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.
Here are the top posts from last month’s 30in30 challenge:
September is my mom’s birth month. She was on my mind, and subsequently, on my blog. Early in the month, I wrote about the Barnes and Noble she never had the chance to enjoy. Later, on her birthday, I shared a co-worker’s wisdom about mothers and grief. In short, losing a mother can leave you broken-hearted, even a decade later.
Emotional wellness is important, but wellness extends to many domains. In honor of National Women’s Health & Fitness day, I wrote about prioritzing physical wellness in the face of a busy lifestyle.
Last month, Diana Nyad made history, and she endures as a testament to dreaming big, and never giving up. It is with that spirit that I welcome October. I’m revising and devising my goals and striving forward each day. I wish the same for you.
I wrote about prioritizing fitness for National Women’s Health & Fitness Day earlier this month. One commenter, fellow FAMUan Peter McKay, suggested I do some posts focused on strength training. It’s something I’ve done off and on over the years. More on as of late.
I’m not the kind of person who enjoys going to the gym use the machines or free weights, but I found a total body barbell-based program that includeds choreographed reps with upbeat music. I believe there are way too many fitness options to force yourself into doing exercises you don’t like. The program I found was a perfect fit for me.
I’m not an exercise scientist, nor a fitness trainer. I am, however, a few months away from 40 and in pretty decent shape. I lift (in addition to running and dancing) because I like the results.
Here are 8 reasons I lift weights:
New acquaintances compliment my arms. They’re not chiseled, but they aretoned. I like them.
I feel myself get stronger each session. Who doesn’t love progress?
My energy is high all day long.
Some say I look like a dancer. My core is stronger and my posture is more erect.
I have more power during my runs.
Thanks to squats, my donk looks nice in jeans.
I imagine myself to be a warrior goddess when I clean and press.
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.
There are quite a few 18-year-olds walking around Spelman College in 40-year-old bodies. This and similar data pointing to a culture of “wellness illiteracy” helped Spelman President Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum launch a Wellness Revolution.
Dr. Tatum spoke at the 3rd Annual Black Women’s Life Balance and Wellness Conference on September 14-15, 2013. She opened with the story of a Spelman graduate turned lecturer who died at the age of 34. She was well on her way professionally, but her life came to an untimely end due to obesity related complications. Dr. Tatum then linked this experience of a former student with the lives of her current students.
As entering freshmen enroll, the health center collects medical and wellness statistics so they will be prepared to meet their needs. About half the women in the class of 2016 were found to have chronic diseases such as hypertension and Type II diabetes.
Asks @BDTSpelman, are they going to live long enough to be the world changers they are capable of being? #lifebalance
When the class of 2017 enrolled, similar statistics were gathered. These women were also weighed on a scale that computes body age as well as weight and fat. That’s when she discovered that many of the teenagers were living in bodies double their chronological age.
Dr. Tatum considered the purpose and mission of many HBCUs, and the milieu during which they were founded. Black illiteracy was extremely high, and it was the early graduates of many of these institutions, including Spelman, who helped increase the literacy rate among Black Americans in very short order. She felt the problem of wellness could be framed similarly – as an issue of illiteracy about how to design a healthy lifestyle. She reasoned, if she could help influence the health and wellness choices of the 2000 young women on her campus, they could go out into the world and be activists and change agents for wellness.
Dr. Tatum masterminded and actively participates in Spelman Wellness. She encourages 30 minutes of exercise each day, and checks in with students as she sees them on campus. Just as she holds them accountable, they do the same in return. She’s proud to be able to say “Yes!” when the ladies ask her if she’s moved today. She closed by sharing footage from the first Spelman Founders Day 5k. Enjoy it, and remember:
I’m home, after a day of inspiration. And like I’ve been for the past few months, I’m tired. I’m not bone tired or weary, but I’ve just noticed that I’m not as energized as I used to be. There are many very specific reasons for that, but they all boil down to one: change.
Over the past several months, I’ve changed a lot and so has my environment. From my zip code to my job responsibilities, to aspects of romantic and platonic relationships.
Personal goals and professional goals have shifted. Exercise habits have changed. Food. The amount of time I spend in the sun or the ways I engage nature. The amount and type of sleep I get. It’s all been one massive ball of change.
Some changes have been on purpose, and others were the result of circumstances. But it still amounts to the same thing: a whole lot is different right now.
It reminds me of the time I was a classroom teacher. At the beginning of every year, I started routines and rituals. I got to know my students, and in some cases new curriculum, new materials, new administrators, and/or new colleagues. All I could do was work my heart out each day and come home and sleep. And sleep.
Sometimes, at the start of school, I’d be asleep well before sunset (not kidding) and I wouldn’t move until daybreak. And that would go on maybe two or three weeks. Suddenly, I’d get in the swing of things. I’d be on it. Everything would run smoothly at work, and I’d have plenty of energy to plan ahead, or dance, or date, or take classes, or whatever.
But it always took time. And even though it happened every year like clockwork, I had to be gentle with myself, and do what I needed to do to reach a state of equilibrium with my surroundings.
Except for exercise choices, which are primarily seasonal, my recent changes have not been cyclical. They’ve been positive, yet progressive and persistent. One month after another, there’s been a new spin on things. And I haven’t been very good at stopping to reflect. To do the inner work to harmonize fully with all aspects of my life.
And I took the time to sit with that this morning. I journaled about it. I sat in the sunshine. I mulled. I want to feel energized and accomplished. Cheerful. Not superficially, or for a few hours in the morning, but I want these feelings to pervade my day and influence my environment.
At the core I want to BE energy and BE productivity and BE good cheer. I’ve felt that way before. I’ve been those things before. I know how to be that person. I’ll learn how to be those things again, in my new place and under my new conditions.
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.
From time to time, friends mention various and sundry ailments or concerns, and inquire as to whether I might recommend a remedy. Occasionally, I can! Below, you’ll find a brief catalogue of the items I share most regularly.
Most people naturally assume my Buddhist practice incorporates meditation. It does not. However, meditation, even a few seconds once in a while, can benefit anyone. One year I felt unreasonably harried and unfocused and thought learning more about meditation would help me slow down a bit. It did.
I particularly like Jack Kornfield’s easy going and clear delivery and guided practice sessions. Once every year or so I listen to his mini-lectures and sessions again, as a good reminder to slow down and be fully present.
Shallow or Irregular Breathing
If you are like me, you rarely breath as deeply as you should. And in fact, there have been times we’ve I’ve caught myself holding my breath for no discernible reason at all! Andrew Weill’s two CD set includes a great lecture on the benefits of proper breathing as well as guided practice sessions.
I first heard this years ago, and still incorporate some of these breathing techniques whenever I need to wake myself up or relax.
Sometimes I simply can’t turn my mind off at night. For someone who needs a great deal of sleep in order to maximize productivity, it’s no bueno. There are many strategies one can employ, but my favorite is p.m.yoga. This is a big deal because I’m not really a fan of yoga for exercise. It’s just not my go to, despite wanting to enjoy it.
Gaiam’s DVD features a 20 minute series of poses that wind down the mind and body. Any time I follow this DVD, I fall asleep right away, and sleep deeply throughout the night.
As an aside, just doing a few of the poses helps me as well, if for whatever reason I’m not able or willing to pull out the DVD.
As another aside, I’ve only ever done the morning series twice – both about 6 years ago. But recently, I’ve found myself naturally wanting to do sun salutations some mornings. Maybe I’ll look at that DVD again…
I was very interested in tai chi a few years ago and purchased this DVD. I prefer the a.m. tai chi series over a.m. yoga (as I prefer the p.m. yoga over the p.m. tai chi). That said, I did both morning and evening tai chi for several days in a row and noticed a dramatic improvement in my overall feeling of well-being. I wasn’t expecting it, but there it was.
The main benefit I noticed at the time was the feeling of space around my organs. It was as if the air could flow more freely throughout my body.
I believe in power naps. I’m not sure I always did, but a busy schedule doesn’t really lend itself to hour-long siestas. Can you really feel refreshed after a 20- or even a 10-minute rest? Yes. The Ultimate Nap CD is the answer. When I bought this in a store, the CD came with napping supplies! I don’t usually have the ability to whip out the eye mask, and the lavender is just too strong for me, but the music is the thing. If you have earphones, even better.
I’ve used this on short plane trips, secreted away in my car, in my office. Well, you get the drift. If you can carve out a few minutes, you can take a good nap with this CD.
So these are few of my favorite things for recharging and refreshing. What are some of yours?