Coming Back to the Mat

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During a yoga class this week, my instructor said, “Everybody has a reason to come the first time, but what brings you back to the mat? Why,” he paused, “do you keep…showing up?”

It’s a powerful question that I have been pondering for several days now. People come the first time for a variety of reasons – because they got a Groupon or Living Social deal, for fitness or flexibility, for the social aspect or because a friend asked them, because of curiosity…. I have had guy friends tell me they went to see the girls in the cute little yoga outfits, sticking their booties up in the air, and girlfriends tell me they go because of the cute yoga instructor up front. I went mostly kicking and screaming, with great skepticism and trepidation.

In my mind, yoga was for the people who already knew how to do yoga, because if you didn’t already know the Sanskrit words for the different poses, if you didn’t know how to do the different movements, if you couldn’t keep up, then they would look down on you in distain. In short, it was a special club, that you either already belonged to, or you weren’t invited to join.

Last summer, I ran a marathon on an injury, and when the event was done, my team of coaches and trainers all told me that if I wanted to be able to keep running long term, I couldn’t run for a minimum of two months to really let my body heal. After two weeks I was stir crazy for something active to do. The only thing they agreed that I could do without further injury, was yoga, and only if I promised to do it at 50-60%.

So no one was more surprised than me, when I realized that I still wanted to show up regardless of injury. It went from being the only “allowed” exercise, to realizing that it was fun to see what crazy poses I was able to do. Then that changed to something even deeper, which is learning that it is less about perfecting poses (although I do like to strive towards looking pretty), and more about just being. It is the challenge of accepting myself in whatever condition I come to the mat, and choosing to be present for that hour or so. It is remembering the wonder that comes with doing things I had no idea I could do.

Anything worth doing in life usually takes some effort, and unless you find a deeper reason than what you started with, chances are that you will give up on it. This is true in relationships, diets or lifestyles changes, exercise, work patterns, and yoga. Eventually, the Groupon expires, the novelty wears off, it’s a lot easier to look at a yoga magazine than to show up and do the hard work in class if you want to see pretty people, and injuries do heal.

Yoga may have started out as an end unto itself for me, but it became about reflecting and finding inner peace and breathing. It became about the mat itself, letting that be my own space, where there is no judgment, except the judgment I bring to it. It is the smiling at myself, and giving myself grace, and listening to my body, and challenging my mind, and laughing when I fall, and choosing to get back up again. I come back to the mat because the mat will always meet me wherever I am.

10 Keys to Starting Whole 30

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I have a number of friends who like to do New Year’s Resolutions. They often involve a new exercise thing, joining a gym, going on a diet, giving up cake, starting to spend more time outdoors, or committing to reading a certain number of books in a year. One of my friends wanted to do the Whole 30, which is, in essence, a paleo cleanse. She is more or less gluten free, but she really wanted to do a “hard reset” on her diet for the new year, and she asked me for some advice since I’ve done it in the past. I offered to do the 30 days with her to support her efforts, and also because I think it’s a good form of discipline for myself. Her questions and initial apprehension in getting started made me realize that there are some easy tips to put her on the path to success.

  1. Set your mind in the right place before you even start – that means deciding from the outset that you can and will do it. If you doubt yourself, you will have a hard time. Your mind is powerful, so use it to your advantage. It also means choosing a date to start, and well, then, just start. There is always a good reason to put it off or wait or something…the fact is, making a different in your routine is hard, and that’s what you’ll be doing.
  2. Hold it lightly. What I mean is, decide that you will do this, prepare, be committed to it, but if something happens on day 10 and you have a piece of bread, don’t beat yourself up, get back on the horse.
  3. Set aside one hour each Saturday or Sunday to prepare for the week ahead and write down what you plan on having for each meal, list some snack ideas, and identify the prep work you need to do. For instance, note that you need to take the chicken out of the freezer on Tuesday that you are going to use on Friday.
  4. As you plan your week ahead, spread your “left overs” out across several days and don’t try to eat it all in 3 or 4 consecutive meals. Your body and mind likes variety and it will keep your food interesting. Another idea is to make your left overs into “new” food. If you make a roasted chicken for dinner one night, repurpose the left over chicken into lettuce wraps for lunch the next day.
  5. If you are doing this with a partner, plan your meals together. So, if you are deciding what to have for dinners, I suggest that you pick two meals and your partner picks two meals that you definitely want to have that week. The other three meals can be leftovers or “pick up meals”. Your partner’s buy-in and involvement will keep him or her invested in the effort, and will help you in the motivation department, too!
  6. Also as you are planning, take into account your “busy” days, and don’t try to do too much. I have a yoga class on Tuesday nights, after work. So between getting home, taking care of the dog, changing clothes, getting to class on time and fighting rush hour, I have very little time to prep a meal. Tuesdays are a great night for me to use the slow cooker, or to have left overs, and I put that into my plan.
  7. Speaking of too much, don’t try to start lots of new things when you embark on the Whole 30. I know it’s tempting to decide that you are going to turn over a BIG new leaf and start Whole 30, a new exercise regimen and getting up 45 minutes earlier every day to take care of all those house chores first thing, all in the same week. Don’t put yourself under this kind of pressure to make so many drastic changes all at the same time. Be proud that you are making one change, and be confident that when you are ready to add more change to your life, those new changes will still be waiting for you!
  8. Don’t plan to make big decisions in the first 7 days. Your body is getting used to a new routine, and may be going through some withdrawal. It’s possible that you will be irrationally cranky.   Don’t add to the stress that you are putting on yourself by artificially adding to that, if you can avoid it.
  9. Set up your pantry and put away all the unnecessary stuff. I put all my baking supplies (sugars, flowers, chocolate chips, etc) away in a plastic bin and put it downstairs. Out of sight, out of mind! It’s amazing how this works – it’s not that I actually forget I have it, but it has been moved so it’s not as easily accessible. This means it’s easier to overcome the temptation to eat that snack or bake some cookies.
  10. Lean on resources that are fun, full of ideas, and easy to use! The first time I did Whole 30, I thumbed through the Well Fed cookbooks by Melissa Joulwan almost every day. I also visited the Nom Nom Paleo and The Clothes Make the Girl website regularly. Both of these had Whole 30 specific plans and tips that were really valuable.

Finally, decide you are going to have fun – yes, I know this makes 11, but this should be more of a general guiding principle of life, don’t you think? We can do pretty much anything for 30 days…make it an adventure, and you never know, you might even create a new habit!

It Takes A Village

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It’s easy to think that you just train, you put in miles, you get up, you tell yourself you don’t hurt as much as you do, and then you do it again. But it is so much more than that. It is the entire community of people around me that has gotten me to where I am today. When I stop to think about all the people that have influenced me, encouraged me, kicked me, and prodded me, I am overwhelmed.

I had people cook for me, give me tools, give me gear, help me set up my Garmin watch, set up the Garmin connect on my computer, set up the tracking device. I had people email me asking when the race was, and encourage me, literally every step of the way. I had, and still have, individuals who inspired me to keep going, and in turn, I was told that I inspire others. It is a beautiful cycle.

I had a team of people that have kept my body in tip top shape – massaging muscles, making sure my spine was in alignment, showing me specific running stretches, stretching with me, reminding me when I need to rest, and giving me advice to keep me from injuring myself.

Even though I didn’t have a coach, and I made up my own training plan based on some pretty good guesses and something I read in a book, I had a whole team of trainers working with me. They challenged me to do the long runs, and then the longer runs. They explained the importance of speed and strength work. They told me not to skimp on core work and keep up with my plan. They reviewed my chart, my progress and told me where I was trying to do too much and when I needed to push harder. They affirmed my plan, and gave me options. They told me about different ways to approach running from the “run/walk” method to heart monitor training. At the end of the day, no one method is perfect, but part of my joy has been to try many things and see what works for me.

 

And then it was the day of the race. There were moments that I vividly remember….

I remember hitting the 1-mile marker and thinking simultaneously, “I wish these people would all get out of my way, they are slowing me down! And wow, I just have 12 more to go.” At the 4-mile marker, I realized I was almost a third of the way done. When I hit 5 miles, my hip started to hurt and I thought, “meh…give it two more miles and see how it feels.” At somewhere around mile 7, they were handing out gels and I had some because I knew I needed it, but oh, it was gross. Just before mile 8, I ran through a fire department and under two great flags – the Colorado state flag and Old Glory…. I jumped up to try to touch the flag, but missed by at least a foot. Somewhere around mile 11, another fire department was out in their fire fighting pants and boots (no shirts), giving us high fives. Upon reflection, it seems that I might have preferred them back at mile 4 when I might have been able to remember what they all looked like!

And I was humbled, oh so very humbled at the end.  I was somewhere around mile 12.5, and it was all I could do to keep putting one foot in front of another.  I kept seeing these people pass me, young people with their pony tails bobbing, still looking perky and talking to their friends, and older people with silver hair and skinny chicken legs…and all I could think of was that I hoped I could grow up to be that old person someday.  It was inspiring.

I remember crossing the 13 mile mark and thinking to myself, I’m almost there – I couldn’t quite see the finish line yet because it was around a curve, but somehow I was able to pull out the last of my reserves and I picked up my pace one more time…I was determined to finish strong, with a smile on my face and my arms up in the air.  And then I was over the line, and I realized I’d done it – that thing I’d set out to do, it was done.  My legs felt like rubber, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted something to drink or to just fall over.  But it was humbling to realize that I am part of an elite group now – I can never say that I’m not a runner again, and that is humbling in and of itself.

You learn a lot about yourself when you put yourself beyond your comfort zone and then push yourself even harder. In January, this seemed like an impossible thing to attempt. I did it, but I didn’t do it alone…it took a village.

Cramming For The Exam

Final Exam

There are a lot of things you can cram for – that driver’s written test when you’re sixteen.  That history exam that covers 400 years and is worth 60% of the grade.  A speech you’re supposed to give to a hundred people.  Packing your suitcase 20 minutes before you have to leave for the airport.  I’m not saying that cramming is necessarily the most effective way to accomplish any of these things; I’m just suggesting that it’s possible.

 

It is not possible to cram for a Half Marathon.

 

You have either put in the time, the miles, the stretching, the effort or you haven’t.  It’s hard to believe that my race is a week from tomorrow.  When I think back to the day I signed up to run, I couldn’t visualize getting to where I am now.  Now that I’m here, I realize that it was the culmination of all the time and energy I put in to the process.  I ran when it was cold, rainy, windy, hot, or snowy.  I ran when I hadn’t had enough to eat and times when I’d been paying attention and was raring to go.  I ran because I had a goal, I ran because I liked it, I ran on days when I was pumped up, and I ran sometimes when I didn’t feel like it.

I have tried new foods and fuel and gone back to what I know works for me.  I have gotten up early, missed parties, said no to happy hours, rearranged my schedule, chosen running over other things…  I have massaged sore muscles and asked for advice from seasoned runners.  I have read articles, bought gear, talked about running, written about running, bought more gear, dreamed about running, and then got out there and ran again.

I have had moments of doubt and I have had moments of sheer exhilaration when I thought I could conquer anything.  It is strange and exciting, and I’m still a little nervous, but in my heart, I know I’m ready.  I still have one week of tapering left, but if my race was tomorrow, I’d be ok.  I don’t have to cram for the exam – I have put in the time, one foot after another, mile after mile, minute over minute, day after day.  It’s time.

Crisis Averted

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Sometimes working through a crisis of confidence means staring it in the face and deciding to meet that demon head on. I set out to run 10 miles today, not because it was on my training plan, (my plan actually said to run 8 today), but because at this point, it is a mind game. My crisis of confidence was in my head, not in my training or in my body; physically, I could probably run 13 miles right now. Today’s run was about getting my head back in the game.

When I started training back in January, a great friend said to me, “Do you know when to stop?” I thought it was a trick question. In reality, it has become my inner battle cry when I’m out there pounding the pavement. “You don’t stop when you’re tired, you stop when you’re done.”

That’s it – so simple. You stop when you’re done. The trick is deciding up front when “done” is going to be so that you don’t compromise later. For me, sometimes done happens in 3 miles, and other times, done happens in more miles. Today, Done happened a little over 10 miles. I knew I was getting close to my ten mile mark, so in my head, I decided I was going to keep going until I hit a particular street. That last block felt so good because I was smiling, I knew I had accomplished what I set out to do, and I didn’t stop until I was done. I finished today well.

I am still nervous, and 13 miles is still 3 more miles than 10, but I have more confidence now than I had a couple days ago. What’s more, I set out to run a half marathon because in my mind, it was a big, hairy, audacious goal – if I wasn’t just a little bit scared, I obviously didn’t dream big enough.

The Litmus Test

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Today is when I remember why I started to document my training journey, and once again, I am so grateful that I was encouraged to do so. I hit a milestone: it might not seem like much, especially to the seasoned runner, but I have been striving for the day when I could consistently hold a sub 10-minute mile pace. Somehow, running a mile in less than double digits was the magical number in my head that makes me feel “legit”. Doing at least 3 miles at that pace was my own personal litmus test, and today, I passed.

What is it about ten minutes? What is it about numbers at all, really? At the end of the day, a mile is still a mile, no matter how fast I run it. A ten-minute mile was a marker, a goal, something that I hoped was within the realm of possibility, but still such a challenge when I first contemplated the idea of pace.

I know that this is the one time in my life when I will train for a race and improve beyond my wildest imagination. The very first day that I started training, I ran 1.5 miles with a 12:30 pace, and at the end, I was pretty sure that I was in over my head to train for a half marathon. If I compare today’s run with my first training run, I doubled my distance and my pace was 3 MINUTES faster per mile today than it was my first day.

That comparison is not really fair though, because when I started, I literally did not know how to run, and during these last several months, I had no where to go, but to get better. I certainly couldn’t get worse! In other ways, today was exactly like that first day. Half way through my run, my lungs were on fire, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to finish what I’d started. When I was in the last quarter of my run, I was telling myself the same thing I did on that first day – “You can do it. You can make it to that lamppost, that street, that corner, that car…. Don’t give up now, you can rest when you are done.”

I am a goal oriented, end-product kind of person, and for the most part, I am not crazy about “the process”. Process to me is something that should be streamlined and strategized. Process is the necessary evil to get to the end product. When it comes to running and training, the process is necessary to get me to race day. Therefore, it’s imperative for me to have goals during the process, because that is what makes the process seem worthwhile. For instance, having a goal to run a mile in less than ten minutes gave me something to shoot for….

In three and a half months, I have gotten faster and I can run further; it feels good. I like checking things off a list, accomplishing a goal, and seeing tangible improvement. What has surprised me, though, was to realize that the process itself has also become the end goal. I like getting out there and running. Don’t get me wrong; I like seeing a faster pace, longer distances, negative splits and new personal “bests” in any number of categories. However, I’m also realizing that it’s not just about the numbers, it’s about the pride I feel when I finish a run.

Your Gas Tank

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Food matters, what you put into your body matters.  It’s like gasoline for your car.  It might still get you from Point A to Point B on regular unleaded, but your car like premium unleaded better.  Your body is no different.

When you are training for an event, a race, or just generally stressing your body, you need more calories than you do in an “off season”.  What I have discovered for myself is that I can run when I’ve been eating crap – any calories is better than no calories when I’m 4 miles into a 7 mile run….but…  But!  Absolutely, there is a but.  If I have healthy and clean calories that my body is burning, I feel so much better!  If I must run on a scone and coffee, fine, but I struggle.  If I am running on free range eggs, spinach, a piece of fruit and some homemade carnitas, I don’t find the run as hard.

It also has to do with toxin build up.  Even things that could be generally considered “good” for me have toxins in one shape or another.  Even though I believe that red wine has some incredible properties, and I enjoy the taste of red wine, drinking in excess will lead to toxin build up.  For me, that happens in my hip joints.    For others, diary or gluten can be a trigger, even if that person is not allergic to either one for example.

When I did a paleo cleanse in January, I did myself a real service, and I didn’t even know it – in essence, I gave myself an oil change.  I reset my body, and in the process, I set myself up for more success.  For one month, I removed sugar, alcohol, gluten, grains, corn, legumes, and dairy.  I am not advocating that everyone should live this way – I certainly don’t.  But after my one month “reset”, I have to admit, my joints are happy.  I am running.  I am not having hip issues, (which I have struggled with for many years.)  I attribute this to having a fairly “clean” diet while I continue to train.

This is not to say that I deny myself now that I am not on the cleanse – I had bread, wine, cheese and sugar last night…and it all tasted great.  But I don’t eat like that every day.  For the most part, I am still eating in a quasi paleo format, mostly because that is what my body responds well to.  I have found that if I listen to my body, my cravings, when I am hungry and when I am full, I actually fill myself up with what I need rather than what I think I should need.

Yesterday I had an appointment with my kinesiologist who is basically a “body mechanic” and he gave me a tune up.  Before I left he looked at me and said, “I’m really impressed with how you have done your training.  I have to tell you, when you told me that you were planning on running a half in May, I thought you were headed for a lot of hurt and pain and I was really worried about your ability to finish and accomplish your goal because of all the hip issues you’ve had.  I think that when you did that cleanse in January, you really set yourself up for success…without even realizing it!”

Way to go, me!  Listen to your gut – sometimes you know way more than you realize.

Character Development

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Not every run is going to be awesome.  I’m not going to go further every time.  I am not going to always be able to do negative splits.  (Shute, 4 weeks ago, I didn’t even know what negative splits were.)  My point is, I know my runs are not always going to be amazing.  Mentally, I’d prepared myself for that day.  Being mentally prepared does not make it any better when that day comes.  It came for me today.

I have been exhausted all day, and I really seriously considered blowing off today, but I thought to myself, “no, I need to just get out there and get it done – I’ll feel better when I’ve finished.  I’ll be so proud of myself….”

Nope.  I just feel tired.  More tired than I was before, in fact.  I know it’s good to push through on those days that are harder than others.  Incidentally, I do believe that there are times when it’s actually a good decision to blow off a run.  I/e, when your body is telling you it needs a break, when it is so cold that your eye lashes will freeze to your face, when it’s so hot that heat stroke it likely in the first half mile, when you are recovering from injury or sickness, and maybe even when your best friend is in town visiting for one day.  I did not have any of these legitimate reasons to not run today.  Being tired is not good enough.

So I pushed through.  I finished what I set out to do, and I’m going to be brutally honest here, I don’t feel better, I don’t feel more energized, and I am not motivated to get out there bright and early and do it again tomorrow.  Mostly, I just want to go to bed.

So, the best thing I can say about today is that I did it, and now, the day is done.  And even though a day like today is probably good for my inner character development, I really hope that I don’t have many more like this.  I’m pretty sure I have enough character as it is.

Fuel

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Fuel – we all need it.

Back in January, I started my half marathon training, and I also embarked on the Whole 30 Journey at the same time. On Whole 30, I was amazed at the sheer volume of food I needed to consume every day in order to feel satisfied.  What non-endurance athlete should be eating roughly twice the amount of food previously, in terms of “cups”?

At first I thought it was crazy and that it would surely make me gain weight, but since I was doing Whole 30 as a cleanse and an exercise in discipline, I didn’t worry about it too much.  Granted, it takes a lot more cups of raw veggies to match the number of calories found in one cup of rice.  It should also be noted that even though I was running, I was not running very much or very far during this month.  My point is, I ate A LOT, and I actually lost inches, if not actual weight.  (I never weighed myself, so I have no idea whether I lost or maintained my weight.)

After my official 30 days were over, I didn’t go back to eating as I had before, (for instance, the insatiable cheese cravings were gone so I wasn’t going through a brick of cheese every 3 days), but I didn’t remain strict paleo in my diet either.  For me, this means that about 85% of the time, I still eat just like I did with Whole 30 – a lot of vegetables, lean meat and fruit.  This also means that if I feel like having a sandwich with bread and cheese for lunch, I allow myself to have that, and I don’t feel remotely guilty about it.

My challenge now is that I’m running a lot further and faster, and to be blunt, I need more calories.  I am still losing weight, and unless I find the correct balance of the right number of calories as well as the right KIND of calories at the right intervals during the day, I am risking injury, pain, lethargy, and general un-health.  In essence, that would un-do all the good I have been doing for myself, and I don’t want that to happen.  Also, I find that I generally feel better when I stick to more paleo than not-paleo lifestyle, so the “right kinds” of calories doesn’t mean just adding pizza or bagels to my routine.  It means being thoughtful and adding proteins, fruits, carbs and vegetables.

My new favorite pre-run snack is Sweet Potato Eggs, a great mix of carbs and protein.    It’s easy to throw together in the afternoon, or it’s a great breakfast and start to my day.

Excuse me, I have to go for a run now.

 

Sweet Potato Eggs

Ingredients:
2 Tbls bacon fat
½ sweet potato shredded
2 eggs
salt and pepper

 

Directions:

Melt the bacon fat in a cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  Squeeze any moisture out of the shredded sweet potatoes and pan fry until golden.  When the shredded sweet potato is crispy and browned, move to a plate.  Crack two eggs and cook to taste in the skillet.  I love the creamy yolk when it mixes with the potato, so I always make mine over easy.  Salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy.

An Admission

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Fear is a funny thing.

For some people, fear makes them lash out.  They will get angry, and aggressive, and attack.  It’s the flight or fight response.  These people fight…tooth and nail, to the death, with their words, their actions, and their behaviors.    For others, fear makes them shrink.  They ignore the problem or challenge or procrastinate until they can’t do that anymore.  They make excuses.  These are the people that want to hide under the covers, and hope that whatever it is, goes away.  When it comes to training, I am in the latter camp.

I literally don’t think about going out to run 3 miles anymore.  3 miles is easy, and it’s routine.  4 miles is longer, but it’s not actually hard.  4.5 miles is getting up there, but I know I can do it, because I’ve done it before.  I’m not saying I’m ready to run 4.5 miles every day, but I know I can go out and get it done.  At least once….maybe two days in a row.

In the next 4 days, my training plan calls for me to run 5 miles one day, 4 miles the next, 3.5 the next, and 7 miles on the fourth day.  I’m scared.

First of all, I will run further than I have ever run before at one time.  I believe I can do 5 miles.  However, I am honestly not sure if I can do 7 miles.  I just don’t know.  They say that anything more than 4 is a mind game.  Well…maybe it is, but I have a really vivid imagination!  7 miles is a long distance, and at the current moment, it seems impossible.  It seems like something that I don’t know how to do.  It seems like I am destined for failure.  (I don’t like failure.)

Second of all, I will run as much in the next four days as I have ever run in 7 days total.  I am taking this game to a whole new level.

So I am scared.  Because this is something that is so far outside of what I know, of what I have experienced, of what I can imagine….it is different.  And it is scary.  So I am looking for the excuse.  I am checking weather.com to see if it’s going to snow this weekend, or perhaps wonder if allergies are going to reek havoc on my training plan, or something equally benign and also worthy of creating an “excuse”.  I want to have a reason to explain why I didn’t get around to doing either 5 or 7 miles….  I want that excuse because I am scared….

Here’s the thing, I also want to be brave.

So I will admit to being scared, but I will go to work tomorrow, and I will fear what it is that I want to accomplish tomorrow evening when I get home, but I will do it because I know I can.  Running 5 miles is not truly hard for me now; it is just new.  But it is my bravery that will keep me going, it is being brave that will remind me to not quit.  It is bravery to remember all the people that have faith in me, and then it is brave to believe in myself.

It’s ok to be scared….it’s what I do with it that matters.