Monday, June 29, 2009

No Gym? No Problem.

Every time I hear someone say that they "couldn't" work out because the gym was closed, or they were out of town, or it rained, I just smile and wait for them to continue. It only takes a few seconds before they sheepishly add, "...and next time I'll do lunges in the parking lot." One (since reformed) friend accidentally confessed that she waited in her car for 40 minutes for her trainer to show up and open the gym, and then "had" to leave. I empathized, but then caught on. "Wait a waited for 40 minutes?" She blushed. "I shouldn't have told you that."

Being healthy and fit is a truth, not a consequence. And for it to be a truth for you, YOU have to make it happen. In the same way, training for my obstacle course is a truth, and I have to make time for the training, regardless of whether the gym is closed, or I am out of town, or it rained. There have been plenty of times I have run or done lunges or run a shuttle drill in the rain. You're going to get wet anyway, right? At least the rain cools you off a little.

So when I looked at my morning and tried to find an extra 30 minutes to do my hurdle, sprint, and plyometric work before the gym opened, I knew where I would end up - the parking lot. I work out at a gym that shares its parking lot with a gas station, and I've gotten to know the early morning delivery men pretty well. They look out for me and wave as they bring in their snacks and sodas and bread, and I return the greeting with a sweaty nod and smile.

When I first started working out in the parking lot, I kept it simple. The length of the lot is about 50 meters, perfect for sprint drills. So I ran back and forth doing different drills, then got my homemade hurdle out of my trunk and worked with it a little. But then I started getting bored. And I started getting restless. And I noticed that the gas station parking lot was full of shiny new toys.

Well, not shiny. But you get what I'm saying.

Just take a look around the next gas station you drive into. Looks like a regular old run-of-the-mill gas station right? But look closer. Next to the pump. Down, lower. Is there a little block of concrete there? There are six of them around the perimeter of the pumps at my station, and they're great for running and jumping over, on top of, and in between.

A big block of concrete next to the air machine serves some important purpose in another life, but for me it is where I practice box jumps. Or, I take a running start and just leap on top. I'm pretty sure it isn't going anywhere.

A traffic cone has been in the exact same spot for the last six months. I'm sure it is there for a reason, but I use it to work my hip flexors, kicking my leg up and over the cone with ankle weights on to strengthen my hips and increase my flexibility.

Then I move on to a little sign advertising the entrance to a store. But, to me, it is a mini-hurdle. I've knocked it down plenty of times and startled the delivery guys. It makes a huge racket.

And parking space dividers are always fun. Jump forward and back over one, or do what I do and jump over and then onto the sidewalk. Then add one more - over, on the sidewalk, and then up to touch the ceiling.

I do this stuff every morning, and consider it my own little obstacle course. After a few rounds, Captain Awesome shows up and the real work begins. I enjoy working out with a trainer in a nice gym with machines and weights and fancy equipment, but I love knowing that a decent workout can be found just about anywhere if you look hard enough.

I sometimes wonder if I will ever run out of new games to play in the parking lot, but I'm not too worried about it. My next plan is to put those delivery guys to work.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pedestrian Crossing Next 4.5 Miles

I just got back from a few days at the beach, which were badly needed. While there I went on some nice long (for me) runs, which were also badly needed. I usually have a hit-and-miss record with working out on vacation, but luckily this trip included my brother, Michael, who is currently training for a marathon. So when he asked me if I was interested in running across the bridge that connected the island to the mainland, I put out my running shoes. When I asked him if he was interested in leaving at 6:00 am, he pretended he didn't hear me.

The next morning at 5:45, I started to poke Michael with my shoe and ask if he was ready. He pointed out that he had 15 minutes left to sleep, but soon we were on our way. I told him he didn't have slow down for me, since his legs are about three feet longer than mine, and about 2 miles into it he finally believed me and took off. I followed him across the bridge on the narrow pedestrian walkway and realized that this was the first time I had run across a bridge. I liked it.

Since neither of us had looked at the clock before we left or tracked the distance of our run, we weren't sure how much of a workout we had gotten. We estimated 3 or 4 miles but I was pleasantly surprised when I logged it later in my car and found that it was actually 4 1/2 miles. Not only was that my first bridge run, it was also the furthest I had run without stopping to walk. I immediately planned to do it again the next morning.

When 5:45 rang loud and clear on day two, my shoe-nudges to Michael were fruitless. His "sunburn hurt." Uh huh. So I set off on my own. This time I slowed my pace and took advantage of the sprinklers watering lawns along the way. When I turned toward the bridge, I picked up the pace a little. I wove in and out of fishermen setting up for the day and enjoyed a breeze off of the bay. I wondered how hurt I would be if I fell off of the bridge and landed in the water, and stopped to peer over the edge. I briefly contemplated stretching my arms wide and spinning around shouting, "I'm the king of the worrrrld!" but I thought that might be a little much.

On the last day of vacation I didn't even try to wake up Michael. I took the opportunity to leave just before dawn in hopes of seeing a sunrise. I missed it by a few minutes but that was okay; the fun of running made up for it and instead of climbing the stairs to our condo when I got back, I headed to the sand for a walk. It was my last day on the beach and I wanted to soak it in. I sat down in the sand and let the waves wash over my legs. And then I remembered.

I remembered back when I was all bitching about form over function and throwing my little hissy fit about how I'd rather be able to run five miles on the beach than just look like I could (which is true but really more me doing a grown-up version of "fine, I didn't want that anyway!"). And I realized I was pretty darn close to running five miles on the beach, having just completed 4.5 of them. So, you know what's coming, I got up and took off running. I don't know if I ran half a mile, and technically that doesn't count as running five miles "on the beach," but for now I am willing to accept half a mile on the beach and 4.5 near the beach and call it a goal accomplished.

Its kind of fun when a goal sneaks up and taps you on the shoulder, and even more fun when you turn around and give it a hug. I hope you get that kind of surprise this week, too. That is, if your sunburn doesn't hurt too much. :)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Might As Well Jump

Okay, so I'm doing these kind-of-random-this-is-me-being-spontaneous early morning drills to build up my explosive strength, practice hurdles, strengthen my hip flexors, and generally work up a sweat before the gym opens. I consider this to be "spontaneous" because I don't have a set plan each morning, which if you know me at all, you'll recognize as a sign that medical help needs to be summoned because I have obviously lost my mind. Some people fly off to Vegas and get married on a whim and call it spontaneous...well, I really live on the edge and wait until the last possible stretch to decide if I am going to run sprint drills or pull out the hurdle. Watch out, people. I'm dangerous.

But lately I've found myself opting for the same general thing - jumping. It happened kind of, well, spontaneously, one morning. After a set of shuttle run drills, I was cooling down a little and came upon a parking space divider. On a whim - woah! - I decided to jump over it. As the mother of a preschooler who wants to jump over every single crack in the sidewalk, I've become somewhat accustomed to spontaneous jumping but this was the first time I had considered jumping over random objects just for the hell of it on my own. So I jumped.

And I jumped over it again.

Hmm. That was kind of easy, I thought. What else can I jump over? My eyes spied a slightly higher mound of concrete (I'm not really sure of its purpose other than as a hurdle for me). I took a gallop towards it and jumped on top. Okay, it was maybe a foot off the ground but it felt impressive to me. I raised my arms in victory and imagined "Rocky"-esque music. A bored cat who had been observing me rolled its eyes and walked away.

From that point on, I started jumping every morning. I did a lot of plyometrics in my regular workout, but they were more about improving my balance, strengthening my hamstrings and calves, and increasing agility and speed. And to be honest, I loathed them. But this seemed different. For one, I didn't have Captain Awesome taunting me and poking me with a stick like some kind of dancing monkey.

I jumped over small traffic cones. I jumped over a little trash can/ashtray by a bench. I jumped on and off of the curb. I jumped up on those green boxes that house electrical stuff. I jumped on this big block of cement by the road. I considered jumping over a fire hydrant one day but decided against it since I was wearing a skirt and there was a lot of traffic. And one day with my son, I jumped with him over a big medallion on the ground indicating the site of a time capsule set to be dug up in the future. And when they dig it up, I might jump over that, too.

All of this jumping comes at a good time, because I've set a goal to be able to clear that hurdle by the end of June. The things I have been jumping over aren't as high as my hurdle, which is about 6 feet in the air, but I think it's a good start. So I'll start looking for more things to jump over until finally, by June 30, I jump over that hurdle. Onto a soft surface that is unlikely to cause too much damage upon impact to my already glamorously bruised and scraped legs. Heroic jumping doesn't come without sacrifice, you know.

Converting myself from a run-of-the-mill gym rat to a functionally fit high-performing athlete is a bit of a leap to begin with. But I guess it wouldn't be too ironic to say that before you can leap, you have to start with a jump.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Food: It's Just Not That Into You

Warning: I am going to get up on my soapbox today. And I tried really hard to not make this sound like a holier-than-thou lecture. I just need to get this off of my chest and since my good friend E. is probably sick of me telling her over and over (and preaching to the choir), now I am going to tell you. So you'd better listen up because I am only going to repeat myself about 50 gazillion times.

Very often, people talk to me about their nutrition. In fact, that seems to be one of the only things people talk to me about these days, which is just fine and dandy with me because it is one of my favorite things to talk about. Most of these conversations begin with a sheepish confession on their part of something they like to eat that they think I won't approve of, and end with me standing on a table in an empty room shaking my fist in the air and preaching about how misguided Americans are about the purpose and role of food in our lives. I realize I am a little fanatical about food. And yes, I realize that I have gotten "worse" over the past few years.

But I truly believe 100% that most of our national obesity problem has more to do with the one-sided relationship we have created with food than with calories in versus calories out.

'cause here's the thing - food is just not that into you.

How many times have you convinced yourself that you "deserve" dessert because you worked out that day? Or that you are going to "treat yourself" to something decadent to soothe a bad day at work? How many gatherings with friends have been centered around what "bad foods" you're going to eat or how you're going to "cheat" on your diet? How many times have you eaten the last muffin because it was there, or had a slice of cake because someone made it especially for you? How often do you feel like you should indulge in something because you won't get another opportunity to eat this "special" food for a while?

I've done all of that. I've given everything to food, I've loved it, cradled it, and given in to it when it promised to make me happy or solve my problems. But it never did. Every single time, it had its way with me and hung me out to dry. I ate healthfully, but I knew I was eating for the wrong reasons. I didn't know how to live in that place between enjoying food and being in an abusive relationship with it.

And then I woke up and doesn't give a shit whether I eat it or not. Food literally could not care less whether I have a bite or leave it alone. As far as food was concerned, there was absolutely no difference between me acting like its BFF and completely ignoring it. And from that point forward (okay, it took a few wake up calls before I really got it) I was on completely different terms with food.

At first I was annoyed. After all, I had put a lot of time into our relationship. I had made special time for food, I had my "favorites," and I had always made sure that food was a priority. Then I got mad. I decided two could play at that game, and resolved to treat food the same way it had treated me: with indifference.

And for the first time, the junior-high model of conflict resolution worked for me.

I started to live by the favorite edict of a friend of mine: eat to live, don't live to eat. And I've turned into a total pain about it, too. I try to remember each day that food is fuel, and the only reason for ingesting it is to fuel my body for physical and mental operation. Things like taste are secondary to the physiological reaction that food will have in my body. Enjoying the flavor of a food that also happens to be good for me is a nice side-benefit, but I have to admit that when I see people worshiping food or getting all excited about eating something they consider decadent or "bad," I get frustrated and have to bite my tongue. That's not to say I never fall victim to it myself; I do. But it's not under the guise of having deserved it.

We don't deserve food. We use it. Food is not recreational. It is functional. I took the scenic route to figure this out, and it's taken more than just a happy wake-up call to get there. But if I can help someone take a short-cut and save themselves any more time expecting food to be anything other than science, then my journey has not been in vain!

If you're overweight, ask yourself whether you're making the same mistake I did. And if you are, come sit next to me. I'll be glad to add you to the choir.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Letting Go of the Balloon

Have you seen that movie "Groundhog Day," when Bill Murray wakes up to the same day over and over, forced to endure the same annoying scenarios and bad decisions until he finally starts changing his ways and gets it right? By the end of the movie, a snarky, arrogant, pushy guy ends up being...a snarky, arrogant, pushy guy with a little more self-awareness. Well, I feel like I am in my own personal Groundhog Day because pretty much every morning I have to remind myself of the same thing: form follows function.

Form follows function. Form follows function. Get it, write it down, tattoo it on your arm because its just how it is.

Yeah, we've been here before. It was a couple of months ago when I first had the epiphany that it was more important to me that I could actually perform tasks rather than just look like I can. Meaning, its one thing to have great legs but quite another to clear three hurdles at lightening speed. But letting go of the aesthetic rewards of nutrition and exercise is easier said than done. After all, it's summer. I'm going to the beach in two weeks. I have a two-piece bathing suit. I am earnestly fighting the urge to stop eating carbs. So it was not the best time for Captain Awesome to confide that he thinks I should eat more. More carbs.

Yeah, we've been here before, too. I did the whole, "I'm going to eat more," thing and had my big awakening, which lasted for a few months before little by little, I started shaving calories here and there until I found myself back in my comfort zone of barely eating but trying to push the entire planet up a hill. I know how nutrition works; I know I need to fuel the fire. But as a woman with more than a fair share of food-angst, knowing and doing are two completely different things.

I work out a lot. I train hard and train specifically for the challenges I want to achieve. For me, going to the gym is about more than fitting into my skinny jeans; it is about building the skills and strength that I need to be able to run that obstacle course. It's about function, not form.

But it is so so so hard to let go of form. It is so hard to release my hold on that balloon and let it float away, hoping that someday I'll get another chance to hold it. I'm not getting any younger, and at some point I have another pregnancy in my future. And I am just shallow enough to mourn the fire I have stoked since, well, as long as I can remember: attaining physical perfection.

I've never achieved it, and I never will. At least, not in my eyes. And I am trying to be mature enough to realize that physical appearances are temporary and, often, deceiving. But man, it's hard. It is really hard to shift focus away from the aesthetic and towards the functional. It's really hard to train every day knowing that I might never "see" myself in a body that reflects the power beneath its skin.

But it feels amazing to do a one-armed pull-up*, tummy pooch and all.

I want to get over it. I want to be able to not care if I have a tummy pooch or if my legs look fat. I'm a few steps closer, but I'm still looking over my shoulder at that balloon floating away into the distance. Hopefully over the next few months, I can stop looking back and start moving more confidently towards something more permanent.

And start carrying a needle to pop balloons in my way.

*On the assist; I'm not that strong! :)