Friday, March 30, 2012

My body's too Zumbalicious for ya, babe

A couple of years ago I attended my very first Zumba class. I wish I could tell you it was love at first cha-cha but it was a complete disaster! It was obvious from the first song that the instructors were more concerned about putting on a show than they were about leading a class. To make things worse, the dance studio where the class was held was entirely too small for the amount of people crammed into it and there was hardly enough space to move freely. I felt like I spent half the class standing still, either staring at the instructor's feet and trying to figure out what was going on or immobile for fear I would crash into the person twelve inches to my left. It ended up being a very frustrating hour and I left vowing never to return again.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago: I found out about a Zumba class that is offered twice weekly at the local community center. It sounded like the perfect way to get in some cardio on my no-run days so I bought myself a pair of cross trainers with a pivot circle for easy turning. Those sneakers have been sitting in my closet for two months. Every time I thought about heading over to the community center to check out their Zumba class, I was reminded of that previous encounter and would anxiously push the thought out of my mind.

The other night I was watching the Biggest Loser and lo and behold, one of their workouts was a great big Zumba party. It looked like so much fun! There were people of all shapes and sizes dancing their asses off and every single one of them had a smile on their face. I can do that, I told myself. I mentioned it to a friend, who shall remain nameless for fear her head will get too big and explode (yeah, you!). Basically she said (and I'm paraphrasing here), Stop whining and do it. You will look stupid. Who cares? Suck it up and get your Zumba on.

...Fine, I'll do it. So last night I laced up my fancy two-month old shoes and nervously headed off to class. When I arrived there was another girl waiting outside the classroom so I struck up a conversation and found out that she had only tried Zumba once before - just like me! I took this as a good sign. Once the rest of the class arrived, I breathed a sigh of relief. There were only eight of us, with tons of room to spread out! It was obvious to the instructor that she had a couple of new folks in the class and I must say once we started, her cues were awesome!

As soon as the music began, I went hardcore. I have no idea what sort of crazy was happening with my body, my limbs were most likely flailing in all directions; but in my mind I was one of Sir Mix-A-Lot's booty chicks and I was gonna shake what my momma gave me. I think I was the second most energetic person in that room other than the instructor and she praised me for sweating. Let me repeat that: she praised... my sweat. I'm pretty sure "sweat" is Zumba code for "amazing dance skills", she just didn't want to hurt my classmate's feelings.

Moving on, we did the tootsie roll, we jersey-turnpiked, we danced to a song that I recognized from this video which I find both disturbing and hilarious. At one point the instructor's ta-tas nearly fell out of her shirt and she made us re-start the song as if it was our fault that her puppies were jumping ship. I felt myself drowning in the hot beats, my own sweat, and the "go white girl, go white girl, GO!" chant happening somewhere in the cockles of my heart. The hour was over before I knew it and it was a damn good time.

I am really pleased that I decided to give Zumba another chance. I have heard some people trash-talk it but let me just say, I burned 700 calories in one hour and did not for a minute feel like I was doing a dreaded workout - so worth it. I'm pretty much hooked now and will probably buy a 12-class package next week. My only concern is my stupid plantar fasciitis foot, which pretty much crippled me this morning. I'm not sure if it was the jumping, the new shoes, or the lack of stretching that was the problem. Next week I'm going to try the shoes with my Spenco insoles and make sure to stretch my calves extra good. If that works, I will become a Zumba goddess.

Have you ever tried Zumba? Was your experience more like my first, failed attempt or the second - sweet success?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

May the force be with(in) you!

I woke up this morning thinking about going for a run. I'm pretty sure I lay there thinking about it for a good hour before peeling myself away from the bed and lacing up my shoes. Have you ever been there? Found yourself thinking about working out but feeling almost incapable of getting your butt out the door? This weekend has been particularly challenging for me.

It seems that when I am working out consistently, I can't wait until my next workout. On the flip side, when my routine gets thrown out of whack and I miss several workouts in a row I absolutely dread any and all physical activity. It's hard to build up that momentum again once you come to a complete standstill. I need to continue pushing myself forward before I end up in a backslide. These are the lessons I'm learning as I gravitate toward a fitter, healthier me.

So, back to this morning: unlike yesterday where I put on my workout clothes and lazed around the house all day, today I actually made an appearance in the outside world. I figured that I would be rusty, having not run at all since last weekend, and decided to forgo my C25K training and just run until I needed to stop. I scanned through my various workout apps (I'm a bit of an app ho, truth be told) until settling on RunKeeper - which I've heard a lot about but had yet to use.

Um hello, where have you been all my life?! Basically the app does everything I could want - it uses my phone's GPS to track my route and mileage, it tracks my pace and lets me listen to my workout playlists, and it even talks to me at preset intervals to let me know how I'm doing. I don't like fussing with my phone when I'm running. Like Ron Popeil I want to set it and forget it. I don't have a fancy armband for my phone and I've dropped the blasted thing too many times to consider running with it in-hand. Instead I have a spibelt... which in all honesty is a tiny fanny pack (you will never hear me admit that again, so soak it in). I like to turn on my app, throw the phone in my spibelt and focus on my run, and that's exactly what I did today.

It was slow going at first but I pushed myself and felt my legs finding their familiar rhythm. We've had a lot of rain over the past couple of days and there were puddles and muddy bits everywhere but I happily ran through all of it. I have a pretty regular route that I run in my neighborhood; it ends up being a giant loop. Some days I go around the loop clockwise and other days I go counterclockwise. Today was a counterclockwise day. It's funny because no matter which way I end up running, I always seem to be going in the opposite direction of everybody else.

Last weekend when I went to the lake with Melanie, I ended up doubling back to cool down after finishing my run. As we passed each other, I stuck my arm out for a high-five. In talking about it later, we both decided it was our favorite part of our workout. The only problem with that is it was so exhilarating that I now want to high-five everyone I pass while I'm running! I sense some restraining orders in my future. The other thing that pumps me up on my regular route is the hills. The hills just about kill me but I feel such a sense of accomplishment when I push myself to keep chugging along until I get to the top. I am learning that my body can do a lot more than my mind gives it credit for.

Anyway, I loved hearing the RunKeeper lady reading me my stats as I completed each segment of my route. When I finally got back to the house, I realized that what I had thought was a 3.14 mile route was actually closer to 3.5 miles!! So... if the time it takes me to complete the run is the same but the distance is farther, that means my pace is actually faster than I had thought! Best news ever!! This was just the kind of victory that I needed after a difficult week. I hope you've had some victories of your own this weekend!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

If you ain't dirty, you ain't here to party

What a week this has been! Anyone who knows me knows that a) I like to sleep and b) I'm not a morning person (understatement of the year). This week some special work circumstances required me to be awake at 5am and work some 11+ hour days. By the time I returned home each night I was a cranky, delirious mess. I would scarf down dinner and face plant on to my pillow. Both my eating habits and my workouts suffered as a result. In fact, I couldn't muster the energy for a single workout all week.

When I finally made it back to the office on Thursday I spent the entire day standing or sprinting around the building, trying to tie up as many loose ends as possible. It felt good to be on my feet but was tiring nonetheless. When all was said and done, I ended up with more than enough hours to end my work week and was able to kick-start the weekend a day early. Hallelujah!

                                                Source: via Em on Pinterest

While browsing around my twitter feed on Thursday night I was excited to find a live chat for the Dirty Girl Mud Run, hosted by FitFluential. The Dirty Girl Mud Run is a women-only 5K mud run that includes hilariously-named obstacles for all abilities (Utopian Tubes, anyone?) and donates a portion of the registration fees to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Sounds amazing, right? I had heard about the mud run months ago and managed to persuade my friend Karen to join me. It didn't take much persuading at all, actually. Our conversation went like this:
Me: What are your thoughts on:
a) Hartland, WI
b) mud
c) wearing ridiculous outfits while doing a 5K mud run in Hartland, WI?
Her: a) Like, b) Love it, c) When does your plane land?
And so an idea was born. Karen and I both used to live in the Northeast, where we became friends. Then I moved south to the land of pork BBQ and grits and she headed home to the land of beer and cheese. We don't see each other nearly enough and I was thrilled to have found an excuse to get together. Our only obstacle was money. We both started new jobs last year and I only get paid once a month, which has made it difficult to line up our schedules to actually pay for registration fees, plane tickets, etc.

This brings me back to Thursday night's #dirtygirl twitter chat. What a fun time I had chatting with other women who are also planning to participate in the various Dirty Girl mud runs! I got some great advice such as how to prevent losing a shoe in the mud (duct tape the shoes to your feet!) and had a lot of laughs about the festivities (and apparently firefighters?!) that await us Dirty Girls at the finish line.

At some point during the chat, it was mentioned that @FitFluential and @GoDirtyGirl would be giving away free race registrations to five chat participants. How cool is that?! There were so many women chatting that I figured my chances were slim but I crossed my fingers and got lost in the amazing conversation.

Fast-forward to Friday when I received an email from FitFluential notifying me that I was one of the winners!! That email not only made my day but my whole entire week! I immediately texted Karen to tell her the good news and offered to split the cost of her registration so we can register our team right away (before the remaining afternoon time slots fill up).

I am so happy and so grateful for this opportunity. Recently I began to doubt that Karen and I would be able to get our funds together before the race sold out completely. Thank you FitFluential and for allowing me the opportunity to achieve my goal of participating in my very first mud run with one of my favorite people!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

March comes in like a lion... and makes itself at home.

This morning was a blast! My friend Melanie and I decided to take advantage of the warmer temperatures and go for a walk around the lake. I laughed so hard when she sent me a text asking if we were going to walk "together" or if she should bring her iPod. My friends tell me I "walk like a New Yorker". Hello, I may live in the South now but my DNA is still 100% New York. My feet know only one speed and apparently it is faster than the norm.

I did a 3 mile run yesterday and was fully intending to just walk the 3 miles around the lake this morning and give my feet a break. Somewhere around mile 1, my feet decided they had a different agenda and I ended up doing some running too. I was glad I did because after our workout we ended the morning with the 3 B's: burgers, beer and basketball - it's March Madness after all. Not a typical post-workout meal but definitely a good time!

March Madness is a term often used in connection with the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament. While I'm an avid fan of college hoops, this year "March madness" has new meaning for me and my increasingly-busy life. This month has officially kicked off quite possibly the busiest span of 3 months I've ever experienced. Most of it is work-related, as I have been and will continue to be traveling quite a bit until the summer.

I am also participating in a 3-week "orientation" program AND studying for an important certification exam. To give you an example of what I mean by busy, I will be traveling out to Nevada for the exam. I return from Nevada on a Thursday night (at midnight) and less than 12 hours later will be in a car driving up to NY for a cousin's wedding. Ahhhh!!

In glancing at my agenda for April I realized there are only 7 days in the entire month where I will actually be sitting at my office desk. Seven!! And yet, last night I decided that April wasn't busy enough and I officially registered for a local 5K. It's a non-competitive race with no awards or medals and seems pretty low-key. I figure it's a good opportunity for me to get my feet wet in the racing world (which, until recently, seemed like an alien planet to me). The date of the race should coincide pretty well with the end of my C25K training and it feels good to have an actual event to work toward.

I am also anxiously awaiting registration for the Dirty Girl Mud Run. A good friend of mine lives up in Wisconsin and we are due for a rendezvous. She is one of the only people I know who will happily run through mud and obstacles with me while wearing obnoxious outfits. I can't wait! The race involves more than just running in mud - there are walls to climb, fires to leap over and other random obstacles along the way. Who do I think I am?! I honestly have no clue.

Luckily that race is not until August, so I have plenty of time to train. I am definitely not in any shape to be doing all that stuff yet, which is why I was so excited when a coworker of mine offered to lend me his P90X dvds! I'm a little nervous to try P90X because I have heard that it's extremely tough, even for people in outstanding shape. I haven't started the workouts yet because I'm waiting on my shipment of resistance bands from Amazon, but the other night I watched one of the dvds to see what I was getting myself into. Holy crap! I think I broke a sweat just watching those badasses perform their reps.

I am not expecting any miracles from the program but I definitely think it will fill a void for me as far as weight training. I have been concentrating so much on running and have noticed great changes in my legs but my upper body is still very weak by comparison. My one fear is that I will be so tired from and overwhelmed by the P90X that I will not keep up with my running and will lose all of the progress I've made recently. Ultimately I will not know until I try it and so try it I will. If it doesn't work out as expected, I can always modify things so that they make more sense for ME. That is a huge lesson that applies to more than just working out and I am still pushing myself to fully grasp it.

Source: via Em on Pinterest

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Progress: I'm making it.

This morning I fully intended to sleep in until 8:30am but the sun had other plans for me. I've been up since 7am and refuse to leave my bed out of protest so I figure it's as good a time as any for a check-in!

Two weeks ago I came down with an awful cold and spent a good amount of time in bed. I was hesitant to weigh in that Friday because I knew any possible loss was a result of my illness and not my effort. I didn't want to see a lower number on that scale only to have the numbers jump back up a week later, when I started feeling better and eating properly. Ultimately I decided that I would be consistent and weigh myself anyway but make a conscious effort not to be affected by the numbers on the scale. Of course that's easier said than done and I couldn't help feeling a bit smug when I weighed in and found I'd lost 3 pounds along with my appetite. Worse yet it was a number that ended in "9", meaning I'd broken through a 10-pound barrier. I knew I had an uphill battle before me.

After spending so much time in bed I was craving some fresh air and sunshine. I ran outside for the first time in my adult life and completely fell in love with it. I had thought I was immune to the "runner's high" when I was slugging along on the treadmill but it was waiting for me just past those four walls. I've been running outside consistently now for the past week and I swear I can feel and see a difference in the strength of my legs. It's incredible. I've also been making a very conscious effort to discipline my diet and my mind. As much as I despise calorie-counting, it's something I must do until I can get my portion distortion in check.

Anyway, back to the scale. Yesterday was my first weigh-day since the 3-pound sick-week loss. I was soooo anxious stepping on that scale but I did it. With one eye open I peeked at the numbers and... huh? what was this?! I blinked my eyes in disbelief. Not only had I managed to maintain that 3-pound loss, I lost an additional .2 pounds! Shut up! Funny enough, when I first saw the number I didn't even notice the .2 pound difference and thought my scale had selectively remembered my weight of the previous week. It was only when I went to input my weight on my progress chart that I realized what a huge accomplishment that .2 pounds was. That tiny number in itself doesn't mean a whole lot in the long run but the fact that I not only kept off those original 3 pounds PLUS lost anything additional at all? That's huge to me. Perhaps victory is sweeter than cupcakes after all.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Let's talk about goals, baby!

Let's talk about fitness goals: my track-record with setting them has been mediocre at best. I am the quintessential Sagittarius, a restless soul reveling in freedom. I can be intensely focused on and passionate about something, only to be seduced by the winds of change whispering devilishly in my ear. As a result, my goals tend to be very vague and far-reaching. I am however a firm believer that once a goal is written down, or in my case published on the internet for all to see, it holds one accountable for their actions.

Tonight I have two very specific running goals to add to my list. Now, I'm not sure I should be adding to my list before I've even had the chance to cross anything off of it but both of these endeavors do involve the distant future. Admittedly one of these ideas was developed on a whim but because it is something that will take many years to accomplish and encompasses several of my other goals, I believe it's a winner. My second objective has a very special meaning to me and again is something to work toward down the line.

And so we have #1 - Run 50 Races in 50 States By Age 50. This goal was inspired by Chrisy, who is currently striving to complete 50 triathlons in 50 states before age 50. Realistically I am not a triathlete and therefore have modified my goal to encompass all races (with a 5k minimum). This means that several of the races I plan to run in the next 12 months will qualify toward my total! I've already got plans to create some sort of US map to chart my progress as I conquer the country. The reason I adore this goal so much is because it gives me a reason to travel, which is most certainly food for a restless soul. It also sets me up for a healthy future lifestyle. As of today I have 19 years to complete this goal (wanna know how old I am? you do the math). I have no idea where my life will take me over the next 19 years but that is a lot of time to accomplish a lot of things. Do you think you can meet the 50 in 50 by 50 challenge? Let's take this country by storm!

Next up, #2 - Complete the NYC Marathon.This is a more personal goal for me. The year that I was born, my father ran the New York City Marathon. His finish line picture hangs proudly in his office as a reminder of his success. As a child I viewed my father the way most children do, as if he were an invincible superhero. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. Through the years much of that admiration has been replaced with the reality that he is a simple man who has worked extremely hard to make a comfortable life for himself and family. Still every time I view that marathon photo, I can't help but see it through the awestruck eyes of a child. My goal is to one day run the New York City Marathon and have my own photo finish hung upon the wall beside his.

What goals have you set for yourself lately? What has been your biggest fitness accomplishment to date?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Success and nothing less.

It has been a roller coaster of a week for me and as usual the weekend just wasn't long enough. Work is keeping me on my toes with something different going on every week. The other day while planning out my calendar, I realized I will only be in my office for 8 days the entire month of April. Eight!! Yowza.

I don't usually like to talk about my job here because there's a touch of sensitivity involved, so please pardon the ambiguity but I have some thoughts I'd like to share. A few weeks ago I was told I'd be participating in an "orientation" of sorts. This orientation includes people of various disciplines who have been working for our  employer less than 3 years. Curious as to what to expect, I asked several coworkers about their experiences with the program and learned that due to the nature of our job there was an "optional" physical fitness assessment involved. My first thought was "Noooo!"

When I inquired further and found out that we were expected to run 1.5 miles in less than 12 minutes, my next though was "Hellllll noooooo!" I am still new to running and am struggling to run a solid mile without having to take walk breaks. I felt destined to fail. My mind raced back to my childhood, when I was overweight and hated gym class passionately. I was always the last person to finish the state-required mile run, mostly because I defiantly walked the entire thing.

Fast-forward to the present where I imagined myself running in slow motion around that track while my coworkers stood at the finish line checking their watches in boredom. Saying that the thought made me anxious is an understatement. After much reflection I decided to ignore the time requirement completely and focus solely on running the distance. I didn't care how long it took me or what anyone else thought, I was going to finish the run.

One day I brought up the topic of the assessment to a coworker, who looked me square in eye and said "You know it's optional, right? I'm not going to participate." Record screeches, party stops, what?! The thought of opting out of the assessment never crossed my mind. As I looked my coworker in the eye I was more determined than ever. "I'm doing it." I said. This was about more than wanting to be a team player, more than a run around the track. This was something I never would or could have done back in grade school or at my heaviest, 60 pounds ago. I was going to do it for the old me, for the new me, and for future me who will look back on this experience and smile as I meet my goals of running a 5k, 8k and half-marathon. I began what I'd like to think of as endurance training and made some great progress.

This past Thursday we had a group meeting to discuss our agenda for orientation. I read through the details of nearly three weeks worth of activities and nowhere did I see mention of a fitness assessment. As the team leader began going into more detail about the upcoming weeks, we learned that the fitness assessment would not be part of the program going forward. A large part of me was relieved but there is a hint of disappointment in there as well.

I'd like to think that everything happens for a reason and that maybe this was a test, a test that I believe I passed with flying colors. I didn't allow myself to be defeated by a goal that felt unrealistic. I adapted my mindset and created new goals rather than taking the easy way out and watching from the sidelines. Even though the reason behind the goal itself has been removed, the goal remains. I'm in this to win it and failure is no longer an option.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I ran outside and I'm still alive to blog about it!

I had a completely different topic in mind for tonight but scrap that, it can wait until the weekend. Tonight I must shout from the roof tops! I have had the most incredible day. Granted, there was no single life-altering "main event"; more so a series of little things that have kept a constant grin on my face all day. First of all, I seem to have finally broken through the drudgery of my cold! I have regained my energy, appetite and clarity of mind and it's refreshing to say the least. It doesn't hurt that the weather was positively perfect today, blazing sunshine and 80-degree temps; my body was begging me to go outside.

After throwing a most-enjoyable surprise pizza party for some coworkers, the "diet Coke break" crew decided to make the most of the sunshine. We are now five-people strong and it has become a highlight of my work day to get outside and get active with the girls! We challenged ourselves today and nearly doubled our walking distance to a total 1.5 miles; not bad for a work break! Cindy said her fingers felt swollen and started waving her arms in the air so in the name of solidarity we joined her and attracted quite a bit of attention from passersby. I love our crazy crew.

When I arrived home this evening I was amazed that the weather was still beautiful. Since it's been nearly a week since I've done any running (due to illness, not laziness), I decided to take a long walk around the neighborhood. Something I love about exercising outdoors are the smiles and waves of encouragement from others who are also out being active. Those little gestures make me smile bigger and push even harder. I was cruising along steadily when suddenly, somewhere around the one-mile mark my feet grew a mind of their own. Before I knew it, I was running. Running! Outside!! I'm sure some people would scratch their heads and say, "And? what's your point?"

My point is this: I can't even recall the last time I ran outside as an adult and it was so much easier than I'd imagined! In actuality it wasn't easy at all, just easier. For some reason I'd envisioned running outside would be similar to running with lead weights in my shoes; it wasn't. I ran like hell and then ran some more. I have no idea how long or how far I ran before I decided it was time to walk again. That's kind of the beauty of running outside. There are no digital numbers staring you in the face, no buttons to push when you want to increase or decrease speed, you just go. It was liberating in every sense of the word and for the first time in my life I felt like a runner.

It was at this very moment that a blur of a reality check man went flying past me. It literally looked like he was sprinting while I marched in place and all I could do was laugh my ass off. I may be more tortoise than hare for now, but one of these days it will be ME kicking up dust. I live for that day.