Training Tuesdays: Tips for Adjusting to Morning Workouts

It seems I’ve been writing at length about my transition to early mornings. I used to steadfastly cling to the belief that I could not work out in the morning. I was the one who said things like “I cannot possibly get up before 6 am and function” or “my body cannot handle workouts before breakfast”. I like to speak in (false) absolutes.

Clearly, the litany of stories I told myself about what I could/couldn’t accomplish in the morning were just that: stories.  As it turns out, you can teach an old dog new tricks. I have quickly adapted to predominantly early morning workouts and you can too.  If you’ve been contemplating a change to early morning workouts, or if it’s become necessary for you, never fear! Here are some quick tips to adjust to early morning workouts:

1. Go to bed earlier: This one takes the cake for obvious suggestions, but if you’re going to get up substantially earlier, going to bed earlier is a must. It’s not sustainable in the long run if you don’t.  Anyone who works out regularly knows that one of the biggest keys to a good workout is being well-rested. Sure it’s more fun to stay up binge-watching Netflix but you’ll live in a sea of regret the following morning. Of course, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be so exhausted by 9:30 you won’t even be able to keep your eyes open and sleep will seem like nothing but a delicious comfort.

2. Pack all your stuff for the next day the night before: I mean pack everything.  Pack your change of clothes, your breakfast and lunch and snacks and whatever else you plan to eat, lay out your workout clothes, set your coffee machine (see below) and have it all ready to grab on your way out the door.  Don’t play the “oh, I forgot to do [whatever-you-haven’t-done] but I’ll just do it in the morning” game. I promise you, you won’t want to do it in the morning. You’ll end up running late and your workout will suffer.  Or, worse, you’ll forget to pack a real bra and have to wear a sweaty sports bra all day. Disorganization is the death of a solid morning workout.

3. Pick your morning workouts wisely: This is maybe specific to the older and/or injured. If you have a body that takes time to warm up, be thoughtful about the types of workouts you do first thing in the morning.  For instance, I don’t run at 5:45 in the morning. I need my body to limber up a bit before launching in to a run, so I stick to spin and strength in the mornings and reserve my runs for weekends or days when I can take a mid-morning break at work.

4. Caffeinate, caffeinate, caffeinate: This flies against conventional wisdom about crazy things like hydration. I know that it’s not technically healthy to rely on caffeine, but I tell you that my best morning workouts are fuelled by 2 shots of espresso. Trust me. Feel free to supplement with water, but don’t skip the good stuff.

5. Accept that you’ll feel tired: I am a realist. I never expected to wake up feeling excited to work out. I know my eyes will feel heavy. I know my body will feel tired. I know that I’ll be cursing the fact that I’m up so early. Accepting all of this normalizes the experience and allows me to move on. Don’t be an idealist. Don’t expect it to feel like rainbows and unicorns. Join me in staunch pragmatism.

If you can follow these simple steps you’ll be rewarded with fitting in workouts you thought you couldn’t, getting them out of the way earlier so you can cruise through the rest of the day and, perhaps most important, encountering substantially less crowded gyms!!!! Get to it early birds!

 

Monday Musings: morning people vs. people who get up early

I get up early, but I am not a morning person.  At work, if I tell people what time I get up and hit the road, they say things like “oh, wow, you must be a morning person.” When I’m at work by 7am, people assume it’s because I can’t wait to get started. No, no. I assure you neither is the case. I’m just trying to avoid rush hour, plain and simple.  The pain of getting up early is ever-so-slightly less than the pain of sitting in traffic. At its heart, it’s a choice based on mathematics.

Since starting to commute to work three weeks ago, I’ve completely shifted my sleeping schedule. I was never one to stay up particularly late, but I was in a good pattern of going to bed at 10:30 or 11 and waking up at 7:00. That worked well for me, very well.  I still got to work before 8 o’clock (sigh, how I miss walking to work sometimes) and, for the most part, I always felt rested.

Now, now I’m lucky if I can keep my eyes open until 9:30. I get up at 5:45. On days that I work out first thing, I literally roll out of bed, put on my gym clothes, and head out the door. I’m on the road by 5:52. On days that I work out later, I’m still out the door no later than 6:15. I am making it work, but I have to tell you that I always feel tired and I’ve yet to successfully wear contact lenses for a whole day.  If I try, they feel glued to my eyeballs by about 3 pm. Sometimes I feel like a shadow of my former self, a sleep-deprived zombie drifting from meeting to meeting with a foggy head that’s daydreaming of naps.

This is how I know I am not a morning person. I do not wake up naturally bursting with enthusiasm for the day ahead. I don’t do my best thinking in the morning. In my world, mornings are for lazy coffee drinking, laying on a couch, and giving time and space for a tired brain to come back to life.

You cannot assume that someone is a morning person simply because he or she gets up early. People who get up early are not always morning people, just like tissues are not always Kleenex brand.  I am no posh Kleenex brand tissue. I am an off-brand tissue who needs her damn sleep. Was that too mixed a metaphor? You’ll have to excuse me, I’m writing this early in the morning.  Although, now that I think of it, it’s just further reinforcing the fact that people who get up early (i.e. me) are not necessarily morning people (i.e. also me).

What can you take away from this? Well, nothing really…unless you are a tried and true morning person, in which case let this serve as a reminder that your early AM perkiness will be lost on the I-get-up-early-but-am-not-a-morning-person crowd.  Before you approach them, ask yourself a few simple questions:  Do you see a twinkle in their eyes or the deep sadness that comes from wishing desperately to still be asleep? Do they greet you with enthusiasm when you walk in or a slight nod of resignation? Are your questions about the weekend responded to with complete sentences or one-word platitudes? If the latter is true for any or all, back away, you are not dealing with a morning person. At very least, wait until they’ve had their coffee.

RWIR #45: Becoming an Early Bird

I don't look nearly this perky in the morning.
I don’t look nearly this perky in the morning.

I will probably write soon about my transition from mid-morning or early-afternoon exerciser, to early-morning exerciser. It’s been smoother than expected, which is surprising to me on many levels.  For now, let’s take a look at the week in workouts:

Saturday
Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: errands and chores count as activity, right?
Observations: We are still in the midst of getting the home fully settled, so Saturday involved a lot of errands: there was returning light bulbs that were operating-room bright, there was buying new lightbulbs, there was (finally) getting our hands on a Soda Stream, there was seeking artwork for barren walls, there was grocery shopping, and there was making two batches of soup and scones for a friend that just had a baby.  But there was also a beer pit stop that, naturally, also involved a pulled pork waffle. And there was also the discovery of a candy store closing down which meant clearance priced taffy!

Sunday
Activity: Run!
Relevant Stats: 7.5 ish km, pace: slow
Observations: I ran! And my lungs burned again and my legs felt like they haven’t run in years.  But I ran.  I have lost a lot of fitness over the last nine months, and strength. I thought for a while that my strength was still the same because I do a lot more strength training, but the reality is that running and hiking added a lot of strength and, without those activities, a lot of it is gone. Also, my car randomly decided to stop working, which surfaced the fact that I have some serious emotional attachments to the little guy.

Monday
Activity: planned rest day (new!)
Relevant Stats: work + commuting = blah
Observations: The only positive thing to come out of Monday was that my car was repaired for the (relatively) bargain price of $762.  There was no workout because I’m trying this new thing where I give my body more time to bounce back after running.

Tuesday
Activity: personal training session
Relevant Stats: 60 min.
Observations: My trainer is starting to get excited, which makes me fearful. Every time I start to show signs of improvement, I see her eyes twinkle in an evil kind of way that signals she’s going to start seriously pushing my comfort zones. I know it’s good, but do I ever dread it.  This week we incorporated more lateral movements and the muscles around my hips are definitely paying attention.

Wednesday
Activity: spin + stretching
Relevant Stats: 45 min. spin
Observations: Sprints, how I loathe sprints. After realizing my drop in fitness, I realized that maybe I need to lay off the hill climbs and force myself into some serious sprint action. Sprints at 6:45 in the morning do NOT feel good, at least to this very newly coined early bird. I was a sweaty beast after 45 minutes and decided to call it a day.

Thursday
Activity: strength training
Relevant Stats: 10 min. cardio warm-up + 50 min. strength training
Observations: I am making a concerted effort to add more strength training into my weekly schedule since it seems to be helping my injury.  It just so happens to be highly convenient that strength training is the least offensive of early morning workouts. I actually look forward to it, even at 6:30 am whereas the thought of cardio at 6:30 am makes me want to curl in a fetal ball and gently weep.

Friday
Activity: Run!
Relevant Stats: 7ish km
Observations: This was a hard run, like out of the entire time I ran maybe two minutes of it felt effortless. The rest of the time my lungs burned and my legs felt like they had zero spring in their step.  Adding hills into the mix didn’t help (though they weren’t actually big hills). I contemplated trying to run farther but some days you just have to accept as bad running days. I threw in the towel and drowned my sorrows in smoked tofu.  You’ll all be judging me about that one, but I am currently obsessed with smoked tofu and you cannot steal that joy from me with your mocking.

All in all, it was a decent week for workouts and injury stability.  I have given up on getting hopeful that it means I’m on a path to more sustained healing. I’m more inclined now to just accept the good weeks when they come and take whatever may come next.

Happy weekend y’all. Time for me to bake a cheesecake! If you’re envious, sadly it is not just for me but for a dinner we are hosting tomorrow. I will get a tiny sliver but it will still be magical.

 

Mid-Week Tangent: Ridiculous “Cures” for Road Rage

I have a confession to make. I have mild road rage. I want to emphasize ‘mild’ because I don’t want to create the impression that I’m one of those lunatics that honks, gestures and/or engages in any threatening actions towards other drivers, nor do I engage in erratic driving behaviour when my rage is sparked. My road rage is more like a slow and intense burning ember that starts small, then creeps through and quickly takes over my entire being until I am on the verge of spontaneous combustion.

It can’t be healthy to hold all that rage inside of me, so I thought it would be amusing to ask commuting colleagues for suggestions on calming road rage, and also to see what the internet has to offer. As I expected, I was greeted with a wide array of options, all of which I quickly deemed as completely unsuitable for me.  Let me share with you the five suggestions I found most comical and unhelpful:

1. Classical Music: I have never understood those that find shrill violin notes, clanging cymbals, and bold swells of orchestral music calming. Classical music isn’t soothing to me at the best of times.  I find it jolting and irritating. I can only imagine how much more it would annoy me as I sit in an endless stream of cars crawling, crawling, crawling, ad infinitum.

2. Podcasts/Audiobooks: I love to read, but I cannot for the life of me follow a story that’s being read to me. I am not an auditory learner. Back in high school (yes, in high school), I had this one teacher who insisted on going through chapter upon chapter of Dickens through read-alouds.  She thought it was saving us homework time. No, I had to go home and re-read everything because I absorbed nothing from narration. And don’t even get me started on some of the horrible audiobook narration out there. Once, a colleague made me listen to a vampire audiobook narrated by a women who mistakenly thought she had a knack for southern accents. My goal is to reduce my annoyance, not increase it.

3. Breathe deep and relax: Oh, this one. This one is such a perfectly rational suggestion. If only its proponents understood that when strong emotional reactions are triggered, rationality is the first thing to fly out the window. I can successfully breathe deeply when in the throws of road rage, but it’s not at all out of relaxation. No, my rush hour deep breathing is more like rage-induced hyperventilation. I don’t think that’s what these people have in mind.

4. Hand Yoga: This one was almost my favourite.  Almost. I read it and I actually said a big “WTF” aloud because, seriously, what is hand yoga? I didn’t know such a thing existed and I can only imagine that some other motorist would assume I was rudely gesturing at him or her, and that can only end badly. Hand yoga? Come on.

5. “Imagine sending love and joy to every motorist you see”: I kid you not this was an actual line of text from a site offering tips for managing road rage. I mean, again, I understand the rational nature of this suggestion, but if there’s one thing I can see when I commute, it’s that there is very little love on the road. And I can safely say that I have no desire to send love and joy to the many categories of drivers that provoke my rush hour rage, namely the: lane change leap-froggers, giant trucks that block my field of vision, extreme accelerators and brakers, and carpool lane cheaters. Take your love and joy and shove it.

If anyone has legitimately helpful tips for how I can reduce my road rage, please let me know. Until then, I will continue with my own strategy of calling my poor parents who, by virtue of being retired and my parents, are available and basically have to listen to me rant about road conditions on an almost daily basis.

Training Tuesdays: Rest Days

What exactly is the right number of rest days each week? I used to steadfastly say one and only one. But now I’m not sure sure. Nine months with an injury that’s never really gone away will make you reconsider what the body needs in order to recover between workouts.

rest-days

I’ve been doing some reading on the subject and paying attention to patterns with my own body and the long and the short of it seems to be that everyone needs to decide for themselves based on a number of factors:

Age: As much as it pains me to admit it, the older you are the more time it takes to recover from vigorous activity.  Particularly with injuries, they just don’t heal like they used to. Of course, other factors below influence the extent to which your age requires more or less rest days (particularly overall health, fitness, and nutrition). Still, aging is going to have some impact on the speed of recovery and healing. Enjoy your youthful healing while you’ve got it!

Injuries (past or present): This has been my cold, hard reality for the last nine months. It takes more recovery and rest time when you have current or past injuries.  During my acute injury phases, the more I’ve incorporated an extra rest day or two into my week, the more quickly I moved through the acute stage and was ready to tackle more ambitious workouts. When I’ve stuck stubbornly to one rest day, I tend to experience setbacks.

Pain level: Over time, most of us get pretty good at distinguishing bad pain from ‘good’ pain (the pain that comes from challenging muscles in ways they’re not used to).  Bad pain should equal more rest days whenever possible, though you can tell from my posts that I am pretty terrible at following this rule.

Fitness level:  It’s one thing to say one rest day per week is sufficient when you’re in good shape, and quite another when you’re first getting started. As a rule of thumb, the less fit you are at your starting point, the more rest days you’ll require.  I’ve re-learned this with my injury. I continued to try to work out as though I was still at my previous, high level of fitness. Though it’s hard to admit, I’m way less fit now. Sometimes that means when I’m trying new things or trying to work my way up to my old fitness levels, I may need to take an extra day here or there to let my muscles recover in between workouts.

Type of Activity: Even though I’m less fit, I can easily do 6 workouts a week if running’s not in the mix. Running is my wild card activity. It’s hard on my body and injury in a way that nothing else is. Each of us has our activities that are ‘easy’ for us or from which our bodies more quickly recover.  Other activities are more taxing either because we rarely use the muscles, or because they require a different level of fitness, or because–not that I would know anything about this–they have greater potential to aggravate an injury.

As you can see, all of this is really just an exercise in learning to listen to your body.  For me, currently at least, I am still good with one rest day per week but only if that week includes a maximum of one run.  If I am going to run more than one day a week, I plan to include two rest days and make sure that one of those rest days falls the day after a run. Staying injury free and experiencing long-term improvements with my injury are my primary goals this year and I think this adjustment to my training schedule will help immensely.

 

Monday Musings: Taking the Easy Route

Commuting isn’t good for much, but it is good for thinking. I started a new job last week which coincided with my move to the ‘burbs.  For the first few days I was a mess of tears when travelling in either direction.  At first, I really thought it was a reaction to wasting time on the highway, to the infuriating stop-and-go that I couldn’t seem to avoid no matter how early I left or how late I came home.  Even after just a few days of sitting in my car in a silent rage, tears streaming down my face, I realized my emotional meltdowns had little to do with the commute. The commute was just the (heinous, awful, time-sucking) straw that broke the camel’s back.

The real issue: I took the easy way out and I’m mad as hell at myself.

I was lazy. I had a job handed to me that was something I knew I could do even though I was never excited by it.  But I took it anyway and, in doing so, I took a five-year step back in my career. At the heart of my rush-hour emotional meltdowns was the sobering realization that I was incredibly angry at myself for taking the path of least resistance, for putting myself in this position, and for not having the slightest clue how to get myself out of it.

I had eight weeks off between these two jobs, eight weeks during which I could have done some serious soul-searching, intense networking, and focused job search to get myself into a more suitable role. But I didn’t. I frittered my time away. I avoided pursuing alternatives because they were scary or hard (or both), and because I started down a lot of roads I thought would lead to exciting things only to reach a dead end. It was discouraging and stressful and, in the wake of that discomfort, I gave up.

In the end, I took the gig that was offered to me on a platter. It was easier, and required less work, but all along I had that sinking feeling that I was making the wrong decision. You know that feeling. It’s the one that comes with a constant low-grade anxiety and dissatisfaction that whispers, instead of screams, that something is awry. If you listen carefully to it, you can heed it’s warning…but I didn’t.

Objectively, it all seemed too good to pass up for ‘something better’.  On the surface, it’s a great job. I get paid very well. I work for one of those companies that people apparently are dying to work for, I know my boss from a past role which always makes for a smoother transition, and I was told I would get to work on innovative approaches in my field.  It all sounds great, right? Right. Still, I felt constant dread in the pit of my stomach since the moment I accepted.

I realize I probably sound like a champion whiner. All of those objectively great things that make people look at me like I’m crazy when I say I’m unhappy, none of those outweigh the big kicker: I’ve essentially taken a five-year step back in my career. I’m not working with a more complex client group, nor in a broader role, nor on bigger projects. I am doing the exact same stuff I was doing years ago, only now with the skills and expertise to be tasked with much, much more. Daily, it feels like a massive step backwards. These are the things that weigh heavily on me despite the money and so-called prestige and “it” factor of my gig.

Where does this leave me? For now I am not sure. I know that I am tired of coming home every day feeling like I’m moving backwards, taking out my frustrations on the people I love most. I know that I need to seriously contemplate my alternatives. I know that I’m terrified of letting go of something that everyone else tells me is great. The ‘what if’ of not finding something better is almost paralyzing.  And yet, in my heart, I know (and have known since the day the option first came up) that this is not the right thing for me.

Lessons learned: trust your gut, do the work even when it’s hard, and don’t settle for less than you’re capable of. And a special thanks to the universe for making sure lessons are never easily learned.

easy-out

RWIR #44: Ugh

The title of this post perfectly captures how I feel this week. It’s been long. It’s been exhausting. It’s been an emotional struggle front to back. I will eventually capture my thoughts on this new role, but for now let’s focus on one of the few highlights of the week, which is relatively decent workouts.

Saturday
Activity: incline walking + strength training
Relevant Stats: 60 min. total
Observations: Saturday was a whirlwind of chores and trying to get the last few things done around the house (which we didn’t). I almost bailed on my workout entirely. When 2:30 rolled around and we still hadn’t grocery shopped, hung pictures, anchored a cabinet to the wall, or completed about a million other little things, the last thing I wanted to do was work out. I caved, or rather my boyfriend sent me to the gym, where I managed 20 minutes or so of brutally boring high speed incline walking followed by a decent strength workout.

Sunday
Activity: sort-of-planned rest day
Relevant Stats: Tator tots consumed? check. Mini hockey helmet full of chocolate-vanilla soft serve? Check.
Observations: I knew I should have worked out Sunday but I spent the morning doing chores and then we had an afternoon hockey game and then excuse after excuse came into play and I took the day off. At least we walked a lot. And I turned down deep fried pickles pre-game, which pretty much equates to working out (the calories would have exceeded those burned in a workout for sure!).

Monday
Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: first day of work. ugh.
Observations: I avoided morning traffic only to hit epic post-work traffic. I won’t even get into my road rage. Between a ridiculous 7:45 start to orientation (I mean, I have a good work ethic but no companies start orientations before 8, let alone before 9), a full day of largely unhelpful orientation sessions and the desire to avoid post-work rush hour (which clearly failed), there was no workout happening.

Tuesday
Activity: personal training session
Relevant Stats: 60 min.
Observations: I started a training session at 6:45 am which, I assure you, is well before what I consider a suitable time for workout. Still, it was a surprisingly good session. I was able to use the Prowler with my full pre-injury-flare-up weight! I think my trainer was excited, which probably means next week will be hell. She likes to torture me when she feels I’m improving.

Wednesday
Activity: Run!!!!!!
Relevant Stats: 7ish km
Observations: After encountering an uncharacteristic 1 hr 40 minute commute outside of rush hour, I arrived at work super late, highly irritable, and sure I would have to sacrifice my planned workout. As it turns out, everyone was tied up in this ridiculous kick-off event planning and delivery and had zero time for me, and so I took advantage to fit in a run. Fuelled by anger and frustration, I somehow managed to run uphill and knock out a total of 7 km. Sure my lungs and calves and hamstrings were burning, but it was all worth it because there was no pain!!!!!

Thursday
Activity: spin + rehab
Relevant Stats: 45 min. spin + 10 min rehab exercises
Observations: Another morning workout, care of a full-day event at work, and another reminder that my body is not in the shape it used to be. I was sore…from a 7km run. And I mean my legs were dead. Dead. I focused on hill climbs instead of sprints, since I always find them easier, and was amazed to survive 45 minutes.

Friday
Activity: Spin + Strength
Relevant Stats: 15 min. spin warm up + 45 minutes strength
Observations: Another 6:45 start to the workout…actually it was a 6:36 start. Who am I? I did a quick cardio warmup then moved on to strength. I’m really working on upping weights on my arms and forcing myself into doing as many pushups as possible. My arms and shoulders are constantly fatigued, but I have to think that it’s helping. As much as I hate to admit it, the pushups are feeling easier…but I still despise them.

I can’t even offer any parting words this week. As you can tell from the general lack of posts, I have almost nothing left in me. All I offer is this:

weekend