Monday, May 25, 2009

An Old Mutt Learning New Tricks

I have a strange fascination with sled dogs. Well, maybe it's not that strange, but it's a fascination nonetheless. I love to watch them in action, I watched the Iditarod on television, and I've always wanted to stand on the back of a sled and be pulled through the snow at warp speed. The whole sport seems barbaric to me, but I admit, I can't peel my eyes away from it.

So when I sat down to clean out my DVR, which I do about every week upon realizing that I have three months worth of 30 Rock, The Office, Chuck, and Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels that I am never going to have time to watch, I noticed that another of my favorite shows - Dirty Jobs - had an episode where Mike Rowe, beefcake host extraordinaire, takes care of sled dogs.

I didn't delete that one.

And last night, I finally had a chance to watch it. As I sat in amazement and wondered how long I would last in a dog sled race (and as a thin-blooded Southerner, I'm guessing about a nanosecond), I started figuring out what it was about those dogs that I liked. Once they got hooked up to their sled and took off, they were dead-set on their goal. They put their head down, their nose to the grindstone, and they just kept going and going and going and going and going until they were at the end. Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows that I appreciate that kind of work ethic.

It's not hard to see how dedicating yourself to a healthier lifestyle can make you feel like a sled dog sometimes. You're not always at the front of the pack, sometimes you've got someone else calling the shots, and once in a while you just have to put your head down and barrel through the tough spots.

This morning as I powered through my hurdle drills and plyometriced my way across the gym parking lot, I thought about another aspect of sled dogs - they're not a specific breed. In other words, they're mutts. They aren't born to power through and win, but rather are trained to. I had caught glimpses over the weekend of television coverage of the Ms. Fitness USA pageant and some SEC NCAA Track and Field competitions, both of which reminded me that I am not 18 anymore. And even when I was 18, I wasn't able to do that stuff. I did my squat jumps and compared myself to an old mutt learning new tricks.

And then later in the gym I channeled the mentality of a sled dog when Captain Awesome tasked me with our usual Friday circuit with a twist - my goal was to lap my training partner, and her goal was to keep me from lapping her. I thought about those sled dogs and mimicked their work - head down and barreling through to the end. I did lap her (sorry, Tracy!) and thanked my virtual sled dogs for the tip.

There are parts of any fitness journey that are tougher than others, and we all have to just deal with that and let it go. The next time you're in that spot, channel the sled dog mentality and see if you don't end up at the front of the pack.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Wiggle Room

Running in the morning can be exhilarating. The cool air, the quiet streets, the isolation and alone time with your can truly be poetic. When the weather is especially good, running in the mornings can turn cranky pants inside out, make a Monday feel like the best day ever, and put a spring in your step all day long.

This was not that kind of morning.

I had a difficult run today. Since being chastised for running alone in the dark, I've stayed indoors for my early cardio and saving running for lunchtime, after I've had a chance to limber up and get that powerful combination carbs and coffee flowing through my veins. But this morning as I wrapped up my resistance training and headed for the elliptical, I bypassed it and went outside instead. I almost got in my car and went home, and then something pulled me towards the street. I stood there for a second, debating. But inevitably I snapped on my headphones, turned on the Violent Femmes, looked both ways, and took those first steps onto the pavement.

I went about two blocks before it started to suck. My legs were cramping up and my feet felt like bricks. And, it was raining. Just a little, but I usually like running in the rain.

I stopped and stretched, then started back running. Again my legs seized up and my shins caught fire. I flashed back to running with my dad as a kid and him telling me, "sometimes you just have to run through the pain." So I ran through the pain. Or rather, I plodded through the pain. This was not the exhilarating jaunt through the cool morning air that I was used to. I was puzzled. I had been tricked. I stopped and looked at my feet expectantly. What was wrong with them? Did they not get the memo on the "one in front of the other" routine? I shook them out and started, for the third time, down the sidewalk. This was getting personal.

Three blocks later, I started walking. Run a few steps, walk. Run a few steps, walk. I stopped and shook my feet again. They felt weird. I sat down on the wet sidewalk and untied my shoes. Feeling blood return to my limbs, I had to laugh. The irony of not being able to run because my shoes were tied too tight was too much to ignore. I retied my laces, a little more loosely this time, and started down the sidewalk for a final attempt. This time, with a little more wiggle room, I sailed down the sidewalk and over puddles, stretching my stride and pulling myself up the hills. And by the time I returned to my car 30 minutes later, soaked and tired and worn out, I had stopped trying to count the parallels of my too-tight shoes to my too-tight life.

Without some wiggle room, it's hard to get any momentum. The next couple of weeks will be challenging for me to get in the amount of gym time I like. Between work travel, lunchtime obligations, and generally having to be a responsible adult (grrrrr), I will be lucky to get one good workout a day. But, I'm going to try and take it in stride. I think I got my first preview of what will happen if I don't.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mind Over Matter. And Feet.

I've done it! Ladies and gentlemen, I have emerged from my funky, negative, and otherwise cranky mood of the past, oh I don't know, FOREVER. I don't know what did it, I don't know why, and I don't really care. It just feels great to be back among the living again.

I'm back to feeling invincible, back to feeling optimistic, and back to feeling like I've got the wind at my back. Which, incidentally, would be a great advantage these days with all of the time I've been spending on the treadmill.

Now that I think about it, I do know the cause of my funk - getting up every day to do something at which I consistently fail (re: hurdles) was starting to wear on me. So, while I didn't want to stop my drills and training, I decided to also train on something I am relatively good at: running. Running is my fall-back plan. It's pretty easy, just one foot in front of the other over and over and over. It doesn't require any fancy equipment, just some carbs to get me going. And then there are the endorphins. Oh, those sweet, sweet endorphins. Let's just all have a moment of appreciation for endorphins, shall we?

Anyway, as I was saying - I decided to start back running to distract myself from my miserable hurdle work. But I wasn't happy with just plain old running. I felt challenged to increase my speed, inspired by a gym buddy who was working on an 8-minute mile. I was in awe. I am not a fast runner, but steady at a little over 9 minutes per mile. But as Jenny wiped sweat from her brow and told me it was just mind over matter, I decided to give it a shot.

To be honest, I didn't think I could do it. I mean, I knew I could, but I didn't think I would. But that day at lunchtime I started out running at my usual speed, and increased it every minute until I was at an 8 min/mile pace. Then, I tried to think about anything other than my feet pounding on the treadmill, my chest burning, my legs begging for mercy, and my mouth suddenly parched for water. I focused intently on the latest college basketball report on SportsCenter as if my life depended on it, glancing down at the treadmill periodically to see how much longer I had to go. And, eight minutes later, I was done. I slowed to my normal pace and tried not to throw up.

I had done it. I felt pretty darn pleased with myself.

The next week, I decided to go for 1.25 miles. "Mind over matter," I kept telling myself when my feet threatened to quit. And I did it. I felt pretty darn pleased with myself.

The third week, I added on another quarter mile. 1.5 miles at 8 min/mile was tough, but also easy. Once I got over the mental block, it was just like regular running. Just one foot in front of the other, over and over and over. I wondered if I could do 1.75 miles.

I could. The following week, I climbed on my trusty treadmill and cranked it up. This time, instead of thinking about my feet pounding on the treadmill, my chest burning, my legs begging for mercy, and my mouth suddenly parched for water, I imagined my feet crumbling the pavement behind me, my chest taking in oxygen and delivering it to my muscles, and my legs flexing and contracting to propel my body forward. My mouth was still parched for water, but that was okay. I was too exhausted to care.

That Saturday I was meeting some friends to run in a 5k. As we stretched and discussed our personal goals for finishing times, I aimed for a time of 28 minutes, an average of about 9 minutes per mile. I knew I had increased my speed but also knew that the course was hilly, part of it was a trail, and I was used to running on a flat treadmill in the air conditioning. Regardless, when I reached the finish line and saw the clock, I thought there must have been a mistake. Not only had I beaten my goal, I had taken 1:17 off of my best time.

I finally felt alive again.

I'm still not a fast runner; there are plenty of people who run faster than I do every single day, people for whom an 8 minute mile is a rest day. But I'm faster than I used to be, thanks to Jenny and her reminder that fitness is often a simple equation of mind over matter.

This morning I got back to work on the hurdles. I enjoyed the workout a lot more after seeing the almost instantaneous results of my endurance training. Hard work and perseverance pays off, and eventually my hurdle training will, too. But until then, I always have my 8 minute mile.

And yeah, this week I'm going for 2.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Working the Negative

Today at the gym was all about working the negative. It was chest, biceps, and shoulders day and as a result, my eyeliner is a little wobbly. know it was a good workout when you have not yet regained total use of your arms by the time you have to leave for work.

But before I did my first BOSU ball push-up, I had already spent a full 60 minutes working the psychological negative. After a weekend of nutritional choices that were, hmmmm, less than ideal, and facing a week dotted with lunchtime obligations that would keep me from my running game, I couldn't wait to hit the gym and work my cares away. I needed a good sweat, some warm worn-out muscles, and a swift kick in the pants to snap out of the negative zone I had been in for the past three days.

Unfortunately, the negative stayed with me for my hurdle training. I got to the gym early and set up in the parking lot, grumbling about how it could already be 73 degrees and 250% humidity at 4:30 in the morning. As I set up my hurdle and started on my drills under the curious eyes of other early-morning exercisers jogging past, the little voice in my head asked who I was kidding. My high-knees were pathetic. My trail leg drill was amateurish. I watched my reflection in the gym's dark window and wondered if I would ever become good at this. And I did 15 more.

The negative nagged at me during my first round of cardio, too. Doing bike intervals is usually a fun, high-energy way to start the day. But this morning, all I could think about was how my quads looked a lot more defined last week than today. I knew I needed to get positive soon, so I bumped up the resistance and pedaled harder.

Finally climbing off the bike to hit the weights, Captain Awesome set up a little circuit and informed me that we would be working the negative. "Whatever," I thought. "Like it will make a difference." I grimaced at myself. Was this really me? Why couldn't I snap out of it?

I finally felt the stress and negativity start to melt away as I concentrated on slowing down the negative effort of each exercise, really focusing on the movement and resistance of the weight. As I dedicated my attention to visualizing my muscles at work, I began to feel more like myself. And finally, when Awesome and I high-fived and congratulated each other on our hard work, I was awake.

I went in for my second round of cardio with somewhat renewed vigor. I was still angry at myself for losing focus over the weekend, but somewhere between doing karaokes in the parking lot and incline hammer curls in the weight room, I had made amends. I realized that working the negative was going to have to be part of the rest of my day. Meaning, that I was going to have to find a way to make the negative energy that is inevitable in life work for me. By harnessing the frustration I have in a goal not met and using it instead as energy to try "try again," I can more easily forgive, forget, and ultimately get over myself and move on.

Get over myself and move on. Now that's what I call resistance training. :)