No school.

When I frothed milk for our coffees, I also set up water glasses with chia seeds for our chia fresca (Chia fresca has turned out to be the perfect pre-run fuel.  Unlike kefir, cereal, or pretty much anything else, it does not slosh around in my stomach when I run. It sort of settles in there in its gel-like way, keeping me full and hydrated longer than any other pre-run fuel I have tried.  And, it’s not  goo (Gu) or weird colored stringy junk or otherwise un-food-like.  That’s a double plus as far as I’m concerned.)  I set the timer for 10 minutes and headed back upstairs to deliver the hubby’s coffee and crawl back into bed to drink mine.  I had a goal to make.


I  swill my chia fresca,  and layer on my running clothes.  Today is only my second day out this week.  Rain and family emergencies have kept me off the road, but I squeezed in 7.36 miles yesterday morning and the familiarity took me by surprise.  I felt so out of touch with my body and the sensation of the pavement underfoot that I wanted to make sure I still remembered how to run.

I stuff in my ear buds for the Nike+iPod, choose the “Runner’s Delight” playlist, take a deep breath, and go.  I decide on the long first loop which is a little over 6.5 miles.  I try to hold back on my pace.  It’s a gorgeous morning, cool but with a touch of spring warmth.  The air is damp and salty-fresh; the roads are quiet.

The big hill at the end of Marmion Way is not as daunting as usual, and I am able to keep up my speed as I round the corner onto South Street.  When I reach the fork, I up my pace on the easy downhill toward Penzance Road.  I approach Pebble Beach and notice how even more sand has washed away from the rocks exposed there.  The morning air is especially thick here in the south end of town.  My sunglasses blur with the mist and I have to wipe them on my fleece top to see as I head up the next hill.

I take Eden Road, then back to Marmion Way.  I check my time and it’s good.  I pass my house and keep going toward town.  I take Main Street to Beach Road, circle around for a mile or so, then loop back onto Main again.   I  take a right that leads to Broadway.  I’m not really tired yet, but take the hill slowly, checking where I stand in distance.  Just over 9 miles.  I know I can do it.  I turn onto Broadway and pass a young girl jogging with her dog.  I smile at her as I go by, then, with a sudden and completely unexpected surge of energy, sprint wildly down the slope heading directly into T Wharf.  I look both ways as I fly across the street and decide to go back up Mt. Pleasant and rerun the long Marmion loop.  The hill Sue and I always complain about is pretty easy this morning, even after that crazy sprint, and I try not to think about running another 4 miles, but focus on how good I feel this moment, how I think I could run forever.

A couple of trucks that have already passed me earlier in my run go by again.  They are people I know in town; they honk and wave and I wonder what they think about my crazy circling route today.  I notice my friend Danny wears a wide grin as he raises his hand to me and I can feel the reflection of that grin on my own face.

The second round is a tiny bit slower, but I don’t stop.  I pass my house once more and head back downtown.  This time I know I don’t have much farther to go, so I run up Bearskin Neck.  I use the round-about at the top and take in the scope of the sea—the absolute size of it,  the gentle waves, and the rich color of the water in the bright sunlight.  I count some of my blessings right now:  that both my father and my mother-in-law are getting better and will be coming home again soon, my good fortune at being able to live and run here in Rockport, and, that I’m going to make my goal.

I run back home filled with excitement and pride, letting myself enjoy the moment alone for a little while.  13.13 miles.  1’49” exactly, averaging 8:18 min/mi.  I stroll down the street for a brief cool-down, then, ready to share my news, I head home.  I raise my arms up high in a silent victory salute to my heart, my legs, my lungs,  and most of all, my head, then burst through the front door.  My hubby is in our office already at work.

“I did it!  I just ran 13.13 miles!”

He smiles his best smile at me, and is so proud that he grabs me in a congratulatory bear hug, ignoring my sweat-soaked body and clothes.  We both stand in the kitchen grinning like idiots until the burning oatmeal breaks the spell.

Sub 7

March 25, 2010

I thought it would be cool to wear my Nike Free shoes barefoot when Sue and I ran in Hamilton on Saturday.  The hot sun certainly called for shorts; bare feet seemed to be the next step.  But barefoot in a shoe is not quite the same as barefoot not in a shoe.  After our speedy and sweaty 8 miles, I hopped in the shower and yelped out loud.   Excruciating pain shot through my left foot from the underside of the smallest toe.  Doing my best to keep my balance on one leg in my old, slippery porcelain bathtub, I lifted the foot, turned it upside-down, and examined the toe.  I discovered a round, red, fat, burst blister.  It was only about the size of a pencil eraser, but felt as big as the Grand Canyon.  I stood there whimpering like a puppy until the exposed skin adjusted to the hot soapy water.   The pain subsided a bit; I hobbled out of the shower, dried off and dressed my feet carefully in soft, soft socks and the widest shoes I own.

Sunday was a bust for running; I had not packed running clothes to take to my parents’ house.  I knew I would not have time to run, even though it is such a wonderful stress reliever for me.  I thought Monday might work, but the early rain put me off.  Instead, I hiked in Dogtown with my friends Jane and Judy a little later in the morning.  We followed narrow and twisted paths through the woods, fording streams and enduring some serious drizzle for almost three hours. The toe was fine.  Roomy hiking boots and soft SmartWool socks protected the tender spot.  Tuesday morning presented with heavy rain, so I opted for the crazy workout I wrote about in the piece Intense and Flavorful.

Wednesday morning I did the Mom shuffle, then tied my sneakers, put on music, and headed out the door.  I ran about two blocks and realized I was not quite ready to run— the toe was already throbbing, and to be honest, my butt was killing me from the P90X workout I did on Tuesday.  I turned off the Nike+iPod and walked back home.  I was looking forward to a nice long visit with my friend Judy from Newton.  She came just as I had finished setting up for our lunch.  We drank a cup of tea, then walked my 6.8 mile running route, thus I have managed to get my exercise all week despite the toe.  It’s just that I want to run!

This morning I wrapped a soft Band aid around the toe.  I slipped into medium-weight wool socks, my tights, a couple of top layers, and tied on the Nike Frees.  I headed out with low expectations.  Even so, I started off fast.  The toe was not painful.   The air was spicy and fragrant with earthy spring smells of mulch, flowers, and moist soil.  I kept up the speed, deciding to go for the medium loop.  I knew I could slow down or walk back if necessary, but my body was practically singing out loud with joy with each step I took.  My ankles, knees and hips felt springy, the muscles in my legs flexed elastic and strong.   My lungs filled over and over with the morning air, and my mind melted into the pure pleasure of fluid motion.

I ran 5.7 miles and set a new personal record for mile speed.  I am proud to say I clocked a sub-7 minute mile.  Just by a breath, it’s true; nonetheless, it is far more than I expected.  My average speed for the run was 7’34” min/mi.  After four days of not running, today was like coming home.