Monday, April 30, 2012

Motivational Monday: New Dreams

Good Morning, and happy Monday to ya!

I've been trying to figure out how to put my current thoughts about motivation into words, so bear with me as I attempt to make some sense of it.

We sometimes are asked, "What motivates you to (be a student/save money/skip dessert/exercise instead of visiting with friends/et al)?" I would guess that most people have one big answer (to get a better job/to go on a dream vacation/to make my body healthy/to make my body stronger/et al), but I'm discovering that others are found along the way.

In my 20s and 30s I'd lose weight to have a more attractive body, but at 40 I'm losing weight because I want the second half of my life to be the best it can be. I see people just 10 years older than me struggling to do the most basic things, and I don't want to be like that. I want to be like Carol, a woman in her 50s who used to run every day on campus, or my 60-year-old doctor who runs 4 times a week "because [he] still can." I don't want to hire someone to help me get dressed or use the bathroom because I chose to watch T.V. instead of stretching and strengthening my muscles. As a nursing home volunteer, I saw so many healthy people who needed help because they had given up, and as you get older, there's no going back once you've given up. It's too late. Your body will never be the same.

As I mentioned though, we discover new things that motivate us to keep going. When losing weight it's seeing smaller numbers on the scale or fitting into smaller clothes. It's also when you see evidence that your body is getting stronger and able to do new things. This has been the real outcome of completing the Spartan Sprint. I have never been athletic, never been good at sports. Because of this, my confidence dropped and I've spent my life avoiding sports because I didn't want to embarrass myself or frustrate other people because I couldn't do as well as them. So for me, simply participating in the SR was a huge deal, but making it through to the end was surreal.

I took a step back this past week to really look at what I did. My conclusion is that, if I can do this, then I really can do just about anything I set my mind to because I just did what serious athletes do. Does that make me an athlete? Wait, did I just use "me" and "athlete" in the same sentence? I wouldn't consider myself an athlete yet, but this experience has motivated me to push myself to become one.

I've registered for two more races, both in October: The Super Spartan (8+ miles) and the Spartan Beast (13+ miles). Now that I know what to expect from the race, I am going to push myself hard for the next 6 months with diet and exercise to be as strong and prepared as I can be. I am motivated to do the best I can at these races.

When I approach the starting line, I am going to feel like an athlete. When I cross the finish line, I will know that the second half of my life is going to be even better than the first half.

By the way, in case you were wondering, here are the obstacles from the race:
  • At least 15 pits filled with water to move through
  • 7 barbed wire obstacles
  • 3 obstacles that involved carrying heavy logs
  • 2 cargo nets to climb over (10' and 20' heights)
  • 2 lakes/ponds  to swim across
  • 1 log to balance on and walk on to cross a deep ravine
  • 1 tunnel filled with sludge to crawl through
  • 1 bonfire to jump over
  • 2 hurdles to climb over (5' and 8' heights)
  • 8+ bales of hay to climb over
  • 5+ piles of fallen trees to climb over
  • 1 rope climb
  • 1 rope climb with wooden frame
  • 1 wooden structure to crawl under
  • plus a couple more . . .
  • TOTAL: 50+

Friday, April 27, 2012

Spartan Sprint III: Processing the Experience

It has been exactly 5 days and 9 hours since I limped across the finish line at Haspin Acres, and I'm still processing the experience and what it has done for me. Even though many have called me Spartan, I'm not quite feeling it, not yet.

ALWAYS do what you are afraid to do

After the race I sprayed the dirt from my body with a hose and discovered that I was covered with numerous bruises and bumps. I was so excited to see them, evidence of what I had done, proof of just how physically challenging a Spartan Race is. I've shown many people my battle scars with pride because I earned every one. I am proud too because I've always avoided activities that could end up with me getting hurt, yet here I was embracing the risks of bodily harm.

Hobie Call :-) 

However, I didn't just get hurt, I completed the race with a sprained ankle, injured at the fire jump and again when I attempted to jump over a trough. In my mind, getting hurt means that life stops because I never learned how to deal with it. I've been working with a personal trainer for three months and for the first two I hated feeling "the burn" and would retreat into my mind amid mental screams of "I can't do this!" and fight my exercises every step of the way. I finally decided that I needed to accept how my body felt because, well let's face it, it's always going to be this way. I learned to keep my eyes open and my mind clear and discovered that, when an exercise becomes difficult, I'll focus on a spot on the wall or ceiling, concentrate on breathing steadily, and move fluidly through the exercise. Having done this for a few weeks I've successfully conditioned my mind to take over when my body wants to crumble. I brought this into the race and made the most use of it the second time I hurt my ankle. I gave my body a rest by sitting on the ground for a few minutes and flexed that mental muscle, willing it to take over where my body had left off. It worked and I achieved my goal of crossing the finish line.

I knew going into this that I wasn't the strongest, but I pushed anyway. I knew that I wasn't the fastest, but I didn't have to be. I knew that the biggest battle wasn't the barely-above-freezing temperatures, the mud or the military-inspired obstacles. The biggest battle was accepting myself, my abilities and focusing on my strengths instead of my weaknesses. Right now I'm actually more excited about overcoming these personal obstacles than I am about earning the medal. For me, for this race, this awesome medal represents the achievement of finally truly believing in myself.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Spartan Sprint Part II: Stronger than my Fears

For the next 3+ hours I'm in the woods, frequently alone. I love hiking and walking in parks so this just feels comfortable. My only competitors are myself and nature, and the hippie in me sees this part of the competition as working with nature, not against it; I don't fight it. I honestly love every part of it. At least 80% of the course is comprised of hills, mud and muck covered hills. Every time I reach the top or bottom of a hill I feel a sense of accomplishment. "I just need to get from here to there, and eventually 'there' will be the finish line."

This is where the camaraderie comes in with other racers. A man running past me said, "Good job!" and I thanked him. I was surprised every time someone encouraged me or congratulated me on my efforts. What surprised me more was the help I received at the first man-made obstacle, the cargo net. Two people who had already made it to the other side took it upon themselves to stick around and talk me through it. They held the net down (making it shorter and pulling it taught) to make the climb easier and offered advice on how to maneuver myself over the top. Throughout the rest of the course, other racers helped me when I needed whether I asked for it or not. I then found myself comfortable offering help to others and offering them words of encouragement as well. I've read about the camaraderie of these races and everyone is right--Spartans are a special breed. :-D

I survived almost all of the 50+ (yes, I counted) obstacles unscathed, but I did get a 5-6" cut on my back from the barbed wire, and I ended up seriously spraining my ankle when I stupidly attempted to jump across a 5' pit. I say stupidly because I knew there was no way to do it without doing more damage to myself. I was so hurt that it became my moment at the crossroads: get medical assistance now or wait until after I finish? I sat on the ground with my head hanging down and eyes closed. I teared up but didn't lose control enough to really cry. People came by and asked if I was O.K. and I could only nod my head. I wasn't O.K. but I didn't want any help. I had to work through this on my own. I could have walked around the obstacle, there weren't any volunteers to make me do burpees, but I believe that if I had, I would have failed and the medal would have been received under false pretenses. Isn't that the Spartan Race mantra? "You'll know at the finish line." I was not going to accept a medal without pushing myself to earn it, and that's what I did. I hobbled the rest of the way, took even smaller steps than before the botched jump. I climbed over bales of (what was that stuff?), swam across a pond, carried more wood, and climbed over posts. 

When I finished, there wasn't any applause, no one waiting for me, and I didn't even get a medal. I was stopped by someone who retrieved the chip from my shoe, someone else gave me a silver blanket to wrap up in, and another person stopped me to take my picture. I asked about the T-shirts and then where I was supposed to get a medal. That's when I realized I had really done this.

I walked up the hill and wished racers for the upcoming heat "Good luck." I checked in with Shaon, the volunteer coordinator, to let her know I had just finished and had to clean up and get my injuries treated before starting my shift. With pride I told the medics that I needed their help. They congratulated me and commented on my swollen ankle and the cut on my back. I smiled because these are my first battle scars, evidence that, not only did I make it, but I overcame the toughest obstacles of all: my own fears.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
And as we let our own light shine
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same
As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Spartan Sprint Part I: I am not an Athlete

I couldn’t sleep much the night before and was anxious to get there as early as I could. My brother went with me but was upset because it was only 40 degrees. We were scheduled for the second heat of the day, and after watching the first heat take off we went to the bag check to drop off our stuff. As we were taking off our jackets I could see he wasn’t excited like I was. “You don’t have to do this,” I said. “I’m not doing it,” was his response. Instantly I was terrified. I thought I had a partner but now I was on my own.

As you can see, my poor brother is miserable, and it's the last time I'll be clean

The walk down to the starting line was surreal. “I’m a spectator, not a participant. Certainly the people around me must know that I don’t belong here. I’m not a runner yet. Everyone will see that as I fall behind.” As these thoughts slammed into my brain, I quietly and calmly countered them with “It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. I’m here. That qualifies me.” People were jumping around, to keep warm, to deal with the excitement and nervousness. I didn’t do that very much, but I did accept a few high-fives and good luck wishes. “I belong here. I belong here.”

The crowd at the starting line

The wait lasted forever but the time came too soon. The cannon went off and so did the crowd, me along with it. I jogged as much as I could, but up a hill? I slowed down. Racers passed me. I just kept telling myself that it didn’t matter. I refused to look at the spectators and just kept my eyes on the ground ahead of me. “I’ve never done anything athletic. Why am I here? What if I embarrass myself?” I’m sliding under a blockade and then making my way down a hill to a pile of logs. I pick one up and start moving around a hilly track. “Just keep moving, one foot in front of the other, that’s all it takes.” I am already panting and my legs are telling me it’s time for a break. I work with a personal trainer twice a week, and when it gets tough, I take breaks. I don’t know how to keep moving when it becomes difficult. “You cannot stop. That’s worse than going slow and falling into last place.” I pushed and finally made it to where I could drop the log. Next obstacle was to climb a rope with the “help” of a wooden frame. It was challenging and scary (I’m not afraid of heights, just falling).

We then go through the basement of a building, and when we come out we have to run down a hill, jump over fire and into a water-filled pit. I stopped in front of the fire, building myself up for the jump. You see, I don’t jump. I’m not tiny and it can hurt to land with extra weight on the body. Unfortunately my only other option was to do 30 burpees, and I went into this with the attitude that I would do the least amount of burpees possible, so I jumped and made temporary contact with the ground before falling into the water. At about this time I realize that one of my fears had come true: I had hurt my ankle. 

At the end of the promo video for Spartan Race, there is a guy limping around after finishing the race. For two months I said that I didn’t want that to be me. The powers-that-be have quite the sense of humor. I take a moment to see if the pain will subside and it does, but it never completely goes away. I don’t care. I’m going to do this, one step at a time.

I walk to the edge of the woods and the fear is leaving me. From here on I am on my own, it’s just me and the course. I didn’t come to race other Spartans, I came to challenge myself. Let the competition begin . . .

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Foodie Friday: The Sugar Struggle Part II

Do to very limited time this week, I've put together this post by pulling together some interesting (and hopefully scary) information from the web. Sugar is bad folks, probably worse than you ever thought. Not only does it do bad stuff to your body, it can prevent good stuff from happening too. In addition, there are so many illnesses and diseases that can be prevented by seriously reducing (better yet, eliminating) sugar from your diet.

I know that it's a struggle to give it up and can turn really sweet people into Satan's minions, but "It's just too hard" is not a valid reason. Quit cold turkey or slowly reduce your daily intake, whatever works best for you, just do it. Today. Right now. No more excuses. You owe it to your body and your life to change.

  • In 1700, the average person consumed about 4 pounds of sugar per year.

  • In 1800, the average person consumed about 18 pounds of sugar per year.

  • In 1900, individual consumption had risen to 90 pounds of sugar per year.

  • In 2009, more than 50 percent of all Americans consume one-half pound of sugar PER DAY—translating to a whopping 180 pounds of sugar per year!

    1. 1. Sugar can suppress the immune system.
      5. Sugar contributes to the reduction in defense against bacterial infection.
      6. Sugar can cause kidney damage.
      9. Sugar leads to cancer of the breast, ovaries, intestines, prostate and rectum.
      10. Sugar consumption is the top cause of type II diabetes, as it increases levels of glucose and insulin. --> I don't know about you, but I do NOT want diabetes!
      19. Sugar consumption can cause aging.
      20. Sugar consumption can lead to alcoholism.
      21. Sugar consumption is the top cause of tooth decay.
      22. Sugar use contributes to obesity.
      32. Sugar can cause hemorrhoids.
      33. Sugar can cause varicose veins.
      41. Sugar can increase cholesterol.
      44. Sugar can cause migraine headaches.
      53. Sugar can make our skin age by changing the structure of collagen.
      59. Sugar can cause overeating.

      Wednesday, April 18, 2012

      Workout Wednesday: It's Always Going to Hurt

      One of the biggest challenges I have with exercise is dealing with pain, both during and after. I don't like pain, really, honestly. I do everything I can to avoid experiencing pain. I am such a baby that when I found out I was having a baby (my now 20-year-old daughter), I freaked out about the pain that I'd experience right up until the day. If I stub my toe or cut my finger, I freak about the pain before I actually feel anything. Yeah, I'm that bad.

      Oh Dwight . . . lol

      For the first couple of months that I was training, I did what I've always done when dealing with pain: I tensed up, squeezed my eyes shut, and took to screaming in my head; in other words I did everything I could to block it out. I eventually realized that I had to figure out a way to get through my sessions. I would surely be punished by Trainer if I asked him to go easy on me, so that wasn't an option, and I certainly was not going to quit (I signed a contract giving the company access to my money once a month, so I might as well make use of it). Therefore, the change had to come from me.

      I made up my mind to simply accept the pain. I had endured it for weeks and the only negative side affect was being sore, everything else about it was crazy positive (weight loss, stronger muscles, improvement in my exercises) so that is what I had to think about.

      This has been huge for my personal growth because I find that now I approach other challenges with the same mentality. There are things that I've never been able to get through, but now I just take deep breaths and accept what I'm feeling instead of trying to push it away. The result is that my body doesn't shut down (I have fainted more than once during doctor visits) and I am able to get through things that were nearly impossible before.

      So as I move forward in my get-healthy journey and continue finding new ways to physically challenge myself, keeping an open mind to the pain and discomfort is going to be the key between simply "getting through it" and downright being successful. I say there's no time like the present to kick some serious butt!

      Tuesday, April 17, 2012

      Motivational Monday: To Be or Not to Be

      To be healthy or not to be healthy, that is the question. But what is the answer? My answer is a resounding "Hell yes!" What motivates me to be healthy honestly depends on the day. Some days I'm at one with the world and simply want to be my best in every way. Other days it's because I want to open up opportunities that I've missed out on in the past decade (like going to live theater productions where the seats are notoriously fat-unfriendly).

      I've said from the beginning that I am not doing this for cosmetic reasons as I have in the past, but I cannot deny that I am excited by what I've seen of myself this past week. Seeing the results as opposed to just feeling them adds another level of motivation, as in gosh, I wonder what I'll look like when another three months has passed. For me, it's a reflection of the changes on the inside. I do not feel the same as I did before and it's cool that the outside is keeping pace :-)

      I've put together some before-and-not-quite-after pictures for a visual of my progress to date. The last one is the oldest one, a record of the best New Year's Eve I've had. I like it, not because I want to "go back" to that, but because it's a reminder of the person I've kept hidden inside for nearly 20 years. This was a fun girl who grabbed every aspect of life and enjoyed it to the fullest. She didn't think twice about what others had to say about her bright spirit.

      I can't change the past, so I'm looking to the future and reaching out for the life that I want--and I'm joining forces with the girl that was to become the woman I want to be.

      May 24, 2010: 38th birthday at 270+ lbs

      April 17, 2012 at 217 lbs

      Christmas 2000(?): 270+ lbs

      April 2012: 221 lbs

      1995: New Year's Eve at 145 lbs

      Friday, April 13, 2012

      Foodie Friday: The Sugar Struggle Part I

      Can you imagine that there was a time not too long ago when sugar was a rare treat, as in a couple of times a year, particularly for people with limited incomes? Today not only do we have easy access to sugary treats, it's being put into just about every processed food item. Even so-called "healthier options" such as bottled orange juice and low-fat treats are surprisingly packed with processed sugar (and worse: high fructose corn syrup).

      I'm a fan of the Facebook page "I GOT TIRED OF BEING FAT AND GOT IN SHAPE!" which is based on one woman's determination to get and stay healthy (check it out!); nearly every day she posts an inspirational or informative image, and this is a recent one:

      I count myself incredibly lucky that I've never been a soda drinker. I have friends who admit that when they try to stop drinking soda they suffer from serious headaches because their bodies have become dependent on the sugar. I have a friend who eats very healthy but has gained weight over the past few years most likely because of her Pepsi habit. The thing is, she knows it but struggles mentally and physically with letting it go.

      I also have friends who admit that they have to eat something sweet every day. I remember doing that, even two or more times a day. I craved it, my body wanted it. Any time I've changed my diet for the better, it took close to a week for those cravings to subside, but the good news is that they do, we just have to be determined enough to get to that point.

      There are so many diets to choose from--you can go low-cal, low-fat, low-carb, etc., but the one thing that every single diet agrees on is this: sugar is bad and should be completely eliminated. Of course this doesn't include the sugars in fruit, but many dietitians will say that even fruit should be limited for this reason. You see the thing is, there isn't one nutritional benefit in sugar. Your body will survive if it never has sugar again. That can't even be said for things that must be eaten in moderation, like healthy fats.

      One of my professors brings a basket of fun-sized chocolate treats to every class and the majority of the semester I pass the basket along to the next student without taking any. Three weeks ago, after adhering strictly to my diet, I decided to enjoy two pieces of candy. It was so bizarre, after I ate them my throat actually burned from the sugar, and up until the next morning there was a remaining stale taste in my mouth that I never get with fruits and vegetables. So the body may resist the initial change to cut out sugar, but it really doesn't want it and it will let you know.

      Some friends have told me that sugar is the one thing they struggle with and have asked for advice on how to overcome it. I tell them that it's certainly not easy, but worth it. The pros in the health and fitness industry would most likely say to quit cold turkey (which is what I did and I turned into an evil beast for a couple of days), but I see nothing wrong with simply cutting back a little more each day to make the transition easier.

      The point is to improve ourselves, not to be perfect, and to do the best we can. If eating four pieces of candy is the best you can do today (because yesterday you ate six), then kudos to you for taking steps in the right direction.


      Tuesday, April 10, 2012

      Workout Wednesday: Back in the Groove

      After going at it hard in the gym for two months I inevitably became bored with my routine, but there are only 3 types of cardio machines at my gym: treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes. I logged plenty of hours and miles on the first two and I hate bikes, so where was I to turn? Between boredom and facing a personal issue not related to diet and exercise, I told Trainer that I was desperate for a break.

      Haha, gotta love this!

      During this time I swore that I would not exercise and that I'd eat some things that I had on my mental forbidden foods list, but only to the extent that I wouldn't gain any weight back. For three days I allowed myself a carb once a day, so one day I chose an ice cream sundae, another it was an Italian style, thin crust pizza, and I can't recall the third day. But I'll say this--I didn't really care for any of it. I threw out the sundae after just a few bites and willingly shared half the small pizza with my daughter. Nice, huh?

      Sorry, I know this picture is a bit too pretty ;-)

      I also accepted an offer to walk around Forest Park with a friend twice the following weekend. It was tough walking 6 miles (twice as many miles as I had been doing on the treadmill), but I figured that since I had done it once there was no excuse not to do it again. So, I went with her again later that same weekend. Other than the heat it wasn't as bad as the first time. The next day I was on my own, so I invited a friend to join me for a walk around Creve Coeur Lake, and we had a great time! After walking 6 miles, a 4-mile route was nothing. Since then I have walked around Forest Park two more times with various friends, walked a nearly 7-mile path around Creve Coeur Lake and hiked almost 3 miles in Castlewood State Park. The total miles for all of these walks is 43 miles and I did that in just 11 days. Yeah, I'm stunned too!!

      Two horses from the mounted police division of the St. Louis PD. We
      aren't supposed to feed them, but I did give them some grass they were
      trying to reach. I have yet to see horses in my gym ;-)

      This sounds great, fantastic and wonderful, but the first two days I just went because I wanted to get out of the house and I knew I had to move my body so that I could at least maintain the weight I was at after my last training session. What I didn't expect was to like the long walks as much as I did. I am thrilled to report that I have found my drive for exercise again and am just as passionate about it as I was nearly 3 months ago. Yay!! Now I'm getting outside every day that I possibly can and will hit the gym only for training sessions. I love the views and wide open spaces. Television monitors in my face on cardio equipment is a poor, poor substitute for real life.

      I've learned a few things from my experiences during the past two weeks:

      1. Do not give up, no matter what. If my heart isn't in it, take a "break" by slowing things down for a bit, not by quitting. It works.

      2. Allow others to reach out and help, and definitely don't be afraid to ask for support--it's always there when I need it.

      3. Avoiding things in my personal life will lead to disaster, so face them early on and take care of them before they grow into real problems.

      This was one of those challenging times that we expect to happen but aren't sure how to handle when they do. In the future I will definitely be more honest with myself, my friends and my trainer when I feel that I'm facing something too tough to deal with on my own.

      Monday, April 9, 2012

      Motivational Monday: NEVER be Satisfied with Giving Up

      Life is tough sometimes and it threatens to get in the way of achieving our goals. We don't become strong and successful because the road is paved in gold and bathed in sunshine. We get there by looking life's obstacles in the face and pushing back harder than they are pushing us. This is not to say that this is easy by any means. Life can really do a number on our resolves to succeed, but those are the moments when we pull together our resources. Who can we reach out to for help until we're back on our feet? What have we learned in our lives that could be applied to the current situation? What have we learned in our journeys so far that would be useful?

      There is something that has been bothering me for a while but I did fairly well to ignore it. However, while I was distracting myself with exercise and visiting friends, it was creeping up on me and eventually showed its ugly self. Because I had ignored the problem I was unprepared and temporarily (key word, temporarily) crumbled. I stopped eating, didn't want to exercise and was sleeping far more than necessary.

      I had no choice but to face it, so one teary morning I talked with a friend who helped me get to the heart of the matter. Another friend knew I was struggling (but wasn't exactly sure why) and invited me to join her for long outdoor walks. I admitted to her that I didn't even want to be there, that I only was because I knew I had to be. After two days of long walks, self-reflection and support, I was ready to attack the problem and took steps to fix what was broken. UPDATE: I'm still trying to fix it, but I WILL get past this.

      While working through this, I was less strict with my diet (e.g. I'd have one of my daughter's fried cheese sticks, not an entire fried meal) and eased up the intensity of my workouts, but I never completely quit. I stopped focusing on weight loss and instead focused on weight maintenance so that I truly could just pick back up where I had left off when my heart was back on board again. I've had some challenges recently, but I never completely gave up and now I'm even stronger because of it.
      When we say that something is just too hard, what we are really saying is that we are just too weak. NEVER be satisfied with giving up. 

      Sunday, April 1, 2012

      Motivational Monday: Even if You (Think You) Suck

      Don't you just love that title? It's the title of the video and I think we all feel this way sometimes. I know I did last week . . .

      My motivation has been decreasing over the past two weeks, but it wasn't until two days ago that I saw that my patterns of behavior had been changing: sleeping more than usual and no interest in exercising or even eating. Any psychologist would see these as signs that something is wrong, and there is. Luckily I was finally able to see what was happening and realized that I had to face what I've been trying to avoid so that I could get back on track and move forward. I even reached out to a friend and asked for an ear while I cried it out and opened up about my fears. I don't know why talking about such things helps but it does. 

      Consequently, I haven't lost any weight in the past two weeks which pretty much guarantees that I won't be 199 when I graduate. More importantly though is that I just learned a bit more about myself, so hopefully I'll recognize these signs in the future so that I can tackle the problem head on.

      I think that this video fits because even though I slowed down I didn't quit. I still worked out even though I said I wouldn't, and that's going to make a difference. Enjoy!