Monday Musings: On Getting Back to my True Love

I’ve been asked a number of times if I am going to try for the ultra marathon this year. The short answer is no.  The long answer, however, is more complicated.  I have moments where it’s tempting, especially when my stubbornness flares up and I want to prove that I can do it, but ultimately I’ve decided not to pursue the ultra this year, or probably any year.

What makes this difficult is that I believe I am capable of running a 50 km ultra. I can do long and slow. I am capable of incredible fitness and endurance. I can be dedicated to training plans. I can refocus my personal training on getting me ready for distance running.  And yet when I say I’m not going to run an ultra, it feels more like I’m saying I don’t think I’m capable. For all the reasons I just noted, that’s just not true. What is true is this: I don’t think it’s worth it for me to run an ultra.

Running has never been my true love. Running has always been my fitness-builder, one of the ways I clear my head, a way to take my workouts outside, and a way to move faster and cover more ground.  I love running for these outcomes, but I don’t identify with running the way other “real” runners I know identify with running. Running keeps me fit for my real true love: hiking.

Being on the trail is my thing, but I don’t need to run trails. I move quickly even when I’m not trail running. I can still easily cover 40 km a day on trails without running.  Anyway, I am really too clumsy and skittish to trail run the types of hiking trails I really love. I’ve always figured there’s a 90% chance I could die by falling off a mountain just by sheer clumsiness. I think those odds would increase to a solid 98% if I were to try running on more technical trails.  Aside from the speed factor, the real allure of hiking has always been an inexplicable connection with the grandeur of nature and the absolute beauty of what I encounter.

Last year, my goal of running an ultra caused an injury from which I’m still recovering and which kept me from hiking in any real way for an entire season. I sat on the sidelines and, while I certainly found other things to fill my time, my spirit undoubtedly suffered.  It’s not worth it to me to lose another season doing what I really love (hiking), just to put a check mark next to ‘ran an ultra’.  I’m getting back to my true love this year. I’m going to get myself ready for a season on the trail, hiking as far and as high as I can. I’m going to start knocking my bucket list hikes off my list one by one.

So no, I’m not going to run an ultra this year, but I promise you it’s not because I can’t.

RWIR #49: I Hate My Gym Edition

I have been working from home this week, which means I am nowhere near my beloved downtown gym location and have to rely on my local gym. I loathe it. It has less equipment, less variety of equipment, and far too many overly oily, tanned and tank-top wearing men. Sorry, men, but I really think no matter how muscular your arms are, you can stand to wear a shirt with some sleeve action.

At any rate, I just had to whine about that because it’s meant that my workouts haven’t been stellar on the cardio front.  I may be getting strong, but I am certainly not doing any favours for my endurance these days. Let’s see what I got up to.

Saturday
Activity: Run!!!!!
Relevant Stats: 7.5ish km
Observations: I had waited all the previous week for this run. I thought I was ready to try a run by the previous Thursday or Friday, but I knew if I waited until Saturday I could avoid going to my local gym.  It was not my worst run after a couple weeks off, but it certainly fell into the category of ‘slow and steady’. When I finished I thought for sure I had run around 8.5 km, but I was only at 7.5 km, a distance barrier I seem to be incapable of breaking these days. Also, we had a housewarming party where my sangria, Munchies, and wine consumption was out of control and more than undid any benefit from my run. You win some, you lose some.

Sunday
Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: couch + hockey game waffle cone
Observations: I knew I would be useless Sunday and I was right. I am too old to stay up until 2 am and function like a human the following day. We made breakfast for houseguests, and by “we” I mean my boyfriend did almost everything and all I accomplished was making toast. I then laid on the couch for about four hours straight before feasting on deep fried pickles and a giant waffle cone at the hockey game. So basically, I ate and sat on my ass all day.

Monday
Activity: Run!!!!
Relevant Stats: 7.5ish km
Observations: This was the first run I have had in a long time that felt okay. It did not feel good, but it did feel okay. I ran a sustained hill at the beginning, which felt pretty horrible and beyond slow, but by mid-point of the run I actually think I was running a reasonable post-injury pace (though I don’t track anymore so I can’t be sure). Also of note, I felt like I could have kept going this time around. I stopped because I am still trying not to overdo the return to running, but I know I could have knocked out another kilometre pretty easily.

Tuesday
Activity: personal training session
Relevant Stats: 60 min…and OUCH
Observations: I told my trainer I had run twice, which she clearly interpreted as “it’s go time”. She upped the weight on everything, added an extra set to everything, and generally made sure that my shoulders and arms would be rendered useless by end of day. Mission accomplished.

Wednesday
Activity: cardio warm up + strength
Relevant Stats: 15 min. stairs + 45 min. strength
Observations: This day could otherwise be titled “the day on which I started to hate the stair machine”.  On the plus side, my shoulders and arms got way more attention than they are used to.

Thursday
Activity: attempted cardio warm up + strength
Relevant Stats: 5 min. stairs + 5 min. incline treadmill walk + 40 min. strength
Observations: This was the day I hit my breaking point with my gym. For the love of God, can they just get an assortment of cardio equipment that allows for some variety. Here is what this gym has: ellipticals, stair machines, and treadmills. There is ONE spin bike. ONE. And it is placed directly behind a mirrored pillar. You cannot move the bike anywhere. Using it means staring at nothing but yourself, and that mirrored pillar is super close, like under a foot from the edge of the bike. So, no. I have already mentioned, several times I think, my disdain of treadmill walking. I am starting to reach an equal level of hatred for stair machines. Moral of the story: I need to find more outdoor activities in my ‘hood or I will be freakishly strong but lacking in any endurance whatsoever.

Friday
Activity: spin
Relevant Stats: 40 min. spin + stretching
Observations: I had high expectations for a one hour cardio session today, but my body had no interest in following through. I have no great excuses. By 40 minutes I was over it. I blamed it on fighting off a cold, but in my heart I know I could have kept going. It is sad when you can’t even lie to yourself anymore.

So now it’s end of the week, and all I have to show for it are arms and shoulders that are still. so. sore. I suppose that’s a good sign for my typically feeble upper body, and yet I long for a way to build up my cardio that does not involve stepping foot in my local gym.  Maybe it’s time to turn my reading room into an at home gym…

This week gets a big:

ugh

Mid-Week Tangent: Addicted to Munchies Snack Mix

Say hello to my kryptonite:

krytonite

They look harmless, maybe even fun-loving, but let me assure you they are evil.

I am generally not a major salty snack fan. I can have a bag of chips sit around the house for weeks. I will forget about them entirely.  The same is not true for candy. Candy calls to me in the wee hours of the night, in the lull of the mid-afternoon when I’m trying to stay focused on work, and pretty much any other hour of the day. When there is candy in the house I know in exactly what quantity and in what locations and I am fiercely possessive of it. Yes, I have a sugar addiction.

Let me get off my little obsessive candy rant and get back to salty snacks, though. Like I said, I can typically take or leave salty snacks.  Munchies, however, is a completely different story. I think it might be because it’s the universe’s perfect illustration of the sum being greater than its parts.  If it sounds like an overstatement, let me convince you otherwise:

On their own, cheddar Sun Chips have only the illusion of cheddar flavour. They are hopelessly bland. They need the cheddar oomph of their legitimately cheese-flavoured cousins, Cheetos and Doritos.  Munchies brings them together so that Sun Chips can finally sing.

Doritos and Cheetos are both just a bit overwhelmingly cheesy to eat in large quantities. They need to be mellowed out by blander options, which is why Munchies struck gold when it paired them with pretzels and Sun Chips.

And pretzels, don’t even get me started on pretzels. Alone, they are like plaster masquerading as a snack food. But when Doritos and Cheetos accidentally sprinkle them with their overly abundant cheesiness, it’s like a magical fairy dust of flavour and pretzels instantly become my most addicting Munchies component.

See? Separately, the elements of Munchies are not at all compelling. Together, they are nothing short of meant to be. Because of this, I cannot have them in the house. Once the bag is opened, I will keep going back for more, again, and again, and again. Even when the roof of my mouth is shredded from Doritos shards, even when my beloved Munchies have lost all real sense of flavour, and even when my stomach feels on the verge of a gluten overload, I cannot stop. Kryptonite.

If you’re wondering what prompted my little love letter to Munchies, it was that I came into close, personal contact with them again this weekend. Thankfully this time there were at least 15 other people in the house to save me from my monstrous addiction. Consider yourselves both solicited to (go buy these immediately!) and warned (you will regret the day you discover their irresistible crunch and flavour!)…and if you see them on sale somewhere, please let me know!

Training Tuesdays: 5 Fitness Trends I will Never Try

I have never been one to hop on fitness bandwagons. I’m a lone wolf by nature, and prefer to exercise on my own. I have written about my dislike of running in herds, and I feel much the same way about other forms of group fitness. It’s been interesting going through a long injury recovery process. I have received a lot of suggestions for things I should try and I’ve also done a lot of reading on different ways to keep fit. Without experiencing any of these alternatives, I’ve already firmly decided that they are not for me:

1.CrossFit: At the top of my list is CrossFit. This will be controversial. People who love their CrossFit, really really REALLY love their CrossFit. In all sincerity, I can see the appeal if you thrive on competition, or a sense of community, or if you have a body that functions properly. I’ve had people recommend CrossFit to me ad nauseam after my SI injury as a way to rebuild strength. What I’ve learned from working with my trainer, though, is that I need to be watched like a hawk at all times and I need to move slower, not faster if I’m going to have any hope of keeping my form in check. The whole AMRAP thing would be the kiss of death to my ailing SI.  Also, I am not a community joiner (see lone wolf comment above). So, no thanks CrossFit. I’ll stick to my personal training sessions.

2. Barre: I imagine that this would be a great workout and would enhance my flexibility, yet I will avoid it like the plague. Why? I have had a life-long fear of scary ballerina girls, formed solely by books (like my personal childhood fave, Bad News Ballet) and movies full of really mean and catty ballerina girls. Sorry, ballerinas, but pop culture has made you all seem evil.  I realize that Barre classes will not actually be full of ballerinas but, once the association is there, all hope is lost. Also, any class that requires a semblance of coordination and/or a room full of mirrors is so not going to do my ego any favours.

3. OrangeTheory: On the surface, OrangeTheory seems perfectly sound. It combines cardio and strength and doesn’t require a specific pace. What it does do, however, is track your exertion. I find this problematic for two reasons. The first reason is that, even though OrangeTheory purports to use heart rate monitors, I have a personal belief that all of these classes overstate caloric burn. If I were to see that I burned 800 calories, I would want to believe it so badly for the sole purpose of eating twice the ice cream. This would defeat the purpose of working out, particularly when, in reality, I probably only burned 500 calories.  The second challenge is that I do not want to see my level of exertion. I do not need evidence of how much I slacked off. I am a master at looking like I’m trying really hard when I’m not, a feat which is greatly aided by the fact that my face turns beet red and I sweat like a beast even with minimal exertion. I prefer to delude myself into believing that I’m working harder than I am. Keep your stats to yourself OrangeTheory.

4. SoulCycle: Combining dance and upper body movement with cycling sounds like a recipe for both disaster (see above where I talk about coordination not being my jam) and for injury (as stated in a number of articles about safety concerns in SoulCycle). I’ll leave the whole argument about whether it’s a better workout than standard spin aside and just stick with the fact that I’m not interested in embarrassing myself in front of a room full of strangers by demonstrating my lack of rhythm, balance and coordination. Also, my dark little soul can barely handle the forced enthusiasm in regular spin classes. I can only imagine how difficult it would be for me to handle the so-called cultish enthusiasm of SoulCyclists.

5. Aerial Yoga: I have a confession. I despise yoga. It would be great for me, I know, but rather than finding it calming, I am irritated by the quiet and grow impatient with the pace. Aerial yoga takes my hate to a whole new level. Hanging from silk ropes, or worse yet flipping around in them, sounds like my worst nightmare. I imagine myself plummeting head first into the floor, or perhaps dangling upside-down and precariously by one leg. Neither appeals to me, and both sound like surefire ways to throw my SI into extreme spasmodic discomfort. Once again, my issues with potentially embarrassing myself in front of others come into play. I would be that pupil requiring constant and remedial attention–and possibly first aid!–from the instructor. About the only thing that looked appealing about these aerial yoga classes was pictures I saw that essentially looked like people napping in silk rope hammocks. Now that I could get behind.

Suffice it to say, I think I’m going to stick with my (attempts at) running, standard spin, hiking and strength training for now. I have no doubt it’s safer for me…and those around me.

Monday Musings: on (invisible) failure…and hope on the other side

Failure is a funny thing. There are failures that others can easily see and label as failures. There’s forgetting all your content for a major presentation only to end up visibly shaking like a leaf in front of 75 people (yup, I’ve definitely done that). There’s falling on your ass on a hiking trail in front of four very handsome mountain men (done that too). There’s sending an email containing highly confidential information to the wrong person (yup, that was also me). It’s no doubt that these types of failures can be tough pills to swallow. After all, they’re out there for everyone to see and judge.

Still, there are failures that I find even worse than public failures. My least favourite failures are largely invisible to the world around me, yet somehow weigh far more heavily on me.  These are failures of my own unmet expectations. Lately, I’ve been feeling the weight of seemingly countless invisible failures. Objectively, you’d look at my life and think I’ve got it together. I have a good network of friends. I have what appears to be a good career. I fit in six workouts a week (well, most weeks). I even bring a damn home-made salad to work every day for lunch!  But make no mistake, though it looks like everything’s relatively together even to those closest to me, I still feel like I’ve let myself down in so many areas of my life over the last few months.

These days, the palpable sense of failure is most prominent to me in my career. Last week I made a major decision to leave my job (yet again). It’s a job I just started a month ago, but which I knew all along was not a good fit for me.  Not only did I have a significant error in judgment taking this last role, but I also spent a whole year in my previous role (where I was also unhappy) failing to think about what I wanted next. To add insult to injury, I then squandered eight weeks of paid time off without challenging myself to think more broadly about my career. No one else expects me to do that. As far as most are concerned, as long as I’m surviving financially, it’s up to me to figure this stuff out. I’m the one who goes to bed every night feeling like I’ve failed. I’ve failed to get clear on what I do best. I’ve failed to define a career path that makes use of what I do best. I’ve failed to live up to what I believe I’m capable of. Failure, failure, failure.

Unfortunately, it’s not just work where I’m feeling this.   I feel it with my blog, too. No one cares if I write five posts a week, of that I am sure.  It was a personal commitment that I made when I started this, part of my effort to write more.  I have let that slip. I have made excuses. It’s always “I have plans tonight” or “I’m so tired” or “I’ll write two posts tomorrow”. The net result is the same regardless of the excuse: I haven’t been writing enough nor have I been writing enough content that I’m proud of. Some days I whip off a post in 30 minutes while I’m eating lunch at my desk on a topic that I’m not particularly passionate about. Again, likely no one else can tell the difference, but I can.  And I care about this blog. I care about my writing. I enjoy it a lot more than my actual job. That’s why it feels like such a failure on my part.

I even feel like a failure in my friendships. I’ve been so tired and so irritable lately that, most of the time, I want to do nothing more than go home and curl up on the couch after work. I haven’t been making an effort to reach out to friends. I haven’t been making plans. I haven’t been keeping in touch. I am not putting the effort in. My friends who know me well know this is a pattern of mine when I get in a funk, so they likely don’t think of it as me failing them.  What I know (and deeply believe) to be true, though, is that we all have our shit to deal with in life and there’s value to spending time with friends even when the urge to hermit is ten times stronger. So when I hermit, I feel like I’m failing my friends.

And lest it go unnoticed, I also feel like a big old failure with my health. I have a high standard for my fitness goals but I’ve used my injury as a crutch for the last couple of months.  I have avoided pushing myself in my workouts. I haven’t even attempted to regain any lost endurance. I have skipped workouts entirely when I feel too tired. Worst of all, when I’m stressed, I let go of all my healthy eating habits. Sugar has wormed it’s way back in far larger quantities.  It’s a downward spiral. Again, no one else really cares if I am actually hard-core training, and certainly no one’s going to say anything about my eating habits (for fear of incurring my wrath), but I know I’m letting myself down.

So there you have it. That’s a lot of me feeling like I’m failing.  Here’s the thing, though: I don’t share this as a cry for help, nor because I’m in some sort of dark spiral. In fact, I’m feeling pretty good about all of this right now. So I share this because I think we can all identify with questioning our success, with feeling like we aren’t living up to our own standards, with knowing deep down that we are taking the easy way out. I think we can identify with the fact that it can be hard to let others into the fold when we see ourselves as failing.  We keep things insular and it can be harder to objectively see that much of this invisible failure is invisible for a reason: it’s failure of our own creation.

When I actually realized that I was feeling like a failure in so many areas of my life, it was remarkably freeing. By labelling the feeling as failure, it allowed me to question what I could be learning from each of these perceived failures. Yeah, it’s cheesy I know, but I work in adult learning so I get to be a little self-indulgent with this stuff.  Cheesy or not, reframing the experience of failure helped me move from a place of discouragement and negativity to a place of hope and patience.

In my work, I learned that I can make what I thought was an impossible decision and come out on the other side legitimately excited to feel afraid.  With my blog (and my health, for that matter), I’ve learned that I need to give myself the flexibility to let other things in life come first when they need to, but also that my excuses are sometimes ways to avoid processing things (in other words, the more tired I feel, the more I should probably be writing…or working out). In my friendships, I’ve learned that I still have trouble being open about my state of mind and really leaning on the people around me when I need them most. But with all of this in mind, I can feel the tides turning and I can also see some ways forward.  And that is why I share this: there is hope on the other side of failure.

RWIR #48: Lazy Edition

I promise that I really, really, really had good intentions of going for a snow run in Leavenworth…but then sausages and pretzels and schnitzel and beer presented themselves and all hope was lost. Can you blame me? At least once I was back in town, I got back on track with workouts, even when I had to get up at a very unpleasant 5:30am. It’s only 15 minutes earlier than usual, but it feels like much, much longer. One day maybe I’ll get used to mornings…Until then, let’s see what training looked like this week.

Saturday
Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: sausage/pretzel combos consumed, 1
Observations: I sat in a car all day and then stuffed a giant pretzel, sausage and beer down my throat. After a brief reprieve from eating, we then stuffed delicious mexican food in our faces. Basically, I ate all day. Worst of all, I don’t think I experienced any actual hunger at any point during the day. What can I say? What happens in Leavenworth…

Sunday
Activity: unplanned rest day/snow walk!!!!
Relevant Stats:  wine tastings and schnitzel? check!
Observations: We did walk a good 14 km throughout the day, but I will also admit it was all on flat ground and at a slow pace, and mostly in search of food.  First, after eating a giant breakfast, we went in search of perfect strudel. Thankfully (for our growing stomachs), we found none. Then we went in search of a wine tasting featuring free cheese and chocolate pairings.  Then we went for schnitzel and pretzels and my boyfriend bought not one, but TWO accordion CDs from the live accordion player at the restaurant.  This has nothing to do with eating, but I’d like to point out that we do not actually own a CD player. So if anyone wants a CD or two of bavarian accordion music, just say the word and they’re coming your way.

Monday
Activity: unplanned rest day
Relevant Stats: Giant Milka Oreo bar purchased at duty free? Check!
Observations: We parted ways with Leavenworth and made the long drive home, briefly stopping at the Reptile Zoo in Monroe where I was horrified that they were charging $9.50 US for admissions. Did I want to see the two-headed turtle? Absolutely! But in my mind that was worth exactly $3 US to me.  Their price tag was what I deemed highway robbery, an appropriate pun as the museum is located along the highway.

Tuesday
Activity: Personal training session
Relevant Stats: 60 min.
Observations: My trainer continued in her efforts to make my shoulders function properly.  As a result, my arms and shoulders were jello by the end of our session.  My reward for all my effort–and for Valentine’s Day–was a pecan mudslide from Dairy Queen, which is, of course, the all-time best Dairy Queen treat ever made.

Wednesday
Activity: Spin
Relevant Stats: 50 min.
Observations: This was my first solid cardio workout in a long time. I felt good despite the early start, and even managed to incorporate a reasonable number of seated and standing sprints. I would like to thank my road rage for fueling my workout with anger. At least it’s good for something.

Thursday
Activity: cardio warm up + strength
Relevant Stats: 10 min stairs + 50 min. strength
Observations: I wish I could be all noble and brag about my newfound commitment to strength training. The reality, however, is that it’s just easier for me than cardio is these days.  I do strength when I can’t stomach pushing myself with cardio.  I will say that I broke a very good sweat this time around. That has to count for something, right?

Friday
Activity: cardio + strength
Relevant Stats: 15 min. spin + 10 min. elliptcal + 25 min. strength
Observations: This is what I like to call a crap bag of exercise. I started on the spin bike but had one of those pesky bikes on which the seat was broken. It would gradually loosen and then slide down any time I pedaled furiously. Since the other spin bike was taken, I moved to the ellipticals that have adjustments for incline but, really, I loathe the elliptical so that was expectedly short-lived. My strength workout was surprisingly strong even though my arms are dead tired from three strength workouts in one week. All in all, this was not a bad workout.

This week can get one thing and one thing only, and that’s a big, old:
pretzel

Speaking of pretzels, I feel like my weekend pretzel binge is still sitting squarely in my stomach. No. More. Pretzels…well, until my next trip to Leavenworth…

Happy weekend y’all!

Mid-Week Tangent: The Misunderstood Candy

All I have to say is “taffy” and I can picture most of you recoiling in disgust, saying things like ‘ugh, that chewy shit???’ or ‘that’s not even a candy!!!!’. I know, I know, it’s a contentious issue.  But hear me out.

I think taffy is a misunderstood candy.  It deserves a place in your heart, not a big place, mind you, but a little nook that you can visit just once or twice a year.  The reason that most of you claim to hate taffy is both unfair to taffy and probably for the same reason that I used to think I hated taffy: I’d been eating bad taffy.  That’s a lot of times to use the word taffy in a sentence…

Taffy is like pork chops. Pork chops are, assuming you’re not a vegetarian, absolutely delicious but only when they are a perfectly cooked, thick-cut pork chops. I grew up hating pork chops because my grandmother bought crappy, thin pork chops and proceeded to cook them as though it were a crime to leave even the tiniest smidge of moisture inside. I didn’t know a pork chop could be succulent and delicious until I was a grown adult forced against my will to try one in a very nice restaurant. The same is true for taffy: there is a spectrum of quality and a “right” way to consume it.

To discover the magic of taffy, heed this advice:

1.You have to must, must, MUST steer clear of mass-produced, commercial taffy found in 5 lb bags on the bottom shelf at your grocery store. That is a taffy wasteland, where what started as mediocre taffy goes to die a slow death. It has been there for years. Unless you are trying to save money on tooth extraction, you do not want this in your life.

2. You have to go for the small-batch, locally produced taffy. It sounds snobbish, dare I even say hipster-ish, but in this case it’s fully warranted. Locally produced, small batch taffy doesn’t sit around for an eternity. It is made with fewer ingredients and preservatives.  It will still have a chew to it, but not the kind that will pull your teeth out. It will be a softer, pliable and heavenly sugar hit.

3. You gotta limit your intake: Taffy is best in small doses. I’m a raging sugar fiend and even I can handle only a few pieces at a time maybe twice a year.

4.  I cannot emphasize enough that flavour selection is key. I get it, you like pumpkin spice lattes but the place for pumpkin spice latte flavour is in a latte, not in your taffy. The same goes for watermelon, banana or other fruit flavors that are only palatable in actual fruit form.  In fact, I find even typically ‘safe’ fruit flavours like cherry and orange to be utterly repulsive in taffy.  Cookie dough and birthday cake, on the other hand,  and though they sound repulsive, are absolute winners, as are standard caramel, salted caramel, chocolate, and maple. You’re welcome.

At the end of the day, if you don’t trust me, trust Phoebe Buffay. She wasn’t sold at first, either, but in the end she was sold on taffy’s goodness.

p.s. If you’re wondering why I’m writing about taffy, I discovered some outstanding taffy in Leavenworth this weekend. It was so good, in fact, that it reminded my of why I love taffy…but I still won’t be eating any more of it any time soon.