Sunday, December 30, 2012

Not Bad for Digital Parent

Bad Mommy Alert:  My kids play video games and spend a lot of time on the computer and I am okay with that.  It is kind of my fault, too.  As babies, I sat their rockers in front of the television tuned in to the Food Network to calm them down when they were restless and I needed to free up my hands.  As toddlers, they had some of the first generation Leap Frog electronic readers and they were both each reading fluently by age three.  When they started using our old desktop computer, they practiced doing hard reboots because they got tired of calling me to fix it when the computer froze up on them.  The trend started early and I have not done much to stop it.  They have been through Nintendo DS's, a Wii, an XBox, iPods, desktops, laptops and now tablets.  My kids are not at all unique in this area.  Every family on our block has probably had the same history, but the way we view this development is possibly different.

When we get close to a gift-giving event like a birthday or Christmas, they ask for game store gift cards or iTunes downloads.  When we go to a restaurant, they want to ask the waitstaff if the place has good WiFi.  When we got one of the first generation DVR's a while back, it was my oldest son that was the first to figure out how to use it.  When I first received my tablet and programmed a pass code on it, my other son figured out how to unlock it because he thought I needed help setting it up.  Little did he know I locked the darn thing to keep him from messing with it.  Needless to say, that idea back fired and I had to come up with more creative ways to keep my kids from toying with my electronics.

None of this should be a surprise when you consider what I do for a living.  For years, I have been a campus  technology coordinator in a local school district and my husband was a computer engineer for as long as I can remember.  It is a no-brainer that some of the computer jargon and shop talk we did at home was bound to rub off on my boys.  There was once a time when they played with stuffed animals and plastic action figures, but those days are gone now that they are rapidly maturing.  Video games, through consoles and gaming sites, have taken the top spot as their most desired form of entertainment.  I have learned from numerous editorials and talk shows that this is supposedly a horrible thing, or at the very least I should be concerned enough to be concerned.  Too much video gaming is going to melt their brains and make the liquefied cells ooze from their ears and nose.  They will morph into mute zombies and begin grunting requests for food and water because they are too obsessed with meeting or beating a high score.  Oh, and at some point I should notice mushrooms growing under their arms because they will begin to ignore their personal hygiene in exchange for more precious minutes online.

This has not happened yet, but I assure you as the ever diligent hovering mom I will take action if any of the above scenarios begin to occur.  I will smack their hands away from the game controller or mouse and stick an old fashioned book in front of them.  Better yet, I will get their fingers counting with an abacus while recording repeating number facts on a school house chalkboard.  That's how I will know I am raising well rounded children.  Um, yeah right!  Who am I kidding?  When my kids go to their game room to play video games, I get blocks of uninterrupted peace to do whatever the heck I need to do, whether it is cooking or making a phone call or just reading a book.  They are being entertained by something they control when I need everyone out of my hair for a few minutes of quiet.  That's pretty bad, huh?  I tend to disagree.  I hear other picture perfect new age moms declaring how allowing your children too much time to play video games and surfing the web makes you a terrible mother and your ineffective parenting will eventually cause your children to develop into anti-social underdeveloped cavemen that will not know how to relate to other people and issues in the "real world".  This blanket assumption by the critics is that these pro-digital parents (I just made up that name) are detached, hands-off and using these gaming devices as babysitters.

There is indeed a balance to achieving an ideal digital playground environment (yeah, I just made that one up, too).  When they go to some of their favorite websites, they are actually reading and learning stuff that I fully admit to never having an awareness about when I was their age.  Just today, my oldest son researched an how-to video on his own about ways to keep his shoes looking clean and new with a mix of household items.  He is also learning sketch art techniques from an art site online.  Both of my sons are learning how to play guitar through a series of YouTube videos that explain it on a beginners' level.  They learned their multiplications tables through a math video game site that their teachers suggested.  Even when they are playing your run of the mill mundane video game, they are still using problem solving skills to achieve whatever cyber task is in front of them.  This is supposed to be a bad thing?

My knowledge came from books that were already ten years passed their date of relevance by the time they made it to my desk.  These days, my kids don't have to wait for new knowledge.  It is updated more times per day than we will ever be aware of thanks to the split second distribution efficiency of the world wide web.  Of course I don't let them online to navigate through the wild on their own. I fully monitor the sites they visit and the household laptops stay in a common place of the house where either myself or my husband know exactly what they are doing online at all times.  They are calm and engaged and their brains have shown no signs of melting at this time.  When it is time to unplug from the digital devices and return to Earth from gaming heaven, they have a slew of real live breathing human friends to run around and play with on a daily basis.  My hubby and I spend many evenings and weekends having old school family time with the boys to keep our bond strong.  The healthy balance between their online world and their real world is still very much in tact.

I say all this at a time when there is great sorrow in my own digital playground environment.  I am in danger of losing a very dear friend and her name is Samsung.  We have been nearly inseparable for the last two years, so you can understand my attachment.  She has kept me entertained on a daily basis by providing up-to-date information, the latest books and the occasional laugh when I wanted to catch up on episodes of my favorite sitcoms.  She has been an unfailing devoted friend that tucked easily into my purse when I was on the go.  However, I became worried when I noticed in the last few months that she was not processing things properly and her memory was slowly failing her.  She would freeze up and forget what page of a book she was sharing with me.  Then she started to forget my favorite songs and so on.  As I type this, she is currently unresponsive despite my best efforts to restore her to her previous self.

This development comes just days after I almost lost my other good friend, HP.  I am pleased to report that HP was out of commission only temporarily and is functioning properly today.  But right now, my thoughts are with dear sweet Samsung as she struggles to stay with us.  I am seeking professional help tomorrow and will remain positive in hopes that it is not too late.  I acknowledge that sharing sweet Samsung with my children (er, to play video games) may have been too taxing on her aging self.  There are only so many sessions of Angry Birds one can take.  In the event that Samsung does not survive, I will wait the obligatory mourning period before I try to replace her.  Please keep sending positive and healing thoughts our way for as long as you can...or at least until I pay off some holiday shopping bills and can afford a newer faster replacement for sweet Samsung.  Let's hope she pulls through, because mamma needs her toys too :)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

...And We'll Have Fun Fun Fun

You know how people always make generic statements about wanting to do something fun?  Better yet, they ask at whatever event they find you and ask if you are having fun.  Fun is defined in different ways by anyone you ask.  Fun for my hubby might include watching a Two and a Half Men marathon in his old ratty fraternity shirt and underwear, with old school Al Green tunes playing on a loop in the background.  Fun for my boys might include stuffing their faces at a pizza buffet, then burping the alphabet and going a couple of days without having to shower.  My definition of fun varies from day to day, depending on my mood and stress level.  When stress is high, I look for quieter activities that give me some alone time, like going for a long slow run and reading a good book on my back patio.  On lighter days, I look to do anything that connects me to friends and loved ones, like a Tex-Mex dinner with dessert and margaritas with girlfriends.

Recently, my cousins and I had an all-girls weekend away at a beach condo, leaving kids and hubbies and responsibility behind for a mere 48 hours.  I was tired from a killer work week and the threat of a looming thunderstorm made me long for a quiet weekend indoors, clad in my favorite pajamas.  However, the weekend with my cousins had been planned for weeks and I did not want to pass up an opportunity to hang out with these ladies I saw too little of already.  I have a bad habit of getting lost in my own fog (work, household, etc.) and tend to shy away from anything that gets me off my schedule.  Anal?  Yeah, just a bit.  I come from a family of almost all women, so a family gathering of any sort turns into an automatic hen session and I admittedly don't always play well in those situations.  The weekend with my cousins turned into a lighthearted nostalgic visit with women that I grew up with like sisters.  We ate seafood and chocolate and drank wine, while watching back-to-back airings of the Sex In The City movies.  We stayed up late talking about absolutely nothing of importance, giggly and silly like we had no cares in the world.  It was fun.  Simple as  It made realize that I wanted (needed) more of it.  So why the hell was I resisting it?  What was holding me back?

I wanted to have some fun.  It was almost like I had just read a billboard on the side of the highway that said "Fun: Go Out and Have Some".  It weighed on me, made me want to schedule it on my Google calendar and then check it off my to-do list.  I don't know why having fun suddenly became such a priority.  Wait a minute.  Yes I do.  Fun was something this household had been unable to shamelessly pursue in the last year and a half.  So many more serious issues had been pushed to the forefront and our simplest desires had to be squashed because of us being in a perpetual state of survival.  We have slowly moved from under that dark cloud as 2012 came to a close.  Hubby is enjoying good health and has a new professional opportunity that is something he probably wouldn't have given a second glance if it had not fallen into his lap and demanded his attention.  The way his face lit up as he went over the details of his new project was infectious and made me want to harness that lightness in his spirit for later use.  As long as this venture continued to have that affect on him, I would continue to support it, no questions asked.  He was not seeing it as work, but instead as something fun.  He was inspired by it's possibilities and the joy it would bring him.  Who am I to argue with that?

I get two glorious weeks of winter vacation every year that allows me time to do all the Christmas shopping and holiday partying that I would ever want to do.  Believe it or not, I usually don't party much at all during this time.  The colder weather usually draws me indoors to either some TV time or to quiet hours reading cheesy romance novels from some of my favorite authors.  Many of the holiday party invites that find their way to us through email or snail mail get declined because I am too tired and lazy to make it out the door.  This year was different.  Whether it was a simple lunch with girlfriends, a book club gathering or a weekend away with my cousins, I wanted to do it.  No lame excuses of being too tired or too busy would suffice.  I wanted to get out and have some fun.  I wanted the same for my guys, too.  Hubby spent time with both friends and extended family in the last few weeks, making such a notable difference in him.  He spends so much time on a daily basis worrying about the "what-ifs" of his new reality that I forget what he was like when such heavy issues like health and medications did not burden him so much.  He needs some fun, too.

When I do sit down and think of my goals for the new year, the list will be much easier to pen than previous years' lists.  It is simple.  If it does not bring me or my guys joy, then it won't make it onto my list of priorities.  I want a new and more functional kitchen.  I want to run more Saturday morning 5K's.  I want to sit at Starbucks and sip coffee with my mom.  I want to read juicy novels on my back patio.  I want to stay surrounded by positive people I really like and dump the negative people that make me stray from my true self.  I want to go on weekend road trips and not worry about the laundry pile waiting on me when I return.  I want to have more mommy/daddy date nights in the middle of the work week.  I want to go to yoga class once a week and actually get better at it.  I want to (finally) finish some of my short story ideas, let others read them and get some honest feedback, good or bad.  Whew!  That list is long, but it all can be done.  The things that bring me joy are so simple and attainable, but for the life of me I cannot figure out why these things tend to get pushed to the back burner.  If I try harder to get out of my own head and just live for the fun of the moment, then maybe I will get more of these "tasks" accomplished.  It might be then when I finally grow into the woman I always thought I could be and might figure out what her purpose in this crazy world is after all.  She still has not yet emerged, but I have a feeling she will make her debut soon.

Monday, December 17, 2012


This update is to make you all aware that I have officially lost my mind.  My husband would argue that my good sense was gone a long time ago, but that is a debate for later.  By random chance, last month I read an article on Runner's World encouraging runners to engage in a month-long running streak from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  It is supposed help us casual suburban weekend warriors combat the weight gaining effects of holiday eating habits by staying active during a month when we traditionally take it easy and indulge in fattening comfort foods.  In order to participate, you simply have to make the commitment to run a minimum of one mile everyday during the streak.  Crazy, right?  I thought so, but still I was intrigued.  Something pulled me in, slowly making me think this would be something worth trying at least once.  One mile per day did not seem too taxing, and I was already in the thick of my fall/winter racing season.  It did not seem too far fetched to run one mile everyday for one month.

True to my cowardly nature, I did not plan to tell anyone about my streak so I would not have to face any judgement in case I failed or decided to quit before that mission was accomplished.  Seems like I am always planning ways to give myself an "out" in case Plan A falls through.  Thanksgiving Day came and went, as did the official start of the Runner's World holiday streak and I did not make it out for a run.  Thankful that I had kept my big mouth closed, I quietly chose another start date that would launch my own personal running streak.  This start date would coincide with a countdown of sorts, spiraling to a date more significant to 40th birthday.  This date is in January, meaning I would have to start my streak no later than December 1st.  Since it was my 40th, the streak would need to go longer than 30 days in order to have a better ring to it.  So it was decided.  I would have 40 days of consecutive running to celebrate my 40th birthday.

I have harped so much about my birthday that you would assume I was a showy person where this annual event is concerned, but that would be inaccurate.  Normally I celebrate very quietly by running the Chevron Houston Marathon or Half-Marathon (it falls on my birthday weekend every year) and then pigging out on red velvet cake and pizza with my guys.  It is our little tradition and anything that deviates from that would feel wrong.  However, something about being 40 feels different .  I wanted to welcome this new decade with a bigger bang than usual.  Why not do something really out of the norm just to prove I am the badass that I always claim to be (at least in my head).

As I write this, I am about half way through my 40-day streak.  Yes I am still crazy, but there are no running related injuries to report.  The biggest obstacle has been squeezing in a run before the sun sets each evening.  This means I have to make sure I leave work early enough to make it home before the darkness falls around 5:30pm.  On days that I have some energy, the runs average around 3 miles.  On other days when work has me drained, I stick with my one mile minimum.  On those one-miler days, I drag my mini-running partner (my oldest son) along to keep me company.  He is always the best running companion because he couldn't care less that mom had a rough day.  He just wants to get out of the house and yak about all the adventures of a day in his life as a third grader.  It is always a welcome distraction and helps me get over my drama of the moment quickly.

If all goes as planned, my 40 days will conclude on January 9th.  This will allow me to have a couple of days rest in time for the Houston Half-marathon on January 13th.  Since I am doing that event on behalf of the Todd Krampitz Foundation (a Run For a Reason charity), I want to try to have a decent race performance since I have blabbed to enough people that I am doing it.  If you want to help, there are two ways to do so.  You can go to my fundraiser page to make a small donation that will benefit the foundation's efforts to spread organ donor awareness.  The second is to keep posting positive messages to me here or on my Facebook page between now and January 9th to encourage me to keep up the streak.  This is my small way of giving thanks to God for a healthy body and mind, allowing me the grace to do the things I love.  It was just a short time ago when ill health threatened to take that away from my family, so I count this blessing with a grateful heart.  Thanks in advance for your support!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Duality of the Black Runner Girl

The divas and I participated in the RunGirl Half-Marathon this weekend and the weather was unseasonably warm, even for a Houston December morning.  Temperatures started out in the low 70s and rose into 80s by the time I crossed the finish line.  Speaking of which, it took a rather long time for me to cross that finish line.  By the time I did finally finish, I was badly dehydrated and defeated.  All the long runs and preparation leading up to this race were fairly good.  I actually felt rested and strong on race morning, toeing the start line with a tiny bit of cockiness that is not the norm for me.  However, the humidity left me wiped out and I pretty much gave up the fight somewhere around mile 9.  It was a run/walk/shuffle blur from that point on to the finish line.  Hey, at least I finished and claimed another medal, right?

As bad as this race was for me, my less than stellar performance was not what was at the forefront of my mind that morning.  The RunGirl half is a women's only race nestled in the wooded beauty of a park not far from my house.  Most of the faces in that crowd of 1000 runners are familiar to me from my running group, the local triathlon club, neighbors and random faces from the general area.  This race is one of my favorites because it always feels like I am running among friends.  It is very comforting to endure those tough challenges with friends.  The problem is that most of those friends do not look like me.  I am black, African American, a woman of color or whatever other politically correct title you choose to describe my ethnic make up.  My running friends are every race under the sun, but only an extreme few are black.  This is my concern and has been for a long time.

After all these years and numerous races, I still find myself searching the crowds for other brown faces in hopes that the numbers would have increased with each passing event.  The race this weekend was no different than previous ones.  In a crowd of nearly 1000 fit and fierce runner girls, I was able to count a little over 30 or so black women.  Of course there were probably more than that, but the fact that I had to go several minutes on the course before running into another African American female was a bit disheartening.  When I do run up next to one of these ladies on the course, I feel the strangest urge to say hi or make contact in some form to let them know I am here too.  I make the same assumption that they are searching the crowd of faces in search of me as well.  As corny as that may seem, it makes perfect sense when I and the other black women make eye contact at the local events in some silent affirmation that we are right where we belong and we are not alone.  

I am actually a member of Black Girls Run!, a nationally recognized running group created to encourage women of color to network and increase our numbers in the running community.  Sadly, the group meets at running venues that are more than 20 miles from my house, so I have never made the effort to meet up and run with them in person although I am up to date with their events and promotions.  My plan is to change that really soon.  I want to network with this group and find out if their experiences resemble my own.  Do they sometimes feel the duality of being a black runner?  Do they feel a longing to see more black women on the race courses, all while bonding and building relationships with other non-black runner friends?  Do they too feel a sense of responsibility to spread the good news about running's virtues to their black non-running sisters?  My husband is an avid cyclist who has numerous black male and female cycling partners he can point to within his circle of friends, so it baffles me why our women continue to shy away the sport of distance running in such large numbers.

Don't get me wrong.  I am not lacking for companionship at all.  My current running buddies are the truest examples of what loyal friends should be.  They have stood by me through the good, the bad and the really bad.  If it were not for our common running hobby, it is unlikely that we would have ever crossed paths at all.  This is part of the reason these friendships are so precious to me because I recognize how rare these deep connections are, no matter the race or ethnic backgrounds of the individuals involved.  I also have equally close relationships with my black girlfriends that go all the way back to my childhood roots growing up in a predominantly African American part of town.  Of all my black girlfriends from the old neighborhood, college and my adult years, I can only count a mere 4 or 5 that run on regular basis.  Yes, I have encouraged them to give running a try.  Yes, I have shared my endless running stories of challenge and triumph in hopes that it would lure them into this sport I love.  So far, it has not worked and I am not sure why.  The area of town where I live is fairly mixed ethnically, but the running population is not.  It is doubtful that my white running buddies have ever noticed this lack of diversity but it continues to scream at me, daring me to try to change it.  I  do see my black sisters in huge numbers at the gyms and at various local sporting events, but the black woman running continues to be an enigma.

By now you already know I started a running club at the high school where I work.  My Go-FAR run club girls are Hispanic and African American and we still get strange looks from the neighborhood folks when we take off on our weekly runs.  It is as if they have never seen black and brown young women taking their fitness seriously, and maybe that is true on some levels.  I am deliberately trying to plant a seed with these young girls so the "lone black female" phenomenon I have experienced in my running days may be a thing of the past by the time these girls introduce running to their daughters.  I know without a doubt that I am passing on some good habits to my run club girls, but I still want more.  I need to make an effort to encourage their mothers and grandmothers to get involved as well.  Heck, I am already older than most of their mothers and probably not much younger than their grandmothers (gasp!).  I started running in my adult years, so why can't they?  What if I started my own chapter of Black Girls Run! on my side of town?  What if the number of black women running increased dramatically over the next generation?  Will I pat myself on the back for having made a small positive impact on the running community or will I shake my head at how long it took me to realize I had that kind of influence?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

It's His Turn

I have been in love with my husband for 15 years and married to him for 10 of those years.  Many of my own "firsts" can be dated back to around the time our relationship began.  The first year of my career, my first completely new car, and even my first attempt at running all occurred about the same time this seemingly tough guy first caught my eye.  We have known each other since we were kids, but it wasn't until much later into adulthood when we actually started seeing each other as something other than platonic former high school buddies.  Back in those early days together, I was overweight (yes, more than I am now) and was intensely involved in a love affair with pepperoni pizza and Starbucks frappuccinos.  My husband, on the other hand, has been a dedicated gym rat since his early teens.  He is one of those old school original health nuts that shuns all the new age fitness fads and prefers the smelly funk of a weight room any day.  Looking back, it seems ironic that a weightlifting fitness fanatic fell for a chubby chic without a fitness clue.  He was a protein shake carrying workout guru and I was a wannabe feminist, too afraid to sweat out a good hair day.  We evolved, thank goodness, and now we both follow an active lifestyle that will hopefully rub off on our children as well.

Juggling jobs, social outings and workout sessions has become trickier since the kids have come along.  When my boys were babies, we took turns with our respective workouts.  While hubby and the babies were still asleep, I would wake up at the butt crack of dawn on the weekends to get a run completed before the oppressive sun made the temps unbearable.  Upon my return home, hubby and I would switch places and he would head out to the gym for his own private time.  These days we can take the kids with us to workout excursions if they are so inclined.  Child care is not nearly as stressful as it was back in those early days but we still have to schedule our workouts ahead of time until the boys are more mature.  I still usually workout during the early morning hours and he prefers gym time later in the evening.

I took you down this nostalgic stroll on Memory Lane because a new wrinkle has been added to the fold.  Hubby is now a new runner and cyclist.  Although I recognize the symptoms, it is still hard to believe he caught the running and cycling bug like so many others.  When he first spotted his most recent pair of running shoes, he got all giddy in the store as if he'd just eyed his first big boy train set.  When he was shopping for his bike, he courted it the same way he courted me in the early days of our relationship.  Now that he has all his shiny new gear, he handles the stuff with kid gloves like he once handled our newborn babies.  Oh yeah, and I am having a blast teasing him about his behavior.  To get the full picture, you have to understand that this man does not lose his cool often.  He prides himself on his tough guy demeanor and does not let too many people see the chinks in his armored exterior.  However, watching him jump in his car like a whipped little girl every time the bike store has a sale is better than watching a classic Saturday Night Live skit.  He loves his new hobbies and I love seeing him happy.  He deserves it.

All of this has propelled him to register for his very first triathlon, scheduled for late September.  Registering for a race in September is deliberate because it coincides with the one year anniversary of his kidney transplant.  This is his way of bringing things full circle after a year of so many heartbreaking challenges.  Thanks to his athletic background, the training has not been too strenuous for him.  He just has to get into the practice of doing three different events in one race.  He has hired a swim coach, connected with some cycling buddies and actually came to me, of all people, for running advice.  Imagine that...the master has humbled himself to seek instruction from a mere mortal.  Don't think for one minute that I won't use this as fodder the next time he makes fun of me and my off beat running quirks.  He has now achieved his first running injury and his first big fall on his bike.  Both seemed to have injured his pride more than his body, but at least it has loosened some of his newbie tensions.

I have to remember my role of support while he enjoys this new transition.  In the early days, hubby accompanied me to every race and cheered for me at every finish line like I was a world class athlete.  His unconditional support was the one constant I could count on, even when my running performance was uncoordinated and unpredictable.  Before my confidence grew as a runner, I was childish and superstitious and sometimes down right bitchy when things did not go my way.  Hubby was on the receiving end of a lot of that bad behavior and I feel like I never completely made up for it.  Now I get the chance to repay him for all the times he put his workout plans on hold just so I could take an evening run on the trails.  I can now properly thank him for all the times he played Mr. Mom on his own while I took weekend trips away with the divas to run whatever race of my choice.  For every time he remembered on whatever gift-giving holiday that I am not a "flowers and candy" kind of girl and bought me running shoes instead, I can now show my true appreciation.  I still have to correct myself sometimes, but overall it feels good to give him first pick when it comes to scheduling our workout times.

Even if he only acts like he wants to go for a bike ride or a treadmill run, I try to prioritize his time ahead of mine because it is his turn to come first after playing a supportive role for me so many years.  He is happy and carefree on his bike and it is a beautiful sight to see someone you love light up that way about something so simple.  Hubby has always been that type of supportive and giving guy to a lot of people in his life.  He does not ask for anything in return.  However, I want to make sure he holds on to his new hobbies for his own selfish reasons.  His cycling and running doesn't have to benefit anyone but himself.  It can suck time away during his leisurely weekend hours just because he wants to.  He can splurge his extra dollars on new gear just because it makes him happy.  But most of all, I hope he is able to lose himself in a carefree stroll just for the chance to make his spirit a little lighter.  It's his turn to let go and his time to feel the joy of a great escape.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Weight Loss Report: Month 2

Remember all that boisterous talk about me reaching another 5 pound milestone by the time July 1st rolled around?  When I started out on this weight loss adventure, I vowed to lose 5 pounds a month until I reached my goal weight.  If that would have happened, I would be about half way to the finish line right now.  Confession time...I did not reach that goal this month.  I lost 1 pound in June.  Only 1 pound!  This is painful to admit, let alone put it out there for everyone to know.  Yeah, I am disappointed, but if I am honest with myself I know there were several instances in the past four weeks when I fell off the diet train with gusto.  It is summer time and my entire household has fallen into a nice easy schedule of relaxing and snacking 'round the clock.  I have kept up with my diet journal in an effort to remain within my allotted calorie count, but the contents of it have far more processed snack foods that it should.  A sinful bite here and a sweet taste there adds up quickly.  My freezer is stocked with ice cream and the cookie jar is filled with homemade chocolate chunk cookies for my ever hungry two growing sons.  There have been endless social gatherings with family and friends where margaritas and delicious summer comfort foods were plentiful.  Again, I am not making excuses for my behavior.  I could have done better and I did not.  This is simply an honest inventory of my dietary sins from the last four weeks.

There is an up side I am happy to report, or several actually.  Yes, I have slipped up quite a bit diet-wise during the month of June, but my workouts have been incredible.  I have returned to my strength training routine like a beast and it has started to pay off.  My routine has been a three-day split and I do things slightly different each time.  I have the attention span of a gnat when it is something I don't want to do.  I work all upper body twice a week and legs once per week.  Why legs only once per week?  Running is my first workout love, so between morning runs with my buds and the occasional treadmill excursion my legs get worked in excess.  Last month I spent a great deal of time in the gym just knocking off my body's cobwebs and getting back into a steady routine without my muscles screaming for mercy with each rep.  This month my strength has returned and I can see the early signs of muscle definition.  Yeah!  Nothing strokes your ego better than finally seeing the results of your hard physical labor.  It takes about 12 weeks of regular weight lifting and dieting for your body's strength gains to show up in full glory, so this is truly the early stages.  My body still carries a thick layer of fat, though not a much as it used to.  Things don't jiggle like they did two months ago.  I am still thick, but the thickness is more solid and toned lately.  Put a check mark in the success column for this.  Strength training is paying off.

On a side note, I have to jump back onto my soapbox and start preaching again.  I hear a lot of women complain about the shape of their bodies, no matter how chunky or thin they may be.  We tend to join a gym and spend all our time on a cardio machine we like and sweat for hours, expecting to see some body shaping results.  A very wise young lady (an aerobics instructor) once said that working out exclusively on just cardio will work the hell out of that one part of your body (cardio, i.e. your heart).  You will end up with a very strong heart, but the rest of your body will look pretty much the same as it always has.  My advice from personal experience is that increased muscle tone can benefit every body type.  This is not some newly adopted idea of mine.  I have long preached the benefits of women increasing their muscle mass.   I am just as guilty as anyone about not practicing what I preach in this area.

All the general complaints we have about the female physique can be improved by increasing our muscle mass.  Jiggling thighs, chunks of cellulite, flabby arms, and droopy boobs can be coaxed into better shape with regular strength training.  Not having a gym membership is no excuse to avoid strength training.  Simple old fashioned moves like push ups, squats, lunges and crunches can be done anywhere, anytime, without any equipment.  Bottom line is you have to shoot for the complete package.  You have to eat good nutritious foods, you have to burn fat with challenging cardio sessions and you must include regular strength training to see positive results.  Anyone can lose weight by restricting their calories alone, but their body won't be anything they want to show off because their body's muscle-to-fat ratio will still be lopsided.  No one wants to be skinny enough to be able to fit into a bikini and then too embarrassed to actually walk around in it because of their jiggling flabbiness.

Speed work is now a part of my weekly rotation as well.  I have been forced to do speed intervals on the treadmill (UGH!) because several of the local school tracks have been under repair for weeks.  For a slug like me, the only thing worse than actually doing speed work is having to do said speed work on the revolving belt of a treadmill like a freakin' hamster in a cage.  I breathe louder, I sweat more and my uncoordinated tendencies reach an all time high when I do speed work.  Having all this on display, in a gym, on a treadmill next to other unsuspecting patrons is just plain wrong.  Last week, I ended up on a treadmill next to my son's old first grade teacher and I could tell my sweat droplets flying into her personal space was a wee bit of a distraction for her.  The good news is I have done either a speed interval or a tempo run once per week this past month and it is tolerable enough for me to want to keep it up a little longer.  One welcome benefit is that although my speed sessions are shorter, they burn more calories in less time than my usual back-of-the-pack pace.  The pay off will be revealed whenever I sign up for my next race to see if I can push my limits just a little without too much carnage.

Total up all these developments and the result is that I am down one complete jeans size after two months of effort.  The numbers on the scale are not decreasing as quickly as I would like, but I know the changes are happening because my formerly too tight clothes are becoming wearable again.  My muscle definition is slowly coming into view and I have not given up on speed work just yet.  I have learned the same lesson (again!) that my diet still needs improvement.  Overall I have cleaned up my diet a great deal but I can do so much better.  My house is walking distance from two grocery stores, so keeping a constant stock of fresh fruits and vegetables should be a no-brainer.  My house is also walking distance from roughly 20 or so fast food restaurants, too.  Surely you understand my struggle (wink, wink).  Next month I WILL be down 5 more pounds (yes, I am declaring it!) and I know I will be able to continue to do the same workout efforts barring any illness or injury.  Being on this train for the last two months should mean I have passed a point of no return, pushing me closer to a goal I set weeks ago with no guarantees of success.  I don't want to have to start over again and again like I always have, more discouraged and disgruntled than the times before.  As the saying goes...if you are tired of staring over, then stop giving up.  This will be my new mantra as I head into another month on my weight loss journey.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Love and Hate of Speedwork

Remember that promise I made to add speedwork to my running schedule this training season?  I stayed true to that promise by doing my first speed session this week.  Big deal, right?  Well, yes, it is a big deal for a slacker like me.  It has been a long time since I last visited a track for any kind of workout session and it shows in every way in my running form and lack of speed.  I have become gradually slower and more plump over the years without speed workouts, and I've had a damn good time in the process.  You won't catch me making excuses for my slow pace or my weight gain from the last few years.  I loved every morsel of calorie rich food I ate and earned every pound I gained like they were lottery prize installments.  However long this little healthy streak I am currently on continues, I will have to own up to my dietary sins and up the ante on my running with weekly speed sessions.

My love/hate relationship with speedwork is long and complicated.  The way I feel about doing hard intense loops around that boring track is similar to the way I feel about taking medicine when I am sick.  I know it is good for me but the actual process of swallowing the pill is bitter at best.  If you want to see me act like a complete child, tell me to do a speed workout and I will come undone.  Lately, my running has not been about intensity or serious effort.  It has become a social escape when I can chit chat with my buds and forget my worries for roughly 40 minutes to an hour.  Speedwork on the other hand involves concentration, effort and a lot of unsexy heavy breathing.  There is nothing fun about looping the same 400-meter track over and over again as my Garmin beeps to tell me to quit dragging my ass.

Nevertheless, even I am mature enough to recognize the merits of track workouts.  Just like with dietary improvements, the results are unmistakably positive when I put in the work consistently.  There was once a time a few years back when several of my buds and I followed an advanced training schedule that included track work, circuit training and good old fashioned calisthenics.  I followed the training schedule for roughly three months and I nailed PRs in various distances that season.  The lesson learned was if I put in the work, I would see the results.  However, the work part is what I have skillfully avoided for the last few years.  Walking onto that track this week meant a lot of cobwebs would have to be dusted off to make the time well spent.  My running buds and I agreed on a simple workout of 5x400-meters, with 200-meter rest breaks in between.  No it wasn't much by super athlete standards, but it promised to kick my lazy butt well enough.

Since the temps in the Houston area have already begun to climb into the mid-90s, our track time had to take place in the early morning hours before the sun was up.  Surprisingly I was actually a bit anxious to get the workout started.  The good thing about doing any speed session is that there is a definite predictability to them. Someone in the group states the workout, the group executes the moves, and then it is over.  Whether it is 4 laps or 14 laps, you know exactly what you are doing and how long it will take.  There is always a warm-up, a cool down and a marked number of fast laps in between.  No chance anyone will accidentally add extra miles (like we sometimes do) onto an uncharted running route.  I vowed ahead of time not to whine or groan as we counted down the laps.  Luckily, there was no chance of me cheating through the workout because one of my running buds just happens to be a personal trainer who never whines or complains.  She ran alongside me, not judging my sloppy stride or loud rhythmic breathing.  She simply kept me on pace and gave me a high-five when it was all over, and I was grateful.

Once we finished, I was more proud of the fact that I didn't complain instead of my actual performance.  Which by the way, my performance sucked but I look forward to seeing my speed interval times drop as the weeks go on this season.  My victory was not in how well I did (or didn't do in my case), but in the fact that I took the first steps to make a necessary change.  My list of goals I made a month ago were rooted in getting me out of my safe comfort zone.  In the past, my husband has also done personal training and one of his philosophies for seeing big improvements in your fitness level is to remain uncomfortable in your workouts.  He always tells me to get uncomfortable, but it did not hit home until recently.  His belief is that if you are comfortable during your workout, then you are not pushing your efforts hard enough.  Working out should feel like work, not a casual comfy stroll through the park.  Your workout should be a hard strenuous effort in order for it to work in your favor.  Yeah it sounds like a cliche, but it makes sense to me after my brain is mush from seemingly endless loops around that dreadful track in the dark hours of the morning.  Let's see if I can apply this to other areas of my life.  I'm going to have to put in the work if I expect to see any changes.  Guess I better get started now to reap the benefits later.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Weight Loss Report: Month 1

A short while ago, I blogged about some weight loss goals I wanted to achieve before the end of this year.  Believe it or not it has been a month since then and I feel the need to reveal my progress report so far.  I have such a long way to go on this little journey that I have to celebrate the little victories along the way or else I might get discouraged.  It helps that I have several friends that have already reached the conclusion of their weight loss journey, so I have been spying on them for motivation.  Yes Tracie S., Jenny B. and Charles E., I am watching you but not at all in a bad way.  Looking to pampered celebrities and unrealistic fitness fads for weight loss does not inspire me.  It's the everyday people that bowl me over as they win their bulge battles while having to get up and go to work all day and manage family and real life pressures.  I see you and I salute you average-everyday-weight-loss-winner-guy.  If you are a fan of the old Bud Light "Real Men of Genius" radio commercials, you will understand that reference.

I am still too embarrassed to reveal my actual weight, but I will tell you I am 5.5 pounds lighter than I was this time a month ago.  Yes, I am making a big deal about that extra ".5" because no matter how small a victory it may be, I still earned it and plan to roll with it, baby.  My intermittent mini-goal was to hit the 5 pounds benchmark by the first of every month until I reach my overall goal.  June 1st is still a week away, so I hit this marker ahead of schedule.  Score one for me!  You can't see the lost pounds much.  No one else has really noticed it either, but I don't care.  I can feel it and it feels just as good as any race medal I have earned over the years.  What exactly did the missing 5 pounds do for me?  For one, I have been able to button up all the pants in my current size comfortably for the first time in a while.  There was no way I was going to go up another pants size.  My little weight loss venture started because I was no longer able to get the button on my pants fly to meet the hole on the other side and zip up without a little sucking in.  Thankfully this is no longer a problem.

One of my other goals was to add back strength training to my workout rotation.  Why did I stop weight training in the first place?  Oh yeah, because I hate going to the gym.  Aside from going to a good yoga class, I don't like being in a closed in space when I am sweaty.  Call me a little neurotic, but sweaty bodies belong outdoors in fresh air.  The worst time of day for me to go to the gym and get on a cardio machine is during that 6pm hour when it is packed with people like myself that come there after work to sweat out all the day's stress, meals and office aromas in a closed space of recirculated air.  Their body odor is a non-attractive mix of everybody they encountered that day and their hot breath smells of everything they digested.  Yuck!

Although I complain about it, I realize it is not their fault.  It is my own little pet peeve to overcome.  So to soften the blow of returning to a consistent gym routine, I have opted to go in the wee hours of the morning when it is completely empty of everything.  When I say early, I mean early.  Twice a week my alarm clock goes off earlier than any sane individual wakes up and I am in the gym about ten minutes after that.  My gym of choice (not my usual gym) is located one red light away from my house, so the lack of traffic is wonderfully predictable at that hour.  Once I am there, the familiarity of the free weights and hammer strength machines comes back to me and my competitive edge takes over.  It is hard to get distracted when the only people in the gym that early are the cleaning crew and the lady at the front desk.  Without any distractions, I have remained fairly focused during those early morning excursions thank Goodness.  The results of this effort should start to become visible after another 5 pounds or so comes off.

Weight loss fads really piss me off.  People tend to get all excited about whatever the latest diet fad may be and follow it to the letter.  They buy the books, the DVDs and make the creator of the diet a billionaire success story.  As soon as they reach their weight loss goal, they go back to eating crap and gain every single pound right back plus a few extra for good measure.  Fads have never worked for me, mostly because I hate doing what everyone else is doing.  My diet that has worked for me so far is broken down into three simple rules that I can live with long term.  First, I eat more whole foods and less processed foods.  That means I actually have to cook and prepare my meals ahead of time so I don't fall prey to the vending machine devil.  I carry an insulated lunch bag everywhere so I can eat on the go.  Second, I had to cut waaay back on my sugar intake.  Being the sugar addict that I am, this means I had to upgrade my drinking habits, breakfast choices, and my Starbucks options to accomodate lower sugar alternatives.  Third, I had to eat more lean protein.  My old vegetarian habits die hard, because I don't usually eat meat with every meal.  However now there is a serving of fish or chicken breast with lunch and dinner each day.  In addition to all this I eat a small meal every 2 to 3 hours (about 6 times a day), so hunger is a non-issue. 

This is nothing earth shattering or unique.  It is good old fashioned Weight Loss:101.  In month 2, I plan to change a few things.  My weight training will go up to three sessions a week and my cardio will become high intensity intervals.  The diet will continue on as-is and hopefully the sugar cravings will eventually disappear (yeah, right!).  Let's make a date to meet back here in a month and by then I hope to be able to announce additional 5 pound loss.  It is going on my calendar as a real appointment, so my super anal organized side will not allow me to break it.  Whether it all goes well or not during this second month, I promise to be honest about my efforts here so I can be honest with myself about what the next chapter will be.  Here's to hoping and working towards the best posible outcome.  Talk to you then.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Spare Me

I once read one of those cute inspirational quotes that got my attention immediately.  Of course my memory is far from accurate about most things.  As I loosely recall its meaning it went something like this, "What you do in your spare time should be what you are doing full time".  Whoever wrote it probably had it phrased far better than the way I remember it.  However, it is not the verbiage that hooked me, but instead its meaning.  What some of us do in our full time jobs, we exert much effort on weekends and vacations to escape from them.  Our spare time activities are the things we escape to.  Big difference.  I am not talking about the mindless doodling we do on scratch papers when we are forced to sit through boring staff meetings or the hours we waste away watching reality crap on the boob-tube.  I am talking about the things we rearrange our weekend schedules for so we carve out time for that special "me" time that truly brings us joy.  The activity that causes us to walk away at its conclusion feeling a little lighter and rejuvenated.

One of my great fortunes in this life has been that my career choice has allowed me a lot of extra time to explore interests outside of work.  I finish my day job responsibilities early enough in the afternoon that I have time to do my consulting services on the side and still coach my girls running club twice a week.  Most of my running trips with my good girlfriends usually fall on long holiday weekends, so the time away from my three guys at home is minimal.  It is a charmed life by my standards and I give thanks for every blessing, big and small.  Lately however, I have been considering change.  Me? Change?  Yep, but don't get ahead of the story.  I am only thinking about it at this point.  I never expected to stay in only career my entire working life.  The hope was that I would evolve as I would age, with my interests and experiences swaying me in the next direction I would take.  My bud Steph and I have been mulling over several ideas about what the next phase of our lives will look like, career wise.  We have considered franchises, quirky mobile services, and any other practical inventions that busy mother runners like ourselves would use.  The problem is not coming up with ideas.  We have plenty of ideas.  The problem is narrowing down the focus to something we would truly love to do full time.  Again, big difference.

Last weekend we stood on the sidelines of Ironman Texas, while our friend Jenny took on the greatest physical challenge of her life.  The 140.6 mile course she tackled (and conquered) took months of strenuous training that made my rooty-poot marathon training look like a trip to Disneyland.  These regular folks transformed themselves into mega athletes as they trained their bodies to complete the 2.4 mile open water swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run.  Nobody attempts an Iron distance on a whim.  They do it because something intrinsic tells them they can do it.  Their will is stronger than the task itself.  Their extreme love for the sport overrides the difficulty it takes to train for so many months to achieve a goal most of us would rather run away from.  It was not surprising to see so many of those triathletes cross that finish line covered equally in sweat and tears as their massive goal was achieved.  I left that event shaking my head in disbelief that these people were able to stay dedicated to their training for so many months just to let it all ride on their performance, good or bad, on this one single day.  They did not do it just for the hell of it.  It had to be for the love of it.

What do I love to do so much that I am willing to sacrifice for it without any promise of tangible rewards or huge financial gains?  What do I escape to when I am trying to escape from other responsibilities?  Where do my natural talents take over when my years of formal education and training begin to fade?  These questions have been bouncing around in my head for a while now.  Quite frankly they have crowded my every waking thought for the past week since our Ironman outing last weekend.  Those darn triathletes have me questioning if just about anything is a possibility.  They were all just regular Joes like me once but now they are accomplished Ironmen (and women!).  They turned their love for competition into a grand life achievement that no one can ever take away from them.  There was no money and no prizes at the end of their Iron distance experience, but they walked away from that race no doubt feeling that anything was indeed possible.  For one incredible day, their spare time activity was on full display for all us to admire.  Regardless of the pain and soreness they felt after completing that race, I will bet they only took a couple of days off from the sport before they hopped back on their bikes again in search of an open road.  They love the activity too much to have too much time away from it.  Is it possible to turn your unapologetic love of something into what you do full time?  Is it selfish and simply naive to seek this out at all?  There I go again with the endless questions.  Forgive me.  This quandary is the grown up equivalent of me wanting my cake and eating it too.

When work and home duties are neatly tucked away for the week, my spare time is spent either reading, writing or running.  If I don't feed the need to do these things regularly, my spirit becomes restless and weighted until I seek them out with a vengeance.  I escape to them feverishly when I have no one to answer to and nothing to account for.  If these are the things that keep me happily nourished, then surely I can figure out a way to bring them out of my spare time and into my full time.  It is like piecing a puzzle together, trying to come up with career options that fit all the elements together in a new nice neat order.  All this illustrates my point of how difficult it is to figure out my next phase when my interests are so scattered.  Who knows what ideas will finally come together when my reinvention is complete.  The top of my resume' should read something like "yoga-loving reader/writer seeks running adventures with scheduled breaks for coffee and spa pedicures".  Recruiters would beat down my door for the chance to hire me, right?  I will get back to you with a full update if I ever find a job that fits this very specific description.  Besides, you never know what possibilities are waiting when you spare the time to carve them into reality.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Goal Tending

It is that time of year when I start getting restless and start looking way down the calendar to which races I want to tackle in the upcoming season.  If you are unfamiliar with the season to which I am referring, it is the Houston marathon season.  Because of the oppressive temperatures and humidity, the bulk of the Houston marathon season is scheduled for the cooler months (October through March) when we enjoy a climate that becomes very dry and temps fall to anything below 70 degrees.  It makes for very pleasant conditions on race day, but it causes us to do most of our heavy training runs during the heat of the summer.  The marathon season was a bit abbreviated for me last year because of a multitude of other things going on in my world.  Everything turned out wonderfully in the end and I give thanks just for being at the start line of a few of my favorite races.  I had no goals for any PR's, or personal records.  Just being able to run a little and land a couple of race entries at the last minute was good enough for me.

This year is very different.  I am very different.  As I glance at the calendar, it must be noted that I am six months away from my 40th birthday and I am actually excited about it.  Who would have thought I would be happy about getting older?  I am not a big "birthday" kind of person.  Usually I prefer to mark the passing of each year in a low key fashion.  Dinner with a margarita and a red velvet cake chaser is plenty.  However this year, there are a few goals I want to accomplish by the time my clock strikes "40".  The last year was spent with me and my little clan being happy that we were able to simply exist in good health.  Everything else was gravy.  However going forward, the need to make the most of my time is beginning to gnaw at me.  I want to do more.  I want to do better.  Here is a list of the goals I want to achieve during this upcoming race season and before I face those birthday candles again:

  1. Goal Weight:  Have I not been struggling with this one waaaay too long?  Even I am sick of hearing myself whine endlessly about my weight gain over the last few years.  As I type this, I am officially at my all time heaviest weight.  Of course I'm not going to reveal that number to everyone out in the open (yeah right!), but I will promise you that I won't remain at this number much longer.  My big bad monster to overcome is/was/always will be my poor dietary habits.  My sugar addiction and mindless snacking are out of control.  I know how to follow a healthy diet and lean out with regular strength training.  I have done it before and I will be get there again.  My goal is to shrink 5lbs each month until my first major race of the season, which will be in October.    
  2. Strength Training:  While I am talking about the state of my body, why not tack on the fact that it has lost all remnants of its past muscle tone glory.  There was once a time when I was able to strike a good balance between my running and strength training workouts without missing a beat.  I took more care in building strength and lean muscle that enhanced my running and I was stronger overall as a result.  Less time was wasted and I felt more accomplished at the end of each visit to the gym.  My goal is to maintain a regular strength training regime with a minimum of two weight lifting workouts per week until my birthday rolls around.
  3. Speed Training:  Ugh!  The very thought of doing laps around a track makes me shudder.  If I've said it once, I've screamed it a million times - I HATE SPEED WORK!  But...and it is a big "but"...I want to get faster.  My running has suffered over the last three or so seasons because of my seemingly allergic reaction to doing any form of speed training.  All of my running time lately has been spent chatting and socializing with my buds, on runs held at a leisurely pace.  I am the slowest runner in the pack.  Although these social runs have been great for my spirit, my lack of track work has caused me to fall to my absolute slowest pace ever.  I was running faster than I am now when I just a newbie training for my first 10K.  My goal is to complete one speed workout per week until race season starts.
  4. Personal Record:  I plan to avoid full marathons this season and instead aim for several half marathons.  Because of all the above mentioned goals I have set, I don't want the distraction of having to schedule 18 and 21 mile runs into the mix.  The half-marathon distance (13.1) will have to do for this season's list of races.  Don't be fooled into thinking I am opting for the easy route.  I actually want to PR this season.  My personal best time in a half marathon is 2:13.  Sure it is mediocre and average by some standards, but it is the best I've done so far.  I want to do better than that this year.  My goal, with the help of  regular speed workouts, is to set a new half marathon PR this season.
  5. Run For A Reason:  The Houston Marathon has a "hero" option for runners to add to their race registration.  It is called "Run For A Reason" which allows runners to raise funds for one of the officially selected charities of the marathon organization.  One of the official charities is especially near and dear to my heart.  The Todd Krampitz Foundation was founded in memory of it's namesake as a means to raise awareness about organ donation.  I found out about this group for the first time while running the Houston half marathon last year.  For a couple of minutes, I had the pleasure of running along side two chipper young ladies in their bright green TKFoundation shirts while they carried a huge green flag advertising the benefits of organ donation.  Little did they know, I had already lived through the before and after of my beloved husband's successful kidney transplant.  Their actions that cold morning hit me deep in my spirit and I plan to join them in those efforts when I run the Houston half marathon this year.  My goal is to raise $350 while I train for the Houston half marathon that will be donated to the TKFoundation.

Well, there you have it.  If you read through that long "to-do" list and stayed awake, you deserve a cookie.  I won't be able to join in that cookie celebration because I have already started on the diet goal this past week.  You know the drill...more whole foods, less processed foods and less sugar altogether.  I am already down 1.5lbs and I plan to add to it as the weeks go by.  Wish me luck and drop me a line of encouragement if you catch me slacking.  Trust me, I will need it!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

B.S. that got me P.O'd and what made it all go away

The content of this blog entry has changed drastically since I originally started writing it earlier this weekend.  I had a grumbling little commentary all prepared to gripe about every little thing that was bugging me at the time I sat down at my computer.  My Friday at work was just plain old crappy.  I got dumped on and chewed out and I was a jerk to a few people in return.  My mood, my attitude, and even my food was just awful.  Friday is supposed to be the happiest day of the week for working folks but I could not muster up the strength to get remotely excited about the two days of free time ahead of me.  By the time I exited the parking lot and turned my car in the direction of home, I could only fantasize about my comfy pajamas and the corner of wine still left in a bottle I started on a few days ago.  An early bedtime and a dinner of Fruit Loops was on tap, as long there was still milk in the refrigerator.

I shot a text to my bud Steph about my sub-par workday and she responded with an invitation to a dinner of Tex-Mex food with good friends.  The company (and the margarita) snapped me out of my funk before I had too much time to truly wallow in it.  The rest of the weekend played out in similar fashion.  There were a number of celebrations on tap, including a graduation party.  It was for my cousin who just finished up her graduate studies after a long struggle of balancing career and motherhood while pursuing her dream.  There is something magical about seeing someone reach a huge goal after overcoming obstacles.  It is kind of like being on the sidelines at a race when you see that dazed and exhausted runner with scraped bloody knees cross the finish line with absolutely nothing left in their energy stores.  The race to get there is never graceful but those final steps across the finish are still filled with glory.

Of course the Saturday morning runs with my buds is always a consistent highlight of my weekends.  No matter how badly I want to be pissed off at random B.S., the time spent with the running divas seems to always diminish the enormity of whatever crap I allow to sour my mood.  The previous weekend my bud Sherry came up with the idea to solicit our little running clique to donate old running gear to my teen girls running club.  I put out a message on Facebook asking for old discarded running gear, in hopes that some of the ladies would be doing some spring cleaning and might need to unload an item or two out of their closets.  My hope was that I could gather a couple of running gear pieces that could be passed on to my Go-FAR girls.  A couple of worn tech shirts and few pair of old running shoes is about what I expected.  After all, running gear is expensive no matter what budget you are on and giving it away can be even harder.  If anyone was willing to part with any small amount items I would have been appreciative.

But true diva fashion, not only did they clean out their closets, they loaded enough items into my car that I had trouble closing the back door fully.  It was far more than I ever expected anyone to do for my small cause.  I got all wimpy and mushy when I took this photo.  Not caring what was actually in the bags, I was emotional just looking at the entire pile.  This was a lot of stuff.  It hit me that these women took time to give to a group of teenage girls they had never met, but the kindness of their actions was overwhelming to me.  Yes it might have been stuff they no longer used and would have tossed out eventually.  However, the fact that they each trusted me to get it to some stranger who would use it and love it as much as they did warmed my heart and unraveled my previously bad mood for good.

My Go-FAR girls don't ask for much.  They just want a stress free run twice a week in good weather with an adult guide (me) that won't judge them or criticize them, and will stay with them every step of the journey.  They know absolutely nothing about this little donation project, so they will be completely surprised when they see all the items at our next group run.  I would love for them to one day meet the ladies that were behind all the donations.  I share stories with them all the time about my running friends and how we support each other on and off the running path.  I use my friendships with my running buds as the model for the Go-FAR club.  They don't realize it now, but I see how these teen runners have bonded as a tight knit little group with every run, very much the same way I have bonded with my pals over time.  Maybe it is the sweat that bonds us to each other or maybe it is all the tough miles we cover together.  Whatever it is, I know it is solid enough to hold us together for whatever miles still lie ahead of us.  My students, hopefully, will one day feel the same way.  When they realize the power of those friendships, I would like to think they will pass on these same values to next generation just as I have to them.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


First off, I must apologize for my long absence from this blog.  I have missed my little writing escapes through this outlet, but things will soon get back on track.  I have been extremely distracted for reasons that would take me from now until next month to list on this page.  One of the major distractions has been the addition of a new running club to my schedule.  It is a club I created and named Go-F.A.R., which stands for 'Girls Out For A Run'.  Damn, I hope no one has trademarked that name yet or else I am in trouble!  You may recall me saying that I have worked in education for the majority of my career so a lot of my more creative ideas have always revolved around something teen or 'tween related.  This little venture is very specifically aimed at teenage girls.  It is not meant to be competitive or stressful.  Go-F.A.R. is truly an outlet for girls looking to learn more about the benefits of recreational running.

Working with teenagers can be challenging, exhausting, sometimes fun and sometimes heartbreaking.  Teenage girls are sucked into a vacuum of pressures and unattainable standards that can affect them in ways that could break even the best of us hardened mature adults.  However, as educators we sometimes are able to find unique avenues to help the kids see their future potential in the sneakiest ways.  I work in a high school setting that has a high pregnancy rate, high dropout rate, and a high amount of influence from gangs and street violence.  Some of my kids are affected by these negative  influences, but an even higher amount of them are not.  Most of them have an incredible sense of community and latch on to anything that positively impacts their immediate surroundings.  However, they are not exposed to as much as students in more affluent areas of town.  They don't see much outside of their neighborhoods.  I have caught the look in their eyes when they listen to me brag about my marathons and some of the fun running trips I have taken with friends.  They seem fascinated by the most mundane details about my races and behave as if training and running their own road races is a far off distant dream.

For a very long time, I sat on my ass wondering how the girls at my school would react to the creation of a social running club.  Would they sign up?  Would they be willing to deal with the heat?  Would they freak out from all the sweating?  Running in the neighborhood where I live is easy.  We have nicely paved running trails, well lit sidewalks and clearly marked crosswalks at busy intersections.  When I need to, I can buy new running shoes from nearby athletic apparel stores and have access to several running pros in my network of friends to answer any questions on my mind.  There is also an abundance of running clubs and groups to meet up with so you never have to go it alone.  Running where my students live is not so easy.  There are far fewer sidewalks and the vehicular traffic is unpredictably dangerous.  My kids' parents don't have a lot of disposable funds to blow on expensive running gear for fickle teenage girls.  Nevertheless, I was determined to give this venture a try with slim hopes that at least 10 girls would be interested in joining.  

Fast forward a couple of months and I now have 35 girls in my club.  There is a waiting list for additional memberships.  I had to stop accepting girls because the numbers were growing too rapidly for my one set of  eyes to watch them all safely on group runs.  We meet twice a week after school and never run more than 3 or 4 miles at a time.  We have no budget, no gear and no t-shirts.  All we have are a couple of low traffic running routes I was able to carefully map out with a lot of help from the girls themselves.  I was honest with them when we met for our first run together and told them they were my guinea pigs in this experiment.  I explained how the program would be bare-bones and we would figure it out as we went along.  They did not care about all that in the least.  They were too thrilled to get out and do something together that any one of them was too afraid to do on their own.  

After our very first run together (only 2 miles), I was panicking that they would complain about the heat or the fact that I kept nagging them to drink water the whole time.  Surely they would drop out and stomp away from the club forever once they realized how much work running can be.  Would you believe none of that happened?  They returned to the school at the completion of that first run with tomato-red faces, sweaty clothes and multiple mosquito bites...and they were beaming with pride.  I was astonished at how they absorbed that first run so well.  In the time that has transpired since that first day, the girls have grown close and supportive of each other in ways I did not notice before.  We have a safety rule on the runs that no girl is ever left behind.  Everyone must have a "buddy" of sorts that they stick with and check on in case they need to slow down or walk.  They also seem to be following this rule away from our runs, too.  I have observed the girls doing the same thing in the hallways and in the classrooms, as they encourage each other and keep pushing their buds to do better.  No one gets left behind.  They seem to be taking this to heart.

My girls have made me so proud of them because of the smallest changes they have made.  They make every effort to avoid D-hall and finish up after school tutorials just so they can make it to our group runs on time.  Some of the girls are drinking water during the day for the first time ever because they say soda and juice doesn't hydrate them well enough.  One student in particular gave up her beloved Hot Cheetos because she felt she needed to make better choices for her pre-run snack.  If they are already making changes like this in the few short weeks we have been running, I can only imagine the impact it can make in the years to come.  I was a fully grown, allegedly mature adult when I starting running and it impacted my existence for the better immediately.  The women I met through a running club have become some of my closest friends.  I relish the time I spend running with my buds because it makes me feel happy and strong, and gets me closer to becoming the kind of person I want to be.  Could my students also experience this same feeling?  I hope they do and maybe more.  From the start, my goal for these girls was for them to simply give running a try in hopes that it would encourage them to take better care of their bodies and spirits.  Who knows if it will work or not, but how "far" they choose to take it is entirely up to them.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Going Bra-less

My barometer for whether or not the day ahead of me will be productive depends on my bra.  To clarify, it depends on my desire to wear a bra or not.  My ultimate chill-out-and-do-nothing wardrobe is made up of my most comfortable pajamas, stretchy yoga pants and any old t-shirts that are too ratty and stained to wear out in broad daylight.  Bras are optional with these outfits because I wouldn't dare leave home wearing any of them.  If I have no plans to leave home on any given day, there is no need to stuff my "girls" into an uncomfortable bra.  You see, I have worked in education most of my career so I get a ton of holidays off throughout the year.  Summer vacations, winter breaks, and all federal holidays grant me plenty of days at home.  For this very reason, I have to keep my "stay at home" drawer of clothing well stocked.

Bra-less days are usually those when I am either sick, pretending to be sick or in need of a mental health day.  Regardless of the reason, my bra-less days in the house are always low key and void of stress.  I move slowly on purpose when my boobs are unrestrained.  Literally! You can't get all worked up and move around too quickly or the boobs will go flying around in varying directions.  Getting hit in the face with a loose heavy boob can be both painful and painfully unattractive.  Someone (namely me!) could accidentally get knocked unconscious if I run up the stairs too quickly without anything to strap the girls down.  Who wants to end up in the emergency room having to explain that my swinging loose boobies are the cause of my black eyes?  Imagine a doctor trying hard not to laugh while he or she tells me the nipple imprint on my face will take days to fade.  Don't laugh...boob safety can be a serious issue.

My breasts stopped looking perky two pregnancies ago.  Whenever they are sans bra, the transformation seems to age me at least 15 years into the future.  Although I might look like a hot mess when I am not wearing a proper brassiere, I feel completely relaxed and at ease.  My don't-give-a-sh*t attitude goes on display loud and proud.  The doorbell gets ignored and the phone goes unanswered because I shift all attention away from activities that require congeniality on any level.  It is important that I use these days sparingly because doing this too often in a house full of men can make me seem like a slob.  If my sons only see me in this deep state of relaxation every now and then, I am in no danger of losing my queenly status any time soon.

The last several weeks have been way too busy and I have whined endlessly about needing some down time.  Now that I have it this weekend, I've been too afraid to leave the house for fear that I will waste my precious "me time" on some dreadful household duty like grocery shopping or playing taxi driver on a kiddie errand.  My hubby surprised me by taking the boys on a guys' outing and left me all alone in the house, staring at four piles of unfolded laundry and a dishwasher begging to be unloaded.  Instead of launching into a house cleaning frenzy, I took the avoidance route and used the time to download a new smutty romance novel on my eReader.  This quiet time required the proper relaxation attire, so I took a quick shower and changed into my unsexiest pajamas.  I washed off the layers of make up and left the bra in the underwear drawer where it would remain until it was absolutely necessary to wear it again.  Laziness was the first item on the agenda and I was all too ready to call that to order.

That was almost 24 hours ago and as I type this, I am still indeed bra-free.  I have not left the house.   I also have not applied any make up to my face yet or attempted to make my hair presentable.  The bra hasn't been touched at all.  Isn't it grand to be able to embrace this ultimate status of female freedom?  Every woman should be allowed to burn a few bra-less days every so often and not be judged for it.  Of course, they have to be used with discretion and with the strict promise that no bra-less individual will leave their home and force unsuspecting strangers to have to encounter loose boobs in a public setting.  It is for their own safety after all.  Loose boobs are a hazard to the environment and therefore must be contained to one's private residence.  If you are among the extreme minority of women that has never experienced a day like this, then you are truly missing out.  Remember to play by the rules of going bra-less and be sure to exercise this option only when you need it most.  After all, we women work hard to keep all our balls juggling in the air at once.  It is perfectly okay if a ball (or boob) needs to fall free every once in a while.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Race Report: Austin Half Marathon

I did not quit.  If you don't get anything else from this post, then I want you to remember that little fact.  Above all else, that is what I took away from this race weekend.  The divas and I headed three hours up the highway to run the Livestrong Austin Half Marathon.  Austin, Texas is by far one of my favorite cities to spend a long weekend hanging out.  The town is laid back, full of funky cool individuals and events that urge you to simply have a good time.  The race always falls around President's Day, so having a three-day weekend to drive up and enjoy the extra time off makes it easy on my schedule.  Steph, G and I piled into a loaded down SUV and hit the highway during the quieter minutes of a heavy thunderstorm that stretched the entire way from Houston to Austin.  We were all ready to throw in the towel on the whole trip when the storm let up slightly and we decided to go for it in hopes that we could get to our destination safely.  All the rest of the running divas left town at varying times and in multiple cars, so it was truly every (wo)man for themselves on the slick highways.

Needless to say, we took it easy on the roads and made a couple of pit stops.  Had we been in a bigger hurry or on a tighter schedule, we might not have stopped for the authentic Texas barbecue lunch that warmed our rumbling tummies.  If I had to declare a southern road trip "must", it would be to always make time for a slow smoked barbecue opportunity no matter what else is on the itinerary.  With full bellies and tired joints, we rolled into Austin just as the remaining rain was moving out.  We headed straight for the race expo to pick up our packets and gobble up the free give-aways before the vendors packed up for the evening.  I strolled around the race expo browsing in the usual running vendor booths hoping to motivate myself to get excited about the next day's run.  Normally walking around all the unique running merchandise gets me pumped and ready to tackle anything the upcoming race has in store.  This time it did not work.

I was completely under trained and ill prepared for this race more than any other I can recall in recent memory. Sure I had run a couple of races over the previous two months, but the weeks leading up to this race were filled with other non-running related deadlines and stresses that left me wanting to call off this whole Austin race weekend.  In other words, "life" happened.  Being the quintessential anti-supermom, I have never claimed to have it all under control.  Sometimes everyday demands can bite even the best of us in the butt.  Also the weather in Houston has been, well, chilly and very wet.  I've run through 90 degree heat, sticky humidity and blistery cold, but I absolutely HATE running in cold rain.  All you have to do is tell me it is both cold and rainy and I will hang up my running plans in an instant, no questions asked.  Add all that up and you can easily deduce that I did very few training runs in preparation for the Austin half marathon.  The end result was me trying desperately to wimp out before my bib number was ever pinned to my shirt.

Who knows what cosmic forces actually came together to guide me to it, but I did indeed find myself at the starting line as planned on race morning.  We were so far at the back of the pack we never heard the gun go off, but we muddled through the runner's shoot and immediately hit a deep downhill slope that woke up my sleepy joints with a bang.  Did I mention the brutally endless hills of Austin?  The hills of the Austin race  course are so bad, the race should feature a disclaimer to every runner before they sign up.  It should read something like this: 

Dear Unassuming Runner, 
The upcoming race course is so twisted with rolling steep elevation that even you macho tough guys will go home crying to your mammas.  Trying to attempt this race course makes you certifiably crazy, if you aren't already.  Run it at your own risk.

-from the Austin Race Officials

What makes me truly crazy is I did know all this ahead of time.  I have run the Austin half marathon a few  times before and got my butt kicked thoroughly enough to stay away for good.  But noooo, I had to come back one more time because I obviously did not learn my lesson the first couple of times.  Since I was not well trained for this event, I had already looked at the course map ahead of time and focused on a couple of mile markers where I could drop out gracefully and cash in my chips if the desire hit me.  If I did drop out, it would be a first.  I have taken much pride in the fact that although I've never come close to having a completely perfect running performance, I have never ever quit a race.  If I had nothing else on this tough morning, I still had that.  This is what I clung to as I achingly passed each one of my planned drop out spots along the route until I reached the half way point just before the 7 mile marker.  With my iPod playlist at full blast and Eminem yelling in my ear to "Lose Yourself", none of my usual tricks had their same pump-it-up effect on me that they normally do at this juncture in a bad race.

Beyond that moment all I thought about was my favorite running partner, which happens to be my 8 year-old son.  Thinking about that pint-sized 5K veteran struck a fear in me that pushed me forward the rest of the way.  There was no way I was going to return home without a medal, having to explain to him that mommy dropped out of the race because she simply didn't feel like running.  I tried out every possible excuse in my head and none of them sounded like a good enough reason to walk away from this race.  The news that mommy quit in the middle of the deed would have crushed him.  Better yet, it would have crushed me to have to face him with such a flimsy cop out.  During the race I could almost hear him running next to me telling me not to quit.  Our mother and son runs together usually only total 2 or 3 miles in distance, but they have an endearing affect on me.  He is my only fan and I am not ready to tarnish the grand image he has of me.  As a runner himself, he watches me with an undeserved idealism that always makes me want to do better.  I am pretty sure there will be enough times in the future for him to want to disown his dear old mom, so there is no need to bring that on any day sooner.

In the end, I made it through the rest of the race and lived to tell about it.  My running buds and I got to spend some uninterrupted child-free and husband-free time together.  Our weekend away gave us a chance  to stock up on running goodies, running injuries and funny stories to last us until the next time.  Steph surprised herself with a better than expected performance against the monstrous Texas hills.  G took time off from this race (thank God!!) to give her body more time to heal after a painful injury that still lingers from our Philly trip.  My big boy got another chance to gawk at my finishers medal and dreamily state his desire to one day do his own half marathon or more.  Although he was only with me in my head as I muddled through those final miles in Austin, it got me over the hump when nothing else was working right.  Maybe when he finally does get the chance to train for his own half marathon, I will be able to share this story with him in hopes that it might help him through a particularly difficult moment.  Along that same sentiment, I made my usual vow that I will keep running with him every step of the way as long as he wants me to.  If he does not quit, I won't quit on him...just like I have never quit on myself.  Incredibly enough, my "never quit" streak is still unbroken.  Let's hope it never does.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Memorial Run

This morning we did a virtual run in memory of another runner we never knew and never will.  Her name was Sherry Arnold and several weeks ago she started her day exactly the way we did today.  She set out for a Saturday morning long run in Sydney, Montana on her usual route at 6:30am, no doubt taking time out from a busy schedule to do something she loved.  She never returned home.  After several days of searching for her and clues to her disappearance, her family would later learn that she was abducted and murdered by two individuals that intended to do harm to any random person that crossed their path.  Sherry's morning run innocently and unfortunately intersected with their sadistic plans.

The media coverage about Sherry Arnold's abduction reached the running community from coast to coast.  One of my favorite bloggers, Beth Risdon, was her cousin and came up with the idea of a virtual run so others across the country could show their support in her memory.  Our little running crew decided to participate in the virtual run as well.  The running divas and I gathered at our usual meeting spot bundled up against 39 degree temps, set on doing a light run and then relaxing with girl talk over coffee.  We started out huddled in a group prayer for Sherry's final resting state and to give thanks for the gift of running in general.  At first glance, this might not appear to have been a proper memorial run for a fallen fellow runner.  We were upbeat and giggly most of the run, sharing funny stories and updates from the past work week.  We got lost in our conversations and plans for the next big race we are going to complete.  Sherry Arnold's name was not mentioned again as our morning run unfolded.

She was, however at the forefront of my thoughts because it constantly sticks out in my mind how normal and routine that fateful morning probably was for her.  If I were a fly on the wall in her home, my imagination tells me what her final days might have been like.  Since she was a high school math teacher, maybe like me, she left work long before the onslaught of evening rush hour traffic.  Maybe she opted for a fast food Friday night dinner because she knew she would burn off the extra calories during the next day's workout.  Maybe she went to bed early in anticipation of hitting the trail long before other pedestrian traffic crowded the route.  Maybe she laid out her running gear the night before, in hopes of quickly and quietly leaving the house without disturbing anyone else's lazy morning.  But among all these "maybes", the only certainty is that she did not realize it would be her final life event ever.

Having never met this woman, how can I boldly guess at what Sherry Arnold's final hours might have been like?  It is because as a runner, we can assume the same mundane rituals and habits are universal to us all.  The same tried-and-true methods of preparation are carried out by all of us as we transform from career women and mommies into seasoned weekend warriors.  We laugh in the face of fatigue and harsh weather conditions and make our running plans in spite of the obstacles.  We push our limits and call 10 milers "fun", anxiously planning the next big running adventure as if it were a trip to Disneyland.  This missing runner, although a stranger to me, could have been any one of my "sole" sisters.  In a carefree manner we set out on our weekly runs, sometimes as a group and sometimes alone.  Our corner of the urban landscape is fairly quiet, so we naively assume that just because nothing negative has happened to any of us so far that it never will.  We assume that everyone in our small community will be on our side and wish us good travels as we traipse along on our regular running routes.  Unfortunately as Sherry Arnold found out first hand, not everyone you encounter on the trails is just a friendly passerby.

Among my running buds, I have earned the reputation of being the paranoid one.  If you read this blog regularly, then this revelation should not surprise you.  I avoid running in the cold rain for fear it will lead to bronchitis or some other horrible sidelining ailment.  I don't like running solo in the dark, whether it is morning or evening.  I over plan for danger and accidents by always carrying a cell phone, toilet paper and lip balm.  I make a habit of requesting full disclosure of anyone's plans when one of us chooses to "go it alone" on a run.  When we all took our recent trip to the Philadelphia marathon, it was me who insisted everyone take their cell phones along during the race just so I would have peace of mind that they could text me in the event of something going wrong.

Could any of these precautions have saved Sherry Arnold from her tragic fate?  I don't know, but I still feel the need to pass along her story almost as a public service announcement.  I want others to understand that although we runners are strong and tough, we are not invincible in the face of danger.  Although we revel in the camaraderie of our sport, not everyone is looking out for us or cheering us along.  Thanks to social media and the swift pace of digital communication, Sherry's story was able to reach a massive audience very quickly.  For all of our good natured intentions of today's virtual memorial run, it will mean nothing if we don't learn from the lessons of her tragic death.  Prepare for emergencies, stick to daylight runs in a group, have a running route planned out and share it with everyone that matters to you.  We have to be careful out there and stick to the safest possible plan.  Our loved ones support us through long training months, racing seasons and a steady wave of mild injuries we earn with every run.  We owe them the peace of knowing we are making every effort within our power to make it back to them safely, so we can live to experience the next great running event together.  Be careful out there.