Monday, December 21, 2009

The Goal Is Flexibility! Just not mine.

Last Friday I sent out my Daily Dose, which I do each morning on Twitter and via email for twitterphobes, and since it was a Friday I had to think of a word beginning with "F" to complete the sentence, "TGIF: The Goal Is.....". I started doing that on Fridays months ago and now it's a thing and each Friday I have to come up with a new f-word. Unfortunately I can't use that one.

Last Friday I used "flexibility," and planned to write something about how we all have to be flexible during the holidays to stay on our healthy plans despite travels, well-meaning family members who made special food, and the like. But then I thought....wait a sec.....why do I have to be the flexible one? Why can't they accomodate me?

I felt a little bad about thinking that seeing that its the holiday season and I am supposed to be giving, not receiving. But I pushed that feeling aside as I recalled an article that a friend sent to me a few weeks ago that illustrated my point. You can read it here.

The article is pretty much a non-apology letter for being a stubborn clean eater in the midst of holiday food, and an explanation that being a health-food snob is not personal, its just food. As I read it, I wanted to take out a full page in the New York Times to proclaim my love for the author, Jennifer Merritt, who had obviously somehow managed to tap into my soul without my even realizing it. She laid out my thoughts so eloquently I felt like I should pay her a commission or something.

I'm here now at my parent's house, having arrived with my ice chest and taking over the beer fridge in the garage with my spinach, egg whites, turkey, soup, fruit, veggies, and whatnot. I sipped soup while everyone else ate pizza, I stopped at the grocery store to stock up on pears and oranges to snack on, and I bought a week's guest pass at my family's gym so I can stay on top of my workouts. And what I have to keep reminding people is that this is what I want to do. Indulging in sugar and fatty creamy holiday food would be like having the Grinch steal Christmas from me. I really honestly truly would rather eat fruit.

Its not that my family is super unhealthy; they're not. But you know what I mean, the holidays cast a spell on all of us that makes it seem like we're un-American if we don't maintain a diet of rum balls and eggnog for the rest of the year, and practically tars and feathers those of us who pass on the traditional seven holiday pounds gained. I used to embrace the calorie-fest of December and feel like I deserved to "treat" myself because, after all, it's the holidays. But over time, I began to realize that I wasn't doing myself any favors.

So, I am asking my family to give me a very special gift for Christmas this year: flexibility to let me do my weird food thing and maybe even try it out yourself. :)
I'll settle for the beer fridge. :)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Desperately Seeking Jumper Cables

I read my horoscope every morning. I know, go ahead and roll your eyes. But each morning on the way to work I open my handy little horoscope phone app and read aloud to my husband what the stars have in store for us that day. Then I provide my own unsolicited interpretation of what it means and how we can maxmize our day just by anticipating potential obstacles and planning ahead for them. My husband loves this. He can't wait for me to analyze and critique his decisions and advise him on his daily activities before he's even had a cup of coffee. Okay, that's not entirely true. He tolerates my happy chatter in the morning and silently counts down the minutes until I can pick up my car from the body shop so we don't have to carpool anymore and he can drive to work in sweet silence. Not a morning person, that guy.

ANYHOO, today's horoscope was particularly revealing. Allow me to quote (I am a Cancer):

"Corruption begins with a small lie, usually to oneself. When you begin to justify something you that you know deep down is not right, that is a sign that you are on a crooked path. Right now you are not the instigator of the corruption but may be the victim of it. Someone who preaches one set of rules but lives by another is currently disrupting your life. This person doesn't go by what's right, but by whether he can appear to be right, and consequently he fools many people. You, though, are not fooled. Find peace in knowing that what goes around comes around."

I know who the culprit is - my inner voice. You know the one....the one that tells you one glass of wine will be okay. The same one who forgives little nutritional indiscretions and rubs your back and nuzzles your neck when you promise to be better tomorrow, purring that it's okay, there is always a fresh start. But it laughs because it knows the truth. That crooked path has very few u-turns.

Personally, I blame my husband for waking her and getting her all dressed up and perfumey. He took me on a date last month. We went out for dinner, and apparently had a third wheel tagging along. She convinced me to have a glass of wine, which made it pretty easy to also have a frappuccino. Then she abandonded me and ever since, I have been playing solo defense on a muddy field, fending off more and more opportunities to engage in the kind of "moderation" that results in me being, well, where I am now. At the end of one month of wavering around, accepting less than satisfactory work and feeling the physical manifestation of my choices. As in, I feel like crap and am pretty cranky, too.

I don't do moderation. I've tried, and I hate it. It's just not my scene! We've already established that I need to lighten up but it is not going to happen so please just work with me here.

That being said, I can look back at the last month and make some not-crazy assessments:
  1. I've taken a break from heavy workouts and control-freak nutrition, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. We all need a break whether we want one or not.
  2. Now that the Ultimate Fitness Challenge is over, which has been my focus for the past few months, I don't have an immediate goal to work on except the triathlon in April, which seems too far away to need to start training now.
  3. The combination of number 1 and number 2 equals one cranky me.

So, today I don't have anything super-motivational or enlightening to say, just kind of stating the facts of my current state. I need some jumper cables. I need to start triathlon training now, which seems pointless since the next few weeks are going to be dominated by work meetings and holiday travel. Maybe my goal should just be making it back to the start of that crooked path by the end of December so I can start January on the straight and narrow. I'm sure I can throw in some kind of wacky benchmark to make that goal seem not as lame as it does now.

My husband and I have another date this weekend. I hope he doesn't mind if we leave the third wheel at home.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Cheat Day

Last night I was reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to my son (and thanking the Lord in heaven that I was not reading Wheels for the millionth time) and found myself wondering once again whether author Eric Carle wrote the book after coming off of another crazy diet. If you're not familiar with the book, it follows the story of a very hungry caterpillar who spends his week trying to satiate his hunger by eating through pieces of fruit only to find himself on Saturday doing what most people who have lived on fruit for a week do: pigging out.

After a week of eating one apple on Monday, two pears on Tuesday, three blueberries on Wednesday, four strawberries on Thursday, and five oranges on Friday, he then arrives at Saturday and eats, "one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake, and one slice of watermelon." As you can imagine, "that night he had a stomachache!"

And I think, "been there, done that!"

The caterpillar's diet sounds like one or two ill-fated schemes about to inundate the post-holiday airwaves with promises that America's overweight can eat whatever they want and still lose weight. And I guess that is true in a way, if everything you want to eat is clean, natural, healthy food in reasonable portions eaten in several small meals throughout the day. But I'm guessing it's more along the lines of cheeseburgers and pizza, according to the commercials.

I used to spend my Saturdays like our stuffed and woozy little caterpillar, because I thought that after a week of "being good" and eating well, I deserved a cheat day. I read in fitness magazines about diets that encourage people to have one day when they can eat whatever they want without guilt. I hear about celebrity trainers who give their clients a cheat day to go off of their diet. I even read message boards filled with advice from one fitness guru to another about carb-cycling, re-feeds, and splurge meals all designed to trick your body into revving up its metabolism and get out of a plateau. And it might work, I don't know, I'm not a dietician. All I know is that when I spent six days taking care of myself by eating well and one day abusing and sabotaging myself by having a "treat," I spent a lot of time being frustrated at how bad I felt and how little progress I was making in my quest to become a fitter person. It took me a long time to realize that a cheat day only cheats me.

Your cheat day only cheats you.

I can't say it enough! As you go through the holidays and attend parties, bake goodies, receive tempting calorie-laden gifts, and browse the grocery shelves, please remember that we live in a country where food - healthy or not - is abundant. Food is not a limited-time offer. People are. This holiday, focus on the people, not the food. You can bake yourself whatever Christmas cookies you want any ole time of year. If you really feel like you deserve a treat after being so "good" on your nutrition all week, go get a pedicure after a day of shopping for gifts! But don't let yourself be lured into thinking that you are treating yourself by eating something you know will sabotage all of that hard work.

Oh, and that caterpillar? On Sunday he ate through one nice, green leaf. And after that he felt much better.

You know, just sayin'. :)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Exercise ALONE Won't Make You Thin. Exercise ALONE. I'm ranting, FYI.

Yeah, I'm all riled up.

This article keeps rearing its ugly head, being emailed around offices, posted on Facebook pages, and sensationalized on the front pages of online news sources, letting people know that they can relax and go back to the Cheez-its because, thank GOD, exercise is a waste of time. It turns out that exercise won't make you thin after all. So that gym membership you bought back in January? You should have spent that cash on a new La-Z-Boy because exercise is good for nothing.

Okay, warning - I am really fired up about this so if I say something insentitive, just know that its because this is a passion point for me. But honestly, I've heard countless (incredibly unhealthy) people tout this argument for not exercising and claiming that exercise is a waste because it doesn't make you lose weight. Every time, I grit my teeth and smile and nod and try not to scream. But please read this part in a screaming voice:

Weight loss is not the only reason to exercise!!!!

Exercise ALONE may not cause you to lose weight. Keyword: alone. If you eat too many calories of crappy food, or even if you eat the appropriate number of calories of crappy food, and you exercise, you may not lose weight. That is true. Because exercise ALONE does not cause you to lose weight.

If you walk all day on a treadmill while eating fried twinkies, you may not lose weight. Because exercise ALONE does not cause you to lose weight.

That does not mean you should not exercise. Exercise because it increases your bone strength. Exercise because it elevates your mood. Exercise because it keeps your joints limber. Exercise because it makes your heart stronger. Exercise because it keeps your lungs strong. Exercise because it makes your calves look nice in high heels. Exercise because a good sweat makes you feel alive. Exercise because it postpones the effects of aging. Exercise because it lowers your blood pressure. Exercise because it makes you a nicer person. Exercise for the rosiness in your cheeks. Exercise because your health insurance reimburses your gym membership. Exercise to talk to the cute guy or girl on the elliptical. Exercise because you like how you look in running shoes. Exercise because it reduces your chance of developing cancer. Exercise because not everyone can. Exercise because you need some alone time. Exercise to crank up your iPod to your favorite song. Exercise because running up a hill feels so damn hard and so incredibly great at the same time. Exercise because coasting down a hill on your bike makes you feel seven years old again.

For years and years I exercised every day and didn't lose a pound because I ate crap. I still exercised because I enjoyed it and believed eventually it would work, but I spent a lot of time being bitter that even though my hours in the gym were great for my heart, they made no discernable impact on my waistline. Eventually I made the connection and realized that exercise ALONE would not make me lose weight: I had to get my nutrition in order as well. Once I did, wow. There are no words. The magical combination of clean eating and daily rigorous exercise is one that cannot be explained, only experienced. And sadly, as long as your only purpose for exercise is to lose weight, it will remain an exclusive club for those of us who understand that a lifestyle of wellness offers much much more than a single-digit clothing size. Sure, I could probably regulate my weight now with nutrition alone, but the other benefits of exercise far outweigh the side benefit of weight control.

Exercise may not make you thin, that's true. That's not why we exercise.

Monday, November 23, 2009

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Talent!

So the Ultimate Fitness Challenge is over, and here I am left to my own devices. Left to wander around aimlessly stirring up trouble. Left to wonder how long I can go before I have to practice box jumps again (I estimate April). Floundering a little because I don't have a big goal to work on.

Until someone sat themselves next to me at a business lunch last week and asked why I had not yet done a triathlon and if I wanted to do one in April. Hell yeah I do. Where do I sign up? And the rest of the day was filled with giddy thoughts of a new training schedule, recruiting people to enter along with me, and wondering where I can get a used road bike for cheap. While I have never done a triathlon, endurance sports are much more my speed and I was really happy to have a change of scenery.

It's been nice to be in the gym and just work out in a more relaxed way. There are no deadlines, nothing looming ahead, no metaphorical piano dangling over my head. I decided to allow that peace and quiet to exist for exactly one week, after which it was back to training. And that started today with a cardio marathon! Yea!

But yesterday I got a little head start by getting my head in the game. I was listening to NPR and driving to Target, which makes it a pretty normal day for me. The story was about channelling creativity, and featured the perspective of Geoffrey Colvin, the author of Talent is Overrated and Fortune magazine's Senior Editor at large. His book is about what constitutes a "genius" and asserts that great performance is within the grasp of anyone who's willing to put in the hard work and committment to practice.

I liked this guy.

Now, he was speaking specifically about children who are identified as musical prodigies, and how being especially gifted in one area of the arts at a young age does not necessarily lead to success and greatness in that art as the individual gets older. It may, but it is not a given. Rather, success and greatness is a result of hard work and willingness to practice. While a god-given talent may make that process easier, it is not a one-way ticket to awesomeness.

You can probably imagine that it took about a nanosecond for me to make the parallel between his idea and my training for tri-fit.

After being with the tri-fitness crew for a weekend and observing some incredibly talented and gifted athletes who had obviously done the work necessary to nurture a talent into a real skill, I found myself wishing I had at least some coordination in my bones to make training a little easier for me. While I love the challenge of an uphill climb, I am not as much of a masochist as I may appear to be. Being not-good at something is embarassing, and going through that embarassment with an audience is painful. But, I admire tri-fitness and want to become good at it. So, I work.

Training for a triathlon is going to be a bit of a break. Not to say it will be easy, but I don't have to work as hard at running, swimming, and cycling. These activities are fall-backs for me. I am by no means a prodigy but also not a beginner. There are skills to learn and master in a short period of time, but I feel confident that I can accomplish them pretty easily, which is very unlike how I felt when I started tri-fitness training.

I'm rambling. What I am trying to say here is that I can appreciate that its fun to participate in a sport that comes easily because its, well, pretty easy. Sure, we push ourselves to become faster or better, but for many at the end of the race, the sport was chosen because it was the path of least resistance. And I would challenge that while the fun factor may be a bit delayed by choosing a sport that doesn't come easily, it is more valued and prized because of the literal blood, sweat, and tears that went into getting through it.

So I guess the point here is to go out there and challenge yourself in a sport that scares the crap out of you. When you finish it, you may be surrounded by people who scored better or ran faster or jumped higher, but I dare you to find someone who is more proud to have just finished alive.

Maybe I am a masochist after all. :)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sigh of Relief, and Alternately Deep Breath of Preparation

Well, suckas, I did it. I was terrible, but I did it - I completed the Ultimate Fitness Challenge and even managed to leave with some of my dignity intact.

For those of you new to this blog, a recap - I set out a while ago to test and challenge myself in a completely new way by competing in a 160-yard obstacle course and fitness skills event. Surrounded by women who were obviously former cheerleaders, gymnasts, dancers, and life-long athletes, it wasn't hard to pick out which one had spent most of her childhood dreaming of being an athlete instead of actually being one. Not only was I the sole glasses-wearer, I was solidly at the bottom of the pack in skill, athleticism, and overall abs asthetics. I'm active, I workout a lot, and I compete in endurance events, but this was a different kind of sport. This was like some kind of diabolical cult that believed the true path to redemption was through a combination of plyometric training and brute strength. I was intrigued. I was thirsty for Kool-Aid. In short, I wanted to see if I could hang with the big kids.

So back in March, I attended a training camp as a benchmark to determine what kind of training I needed to focus on. It was a pretty revealing trip - while I was a big fish in a small pond in my little gym, here my ability was laughable. It was pretty clear that I had a lot of work ahead of me. But instead of feeling discouraged, I was energized and couldn't wait to get to work. I returned home with a list of skills to master and a deadline looming, and since then I have alternated between working my butt off, having temper tantrums about training in a new way, and fending off nervous breakdowns as I realized the enormity of what I had obligated myself to. More than once I wanted to back out; more than once I contemplated changing my identity and denying any knowledge of myself or tri-fitness. Heather who? I'm sorry, you must have me confused with someone else. Someone crazy.

But I didn't do any of those things. I sucked it up and drove to Tampa. Eight months later, it was time to see what all of that sweat had gotten me. I showed up, reunited with friends made at camp, and braced for impact. If you've been reading this blog, you know that there were some definite doubts in my mind - box jumps and hurdles being the standouts. But I figured I was there to have fun, chart my progress, and challenge myself. Luckily, I managed to do all three, as well as make some new friends and have a perfectly wonderful weekend. Awwww.

Fitness Skills was Friday night. When I walked into the training facility, the first surprise was realizing there would be an audience. The second was that the audience was positioned very close to the action. Like, close enough to read my mind, which made me feel a little guilty since most of what was going on up there was profanity-laced. Since I don't make a habit of putting myself into situations where I am the underdog, I was self-conscious and nervous. And when I noticed that the girl next to me, all 4 feet 11 inches of her, had abs that looked like they were made of plastic, I was surly. It turns out she used to be in the circus. THE CIRCUS. Luckily, the focus of tri-fitness is to improve on your personal best, not beat anyone else. Thank the freaking Lord for small blessings. (By the way, she won Grace and Physique and is just the cutest thing ever.)

We started with the killer - 50 jumps on and off of a 21-inch box as fast as you can. As you know from previous entries, this was my weakest event. Al Rosen, the angel of a man who runs Women's Tri-Fitness, asked if I wanted to run them instead of jump. I meekly answered yes, ashamed that I was not better prepared but grateful for the pass. I ran the 50 steps without trouble; as an endurance athlete I was in my element and confident. And I wasn't the only one - several of us struggled and everyone cheered everyone else on as if we were carrying the Olympic torch.

Next was the bench press - maximum reps at 60% of your body weight. I had completely flaked on the strategy of making it to the early weigh-in, and by the time I recorded my weight at 4:00 in the afternoon at check-in, I had eaten enough food and had enough water to bump me into the next weight range: 80 lbs. I had been training with 70 lbs, so I didn't know what to expect. I was not at all happy with my performance considering what I am usually able to do. But, I recorded it and moved on. Next time.

The final event was the shuttle run. Back in March, I had never done this before and had terrible technique. Since then, I have improved tremendously. I still have some work to do before I become really good at it, but I was pleased that I didn't drop any bean bags and I never missed a target. I left feeling somewhat redeemed even if still a rookie.

Saturday morning was the big day: the obstacle course. The 160-yard course consists of a 10-foot wall (scaled by rope), a running grid, incline/decline monkey bars, a balance beam, a 15-foot cargo net, quick shuttle run, then three low hurdles, a steeple-chase jump, an under bar, and an overbar, complete with a 10-yard sprint to the finish line. It is a timed event. Back in March, I was pitiful. It took two grown men to get me over the wall and I merely stepped over the hurdles because they scared the bejezzus out of me. This time, I still didn't make it over the wall but completed the other obstacles, although I did hook the second hurdle and fall, twisting my ankle and forcing me to step over the third. When I got to the finish line, I was sad that what had taken me 8 months to train for was over in just over a minute (the best time was 47 or so seconds). But I also knew it wouldn't be my last time.

I sucked - let's get that straight. I was not good. But from the reactions of the women around me of support, encouragement, enthusiasm, and genuine friendliness you would think I had won first place. Tri-fitness truly is one of the most supportive athletic environments I have experienced, and I am so glad to have found it.

After the rest of the competitors were done, we had a few hours break before the final portion of the challenge - Grace and Physique. I chose to spend that time watching football, since I was not competing in this event, choosing to undergo the physical challenge and not the emotional. Grace and Physique consists of a pageant-style demonstration of your physique, complete with bedazzled bikinis, stripper heels, and false eyelashes. There is also a Fitness Routine portion in which competitors complete a 2-minute gymnastic-style routine and are judged on their ability to demonstate different strength and agility moves. Three of my friends were competing in Grace and Physique and one also in Fitness Routine, so after helping out backstage adhering bikinis to butts and confirming that one's spray tan was even, I moved to the audience to observe. I have to admit, I have scorned this event in the past as petty and sexist. And yes, it was because I was jealous. As I watched, I saw women who were proud of their work (and it is work) to reach their body's maximum genetic potential, and I started to bedazzle my own bikini in my mind. I just may compete next year, and let me just tell you now, my suit is going to knock your socks off. Eye of the Tiger. That's all I'm going to say.

To say that the Ultimate Fitness Challenge was a worthwhile experience could not be more of an understatement. It changed my entire outlook on fitness. Not only did I see the very evident payoff from my training, I truly challenged myself in a way that had intimidated me before. And as cheesy as it may seem, as I drove to Tampa and thought about the path that I have been on for the past year, I felt like just by training differently and overhauling my nutrition, I had already won. I had moved beyond simply going to the gym and working out. I had a sport. Cue the inspirational music!

It feels really, really good to show up at the gym now and just work out without a deadline looming over my head. I'm glad to have a break from plyometrics and shuttle runs and thinking about boxes and how much I hate them. I'm looking forward to some 10ks and a sprint triathlon and P90X, which cranked up in my DVD player yesterday morning. And, come next summer, I'll get out that damn box and start getting ready for November 2010. I'm hooked.

I owe a crapload of thanks to Al Rosen, Bernadette Schimnowski, and everyone at Women's Tri-Fitness,; my trainer Brice Lockhart ("Captain Awesome" to you blog readers); Mike, Jenny, Tracy, Tamara, Jamie, Erika, Dee, and everyone else at BodyTrac Fitness in the 5:00 and 5:30 morning crews; Laurel Blackburn at Boot Camps to Go; Coach Gary Droze at Maclay High School; Kari Bosse, Vivian DeLuca, Karen Moore-Caton, and Cara Ingram: my own personal cheering squad; and all of my family and friends who were kind enough to not laugh when I told them I was doing this until I was safely out of earshot.

And in case you're wondering, this blog is not over. Stay with me as I tackle P90X, a sprint triathlon, and return to the Ultimate Fitness Challenge next year. Hell, come along with me. I'm tired of being the rookie. :)

Monday, November 9, 2009

It's the Final Countdown....

I am almost positive I have already used this title for a blog post, but, well, sorry. It IS the final countdown. For real this time.

As in, less than a week from now I will be done with the *&$#ing Ultimate Fitness Challenge. To answer everyone's question this week, no, I am not training my brains out. I figure if I am not ready by now, there isn't much I can do to change that other than get pregnant or get on the fast-track for performance-enhancing drugs. I'm pretty sure they will make me sign something to promise that I am not pregnant. But if they don't then I am totally going to get pregnant and sue!

Just kidding. I won't do that. In fact, I am really looking forward to going and giving it my all, even if my all includes landing on my butt after one successful box jump, which is what happened this morning, much to the alarm of the gas station attendant where I was practicing. Aw, man. I could have sued him. Oh well.

And I am walking around with a silly grin basking in the glow of the well-wishes I am receiving from friends who know that this is likely the last time they will see me walking upright. People say, "the next time I see you.....!!!!!" and then give me a thumbs-up like they're really excited but don't really know what to say. It makes me wonder how they are completing that sentence in their heads. I just smile and give them a thumbs-up back and say, "I know!!!!!"

My last week of training is not nearly as intense as I expected it to be. For one, I am really super busy at work and with other stuff, so my time is limited. But also, I've kind of already moved on. Right now the course feels like something I need to check off of a list so I can move on to the next challenge. I feel like I've already met the goal just by having come as far as I have over the past year in my personal physical fitness. I'm glad for that feeling, because I think it means I can just relax and have fun.

I also feel pretty good because I finally nailed a few box jumps. Granted, they weren't on a 21-inch box (it was on this weird wall/bench thing at my lunchtime gym that I think is about 19 inches) but I landed on top, hopped down, and jumped back up. And after practicing more this morning, I think that someday I could actually be good at them.

Truth is, I have worked pretty hard. Not as hard as I could have, not as hard as I should have, but hard enough to feel like I can do it. I don't see any way that I can realistically train more in the 24 hours of each day without being called up by Child Protective Services for neglect. I don't see how I can eat any healthier than I do, and I say that honestly. I cross-train, eat clean, sleep well, drink lots of water, and laugh a lot. I feel strong and fit and we'll see if that translates into my being able to haul myself over a wall.

If not, I'm suing God.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I Have a Doubt

I can only come up with two explanations for my state of mind when I decided to do the Ultimate Fitness Challenge: either I was under some type of mind-control device created by irresistable aliens, or I was just kidding but forgot I was kidding and really did sign up. Regardless, I am making a note to NEVER let either of those things happen again because now I am stuck two weeks from the event and feeling completely unprepared.

I have never doubted my ability to do something, and I say that honestly. My immediate response to a challenge is always, "of course I can." It may be difficult, it may take a while, and it may not be the most impressive execution of the task, but I sincerely do believe that if I study, work, and learn what I need to know, I can do anything.

But apparently that ends with box jumps.

As I've mentioned before, part of the fitness skills portion of the Ultimate Fitness Challenge is a timed event consisting of jumping onto a 21-inch box fifty times as fast as you can (and after practicing and not getting any better, I am willing for "as fast as I can" to equal 15 minutes). The first time I tried this, back in March, I couldn't even do one. In subsequent practices, I have been able to jump on shorter boxes but only made the 21-inch box a couple of times. I've fallen, gotten bruised, gotten scraped, and gotten back up to try it again. But man, I'm tired of this shit. I know I can do anything, but I don't even want to do this.

So I decided to seek help. I called the toughest woman in town, Laurel Blackburn, who runs a business called Boot Camps to Go. I had met her before and have some friends who work out in her gym, so I felt okay about Facebooking her and asking if she could help. She was generous enough to say yes, and before too long I found myself walking up to her warehouse facility, which turned out to be one of the neatest gyms I've seen. Hers is a no-frills zone for people who want to get a good sweat and don't mind skipping the shiny cardio theatre with the built-in TVs and high-tech water coolers. My favorite part was the places where her victims - er, clients - had written favorite quotes on the walls. Some were funny, others motivational, and one stood out as being my immediate favorite: you can't out-train a bad diet. How I wish I had learned that around, oh, birth.

Anyway, moving on. I showed up and we got to work. She had set up a few "training wheel" scenarios to help me build up to being able to jump on her plyometric box (which I coveted because she has really nice ones) on my own. We used bands, bars, gymnastic mats, and even a huge monster truck tire that she has at the gym's entrance, the purpose for which I really would rather not know.

The thing is, I sucked. Powerful sucked. I really just could not do it without assistance. I got close a couple of times but not even close to where I needed to be. It was very frustrating. As boot camp class members started to show up and I had to leave, I felt like I had learned some valuable strategies, but I was disappointed in my ability.

The next morning, I got up and drove to the gym determined to practice. I headed over to this big mound of concrete that happens to be about two-feet high and decided to get stubborn and try it until I succeeded. But 20 minutes later, I gave up. I felt terrible. It was the first time in my life that I actually considered the possibility that I could not do it. I really hate to say, "I can't," and will instead use, "I have not yet been successful." This was the first time I actually thought, I might not be able to do this. I'll tell you what - it sucked. Powerful sucked.

I literally felt sick to my stomach, like the wind had been taken out of my sails. I was actually doubting myself, and this was unchartered territory. I wanted to get back to my home base as soon as possible.

It's stayed with me all day, this nagging feeling like I really might not be able to do this. On one hand I can convince myself I just need more time to practice, and that maybe I can't do it this year but over time I will get better. On the other hand, I really don't care if I ever jump on anything ever again and really don't intend to practice this after the challenge is over! So I guess I'll have to chalk this one up to a mystery, and I am happy to leave it there.

I'll keep practicing over the next two weeks, but I hope whoever is in the audience at this thing has some time to kill, 'cause 50 of these suckers is gonna take a while.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Taking My Chances

So anyway, where were we? Oh yeah - I was sitting here trying to figure out whether it was confidence or fear keeping me from my training and realizing that regardless, I was quickly running out of time and needed to stop being philosophical and get back to work. So I did. Or, at least, I planned to. I had a beautiful plan, the kind of plan I dream about. I was organized. I was motivated. I was prepared.

And then, I was sick. In typical higher-power fashion, God decided to force me to rest my sore, swollen Achilles' tendon (from hurdle practices, no less) by smiting me with a sinus infection. A week lost. Now, the old Heather would have made her sinus infection talk to the hand (cause the face ain't listening) and powered through anyway. Mind over matter! But the new and improved Heather remembers last winter, when that modus operandi resulted in an emergency room doctor sharing very stern words with her at 2:00 in the morning, and the subsequent three weeks of lost training time while she recovered from herself. That sucked.

So, I pulled the brakes. Stayed away from the gym (and off my ankle) for five straight days, and even went to the doctor. Yeah, I sulked and complained a little, but I was also kinda proud of myself for the whole learning-from-my-mistakes thing. Go me!

And I figured that while I wasn't working out, that opened me up to be philosophical again. I revisted my little quandry - confidence or fear...confidence or fear? Was I less than disciplined in my training because I felt reasonably sure I could accomplish the course? Or was I just avoiding facing how unprepared I really was? In the end, I felt like I had turned a corner when I decided that no matter what, my performance on the obstacle course was not the sole determining factor of my wellness. The ability to scale a wall, jump hurdles, climb a cargo net, and jump on a box is pretty kick-ass and I can't wait to count myself among the women who can do it, but ultimately, I just want to go out there and challenge myself and have fun.

What I have learned in this training process is that I have definite preferences in the world of wellness - endurance sports are much favored over explosive skills, natural health is preferable to performance-enhancing nutritional plans, and emotional satisfaction with my level of physical activity is way more important than checking a workout off of a list. As I come into the final three weeks of training, I feel like I've gotten to know myself a lot better. This is truly one of the most meaningful things I have ever done.

Now, that's not to say that failure on the obstacle course is okay, or that I am just setting the expectation for a less-than-stellar performance. I am still dead-on determined to tackle that course and own it. I'm just willing to take a little more time to do it.

I'm almost all better now, thanks to rest and antibiotics. I went back to the gym this morning, albeit taking it slow and not staying for extra cardio, as much as it killed me to do so. I'm looking forward to doing sprint intervals on the treadmill tomorrow and working my way back to my normal training schedule. I did, however, manage to spy one side effect from my prescription:

"Levaquin may cause swelling or tearing of a tendon (the fiber that connects bones to muscles in the body), especially in the Achilles' tendon of the heel."

Hmmm. Perhaps God isn't quite done with me yet. Eh, I'll take my chances.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Ultimate Inspiration? A Deadline.

So I have less than a month to go until this obstacle course and despite my best intentions, my training is getting put on the back burner. I can't decide if it is because I am just sick of doing it or if I am subconsciously sabotaging myself, but either way it is not getting done.

I'm spending a lot of time in the gym working on strength, doing fun sweaty cardio, working hard and enjoying my workouts, but when it comes time for box jumps, I think of an excuse. When I know I need to go to the track and practice hurdles, something comes up. Some legitimate, some not-so-legitimate.

The challenge consists of four parts: the obstacle course, a fitness routine, grace and physique, and fitness skills, which is comprised of a bench press at 60% of your body weight, a shuttle run, and 50 timed box jumps. The fitness routine and grace and physique portions were never a consideration for me; I am not that bronzed/shiny/bikini and heels girl. The obstacle course and fitness skills, on the other hands, were right up my alley. Then, after I attended training camp in March and assessed what I thought I could accomplish in six months, I decided to train just for the obstacle course.

And then I got stupid.

I was online, registering, and checking off the events in which I would compete. I checked the course and moved on. I was at checkout, reviewing my cart, with my finger hovering over the "submit" button. And then, I backtracked, checked "fitness skills" and submitted my order.

Sitting back in my chair, I wondered what I had just done. And why I had done it. Well, okay, I knew why; I can't back down from a dare. But also, I knew that I had signed on to this idea with the goal of having a challenge. If I wimp out at the last second, where is the challenge?

Never mind that I still have work to do on the course itself. My plans to travel to Tampa to practice have been consistently derailed, and time is ticking by. I have not made the time to train as I should, and I am running out of time to rectify it.

The thing is, I like the thrill of a deadline. I habitually procrastinate and then pull something out at the last second and manage to make it just under the wire. I work best under pressure, fueled by midnight oil and stubborness. So this is pretty much business as usual. Heather 101. But I didn't want to do it this way.

So there is pretty much one choice - quit whining and get my butt out there and do it. One month. Less than a month.

What the hell was I thinking?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

When in Doubt, Make it Up

So last weekend I escaped the heat and misery that is the American Southeast and drove to the beautiful blue ridge mountains, planning to take a short break from my training and just relax. Read, watch some football, look at get the idea. And at the last second I shoved some running shorts and a sports bra into my suitcase. You never know!

But I did know.

Of course I was going to train! The weather was too perfect - 50s, overcast, almost raining - and the scenery too beautiful to spend it inside. So on Saturday morning I laced up my sneakers and set out to run the loop around our cabin, which somehow strangely manages to always be uphill regardless of which direction I am running.

And then ... I went the other way. My legs just turned the other direction and I headed down the road, away from my trusted loop, and down the gravel road that leads to the paved road that leads to town. In a characteristic completely unlike me, I decided to go with the flow and see where this ran took me. After all, I was on vacation. Why not explore a little bit? I vaguely remembered that the last time I went running beyond the circle, I was running with my dad and he nearly killed me with some vicious hills. I decided to pretend I had just dreamed that.

As I jogged along and enjoyed the silence of nature, I took stock of my surroundings. The leaves were turning red and gold, the air was rich and fresh, and I truly felt lucky to be alive. I wanted to breathe in every part of the sensory treat I was getting, starting with maximizing my access to a challenging workout in a new setting. Opportunities for obstacles were obvious all around me, so I took some inventory and mapped out a circuit workout for the next day. Vacation schmacation - for me, the opportunity to work out without time constrictions is a vacation!

I took note of a fence where I could do decline push-ups, a small rock wall perfect for step-ups, a tree stump where I could do some box jumps (God I hate those), and a little set of old stairs to run up and down like Rocky. I also saw what may have been evidence of someone else's obstacle workout involving a small piece of wood leading to a stack of logs, and accented ominously with an axe. I skipped that one.

That night, like the nerd that I am, I wrote it all down (always write down your workout if you are going alone so you don't get distracted or tempted to slack!) so I could review it before I left the next morning. It felt a little like Christmas Eve, if your idea of a fun start to Christmas morning is running a circuit outside in the cold and rain. Which mine kind of is. For real, that would be fun. Who's in? Okay, we'll talk later.

The next morning, husband asleep and child busy "helping" Grandma make breakfast, I stepped outside and wondered how challenging this would really be. Figuring that the worst case scenario would be a good run and some calisthenics, I decided that maybe being happy with the workout regardless of its difficulty would be part of my vacation mentality. Well, the real worst case scenario would be me falling into a ravine as a result of attempting box jumps on a wobbly tree stump and my cries being lost in the snap, crackle, and pop of bacon frying and coffee brewing inside the warm, dry cabins for the happy families who are ignorant to me precariously clinging to life just outside their door. But that couldn't happen twice in a row, could it?

Luckily, the workout was challenging and I survived it intact. I ran downhill to the paved road, and then ran uphill back to the house and around the circle, pausing every couple hundred yards when I reached one of my obstacles. Hooking my ankles onto the lowest rung of a fence to do push-ups, sprinting up the concrete steps that used to lead to a house, and doing step-ups on the stone railing of a bridge not only got my heart pumping, but it refreshed my morning in a way that another trip to the gym could not. Sometimes being on vacation doesn't mean taking a break from the daily grind, just making it a little less daily.

I'm back at the gym now and glad to be there, but it was fun to challenge myself to find a way to get a good workout out in the woods. I've decided to keep a set of gym clothes at the ready in my suitcases, car, and office. You just never know. :)

Monday, October 5, 2009

I'm Not Your Sugar Mama Anymore

Hello! I am writing to you today from my new digs: my old self. :) A couple of weeks after giving my old routine the finger, I am back in business as a lean mean cardio machine. And I must say, there are some pretty nice things happening these days in the abdominal area as a result.

I'm running intervals. I'm doing laps. I'm doing the elliptical. I'm doing the bike. I'm popping in the weight room for another round of strength before heading upstairs to Pilates. I'm downloading Jillian Michaels on DirectTV. And now that the weather is nicer, I am strapping the kiddo in the bike seat and heading out around the neighborhood looking for hills.

I am finally back on cloud nine and all it took was a ninja kick to popular thought and a return to gut-check living. Isn't that always the way? I mean, I don't want to make a big deal about it, but I was kind of right in the first place. You know, in case you were keeping track. That's two points for little old me.

So I read an article a few weeks back about how for many runners, the endorphins can actually become addictive. Cardio slaves will find themselves craving their daily fix, becoming grumpy when they can't work out, and resorting to unflattering and compulsive measures to alleviate stress, like heckling other runners from their cars as they commute to work or demanding that everyone in their office do walking lunges whenever entering or exiting the elevator, both of which seem perfectly reasonable to me. For me, endorphins are a pure example of getting out what you put in. The more I exercise, the better I feel. The better I feel, the more I want to exercise. People ask me all the time where I get the energy to exercise as much as I do and the honest and true answer is that I get the energy by doing it.

But I think something else is going on these days. I think my sudden return to civilized society has more to do with what I have removed from my life than what workouts I have added. Today, in Pilates, during a roll-up, I started retracing my steps back to a not-so-distant past when I was so tired and bitter and grumpy I could barely stand myself. I tried to determine what was different in my life/work/nutrition between then and now, and it all came down to just having a lot more energy now than I did then. At first I chalked it up to eating more complex carbs. But then it hit me - it's what I'm not eating.

Processed sugar.

I am six weeks out from my fitness challenge, so I've been making a huge effort to clean up my nutrition. I know, I know, you're wondering what I could possibly have to clean up. And, since I already eat clean, there isn't much work to do besides watch the wine and keep an eye on portion sizes. But as of the middle of August, I am 100% sweets-free. No cookies, no brownies, no candy, no birthday cake, no chocolate-covered espresso beans (I blame my husband for those). For real. None. And I could not care much less.

Like most people, I have been plagued by a sugar addiction for a looooong time and have tried to give it up time and time again. But, it was not until I finally booted artificial sweetners to the curb that I found my sweet tooth starting to disappear. At the beginning of 2009 I ditched diet soda and other fake sweeteners, and now 10 months later am realizing I have not had a baked good in two months and never missed it. Previous entries of this blog even contain praise of my weekly chocolate that I used to feel like I needed to stay sane. Well, I am sane no more! Wait, that didn't come out right. You know what I meant.

Anyway, I stopped eating crap and now I have more energy than I know what to do with. Coincidence? Maybe. But I don't think so.

Regardless, I am soaking up all of this love from the cardio gods and so glad that I connected the dots today. I love how giving up sugar sneaked up on me and caught me by surprise. I never expected that, which makes it...all the sweeter. :)

Have a great week!

Monday, September 28, 2009

It Worked!

Don't you love that feeling when you realize your hard work is actually paying off? And the subsequent feeling when you choose NOT to celebrate it with a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks? I had that feeling on Sunday, when I put some of my training to the test with a hurdle coach on a soggy football field.

My boss, who is a runner/adventure racer/snazzy dresser/all-around good guy, offered to put me in touch with a track coach for a local high school for some coaching on hurdles. I wasn't sure if this man had lost some kind of bet or if news of my pitiful hurdle progress had made it all the way to my boss, but I accepted the referral gratefully. I had hit the wall, pun intended, and needed some help. And the fact that said boss asked me the next week if I had talked to him, I figured I needed to step up and do this already.

To be honest, I was intimidated. As we emailed each other to schedule a meeting time, I was sure to set the expectation early on - I wanted to make sure he was aware that unlike the 18-year-old leggy gazelles he may be used to working with, I am a 5-foot 4-inch 33-year-old mom with muffin top. A small, wheat-free flax muffin, but a muffin nonetheless.

We met at the local high school track, and as I entered I was immediately faced with memories of my own high school experience. Since I had already blocked most of that out, I was surprised by my mind's ability to recall feelings of restless boredom and escape-route-planning just by looking at a set of high school bleachers. I had never played sports in high school, preferring to perfect my angst-scowl with the theatre crowd, so I didn't have a lot of first-hand experience on a track. I kind of regretted that; I think I would have really liked it if I had been motivated to do anything other than make sarcastic comments under my breath when I was a teenager. Although, that was fun too.

Anyway, I was excited to see what I could do, even if it was embarassing. The obstacle course is in 6 weeks and I want to do well. So, we set up some practice hurdles and I ran over them pretty easily. He analyzed my stride and we determined my lead and trail legs. We discussed the distance between the hurdles and whether I should alternate lead legs or not. We made small talk and I decided that I liked him and he was pretty darn generous for spending his Sunday morning with me in the sun on a soggy football field.

I was feeling confident, but so far the highest hurdle I had cleared was maybe 15 inches. We turned to our next task - the 30-inch hurdle I would be faced with in the course. But instead of an actual hurdle, we created our own out of much friendlier materials - the foam yardage markers the football team used during practice. When stacked on top of each other, they equaled 30 inches, and crashing into them didn't seem so bad. I took a deep breath, started running, and....

I jumped over all three.

I did it! It worked! All of those days training my hip flexors, doing plyometrics, stretching my hamstrings, doing drills, and visualizing had paid off! It wasn't pretty and I had a lot of work to do on form, but I cleared all three of them and I was pretty stoked. I still am, actually.

We spent more time working on form and eventually parted ways with a promise to meet again in a few weeks. It was fun, and my confidence going into practicing on my own is much higher. I spent the rest of the day on cloud nine, looking forward to my next practice.

As this competition gets closer, I find myself shaping not only my training but my expectation. I started out in this journey wanting to just see what I, a non-athlete, could do. It's fun to know that I don't have to wait until competition day to find out. Thanks Coach Droze!

Have a great week, and go tackle a hurdle of your own.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Home, Home on the Range of Motion

Do you ever leave a meeting at work all proud of yourself for the great teamwork and problem solving that went on, only to sit down at your desk and realize...wait a sec...we didn't actually make anything better, we just moved some stuff around and checked it off a list.

If you work in an office, I am sure this happens to you daily. I, on the other hand, never have this problem. I immediately get to the root of all of my problems and solve them within 30 minutes, including time for a snack.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Well, okay, not really. I actually prefer to let ideas fester in a committee until no one can even remember who thought it was such a great idea in the first place and we chalk it up to coming down from some keynote-speaker-induced high at a leadership conference. In the gym, however, I don't like to waste time. That's why lately I have been happy to hear four little words from Awesome: range of motion training.

It all started with squats. I used to think that the way to become better at squats was to add weight and just do more squats. Ah, the innocence of ignorance. Then Captain Awesome introduced me to target range of motion training, which I immediately hated and loved at the same time - hated because I knew it was going to be hard, and loved because man, it was hard.

But it works.

As you probably know or can figure out, "range of motion" refers to the distance between the full extension and full contraction of a muscle. When doing something like a bicep curl, you want to make sure you go through the entire range of motion possible so you get the full benefit of the exercise. That means extending your hand all the way down so the bicep is completely extended, not stopping three-quarters of the way down and pulling it back up before it gets too hard.

Unless! Unless you are working in the target range of motion! Well, kind of. Allow me to explain.

When you get to that part where it is hard, that is the part you need to improve. Muscle growth is generated by targeting stress toward the muscle, and the more muscles grow the stronger they are. So, it stands to reason that the more targeted stress on a muscle, the stronger it becomes. By focusing your energy and calories at the range of motion that is more difficult - the smaller action of extending and then contracting the muscle rather than going through the full range of motion - you actually solve the problem instead of just moving things around and checking it off a list.

So back to the squats. I wanted more power in my quads to raise my body (and a whole lotta weight) upright from a squated position. So I went down, down, down, down, and then up a tiny bit. Then down, then up a tiny bit. Over and over until I thought I was going to throw up. After training this way for a while, I noticed an immediate improvement in my full range of motion squats. And I never did throw up.

Same with chest press, same with bicep curls...once I discovered the technique, I was a born-again target range of motion fanatic. Now I am turning to the holy grail of the weight room, for me anyway: pull ups. Soon I will have no need for legs, I will just pull myself from location to location with my freakishly strong monkey arms.

So anyway, don't check your workout off the list. When you find yourself doing the same things over and over and wondering why you aren't getting any stronger, more weight might not be the solution. Try working the target range of motion and solve the real issue. And let me know how it goes. :)

And now, back to work on the monkey arms. :)

Monday, September 14, 2009

If You Love Something, Share It

"Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away
Love is something if you give it away; you end up having more.
It's just like a magic penny, hold it tight and you won't have any
Spend it spend it and you'll have so many, they'll roll all over the floor...for....
Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away
Love is something if you give it away; you end up having more!"

I used to sing the verses above when I was a kid in church, about the power of spreading some love around. It comes to mind when I am reminding myself to not be so selfish, greedy, pushy, [insert negative attribute here]. And today, it came to mind after I reflected on a pep talk I had found myself giving to a friend.

This particular friend, who shall remain nameless, was having one of those days when the goal seemed so far away, so out of reach, so insurmountable, that it was almost too exhausting to think about getting to it. It was a day that combined that feeling with that nagging little voice of self-doubt, poking holes in every argument you make, snickering at your best-laid plans, and making your usually solid resolve talk to the hand 'cause the face ain't listening. Yeah. One of those days.

In no time flat I found myself transported back in time when my little voice was a little louder. There were days when I had to just grit my teeth and power through every obstacle to health because dammit, I was sick of letting life get in the way of what I wanted to do, which was to work out and be healthy. At that time I had let little things obscure my path long enough and my once fit and healthy body had turned to something unrecognizable and frustrating. I remembered how it felt, and immediately looked for any way to get my friend back on the right path. I think (hope) it worked.

And I ended up feeling like I had given myself a pep talk, too. Digging deep to remind someone else of their motivation churned up old feelings of my own to get out there and make a life for myself. It made me want to get my butt to the gym and put my money where my mouth is. So I did. :)

As I drove home from work and thought about the events of the day, that little song started up in my head. It felt nice to know that I had spread some love around - my love for health and fitness - and ended up having more. And now I can't get that damn song out of my head. Thank you very much, God.

If you love something, share it. Let as many people in as you can, and let it get bigger and bigger until there is more than enough to go around. Maybe I am just in a mushy, sentimental mood tonight, but I really feel like shouting from a rooftop how fantastic it feels to be healthy. Maybe enough people will hear me to start being healthy, too. Or maybe my husband will have to come out in the front yard and shine a flashlight on me so I can find my way down before the neighbors call 9-1-1.

Come to think of it, I also used to have a t-shirt declaring "peanut butter is love, spread some around today." I would make sure that is a reasonable amount of natural peanut butter, preferably freshly ground, on some Ezekiel bread. But that's just me.

Have a healthy week, from the rooftops.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Goodbye, Insanity

As I've mulled over what I wrote yesterday related to my training for this event, I've become more and more uncomfortable with the message I was receiving from myself - one of anger, frustration, stress, and general unhappiness. And, as I've let those feelings settle for a while, I've realized that I have completely lost perspective for why I started on this path in the first place: I love wellness. But the way I have been going about this goal is the opposite of that.

I love being healthy. Eating clean, working out, soaking in the good vibes of just general fitness...those things drive me. But over the past two years of nitpicking over details, strategizing for results, and micro-managing the process, I have completely lost touch with the fun. The whole reason why I embraced wellness as a defining part of my life is that it is fun. When I stop having fun, it's time to re-evaluate.

So, I am stepping away from insanity and stepping back towards fun. No, that doesn't mean I am going to take it easier - waking up early to train hard, setting goals for optimal nutrition, and challenging myself to defy my own expectations is part of who I am and I love that. But, there are certain kinds of neurotic I am willing to embrace and certain kinds of neurotic that I am not!

When I read over my entry from yesterday and read the words, "I am becoming reluctant," it hit me: I never want to be reluctant to be healthy. Sure, it can be hard work at times to make the healthy choice, but when it becomes a burden, something's gotta give. When I read messages from myself about longing to exercise the way I want to, eat the way that makes me feel good, and counting the days until I can I have to ask myself what the hell I am doing. Life is too short for this.

You'll have to forgive the rambling nature of this post, as I have gotten out of bed in the middle of the night to write it. But I am glad to have it off of my chest. Making the decision to divert my training back to a level of sanity may mean that I am not an athlete, it may mean that I am not going to reach my MGP. Or maybe it means that I have. Regardless, I am way too tired to figure that out.

And that, in itself, is not wellness.

I'm going back to bed now. After all, my alarm goes off in 1 hour and 10 minutes, and I have a brand new day, and a brand new workout, waiting for me.

Have a healthy day!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Between a Rock and a Fat Place

Do you ever feel stuck? Of course you do, we all do. And this week, I am stuck. I just can't make up my mind between doing what I feel compelled to do but feeling like a hypocrite as a result and doing what I probably should do and feeling miserable as a result. Well, short-term miserable. Maybe. I don't know. This is driving me crazy!!

Let me back up. In the past, when I was younger and more idealistic, like six months ago, I got on my "form follows function," soapbox and preached about the asthetics of your body not being as important as the function/ability/strength of your body. And I still believe that. I also said that I would grit my teeth and bear with not micro-managing every part of my physical self while I went on a strength-building campaign and focused on weights over cardio. Strength over skinny jeans. Chin-ups over cute. Promises like that are easy to make when you never expect to have to deliver.

But oh, man, I was wrong. I was soooo soooo soooo wrong.

Getting fat sucks, yall. Okay, stop rolling your eyes, I know I am not fat in the true sense of the word. But everyone has that zone where they are happy and comfortable and feel like themselves in their own skin, right? I'm about 50 miles from that. If I climb to the top of the Sears Tower and go out on that freaky new plexi-glass box that hangs out over the city and really squint, I might be able to see it waving at me from a happier place. My clothes are tight, I feel all flabby, and I am just generally uncomfortable in my skin. I am wearing my green pants today. My green pants! I only wear these pants because nothing else fits. Especially since I have to iron them. Every indicator in me is screaming for cardio so I can shed this weight and get back into my normal self.

But here's the thing - my body fat is down.

Huh? How does that happen? No clue. But regardless, I am stuck between building strength and size but getting bigger and meaner, or doing cardio and shedding water and being happy and nice, but not strong enough to do what I want to do.

I have finally become reluctant.

I know I am making this more difficult than it needs to be, and I need to take my wise mother's advice and just chill out, and I hope I can step out of my own head long enough to realize that this isn't exactly life and death. I think I'll mull it over on the treadmill. :)


PS - I did, and I have decided to refuse to choose. :)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Goal Fatigue. I Got it Bad, Man.

I've been hit! I'm down! I've fallen and I can't get up!

Or rather, I can't muster the energy to care to get up. Because, to be completely honest, I am sick of this bull crap.

No, I'm not sick of working out or training or doing my whole "Healthy Heather" thing. I'm tired of my goal being so far in the future that just thinking about it makes me tired. When I started training for this course, a year and a half ago, I planned to knock it out in nine months and move on to something new. But then, life happened. My knee happened. To make a long and boring story short and less boring, I pushed it back, pushed it back, waaaaaay back.

And now, I just want to get this *&^%$ thing over with. I am ready to move on! I want to see other workouts. I guess you could say I want to try having an open relationship with my course training. I mean, if I want to run once in a while or do a 5k here and there, who does that really hurt? I think we're ready for that; I think our relationship can handle it.

I keep plugging away, jumping over my hurdle and building my strength and doing all of my agility workouts. But I have noticed myself looking forward to the day after the event, when I can finally just workout again.

I have goal fatigue.

At least, that's what my wise friend E told me last week as I bitched and moaned to her about all of this on our dueling treadmills at the church gym. As soon as she said it, I knew exactly what she meant. I heard friends talking about training for triathlons and wished I could join them. I saw people out for a run and remembered the days when I could just cardio my day away with reckless abandon. Cutting back on cardio and focusing on strength was bumming me out in a major way.

My goal fatigue manifested itself in other ways, as well. I've been reclusive. I've been stressed. I've been...not very nice to people that I really like and care about. I've been drinking more wine than I used to. I'm acting as if I have failed, when really it's just that I haven't yet had a chance to see if I can succeed.

So, the solution is pretty straight-forward: stop this crazy train! Go for a run already! Stop being such an obsessive weirdo and just workout, silly! And when I snapped on my headphones one Saturday morning and hit the pavement to the tune of "Do What You Want," it was like the song was written just for me. Cheesy, yeah, I know. Sometimes I'm cheesy.

Okay, so problem solved, right? Ha! No, I still have this course looming ahead of me. I want to tackle it, I want to be good at it, and I want to be done with it so I can move on. But I can't help but wonder if part of the reason I have been reclusive, stressed, and not very nice is because I still have doubts as to my ability to actually achieve it.

Eh, screw it. I'm not thinking about that today. Let's just work it out.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lowering the Bar

You know, sometimes it amazes me how long it takes for something to get through my thick skull. Each morning I wake up, spring out of bed (yes I am one of those morning people), and assume that everything I attempt to do will just happen. I will be able to do it. No doubt. Easy.

And then I actually set out to do these things and am shocked - SHOCKED! - when it isn't quite that easy.

Case in point: who was it that said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? I should have thought of that before I took another charge at my hurdle and crashed into it. Again. And again. It turns out that determination doesn't directly translate into ability.

So I decided to change the rules. I brought my hurdle to my husband and said, "fix this." If I couldn't jump over the hurdle just by trying over and over again, I would jump over it by making it shorter. Eleven inches shorter, to be exact. He hemmed and hawed over whether I was taking too much off, but I was firm. Cut this sucker down.

The next day, I set up my new trainer-wheel hurdle and sailed over it time and time again. I was a running and leaping fool, having a great time. It felt so good to accomplish something -- even if it was a watered-down something -- after so many failed attempts.

That was a week ago. So, this week I am off to Lowe's to get some more PVC do-hickeys. I'll raise it three inches and go for another week. Then, raise it again. Lather, rinse, repeat, until I can clear it at regulation height. By my calculations I should meet this goal exactly one week after my fitness challenge in November. :)

I'm not good at adjusting my expectations, of others or of myself. I feel that each of us has an obligation to give every day our best shot at being incredible. If you're not doing that, then what are you doing? Resting? For what? More nothing? Last week I bemoaned my new training schedule, which allows for more rest and rehabilitation between workouts. I felt like a slacker, I felt lame. I heard myself say, "I just enjoy life more when I am exhausted," and felt everyone in the gym turn and look at me with incredulous expressions on their faces. But I stand by that - I feel best when I am used up, worn out, completely spent. I give every day my best shot at being incredible, and if I have energy left at the end of the day, I don't really feel like I have done that.

I know. There is medication for people like me.

But training for my hurdles with a "you will submit to me" mentality was not being incredible. It was being stupid. So, I grit my teeth and took the advice of that wise old sage, Bart Simpson: when in doubt, lower your expectations. And yes, I do realize this is the second week in a row that I have quoted Bart Simpson.

I hated lowering the bar, but I have to admit...jumping over that hurdle, however low, felt pretty incredible. I look forward to the day when I can clear it without training wheels, but for now I am content to lower my expectations.

For now.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Last week Captain Awesome accused me of sandbagging. I knew what he meant - I was dragging. Like I wrote on Friday, I had lost some of my mojo during my hectic six weeks of travel. But unfortunately I found something else. Thirteen something elses, to be exact.

Yep, I have gained 13 lbs. And no, it's not all muscle. Well, some of it is; my body fat percentage has stayed the same. And a lot of it is water. But some of it is sandbags.

I feel miserable. I look even worse. I'm used to feeling lean, streamlined, fluid, and strong. But lately, I feel like, well, a pile of sandbags. I'm puffy and jetlagged and to be honest, sick of complaining about it. Damn travel! Damn you back-to-back travel!

So this morning, I smiled as I stepped out into the humid rain to head out to the gym. I couldn't wait to take out my hurdle and cones and do my little psychotic routine. I was drenched by the time Awesome opened the door. We did biceps, chest, and hamstrings, and I headed home to stretch. I already felt a million times better.

This morning I packed my lunchbag with my favorite staples - spinach, turkey, water, more veggies, berries, and almonds. I can feel the stress of being on the road and out of my routine start to melt away as I face a much-needed month ahead of me with no work-week travel. Finally I can shake these sandbags.

In two weeks, I am headed back to the course to practice. Over the next three months headed up to the big event, I will practice on the course three or four times so I can fine-tune my workouts and really prepare. Also, to memorize the steps and movements and begin the mental preparation, as well. I'm excited but also nervous. I wonder how far I have come.

I knew going into this training that I would undergo a transformation that may not always be comfortable, and have confidently said that I was prepared to sacrifice asthetics for function. But man, when it actually starts to happen, it sucks. To quote Bart Simpson as Tom Sawyer, it powerful sucks.

Hey, it's all par for the course. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. In a month when both Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods are finding themselves in the latter category, I figure I'm in pretty good company. :)

That being said, today is not going to suck. I shed one sandbag this morning, and will continue to do so every day until I am back to lean and mean. In the coming weeks, if there is anything Awesome can accuse me of, sandbagging won't be one of them!

Friday, August 14, 2009

One With the Spirit

Yeah yeah yeah, I'm like four days overdue on updating this blog. I know. I'm sorry.

I've been on the road. Halfway across the country and back, to be specific, in a car. I went to Omaha, NE, which required overnight stays in three hotels and a lot more time sitting on my butt than I really wanted. But, I did get in one really great workout (thank you Hampton Inn at Arbor Plaza for the fantabulous gym with HGTV) and ate okay. Yeah, just okay. There was wine.

So to say I was itching to get back to the gym would be an understatement. With all of the traveling I've been doing since the beginning of July, really good workouts have been few and far between. I am jonesing to get back in my groove. Thankfully, I have a nice long stretch of homebodiness ahead of me.

But while I was gone, I wandered into the Strategic Air and Space Museum outside of Omaha. We looked at old fighter jets and bombers and space modules, as well as some old junk stacked up against a wall that looked like it was about to be turned into a fabulous new exhibit that would be assembled after we were long gone. And near that, I spied something interesting.

It was a display commemorating the squadrons of the Royal Air Force that apparently spent some time at Offutt Air Force Base from 1958 through 1982. Each squadron had a motto, and one caught my eye. It read, "I change my body, not my spirit."

I had no idea what changing our bodies had to do with being in the air force, or why someone thought you could only change one of them at a time. But regardless, it got me thinking about whether it was possible to change your body without changing your spirit, or vice verse.

When I (finally) arrived back in the gym Wednesday morning, I still hadn't decided. I was too preoccupied with the feeling that somewhere between Florida and Nebraska, I had become completely out of shape. Everything was difficult, and I was dragging myself around like a sack of potatoes trying to get back in gear. I'm sure the wine had nothing to do with it; it was all tidal flows or karma or something completely unrelated to wine.

So ANYWAY, its Friday now and I am just starting to feel like myself again. And this morning as I was hopping around the gym on one foot (don't was calf day and Awesome was feeling particularly puckish) I laughed as I felt my groove start to kick back in. I knew my answer: the Royal Air Force had it wrong. We can't change our bodies without changing our spirits. Without a fundamental change in the way we think, the way we act, and the way we react, we will not take the actions necessary to change our bodies.

I am soooooo glad that the next few months don't require travel during the work week. And I am sooooo glad that I am back in the gym training again. And I am so so so so so glad that my spirit is glad.

Welcome back to me!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Survival of the Fittest? Not....really.....

So last week I was at the Ritz Carlton enjoying a respite from my daily grind and playing with all of the new and fancy workout equipment in the hotel gym. I did yoga and pilates, went for some good runs, did some nice heavy lifting, and generally took advantage of having a lot of time to myself.

And when I wasn't working out, I attended a conference for work where I sat in meeting rooms and listened to consultants, nodding appreciatively at their wisdom and taking copious notes like the good teacher's pet that I am. Except for a few general sessions, in which I doodled a plan for the next morning's back/tricep/hamstring workout.

As you probably know, every PowerPoint presentation worth its salt these days has at least a few good motivational quotes thrown in to make the consultant look smart. And you know I love me some motivational quotes! But when I saw an old Darwin standard, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change,” the rusty old gears in my head started to lurch and groan. I immediately started thinking about cross-training.

I've always maintained that a key to fitness is consistent variety. Going for the same run every day, doing the same weight routine, or even doing the same types of exercise day in and day out are great for the biological clock, but not so much for achieving total fitness. Our bodies are so adaptable that after just a few days or weeks, what was once challenging becomes easy. Some might see this is a light at the end of the tunnel, but in my eyes it is more like a dead-end. When your body adapts, it doesn't work as hard. When it doesn't work as hard, it doesn't change. When it doesn't change, well, it stays the same. I don't know many people who work out because they want to stay the same. Even people in maintenance strive to improve.

So, I cross-train. Some days I do some moderate elliptical cardio and heavy weights, others I do sprint intervals and lighter weights. Some days I get on the bike, and then follow up with Pilates at lunch. Sometimes I want to go for a nice long run, other days I need to stretch and work on plyometrics. I'm deliberate in my spontaneity, but try to keep my body guessing a little bit.

So, I might challenge Darwin that it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives, but the one that is the least adaptable to change. By adapting too quickly, we atrophy. By maintaining a constant state of muscle confusion, we grow.

Now naturally, I am applying this coffee-house logic to one tiny aspect of life - the gym. But I know for sure that I do not want my body to become adaptable to change. As soon as it starts expecting it, I'm in trouble.

I'm not always perfect at this; I have my favorite workouts and am a creature of habit. I like my routine and enjoy knowing what to expect from the day. Ritualistic exercise can be therapeutic, and I know plenty of people who's days cannot start until they have completed that ritualistic run. But while we may have a specific block of time set aside for exercise, I challenge us to fill it with something different each day. Don't adapt, don't look for opportunities to make exercises easier. Stay in that challenging zone as long as you can to remind your body that sometimes, being unfit has its advantages.

Have a healthy week!

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Week Out of the Box

Here I sit in the location where I truly believe God intended me to take up permanent residence: the Ritz Carlton Hotel. To say that I love the Ritz Carlton would be like saying that Brett Favre has committment issues. Like saying that Britney Spears has issues. Like saying that American Idol is a little played out. I do. I love it. A lotta lotta lot.

And I am also spending a week away from my real life, which is a good thing for me. We all need a break from ourselves once in a while, especially when your self is bossy and demanding and places unrealistic expectations upon you. So, even though I am here for work, I am going to do my best enjoy the temporary change of scenery and take full advantage of my little dip into luxury. And the turn-down service. And my marble bathroom. I'm not going to eat the chocolate on my pillows though.

I'm also going to take it upon myself to get back in the driver's seat and start navigating some of the (inevitable) changes in my life. Last week, change was thrust upon me in the form of news that Captain Awesome may have to change his schedule to one that doesn't include driving across town at 4:30 am to open the gym. Some hooey about grad school and I'll admit, I reacted badly to the information. Not in a throwing-a-fit kind of way....more in a sitting at the lat pull with my arms on the bar but staring vacantly into space for 20 minutes kind of way. I spent the rest of the day in a bit of a fog until I worked out a solution. Well, until I worked out my second solution, the first one being to somehow hide him away to a hypnotist where he was reprogrammed to believe that he could train me and only me for the rest of his career. But seeing that I only get an hour for lunch and usually spend that in Pilates, it just wasn't practical to think I could pull that off anytime soon. So I reverted to Plan B, which was to suck it up and deal.

That news, on top of some other things I would have rather not experienced over the span of three days, called for a time-out. I kind of believe that when a lot of bad things start happening all at one time, it means I need to step back and regroup. Obviously something was off, and the common denominator was me. So I took myself out of the equation. I pressed pause on myself.

I came to the Ritz.

Well, first I went to church. I sat alone in the quiet and listened to a message reminding me that I have never truly been left without a plan. I've never actually had the bottom fall out. I've always made it through, something always worked out, and it would this time too if I would just get out of my own damn way.

Then I came to the Ritz.

I'm out of my box, forced out of my routine. I have a new gym facing me, and more time than usual to workout each morning. I have solitude and quiet. I can work hard and focus and move this ship forward without the usual static of my everyday life.

And when I return, I will have three months left to train. I've mapped out a new schedule, had it blessed by Awesome, and am ready to get back to building up the callouses on my hands.

But first there is a down comforter calling my name.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Thing I Cannot Do

"You must do the thing you think you cannot do." - Eleanor Roosevelt

I saw this quote in a work-related email last week and liked it. I find that I copy/paste most things that Eleanor Roosevelt said, so I was not surprised that this stuck with me. And, I had an almost immediate application to my training.

As you know, or should know by this point, I am about 18 months into training for a fitness challenge, which will take place this coming November. (For new readers - I meant to do it last November but backed out, mostly because I messed up my knee running but also because I didn't think I could do it.) I went and practiced on the course back in March at the Al Rosen Tri-Fitness Camp, and found out exactly what God thinks of me. Which is not much judging from my performance. Unless God plans for me to be a reliable source of amusement for genetically blessed athletes, in which case I am a huge success.

So anyway, I guess you could say that I am taking Eleanor's words to heart because I am still on the road towards becoming America's Next Top Model. Ooops, sorry. I am still on the road towards doing what I (thought) I cannot do.

But there's a hitch: I don't have the course in my backyard, or anywhere near me, where I can practice on the actual equipment I will be tackling. Instead, I do a lot of functional training. I do pull-ups, jumping, sprinting, rope pulls, and other exercises to strengthen the muscles I will need to accomplish the tasks in the course, which include scaling a 10-foot wall, climbing a cargo net, jumping hurdles, running through a grid, and other things you might expect to see on your average Japanese game show.

So, to do what I cannot do, I have implemented a technique used by high-performers everywhere: visualization. I do a lot of visualization. I always have, to be honest. From the early days of setting a personal goal as a kid and then putting my head down and barreling through to the victory, visualization has been a key part of my plan. I visualize myself where I want to be in the most graphic and realistic way possible, down to the minute details of texture, sounds, breathing, peripheral vision, and emotion, and then save that data in my mind and replay it over and over and over. If I truly believe that the scene can replicate itself in reality, I will work to achieve it. I am very rarely unsuccessful when I use this technique; it is that simple.

At the beginning of this training schedule, I would visualize myself going over the hurdles and consistently see my trail leg catch the hurdle and bring it down behind me. Or, I would consistently see my leading leg crash into the front of the hurdle and trip me up. I had a huge disbelief in my ability to clear that hurdle and I knew I had to get over it. I watched videos and learned techniques for building the skills necessary. Each time I practice, I visualize. The combination of functional training and visualization has resulted in an adaptation to that scene - I now see myself clearing the hurdle by jumping higher at the approach and bringing my leg up higher and to the side on the trailing end. As a result, I've noticed my trailing foot cocking up when I do my in-real-life practice drills. Just as perception is reality, visualization can become reality.

And soon, I will try to recreate that scene in reality and see how my training has prepared me for a regulation-height hurdle. I fully expect to clear it.

But the course is more than just a hurdle. There are a series of obstacles to overcome in quick succession. So, I frequently watch this video to aid in my visualization. It is a video of a newly-found friend completing the actual course I will be competing on in three short months. She is flawless (and fearless). And, having met her in person, I can attest that she puts in not only the hard work required but the positive attitude necessary to accomplish the course time and time again. Go Berna!

There are a lot of things we cannot do. But, if you seriously and consistently apply visualization to your training, that list gets pretty short pretty fast. Take Eleanor's advice and do the thing you (think) you cannot do - do it in your mind. Visualize yourself doing the thing you (think) you cannot do, over and over and over and over and over and over until you have every detail memorized. That visualization will lead to you doing what it takes to accomplish it, and then to real success.

I know I can do it; I have already seen it. Now I just can't wait to bring that scene to life.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mediocre Expectations

We all start a journey towards a goal with great expectations, right? Sure, we're going to be beach-ready by Memorial Day! We're going to sail through the holidays without even a nibble on a candy cane! So-and-so's wedding? Pshaw! I don't even like wedding cake. (It's true. I'm not just making that up to illustrate my point. I honestly don't like it.)

Great expectations are, well, great! I'm all for aiming high. And as long as those expectations are coming from the right place, I say the higher the better. Last week I promised more about finding a support network despite having less-than-supportive family, friends, or other immediate environment. That's where expectations come in. Ah, the tangled web we weave - our expectations of ourselves, others' expectations of us, our expectations of what others' expectations will be, our expectations of what our response will be to those expectations... you see where I am going with this.

I've fallen victim many times to proudly throwing my arms up and calling, "ta-da!" to an adoring audience of zero. I've heard the deafening silence of no one giving a $*&% if I ran my fastest time ever or maxed out the squat rack. I've put on my big blue ribbon and paraded around like a peacock and attracted a crowd of none. I was hurt and disappointed, but I've also learned that I was looking for positive feedback in the wrong places.

Some people just aren't going to get it. They won't cheer for you because they don't get it. It took me a long time to figure out that they don't need to get it.

My husband is an electronics geek. He's always working on some project, sodering and welding and doing all kinds of mad-scientist stuff until his creation beeps, blinks, lights up, and plumes smoke just the way he imagined it would. He calls me over to revel in the wonder of what he has done. And I try really, really, really hard to appreciate the time and effort that went into it and manage a, "that's really neat, babe." I don't get it. I get that he gets it, but I don't get it. Luckily for him, there are a lot of people on YouTube who get it.

I guess I am taking the scenic route to say something very simple - ignore the people in your life who don't get it and move on. Trying to convince someone of your ability to reach a goal is a waste of time because their belief has nothing to do with your ability. Tackling a fitness obstacle to prove something to a naysayer is likely to result in disappointment when they could not care less about your smashing success. Instead, seek feedback and encouragement from people who do get it.

It's hard to realize that the people who are closest to you might not be your biggest cheerleaders, especially when you need a cheering squad the most. But after I let go of the expectation that they would be, its been easier to not only own the goal, but shape it and direct it without the confines of others' mediocre expectations.

Once you let go of needing someone else to be impressed or even believe that you can, it becomes a lot more fun to do it - for yourself and on your own terms. So, free yourself from mediocre expectations, and start working on something great.