Runner’s World Gets It Wrong with “Can you be fit AND fat?”

I was sitting in the Running Doc’s office yesterday and saw he had the April 2011 issue of Runner’s World.  There, on the cover, was a headline screaming “Can you be FIT and FAT?”   I did a double-take, having a mini-Eureka moment. Had Runner’s World truly published a piece that would quiet some of public misconceptions about weight and running?  Had they taken the leadership position one expects of the foremost running magazine in the world to provide some support for those who struggle with weight, but want to be runners?  Had they done the public service to really research the issue and present the long-term research on weight, weight loss, and the impact of running on such a life?

Of course not.  My expectations were way too high.  But even with those crazy expectations, I was disappointed.

The article was a 1.5 page spread pitting two scientists – one a researcher, one the manager of a Harvard weight loss clinic – against one another.  They were given 20 words on “can you be fit and fat” – and Harvard (and who can argue with Harvard?) landed solely in the camp of “no, you can’t be fit and fat because you’ll eventually get diabetes or arthritis and, BY THE WAY – not that I was asked, but if you just lost a few pounds, you’d be FASTER!”

To the question of whether a fat person can be faster than a slim person (because that’s what we all care about out there – speed) she answered, essentially “well, sure it’s not impossible – but you’d be FASTER if you just lost some weight.” Well duh.  Of course we would.

What she didn’t answer is “what’s the percentage of runners who are overweight who successfully complete training programs for 5ks and 10ks – and feel wonderful afterwards – versus those who are “fit” who do not? 

“What’s the percentage of runners finishing a half marathon who just “threw one off” becuase they’re “fit” – versus the percentage who make a lifestyle change and train to become more active – thus ingraining the behavior in their lives?”

“What’s the percentage of runners who start with the sport as a way to improve their fitness and even though they see only moderate weight loss, continue, both reducing their probability for Type II diabetes and other complications which arise from a sedentary life?”

As you might guess from my questions, I’m in the camp of “do more, and find a way to get the doing more to change your life.”  There are, of course, immense benefits which accrue if you can figure out how to minimize your caloric intake and stick with it.  But to the Researcher’s point in the piece, Americans have largely failed to figure out how to do that in the last 30 years.  We have figured out, though, how to be more active. 

Fix what you can.  Focus on the exercise.  That’s my platform in the Fit and Fat wars, and I’m sticking with it. 

On a side note, I’d also say that I’m tired of seeing people use the word “fat”.  If you look at the history of this blog, you’ll see that I’ve used that word twice in two years.  I think it’s demeaning, and I hate it.  Yes, I said it.  I might use it self-deprecatingly when I’m feeling really low, but in my mind, there are enough people who are out there judging.  We don’t need to judge ourselves any more than we already do.  So this week, do me the favor of maybe reading that article above – and then thinking about all the ways in which your FIT life overcomes your F*T life.  If I know most of you, it’s going to be a blowout.

See you on the path.

A few brief thoughts: stop wickin’ out – a guest post by Kristin Maquire

Please welcome today’s guest blogger Kristin Maquire, who has bravely agreed to tackle the unmentionable of women’s workout wear!

I’ve never done a special report on underwear before, but with Christiane Amanpour busy in Egypt, I raised my hand for this opportunity to investigate a recent incident that made me wonder: am I making the right choices to protect my lady parts (and myself from sheer mortification)?

The incident: during boot camp, a very nice lady displayed what we commonly refer to as ‘whale tale’—that prolific view of someone’s thong riding high above his or her (usually, her) pants. Now, I’m not going to bash thongs in general, just in particular: unless you’re paying homage to Jacques Cousteau, the only whale watching your platonic workout partner wants to do is on a boat off Cape Cod. Besides that, WHY??!! I just don’t get it. You say ‘it really wicks!’ but I have greater faith in the laws of geometry, gravity and the almighty breathable gusset. (Though if you must, please tattoo a spout on your lower back so we may all at least get a good chuckle.)

But I’m getting cheeky and a little ahead of myself: to preserve blogalicious integrity (cough), I performed some primary ‘research’ to get to the bottom of what y’all are wearing under your gear.

The Results: gained through wildly anecdotal evidence, these surprised me because I’m a less-is-more kind of girl, i.e. a girl that runs outdoors, doesn’t go to a gym, hop on a shared machine following Mr. Schweddy Balls, or spread ‘em for a trainer. Sorry to give away the punch line, but for all the ladies wearing underwear while working out, you’d expect Victoria’s Secret to be sponsoring races. (Nascar doesn’t count.)

Here’s what I learned:

  • According to some online polls asking ‘to wear or not to wear?’ of the women that responded, most said they ‘always’ wear underwear when working out
  • Of the reasons cited for wearing underwear, the most frequently mentioned were straddling germy gym machines, reducing sweat, and because they can’t ‘imagine’ doing otherwise—it’s practically un-American (maybe this is just locker room mentality?)
  • Yet, after speaking with sales reps at popular retailers Athleta and Lululemon, they confirmed their products come with breathable gussets, designed to perform alone
  • Although Oprah would not take my call, we know she loves her some undergarments; yet, she hasn’t told us how to think about the bottom-half of workout wear, true?
  • My recent race experiences support these findings; it’s hard to avoid noticing red-striped bikini bottoms under see-through lycra (although if you’re going for this look, might as well be bold or charge for advertising).
  • Almost everyone seems to know to avoid cotton….right? (If it’s not good enough for your feet….)
  • Fave brands of undies, particularly for plus sizes: REI, Ex-Officio, Lands End, Body by Victoria
  • Least fave styles: thongs, boy shorts, seamless/panty-line free without enough elastic to stay up for long distances

Okay. I kind of can get there with some of these reasons. Kind of.

But why are we spending so much on gear that is supposed to protect our assets and then shelling out more for these pricey layers? If a $98+ pair of running pants isn’t enough to keep you covered, it should at least have the decency to buy you dinner, take out the trash and massage your feet before and after each run, no? So, if you want to save some coin, join the revolution!

Cardinal rules of going commando:

  • Ladies only, please.
  • Do the see-through test. Get a trusted friend. Put on your pants. Go outside at noon. Touch your toes.  Need underwear = need new pants.
  • If you don’t like your assets in spandex, skirt the issue with a skort or skirted capri. Way more comfortable and flattering.
  • Not too tight and not too loose is just right. Groom accordingly. (Leave the camels at home with the whales.)

Now that I’ve bared my true feelings on this matter, what say you?

Off to give that friend a call, lucky girl.

10 tips for finding- and sticking with – your inner athlete

At the beginning of each year, we’re all laced with some super-potent exercise cocktail.  Evolution (or perhaps our innate nature which lets hope spring eternal every winter) makes us believe this year will be better.  This plan will work.  These things will stick.

Sometimes they do – but sometimes, little things get in our way.  We’re all grownups with schedules and obligations and habits that we drag around.  So how do you hurdle them to find your inner athlete? 

I’ve been thinking about this as I struggle to find a rhythm that works for me again for “getting moving”.  A few weeks back I received the rather tough news that my lingering foot issue is apparently here to stay, and having been summarily benched from running – and even (GASP) walking any real distance, I’m finding myself annoyed and unmotivated. 

So I built myself a pep list.  It’s just what it sounds like – it’s a little pep talk – on paper – to remind myself that there aren’t any rules except DON’T GET HURT. Here, then, my ten tips for finding my inner athlete – being put to good use, as we speak…

1.  Think outside the path.  The running path is my “box” – it’s the place I go to work out, run, walk, interval, cross train, bike etc. I do it because it’s easy and close and safe.  But now, it’s off limits to me. So I’ve got to think wider and farther.  For me, that means finding an alternate, totally different activity to keep me motivated – this week, that’s going to mean cross country skiing!

2. Think of it like seasonal fruit. Every cookbook you see is organized by season (okay, well, the ones I’ve been reading lately.) If you’re in a climate that HAS four seasons, try something season-ish. In Chicago, that means I’m tempted to check out the Ice Rink at Wrigley, or spending 30 minutes building a snowman, (try it, it’s a workout!) or shoveling for an hour (okay, to be fair, not me).  But there are lots of opportunities to take advantage of the weather in a way that helps get the blood moving.  Do what’s easy in those situations.

3. It’s not about the clothes. I pay a LOT of attention to what I wear, but that’s because I live in a tundra and when I was a distance runner, it mattered what was on my body for a three hour run in 20 degree weather.  But most days, no one – other than you – gives a flip about what’s on your bod. Cover up, or don’t, but it’s only an hour, and really, if you just dress in layers, you’ll be fine.

4. Eat the elephant. This is Coach Jenny Hadfield’s fave phrase (or at least one I hear her reference all the time) and I love it.  If you have 100 pounds to drop, you’re not going to see a result right away. Remember that you have to do it one step at a time. You can’t run a 5k if you can’t walk to the end of the block – at least, NOT TODAY.  But you will be able to do it soon.  Look to the horizon.  For me, that means looking towards June as a “go” date, and taking small, meaningful activity bites in the meantime.

5. Stop bitching. Yikes, that sounds mean.  But seriously, this is mostly a tip for little old me. I can complain all day long about how much I’m annoyed to be hurt, but let’s face it folks, things happen.  I refuse to complain any more about this foot – instead, I WILL find the positive in what it forces me to try as an alternative.

6. Pack a flare. When you need a group workout, ask your friends to join you.  Need someone to help you get out of a funk? ASK.  You don’t have to ask your husband or your best friend – you can go meet new people, and ask them too.  Are you going to a Weight Watchers or other meeting? Raise your hand and ask if the group (who clearly knows how to get to your location one day a week) can meet before, or after, or another day of the week and walk for 2 miles. It might only be 30 minutes, but that’s a HUGE accomplishment if you were doing nothing before.  You can do the same thing with work colleagues or train buddies, or that other mom who drops off her kid at the same time you do every day. 

7. Have a fallback position. In one of my favorite series, Band of Brothers, I learned about the importance of a fallback position.  It’s the place you go when sh*t goes awry, when you can’t move forward – but you don’t want to get run out of town.  In athlete land, that’s figuring out what is the absolute BARE minimum you will accept from yourself on a weekly basis.  Is that two workouts? Is it 30 minutes a day?  For me, right now, that fallback position is ZERO minutes, and that’s got to change.

8. Do something totally frightening. Most Januaries, I sign up for a terrifying race in the August/September timeframe.  It lets me plan out the year, and reduces the likelihood that I’ll coast all the way till May with no aerobic or core training.  This year, I’m torn because life is in a bit of limbo, but I’ll likely be signing up for another Olympic distance triathlon in that range.  Is it because I like killing myself? No. Will I necessarily finish? Nope.  But I WILL train like a devil and get back in the pool, and for me, that’s what matters today.  That race scares the ever-living crap out of me, and it consistently does the trick of getting me moving.  Maybe, for you, that’s signing up to take Tennis lessons, or learning how to play Ultimate Frisbee.  Maybe it’s racquetball or basketball or a volleyball team.  What frightens you is personal – think about it, and use it to make you move.

9. Pay it forward. Find a way to make your movement meaningful, and you’ll likely stick with it longer.  Maybe it means bringing a friend on walks with you. Maybe it’s running or walking for a cause.  But if you reach out and help others, you’ll be more likely to finsih whatever you’ve completed, because it’s not about you – it’s about someone else.  And if you’re like me, you’re frequently far more likely to not want to let someone ELSE down than you are to pay attention to your own little needs 🙂

10.  Accept that you will be humbled. We are not all born athletes.  We have to learn how to do things.  We will fail.  We will fall off bikes, we will sprain ankles, and we will look really, really stupid at times.  But all of those things will make us better at our sport of choice, and with muscle memory and learning, we’ll get better.  Really, we will.  It won’t always feel like this.  The same goes for your aerobic capacity.  We’re like gas tanks – if you’ve been draining the lungs with no activity for awhile, it’s going to take a bit of work – every day work – to get them functioning right on demand.  So don’t get all mad when you’re huffing and puffing (or sweating or red-faced).  It’s a badge of honor, and it just says ‘hey, I’m new here.’   It’s a good thing.

And on that note, kids, I’m off to relax a bit….have a great night!

7.

Holiday Gifts for Your Favorite Plus Runner…Runner…Cyclist…Triathlete…

So it’s about that time.  Cookie consumption is up (at least in my house) and the desire to exercise is waaaaaay down.  My friend Jen calls it “nesting” but I think that’s only a fair term if you think you’re going to be feeding yourself off your own body fat for the next 40 days, and does not apply when there’s a Target within a 2 mile radius.  Then it’s just enjoying butter, sugar and eggs a bit toooo much. 

In any case, if you’re like me, (or perhaps, a more self-controlled version of me) there are people asking you what you want for Christmas.  Or winter harvest. Or Hanukkah.  Or who are making veiled comments that you’re just plain difficult to buy for because you don’t like applique’d sweaters or scented candles.  (I mean, not that that’s ever happened to me. And you know I love me a scented candle. )  Oof.

Anyway, if you happen to be in a position to give – or receive – this year, here, a few of the top gifts I’d recommend this season.   These are personal Plus Runner favorites for the runner, walker, cyclist, or would-be athlete in your life.  Questions? Drop me a line at plusrunner@gmail.com and I can help provide a more personalized recommendation based on who you’re buying for.

Timex Ironman Sleek Watch $64.95

 If you know someone who’s new to running, or is interested in becoming a runner, and wants a relatively simple watch to count down run/walk intervals, this watch is my best recommendation.

Timex makes a variety of these “sleek” women’s watches (and men’s) but what you’re looking for here is an interval timer – and this watch has it.  (An interval timer has the ability to count down different amounts – say, 3 minutes for running…then rotates to a 2 minute countdown for walking…then back to 3 minutes for running…and so on).  The benefit of this watch, once you’ve figured out how to easily set your own intervals, is that as you get better at running, you can change it up.  You can also use this for setting intervals in a pool, on a bike, etc.  It’s frankly the one piece of technology that I’ve always been able to use – and never regretted buying.

Feel free to shop around, (you can sometimes find an older model on Amazon or elsewhere) but REI has a very cute version here with flowers on it that you might enjoy.  Note that some of the reviews claim the band stretches and breaks.  I’ve run in mine for about 10 years in a variety of styles, and I’ve never had this problem.

Petzl Headlamp Tikka 2 $23.96

If you hike or camp, you probably already own a headlamp. But what about if you run or walk?  Do you get tired of the treadmill in the winter?  Or do you know a new runner or someone who’s about to kick start a fitness campaign and wants to be outside this winter? 

If you’re like me, in Chicago it’s dark at 4:30, and seeing the breaks in the pavement or the ice on the ground is sometimes hard to do when the ambient light is low.  Even in well-lit Chicago, I find myself using my Petzl many nights on the path.  You can usually find these in your local camping stores as well.  This is a perfect stocking stuffer – or just a thoughtful gift for someone you care about who’s training hard for their next event.   The double A batteries are easy to change, and the halogen is helpful for illuminating directly below your feet – or for a stretch in front of you.

Smith Toaster Sliders – $139

How often have you found yourself running or walking or biking, and your sunglasses are fogging up? Or not doing their job and protecting you from the sun?   Alternatively, do you run at night and wish you could see things just a bit better?  Run or walk or bike at dawn and wish you could take just one pair of sunglasses out for the duration?  Run at night and wish the da*n wind would stay out of your eyes, but clearly, you’re not about to wear SUNglasses at night, right?  Well, Smith can help you out – with one pair of glasses, which comes with THREE sets of lenses.

I know of what I speak on this one – and let me tell you, if you’re a person who has never spent any money on sunglasses because you lose them, break them, scratch them, whatever – I would recommend you think again.  The Smiths are worth the money and moreover, actually help you be aware of your surroundings, and make it less painful – and more interesting – to be out in any weather.

I’ve worn my Toaster Sliders in many half marathons (and down one particularly incredible 180 mile whitewater rafting trip on the Colorado River) – and no matter what, they’ve never, ever fogged up.   They’ve stood up to tons (literally) of water coming at them, and more than a few bug/lens encounters.  They’ve kept me seeing on early morning rides, triathlons, and hikes. 

So why three lenses?  Are they worth it?  Yes.  I wear the dark lenses (which are polarized and protect your eyes while offering great clarity) during bright sun (most walks or rides in the summer or on a weekend); the pink lenses during dawn and dusk (they’re great for seeing a golf ball on a darkening fairway or riding on summer mornings) and the yellow lenses before dawn (winter bike rides) and any time I run or bike after dark (year round).  The yellow lenses are probably the best safety feature I know of  – they add a brightening layer to everything you see, and suddenly, running in the dark doesn’t seem so frightening.  Plus, here in Chicago, when I want to have something on to protect my eyes against the wind on lakefront runs at night, these are perfect for that nighttime run.   If you’re running in the desert or anywhere it’s still dusty and windy at the end of  a day, these are a nice option.

I’m rambling, but you get the point.  Interchangeable lenses are great – they might take a try or two to get down (your local REI rep can help our you can call me for tips!) but they really are awesome.  A great gift if you have some extra cash to spend. 

Next up: clothing for the Plus Runner…

See you on the path!

Managing Race Day Stress

This past Sunday, I had the great opportunity to run off a few of the Kit Kats which had been calling me home this Halloween season.  The Chicago Monster Dash (complete with a lovely stained glass medal) beckoned, and I obliged.

With registration in hand (there’s a good story behind that), I hit Grant Park on a gorgeous fall day, just as the Half Marathon crew was taking off around 8:00 a.m.   If you saw me wandering over to the start line Sunday morning, you might have thought that I was just another lame-o without a costume, getting ready to knock out three miles.  And I was.  But I was also a woman who ran dozens of races over the past ten years – but not a single running event – without being injured – in the past 18 months.

I don’t know about you, but for me, 18 months is a lifetime.  I mean, literally, children learn to walk and babble and do all sorts of things in 18 months.  People meet and get married in that amount of time.  Sometimes, they even wedge in a divorce.  In my intervening 18 months, I’d moved once, been through a stint of unemployment (and a return to work), welcomed multiple small children into my extended friends and family, and  – and – not to be underestimated – completed more than 30 PT visits and been introduced to the joys of cortisone.  In short, I’d been through some stuff. 

So toeing the line (or, more accurately, jumping in behind some girls dressed as Red and Green M&M and the Super Mario Brothers), had me feeling a bit stressed.  Was I really ready to try this distance?  Was I asking for trouble? 

I’ve been returning to running slowly, following the program given to me by my doc –  but I haven’t been following it to the tee.  I mean, really, that would make sense.  I’ve also been helping to pace the Chicago Endurance Sports 5k group this fall, and had been running without incident the past two weeks.  So part of my nervousness was wondering if 3 miles was too much, too soon.  (And trust me, when I say this, I cringe, becuase 3 miles used to be something I did when I was bored. )  But I knew that if I kept to my training, and kept an easy pace, all should be good.  And it was.  I focused on my “effort level” – how hard I was working throughout – and not on the pace per se – and felt pretty good at the finish.  No pain, and no worries.  Well, almost no worries. 

Because here’s something I didn’t count on:  all the race-day stuff that I thought just came with BIG races (you know, the ones where, if you quit, you’re 5-10 miles from home), well all of that was present too.  The things I thought would go away because I wasn’t running long – well, they were still there on Sunday, just for a shorter amount of time.  But make no mistake, they impacted the way I ran the race, and how I felt when I finished.  So here, a few pieces of advice about dealing with the race day stresses I encountered Sunday – and that you’re likely to encounter if you’re just the slightest bit like me!

Remember you race with others. The whole point of doing a 5k or a 10k is to put yourself in an event where you can push a bit with support – and an incentive to do well – AND  where you can feel like part of a community as you engage in a solo activity.  But running with others means you’re probably going to be impacted by them too.  Think about how you’ll handle it when the woman with the double-wide stroller cuts you off on the path – while talking on her cellphone.  Or how you might deal with a group who decides to walk right in front of you – four or five wide – while you’re trying to keep a pace.  These things happen, and they’re part of every race.  The best thing to do is either: decide you’re going to expend your energy to run AROUND them the whole race; or simply try to squeak through when you see a chance, smile, and keep breathing. 

On Sunday, I was so surprised by how much I wanted to keep at my effort level – without slowing down – that when Stroller Mom whipped around in front of me (but didn’t keep moving fast enough so that I wasn’t clipping her heels) I took two steps off the path and ran for about 20 yards – faster than I normally would – just to get ahead of her.  It wasn’t a great tactic, but it made me feel better.  

In other races, I’ve tapped people on the shoulder who did that to me, apologized, and said “can I squeak through?” and they oblige.  But it always goes down easy with a smile.  Remember, most people are just out there to have fun, and they don’t want to be in your way.  Be kind.  Or run ahead.  Either one works – one is just slightly more repeatable than the other.

Remember nothing’s perfect.  Saturday night before this race, the organizers found out they had to re-route the entire half marathon course.  People who had planned their mental game around a specific course were crushed by the idea that they were going North instead of South on our lakefront path. 

With so little notice, the course organizers did the best they could to create a route that would work for our police force, the Presidential security detail (he was in town and flying out near the course) and the runners.  And they did a great job – with one tiny flaw.  The re-routed course setup was just a hair long (for the half marathon, by about .4 mile.)  Some people who were using it to qualify – or who just wanted to claim a sub-something race, were disappointed.  Others were just glad they could run 13 miles AND tack on an extra .4 . 

In the 5k race, the mile markers were off.  I try to judge how well I’m doing by the pace I keep on each mile – but my “splits” – the pace per mile – were way off when I checked them against the mile markers.  As I kept looking at my watch after the last marker, I kept thinking “you suck, you’re never going to make it in”.  (Drama queen moment).  I did fine, and I came in in just over 50 minutes.  So the splits weren’t perfect.  It didn’t mean I was going to run TEN miles instead of 3 on Saturday.  I was just not going to be FULLY AWARE of every component on the course.  So what?  I still finished and had a great medal.  And that’s something to remember when you’re on the course.  Porta potties will be locked sometimes.  Pacers will not keep their pace.  Drawbridges may go up (as happened on Sunday).  It’s about keeping your cool – and your perspective on this.  It’s just. a. run.  Yes, you’re going to be thrown by it, but if you practice the mantra that “Sh*t happens” or “There is nothing I can do about THAT in THIS moment” you will have a much easier race. 

Find the joy.  When your’e in the zone – even if you’re a big, slow runner like me – sometimes you get so wrapped up in what you’re trying to accomplish that it’s like a tidal wave of coaching thoughts.  I’m a golfer, and I analogize it to standing over a balll, with a billion swing tips going through your head.  “Stand straight shoulders back  tuck that chest in  arms loose  pull back count and DOWNSWING and through and don’t dip and belt buckle to the pin and finish high!”   Jeeminy Christmas, it’s no wonder I chunk the ball half the time.

But when you’re running, it can be the same thing, and on race day, my running mantra goes a little like this: “Head up chin off the chest breathe in three out two and can you talk? and heel strike under your hips and god could that chest stop bouncing and ..”  You get the picture.  Add in the splits and a heart rate monitor and it’s DEFCON 4 out there and nobody knows it but me. 

So how do you keep from agitating yourself to death?  Simple.  Find the joy.  Focus on other people.  Watch that couple in front of you as they talk about the movie they saw last night.  Or keep your chin up – but take a look at the gorgeous scene around you (for me, this was Lake Michigan, sparkling on Sunday.)  Or find yourself a good looking runner to ogle!  There are options, people – all of them designed to distract you through 3.1 or 13.1 or 26.2 miles faster than you can say “shoe box”.  Take in what your’e seeing, though, and just grab the joy out of it. 

It’s that joy that brings me back to the path, every single time.  And as I left the race on Sunday, it was that joy that I carried with me.  I finished, pain free, and I had a blast.  I can’t wait for what’s next.

See you on the path.

Fall Fashion for the Plus Runner

Sporthill's Symmetry Jacket ($95.00)

Every woman wants to look good in her clothes.   This is not an observation which should merit any shock or suprise.  And yet, as a bigger woman who is active, it’s always been hard to find clothing that fits, flatters, and is functional.

I started this site primarily to fill that gap.  I’ve been a plus sized athlete now for the better part of 10 years, and though my weight has moved up, and down, my desire to look as good as I can in my clothes – and heck, to look like an athlete, too – has not abated.

With that in mind, I went looking recently for the new fall offerings for the Plus size crowd.  I searched my favorite vendors, my “go-to” folks who have been brave and future-sighted engough to recognize the boom in this market, and have found a few nuggets for this season’s fall temps. 

I would love nothing more than to report that there is some extraordinarily good fashion out there for us for the fall.  Unfortunately, I’d be overstating the facts.  However, there are some winners, and because I’m all about the positive reinforcement, we’re going to call out some of those folks. 

First Prize for Functionality, Fit and Fashion:  Sporthill Symmetry Jacket ($95.00, available at Sporthill or Team Estrogen)

Sporthill is a company that’s been offering Plus Size running/walking/outdoor aerobic apparel for as long as I can remember.  This year, they’ve come up big with a nice updated color for their Symmetry Jacket ( a gorgeous plum purple).  Sporthill sells their products according to temperature “zones”, and this jacket is designed for Zone 3:  zero degrees to forty degrees. 

Why I love this item: First, it’s just plain good-looking.  The Blackberry color is one of those universally flattering colors – and Purple is all the rage this fall.  To se eit in a plus-size jacket is lovely.

Second, the fabric is technical – that means it wicks sweat away from your skin.  It’s got a brushed poly liner, which is helpful for drawing moisture away, and it’s treated with “DWR”.  DWR means “Durable Water Repellant” – which means it should hold up in a rain.  It’s not going to get you through a storm unscathed – for that, I’d put you in REI’s rain jacket.  It’s also wind repellant, which means it’ll keep you protected if you’re accustomed to the blustery conditions we get in Chicago.

Finally, it’s shaped to flatter.  The measurements are made for someone who carries a chest – and a waist or hips (check the Size Chart for the best size for you before ordering).  Yes, it is more expensive than the Moving Comfort Endurance Shell ($65.00)- however, that jacket is (in my experience) incredibly lightweight and will likely not be that helpful for you come fall. I tried it on at our local Fleet Feet, and, though the color is great, for a fall jacket, it’s overpriced and doesn’t offer enough functionality.  Plus, it frankly didn’t fit (tight in the arms and shoulders for me, though the size chart indicates it should fit.)  My recommendation: if you’re a runner, walker, hiker, or cyclist who needs a flattering jacket you can feel good in, the Symmetry Jacket is the one for you.

Second Prize for Functionality, Fit and Fashion: 

Circuit Long Sleeve Shirt from Athleta ($39.00)

The Circuit shirt from Athleta (shown in yellow at left) is like the house in Goldilocks – not too heavy, not too light, not too short, not too long.  It’s just right.  It’s designed with a wicking fabric, and the length is flattering for most sizes.   I’ve ordered from Athleta before (the TeeLicious tees) and am still wearing all three (five years later) for hiking, running, walking, and everyday wear. 

What I love about this item: First, it’s got a crew neck, which I think is helpful for fall and winter versatility.  Second, the colors are great.  Third, Athleta cuts their clothes for a woman’s body – that means that there’s usually enough room for a chest AND hips (who knew?).  The downside is that this is only offered up to a 2X – but check the size charts  – I would think you’d be safe up to a 51″ waist.

The other shirts on the market this fall (from Nike, Moving Comfort, REI, and Terry) are just not cute enough to make me want to spend $39.00 on a shirt.  The Nike half-zip is too boxy (I own it, and wear it, but oof.)  The REI shirt is too short in the sleeves, has terrible colors, and though it will fit anyone, it doesn’t have any pizzaz.  And the Moving Comfort Long-Sleeved shirts for plus-size women are very long and gather unflatteringly across the hips.  So…here we are at Athleta.  Give  it a shot – you might be surprised!

Third Prize for Functionality, Fit, and Fashion:

Ebony Running Tights by C9 for Target ($19.99)

I used to hate running in capris.  I thought they were ridiculous – a fake-out of a tight that made my legs look shorter.  Man, was I wrong.  As I’ve run in “wide leg” capris for a few years, I’ve come to miss the feeling of a TIGHT.  A tight that holds in my tummy a bit – and provides support for my legs.  With the rage in compression technology, you’d hope that compression tights were on the deck – and they are (more on those in another post) – but if you’re just looking for a cute tight to get you through fall, this is the one for you.

What I love about this item: First, it’s simple.  Basic black, with no piping on the wrong place.  It’s got reflective piping on the leg and on the graphic.  Second, it seems to have a nice flat waistband.  Third, it’s made of duo-dry, with no cotton, and flat seams, so you won’t chafe from sweat or seams.  It has a liner so if you like to run commando, you can.  And fourth, it’s got an inner, zippered pocket for your car keys or emergency cash, which NONE of the wide-leg, capri pants (which are mostly made for hacking around town and yoga, and NOT a run from your house) ever have.  In short, it’s functional and it’s flattering.

It’s not about the race

One of the most amazing things about writing here is that I come into contact with all these people who are trying to change their lives.  They’re embarking on running programs for the first time at age 35.  They’re re-discovering the joys of biking with their kids.  They’re off the couch, and excited about doing it, and there is no WAY, once they’ve made that decision, that ANYTHING is going to stop them.

Like, for instance, an injury.  Or, clothes that don’t fit.  Or, people who say “you shouldn’t do that so soon”.  These people, my people, (if I may be so bold as to call you “my people”, since I pretty much share the same exercise DNA with y’all)…anyway, we people have hearts of gold but damn, we are T-I-R-E-D of people thinking we do nothing but eat bonbons and watch Jersey Shore.

So when we decide to get moving, we move with some purpose.  We set out a plan. We stick to that plan.  And sometimes, we forget that what took us 2, 5, or 10 years to create can’t be un-done in a day.  Or even in 60 days.  We forget that our bodies are living, breathing things, that are not exactly following the plan our hearts and minds have set out.  So the body, it protests.  It complains.  And sometimes, it breaks.

I thought of this all last week as I was offiically discharged from a few months of physical therapy as a result of a running injury years in the making.  Dr. Chin and the awesome folks at The Running Institute of Chicago (I know, you’ve heard me talk about them, but I have to give them props) and the amazing Joel Nourie at Accelerated Rehabilitation Center’s West Loop location did their best to cure me.  They gave me good PT for the Plantar Fasciitis.  They diagnosed a problematic nerve in the ankle and eventually helped it calm down with some cortisone.  And they gave me a realistic Return to Running program, which I gleefully kicked off about 4 weeks ago.

My problem (if you can call it that) is that I had my heart set on doing the Chicago Triathlon this coming weekend.  You know, the one with the mile swim, 26 mile bike, and 10k run at the end?  Yeah, that one.  Only, as I approached Dr. Chin’s office on Thursday to be “discharged”, I knew that I hadn’t done enough distance to be able to say – without fear of re-injury- that I could do the whole 10k – without injury.  I was only up to about 3 miles of run/walking – and the jump to 6, which woudln’t have bothered me two years ago – was just too big now.

Not surprisingly, he agreed.  He, and Joel, and pretty much anyone who’s watched me rehab would probably have had the same answer.  Why risk it?  Why risk the run, increasing by almost 100% the amount you’re running in one day – only to get injured and delay for another 6 months something you’ve worked so hard to fix? 

And here’s where 10 years of running and racing kicked in:  I agree with them.  Why WOULD I risk it?  Why would I risk NEVER running again to run this week?  Why would I risk having that level of pain again when, with some patience and a little bit more work, I could run next month?  There’s just no reason.  But I know I’m not alone in weighing the decision carefully – in saying “hey, I’ve trained all summer for this race – and if I drop it, what have I spent all that time on?  What do I have to show for it?”  I know right now, in doctor’s offices and PT facilities all across Chicago (and heck, across the country), there are many people who, new to running or new to activity, are feeling the effects of too much, too soon – or too much, too often – and are being met with angry diagnoses of stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and a variety of other things that are killing their fall race calendar.

So what do you do, if you’re one of those people?  Do you risk it?  Do you find some way – ANY way, to keep going?  And if you quit now, what do you have to show for all that work?

If you find yourself asking that question – and really wondering what it was all for –  allow me to give you an answer:  You have months – MONTHS – of hard work and training to show for it.  You have the knowledge that you did your long runs, or your core work, or your half marathon or marathon training program – with a dedication and commitment that maybe, just maybe, you never had before.  Maybe you have stronger friendships, or healthier relationships, or less stress over the past few months.  Perhaps you have tighter abs, and sexier hammies, and a blonder ponytail.  (I’m just saying.)  Or maybe you just have some awesome nights where you slept like a log because you were so gloriously, awesomely tired, that you just fell into bed, and woke rested and happy. 

No matter what you spent your time training for this season, you’ve gotten something else out of it – other than a medal or a race. 

So if you happen to be one of those people who is breaking – right now – just stop.  Stop hurting yourself and your body.  Take a breath.  Shed those tears when the doc tells you you’re hurt – you’ve earned those.  But do the work you must NOW do to recover.  There are a lot of you out there right now, and you must not lose sight of what you’ve done this summer.  It’s not about the Chicago Marathon, or New York, or that upcoming triathlon.  It’s about building a healthier body – which will help you exercise for life

As for me, I’ll be there Sunday, doing the Chicago Triathlon.  I’ll swim my mile, and bike my 26.  But when it comes time to do the 10k run, I’ll take advantage of paying my $150 race fee, and I’ll run/walk my short little 5k.  And at Mile 1.5, I’ll turn around, and head home, shorting the run.  Yeah, it might hurt a little to do it – but last year at this time, I wondered if I’d ever run again.  So I’ll take 3 miles.  And I’ll come in smiling.

See you on the path.

There’s a time and a place for that

My little sister Liz got married this weekend, and it was wonderful.  As I stood up to give the “toast” to the couple, I found myself completely blubbery.  I laughed, I cried, and I made other people cry.  Throughout, I could hear my mother’s voice in my head (she was in the room, but this one was telepathic) saying “Oh please. There’s a time and a place for that! (the crying).”  She just hates it when people cry when they give wedding toasts.   And she’s right, but really, there are just times when you’re overcome with joy, and pride, and you’ve got to let it all out. 

The Kleenex people know this.  But if they were really smart, they wouldn’t only make those pocket packs for weddings.  They’d make them for Finish Lines.  Becuase if there’s one place that you can rest assured you’ll see some tears, it’s at the tail end of any half marathon, triathlon, and even a few 5ks.

I know, because I’ve been that person. The first time I finished a Sprint triathlon, I cried.  I remember rounding the corner, and thinking “Oh my God that was hard, but there’s the finish, and you just DID this!”  I crossed the finish line, dropped my hands to my knees, tried not to pass out, and cried.  Then I threw up, but that’s another story.

The first time I finished a half marathon (the Indy  Mini), I cried, too.  The whole last mile, I was trying to keep it together.  I’d never done anything like this – never trained, never stuck with it, never been so proud of actually completing something I said I was going to do.  I was a Big Girl with no willpower (at least that’s what I’d been told for years, subtly or otherwise).  And yet, LOOK!  I could do THIS! I could run for 13 miles, and finish smiling???  If that wasn’t worth tears, I don’t know what was.

So the question is, is there a time and a place for getting emotional?  You bet.  And it’s on the course.  But if you do find yourself amazed and proud, and just a little overwhelmed in that last mile, take it from me: you still have to breathe!  Crying can wreck that breathing mojo, so if it happens to you, just take some breaths, smile, and think of something positive.  Regulate your breathing as best you can, until you get it under control…and then put the hammer down.  You’ve worked too hard to hyperventilate at the finish line!

But once that tape is in your site, go ahead and let it go. Cry like a baby.  Smile through the tears, though, because it IS a happy day – and you’ve earned the right to enjoy it.

I’ll be looking forward to the laughs and the tears this Sunday, at the Rock n Roll Chicago Half Marathon.  I’ll be bike marshalling this year, so if you see a Big Girl on a bike, say hello, and introduce yourself!  I’ll be cheering for you, all the way!

See you on the path!

Plus Baby: We Were BORN to Move!

Today’s post by Guest Blogger Kristin (Bruce) Maguire, a great friend and mom-to-be, who’s shown me that being active doesn’t stop when the double line appears!

This blog is about ‘moving more when there’s more to move.’ I know a little bit more about that now as I complete my ninth month of pregnancy as what I like to call ‘Plus Baby.’

I was initially tempted to use this opportunity as guest-author to dispel all the nonsense I’ve heard throughout pregnancy while trying to maintain my fitness. Despite full consensus in the medical community that exercise and running (yes, running) is safe to sustain (not train!) during low-risk pregnancies, there is still much public misperception about what a pregnant gal can or should do. What’s even more counter to popular wisdom is that pregnancy is a known performance enhancer. That’s why it’s been a controversy in the Olympic community for years as a way (aka ‘abortion doping’) to gain competitive edge.

But as I listed out all the hog-wash and myths that I’d love to debunk as someone who has earned her right to be a little snarky after 34 weeks of tuning out the haters, I had a revelation: a few days ago while reclined with a book, as inactive as ever, my unborn son decided to give me a one-two punch from the gut. After saying a few choice words that will soon retire from my mommy-vocabulary, I have to admit I felt immediate pride—“That’s my boy! Strong. Healthy. Ready to BRING it!” And that’s when I decided to ditch my plan to unload pragmatic information and instead focus on the inspiration of a most obvious insight: we are born to move.

What’s more—our bodies  are designed to do bad-ass things, like skipping, hopscotch, jumping rope, climbing Everest and breaking boundaries. From the time when each of us is kicking in the womb we are physically declaring: ‘I am alive and I’m a force to be reckoned with.’

So, 20, 30, 40 years later, why is it so hard to keep kicking? Now that I’m Plus Baby I can testify that exercise is no joke when there is more to move. Every motion requires more from us than, say, when we were 26 pounds lighter. Yet, running (sometimes wogging) through 8 months of pregnancy has taught me that we can do it. Here are a few thoughts for those who want to help change public perception of what is possible for ANYONE that doesn’t look like Dean Karnazes and/or need a born-again kick in the butt:

  • Act like a BABY. A fierce baby. A baby that says, ‘Heck, yeah, I’ve got legs! Heck, yeah, I’ve got arms!’ Be impressed with all your 2000 body parts. Just think about how far you came in those first 40 weeks of life? What could you accomplish in 40 weeks now? With an Ipod. With awesome gear. Without being tied to your mother.
  • Listen and trust your BODY above all else… This is what really defines an athlete—the ability to be completely in-tune with the body’s performance. I intentionally haven’t checked my heart rate once since I was 7 weeks pregnant—doctor’s orders—but I know faster than any Garmin when I need to let my split time dive. Learn to listen carefully and it will tell you everything you need to know.
  • …but mind your MIND. This is where our limits live, if we let them. The mind loves slippery slopes—rationalizations about why we CAN’T. But if we wield this internal voice as THE greatest means for connecting with our bodies, it will take us further than we thought possible. Learn to negotiate with your mind like you’re a teenager again and it’s Friday night. (One. More. Minute. One. More. Mile.)
  • Get going now to catch the Sustain Train. If you’re planning to have kids anytime in the next 1-2 years, now is the time to get to the place you want to be when you start pregnancy. Because once you’re Plus Baby, the focus is on sustaining fitness, not training. It’s like baking a cake using only the ingredients you already have in the house. Whatever routine you’re in when that second pink line appears, guess what? That’s the cake you’re going to eat a lot of for many months to come. Give yourself a due date to stock your pantry now unless you really like the taste of flour.
  • Embrace the naysayers. Let their skepticism fuel your tank. Revel in the funny looks and quirky smirks that reveal their profound confusion about how you’re defying gravity. Smile. Kick up a little dust behind you. And if you really want to blow their mind, tell them you just did a Kegel. (This last point is even more effective if you’re a dude.)
  • When in doubt, choose sanity over vanity. We all know great shoes and bra are a must. Everything else is just ‘icing’ on the cake: matching and cuteness are overrated. Don’t fall for the ideological Kelly Ripp-off. Sure, who doesn’t appreciate a coordinated outfit? But am I going to let a little spit-up and baby funk on my gear stand in the way of a great run? N-O. I’m actually hoping it will buy me some extra space on the path. So, if the only reasonably clean gear that fits are your hot pink running shorts and puke-green army tank, rock them like Rainbow Brite. (Trust me, you will still look a million times more together than our dear friends in the post-natal group.)

The bottom line: the benefits of getting and staying active now and if you plan to become pregnant are countless, including:

–          Greater self-confidence

–          Increased energy

–          Sanity! Less stress

–          Less weight gain (for those hot mom jeans)

–          Less rapid weight gain (no/less stretch marks!)

–          Better sleep and circulation

–          Easier delivery and recovery after baby or other Major Life Event

Sure, I’ll be giving myself this same ‘made to move’ pep talk when I’m a sleep-deprived zombie talking to my breast pump—but let’s make a pact: on the days when we’d much rather climb back into bed and assume the fetal position, let’s throw back the covers, put a spring in our step and remind ourselves: we were born to do this.

Updates: Little Red Ride Report, Born Fit, and General Awesomeness

Hi all!

A few quick notes here, and then I’m punting you over to Plus Athlete for the Little Red report!

I was lucky enough to spend this weekend in Utah, taking part in the Little Red Riding Hood Ride with fellow blogger Diane, and riding friends and all around cool women Jeannie, Kym, Karen, and others.  The weekend was a total hit, but I wanted to share a few key finds that might help you ride this summer!

First, serious props go out to my LBS (local bike shop) On The Route here in Chicago.  They packed and shipped my baby Trek without problem, and the folks in Logan who put her back together at Sunrise Cyclery rock, too.  If you’re looking for the epitome of great technicians with a flair for the helpful, these are your guys. 

Second, I had the good luck to run into the reps from Born Fit (based in Denver) who make maternity AND general fitness clothing.  They were displaying at Little Red, and shared the really good news that they’re now producing running, walking, and general fitness apparel up to a size XXL.  I can’t say this enough: their stuff is cute, it’s functional, and it works for pregnant women, so I’m pretty sure they’re going to do just find in the Plus market!  Take care to watch the size charts, but if you’re looking, I would recommend checking out their lines, especially their capris and short sleeved tops for summer.

Finally, good news from Chicago – the weather’s been so good, the lake temp is up to a balmy 65 degrees, which means this week, you should expect a report from me on triathlon training – and my first open water swim of the season.  I’ll keep you posted on whether I lose feeling (or, I should say, when.)

See you on the path!