Saturday, September 6, 2014

It Still Matters

My marathon training schedule is almost two months deep and it is not going well.  I have struggled on more runs than I care to admit.  The heat and humidity have been brutal and I feel constantly dehydrated no matter how much water I chug.  My knees can't decide if they want to hurt or just give out altogether.  My legs muscles twitch and spasm when they shouldn't.  Not some, but all of my long runs have been really, really ugly.  Although I have covered the distance, not one of them felt like much of an accomplishment.  Today's long run was a 9-miler and finally, I had a breakthrough.

My girlfriend G and I started this long run like many others.  My alarm clock went off at a profane hour and I fumbled around in the darkness, grabbing running gear and a dry English muffin before I headed out the door.  We met earlier than the butt crack of dawn, with flickering lights pinned to our clothing so oncoming cars could see us in the darkness.  Filled water bottles were strapped to our fuel belts and lubricant was strategically placed in all areas that might chafe and rub our skin raw.  I was all set to chatter along with her and get caught up on the happenings in both our lives since the last time we got together to run.  

However, the well laid out plan fell apart.  About 2 miles in, G was feeling pretty good and keeping a decent pace while I was already struggling.  My breathing was labored and my running stance was getting awkward.  I wasn't going to last 7 more miles unless I made some adjustments.  I asked her go ahead without me, because I hate feeling like I'm slowing someone down when they are having a really good run.  My run slowed to a walk and the feeling of defeat threatened to creep in.  I was only 2 miles away from my car, so turning around at this point still would have given me a respectable 4 miles for the morning.  

But who was I kidding?  If I would have quit at that point, I would have beat myself up for the rest of the day for not following through and wasting the morning.  No matter how badly I perceived the workout was going, it still mattered that I finish it.  It still meant something that I complete the task, even if my external effort seemed less than spectacular.  At that point, I didn't give in to excuses.  I forgave myself for not being able to live up to my original expectations.  I forgave myself for not being able to keep up with my friend.  As I began to fall further and further behind the pack of our running group, I resisted the urge to feel left behind.  

I came to the realization that I wasn't running a race against them.  They were not the target I was trying to beat.   I was running against the temptation to give up.  I was racing against excuses swirling in my head about why I am not yet the athlete I should be.  I was running past the point of no return, where I could forget I ever set this marathon goal in the first place.  It still mattered that I follow through and finish this workout, because sometimes the bad runs get you better prepared than the good runs.  Bad runs remind you of your strength and your willpower to push through.  Bad runs keep you grounded, reminding you that workouts are supposed to be hard.  

All this psycho babble was in my head from miles 2-4, which was long enough for me to miss the chance to turn around and go home.  As soon as I eased up on the self-doubt, I caught my proverbial second wind.  I put on my head phones and turned on my easy country music playlist (don't judge!).  The remaining 5 miles went by pleasantly and the negativity was forgotten.  My pace sucked and my knees ached, but I finished the job.  There was no medal waiting for me at the end because it was only a training run.  But no one around me could have guessed the satisfaction I felt, knowing that this priceless moment of accomplishment almost didn't happen.  Graceful or not, I did what needed to done and that feels better than a medal any day.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Chop Chop, Again

I have the weirdest love/hate relationship with my hair.  First off, there is a lot of it.  When I was a child, my mom would curse the days when she had to wash and detangle that moss because it would take a couple of hours to get it under control.  It was waist-length most of my childhood and teen years and was always a chore to style on a daily basis.  Being a short African American little girl with Texas-sized big hair down to the waist gave me a distinct look that I held on to until the end of my senior year of high school.  Everyone says they wish they had thick wavy-curly hair, but no one ever tells you the truth about what it honestly takes to achieve a polished look with all the bush.  When I got my first significant hair cut, the weight was lifted...literally.  I swear I dropped five pounds when that mane was finally chopped off.

Through my early adult years, I kept going shorter and shorter until I rested my style with a low maintenance pixie cut that I held on to, off and on, for a good 10 years.  It worked with my active lifestyle of running and marathoning without making me look too matronly.  When I decided to grow it out, I followed the trend of many black women and tried a "natural" style for the first year.  No relaxers and no straightening.  Once it made it to my shoulders, the natural look was more work than I wanted to admit.  Of course, I have tried some alternate lengths, allowing it grow out to a bob and to shoulder length most recently.  The various looks worked just fine, but the daily styling routine was for the birds.  Because my hair is so thick, I resorted to the ever convenient wet ponytail most days after a workout rather than tackle my head with a blow dryer or flat iron.  By the way, I always hated wearing a ponytail.  What I hated even more was having to spend too much time making my head look presentable.

However, now I have declared a return to all things that worked for me during my early fitness days.  I have gone back to my old marathon training routine.  I have gone back to the ritual of working out in the evenings and even brought my strength training back into the mix.  Going back to my old hair style seemed fitting too.  Yesterday I chopped off my bob-length tresses into a more updated pixie.  I am not the same twenty-something year old anymore and probably couldn't rock the exact same cut I could years ago, so I opted for a look that would still be professional and much less hassle in the mornings.  Luckily my husband has always been a good sport about my bipolar hair issues.  When it is cut short, he compliments me.  When it is long, he compliments me.  If I ever go bald, I believe he would still have a kind word or two.  The pictures of the big chop are posted below.  The day it stops growing back, I guess I'll have something new to complain about.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

That Magic Hour

There used to be this one chic I liked.  She wasn't a high-powered exec or a pampered celebrity.  She was an overall nice person who could hold her own in most situations.  She wasn't arrogant by any means, but she could recognize her strengths and weaknesses with healthy consideration.  She knew how to accentuate her best assets with confidence.  She kept a firm balance between work and play and never lost sight that they were equally important.  She was probably someone you would have enjoyed knowing.  I can say all this without hesitation because this chic was me.  I used to be someone that always put herself first and allowed everything else to fall into place behind me.  You think that is wrong?  You think that being this selfish is a bad thing?  I would argue against you.

Back when I was single, all my daily decisions revolved around my needs and desires.  I was mentally, physically and spiritually doing okay.  When I got married, my goals included learning to compromise with a new life partner.  When I became a mom, my very existence revolved around protecting and nurturing my two sons.  It has been years since these men first came into my life and along the way I stopped looking after myself and made them my biggest priority.  We are conditioned, not just as mothers but also as fathers, to put our families first in everything.  Of course your family should be your major focus, but in my opinion, they should be your second priority.  YOU should be your first.   When you make taking care of yourself the first priority, you are stronger for the people you love the most when they need you most.  How can you expect to support your kids and spouse if you are always broken down, tired and dragging yourself around?  How can you encourage them to work towards their goals if you put your's on hold?

I took so much of this for granted until my second son was born.  As overweight and tired as I was after the C-section of this nearly 10-pound bundle, I forced myself to get back to running.  My belly was jiggling and my boobs were swollen and sore in my too tight jog bra.  My hips felt totally out of alignment with the rest of my body.  I looked comical trying to do my shuffle-run-walk around the block in my neighborhood those first few weeks.  My motivation to get out the door had very little to do with regaining my pre-pregnancy figure.  Instead, it was my one and only time of the day when I could get back to being myself.  Whether the run took 50, 30, or even as little as 15 minutes, it was time I relished because there were no demands or expectations placed upon me.  I wasn't anyone's mommy or wife.  I could literally run away from all of that temporarily.  I could be alone with my thoughts and the quiet slip-slap of my soles hitting the pavement.  Whenever I returned home to my two little boys, my head was clear, my thoughts were cleansed and my spirit was refreshed.  I could be a good mother and partner that day.

After the mild postpartum depression I felt after the birth of my oldest son, I believe my husband recognized these daily runs as something far more therapeutic than he originally assumed.  The hour (or sometimes just minutes) I spent out running reintroduced me to that chic I used to be.  My daily run was a type of nourishment I didn't realize I needed until I missed it.  It was like a magic hour that pulled everything together for me, no matter how badly everything had fallen apart.  My running time reminded me of the "me" I used to be when my needs came first.  At first, I suffered a little because I thought the acceptable mommy model was to be a self-sacrificing martyr that we all imagined our own mothers once were.  Admittedly, I have been guilty of this same self-destructive behavior lately.

This time around, work demands and an overloaded schedule are to blame for my priorities being thrown off kilter.  It hasn't taken me long to see what changes I needed to make to regain some balance.  My boys are a little older now with their own social calendars and don't need me or my husband playing helicopter parents, hovering over them anymore.  From all outward signs, they seem to be doing okay thankfully and barely notice our absence when we return from a quickie workout.  I've noticed my daily schedule flows easier when I set aside that one magic hour of the day for myself.  That hour can be used for a run, a massage, reading a book or whatever brings me back down to earth when other pressures try to pull me away.  My own mother, well into her sixties now, is experiencing a similar rejuvenation.  She recently started a daily walking routine after quitting smoking and surprisingly found herself enjoying it.  She also joined a gym and who knows what will come next in her evolution.  I guess mothers of ages in various stages can find themselves in need of this same medicine.  I will take my medicine eagerly from now on.  Its healing power is more far reaching than I'll ever try to question again.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Marathon Motivation

It's been a really long time since I made this kind of commitment.  The last full marathon I ran was a few years back in Toronto.  It was a great girls' weekend with some of my close buds, but the race itself kind of sucked.  I finished poorly and swore that would be my last full marathon for a while.  My energy was spent about three quarters of the way through the race and it didn't help that this Canadian race had the course marked in kilometers instead of miles.  Since my GPS watch was out of whack, I spent the entire race wondering how far I was from the friggin' finish line.  The more I tried not to think of the mileage, the more I obsessed over it.  It was agonizing and all my best mind tricks didn't work.  I'd made up my mind that Toronto would be my last full marathon for a while.

Sure enough, it was indeed the last.  Fast forward a few years and I have done nothing but half marathons over recent years.  None of those half marathons were big accomplishments.  As a matter of fact, my most recent race, which was the Woodlands half, was the piss poor worst I've ever done.  I was seriously ready to quit about 2 miles into it.  If the race route would have gone anywhere near where we were parked, I would have gleefully walked off the course and flopped my butt on the concrete until the rest of my crew finished.  Trust me when I say I was far more concerned with looking for that parking spot than I was with following my race plan.  My music player tanked, the temperatures were hot and humid and I had the constant urge to pee.  This is only worth mentioning because normally when I sweat as much as I did in this race, I don't usually hold on to enough fluids to need a port-o-potty.  However, as luck would have it, I would have to lose even more race time standing in line for an available spot to squat.

My basic problem was that I had no goals.  I signed up for those races without a clear plan to keep me focused and I crashed and burned royally.  Granted, last season was interrupted by foot surgery, but I refuse to use that as an excuse.  Okay sure, my foot is still stiff on random days but it is fully healed and doesn't hurt at all.  My problems were more mental than physical, which is hard for me.  Sometimes I can be my own worst enemy when it comes to training.  I can rationalize and talk myself out of anything I really don't want to do.  When I was rookie to this sport, I was annoyingly paranoid about following the rules and never deviating from the game plan.  I followed the training schedule to the letter and felt guilty about missing a workout, because it would throw off my mileage for the week.  I ate the same boring but nutritious lunch and dinner on Fridays in anticipation of my long runs on Saturday mornings.  I stayed hydrated and went to bed early, after laying out my running gear as if I was prepping for a week-long trip.

It was routine.  It was boring.  Guess what?  It worked.  Somewhere along the last several years, I became a super smart ass that believed, because I was a veteran marathoner, I could magically skip some of the grunt work involved in training and still show up on race day to perform well.  I lost sight of the fact that in addition to knowing how to train, I still needed to actually do the training.  I cannot tell you the last time I did hill work and just the thought of doing speed work makes me want to throw a world class tantrum.  All of this down right laziness has brought my whining full circle and now I'm in search of results.  Some unknown force has caused me to get motivated about racing again.  I needed a big goal to keep me honest and signing up for yet another half marathon just wasn't enough.  This needed to be a bigger gamble with a bigger prize.  It couldn't be something I could blow off when I lost interest.

So what did I do?  I entered the lottery for the Houston Marathon.  Just this morning I received confirmation that my registration was accepted.  It was a shock to feel genuinely excited to get this news.  With six months of training ahead of me, I am making a vow that I will follow the training fully and create a race plan similar to what I followed for my very first marathon.  That first marathon was in San Diego, long before I was anyone's wife or mom.  I treated that marathon like it was the biggest event of my life.  Race weekend in Houston falls in mid-January with perfect running conditions, creating a city-wide buzz that brings out spectators by the thousands to support the local athletes.  I volunteered at a water station last year because I couldn't stand not to be a part of the action in some form.  Although the water station work was fun, I'd been relegated to the sidelines (literally!) and only had myself to blame.  All the hard work and sweat really is worth it to be able to line up on race day and show the world that you earned a spot to run with the big boys.  Sure, it will take me a good five hours to complete 26.2 miles, but the satisfaction I'll feel when I cross the finish line will carry my pride much farther.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Kitchen Trust

I watched my kids today.  By that, I mean I really watched them, their actions, and their weird little habits.  I have two boys, who act like and have the cleanliness standards of pigs.  On their best days, they behave like domesticated pigs, but still pigs nonetheless.  The game room upstairs was meant to be a family area, but has aptly become their man cave instead.  In the game room, they shove dirty clothes under the couch, rather than place them in the hamper just a few steps away.  They are careful enough to sneak food upstairs when I am not looking, but too lazy to hide the food wrappers when they are done eating.  They keep regular books and comic books staked up next to the toilet because evidently that is the best place to store reading materials.  I could go on, but I fear giving you too many examples like this might lead to you to assume they get these weird habits from me.  I assure you they don't get it from me.  Although my hubby is not a messy guy, he is a bonafide pack rat, so that appears to be where the genetic pattern originates.

Ever now and again, I take a step back and just observe them for a few minutes.  Their personalities amaze me because they have always been true their core traits, even in the womb.  One son is high maintenance and always demanding attention, while the other son is ultra laid back and goes with the ebb and flow of any situation.  They are polar opposites, and yet, completely inseparable.  The fight around the clock but can't stand to be apart from each other for any amount of time.  The oldest son is beginning to stake out his independence so much lately that I have to consciously take a step back and allow him to do his own thing without smothering him.  The kitchen is an area where he constantly wants to prove himself.  The kitchen offers a lot of life lessons and metaphors, and watching him navigate his way around the stove and oven is like watching him maneuver his way through an obstacle course of sorts.  Sometimes I take my seat and call out warnings from the other side of the counter, watching and waiting for both of them to show me what they know.

This morning, they wanted to make their own breakfast.  I have allowed this many times before, but I assisted more than they wanted me to.  This time they begged to do it by themselves and I agreed.  Turkey bacon, eggs and biscuits were on the menu.  I still helped them turn the fire on the stove to the appropriate levels, but for the most part I simply observed.  I was curious how they would handle themselves while preparing their own meal if an adult wasn't around.  Would they clown around and horseplay themselves into a dangerous situation or would they remember all the safety precautions I (yelled) spoke to them about all the previous times.  I am pleased to say they did okay.  Yes, they left my kitchen in a complete wreck.  There were egg shells and yolk spilled on the stove.  The bacon was slightly blackened.  However in making this simple little meal, they reassured me they could take care of themselves on a basic level.  They wouldn't starve to death if they were ever trapped in the house alone on another Houston "snow day".  They would remember to turn off the oven and not blow up the house if I wasn't present to remind them.  Heck, they might even remember to wash their hands at some point, but I won't get too crazy with my expectations in that department.  They are pigs, after all.

More than simply satisfying their growling stomachs this morning, I sensed that we quietly crossed into a new era.  An era in which I would ease up a little on my hovering habits and allow them to handle themselves more.  An era in which they would continue to slip and mess up a lot, but I would let them pick themselves up and solve their own problems.  I also sensed that they would need me a whole lot less than I would need them.  Many of my girlfriends are older than me and have children that passed this pre-pubescent phase long ago.  As mothers, they have already been through what I am just starting to experience.  They have already felt those first signs of independence, when your kid no longer wants to hold your hand or show affection towards you in public.  They have already had to stand by when their kid made a bad decision and simply watched patiently as they tried to work out a solution for themselves.

This phase almost feels as draining as cleaning up poopy diapers or running behind them as toddlers so they don't stick their fingers into electrical sockets.  Even worse, I've heard that letting go doesn't get any easier.  Supposedly as parents, we just get better at discreetly watching and waiting for them to need us again.  I try to sneak in hugs and kisses on my baby boy these days and he hates it.  It is taking time for me to understand that he doesn't hate me, he hates my smothering and babying habits.  Every time I force him into a hug, he pulls away, more anxious to prove he is no longer a baby.  I will get better at letting him prove himself, as long as he humors me once in a while and lets his old mom fawn over him a little.  At the very least, I want them to know I trust them.  Right now, I trust them to use good judgement in the kitchen, to be true to themselves in all decisions they are faced with and go after what truly makes them happy.  Now that I think about it, this is probably what I want for them not just today, but for a long time to come.  The watching and waiting will continue, but I believe they will be okay.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sugar Mama

I miss having a waistline.  These words came out of my mouth the other day when I was talking to my husband and he looked at me like I'd sprouted a second head.  I should have clarified the statement.  I miss having a small waistline.  The small waistline days were roughly 25 pounds ago, but that era still dances around in my memory every time I decide to clean up my eating habits.  Yes, I love being a vegetarian but I still go through nutritional peaks and valleys just like everyone else.  I have this odd dietary battle that I fight all the time, because I love eating vegetables (spinach and zucchini are my favorites), but I also equally love sugar.  Tell me to cut out fried foods...easy.  Tell me to cut out big deal.  Tell me to cut out sugar and I will freak out.  Sugar is my crack.  Sugar is my achilles heel and it defeats me all the time.  If you had never laid eyes on me and I told you I was a longtime vegetarian/occasional vegan and a runner, you would probably picture a super healthy person with a slender build.  Nope.  My body shows the damage of a lifelong sugar habit that hasn't improved one bit.  I am being real here and I hope my story helps others that are fooling themselves into thinking that sugar is no big deal.

I draw the line at calling sugar addictive.  It is different for everyone.  For me, yes, I do believe I have some form of an addiction to sugar because I display the typical withdrawal symptoms whenever I do a dietary cleanse.  Beyond my taste buds missing sugar, the headaches, phantom body aches and mental disorientation are very real indicators that some form of chemical dependency is in place when I try to flush out the white stuff.  Sugar is poison for the human body.  Of every food or fluid you put into your body, sugar is the only thing that has absolutely no nutritional value or benefit to sustaining your health.  It may act as an aid in getting other nutrients into your bloodstream efficiently, but sugar alone is nothing your body will ever need.  EVER.  Ask any nutritionist, study any diet fad, follow any weight loss program and the one universal factor is that they all advise you to cut your sugar intake.

So if I know all this, why don't I follow my own advice?  It is laziness, plain and simple.  I have always wanted to be a writer, but never pursued it.  I have always wanted to travel more, but never made time for it.  I have always wanted to get rid of sugar, but never made it a priority that would stick.  People always talk about having trouble losing weight.  Losing weight has never been a mystery to me.  I know exactly what to do, but I just don't do it.  I don't eat tons of candy or desserts.  My biggest problems are with sugary coffee drinks, sugary cereals and skipping meals.  Surprised?  You should be.  You thought I was eating mounds of candy?  You imagined me sitting in front of a platter of cakes and cookies?  Sure, I will indulge in a dessert here and there, but the daily intake of cereal and lattes has a much bigger sugar impact than most people realize.  For instance, my "big girl" sized cereal bowl of Cap'n Crunch and unsweetened almond milk may sound harmless, but it contains more than my entire recommended daily allowance of sugar.  Add my daily latte fix and my sugar totals have gone off the charts.  Multiple that by 4 or 5 times per week and you easily see how the pounds have added up over the last couple of years.  Then add that to my so-called vegetarian meals and things are not as healthy as they once seemed.

If I were a world class athlete or a supermodel, where my job and livelihood depended on the condition of my body, then yeah, my priorities would be different.  But unfortunately, my nutritional habits have always been about two (or twelve) notches lower on my priority list.  The good thing is that my hubby is currently restructuring his diet right now, so there are very few diet demons in the house.  Things should be okay for a while.  I expect the extra 5 or 6 pounds of holiday weight to fall off pretty easily over the next month.  But then what?  Will I go farther and try to get my old waistline back?  I want to and plan to, but I just need to get out of my own way and stop sabotaging what could be a relatively simple resolution.  Maybe I need to break up with sugar and treat it like a bad ex-boyfriend and refuse all contact with it.  Don't laugh at me too hard.  I am going to need all the mind tricks I can stand to battle this issue once and for all.  Good luck to me.