Monday, July 28, 2008

Let the Games Begin

I have chosen my event. I'm freaked. But also excited because my goal is much more defined now, and easier to work towards. Well, easier and harder, as you'll see.

I'm doing a combination obstacle course and skills test. The course is comprised of a 10-foot wall, running grid, incline/decline monkey bars, balance beam, 15-foot cargo net, shuttle run, hurdles, steeple chase jump over water, sprint, and under/over bar.

Yeah, I'm freaked.

The skills test is a bench press, box jumps, and shuttle run. That I can handle. The rest has me laughing nervously and changing the subject. But hey, I signed up for this and I am looking forward to the day when I tackle this course and see what I am made of.

So my work is cut out for me - find a course to practice on, kick up the cardio, and work on agility and the individual events. I have never done half of those things before, and the only thing I have any confidence in is my sprinting and bench press. The last time I tried the monkey bars while at the playground with my son, I was bested by a 7-year-old. And I don't even really know what a "steeple chase jump over water" is. It sounds like an event for horses.

But I'm game. It feels good to have something to visualize, something to actually plan for. Instead of working towards a figure competition, where the only goal is to present a visually perfect and symmetrical physical body, I have chosen to put my guts to the test and risk life and limb on a balance beam. Because let's face it - I am probably never going to have a visually perfect and symmetrical physical body. When there's a competition for women who have stretch marks, a big scar, uneven tan lines, and are currently working the tummy pooch, sign me up. I am still working to reach my MGP, I'm just not putting a deadline on it.

And when will these feats of strength and endurance take place? Yeah, get back to me on that. I'm shooting for November, and will definitely do it before the end of the year. I know that, just like with having a baby or jumping out of a speeding train, if I wait until I am "ready" I'll never do it.

This goal feels different to me. I notoriously set unreasonable goals and then work tirelessly towards them, with my drive to beat the odds propelling me forward. There is safety in those goals because I'll never really reach them; the definition of success is so subjective that I could make the argument that I have either succeeded or failed at any given moment. But this goal has a distinct beginning and end. A concrete winner and loser. That makes it much more intimidating to me, but also intriguing. As a competitive person, it feels strange to actually just want to finish, not necessarily win. I know I am the underdog, but I hope I won't let that be an excuse to accept anything but my personal best in my training and performance on the course.

Win or lose, medal or not, the journey is the real prize. My journey has taken a turn and the scenery is getting pretty interesting.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Reserving the Right to Change My Mind...if I can

This process is about progress - progress in lowering my body fat composition, progress in becoming stronger in the weight room, progress at becoming a leaner and faster runner, and progress at bringing my diet into a place of balance between optimum nutrition and real-life application. And for the most part, I am making progress.

But, I spent the weekend feeling like a miserable failure. There was no reason to; I had just come back from a work trip where I had great workouts (thank you Marriott for always having decent gyms) and good nutrition considering the usual hotel fare (another plug for bringing your own food). This was the perfect example of forecasting a challenge, making a plan, and executing flawlessly. Well, almost flawlessly. It felt great!

But I still felt like a mess. I knew what was bothering me, but I didn't have a way to deal with it yet.

So this morning I couldn't wait to get to the gym and sweat it out. At the last minute, I decided to run my old route: a 2-mile loop that includes a pretty major hill, downhill on the way out and uphill all the way back. When I started running this route about a year ago, that hill killed me. I would have to stop and walk part of it, huffing and puffing and limping along. So I told myself as I started running that I could walk it if I wanted to. After all, it is July in Florida, and the humidity has me wanting to throw myself in front of a moving car and end it all.

I'm proud to say that I coasted the whole time. The run back up that hill was no sweat, and I caught myself wondering when it was going to get hard. Before I knew it, I was at the end and it had been no big deal. I realized the progress I have made over the past year and patted myself on the back. One point for me.

But my nagging sense of failure still tugged at my attention. As I ran my intervals around the gym parking lot and waited for my trainer to arrive, I came to the sobering realization that reaching my MGP is not just about overcoming my physical genetics to transform my body into something it didn't plan to be. I need to overcome my mental genetics, too.

I can run all of the intervals, improve my running stride, train my muscles and lift heavier weights, eat the right food, and do everything according to the plan. But if I don't have my head in the game, I am just running in place.

I can see success happening in my future and I know how to get there. I just need to get out of my own damn way. Sometimes I think that challenge is steeper than any hill.

Monday, July 14, 2008


I arrived back in my office after my vacation and had one of those ironic moments. I have this desk doo-hickey thing on my bookcase to commemorate my "leadership excellence" from my professional association. It is a scale that has little blocks with words like, "integrity," "teamwork," "knowledge," and "collaboration," printed on them, and I'm supposed to have them perfectly arranged on the scale so each side is equal and it remains in balance. And it was in balance until someone (you know who you are, SL) came into my office and messed with it. And when I arrived back from vacation last week, I opened my bookcase to get something out and they all came crashing down. I was officially out of balance.

And I thought, "well, yeah."

It's been one week since I came back and got my head back in the game, and I am starting to feel the results of my work. My size smalls are not begging to be mediums quite so loudly, my heave-ho workouts have a little less emphasis on the "heave," and the constant cycle of workout clothes in the hamper has started back up. Life is back to normal, or so I thought.

As I ran along this morning, I thought about my relation to my goals, and how much they have shifted since I started this journey, and this blog. In January, I was focused on entering a fitness competition, and getting into tip-top shape to do it. In July, I am still getting into tip-top shape, but my goal is rather to look like I could enter a competition...but not actually to do one. Why? Easy. I don't want to do a dance routine. I try not to take myself too seriously, but I hope the day when I bedazzle a bikini and perform my own personal USO show never comes. On the other hand, I do still daydream of getting on that stage and seeing if my physique can cut the mustard. There just doesn't need to be a soundtrack involved.

So I've shifted. The goal is still the same, but the motivation is different. But, that doesn't negate the need to constantly evaluate my progress and tweak where necessary. In my case, the tweaking needs to happen in my head - lately, my head has been more focused on strategizing the timing of my nutrition, workouts, and supplements and less on just busting my butt in the gym and putting in the hard work.

In times like these, I feel like it's best to have a quick refresher on the basics, which makes me glad that a friend of mine sent me this article about fad diets and what works and doesn't work in the weight loss world. It's great because it sheds some light on the reality of weight loss - while it is easy to get caught up in quick fixes, diet pills, fat burners, etc., sometimes we need a reminder that permanent weight loss is really just personalizing the concept of "eat less/move around more." Sure, it gets a little more complicated when you're training for your MGP, but the fundamental concept is the same.

But there was one "that's what you think," point for me. Reading this article, one line in the article really stood out to me regarding spot reducing: "weight in the hips and thighs is harder to lose than belly fat. Those fat cells aren't as metabolically active, which just means they're more resistant to change." This is just another example where one size doesn't necessarily fit all; my legs are (usually) relatively slender, while my belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly. My hip and thigh fat cells may have taken off their shoes, settled in with a book and cup of coffee, and plan to stay a while...but my belly fat cells brought their toothbrush.

So my work is pretty much cut out for me right now: get my butt in the gym every day and do the hard work that it has taken me to make the progress I already have, and finish up the job. I am close, and I can see the finish line. But it's going to take the right balance of sweat equity, nutrition fundamentals, and just plain discipline and hard work to get there.

So I guess I should re-balance that scale today.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Vacation - We're Supposed to Have Fun, Right?

Last week I was on vacation, and that is dangerous territory for a girl like me. I am knee-deep in a major fat-loss effort, and between my birthday and my annual voyage to a family reunion, my progress is being thwarted right and left. It's frustrating, but being on vacation gave me a chance to stretch my creative muscles and test my will. I decided to do an experiment - the first vacation where I don't arrive home feeling like I need to detox because of all of the "vacation food."

You know what I mean...everyone relaxes the rules on vacation. The last time I engaged myself in vacation food, my husband and I went on a mission to sample every pint of Guinness and every cheeseburger in Boston. And one morning last week, I let my son eat cookies out of the box before breakfast. They were organic whole grain cookies, but cookies nonetheless. So vacation can be a bit of a landmine if I am not careful.

I put vacation in the same category as treats. If the whole point of going on vacation is to relax and unwind, why end up at home feeling like a big greaseball because you convinced yourself that indulging in high-calorie/high-fat food was something you were entitled to because you are on vacation? It depletes my relaxation, erases the vacation, and generally makes me more stressed than before I left.

Everyone knows that eating clean on a road trip is hard, because your schedule is all wacky, and also because my husband and I are total fast food snobs. As in, we don't eat it. Even the "healthy" stuff. And after this trip, Cracker Barrel is also off the list (it's a long and uninteresting story so I won't bore you with it here).

So I started my experiment on a Sunday, and by the following Sunday I had failed miserably. I still ended up at home feeling like I needed to detox my system to recover from vacation food. Do I regret it? Ummm.....not sure. I probably didn't need to go to the ice cream stand three times in one day (people kept inviting me! I was just being polite! And one time I got yogurt!) and there were some definite times when the healthy option was right in front of me and I reached beyond it. But all in all, I think I scored about a 75%. I could have done better, and I could have done worse.

Either way, I'm home now, revitalized, and ready to pick up where I left off. Going for a run and hitting the weights felt so great after a week away, and hearing a chorus of "welcome back!" and then my trainer's voice saying, "I'm out of town for the next three workouts," brought me back to reality. There is work to be done, and I need to show up.

I always think a week off is going to be so great, and it is. And then I come back and wish I hadn't taken it off because now I am behind. But it's not a big deal; on every road trip, there are rest stops. Now I'm refueled and back on the road.

Wait a second? Did I just say "it's not a big deal?" Did I just downplay a week of slothdom and trips to the ice cream stand? Did I just express contentment with a C-minus?

I must still be on vacation. :)