Sunday, January 30, 2011

No Excuses

“If you really want to do something, you'll find a way. If you don't, you'll find an excuse."

-Jim Rohn

I stumbled upon that quote recently and it certainly rang true. As both a coach and an athlete, I can say that it is nearing “that” time of year. This is the time of year when winners are made and the rest just fall into the trap of indifference, lack of commitment and distraction. I’ve said it before – winners do not necessarily win races, they are champions of their own goals and desires. They do what they set out to do not because they are gifted but because they make the commitment to themselves to do what it takes to get it done.

What are the winners doing? Simply put, they’re getting it done. They’re managing life, time and energy to be sure they get the training done. They set goals, they understand the work it takes to get there and then commit to doing it. They make that commitment every day and through that consistency they gain fitness and make progress. Whether it’s cold, dark, or I just plain don’t want to – they do. Day in, day out, they get it done.

What about everyone else? I think it’s safe to say that at some point, we’ve all been “everyone else”. Even the most successful athlete does not wake up every single day looking forward to 100 percent of their workouts. Energy and motivation ebbs and flows. At times you just want to bottle up your motivation so you can pull from a reserve on those days you see a long run when its 10 degrees, a 2 hour easy trainer ride at 5:30 am or something like 10 x 400 on your schedule, including 1200 yards with band.

One word for that: oy.

It’s easy during those times to find an excuse. I’ve talked before about excuses, and having spent many years working with adults, let me tell you – adults are master excuse makers. Adults will spend all sorts of wasted time giving you excuses rather than take that time to improve the situation or – simply – get done what they are trying to excuse. I once worked with an athlete who sent drawn out emails about why they couldn’t get a workout done. Everything from work to having to take out the dog. We all work. And a lot of us have dogs. We get things done! The 20 minutes it probably took to write that email could have been 20 minutes spinning on their trainer. Something is better than nothing. Point is, you're either busy making excuses or busy making it happen each day.


Which do you choose?

I’ve been thinking excuses a lot lately because now that I have a child – the excuses are everywhere. It becomes very attractive to take the easy way out or to not start something at all because I’m ________(fill in the blank; tired, busy, house work to do, real work to do, etc., etc). I find that when we walk around tired or frustrated, excusing ourselves or blaming others becomes more likely. We find reasons it is ok to feel sorry for ourselves, to blame our lack of action on something/someone else or to give less than our best.

On Saturday morning, I woke up late for masters. I had every excuse to stay home – not enough time to get there, didn’t eat breakfast, the baby (always a great excuse!) but then I thought about my season goals. Sure, I could miss one swim but I find that once you let yourself get away with something it becomes a slippery slope. Indifference adds up quickly. I got my act together quickly and made it to the pool just in time. The mainset was 10 x 200 on an interval that on some days is what it takes me to swim a 200. For a split second, I thought about giving myself permission to pull some of them, or put on fins, or demote myself a lane because I was tired, missed breakfast, I have a baby (SEE!). So many excuses...

But then I realized something else. I stood on the edge of opportunity. I knew with the right determination and pacing, I could make the interval. When faced with a challenge, some athletes either breakthrough or breakdown. If I completed this set today, it would be a huge breakthrough. As I got further into the set, the excuses peeled away. Pulling, paddles, fins – none of that needs to be my fire escape. If I want to do this, I’ll find a way. If I don’t, I’ll find myself at #6 with a pull buoy.


When you accept an excuse, you deny yourself an opportunity. Making a new interval, pushing a set of watts you didn’t think you could do – you only get there if you give yourself a chance. The worst thing that happens – you blow up and end up going easy the rest of the time. The best thing that happens – you find a new limit, you breakthrough. Is it worth it? Opportunity versus excuse, you decide.

The excuse is always the easy way out. I’m tired, I’m busy, I don’t feel like it, it’s only January, did I mention I have a 6-month old? Bucking up and getting the work done - that's the hard stuff. Our world is so easy-here-now in as little work as possbile that I find some adults-turned-athletes don't realize the importance and undeniability of this equation: work + time = progress. You cannot get anything unless you do the work over time. No excuses, no short cuts.

Spend a week looking back at your life or workout schedule. Look at all the things you did and did not do. For the things you did not do – why. What’s your excuse? Be careful, it’s a fine line between excuses and reasons. Reasons come up (sick child, car broke down, situations beyond our control). Excuses are brought up. Separate those “whys” into things you have control over and things you don’t have control over. For things you have control over, do something about it. Chances are next week, you’ll find yourself with a lot less excuses and a lot more action.

Time management is the biggest defense an adult has to excuses. I know you’re busy. We all are. Even the busiest people find time to get it done – if they want to. There are a lot of little things you can do to improve time management. Laying out your bike clothes before you go to bed, having everything you need next to the trainer, keeping your swim bag packed in the car, communicating with your spouse about the time you need to get things done. All of these little things are defenses against what gets most of us – I don’t have the time or I have too much time to think while getting ready that I lose my motivation before getting it done. If everything is ready for you, there is no time to think. You wake up, you get on the bike, you do. Before you know it, you’re done.

I coach a lot of busy people – from lawyers to surgeons to people with kids to full-time students. Rightfully, each one of them has an excuse for why they can’t do something. The difference is that the athletes who achieve don’t use it. They don’t need to. Because they get up every day making the commitment to get it done. It’s not easy – it requires planning, communication and giving up some of the unnecessaries but if you want to get to your goal, you sacrifice. You get up early, you make it a priority, you don’t even give the excuses time to show up. You beat them to the punch.

I write about excuses as a constant reminder to myself. Each day with a 6-month old is an adventure in fatigue, balance and learning that I cannot leave anything within his turning radius unless I want that thing dumped all over the ground (mug of Kefir on living room rug ---> lesson learned). Some days I wake up tired, some days he doesn’t nap, other days I think to myself it’s hard enough to find time to eat let alone get in two workouts. I have every opportunity to give up on myself and accept defeat on the couch. But something drives me from within. Whether it’s the opportunity of what lies ahead or just every day striving to be better than the day before – it pushes me to get it done. When I look back on what I’ve accomplished this year, I want a list of successes. Not a list of excuses that got in the way.

This week it’s your call. Maybe you want to eat better, get in 100 percent of your workouts, get more sleep, whatever – if you truly want it, you’ll make a plan, take action and find a way. Go find it. No excuses, now.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Run Naked

A few weeks ago, I went for a naked run.

I didn’t mean to go naked. New mothers can probably relate to this. It’s taken you about an hour to get out of the door after feeding the baby, changing the baby, getting the baby ready to be left with someone else, getting yourself ready to get out the door and finally after all of that, you’re in the car, drive 15 minutes west to go running – outside – IN DAYLIGHT! – when you realize….

You’ve forgotten your watch.

But at least you are fully clothed and wearing both (matching!) running shoes!

(I’m waiting for the day I leave the house with one running shoe and one racing flat)

Going back home – not an option. And so it was decided: I would be running naked.

It’s been nearly two years since I’ve done a winter run at Herrick Lake. It was cold, about 16 degrees with a biting west wind. The path was covered in snow, some sections so icy that the run felt like a long exercise in high knees drill. Lucky for me it was simply an easy run. One of those, go out and run 75 minutes, do a few cadence checks. With no watch, I created a simple plan: go out and run what feels like 15 minutes, turnaround and check the clock in the car.

Simple as that.

I never know how fast (or slow) I run. I don’t wear a Garmin and I prefer to keep it that way. I have years worth of data in Training Peaks that I’ve just guessed. Distance estimated. Could have been 4 miles. Or 5. Felt fast today. Tired, hung back. All of this guesswork means I never know my running pace. But I know what it feels like to warm up, I know my tempo pace, I know how my breathing should sound during a 5K. I know these things because I listen. I seek and accept feedback from my body and then I respond to it.

Maybe that approach is too zen for most but…isn’t that the point of working out? I get paid to overthink workouts for others and pay someone to overthink my workouts. When I go out there, finally, to workout I don’t want to think about anything. I want to be in the moment and doing the work necessary. If you want me to run hard, I’ll run hard. If you want me to run easy, I’ll run easy. There is no magical pace that is easy or hard. If I’ve learned anything after nearly 20 years of running it’s that day to day pace changes. Some days, your typical hard pace feels easy. Those are the great days. Other days, the easy pace feels hard. Those are the good days, because the bottom line is that you’re out there, running. You have the ability. Embrace it.

The day is perfect. The winter air is thin and crisp but the sky is blue. I’m bundled up like an Inuit alone on the path. I run what feels like 15 minutes and turnaround heading back to the car. Along the way, I see no one. Today, I own this path. Back at the car, I put the key in the ignition to check the clock. Thirty minutes have elapsed. As far as my sense of time, I nailed it. I set out again, this time deciding to run 20 minutes out and back.

When I first started running after pregnancy – after not running for 5 months – sometimes Chris would ride alongside me. With a Garmin. I would run a pace, guess the pace in my head then ask Chris what was my pace. More often than not, I was dead on accurate. Why not just wear the Garmin myself? Because I wanted to learn how to feel again. I wanted to find the ability to feel different paces. Not follow the lead of the Garmin. I wanted to relearn this is how my feet sound at that pace, how my breathing sounds, how to turnover to achieve and x-minute mile. Valuable feedback that we cannot hear if we are not listening.

Learn to be a better listener.

Recently, I attended a lecture from Bobby McGee. He’s a phenomenal running coach and heck of a speaker. I could listen to him all day. On that day, he said we’ve become too dependent on technology. We’ve lost the ability to feel our pace. It’s a lost art – the ability to pace. Athletes try to break it down to a science but what if science fails you – the battery goes dead, you forget the Garmin, the satellites don’t pick up. What then? What if all the science doesn’t matter because it’s too hot, the course is hilly or you’re just having an off day. How do you know how to run?

It has to come from within – from listening, from learning, from sometimes taking a risk and pushing the limits just to find out where your limit really is. Forget pace prediction charts, you don’t know what you can do until you go out there, take the risk and find out. On days when you’re not supposed to take a risk, trust that what truly feels easy – with no labored breathing – is easy. And even it’s really slow, it will help you go to get to your goal.

Patience.

McGee has written more on running than any of us will ever have time to read. But should you have extra time, within his writing you will find gems. One of my favorites comes from 2006 where he writes about intuitive training and racing.

From the Olympic hopefuls that I coach to athletes just trying to break through some personal barrier, I always get the same question – “How hard or how fast should I do this repetition, or this run, or this race?” Invariably I either ask for or have access to enough data to be able to calculate some reasonably accurate answer for them. But somehow I feel that I am cheating them of the wonderful opportunity of being able to take a risk, an opportunity to trust their intuition, which is present in each & every one of us. Truly great training sessions come from this place of risk and vulnerability. Our moments of true athletic brilliance occur when we least expect them. These times are characterized by a lack of effort and concerted thought. They come from being quiet and allowing our bodies to feel the rhythm, effort and pace.

My mind is quiet on today’s run. It helps that everything around me is covered in a layer of snowy silence. The snow absorbs the sounds of the world until all you hear is the light sound of your feet on the path. There is no quiet more impressive than the winter.

The mind is not quiet when it’s obsessing over numbers or interpreting too much information. Technology can be frustrating. There is a delay in what we do and what it says. It only measures accurately in a straight line. It doesn’t always work on cloudy days. And on the track – you have to ask yourself…why are you bringing a measuring device to a course that’s already measured?

(And yes the track will always measure long on the Garmin but every runner knows – the track never lies. Ever.)

Of course, I’ve run with a Garmin. I’ve had coaches require me to upload data containing everything from easy runs, track splits, run tests and tempo descends. What they did with all that data I had no idea. It never made me a better runner. It just made me that person. That person who is out there on the path running and looking at the Garmin every – freakin – minute. It’s hard not to. It’s instant feedback, the I’ve-always-wanted-to-know-and-finally-I-can feeling of I can’t help but look. For awhile it was fun, wow that’s my pace, but then it became more about holding a certain average pace than listening to my body. That wasn’t good for my running. But I had data. Loads of it. That should make me good, right?

It’s not for everyone. Some people love it and need it – for validation, for the numbers, the trends. As a coach, I see its value with an athlete but don’t think it’s the ultimate answer. The successful athlete still needs to learn to feel. You need to be able to put yourself on a track and by your breathing, turnover and form alone, if someone tells you to run x:xx pace you should be able to hit the 400 split for every lap. If not, you need to learn better pacing. Simply spend some time listening to yourself.

After what feels like 20 minutes, I turn to run back towards the car. A few others have joined me on the path. Three men riding mountain bikes, no winter gear, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the windchill is a bitter negative four degrees. One other man running. And even another man in the middle of the lake ice fishing, complete with drill, lawn chair and Smokey Joe. Once I reach the car, the clock tells me that 40 minutes have gone by.

Perfect.

The run has passed by fast. There is a point in every run where you think to yourself – what am I thinking about. The run usually starts with a head overfilled with the day’s dramas, dilemmas and other life static. But as the miles progress, the head empties. Focus begins to narrow to a particular topic or conversation. Finally, it turns to something else entirely – the way the clouds scatter in the sky, how the grasses are blowing in the wind. You realize that you’re zoning out. If you’ve ever been to the zone, you know it’s a state of nothingness, of doing but not thinking. Everything is automatic in a rhythm that feels entirely right. I run to get to this point. Once I’m there, I feel like I can run all day.

Right now, I’m there. It’s terribly cold but I’m so engaged in running that I don’t notice it. I’m sad to only have 5 minutes left. Once around the lake should be good enough for 5 minutes. I’m running a slow pace, I know that, but it doesn’t matter. It’s an easy run. It’s supposed to be slow.

I’m often surprised at how much athletes fight running slow. If my slow pace takes me 10 minutes, 9 minutes or 8 minutes I don’t care. It’s not supposed to matter. It’s an easy run. The truth is I spend more time running slow than running fast. 90 percent of you won’t believe that. That’s because most people train too hard. The secret with running is that consistency is what really counts. The more time you spend running overall, the faster you’ll get. And what you do with that time matters. It doesn’t mean running miles upon miles – it means running miles that matter, running them as economically as possible and through that economy developing speed. When you run hard more than you should, you get injured. When you are injured, your training gets interrupted and you have inconsistency. The more inconsistencies, the harder it is to make progress. It’s the easy miles that make you more durable so you can get to the faster miles. Remember that.

I’ve never raced with a Garmin until two years ago. I was doing a 5K and going to collect the data for heart rate and pace. I went into the race telling myself I would not look at the data display. The race started like any other 5K – a bunch of people bolt and you start at what feels like a controlled pace though you know that in another mile you will feel like you are wheezing only inches from death. I felt entirely on top of my pace when I couldn’t help it. The Garmin felt heavy on my wrist and all I wanted to do was take a peek and see the pace when I couldn’t resist any more and saw….

A pace that looked way too fast.

The irony is that it felt great. Effortless, light, snappy, all those things you want to feel in a 5K. I had been running exclusively for 6 weeks. I had not been training by pace. I went entirely by feel – hard was hard, easy was easy. And for all I knew, that was an appropriate pace. But when I saw that number I knew it fell in my sub x:xx warning danger impending system shutdown in 5-4-3-2-1 mode.

I slowed down.

Studies have shown that when you see a pace that you think you can’t sustain, your muscles start to shut down. The central governor: read about it. When you think the pace is possible, you begin to recruit more muscles to actually do it. Next time you run, try to sustain a pace that seems like a stretch. You can only do this when you don’t have all of the information. Because when you see a fast pace, the brain gets in the way, reacting with a series of messages shouting stop, too fast, pain, hurt, slow down! And that is the drawback of always watching and knowing your pace. Of course it can help you go out at an appropriate pace because the first 5 minute of anything feels easy but beyond that what if it’s holding you back?

What if you are what is holding you back? The way you think about running, what you think about your pace. Face it: running is uncomfortable, it’s hard and the slowest of all three sports to show progress. When we swim poorly, we know that we are just a few more drills away from success. When we bike poorly, we know that we can buy a faster set of wheels or aero helmet to save ourselves. When we run poorly – it’s just ourselves. We tend to beat ourselves up, creating a negative place of frustration and fear that we can’t help but go to during every run. I’m slow, this feels hard, this hurts, maybe I’m too fat.

For the next run, leave the Garmin at home, stay away from the measured course and let your mind run quiet. Learn to connect better with how you feel and your form. Listen to yourself. Quiet your head. Take the pressures and evaluation away. With all of that freedom, let yourself learn to love running – reconnecting to what we did so often in childhood just for fun and play. We ran circles when we were excited. We played chase with our friends. We didn’t evaluate how fast or how far. We just ran.

I say, run naked. The run still counts even if you don’t know how far you went. I’ve got over 7 years of data from runs with no verification. Nothing told me I actually ran those miles. Except myself. Today, I finished my 75-minute run having no idea how far I went. All I know is that it felt good and sustainable. And I carried that feeling around with me the rest of the day. In a word, that feeling was awesome.

Miles don’t matter, I run for that feeling of awesome. The run was awesome. I feel awesome. And I’ve learned with that feeling, you find those faster miles.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Take Care

Last Wednesday, I had an appointment with the OB/GYN.

You’ve been worried. Good news: my uterus is totally normal and small again. It’s retreated back to its little hole in the wall kind of like a bunch of happy Fraggles. Amen to that. The last thing any woman needs is an angry uterus. Like my last visit, the doctor brings up the subject of my next pregnancy. I tell her it will happen soon enough. Until then, let’s not talk about it. For the next 9 months at least I would like to not think about the fact that the clock is loudly ticking and my soon to be 36-year old eggs are close to expiring.

Now that I’m in the F-ELDERLY age group, I needed some tests; iron, TSH, cholesterol, etc. The doctor tells me the results will come in tomorrow.

Tomorrow arrives. Late afternoon. I get the call.

We have your test results.

I’ve been waiting...for what I know will be a sparkly clean bill of health!

Your TSH is very high.

That is not sparkly. So, it's high? Surely this has something to do with pregnancy. My hormones are probably all out of whack. But that still doesn’t make sense. I had it tested in late pregnancy when my hair was falling out and I was convinced I had a faulty thyroid. Turns out I just had loose hair. Now it's high? Doesn’t that mean I should be gaining weight? Is THAT what explains the last 5 pounds?

Have you ever seen an endocrinologist?

No! I don’t even like going to the dentist!

Next we move on to cholesterol. Tell me something good, nurse, TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD!

She then rattles off all sorts of ugly numbers. My good cholesterol was low, my bad was high and triglycerides? It’s like I just ate a McGriddle for breakfast and washed it down with a Frappucino. Do NOT hold the whip.

It gets worse…

You also show signs of being glucose intolerant.

WHAT is that?

It’s a pre-cursor for diabetes.

Diabetes? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Now, I’ll admit to series of holiday indiscretions where my blood may have run sugar for an entire week in December. And, yes, I know I can down an entire gallon of ice cream if challenged (or, if it’s just in the house) but seriously – diabetes? Here I was thinking I was healthy. I eat mostly good. How good does good have to be? What fun is life if you can’t eat half a pumpkin pie for breakfast every once in awhile?

Your B.U.N. is high.

My WHAT!? Is that a polite way of saying my ass is fat? I JUST HAD A BABY!

It’s a marker of poor kidney function.

Impossible. I am up every night at least 3 times peeing. I’d say my kidneys are fully operational.

Your creatinine is also high.

I swear I don’t take any illegal supplements!

The doctor wants you to follow up with your primary care physician. And we’ll fax a copy of these results to him.

(gulp) Ok?

End of call.

Silence. There I stood with one foot on the ground and one foot in a shallow but overindulgent grave. Is that it? Reading off a bunch of bad numbers to me and that’s that? I felt confused. I stared at a piece of paper full of numbers that painted the picture of me being like any average American, a metabolic mess! Here I was thinking I took care of myself. All that flax seed, all that greek yogurt, the vegetables, the whole grains…bullshit! I’m the most unhealthy fit person out there! And, to top it all off, lately I’ve been feeling great.


How could my body have lied to me?

In times like this of medical distress, it helps to turn to a source that you can rely upon. So I go to the internet. I start searching everything, comparing numbers, reading theories, forums. It takes me less than 20 minutes to convince myself that I am just like any other sedentary, middle-aged, overeating, fast food loving, overstressed, overworked, overweight woman.

How did this happen to me?

Then I consider what to do next. Call the doctor? Arrange an appointment? I don’t even know my primary care physician that well. Why? I’m rarely sick so why on earth would I just pop in to see him! So I contact the one doctor who knows me better than anyone else.

Dr. Nuts

(Let me clarify that Dr. Nuts is real; he is a friend but better yet a urologist – hence the name Nuts - who works in Rancho Santa Fe where he treats many cases of penis implant dysfunction and other urological catastrophes of the celebrities. Honestly, I could not make this shit up.)

In a desperate email, I ask him if I’m dying.

The phone rings.

DR. NUTS HEARD MY CRY! HE IS GOING TO SAVE ME.

I don’t make it to the phone in time and it goes to voicemail. As soon as I think I’ll be dialing Dr. Nuts, I realize it was OB/GYN office. They called me again.

THIS CANNOT BE GOOD!

We’d like to further discuss your test results.

GASP! Should we also discuss my funeral?

Then it hits me – how am I going to tell Chris and my mom that I am a complete health trainwreck. Who will give me the 100 pills that I will likely need every day. And, more importantly, will either of them donate a kidney because according to Wikipedia I am one piss away from pissing one of them completely out!

I call the doctor back.

Elizabeth, I have to apologize.

For my bad health? Don’t! It’s my fault I can’t control myself with a tub of Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Cups. And I know I ate a lot of "stuff" over the holidays but who knew that it would look like I’ve been shooting triglycerides straight into my veins. And let me tell you, if this is what my profile looks like no wonder we have a nation of obesity. I eat vegetables. MANY TIMES A DAY. If I’m this screwed, imagine the rest of the general public!

I read you the wrong test results.

You what?

Someone else’s results got put into your chart.

>awkward silence<


Is this a joke? Is there where Candid Camera pops out of my pantry and says that I’m on national television? Because I almost shit myself. Worse yet, I almost thought about giving up desserts, bacon AND gluten.

*shudder*

I’m so sorry, someone else’s chart got stuck in your file.

All of a sudden, from deep in my gut, the following comes out:

YOU SCARED THE SHIT OUT OF ME.

I know.

I WAS GOOGLING ALL OF THESE CONDITIONS WONDERING WHAT THE HELL WAS WRONG WITH ME, CONVINCED I WAS DYING.

I’m so sorry.

HAVE YOU SEEN ME!

Yes, and it made me wonder about the results because they didn’t make sense.

I TAKE VERY GOOD CARE OF MYSELF!!!!!!!

I can see that, your test results are much better.

You bet they are! But let me tell you, according to Wikipedia, that other woman, she’s a mess!


Turns out that my cholesterol is low in all the right places. Along with my thyroid. My iron is fine. And I am not glucose intolerant. My B.U.N and creatinine are high but Dr. Nuts tells me that is a result of muscle breakdown or dehydration from my most recent workout. Dr. Nuts also assured me I was not dying but did suggest I find another doctor.

Later that evening, I was thinking: imagine if you had been read those poor results and they were yours. How would you react? Is it just me or do most people seem to approach their physical health with ignorance, not making the connection between what they do and who they are. Not respecting the power of the choices they make. Not worrying it all until it’s too late. It makes me wonder how people can choose a lifestyle of poor diet and lack of physical activity. Do they really want that? Or do they just not fully understand the implications.

Every week in Kate’s studio, I read the same quote painted in hopeful cursive high upon the wall.

Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live.

Stripped away of your career, possessions, relationships, all you have is your body. One chance, one time through. Two choices: actively work to destroy it or actively work to preserve it as long as you can. To me, the choice is obvious. I want to be here long enough to experience the world from all decades in the best possible health.

I laugh about it now, but it was one of those you’ll never know until you’re in the situation type of experiences. I never imagined I would have bad test results, so I never knew how it would feel. Even though they weren’t mine, hearing all of those numbers was a horrible feeling. And plenty of motivation to stay fit, keep eating of kale (I’m obsessed with it!) and take care of this body. I’m going to keep my first – and only – time through my best!

Take care of you too!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Worth It

On Monday, I had my strength re-testing with Kate.

After pregnancy, better yet after having a c-section, I knew I had work to do with my strength. Enter Kate. Kate is a performance specialist. There are no bicep curls and lat pull down bars involved. It’s 100 percent functionally moving the body the way the body moves. And that means a heavy emphasis on core strength.

I’ve been looking forward to this assessment for weeks. Actually, since the end of our first tests in September! In that time, I’ve cursed Kate, praised her, recommended her and broken up with her. I’ve been an athlete for many years yet she (inflicted) showed me a whole new way to work and hurt. She taught me what it truly means to be strong (and not just fake it!).

Why am I talking about this? Few athletic women have chronicled their journey through pregnancy and even fewer talk about the journey back. Not just getting your body back – getting your strength and fitness back. And I know why – sometimes, it ain’t pretty! It’s painfully slow and at times you are so tired and stressed from being mommy that it’s easier to ignore yourself.

Take my word for it: do not ignore yourself. You – your goals, desires and needs – are worth it.

I started with Kate at 6-weeks after delivery. By then I was back to a full schedule of swim/bike/run. Though I stayed very active during pregnancy (up to 90 minutes a day; swim/bike/run/strength), at that point I knew I had two choices: I could ramp my training back up and hope that my strength followed (chances are it wouldn’t and at some point I would probably get injured from an imbalance or weakness). The other choice was to actively work with someone to rebuild my strength.

And that is how I decided to work with Kate. Sure, spending another hour a week and more money on sport is a big investment that none of us can afford. But I felt like focusing on strength was something I couldn’t not afford. Injury or underperformance is not cheap in terms of time or your head. It was worth it.

During the first strength assessment, Kate started by bringing out the calipers. Trust me, the last thing I wanted to see at 6 weeks post-partum was a measure of my body fat. Yipes! But I needed an honest baseline. Then we moved on to core strength, movement, posture, balance. While I had done a lot of good work on strength when pregnant, that wasn’t going to be enough. There were pieces of my strength missing. I had limited ability to contract my lower core, to hold plank, that is proper plank, side planks, proper push-ups, etc. Notice the word proper. If it wasn’t proper, Kate was there correcting me. As soon as she corrected me, often the test was over. I couldn’t do much with proper form!

16 weeks went by. I worked, sweated, cursed, held a kettelbell above my head while windmilling with fear that it would come crashing down right into my face. Woke up with delayed onset muscle soreness that sometimes lasted 4 days. Knew that of all the workouts I did, my 1 hour with Kate was perhaps the hardest one. She took my weaknesses, threw them right in front on my face and then made me work on them. There were times I almost cried! Why? Because I was trying to correct years of doing things the wrong way.

Change is not easy!

On Monday, the strength testing arrived. I was ready. Since September I know I’ve made gains. Each week I stand in her studio, in front of the mirror, and I see a different me. It’s not the old me but here’s a news flash to all women – after pregnancy your body will never be the same. Not your stomach, your boobs – none of it. Don’t lament over what is lost. Instead, find beauty and strength in what you now have.

First things first, Kate weighed me. Drum roll please....


I’ve lost 7 pounds since early September.

Let’s try that again. Rub my eyes, look at the scale….

I’ve lost SEVEN FREAKIN’ POUNDS since SEPTEMBER!?

But that chick on I Used to Be Fat lost 7 POUNDS IN ONE WEEK!

Truth be told, weight loss after pregnancy is painfully slow. Like I just bonked and found myself with 30 more miles to go so I might as well crawl by way of tongue to get back home.

That slow.

All joking aside, Kate tells me this is ok because I’ve gained lean muscle and lost *some* body fat (but not much – again, a mathematical enigma that I will not try to solve at this time plus I’m really bad at math and as all my athletes know my abacus has been broken for some time).


The better news is that I have lost nearly 30 pounds since giving birth. That's like losing 3 chihuahuas!

(Chris, was I really that big, and he answers simply with yes)

Moving on.

My posture is better. I’m holding plank 48 seconds longer than before. My side planks are held over 2 minutes longer. I did 10 more push ups with better form. I’ve gained over 2 inches of hamstring flexibility. More body weight rows. And this just in:

I DID 4 REAL PULL UPS!

Last time, I did NONE. Just hung there like dead weight from the handles. Pull ups were the challenge I hated to love. Kate had me doing pull ups from the TRX, from some scary chains hanging from the ceiling all while she held me up. IT WORKED!


Now all of that other progress was nice but I was more interested in this:

The wall sit.

Jennifer Harrison holds the record for wall sit, holding it for a brilliant 7 minute and 11 seconds. Then she declared herself in retirement from doing it again because she had been unchallenged.


I had my eye on this record for weeks (16 weeks to be exact).

I pass my baseline (3:23) and set my sights on 5 minutes. Then 7 minutes. Then I fly by Jennifer’s record. I’m at 7:40. I tell Kate I’ll go until 8:11. At that point Kate said something about Jen coming out of retirement. I may or may not have said then I’m going to make her work for it. I hit 9:00. Kate then ups the ante by saying Katherine Switzer can hold it for 11 minutes and she was a pretty good marathoner. 10 minutes. I can go until 11. I know I can hold it more. My quads are quivering, my butt is on fire and I want to vomit. I hold it until 11:12 and feel like I’ve just ridden 30 minutes at threshold.

A NEW BENCHMARK HAS BEEN SET! I’m like the Roger Bannister of wall sit. I bet in no time someone will hold it for 12 minutes. And maybe it will be Jennifer. But I suppose first she’ll have to come out of retirement.

As soon as she steps away from the birthday cake!

With tests completed, Kate set some new goals for me. I have to hold plank for 7 minutes. And I’m going for 10 pull ups along with a bunch of other things about balance, crossover, glute strength, blah blah but what about wall sit?

As for the wall sit, until challenged, I’m in self-imposed retirement.

In less than 2 weeks, Max will be 6 months old. Aside from a permanently herniated belly button and 5 extra pounds that seem to really REALLY like me, I feel mostly back to me. I am stronger. I am getting fit. There were times when I was pregnant where I thought I would never be fit or strong again. And the 8 weeks after birth – those were the worst. The hormones, the waiting, the still looking pregnant even though you’re not. Learning to accept yourself as you are and trusting that with hard work you can get close to where you used to be is difficult. But as I sit here, feeling fitter, stronger – I’ll say the work is worth it.

Not easy (you will never have the time and will always have 100 excuses waiting) but it’s definitely worth it.

What’s that? You haven’t seen a picture of my little guy lately? Glad you asked.


So worth it!

Monday, January 10, 2011

I Used To Be

On Friday, I found myself watching I Used To Be Fat.

I am convinced that your social life during parenthood is similar to the social life during Ironman training. You find yourself Friday night at 7:30 pm, utterly exhausted from the week, laying on the living room floor watching something inane on cable while reacquainting yourself with a TP Therapy massage ball thinking quietly to yourself this is just the Friday night I was hoping for.

After flipping through the channels, a few minutes watching Fight Club (all time favorite ever make believe place from a movie: the cave where you find your power animal, similar to the pain cave but not as scary as the tunnel of fire), I found myself glued to MTV. For those of you born before 1980, remember when MTV truly was MTV? When fishheads fishheads roly poly fishheads was a music video? When Kennedy read the news and Adam Curry hosted Headbangers Ball?

I think being born before 1980 qualifies me to call those the good old days.

I Used To Be Fat requires little explanation. It’s a reality show about someone who used to be fat. It’s a socially insensitive program title but sometimes it is what it is. There are only so many sugar-coated excuses we can make for ourselves. Adults are classic excuse makers when it comes to being faced with an uncomfortable reality. You are what you are, or in the case of this show – you are what you eat.

This girl ate fast food every-single-day, because her mom bought it for her!

The girl wanted to lose 90 pounds in 12 weeks. Incidentally (SPOILER ALERT), she accomplished that, losing an amazing holy shit worth of 7 pounds each week. That’s a deficit 3500 calories each day. Or, 5 Nachos Bell Grande at Taco Bell (did you know that the most calorie dense item on the Taco Bell menu is the Fiesta Salad)?

Color me impressed. Sort of. I mean, if we all had an easy on the eyes personal trainer barking military-style workout orders at us on a daily basis we’d probably swallow a big dose of HTFU and drop a few pounds. As a coach, I found it interesting to watch the trainer. His workouts were pretty evil (and I’ll never pass up the opportunity to learn an evil workout) but what I really liked was his style. He was firm, honest and consistent. She said she needed a rest, he said to her you’ve been resting for 18 years. She said she wanted to puke, he said go ahead and then went into the bathroom to see if she was puking. She wanted to give up, he said fine, go ahead and stay fat. She cried, he told her she was afraid. In fact, forget the workout orders, what he was mostly doing was making her face herself, accept her situation and deal with it.

Helping an athlete face their fears. It’s part of the business of being a coach. Or a trainer. The girl was physically capable of what he was asking yet she was just too scared to ask her body to do it. In fact, one of the things she mentioned after several weeks of training is you can push your body much further than you think you can. So true! Each time she was faced with breaking out of her comfort zone or getting to that next level, she cried and said “I can’t. My legs are going to give out. I need a rest.” Let me tell you, a televised melodramatic tantrum from an adult is something to see.

But more importantly, something to learn from.

Fear. We all have it. It’s based in insecurity and mistrust of ourselves. As athletes we have many fears – fear of failure, fear of what others think of us, fear of pain. But more often than not, I find that many athletes have fear of their own success. We sell ourselves short and underestimate our ability. We know that while we are capable of getting to that next level, getting there requires a huge risk, perhaps pain. We are afraid that in taking that risk we will fail, we will hurt, others will judge us in our moment of possible weakness. Boldness, confidence and trust to take that risk is what gets us there. Are you brave enough to take those steps or will you sit there, underperforming and paralyzed by your own fear.

Sometimes I’m scared. I’ll be totally honest with you, I recently spent 40 weeks living in a very large body, moving at sloth-like speed and here I am with a racing season fast approaching. My first big race is 10 weeks away. Thoughts of will I be ready, will I ever feel fast, will I reach race weight – from time to time, when my guard is down, those insecurities float around my head in a flurry of anxiety and fear. Most of the time I manage them with building confidence and preparation, the only two secret weapons that any athletes has. Forget training approaches, magical coaches, supplements….if you don’t have confidence and consistent preparation you won’t have a chance at getting where you want to go on race day.


Last Tuesday, I did my bike test. I was excited, I was ready. But I wanted to try something different. It’s easy to focus in my basement, by myself. Down there, I’m always winning. I’m always number one. It’s just me against me. Which is fine but … let’s be real. On race day it’s never just you against you. It is a race. There’s dozens of other athletes either gunning for you, chasing you or breathing down your neck. What are you going to do when you get there? Fade or pick up the pace. How will you know if you don’t put yourself in those situations?

So I decided to put myself on a stage. I went to the training center and saddled up with Mike and Bill. Mike and Bill are two of Keith’s athletes. Keith gives them permission to pummel themselves, tactfully, each week on the bike. I sit, waiting for my class to start, and watch them. In the past two years, I’ve seen them bring the puke bucket out (and use it), cuss, blow tires and even blow up. It’s phenomenal. They’ll go for broke during the mainset and then 10 minutes later, like the two old Muppet in the balcony, be arguing about what’s appropriate etiquette on Match.com like nothing ever happened. Like 10 minutes ago they weren’t raging in 53 x 12.

They knew I was coming and put me on a trainer right next to them. They were doing some FTP teaser set, I was doing the real thing. We warmed up and then it was go time. I shifted into the sustainable balls out gear.

Goddamn this test is hard. Doesn’t matter than I’ve done it for the past 6 years, every time I do it I am painfully reminded that by the time I hit 10 minutes into it I just want off. But there’s still 10 minutes to go. Usually I pace it with the first 5 minutes easing into it, 10 minutes of locking in that this hurts but is not killing it pace and then go for broke the last 5 minutes. Maybe it was too much coffee, overheating or nerves but by the time I hit 10 minutes into it I felt like death.

If you’ve ever done this test, you know this feeling.

All of a sudden I couldn’t focus anymore. I started getting scared. What if I can’t hold this. What if I finish this test and my watts are lower than last time. What if people are watching and think, oh my god she’s so weak. It didn’t help that there was a mirror right in front of me. And then it hit me – I am riding in my jog bra. I just had a baby 5 months ago, what the hell am I doing with my shirt off! My belly button is forever herniated. Are people looking at me? If so, what are they thinking?

When I was done, I reflected on the test. The power increase wasn’t huge but I’ve lost 6 pounds since the last test (yay!) so I was a big winner in the power to weight ratio. And, sure, the numbers and data are all wow that’s nice but come race day, you are more than watts. You’ve got to be able to race your race. One of the bigger reasons we do tests is for the mental exercise. And what this test revealed to me was that I’ve got some work to do.

I’m rusty.

You see, I was hurting. I was worried what others thought. I was scared. Fear. In the safety of my own basement, I am confident as shit. When I’m on the stage, it’s a little different. And that’s why I did it. To see what would happen. To face those fears.

Dammit, it’s not easy! The best athletes make it look easy but don’t be fooled. It takes years of practice to solidify your head. And you must practice it! The mind is a muscle. Confidence must be cultivated. You need to find and the employ the strategies to bring it out in all situations – when things are going your way, when things are not going your way, when you're hurting. It’s easy to be brave when you’re winning, when you’re fit or already fast. It’s harder to stay focused and bold when you’re not.

The other day I was listening to an interview with Chris McCormack. In case you’ve been hiding under a lava rock, he’s the current world champion. He had a brilliant race this year at Kona but when asked about this favorite race, it wasn’t the winning one. It was the year before when he finished in fourth place. When he fell behind on the swim, struggled on the run and had to overcome himself. He talked about how he kept his head in the game and finished just a short distance behind the winner. That’s the one that meant the most to him.

I think the most meaningful training days and races are the ones where we overcome ourselves and our fears. We do something we think we couldn’t do. I see this often with myself in masters lately. I’m swimming with people I never thought I would swim with (yes, you can make gains in sport during pregnancy, all that time swimming slow and refining your stroke WILL COUNT!), leading the lane, dropping times that make me think maybe the clock is fast. Or the course is short. Maybe it’s a 22.5 yard pool.

So I’ve stepped it up with the big(ger) fish. And it’s scary. Rightfully so, on Saturday I got a little scared. We did something called a “challenge set”. It’s never a good sign when the coach has a name for the workout AND it includes the word challenge. 3x (4 x 100, 200). The 100s rotated from a comfortable to tight to easy interval then the 200 descended from an easy to balls out pace. The last interval for the 200s was in a time that I have never swam an open 200 in. There is only one word to describe doing this on a Saturday morning at 7:30 am:

Awesome.

The lane leader and I were called upon to decide the interval. There were two choices. Intervals we knew we could make with our eyes closed. Or intervals that required us to take a risk.

You know how I feel about intervals: you either make excuses or you make the interval.

Bring>>>>>It.

The first two times through I felt a little shaky. I was making the intervals but didn’t feel great. For whatever reason, I started to doubt that I could finish the last two. So I let the guy behind me go in front of me. It was a fin to my mouth moment the second he pushed off and I realized now I would be behind him for the rest of the set. Turns out I felt fine and made the intervals all except the last 200 because I was in the back of the lane.

Insert fin >here<. I thought about it on the way home. Why did I get scared? I would have made the intervals. Why didn’t I give myself a chance? What’s the worst thing that could have happened? At worst, I could have blown up, stopped at the wall and then let the others swim away. At best, I could have set a new personal best, overcome myself, rocked the challenge set. And this is the byproduct of fear. When we let it interfere with our efforts, it sells us short. It leaves us with that nagging question….what if. What if I had just stuck with it. What if I had taken a chance. What if I just said forget what others think of me, what my stomach looks like or how much I might find myself in pain…I’m going for it.

It would be easy to attain our goals if we had a trainer shouting at us the entire time, telling us to give it a little more, reminding us that we can do it. We have to become that trainer for ourselves. We have to personally put ourselves in situations that require us to rise up and then….actually do the work once we get there. Build ourselves up. Take the risk. Don’t accept less.

I’ve got work to do and maybe when I’m done, they’ll have a show about me called “I Used To Be Scared.” Or, if you saw me at 38 weeks pregnant, I used to be large. I look back at pictures of me and ask Chris – good god was I really that big?

And all he says is…yes.

This week, I’ve got a few more tests. My goal is simple: to face the fears, to overcome myself. Monday I have my strength assessment with Kate. It’s been over 16 weeks since my last assessment. I’m not scared, I’m excited! But I know when push comes to shove or when I’m on the floor shaking in plank, I’ve got two choices; tantrum like a little girl while crying I can’t do it or mind of matter being brave enough to get it done.

I’m going for it. And JH’s wall sit record.

Oh yes.