Tuesday, April 28, 2015

It's not always rainbows and butterflies

Last night I had a meltdown. Looking ahead at the WOD programmed for today, I saw that it was a lot of handstands and wall walks. I cannot do a handstand. Inversions of most kinds terrify me. The last time we had handstands as a skill in CrossFit I stood and watched everyone else attempt them, too afraid to even get near the wall.

As a chubby kid, I didn't even bother trying to do the cartwheels that other girls performed so effortlessly. I'm a much stronger person than I used to be, but the idea of being upside down still intimidates me. I decided to confront my fears and practice wall walks in the safety of my bedroom last night. My arms couldn't even support my body weight in the plank position with my feet on the wall. Suddenly something I avoided due to fear became something I was physically incapable of doing. I lost it. I have tears in my eyes again just writing that. It was no longer "I don't want to", it was "I can't". "Can't" fucking sucks.

Lately running has faded to the background of my workout routine, with CrossFit becoming the priority. When I sat down to give thought as to why that is, it was clear that I'm consumed by comparing myself to everyone else. As much joy as running has brought me, it also brings heartache. I've attended one too many group runs that promise to accommodate all paces, only to be left plodding along by myself. I see people around me getting faster while I struggle to maintain consistency. When I have a bad run or don't hit my goal paces I somehow associate that with my self-worth. It's a slippery slope and lately my response has been to dig in my heels and say "I don't wanna."

Enter CrossFit: I've never lifted heavy weights in my life. As a beginner to anything, there is initially tremendous growth. I have progressed well with my lifts and as a result I've grown more confident in my abilities and in the strength of my own body. I think that's why last night hit me so hard. I know I'm not even close to doing things like handstands or pull-ups, but it really upset me that I couldn't simply place my feet on the wall and support my body weight with my arms. I felt inferior. I felt weak. Then I got angry at my body. If only it was smaller, maybe then I could support its weight. Ugh shut up, brain.

The reality is that there are people larger than me who can do things I can't, and size has nothing to do with it. I may not be able to rattle off 10-minute miles but I can run for 12 miles without stopping, and that's pretty fucking cool. My legs are so strong because they used to carry an extra 60 pounds of ME around. And my arms may not be able to support my weight yet, but they allow me to hold a barbell over my head without dropping it on my skull, and I'm pretty grateful for that too.

Someday, I'm gonna do a handstand.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Review: The Bicycling Big Book of Training

Last year was a tough one for me in many respects, but especially with running. I spent the majority of the year dealing with recurring foot pain (metatarsalgia) and occasional flares of tendonitis. It would've been easy to slip back into old habits and succumb to laziness in the name of injury, but instead I chose to fight back. I signed up for CrossFit bootcamp, which I grew to love and helped tremendously with maintaining my fitness. I also bought a hybrid bike. I had only ridden a bike once or twice since childhood, so I was pretty clueless as to what I was getting myself into. All I knew was I needed an outlet for physical activity, at any cost (holy hell, bikes are expensive).

As the months grew warmer, I teamed up with my cycle-savvy friend Rose and took to the local greenways. I attended a class via REI about bike maintenance and how to change a flat tire. I learned that I absolutely loved the feeling of the wind in my hair as I flew rather recklessly down "hills" akin to speed bumps. As I grew more comfortable on the bike (literally... ow), I started riding longer distances and exploring on my own. Tough rides started to feel easier, my speeds grew faster, and my legs became stronger. The time spent off my feet helped my injury subside, and between the strength I built through bootcamp and the endurance I maintained with cycling, I was able to begin running again fairly seamlessly.

I wouldn't classify myself as anything more than a novice recreational rider at this point, but as I see friends transition from running to triathlons, my curiosity about the sport of cycling has been piqued. When I was given the opportunity to review The Bicycling Big Book of Training, I jumped at the chance to learn more about the sport of cycling and how it might be different than training to run a half-marathon.

Disclosure: Rodale, Inc. provided me with a free print copy of the book mentioned above, for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way. 

The book cover claims to contain "everything you need to know to take your riding to the next level", and wow is that true. In fact, not only does the book contain information and training plans for various types of road races, but also for cyclocross and mountain biking. Sprinkled throughout are small nuggets of valuable information such as "pro tips", dispelled myths, and quotes from elites and experts in the cycling field. While some of the language used in the book was a little advanced for me (I had to look up terms like "attacker's wheel" and "gapped"), there truly seems to be something for everyone. The Bicycling Big Book of Training is organized into five parts, each important in the training cycle.

Part 1: Plan
A rundown on the fundamentals of fitness, such as the various systems our bodies use to function on a daily basis. If, like me, you enjoy geeking out over science and data, this chapter is an absolute gem. It goes in to detail about slow and fast twitch muscle fibers, and why VO2 max is considered "the best single indicator of fitness". As a runner these are terms I'm familiar with, and I found that much of this information applies across multiple sports. Also included under the umbrella of "planning" is a wealth of information about training components such as periodization, training logs and tools, how to find your optimal training zone, and why recovery is an important part of the training progression.

Part 2: Prep
Fuel and cross-training, two of my favorite subjects! If you've ever wondered what your ideal fueling and hydrating strategy should be pre-/post-workout and on race day, there's some great information here. It is so refreshing to see carbs, fat, and protein touted as necessary "building blocks of your diet". It seems everywhere I turn someone is villainizing one of the three, and this section contains thorough explanations as to the purpose and importance of each in an athlete's diet.

The Prep section also focuses on micro-nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, and which pack the biggest nutritional punch. Did you know that 1 tbsp of flaxseed oil has more than twice the omega-3's of 4 ounces of salmon?! Me neither! I was impressed to find a reminder to females to be aware of our iron levels. Iron deficiency is common not only in women, but also in endurance athletes. Um wait, I'm both of those! Years ago I completely eliminated red meat from my diet, and became anemic due to unhealthily low iron levels. My doctor looked me in the eye and told me to go eat a steak! I've been conscious of my iron intake ever since.

The other half of this section is dedicated to strength training and flexibility, and includes exercises that benefit both cyclists and runners. There are graphics accompanying descriptions of each exercise, which I find extremely helpful as a visual learner. Nearly all of the exercises can be done at home with the help of dumbbells and resistance bands.

Oh yes, I have a kickstand! Envy me.
Part 3: Ride
This is where things begin to get more technical, and I know I'll be referring to this section frequently as I ease in to riding again. The focus here is on bike-handling skills such as braking, cornering, sprinting, and climbing. There are tips and specific workouts given to help us improve each of these skills. I'm relieved to learn that I'm not the only person terrified of riding in a group, and that I can attempt to overcome my fear by riding with a couple of friends acting as my "pack" until I feel more comfortable.

Part 4: Compete
I don't intend to participate in any bike races in the near future but for those who do, this section is chock full of detailed training plans for every type of bike race imaginable. Not only does it break down each race type for those of us who aren't familiar with the lingo, it also provides detailed information about race prep, safety, and for the super competitive - winning the race. 

Part 5: Tend
This final section addresses the importance of post-ride recovery such as massage, compression, ice baths, and active rest. There are also chapters on calculating your ideal cycling weight based on your riding style (recreational to elite), and pain management/injury prevention.

Overall I found The Bicycling Big Book of Training to be an excellent resource for the cyclist wanting more out of the sport, regardless of your current training level. I know I'll be referencing specific sections as I ease back on to the saddle, and I look forward to putting some of my new-found knowledge in to practice this spring. Happy riding!

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Bicycling Big Book of Training, it is available via Rodale Books: http://bit.ly/BBBOT15PR.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Inspiration and adaptation

It's funny how much can change in a year, and how other things hardly change at all. At the beginning of 2014 I had an injured foot and was unable to run. I had no idea what to do with myself, but I knew I had to do something. With too many holiday indulgences and no running to offset the calories, I was hardly able to button my jeans. I took to the internet and found a bootcamp class at a local CrossFit box, and even though the idea intimidated the shit out of me, I signed up. It was one of those leap-of-faith moments that paid off ten-fold. When I stepped into the box that first day, I was so timid and unsure of myself. I stuck with the classes 2-3 times a week for the entire year, even after my foot had finally healed and I was comfortably running again. I lost inches and pounds, and gained confidence and strength. I learned that challenging myself was fun, even if my attempts weren't always successful.

Through bootcamp I met a woman who shyly asked me questions about running. I invited her to join the 5k training group that I was participating in, with the goal of a New Year's Day 5k. Yesterday she completed her first 5k with tears in her eyes, and it was so fucking beautiful to see. Her husband gushed on about how proud he was of her accomplishment, and she looked me in the eye and said "I wouldn't have done this if it weren't for you." That was a powerful moment for me, and it meant so much to be a part of someone else's leap-of-faith.

As for my own 5k performance, it was more than I could have asked for. I finally started running regularly (and pain-free!) at the end of September. I was surprised how well bootcamp had kept my endurance levels and conditioning up, and falling back into running felt almost seamless. I had always relied on run/walk intervals for my runs, no matter the distance, but I decided once again to test my own limits. Inspired by the words of some friends in the Sub-30 club, I set out to "get comfortable with being uncomfortable". After my first 4-mile run without any walk breaks, something inside of me clicked. It wasn't my body that was holding me back, it was my mind. From there I went on to eventually run 9 miles without any walking.

My goal for the New Year's Day 5k was to complete the race without walking, but secretly I also wanted to PR. I had run the course previously and knew what to expect, and my plan was to really push myself in the last mile. It was a cold morning, and as we entered the turn toward the lake there was a volunteer warning runners about black ice. There were some areas that were so bad that people were wiping out, and we had no choice but to gingerly tiptoe along. I had all but given up hope of achieving my goal, but I pressed on anyway. When I crossed the finish line I was shocked to realize I had beaten my 5k PR by 30 seconds!

Later in the day I sat and reflected on my race and on the past year, and what really hit me is this: you can plan things down to the last detail, but when life happens and the plan inevitably goes out the window, the magic is in how you adapt. I didn't plan to be an injured runner for almost a year, and I didn't plan for black ice on race day, but I did choose not to let those obstacles slow me down. 2014 took a lot out of me, but in hindsight I realize it gave me exactly what I had asked for: strength.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

For the Love of Running.

It's been a while since I've written anything here, as I was so sweetly reminded last night. There are a lot of reasons for my absence but mostly, it's difficult to write about running when you're not actually doing any running. The majority of my running buddies are currently injured or on hiatus and it's been tough motivating myself to get out there alone. I've also been dealing with some mental and physical obstacles of my own.

With today being National Running Day, I knew I wanted to wake up and get some miles in before it got too hot. I set out for my old familiar 5k loop around the neighborhood, and I felt pretty comfortable from the start. I listened to music on my run for the first time in a long time, and giggled when my fist-pumping song came on during the last .25 miles. I spent some time focusing on my form, and keeping my stride short, but mostly I just enjoyed it all for what it was.
After my run, I sat and reflected for a bit on what running means to me. I realized that today's run was purely for fun... and it hit me that I couldn't remember the last time I set out on a run simply for the love of running. I've been running to beat stress, I've been running because I was training for a race, I've been running because I felt guilty for overindulging. But none of those things gave me the joy that today's simple 5k did. There was no competition or pressure, no "should" or "have to". It just was, and it was everything that I needed. For that, I am grateful.

My race shirt from the Philadelphia Half says it all.