Monday, April 30, 2012

In case you wanted me to spill my guts out...

It's a funny thing, people's reactions to the words "I registered to run a half marathon." I have noticed that these reactions fall into two categories: ecstatic (from the running community) or confused (everyone else). I have come to learn that the running community is the single most supportive group of people I have ever encountered. Ever! I am so grateful for every single one of you that has crossed my path. Most of the people I associate with on a regular basis fall into the confused category. This, in part, is the reason that until tonight I had not told my parents about my goal to run a half marathon. In fact, I technically only told half of my parents - I figure dad will fill mom in one of these days.

A quick note about mom: I love the woman dearly, I do. But we have always had a strange relationship, especially when it comes to my weight. I don't remember a time, not even as far back as the 4th grade, when I was not considered overweight. I have also always had "issues" when it came to food and overeating. My mother is a pretty healthy person and we didn't really grow up around much junk food. As a result, the times when I was exposed to such tempting treats, my brain would set off an alert akin to "EAT ALL OF THE THINGS!"

I vividly remember a day when mom was occupied with one of her many errands. I snuck into the kitchen and made myself an ice cream sundae, complete with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. When I heard mom's footsteps I grabbed my sundae and took off running toward the bathroom, where I barricaded myself and began inhaling the ice cream. She of course knew something was up and starting banging on the door asking what was going on in there. I made up an excuse that she did not believe and when she demanded that I open the door, I hid the sundae under the sink for fear she would discover my secret. The mask of shame on my face told her everything she needed to know and she quickly discovered my little sundae secret. (I will spare you the details of the beating I received.)

This is not healthy behavior y'all. Read that paragraph again and substitute your drug of choice for every mention of ice cream or sundae and it reads pretty much the same. Food was my drug. Memories like this remind me of how far I have come. Just today I sat in a room full of people who were happily shoveling one, two, three pieces of cake into their mouths and I chose not to have even one bite. I sipped my water quietly, remembering all of the moments when I wasn't strong enough to sit back and resist food. Several people asked why I wasn't having any cake and I truthfully told them I simply wasn't hungry. They applauded my willpower and I applauded myself for having the strength to say no.

I don't want to delve too deep into my issues here but my parents have always given me the feeling that I wasn't good enough. My mother in particular has always had something to say about my weight or my eating habits, which in turn fueled my self-hatred and caused me to eat more. Once, upon being told by mom that I'd disappointed her, I replied, "This is not the first time I have disappointed you and it won't be the last, so get used to it." A very true statement but it doesn't lesson the impact her judgement has had on me.

It really saddens me to admit but I can only recall two instances when my mother has complimented my appearance. Once was several years ago, on the fourth of July. I had lost about 30-40 pounds at that point and felt comfortable wearing shorts for the first time in years. She looked me up and down and said "You look great." The words are burned into my memory because they hit me like a ton of bricks. Recently I had my picture taken as part of a group photo for work and when I showed it to my mother she first said "Where are you?" and then... "Of course, you look the best." Excuse me? I'm still not sure I heard her correctly but it meant something to me all the same. With only those two instances to draw from, you might see now why I am hesitant to offer up the idea of taking on difficult goals that are close to my heart.

It was with careful consideration that I chose tonight to reveal my half marathon plans to my father. He is, after all, one of my running inspirations. When I said those magic words, "I registered to run a half marathon," he chuckled to himself and replied "You must really enjoy running." I told him that I do, that it gives me time to reflect on my life and that it brings me peace. "That's great," he said. "You know, I never picked up a weight until I was 30. I'm sure you don't remember me working out much while you were growing up." He was right. I remember him taking kung fu classes and that we had a punching bag in the basement, but that's about it.

In his indirect way he was saying that he was proud of me and that it's never too late to find a passion or follow a dream. Whether the sentiment was stated or implied, I get it and that's enough for me. If there's one thing that I have learned in my adult life it's that strength comes from within. I have finally tapped into that part of myself that doesn't require the approval of others. I am proud of the woman I have become and I am confident that I will meet the goals I continue to set for myself. My biggest supporter has turned out to be the biggest surprise of all: myself.

Foodie Penpals - April Edition

The Lean Green Bean

A couple of months ago my friend Knittnerd told me about a program called Foodie Penpals. It's like a traditional penpal but better because you send each other FOOD. Yay, food. Once you are matched up with a penpal you exchange emails to discuss your likes and dislikes, then you get to go shopping! Food... shopping... it doesn't get much better than that, friends! April was my first month trying the program and I had a blast. I was paired up with my two penpals - one who shopped for me and a different penpal who I shopped for & sent to (this keeps it interesting).

My penpal Andie from SeaSalt & Pepa (don't you love that blog name?!) asked if I had any dietary restrictions, etc and I filled her in. A short while later I received a box full of deliciousness and a sweet note from Andie. She sent me a variety of her favorite healthy snacks and I was thrilled to see that many of them were items I had never tried before! Here's what was in the box:

Organic yogurt snacks (strawberry) - This made me smile because it says "for babies & toddlers" and we all know I'm a toddler at heart. Andie assured me they are not just for kids! I have not had a chance to try these yet but they sound delicious.

Tangy pineapple chips - As you can see from the photo, I pretty much tore into them as soon as I had them in my grabby little hands. I have never tried anything like this and they are AMAZING. Must find a local equivalent asap.

Organic strawberry fruit strip - YUM! It's like a fruit roll-up for grownups! And really, who doesn't love a fruit roll-up?

Larabar (banana bread) - I love me some Larabars. They are made of fruit and nuts, and everything on the (short) ingredient list is easily recognizable. This was breakfast one day. In hindsight I wonder if I could have popped it in the microwave for a few seconds... anyone ever tried that before?

Black olive tapenade - Oh yes, get in my belly. I haven't opened this yet but I know it will be amazing because I love, love, love everything about olives. I'm afraid to bring it to work because I don't want anyone to "mistake" it for theirs (although the company I keep at work have a palate more inclined toward doritos & mountain dew).

Nut mix - This delicious little packet had all of my favorite nuts in it: pecans, walnuts, pistachios and almonds. Plus there were dried cranberries, hello! Oh, I say was because they've since been snacked on. Yum!

Andie was such a great penpal for my first time participating. I can't wait to see who I'm paired up with next month! If you'd like to see the goodies I picked out for my penpal Jane, keep your eyes tuned to her blog Ramblings of a Pooh. She just ran her first 10k and I'm so proud of her!!

- - - - -

And now it's time for some details about Foodie Penpals.  Here’s some info on what the program is all about:

-On the 5th of every month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions.

-You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal!
-The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats! The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe…use your imagination!

-You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)

-Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you are to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month. 

-Foodie Penpals is open to US & Canadian residents.  Please note, Canadian Residents will be paired with other Canadians only. We've determined things might get too slow and backed up if we're trying to send foods through customs across the border from US to Canada and vice versa.

If you’re interested in participating for May, please CLICK HERE to fill out the participation form and read the terms and conditions.

You must submit your information by May 4th as pairings will be emailed on May 5th!

*If you're from somewhere besides the US, Canada or Europe and want to participate, send Lindsay an email and she'll see if there's enough interest this month!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Listen all y'all, it's a sabotage

I've been a slacker lately, as far as blogging goes. It should come as no surprise that I have also slacked off in the working out & eating well departments too. The last two weeks have been rough. It started off with some weird stomach bug and I wasn't sleeping well and it snowballed in to big fat laziness. I went four days without running or working out and let me tell you, there's a fine line between enough rest and too much rest. I didn't just cross the line, I peed on it. I didn't log my meals for pretty much an entire week and when I stepped on the scale this morning, it showed. I gained almost four pounds over the last two weeks. No bueno, my friends.

I always used to roll my eyes when skinny people would say they needed to lose five pounds so their pants would fit better. Yeah, five pounds, what could that possibly do for you? I'll tell you what... the skinny folk are right. I gained less than five pounds but I can FEEL it and I don't like that feeling at all. Here's something that I think people can maybe relate to: self-sabotage. If you've ever tried repeatedly to lose a significant amount of weight, you are probably familiar with the idea.

Two weeks ago I was at the lowest weight I can remember being in my adult life. I was approximately three pounds away from a HUGE milestone (I refuse to share details about this until I actually cross that line). I should have been ecstatic and I was, sort of. I had just run my first 5K and finished with a time I was very proud of. Then something weird happened... it felt almost like a post-race depression. I no longer had that race-day excitement to look forward to and I felt a little lost.

At the encouragement of some friends, I signed up for a half-marathon even though I've only ever run one 5K before... two weeks ago. [Note: You can see a list of races I'm contemplating here.] Curious and excited, I began to look into half-marathon training plans. Then the doubts started to creep in, those ugly little bastards. "What am I doing?" "You can't even run 5 miles let alone 13.1." I started to believe them and I started to feel sorry for myself. For the record, this is never productive.

I neglected to do my Sunday meal prep and then panicked when I didn't have any prepared foods to bring to work. I don't like eating when I first wake up so I usually bring oatmeal or cereal with me and eat breakfast in the office. Last week I was lucky if I remembered to grab a banana as I ran out the door. You can imagine that I was positively starving by the time lunch rolled around and so I stuffed myself silly until my stomach literally ached.

This week I picked myself up and started back with my regular routine on Tuesday.As usual I had a great time at Zumba. My run Wednesday was not pretty, nor was it fast but it got done and that's all that matters. Yesterday was Zumba again and I realized how much I truly look forward to that class. My running can sometimes feel too serious because I'm constantly calculating and judging myself. Zumba is mostly the opposite where I can just be silly and let loose and I love it for that reason. I have noticed that the faster a song is, the better I dance to it. I'm pretty sure this relates directly to over-thinking; when the beat is fast there is no time to think, you just move. As a notorious over-analyzer, that brief absence of thought is blissful.

This morning's weigh-in was a nice wake-up call to turn things around. I went out and bought a planner so I can visualize and prepare for my workouts. I have already planned a menu for next week and will be making some diverse and flavorful meals such as jerk chicken and dal tadka. For breakfast, I'll be eating protein-rich greek yogurt with mix-ins (peanut butter, apple butter, granola, nuts, etc) and some fruit. They say when you fail to plan, you plan to fail and next week will be nothing short of success.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Go tutu, GO!

Today was one of the most important running days of a lifetime for the many who participated in the 2012 Boston Marathon. My magical running moment came a couple of days early but that doesn't make it any less special! On Saturday I participated in the Girls On The Run 5K. First of all, Girls on the Run is such a cool program that I was completely unaware of until a couple of months ago. They encourage young girls to embrace a healthier lifestyle (both mentally and physically) by training for a 5K race. I think they send a beautiful, positive message to young girls and wish I had known about a program like that as a kid! I am seriously considering becoming involved as a program volunteer once I'm more settled with work.

For many of the girls it was their first time running a 5K race. Coincidentally it was also my first time running a 5K! Though I have done all sorts of 5K charity walks, I have never had the athletic ability to actually run a race... until Saturday! Let me first say that after drooling over everyone's Disney Princess Half outfits earlier this year, Knittnerd and I decided we needed tutus for our Girls on the Run debut. We went to JoAnn's fabric store and bought supplies, then had a tutu-making party. That in itself was SO MUCH FUN!

We arrived nice and early on Saturday morning and took in all of the sights. We even ran into Heba from the Biggest Loser season 6, who has a local photography business and was snapping photos at the race! As the clock ticked nearer to start time, we unveiled our tutus and got ready to take off. We got a lot of smiles and compliments on our outfits and that made me so happy and excited, even before the race had begun! When it was time to line up, I got super nervous and quiet and checked all of my gear to be sure my HRM and iPhone were ready to capture my mileage and provide some much-needed background music.

Photo credit: Melissa Brady
Um, how cool are my new running sunglasses?!
Then just as quickly as we had lined up, we were off! It was such a blur that I don't really remember what I was doing or thinking other than "Run bang, run!!" Immediately after leaving the starting line we descended what would become one of many hills on the course (I thought the hills on my neighborhood route were bad... so wrong!) My thoughts kept bouncing from "haha I'm wearing a tutu!" to "holy crap I'm still running, this is so cool!" I ran for a good 5-6 minutes before we had our first uphill climb and I felt like I wanted to die. I drifted off to the side of the herd and started a brisk walk. Let me tell you it is both humbling and motivating to see 7 year old children flying past as your tutu-wearing ass walks.

At the top of the hill was a group of people whom I would later learn were the Pink Pacers. They had on the coolest hot pink skirts that were covered in sparkly stars, and matching pink knee socks. As I walked briskly past them, I heard their chant: "Go tutu, go! Go tutu, go!" They were cheering... for ME! It was all I needed to hear. My feet took off and suddenly I was running again. I kept looking at my heart rate monitor and knowing I was pushing myself a lot harder than I was used to but I kept at it. As I ran I took notice of all of the people of varying age, race and size that were running along side me. It was beautiful to know that for that moment we were all part of the same something.

As if that wasn't motivating enough, there were police officers strategically placed throughout the course to prevent traffic from crossing our path. Hello, I could not amble slowly past attractive cops, right? Every time I saw them, I had to run. If I could do a cartwheel without breaking my neck I'd probably have done that too. Anyway, I digress. At this point it was starting to heat up and I was really regretting not taking my bottle of water with me on the run. There ended up being only one water station along the route and by the time I reached it, it didn't do much good. Lesson learned.

As we climbed what would become our second-to-last hill there was another group of spectators with signs. I have no idea what any of the signs said because all I could fixate on was the wanna-be drill sergeant guy screaming "Move!! Do this! Get up that hill!" I'd have much rather had the Pink Pacers and their tutu chant but whatever, I started running again. The course took us on a trail that was far more narrow than the roads we had been running on. It wasn't overly crowded but it was tough to find and keep a pace because if you wanted to move faster than the person ahead of you, there was bobbing and weaving involved. Bobbing and weaving in a giant fluffy tutu... not so easy. I slowed down.

We ran across a highway overpass and I knew the finish line was close. As we started down the final stretch there were cameras and people everywhere. Every time I heard the word tutu, I smiled and gave two thumbs up. They could have been saying "man, what a shitty tutu" but they still got a smile and two thumbs up. The finish line was also conveniently the starting line, which means that first hill we ran down at the beginning of the race? Yeah, we had to run back up it. At this point I was mentally ready to be done. I beamed as I saw the sweet little old ladies dressed in cheerleader outfits, pom-poms and all. And as I crested over that hill I though to myself, "run as fast as you can... NOW!" And I sprinted my tutu-covered butt off.

I crossed that finish line in 37:50, which may be painfully slow for some but was an absolute best for me. I made a point of not setting any time goals for myself, it being my first race and all, but secretly I'd hoped I could get in under 40 minutes. I DID IT. I stood there in a daze for a minute or two and then somehow found my way to the water and recovery drinks. Once I'd begun to get my wits about me again, I headed back to the finish line to wait for my friends. I loved seeing the looks on people's faces as they crossed the finish line. Some pumped their fists in victory while others nearly collapsed in exhaustion. I screamed and clapped for every single one of them, because I knew how much it meant for me to hear the same.

 I am so proud of how far I have come - from walking a 5K to running almost the entire thing. I hear so many people ask "why do you run?" The answer is so simple for me: Because I can. Because every day that I run, I am doing something that I never believed I could or would do. It's never too late to chase down a dream. You might just catch it :)

Friday, April 13, 2012

We all fall down.

Tonight is the eve of my first attempt at actually running a 5K (as opposed to the many I have walked). I’m tired and anxious at the same time but mostly just excited. It’s a non-competitive race and I don’t have any time goals in mind. Basically I am aiming to run as much of the distance as I can (while wearing a gigantic fluffy tutu), to have fun, and to take as many pictures as possible. It’s going to be a good time.

I am finally home after a long week on the road! Today is Friday Weigh-day and I was pleased (and a bit shocked) to look at the scale and see that I lost 1.2 pounds, despite eating restaurant food all week. I did have the forethought to bring along some cereal, almond milk, protein bars and tangerines which was helpful. After work each day I would run back to the hotel and change into my workout gear, then hit the fitness center.

Me & the hotel elliptical on our final day together.
That’s a habit I have found really helpful in my workout routine. My mother taught me from a young age that business comes before pleasure. As a kid, I was not allowed to go outside to play with my friends until my homework was finished. I take the same approach with my workouts; once I have taken care of business, then I can spend the remainder of my time as I wish. It works well for me!

I had some interesting realizations over the course of this trip, one being that it’s OK to not finish everything on my plate. That may seem silly to some but this is a mentality that has been engrained in me from a young age. In elementary school we took a week-long field trip to a YMCA camp in upstate New York. We learned a lot about the environment and about taking responsibility for our actions.

Every day at lunch we would serve ourselves in a buffet/cafeteria-like atmosphere. Once we were finished eating we couldn’t simply dispose of our uneaten food. No, they made us put the excess food in containers which were then weighed and it was ceremoniously announced how many pounds, tons, whatever of food we were wasting. Now, as an adult it’s easy to see that their plan was for kids to serve themselves less food and therefore waste less. However what I learned at that young age was that if I did not want to be shamed for being wasteful, I had to eat everything on my plate whether I was still hungry or not.

Growing up in a large Italian family, that trend continued through my adolescent years. If you didn’t clean your plate, my mother, grandmother or aunt who cooked the food would bombard us with questions about what was wrong with her food. If you ate the entire plate, she would offer you a second plate because you obviously enjoyed the first and she wants you to be happy. It is no surprise that my hunger cues were completely desensitized long before adulthood.

So the other night when I was out to dinner with a coworker eating quite arguably the most delicious melt-in-your mouth slow-roasted pork BBQ ever, I stopped. I’d only eaten about half of the food on my plate but I was noticeably full. Reflexively I wanted to continue eating, because the food tasted so good and well, it didn't make sense to waste it. Why stop now? But stop I did.

Do you know what my first thought was after I put the fork down? I worried that the waiter would think I didn’t care for my meal because half of it was still on the plate. Yes, this really crossed my mind. But should I let a waiter, or a chef, or anyone other than myself dictate how much I should eat to be satisfied? No, I should not. That was a proud moment for me. Even as an adult I sometimes give far too much credit to what others think of my actions.

All of these thoughts were still fresh in my mind today as I was running errands. And as life tends to do, it sent me a message when I least expected it. Browsing through clothing racks, I didn’t see the young girl trip and fall. But the resulting conversation between her and her mother touched my heart.

Mother: Why are you upset, honey?
: Because I’m embarrassed!
Mother: You’re embarrassed? Everybody falls down. That’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Don't sweat it.

And you know what? ...She’s right.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Flex your willpower and run for your life!

Happy Easter, y'all! I should be packing right now but let's be realistic, shall we?! I will be throwing stuff in a suitcase as I run out the door. I've got another business trip this week, my third and final visit to what has seemingly become my second home over the past few months. Yep, my hotel home with the best elliptical machine ever and that cookie-centric table-of-deliciousness. I will be packing some protein bars and fruit to snack on but as usual I'm nervous about dining out all week. As I've mentioned before I rarely dine out in my daily life so when presented with the opportunity, my inner fat girl screams "EAT ALL OF THE THINGS!!" while my current self eye-rolls into oblivion. These are my internal struggles.

A quick update on my Zumba endeavors... I went back to class on Tuesday armed with an arsenal of tricks to prevent my plantar fasciitis from crippling me again. I used my new Zumba shoes but added my amazing Spenco insoles, secured my arches with arch bandages, took my intensity level down about 50%, and spent extra time after class stretching my calves. I'm not sure if it was one or all of those steps that helped but I woke up the next day with absolutely no PF problems - success!

On the running front, I am still working tirelessly at being able to run a 5K without having to walk any of it. It looks like this goal won't be accomplished by next week's Girls On The Run 5K but I'm alright with that, as it's something I signed up for on a whim and haven't really been "training" for. I've had some huge epiphanies regarding my running lately.

On Friday I was lucky enough to have the day off from work. It was a gorgeous spring day and I went for a late afternoon run. Along the way I encountered one of those temporary radar speed signs that neighborhood's use to reduce speeding. I never thought those signs would register anything other than a motor vehicle or some other fast-moving object but as I approached, the sign began flashing between 6 MPH and 7 MPH. A quick glance over my shoulder told me there was no one else around and I realized it was actually registering my run. Holy cool, batman!
When I got home I was incredibly curious to know how 6-7MPH translated in terms of pace. I googled MPH to pace conversion and discovered that at the time I passed the radar sign, I was running somewhere between an 8:34-10:00/mile pace. Uh, what?! That is waaay fast for this girl who rarely goes above 5.5MPH on the treadmill. No wonder I feel like I'm going to die on some of my run intervals. It got me thinking... maybe the reason why I'm still unable to run a long distance without having to take walk breaks is because I am pushing myself too hard.

I realized that on my run intervals I have practically been sprinting (for me). The reason I always have to stop and walk has nothing to do with how my legs feel and everything to do with the fact that I can't breathe. That can't be a good thing. So this morning I decided to do things a little differently. After my warmup walk, I started out at what felt like a jog. I ran past the speed sign again, which registered be somewhere between 5-6MPH this time (10:00-12:00/mile) and realized... I've never even run this far before without having to walk.

I ran past the tennis courts and past the nice man who stepped aside to let me pass him. I kept running until I encountered a car backing down their driveway and decided to take a break, lest I get run over. Today I ran almost an entire mile before I needed a break, and even then my breaks were fewer and further between. I think I may have discovered something here! By the time I made it back home I felt great and even though I'd run slower than usual I wasn't too terribly far off my previous paces but I sure felt better. My breathing was definitely more even and I made a point to check my heart rate more often.

I think all of these realizations will help my running tremendously. I will continue to make a conscious effort to slow myself down and push myself further. Unfortunately today was my last outdoor run until Friday. It sucks to spend the last week before a race on the treadmill but it is what it is. Oh and speaking of the race... we can now add tutu-making to my list of skills and abilities! Yep, I will be wearing a most poofy and sparkly tutu on race day and I created it with my own two hands. Super excited!! I hope to have pics next weekend. Have a great week, everybody!!