Pay Attention

Posted on August 1, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

If I had taken a snapshot the last time I was here and held it up in front of me today, I wouldn’t have noticed a difference.  Same people. Same equipment. Same routine. Same pace. Same bodies.

I haven’t been here in months. The gym has never really been my thing. I’d rather be outside in the sun and breeze and sometimes even the rain. But I go because there are things I cannot do outside of a gym. Things I haven’t done in over six months because I have not been inside of a gym.

Half marathon training started this week. Sprints—effective, non-cheating-by-slowing-down-because-I-just-can’t-maintain-the-pace, incrementally faster sprints—is one of those things.

I chose a treadmill in the back corner, far away from other people, the weights, light, noise and glanced around while I warmed up.  Had the layout changed? Was there new equipment? If I was serious about getting back into the gym, I suppose I should know what’s actually in the gym.   cornfields

That’s when I spotted them. The Frontline Treadmill Warriors. The Stairstepper. The Nordic-Tracker.  I don’t know their names, but I know them by their routine. Months of walking, stepping, gliding. Straddling the same machine each day, never varying their routine.

I’d hear them occasionally in the locker room, six months ago and more, complaining about their lack of progress. Occasionally, they’d ask what I think. Invariably, I’d answer the same: Habits make bodies lazy. They stop paying attention. Shock your body. Mix up your routine. Even corn stops growing when the crops aren’t rotated.

The Stairstepper might try the treadmill. A Warrior might try to glide. But habits are hard to break. And routine is like our favorite pair of shoes, so easy to slip into. Before long, maybe a week, each of them would be straddling their old machine.

Six months of a non-gym routine and I’m ready to change it. I’m tired of complaining to myself about my lack of progress. Time to rotate the crops.

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In a Minute There Is Time

Posted on July 12, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

disturb the universe

One of the interesting things about having read so much literature is that snippets of poetry pop into my head at what seem like weird times.  I’ll be sweating in my car and Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” trickles into mind:

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.

Or maybe I’ll be in a public bathroom and get a whiff of that lovely orange-scented “fragrance” and lines from Stevens’s “Sunday Morning” waft by:

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late

Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been haunted by Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” one of my all time favorite poems:

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

These lines fall upon me at what seem like odd times.  When I’m running. Biking. Staring at my training log tacked on the side of my fridge.

On Thursday morning I figured out what it is that’s been getting me, why Prufrock haunts me.  I stood staring again at my log. Just over 4 weeks until the Olympic distance tri I was sure I would enter.  Thursday.  I was supposed to swim. Instead, I drew a line through the day.  I looked over my plan.  Three more swim days Xed out.  Two strength-training days.

My upper body isn’t doing what it’s designed to do.  It’s supposed to be strong.  Lift things.  Move other, heavier things.  Like me. Through the water.  Nearly 3 months since a shoulder injury caused me to stop doing “normal” activities, I am still unable to resume them fully.  (I somehow suspect that when my doctor said go ahead and resume normal activities, his idea of “normal” was a bit different from mine.)

No Olympic distance tri for me, it seems. Not yet, anyway.

By Thursday afternoon I revised my goals. Lofty ones, maybe, but why not dream big?  San Antonio RnR half marathon in November—to qualify for the Houston marathon in January.  And, if I’m going to dream even bigger, why not see if in Houston I can qualify for Boston?

Who knows if I’ll qualify for anything, but it can’t hurt to aim high.  If I can’t swim, I might as well run.

At least that’s my plan.  For the minute.

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I Can Tri

Posted on June 21, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Image courtesy of Triathlon Gifts & Merchandise

On Saturday I am participating in the Gator Bait sprint tri.  My training log for this race has been posted on my fridge since early March. I included in my plan vacation time, other days I knew I’d need off. I included races I intended to run between then and now, extra weeks of training to focus on running.

Usually by now, the week going into a race, I’m a bit anxious. My mind is completely focused on the race. I’m visualizing the entire morning—from waking up before the alarm to getting ready, getting there, fidgeting at the start line, going the distance, and crossing the finish line with the hope of setting a PR.  I’ve checked my gear a million times. Put on my lucky necklace.

This time, however, it’s different.  I feel relaxed, at peace.  Although the race is certainly on my mind and I’m preparing, I’m not obsessing as usual.

I race and train for several reasons:

  1. It feels good.
  2. I’m a better writer when I run.
  3. Training promotes self-discipline.
  4. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment.
  5. My confidence increases when I push myself to do things I think I cannot do.
  6. If I can reach an unreachable goal here, in this area of my life, why can’t I do it anywhere?

For the most part, I’ve enjoyed the training more than the races I’ve entered.  I get a supreme satisfaction when my training log progresses from empty to full, when there’s the least bit of improvement in my running, biking, or swimming.  I even enjoy it when I stop eating cookies and my body gradually changes.

Training is transformative.  Race day is not the culmination of training; it is the by-product.  It’s a goal I shoot for, but not the end in itself.  It’s one step on the road to becoming something more, something better; one more reminder of capability, as well as potential.  It’s a measure of ability in the moment.

If we are lucky, there will be another race.

Going into this race, I already know what’s next for me.  Two races–bigger races.  Two goals I have never been able to meet before.  One I have been too afraid to try.

That doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy the moment on race day tomorrow.  On the contrary, I think I am finally in a place where I can enjoy the race itself.

My training plan didn’t pan out as I expected.  I took a lot of time away from training to recover from illness, a car accident I am still feeling.  During this forced hiatus, I was surprised to find how often I’ve taken for granted my body, my ability to do the things I love.

So I’m approaching Saturday’s race with a new excitement, a peaceful satisfaction.  The joy I feel in doing this tri—not having been able to do anything for weeks—is that I can.

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When You’re Smiling, the Whole World Smiles with You

Posted on June 14, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


If there’s one thing that bothers me it’s being ignored.  Not by my mom or siblings or friends, but by complete strangers.   It seems odd to me to pass another person and not make eye contact, whether I’m in a hallway, on the sidewalk, or in a grocery store.  I find it especially weird to not acknowledge someone when we are the only two people in sight.  Like, say, on a trail in the middle of a forest.

I try to be a friendly everywhere, even when I run.  I like to smile and say hello to everyone I encounter. On long runs, however, I may not always smile at passers-by. If you catch me in the last quarter or so of my run, you may get only a nod, a flick of the hand in your general direction.  Eye contact, for sure, but it may be the case that all the extra energy I have is expended by looking at you.

However, I rediscovered something during last weekend’s long run.  The power of a smile.  I don’t mean how a smile affects the recipient—at some point in my run I really don’t care. I just want to get the damn thing over with and get back to my car.  I mean the power a smile can have on your energy level.

I started my run a little later than usual last Saturday on a trail I haven’t run since February.  It was packed—alarmingly packed—with people of all persuasions:  Runners, walkers, bikers, stroller-pushers, dog-walkers, meanderers, and even kids on Big Wheels.

I found all these people to be a challenge.  On the one hand, I was happy they were there, particularly the runners.  My competitiveness piqued and I ran a little bit faster because of it.  On the other hand, there were so many people (dogs, bikes, walkers spread in a horizontal line across the trail—and even a startled deer) to dodge that I initially found it difficult to get into my own head space.

But once I was there, it was bliss. Thank God. The reason (one of many) I run.

Since it was later in the morning than dawn, the Texas sun was up and blazing.  Since it was later in the morning than I’m used to, I didn’t think to bring a hat or sunglasses.  I headed back to my car squinting into the sun, sweating profusely, and probably not quite the friendly runner I try to be.

Before long, my squint screwed into a scowl.  I didn’t really notice it, however, until a pack of people came into eyeshot, walking slowly toward me.  Somehow, I had been running a stretch of trail virtually alone. Just me and the cardinals and an errant mosquito or two.  Bliss. Thank God.  Another reason I run.

Because I had such a long stretch alone, I forgot about people, pulled into my head, and apparently twisted my face into a grimace.  When I passed this mob of walkers, I forced myself to make eye contact, and I smiled.

Incredibly, all the tension in my body melted away.   A simple smile loosened my facial muscles, which are connected to my neck muscles, which are connected to my shoulder muscles, then back, arms. You know the song.  It’s all connected, and like a ripple the tension throughout my body released.  I felt stronger, lighter, and faster.  In short, I hauled.

And then I remembered that I had heard this before from numerous sources:  We tend to clench our jaw, tighten our face when we’re stressed.  If we can remember to relax our face, our whole body loosens and we de-stress.  What better way to relax your face than to smile?

So I tested this theory for the rest of my run by making faces.  I must have scowled, grimaced, frowned, glowered, glared, smirked, and puckered, then alternately smiled, beamed, grinned, and glimmered.  It was amazing what a difference a simple expression could make in the whole experience of my run—my pace, gait, attitude, and posture improved remarkably.

I made it back to my car and walked around the park a bit, drinking water, cooling down.  Another group of walkers I vaguely remember passing must have parked there too, because they came back loudly, chatting it up.  Until they saw me.  They stopped, quieted down, and gave me a wide berth.  I guess I had forgotten to pay attention to passers-by mid-experiment.

I made a point of walking by them as I left.  I smiled, Chesire cat-like, and nodded.  They averted their eyes nervously, as if I wasn’t there.  For once, I didn’t mind being ignored.

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Who Gave You Permission to Rest?

Posted on March 1, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I’ve had what my brain considers to be some very lazy days.  The taskmaster part of my brain, that is.  The part that creates my schedule, absolutely loves to-do lists, demands focus, and keeps me on-task, in work, sleep, fitness, and even fun.

I hate that part of my brain.

Particularly when my body and the rest of my brain are clamoring for free time.  Enough already, they scream, so loudly sometimes they keep me awake at night.

Why can’t I be like normal people and take it easy from time to time?  Assuming, of course, that’s what normal people do.

Since I completed a half marathon nearly 2 weeks ago, I have not gone out for a run or in to the gym for strength training.  Instead of waking up before the crack of dawn, I have let my body dictate when it wants to rise.  I still wake up (briefly) at 5 am, then roll over and promptly go back to sleep.  When I do get up, dawn has cracked.

I know that it’s good for me to take a break from routine of any kind.  It helps me to come back fresh, strong, whether I’m training for an event or tackling a work project head-on.  Mental and physical breaks are a necessity, at least for me.

Plus, it’s not like I’ve done nothing. I’ve gone to a few Pilates classes, done some Yoga.  I’ve focused on stretching and have resumed the daily core work my body needs.  I’ve started a new work project and tied up some loose ends. I’ve even set a date to begin whatever it is I’m supposed to begin:  March 1.  A nice, round number.

So why does the OCD part of my brain keep picking on me?

Wednesday morning I caught myself staring uncomfortably at my refrigerator. No, I was not trying to invoke any x-ray vision gifts I might have miraculously been given by trying to see the stacks of Girl Scout cookies in my freezer. I already broke into those.  Rather, I was noticing what was posted on the side.  My half marathon training schedule, all penciled in.  My race bib and finisher’s medal.   A race bib and 2nd place medal from a mid-training race.

I took them down and put them away, leaving an empty white space in their stead.  My OCD-brain breathed a sigh of relief. Order restored. A clean, white slate waiting to be filled.  The fist between my shoulder blades unclenched.

There is promise ahead. But first, at last, there is rest.

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Two Weeks to PR

Posted on February 1, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Athlete Running Through Finish Line

I did it.  I finished my 10 mile run last Sunday 4:30 faster than my 10 mile run the week before.  Not only am I completely thrilled with the fact that I beat myself, but I am now confident that I will PR at the Austin half in two weeks.

The last time I ran the Austin half, in 2010, I PRed.  My goal was to finish in under 2 hours.  I finished in 2:01:50-something.  I know.  I’ve been trying to block out the disappointment ever since. At least I’ve succeeded in kind of forgetting the tenth of a second part.

This time, I’m sure I can do it.  Running has never felt so good, and I’ve never trained better. This time, there are two major differences.

My attitude.

I didn’t take up running until my early 30s, and it has probably saved my life on more than one occasion. Training for a race–having a goal, a plan, a block of time every day to disappear into and call my own–has sustained me through marital problems and divorce, death, illness, and countless lows that in a previous life would probably have resulted in self-destructive activities.

Running became such an integral part of my identity that for a long time I approached it with a certain rigidity.  If I had a plan I’d follow it, come hell or high water.  But in the past couple of years, I have learned to let go of the plan.  This time around, my plan is tacked on my refrigerator, just as with any past race, but rather than stress about sticking exactly to it, I do what I can when I can. Give it my best, and leave the rest up to God. I’m finding that in running, just like in life, I get a much better outcome when I let go.

My strength.

It’s not that strength training never appealed to me, it’s that it never occurred to me. I was like most women I see at the gym even now:  My idea of a workout was strictly cardio.  Thanks to my sister, I have developed a love of strength training along with the understanding that if I want to run long and hard and fast, I need the musculature to support me.  A strong core holds the body upright and prevents hip, back, and knee injuries.  A strong upper body decreases tension on the spine when I’m slogging my shoulders and head along on those long runs.  And strong legs?  A no-brainer.  I want quads that look like braided bread not because I find them sexy, but because I need to make it up some pretty steep hills.  The stronger I get, the faster I get, and the more I enjoy running.

I’m not worried that I’ve jinxed myself by stating publicly that I believe I will PR in Austin.  Even if I don’t (but I will), I know I will be proud of my run and the fact that I’m there, giving it the best I’ve got.  Isn’t that what life’s all about?

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Fall into Running

Posted on October 5, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I feel like I’ve become a vampire runner since I’ve lived in Texas.  For what seems like 10 months out of the year (but is probably only 5), I run in the dark, before the sun comes up. It’s not that I think my body will burst into a ball of fire or disintegrate into an ash heap once the first ray of dawn touches my skin, it’s that with the Texas sun comes heat and humidity, and I do not like running in the heat and humidity.  I’m kind of spoiled that way.

I was born and raised in Michigan, where we have four distinct seasons. I love the fall. And I really miss it.  So I was absolutely THRILLED this week when fall began to sweep its way through central Texas.

To my horror, I almost missed it.

Fortunately, I got to run a lot this week.  I say “fortunately” now, but I didn’t feel so fortunate when the week began.  I’ve been diligent about maintaining a strength training program for several months now, which means I’m in the gym 3 mornings a week and running only 2 or (during good weeks) 3.   But this week I suffered from a puzzling injury that caused a great deal of pain when I raised my arm even just a little.  There went strength training out the door.

I solved the puzzle after only 2 days, but have had a hard time reducing the pain. The source of the injury?  Stress.  Seems I carry my stress in my shoulders and neck.  My muscles twist and strain like chords of twine worked into a braid, then bunch up into what feels like a knotted ball.  Literally. I could actually hear something in there bounce earlier in the week.

But rather than whine, I rolled out of bed and ran.  To my very pleasant surprise, outside felt like Michigan.  Cool, crisp air. The smell of early fall.  It changed my outlook entirely.

I even ran one morning after the sun came up.

And I didn’t explode.

Maybe by next week I can smooth out the lumps and put away the fangs for good.   Fall will likely be here, full head on.  I can’t wait.

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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.


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.


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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Too Many Crutches, Too Few Legs

Posted on July 27, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Last week I wrote about my sister’s legs, specifically how their tremendous strength has aided her in running and biking, and that because of what I have seen her accomplish I have changed my routine.

Even though running has been my focus for years, I have incorporated strength training into my routine in fits and starts. I’ll get on a weight lifting kick for a few weeks or months, decide that it’s taking valuable time away from running, and eventually peter out.  After a month or two of running, I’ll decide that I need to give strength training a whirl again, so I hit the gym once more in an attempt to work in a new weight routine.

I’ve always gone in, however, knowing that it wasn’t for the long haul, that I’d probably be tapering off again soon. And I’ve always gone in with the intention of working primarily on my upper body, to keep it toned. Now, I like Batman, but that doesn’t mean I want big ole bat wings hanging under my arms, flapping around in the breeze (or causing the breeze) every time I raise a hand.

Focusing on my upper body means that I’ve laid off strength training for my legs.  Until the past few weeks, that is.  As I’ve seen my leg strength increase and, ultimately, my running, biking, and swimming improve, I’ve wondered why the heck I haven’t done this before.  I realize now how much I’ve rationalized leaving my legs out of my routine.  Here are some of the “reasons” I’ve given myself for not strength training:

  1. I am recovering from an injury and don’t want to aggravate it.
  2. My leg muscles get worked out enough when I run.
  3. If I work out my legs, I will be too sore to run for a day or more afterward.
  4. I already do sprints, which work muscles in a different way than simply running, so I don’t need extra strength training.
  5. I usually have to take a rest or easy day the day after sprints; I can’t afford to take more rest or easy days after strength training too.

Here’s what I now say to all that:  poppycock.

While it’s imperative to listen to your body and let yourself heal properly as you recover from an injury, at some point the fact that you were injured might become an excuse that keeps you from reaching your full potential.  At least that’s what happened to me. I was injured almost two years ago. And while I still experience pain from my injury from time to time, I have learned my limitations. If a particular exercise hurts, I simply don’t do that one.  But for the moves I can do, I now lift as much weight as I safely can, always pushing myself beyond what I thought was my limit. I have been shocked in the past few weeks to see how much weight I can actually lift with my legs.

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to realize how much strength training has actually helped rather than hindered my running.  I still do sprints. And now I work my legs. I have figured out a way to minimize downtime:  I do sprints and legs on the same day.

This, of course, was my sister’s brilliant idea.  It actually has turned out to be pretty brilliant. On this combo day, I start with a couple of sprints (400s) followed by a leg circuit on six machines:  squats, calves, quads, hamstrings, deadlifts, and side step with a leg raise. Then I immediately do another sprint. I can hit the circuit 4 times, and I usually end up doing a total of 6 sprints.  I am getting faster on the sprints and am able to lift more weight each week.  And I only had down time the first week.  Now, instead of running the day after legs and sprints, I swim.

The thing I’ve found about rationalization is that it is often irrational. That’s where excuses come from, crutches, to keep us from reaching our full potential.  What drives the rationale?  Fear, usually, at least in me.  I now realize that I have 5 crutches and only 2 legs.  Somewhere, something became unbalanced. It’s time for me to lose the fear and gain the strength.

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