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why I run: then and now

I started running years ago as a part of the weight loss trifecta : running, weights, and calorie counting.

I ran to look better, to fit into smaller jeans, to be a different size.  It worked.  I lost four pant sizes my sophomore year of highschool.  I ran because of the way I felt afterwards – strong, fit, and happy.  I didn’t care about how fast I ran.  I plugged my calories into a chart, with little regard to the quality of the food that I was eating – if it was under my daily limit for weight loss, then I considered it success.

At some point, I started to like the running part of running. Then I started to get better at running.  After years and years of running for fun, I started to get faster.   I will never be a competitive runner – but thanks to the beauty of chip timing I can tell you that right now I can run ten miles as fast as I was able to run my FASTEST MILE two years ago.  I don’t really know how that happened.  Years of running, I guess?

I love to run.  I love to run so much that I treat my body differently so that it can run like I want it to.   I want to fuel it well, so I make choices that will replenish electrolytes and carbohydrates.  I plan sleeping, and drinking alcohol or coffee, and hydrating around my running schedule.  I ice my legs, and stretch my muscles.  I care for my body.

A year or so ago I had an accident that disfigured part of my body. Last October, I had surgery to reconstruct that area so that it would have more ‘normal contouring’.   The surgery was not successful, and the recovery was long and uncomfortable.   When my doctor told me that I would need to have more surgery in hopes of a positive result, I was devastated.  I came home and cried to my husband because I couldn’t bear to spend more months of recovering and building back up to the fitness level that I was before.  It took me so long to get here, I am enjoying it so much, and the idea of stopping it all just to correct a cosmetic issue didn’t seem worth it to me.  (Uh, I am actually having the surgery.  Tomorrow!).

I don’t really know what I hope to accomplish by telling you all of this.  Still, tonight I was sitting in the bath tub, and I was thinking about how much less attractive I must be now than I was back when I was so carefully tracking the input and output of everything that went into my mouth like a bank ledger.  I am ten pounds heavier, even though I run twenty to forty miles per week. My thighs are thicker now, as the muscles have grown and I am covered in scars from tripping over roots on trail runs.  My stomach is soft and my skin is thin from years of stretching it out to grow three children.  I have a c-section scar on my abdomen from the birth of my son and eight (EIGHT!) scars on my back from reconstructive surgery.  I have stretch marks on my hips and thighs, and callouses that make all of my toes look squared, and one of toe nails doesn’t really grow quite right anymore after my marathon.  Still, man, I love my body so much.  It feels sort of awkward to say, and maybe even more awkward to see written there, but I just do.  I love it so much more because of all these things it has given me, and all the things it can do.

I guess my point is just that when I started writing here I had this list of things I wanted to accomplish, and tonight I realized that, although I am still very much a work in progress, I am also sort of there.  It doesn’t look quite like I thought it would, this illusive healthy/balanced place, but it feels damn good to be in it anyway.

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Operation: Fit into my pants!

By Lisa

It has been about 17 years since I have posted anything on this site. It’s hard to write about fitness or healthy eating when you are not participating in either. I gave birth to my beautiful baby boy on October 26th. He is now 10 weeks old, happy and healthy. I was fortunate enough to save up 10 weeks of vacation time to spend with my new little love, but now I am back to work. Back to 10 hour days and commutes and traffic and annoying co-workers.

Now for some reason, my boss frowns upon her employees wearing spit-up stained yoga pants to work every day. I feel like they are perfectly acceptable with oversized maternity tank tops and unwashed hair. But because she feels differently and I would like to continue to get a paycheck, I have to cram my belly flaps into dress pants. And wear heels. And wash my hair. The heels and hair situation is under control, but the pants… Those damn pants with their buttons and zippers and non-elastic waistbands are posing a problem. I have lost most of my baby weight but I still have an extra 5 lbs to go and they are all in my waist. Imagine 5 pounds of hamburger meat taped to your midsection. Then add stretch marks. It’s super sexy! I still had a belly flap from my first baby before I got pregnant with my second and now my flap has friends. There is a flap above the original flap and a nice extra layer of fat on top of the flaps. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I tried on some of my work clothes. Um… yeah. Not working out so well. I have about 3 pairs I can cram my gut into and about 5 shirts. I refuse to buy new clothes, so I have a mission.

“Operation Bikini” has turned into “Operation- fit into my pants”. It sounds much less glamorous but it’s a much more realistic goal for me. There may never be another bikini in my future, but there will always need to be pants.

I have given up sugar. I ate pie like it was my job over the holidays. I have started running again. I had issues with knee injuries before I got pregnant and so far, my lack of exercise during my pregnancy seems to have helped that problem. It is frustrating starting from the beginning but I am determined to get back to where I enjoy running again. Right now, it’s mostly just painful. I have a lot of numbness around my c-section scar, a lot of flappy skin and some pulling at my incision site. It just feels weird but I am going to stick with it.

I am running a 10k at the end of March with my best friends. They did not just have a baby in October, so I have a lot of work to do to be able to keep up and not die. I also don’t want to injure either of them with my belly flaps flying around. It could happen. So I want to start doing a lot of races. It motivates me.

Starting in February, I am going to try to do one each month. Squeezing in the training in between everything else will be a challenge. I am going to have to give up a little sleep and baby cuddle time to make it happen. Wish me luck and I will let you know how it’s going.

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Marathon Training : First three weeks

By Katherine

Last time we spoke, I was full of stitches and nervously eyeing training plans and spring races. Six weeks later – I am happy to say my recovery has gone well, and I am back to running (without pain!).

This is the first time in three years that I haven’t been pregnant, or recovering from a pregnancy, and that means I have big ideas for what I plan to do with my newly reclaimed body. I’ll update my fitness goals for the year, of which there are many, on an appropriately themed New Year’s post, but my big goal this year is to properly train for a spring marathon. I also want to finish it in less than 4 hours.

So far the hardest part hasn’t been the runs themselves, but the tetris required to fit an hour (or more) long run into our already tightly wound schedule. My work schedule basically means that two days of the week are required rest days, and that leaves me with five days of the week that require runs ! or cross-training! or speedwork! I am tentatively following a hybrid of the Hal Higdon novice 2 training program and the Nike + marathon coach program, and am choosing to ignore the part where Hal Higdon says that if you change up too much of the plan you aren’t really following the plan.

My first three weeks of training looked like this:

(I put a zero in places where I was supposed to do something, but didn’t do it. Training fail.)

So, things are going well with the running part of the training. But, I need your help! I am entering uncharted territory with cross-training. I don’t have a bike or access to a pool. This leaves me with weight lifting, but does strength training count for cross training? Oddly enough, Google will not answer this question for me.

Also, I am in the market for nutrition/meal-idea advice for post long-runs. This is the one area where my hatred of bananas truly does me a disservice. What do you eat after a long run?

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Winning Results–”Run Like a Mother”

By Kate G.

Woops! I’m a day late announcing the winner of  Run Like a Mother !

Using Random.org and putting in numbers 1-16, the winner of the book is commenter number 7, Laurie!

My race on Saturday was awful. I hit a wall at mile 8 and only made it to mile 10 on pace, without walking, because I bumped into an old work colleague at the starting line and our goal times were similiar. Running with him for the first ten miles was a gift from the running gods. But by the tenth mile I was completely out of gas and lost all interest in finishing the race. I told him to go ahead without me because I’d need to walk for a minute or so at the next water station. If I had stuck with him, I would have finished at my goal time.

Instead, from our split, I struggled mightily. Usually I can suck up fatigue in the last few miles of a race; I can “push the turbo boost button” as my son puts it, and kick it into high gear to JUST FINISH IT. Not on Saturday. My legs felt like lead and my lungs felt like they were breathing water. Every cliche about overcoming obstacles came to mind.

This is where the tough get going.

Mind over body.

Every person holding a sign on the sidewalk made a difference to me running another step instead of walking. Every group of kids holding out their hands for high-fives kept me moving forwards. Over and over again, I made myself run from one street sign to another before I let myself walk for twenty seconds. I took a porta-potty break just to sit for a little bit. And at the end, I walked in the last half mile instead of attempting any sprint to the end–that’s how empty my tank was.

I finished about 7 minutes slower than I was on pace to finish at the 10K mark, and I attribute that to approximatly 5 minutes of walking interspered over the last 3 miles. When I ran I wasn’t terribly slow, but I walked a lot. The thing is, I don’t even care. What I care about is that I finished at all when all I wanted to do was sit on the side of the road and curl up in a little ball.

By the time I was in my car headed home, the race, which included a full marathon, had been going on for almost two and half hours. My driving route out of the city included a piece alonside the last mile of the race. As I sat in the race traffic to head home, I watched both the last string of half marathoners agonize over their final steps of the race while the earliest marathoners sprinted past.

As I saw what appeared to be the first female marathoner fly across the asphalt toward me, I rolled down my window and clapped and screamed for her.  And I cried. I cried for my own struggle and the beauty of all of the runners out there–all of us trained, woke up in the cold dark that morning, and pushed our bodies, spirit with and against physicality. It was a gorgeous thing to witness and experience.

Not every race is a good one. But I’ll keep trying.

At mile nine, Saturday’s course passed by a retirement home. Two elderly women sat in their wheelchairs at the big glass windows and waved us on. Someday I expect to be in their place and I will be proud, knowing that I ran when I could. Let’s all do this while we can.

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Do You Really Race?

By Kate G.

As I face down my dreaded second half marathon of the year this Saturday, my fires remain at a slow glow rather than ablaze. I will admit I’ve been kind of hoping the weather report would call for heavy downpours (I will run a race in a light sprinkle but I’ll be damned if I’m going to run for much more than an hour in pouring rain in November.)  But so far things look sunny.  Ah well. Guess I’m out of excuses.

I ran my last tempo run this afternoon: nearly 6 miles with 3 miles at about 20 second faster than my goal pace. I felt like I was really pushing it the entire run (even during the easy miles) and I felt downright queasy during the speed work. I’m feeling super unprepared, mentally and physically, to tackle this half at the speed I’d intended.

This leads to the question: when you are running a race, do you push it, even if you’re not feeling it? In the past I’ve found myself unable NOT to. I don’t hurt myself, but during a race my philosophy has always been It’s A Race. You’re supposed to feel a little uncomfortable. You’re supposed to surprise yourself. I’m just not sure I have it in me for the weekend. I’m happier to face Saturday telling myself, “Hey. If you want to run 10 minute miles and slide through this, you can do that. Whatever it takes.”

The thing is, when I’m running a race I just want to be over, a little bit of my ego tends to take over, and a little bit of logic comes into play as well. Let’s face it: The faster you run, the faster it’s over.

Who knows which way I’ll go on Saturday? I could flip a coin. But I’ll report back next week when I announce the winner of “Run Like a Mother.” (It’s not too late to enter that giveaway—go here to leave a comment and be included in the drawing!)

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Back to the Beginning

By Katherine

I have started and stopped writing this post for over a week now, and there are at least three different drafts saved in a folder on my desk top. I write and erase, read it over, take a break, doubt myself, and then put it away only to start over again a few days later. It seems sort of off-topic, and it is completely embarrassing, and yet – it’s like I can’t say anything else until I get his out of the way.

Several weeks ago, I had reconstructive surgery to repair a deformity on my buttock area, from an accident. The surgery required liposuction, fat grafting, and list of other things with fun names that were all to rebuild that area. I was incredibly fortunate that my insurance company felt that the surgery was medically necessary, and made a benefit exception to cover it completely. I didn’t pay a dime out of pocket.

Even with the surgery, this area will likely never look as it did before – my hope was/is that this area of my body will look normal when I am wearing every-day clothing.  Before surgery, I always wore special garments to smooth the area and make it look normal. My surgery went well, and I am healing nicely.  Due to swelling,  it will be months before I know if it was successful, and it is likely I could require additional surgery.

I don’t know what about this I find so embarrasing. Some of it is that we are very clearly talking about my butt, and how many women do you know that enjoy talking about the physical imperfections of that area of their body, right? We are also talking about what is wrong with it, as well as discussing(on the internet!) what I spend a great deal of time trying to cover up.  Part of it, though, is that I also feel sort of ashamed and guilty that I care enough about how I look to have surgery to correct it. The truth is, no matter how abnormal it looks, or how it affects my self-esteem, it is a completely cosmetic issue. Changing it does not affect how my body functions. As an athlete I pour so much of my energy, effort into making my body perform at a certain level. I run, and lift weights, and sweat because of the way it make me feel, because I love doing it. I find myself being proud of scars and bruises. If my body is performing like it should, I feel like I shouldn’t care how it looks.

But, I do. Oh man, I do. It makes me self-conscious.  This area, my butt,  makes me feel ruined, and abnormal. It makes me afraid to wear dresses, or bathing suits, or pants not made of denim.  I could write forever and ever about what is like to have something on your body that is clearly deformed, but it all feels like saying too much and yet not saying enough at the same time. 

My body works wonderfully.  I am fit.  I am strong.  Six days before my surgery, I ran my first ever marathon in 4:23:26.

I can’t tell you how odd, and discouraging, it is to go from the high of completing a marathon (with a time I’m very proud of, I might add!) to being confined to bed, on medication, and full of stitches.

I am now, with my surgeon’s consent, beginning a new  marathon training plan. Running is  painful.  It is far more painful, even, than it was after my cesarean. Fat was removed for grafting from four areas on my back, and the movement of running is awkward. Inevitably, my clothes grab at stitches and scabs – catching if I turn too quickly. My butt, obviously, moves when I run – and this is the worst part of all. Every time my foot pounds the pavement, I cringe.

So, there it is.  I am struggling to complete two mile runs.  I can do a few repetitions of weights before I have to stop. I am sore, and tired, and frustrated.   You guys, I am starting over, again.

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This Is Easy for You (And “Run Like a Mother” Book Giveaway)

By Kate G.

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

–Eleanor Roosevelt

I’m about two weeks away from running my seventh half marathon. I’ve been training for two months. I ran a half back in May and it went just fine, but this time I’m having a sudden crisis of confidence. I’ve been skimping on my long runs, believing they’re just too hard for me. I’m burned out.

I fantasize about skipping the race under the ruse that what my body and spirit really wants to be doing is yoga, swimming, weight work, cycling—anything but running. What gets me out the door to train these last days is the mantra I recently read in a self-help book that you can apply to anything in your life:

What if you didn’t struggle? What if this was easy?

The fact that I feel tired and heavy and slow is no reason to quit now. I wanted to hit a PR in the upcoming race, and I don’t believe I can do it. Maybe I can. Is it important? What if I don’t struggle to hit some goal that no one else cares about and instead I run the race easy? What if it’s fun? What if I trust my lungs and my legs and all the running I’ve been doing and forget the number on the scale and feel pride in my fortitude? I’m going to choose believe it’s easy. I don’t really have another choice.

I ran my first half marathon in October of 2001 in Hartford, Connecticut with a very good friend who had been a high school track star, and for the first time in my running life I really felt like I had arrived as a runner. This fall, things have naturally changed. Now instead of skipping drinks with friends after work to run or missing brunch on the weekend, I’m pushing my 3 yr old in a stroller during my Thursday run and waking up early for my Saturday long run to in order to make it to soccer practice. My training schedule includes speed work and the exhaustion and rewards that come from pushing my body to its limits. My endurance is better than it was a decade ago, and I am a stronger, more confident runner. I love the way running is a journey.

In celebration of this and my decision to keep my chin up and my feet moving, I’d like to give away my copy of Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving—and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea.

I’ve really enjoyed reading and referring back to this book since I got it earlier this year. As the title suggests, it’s obviously focused on mothers who run or who are interested in starting, and is collaboration by the authors and a large handful of mothers they’ve interviewed about the running lifestyle. The end result is a pleasant group of essays, lists, and conversations.

In her chapter called “Motivation: Creating My Own Stimulus Package,” Dimity makes a list of what keeps her going. Some of my favorites on this topic include:           

Being able to drink a beer (or three), scarf a Twix at the movies, or order a bacon double cheeseburger without (much of) a second thought.

The active lifestyle my kids think are the norm, not the exception, and will, fingers crossed, replicate in some form.

The mellow demeanor my post-run self brings to being a parent and spouse. I’m more patient, more engaged, and less quick to snap.

Hell yes.

The book includes music playlists, advice on what to wear head-to-toe, chapters on what marathon training is like, the importance of cross training, and even a great piece on body image. The book is great fun to read and Dimity and Sarah have an active Facebook page on which they regularly engage their audience in conversations about running and help answer questions about running as a mother.

If you’d like to win this copy, drop a comment here and I’ll announce a winner the day after my half marathon: Sunday, November 6.

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Let’s Talk About Running Again

By Shalini

A few things have happened since the last time I talked about running. The main difference is that I like it now. I did a few things that helped. First I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Read it. It’s amazing, and I usually despise nonfiction books, especially ones about sports, good grief. I was rapt by this book. It was excellent. Second, I switched to some old beaten up sneakers to run in. Lastly, I stopped worrying about how fast I was going, how long I could run, or if I was any good at it (thanks to you and my blog readers for that tip).

All of these things improved my running mindset. Most of all, though, it was the shoes. THE SHOES. My goodness, before running felt like my lungs were covered in marmalade and my feet were cement blocks. Before you chastise me for picking shoes poorly, let me explain that I went to a fancypants running store and tried on ten pairs and ran around in them outside and uphill and downhill before I settled on a (very expensive) pair. It took two hours. I was sure those shoes would be great. They were not as great as my old sneakers.

So. Yeah.

Born to Run mentioned this phenomenon as well, and I know I’ve read it here, too, from various bloggers, but I CANNOT BELIEVE THE DIFFERENCE IT MADE. Running in a practically no-sole shoe was like…it was like the difference between being tethered to a heavy barrier and trying to run and then being let go and running free. I timed myself as well to make sure I wasn’t delusional. In my fancypants shoes, I ran a thirteen minute mile. In my ratty sneakers, 9:58. Not exactly lightening speed, but shaving three minutes off of a mile simply by changing my shoes? I’ll take that.

The worst thing is that both pairs of running shoes are the same brand, and both are supposedly “running shoes,” so the only difference really is that one is old and offers almost no support, and the other is all about pronation correction and arch support and other doodads.

I…I am a complete believer now that everyone can run. Because, you guys, I am pathetic in terms of athletic ability. I cannot catch a ball without closing my eyes and reflexively batting it away. (Watch me play volleyball like that.) But running? I can do that now. I can’t run MUCH, only a few miles here and there, but that’s more than I could do before, and I am blown away by how good it makes me feel. I haven’t lost any weight (gained some, to be honest), and my body doesn’t look much difference, but I have more lung capacity (as was tested by the “how many balloons can you blow up for us in ten minutes, Mom?” test my boys administered the other day). I have more energy. I have an earnest desire to run. And for me, that’s enough for now.

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30 days without sugar: so how’s it going?

By Shalini

Terribly. I give up.

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30 Days Without Sugar

By Shalini

This morning, right after I’d dropped my kids off at school, I opened the freezer and reached for the Haagen Dasz. Thankfully, I came to my senses and realized that 8:45 in the morning isn’t an appropriate time to be eating ice cream, but how have I gotten to this point? I’ve gone from an occasional indulgence to a nightly treat to a constant grazing of food-like substances.

So, I didn’t eat the ice cream, but I did polish off a bag of Kettle chips. Tomato, tomahto? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m out of control. I don’t feel well, either. I’m anxious and I’m not exercising and I run out of energy by 5pm, which, as all those who care for little kids know, is nowhere near the end of the day.

Not only that, but lately while I’ve been getting dressed, I’ve wanted to drape myself in a tarp. I don’t weigh much more than I did a few weeks ago, but I feel entirely gelatinous. I feel down. I don’t even like food anymore. I just want to eat something that will make me feel better. Not full, not healthy, but some kind of emotional fulfillment. That’s right, I’m eating my emotions. Welcome to Oprah, eighteen years ago. Cutting edge, I know.

I don’t know if this will help at all, but I’m going back to a no-sugar diet for 30 days. No sugar substitutes, no nothing. I just put in an order for a meat CSA from a local farm as well, and our first shipment should come soon, so that will take care of some meal planning.  But really, I just want to stay away from the sugar.

Kettle chips are still a go, but hopefully my desire to eat them before 9AM will go down if I start thinking about other things I’m eating. Hopefully. I’m going to post my meals and weight on Twitter each day with the hashtag (wait for it) #30dayswithoutsugar, if you want to see how I’m doing. Wish me luck.

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