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.

If I were Queen?

Last year, at the Royal Wedding. I was plotting even then.

We’ve had an amazing few weeks here in England, what with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the kickoff to the Olympics, and just yesterday, the Queen’s “Birthday parade” and the “Trouping of the Colour” – something akin to the Queen’s troop inspection, down there on the Mall.  As I was catching some of the procession yesterday, I couldn’t help but think of a song by the boys Great Big Sea, called “If I Were King”.  It got me wondering: what would I do, given the opportunity, to set the world afire as Queen?

Oh sure, I’d have to start with ditching the metric system.  I mean, I’m sure it’s great and all, but I’m just about done with screwed up cakes and cookies.  What? That’s too self-indulgent?  Hm.

Okay, well, then let me speak for my people.  My gorgeous, smart, sexy, stunning, dedicated, overworked, exhausted, want-to-exercise, sometimes-hate-our-selves, kick ass people.  What could I do for MY people, to make the world better, for the Plus athletes in all of us?

1. Everyone works 8 hours a day.  But only 8 hours.  This includes moms and managers, bus boys and grandmas.  We “work” in some form – but only for 8 hours a day and when it’s done, we gots time for healthy dinners and walks in the park and maybe even flirting with some hot dude in the Quickmart.  I believe that this place exists, and it’s called France, or Italy, depending on your assessment.  It’s a good place.

2. There are bike lanes in every city.  And none of this “painted” stuff – real bike lanes which prevent my people from getting hit by lorries or buses or doors from Trixies texting in one hand and checking lipstick with another.  They make it safe for all of us to ride where we want. My people, the people of occasional knee problems and a preference for non-weight-bearing exercise, they love the bike lanes.  They thrive.

3. We spend as much to develop effective Sports Bras as the lady did who designed Spanx.  The result is a wicking, separating, flattering, no-bounce dream of a sports bra which is far more comfortable and has an equal impact on the waistline as Spanx.  My people become more toned – because they are running now without threat of pain/bounce/chafe-o-rama- and get there without the aid of 10% lycra and at a cost that could (and should) be spent on LBDs and killer heels.

4. Every person who wants to become a runner gets a “runner starter kit” desgined specifically for plus-size athletes, and comes complete with a support group and coach to run their first 5k.  The starter kit has the right shoes (and of course comes with a free fitting!), shorts or capris which prevent chafing; a sports bra which neither dislocates your shoulder to put on nor leaves angry red welts to remove; and a shirt which neither clings to the boobage, the belly, or the butt, but rather skims appropriately in all locations while covering chicken wings aplenty.  It also includes a watch with run/walk intervals that you can actually USE and a water bottle pack which fits your waist – not the waist of Mary Kate Olsen (sorry, MK).

5. Running stores, retailers, apparel makers, etc. all offer at least one item from every collection up to a size 3X.  It is priced the same as the regular collection, in the same colors, and sold IN THE SAME STORES as the other parts of the collection – not online, but in a physical store. My people would get to try things on without the looming threat of yet another post office return.

6. Any store which claims to want to improve the health and wellbeing of the community around them, and which holds a license to sell sporting apparel shall hold, once per week, a workout course of some sort which caters to new athletes and only new athletes.  It is free, and it does not require the participants to drive somewhere else to do it.  It is also be realistic – no lunges, no scary shit.  Simple, effective, easy stuff.  Maybe (shock!) a walking group.  Maybe an “introduction to running” group, where you run for one minute, and walk for five.  EASY. NOT SCARY.  FREE.  Minimize barriers to entry and people will come.  HOW HARD IS THIS?

7.  All of my people learn how to swim as part of the elementary school education.  Yep. All of them.  Maybe I’d make it a requirement that you couldn’t get a license to drive if you didn’t pass a cycling test as well – because as many of us know, most of our journeys are under a mile – and why do them by car if you know how – and can physically do them – by bike?

8.  Overweight athletes are on the cover of major running, cycling, and triathlon magazines as frequent as their percentage of the sample of athletes they represent would require.  For example, runners, who comprise at least 40% of the running population (best guess, on a country-wide basis in the US) are on the cover of Runner’s World 40% of the year, reflecting the REAL look and feel of the running community.  Same for Triathlete magazine, and Bicycling (on a % basis).  Apparel stories for all magazines would include – for EVERY issue – recommendations on purchasing for Plus athletes to encourage more Plus athletes to be active.  Again, part of the social contract.   If Runner’s World, Triathlete, and Bicycling, just to name a few, can’t spare the column inches, we’d have a few suggestions for the stories they could trim down.  Just a few.

9.  Core strength for everyone! I’d enlist my former PT to run the nation’s course on “how to build a better core”.

10.  Every workplace has showers and a place to change before or after a workout.  This is good because in the Kingdom, at least once per week we commute on our own steam. We walk or run, or cycle.  But we need a place to shower or change before or after, and so we have it.  And no skanky showers, either.

Yep.  I think those are good starters for the Kingdom of Plus Athletes.  Wouldn’t it be grand?

Sigh.

For now, we’ll just have to take on all of those challenges on our own.  And yes, we can do it.  And yes, we can keep driving the bus.  But gosh, sometimes, don’t you wish it was just a little easier?  I know I do.

Luck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you on the path….

Fifty minutes to the sea

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

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

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

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

Carolina leading up to Hadleigh Castle

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you on the path!

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.

Recovering From Hardship – Why You’re Better Equipped Than You Think

“I get knocked down – and I get up again  – you aint never gonna keep me down.  I get knocked down – and I get up again – you aint never gonna keep me down. ” (Come on, you know you want to dance.)

You may dance – but did you also know that if you have been knocked down, you’re probably made of tougher stuff than those who haven’t?  Maybe this is intuitive, but this piece in Science seciton of the NYT confirms what most of us feel – that if we’ve weathered some storms, we’re more likely to come through them tougher.

Ask anyone who’s been through the loss of a job, loved one, or through a serious injury and they’ll tell you – it wears on you. But Science is also telling us that you also clearly develop some additional benefits – namely, the ability to get back up again.  On the other hand, if you’re lucky enough to go through life without any hits, when you do get knocked down, getting up is really, really tough.

So next time you’re out there bemoaning the fact that the workout is hard, or you hate your job, just think this:  all of these challenges are actually making you more likely to succeed.  There’s something they didn’t teach us in high school. 

Recovering From Hardship – NYTimes.com

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Are we capable of change?

We’ve all heard the story about the friend who received some bad medical news.  He’s got (heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, joint pain, back pain, gall bladder problems) and knows, cognitively, that changing his behavior may be the only way to live a full life.  He wants to see his grandchildren grow old, or meet the love of his life, or go on that vacation he’s always dreamed of.  But he can’t, because he’s seriously overweight and he can’t even envision getting started on a new program, let alone what he might look like if he were to become that guy.

That guy is, fundamentally, where we all have to start as we picture who we want to be when we lace up our shoes each day.  That guy is us – minus 20, 50, 100, or 200 pounds.  So how do we start to see ourselves as that guy?

I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately, thanks to my job.  Interestingly enough, there’s a whole field of study out there about what it takes to change behavior for good.  Not surprisingly, it’s called “change management”.  If you work for a large company, chances are you’ve been through a process that uses the principles of change management at one time or another.   At its core, there are a few lessons about making change stick – personally, they’re slightly different, but this is what’s been hitting home for me lately.  To get someone to change their behavior, you have to do a couple of key things.  First, that person  has to:

1) Believe that the benefits of changing far outweigh the current situation; and

2) Be able to envision themselves living out that change when it’s complete.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a really high bar.  Most of us, even if we’re overweight, probably think that our life is okay.  But if I were to inventory what’s good – and what I think needs to be better in my life – I have to be DAMN honest about it to admit that the benefits of changing outweigh the current situation.   Curious about what it might look like for you?  Well, here’s my take on it (it being a combination of weight AND fitness, which for me, are intertwined. I don’t talk exclusively about weight, and I don’t talk exclusively about fitness.)

What are the current disadvantages of living in this body?

1) I’m active, but the impact of being overweight is starting to wear on me.  After years of running, I have an injury which is certainly related to my weight, and which isn’t going away.  It’s keeping me from doing what I love.

2) I’d love to date more! I know, I’m fabulous and all, but the fact remains, ours is a superficial society, and men generally have a probem dating overweight women.  There’s a blanket assessment that if you’re overweight, you’re inactive. I’m not finding the kind of guy who I want to, and part of it is related to this.

3) I’m a shopaholic, and until I start designing clothes, I have a hate/hate relationship with plus-sized fashion.  It’s fine -but I’d like to look better in my clothes.

4) Assorted disadvantages (none of which are nearly as important to me as the first three: increased risk for various things (cancer, hypertension, high blood pressure); feeling judged or uncomfortable in front of others (trains and planes); and the inability to wear not-even-killer 2″ high heels due to this running injury.) Ahem.

What are the advantages of changing?

1) Confidence and comfort in myself and my appearance, wherever I may go.

2) Ability to take on any physical challenge, with just the “regular” things holding me back!

3) Ability to walk into a store and buy anything. That looks good.  This too becomes more important as work may have me relocating soon to London, where there are fewer clothes and lines for people my size.

4) Better Hanger Appeal.  This is what Nina Garcia of Project Runway calls a look that knocks you out on the hanger – not just when on your body.  For me, this is the dating issue – I’m great once you’re sitting next to me, but improving my Hanger Appeal would surely help (for example, in that picture up above, I’d like to be slightly less chesty, and be baring some Michelle Obama arms!)

5)Decreased risk of injury.  I have no numbers to support this, but physics tells me that the bigger I am, the harder I fall.  It also means I land harder, and I believe that my increase in weight is partly to blame for my 2-year bout with Plantar Fasciitis.  I’d like that to go away. 

6)  Decreased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, blah blah blah. These are longer-term variables, and I’ll admit, they don’t make me swoon.  But they should be considered as positives.

So that’s my list.  Now, I’m going to ask you: what’s on yours?  What do you find is keeping you on the couch, and off the path?  What do you think motivates you to get moving, and start to change?

Once you’ve thought about that, I’d encourage you to think about the next big question (part 2 in our analysis above): can you actually see yourself getting to a point in your life where you moved more, weighed less, and felt better about yourself?  Can you picture yourself doing it, and what you might look like if you did it all the time?  Can you see yourself in a different, stronger body?

Personally, I think this is the hardest part.  I don’t care how long you’ve been battling your demons, the mental act of envisioning yourself as something different takes more than imagination- it takes a leap of faith.

Maybe the last picture you have of yourself at a reasonable weight was when you were a teenager. Maybe you’ve never had that photo.  If that’s the case, here’s what I want you to do:  find a 5k in your town.  Go to the local gym.  Stop in at the YMCA.  And look around.  Really, really, look.   There will be people there of every size.  Picture yourself standing between them.  Right now.   Watch them run, or walk, or lift weights, or swim.  Picture yourself joining them.  If you can picture that – just joining them for one day – you’ll have already done something you didn’t think possible – you will have started seeing yourself as an active person. 

It’s not easy to do if you’ve been hurt, or sedentary, or just plain broken.  It’s not easy when you have a history of failed attempts.  If you do, don’t ignore them – use them.  I like to think of starting a new fitness or exercise program as the best things that baking has taught me.  If I burn the cookies on a certain pan, next time up I either turn down the temperature or shorten the baking time.  It’s the same thing with working out.  I know without a doubt that I will never – ever – successfully maintain an early morning swim routine.  I hate getting up early, and I might make it one day, but I’ll never make it more than two weeks.  So if I’m going to swim, I have to join a gym that has hours after work, and I have to plan accordingly.  I know that works for me, so you won’t find me committing to pre-work swims any time soon.

I also know that when I make moving more easy and accessible, I’m likely to do it more often.  That’s why there’s a balance ball, weights, and a bike trainer in my house for the winter.  Also, because I’m likely to work late, eat dinner, and veg instead of pedaling in front of the TV for 30 minutes a day, I know that I have to plan each week what I’m going to try to do.  Even if I don’t get the exact schedule done as listed, I’ll be more likely to stick with it if it’s written down.

But those are my lessons, and those are my adjustments.  Think about what your lessons are as you embark on your new programs this year.  Think about what will help you be most successful at whatever you choose to focus on.  Think about long term change.  And then see yourself completing it. 

Do me a favor, too.  If you happen to go to that gym, or that YMCA, or that class, have someone take a picture of yourself.  Then print it out, and put it on your fridge. You can be sweaty, and you can be awkward, and it won’t matter a bit.  Just get that picture up there, so you can see yourself – every day – as that more active person. 

And when you’re done thinking about all that, consider joining me for John Bingham’s 100 Days Challenge.  You can find the event page on Facebook here.  Simply put, John’s goal is to get people to commit to moving – just moving – for 30 minutes a day – for the next 100 days. Well, technically, the next 98 days.  If you missed the first two, that’s okay.  Just jump in when you’re ready – all you have to do is commit to some intentional movement for 30 minutes each day.  Doesn’t matter how, or where.  For more info, check out John’s video here, and if you want to track your workout, check in here.  

Not sure if you can do it?  Well, start small. Think about doing an easy yoga class at your park district.  Or just swimming slowly in your local pool.  Consider trying out FitTV’s great list of everyday at home workouts – or just commit to parking your car at the mall and walking for 30 minutes a day. 

Today, I parked as far as possible from my destination at the mall, and walked 3X10s as I broke up my day.  It was easy, it was effective, and it’s done.  It’s just one step to seeing that person I know I can be.

Please consider joining me.  Here’s to a great 2011! I look forward to seeing you all here!!

Sallie