Taking Time

Posted on October 12, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I don’t have time.

Can’t fit it into my schedule, don’t know how it will get done, it simply won’t happen, there is just not enough time.

If I could plant and grow a pumpkin seed for every time I heard time as an excuse for not exercising, the Great Pumpkin would be rising from its patch nearly every night.

But I don’t buy it. We all have time.  The same amount, every day.  What we choose to do with it is up to us.  We base our choices on our priorities, those people, principles, or things that mean the most to us.

When I’ve led a priorities exercise in workshops, I’ve found that two things are often glaringly missing from people’s lists:  their health and their God.  Even if they tell you in conversation that their health and their spirituality are two of the most important things in their lives, when pressed to list priorities, neither make the list.

Why not? I ask.

No time.

One reason for this may be the way people view time. They take time to do the things they want or need to do.  They take time, for instance, to attend a meeting. But while there, they’re not actually present in the meeting.  They’re busy checking email or texting or making notes about a dozen unrelated things.

They are subtracting time from their day, eliminating tasks one by one.

Maybe instead of taking time, people can learn to give it.  To add something worthwhile to their day, their sense of well-being. To their actual, physical well-being.   We seem to put emphasis—more of ourselves—into the things we give, so why not give something, a gift, to ourselves? Why not time?

There is always enough time.  What are you going to do with yours?

I’m going to run.

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(It’s a good thing) Old Habits Die Hard

Posted on September 28, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Last week I fell into the black hole of despair. My fitness routine fell in right after me. You may know how it is.  First you skip a day or two of workouts to a lie in bed and think. Then you start eating all the wrong things. Which, of course, makes you feel terrible when you wake up in the morning, so you shut off your alarm and go back to bed for another hour.  Or two.  Before you know it, a week’s gone by and you haven’t done anything healthy for yourself.

But one morning you notice the empty family size bag of Julio’s in the trash (which would be fine, if you had a family).  And, maybe worse, you notice something sparkly on your shoelaces when you accidentally kick a lone running shoe that got wedged under the couch—and the sparkle is not a diamond but the intricate web of a spider that’s taken over your shoe.

OK, you tell yourself.  Crawl out of the hole. It’s time to run.

This week, I got back into the swing of things.  My goals were small:

  1. Do NOT hit snooze. Get up at the usual time:  5 am.
  2. Do something strenuous every morning.  Moving the party size vat of ice cream from one freezer shelf to another does not count as strenuous.  Either run or strength train.
  3. Remind yourself why you make healthy choices in the first place. Because it feels good.  I promise.

The hardest part about resuming a habit is in the mind.  It takes more effort to convince myself to move than it does to actually move.  Mentally, I have to argue with myself every morning, find the right argument to ignite the chain of events that become exercise.  Physically, my body knows what to do. I just have to set it in motion, and it goes.  The force of habit propels my joints, muscles, limbs to perform familiar actions.

Thank God for muscle memory, for the pattern of movement we build into our bodies.  If my feet didn’t know their way down the road, I’d likely still be lying in bed.

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The Wonder Wall: or, I wonder why I hit that wall

Posted on September 7, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

There you are one early morning, in the pool swimming laps, on your bike cruising down country roads, or out for a long run through the backstreets. You had a plan, you set your distance, knew your route and were off. But half way through your workout, your arms stopped rotating like a windmill, your legs resembled the rubber chicken sitting on the corner of your desk, and your body slumped into something you liken to the compost pile in your backyard.

It’s happened. You’ve hit the wall.

This can be dismaying, to say the least, especially when you thought you were doing fine and felt like you were in great shape to be out there rolling.

What causes us to hit the wall and what can we do to prevent hitting it?  It seems to me there are three important factors athletes—yes, even amateur athletes like most of us—need to consider before we hit the dawn running.

Nutrition

If your body was like Janet Jackson, it might sing you a song: What have you done for me lately?  (And if your mind is like mine, you get a song stuck in your head whose words you either don’t like or can’t remember, but you sing it to yourself anyway, making up different words to suit your situation. Like what did you eat for me lately?)

The question is a serious one. What did you fuel your body with before your workout?  Before, in my mind, is not only the 30 to 60 minutes before you head out the door, but the long stretch of hours that lead into your workout, the night before if you work out in the morning or the entire day if you work out in the afternoon or evening.

I work out first thing in the morning.  I always eat a small meal 30 minutes or so before my workout, but I am also cognizant of what I eat the night before.  If I am doing cardio in the morning, I make sure I eat complex carbs with dinner.  And if I’m hungry before I go to bed, I eat.  Your body needs the right balance of proteins, fats, and carbs, complex as well as simple, to function at its best. Don’t deny it what it needs.

Hydration

If you feel thirsty, it’s already too late. You’re dehydrated.  What do you do?  Drink, drink, drink!  Drink before you go to bed, drink before and after your workout. Drink always, all day long.

Notice I didn’t include the middle of your workout as a time to drink. That depends on what you’re doing and how long you’re doing it.  I always have water with me when I bike, swim, and weight train. I drink frequently during all of these activities. But I don’t take water with me when I run unless I plan to be out there more than 60 minutes. I know there are some people who would say, so what? Take water anyway!  For me this is simply a personal preference. I don’t like holding things in my hands or feeling extra weight hanging on my hips when I run.

What do you drink?  Water. Lots of it.  Sports drinks are unnecessary for most people, unless you’re out there sweating profusely for long periods of time. If you’re training for a marathon or a triathlon, especially in summer in Texas, that’s a different story.  Kind of.  I prefer coconut water over sports drinks because sports drinks have a lot of sugar in them. Coconut water has none. It’s a great way to keep hydrated or to rehydrate.

Muscle fatigue

It could be that you hit a wall because your body is just plain tired.  Have you slept enough?  Have you over trained?  Does your body need rest for a few days? Should you stop what you’re doing at the moment, or should you push through?

That depends.

The way you get to know your own strength, to find out what you’re made of, and to improve your endurance is to push yourself beyond what you think are your limitations.  Sure, I can stop when my knees get wobbly or turn into lead pipes.  I may even have to stop. But at what point do I make this determination?

Ask Socrates. He’d probably say Know Thyself.  Part of training hard and pushing yourself to be better, stronger, faster than you were before (like the Six Million Dollar Man) is knowing your body well enough to understand what it’s trying to tell you and to respect it enough to listen. There’s a fine line between breaking through the wall and breaking your body.  The first is exhilarating. The second excruciating. Unfortunately, sometimes we learn to recognize our body’s queues through trial and error. When we err, it hurts.

Inevitably, at some point in training, you’ll hit a wall.  If you pay attention to your body, it will let you know why you hit it and what to do about it.  Listen to it.  Your body knows best. Almost like your mother.

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What Would Barbie Do…in the Olympics?

Posted on August 10, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

from Economic Times, India Times

I love the Olympics.  And although I root for the USA in every event they participate, I have to admit that what I watch for is not necessarily nationality, it’s ability.  The athletes who make any Olympic team are extraordinary. Watching them gives me goosebumps at the least, and sometimes brings me to tears.  The perfection and grace of movement in rowing, diving, sprinting, pole vaulting, gymnastics is simply stunning, particularly since the athletes make what they’re doing look so effortless. It’s easy to forget all the blood, sweat, and years, all the training and discipline and sacrifice that lead to this one event. It blows me away.

So when I heard comments about Gabby Douglas’s hair, I was, well, perplexed.  Here is a woman who won the gold medal in the gymnastics all-around event and is a member of the U.S. team that won a gold medal—the first team gold for the U.S. since 1996—and people are talking about her hair?

It gets better.  Some people are actually calling some Olympic women athletes fat.  That’s right.  Olympic athletes—some of the fittest people on earth—fat.   It doesn’t seem to matter that they’re bodies are conditioned to support them in their chosen field.  It doesn’t seem to matter that many of them set or break records.  What makes the news is that some swimmer or sprinter doesn’t look as “fit” as in the last Olympics.  Or that another one is “carrying too much weight.”

And we wonder why so many girls have eating disorders or body image issues when even the fittest of us are scrutinized as if we were a side of Kobe beef.

I wish I could say I am surprised, but, sadly, I am not.  This Olympics marks the first time women are competing in every event, and from every country.  This year also marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX in the U.S., the law that opened the door for women’s participation in sports where they did not have access before.  Undoubtedly, more women are competing at a higher caliber because of the opportunities afforded by this law, yet those discussions and those women are not what’s making the news.

Perhaps coincidentally, another story making the news this week has to do with Barbie, the 53-year-old who never ages.  Now, I played with Barbie as a kid.  She usually teamed up my brother’s GI Joes to battle the evil Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots.  But it never occurred to me to see her form as an aspiration. In my mind, that would have been like trying to force myself into the shape of a pine tree or something equally ridiculous. I just wasn’t made that way, and, alas, I lacked the Wonder Twins super powers.

Model Katie Halchishick decided to make a point this week.  She marked her body with dotted lines, the way a plastic surgeon marks bodies before rearranging them.  The lines correspond to what a Barbie doll would look like in real life.

Scary. Unnatural.  Those are only two words that come immediately to mind.

Yet the figure and hair and makeup of Barbie is what some people seem to want to see soaring over the vault or flying across the pool at the Olympics.  But with a body like that, what, exactly, could Barbie hope to do in any athletic event, much less at the Olympics?  Her thin little arms couldn’t support her on the uneven bars.  Her skinny little waist could never contain the strong core muscles to lift her body over the hurdles.  And that scrawny (scary) neck?  It doesn’t appear that it would hold her head up high enough to see the crowd.

When I see someone like sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross moving like the wind across the track, her muscular body rippling with the effects of all that training, and then hear someone ask, what’s up with her hair, I can’t decide whether to laugh or scream or cry.

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Diet Is a 4-Letter Word

Posted on June 8, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I had a run-in with my arch nemesis this week.  Fritos.  He won.  What’s worse, he has a friend.  Julio’s.  If you’re from Texas, you’ve probably seen Julio there on the shelves between his rival corn chips, and if you’ve had him you understand his power of persuasion.

It seems I had a fiesta in my pantry this week.  The timing figures—on the heels of my thoughts about garbage.  Thankfully, the fiesta is over. Has it affected my training?  Fortunately, no.  My sprint tri is in two weeks (yay!), and my workouts have been going well.  Has it affected the way I feel about myself? You bet. Disappointment is the first word that rolls to mind, like a thundercloud.

But the big question is this:  Will my lapse in nutritional judgment this week cause me to change what I eat next week? That is, will I go on a diet?  The big answer:  Absolutely not.  In my opinion, diet is a 4-letter word.

There are dozens of diets on the market, always have been, always will be.  Each time a new study touts the superpowers of one kind of food or the evil powers of another, there’s bound to be a book, an infomercial, a talk show segment, or some other media blitz right on its heels.  That’s not to say the studies aren’t important. They are. But information is only good when it’s used wisely.

A diet cannot last forever.  A healthy lifestyle can.  What’s the difference?  A diet has a beginning and an end.  Many diets require the dieter to eliminate entire food groups or to overindulge in others.  They require an exorbitant amount of willpower, which always fails, partly because it is physiologically impossible and certainly unhealthy to eliminate or overindulge, and the dieter’s body will pressure her into balance—which means she eats what she “shouldn’t.”  She gets frustrated and quits, or she meets her prescribed time limit and, inevitably, the diet ends.

Most diets also require the dieter to consume less calories than he expends.  Makes sense, especially if weight loss is the goal. But often, the number of calories prescribed by the diet is far less than a body actually needs to function—which means the dieter loses energy, gets weak and lethargic. Cranky.

The body knows what it needs.  It needs calories to pump the heart, run the brain and nervous system, move the muscles and the bones they’re attached to.  If the body doesn’t get enough calories from all the food groups, it goes into starvation mode, slowing down metabolism to conserve energy—hoarding all that fat the dieter is trying to shed.

No diets for me, thank you.  I prefer to live a healthy lifestyle.  What this means to me is that there is no beginning and no end to proper nutrition. I eat all the food groups, every day. I don’t worry about what time I eat my last meal.  My body doesn’t refuse carbs after 3:00.  I don’t panic if Fritos wins for a couple of days.

Let me repeat that.  Sometimes Fritos wins for a couple of days. But since I’m not on a diet, that’s ok. It’s my mind—my opinion of myself—that pays the bigger long-term price than my body.  This is because I have chosen to live a healthy lifestyle rather than to be (forever) on a diet.  I know what the effects of saturated fat are on my arteries when the Fritos win.  That—and not the effect on the elastic in my pants—is why I’m disappointed in myself.

I do have some general rules of thumb I try to follow:

  1. If God didn’t make it, don’t put it in my mouth.  This prompts me to eat more whole foods and far less processed foods.  (Yes, I still try to argue with myself how God did, in fact, make Fritos since he made the people who invented, manufactured, packaged, shipped, and shelved Fritos, the corn that’s in the Fritos, the people who created and operated the machinery that made all the other gunk that’s in the Fritos. You see how it goes.  It’s exhausting, really, this kind of logic. Still, sometimes I let it win…)
  2. Graze like a gazelle.  If I eat small portions all day, I feel better. And who doesn’t want to eat all day?  When I do, my metabolism runs fast and steady throughout the day.  I have less of a desire to overindulge in anything because I’m always satisfied, never starving, and I don’t overeat to the point of discomfort. I know I’ll be eating again in just a few hours. It’s a beautiful arrangement.
  3. Don’t eat anything bigger than my head.  Seems like a no-brainer when it comes to foods like watermelon. But this also means that if I choose to have pizza, I can’t actually eat the whole thing. I would. But I can’t.

These rules of thumb have come after years of learning to listen to my body when it tells me what it needs.  They’ve come because I do read the reports about nutrition and exercise.  They’ve come because my main goal for my body is disease prevention.  If I focus on keeping my body healthy and disease-free, I gravitate to the foods that will do that and steer away from the foods that won’t.  In the process, my weight corrects itself. My tastesbuds have more than adapted to whole foods—I actually look forward to them. And I have more energy, more clarity of mind, and feel better than I have in my life.

What are your thoughts about diets?

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Garbage in, Garbage out

Posted on June 1, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I love food.  Always have.  I love to eat it, cook it, smell it, look at it, think about it, and talk about it.  Sometimes I even dream about it.  But I can’t tell you how many food conversations I’ve had during which one of the participants holds up a hand dismissively and says, “Well, you’re a runner. You can eat anything.”

That sentiment, I’m afraid, I do not love.

Many people take up running because they want to drop a few pounds.  They know they need to get some cardio work into their routines—or they need to start a routine—and running seems like a fit.  Some lose weight, some do not.  The difference?  It’s not only the output. More than likely, it’s the input.

I took up running for a much different reason than weight loss.  A nice by-product has been that I keep my weight in check.  I don’t do this by eating “anything.”  I do, however, eat what I want.  And lots of it.

A funny thing has happened over the past several years.   My wants have changed.  I used to be the queen of canned ravioli and packaged macaroni and cheese.  Now, you couldn’t hold me down and force feed me either.

Sometimes I think I crave, say, macaroni and cheese, and sometimes I even talk about it for days on end. What I crave is not the food itself, but what the food represents.  I now know enough about my body to know that if I did break down and eat macaroni and cheese, 1) I would be immensely disappointed in the taste, and 2) I would feel sick for at least a day, probably more.

The more I’ve run (and biked and swam), the more efficient my body has become at metabolizing food—if it’s the right kind of food.  For me, that includes oatmeal, fruit, sweet potatoes, kale, and just about any other vegetable I can get my mouth on.  It’s not cake and crackers and pizza.  Even if I think I want it to be.

When I eat “anything,” I cannot run.  That is, my sleep patterns are interrupted and I feel lethargic the next day.  I feel like I’m running with a boulder in my belly, and my legs feel like lead.  Those factors do not make for an enjoyable run, at least not for me.  And for the rest of the day, I’m not the most pleasant person to be around.

That doesn’t mean that I never eat “anything.”  Sometimes I choose pizza or bananas foster over running.  But I recognize in the moment that it is, in fact, a choice, the consequences of which I will have to live with the next morning.

You’ve heard people say that our bodies are like machines and need the proper fuel to keep them operating the way they’re intended to. I’m not going to say exactly that, because I believe our bodies are so much more than machines.  But there’s something to it.  Garbage in, garbage out.  Just like our computers.  Our eyes.  Our thoughts.  Our bodies are no different.

So you’re a runner but some mornings a sharp stick in the eye seems like it might feel better than even your 2 mile route?  Take a hard look at what you’re eating.  Are you serving what you want—and is what you want serving you?

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