The twenty that wasn’t on the road to Boston

A couple weekends ago, I woke up early, loaded my hydration belt, and headed out for a twenty miler. Even though I prefer shorter races, knowing this was probably my last twenty brought bittersweet feelings. I feel like I’ve accomplished what I wanted to at the marathon distance. It had taken me three attempts to make it to Boston, and I was looking forward to finishing my journey on Boylston Street.

After some horrendous training runs, things were looking up. I felt stronger on my first twenty than I had on some of the fifteen and sixteen milers. I had ran a fairly hilly half marathon in 1:50:37. I felt pretty good about my amended goal of finishing under 4 hours. Four under four. Nothing motivates like a good slogan 🙂

The temperature was supposed to reach the low nineties that day, but it was a crisp fifty-something when I started. I was moving at a steady, comfortable pace, enjoying the fresh air and the antics of the desert birds. I was almost five miles in when I felt a pain in my left calf. I ran for about twenty more steps, stopped to stretch and rub it, and tried again. It still hurt. I knew from experience that continuing to run could turn an irritation into a full-blown injury, so I decided to turn around and walk home.

For someone who’s been at this a while, five miles isn’t that long of a run. It is, however, a fairly long walk. My brain was going haywire. Would my leg heal in time to run the marathon? Would I have to run-walk it? Walk it? What was the cutoff time anyway? Was I asking for serious injury if I even tried? Damn, damn, DAMN! It seemed like any time I started making progress, BOOM, I smashed into some sort of obstacle or injury. Every time someone ran by I wanted to shout, “I’m a runner, too!

My body had betrayed me. I felt like a broken-down jalopy. One of the reasons I love running is that it makes me feel good about myself. Strong. Capable. Fit. But for the past year and half, running has often reminded me what of what I was no longer able to do. What do you do when your workout makes you feel worse?

It was a rare weekend with nothing on my calendar, so after I got home, I did what your average introvert with a pint of ice cream in the freezer would do: stayed inside, cried a bit, and made a serious dent in my DVR backlog. I also scoured the internet for advice about calf strains. Fortunately, this one wasn’t as painful as my last one and it didn’t hurt to walk. Note: There are two spoonfulls of ice cream left. I’m capable of practicing restraint.

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My goal: Be as healthy as a horse

I decided to try everything and the kitchen sink. My boyfriend’s parents brought over some arnica cream and an ice wrap they used on their horses. I used heat treatments. I wore a compression sleeve for a week (even to work). I bought rocking calf stretchers for home and for work. I got massages from Ross and my marathon stick. After a week of not running, I started run-walking. The muscle barked the first couple of times, but the next few were pain free! I continued to teach my cycle and Pump classes, because they didn’t hurt. Maybe, just maybe, I would be able to do this thing.

Monday night, I wanted to see if I could run 5 miles at a 9-minute pace. I was still holding out hope for that sub-4. The first quarter was on target, and then I noticed that I was getting faster. 8:45 pace, then 8:30, 8:15… Nothing crazy – when I’m healthy. I tried slowing down a little after each lap, but ended up accelerating again. After a mile and a half, I felt a twinge. Stop. Walk. I alternated walking and slow jogging for a couple of laps, and called it a night. It didn’t feel awful, but it didn’t feel right, either.

Some people had given me advice not to run at all until the marathon, but I thought running 26.2 miles on an injured leg after three weeks of nothing didn’t sound wise. I was hoping that these test runs would give me some assurance. Maybe I was the foolish one.

Yesterday, my leg felt slightly pulled. It feels better today, but I’m nervous. If I can’t handle 1.5 miles at a moderate pace, how in the hell am I going to run a marathon? If it were any race other than Boston, I’d bow out and pick a race later in the year. But I want this. I earned this entry, and I honestly don’t want to try and qualify again. That unicorn medal will be mine.

So, I am going. I have a new, blue sparkle skirt for the occasion. My boyfriend’s parents will be my dedicated sherpas. I am going to try and run this thing, or at least run-walk it. Still, I can’t help but feel like a fraud. Does a hobbler belong at an event that celebrates excellence?

But Boston is so much more than a race. Today is the two-year anniversary of the day so many people lost their lives and limbs. This is the place where Katherine (registered as K.V.) Switzer kept on running, even though a race official tried to pull her off the course when women weren’t allowed to race. She said, “I knew, if I quit nobody would believe that women had the capacity to run 26 plus miles.” Thousands of women gratefully follow in her footsteps every year.

The city. The history. The crowd support. For 118 years, people have come Boston to test their mettle, and now it’s my turn.

I am humbled. I am proud. I am scared. I am persistent. I am a runner.

A Mostly Nice (and slightly naughty) Holiday Season

Ah, the holidays. When sleeves get longer as days get shorter. The hours are crammed with activities and faces are crammed with edible delights. Each year I strive to strike a balance between enjoying what the season has to offer while not throwing healthy habits to the wind. Here’s how I spent the merry month of December.

For the second year, my boyfriend Ross and I competed in the Anthem Holiday Triathlon. It’s a short, beginner-friendly event, and the men and women race separately. It makes for wpid-dsc00657.jpga long morning, but it also provides a rare opportunity for us to cheer each other on and play photographer. It was snowing when we left Flagstaff and raining in Tucson, but overcast and pleasant at the race site.

The swim is a 200-yard serpentine that’s completed twice. This year they started the oldest swimmers first (last year we organized ourselves by swim times), and the pool got congested very quickly. At one point my lane was so clogged that I stood and walked. People were also resting on the walls between laps, so there were a few times I stopped short and changed direction. I hope they change back next year.

It was windy, which made for an interesting bike ride. It was a three-loop course, complete with climbs and descents. I hadn’t ridden my tri bike much lately, so I stayed out of the aero bars when flying downhill and during the narrow and twisty sections of the course. Ross, who is a beast on the bike, stayed in them the whole time. I was passed by three women, and he wasn’t passed at all.  wpid-dsc00700.jpg

The run is a loop, with a short out-and-back part. The first half is a net downhill, which makes it rough toward the end when you’re already tired. Ross had finished his race in 1:05:29, and I figured I’d be about 10 minutes behind him. My time was 1:15:36. It was nice to see his smiling face at the finish line.

We had decided to relax after the race, and booked a Jacuzzi suite. We ended up with three bathtubs: a Jacuzzi tub in the bedroom itself as well as normal tubs in the two bathrooms. Pretty flippin’ fancy.

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A few days before Christmas, I got a special surprise. As I was getting ready for work, I looked out my back window and did a double-take. The weeds that had overtaken the yard during the rainy season were gone, and several herbs, vegetables, and flowers had been planted. Ross and his parents had come by the day before and transformed my backyard into something beautiful. I can’t wait to prepare meals with food from my own garden. It was by far the best Christmas gift that I’ve ever received.

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On Christmas Eve, my friends Keith and Shokofeh, who head up the Tucson Runners Project, hosted a hot chocolate run on Mt Lemmon. It was chilly when we arrived, but the combination of sunshine and uphill running warmed us quickly. We did 6.6 miles with a couple of other friends while stopping for a couple of picture breaks. Afterwards, we hung out for a while and enjoyed treats, views, and conversation.

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One of my blogger friends, Shannan, tagged me in a cookie recipe challenge. I enjoy cooking and experimenting in the kitchen, but I don’t bake that often. In the spirit of my blog, I wanted to make something fairly healthy. I had made black bean brownies in the past, and wanted to see if I could find a bean-based cookie recipe. Google showed me how to make peanut butter chocolate chip cookies with garbanzo beans.

Here are the modifications I made to the basic recipe. I used sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter because it’s a little easier to stir and is already slightly sweet. I replaced half of the honey with liquid stevia, and found the cookies to be sweet but not overpoweringly so. I also multiplied everything by 1.5 to use the full can of wpid-2014-12-30-14.07.02.png.pnggarbanzos. The recipe warned against doubling because it could ruin the blender, but my Ninja Prep Pro handled it with ease. The batter was tasty, and with no eggs, I didn’t have to worry about eating it raw. Confession: I have eaten raw batter that contains eggs. Just one of the ways I live on the edge.

The cookies were a little soft after ten minutes, so I baked them for another two. It didn’t change the texture much, and I decided to stop there rather than risk burning them. The outsides had a hint of normal crisp-cookie texture, but the insides were very soft. I prefer a soft cookie, though, so it wasn’t a big deal. They were delicious and not beany at all. The original recipe is gluten free, and can easily be made vegan and/or sugar free. I would definitely make them again.

My holidays weren’t all exercise and bean cookies, though. I did enjoy some cheesecake, brownies, and chocolate treats. The evil geniuses at Trader Joe’s hooked me with their Taste Test of Caramels. Indulgence meets guessing game? You win this time, TJ’s.

It’s been a wonderful holiday season, and I am grateful for all of the friends and family that I got to celebrate with. I am enjoying some time off work, while I catch up on some R & R and much needed housework. Marathon training has also begun.

I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday season and I look forward to seeing what 2015 brings.

A New Chapter

My life has changed. After thirteen years of marriage, I am now living alone. There is a special (triathlete!) man in my life, but he’s a four hour drive away. After a few wonderful years of setting PRs, I have had a slew of injury setbacks. Nothing major, but enough stifle any progress because I’ve dialed down both mileage and intensity. I am trying to accept my new normal while still striving to improve. I have had to take a hard look at myself and what I truly value and believe. Sometimes life cracks your heart open and forces you to confront everything you’d stuffed deeply inside. Overall, I am optimistic about the future, but it’s been a challenging time.

Athletically, this year has been one lackluster race performance after another, with one notable exception: the Phoenix Marathon in March. After narrowly missing the cutoff for the 2014 Boston Marathon, I am happy to say that I was accepted for 2015. While my 3:31:32 fell short of my sub-3:30 goal, I was thrilled with a 7+ minute PR.

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Whether in life or running, it’s all about how you handle the obstacles.

During the spring, I chose the Phoenix 10K as my fall “A” race. I had hoped to crush the 44:01 (7:05 pace) PR I had set on a much hillier course in May of last year, but amended my goal to a 7:30 pace. My friend Shokofeh, who had run the 5K earlier that day, offered to pace me. My boyfriend Ross said he’d run the first five miles with us, and then we’d battle it out. During the race, she repeatedly told me I was doing awesome. He told me I looked pretty when I was suffering. I simultaneously loved them for running with me and hated them for cruising along while I struggled. Ross took off after the fifth mile and beat me by over a minute. Ultimately, their presence kept me honest during the second half of the race, and I finished in 46:32 (7:29 pace). It’s definitely harder to push when you know a PR is out of the question, so I was happy that I achieved my goal.

I’m also at a place where I am having to retrain my brain after skipping and cutting many a workout short due to injury. Speedwork and hills aggravated my calf, so I stuck with slow and moderately paced miles. My body is ready to ramp things up again, and my mind does not like it. It becomes habit to hold back, to take that day off… I’ve had a few small victories lately, though: a 27 degree swim here, a 10-miler before work there. I am beginning to remember the high that comes from pushing through when I’d much rather take the easy road. I want the athlete back.

One non-fitness related accomplishment that I am really excited about is that I have started writing short stories again. During my soul-searching time, I thought about what would I most regret if I were to die right now. I kept coming back to that fact that I had never published a work of fiction. Fear had kept me from even trying. I set a goal this year to either submit a story for publication or to a contest. I stumbled upon the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge and thought it sounded perfect. Writers were are 48 hours to create a story of 1000 words or less that include an assigned setting and object in a specific genre. Here is what I came up with, if you’re interested. I welcome feedback, positive or negative.

Comedy/Speed Dating/Mousetrap

Mystery/Limousine/Magnet

Sci-Fi/Health Club/Welcome Mat

The contest definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. I hadn’t written any stories in ten years, much less a mystery, sci-fi, or pure comedy. Ultimately, out of over 1000 entrants, I was one of 125 writers that advanced to the third round, but was not one of the 25 who made it to the end. Still, my main goal was to put myself out there and grow as a writer. I’m usually never satisfied with what I write, which is a big reason I have avoided it for so long. And just like exercise, when you get “out of shape,” it’s hard to get going again. Inertia is a powerful force.

Other things vie for my time as well. I want to get back to blogging here at least semi-regularly. I’d like my house to stop looking like I just moved in. I am also determined to put a high priority on my love life. Both my ex-husband and I agree that we got lazy when it came to keeping things special, and I don’t want to fall into that again. So, while I am committed to staying fit, I may decide to pursue PRs with less fervor, and Boston will probably be my last marathon for a long time.

As this year winds down, I am grateful for many things. My slower body is still capable of pounding the pavement. My creative passion has been rekindled. And I get to share many a mile with the person I love.

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2013 Year In Review

Last year my goals were:

  1. Break 21 in the 5K
  2. Complete a Half Ironman
  3. Start a blog and average a post a week.

I got the 5K result I wanted and also set PRs in the following events. I did not PR in the marathon because I decided to take a break from that distance in 2013.

Distance Old PR New PR
5K 21:25 20:43
5 Mile 36:08 35:03
10K 45:37 44:01
Half Marathon 1:40:03 1:37:24
Sprint Triathlon 1:13:55 1:11:43
Olympic Triathlon 2:44:57 2:36:31

I completed my Half Ironman in 5:49:42, which was under my goal of 6 hours. I think in the future I would be capable of 5:30, if I am better about getting long rides in.

I ended the year with… 51 blog posts. I thought about throwing something together during the waning moments of the year to reach 52, but I had other things going on and also needed some mental downtime. So, the Type-B side of my personality won that battle.

I have received so many positive things from having this blog. Something that I did not foresee was an opportunity to write three articles for the local publication Tailwinds. It was a thrill to see my name in print and be paid for my words. I am pretty small potatoes in the blogosphere view-wise, but I have met some DSC00506great people and received from really nice messages from readers. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that the thoughts that I push out into cyberspace have helped or inspired people in some way. For the record, my most popular post by far was Becoming A Body Pump Instructor. I am glad that Les Mills classes are so popular. 

I also logged all of my workouts last year for the first time ever. I think I owe my PRs to that 25 minutes of yoga 🙂 The bike mileage may look a bit off, but that’s because I log a lot of my cycle time teaching classes indoors.

2013Totals

For this new year, I only have one solid goal so far: to run a marathon in under 3:30 (I am training for 3:25, but I’d be happy with 3:30). A couple months after that is my typical spring A Race, the Tucson 5000, where I’d love to break 20 minutes in the 5K. Based on past marathon recovery experience, however, I won’t stress about it. As for the fall, I am not sure yet. Take another crack at a Half Ironman? Try to break 2:30 in an Olympic triathlon? My 10K PR is also a bit of an outlier, so maybe I will look for a flat destination race.

Here’s to a fit, fast, and healthy 2014!

Falling short

Training for a marathon involves months of preparation, hours of sweat, and seemingly endless miles, all to be laid on the line in an event that lasts a few hours. Last December, I had the goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I needed a 3:40, and felt that I was capable of 3:30, based on my 1:40:03 half marathon time and the McMillan calculator. I was trained, tapered, and ready to run. The race did not go as well as planned. I had persistent intestinal issues the morning of, which led to an unplanned detour into the desert. I wasn’t able to hit the speeds that I wanted, even though I felt like I gave it my best that morning. Fortunately, I still managed to BQ with a time of 3:38:41. With the new, tighter standards, I was pretty sure that it would be enough and I wanted to take a year off from marathons anyway.

After the bombings, I knew anecdotally that there was an increased interest in running the 2014 race and wondered if I would make it in. Still, I was committed to my goal of completing a Half Ironman in the fall and didn’t think I could do that and PR in a marathon. Extra slots were opened up for the race, but yes, more people were registering. I submitted my registration, waited a week and a half, and learned that the cut-off was 1:38 under qualifying time. I was 19 seconds too slow. All that preparation. So close. So far. After I got the news, I thought about my desert potty break. If it hadn’t been for that, I’d be looking up airline tickets right now.

Life doesn’t coddle. Sometimes, what you bring to the table isn’t enough. Sometimes your goals are thwarted by things beyond your control (although I think that I will skip the artichoke hearts the night before a race). In reality, all we can control is our preparation, our attitude, and our behavior in the moment. If something is worth it, we will press on, even when faced with setbacks and the very real possibility that we may fall short. Again.

There are endless quotes and songs about focusing on the journey, not the destination (including one from a fully-clothed Miley Cyrus). That’s where the time is spent, the tears are shed – the growth happens. It’s where we learn about ourselves. Finding strength, tenacity, and yes, weakness. There may come a time to shelve certain dreams, but that doesn’t have to lead to despair. After all, Johnny Depp originally sought to make it as a rock star.

In the grand scheme of things, I know that missing out on a race is not a huge deal, and I plan to make like Joe Dirt and keep on keepin’ on. I have already signed up for the Phoenix Marathon in an attempt to better my qualifying time. After a break from marathoning, I am looking forward to ramping up the miles and going long again. Me, Boston, and 2015? There’s only one way to find out. Happy Training.

Picture Perfect?

Fitspo. I’ve only recently learned the term, even though I’ve been seeing it for a while. Pictures of super-lean women, often accompanied by a motivational saying. Fit-spiration. I have friends that post it constantly. Some Facebook pages that I subscribe to pass it along daily. I have even snagged some images to re-post on my blog’s Facebook page. Long before the social media revolution, I created my own by clipping out pictures from magazines and catalogs, saving them in a binder, and flipping through them when I wasn’t feeling motivated to exercise. But does it provide inspiration or breed dissatisfaction?

I have changed some over the years, as I have become more focused on what my body can do than striving to look like some ideal. I want to eat healthfully and be fit, but I don’t want my entire life to revolve around food, exercise, and meal planning. I have come to terms with the fact that I’ll never completely eradicate arm flab and cellulite or have a bullet-stopping butt. Still, I have to admit that I am inspired by fine physical specimens. Athletes especially. I like to see the pinnacle of genetics and hard work combined out there doing magnificent things. It spurs me on to discover what I might be capable of.

The USA 4 x 400 meter relay team brought home the Gold in London and looked great doing it.

Some people don’t like that most people featured in ads and entertainment are decidedly not the average five-foot-four, 166-pounder, and ask “Where are the ‘real women’?” I have to admit that phrase bugs me a little. Is a thin or lean woman somehow less real? Women can be each other’s worst critics: muscular women mocking thin women mocking heavier women and round and round it goes… We are all born with a predisposition to a certain shape. Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe were both beautiful and yet so different. We have different physiques that we aspire to, different activities that we enjoy. And that should be fine. Treat your body well and enjoy it for what it is, even if you’re in the process of improving it.

Photoshopping, on the other hand, does bother me. I know I’ve felt discouraged about not looking like the women in magazines, but do the women themselves even look like that? Did Britney and Faith’s bodies below really need to be digitally altered? Is anyone ever good enough? How much are men’s perceptions are affected by these media-generated ideals? Is the expectation that we should never have a  bump, bulge, or blemish?

Images are powerful things, and the line between fantasy and reality is often blurred. Do you find models, fitness, fashion, or otherwise, motivational or discouraging? Does not looking like some ideal sap the joy from your life? I know it used to for me, and I’ve come to the realization that the worrying just wasn’t worth it.

Food Tripping

We all have those tumultuous relationships that bring us joy, guilt, pleasure, and anxiety. Sweethearts, parents, bosses… I will confess that I have one with food. It’s emotional and chemical. Many of us have been conditioned to enjoy food as a reward for a job well done, or to soothe ourselves with it after a tough day. I deserve this treat. Certain foods activate the pleasure centers of our brains, and once those sensations wear off, feelings of guilt and self-loathing sometimes follow, which can lead to even more eating… A study found that rats that were constantly fed a high-calorie, high fat diet displayed decreased stimulation in their pleasure centers, began to overeat compulsively, and eventually became obese.

I never had a full-on eating disordered, but I have definitely struggled with disordered eating. I loved to eat, especially junk food. I wanted to be thinner. Since these desires are at odds, erratic behavior ensued. Periods of severe restriction alternated with binges. The day after a heavy indulgence, I was convinced my thighs felt bigger. If I didn’t hate vomiting so much. I might have become bulimic. It has been a long process for me to eat a consistent, healthy diet. I am now able to think of food as nourishment and fuel most of the time while still allowing for the occasional treat. My palate has changed, and I enjoy food that’s healthful. Give me fruits, veggies, whole grains and good fats. My regular foods. Acceptable restaurants. Dietary détente.

Last weekend I took a road trip to the San Francisco Marathon (I ran the half) with my husband and two runner friends. Between the driving and the time spent in the city itself, it was five days away from home. Lots of time sitting in a car. Stopping when it was convenient and grabbing what what was available. Going easy on the water to avoid too many pit stops. Boredom munching. I didn’t go crazy, but it was a definite deviation from the norm.

Two nights before the race, we attended a complimentary Thai dinner, courtesy of my friend Keith who is an ambassador for the race. There was a buffet, and being a vegetarian, I was very limited in my choices. I ended up having a couple of spring rolls, which I de-skinned, and some Pad Thai, where I tried to go heavy on the veggies and light on the noodles. There were a lot more noodles than veggies, though, and I didn’t want to be a hog. As I was eating, I kept thinking about the oil, the refined rice noodles, and the sugar in the sauce. It made it kind of hard for me to enjoy the food, which was good, but not outstanding (I think it’s more a reflection on my affection for Pad Thai than the restaurant itself). I also had two of the mini cupcakes for dessert. While I do indulge sometimes, my general rule is that if I am going to eat something that’s somewhat unhealthy, it had better be amazing. I had the same feelings about the veggie pizza sub the night before the race and some cheesy mushrooms (the menu said stuffed mushrooms, but they were delivered swimming in a big, melty basin) that I had at a Mexican restaurant on the trip back. Good, but worth the calories?

I started thinking about how my issues with food haven’t gone away. When I go on trips, I usually enjoy having “treat” food for a few days, then long to get back to my regular eating routine. I no longer enjoy the food, I don’t feel like myself, and start to worry about gaining weight. Also, even though I stay active when I travel, it’s usually to a lesser degree than normal. Part of me thinks that I should just relax and enjoy myself. I don’t travel that often, and I believe that what you do day in and day out far outweighs the blips here and there. On the other hand, some people come back from trips several pounds heavier, and as we all know, weight is much harder to take off than to put on. Is either view completely right or wrong? I certainly don’t want to be a person who misses out on life’s experiences because I’m completely preoccupied with what I’m eating. I’m curious to know how others eat and think while on vacation.

I was up three pounds the day after the trip. A week later, I’m back to normal or maybe plus one. Even during normal life, weight fluctuates, so it’s hard to tell. The trip and race were incredible, though, and I will focus on that in an upcoming post.

Becoming a Body Pump Instructor

You know those things that you always think about doing, but you have no idea how to go about doing them? That was me and teaching group fitness. For years I had thought that it would be fun to lead classes, but the thought of filling up an hour with an interesting and effective workout was daunting. I am also not the most coordinated person in the world, so anything I did would need to focus on simple moves.

Five years ago, I saw signs in my gym advertising an upcoming Body Pump instructor training session. I had taken a few classes and knew the basic format: during each song a muscle group is worked to exhaustion using basic gym exercises and tempo changes. Instructors are provided with music and choreography, so I didn’t need to worry about creating an interesting class. It seemed like a perfect fit, so I signed up.

Training took place over the course of three days. After we signed in and received our choreography kits, we immediately went through the latest release. Note to anyone attending a Les Mills training: bring several changes of clothes. And food. Plenty of food. We also spent time going over proper form for all of the standard exercises and talking about what makes a fitness class great.

The next morning, everyone would be teaching a track to the rest of the group. I got squats. Before we left for the day, I listened to the music with one of the instructors while trying to follow along in time with the notes and felt hopelessly lost. How am I going to present this tomorrow? I listened to that song all the way home and stayed up until the wee hours trying to learn it. Things finally started to click for me when I turned off the voices in the DVD and just watched the instructors move to the music while following along in the notes. I slept fitfully that night, and I drove to the training half hoping that I would get in a car crash so I wouldn’t have to present. Squats were first and I felt sick when the music started, but as I started moving and teaching, I started to enjoy myself a little bit and nailed the track. Then I got to participate while the other trainees presented their tracks.

Les Mills likes to put potential instructors through the wringer physically during training, so we got to do something called the Body Pump Challenge. We started with a couple miles of running (something up my alley), then returned to the gym to do sprints, deadlifts, squats, triceps dips, etcetera, circuit style. Sweating, huffing, and puffing ensued. We learned some more practical things about instructing, and then everyone had to teach their track again (which meant that everyone went through the whole workout… again). We were sent home that evening with a new track to learn, and I had chest this time. I was slightly less petrified the next day, and made it through my track without major mishap in both the morning and afternoon sessions. I think everyone was spent after we finished the second round. At the end of the training, everyone was given an evaluation sheet, and I passed.

I now had three months in which to learn the whole 10-track release and submit a video of myself teaching a live class for evaluation. If I passed, I would be a certified instructor. Training was a cakewalk compared with what came next. I started team teaching with different instructors. At first I would do two of the tracks, then I built up to five, which was much harder. The songs were my constant companion. When I’d heard baseball announcers say two and two or three and one during a game, I would feel an urge to stand up and start doing squats. I received feedback from the other instructors: “Don’t arch your back so much on the shoulder presses”, “Your timing is a bit off”, and “Easy on the woos”.

I was finally ready to tape, and seeing that bright, unwavering red light aimed in my direction rattled my nerves. For better or worse, my every move was being recorded for some stranger to watch and evaluate. I made it through the class with a tiny mistake in the tricep track, which I think I covered up pretty well. I gave taping one more shot, but this time I made a mistake during the warm up. I remember thinking, “I just started and it’s already ruined.” I did my best to keep a smile on and deliver a good workout to the class. I decided to send the first filming.

A month or so later, I nervously tore the envelope from Les Mills open and the dreaded word RESUBMIT jumped off the page. A potential instructor is assessed in five areas and needs proficiency in each one to pass (Choreography, Position, Execution, Timing, and Coaching). Four out of five requires a sign-off from the local team lead. Any less, and a new video must be submitted. The main issue was with my “set position,” which is used in almost every single exercise. My legs were a little too wide and my toes were turned out a bit too much, and I failed on position and execution.

I got in touch with the Body Pump team lead, and made technique and team teaching dates on Saturday mornings at the gym across town. She found a lot of flaws that the other instructors hadn’t noticed and it was hard keeping it all straight in my head. A few weeks later, I got an email saying that the RESUBMIT had been in error, and that I should have received a PASS WITHELD. The set position problem was an issue with position only, not execution. I was relieved that I didn’t have to tape again. I continued to work with the team lead. After several more weeks, she signed off on my certification, but said that the gym was not going to offer me a job. She basically said that I wasn’t motivating and that a lot of the members didn’t really care for my teaching style. This happened over the phone at work. I grabbed a friend, went into an empty conference room, and bawled.

There were other gyms in town that offered Body Pump, and I eventually landed at a small club called Better Bodies teaching Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6 AM almost a year after taking the initial training. The critiques I had gotten had helped me grow as an instructor, but it was freeing to finally be teaching for real, without waiting for someone to give me feedback after. There was a wonderful group of regulars who attended and the smaller class size made it easy to connect with them. From time to time, someone would tell me about weight loss or strength gains or just how much they enjoyed taking the class. I continued to get stronger as well. Becoming an instructor was much harder than I thought it would be when I signed up, but it as definitely worth it.

BodyPump1

The Chase

After the Boston Marathon bombings, I am so thankful that all of my friends who competed are safe. A lot has been going through my head the past couple of days, and I just wanted to take some time to express the gratitude I have for all that running has given me and the wonderful community that I am a part of.

“Only if someone is chasing me!” If you run, you’ve heard it. We are oddballs. Most people don’t see the allure in an activity that hurts, humbles, and forces us to confront our weaknesses. Maybe we are being chased. Some people lace up as a way to outrun who they were: heavy, unhealthy, defeated, sad. The early steps are torture, but the prospect of remaining still is much worse. Others hear the naysayers, the taunting laughter, the no you can’ts and you never wills. They push ahead to leave it behind. Some embrace the physical pain to eclipse emotional agony, however momentarily. Frustrations are trampled beneath every footfall.

As the body adapts, horizons expand. We go father and faster than we ever thought possible. We struggle with ourselves, we push the bounds of our potential. Some goals are surpassed, others are never realized, yet in reaching, we grow. We are not who we were. There is toughness and strength. While the prizes go to the swift, the rewards are reaped by the steady. Talent makes you fast; tenacity takes you far. We become the chasers.

We learn that we aren’t alone. Others give us a glimpse of what’s possible. Competition spurs us to be our best. Encouraging words offered after a bad run, accomplishments celebrated, knowing smiles exchanged as our battered bodies hobble about: we understand each other. Whether you’ve been running for days or decades, you belong.

I am grateful to count myself among the crazies, the strivers, the lopers. We pause and reflect. We lick our wounds, but ultimately, we are those who move forward. Come and join the chase.

chasingthewolf

Track Springs Eternal

As the days begin to lengthen, my thoughts drift toward spring things: baseball, cute cotton dresses, strawberries, and track.

It almost didn’t happen. As eight grade soccer season wound down, two of my friends asked me to run track. I wasn’t interested. They bugged me and begged me until I relented.The first couple of weeks were awful. I hate this. I’m not coming back. But I did, and eventually some of the lung searing, gut wrenching misery subsided.

At our first meet, the coach asked for volunteers to run the mile. Why not? I’d run the mile in PE before. I lined up with the others and hung with them for about a lap. Gasping, every cell aflame, I slowed to a walk. I ran, then walked, and ran again. Last place. There are some numbers that stay with you forever. 8:35 is one of mine. By the end of the season, I knocked over a minute off my time.

Bootie

In high school I became a hurdler. The 100 meter race was my favorite. I didn’t have the power to three-step, but I didn’t want to resign myself to the awkward stutter of a five-stepper either, so I learned to four-step. One of the other girls on the team, who wasn’t even interested in the hurdles, three-stepped on her first try. Sometimes life is like that. The 300 hurdles taught me how much agony could be crammed into 53 seconds. I still contend that it’s the single most awful event in track (the 800 is a very close second). I had one mantra: This is less than one minute of your life.

Hurdler

High school seems to last forever, and then one day you find yourself wearing a cap and gown, hugging your friends goodbye, and wondering where it all went. There aren’t very many avenues for a marginally talented hurdler to pursue her hobby out in the real world, so I hung up my spikes. I have grown to love distance running, but sometimes I miss the thrill of being assigned a lane and pitting my best against a handful of people.

The memories remain. Lying on the high jump pits with my friends, soaking up the sun until the coaches shook us off. Snapping off trail leg drills. The sweet taste of cold water after a hot afternoon run. Bus rides. Setting up camp under the bleachers during invitationals. Crushes that never amounted to anything. Easy, chatty off-campus runs. Pre-race butterflies. The world-beater feeling I got the first time I ran five miles. Learning that you can’t always tell who the fast ones are by looking at them. The paradox of pleasurable pain.

Just like laps around a track, sometimes life loops back on itself. I’m the coach now, and I know that some of those middle school girls are as miserable as I was at first. I just hope that they stick with it long enough to make the joyful discovery of just how far their own two legs can take them.