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

Fibroids and Mojo

So I’m getting my mojo back!

I woke up this morning and felt high on endorphins even though I had only a few hours of sleep and no exercise. Over the past few weeks, I’ve felt more and more myself.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been seeing an acupuncturist as a first line of treatment for my fibroids. Dr. Liu is a trained medical doctor who learned Chinese medicine later. She aims to help the body achieve optimum health with the belief that it will then be able to dissolve the fibroids. She’s had a lot of success with patients, and although there are no guarantees, I can definitely say I’m feeling better than I have in months. That is a huge win.

In addition to my higher energy levels, my insides no longer feel twisty, and I can breathe normally (all month long) in everything from dresses to jeans to yoga pants. Blue says I look more “sleek,” and because I feel it, I walk it, too. #hotmama

Welcome back mojo! I missed you!

Go Red For Women

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 4.43.53 PMOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness month and it’s all pink all the time. Everything from your favorite football player to your favorite Yoplait can be spotted with a splash of pink.

Despite the importance of cancer awareness initiatives, it’s worth noting that heart disease is the number one killer of women. My mother is in that number. Over 10 years ago, she went to the emergency room complaining of chest pains and never made it home.

The official cause of death was a brain hemorrhage, which was an unfortunate complication of her heart attack. Although she’d been slowly working to reclaim her fitness, lower her cholesterol and free herself of nicotine, time wasn’t on her side. She died a few months before her 60th birthday.

February is best known for Valentine’s Day, but it’s also American Heart Month. February 7, 2014 is National Wear Red Day. Are you and your loved ones doing what you can to get heart healthy or stay that way?

Give me my 10s

This was a milestone week for me in many ways, including the fact I finished two 10Ks! One was in miles and the other was in words.

On Sunday I was feeling, as they say, “froggy.” Out of the blue, I declared to myself that Monday I’d run 6 miles for the first time.

This has been a goal of mine for a long time. I know many people who’ve done it, and my personal long was 5.55 miles, from a year ago. I’ve only run five miles or more a handful of times in life, and the 10K/6.2 mile mark seemed scary, quite honestly.

On my days of high energy, I’d think about tackling it, and it just seemed a touch too far. Rather than drown in a sea of what ifs, I generally stopped thinking about it as soon as I felt the telltale adrenaline. I wasn’t sure why it made me nervous, but it did.

But Sunday, I felt up to the challenge. I wasn’t positive I’d actually go for it my next time out, but I knew it wouldn’t be long now. Blue ran with me Monday morning, and when we got to my usual two-mile turnaround point, we decided to go a little bit farther. Then a little more.

After running 6.2 miles on the Greenway.
After running 6.2 miles on the Greenway.

“How do you feel about round numbers?” he asked, taking a peek at his Garmin. I knew we were past two, but I couldn’t gauge how far.

“I like round numbers.”

Eventually we were at an even three, which was guaranteed to get me six by the time we arrived back at the start.

As we passed the 5.55 mile mark, I smiled. I was excited to best my personal long and even more excited to know I was going to finally accomplish a long-standing goal. When we got to the start, we doubled-back a tenth or so and came back to finish the .2.

So that was the second 10k.

The first 10k actually happened the day before, on the 10th of November. And now that I think of it, perhaps the earlier achievement  inspired the latter. After many false starts and absolutely zero words dedicated to the effort, I started my first novel this month.

Well, my second if you include the one I began in middle school (which my peers said was really good!).

In October, I announced my desire to be a romance novelist (among other things), and November, National Novel Writing Month, seemed like a great time to start. I’ve long been familiar with NaNoWriMo, the project which encourages authors to write a draft of a novel (50,000 words) in 30 days. Now, I don’t believe in gimmicks. And because that seemed irrational and unsustainable, I always rejected the project outright. But this month, on the first day of NaNoWriMo, I decided two things:

  1. If I only participated a few days, I would’ve at least gotten started on my novel. That’s more than I can say for the past several years of thinking about it.
  2. Who cares about that 50k goal? I could set whatever goal I wanted. One thousand words a day seemed doable, and again, if some days I couldn’t hit it, see number 1.

So I started. And on the 10th day I hit my 10,000th word. My first 10k!

In honor of my 10s this week, a word from B Scott:

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!