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.