Sunday, July 26, 2015

If I'd Known Then What I Know Now

Thanks to a phone call from a dear friend asking for help with our local running group, I have stepped back into the role as a volunteer coach for the new running season.  Prior to the call, I had no races on my calendar and no real plans to do anything significant this season.  Because of another friend's wedding scheduled for race day, I won't be able to attend the Houston marathon at all.  Nevertheless, since I will now be following a half marathon training schedule for the next few months, I might as well sign up for a few races so the effort doesn't go to waste.  My thoughts keep drifting back to the season of my very first marathon many moons ago.  The drive to get over that first finish line was nearly overshadowed by the extreme anxiety I felt.  If I could go back in time and give advice to my rookie runner self, there is a lot of wisdom I would share with her to help her get over the hump.  Frankly, I'd tell her just to get over herself.

Dear "Rookie" Akilah,

Good for you for signing up for your first marathon.  Just don't beat everyone over the head with it, especially your now-boyfriend/future-husband.  Yeah it's a big deal in your world, but you are not the first human to ever run 26.2 miles.  Be careful not to get all pissy with him when your carefully planned schedule gets off track.  Don't turn into a complete douche by yelling at him when your race performance turns sour.  Keep in mind he will be your biggest fan and support system for just about everything you attempt in your future running years, no matter how bad it gets.  Even after you guys get married and have kids, keep running.  There will be two younger sets of eyes watching and looking up to you every time you bring home a finishers medal.  They will never know how slow you run or how ugly you look at the finish line.  They will only know that you set a big goal and followed through.

If you are going to commit to the physical training, partner it with a healthy diet.  You have a youthful trim figure now, but your sugar intake is going to blow up one day and you'll wonder where your waistline went.  That fit figure will fade into oblivion quicker than '80s shoulder pads if you don't watch it.  Give up the junk food in favor of some veggie goodness and you might actually achieve that finish time you are aiming for.  You won't bonk out at mile 20, trying to make a deal with God to carry your pitiful self over the final 6.2 miles of agony.  Oh yeah, and those Friday night margaritas with the girls do not count as carb loading no matter how scientifically you break down the ingredients.  The only reason you are getting away with it now is because youth is on your side.  It won't last.  Once you hit 30 and then 40, those margarita and wine treats will beat you over the head like a bulldozer and make your Saturday morning runs feel like a death march under a hot wet blanket.  Cut back on them now so you can stop the bad habit before it grows.

When you show up to group runs, don't be afraid to unplug by leaving the headphones and music at home.  Actually talk to the other homo sapiens around you.  You'll show up alone, but will make some pretty cool friends before you leave.   You'll have plenty of opportunities to run solo and be to yourself, but the group runs are meant to be social.  Don't worry how you measure up to the "real" runners with their Boston qualifying goals.  There will be just as many regular folks that just want a running buddy and will care less about how green you are and fast you are not.  The running community you are so intimidated by is large enough for all kinds and you'll fit right in.  Travel to races in new locations and soak up the change of scenery.  Invest in good running shoes, regular massages, and lots of sleep.  Stick with the strength training once or twice a week and get your lazy tail to the track for some speed work regularly.  Track workouts suck and you will never ever learn to like them, but they will give the biggest payoff of anything else you'll incorporate into your workout routine.

Lastly, remember you are not a quitter.  You will fall, you will get injured and you'll even finish dead last.  But not giving up and always following through on a goal will become your proudest accomplishment.  You will lose count of your races and maybe gain a bunion or two.  You'll have surgeries and set backs, but you will also have some great stories to share with newbies one day.  This marathon thing that your family is already labeling as a passing phase will become a part of you that will get you excited at the start of every season, eager to begin another journey of countless miles on foot.  Race morning will always feel magical and crossing the finish line will always feel equally miraculous.  Twenty years from now, you will still be an active runner looking for the next shiny new racing adventure.  You won't have the same anxiety you feel now, but you will never lose the pull of chasing a PR goal.  Just keep running, moving forward and you'll surely figure it all out along the way.

Your Older, Wiser (Chubbier) Self

Saturday, July 18, 2015

An Exercise In Control

In all our years together, my husband has lectured, preached and bored me with endless tips about healthy eating.  He's had health issues since childhood, so I guess this was always his way to tackle the problem the best way he could.  He gets this ridiculous high from eating right and working out regularly.  He is freakin' annoying!  However, for the first time, he said something that actually stuck with me.  It goes with the whole concept that weight loss is 80% diet and 20% workout.  Yes, we've heard this before.  But he went on to say that even if you don't have time to dedicate to your workouts, you are still in control of your diet.  You have complete control over everything that goes into your mouth.  No one can force you to eat crappy food.  You control the choice of what to eat every time you sit down for a meal.

That one word, "control", resonated with me above and beyond everything I've ever learned about health and fitness.  Over the last couple of years, I had lost control of my eating and desperately wanted it back.  To do that, I had to face my dietary vices head on.  One by one, I needed a plan to regain control.  Here they are listed below and how I have been dealing with them for now:

  • Starbucks:  My occasional Starbucks treat turned into a daily routine.  I never ordered just regular brewed coffee either.  My pallet craved flavors like cinnamon dolce and white mocha.  Even when I held back on the whip cream and substituted soy or almond milk, I still ended up with a 300+ calorie drink, swimming in 50 grams of sugar before I touched any ounce of real food for the day.  To fix this, I either have regular brewed coffee or the skinny versions of my fave Starbucks treats once a week.
  • Energy:  I wholeheartedly recommend for anyone that is going through their own slump to find a natural energy booster.  For me, that is baby spinach.  Within a day of adding this food into the rotation, I get my mojo back and have enough energy to maintain my early morning workout routine.
  • Snacking:  My weak time of the day is late afternoon, which begins at work and continues even after I arrive at home.  Salty snacks are what I normally reach for, which includes things like popcorn or tortilla chips with guacamole.  These snacks aren't 100% horrible, but they are if I eat half the bag in one sitting.  Now, I plan ahead to have 2 cups of air popped popcorn with a little sea salt and it gives me the fix I need.
  • Breakfast:  It has always been my favorite meal of the day, but I wouldn't actually eat it until a good three hours after my morning workout.  No doubt, this probably brought my metabolic caloric burn to screeching halt.  Add on top of that, the first thing in my mouth was a sugary Starbucks drink and you can begin to see how the pounds packed on.  I used to blame not having enough time in the mornings, but that was bull and I knew it.  Now I simply knock back a protein shake right after working out, and it buys me a little time until I can sit down for some oatmeal a little later.
  • Protein:  I have been happily content as a vegetarian for years.  However, I admit that I needed to make some changes if wanted to step up my protein content.  Drinking more protein shakes and increasing my bean product intake just wasn't enough to keep me interested.  So, the happy vegetarian has added fish into the diet and she hasn't died yet.  No, I am still not all that interested in chicken, beef or pork.  Trust me when I say that I've tried, but they just don't do it for me.  Oh well.
  • Meal Prepping:  I've done the meal prep thing in various ways many times before.  I would buy all my favorite healthy foods and pack my cooler the night before work.  However, I never put much effort into planning an entire week in advance.  Now I am going that extra step and packing each meal into its own container, so I have a full week of meals stocked in my refrigerator.  It has made all the difference in the world in keeping me from reaching for other processed convenience foods.

None of these changes are earth shattering and you surely have heard of them countless times from other weight loss stories.  It just happens to be the combination of things that are working for me at the moment.  In the past month, I have lost a modest 6 pounds.  It is no biggie because I have lost and gained the same 5 or 6 pounds before, only to have one margarita too many and gain it right back.  I don't have the usual feelings of anxiety about getting the weight off this time.  Reminding myself that I am fully in control of the process has made all the difference.  

Don't tell my hubby that I actually listened to him this time.  All the running, all the kickboxing and all the yoga in the world will do absolutely nothing for my body if I don't fuel it properly.  I am living proof of this.  In spite of the fact that have a consistent workout routine, I have still managed to eat my way back up to what I weighed when I was 9 months pregnant with each of my boys.  But I won't be here for long.  Being back in control of my diet is an addictive feeling that I won't let go of any time soon.  Looks like being a control freak finally turned into something positive this time.  My hubby might agree with the control freak part of that statement.