Monday, March 31, 2008

A Matter of Definition

I'm in week thirteen of my training, and as I recently mentioned, I am starting to see physical evidence of the hard work I have been doing in the gym. I'm excited because it has been a long time since I've gone through a transformation like this and I am more and more motivated to push myself and see how far I can take it. The realist in me, though, is waiting for the other shoe to drop. How long can this really go on before God wakes up and realizes I've run amok into forbidden territory? Will there be a day when I comment to someone, "yeah, I used to workout all the time..." and wistfully remember an exchange last week in which friend commented that my t-shirt showed off my "guns." Even while I corrected him and said that women don't have "guns," inside I was giving myself a high-five. I like to show off my guns, especially considering the sweat equity that went into getting them.

After I posted my last entry, I continued to think about what it really meant to be an athlete, and why I felt that I didn't fit that description for so long. It occured to me that the complete lack of inate athletic ability was a big part of it. Coordinated? Not me. I can't catch, throw, aim, or otherwise make contact between two moving objects, and I was always chosen last for any team in phys ed. I was on a swim team as a kid for a few summers but didn't stand out; I enjoyed practices but in the meets I was just another swimmer. Athleticism is not something that happens naturally for me.

But drive is, especially when it comes to something I am not good at. I recently read an article on the website of one of my favorite radio personalities, Peter Sagal. I was suprised to hear that the voice I listen to each week belonged to an avid long-distance runner who had completed several marathons. I clicked on the link and sat engrossed in his story. I related to his experience as a clumsy kid who one day asked his dad if he could go running with him the next morning, and the feeling of acheivement when, despite the pain and turmoil of his first run, he got up the next morning to do it again. When asked why he endures such pain as a marathon on a regular basis, he replied with a response that resonated like a belltower with me -"it's not the suffering, it's the achievement despite the suffering. The suffering makes the achievement sweeter."

I knew I wasn't the only crazy person out there.

I still maintain that I am not athletic. But I feel like an athlete. I get out there every day and participate in a sport, and I work each day to become better at it. Athleticism is not inate for me, and that's what makes my achievement so much more than if it was something that I was born to do.

In the end, I have come to believe that athleticism, like achievement, is a state of mind. If transported back to an elementary school gymnasium, I might still be chosen last for the team. That's fine. In my book, an athlete is not only defined by the mascot on their uniform, but also by the end product as a result of discipline, hard work, and strategy to build a better body.

And yes, that includes working on the guns.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hitting My Stride

Throughout my life and in this blog, I have maintained that I am not an athlete. When asked to participate in intramural sports in college, I passed. "I'm not athletic," I would say on my way to the weight room. In high school I had a job in the afternoons and a friend lamented that it meant I couldn't join the track team with her. I shrugged it off. "I'm not sporty," I would explain, and then get on my bike every Saturday and hit the pavement for a couple of hours. And as my exercise video and DVD collection grew and I wore out more than my share of sports bras and lifting gloves, I have stood by and watched athletes do their thing and wish I was athletic.

In college I started running every day and purposely looked for routes with challenging hills. I spent every possible moment in the weight room or the pool, and showed up at the local Gold's in pre-dawn hours and complained that the weights were never organized from the night before.

After college I hired my first trainer and started taking serious steps towards working out deliberately and strategically. I began to look at fitness as a destination instead of a habit.

On my maternity leave I put my baby in my hiking backpack and hit the streets every day for an hour or so, marveling in the extra cardio that I was getting for carrying a heavier load. I admired my calves.

Last summer I donned my speedo and swim cap and spent most of my lunch hours swimming laps in the community pool. I even went so far as to buy a waterproof watch so I could try to beat my best time.

And now, I am in the gym lifting almost every day, eating for performance, and wearing a knee brace so I can run every morning at 4:45 am. Somehow along the way, I think I became an athlete.

I didn't mean to do it. I'm a bookworm, a TV junkie, a card-carrying nerd. So how did I find myself standing in the shower this morning thinking about muscle repair? When did I make the transition from voyeur to active participant? I've stopped picking up the muscle mags in lustful envy and instead read them for strategy. When did that happen?

I've been thinking about what I want out of this experience of training for a competition, and I've come to the conclusion that what I want is transformation. At the beginning, a friend commented that I might lose my curves in the process of shedding fat and getting into tip-top shape. Now, when I look at my physical and emotional naked self in the mirror, I see that happening. I'm okay with that, I'm happy with that. I am transforming.

But the transformation I really desire is mental, and I think it is beginning to happen. I've always enjoyed exercising and being active, and I have always craved a lean, muscular body and worked towards that goal. But this is the first time I have considered myself part of that world. Instead of being an outsider looking in, I feel legitimate. I don't know why it has taken so long to make that shift when exercise and fitness has been prominent in most of my life, but I've learned enough in the past few months to know when to stop asking questions and just accept.

I guess what I am trying to say is, maybe this athlete isn't quite so reluctant after all.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

He's the Man

Well, kids, write it in your diary: I was wrong.

I was dead wrong. I was so wrong that I couldn't believe I was wrong and had to have other people tell me I was wrong. But today, being wrong is the best feeling in the world. And, the most confusing.

After one month of stuffing my face, eating more than I thought I should, and feeling like I was ballooning to the point of thinking I needed to drag out my maternity clothes, I lost 3.7% of my body fat. Compared to a monthly average of 1.3% when I was writing the rules, that is pretty darn good.

I'll admit it, I thought I was right. In fact, I was so convinced of my rightness that I had already called in reinforcements in the form of my old trainer (also a nutritionist and fitness competitor) to help me design a new lower-calorie diet. Yesterday I stood in the kitchen of my office building and confidently bantered with a friend about how I was so glad that this was almost over and I could go back to "my way". I was fully prepared to enter today vindicated and full of attitude. Instead, I was schooled. As I stared at the printout from the body fat monitor in disbelief, my trainer gleefully made me say that he was "the man" in front of everyone. I concurred; he was indeed the man. Damn it.

So what does this mean? I guess on the surface it means I need to keep it up. Deeper down, it means that giving up control and trusting in someone else isn't always a bad idea. And at the core, it means that I might actually be able to pull this off.

I'm happy. I made up my loss and then some. I'm still not where I would have been had I not had a gain back in January, but I am better off than I would have been had I spent February and March playing by my rules. And, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and the hope of meeting my goal by summer. All of these things make me happy and energize me to work even harder in the coming months.

But I still have some hurdles to overcome. Will I ever be able to eat that much consistently and not feel like I am packing on the pounds? Even when I see the numbers for myself, I have a hard time believing it is true. It's apparent that, like so many other women, I still have some emotional battles to fight when it comes to creating a harmonious relationship between myself and food.

Today, however, I am not going to focus on that. I'm going to celebrate my hard work and persistence and give myself a pat on the back. And, head to the grocery store.

I'm going to need a lot more food.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Can I Please Stop Eating Now?

Well, I've got a week to go in this eat-more-to-lose-more challenge and so far I feel like I am on the fast-track to becoming a sumo wrestler. Sure, it was intriguing at first but after three weeks of more calories, I am begging for mercy. And it's not just emotional - I have gained weight, my clothes are tighter, and I feel run down and lethargic. Pretty much the opposite of what was supposed to happen. And pretty much exactly what I thought would happen.

"Don't do this. You're going to gain weight, be miserable, and regret it." Those were the words of my husband three weeks ago when I embarked on this little adventure. He's been there through all of my body obsessions - good and bad. He's driven me to metabolic testing at 5:00 am on a Saturday, put up with my crazy schemes and wacky food requirements, and celebrated with me when I hit my goal weight - each time. That's why I should have listened to him when he spoke up. But if you have learned anything about me by reading this blog, you know that wasn't going to happen.

No, in the name of science, I have pressed on. I started out tracking my weight, but it got too depressing. Then the battery in my scale died, which was a blessing. I casually mentioned it to my trainer one morning. In my mind it was more like a full-body tackle while I screamed, "how could you let me do this???" In reality, I told him, "I've gained half a pound a day for the past week." Silence.

I'm not bitter. No, I'm putting it in perspective - I'm still in good shape, and what's a few weeks? No sweat. I've faced worse than this. I can handle this. I can turn this around.

Okay, I am bitter. I feel like each day I continue down this path, I take another step away from my goal, create more work for myself, and become more of a failure in something that is important to me. And I have to do it for one more week.

Next week, I will weigh, take my body fat, and know the truth - good or bad. Did I gain, or is it all in my head? Did I lose fat, and if so, did I lose more than I was when I was writing the playbook? Or did I move myself further away from my goal and prove my husband right?

I don't know, but I do know this - I am over-thinking things.

Monday, March 3, 2008


I've been benched.

No squats. No lunges. Physical therapy. And the clincher - no interval training on the treadmill. At least, that's the word from the doctor at the orthopedic clinic where I went to have my knee checked.

In the time between making the appointment and actually showing up, my knee pain had all but disappeared. I had been running every day and felt fine; I attributed my knee pain to a change in the weather and getting older. I felt silly walking into the doctor's office and sitting among people with actual problems just to complain about a little knee pain.

I left in a knee brace with a prescription for physical therapy.

The good news - I can still run at a steady pace, I can still do dead lifts (my favorite), the leg press (another fave), and the leg extension (my absolute LEAST favorite). I can still do interval training, albeit on the elliptical machine. So, all is not lost.

The bad news - I have a knee cap issue. When I forlornly told this to my husband, he began to laugh, because he knows all about my knee cap anxiety. As an elementary school student, I witnessed the stomach-turning collision between a girl's knee cap and a speeding wayward soccer ball, and the mental image has haunted me since. The subsequent ambulance arrival, six weeks in a cast, and scar to prove it turned me into a knee-cap-safety activist. I became very protective of my knee caps and was vigilant about maintaining their integrity. If I ever sensed that my knee caps might be compromised, I went into ninja-mode and did whatever was necessary to keep them safe. So, to be told that my knee pain was the result of a "knee cap issue," was the equivalent of bringing home a new puppy and seeing it bite your child.

But I'm a fighter. I learned how to put on my knee brace and promised to wear it for every workout. I made my appointment with the physical therapist. And I didn't even complain as I climbed onto the elliptical and sent a sideways look to my lonely treadmill. I figure, I can sit around and bitch about this or I can look on the bright side and be glad that I don't need to have surgery.

One thing is troubling however - the knee brace is emblazoned with a logo for whatever company made it, and for some reason they chose a stick figure of a person with half a leg. One full leg and one half. I am sure that this logo was created by some brilliant marketing expert, sent to focus groups, and chosen for its modern, clean lines. But giving someone a knee brace decorated with the image of someone with half of their leg missing gives one reason to pause. Maybe that is their way of driving their point home. Wear this knee brace, or suffer the consequences.

I hope I am not benched for long; I love my workouts and hate that I have had limitatons placed on them. But at the same time, I am trying to keep things in perspective; complaining about a little inconvenience when that poor little stick figure lost half a leg is really selfish. It is not worth jeapordizing my long-term health for a short-term gain. So, I will take a knee (pun intended) and sit on the bench for a few rounds.

But don't count me out just yet.