Nearly two weeks ago, I asked about kettlebells. Folks on Twitter, Facebook and my blog responded, and everyone who did had something good to say.
It’s fun (men and women).
It’s a good workout (men and women).
It feels more feminine to me (women).
Out running errands around that time, I spotted a Pilates studio. Kettlebells practically leapt from their signage, and I smiled at the synchronicity. Once home, a quick search brought me to their website, and a phone call led me to their studio this morning.
The studio offers a one-on-one kettlebell fundamentals class. It’s designed to get you ready to join their group kettlebell classes, but I wanted some in-person training on technique for at home workouts as well. YouTube told me there are a lot of interesting exercises one can do with a kettlebell, and common sense told me there are just as many interesting ways to injure yourself.
My instructor was Ingrid, a tall, slim woman with long dark hair. She was friendly and very focused on coaching me in the proper technique. I performed a range of exercises for upper and lower body incorporating pulling and pushing motions, and a swing. The swing she tells often takes weeks or even months to perfect, and she complimented me several times during the session on my form.
She especially made note of the way I didn’t hunch over for various poses where your chest is out and shoulders are wide. That’s something I’ve grown into through a combination of dance and working on moving with grace. I know for sure I used to hunch and shrink. “You’ll advance very quickly,” she said more than once.
Although my ultimate goal is to find more at-home workouts, I do plan to visit the studio for group classes when my travel schedule allows. I can tell I got a good workout today, and I’m sure I’ll have even more evidence (hello fatigued muscles) by tomorrow.
I’ve set a timer for 5 minutes and I’m just typing stream of consciousness.
I had so many plans when I woke up, and I’ve been working through them, but, well, you know how it goes sometimes. A few interruptions here, a fire to put out there, and it seems there’s been a lot of busyness, but not as much business.
That’s fine. I can still check a few items off my list and create a clear plan of action for tomorrow based on what I accomplished today. And really, that’s the best you can do on any given day. Since the fourth agreement is “always do your best,” I can close out the work day in peace and look forward to a productive day tomorrow.
Speaking of tomorrow, I’m excited because I think time and weather are on my side. If I’m correct, I will run my first miles of 2014! I’ve missed running. And although I need a new pair of running shoes (I never really bonded with the old ones), it’ll be so lovely to get outside and get fresh air. Running is one of my favorite forms of exercise for many reasons, and I have some new goals/approaches in store for the running season. I’ll let you know how it goes…
Weight lifting is interesting for me. On the one hand, I love seeing progress. I can lift the weight with less effort as time goes on and see real strength. My muscles get sculpted. I lift and carry heavy groceries in a single bound.
I do a full body workout with a barbell and plates. Ten tracks including warm up, squats, chest, back, biceps, triceps, lunges, shoulders, abs and cool down.
When I first started the program (Les Mills Pump), I wasn’t on the road, so I was able to follow it as outlined each day. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been traveling. That and other circumstances as of late led me to take it easy with my workouts. I found what amounts to a comfortable challenge for each track and stuck with it. For weeks.
In the past couple of weeks I decided if I was going to hang out at these easier weights, I’d really focus on form, and I have. But it was time for more.
Yesterday I felt energized, motivated, and ready for a challenge. It reflects an overall mood I’ve been in the past few months – one of action and forward motion. I’ve not yet blogged about my theme for 2014 (see 2013, 2011) but it definitely incorporates movement. I’ve started new projects and made strides in new areas.
And so yesterday, when it was time to get that barbell out, I knew it was also time to kick it up a notch. I increased weights on all working tracks. I worked harder than I have in a long time and it felt great! I was proud of myself all day and flexed my muscles in every mirror.
One of my favorite things about exercising is learning the lessons my body teaches. Yesterday’s lesson? If you keep doing the same things, you’ll find yourself in the same place. Progress requires effort. Lay down those bricks and build that temple.
When you become stuck in a rut
of apathy, your life stagnates,
leading to setbacks.
Today’s run surprised me. It had been over a week since my last 4-mile run. Generally speaking, a couple of rest days are good for me. But too many means I start to lose a level of fitness.
It’s not to say I forewent exercise completely. In addition to rest days, I had a couple of bouts of weather-induced indoor aerobics. I also threw two short runs in the mix. In a hotel and pressed for time two mornings in a row, the treadmill beckoned. I’ve mentioned more than once how much I enjoy outdoor running and dislike treadmills, but there was no safe place to run nearby. It was the ‘mill or nothing.
Let’s get right to it and say both of those runs sucked. I never felt as though I could get a good breathing rhythm. I never locked into an ideal stride. I just wasn’t comfortable. Both days, two miles of running felt like five or six miles worth of work.
The past couple of mornings, I looked forward to getting back outside. Yesterday, was a disappointment. Mild fall temps were on my side, but the pouring rain was not. I decided to get on with the remainder of my day, foregoing exercise altogether.
Today, it was cooler than ideal, but clear, and I was determined to go get my miles. But get this: I was worried. Because my recent runs were short and difficult, I wondered if I had what it took to eek out my mileage. Some Saturdays I toy with the idea of a “long run” (five miles or more), but today my standard four felt like a stretch.
I wondered just how long it would take me to finish. How would I feel at the halfway point? Would I have to walk it out for large stretches of the trail? Would I just stop at a mile and turn around? The questions loomed. This level of uncertainty about a run is unusual for me, but there it was. I stalled a bit, and went out anyway.
When I got to the Greenway, I could tell immediately the run was going to go well after all. I easily hit my warm up pace and found a comfortable stride within the first 1/2 mile. It felt nice to open up and push the tempo. Being outdoors again was glorious, despite the cool air. Despite the damp leaves clinging to the trail.
I felt great, like the in shape runner I am.
Getting up to Snuff
I’ve run intervals a few times this year. Before now, I’d never tried them out. It’s true they help with speed, and I’ve come to realize they build my confidence as well. I know I’m reasonably fast for super short distances – I was a sprinter in my day. A few years at 3+ miles per run, I’ve now built some endurance, but often I’m scared to push my pace. I simply don’t want to peter out.
But intervals are designed for you to push, then rest. And really, I’m not racing anyone. I’m building my own fitness. Who cares if I need to rest at various points during my run anyway, intervals or not? And just because I got comfortable holding a steady pace at four miles, didn’t mean I needed to remain comfortable. That can easily lead to stagnation. And to some degree, it had.
In recent runs, I’ve found myself thinking about all of this while also mulling a scene from Gattaca (spoiler alert). In it, brothers Anton and Vincent are swimming. Ever since they were children, they tested each other to see who had the endurance to swim the farthest in open waters. Anton always won.
An older wiser Vincent finally stopped living down to everyone else’s expectations, and resolved to give life his all. In a confrontation between the two, they decide to swim one last time. Right when Vincent would’ve cried mercy, he didn’t. This time, Anton was the one who tapped out. He screamed at Vincent demanding to know how he was accomplishing this. How was he pushing beyond well-established boundaries? Said Vincent,
I never saved anything for the swim back.
Vincent gave it his all. He held nothing back. He learned to overcome his limiting beliefs about himself. In the end, he was victorious.
Often, I hold back when running. I get comfortable with a certain pace. Knowing I can push it, but will have to recover later, I don’t take chances. Steady state. But with the introduction of intervals, I saw my fitness increasing, and it became easier for me to see what would happen if I push it. I’d go faster! And yes, I may have to rest a bit, but I’d go faster for longer the next time.
So today, out on the open path, no music, no pressure, just me, I ran. And when it felt good, I ran faster. And when I thought I’d been running a good distance at a good pace, I checked in. Do I really need to rest right now, or am I holding back? And I’d rest or run accordingly.
It was a great run. Much faster than usual the first two miles, and faster in stretches toward the end. I ran my fastest overall pace for this distance.
I surprised myself. I didn’t hold back. The race was only with myself, and I won.
I’m a self-described athlete. I ran and biked like most kids in my neighborhood growing up. I was a gymnast in elementary school. A cheerleader in middle school. I danced (band auxiliary) and sprinted (varsity track) in high school.
I engaged in fewer structured activities in college, although I danced (partied) several hours a week which definitely counts for something. After college I had an on again, off again love affair with local gyms. I stocked up on exercise DVDs for the off again moments. Even as an elementary school teacher, I woke up early enough to exercise, chant, drive 30 minutes and still get to work by 7 a.m. I prioritized prayer, sleep, laughter, water and movement. They kept me in good spirits and good health.
When I became a full time doctoral student in 2007, things changed. I found myself a recluse when class wasn’t in session. All the time I read and wrote papers, thought about theory, drank coffee and ate McDonald’s. Seriously. All the time.
A few months in, the side effects from that “food” and the disgust from Super Size Me, spurred me to choose healthier meals.
(Sidebar: I didn’t eat fast food for a year after that, and with the exception of two iced coffees in 2007, I’ve never consumed McDonald’s again). I was no longer exercising, because who had the time? But I knew my body was ready to move again.
Despite my desire to exercise, it was a struggle at first. I had to force myself to stop reading or writing to go for a walk or a short run. I argued with myself – one more page, or one more paragraph. Then another. I’d panic as I watched the setting sun, realizing it was now or never. I’d throw on some fitness gear and get moving.
That happened many times, until:
I realized I always felt better after exercise, and
I scheduled it. I made it non-negotiable.
The very first time I put an exercise appointment on my calendar, my dissertation advisor wanted a meeting. I had to break it to her, “No, I’m not available at that time. I’m exercising then.” She, a woman very much into self-care, supported me and offered several other times even with her busy schedule. I understood then, to the degree I was serious about taking care of myself, I could figure out the rest.
And so I set my exercise schedule daily. I incorporated strength training, swim lessons, and running, all depending on my class and homework schedule. I treated exercise like any other important appointment. I was definitely going to attend, so I had to plan the rest of my day around it.
Over time it has become less of an appointment and more of a way of life. Sometimes this means running on treadmills when I’d rather be outside. Sometimes it means a 15-minute high intensity interval workout instead an hour of strength or cardio. Sometimes it means evening workouts although I definitely prefer sunrise exercise.
The point is, I’ve made it a part of my regular routine. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.
Distance running didn’t come naturally to me. I’m a sprinter, and have been ever since I outran the neighborhood boys back in grade school. In my 20s, I tried distance running a few times, but it never really stuck. I rarely felt as if I could breathe very well, and my legs always itched. I figured out the solution to both of those things years later – a histamine blocker and pacing.
Yesterday’s run was a good one. This route had manageable hills and after 3 miles, I had energy left, but no time.
It takes me anywhere from a half mile to a mile to get warmed up. During those first 5-10 minutes, I’m looking for a comfortable stride length and finding a good cadence for my breathing. Around mile two I get in a groove. I relax and settle into the run, especially if it’s a familiar route.
The third mile varies. Depending on my level of fitness, I experience fatigue during the first half. I slow down a bit, especially if I was pushing things earlier. Sometimes I start wondering how much longer I have before I arrive at home base.
Unless I’m short on sleep or fuel, I shake it off by the second half of the mile. By then, I’ve gotten my breath back, my legs back, and I’m rocking out. Yet for years, that was the end of the run. Eventually I discovered the magic of mile four.
That fourth mile? That’s the sweet spot. I’m warm. Breaths come and go in energizing rhythms. My stride opens. I’m pushing it until I cross the finish line. The endorphins are in full effect. Life is great.
These days I’m back at 3 because I’m finding new routes and running hilly terrain for the first time. It’s a tough slog, really. Training on hills is more than a notion. I’m looking forward to developing my fitness, and eventually finding 4 sweet again. After that? We’ll see.
2010 marked the end of graduate school, and the end of writing by committee for a while. In 2011, I planned to write for self. And I did. Sort of. But not as much as I envisioned.
In 2012, I wrote more often than years past. And I wrote about things that were intellectually and/or emotionally fulfilling. This was especially true in August, when I participated in Tayari’s WriteLikeCrazy and Aliya’s 30 in 30 (30 blogs in 30 days) challenge. As a category, my 30-in-30 posts were the most rewarding to write and many of them ranked among the highest views for the year.
Creating time to write, and mustering courage to share my writing were two challenges I battled for nearly every post this year. But I did create the time. And I did share. And so did you…
Thanks so much for reading and sharing my rants, confessions, mini essays, declarations and lessons this year. Here are the ones that seemed to resonate most:
It’s April 1st, and today I was supposed to “rest.”
I spent the past 12 weeks doing a high intensity cardio program, TurboFire. I enjoyed it a great deal. I lost body fat and a few pounds (no mean feat when you already exercise regularly), and gained cardiovascular fitness. I also embraced my newly realized love of exercise and made the 6-day/week workout non-negotiable. It reaffirmed my need for routine and structure, despite my love of freedom and flexibility in my work schedule.
I debated long and hard about continuing the program for another 8 weeks or moving on to something else. I decided the fact I was feeling so attached meant I needed to break away and move on. As of next week, I’m beginning a new regimen – Pump (a full body weight training program) 3 times a week, plus cardio (running) 3 times a week.
So that brings us to today.
I ventured outside for my first run of 2012! I wish I could say it was glorious. It was definitely a good run, and I know for sure my cardiovascular fitness has improved. Breathing was easy and I had plenty of air, even when I pushed my normal pace. The problem? Lack of “rest.”
TurboFire is all choreographed kickboxing, squats and plyometrics. Running four miles was easy on my lungs, but my glutes and quads had commentary.
A lot of it.
I had to walk a little bit and/or slow down during the burn. Still, I’m excited to report I hit a new personal record:
My previous PR was my last run of 2011, so it’s a happy surprise that my new one is my first run of 2012. Here’s to continued temple building.
Today I claim total victory. I ran a personal best, smashing all of my previous times for an average pace below 10 minutes a mile.
This is huge news for someone who never thought she’d run distance for fun, and who once believed the occasional dip below a 12-minute mile was cause for celebratory cheers.
And this, in a nutshell, is one of the things I most love about running.
Running is a daily opportunity to set tangible goals and work toward them. Funny thing about running – it brings you face to face with reality. Sometimes the weather isn’t cooperating; do you run in the rain or sweltering sun anyway? Sometimes your body isn’t cooperating; do you wrap the knee or rest it? Sometimes time isn’t on your side; should you cut your run in half or just wait until another day? Or maybe the laundry has piled up; do you wear those uncomfortable shorts and hike them up the whole time, or…?
Decisions. It’s extremely rare when I can say my run and the stars are in complete alignment. Despite the snooze button, my failure to wash clothes, Mother Nature’s quirks or anything else, I often decide to run anyway.
And maybe today’s run sucked: I was slow, it was hard to breathe, I was hot, cold, etc. Maybe today’s run was perfect: I hit my target pace, I had great form, it was a glorious temperature with a refreshing breeze. But true glory lies within the confines of whatever the circumstances are. In other words, no matter what, I have the opportunity to do my best – realizing that “best” may look very different under varying circumstances.
Today’s circumstances were pretty favorable. And in the past week I’ve surprised myself, shaving two and a half minutes off my “typical” total time. For the first time since I began running over two years ago, the 10-minute average pace was within my grasp!
Monday’s run was literally a couple of seconds shy of the 10-minute pace. I snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as I yanked my skort up and down throughout the run, finally stopping to give it a good pull.
Going out this morning, my aim was what it always is – to have fun and do my best. Honestly, I didn’t think I had it in me to top that 10:01 pace today. Usually, I run fastest after more than a couple of days of rest. When I touched the gate at the end of my run and stopped the clock, I cheered my time. 39:10 (9:48 average pace). Total victory!
I have no idea what my next run will be like. Will it be warm or chilly? Will my knee be irritable? Will I add back all the time I’ve shaved? I don’t really know. But I do know that I’ll enjoy my run, and I’ll do my best, whatever that means at the moment. In the end, I can’t win in the past. I can’t win in the future. I can only win in the present moment. And so can you.