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!