Can’t build your temple without laying bricks

Today was a cardio day, but yesterday was weights.

I got down.

Weight lifting is interesting for me. On the one hand, I love seeing progress. I can lift the weight with less effort as time goes on and see real strength. My muscles get sculpted. I lift and carry heavy groceries in a single bound.

On the other hand, it’s hard for me to get psyched up to do it. A run in the early morning? No problem. My favorite aerobic workout before sunrise? No sweat. Weightlifting, however, requires some mental gymnastics to get motivated.

But yesterday? Crushed.

I do a full body workout with a barbell and plates. Ten tracks including warm up, squats, chest, back, biceps, triceps, lunges, shoulders, abs and cool down.

When I first started the program (Les Mills Pump), I wasn’t on the road, so I was able to follow it as outlined each day. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been traveling. That and other circumstances as of late led me to take it easy with my workouts. I found what amounts to a comfortable challenge for each track and stuck with it. For weeks.

In the past couple of weeks I decided if I was going to hang out at these easier weights, I’d really focus on form, and I have. But it was time for more.

Yesterday I felt energized, motivated, and ready for a challenge. It reflects an overall mood I’ve been in the past few months – one of action and forward motion. I’ve not yet blogged about my theme for 2014 (see 2013, 2011) but it definitely incorporates movement. I’ve started new projects and made strides in new areas.

And so yesterday, when it was time to get that barbell out, I knew it was also time to kick it up a notch. I increased weights on all working tracks. I worked harder than I have in a long time and it felt great! I was proud of myself all day and flexed my muscles in every mirror.

One of my favorite things about exercising is learning the lessons my body teaches. Yesterday’s lesson? If you keep doing the same things, you’ll find yourself in the same place. Progress requires effort. Lay down those bricks and build that temple.

When you become stuck in a rut
of apathy, your life stagnates,
leading to setbacks.
~Daisaku Ikeda

Plot Twist!

In My Dear Friends in America, Daisaku Ikeda wrote:

“You are the playwright of your own victory.  You are also the play’s hero.  Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players” (As You like It, act II, scene vii, line 139).

Buddhism teaches us that the individual writes and performs the script for his or her own life.  Neither chance nor a divine being writes the script for us.  We write it, and we are the actors who play it.

Despite the fact that we can take responsibility for our lives and plot out the life we’d like to live, there’s no getting around the fact that some things are simply out of our control. Even in a real stage play, props fail, actors forget their lines, and any number of things happen that could disrupt the beauty of a carefully crafted script.

Then what?

It’s a cliché to say attitude is everything, but it certainly does count for quite a bit.

When acting out the drama of your life, sometimes you have to improvise until the story gets back on track.

On Holding Back

Today’s run surprised me. It had been over a week since my last 4-mile run. Generally speaking, a couple of rest days are good for me. But too many means I start to lose a level of fitness.

It’s not to say I forewent exercise completely. In addition to rest days, I had a couple of bouts of weather-induced aerobics. I also threw two short runs in the mix. In a hotel and pressed for time two mornings in a row, the treadmill beckoned. I’ve mentioned more than once how much I enjoy outdoor running and dislike treadmills, but there was no safe place to run nearby. It was the ‘mill or nothing.

No Bueno
Let’s get right to it and say both of those runs sucked. I never felt as though I could get a good breathing rhythm. I never locked into an ideal stride. I just wasn’t comfortable. Both days, two miles of running felt like five or six miles worth of work.

The past couple of mornings, I looked forward to getting back outside. Yesterday, was a disappointment. Mild fall temps were on my side, but the pouring rain was not. I decided to get on with the remainder of my day, foregoing exercise altogether.

The Greenway this morning.
The Greenway this morning.

Doubting Thomasina
Today, it was cooler than ideal, but clear, and I was determined to go get my miles. But get this: I was worried. Because my recent runs were short and difficult, I wondered if I had what it took to eek out my mileage. Some Saturdays I toy with the idea of a “long run” (five miles or more), but today my standard four felt like a stretch.

I wondered just how long it would take me to finish. How would I feel at the halfway point? Would I have to walk it out for large stretches of the trail? Would I just stop at a mile and turn around? The questions loomed. This level of uncertainty about a run is unusual for me, but there it was. I stalled a bit, and went out anyway.

When I got to the Greenway, I could tell immediately the run was going to go well after all. I easily hit my warm up pace and found a comfortable stride within the first 1/2 mile. It felt nice to open up and push the tempo. Being outdoors again was glorious, despite the cool air. Despite the damp leaves clinging to the trail.

I felt great, like the in shape runner I am.

Getting up to Snuff
I’ve run intervals a few times this year. Before now, I’d never tried them out. It’s true they help with speed, and I’ve come to realize they build my confidence as well. I know I’m reasonably fast for super short distances – I was a sprinter in my day. A few years at 3+ miles per run, I’ve now built some endurance, but often I’m scared to push my pace. I simply don’t want to peter out.

But intervals are designed for you to push, then rest. And really, I’m not racing anyone. I’m building my own fitness. Who cares if I need to rest at various points during my run anyway, intervals or not? And just because I got comfortable holding a steady pace at four miles, didn’t mean I needed to remain comfortable. That can easily lead to stagnation. And to some degree, it had.

Movie Lessons
In recent runs, I’ve found myself thinking about all of this while also mulling a scene from Gattaca (spoiler alert). In it, brothers Anton and Vincent are swimming. Ever since they were children, they tested each other to see who had the endurance to swim the farthest in open waters. Anton always won.

An older wiser Vincent finally stopped living down to everyone else’s expectations, and resolved to give life his all. In a confrontation between the two, they decide to swim one last time. Right when Vincent would’ve cried mercy, he didn’t. This time, Anton was the one who tapped out. He screamed at Vincent demanding to know how he was accomplishing this. How was he pushing beyond well-established boundaries? Said Vincent,

I never saved anything for the swim back.

Vincent gave it his all. He held nothing back. He learned to overcome his limiting beliefs about himself. In the end, he was victorious.

Holding Back
Often, I hold back when running. I get comfortable with a certain pace. Knowing I can push it, but will have to recover later, I don’t take chances. Steady state. But with the introduction of intervals, I saw my fitness increasing, and it became easier for me to see what would happen if I push it. I’d go faster! And yes, I may have to rest a bit, but I’d go faster for longer the next time.

So today, out on the open path, no music, no pressure, just me, I ran. And when it felt good, I ran faster. And when I thought I’d been running a good distance at a good pace, I checked in. Do I really need to rest right now, or am I holding back? And I’d rest or run accordingly.

It was a great run. Much faster than usual the first two miles, and faster in stretches toward the end. I ran my fastest overall pace for this distance.

I surprised myself. I didn’t hold back. The race was only with myself, and I won.

Great arms, nice donk, and other reasons to lift

I wrote about prioritizing fitness for National Women’s Health & Fitness Day earlier this month. One commenter, fellow FAMUan Peter McKay, suggested I do some posts focused on strength training. It’s something I’ve done off and on over the years. More on as of late.

I’m not the kind of person who enjoys going to the gym use the machines or free weights, but I found a total body barbell-based program that includeds choreographed reps with upbeat music. I believe there are way too many fitness options to force yourself into doing exercises you don’t like. The program I found was a perfect fit for me.

I’m not an exercise scientist, nor a fitness trainer. I am, however, a few months away from 40 and in pretty decent shape. I lift (in addition to running and dancing) because I like the results.

Here are 8 reasons I lift weights:

  1. New acquaintances compliment my arms. They’re not chiseled, but they are toned. I like them.
  2. I feel myself get stronger each session. Who doesn’t love progress?
  3. My energy is high all day long.
  4. Some say I look like a dancer. My core is stronger and my posture is more erect.
  5. I have more power during my runs.
  6. Thanks to squats, my donk looks nice in jeans.
  7. I imagine myself to be a warrior goddess when I clean and press.
  8. I feel sexy when I’m strong. Don’t you?

Make it non-negotiable

Today is National Women’s Health & Fitness Day. People who have met me via social media and in real life, know I make #templebuilding a priority. The days I get up and exercise in the morning are the days I’m off to a fabulous start. But there was a time when that wasn’t the case.

I’m a self-described athlete. I ran and biked like most kids in my neighborhood growing up. I was a gymnast in elementary school.  A cheerleader in middle school. I danced (band auxiliary) and sprinted (varsity track) in high school.

I engaged in fewer structured activities in college, although I danced (partied) several hours a week which definitely counts for something. After college I had an on again, off again love affair with local gyms.  I stocked up on exercise DVDs for the off again moments. Even as an elementary school teacher, I woke up early enough to exercise, chant, drive 30 minutes and still get to work by 7 a.m. I prioritized prayer, sleep, laughter, water and movement. They kept me in good spirits and good health.

When I became a full time doctoral student in 2007, things changed. I found myself a recluse when class wasn’t in session. All the time I read and wrote papers, thought about theory, drank coffee and ate McDonald’s. Seriously. All the time.

Me: May 28, 2012 after exercising at home.
Me: May 28, 2012 after exercising at home.

A few months in, the side effects from that “food” and the disgust from Super Size Me, spurred me to choose healthier meals.

(Sidebar: I didn’t eat fast food for a year after that, and with the exception of two iced coffees in 2007, I’ve never consumed McDonald’s again). I was no longer exercising, because who had the time? But I knew my body was ready to move again.

Despite my desire to exercise, it was a struggle at first.  I had to force myself to stop reading or writing to go for a walk or a short run. I argued with myself – one more page, or one more paragraph. Then another. I’d panic as I watched the setting sun, realizing it was now or never.  I’d throw on some fitness gear and get moving.

That happened many times, until:

  • I realized I always felt better after exercise, and
  • I scheduled it. I made it non-negotiable.

The very first time I put an exercise appointment on my calendar, my dissertation advisor wanted a meeting. I had to break it to her, “No, I’m not available at that time. I’m exercising then.” She, a woman very much into self-care, supported me and offered several other times even with her busy schedule. I understood then, to the degree I was serious about taking care of myself, I could figure out the rest.

And so I set my exercise schedule daily. I incorporated strength training, swim lessons, and running, all depending on my class and homework schedule. I treated exercise like any other important appointment. I was definitely going to attend, so I had to plan the rest of my day around it.

Over time it has become less of an appointment and more of a way of life. Sometimes this means running on treadmills when I’d rather be outside. Sometimes it means a 15-minute high intensity interval workout instead an hour of strength or cardio. Sometimes it means evening workouts although I definitely prefer sunrise exercise.

The point is, I’ve made it a part of my regular routine. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.

Happy temple building!

Autumnal equinox

Today marks the first day of fall. To be honest, it’s felt like fall for most of the summer here in Georgia. I’m not looking forward to winter, which I’m betting will not be one of our characteristically mild affairs. 

But winter is a full season away, and autumn is upon us now. So what, if anything, will you do differently? I rather like the beginnings of things. It’s a great opportunity to make a new determination, refresh an old one, or purge ideas or habits that no longer serve. Even though this is typically associated with spring, any time is a great time to begin anew. New Year’s Eve. Anniversaries.  Mondays. Mornings

Anyone who has ever made a resolution discovers that the strength of that determination fades in time. The moment you feel that is when you should make a fresh determination. Tell yourself, “OK! I will start again from now!” If you fall down seven times, get up an eighth. Don’t give up when you feel discouraged—just pick yourself up and renew your determination each time. ~Daisaku Ikeda

Participants in Dr. Tiffany Griffin's veg-centric workshop at Spelman College.
Participants in Dr. Tiffany Griffin’s veg-centric workshop at Spelman College.

You can renew your determinations any time, including today! And it doesn’t have to be anything big or overwhelming. You can decide to go to bed a little earlier. Or be nicer to a loved one. Or practice gratitude. You can remind yourself to drink more water during the day. There’s really no limit to the ways you can choose to start over.

Lately, I’ve been integrating changes. Just a couple of days of mindful food choices and tuning in to what my body really needs has already yielded great results. Today I’m refreshing my determination to consume more veg-centric meals and do more of the things I enjoy doing: reading, writing, and dancing, to name a few. 

How will you mark the start of fall?

Getting back to great

Some runs are just good runs. This morning’s run definitely goes in the books as a good one.  Why?

I found a new route that works well.
Because I’m in a new area, I’m mapping and remapping routes as I run. This morning I found a couple of good stretches without too many turns to memorize. Moreover, today’s route  didn’t take me over too many ginormous hills nor past too many dilapidated houses.

I ran 4 miles. Again.
Although I used to run 4 miles 3-4 times a week, it was all on relatively flat land. I’m building the stamina to run 4 miles on hilly terrain. Although I’ve hit the magic number a couple of times this summer, it’s my first time this year running 4 miles twice in one week. Progress!

I ran hard.
Today’s run was not for punks. I’m no speed demon, but based on my current level of fitness, I really pushed it. I opened up my stride and maintained a nice pace for decent stretches. It felt good to work hard without feeling tired or run down. It’s refreshing to remember what athleticism feels like: VICTORY (that’s my name, by the way).

I welcomed the sun goddess.
Today, during a short breather, I said good morning to the sun (yes, out loud). One of my favorite things about running is the opportunity to be outside and connect with nature. This is especially awesome when I run from first light to sunrise and can see the sky warming as we welcome the morning.  Since I’ve moved away from the Sunshine State, I’ve had to work a little harder to catch the sun’s beauty, but two of my new routes allow just that.

All in all, this morning’s run was fabulous. I’ve been eating more mindfully and resting as much as possible the past couple of days. I’m starting to feel more like myself.  I’m feeling good and getting back to great. Coincidence?

No such thing. \o/