Fitness


When I read this bit of Born to Run I thought about how many millions of ways it’s applicable to my life – patterns I’d love to put a stop too, habits I’d love to kiss good-bye.  The more we resist them, the more they persist, at some point you gotta let them be, accept them, and even love ‘em to death.

Strictly by accident, Scott stumbled upno the most advanced weapon in the ultrarunner’s arsenal: instead of cringing from fatigue, you embrace it.  You refuse to let it go.  You get to know it so well, you’re not afraid of it anymore.  Lisa Smith-Batchen, the amazingly sunny and pixie-tailed ultrarunner from Idaho who trained through blizzards to win a six-day race in the Sahara, talk about exhaustion as if it’s a playful pet.  “I love the Beast,” she say, “I actually look forward to the Beash showing up, because every time he does, I handle him better.  I get him more under control.”  Once the Beast arrives, Lisa knows what she has to deal with and can get down to work.  And isn’t that the reason she’s running through the desert in the first place — to put her training to work?  To have a friendly little tussle with the Beast and show it who’s boss?  You can’t meet the Beast and expect to beat it; the only way to truly conquer something, as every great philospher and geneticist will tell you, is to love it.

 

Christopher McDougall

Born To Run

 

I found a couple of awesome quotes in Born to Run, this one made me laugh:

“I started running ultras to become a better person,” Jenny told me. “I thought that if you could run 100 miles, you’d be in this Zen state. you’d be a fucking Buddha, bringing peace and a smile to the world. It didn’t work in my case–I’m still the same old punk-ass as before–but there’s always the hope that it will turn you into the person you want to be, a better more peaceful person.

“When I’m out on a long run,” she continued, “the only thing in life that matters is finishing the run. For once my brain isn’t going blehblehbleh all the time. Everything quiets down, and the only thing going on is pure flow. It’s just me and the movement and the motion. That’s what I love–just being a barbarian, running through the woods.”

Christopher McDougall

Born To Run

 

I ran a 10k race on Sunday and was freaked out about it ahead of time.  I had not done anywhere enough training.

Doing a race in the summer is funny – when you plan it three months earlier you think, oh yeah I”ll be running all the time because the weather will be so great!  That sure didn’t happen.

You also think that it’ll be summer and you’ll have tons of time to train, right?  And then that doesn’t happen either.  Your running buddies are on vacation.  Or you are.  Or you imbibed too much on the deck the night before.  Your schedule is a mess.  It just doesn’t come together the way you plan.

So I found myself the week before the run thinking, hey even though I haven’t run 10km since last winter, i’m just going to try to remain calm and do my best.  Finishing is all I’d like to do, and if that doesn’t happen, i’ll live with that too.  Pretty zen huh?

That’s because the one positive thing I had been doing was reading Born To Run.  In a nutshell, buddy is a runner and because of foot pain is told to stop because humans just aren’t cut out for that activity.  He’s not ok with that.  So he sets out to research a tribe of folks in Mexico who happily run all day in next-to-no footware, wondering if he can learn how to run smarter.

It’s a great book because it’s fun and funny and because he completely debunks the myth that humans aren’t made for running.  The best part is that it makes you want to go out and run.

The race started well.  I yacked to my running buddy for the first while and then she had some issues so we ran separately.  It gave me the chance to put into effect everything I learned from The Book (BTR).

The big thing is form.  You want to keep your foot under your hip and then kick it back.  You want to land on the ball of your foot and then use your glutes to power it back, rather than strike with your heel, foot forward, welcoming every foot and joint injury you can think of.

The BTR points out how humans are the only bipeds with powerful glutes (a.k.a. big-asses), therefore we’re built to be strong runners.  Think of a monkey’s tiny bum, not the bum of a good runner.

Also, if you’ve seen the Kenyan racers run they almost kick their butt, they bring their feet back so far.  I couldn’t do that but I did try to put my glutes to good use.

That shorter stride form also helps you run smooth, you just sail along avoiding injury.

Also, swing the arms.  I tried to keep my shoulders low so I wouldn’t be bunching up but found that the arm swing kept a feeling of momentum.  Especially going up any slight incline, pumping my elbows back more gave me a feeling of forward and upward momentum.

I tried to be really aware of what was going on in my body.  I used to always be so damn judgemental about everything.  It well like this: “oh no, i’m feeling tired!  This is only going to get worse!  This is going to suck!  I’m sure that I’ll be in such total pain soon that I’ll be writhing on the road.  I will probably dead in 10 minutes!  IF I WASN’T SUCH A LOSER I WOULDN’T BE FEELING THIS WAY!!”.   And that was at the starting line.

Now i try to take a more zen approach.  Just see what’s happening and work with it rather than freaking and catastrophizing.

So if i noticed that I wasn’t breathing super-hard, i would take some deep inhales through my nose – to get extra oxygen and calm myself down.

If I was running on a incline I tried to take slightly shorter steps, swing those elbows and remain calm.  If i was feeling winded, I’d tell myself to chill out, it’s just a hill and it won’t last forever.

If I was on a decline, I would take a moment to catch my breath and then speed up my stride to boost my speed while the road was in my favour.  Whether it made a difference or not, I don’t know, but being able to pass someone and feel the wind in my hair sure helped my morale.

Another thing BTR mentioned is that the amazing tribal runners have a lot of fun while they run.  They use running as a way to enjoy being together, not as an excuse to be locked in their own ipod world.

I noticed when i was running with my friend and looked around that we were the only people talking.  People were running very seriously and very quietly and here we were yacking up a storm.

I tried to take the whole thing more lightly – when i dumped a cup of water over my head i fake screamed.  I tried out smiling but probably looked like i was baring my teeth and frightening people. I smiled and waved to folks on the sidelines.  Sometime in the last stretch I finally understood why people run marathons in crazy costumes.

That never made sense to me but finally it does.  Here we are – healthy enough to run, able to join a race and hang out with like-minded folks and enjoy snacks and trash talk afterwards.  What’s not to like?  Why take it so seriously? I can if I remain calm.

The last time i did a 10k, my goal was to do it in an hour.  Because of my sad training schedule my goal this time was to only finish.

But thanks to running like a tribal-woman and listening to my body, I had enough juice to kick it into high gear at the end.  When I crossed the finish line, the clock said 1:00 on the dot.  I have a new love and respect, for running.

I’ve started back to running again now that it’s spring.  Or here in Halifax, now that it’s monsoon season.  I don’t mind running in the rain, as long as i’ts not torrential.  I put on a ballcap to keep the rain off my face, something water resistant and i’m good to go.  I find that by the time I’m feeling damp, i’m also warmed up, so it’s all good. 

There’s never any danger of overheating and you feel so virtuous by the time you’re home.  It’s like you’re warrior woman, you’ve been out in the wilderness, survived the elements and oh yeah, got a great workout in too.

Being back running reminds me how much I love Pigeon Pose, both after running as well as the morning after running.  But in the a.m. you can’t just jump into Pigeon.  It’s really uncomfortable and you’re tight you don’t get all the benefit.  You know, if the fronts of your legs aren’t stretched out, you won’t be able to get your back leg very far back, and then your hips are way up in the air, you get the idea.

So *of course* we all spend lots of time doing yoga in between runs, but for those odd times when you’re rushed, here’s the fastest way I’ve found to get to Pigeon.

Tip: start with holding for three deep breaths but if you’re getting a ‘WHOA now *that’s* a good stretch!’, hold for another couple so you get the full benefit, clearly your body needs it.

Warrior 1 with Yoga Mudra arms – clasp your hands behind your hips, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you work on straightening your arms and moving them back, away from your hips.  I like to do this chest opening stretch to help my posture during running, and anytime.

Warrior 2 – after holding the pose for at least 3 breaths, i lower my arms and twist to the front leg side with a tall straight back.  This is a good stretch for all those supporting muscles through your spine.

High Lunge – bring your hands to your front knee or overhead to deepen the stretch. Really lift the back of the back leg to stretch the muscles in the front.

Triangle and/or Wide Leg Forward Bend – if your hips and inner thighs feel tight, make time for Triangle and Wide Leg Forward Bend.  A good way to stretch the inner thighs in WLFB is to twist by putting one hand on the floor underneath your face and stretch the other hand up to to the ceiling. 

Low Lunge – Place both hands on the inside side of the front foot and lower your body to the floor, coming down on your elbows if you can.  Stay here for a few breaths or change sides a couple times if you need it, transitioning through Downward Facing Dog.

Now your body should be ready for Pigeon. 

Pigeon – Stay here for a few breaths.  I also like to rock from side to side after holding to make sure i get a thorough stretch.

Come back to standing and do Standing Forward Bend, I like to interlace my arms and rock gently from side to side, getting some movement through my spine.  Also do a IT Band and quad stretch, the other godsend stretches for runners.

I find I  can do this series of poses in 15-20 minutes and address all my post-running tight bits so that i’m ready for some cross-training – or another run!  Happy running…..

I was at the gym this a.m..  It’s packed with the usual suspects plus all the folks that are there driven by post holiday guilt or a new year’s resolution, which is pretty much the same thing in my books. 

I feel bad for the folks just starting up because it looks so darn uncomfortable.  I’ve been there.  Once you’ve sat on your bum for a while not doing anything, it’s so hard to get going.  And if you were just starting for the first time at 30 or 40-something, well i can’t imagine.

I saw a woman on the stepper and she was barely moving, like it was all in my head.  Another woman had the resistance so high on the bike that she looked like she was in pain, hunched over the handlebars like someone was beating her with a stick.  I wanted to say, girlfriend, you’ll get there!  It doesn’t have to be today, lighten up on the resistance and have some fun with it!  But I was too busy hunching over my own bike ;-)

The exercise pundits say that anything more active than being a total couch potato is good.  Sure, the magic 3 times a week at some sort of intensity is awesome, but really any activity beats sitting on the couch listening to your arteries harden.

There was a bit in a recent Shape magazine where one of the women who lost a bunch of weight said that she found that being unhealthy and overweight is hard.  Losing weight and getting healthy is Hard and maintaining all that too is Hard.  So just pick your Hard.

I’ve been thinking about that.  Life is often hard in ways that we don’t choose.  Health issues come up, our loved ones, our pets and ourselves deal with difficult things.  There’s plenty of Hard that we don’t get to pick.   But I’ve also noticed that if I pick the Hard that allows me to take care of myself, there are plenty of long term benefits that make it less Hard, easy and enjoyable even. 

That’s different from consuming a container of ice cream on the couch in front of Mad Men.  That would be long-term Hard because I’d regret it in the morning.  On the other hand, the Hard part of having salad for lunch is rinsing and cutting all those lousy veggies.  After that it gets easy, the salad tastes good and I get to feel real Virtuous which beats regret hands down anyday. 

And I guess that’s why I’m all for trying to take care of myself even though it’s Hard.  If I can be fit enough then when I exercise it’ll be fun and give me a good endorphin rush.  Maybe by picking the Eat Hard path it will become more and more of a habit and therefore less Hard to answer the “what am i going to eat??” question.  

My hope is also that if I take care of myself then maybe I won’t have to deal as often with the Hard that I don’t choose, like health issues.  There’s no guarantee of course that I’ll never get sick.  But they seem to say that being active and eating your veggies are the two biggest things you can do to help your health.  So any Healthy Hard choices I make is all gonna help.

And I have to say, as I look at the folks I know who are older than me, it seems to be pretty consistent.  Those who have taken care of themselves have aged more gracefully than those that haven’t.  It seems like you can do what you want and get away with it in your 20’s and 30’s but once you get to your 40’s and beyond, the results of your bad habits really come into play.   And they’re much harder to turn around when you’ve picked Unhealthy Hard for that long.

And hey, i’m not a proponent of all-or-nothing on this health thing.  I just believe in doing my best to minimize the lousy stuff and maximize on the healthy things where and when I can.  All I can do is pick my Hard every day.

I’m someone who has rules.  Once i decide that things need to be done a certain way, from the great teacher of experience or just my own head, then it would take a freight train to get me off that track. 

So for example, running in the a.m. with an empty stomach is simply the best way to do it.  Morning, because if i wait it never seems to happen.  And I’m not really sure where the empty stomach came from.  I guess i assumed if I’d just eaten and then ran i’d explode or projectile vomit on the sidewalk.  Not the best way right?

The other Sunday morning was my sleep-in day. That’s the day where i get to lie spread eagle, alone in bed and maybe sleep, or maybe just listen to the noises of morning with two kids where I don’t need to do anything.  Absolute bliss.

By the time i got up Honeybunny was hungry, so was I and my awesome man was frying up some chicken bacon.  I’ve gotten sick of the fat in real bacon so we’re working our way around other options to find the best.  Chicken bacon isn’t so bad as long as you don’t overcook it. 

Honeybunny likes to do a Sunday fry-up and I like to participate but there was one problem – I was planning on taking advantage of the beautiful weather and get outside for a run.  Eating would break half of rule #1 of running!

But i’m trying to not be so rigid these days.  I’m trying to not need things to be a certain way.  I want to try the other ways too.  So I decided – I’m eating my fry-up and then i’m going for a run.  What’s the worst that can happen? 

Sure there’s the projectile thing, but hey, if my happy fry-up belly is bothered by the running i’ll walk for a bit.  I run for my mental health these days so it’ll still be a good one. I believe these days that the only bad run is the one I *don’t do*.

So i had Ezekiel bread toasted and an egg and a couple strips of chicken bacon.  I got dressed, tracked down my ipod, a hat, my shades, my sneaks.  I changed a diaper.  I found the door.  I ran hills for a half hour and came back bursting with with feel-good endorphins. 

Do you know that the Japanese believe that being in the woods allows you to breath the chemicals that the trees produce to save them from bugs and rot?  It’s supposed to improve your mental and physical health.   Maybe that’s another reason I always feel good after being outside.  They call walking in the woods “forest bathing”. 

The bottom line was that I felt fine during my run.  There was no sign of my breakfast anywhere.  Another rule successfully tested and broken.

I ran a 10km race in Wolfville on the weekend.  Wolfville is a special town to me.  Not only does it ooze quaint but Honeybunny went to university there and then we got hitched in the little brick church.  The town has great farm markets, good restaurants, a decent second hand bookstore and beautiful historic inns that serve afternoon tea.

The race route started in town, went out to the next town and then looped back.  I ran with a friend and she and I were having fun.  We were going for the pass, pushing it to get by clumps of people as everyone found their pace.  It was fun, I felt like I trained enough for this one.  Then there was a hill at about kilometre 7 and my friend ran ahead while I wheezed my way to the top.

I rounded the corner and the endorphins must have been cookin’ because I suddenly felt this rush of Amazing.  I was so grateful that I can propel myself 10 kilometres at any pace.  I was blown away by the gorgeous autumn day where the sun casts everything in a golden light.  I ran past a field of big round pumpkins and felt so happy that I live in this corner of the world.  I was so glad to have girlfriends I can run and be healthy with.

As I got into town I was having to work, not dying, but definitely work at keeping going.  I thought, I need a good song on the ol’ ipod, something that’ll really bring me home.  And an old school Beastie Boys song came on that I’d added on impulse the night before. I had to laugh because it was perfect. 

I ran into the track at Acadia University, found a little sprint in my heels, heard my name called out and looked at the clock.  My goal was to run 10k in an hour and the time was 59.30.  It was just perfect.

I decided to do some speed intervals on the treadmill.  I’m committed to doing a 10k race in a few weeks and my issue is that I suck wind big time.  So I figure by sucking wind more often I should hopefully suck less, from practice.

I planned out this workout during the night when I couldn’t sleep.  It was the night I decided not to give baby Leo a dream feeding.  A dream feeding is the 10 pm bottle you give a baby to help them get through the night.  He’s over a year now and I thought it’s high time to stop that nonsense.  Only I hadn’t cleared it with him. 

At midnight he had different plans.  He woke up crying like he hadn’t eaten in a week.  So I crept around the dark kitchen, got him a bottle and he downed it without taking a breath.  He crashed and slept like a baby.  I, on the other hand couldn’t get to sleep.  So I planned an awesome speed interval workout for the next day.  And I did that for a long time.

Of course the next morning I hardly felt like getting dressed but dragged my sorry butt to the gym anyways.  I got on the treadmill, it wasn’t one I was familiar with.  I couldn’t figure out how the miles per hour worked. I finally figured out something that felt “speedy” and did the first interval. 

It hurt.  I felt awful.  My legs didn’t move right.  And my thoughts went like this – this is really awful!  if the first one is this awful what will the next 3 be like?  they’ll be worse!  I’m going to die here on the treadmill!  My headstone will read, “wow she *really* sucked wind”.

But I kept going and you know the crazy thing?  The second interval was easier, and the third was easier than that.  Not like easy easy.  I was still counting down the seconds before the interval ended but it was more doable.  Like my body figured it out.  My legs got into sync. My brain said, oh yeah I remember this. 

Whatever it was, I did a bunch of them and I didn’t die after all.  So here are the 2 easy ways to stop catastrophizing and making yourself miserable:

1. Allow the possibility that it won’t get worse.  It might get better or stay the same, but it might not get worse.  You might be fine. You never know.

2.  If that works try going a step further.  Maybe you don’t know anything and you should wait and see.  I think it’s called Beginners Mind, you just look at the situation and go – wow I wonder what’s going happen!  Instead of being an old wise curmudgeonly person who knows from their reams of experience that it’s all lousy.  You just hang out in the moment and watch.

So here’s my plan the next time I do something that’s hard and painful and I’m going to do it again.  When I catch myself saying, wow was that ever awful!  I’m going to remind myself to also say,  but just wait, *anything* can happen.

I was doing really well.  I was taking the cup half full approach.  I was focused on enjoying my body instead of trying to change it.  My goal was to do something exercise related everyday.  It didn’t have to be a run or an hour of power yoga, it could be 20 minutes of yoga or some push-ups and sit-ups, but something. 

And it didn’t matter what I felt I *should* do, I was going to do exactly what I *felt* like doing.  I’d ponder my energy levels, decide whether i wanted to be outside or in, and then pick something that felt good.  It was working great and then I crashed.

I try to get on the scale only when I know it’s going to be a good story.   Why aske to be bummed out right?  Sometimes I ignore it for a long time and then I’ll look in the mirror and say, hey something good is happening here and I’ll consider The Scale. 

The other morning I thought, things have been going to so well that the scale has *got* to have a good news story for me.  So I got on and I was up a pound.  I was majorly pissed off.  I’ve been doing lots of good stuff on the eating front, exercising daily, you gotta be kidding me! 

And bang, i felt myself fall off the wagon right on my ass.  (big sigh)  I went into who-cares, nothing- makes-a-difference-anyways, i’m-probably-stuck-with-this-extra-weight-forever.  The whole BMW – bitching moaning whining bit.  I hate that.

All over a stupid pound.  It’s likely that i’m retaining water because it’s been hotter than Hades.  Or hormonal stuff is happening.  Or I’m just up a pound.  Whatever it is, it’s time to forgive myself and start again.

I’m not usually this all-or-nothing.  I can’t even completely do an “all”.  If I have ideas of doing a real spartan lifestyle thing it just makes me immediately want to eat a chocolate bar. 

I do detoxes twice yearly to keep myself on the straight and narrow but I’ve been known to sneak a glass of wine or a bit of cream in my coffee on those too.  I’m just convinced that too much asceticism isn’t good for the soul.  Or at least my soul.

I have a friend who’s very all or nothing.   She talked to me about how she completely gets on the wagon whole hog, loses a bunch of weight and the first thing that happens, the first slip and bang she’s off the wagon flat on her ass.  And promptly gains all the weight back.

I asked her what would happen if she didn’t climb completely on the wagon. If she did only one eating related thing and one exercise related thing. 

Easy stuff, like the 20 minute loop around the block twice a week.  Heck she could do that  in her sleep.  And lifestyle stuff.  The things she wants to do as consistently as possible for the rest of her life.  Not the crazy things we might be willing to do to fit into the too-small LBD we bought.

So she tried it.  She stopped her coke drinking and lost 6 pounds.  She tried some yoga and pilates DVDs to find ones she likes because those are easy to fit into her life.  And she’s using them to enjoy her body and not just change it.

So I’m going to do it too.  Tomorrow I’m going to start again.  Enjoy the fruits and veggies I got from the farmers market yesterday.  Ignore the cookies that I made during the hurricane before the power went out.  Do some exercise, anything that might be fun, anything that might help me enjoy my body and get my focus off that one lousy pound.

I haven’t run a race in a long time.  The last one was pretty hellish.  I did the Johnny Miles 10k in New Glasgow.  It was in early May which is a great time to do a race because it forces you to get into shape, and it’s the worst time to run because you’re in such lousy shape after a long cold winter.  The day of the race was damp and chilly and rainy.  I felt lousy because either I hadn’t trained as much as I thought I had or it was just a lousy running day.  

I felt good for all of 10 minutes and then it all went downhill from there.  The friend I was running with resembles a giselle in body and she galloped away from me at that 10 minute mark and I didn’t see her again grinning at the finish line until I’d plodded heavily around the course carrying 10 pounds in rainwater. 

The race ended with a nice uphill at the end, about the time when I was ready to die, it was all I could do to finish the thing.  I hated it.  I couldn’t drop my expectations and think, ‘oh well this sucks, so let’s just finish the damn thing.  No, instead I hated every minute of it and kicked myself for not doing and feeling better and keeping up with my friend to boot.  Afterwards I thought, now why do i do this again?  And obviously there wasn’t a good answer because it’s been years since I raced.

Until another friend and I started running together again.  We’d done the Navy 10k about 10 years ago and decided to do it again.  My friend was excited about getting a centennial Navy race shirt.  I was excited about trying my femme fatale line that might start with, “well hiyah sailah”.  Sadly no one was in uniform, they were all wearing their centennial Navy race shirts.   Also sadly,  life got in the way a number of times we planned to train together so we downgraded our goals and went for the 5k instead.  Our goal was to do it in 30 minutes.

I was actually nervous the night before.  It was the control freak in me convinced that I’d forget something really important like water or underwear.  But when we got there I was excited.  The race was so much larger than when we did it last.  When we got going there was a sea of dark blue shirts running up Agricola street ahead of us and it reminded me of how much I love the energy of a race. 

It feels completely different than me schlepping my butt around the neighbourhood solo.  And that’s the tough thing about a race –  it’s a total head thing.  My buddy and I decided we’d speed up a bit half way through, but I noticed we sped up about 10 minutes into it.  So about 2/3’ds of the way through I was puffing to hard to hold a conversation. 

Then a bit beyond that my friend went out to pass someone and i just didn’t have enough juice to follow.  She looked back and i said, “I’m comin’!”  But I really wasn’t and I was ok with it.  That was a switch.  Watching the giselle friend pull away last time made me feel like a capital-L Loser.   But this time I thought, well she *is* a soccer player so *of course* she has more kick than I do from my schleps around the ‘hood.

Before I would have felt like i should say something too.  But that wasn’t an option because now my breathing had a wheeze in it.  I was going so hard that if I pushed any harder it would have meant a heart attack and a stroke two-fer and as I fell to the road I would then be stampeded by the runners behind me.

So I thought, I’ll keep the speed i’m at and see how it goes.  Before I wouldn’t have been able to do that.  I would have spent the whole time resisting the fact that I wasn’t going faster even though that’s all the speed I had.  This time I listened to my breathing and sure enough, there was a slight downhill before the last turn, the wheeze dissipated, i lengthened my stride and got a little closer to my friend. 

Then before i knew it I was in the chute and I sprinted and passed two people, while two people passed me and my buddy and I finished the race in 28 minutes.   We beat our goal.  We were thrilled.

It felt so good to run a strong race.  I swear the endorphins lasted all day.  It felt even better to see how my head experience improved since I last ran a race.  To be ok with what’s going on even if it means a possible heart attack, stroke and loserhood feels pretty good.  Which will make racing so much better in the future.  Because yes, my friend and I are thinking about the next one and plan to make it a 10k.

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