Thursday, July 10, 2014

June Races Recap: Oakley Women's 10K, Queens 10K, and Pride Run 5 Miler

"Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises."

June was a packed month, which after almost 5 months of not working a full time job was extremely welcomed, but unfortunately sidetracked me from blogging. I started my new full time job as a Research Assistant with the Lifestyle Intervention for Two (LIFT) Pregnancy Study- hit me up if you're pregnant and looking to stay in shape :) - as well as a weekend nannying job. I was also signed up for 3 races in June!! Unfortunately I couldn't do the last one because I was out of town nannying, but my good friend CeCe was able to run it for me so I still got credit for 9+1

The first race was the Oakley Women's 10K on June 14th.  This all female race takes place in Central Park every June, and is one of my favorites. This race begins in Columbus Circle- right down the street from my new job! I'm still enthralled by the fact I work in midtown... - and takes you up Central Park West until around 90th street where you enter the park and complete the Central Park loop. 
My daily lunch view- with a few more runners than usual!
I'm so familiar with this running route I started out going a little too fast until my lungs reminded me I hadn't run Harlem Hill (the most infamous hill in the park) since the NYC Half in March. I ended up finishing with a 53:44, which was slightly slower than last year, but I was greeted at the finish line with water,  snacks, a pink medal, and flower so I felt ok. I was signed up for another 10K the following weekend so I decided not to let my slower time get to me. 

Post 2014 Oakley Women's 10K
The following weekend I got up at 5:30 am Sunday after doing some sunset yoga in Times Square for summer solstice and took the subway out to Queens for the third race in the NYRR 5 Borough series. 
Times Square Summer Solstice Yoga
The Queens 10K is infamous for being on the hottest day of the year, however, this year they decided to give runners a break and move it from July to June 22 so the weather wasn't bad. This was my first time running Queens, and I loved the course. The entire race is in Corona Park near Citifield, and it's extremely flat and fast paced. I finished in 49:45, about an 8:01/mile pace. I was absolutely thrilled after my disappointing finish the weekend before, and because I've been trying to do a 10K in under 50 minutes. Maybe I should do yoga the night before all my races?  Or maybe all courses should be this flat...
Post 2014 Queens 10K

The following weekend I was signed up for the NYRR Pride Run, but had to go out of town to babysit.  My friend CeCe was nice enough to run it in my place- even after she accidentally forgot the date and was still in bed when I texted her to take pictures.  Late start and all she still beat my butt and paced 7:36 miles so now I'm going to look faster than I actually am on my bibs.  Go CeCe!!
CeCe and her colorful outfit for the 2014 Pride Run!

Race Update: I've completed 6 out of my 9 required races for automatic entry into the 2015 NYC Marathon.  I've completed 3 out of the 5 NYC boroughs- Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens- which will give me automatic entry into the 2015 NYC Half Marathon.  
Only 2 boroughs to go!
And now for the exciting news- I will be running my first full marathon this October in Baltimore!!  More updates- and training, fitness, and nutrition tips- to come on the blog!
2014 Baltimore Marathon bound!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Top 10 Things You're Missing If You Only Run Indoors

"A marathon is like life with its ups and downs, but once you've done it, you feel you can do anything."


If you had asked me to run a marathon prior to college I would have laughed in your face and then gotten really worried when I realized you were serious.  "The mile," the portion of the physical fitness test when you were asked to run for an entire mile, was my least favorite part of school growing up.  I was much better at grammar than I was at fitness in those days.  Even when I got to college I struggled to make the transition to outdoor running.  I could run for an entire hour straight on the treadmill, but once I was outside I had to take walking breaks frequently.  However, once I fully committed to running outside there was no turning back.  Here are the top 10 adventures of an outdoor runner you're missing out on- the good, the bad, and the ugly!

1. Beautiful Sights: Some gyms are beautiful, but nothing compares to being outside. There is no better feeling than running by the ocean or in a fun part of town.  

My favorite path in Central Park- Reservoir Loops
2. Exploring- New Cities & Your Own: Throughout my training runs I've discovered parts of NYC I never would have if I wasn't a runner.  And no matter how many times I run Central Park I always find something new.  When I travel I'm able to explore new cities as well.

Views from my beach run in Charleston this month
3. The ability to surprise yourself: When I run on the treadmill there is one thing I always know- exactly how fast I will be running.  Prior to running outside I liked that I knew exactly how fast I was running, but I was essentially setting a ceiling for myself.  It wasn't until I started running outside that I realized how fast I actually was and how much faster I could become.  I'm also more likely to surprise myself and run further outside than when I'm on a treadmill.

4. Racing: There are no (or at least not many) treadmill races.  You can run 3.1, 6.2, 13.1, or 26.2 miles on a treadmill, but you won't get that same feeling you get from running in an official race. 
Oakley Women's 10K 2013
5. Run Groups: You can always run with a friend on the treadmill, but running groups can provide you with so much more.  There are hundreds in the city and most of them are free.  Running groups not only provide you with a great social experience, but they are great for helping you to set and achieve new goals for yourself.  And you don't have to plan out your training because they will plan the runs for you!  Nike Running Club helped me train for my first half and I loved it!

6. Braving the elements: Sometimes this is a negative to running outside- this winter it definitely was- but running through the snow or rain will make you feel like you can accomplish anything.

7. Supportive Strangers: The running community is incredibly supportive.  I love running through Central Park and seeing the other runners.  Whenever I'm not really feeling a run there always seems to be a runner that smiles or gives me a thumbs up.  The picture below is the famous Raven, he runs at the same time every night welcoming whoever wants to run with him.  

8. Wildlife: This is another one that may not seem appealing at first, but can help liven up your run.  Just like exploring new locations can be fun so can seeing the wildlife of different areas.  And even though getting bit by a dog is never fun it always makes for a good story!

9. Real live hills: Hill may not seem like fun, but they are great for training.  And while you can replicate hills on a treadmill nothing compares to getting out there on a hill where you have no choice but to push yourself up to the finish.  Plus if you are serious about doing a race you're going to need to tackle the hills eventually.

10. Getting lost [in the run]: You can definitely get lost which can suck, but at least you'll log a few extra miles!  But more importantly running outside allows for plenty of distractions that can help you get through those long runs without the monotony of CNN reports.

Happy Running!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Race Recap: Brooklyn Half Marathon

"I run because long after my footprints fade away, maybe I will have inspired a few to reject the easy path, hit the trails, put one foot in front of the other, and come to the same conclusion I did: I run because it always takes me where I want to go."
-Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner

Brooklyn Half finish line on the Coney Island Boardwalk
Saturday I ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon marking both my third half marathon and my third race to qualify for 9+1 entry to the 2015 NYC Marathon.  Packet pick up was Friday in Brooklyn along the East River.  Unfortunately the weather was not so great so most of the entertainment was canceled.  CeCe and I took advantage of the bad weather and were able to eat the famous Grimaldi's Pizza under the Brooklyn Bridge without even waiting for a table (usually the wait is upwards of two hours).
Bib Pick-Up
Best Pizza in NYC
Unlike Friday, Saturday was perfect weather- a first in my marathoning career.  This made getting out of bed at 3:30 am much easier.  Although I was still running leading up to this race I didn't really train for it like I have for my other two half marathons.  I did no speed work and only a couple long runs so I was most impressed by my timeliness for this race.  I was in Brooklyn, had my bag checked, and already used the restroom by 6:10 am giving me plenty of time to stretch in front of the Brooklyn Museum. 
Brooklyn Museum at sunrise
The Brooklyn Half course begins in front of the Brooklyn Museum takes you through Prospect Park and then down to Coney Island finishing along the beach.  
Brooklyn Half Course
The nice part of this course is all the hills are in the beginning.  The bad part is the second half is pretty monotonous down the highway.  This was the first time I really struggled during a race.  Around mile 9 I really wanted to stop, probably because I hadn't done many long runs leading up to this race.  However, that just made finishing feel even better.  And what's better than a marathon that finishes along the beach?

The spectators were also amazing and really helped push me along.  There were some great signs, my two favorites were, "Run like you're in an elevator with Solange" and "MTA are you taking notes on how to run?!"

Despite feeling fatigue during the race I had no problems recovering.  I was a little tired after the race, but had no soreness (yay!).  Over the next few months I have several shorter distance races so my plan is to focus on strength training and speed work until the end of July when I will start training for the Staten Island Half Marathon and the Baltimore Marathon- my first full marathon.  More posts to come!

2 boroughs down- 3 to go!
3 races down- 6 more until guaranteed entry to 2015 NYC Marathon!


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Conquering the Hills

"Like the marathon, life can sometimes be difficult, challenging, and present obstacles, however if you believe in your dreams and never ever give up, things will turn out for the best."
-Meb Keflezighi
Olympic Silver Medalist (2004), NYC Marathon Champion (2009), Boston Marathon Champion (2014)

Monday afternoon I watched Meb Keflezighi run the final 2.5 miles of the Boston Marathon.  On a day that was emotional for so many it was like a story book ending for an American to win the marathon for the first time in over 3 decades.  Emotions aside, watching the way Meb powered through those final miles with two runners narrowly behind him was inspiring, and made me want to be out there racing again.

This time last year I was studying for my last biochem quiz of the year (thank goodness!) and nervously anticipating my first half marathon.  Since I was in the middle of a busy semester and still new to distance running I was incredibly nervous I hadn't trained properly.  

I use the Nike+ app to track my distance and paces when I run.  The first screen shot I took a year ago today, and the bottom one I took this morning.   Clearly I've upped my training frequency and mileage.  Even though my average pace hasn't gone down much I've gotten a lot faster on my shorter runs.  Despite my sparse training in my first half marathon attempt there was one aspect of the Nashville I was ready for even though I hadn't thought about it much- the hills.

Since I began running outdoors in Miami, when I moved to the Northeast I had no idea how to approach running uphill.  For the first several months I used to walk everytime I got to a hill, which didn't help me get better at all.  It wasn't until I started training in Central Park that I was forced to learn to run the hills- partly because there are so many of them and partly because I was training with Nike Run Club and they made us do hill workouts.  As much as hill workouts suck they have tremendous benefits, especially when you are combining them with strength training.  

In honor of my two cousins that will be running this years Nashville Half Marathon--Go Kendall and Kinsley!!-- I thought today would be the perfect day to talk about tips for running hills and incorporating hills into your training.  These are all things that people have suggested to me over the years and I've found to helpful, but you have to find what works best for you. 

Tips for Running Hills
  • Treat hills like speed work- pace yourself as you start the climb and then once you get a little over half way up the hill steadily start to increase your speed
  • Use short strides- this helps reduce the effort you're exerting so that you're able to make it to the top of the hill
  • Focus on your breath- your heart rate starts to increase quickly when you're running uphill and you tend to start going anaerobic; focusing on your breath will make sure you're getting the oxygen you need
  • Focus on your form- a lot of people have a tendency to look down at their feet while they're running uphill which reduces the amount of oxygen you're getting and forces the hamstrings to work harder instead of utilizing the entire core.  Maintain your tall posture and eyes forward.
  • Mentally break it up- try not to let the size of the hill daunt you; instead look for signs or landmarks throughout the hill and focus on getting to those points and then the next one, sometimes I count backwards from 60 over and over to distract myself.
Tips for Preparing for Hills while Training:
  • Hill Repeats: Pick a hill that is a decent size and set a time for yourself (10, 20, 30... minutes); practice running up the hill as fast as you can and then run back to your starting position at a recovery pace--count how many times you're able to run in the hill in your designated time.  Strawberry fields in Central Park has a great hill for this, New Yorkers.
  • Practice makes perfect: ideally you should include some hilly terrain in your runs at least 3 times a week; if you're training for a particularly hilly course try to mimic the course terrain at least once a week
  • Get creative: if you live in a particularly flat area (like Miami...) find ways to incorporate climbs into your training like running stadium steps or overpasses.  If all else fails incorporate a treadmill hill workout into your routine once a week.
  • Focus on power and core: Don't forget your strength training- the more power you have in your quads, hamstrings, and glutes the better you'll be able to power yourself up those hills.  Incorporate lunges, squats, box jumps, and planks into your strength workouts.
My favorite sign from Nashville

Good luck to Kendall and Kinsley!!!  Here's hoping your race is more of a run than a swim this year!


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

One Year Later: Boston Strong

Therefore, since we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us
-Hebrews 12:1


Like many, I won't forget where I was on Marathon Monday 2013.  April 15th, 2013 I was sitting in Clinical Nutrition.  I started receiving texts from friends asking if the marathon I was training for was today and if I was OK.  Confused, I finally opened my computer and started reading about the bombing of the Boston Marathon.  4 hours 9 minutes and 34 seconds after the first runner crossed the starting line at the Boston Marathon, a bomb exploded near the finish line followed shortly by a second.

Marathon Monday is held the third Monday every April, Patriots' Day.  The Boston Marathon is the world's oldest annual marathon, and has been run every year since 1897.  Due to the high standards for qualifying, running the Boston Marathon is a lofty aspiration for even serious marathoners.  This year, males 18-34 years old needed to run a 3:05 marathon (5:46/mile), and females 18-34 years old needed to run a 3:35 marathon (6:43/mile) in order to qualify.  

I quickly responded to texts, telling my friends I wasn't in Boston, my race wasn't for a couple more weeks.  I thought about how hard everyone had worked to get to Boston, the miles of training.  Many runners have to run several marathons before they reach a qualifying time.  There are several runners who run the race for charity, raising thousands of dollars to support those in need.  I thought about how excited all of the runners had been, each of them with their own story and running for their own reasons.  

A day that celebrates triumph had been reduced to tragedy.  However, amidst the heartbreaking images of destruction were images of strength and kindness.  We watched a 76 year old man who was knocked to the ground by the blows pulled himself up.  Strangers ran towards the bombs to help move victims to safety.  People began bringing clothes, food, and water from their homes out to the runners who were forced to stop before they reached the finish line.  One man brought out the drawers from his dresser, offering whatever he could.  Runners gave their hard earned medals to the families of other runners.  Citizens of Boston opened up there homes and offered rides to people in need.    

I've been fortunate that my training has served me well during both my half marathons.  I've never hit "the wall" or been in pain during either of my runs.  The worst part for me is always right after.  Once I cross the finish line, the adrenaline goes away, I stop moving, and my body temperature drops quickly- if you know me, you know how often I am cold.  I couldn't imagine what it must have felt like to be within a mile of the finish line, cold, scared, and confused.  A small act of kindness- offering a sweatshirt or some orange juice- but on that day they were heroes to the runners in need.     

Boston has forever changed how a race.  I still get nervous about how I will perform, and I still want to get faster.  However, on race day I run without a watch and I rarely pay attention to the clocks.  I put in my work and focus on pace while I'm training.  But when it comes to race day I am overcome with an amazing sense of gratitude, and I use each mile to soak it all up.  I am even more grateful for my ability to run after seeing what so many have gone through- relearning how to walk, coping with pain, and dealing with the drastic changes in their own lives.  

I am eternally grateful for the spectators and volunteers.  Many of the victims that were injured severely were not running the race, rather they were there to support runners whether they were loved ones or strangers.  Spectators make the marathon experience.  They are there no matter what the conditions- rain, wind, snow, you name it.  As I ran my first half marathon I couldn't help think of the 8 year old boy  that died Marathon Monday, and his sister, who lost her leg.  In Nashville, there were children all along the course- holding signs boasting how amazing their parents were for running, singing cheers, and high-fiving runners- despite the pouring rain.  I take note of all the volunteers from baggage check to water stations to medal distribution, and thank everyone I make contact with.     

In the spirit of Boston I encourage everyone to take the time to be grateful for what they are capable of doing.  Next time your alarm goes off, instead of being unhappy about getting up for an early workout count it as a blessing.  Also in the spirit of Boston, don't forget how far a small act of kindness goes.  On Marathon Monday we learned love and kindness are stronger than hate and violence.  A smile to a stranger, offering your seat to someone on the subway, holding the door- these are the simplest ways to pay to tribute to those we lost, because even if you're not running 26.2 miles, we could all use a little encouragement.

Good luck to those running the Boston Marathon on Monday- you are all rockstars!!


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Motivation Monday: Defining Your Workouts with Intensity

"If it doesn't challenge you, it won't change you."

Exciting news!  This weekend I became a certified spin instructor!  I attended an 8 hour class where we learned all about how to properly fit someone on a bike, the science behind cycling, the physiology and mechanics behind cycling, proper riding technique, class design, and how to coach throughout a ride.  In typical nerd fashion, I enjoyed every minute of it even though it was a ton of information packed into a relatively short amount of time.  

If you've ever taken a spin class before you know one of the major challenges is figuring out if you're at the right intensity.  Exercise intensity refers to how much energy you are using.  Obviously, the benefit of exercising at higher intensities is you burn more calories.  In spin you increase the intensity of your workout by either pedaling faster or increasing the resistance on the bike.  The job of the instructor is to describe to you the pedal speed, the intensity you should be working at, and how that feels so you know how to adjust the resistance in order to meet that intensity level.    

Intensity is something everyone should be thinking about during their workout and when establishing workout goals.  Just like in cycling you can change the intensity of your workout by increasing your speed, increasing the weights, changing the incline, etc.  You can use several different methods to define intensity, but one of the easiest ways is to think of it is on a scale of four different levels.
  • Easy: light; warmup and recovery (you can easily talk)- about 5-6/10 
  • Moderate: Challenging, but comfortable; training pace (you can talk but may have to pause between words to catch your breath)- ~7-8/10
  • Hard: Challenging, uncomfortable; racing pace (difficulty speaking, nearing breathless)- ~9/10
  • Anaerobic: Not max, but breathless
Hint- if you're smiling like this you're probably not at a hard/anaerobic intensity
Continuously evaluating your effort throughout your workouts is something that is challenging to remember when you're not in a group fitness class or if your instructor is not cueing you correctly.  However, simply stopping to ask yourself- how hard am I working?  Could I be working harder right now?- will allow you to reap a much greater benefit from your workout.  Before you begin your workout take a moment to think about what intensity you will be working at.  Establish a baseline by thinking about how you feel during your warmup.  Keep in mind higher intensities are harder to work at for an extended time.  Ideally your workout will involve working at all intensities for some period of time.  You can decide how hard you want your workout to be that day and how long you want to stay at those high intensities.

The fun part about monitoring your intensity during your workouts is, as you continue to train, you will notice that your ability to work at different intensities will improve.  The speed you struggled to hold for 1 minute intervals will become the speed you run at during your recovery intervals.

Finally, here are some of my favorite fitness mantra/motivational quotes.  Try saying them to yourself when you're working at those higher intensities to help pull yourself through.  Happy Monday!

I Refuse to Lose.

Strive for progress, not perfection.

You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.

Be better than you were yesterday.

Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.

It never gets easier, just better.

It's hard to beat a person that never gives up. (Babe Ruth)

Strong.  Focused.  Determined.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Power of Pull-Ups + A Strength Workout

"Transformation is not a future event, it is a present day activity."
-Jillian Michaels

In 2012 New York Times released an article called Why Women Can't Do Pull-Ups.  The article detailed a study of 17 women who could not do pull-ups.  They were put on a strength training program designed to increase strength especially in the muscles involved in the pull-up as well an aerobic training program to decrease body fat.  At the end of the training program, despite considerable increases in strength and decreases in body fat, only 4 of the 17 women could do pull-ups.   The researchers credited the ability of men to put on more muscle and lose more fat in order to explain the discrepancy in ability, and concluded that women should not be expected to do pull-ups.

Many women were outraged at the article and quickly began posting images of themselves doing pull-ups.  Ever since then it has been one of my goals to be able to do a complete set of 12-15 pull-ups.  Apart from looking like a badass in the gym, the pull-up is a fundamental exercise and has several benefits including:
  • Looking like a total badass in the gym
  • Convenience (no equipment minus a bar)
  • Targets several muscle groups at once- leading to an increased release of growth hormone and increased muscle gains
  • Easy to increase intensity
  • Several variations
  • Increase your heart rate- i.e. increased fat loss
  • Looking like a total badass in the gym
Muscles Worked During the Pull-Up
Major Muscles Worked: Back
  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Teres major
  • Rhomboid major
  • Rhomboid minor
Minor Muscles Worked: Forearms and Biceps
  • Brachioradialis 
  • Biceps bracii
  • Brachialis
Progressions to Pull-Ups

Since pull-ups are a difficult exercise it is important to incorporate exercises that strengthen the muscles mentioned above before attempting your pull-up goal.  Below are series of exercises you can use to progress to pull-ups as well as a sample total body workout incorporating pull-up progressions.
  • Assisted Pull-Ups: These can be done either with a partner to support your ankles or using an assisted pull-up machine at the gym.  The assisted pull-up machine uses weight to support your body as you pull yourself up.  Therefore, the more weight you have selected, the more  help you are getting thus the easier it is.  
  • Dead hang: For this all you do is grab the bar with your arms extended and hang.  This will help build grip strength and core body tension.
  • Flexed arm hang: Similar to the dead hang, but this time you are holding yourself at the top with your chin over the bar.  Once you can hold this position for 10+ seconds you are ready to move on to negative pull-ups.
  • Negative pull-ups: Starting from the flexed arm hang position, practice lowering yourself down slowly to the dead hang position.  This is the easiest part of the pull-up, but will help you to build the strength needed for the pull-up.
  • Body row: Using a bar that is suspended around hip height (smith machine is great for this) practice squeezing your shoulder blades together and pulling your chest up to the bar.  This uses the same muscles as the pull-up, but reduces the load on your muscles since you are not lifting all of your body weight.

Total Body Workout:
This is a workout I've been doing more recently.  After each exercise I do 3 assisted pull-ups (using 40 lbs of assistance) so by the end of the workout I've done over 70 assisted pull-ups.  You can modify the workout by increasing/decreasing the reps or the weight in order to make it fit your abilities.

1.) 15 Squats (loaded- 35 Ibs Kettlebell)
2.) 16 Walking Lunges (loaded- 10 lbs. medicine ball)
3.) 15 Tricep Pull-downs (35 lbs)
4.) 15 (Each Arm) Alternating Shoulder Presses (20 lbs)
5.) 12 Push-Ups (Bodyweight)
6.) 12 (Each Arm) Dumbbell Rows w/Bench (25 lbs)

Repeat circuit 4 times- don't forget to do the assisted pull-ups between each exercise.  I usually do sprints between each set. 

Good luck with your pull-ups!


Friday, April 4, 2014

10 Life Lessons from "Tuesdays with Morrie"

"The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live."
-Morrie Schwartz

I've been nursing a slight injury ever since the half so I've cut back some on my workouts, which hasn't left me feeling very inspired to blog lately.  It has, however, given me some extra to do some reading- plus I just renewed my NYC public library card (which left me feeling slightly dumbfounded I've been up here that long--where has the time gone??--and made me remember how awesome the NYC public library is--if you live in NYC and don't have a library card you're messing up).

Anyways, I recently read the book Tuesdays with Morrie.  I'll admit it wasn't the best book I've ever read, but it was a quick read and had several good lessons.  The book is written by a man who discovers his favorite professor has been diagnosed with ALS- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis also known as Lou Gehrig's disease- a motor neuron disease where the body slowly loses all motor function until the individual is paralyzed within their own body.  It is a devastating disease ultimately leading to a slow and painful death.  Tuesdays with Morrie details the life advice Morrie wants to pass on as he reflects on the life he lived knowing he is going to die soon and unable to do many of the things he enjoyed most leading up to his death, like dancing.  

Here are 10 of my favorite quotes and life lessons from Tuesdays with Morrie.  
  1. "Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning." This theme reoccurs throughout the novel.  Morrie, who worked as a professor after spending years researching mental health, lives a simple life and devotes himself to others.  While he was researching mental health he devoted himself to his patients, and he was able to connect with patients that had previously not been able to connect with anyone.  He continues this as a professor, and many of his previous students loved him so much they visited him often long after they graduated.  It is clear this sense of connection to others is one of the reasons he is able to accept his unfortunate condition so readily.  Despite the fact he is in pain, he is surrounded at all times by people that love him, and this continues to make him happy until his final moments.  According to Morrie, offering something you have--a skill, your time, your love, your compassion--is the way in which you gain the respect of others.  
  2. "I believe in being fully present.  That means you should be with the person you're with.  When I'm talking to you now, Mitch, I try to keep focused only on what is going on between us.  I am not thinking about something we said last week.  I am not thinking about what's coming up this Friday.  I am not thinking about doing another Koppel show, or about what medications I'm taking.  I am talking to you.  I am thinking about you.  Be present.  In our current age of technology this one especially stuck with me.  It is rare to have a conversation with someone without them stopping to check their phone or update their Facebook status.  However, our connectedness via technology has taken away from our ability to connect on a more personal level.  The same is true for when you are working on a project or goal.  Be present with your task and devote all your energy to that task while you are working.
  3.            *I am guilty of all these things, and trying to get better.
  4. "You have to find what's good and true and beautiful in your life as it is now.  Looking back makes you competitive.  And, age is not a competitive issue."  This was Morrie's response when the author asked him about the fear of growing older.  He talked about how he was made up of parts of himself from every age.  So whatever age he was, he still had the best parts of his previous years with him, and therefore every age was his best age.  I loved this response, especially coming from a man in Morrie's current condition.
  5. "Learn to detach.  Detachment doesn't mean you doon't let the experience penetrate you.  On the contrary, you let it penetrate you fully.  That's how you are able to leave it."  Essentially Morrie is suggesting that you have to let yourself fully experience your emotions so that you are able to detach yourself and move on from them, whether it be the loss of a loved one or the fear and pain one suffers during an illness.  "By allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely.  You know what the pain is.   You know what love is.  You know what grief is.  And only then can you say 'All right.  I have experienced that emotion.  I recognize that emotion.  Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.'"  If you need to cry, allow yourself to cry, so you can then move on to either fixing or learning to live with your current situation.  Do not waste your time wallowing in self pity. 
  6. "When you're in bed, you're dead."  Essentially this means embrace life every day, which is kind of cliche, but I loved the way Morrie expressed it.  There are several days when the alarm clock goes off and you want to hit the snooze button rather than get up and face the day--whether it be an early workout or prepping for that big meeting--but instead of dreading it, get up, embrace the day, and be happy.
  7.  "If you're trying to show off for people at the top, forget it.  They will look down on you anyhow.  And if you're trying to show off for people at the bottom, forget it.  They will only envy you.  Status will get you nowhere.  Only an open heart will allow you to float equally between everyone."  This is essentially an expansion of the first point, devoting yourself to others and offering what you can.  When you find that thing that you can give to the world, it will not only make you happy, but it is something no one can take away from you.  Trying to establish yourself with status will only isolate you from others, and all things can be taken away.
  8. "The fact is, there is no foundation, no secure ground, upon which people may stand today if it isn't the family.  It's become quite clear to me as I've been sick.  If you don't have the support and love and caring and concern that you get from a family, you don't have much at all.  Love is so supremely important.  As our great poet Auden said, 'love each other or perish.'"  Although Morrie has no shortage of visitors, it is his family that is there consistently.  They are the ones that are there at night when the nurses and visitors go home, and they are the ones that surround him in his final moments.  They are also the ones that have given his life the most meaning.  Morrie calls it his 'spiritual security,' the ability to know that someone will always be watching him. 
  9. "There are a few rules I know to be true about love and marriage: if you don't respect the other person you're gonna have a lot of trouble.  If you don't know how to compromise, you're gonna have a lot of trouble.  And if you don't have a common set of values in life, you're gonna have a lot of trouble.  Your values must be alike."  Morrie clearly believes love conquers all, and for good reason.  His wife sticks by his side throughout his illness, and in the end she has their children to comfort her when Morrie passes.  It is also clear Morrie was careful in his selection of his wife, and they were able to build a happy home together while establishing their own careers and leave their own individual mark on the world.  
  10. "Death ends a life, not a relationship."  Death is a natural part of life that we spend the majority of our life denying or trying to outrun.  What separates humans from other living things is our ability to establish relationships with one another.  "As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away.  All the love you created is still there.  All the memories are still there.  You live on-in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here."  This again expands on Morrie's point from quote #1, when you devote yourself to others you give your life meaning that even death cannot take away.  While you can't take your worldly possessions with you, these relationships can allow you to live on.  In the same way, when grieving a loved one you can gain some peace by remembering a piece of them lives on inside of you.    
  11. "Learn how to die, and you learn how to live." Do not fear death.  Embrace that one day life is going to end so you can fully embrace the wisdom of Morrie and be able to fully appreciate the beauty in the people and nature surrounding you.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

Motivation Monday: #KeepingItReal

Blame the Puritans, blame Glamour, blame Photoshop if you want, but at some point we have to stand up and own the body we’re shakin'. We have to make a statement that “THIS IS REAL” and move forward.
-Lauren Fleshman
Lauren Fleshman, an American track and field athlete, recently wrote a blog post in response to Lady Gaga's critique of her own Glamour cover.  Lady Gaga claimed her, "skin looked too perfect...[her] hair too soft," in the cover photo.  "I believe my true mission is to inspire young people to fight back against forces that make them feel like they're not beautiful or important.  I do not look like this when I wake up in the morning."  She even called the magazines to action stating, "It is fair to write about change in your magazines.  But what I want to see is change on your covers...when the covers change, that is when the culture changes."

Lauren Fleshman's response focused on a photograph of her own taken during a runway show 3 months postpartum, pictured below.  Lauren stated she felt both proud and guilty about the attention the photo received.  While Lauren was proud of her accomplishment, even if the above picture was taken at her best angle you can't argue that looking that good 3 months postpartum isn't an accomplishment, she also referred to the photo as "fantasy."  
 That photo was me, but it was me at my most excellent. A moment in time. The point of the stride free from gravity. The angle of repose. I was acting the part of a superhero in a Marvel movie. It showed no evidence of all of my imperfections. That picture was what we all want to feel about ourselves, myself included. I spent my teenage years looking at fantasy photos like that and feeling inadequate. And now it was my body in that photo. 
Source: Lauren Fleshman's runway shot
Lauren Fleshman sought to expose the "fantasy" of her runway photo by posting some of her least flattering pictures of herself taken just a week after the runway show next to the runway photo.  These photos were not taken at the perfect moment when her stomach was sucked in just right with her muscles flexed.  She posted a picture of her when she wasn't in the "perfect posture" and squeezing the "flab" around her thigh.  It took Lauren over 6 months to get the courage to post the blog she typed a week after the runway shoot.
I had similar feelings about pictures I posted in January in an effort to encourage people to both make and follow through with their New Years resolutions.

My weight loss journey over 7 years
Just like Lauren I was, and still am, extraordinarily proud of these photos.  They represent tremendous personal progress, years of planning and not missing workouts, countless 4:30 a.m. workouts, and a refusal to give up.  However, there are several things these pictures don't show.

I started to lose the weight in my teens, which made it easier.  After trying for years to lose weight I lost the weight almost by accident when I spent an entire summer riding my bike to work and teaching swim lessons.  After that I realized the many benefits of adding activity to all parts of your day.  Since then I have chosen to walk places over driving/taking the bus whenever possible, take the steps over the elevator, standing over sitting on the train, etc.  While these are beneficial for everyone, for some weight loss is much harder and takes constant monitoring of daily activity and food intake.  When I first lost the weight I hardly changed my diet, and I still indulge in sweets much more than I should.  So while the weight loss was not easy for me, it was definitely easier than it can be for others.

These photos also don't show that running came pretty naturally to me.  I believe almost anyone can run and there is no "runner's body."  However, I do think running comes easier to me than it can be for others, and it's an activity I genuinely enjoy for aspects other than weight loss.  While weight loss "transformations" can be motivational, they can also lead people to compare their progress, goals, and motivations to others, which can be as detrimental as images like Lady Gaga's Glamour cover and Lauren's runway photo.  

Transformation pictures don't show the days I skipped the gym, the workouts I ended early, the times I chose cookies for breakfast, or the times I gave up.  They're simply proof that more times than not I chose to keep going, and each race day photo shows the continuation of my journey in a healthy, active, and happy lifestyle.  Below I've included some tips to sticking to weight loss goals that have helped me over the years and can be molded to fit your individual needs and motivations.

Color Run 2012

Tips for Sticking to Your Weight Loss Goals:
  • Find fitness activities & healthy foods you like: If you don't like it you're not going to stick to it.  I truly believe there is a a form of physical activity for everyone.  If you don't like running don't force yourself to spend hours every week on the treadmill.  Try group fitness, try spinning, try mall walking...whatever it takes to get yourself up and moving for at least 30 minutes every day.  Same thing goes for healthy eating.  If you're not a fan of brussels sprouts don't put them in your meal plan, it will just make you more likely to head for the cup cakes after a long day.  That being said, there are thousands of healthy food cookbooks and blogs and you are bound to find some healthy foods you like.  Keep experimenting until you find something you like!
  • Invest in Yourself: If you find a gym or group fitness studio you like and can find a way to fit in your budget join!  A financial investment will make you more likely to go, especially if it is something you really enjoy.  If you can't find something affordable try looking for free classes on weekends or running groups, there are tons out there!
  • Plan for Everything: Schedule your workouts for the week on Sunday, and try to think about what you will do in case you oversleep your alarm or get stuck at work late.  Plan your meals as much as you can ahead of time even if you don't prep them ahead of time.  Traveling for work?  Plan hotel workouts and try to bring healthy snacks from home instead of buying airport food.
  • Add steps to your day: Whether it be parking further away from your office or the grocery store so scraping the car altogether, make it impossible for you to avoid physical activity.  Take the steps.  Walk the dog.  Walk to the coffee shop instead of driving.  Continuing to move more is critical in continuing weight loss, and making it a part of your daily activity instead of a chore will make it that much easier.  
  • Reward Yourself for Victories: And try not to make it a "cheat meal" or some type of food reward.  Made it to the gym 5 times this week?  Reward yourself with a new workout outfit!  Ran in that 5K you've been training for?  Pedicure!  Didn't eat dessert all week?  New cooking appliance you've been wanting! 
  • Don't compare your progress to others: Unfortunately weight loss, like life, is just not fair.  It comes easier to some and the only thing you will get by comparing yourself to other is discouragement.  Find other ways to motivate yourself by setting your own goals.