Monday, February 23, 2009

Winning Kind of Is Everything

So lately I've been spending a lot of time at the gym doing cardio. I've just been craving it. I have this special treadmill I like at my lunchtime gym, and I hop on, make sure the TV is tuned to ESPN with the closed captioning, and just go to town. I'm trying to do 3 miles in 24 minutes but averaging about 27. I'll get there.

But anyway, with all of this time I'm spending on the treadmill, I'm also spending a lot of time watching SportsCenter, which I love. Not only do they have the best commercials, the pace of the show is just quick enough for my short attention span. I can even overlook the fact that they are talking about basketball, a sport I couldn't care much less about. Plus, I really admire people who can speak almost completely in metaphors.

But these days, when they do talk about football, they're talking about the team drafts: who is jumping ship, who is a hot commodity, who got thrown under the bus, and how many dollar signs it will take for someone to take off their shoes and stay a while. (See what I did there? With the metaphors?)

And when they talk about what makes someone a hot commodity, it's all about who can win championships. They say that a lot. "He knows it's all about the win." "This is a kid who can win championships." "He plays to win, and he knows that winning is the name of the game." "This kid is a winner; he knows what it takes to go in there and win." "He's not going to play on a team that doesn't win; he is all about the win."

It started to wear on me. What about love for the game? What about being a role model for little kids? What about spreading a message about physical fitness and hard work? Am I just a product of the "everyone gets a trophy" generation or is there more to playing a team sport than just winning? I started to feel indignant, even a little haughty. They have obviously lost the focus on the big picture, I would think as I turned off my treadmill and headed for the showers. Good thing I still know what's really important.

And then I would go about my day.

I would think about that 3 miles and my 27 minutes, and promise myself that I would do 26:30 the next time.

I would pass on that glass of wine before dinner and pat myself on the back for my dedication.

I would get to the gym the next day and hammer out three more push-ups, even when I was about to throw up.

I would smile at how nice my shoulders are looking when I do cable work.

I would set extra weight on the bar for squats and feel proud of my strength.

And I would never pick up on the irony that in each of those situations, I was proud of my win. I had shown up to win, and I was happy when I did. It wasn't until I actually heard myself say (to a chocolate martini), "I will win this," that I realized that I had become a metaphor.

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. I really wanted it to be about love for the game, about being a good example, and about sending a message about the rewards of hard work. And in a way, it was. I just hadn't considered that those things counted as winning.

I know that the wins they talk about on SportsCenter require someone else to lose (and have more dollar signs attached to them), but I've decided to believe that the real win to be celebrated is the one that happens on a more personal level.

I'll see my special treadmill later on, and you know I'll show up to win. I hope you have a win today, too.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Merry-Go-Round

My husband makes very good chocolate martinis, and that is turning into a very bad thing, especially considering how many episodes of "Dirty Jobs" I have on my DVR and how much I enjoy a chocolate martini when watching Mike Rowe, who is arguably the cutest man on television, which I can say guilt-free because I have been told by more than one person that he looks a lot like my husband. Only my husband is cuter and funnier and sweeter. And I am not just saying that because it is true. I am saying that because we carpool.

But anyway, back to the martinis. I'm pretty sure that chocolate martinis are the exact opposite of what I need to be drinking one month out from a fitness camp. But the fact that I keep ordering one is a big flashing neon sign that I am treading into very dangerous waters: the seas of self-sabotage.

I do this from time to time. I set a goal, and I do a lot of smack talk about how I am going to totally tear it up, and then as the goal gets closer I freak out and find little ways to sabotage myself. It's for this reason that I stopped putting deadlines on my fitness goals. I much prefer to work towards a nebulous "future" rather than a very concrete reality.

But here's the thing - I don't live in a nebulous future. I live in an actual reality where each day is a brand new opportunity to either rock or flop. I am sick of training for something I never do. So, I signed up for this fitness camp, a 5k, and a triathlon. It's time to put my money where my mouth is.

That leaves me one month to drop the rest of my body fat and build up my endurance. No pressure, right?

So I met with Awesome early one morning to go over my nutrition and training schedule and got all diabolical on him. I told him that I did not want anyone coming into the gym who was in better shape than me who did not put in the work that I do. He told me that he can't help genetics. I told him that I did not want anyone coming into the gym who was in better shape than me who did not put in the work that I do. He told me that I am the only one who can determine how much work I do. I told him that I did not want....well, I think you get the point. I said it over and over to drive home the point that I am completely committed to doing the most I can do to be the most efficient version of myself that I can be. And then I quit talking and got to work.

Of course I know that I can't drop the rest of my body fat and build up my endurance in a month, no matter how many times I annoy Capt. Awesome by robotically repeating my goal. I can make a lot of progress, but it's unrealistic to think that I will accomplish in one month something that I have been working on since before I learned how to drive. (Some would say that I still don't know how to drive, and those people would have a good point.)

So, the goal still stands. Of course it does; I go whole-hog on this every day. But, it's a journey, not a destination, and I want to make the transition from seeing each goal as a stop sign and seeing it more as a merge... meaning, I want to continue to evolve in my level of fitness and not put so much pressure on myself to be 100% awesome every single day. In theory, that would be a good thing. In practice, we'll see. I really kind of dig trying to be 100% awesome every day.

So back to the martinis: they're bad for me and not getting me any closer to my goal so I need to stop drinking them. And back to perfectionism related to goal achievement: it's bad for me and not getting me any closer to it so I need to stop beating myself up.

How 'bout I pick one? :)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Change is Hard. Who knew?


So one of my resolutions is to pay more attention to my need for rest, right? *yawn* And take breaks and sleep more and not feel like a slacker for *stretch* doing so, right? So when does everyone freak out when I do that? *yawn* Man, is anyone else so tired?!? I could pull a George Costanza and curl up under my desk for a nap right now.

Last Monday started like any normal morning. I stumbled into the gym at 4:55, groggily hung up my keys and jacket on my little hook, mumbled with Awesome about our respective weekends, and headed to my trusty treadmill to wake up. I pushed my little buttons and put on my headphones and started my run as usual. Well, kind of as usual. For some reason, my usual 9:30/mile pace felt like I was trying to keep up with a cheetah. I stopped to catch my breath and looked at the machine. What was different? Nothing. I started running again, and again felt the belt run away without me. Either this treadmill was wacked out or I was. I voted for the treadmill.

The next day, the same thing happened. I had to bump it down to 5.5 just to keep from falling off the back of the treadmill. After 15 minutes, feeling hurt and betrayed, I gave up and hopped on the elliptical. Was it something I said? Why did I suddenly suck so bad?

On Wednesday I shot a frosty look at my former friend and made a big production of shunning the treadmill to do bike intervals instead. It didn't matter. The rest of my workout was laggard, tired, and sluggish. On the drive to work I had a hard time keeping my eyes open. At my desk, I wanted to fall asleep. In complete contrast, later in the day I ran an easy 3.5 miles at 8:57/mile and wolfed down calories like a sumo wrestler. What was going on with me?

Some of my supportive and oh-so-hilarious friends had a great time speculating on what stage of early pregnancy I was in. (Stop doing the happy dance, mom. I'm not. I checked.)

But fatigue....intense hunger....more irritability and bossiness than usual.... something was up. Suddenly, my New Years Resolution came rushing back to me and I realized that this must be my body's way of telling me to take a break. Wow, it worked! After a quick panic debate in my head (I'll spare you the psychotic details of that) I made a bold decision: on Thursday morning, I would sleep in.

But I set my alarm that night just in case I changed my mind.

When 4:00 rolled around and some random music began to play in my ear, I said a quick prayer of redemption and turned that sucker off. I ignored the nagging sense of regret in the back of my head all day and reminded myself that rest was supposed to be a good thing and that other people even claim to enjoy it.

Then, the following Tuesday, after unremarkable but fine workouts Friday and Monday, I showed up to my usual Tuesday/Thursday crowd. I had barely taken off my headphones before I heard, "WHERE WERE YOU???" "Are you sick again?" "I had to do dead lifts all alone!"

No, I told them. I just took a rest day. I could tell they didn't believe me.

Eyes narrowed. "That doesn't sound like you," one of them said skeptically.

She was right; even I didn't recognize this person who was okay with taking a break and slacking off for a day. It felt weird and I didn't really like it. But, just as I made a goal to work as hard as I can to reach my MGP, I made a goal to take better care of myself and rest when I needed to. And, damn it, I just can't ignore a goal.

So, I'm changing, however begrudgingly. I still believe that we're either working towards our goals or away from them, and nothing gets accomplished by doing nothing. But this rest thing...well...I hope it gets easier and at the same time, I hope it doesn't.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Excuses? Call me when you're done with those.

The motto at the gym where I work out is, "eliminate excuses." It is printed on t-shirts, on the gym's website, and even on a digital billboard near my house. The billboard also says that my gym is the "Cheers" of gyms, which is pretty much true because it's small and everyone does know your name. But instead of sitting around and drinking beer, we heckle each other from our respective cardio machines.

Excuses are one thing I have absolutely no tolerance for. I spend a lot of my time talking about wellness, helping people devise plans for becoming healthier, cheering my friends along to meet their goals, and supporting my friends who are discouraged. There is almost no end to the effort that I will put in to helping someone reach a goal. But as soon as someone pulls out an excuse, my time becomes very limited. I just have no patience for people who make excuses.

Seeing the motto to eliminate excuses brings me back about 15 years to college, when I can recall chewing someone out about their constant habit of making excuses for why they couldn't do this or that. I don't remember the details, I just remember being at my wit's end, completely losing my cool, and angrily explaining that there is a difference between a reason and an excuse and that until they understood that I didn't want to hear anything about why their life sucked. I have no idea what happened after that. She probably added me to her list of people to drop a piano on someday.

That stuck with me for a long time and eventually became one of my personal mantras. I am a firm believer that we make time for what is important to us, and that the things we never get around to doing just aren't important enough yet. So when I hear that someone doesn't have time to exercise or prepare healthier meals, it's no biggie. It's just not important enough for them to find a way.

When someone says that they can't exercise because they have kids (take them with you), or because they work too late (get up earlier), or because their foot hurts (go to the doctor), or because they have a bad back (get in the pool and swim), or because it is too expensive (a jog around your neighborhood is free)....they're really just saying that it's not important enough. That's cool. Just stop complaining about being tired, overweight, and in pain until you're ready to do what is necessary to change those things.

And, when I find myself saying that I don't have to run the whole route because my knee hurts, or that I can do 12 reps instead of 15 because I am tired, or that it's okay that I didn't drink much water today because I was busy, I am quick to catch myself in those excuses and remind myself to stretch before I run, get more sleep so I can lift more, and plan better so I don't leave my water bottle on my desk before meetings.

I've been catching myself in an excuse lately, and it is bugging me. I don't like hearing myself justify poor behavior and downplay the significance of small diversions. So I am taking this chance to call myself out and remind myself of the difference between a reason and excuse - and that there are really no good reasons for bad habits.

Can we ever really eliminate excuses? Definitely! You'll be amazed how much easier your goals are to accomplish when you do. Try it today and see if you notice a difference in the number of opportunities that suddenly open and wait for you to walk through them. Just be sure to leave your baggage at the door.