Selecting plus-size triathlon apparel for racing and training – the Spring 2012 guide for Athenas

Most triathletes admit that great gear and clothing makes training and racing more comfortable and efficient.  For plus-size triathletes (who manufacturers typically define as anyone over a US Size 16), the desire to look good – and feel good – while racing and training is no different than that of the average triathlete.   But until recently, the simple act of finding apparel in Athena sizing was nearly impossible.

Not anymore.  In the past few years, manufacturers have slowly begun to offer running, cycling, and triathlon apparel ranging from sizes from 16-24.  Danskin, Moving Comfort, Nike, C9 for Target, Pearl Izumi, Zoot, Terry Bicycles, New Balance, Sugoi, REI, Junonia, and Aerotech Designs each offer apparel in a variety of sizes, technical sophistication, and styles to suit everyone from the first-time Sprinters to the returning Ironman.  For many women, though, selecting training or racing apparel online (the only location most are sold) remains a challenge.

As an Athena with her eye on the Virgin London Triathlon in September, I’m searching for a multi-purpose top for run and bike training, and a pair of cycling capris and shorts for my daily ride to work and weekend long rides to the country.  I’m also in need of a new racing kit (top and shorts).  Here’s a quick view to how I’ve selected my kits, and a few rules to keep in mind as you shop this season.

1.    Prioritize your needs.   Purchasing Athena triathlon clothing requires compromise.  It’s unlikely that you’ll find a piece which is as flattering as your favorite little black dress, in the color you were born to wear, with the technical fabric worthy of an Ironman, at a bargain price.  Before you begin, consider what’s most important to you – and assess your options accordingly.

This season, I want comfortable training apparel that looks great.  On the bike, that means flat seams, great fabrics, and a women’s specific chamois; for both cycling and running, I want a multi-purpose top that fits but isn’t too baggy, and won’t catch the wind.

For my racing kit, I want a supportive and fast-drying, cool top which will fit under my wetsuit; and a pair of racing shorts with a stash pocket.  Both should be quick-drying but supportive fabric, with no risk of chafing.  Great colors are a bonus.

2.    Your measurements rule.  Write down these three measurements:  the widest part of your bust; your natural waist; and the widest part of your hips.  Understanding your sizing makes reviewing apparel options simple and eliminates unnecessary purchases and returns.  Generally speaking, once you know your sizing, you’ll also understand which manufacturers you can rely on for purchases.

From smallest to largest (Size 16 or XXL to Size 26), search for your apparel from retailers in this order: Zoot, Sugoi and Pearl Izumi; Danskin, Moving Comfort, and New Balance; and Terry Bicycles, Nike, Aerotech Designs and Junonia.

At 44-38-49 (measurements I’m certain my grandmother and mother will be appalled that I’m admitting, but which I offer in service to you, dear reader),  I limit my search to those with generous XXL sizing and dedicated plus sizes.   

3.    Select clothes that are well made and fit you well – and which may not be specifically made for triathlon.  Triathlon apparel tends to run very close to the body, which can be a challenge for many Athenas.  But racing in baggy, cotton clothing can lead to painful chafing and make you look bigger than you are.  Why bother when there are plenty of clothes out there which can fit you properly?  For my search, I select clothing no more than 1.5” larger (or smaller) than my measurements.  I also considered running, yoga, or other cross-functional tops in addition to triathlon-specific tops.  Not sure what’s a technically superior short?  Look for flat seams, quick drying fabric, a non-bulky chamois, and comfortable leg openings.

The final selections

For training – comfortable gear that gets the job done.

The Shirt. Nike’s Extended Miler is great for everyday running and cycling.  (MSRP $42, 1X-3X)












The cycling capris. Terry Bicycles’ Knicker Plus capris (MSRP $100, 1X-4X) are  comfortable and ultra-flattering, and make early morning or evening rides a breeze. 

Terry's Knicker Plus tight handles the morning commute and then some.











The mac daddy training short. Pearl Izumi’s PRO In R Cool short (MSRP $150, XXL fits to 47.5” hip, with just enough stretch to suit our 49” tester) is a technical dream with non-binding waist and leg openings and a UPF 50+ that can cool the body’s surface temperature up to 5%, a significant benefit for plus-size athletes who can be challenged with temperature control.  


These shorts. The fit of an amazing piece of technical gear, great chamois. Check PI's sizing charts for details.













For racing: a kit to take you to the finish.

The swim/bike/run short.  Danskin’s 7” Tri Short (MSRP $52, to XXL/ 20 ) is long, lean, and worry free with flat seams, a light racing chamois; multi-panel, wicking construction; silicone leg grippers and a small back zip pocket.  A tried and true tri short practically fitting most up to size 22. (available at or











Nike’s Women’s Shape Sport Top (MSRP $55, 1X-3X) isn’t made for Triathlon – but it serves a purpose for Athenas, works great under your wetsuit and promises to dry quickly.  Sturdy shelf-bra included; but feel free to supplement with your own.



There is something that happens when you become a regular runner.  You believe less in luck, and more in training.  Run any half marathon or marathon, and train seriously for it, and you begin to believe that with the right nutrition plan, training plan, pace buddies, shoes, gear, clothing, and attention, you can control how and when you finish that race.

For about 10 years, that’s how it went for me.  If I ran a bad race, it was usually on me – I either hadn’t trained enough, or hadn’t thought through the course.  If I got hurt it was on me.  I didn’t stretch enough, or I didn’t stop when the pain told me to.  In 2009, when plantar fasciitis reared its head while I was intermittently running (and still training), I didn’t listen up and slow down, and I paid in the end, with a two year condition that only recently healed after two bouts of PT and finally, a quick surgery.

Those of you who read regularly know that I moved to London from Chicago in 2011.  It was 10 weeks after surgery, and those first few weeks, months in London were tough.  I was in trainers every day, and the pain was still pretty regular.  By summer, it was getting better.  By September, it was gone.  I felt strong, and I had lost some weight, and I started to run again.  It was awesome.

I ran on the common by my house, and on the road when I traveled.  I ran so much when I was home in Cincinnat and Chicago at Christmas that I felt like I would never stop running again.  I felt the kind of joy that I remembered from those first days of running.  And so when, in mid-February, it snowed here, I felt like a kid who’d won the lottery – lucky, lucky, lucky to get to run on one of my favorite vistas – a park in snow.

I laced up my trainers and went out for a run.  It was a bit squishy – a bit slid-y. A bit wet.  I caught up with my brother and nephew building a snow fort, and we had a great time.  I ran home, and all was well.  And three hours later, I left my house to go to a Superbowl party, slipped on a patch of ice in front of my apartment, and felt my knee slam into itself in a way that wasn’t good.  I held up, and held on, for a minute.  Then I kept walking to the train.  By midnight, mid-way through the game, I couldn’t go down the stairs without it locking up.  The next day, I compounded the mistake in a pair of heels at work.

Six weeks later, I have the diagnosis.  I’ve been benched for that time, icing, resting, ibuprofening away here, and it’s not gotten any better.  Well, technically, that’s not true. I can now go down the stairs without flinching (but not without a rail).

I’ve managed to tear the meniscus in my knee in two places.  One on the inside left, one on the center of my left knee.  One would likely heal.  The other, not so much.  The doctor tells me that there’s an easy procedure to clean it up, a keyhole surgery where they trim down the cartilege or something and that makes it better.  I’m working out the logistics of a second opinion, a schedule, and a plan.

In the meantime, I’m pondering luck.  Maybe I’ve been lucky all these years to have so few injuries.  Maybe I’ve been stronger, and maybe now I’m just old and out of shape. I don’t really know.  I do know that this makes me want to throw things at a wall, and that’s not so good.  So I’m going back to the original plan – to have one.  Get a doc. Get an opinion. Get the surgery.  Get back out there.

Lucky as I may have been, I never saw that patch of ice, and I had no chance to adjust.  I was unlucky.  It happens.  So now it’s time to get to the pool, and walk while I can, and bottle the frustration of living in this lovely city which makes cycling a bit too dangerous and swimming a bit too inconvenient.  The excuses will have to go for awhile, while I try to get the groove back.

Luck’s a bitch.  But she’s got nothing on me, and my plan.

See you on the path….

So much to do, so little time….

I know, I know. It’s a common refrain. But these past few weeks have been a combination of screeching along at 80 MPH and then careening to a dead halt.

Mid-run with my nephew on London's Clapham Common during a recent snowstorm. The Kid and my brother certainly were fort-a-licious.

So, in no particular order, some not-so-inspirational Plus Runner updates for the week.

I might be racing on an Olympic track.I know, it’s scary.  But there’s this thing, and it’s through work, and I might just get to run a 100 meter dash on the Olympic track in London in early April.  COOL, eh???  I maintain it might be the slowest finish ever, but can you imagine???

I might be slightly hobbled in that endeavor by a torn MCL.  Yeah.  I’m trying to pretend that the screaming pain every time I step wrong on my left leg is just a figment of my imagination.  But it turns out that either a) not wearing heels for two years and then doing some downward stepathon in them might not have been the best plan or b) that sliparoo on the ice the day of our big snowfall here was worse than I thought.  In any case, I’ve been running-free for three weeks, and I am officially. a. lunatic.  Back to the pool, right?  At least till a doc gets up in there and tells me what’s the what.

Big races are lining up. Have you picked yours for the year?  More to come on this, but I did officially make the London ballot for the Olympic distance triathlon.  Here’s to recovering from whatever _this_ is and kicking butt come September.

But in the meantime, how terrible am I at 100 days of anything?  I biffed again this year on the 100 days, but MAD PROPS to Cindi Hammer and all the kids out there doing 100 days proud.  I am nothing if not humbled by your continued inspiration for the rest of us.

Tick tock. That’s the sound you hear of me eagerly awaiting the Spring 2012 Triathlete Magazine Buyer’s Guide, which should include a piece about the best triathlon apparel for plus size athletes (written by yours truly). Word’s still out on when it will hit the stands, but keep your eyes and ears peeled.

I learned how to fence last week. Gingerly, yes, but it reaffirmed my belief that you’re never too old to learn a new sport. Or to be a hyper-competitive crazyhorse who believes in fair play and rules, rules, rules.  It’s amazing they let me play team sports sometimes, I swear.  But honestly, fencing? Very cool.  And doesn’t require massive white bodysuits either, which was a refreshing realization.

We’re gearing up for spring travel around here.  Kruger National Park (South Africa) and Talinn, Estonia (not to mention a possible side-o to Dusseldorf) are all in the makings.  Got a recommendation?  A road or a hike I can’t miss?  This knee will NOT slow me down – send me your best stuff!!

And now, the good stuff.  Who needs free gear???  I have a few pieces of gear that were sent as testing pieces for this recent article, and though a few are dedicated to some of my besties, there will be at least one upcoming contest for readers….so watch this space for more news – the contest will be announced next week to celebrate the Plus Runner’s 3rd birthday!!!

Okay, gotta go get some shut-eye now.  Thanks for the readin, and see you on the path.

Oh, and one more coolest as all cool thing…my good friend Cindi was kind enough to nominate Plus Runner for a fitness magazine blog award.  How cool is she?  Very.  But if you’re feeling the luvvvvv, please have a vote.  And even if you’re not, well, thanks for stopping by…

Just a few words

I had a wonder the other day about all the words that end up on this page. What pushes my buttons? What makes us move? Found a fun tool called Wordle ( that lets you dump all of your text into a programme and comes up with cool word art. Here, a sample from the Inspiration pages of Plus Runner. Just a lil teaser for your Sunday morning.

Fifty minutes to the sea

Fifty minutes from London, there’s this place you might have heard of.  It’s called the English Channel.  This thin strip of sea which separates England from continental Europe (France, to be clear) is so thin that swimmers regularly cross it, and the Top Gear guys once built a car boat and successfully went coast-to-coast.

What amazed me this Saturday wasn’t that the Channel exists; it’s that it took me 9 months to realize it’s a fifty minute train ride to get there.  How did I not know this?  How had I wasted so many weekends in my apartment, watching re-runs of True Blood or reading the latest novel, while this gorgeous countryside awaited me?

I wasn’t disappointed in the trip.  My friend from work and I (Carolina, she of the blue top in the pics below) met up with a Meetup group who offered a guided hike (great when someone else does the navigating!).  All we had to do was show up at Liverpool Street Station at 9 a.m. I, of course, was late.  But I wasn’t so late that I didn’t make the train – and I met some really cool people along the way.  Below, a few pics from the trip (because y’all occasionally ask)!  Yes, you’ll note that I’m hiking in jeans (a first for me). I  wouldn’t normally, but it was an okay way to go, even if the mud was up to my ankles by the time we got back on the train.

And also, a word about the views – this place was really spectacular (it’s called Leigh on Sea) and it’s going to be host to the mountain biking course for the Olympics for 2012.  And the best part about it, yes, was the small sea town at the end of our journey.  Ironically, we never got to the wide open beach-type view you expect; but for a little while at the end, we stood by the sea wall, and watched a great sunset, enjoying the freshest fish and some excellent company.  I’d write more, but there’s nothing pithy or wise to say about it – I went, it was fun, and I’ll do something again. All in all, an excellent adventure for  a fifty minute train ride just East of London.

Carolina leading up to Hadleigh Castle


Walking into the castle grounds- it was on a fault line and shortly after built in the 13th century, began falling off a cliff. Literally.











Don't I look like the picture of fun? Yeah. It was pretty cool. That's the sea behind me in the distance.

Advice for the parents of little girl athletes everywhere. (Not nearly as funny as Tina Fey.)

I am not a mother.  Let me state that up front.  I don’t change diapers or wipe snot from noses which can’t create enough force to blow themselves.  I don’t have the pleasure of sleepless nights thanks to anything other than an overly hot duvet, nor do I get the reward of little arms wrapped around my neck each morning which shout a quiet “i love you” before the owner is too awake to know that she’ll despise me in a few years.   I am, however, an Aunt to two spectacular little girls.  One, I’m getting to know quite well these days, and she knocks my socks off pretty much every time I see her.  One’s just a mini-munchkin who I’ve only seen twice, but judging by her moms, she promises to have enough spirit and German engineering to set the world on fire some day.

Why am I talking about these girls?  Simply put, I think I can make a better list.  See, lately, I’ve read some pretty interesting “lists” of advice for mothers, and daughters.  There’s Tina Fey’s hysterical prayer for her daughter.   There’s the “50 Rules for Dads and Daughters” , and then there’s Sheryl Sundberg (CFO of Facebook)’s commencement speech at Barnard College last year, where she dishes out bits of advice for young women graduates (if you haven’t read it, do.)  They’re all occasionally inspiring, touching, and left me hoping that my accomodation of these lists would involve a bell curve.

But seeing as how I’m neither a highly paid comedienne, nor running the Finance function of the most successful internet company (ever), I figured I’d have little to share which might add to this ListMania.  But then I remembered (especially according to an excellent Saturday Night Live skit this weekend), in today’s day and age, I can say ANYTHING!  And it will be AWESOME  (I kid).

No, seriously.  I honestly just felt that there must be some general guidance out there for the parents of little girls who might, one day, become athletes.  There’s lots of them out there, and as a former Little Girl Who Played Sports, and adult Coach of Little Girls Who Loved Playing Sports, and as a current Advocate for Adult Big Girls Who Love Playing Sports, I thought I’d have something to add.

So here, in the spirit of the Plus Runner, is my best advice for your daughters, distilled into a few pithy comments that hopefully make you smile.  Happy Monday.

1.  Get your daughter to try every sport you can, even the ones that will make her dirty, sweaty, and scare you to death.  Every time she does, she’ll find out a bit more about who she is, and what she loves – even if it scares the heck out of you.   Also, learn early that there’s no faster cleanup than covering her in a Hefty bag while entering your car and hosing her down with the garden hose on exit.

2. Encourage her to play solo sports, and as part of a team.   Solo sports teach her that she can, in fact, be terrible and still find something rewarding in it.  They also teach her the power of her own steam and the strength of her own body.  Team sports teach her the joy of helping her friends win, crushing the opposition, and the feeling of letting a team down.  Don’t underestimate any of these things, and their role it will have in helping her join the workforce in 20 years.

3. She’s not going to be good at every sport.  Well, mostly.  Get over it.  And let her figure it out.  If she cares enough to want to be on the “A” team, she’ll practice more.  She may or may not get better, and make that team.  In either case, she’ll probably still be playing something, (a win) – and chances are she’ll probably enjoy it more than doing her homework.  And yes, she’ll learn that sometimes, other people are actually better at something than you are.  Again, a valuable lesson in today’s age.  (Oh, and when she gets cut from that team you think she should be on, DO NOT appeal the ruling.  This is not the Supreme Court of My Daughter is Awesomeland.)

4. Learn how to complement her play.  This is not to be confused with spewing BS at every available juncture.  Giving true, favorable praise will do more for her confidence than fabricated platitudes.  Learn the game she plays well enough to do this for her, and remember that for every one criticism she hears, she’ll need to hear four positive comments to counter the hit to her self esteem. Don’t let this prevent her coach from coaching her – but let the coach do the dirty work if you can.  If her coach seems unlikely to ever learn the balance, introduce them to Mr. Jackson’s program, above.  It’s pretty cool, and it works.

5. Play her favorite sport with her, even if you’re terrible.  Also, you are allowed to get dirty, and sweat.   Seeing her parents play helps reinforce the fact that you value it.  Growing up, I remember playing soccer with my father, and even golf (!) with my mother.  Neither one of them loved those sports, but they did it to spend time with me.  Your kids know you’re no Pele or Anika, and that’s okay – it’s the effort that counts.

6. CAN’T is a four letter word.  Never tell her she can’t play a sport – always, always let her try.  Even if you think she can’t hack the physical demands, or doesn’t have the coordination, let her learn the lesson on her own.  So she’s not good: put her on a lower-skilled team and let her learn.  Not fit enough?  Coaches expect this, particularly in recreational leagues today.  Let her play into shape – in the right league.  If you’re not sure how to handle it, talk to a coach, but do everything you can to encourage her to keep playing.  The longer she stays a part of organized sports, the higher her self esteem, less likely she is to engage in risky sexual behavior, and less likely to be brought down by depression and anxiety.  

7. Let her play with boys.  She’ll never forget the feeling the first time she scores a goal against a boy, fields his line drive down the third base line, or powers a forehand past him, and she’ll realize that her talent – and her drive to win and succeed – is absolutely comparable – a feeling you certainly want her to remember when life gets slightly more complicated a few years down the road.

8. Teach her that emotion has a place in sports, and sports has a place in emotion.  Let her cry when she loses and scream when she wins.  And when she throws on her shoes for a run, or turns to a hitting wall or a punching bag when she’s mad, let her go, so she learns that this healthy way of dealing with things (as opposed to The Alcohol, The Food, and The Drugs)  will always be there for her, whatever the win or loss.   Regardless of this, also make her shake hands with the opposing team, every time, no matter how angry, sad, or frustrated she is with a loss.  It is, after all, just a game.

9. Teach her that sport has no use-by date.  Find one sport you can play – whatever it may be – and play it for you.  Show her that lifelong athletics are rewarding – that sweat’s not for kids and professionals, but moms who work hard, and make dinner, and drive carpool, and still make time for tennis or soccer or running.  Show her that lifetime fitness is joyful and fun.

10.  Support girls and women in sports.  She may never have the option or the interest to go professional in Lacrosse, or Fencing, but there are college teams with Olympians and pop up pro leagues all over the world.  By supporting them, you show her that you value their athletic talent as much as men – and in today’s day and age, when we women all expect equal pay for equal work, it’s good to put our money where our expectations are.  For more information, check out the NCAA, the Women’s Sports Foundation, or the US Olympic Committee for a few ideas.

I guess in closing, the only question I have is this: how many of us can say we meet these expectations every day?  Do we all need to be graded on a bell curve? Probably.  But it sure is nice to have a target, isn’t it?

See you on the path!

10 Reasons to Suck It Up and Cycle to Work Tomorrow

The ruins will not be on tomorrow's route.

I’m cycling to work again tomorrow. It’s been months since the last attempt, but the weather looks good and I’m getting some lovely positive peer pressure. But just in case I want to bail in the morning, a list of reasons why I should:

10. The vertical shower stall at the office means I won’t have to shave my legs tomorrow – yay!

9. No chance of a repeat of today’s conversation on the tube, overheard by the 25 year old dude and his roommate next to me (all of us, armpit to armpit): “Ah, the lovely smell of Old Spice”. “Really? I can only smell cedar chips.” “Yeah, but just wait until it’s raining again.” “Yeah, the worst is those Barbour coats, they just waft.” I almost woozed just listening to them.

8. The Thames.

7. Westminster.

6. Two pounds and thirty pence (X 1.60 dollar conversion) X2. That pays for lunch, every day. Well, at least tomorrow.

5. Forces early arrival and on-time departure from the office on account of traffic.

4. Get to play “Frogger” with real life sample sizes. (Music optional.)

3. Chance to work on my British swear words and slang (directed only at what promises to be evil cabbies and double-decker bus drivers)

2. Enjoyment of being an “amateur” pedaling at my pace while annoyed London cyclists zip around me and huff. Nothing more fun than pissing off an angry commuter.

1. The look on the guys faces at the office when I finally show up. The smugness of the Boy Mafia does wear thin after a while….

2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.  I particularly enjoyed the bit about filling the Sydney Opera House 9 times with your readership.  Here’s to an even better 2012!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Committing for 2012: How to keep moving when it’s So. Damn. Hard.

What we should all feel like after a run (Chicago, New Year's Day 2012)

It’s January 8.  We’re just over one week into the new year, and for most of us, that means we’ve already broken our New Year’s Resolutions at least once.  I gave up on resolutions a few years ago, but this year, I’ve committed to a few simple things:

1. I will complete an Olympic distance triathlon by June.  It might be in England.  It might be somewhere else.  But I’ll have a training plan in place by the end of January, and I’ll be ready by June.

2. I will run a 5k in every place I visit this year.  I took 14 trips last year, and was only able to run in a few of them.  This year, I’m running everywhere I go.

3. Every “add on” or “personal” trip that I take in combination with work will involve something active.  I’m going to Estonia in March, and I’ll go hiking.  I’ll be in Barcelona in October, and who knows what that will bring.  But I’ll be diligent about making the most of the adventure side of my travel opportunities this year.

4. I will run a few iconic races wherever the mood takes me.  That means I’m already signed up for The British 10k.  I might sign up for The Little Beaver (name notwithstanding, it’s relatively close, but we’ll see) or the Paris-Versailles 10 miler in September.

5. I will stretch. I will strengthen.  Three days per week, I will do the core workout which will keep me healthy.  I will not get hurt this year!

6. I will run a great trail race by the end of 2012.  I will train right, but I will run it, nonetheless.  It may only be a 5k, but that’s okay.  I’m in – because the most fun I’ve had in the last few years I had on a trail.

These are simple goals, but I’m not pretending they’re small.  Most people don’t walk into their new year and put an Olympic on the calendar – but I know who I am, and I know that’s what I need to get moving.  I also know that there’s probably going to be one of these goals that won’t get met – and that’s okay.

Because here’s what I learned a long, long time ago:  I have to have a goal to keep moving.  I have to have FUN to keep moving.  It has to get easier to keep moving.

These are simple rules for me.  You might have some which work for you, too.  Maybe you have to run with others (or alone).  Maybe you have to swim in a pool (or a lake) to keep moving.  Maybe it has to kick your ass (or be easy to train) for you to keep doing it.  The question is this: do you KNOW what it takes to keep you moving?

I was walking around doing errands today and got to thinking that  all of us know, intuitively, at some point in our life, what we’re good at.  And so none of us usually chooses a career we’re BAD at for our life’s work.  We tend towards the things we do well – so we don’t keep hitting ourselves in the head each day.  But for some reason, a lot of us seem to choose workouts or sports which are really hard for us.  And yet, we keep coming back.  I don’t know about you – but if those things didn’t get easier for me, I wouldn’t keep doing them.  I was thinking about a story my friend Rich told about learning to snowboard.  Rich (who has no idea I’m telling this story, sorry, Rich!) went snowboarding one year.  Rich is – by all accounts – a pretty fabulous athlete.  He’s the Steve Nash of our football games on Sundays (which full disclosure, I haven’t played in about 4 years).  But still.  He’s a natural.  And yet, Rich tried snowboarding once in Colorado, and after a day of getting killed (maybe it was even two) he turned in the board, and went back to two footed snowfun.  Why?  Because it was counter-intuitive. It was impossible to master.  He couldn’t do it.  And it wasn’t fun.  (At least that’s the recall I have of the conversation).  And I couldn’t blame him – why would you continue to try something that was SO. DAMN. HARD – if it wasn’t fun?

For a lot of us, though, the simple reality is that all of the new sports we take up – if we’re not born athletes, and not in peak condition – will feel SO. DAMN. HARD.  So how do you know when to turn it in, and when to keep with it?  What motivates you to keep moving in that case?  It’s a question worth asking – especially at this time of year, when we’re all setting ourselves up for Big Goals.

Well, I have at least one suggestion which will help.  The simple reality is this:  if you are starting a new fitness program this month, it’s probably going to suck a little.  So for the next 60 days, if you’re starting something new, ask yourself this question:  if I could BREATHE while I was doing this, would I enjoy it?  If I was STRONGER would I enjoy it?  Because for the first two months of your new running, walking, skiing, hockey-ing, zumba-ing, bar method-ing, yoga-ing approach, your muscles will burn and you’re going to sweat and you’re going to wish that it was just a little bit easier.  But it won’t get easier – unless you stick with it.  So ask yourself:  if I could breathe, or if my legs weren’t jelly, would I maybe like this?  And if the answer is just a little bit – just a teeny bit “yes”, then keep your ass where it is, and keep on trying.

Understand that it’s going to be hard these first 60 days, and that’s okay.  But give it that time – and if it’s not fun after you’ve started to recondition your body, and to get back into it – then you can walk away.  But until then, you’ve got one goal – to give it a good try, and see if it gets easier.  And, since I’m giving some advice here, let me offer you one other suggestion:  get a log.

And I’m going to get even more radical.  Get an actual paper book.  Go to the grocery, or your favorite paper store, or Runner’s World, or whatever, and buy an actual paper book, where you can write down the detail on your workout.  Years ago, when I first started running, I did this, and it was the best thing I ever did.  I knew what I wore and what temperature I ran at. I knew end of day workouts were hard, but with friends, they were easier than morning workouts alone.  I knew running hungover was hard but I still knew that I had done it, and I could look back on it and be proud of it.  I had a record of what I’d done, and that record was just as motivating on the bad days as any number on a scale or goal in the future.  So consider getting a log.  And when you’re at Day 45 and you want to give up, just pull up a few of your log entries, and see how much fun you had, even when it was hard.

If the last 4 weeks are anything to go by, I’ll just say this about the adventure you’re about to embark on for 2012:  We will get to a day where the breathing is clearer, and our legs are less heavy.  We will feel stronger and ready to keep going after we thought we would be finished.  And until then, we need to give ourselves the room to go slower than everyone else.  We should not keep up with anyone in these next 60 days.  We should be able to talk to ourselves, or our friends, or the squirrels – out loud, without gasping for breath – if we want to keep moving.  We will invest in the long-term strategy to get back on the path.  And in 60 days, we just might be ready to call ourselves a Habit.

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to it.

See you on the path….


Running Foundations

I have a lot of college-educated readers out there.  And lots who aren’t.  For those who never had the experience, when you first arrive at the halls of higher learning, you get handed a giant catalogue (or, sometimes, a very short list) of courses that you have to complete before you can do anything “fun”.  These are things like “Foundations of American History” and “Statistics 101”.  Or, if you’re me, “Remedial Spanish”.

As I was back on the path again on Saturday, I got to thinking that I was running through my own personal course of “Running Foundations”.  It’s a Freshman Year course.  It’s usually one that you wander into, occasionally hungover, and with questionable attire, sometimes wondering if you really should have had that late night Burrito the night before.  But alas, because you have made a commitment to better yourself and your life, you find yourself in a classroom (or on a path) at 8:00 a.m. on a day which usually involves sleeping in.  And for what?

Well, the premise is prety simple.  If you’ve never had a course in World History, and some day, you want to work for the United Nations, it might help to understand where all of the great countries in this world arose from.

Similarly, if you want to be the next Meredith Grey, you might want to attend Basic Hairdressing, while also figuring out how to tell the difference between an ACL and an MCL at Basic Physiology.

And if you want to some day run a half marathon, or a whole marathon, or even just get to a point where you can run regularly ( the equivalent of ALWAYS knowing where that MCL is), you have to slog through the early mornings, or the late nights, and the simple pain – and occasionally, outright fun –  of learning something you’ve never learned before.

I was thinking all of this because I’d been through Running Foundations long, long ago.  In the tail end of my law school career, I was interning at a large firm, overweight and out of shape, and I was in no condition to start running.  But I somehow decided I should try.  I got started with the basics, and embarked on a solid year of running short distances before I ever considered running anything long.

I feel very much like I’m back in Freshman year right now, re-learning how to do all of this again.  I seem to have forgotten some of the habits that I got into after years of Advanced Running (like the fact that I’m always only warmed up after about 3 miles) but on the up side, I am also continuously surprised and happy to be running again.

It’s like that first moment when you’re learning a new language and you realize that you can say more than “Oui” and “Non” and can, in fact, order a cup of coffee with some milk in it to go!  You want to do a little dance at the accomplishment, while recognizing that it’s probably still very small.  Indeed, a very small thing.

On Saturday, it was the realization for me that I was going to have no problem getting in a 3 mile run/walk, when I was about 2/3 of the way through.  It was going to be fine.  I felt like a pro coming back to audit the introductory course, but I didn’t care.  I knew how this early day of the Running Foundations class was going to end, and it was going to end well.  I was going to feel super strong, and happy, and I wasn’t going to want to crash out (at least not until later that day!).

And that’s probably the best part about coming back to the basics.  I do know how this path looks.  I do know how to navigate through the ups and downs of a return to running.  But in the meantime, I get the great days of hauling through the Common; of feeling like I’m actually FAST (???), and of knowing that I am absolutely in the right place, doing the right thing, to be healthy and strong.

I’m not quite sure what my “advanced” course looks like these days.  Will I ever try to run another half marathon?  Who knows.  It seems awfully crazy to me right now, I’ll be honest.  For me, I may just be one of those continuing “General Studies” majors who goes on to sample everything – and that would be okay.  But for now, I’m going to put in my time on the Foundations.  I’m going to commit to running a few times a week, and to cross-train on the off days – and like any good Freshman, I’m going to plan for some party time.

And as Foundations go, that’s good enough for me.


See you on the path!