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.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rock'n Recap: Rock 'n' Roll Raleigh Half Marathon

Last Sunday, despite a lengthy break from running and training, I participated in the Rock 'n' Roll Raleigh half-marathon. Before I get in to my own personal experience, I want to send my condolences to the families and friends of the two young men who passed away during the race. Both men were in their early 30's and their deaths hit close to home for me. Though running sometimes makes us feel invincible, Sunday was a somber reminder of how fragile life is.

Downtown before the race.
Due to a foot injury that occurred back in November, I've done very little running. My "training" for this race occurred a mere month prior, with only a single 8-miler being my longest run completed. In hindsight it was somewhat reckless, but I did what I could with the time I had and was fully prepared to walk the whole 13.1 miles (or seek out the med tent) if necessary. My only goal was to have a fucking blast.

The fun began the night before the race. A friend of mine lives pretty close to the start line and offered to host a pre-race slumber party of sorts. We raided the expo and carb-loaded like it was our job, excited and anxious about the following day. I slept for a solid three hours before the alarm went off and then we were on our way. Everything from parking to gear check was an absolute breeze, much to my surprise. I got to see a bunch of familiar faces before the race including Alan (who was running his first half) and my official race-nemesis, the juggler. One thing I liked about the RnR wave start is that every single corral got an official send-off and it seemed to make things less congested, which I appreciated.

Pre-race selfie with Superman! Photo credit: Alan Ali
Alan and I had driven the entire course a few days prior so I knew we were in for a LOT of hills. I ran the first couple of miles with my friend Francesca which I was thankful for. I felt like I was running through quicksand and while I'm usually slow to warm up, that was pretty brutal. I could feel a tender hot spot in the area of my foot injury and my brain was already trying to figure out what I would do if it went into full-blown pain.
We ran past a church where the priest was outside blessing all of the runners, which I thought was pretty cool (it was Palm Sunday). I'm not the most religious person but I will never refuse a blessing or a prayer. As I continued my journey I smiled and waved to the lady holding a "Wave if you're not wearing underwear" sign. That sign wins my heart during every single race. I started to feel a little better. Soon thereafter we ran beneath an overpass that had members of the Shaw University marching band playing on it. They were outstanding and really perked me up; I wish they could have followed me around the entire race!

At some point after mile three, I finally found my legs and started to pick up some speed. There were so many volunteers and spectators out to cheer us on and each time I thanked one of them they'd thank me for running. I had heard some negative rumblings around town in regard to the race so it was a welcome relief to have the community's support. Mile four was awesome because it contained a water stop full of friends and familiar faces from my Raleigh Galloway training group. High-fives were flying and this is when I really started to feel energized.

I used to be very anti-social at races and just zone out and listen to my music the whole time but I have found that races are so much more enjoyable when I am present in the moment and interacting with the other runners around me. Every time I exclaimed "more cowbell!" or let out an excited cheer, the runners around me would perk up and get a little louder too. One lady thanked me for having the energy that she did not lol. I was wearing my Sub-30 Club "Suck it up Princess" shirt and so many runners would either shout out "Suck it up Princess!" or run up to tell me they liked my shirt. My #2 race tip is to wear something that makes you stand out - those comments from spectators and other runners absolutely kept me going! (My #1 race tip is to always carry your own water.)

The hill kept going and going and going...
Mile six contained the steepest of all of the hills during the race and I enjoyed myself a nice long walk break. There was something about conquering that hill that kept me moving steadily through the rest of that series of inclines. We entered some residential streets with adorable houses and friendly neighbors shouting "Welcome to the neighborhood!" and cheering us along with mimosas in-hand. I fully expected to hit a wall at mile 8 because 8 miles was the longest distance I'd managed to run during training. After high-fiving a series of spectators and signs proclaiming "Touch here for energy", I looked down at my Garmin and realized I was almost at mile 10... and my foot felt great.

I kept plugging along, walking up the worst hills and running down the other side. As we entered the Dorothea Dix campus around mile 11 my eyes were drawn to a series of yard signs. Upon closer inspection I realized the signs contained the names and pictures of American military personnel who had died in the line of duty. My run slowed to a jog as I made a point to read every name and pay a silent tribute. As I got further along in the mile the signs gave way to American flags, tons of them, being held by volunteers I later learned were family members and friends of the deceased soldiers (their group is called Wear Blue: Run to Remember, check them out). Tears welled in my eyes and I slowed to a stroll, thanking as many of those folks as I could for such an amazing tribute. I'm tearing up as I write this, it touched me that deeply.

By then I was almost at mile 12 and completely ecstatic that my foot was in no pain. I ran that last mile on a total endorphin-high and I was so stoked to see the large crowds lining the street as I approached the finish line. I heard someone call out my name and saw my training partner Rose smiling from the side of the road. I was so happy to see her there cheering me on. I spied a woman from my running group walking ahead of me and called out her name, urging her to run to the finish with me.

The closer I got to the line the more excited I got, and the faster I went. I started passing people until I got to one man who saw me approaching and suddenly started moving faster, both of us looking over and acknowledging that this was a foot race. He edged me out at the finish but we were both grinning as we crossed the line and he gave me a fist-bump. One of the most memorable race finishes I can recall, and I was beaming. After grabbing some finish-line grub I found Rose and cheered the rest of my friends to the finish. I was thrilled to see Alan fly down the chute and complete his first half-marathon, which was incredibly inspiring.

Smiling all the way. Photo credit: Jon Baker
I went in to this race intending only to finish pain-free and with a smile on my face, and I'm overjoyed that I accomplished both. Being able to cruise through this race with no time goals really allowed me to enjoy the experience in its entirety, and though I was far from being the first to cross that finish line, I definitely came out a winner.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Power of Progress

Tonight was an eye-opener. We did kettle bell swings in bootcamp and I convinced myself to use a 40 lb kettle bell. The guy across from me was using the same size and making it look easy. Meanwhile I was making all sorts of crazy faces in his direction as I swung that thing, and yet I did it... 120+ times. I may have even grunted once or twice (OK, I definitely grunted). After that fun we "took a break" aka we ran 400m and I was the second one to finish. The guy that came in behind me playfully punched my arm and said "nice job, speedy." It's not every day that someone calls me speedy. That may have been the first time ever.

My new hobby is buying obnoxious gym shirts.
Later in the class, when we were stretching, the woman beside me asked if my clothes were fitting differently because she could tell my body was changing. Another girl chimed in and confided she'd admired my form during Friday's push-up-heavy WOD. Having spent so much of my life trying to be invisible, it felt different to be noticed (a little weird, honestly). As I sat there with my legs outstretched, gripping my feet, I marveled at the fact that four months ago I could barely touch my toes.

I don't tell you these things to brag, though I am proud of my accomplishments. I share these things because sometimes I need to type or say them aloud to see their truth. For a very long time I was afraid to step outside of what was comfortable. I did not have a network of supportive people surrounding me. Then one day I found the courage within myself to change it all. You might expect me to say that I haven't looked back but that would be untrue; I look back constantly because it's the way I measure how far I've come.

After class tonight, I had a conversation with one of my bootcamp buddies about the progress we have made in such a short period of time. Our strength, endurance, and flexibility have all improved. We both had childlike grins on our faces as we agreed that we have gained physical and mental strength, and that our quality of life was just... better. Looking back on my own progress I feel empowered, and I'm honored to be part of a group of people who feel it too.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Pushing the Limits

This week we were hit with a snowpocalypse that paralyzed the entire city for several days. Sadly this meant that my mid-week session of bootcamp was canceled. When we reconvened on Friday it was one of the most difficult workouts I remember!

I literally had sweat pouring off my face and at one point toward the end of round two I paused to rest for a few seconds. Coach asked if I was ok and through gritted teeth I replied, "I'm not done yet." She nodded and said that our class is the one that works the hardest and complains the least. You bet your ass I finished and finished strong. One of my proudest moments.

As if that wasn't difficult enough, I returned the next morning for a snow-day makeup session of bootcamp where coach proceeded to kill us yet again. I attempted my first box jumps, which I know I can do physically but need to figure out in my head. Jumping on a box is not scary, why does it seem that way? I want to find something I can practice on at home.

We did kettle bell swings, which I love, and I made a conscious decision to choose a kettle bell 5 pounds heavier than I had previously been using. It felt great but a couple of minutes into the workout coach came over and said "I want you to use this (even) heavier kettlebell." Oh, ok sure. That's one of the things I like about bootcamp - I am willing to push myself hard but there is awalys a point where I hesitate to push more. Coach didn't ask me to do anything I couldn't handle and I'm grateful to have that nudge toward progress.

One of my favorite parts of yesterday's workout was using the speed rope. I haven't jumped rope much at all since I was a kid and this was so freaking fun. I learned that I can jump rope continuously while hopping on one foot, which I guess is one of those things you don't think you can do until you actually do it. Then we were introduced to double unders, which is when you spin the rope under your feet twice in one jump. After four or five tries, I did it. What?! I couldn't get the rhythm down to string them together continuously (yet) but there I was doing double unders one at a time. Who knew?

This is the kind of stuff that makes me feel alive. I was never an athlete growing up. I played softball for many years but wasn't particularly serious about it and I hated running and pretty much all physical activity. I remember when I first signed up for DailyMile and it labeled me as an athlete and I scoffed because that was the furthest thing from the truth. I've been overweight my entire life but somehow along the way I have found, as my friend Dre put it, a warrior within. I am love-drunk on the feeling of doing things I never thought I could do and now I want to try even more new things just to see if I can do those too.

My point in all this humblebragging is that life truly does begin at the edge of your comfort zone. If I had never signed up for this bootcamp, or my first half-marathon, or yoga classes, I'd never have known that I could accomplish any of it. Am I the best at any of those respective activities? Definitely not. Does it matter? Nope.

Have you tried any new workouts or sports that have changed the way you view yourself? I want to hear about it!!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

January Recap

Today I was out shopping and almost bought a t-shirt that had a runner, a piece of cake, and a bed on it. By the time I reached the cashier I decided I wasn't going to buy it and I said as much. He asked why not and I laughed and said I really didn't need another t-shirt even though "I do all three of those things". He asked if I run a lot and when I told him I do he said, "well, it shows." I thought that was a really sweet compliment and it gave me a spring in my step for the rest of the day.

Like many people, I recommitted myself to my weight loss goals for 2014. I'm happy to report that January was a good month for me. As I mentioned in my last post I joined a CrossFit bootcamp, and now that I've completed four weeks of workouts I can wholeheartedly declare my love for it. While not perfect (I wish it was a longer and/or more intense workout), there are so many aspects of bootcamp that have been great for me.

I've found that having this scheduled appointment with myself really helps me to stay accountable. It's so easy to talk myself out of working out if I don't have a concrete time and routine planned. In addition to bootcamp I've started going back to my free Sunday yoga class and I realize how much I've missed it. I have also been joining some friends and acquaintances on their mission to hike a different local trail every weekend through the end of the year. It has been so fun exploring new territory while also being active!

As far as nutrition goes, consistent weekly meal prep has been my savior. Clearly the current theme in my life is planning! At a previous job of mine there was always talk about "setting yourself up for success" and I like to think that's what I'm doing here. Most of my eating has been what is considered "clean", though I'm really just trying to eat more-nutritious, less-processed food. I have gone out to eat in restaurants, I have treated myself on occasion, and I am learning how to balance it all.

On January 1st I weighed myself and took a bunch of measurements. I've experienced weekly accomplishments and disappointments according to the numbers on my scale but I've tried to hold out for the bigger (monthly) picture. In the month of January I lost a total of 2.6 pounds. I lost 8 inches (!!!), mostly from my waist and hips. My clothes are beginning to fit more comfortably again and I am generally feeling happier and healthier. Is there room for improvement? Always, but I think I'm off to a great start and I look forward to what February has in store for me!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Beauty and the Bootcamp

I get bored easily. This is true in so many facets of my life and even more so when it comes to working out. The two exceptions to this have been running, because I can vary my location, and Zumba, because there's a lot of variety within each class. The repetitiveness of lifting weights has forever bored the daylights out of me so for the most part I have avoided it like the plague. When I injured my foot back in November and was told I couldn't run for a few weeks, I had a lot of time to think. What I realized was that cardio in itself is not giving me the results that I desire and it was up to me to figure out how to make strength training fun. I've previously completed some excellent at-home strength routines and bootcamps but I always had a hard time motivating myself to do it alone.

So with a bum foot, a restless mind, and a growing waistline, I decided to seek out a group strength-training environment. I thought back to my experiences at Fitbloggin last summer and remembered two workouts that I really enjoyed: bootcamp and CrossFit. I took to google and found that a local CrossFit box was offering a bootcamp class specifically designed for those of us wanting to lose weight. Could that be any more perfect?! I made the decision to sign up on Christmas Day and gifted myself two months of beastmode.

Saturday was our bootcamp orientation and I showed up excited and nervous and unsure of what to expect. After signing waivers and introducing ourselves, we began with a 400m run. A run! It was my first time running since my foot injury so I was tentative in my steps but did not have any pain at all. We then began a workshop to learn some of the integral moves of bootcamp: push-ups, sit-ups, air squats, slam balls and burpees. I was grateful for my previous experiences with CrossFit because I was already accustomed to this stuff. I should mention that bootcamp tends to incorporate more body-weight exercises than weighted lifts, and it is not at ALL a drill-instructor environment. In fact I have never received anything other than encouragement in any of the CrossFit boxes I've set foot in. We concluded the class with a mini-WOD to tie everything together and I left with a smile on my face.

Yesterday was my first official day of bootcamp and it was assessment night. It was somewhat repetitive of what we did on Saturday, except last night our coach recorded the number of exercises we were able to complete in a certain amount of time. The point of this is to create a benchmark to compare our end results to and I'm super excited for the progress I know I'm going to make. I woke up this morning with burpee-bruises on my knees and oddly, this made me smile.

Despite wishing for more out of the workout itself (I know, I'm already crazy), there are some things I was really pleased with. My bootcamp class meets three times a week and as mentioned, it is specifically geared toward weight loss. As a result, my classmates represent all shapes, sizes and abilities. I really love this because some of the people I saw working out with the weighted equipment were ripped (I may have drooled) and a little intimidating. There were people in my class who could do 30 burpees and others who could do 3 and no one was shamed or put down. It was a very positive environment and there were modifications available for every exercise.

When we were asked to go around the circle and introduce ourselves, people started sharing why they decided to join bootcamp. The beautiful and healthy-looking girl beside me said that she wanted to lose weight and get to a place where she is happy with what she sees in the mirror. That made me pause and think for a moment. So that girl, who I consider beautiful, has the same thoughts as me? It reminded me of something I realized at Fitbloggin last year: you can't judge someone's history or happiness by their outward appearance. The most important thing I learned yesterday is that when it comes to our bodies, what we see as "needs improvement" someone else sees as beautiful.