Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Trimming the fat, and my journey (gulp) in photos

Last night I got some fabulous news: I've lost 1.4% body fat since January.  I have a big green Post-It on my bulletin board that shows my weight and body fat percentage for every 3 months, beginning with January 3, 2011, which is when I got really, really serious about making a lifestyle change.  In one year and almost 3 months, I've lost a total of 5.1% body fat, which may not sound like a lot but is actually quite significant.

And, if you look at this chart from the American Council on Exercise (ACE), it shows that I've jumped from the "Average" category to the "Athletes" category. ARE YOU EVEN KIDDING ME?!"  It is SO unbelievably surreal to type that.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I'd ever be associated with the word "athlete" in ANY capacity whatsoever.  It's just SO bizarre and nutso, but in a very, very good way.

I was so astonished after seeing this chart that I Googled "body fat percentage women" and "body fat percentage women athletes" and came across this little ditty on "If you are interested in fine-tuning your body composition for fitness or athletic purposes, your perfect range is different from the normal range. For a female that is looking toward fitness, 21 to 24 percent body fat is ideal. If a female is looking to be as athletic as possible, 14 to 20 percent body fat is perfect."  Did I just read the word "perfect"?  I MUST be dreaming.

This amazing, awe-inspiring discovery aside, I still have a long way to go on my journey.  My journey isn't all about looking good in a bikini, it's about becoming strong, having lots of energy and setting myself up to avoid health issues in my later years.  Let's face it...those later years will be here before we know it.  I want to become a better, faster, more efficient runner.  I want to have the energy to keep up with my son who never stops moving unless he's asleep.  I want to walk into a store and buy clothes based on what I like, not based on what might cover my problem areas.  I want to feel confident in my own skin.  Is that too much to ask??  I think not - it just takes a lot of work.  For me, it takes 6 days a week of intense exercise, and I usually take a walk or do some type of active recovery on my rest day.  Are the results worth the effort?  Abso-freakin-lutely.

I was looking through some old pictures the other day, and came upon a few that made me cringe.  Much as I hesitate to post unflattering pics of myself, these are a testament to how far I've come in my journey to be fit, and a good personal motivator to continue on that journey towards my goals.  The first picture I'm sharing with you was taken just days before I became pregnant with my son, because in my mind, everything prior to that is a different chapter in my life.  Hell, it's a whole different book.  I hope that you'll continue on my journey with me, and be my cheerleader along the way, because sometimes it takes a village to build a strong mama.  Say the word and I'll do the same for you.  So come with me!  We got this.

7/26/08 - Just before I became pregnant with my son
5/15/09 - He was just 1 month and 12 days old

8/31/09 - Almost 5 months after giving birth to this lil' cutie.  I made good use of that jogging stroller the summer & fall after he was born!

4/13/10 - Was pretty psyched to fit into those shorts again
7/25/10 - This pic looks like a Cosmo magazine "don't"!  My weight used to fluctuate so much.

11/9/10 - Lost a bit of weight & bought these new jeans

4/24/11 - Had trained for a half marathon Jan-Mar, and drastically changed my eating habits in March.  Donated the new jeans I bought in the fall to Goodwill & was able to buy a size smaller in these shorts!

8/9/11- Hadn't fit into this dress since 2006.  It used to be form fitting but it's baggy on me now.

9/3/11 - Zooma half marathon training kickoff!

11/2/11 - 9 or 10 weeks into training

2/15/12 - 1 month out from the Publix Georgia Half Marathon

3/28/12 - 10 days after the half marathon & feeling confident enough to actually take a pic like this! 
My goal.  Slowly but surely, I'm getting there!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Shaking it up!

With my latest half marathon behind me, and my next one (ahem) 5 months away, I am ready to shake up my workout routine a bit - okay, a lot - and see what kinds of results I can get.  I've learned that the best way to move past a plateau or see a change in myself is to change what I do.  So, I plan to do a little experimenting and hopefully have lots of fun, sweat and laughs (not necessarily at my expense) along the way.

Right now, my weekly routine looks something like this:
Monday - yoga / run
Tuesday - Zumba
Wednesday - strength / run
Thursday - Zumba
Friday - strength
Saturday - long run
Sunday - rest (usually involves a walk; sometimes I do my long run on Sunday & rest/walk on Saturday.)

My strength workouts consist of Cybex machines, free weights, squats, lunges (sometimes), and a core routine that varies but usually includes some combination of planks, crunches, situps and the medicine ball.

I don't want to give up yoga and I don't want to give up Zumba.  I can give up some of the miles in my running, but I don't want to lose too much momentum and have to start at square one for half marathon training.  I'm thinking about perhaps incorporating an interval type workout into one of my weekly runs, where at various "stations" I'd stop to do pushups, mountain climbers, burpees, planks, etc.  That fun routine always incites lots of comments and looks of sheer horror from joggers and walkers along the route.  I could also turn one of my weekly runs into a trail run; in fact, one of my fitness goals for the year is to spend more time in the woods, and honestly, trail running uses some different muscles (not to mention mental agility!) that road running doesn't, so I'd likely see some results from it.

What I REALLY want to explore is HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), like the Tabata method, CrossFit, Blast 900, etc.  I keep hearing and reading that interval training involving fast, powerful bursts of energy with very brief recovery periods is the golden ticket to burning fat.  I am also dying to try TRX at the Y and Barre Sculpt at Dance Stop to see if I can gain more definition in my muscles. Oh, and Piloxing...I almost forgot how much I loved the trial class I did late last year!  A pilates/kickboxing combo?  Does it get any better than that??

If time and money were no object, I'd join all the local studios and take classes every day.  Fortunately, there are free trial classes available for most everything, and even more fortunately, I have the Hot Mama's Definitive Guide to High Powered, Fat Burning, Muscle Sculpting Workouts from my friend Stacey.  (The title is my brainchild - you can thank me later, Stace.) Time to print those pages out, maybe invest in a Gymboss & hit the gym! 

Seriously, though, it's high time for me to get creative and put together a new weekly routine that will have me ready for pool season in approximately 2 months.  Any suggestions or advice you may have, bring it - I love to learn from the best.  Happy HIIT-ing!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Making time for exercise

I am getting ready to run for the first time since my half marathon 6 days ago.  I promised myself a week of rest, and though I was on the verge of breaking that promise several times this week, I decided against it due to the insane amounts of pollen we've had.  Thankfully the rains came and finally washed most of it away!

This past week, with no running and very little other exercising on my agenda, I found myself spending lots of time doing the one thing that I tend to give up to make time for running and exercising - cleaning.  This week I have vacuumed, mopped, dusted, scrubbed, polished, washed, dried and organized 'til my hands are callused.  Unfortunately, with a husband, a small child and two cats in the house, the lovely luster won't last long, but I feel like I've given my best at a thorough Spring cleaning.

We don't live in squalor or anything like that, and I do tend to pick up and clean up in small amounts as I go.  If you came to my house on any given day, you may not even notice that the kitchen table could use a wiping or the hardwoods have leaky sippy cup stains.  But, do you really expect my house to be spotless all the time?  Truthfully, when I go to someone else's house who has a family, I am secretly relieved to see that it's not in tip-top shape.  Seeing a rogue stuffed animal tucked into the couch or a sprinkling of dust on a lampshade makes me feel better about my own less-than-perfect home, because it's REAL.  And, it helps me remember that there is no such thing as a Supermom; we're all just doing the best that we can.

In all honesty, giving up cleaning to make time for exercise makes me a BETTER mom and wife.  I'm more energetic, more patient and more happy.  Hail to the dust bunnies, I say! 

 I'm curious - what do you give up to make time for exercise in your busy life? 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Why running a half marathon is like having a baby (minus the morphine)

I had an "oh God, no" moment of panic when I was training for my first half marathon last year.  I had gotten up to about 7 or 8 miles in my training, and I was starving all the time.  I was also tired a lot, and going to bed at 9 and 10:00, and I thought I was a little bit more emotional than normal (that may have just been in my head.)  So, the novice half marathoner that I was, I figured I must be pregnant.  That thought sent waves of panic and anxiety through my nervous system (which was very, very nervous, mind you,) because I certainly wasn't TRYING to get pregnant; I'm not even sure I want another child.  I took a pregnancy test, wished with all my might that no double line would appear, and I got my wish.  PHEW!  Decidedly NOT PREGNANT.  I still wondered what the heck was wrong with me!  Turns out, as all you distance runners know, I had merely reached the point where I was expending so many calories during my long runs that I simply needed to up my intake of calories throughout the day.  In layman's terms, I needed to EAT MORE.  Lots more.  It was after this discovery that I started noticing the parallels between training for a half marathon and being pregnant; and after the race, I marveled at how much the whole process was not entirely unlike giving birth.  Not yet convinced?  Read on.

The Countdown: What's one of the first things you do when you find out that you're pregnant?  You determine the due date and start counting weeks.  After registering for a big race (gulp), you put it on your calendar and create or find a training plan.  Just like you are "12 weeks pregnant", you are "8 weeks into your plan".  There's a lot of glancing at the calendar, counting backwards and counting forwards involved in both, and a big fat star or smiley face or whatever you prefer on your calendar marking the DUE DATE or the RACE.

The Insatiable Appetite: Shortly after becoming pregnant, and most especially during those first 3 months, you find yourself raiding the fridge and stashing snacks in your bag before you leave the house. Same thing with distance training.  I filled a gallon sized Ziplock bag with LUNA minis and kept it in my car so when the hunger would strike, I wouldn't be tempted to pull into the nearest drive thru and snarf down french fries and a Coke Zero.  (Oh, come to Mama, you salty, bubbly, perfect-but-not-perfect-for-you snack!)  I took snacks with me EVERYWHERE.  Same thing when I was pregnant.  My Coach purse may as well have been a picnic basket.

The Narcolepsy: Also in those first 3 months, and often in the last month of pregnancy, you tend to walk around like a zombie because you just can't get enough sleep.  The baby is sucking all your energy and all you want to do is lay your head down on your desk and take a snoozer right in the middle of the workday.  (Um, I may have, ahem, done this on occasion when I was pregnant and working.  Thank goodness for an office door I could close.)  This happens sometimes in training, as well.  Those runs and workouts take a lot out of you, and though they may leave you feeling extra energized and perky immediately afterwards, at some point they are going to catch up with you and send a message to your body that says "I MUST REST."  It's usually during the most inconvenient times, like on a Saturday afternoon following a long morning run, when your body wants to hit the hay and you have grocery shopping/cleaning/laundry/cooking/taking care of child type things to do.

The Wardrobe: A sometimes fun, sometimes not perk of pregnancy is the necessity of buying a whole new wardrobe.  Maternity clothes - you gotta have 'em.  Thankfully these days, maternity clothes don't look like the tents that our mothers wore back when they were pregnant with us.  You can show off your baby bump and the rest of your curves in style, thanks to my personal favorite, Gap Maternity, among others.  Just for kicks, check out the pic to the left - this is me, just over a month before I gave birth to the lil' guy, dressed in Gap Maternity, of course.  Holy bajeesus, I was huge!  I discovered when I began training for my first half marathon that I, too, required an entirely new wardrobe of running clothes.  Okay, that may be just the TEENSIEST bit inaccurate; I MIGHT have squeezed by with the two or three pieces I already had, but if you're gonna spend that much time running and you don't want to do laundry every single day, nor have your running partners see you in the same pair of tempo track shorts and tank at every single group run (the horror!), then you have to fork out some dough on new technical gear.  I swear to you, shopping for running clothes is 10 times more thrilling to me than shopping for any other type of clothes.  Seriously.  The brighter, the better.

Last summer I even purchased a running skirt, the likes of which I had previously scoffed at, until I found this one on sale, tried it on, and did a little dance around the fitting room.  I was oh so pleasantly surprised with how it made my lower half look.  I was even more pleasantly surprised at how it felt when I was actually running - no riding up, no worries!  (Does this skirt make me look fast?)

The Temple: And by that I mean, the body.  I'd get a little weirded out whenever people joked that my body was a "sacred vessel" when I was pregnant, but in a way, it's true.  I mean, you are carrying around a living human being in your tummy, so you have to take pretty darn good care of your body if you have any hope of that living human being turning out okay.  You (usually) pay close attention to what you eat, your doctor monitors your weight gain, you keep track of the baby's developmental progress and you feel the changes that occur in your own body along the way.  At times, your body HURTS.  Same, for the most part, goes for half marathon training.  You may not be carrying around another life form in your gut, but you have to nurture, protect and prepare your body just the same.  Your body changes over the course of the training; at least mine did.  Both times.  I also discovered that it's not unusual to actually GAIN weight when nearing race day because you are consuming so much food!  (Don't worry, you will sweat it all out during the actual race.  And then some.)  Also, your body hurts.  You discover aches and pains in places you never knew COULD produce aches and pains, but you just keep focusing on that D-Day (or, R-Day), your light at the end of the tunnel.

The Rituals: Pregnant women have some strange rituals that we do while pregnant, that we'd not be caught dead doing when we're not.  Like sleeping with a pillow the length of another person between our legs.  Eating strange food combinations (though I never personally experienced that one).  Treating ourselves to a Chick-Fil-A chicken biscuit after every single OB/GYN appointment because A. it was across the street, and B. it was a reward for making it through yet ANOTHER hassle of an appointment or for seeing the little guy's cute button nosed profile on the ultrasound.  Okay, maybe that last one was just me.  Runners have rituals, too.  We eat weird stuff like little squares that have the consistency of a gummy bear (LOVE my blueberry pomegranate Gu Chomps) and pour gooey flavored liquids, aptly named Gu Energy Gel, down our throats, all in the name of energy and electrolytes. 

Some of us have adopted a rather odd ritual that I believe has saved me and my tight muscles many, many times - the ice bath.  A funny story: so many times I've been faced with the conundrum of what to do first when I get home from a long run - eat, or take an ice bath?  While I'm sitting in the bath I often dream of having a big, steaming hot platter of food in front of, seriously.  It's more like a mirage, like seeing a pond in the middle of the dessert.  A few weeks ago after a particularly strenuous 11 miler, when I remembered 3/4 of the way into it that I had forgotten to eat lunch, I was so discombobulated when I got home that I literally could not decide what to do first.  So, I made a sandwich and cracked a hard boiled egg, and ate my entirely too late lunch WHILE I WAS SITTING IN THE ICE BATH.  It was like a distance runner's dream come true.  Also, I never noticed until now just how eerily corpse-like my feet with blue nail polish look in this photo.

The Big Day: I find myself most amused at the similarities between the days/hours leading up to the birth of a child, and those leading up to a race.  There are nerves.  There are doubts.  There are thoughts of "Fortheloveofgod, why did I sign up for this?!"  For me, there are little calming and relaxing rituals I perform the day before like deep breathing, meditating and even a little praying.  I had a scheduled C-section so I knew exactly when it was going to happen and I could mentally prepare, much like I do for a race.  During the race itself, you go through physical and mental trials and pain, highs and lows, suffering and bliss, much like (I assume) you do during labor.  At the end, you've given birth to a huge personal accomplishment, and sometimes, even, a PR.  You wear that medal proudly around your neck and you are equally exhausted and exhilarated, just like after delivering a baby.  Okay, maybe not JUST like it, but work with me here.  Both things are a pretty big freakin' deal and you're pretty freakin' worn slap out after it's over.

The Recovery:  Once you arrive home from the hospital, you have to treat your body very gingerly over the next few weeks (or months.)  For me, after a C-section, I had to avoid stairs as much as possible in the first few days.  I avoid stairs as much as possible in the days following a half marathon too.  After my child was born I had to nurse my body back to its normal functioning state.  I had to go slow.  Parts hurt and parts just didn't feel right.  Same after a big race.  Right now not only are my calves sore, but my back and shoulders feel like I just competed in a heavyweight lifting competition.  Not sure what's up with that, but it comes with the territory, I suppose.  In any case, I'm giving myself a full week to recover before I hit the pavement again.  (I think.  This amazing 80 degree sunshiny, humidity free weather has me itching to lace up my Ghost 4s again.)

So there you have it, folks.  Still not convinced?  Well, my childless running friends, I'm not gonna tell you to go off and have a kid, but I will gladly encourage my mommy running friends to sign up for a distance race that's outside of your comfort zone and see how it feels.  The similarities are striking, really.  Now, I'm gonna go hang my finisher's medal around my little guy's neck and give them both a big squeeze, because I'm pretty darn proud to have given birth to both of them.  Pain and all.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The runner's insatiable appetite (or, why I may not survive the next 13 hours)

Things I have consumed today:
1 cup of coffee
2 Van's Light Waffles, toasted, topped with bananas, strawberries & maple syrup
1 hard boiled egg
1 Luna mini
1 homemade buffalo chicken wrap
handful of almonds
1 cup of green tea
another Luna mini
low fat cheese & crackers
steak, roasted fingerling potatoes and spinach
lots and lots of water

And this was a good day.  As I may have mentioned before, once I get up to about 7 or 8 miles in my training, I get ravenous.  All the time.  I'm like a scavenger, rooting around in the back of the fridge with a flashlight, clawing my way past the milk and the condiments to get my hands on any morsel of food that I can safely consume.  Wait - are olives considered condiments?  I hope not, because I have been known to chow down on those salty little suckers in a state of desperation.  I Just. Can't. Get. Enough.

The good news is, 98% of the food in our pantry and fridge is healthy, so I can't dive headfirst into a bag of chips.  Though trust me, I've dreamed about it.  Mmmmm...sour cream and onion....oh, sorry.  And the 2% that's not exactly on the food pyramid are foods I wouldn't want to consume anyway, like Finding Nemo fruit snacks and some weird, questionable ethnic something-or-others that the husband stores on the very top shelf.

The bad news is, it just occurred to me that due to a doctor's appointment tomorrow morning at 9:15, I can't eat ANYTHING after midnight tonight, meaning no breakfast.  Holy mother of Chobani, I'm gonna starve.  Wither away.  I may actually faint on the way to the doctor's office, which would be quite convenient, because the good EMS folks could just wheel me there and dump me off, and there'd be no more need for a physical since upon first sight of my limp body, the diagnosis would be "CRAZY COMPULSIVE EATER/RUNNER".  Why, FORTHELOVEOFGOD, did I schedule a physical for a week and half before a half marathon?!  I must've been out of my mind!!!

That being said, as I wipe the beads of nervous sweat from my brow (oh crap, are those precious electrolytes leaving my body?  Must replenish!) this should, fingers crossed, be the best darn physical I've ever had because, at the ripe old age of - wait, you don't really expect me to divulge that, do you? - I'm probably in the best physical shape of my life.  GO, ME!  Now, on to packing a lunch bag (duffel bag, maybe?) of post-bloodwork snacks that I can nom nom nom on the minute the nurse pulls the needle out of my vein.  PB & honey, anyone?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Fast runs and an F1 - a surreal weekend

Something happened that threw a wrench in a beautiful 4 days of running and playing outdoors.  We had amazing weather here in Atlanta last Thursday, when I ran a near perfect 8 miler, solo, at sunset.  Nothing but me and the music.  It was glorious.  On Friday I enjoyed a much needed yoga class (the best kind of recovery), an afternoon of playing outside with the boy and our first family dinner on the deck.  On Saturday morning, I opted out of running the Vision Trek 10K Trail Race due to my left knee that's been giving me fits from time to time, and instead, volunteered at the halfway point aid station.  I had the pleasure of cheering on the runners and spending some fun quality time with the other volunteers.  Then today, my friend Stacey and I battled rolling hills and strong winds, and emerged victorious after a fast (for me) 10 miler.  Truly, a near perfect extended weekend.  Except on Friday night, an F1 tornado just barely missed our house.

Some of you who have known me for a long time may remember my intense fear of tornadoes.  They have always, in fact, been my biggest fear in life, for some unknown reason, and Friday night was probably the closest I've ever come to one.  The thing that freaks me out the most is that in the hours leading up to its touchdown, we had no rain, no storms, no wind, nothing really out of the ordinary, save for some lightning in the distance.  Then all of a sudden the hail hit, out of nowhere.  It was so loud and we moved so fast to get downstairs to the basement that we didn't quite realize what was happening.  The power went out, and our windows in the basement are covered so we had no idea what was going on outside.  Turns out, the tornado took out a few of our neighbor's trees and a big section of their fence in the backyard, and another huge tree across the street 2 houses down.  Then it took out 20 or so trees (if I had to guess) at the park just down the street that we walk to all the time.  All in a matter of seconds.  I think it's probably a good thing it happened so quickly that I didn't even have time to process what was actually happening, or I might've gone into full on uncontrollable panic and hysteria mode.  In fact now, 2 nights later, as thoughts creep into my mind about what happened, I push them away so as to not freak myself out even more.  Thank God everyone is safe and none of our homes were damaged.  I've said this before and I'll say it again: Mother Nature is a powerful force, a force to be reckoned with.  Respect her.  Don't question her.  And don't wait 'til the last minute to take cover from her.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Fitness and advertising: 2 of my great loves

As some of you know, my background is in advertising.  I've worked on some pretty cool brands like Coca-Cola, Publix Super Markets, M&M/Mars, and the incestuous trifecta of Cingular Wireless, BellSouth and AT&T.  I'd like to think that I can recognize a good ad campaign when I see one, and over the past 3 days I have seen not one, but two.  I'm a rather tough critic so this is nearly unheard of. 

On Wednesday, I discovered an Athleta catalog in my mailbox.  I've never worn Athleta before, but somehow I must've recently gotten on the mailing list for "clothes that you covet but cannot afford", because catalogs have been showing up left and right, taunting me with their bright colors.  I poured over the catalog for a solid 30 minutes, dog-earing pages and devising endless combinations of swimsuit tops and bottoms in my head.  The thing that impressed me the most, however, aside from the gorgeous colors, prints and flattering cuts, was the models themselves.  Athleta got smart.  They didn't use skin and bones, toothpick looking waifs to model their swimwear, rather they shot strong, toned, sculpted, highly athletic women who also just happen to have naturally beautiful faces that don't need to be made up with neon lips and glittery eyes.  These women look REAL.  And gorgeous.  And much like the woman I aspire to be. 

So, my appetite piqued, I went online to Athleta's website and clicked the "play" button on the video on their homepage.  I was blown away.  I don't know if it was the Led Zeppelin-esque riff of the music (sounds a whole lotta like "Whole Lotta Love" to me), the beautiful, tropical scenery or the models running, yoga-ing, paddling and biking, but it made me want to get out of my seat, get outside and get moving.  And order hundreds of dollars of clothes (note to self: start playing the lottery) from Athleta.  It made me want to proudly wear their brand.  Amazing!

Check out some of their ads from the "Power to the She" campaign:

And, I stumbled upon this writeup from Adweek.  Maybe my ol' good advertising radar still works after all.

Athleta also has a robust online community and blog called Athleta Chi.  Check it out and dare yourself not to get sucked in.  It appears that they have a sponsorship program, where athletes can apply to be sponsored by Athleta.  From what I've learned about the brand and the philosophy, I am dying to be a part of it, and I'll be checking back every day for news about when applications for the 2013 sponsorship program will open.  A lofty aspiration, yes?  Just so happens that this Mama has had some pretty lofty fitness aspirations in the past and kicked booty at them, so why not?

The other ad that I came across today in my new Runner's World magazine (hooray for weekend reading material!) is this one from Lululemon:

I love this ad because it's talking directly to me.  It put a knowing grin on my face when I read it, and I'm going to post it to my Pinterest board AND to my physical, old school bulletin board hanging on the wall in my home office.  It's just perfect.  As a runner and a yogi, Lululemon hit the nail on the head.

It gives me great joy when I see good examples of my two loves married to each other.  This old ad geek will always have creative flowing through her body, and sometimes I wonder whether fine tuning this body helps me fine tune my creative juices, as well.  Wouldn't surprise me a bit.