Say Yes

IMG_0076Four years ago, I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime: move to London to help start a new department for the global wing of my company. I was given the opportunity to work for an excellent leader, in a challenging and growing environment, and to do it all near family and explore the world while doing it.

So, of course I said YES. But what exactly, did I say “yes” to?

As it turns out, quite a bit. I said yes to the easy things – moving my life from Chicago to London, and all that it entails. But I also said yes to learning how to listen on conference calls and in meetings before speaking my mind; to asking more often than telling; to learning about how growth is achieved around the world; and to learning how to become a stronger leader and contributor. I said yes to the travel – last year alone to 22 international trips in 365 days. I said yes to leading – to creating a team that I loved who did wonderful things for the company. And I said yes to seeing the world through the eyes of my colleagues in firms big and small around the world.

I also said yes to making new friends – to fun nights with colleagues and to a new favourite cocktail (gin and tonic FTW). I said yes to the English way of just getting on with things – including to a lingering knee injury earned in one of London’s only snowstorms. I said yes to being “on the ground” and the many nights on the road it required. I said yes to amazing new types of food; and to sub-optimal choices for my diet. I said yes to sleeping off jet lag and then some; and to easy excuses for not being more active. In the end, I said yes to a hiatus of fitness even when I wanted to say no, because to set aside the time and energy to tackle diet and exercise was energy I just didn’t have. I said yes to work and it was the most amazing four years of my career. And while I could have easily said yes to health and fitness, too – I seemingly didn’t have the strength to make myself do it.

When it came time to make my next career move, I told people the truth: I was going back to Chicago to be closer to family and friends, and to get healthy. (If Mr. Right happened to make an appearance while all of that was happening, who was I to intervene?)

And so here I am, four years later, and I find myself back in sunny, warm Chicago, where the Cubs opened the season last week and Lake Michigan twinkles at me every morning.

When I returned to the city, I decided that new choices were in order to say yes to health again.

I said yes to convenience – I now live just over a mile from my office so that i can walk to and from work with ease, and I said yes to living near the lakefront so that traffic and construction won’t impede my progress to get on a bike and ride.

I said yes to challenge with limits – taking a role in my company that wouldn’t require me to be on the road 30% of the time.

I said yes to support – I’ve re-joined my old training group to have some accountability for workouts (important when I realised the gym membership wasn’t going to do it alone).

And I am saying yes to changing my diet – to cooking real food whenever possible to avoid the trap of empty calories.

These choices are enabling decisions, each one. Combined, they remove as many barriers to healthy living that I could slay, knowing that each could make a real difference in my dedication to trying to live a healthier life, every day.

And yet the real challenge, as always, is making the best choices I can make for diet and exercise TOGETHER. For me, good diet has always followed the demands of a fitness routine – a race, a sport, a need to perform. And that’s how I’ll approach it again as I look forward to 2015: achieving one milestone for training, for diet, for health at a time. I’m signed up for two triathlons this summer so far, and hope to add more in the coming weeks.

As part of my return to training, I’ll be writing again regularly about what’s working (and what’s not); new gear updates and race reports; and responding to reader Q&A. The engagement of this community has always been inspiring and fun and incredibly helpful, and I hope that we can welcome back lots of readers and say hello to some new faces. I’m saying yes now to jumping back in, with two feet, to the community that I’ve missed so much while I was gone.

I look forward to tackling the summer racing season with you, and hope that you will join me for the ride!

Thank you for coming along for the journey, and see you on the path.
Sal

Walking and running from Florence to Pisa in six weeks. Go!

DSCN2870Every January, I try to be realistic about the kind of goals I can set for the year.  I work in consulting, where we’re encouraged to set goals which are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.  That means that I know when I’m setting up a soft-ball goal (i.e. my two mile swim in June – which is the first four, but wusses out on the timing); and I know that planning to do a bike race in May is neither attainable or realistic given how much I fear riding in the London rain and traffic.

But encouraged by the Mac Daddy of routine-generating challenges which is based on the best science, behaviour modification, and coaching that money can buy – Coach Jenny Hadfield and John “The Penguin” Bingham’s 100 Days Challenge – I also know that I have a terrible secret about sticking with one thing, anything really, for 100 days:  I absolutely suck at it.

Each year I decide that I’m going to start that challenge.  And then something happens and I never do start.  Now, Jenny and John could care less when you start, and when you stop, which is why we are all going to sign up.  But I also know that doing anything EVERY day for me is, well, unlikely.  It’s not realistic – for me.

I need something with a shorter time-frame, and a more specific goal – set within the larger context of a long-term goal.  Otherwise, that 100 days feels really hard.  Really overwhelming.  And though I know, in my heart, that 30 minutes of walking for 100 days is NOT hard, and NOT overwhelming, I still need some interim motivation.

So I’m signing up for the 100 days challenge.  And for the next six weeks, I’m going to play a little mind game with myself.  I’m going to tackle those (roughly) 45  days by walking/running from the amazing city of Florence, Italy, to the incredible crazy town of Pisa.

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re wondering if this awesome job I have is plunking me down in Italy for 6 weeks.  Which I’d love to say is the case, but let’s be realz, people.  Instead, I’m going to commit to doing 54 miles (the distance between these two towns) and I’m going to learn all about Pisa and Florence along the way.  Over six weeks, those 54 miles break down to about 9 miles a week, or what will be roughly 3 one hour walks (at the long end).

And I’d like your help.

Because this is my goal – but it would be much, much more fun if I had a little company.

So if you’re interested in joining me for the journey, I’d encourage you to first, sign up for the 100 days challenge – there’s a boatload of encouragement and support available on the Facebook community that will help keep you moving.

Then if you need something extra, or if, like me, you need a shorter-term goal, wander on out to Nikeplus.com – and find me, plusrunner – to join the group “Walking From Florence to Pisa” and post your miles.  As an incentive, the first person to reach 54 miles gets the PRIZE of picking our next destination to explore.  Will we go from Athens to Santorini?  From Cape Town to Victoria Falls?  Let’s use this as a way to while away the miles and explore the world without every leaving our own back yards.

I would love some company on the journey – so please think about joining up, posting your miles (the Nike+ app is free to download or you can post your miles manually).

And to sweeten the deal, each week I’ll post the links to at least four, free podcasts you can download relevant to our destination – feel free to add your recommendations in the Comments section, or on Facebook.  Do you have an Italian opera you think we should listen to? Post it! Got an Italian language practice session we should hear?  Post it! Let’s make it fun to do this while we’re out sticking to our New Year’s Ambitions.

I, for one, look forward to learning a bit more about the world while getting in my miles. I hope you do, too.

Week 1 Recommended Podcasts (Florence to Pisa)

Florence: A Renaissance Walking Audio Tour (Rick Steves) (45 minutes)

Michaelangelo in Florence (19 minutes)

The Uffizi Gallery  (Rick Steves) (49 minutes)

Italians In America (Camden College) (59 minutes)

Why do you run?

We all need a little inspiration, and as I think about gift giving this time of year, I considered that two of the best running things I ever received were from that running stronghold, Nike.  Back before they were making great inroads with footwear, they were marketing heavily to women in the apparel line, and they had a shirt that I purchased which I proudly wore until it became far too small for me.  Today, my mother wears it – and simply put, it says, in adorable purple script, that “Running is cheaper than therapy”.  Yep. I enjoyed that.

It was followed by a little clock – the kind of paper clock with hand-turned dials that you see when the pharmacy has closed for lunch or the doctor is on a break.  On the back, it had 12 lines of precious text about one topic:  Gone Running.  (Somewhere on this site, the copy still exists.)

It’s in that tribute that I provide the following bit of inspiration – mostly for myself.  I hurt my knee in January and have been mostly walking and sulking since then, trying to get back into a groove without doing further damage.  But last week I decided that even if I just walk – ONLY walk – or, maybe even walk with the occasional 30 second interval, I think I could be happy as a clam.  Because it’s not the speed or the pace that has ever mattered – it’s what happens when I lace up my shoes and get out there.  And that doesn’t change, regardless of the pace I run.

This, this is why I run.

Why do YOU run?  Share in the comments, on FB, or even on Twitter – you can find me @plusrunner.

See you on the path.

Get outside. Hiking clothes for the plus explorers.

This is how I feel when left to wander in the woods. Not bad, eh?

I think I’ve said it before here, but I’m a freak for the outdoors.  Give me the choice between gasping up mountain passes or watching the latest episode of something average, and there’s no contest.  The fact that I’ve spent the majority of my adult life in Chicago (and now London) means that I seriously value my time outside, and when given, I try to explore in the manner of most control freaks – with good gear, good maps, and enough stuff to get me through any tight spots on the trail.

I started hiking as a 16 year old, with my father, stepmother, sister and stepsister, on trips to Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana.  At that time, I wore what we all wore – cotton shorts and tee shirts, sports bras and high-ankled hiking boots.  I’d return from an average day’s work with my super fit dad and stepmom a sweaty, gross mess, the necks of my shirt mis-shapen, my shorts baggy from sweat and we’d get up again and do it the next day.

Today, I sometimes long for that time – when clothes were baggy and hid everything, and when I never thought twice about jeans for a long hike.  Today, though, I know the benefits of having good, technical apparel that can take you on an 8 or 10 mile hike that starts at 80 degrees and ends at 40; with jackets that keep the rain out and release the heat from within; and base layers that let you stay out having fun even when a chill sets in.

But I’ve realized recently that there are a lot of plus athletes still out there hiking in their husbands clothes, or in their own casual wear. They get hot and cold, and chafed and is it any wonder they don’t go back?  No.  But the good news is there are now a few select manufacturers putting together some great pieces for you to get your outdoors on.

Columbia Sportswear 

Columbia has long been the marketer of the “everyman” approach to getting outside.  For that, let me say up front, THANK YOU, you smart people. The company was one of the first to offer a good windbreaker in plus sizes, and if you enter any Dick’s Sporting Goods in the States, you’ll find a good variety of apparel that wicks moisture away, is of a decent level of quality, and is at an affordable price point.  Columbia’s sizing can be very generous (in their coats, for example); and in the plus market, they have a wide variety of things that you can purchase online and in some stores.

Women’s Tamiami II Short Sleeved Fishing Shirt. It’s also just plain dandy for hiking.

Now, I’m a firm believer in teaching a girl to fish.  And by that, I don’t mean trout-fishing (though Columbia does, and has a whole line devoted to helping you fish in better clothing). I mean this:  “teach you to shop for your own apparel and you won’t always need me.”  So, a few bits of advice about shopping with Columbia – online at least.  As I’ve not been in a retail store that carried their products (some Cabelas, Dicks, and Sports Authority offer items), you may be limited to the online shop, but go with it, and learn a few tips to still get a deal, and then learn how to get the stuff that fits you.

First, their clothes for plus-size women are listed under the category of “Extended Sizes”.  Like Nike & REI, if you want to search for their stuff online (and not through their site directly), you can Google “Columbia Extended Size” and you’ll find a whole host of people selling the same products, and sometimes they’ll even be on sale!

Second, Columbia offers both technical and casual wear in the plus range.  You’ll need to be careful about what you buy from them, and by careful I mean: read the labels.  Columbia still markets (in large part) to people who like the aesthetic look of hiking clothes, but never intend to do any hiking in them. If you’re not one of those folks, remember the golden rule, and eliminate from your cart all of the options with cotton.  This will include most of the hiking trousers and several of their shirts.

Third, and most of you will know this one – be careful about the sizing. READ THE MEASUREMENTS.  If you are a pear, chances are you’re going to have to order up in the pants sizes (same if you’re tall.)  I also find their shirts (the technical button-down variety) to be un-pear friendly, but others may not have that problem.  I was hiking with my friend in Toronto last month, and she had on a great shirt that I was coveting (see below.)  I would highly recommend this shirt as an example of Columbia getting it right for us.

Finally, watch the sales.  Columbia has a big Clearance section on their website, and the inventory changes regularly – it’s a perfect place to get a deal.

Best of the bunch:

The Tamiami shirt below is a good recommendation to start – snap buttons, a back vent, split sleeves, and four colors to suit your fancy – it’s also quick drying and would dress up enough for town if you needed it to.

Pants are a tough thing for manufacturers of plus size apparel.  Stomach? Hips? Ass? Saddlebags? Thighs?  I honestly do empathize with the makers of these clothes, and give them props whenever they create something technical and made of a fabric you can’t swim laps in.  The Women’s Silver Ridge Convertible Pant  is a great attempt by Columbia to do what we’d like our hiking apparel to do – look cute, be functional, and have some options in terms of color.  At 5’8 1/2, I struggle with Columbia’s inseam (and with my new friend, Mr. Stomach, I struggle with the hip measurements) but if I were purchasing right now, these would be on my “try” list.  They look great and get great product reviews, and at $70, are probably worth the investment.  They’re also just that little bit more stylish than what I’ve seen from REI and others, that I would probably try them even if it was a stretch. ($70).

 

REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) 

Most of you know I love REI. They were impressively the first retail outlet to provide a consistent line of active clothing for plus size women, and that continues to this day.  Like Columbia, you can find their stuff online – and in this case, it’s exclusively online, unless a store near you receives a return in which case the best time to nab it is at one of their semi-annual sales.

REI’s Taku Jacket – a superior waterproof, breathable jacket that will withstand any outdoor adventure.

Online,the search function you use to locate clothing is “Extended Sizes”.   Today, they stock a variety of basic jackets, fleeces, winter and waterproof wear, and a good mix of four season hiking wear.  Their people are experts, and they sell (for the most part) very high quality clothing – what they miss on, they often fix in the following season, and they warranty everything for life, so if you have a problem, you can walk into a store or ship it back and you’ll get it fixed.

I’ve been a power purchaser from REI and have owned the Neo Jacket (an excellent softshell for getting around Chicago before it gets really cold – or snowshoeing in the rockies when it gets time for fun); the lightweight rain jacket (does everything advertised) and the Sahara shorts and pants.   The most technically impressive rain jacket they offer (the Taku) is currently on sale at a STEAL of a deal $107 (trust me, you’ll never see a better shell in our sizing); and the purchase of my year was a no-longer-on-offer Capri pant that I can’t even show you a picture of.

REI also has an online outlet (www.reioutlet.com) and they sometimes feature plus size clothes (usually Moving Comfort stuff, which has had a hideous track record of poor colors and even poorer fit over the last few years in their plus line).   But if pushed, the value at REI is in their own branded line.

REI’s house fitness brand is the OXT line – and it’s very good for base layers – I’ve gotten a lot of cross-functional wear out of the tops.  But for hiking, kayaking and travel, my all-time favorites are the REI Lightweight Polartec brand of clothes – they’re great for layering, and when you can get them (they sell out quick) they’re perfect additions.  Right now, they’re only offering the bottoms – but in the past, they’ve offered multiple options in the plus sizes for tops.  Worth a pickup, if you’re looking.

 

LL Bean 

Oh, LL Bean.  I want to wish them a warm, warm welcome to the party for finally providing an assortment of high-quality technical jackets which can help you hike, bike, and explore more.  This season’s fall line seems to be the best yet, with 100 weight fleece (in jacket and pull-over form), the trail model rain jackets (in short and long form) and a reliable windbreaker for those days when you want to be out for a run but don’t want the weight of a waterproof jacket.   (I’d give you pics, but we seem to be having technical trouble doing that).

LL Bean has tended to unflattering, boxy styles in the past, so see what happens when you order – but it looks as if they may have created some good options this year.  If you’re hiking, I would advise staying away from 200 weight fleece in your pack – it’s VERY bulky and it doesn’t pack well – and go for synthetic down or real down vests instead.

Next post we’ll handle some of the gear recommendations for the best hiking you can do – in the meantime, happy shopping!

Sal

 

 

Back in the paddle again

It’s frequently said that the hardest step we must take to improve our health is the first one.  It’s the step up off the couch and out the door; away from the unhealthy food and towards the good stuff; and into a void that is frequently neither comfortable nor easy.  And yet, with a courage and determination that is bottomless, we do it.  But let us be clear: it is the first step (repeated, for most of us, every day) that is the hardest.

Do you look this happy when you head out for a workout? Nah. Me either. But races are a different thing

Exercise, they say, is habit forming.  But for most of us, a lifetime of bad habits are teasers, tempting us back to the easy way out.  I thought of this tonight as I got ready to head for a swim at the local rec center.  I had set myself up well today to get moving – my stuff was set aside this morning before I left the house because last night, I was at work too late to hit the gym.

So today, at my front door, were my goggles, flip flops, watch, swim cap, bathing suit, towel, and a bag.  When I left this morning, I left them there, rather than shoving them in my bag, only to have to change out of pantyhose and a dress at the gym.  That dog won’t hunt, and I knew it.  But I left work at a reasonable hour tonight, made a light dinner, did some more work at home, and at 8:00, headed to the pool.  I swam 800 meters in about 25 minutes (which included a warm up and cool down) and I shimmied into my lycra and headed home.

And yet.  The hardest step I took was walking away from work and getting out the door.

So what got me there tonight?  Three things, and if you, too struggle to stay committed to your plan, I encourage you to consider them:

1. I told at least 4 people today that I was swimming tonight.  I’m the kind of person who likes to be held accountable.  So when I tell someone I’m going swimming, you can be DAMN sure tomorrow I’m going to want to brag about it.  And right now, I’m happy to do so – because I have a race in September, and I’m making sure that I’m going to be ready.  Plus, I’m loving the endorphins of being back in training, and sharing that feeling makes me feel good.

2. My scale is inching slowly upward.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I have never been a scale hopper.  I dont’ do it.  And yet, I notice that the number is inching up, and not in a good way.  I have decided that the time for intervention is NOW and I’m not messing around.  It’s got me motivated.

3. I have a race in September.  On my birthday.  It’s an Olympic distance triathlon, and I’m not messing around with this one.  It’s in downtown London, and I am counting on the city being mostly gridlocked for 6 weeks leading into the race; so I’m getting a head start and a good, solid base before I have to get creative about training.  It’s got me focused in a way that I NEVER am without a goal.

So if I’m not the only one challenged by putting one foot in front of the other, I’ll just reiterate a few tips:

1. Tell people what you’re going to do.  Do it.  Then tell someone you did it.  The accountability (and, sometimes, the “atta girl”) will not only keep you honest, but it will help improve your pride in yourself (and give others a chance to be impressed, too!).

2. Find a metric that matters to you, and watch it.  Maybe for you, it’s not Lbs. Maybe it’s your cholesterol, or the number of drinks you have every day, or the number of cigarettes.  Find one that matters, and build it into whatever you’re trying to change.  Need help?  GET IT.

3. Sign up for a race.  I know, I know, I’ve said this before.  But honestly, if you don’t have a race on your calendar that challenges you, what exactly are you waiting for?  I heartily advocate for signing up for at least one “A” race (your BIG event); “B” race (a build-up or fall-back race”) and a few testers every season. They keep you honest and the shiny medals are good for picking up hot men.  Or something like that.

So that’s it from this side of the pond this evening.  I know, it’s not too much in the wisdom category, but hey, at least there was a workout today, right?

 

See you on the path!

 

A Plus Runner’s Guide to Finishing Last

Dead. Flat. Last.

I got a great, great email in my inbox today, from a runner who successfully finished her first half marathon recently.  That was the great part.  The part that had challenged her was one that’s common to many Plus Runners, and she was honest.  She wondered, fresh on the heels of finishing her first half marathon, if anyone else had the experience of finishing last in a race.  She said that but for another run/walker in her race, she’d have certainly been last in hers, and even considered dropping out.

That part of the email made me want to give her a big hug, because I know what it feels like to be there.  But her question was simple: Do you know anyone who has written about what it feels like to come in last?  So before I start here today, runners, I’m issuing an open plea: can you share your story with Tracy?  Have you ever finished last? Come close?  What was it like?  Post in the comments below, or over on Facebook, and let’s get real about what finishing last is like.

Here’s my experience.

I’ve finished last – officially last – in one very, very big race.  I’ve finished pretty late in a lot of races.  I’ve only ever dropped out of one race.  And I’ve only ever seriously considered quitting one other.    There’s a saying in the running community, which always sticks in my mind when I think about these races, and it’s like an equation:

DFL > DNF > DNS.

Dead Flat Last is better than Did Not Finish which is still better than Did Not Start.

Dead Flat Last

My DFL was in the 2008 Soldier Field 10 Miler.  (I offer you the link as proof.  Scroll to the bottom of the results, and you’ll see my name there.)  I had never run that race before, because I knew that the time cutoffs were aggressive for my pace (13:30 miles, when at that time, I was way over a 16:30).  I was pretty heavy then, and was training regularly but still not fast.  Chicago races run downtown along the waterfront are famous for many things – but for “back of the pack” runners like me, who had been running in them for almost 10 years at that point, they were famous mostly for one thing: incredible pressure to be faster than the “end of race” car.

By 2008, I had been a pace setter for the Chicago Distance Classic, the friendliest Chicago race there ever was, where runners were given plenty of time to hit cutoffs.  But I knew the challenge that race organizers faced each year to keep the police cars off the backs of the people at the end of the pack.  Chicago is a huge city and the police are on the butts of the people at the back of the pack to re-open the course as quickly as possible.  When I say I’ve been an advocate for the BOP runners, I mean it – just ask any of those folks in my pace group the last few years.

So, with that in mind, I tended to steer clear of the 10 Miler at Soldier Field, which was VERY clear about the end of race times.  That said, this one year, I agreed to run it with a friend, who wanted to do her first race there.  We were there on race morning (with my mom, a true treat, in the stands), and we headed off with the pack early and smiling.

By the first mile, we were already woefully behind the pack. This was a fast race, and we found ourselves relatively alone as we headed down an open stretch of Lake Shore Drive.  We would be mostly alone for the next four miles, run/walking down huge stretches of the famous street with no one – no cars, no people – in either direction.

That was a first for me.  I’d been slow before.  I’d been alone before.  But I’d never been slow and alone and last before.  In previous races, there were always walkers behind me, or others around to break up the pace.  I’d cut my teeth on large half marathons which were run/walk friendly, and this was something different.  This was a foot-by-foot reminder that we were holding people up.  I was panicked that we were going to get kicked off the course at every turn.  I was sure there would be no water, and the longer we went alone, the more I realized we probably wouldn’t finish on the 50 yard line.  And of course, that was my thinking – an experienced runner, who had nothing to lose with this race.

I was a horrible friend that day.  I pushed my friend to move faster, to try to cut some of the distance between us and the girl in front of us – simply because I didn’t want to get pushed off the course.  I thought if we could make it to the turn, we would be off the Drive and we could survive on the path.  But it was my friend’s first race, and I imagined she just wanted to finish.  That’s all I had wanted the day I first lined up – to finish.

The day of the 10 miler, a race marshall met us on a bike at Mile 6.  He stuck with us the entire way in – just making sure we could get there.  We had picked up an amazing, quiet girl who was out for her first big race ever.  She had been our “rabbit” for two miles when we caught her – slow and steady, our target to pick off.   She hadn’t told anyone she was racing that day, just in case she didn’t finish.  She didn’t look like a runner.  She didn’t have on running clothes, and she was holding an old Walkman to keep her company.  But she was nice as nice could be.  She had grown up with Asthma, and damn if she wasn’t going to finish that race.

I found myself holding back tears as we came up to the stadium, and “my” two first-timers were heading to the finish.  The director of the race met us outside the stadium, and took us down a special corridor to finish, on the field, as the last official racers.  We wove through guys holding beers in their hands and racers going “holy crap, there’s still people out there!”  Yep.  That was us.  We went through the tunnel.  We were on the field.  And the girls were sprinting, having a pretty cool finish.  DFL was just fine with me.

Those folks  – those race directors – didn’t have to do that for us – they didn’t have to let us finish – but they did.  And make no mistake, Race Directors make these very hard calls every day – whether to keep a race open for those last walkers, or runners, or to shut it down.  The good ones agonize over it, and stretch it as long as they can.  Two of the best are John Bingham and Beth Salinger, who have hearts of gold and the mindset of Penguins – in fact, John’s the original Penguin, and his races always made it okay to be last – in fact, even better than okay.  John started something called “The Balloon Cuties” – a group of women who walked at the back of any of his races, to gather up those who had fallen behind, and give them someone to follow into the finish.  Beth, who RDd for John and now runs a number of great races in her own right, continues that trend today, always making sure that there’s a welcome, kind, encouraging face on the back of her races, so that no one has to finish “last”.

Finishing last is hard on the heart.  But finishing alone, as Tracy mentioned, is harder.

Did Not Finish

In 2007 or 2008 (I’ve blocked out the year), I cut the course at the Shamrock Shuffle in Chicago.  I was two miles in, having started in my allocated wave, moving at a 13:30 pace, when the Chicago Police came up behind a huge group of runners and run/walkers and began yelling “WALKERS TO THE SIDEWALK PLEASE”.

I was pissed.  I was WAY ahead of pace.  I could see people one block over on a return route walking far slower than I was.  I knew that, at the end of the race, my pace would be far faster than some of them, but I was going evenly.  But that didn’t matter.  The cops were clearing the streets, and my heart rate was way up, and I could either sprint for the next few miles, or I could cut it and go home.  I was mad at being rushed; I was mad at the unfairness of the race, and I was mad in general.  I cut the block, chopping off at least a mile and a half, and headed into Grant Park for the finish.

I knew two important things that day, both of which made me A-OK with that tactic:  first, my mind was not in the race.  I was way too angry to have a good finish, and while I could have gotten it under control, this was an 8k race that didn’t mean anything to my training plan or my goals, and it just wasn’t worth it to sprint, or get hurt, or feel that much pressure.  Because EVERY step I took in that race made me think “I am NEVER going to be good enough to run these races.  I am NEVER going to be strong enough.”  And you know what?  That’s JUST. NOT. TRUE.

Somewhere in my mind, I knew that to give myself a mental beating for the next three miles wasn’t worth it.  So I quit.  And I was very okay with that decision.

Fast forward to the winter of 2009.  We were in Arizona for the RNR Half.  It was a hot day, and I was not entirely race ready.  About 8 miles in, I was hurting pretty bad.  There was no shade, and there was horrible replacement drinks, and I was pretty miserable.  Plus, owing to a case of plantar fasciitis that I hadn’t really addressed, my pelvis was starting to flare up in a way that, I was certain, felt like it must feel to have a baby.  By which I mean, not entirely pleasant.

I knew the course fairly well, and I was pretty sure that there was a chance to cut it to get towards the finish.  I considered it.  Heck, I think I even asked someone.  But there was simply no shortcut to get me home.  I probably should have stopped then, but I kept going.  It was quiet.  And I had a long time to think about my body, my health, my friends.  It felt like years.  I remember thinking “just get to the next water stop”.  And then “who can I talk to?” I struck up conversations with other walkers nearby, and that passed the time.  But it was tough.  Eventually, I came to the finish, and got my medal, and almost cried.

All of which is to say that being in the back can be challenging, and it can be lonely.  There’s something to be said for running in big races with generous finishing times – where there’s always a walker around to keep you company, or a charity group with coaches on the course.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that there was probably one thing which made it much easier for me to run long races for the first few years of my running time – and that was that I joined a running group – and those people were always around – and I happened to find a friend who was at my pace.For several years, every race I ran, I ran with my new friend.  I can say without a doubt that I would not have gotten through my first race if it weren’t for her, and probably quite a few after.  We distracted one another; and when I had a shitty day, she kept me focused.   So if I have any advice for you, it’s to find a local group of new runners, and try to find someone to train with who’s at your pace.  If they’re not present, keep going back to the store or the group until they turn up. And believe me, they will.  There are always people trying to join the club – but we dont’ stick around much if we don’t feel welcome.  So stay, and be the welcome committee.  Or better yet, start your own group in your area.  Talk to a local run shop about a run/walk or a “slow runner” pace group for the weekly runs.

Don’t be afraid to go it alone – but don’t let it stop you from finding the friends you need, either.

Don’t let it make you a DNS.  Cause that math up above is right.  Anything is better than DNS.

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…

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.

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!

 

Ode to Joy

Last night I had the marvelous opportunity to go listen to the BBC Orchestra play Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at Royal Albert Hall in London.  A very kind colleague had heard me mention that I wanted to go, and when an opportunity arose, he extended the invite.  I was thrilled to spend a great night sitting with he and his partner, listening to gorgeous music and that extravagant sound of a chorus belting out the tune we know as the Ode to Joy.

We walked to the show, and covered a variety of topics in our hour long trek from the office.  As I told my mother last night, I knew I’d officially become a Londoner when my friend asked if I would mind walking (in my suit, from the office) and I not only said “no, I don’t mind” but I meant it!  More than that, I was prepared with my running shoes (though I quickly changed back into my cute girl shoes once we got close).  The other way I knew I’d done okay was that I really did enjoy the walk – and even though we arrived slightly “misted” – it was a perfect way to spend the night.

As I walked back to the Underground after the show, I was whistling the Ode the whole way.  It was the second day in a row, you see, that I’d had a wonderful walk in the park – and I’d be lying if I didn’t say those endorphins weren’t making themselves known.

So it should come as no surprise that tonight, when I turned up for my first “training” consultation at the local gym, I was still in a decent (if slightly nervous) mood.  An hour and change later, with our initial intake done, and the initial workout done, I’m still smiling.

So what is it exactly?  What is it about the prospect of a committed program for the next twelve weeks that has me giddy as a kid?

Well, for me, it’s a few things.  First, not to state the obvious, but I’d forgotten how amazing a workout is for your mental state.  Just this week, the New York Times reminded us of this when they shared the results of a recent study that said that for those suffering from chronic depression, exercise is as effective as drug therapy.  If that isn’t an indicator of what exercise can do for you, what is?   Now, I wouldn’t claim that I’m in anywhere NEAR that kind of funk, but if it’s that good for those who are struggling, imagine what it does for those of us who are just okee doke?  I mean, by all rights we should be singing Odes everywhere we go (don’t worry, no singing, just whistling here.)

Second, I think it’s the prospect of having a plan to follow – as my assistant likes to say, “a proper plan”.  It’s knowing what I have to do when (with some flexibility) to get me to where I want to go.  It’s taking the guesswork out of the equation by knowing that I have someone to report to – and also knowing that this investment is going to eat up a decent chunk of my cash.  I’m putting my wallet where my ass is.  And I’m okay with that.  But, as my friends and business owners of Chicago Endurance Sports always knew, (that’s you Jenny and Mike) getting people to commit by signing up for a set time with a decent investment means people are less likely to blow off the training group.  Trust me – I know that when I’m paying for these sessions that I won’t be willing to let them die.  According to the Evening Standard tonight, I’ll be buying a trip to Ibiza every week to see my new friend Jason, and though he doesn’t sing and dance, I’m going to make the most of that time.

So I guess that’s it.  I’m excited to have a plan.  To invest in my health.  To make some good changes.  I know, I know – we’ve all seen or done this before.  But I’ve never – literally – NEVER – done the training thing with a personal trainer.  The closest I came was the great help and guidance (okay, and ass-kicking) my PT Joel gave me last year at Accelerated when I was rehabbing.  I had great rehab results with Joel, who pushed me farther than I knew I could go.  So maybe that’s it too – maybe I’m hoping with some encouragement and regular accountability, I’ll get back to a level of fitness I’m excited about.

I think that means, kids, that we start today.  So get ready for mind-numbing updates full of good cheer about the newest adventure.  I hope you’ll join me for this ride, and that you’ll be working along at home too.  And when 2012 knocks on our door, let’s all kick it down with our new bad selves, eh?

See you on the path 😉

p.s.  In case you’re curious, the following goals have been set:

1) Lose 25 pounds. (I have a date in mind, but let’s not share that).

2) Be strong enough to be ready to run once the 25 pounds is off (ideally by February)

3) Olympic distance triathlon in early spring of 2012

There’s more, but that’s a start. 🙂