Monday Musings: what I learned on my first 5k run in 5 months

I ran yesterday. For the first time in at least five months. And I ran 5 km. Well, actually, I ran 5.7 km thankyouverymuch. Actually, it’s more accurate to say I ran 6-7 minutes at a time sprinkled with some walking breaks because apparently you’re not supposed to go from not running at all to running 5 km, especially when you’re injury prone, which I think we can all agree that I am. But I am starting to digress.

I came out of that run feeling the most positive about a run that I’ve felt in a long time, which I assure you is not my usual state. I’m usually one to be highly self-critical, to beat myself up about how far I have to go, how much slower and less fit I am now than I used to be.  To be sure, those thoughts crossed my mind throughout my run.  In fact, a running tally of my thoughts would have looked something like this:

Okay, here we go. We are doing this. Yes we are.  Oh my god, have I really only run two blocks? This is not a good sign. Okay, wait, this downhill stretch is kind of nice. I got this.  No wait, I was wrong, this ever-so-slight incline sucks. I don’t got this. Just slow your roll. This is your first run in months. There’s no hurry. You’re not going to win any races. Ah crap, other runners, I better pick up my pace so I don’t look completely incapable. How did I used to run these hills like they were nothing? This is the shortest hill ever and I am dying. I think that man is walking faster than I am running.  I think I could walk faster than I am running. Thank god that hill is over. Back to a reasonable incline and pace. Yeah, yeah I really do got this.  Another hill. WTF. Okay, okay, this is starting to feel okay. This is so much harder than it used to be. I am so slow now. You haven’t run in 5 months. What do you expect? It should feel hard. You know what, it’s not bad that it feels hard. This feels great. I am running again, people. Running. This is awesome. I wanted to do this today and I am doing it. Breathe in. Breathe out.  Keep moving. I forgot what this feels like. I did it. I am awesome. 

See? There’s a whole lotta negative in there. But if you’ll notice, and you will because I’m about to point out, I ended with positive thoughts.  This is the part that’s atypical for me.  I’m proud to say that I’ve been working with my coach on letting go.   What I mean by letting go is noticing all the pesky little unhelpful thoughts that go flitting through my head constantly, and proverbially letting them go in one ear and out the other.  I’m still a major (major) work in progress in this area, but I noticed on my run that once I let go of the thoughts about how much faster, fitter, and better I should be at running, suddenly the run was great. I finished feeling accomplished rather than discouraged. I want to try to run again (after suitable recovery days and making sure my SI doesn’t act up).  I felt good.

It’s hard to get into something, or get back into something, after time away, whether it’s running, working out in some other way, eating better, writing more, the list really does go on and on. What I learned from this run is that I am capable of letting go of all the negative chatter that makes me feel worse about a situation rather than better.  I can run 5.7 km in 40 minutes and feel good about it even though I know that I used to run 8 km in the same amount of time, even though every other runner out there was going faster than me, even though I had to work in walking breaks.  Instead, I can focus on the fact that I did it. I kept going.

If you’re trying to tackle new challenges in your life or recommit to old behaviors that you’ve let slide, I challenge you to pay attention to the critical, negative chatter inside your own head and see when and where it may be causing you to feel badly about your progress instead of celebrating your efforts.  If you’re putting one foot in front of the other, literally or metaphorically, you don’t have time for that chatter. Let it go.


TWIR #95: some days are better than others

Well if that post title isn’t stating the obvious, I don’t know what is. It seemed fitting for this week, though. This week my energy ebbed and flowed, my body tried to decide if it had a cold or not, and my head tried to decide whether it wanted to kick this bizarre headache or keep it around just for shits and giggles. As a result, my workouts were all over the place. Here goes nothing:

Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: never ending rain trumps motivation
Observations:  It is cliche to complain about rain in Vancouver. It comes with the territory when you live here. But seriously, it has rained every single day but one this month. That is too much and sometimes it causes me to lose my will to leave the house.  I didn’t even get out for a walk and I am embarrassed to admit my step count for the day, and therefore I will not.

Activity: unplanned rest day
Relevant Stats:  potential immune system meltdown trumps motivation
Observations: I spent most of the day certain I was fighting off a wicked cold. My head wasn’t right. I was exhausted. I felt like one of my nostrils was on the verge of clogging up. My throat was scratchy. On the upside, I successfully left the house–not to do anything active, mind you–but it was progress over Saturday, and you can’t take that away from me.

Activity: strength straining (attempt)
Relevant Stats: 20 min.
Observations:  Several weeks ago, I had this strange (read: annoying as all hell) headache. It wasn’t a migraine. It wasn’t a tension headache. It was this headache that got progressively worse throughout the day, and which made me feel as though my brain was bouncing around inside my skull with every step. In other words, it sucked. Well, it came back on Monday and haunted me during my brief attempt at a workout. Not only that, but my massive gym, the one that I love with all my heart, the one where I rarely have issues with equipment, it let me down. There were no benches. None. Just people hovering around benches, which I presume they were using at some point but certainly didn’t seem to be using as I walked by repeatedly giving them stink eye. I’m still not over it, as you can tell.  Between the headache and the why-are-there-no-god-damn-benches drama, I had a short and terrible workout.

Activity: strength training
Relevant Stats: 40 min.
Observations: I must have been in a slightly better headspace because there were still no benches available (?!?)  but I managed to stick it out for a decent workout.  Guilt over Monday’s pathetic workout plus feeling like my belly had gotten decidedly more jiggly over the last week were to thank for this workout. I also felt like maybe, just maybe I’d dodged my looming cold, but the glee over that was overshadowed by my headache’s continued presence.

Activity: track workout
Relevant Stats: 35 min./8 lap intervals + strength intervals + run home
Observations:  I thought perhaps my cold was back on Wednesday, but despite this I opted for a track workout. In my experience, running when you’re not sure if you have a cold is either the best or worst idea ever. It’s the best idea if it turns out not to be a real cold, and the worst idea if it turns out to actually be a cold. Only time would tell. The workout was rough as I haven’t run on the track in a while–damn you treadmills for making running feel easy–but I persevered. Huzzah!

Activity: personal training session
Relevant Stats: 60 min.
Observations:  When I woke up I was certain my cold was turning into the dreaded flu. I felt tired and sapped of energy.  My trainer took considerable pity on me. I know this because she let me do split lunges without weights, and that minor concession felt as good to me as that time my parents surprised us at Christmas by telling us we were going to Disneyland.  Not to create the impression my trainer is too nice, she also integrated a new hated activity: backward plank walks into a low squat. I can’t explain it any better than that, but what you really need to know is that it sucked and left my quads burning. By mid-day, I was convinced that my cold was not in fact a cold, but then by 9 o’clock at night I knew I was wrong. Seriously, I feel like this on-again-off-again cold was in the midst of an existential crisis. It needed to decide if it would stay or go.

Activity: light strength training
Relevant Stats: 35 min.
Observations: Well, there is no doubt now that the cold has made up its mind: it’s here. I had to make the tough call: to work out or not to work out? I’m always the most conflicted when I don’t feel like a total bag of crap. When I feel awful it’s easy to turn down a workout, but when I’m just sort of tired and have a few symptoms I feel like I’m really just being lazy. In the end,  I went with a somewhat shorter, definitely lighter workout and now feel as though if I hermit inside to hide from the rain and my cold tomorrow, somehow it is ever so slightly more acceptable.

I am ready for a weekend of being lazy, blasting this cold out of my system with epic amounts of oil of oregano and ungodly dosages of vitamin C (laugh if you want, I swear it works), and hopefully still finding my way to a donut even though sugar is super unhelpful for the old immune system. Sigh. Hope your weekends involve less phlegm and congestion than mine may. Happy weekend y’all…also, sorry for kicking off your weekend by talking about phlegm.

Real Talk Thursday: the low carb experiment part II

I’ve been following a loose ketogenic approach since early November.  That’s 2.5 months of mostly avoiding carbs and sugars. Saturdays are my exception to this rule, but so was Christmas…and there has definitely been wine on the odd Thursday…and I think once there was even a Wednesday donut.  So when I say I’ve been ‘loosely’ following a keto lifestyle, I’m not exaggerating. I’m not counting my macros, not testing for ketones, and don’t feel an ounce of remorse for integrating a weekly cheat day. Life is short, y’all.

Here’s the thing, though, I totally understand that the keto diet does not really work this way. Going off and on it, having ‘cheat days’, treating wine like it’s not really a carb, that’s going to throw the old body of ketosis.  I went into this experiment knowing full well I wasn’t going to live and breathe the full-on keto experience.  Regardless, I wanted to see what drastically lowering my carbs and sugar and drastically increasing my fat intake might do for me on a number of fronts:  curbing my insane sweet tooth, exponentially increasing my energy, and mellowing out my somewhat erratic emotions.  I knew so many (i.e. four) people who had experienced revelatory transformations in their minds and bodies. I wanted so badly to experience the same.

So what’s my experience been? I’ve organized my thoughts on semi-keto life around my three primary goals: killing my sweet tooth, stabilizing my mood, and increasing my energy.  Let’s get to it!

Sweet Tooth 
This is where I’ve noticed the biggest difference. I’ve gone off sugar many a time in my life, and I’ve always been plagued with epic cravings for sugar in the early days (and sometimes beyond the early days). With ketogenic eating, sugar cravings even during the first few days were minimal to non-existent.

You’re probably thinking that it seems like I’m still really into sugar. Based on what I’ve written on this blog, you likely assume my cheat days are a headfirst spiral into manic sugar consumption.  The reality is that my cheat days aren’t actually that bad, and really I just have a flair for the dramatic.  I can honestly say that I don’t crave sugar the same way I used to. Even worse, it’s with great sadness that I admit that my sweets just don’t taste as good to me anymore. Seriously, saying that almost breaks my heart. I realize it’s contradictory to want to curb your sweet tooth and then to lament the loss of it, but such is the human paradox.

To add insult to injury, 95% of the time I don’t even miss carbs.  Not having oats for breakfast, or a side of potatoes, or even pasta dinner doesn’t really bother me all that much.  I don’t even miss pizza. What is the world coming to?

Mood Stability
I don’t know. Sometimes I think I’m less prone to emotional reactions, and then sometimes I see something on TV that anyone else would find benign  and I find myself welling up with tears.  I don’t think that we are the best judge of our own emotional stability, no matter how self aware we think we might be. I’m certain those around me would have a better read on this.

But since it’s my blog, I’ll share my own perspective anyway, which is that I I’m not feeling as irritable as usual and I’m not struggling as much to cope with, you know, basic life circumstances that shouldn’t be upsetting.  But then again, if you saw me driving during rush hour you certainly wouldn’t think my coping mechanisms are doing all that well, so…The big measure for me is that I haven’t cried at work in months. Never you mind how low a benchmark that is.

This has been my biggest disappointment. Normally, when I cut out sugar I feel 100 times more alert, awake and high-energy. This time around: no dice. I still feel tired and sluggish, to the point where I’m fairly convinced that my current energy levels have nothing to do with my diet and everything to do with my work situation. My only energy peak was three or four days before Christmas, when I felt what I can only describe as euphoric. This energy boost also coincided with actually being busy at work for once, though, so you do the math.

My workouts are also hit and miss. I expected to tap into an amazing wealth of energy for my workouts. The friends who sold me on keto living bragged at length about the seemingly limitless energy they had for workouts. I now consider them liars. Some days I feel great whereas other days I feel weak and lazy, which is really how I felt before upending my diet.  Since this was really the big driver for me, it leads me to believe that keto living may not be my jam. Likely, cutting sugar and refined starches alone would’ve had just as much impact.  I know I just said I don’t miss carbs but maybe some oatmeal wouldn’t be all that bad…

Bonus Commentary
There’s one elephant in the room that I haven’t addressed in my keto posts: weight loss. Most of the people I talk to are doing keto to drop pounds, and often with great results.  Though it definitely wasn’t my primary motivator, I’ll admit that weight-loss-as-a-fringe-benefit was appealing.  My reality is that I haven’t lost much weight at all (if any). My own thoughts on this are that I probably eat more than I need to on the keto diet because I’m not counting macros and, thus, worry that I’m not getting enough fats.  I’m also fairly certain that cheat days really throw a wrench in ketosis, and thus ketosis-associated weight loss. I’m certainly no nutritionist, but I can’t imagine my system understands what’s happening when I eat clean for six days then load it up with donuts and wine and chocolate. My best guess is that it’s shouting WTF at the top of its metaphorical lungs.

There you have it, one more perspective on ketogenic living to add to the growing list of perspectives because, let’s face it, ketogenic diets are everywhere these days. Will I continue? I don’t know. I suspect that my body doesn’t actually hate carbs as much as some do, and that my workouts are more consistent when I do consume them, but I am not ready to throw in the towel quite yet. In other words, stay tuned.

Training Tuesdays: there is no magic formula for getting fit

As we near the end of January, it’s about that time when fitness and health resolutions start to fade away.  Maybe that fire in your belly to get fit in 2018 is barely a flicker now.  It needs some serious fanning to roar up into another flame, but you’re tired and so maybe you just let it die a slow death instead.  This happens to people every single year. When I was a lot younger, it happened to me many a time.

It’s easy to seek online advice in the digital age. There are a lot of articles claiming to reveal the secret to finally getting fit.  There’s always a new exercise fad, or studies showing a correlation between people who work out first thing in the morning being a certain percentage more likely to stick with their fitness goals.  Cardio is all that matters. Strength training is the new cardio. Running is the only way to get thin so you better learn to like running. Running is the worst for your joints so you better find a low-impact workout.  This is our world. Conflicting views abound and everyone’s got her own two cents.

Well, here’s my two cents: there is no magic formula for getting fit. There is not one type of exercise that works best for every single person.  There is no one approach that turns a single workout into a lifelong habit. There, I said it.  We all want an easy answer to complex challenges, myself included, but sometimes the easy answer just doesn’t exist.

So what really works?  Find something–anything–that you actually enjoy enough that you’ll do it for long enough to form a habit.  Start small and build up to bigger things.  That’s it.

What will you be willing to do even when it’s freezing cold or boiling hot outside? Even when you’re tired? Even when you’d rather be Netflix and chilling? Even when your body is a bit sore? Even when life gets in the way? What do you genuinely enjoy? What gives you energy? What makes you feel like you accomplished something? Whatever activity comes to mind when you ask these questions, that’s your ticket and you’re probably ten times more likely to stick with that activity. You don’t need me to tell you there’s a million different ways to get fit. You know this already.

Then start small. The starting small piece is not to be underestimated. If you go roaring out of the gates and try to run a 5 k or lift weights five days per week when you haven’t done either in years (or maybe ever), you’ll likely regret it. Your muscles will be too sore, you might even injure yourself, and you’ll do nothing more than reinforce the belief that you hate [insert whatever form of activity you tried].  It’s demoralizing and it’s totally avoidable. You know what will motivate you to keep going? Seeing small, incremental improvements.  Don’t worry about how small you’re starting. The journey is long and you have all the time in the world to get to bench pressing 100 lb or hiking 20 km trails. You’ll never get to those goals if you try to do too much too fast.

That’s it. That’s my two cents. There’s a lot of noise out there about fitness and health and sometimes you just have to cut through the noise and give some real thought to what makes sense for you.  And then, then you just take one small step forward…

Monday Musings: on trial by fire

I have a love/hate relationship with trial by fire. My reptilian brain sounds alarm bells at the thought of being thrown into the deep end without a life preserver. My experience, however, tells me that when I’m thrown in the deep end I actually tend to learn the most and the most quickly. Not only that, they’re the times when I’ve been forced to come up against and change some deeply held beliefs about myself.

The thing with trial by fire is that it forces you to figure something out quickly. The alarm bells are fleeting because you simply don’t have the luxury of time to slowly think through your options and extensively weigh out the best way to respond.  You’ve got to figure it out. Right now. And then you have to come to terms with the choices you made in that moment.  More often than not, my game time decisions are just as good, if not better, than ones I’ve agonized over.

I am a homeowner, a designer, a career coach, a facilitator, and a strength training enthusiast, all because of trial by fire. I was thrown into all of these roles thinking ‘that’s not me’ but by virtue of being forced to disprove myself, I have come to realize that these things are all very much me. Sometimes trial by fire is the fastest route to seeing new possibilities in ourselves. But it’s not the only route.

Ultimately I’m starting to see that trial by fire is actually just about trusting my gut in moments that require immediate action because the answers and ideas are already there. I’ve been working with a coach lately who flies against my conception of conventional coaches–which I love–and the more I work with her, the more I’m seeing a powerful pattern: when I’m forced to do something, I find a way. Even when it’s uncomfortable, even when it goes against what I believe to be true about myself, even when I think I have no idea how to do it, I will get it done.

While I like to tell myself that I need time to think things through and  to process information before making big decisions I’ve also noticed that the more time and space I have to think about things, the more likely I am to experience immobilizing anxiety and fear.  The end result: I’m stuck in the same place with the exact same story. And the pattern repeats.

As I’ve been digging into this pattern, I’ve realized I’ve spent years asking myself the wrong question. I’ve been asking myself how can I light a fire under my ass to replicate the trial by fire feeling as a means of forcing me to challenge my stories.  What I really needed to be asking myself is how I can question my stories and trust my gut in the calm of comfort. All along, I have been missing the fact that I would be better served to rewrite my story out of want rather than necessity.  I don’t need external pressure or the replication of external pressure to get stuff done. I need to quiet the noise, open my heart and listen.

Onward and upward I go.

TWIR #94: Shaking it Up

Any time I travel, I find I end up shaking up my workout routine a bit.  Most of the time, this means reducing workout duration or missing a day here or there. This week, however, it just meant the return of an old favourite and moving things around within the week. The end result was a workout week that felt a little less stale. Hurrah! Let’s see what I got up to.

Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: operation-surprise-my-dad-for-his-70th-birthday successfully completed!
Observations: After a quick early morning flight, we surprised the heck out of my dad and whisked the fam out to Banff for the day.  There is nothing like fresh, mountain air to reinvigorate the spirit.  Though we didn’t get a real workout in, there was lots of walking and photo snapping, and my soul was happy so I was 100% okay with no real exercise.  I also shook up my cheat day and stayed carb and sugar free thanks to those new Starbucks egg bites (sidenote: still not sure how I feel about them and they’re odd, souffle-like texture…) and finding a lunch spot that featured many healthy options.  Somehow, I even resisted the urge to down my half pound of fudge the second I had it in my possession. Growth.

Activity: at home strength workout
Relevant Stats: 40 min.
Observations:  We bought my dad a Sonos speaker system for his birthday and were having some issues connecting it to an older stereo system. I could explain the whole set up but who really cares? Suffice it to say I have no patience for nor experience with technological set up so I avoided the whole damn set up process by escaping to the basement for an at-home workout. We capped off the day with a lovely stroll along the Bow river, my mom’s famous home-made caesar salad and turkey pot pie, a half pound of fudge, and a belly ache. Worth it.

Activity: mini winter hike!!!!!
Relevant Stats: 5.2 km return, 295 m elevation gain
Observations: I have a smaller-than expected ice carving festival to thank for this hiking adventure. Our plan had been to check out the ice carvings in Lake Louise and then grab overpriced specialty coffees at the Chateau Lake Louise. When it became clear that the ice carvings would occupy all of 15 minutes of our time, we needed a plan B. We opted for a quick mini-hike through safe snow terrain and headed up to Mirror Lake. Though a quick and easy trail, I was left wondering why this was my first winter hike of the year.  Plus, man do I miss that nice, fluffy, dry Alberta snow.

Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: travel day + return to the never-ending rain
Observations: As quick as we arrived, we headed back to Vancouver. And to the rain. Which never seems to end. Seriously, it has rained every day in January except for one. I’ll point out the obvious: that’s too much rain. At any rate, I’d contemplated a track workout that afternoon but, upon being greeted by torrential downpours, thought better of it and spent my afternoon meal planning, grocery shopping and doing kitchen chores instead.  Related: four-day weekends are the absolute best. For once I didn’t feel at all stressed about getting all the chores done while still fitting in fun. New goal: find a way to have four-day weekends all the time.

Activity: running intervals + strength
Relevant Stats: 5 min. warmup + 8 2 min. running intervals + strength
Observations: When your brand new umbrella just snaps shut unexpectedly in the pouring rain and after the world’s most painful three hours at work following a wonderfully extra long weekend that made you not want to go back to work, it can sometimes make you want to angry run.   This was one of those times. I needed to run. I craved the running. I ran at speeds I could never sustain these days, but that felt necessary to my sanity. I ran farther than I’ve run in months, and faster. And it felt freaking fantastic.

Activity: personal training session
Relevant Stats: 60 min.
Observations: As it turns out, my anger fueled running made my SI stiff and made my hip positioning regress, so not only did I have to do prowler chest presses, but I had to do them with a new form that made them twice as hard.  Ugh. For the most part, my trainer spared me any torturous new activities, but I have to say that my arms and shoulders wanted nothing to do with any form of exercise so even the basics felt difficult.

Activity: strength training
Relevant Stats: 40 min.
Observations: I seriously contemplated bailing on my workout today, but I’m glad that I didn’t because a) it stopped raining and the sun actually came out while I was walking to the gym (!!!) and b) it turned out okay. I focused on nice, controlled exercises today to give my stiff body a break from the angry running earlier this week and the jumping in yesterday’s training session.  Now that it’s done, I feel accomplished. Nothing more should be required of me today, right? Right.

With that, the weekend is here. Even though I had a three day work week, I’m still saying a big glory hallelujah to the weekend’s arrival. Time to bring on the donuts and relaxation and chill time with friends. I may also day dream just a little bit about blue sky days and sparkling snow in the Rockies because, even though I could frolic in the snow here, I can assure you that it would not be under blue skies. Happy weekend y’all. Hope you find some sunshine, real or metaphorical, wherever you are.

Mid-Week Tangent: kid in a candy store

Look at that. Look at all that beautiful, beautiful fudge. It stretches beyond the eye can see (trust me, this photo shows only a quarter of the actual size of the display case).  This is what I was faced with on Saturday in Banff at my beloved The Fudgery .*  Can you imagine the dilemma? With so many fudges to choose from, how can a sugar addict (i.e. me) reasonably be expected to narrow her choice to just one option? It can only be described as cruel.

It’s easy to eliminate the obviously disgusting choices–hello, vanilla maraschino cherry–but beyond that the selection process becomes significantly more challenging. Do you stick with the old classic standbys like chocolate? Do you seek out some texture with chocolate walnut or Turtle? Do you throw caution to the chocolate fudge wind and go for peanut butter or maple fudge? Do you cave in to the trends and try out the salted caramel chocolate? Do you go with your old favourite, the one that you’d buy at embarrassing frequencies when you lived in Banff–the Reese’s Pieces peanut butter fudge? Ugh. Can you see my point? There are simply too many options to consider.

In the end, and after lengthy deliberation, I opted for the vanilla oreo. That classic cookies and creme was calling my name. I’ve had it before and couldn’t resist its saccharine charm.

This is what it’s like to be me. I am the actual kid in a candy store. I am still a child at heart, in awe of the sheer multitude of candy options laid out before me, simultaneously stressed and excited by the pressure of making the ‘right’ choice because who knows when I will find myself back in the candy store again?  Also like the kid in a candy store, I have yet to learn that you do not, in fact, have to eat the entire half pound block of fudge in one fell swoop. Multiple stomach aches and near-vomiting experiences have failed to teach me that lesson in the past, and I certainly didn’t learn it this weekend as I lay in agony after downing a half pounds’ worth of sugar and butter.  This is the price I must pay for being the 38-year-old kid in a candy store. And it is worth every penny.


*Seriously, if you are in Banff do not buy fudge anywhere other than The Fudgery. This is not a paid sponsorship. I have no affiliation with them (though I wish I did). Just trust me when I say I have sampled all the fudge to be found in Banff and theirs is the best.